Saturday, 3 July 2010

New City Magazine: July 2010

It is a little while since I posted on the contents of one of the various publications that come through my letter box, but a couple of articles in the July issue of New City, the monthly magazine of the Focolare, caught my eye.

The first was a review of the book "A Whispered Name", by William Brodrick. I read this about a year ago, and found it most interesting. It is interesting from the point of view of the history of the execution of deserters during the First World War, from the point of view of Irish soldiers serving with the British Army during that War, and from the point of view of its Catholic background. I did find it a gripping story, which unfolds its mystery as you go along.

Another article caught my eye, written by an Anglican priest about industrial chaplaincy on Tyneside. The idea of such chaplaincy is one that I find interesting. Parallels exist in some large shopping centres, such as Lakeside near me in Thurrock, where there are chaplaincy arrangements. The idea of industrial chaplaincy responds to some of the needs identified in the "Mission to France" worker-priests movement of the inter-war years. It also strikes me as being a profoundly diaconal ministry, so one that would be very appropriate as pastoral activity to be undertaken by permanent deacons, deacons who could easily have paid employment in industry. There are some specific professional areas where such chaplaincy is well established - hospital chaplaincy (though for institutional purposes this might be branded as a "pastoral and spiritual" care), port chaplaincy and university chaplaincy. In the former two of these, ecumenical chaplaincy arrangements are common.

In these types of chaplaincy arrangements, a lot of the time is spent simply being alongside people in their particular places in life. There are times when conversation might be explicitly religious - but many other times when it isn't and conversation is made up of the common place of every day life. In terms of evangelisation, activity is at the level of "presence in charity". In one sense the example that John Clasper gave in his article is untypical in this context; but I suspect that it is a question that comes up more often in Catholic life than one might realise.
Over lunch he told me that, as a practising Catholic, he had a problem he could not see a way around. His wife had died some years ago, and in recent years he had met a woman he was beginning to love and wanted to marry. The difficulty was that she was divorced, her first husband was still alive and he had been told that he would not be allowed to receive Communion when he attended Mass, if he went ahead with his proposal. What could he do? It seemed that God had brought the two of them together and the Church seemed to be standing in the way of a future happy relationship. His only option was to give up being a Roman Catholic and transfer to a church where his problem would be more sympathetically dealt with. Could he become an Anglican?
To his credit, and thanks to his experience of the spirituality of the Focolare movement, this Anglican priest recognised the significance of obedience to Church leaders, in this case the Pope, as guardians of God's love and grace, and this guided his support of this individual. But what theological/pastoral grounds can we use to indicate how someone in this situation should choose their course of action?

I would suggest two ideas here. One is to look at the sections of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius Loyola dedicated to choosing a way of life. As well as offering clear teaching, this also offers practical guidance about the process of making a choice. It's introduction suggests that in many cases people make choices that put the means first - marriage, priesthood, etc - and the end - the service of God - second, whereas these considerations should be reversed in the process of making the choice. An assumption underlying its pastoral approach is that the object about which a choice is being made should be in accord with the teaching of the Church. I think that the Spiritual Exercises provide a very useful way of approaching this situation where it is so easy to see "the Church" as standing in the way of a happy outcome, a way that combines pastoral care with faithfulness to the Church.

In the particular situation encountered by our Anglican chaplain, I think there is a second important consideration. It is the possibility of a good, Christian friendship that does not involve marriage. This is in itself a way of life in the Church, and can be the same kind of witness in a parish community as that of married people. An aspect of similar situations that might arise, though perhaps not directly in the case described in the New City article, is that of recognising when someone is "not available" because of permanent life choices that have already been made, and respecting that. This too can issue in friendships, appropriate to the particular circumstances.

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