Monday 29 November 2010

Modes of Responsibility and Pope Benedict's remarks about condoms

I was actually looking for a good formulation of the principle of double effect when, consulting William E May's An Introduction to Moral Theology (as one does late at night when one should really be thinking about what time one has to get up the next morning!), I encountered that author's account of "modes of responsibility" in the writings of Germain Grisez, John Finnis and Joseph Boyle.

Roughly speaking, the idea of "modes of responsibility" is that they are an intermediate step between the first principle of moral action - that good should be done and evil avoided - and specific moral norms describing certain actions as right and others as wrong. Each "mode of responsibility" represents a "way" or "manner" of acting that is ordered towards a particular, more precise expression of a human good. It stands between the idea of "good" in general and one of a range of specific goods in particular.

A brief statement of the idea of "modes of responsibility" can be found here. A presentation of the idea of "modes of responsibility" in the words of Germain Grisez's The Way of the Lord Jesus can be found here.

I wonder whether this idea of "modes of responsibility" as an intermediate step between the first moral principle and specific moral norms can shed some light on a way in which we might understand Pope Benedict's remarks about condoms (my emphasis added to a quotation taken from the CTS website)?
There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.

Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?

She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.

Sunday 28 November 2010

Vigil for Nascent Human Life

More by accident than by deliberate intent, I caught Pope Benedict's homily during the First Vespers of Advent/Vigil for Nascent Human Life on the webcast by CTV. I was, at the last minute, looking for the booklet of the celebration in case it contained prayers I could use myself as I prayed the vigil on my own.

The Italian text of the homily is on the Vatican website. My own translation of the following excerpt follows. There are some strong and very challenging words towards the end of this excerpt:
Credere in Gesù Cristo comporta anche avere uno sguardo nuovo sull’uomo, uno sguardo di fiducia, di speranza. Del resto l’esperienza stessa e la retta ragione attestano che l’essere umano è un soggetto capace di intendere e di volere, autocosciente e libero, irripetibile e insostituibile, vertice di tutte le realtà terrene, che esige di essere riconosciuto come valore in se stesso e merita di essere accolto sempre con rispetto e amore. Egli ha il diritto di non essere trattato come un oggetto da possedere o come una cosa che si può manipolare a piacimento, di non essere ridotto a puro strumento a vantaggio di altri e dei loro interessi. La persona è un bene in se stessa e occorre cercare sempre il suo sviluppo integrale. L’amore verso tutti, poi, se è sincero, tende spontaneamente a diventare attenzione preferenziale per i più deboli e i più poveri. Su questa linea si colloca la sollecitudine della Chiesa per la vita nascente, la più fragile, la più minacciata dall’egoismo degli adulti e dall’oscuramento delle coscienze. La Chiesa continuamente ribadisce quanto ha dichiarato il Concilio Vaticano II contro l’aborto e ogni violazione della vita nascente: “La vita, una volta concepita, deve essere protetta con la massima cura” (ibid., n. 51).

To believe in Jesus Christ involves having a new view of man, an view of trust, of hope. For others, experience itself and right reason witness that the human being is a subject capable of understanding and of willing, self conscious and free, irrepeatable and irreplaceable, the peak of all earthly realities, who needs to be recognised as a value in himself/herself and warrants to be welcomed always with respect and love. The human being has the right to not be treated as an object to be possessed or as a thing that can be manipulated as much as one likes, not to be reduced to a mere instrument for the advantage of others and of their interests. The person is a good in themselves and we must seek always their integral development. Love for others, if it is sincere, tends naturally to become a preferential attention for the weakest and the poorest. Along these lines one finds the care of the Church for nascent life, the most fragile, the most threatened by the selfishness of adults and the obscuring of consciences. The Church continually affirms what the Second Vatican Council declared against abortion and all violation of nascent life: "Life, once conceived, must be protected with the greatest of care".
A full English text of the homily can be found at the Catholic Herald site.

Saturday 27 November 2010

CAFOD and condoms

CAFOD have issued a statement entitled: CAFOD welcomes Pope Benedict's comments on the possible use of condoms.
CAFOD welcomes Pope Benedict’s comments on the challenges for people posed by HIV and the possible use of condoms as one aspect of preventing infection.

They resonate with the real challenges that CAFOD has faced in discussion with our partners on the ground for many years and which we know Cardinals, Bishops and moral theologians have also wrestled with; the Pope’s comments will surely prove helpful in moving these discussions forward.
Given that Pope Benedict clearly stated that condom use was not a real or moral way to resolve the spread of HIV/AIDS, it is a bit difficult to work out exactly what it is that CAFOD are welcoming. Some will inevitably read just the "headline" as saying that CAFOD welcome a possible change in the Church's teaching, though the statement itself is worded very cautiously. Pope Benedict's remarks might have acknowledged a form of responsibility on the part of someone who uses a condom with the intention that by doing so the transmission of HIV will be prevented; but he certainly did not teach that such use is morally just and should therefore be advocated.

This is entirely consistent with CAFOD's own statement (January 2005) about condom use:
.... CAFOD neither funds nor advocates the supply, distribution or promotion of condoms. In this CAFOD seeks to exercise a role consistent with its Catholic character.

In the fourth paragraph of their statement, CAFOD refer to a range of economic and social conditions that make people vulnerable to HIV infection. In regions of the world such as Africa, questions of gender inequality and migration have a cultural context that is very different than that in a developed, Western country such as the United Kingdom. CAFOD are quite right to include the addressing of this cultural context within their work on HIV/AIDS, but we should take care reading their statement to recognise that the questions of gender inequality, for example, that are at stake are not the same questions as might be raised under that same heading in a European country.

CAFOD's 2005 statement on HIV prevention and condoms, which can be downloaded from this page on their website, is a helpful statement of CAFOD's position. It is instructive, I think, to re-read this statement alongside Pope Benedict's comments.

The paradox at the heart of Benedict

This is the title of a piece by John Haldane in today's Times. It can be found on p.119, in the section dedicated to Faith. The piece combines being a review of "the book" and a commentary on how Pope Benedict is viewed by others. Given the hostility of much writing in the media about Pope Benedict XVI, it is a remarkably beautiful piece of writing.
As one reads the interviews in total, however, it becomes clear that Benedict wants to reassert orthodoxy while offering it with gentle gestures and outspread hands. Whatever the subject ... Benedict quietly but firmly restates the old teachings while recognising the need to find ways of re-expressing them for a complex and often confused world. It is as if, finding it impossible to pass unnoticed or to avoid major controversies, he has reconciled himself to the nature and burdens of his office and set about the task of evangelisation. affirming unambiguously the authority of the papal role he also disavows its accumulation of princely grandeur, and distinguishes sharply the office and the occupant. He speaks often of his limitations but also of the conviction that he is supported by God. This feeling goes back, I think, to the day of his election as Pope when in the course of minutes his own weakness began to be replaced by the strength of another. He says: "Even at the moment when it hit me, all I was able to say to the Lord was simply: 'What are You doing with me? Now the responsibility is Yours. You must lead me! I can't do it. If you wanted me, then You must help me!'"

It is clear that Benedict believes that his prayer on that day of election is being answered: "Now I entrust myself to the Lord and notice, yes, there is help there, something is being done that is not my own doing. In that sense there is absolutely the experience of the grace of office".
I think that this experience of the grace of office puts into context the "obvious irony in Pope Benedict's remarkable capacity to attract attention" to which John Haldane refers in the first sentence his piece (and the adverse or misleading nature of much of that publicity) and the reference towards the end of John Haldane's piece to the "humiliation heaped upon [Pope Benedict] and his Church" providing a fresh compulsion to the Holy Father's preaching of "Gospel Catholicism".

Perhaps we, too, should try to have the same confidence in the grace of office, in that grace given to Pope Benedict and also in that grace which is proper to ourselves as Catholic lay people, priests and religious.

Friday 26 November 2010

When priests blog ...

.... do they do so as priests?

If a priest is a Christian before he is a priest - that is his status conferred by the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation - is his first level of activity that proper to a member of the lay faithful?

If the vocation to be a priest conferred in the Sacrament of Holy Orders is a specification of that first calling received in Baptism and Confirmation, rather than an abolition of it?

If the vocation of priest therefore "includes" in some sense the original lay vocation given in Baptism and Confirmation, in a kind of analagous way to that in which the office of a Bishop includes that of deacon and priest?

And if blogging is an expression of the lay charism of mediation between the ecclesial life and the life of the secular world?

Then, is the blog of a priest an exercise of their office precisely as priest or is it an exercise of their office as a baptised Christian, distinguishable from an exercise of their office as a priest?

Or, to ask the question in a slightly different way, is the blog of a priest a personal exercise that should be, and can be, separated from their other fields of official activity as a priest?

In one particular situation referred to here, a bishop has asked a blogging priest to name his blog in such a way that it is clearly a personal blog rather than one that represents the parish. And, in principle, it does seem possible to separate the blog as a personal activity from the priest's office as priest.

But does the separation that seems possible in principle actually occur in the life experience of the blogging priest or the life experience of those who read his blog? Can office and person really be separated, or is the point of the Christian life rather the unification of person and office? Is there not still an exercise of pastoral office taking place, albeit through an engagement that perhaps reflects the firstly-lay vocation of the priest which is integrated then into his subsequent ordained vocation?

How we understand this question will affect how we judge the intervention of a bishop with regard to a blogging priest. The more that we recognise a separation of the personal from the official activity of the priest, the more we will expect blogging priests to be allowed the same autonomy in the aether that the typical lay blogger can enjoy.  But if we recognise that separation to a lesser degree, we do then admit the legitimacy of an episcopal care for how the priests of his diocese act in the aether. Such a care need not be a disciplinary and restrictive care. It can instead be a generous respect for the charism and gifts of an individual priest, and a guidance of that charism and gifts. If it is reduced to a bureaucratic question of control or its opposite, a complete laissez faire that ignores the priest who blogs altogether, it will be not be a care that is worthy of the name.

I only ask because Pope Benedict's view on a number of things has just been published in a book, and one perspective being offered is that the book contains his personal views on the questions under discussion and is not an exercise of his office as successor of St Peter. This appears quite correct to me, and means that the contents of the book should not be seen as an act of official teaching by the Church. But can we really separate the person and the office as neatly as this? Is there not still, in some degree, an exercise of the pastoral office of the Supreme Pontiff?

27th November 2010: World-wide vigil of Prayer for Nascent Human Life

On the eve of the Advent Season, the Holy Father will celebrate a vigil of prayer for all nascent human life. This vigil coincides with the celebration of the first Vespers of the First Sunday of Advent, that marks the beginning of the Advent season. The celebration of Vespers and the vigil will be integrated together.

The Holy Father has invited the Bishops of the world, and all Catholic communities and movements, to join him in this vigil in their particular churches throughout the world. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has prepared a form of service for this vigil that can be downloaded from here. If you are not able to take part in a vigil in your parish or diocese, these resources would allow you to pray the vigil at home or in a small group.

Searching the diocesan website, I have not been able to find any events marking the vigil in my own deanery or diocese, though there might be events taking place that have not been posted to the aether. I was away last weekend, so have missed my usual parish newsletters for the week. Brentwood Cathedral appears to have a "previous booking" for a concert, and many parishes have Saturday evening Masses, which offers some explanation.

There will be a celebration of the vigil at Westminster Cathedral at 7pm, with Archbishop Vincent Nichols.

A nice logo

The shrine at Lourdes are currently living a series of three pastoral themes. The first, "With Bernadette, let us pray the sign of the Cross" was the theme of the pilgrimage season that has just ended. The next season will be dedicated to the Our Father, and the one after that to the Hail Mary.

The logo encompassing these three pastoral themes is shown above. The graphic represents the first of the meetings between Bernadette and the Blessed Virgin, where they pray the Rosary together. It is only when the lady lifts her hand to pray the Rosary that Bernadette is able to do so.

Lourdes Magazine: October-November 2010

The October-November edition of Lourdes Magazine looks ahead to the pastoral theme of the next pilgrimage year. This theme is "Pray the Our Father with Bernadette". If forms the second year of a three year cycle which draw our attention to the prayers that St Bernadette used during her first meeting with the Blessed Virgin.

The articles in the Magazine are made up of answers to 50 questions about the Our Father, written by the Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes, Mgr Jacques Perrier. I haven't read them systematically yet, but hope to do so during the season of Advent. My dip suggests that the articles are reflective and helpful, providing a certain intellectual input by, for example, including citations of the Fathers of the Church, but keeping that input at a profoundly pastoral level. Question 7 is a discussion entitled "Father or Mother?" - but don't take away from the title of the question any idea that Mgr Perrier's is denying the Fatherhood of God.

In the centre of the Magazine is a double page spread dedicated to helping children, or perhaps teenagers, to pray the Our Father. One of the interesting things about this spread are the photographs illustrating a young girl in different postures of prayer to illustrate the different petitions of the Our Father. In Question 47, Mgr Perrier describes a range of different practises in this regard. Whilst not coming to a definitive conclusion about the question of the congregation extending their hands along with the priest, his reply does suggest a positive evaluation of such a practice.
In Christian prayer, the greatest traditional attitude is the Orant gesture represented in the catacombs. As it is a woman it cannot be a priest. Afterwards the gesture was practiced only by priests during the greater part of the Mass, notably during the prayers, the Eucharistic Prayer and the Our Father. When the faithful recite the Our Father with the priest it is reasonable for them to adopt this gesture. Extended arms render us vulnerable: in prayer we rightly wish to be vulnerable to God. They also reproduce the attitude of Christ on the cross. The hands slightly raised towards the heavens correspond to the invocation "Our Father who art in Heaven".
If I understand the rubrics of the Liturgy correctly, they expect the congregation to stand for the Our Father at Mass, but beyond that, remain silent. So far as I can gather, in those places where some people do extend their hands for the Our Father, the people are generally happy to accept that some people will do that and others will not, there being no sense of division or anxiety created as a result.

Sunday 21 November 2010

Romford's Royal Heritage

Well, not quite Romford, more like Havering-atte-Bower, which is the former site of a Royal Palace. On Friday last, Zero and I braved the mist and gloom - well, actually, most of the day was quite sunny - to undertake this walk. It isn't anything like the 8 miles suggested, and you never escape the noise of the traffic from surrounding roads - the A12, A127 and M25 are all proximate. Some lovely views at different points of the walk. At this time of year it is definitely a "muddy boots" walk!

The don't make gate posts like they used to! According to the walk leaflet, this is one of the pair of gate posts that is all that remains of the Pyrgo estate. Staying here, according to legend, Henry VIII decided to reinstate his daughters to the line of succession having dined with them here.

About 2 pm, on a north facing slope. The mist never quite cleared from here!

About 40 minutes later!

Heading off along a "permissive way" (as opposed, I suppose, to a "right of way").

As we were heading for home from Bedfords Park, the mist had come down again.

All of this is within a few minutes drive of where we live at the eastern end of London's urban sprawl - so we are quite lucky!

What did the Pope really say?

If you want to see what the Osservatore Romano actually published from Pope Benedict's forthcoming book interview, you can find it here. I quote below just the part that the media seem to have latched on to, with my own translation:
Vi possono essere singoli casi giustificati, ad esempio quando una prostituta utilizza un profilattico, e questo può essere il primo passo verso una moralizzazione, un primo atto di responsabilità per sviluppare di nuovo la consapevolezza del fatto che non tutto è permesso e che non si può far tutto ciò che si vuole. Tuttavia, questo non è il modo vero e proprio per vincere l'infezione dell'Hiv. È veramente necessaria una umanizzazione della sessualità.

There may be individual justifiable cases, when for example a prostitute uses a condom, and this might be the first step towards a moral action, a first step of responsibility for developing anew the awareness of the fact that not everything is permitted and that it is not allowed to do everything that one wants. Nevertheless, this is not the true and proper way to overcome infection by HIV. A humanization of sexuality is truly necessary.
There is a delicate nuance hidden in the Italian potere, a nuance between a suggestion of possibility and one of certainty. In English, it is the difference between "there may be" (as I have chosen to translate it) and "there can be". Given the simultaneous publication of the Pope's book in different languages, it will be interesting to see how this sentence is translated in the different languages. The English translation of the relevant passage - in full - can be found here, at the site of Catholic World Report. Do read this so that you can see the full context in which Pope Benedict made his remarks.

post on the website of the American National Catholic Reporter offers a fuller analysis of what has happened here, and of the sense of Pope Benedict's words. This post offers a similar translation to mine above, a fuller explanation of the context of the Osservatore Romano's breach of an embargo and the unfortunate partiality in the selection of the extracts published. It also points out that, in being interviewed for a book, the Holy Father was not in any way undertaking an act of Church teaching. Let me offer one extract from this post, with my emphasis added:
Seewald: Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?

Benedict: She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.

So, actually, Pope Benedict says that, even in the situation in which he has speculated about a positive evaluation of condom use, "it is not a moral solution". The exact opposite of what the media are making of it all!

So, headlines like "Pope relaxes Vatican ban on condoms" and opening paragraphs like "The Pope has reversed decades of Roman Catholic teaching by saying that it is acceptable for some people to use condoms" [Ruth Gledhill on the front page of today's Sunday Times, though it could by any one of a number of other commentators] are less than fully consonant with the actualite of what Pope Benedict said.

And the delight of liberal Catholic commentators and pro-condom AIDS/HIV activists is going to look rather silly when the truth is out. I wonder whether they will admit that they got it wrong on what the Pope was actually saying?

H/T to Young Fogeys.

UPDATE: the full text of the clarification issued by the Vatican has been posted at Protect the Pope. It is a very careful exposition of the what the Pope has said. It has been quite amusing having BBC Radio on during the afternoon, and seeing, in successive news bulletins, a gradual shift away from the earlier reporting which suggested a major change in Catholic teaching towards a more qualified and nuanced comment.

PS: There is another discussion to be had around Pope Benedict's words quoted by Osservatore Romano under the heading "L'Humanae Vitae", though I am aware that the Osservatore Romano quotation might not give the full context. In the quoted passage, Pope Benedict observes first that the perspectives of Humanae Vitae remain valid, but that there is another question which is that of how to find a way of following that teaching in the human situation. The Holy Father suggests that those who follow this teaching provide an example that others can follow, and then says (sorry, my translation here is a bit shaky):
Siamo peccatori. Ma non dovremmo assumere questo fatto come istanza contro la verità, quando cioè quella morale alta non viene vissuta.

We are sinners. But we must not assume this fact as an argument against the truth, so that the high morality is not lived out.
Which is, of course, a very important qualification on the part of the Holy Father of any argument of "gradualism" in living the moral life that might be read in to his remarks.

Tuesday 16 November 2010

I write like ...

When hanging and branding or pretending that I am the author of an A-level exam question on leptons and quarks:

I write like
Dan Brown
I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

On St James the Moor-slayer:

I write like
Jonathan Swift
I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

And on Children at Mass,

I write like
H. P. Lovecraft
I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!


H/T Tigerish Waters, who also got Dan Brown. Does the site have any female authors at all?

A letter to the Press

BBC Radio 4's Today programme, commenting on today's English newspapers, comments that CAFOD, Tearfund and Theos have written a letter (I think to the Times, though I can't recall for certain which newspaper) supporting yesterday's suggestion from the UK Government that a new, less strictly economic, measure of human wellbeing should be used. There is further relevant comment at Bridges and Tangents.

This is not an opportunistic response on the part of these three organisations, as they have just published a paper on precisely this topic: Wholly Living: a new perspective on international development. This can be downloaded from CAFOD's website. The notion of "human flourishing" that it develops has relevance to the Pope Paul VI lecture this year, though, without seeing the original text of that lecture, I am not sure that it was this paper that was being referred to. I expect that the letter will welcome the idea that the measurement of human well being is more than a question of economic indicators - but the paper itself goes further than just recognising this point.

The media, of course, will make of the letter what they want. To ridicule the intention of the letter as supporting some sort of "happiness indicator" is a serious instance of mis-representation. Whether the Government's proposal really does come up to the idea of "human flourishing" being developed in the CAFOD/Tearfund/Theos paper is yet to be seen, but the paper itself suggests much more than a superficial measure of happiness. Indeed, it refers to a rather different notion in talking about "human flourishing", though that notion might be seen as having an aspect that can be termed "happiness". And the context of the paper is that of overseas aid programmes, and how they should be undertaken and evaluated.

Without a detailed study of the CAFOD/Tearfund/Theos paper, I offer the following quotation from the Foreword:
If now is not the time to look beyond material indicators of well-being to an inclusive economic system that improves the quality of our relationships and embeds the practice of virtue in its intellectual and religious forms - then when?

We believe an economy re-stitched with the old, failed concepts of individualism and self-interest will continue to fail the people. We call for a new fabric which weaves into its global patterns the right social conditions for human flourishing.
And the following from the executive summary (in which the explicit reference to the religious forms of virtue of the Foreword is absent - though, of course, that the religious dimension is a vital part of "human flourishing" might well be a key part of a Christian understanding of that idea):
While recognising that money, freedom and choice are important, the report contends that our obsession with them has resulted in a radical devaluation of the social, cultural and environmental relationships that form us and that enable us to flourish as human beings. Human beings are not disconnected atoms, floating free in society, unencumbered by personal commitments, whose only good is to get the best deal for themselves. To treat them as such is to do them and the planet they inhabit a gross disservice. We need a more satisfying and more realistic vision of human flourishing on which to base our political and economic thinking.

Wholly Living argues that this can be located in the Christian understanding of human nature and of what it is to live well. This is a vision in which all humans are intrinsically creative and productive; all have the potential to contribute to our common good; all are relational, formed and fulfilled by a complex web of relationships; all are moral, with an ineradicable responsibility for one another; and that all have a vocation to cultivate the natural world conscientiously and sustainably. Ultimately, we flourish as humans when the conditions that allow us to live in right relationship and contribute generously to our common good are met.

Monday 15 November 2010

Pope Paul VI lecture 2010 (1): questions of collaboration

The Pope Paul VI Memorial Lecture proved, as far as Claudette Werleigh's lecture was concerned, to be very interesting (in my view, any way). Ms Werleigh offered a very careful analysis of the situation in her home country of Haiti, both before and after January's earthquake. This situation was evaluated by reference to the encyclicals Populorum Progressio and Caritas in Veritate. Evaluation was also offered in terms of a notion of "human flourishing" from an author whose name I didn't catch. The full text of the lecture is due to appear on the CAFOD website from 26th November, and I intend offering a fuller comment when I have access to the published text. (Unfortunately, I do not think that the report by Anita Boniface at Independent Catholic News describes Ms Werleigh's lecture very well.)

What was apparent in two respects during the evening was the general question of how a Catholic organisation like CAFOD collaborates with others in public life who have views at odds with Catholic teaching.

1. Jon Snow's views were the subject of some comment before the lecture - see here, for example. As he introduced the lecture, Mr Snow described his first encounter with CAFOD. This was after he had been asked to go to El Salvador to cover events after the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. Mr Snow's crash course in El Salvador and Archbishop Romero was provided by Julian Filichowski, then the director of CAFOD.  This, I would suggest, was a positive side of collaboration - briefing someone - though Mr Snow's references to "liberation theology" and "the Jesuits in central America" did leave me hoping that he actually realised Archbishop Romero was no advocate of "liberation theology". Since he had just returned from covering the cholera outbreak in El Salvador, Mr Snow was also able to make some useful observations about the situation in Haiti later in the lecture.

2. Before the lecture began, two of CAFOD's promotional videos were shown on screen. In one of them, Nelson Mandela appears, calling for the overcoming of poverty: Your Kingdom Come Part 1. In the second, it is Archbishop Desmond Tutu who appears, urging us to "say no to injustice": Your Kingdom Come Trailer. Both Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu are great advocates of freedom, when that is seen in a certain respect. But Desmond Tutu, for example, had this to say when Pope Benedict XVI was elected:
"We would have hoped for someone more open to the more recent developments in the world, the whole question of the ministry of women and a more reasonable position with regards to condoms and HIV/Aids... (source here)
I have memories of him expressing his criticism of Pope Benedict (and the Catholic Church's) stance on condom use and HIV/AIDS more strongly than this when Pope Benedict visited Africa.

The nature of political engagement is that you work with people on one issue when, on another issue, you might be strongly opposing them. The collaboration on one issue would not thereby be seen as support on the other issue. For a Catholic organisation like CAFOD, I think this kind of political pragmatism has legitimacy. In political advocacy and the practical provision of overseas aid, it is possible to work alongside partners who don't fully hold one's own position without compromising your own inegrity.

The position is slightly different, though, when it comes to promotional activities or materials. I think that the discernment of what it is that you do share and value in the person of the collaborator should be more explicitly acknowledged. If it is not made more explicit, there can be a counter-witness to the values of the Catholic organisation involved. The notion of freedom to which Desmond Tutu is a great witness is not, because of his different position on contraceptive provision, quite the same as that which the Catholic Church would advocate. Whilst CAFOD might share his notion of freedom in some respects, in another respect they should not, and should take some care to avoid any misunderstanding on the point. The point actually matters, because a Catholic organisation like CAFOD promotes an integral development, and not a  partial development. So a misunderstanding of their use of Desmond Tutu as a "lead figure" in a promotional video can lead to a misunderstanding of something that is central to the purpose of their existence and activity. A smiliar consideration applies to Jon Snow's chairing of the Pope Paul VI lecture.

Saturday 13 November 2010

50th Eucharistic Congress: Dublin 2012

I read with interest Pope Benedict's remarks to the recent meeting of the Pontifical Committee of International Eucharistic Congresses.

Of particular interest were Pope Benedict's remarks about the "statio orbis" Mass which concludes the celebration of each International Eucharistic Congress. Pope Benedict's account of his participation in the Congress in Munich which launched the idea of the "statio orbis" was interesting and brought to mind my little part in the most recent "statio orbis" at the end of the 2008 Eucharistic Congress in Quebec.
Moreover, the International Eucharistic Congresses have a long history in the Church. Through the characteristic form of "statio orbis," they highlight the universal dimension of the celebration: In fact, it is always a celebration of faith around the Eucharistic Christ, the Christ of the supreme sacrifice for humanity, to which the faithful participate not only those of a particular Church or nation, but, in so far as possible, from several places of the globe. It is the Church that recollects itself around its Lord and God. Important in this regard is the role of the national delegates. They are called to sensitize the respective Churches to the event of the congress, above all in the period of its preparation, so that from it will flow fruits of life and of communion.

In Heaven I am Espoused to Him

No particular reason to link to this post, except that it caught my attention. A good enough reason, I hope!

Liturgy and the Analogy of Scripture

I would be surprised if it is only "recent work" that has brought the Biblical echoes of our Latin liturgical texts to light (my reading of Louis Bouyer alone suggests otherwise), though it might well only be recently that it has become a common awareness among those active in liturgical debate; and it is not so much a "new version" of the Missal as a new English translation that is due for publication and implementation. But with those caveats, this letter in The Tablet this week coincides very well with the quotation from n.52 of Verbum Domini (pdf has numbering, on-line version not), Pope Benedict's apostolic exhortation on Scripture, that follows it:
In the 1960's and early 1970's , when the current translation of the Roman Missal was being produced, it was widely believed among scholars that the language of the Bible had hardly influenced the prayer of the Roman Rite.... Recent work has shown that our Latin liturgical texts are permeated through and through by Biblical echoes, many of which are too subtle to have caught the attention of translators in a hurry. A principal aim of liturgical translation now must be to catch these echoes and pass them on to the People of God. That in itself is enough reason to make a new version of the Missal desirable.
Every liturgical action is by its very nature steeped in sacred Scripture. In the words of the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, “ sacred Scripture is of the greatest importance in the celebration of the liturgy. From it are taken the readings, which are explained in the homily and the psalms that are sung. From Scripture the petitions, prayers and liturgical hymns receive their inspiration and substance. From Scripture the liturgical  actions and signs draw their meaning ”.
The passage from Verbum Domini that first caught my attention, though, was that n.7, entitled "The analogy of the word of God". This passage describes the different ways in which we speak of the "word of God":
The Synod Fathers pointed out that human language operates analogically in speaking of the word of God.
I think we can extend this idea of analogy to the realm of catechesis, and in particular, catechesis in preparation for receiving the Sacrament of the Eucharist for the first time. Such catechesis should have as its purpose and vehicle an education about and for the celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy. But if our catechetical methodology is going to be based on an idea of analogy - that is, of using the language and experience that young people already have as the starting point to introduce a language and experience of the Liturgical celebration - it is important that the analogy used is the correct analogy.

I am not convinced that the analogy used in much of our First Holy Communion catechesis is actually the right one. Does the analogy of "belonging to my family" really communicate the full idea of Baptism, whose relevance to a First Communion programme is its being the first step of Christian initiation that reaches its fulfilment in Eucharistic Communion? Does "saying thank you to others" really express the idea of the Eucharist as "thanksgiving" in its fullest sense of praise and blessing offered to God? And, perhaps most fundamentally, does the idea of Communion as a "special meal", even if qualified by that term "sacred", really capture the idea of Communion as the "heavenly banquet"?

I would suggest, in the light of the two citations above, that our First Communion catechesis needs to replace the "analogy of every day life" with what might be termed an "analogy of Sacred Scripture". This is not quite the same idea as the "analogy of the word of God" as treated in n.7 of Verbum Domini, but it is suggested or indicated by it and is related to it. This analogy would give young people an account of the Liturgy in terms of the relevant passages of Sacred Scripture from which its texts are drawn, and so communicate a true idea of the Liturgy. It would be the correct analogy to use, rather than a misleading one.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Speaking from the same script?

Pope Benedict XVI, speaking in Westminster Hall, London, 17th September 2010 (italics are mine):
Without the corrective supplied by religion, though, reason too can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person. Such misuse of reason, after all, was what gave rise to the slave trade in the first place and to many other social evils, not least the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century. This is why I would suggest that the world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilization.

And at the airport as he arrived in Santiago de Compostela, on 6th November 2010 (again, the italics are mine):

...I too wish to encourage Spain and Europe to build their present and to project their future on the basis of the authentic truth about man, on the basis of the freedom which respects this truth and never harms it, and on the basis of justice for all, beginning with the poorest and the most defenceless. A Spain and a Europe concerned not only with people’s material needs but also with their moral and social, spiritual and religious needs, since all these are genuine requirements of our common humanity and only in this way can work be done effectively, integrally and fruitfully for man’s good.

Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking in China, 9th November 2010 (scroll down towards the end of the speech; the italics are mine):

The rise in economic freedom in China in recent years had been hugely beneficial to China and to the world. I hope in time this will lead to a greater political opening, because I'm convinced that the best guarantor of prosperity and stability is for economic and political progress to go in step together.

And President Obama, speaking in Indonesia on 9th November 2010:

"Prosperity without freedom is just another form of poverty," Mr Obama said. "Because there are aspirations that human beings share - the liberty of knowing that your leader is accountable to you - and that you won't get locked up for disagreeing with them."

How far are the Prime Minister and the President speaking from the same script as Pope Benedict?

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Images of St James (3): the Moor-slayer

It is a very imposing image, represented in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela by this 18th Century statue. Though this example is relatively recent, the representation of St James as the "Moor-slayer" takes us back to a much earlier time in the history of Spain.

From the early years of the 8th Century, the major part of the Iberian peninsula was occupied by the Moors, a people who originated on the northern coasts of Africa and who occupied the peninsula. These peoples were Muslim in their religious belief, and so the political conquest also led to an adherence to the religion of Islam. Only in the most northern parts of Spain did the power of the Moors not hold sway. Small kingdoms held out, kingdoms whose religious faith was Christian. Over a period stretching from 718, when the Asturians successfully held out against the Moors at the battle of Covadonga, up to the end of the 15th century the "reconquest" took place. By the mid-13th century, most of the peninsula was no longer under the control of the Moors, an enclave around Granada being all that remained of their original conquest. The "reconquest" was not a consistent and organised campaign against the Moors, and only really took off in the 11th Century when the unity of the Moorish government broke down. The Christian kingdoms of the north then gained a greater unity and (at least according to the on-line library edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica article) were affected by an anti-Muslim, crusading spirit.

The image of St James the Moor-slayer dates from the battle of Clavijo in 844, during the earlier times of the resistance to the Moorish conquest. At this battle, St James is said to have appeared on a white cloud and to have spurred the soldiers of the northern kingdoms (the Encyclopaedia Britannica refers to them as "Spanish soldiers", but I am not sure that "Spain" existed as a united concept at the time) on to victory against the Moors. In the traditional depiction, followed by the statue in the Cathedral at Santiago, St James is shown astride a white horse striking off the heads of Moorish soldiers beneath the hooves of his horse.

It is not difficult to see that this particular image of St James is much more challenging to contemporary sensitivities than the images of St James as apostle and as pilgrim. So how can we understand its place today?

A historian might ask whether or not it is an image which accurately represents the life of St James, the Apostle. Clearly, the answer to this question is "No, it is not an image that represents St James' life". A historian might also ask about the veracity of the appearance of St James at the battle of Clavijo, and seek to come to a judgement on the basis of the historical texts and traditions that relate the story. I do not know enough to be able to say what that judgement might be; but I would suggest that what is  represented by the received tradition is a seeking of the intercession of St James in support of the Spanish (but see above) soldiers and the effectiveness of that intercession. This image represents a received tradition of seeking the intercession of St James on behalf of Spain, the status of St James as the patron saint of Spain.

Even understood in this way, the underlying violence of the image continues to pose a challenge to today's world. This is in part a difficulty that arises from looking at an image rooted in the 9th century, which had its own outlook and context, through the very different outlook and context of the 21st century. In the 21st century - and this colours the way in which I have deliberately tried to present the history in what I have written above - we are used to separating the political dimension of life from a religious dimension. We are used, for example, to seeing the invasion of Iraq as an overthrowing of the regime of Sadam Hussein - a political phenomenon - and not as an attack on Muslims. Indeed, we would not see the invading forces as having been in any sense corporately "Christian" forces, though many of those taking part might have been Christians at an individual level. In the period from the 8th century to the 15th century, this separation of the political and the religious would not have been part of the outlook and context; quite the contrary. So  a "Christian" reconquest of Spain and an overthrow of a "Muslim" people is not distinguished from its political dimension, the gradual overcoming of the Moors by the predecessor kingdoms of the unified state of Spain. If the image of St James the Moor-slayer is perceived today exclusively as being an image of a Christian slayer of Muslims, this is to neglect the distinctly political aspect that is bound to that religious aspect in the original conception of the image.

A second aspect of the difference of outlook and context is that of seeking the intercession of a Christian saint in favour of a particular outcome of a political or worldly event. In an outlook where the political and religious are not distinguished, this is quite natural to the sensitivity of people of the times, and it is experienced as an intercession in favour of one religion over another. In the 21st century, with a distinguishing of the religious from the political, the person of religious faith will still pray for a particular outcome, but with a less direct sense of it being a prayer in favour of the politcal success of one religion over another. It is a prayer whose priority is in the spiritual realm, with the particular (political) outcome sought being at the service of this primacy of the spiritual. This can be experienced in the contemporary sense of St James as the patron saint of Spain, where the idea of protection and care is at the forefront rather than that of victory and conquest. One can perhaps see here an authentic development, in the sense of John Henry Newman, in the progress from the earlier understanding to the present day understanding.

It would be very easy to remove the challenge represented by the image of St James as the "Moor-slayer" by abolishing this image of the saint. What this post has tried to indicate, though, is that there is a much more fruitful road that can be taken by exploring the meaning of this image in its original 9th century context and in its contemporary 21st century context.

Sunday 7 November 2010

Images of St James (2): the pilgrim

A second image of St James that is represented in the Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela is that of St James as a pilgrim. This image is represented most strongly in the seated statue of St James over the high altar, and in the statue of St James that can be found above the Holy Door through which pilgrims enter the Cathedral during a Holy Year. The statue above the High Altar is embraced by pilgrims during their visit to the Cathedral - reaching from behind the statue, pilgrims place their arms around the shoulders of the Apostle and make their prayers through his intercession. Above the Holy Door, St James is accompanied by his two disciples, Anastasius and Theodore.

St James is portrayed in this image with the cape (decorated with the scallop shell) and the staff (on which hangs the gourd, or water carrier) that are the symbols of the pilgrim. He is also portrayed with a book, intended to represent St James the apostle and preacher of the Gospel.

The historian asks the question as to whether this image of St James accurately represents the facts of the life of St James. The answer to this question is that, clearly, it does not reflect the historical events of St James' life. Instead, it represents a particular devotion that the Christian faithful have held, and which has gained a permanent value because of its great age and fruitfulness. It represents St James as the patron saint and destination of the pilgrimage known as the "Camino de Santiago de Compostela". It represents the Christian faith at the heart of a Europe wide network of roads that, not just today but for centuries, have led to Santiago. In this second sense, it is an entirely authentic image, reflecting a historical and spiritual reality in the life of the Catholic Church and in the life of Europe. It represents a place and an action of pilgrimage in which the encounter with God can be celebrated with a particularly visible transparency.

Pope Benedict XVI, speaking at the welcome ceremony at the airport at Santiago de Compostela expressed the authentic content of the this image of St James:
I have come as a pilgrim in this Holy Year of Compostela and I bring in my heart the same love of Christ which led the Apostle Paul to embark upon his journeys, with a desire also to come to Spain (cf. Rom 15: 22-29). I wish to join the great host of men and women who down the centuries have come to Compostela from every corner of this peninsula, from throughout Europe and indeed the whole world, in order to kneel at the feet of Saint James and be transformed by the witness of his faith. They, at every step and filled with hope, created a pathway of culture, prayer, mercy and conversion, which took shape in churches and hospitals, in inns, bridges and monasteries. In this way, Spain and Europe developed a spiritual physiognomy marked indelibly by the Gospel.
During his visit to the Cathedral in Santiago, the Holy Father returned to the theme of the pilgrimage:
To go on pilgrimage is not simply to visit a place to admire its treasures of nature, art or history. To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself, where his grace has shone with particular splendour and produced rich fruits of conversion and holiness among those who believe. Above all, Christians go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, to the places associated with the Lord’s passion, death and resurrection. They go to Rome, the city of the martyrdom of Peter and Paul, and also to Compostela, which, associated with the memory of Saint James, has welcomed pilgrims from throughout the world who desire to strengthen their spirit with the Apostle’s witness of faith and love.
Some of the pilgrims to Santiago come without any conscious faith, drawn by the idea of the "Camino" in a way that does not include its religious dimension. I think that this reflects the universality of the place of Santiago de Compostela, to which Pope Benedict also referred during his visit to the city.

Friday 5 November 2010

Another snippet from Ingrid

I have already posted a snippet from Ingrid Betancourt's book, Even Silence Has an End. It would be wrong to take from that post, and this one, the idea that the book is a work of devoutness and piety. It isn't. But the presence of moments of religious faith in the book is almost "natural". As you read the book you happen across them, as if they are a natural part of Ingrid's life.

Some of the captives held with Ingrid by FARC were more "political" than "military". Like Ingrid herself, the FARC was holding them as an exchange for FARC prisoners held by the Colombian government. Other prisioners, like the policemen and soldiers who had been captured by FARC, were closer to being prisoners of war - though FARC did demand financial ransom for their release. The non-political hostages were much more vulnerable to reprisal or being killed if they tried to escape - the FARC did not lose as much from their death as they would have lost from the deaths of, say, Ingrid and the three Americans held with her.

In this excerpt, Ingrid is giving advice to one the policeman held with her just before he makes an escape attempt.
"Yes, and be careful where you put your feet. Try to get out [of the river] where there's a bed of leaves, or in the mangrove. You have to make absolutely sure not to leave any traces"
"Wring out your clothes, set up your compass, and walk due north."
He listened.
"Stop every forty-five minutes and take a good look around. And use the time to call upstairs, so he'll give you a hand."
"I don't believe in God."
"It doesn't matter, he won't be offended. You can call him anyway. If he doesn't reply, call Mary - she's always available"
He smiled ....
Soon after Pinchao's escape, the FARC guerillas holding Ingrid and her fellow captives staged an execution of him in the nearby forest to give the impression that he had been recaptured. At some points in their captivity, the hostages had access to radios - and this was one of them. There were two regular programmes which broadcast messages from friends and relatives of FARC hostages, in the hope that the hostages would be able to hear them, and these were listend to keenly in the camp whenever it was possible. Soon after Pinchao's execution:
We all switched on our radios at the same time. The voice of the reporter announced the news, and it echoed round the camp. "After seventeen days of walking, police subintendent Jhon Frank Pinchao has found his freedom and his family once again. Here are his first words".

Then I heard Pinchao's voice, full of light in our starless night:

"I would like to send a message to Ingrid. I know she's listening to me at this moment. I want her to know I owe her the greatest gift of all. Thanks to her, I have found my faith again. My little Ingrid, your Virgin Mary was there for me when I called to her. She put a police patrol on my path."

Thursday 4 November 2010

Forced abortion in China

John Humphrys has visited China, sent by the BBC's Today programme.

One aspect of his visit was a "package" about China's "one child" policy, and the prospect of its being brought to an end. The audio clip can be found here, though I am unclear whether or not this will be a permanent link or the "listen again" which will cease to be available in seven days time.

In a package built around an interview with a poor farmer who has suffered ill health because of a botched sterilisation operation, John says:
Almost everyone knows someone who has been forced to have an abortion, sometimes brutally; and most middle aged women have been sterilised.
Just to document this fully. The statement above was broadcast at 7.15 am on Thursday 4th November, on BBC Radio 4. The statement was made by John Humphrys, a BBC journalist, in a package recorded as part of a visit to China.

The occurence of forced abortions in China appears, therefore, to be a matter of common knowledge among the people there.

International agencies cannot therefore claim ignorance about the nature of China's population control programme.

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Images of St James (1): the Apostle

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela offers three distinct "images" of the person of St James. The first of these is St James seen as one of the Twelve Apostles. It is represented in the Cathedral by the tomb of the Apostle.

In a historical perspective, the strongest evidence for the idea that the tomb in the crypt below the high altar of the Cathedral contains the remains of St James (and his two disicples Anastius and Theodore) is the received practice of devotion on the site. The New Concise Edition of Butler's Lives of the Saints, in its entry on St James, is cautious:
Where St James preached and spread the gospel after the Lord's ascension we have no account from the writers of the first ages of Christianity. According to the tradition of Spain, he made an evangelizing visit to that country, but the earliest known reference to this is only in the later part of the seventh century, and then in an oriental , not a Spanish source. ... He was buried at Jerusalem, but, again according to the tradition of Spain, dating from about 830, the body was translated first to Iria Flavia, now El Padron, in Galicia, and then to Compostela, where during the middle ages the shrine of Santiago became one of the greatest of all Christian shrines. The relics still rest in the Cathedral and were referred to as authentic in a bull of Pope Leo XIII in 1884.
Pope Leo's bull would appear to coincide with the positioning of the relics in the silver casket that is now venerated in the Cathedral crypt.

The guide to the Cathedral, purchased in the bookshop, indicates that the Apostle was originally buried in a tomb that was part of a Roman cemetery, with the tomb on one level and an oratory above it. Over the centuries, this original construction has been lost. The present position of the tomb lies at the same level as the upper chamber or Oratory of the Roman construction. The practice of the pilgrimage to Compostela simply takes for granted the tradition that the Cathedral is indeed built on the site of the tomb of the Apostle James.

In terms of the image of St James that is represented by the tomb, it is one of an Apostle of Jesus Christ. It is the image of one who received from the Lord Jesus the message of salvation, one who preached that Gospel in the world, and the image of one who stands at the very beginning of the Christian tradition that is handed down in the Church to the present day.