Thursday 31 March 2011

What's so wrong with ....

What's so wrong with ... is the title of post that makes an important point with regard to the implementation of the new English translation of the Roman Missal.

If the new translation is to achieve the pastoral benefits for which it has such great potential, it will need priests in particular to have an attitude of faithfulness to the translations, and to the idea that they should be obedient to Liturgical texts. The problem is that some priests are now so used to having their own (unauthorised) adaptations and insertions to texts and rubrics that to suddenly cease them when the new translation is introduced is going to demand a quite considerable conversion in attitude on their part. Such a conversion in attitude is a very clear implication of the new translation - but I am not sure that I see a great deal of evidence this demand is being recognised (though I do hope, of course, that in the eventuality I am proved wrong).

The post linked to makes the relevant point carefully and in a very pastorally relevant way. The motto of Blessed John XXIII cited towards the end of the post does, I agree, make a very good motto for the process of implementing the new translation:
The answer to this dilemma and confusion (and even willfulness) is summed in the motto that the Bl. Pope John XXIII chose as his motto: Obedientia et Pax.

If I could be said to have a “program” for the “implementation of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal” that would be it !
H/T to Young Fogeys.

Sunday 27 March 2011

Pictures from Protest

Some unions can arrange a very civilized start to a protest march! Coffee, biscuits and "rest rooms".

Though I am not sure what to make of the view across a rather glum looking River Thames at the Millennium Bridge and Tate.

Setting off along the Embankment - we actually joined the later part of the march, so we were over three hours behind the first marchers and about one hour ahead of the last marchers.

I think this counts as my most iconic image of the day.

Another iconic image.

Approaching Parliament - and remember that the front of the march moved off at about 11.45 am!

Approaching Piccadilly. There had clearly been some trouble along Piccadilly earlier, with a few broken windows evident, but we were able to pass along Piccadilly quite peacefully.

Part way along Piccadilly.

Approaching Hyde Park.

I had subscribed to the Metropolitan Police's text update service for the day - and also received news updates from my sister - so we were aware in general terms of some of the difficulties that had occurred during the afternoon. This BBC report covers events of the whole day. However, our experience was one of a peaceful and well-ordered march. This was the case despite the fact that the numbers marching - well over 250 000, I would guess - meant that the streets were quite congested at some points of the route. We did not see any of the violent scenes shown in the BBC report which it is fair to say had absolutely nothing to do with the TUC march.

The nearest we got to a problem was passing Fortnum and Mason, where a small crowd was beginning to gather as we passed. Subsequent Met Police texts:
Fortnum and Mason's is surrounded by police as this is a crime scene.
The Met Police thank those outside Fortnum and Mason for their patience. They will not be held any longer than necessary.
Out of context, the texts are quite amusing. We did, of course, speculate as to whether or not Fortnum and Mason were providing refreshments to those who had occupied their premises.

By heading towards Kensington High Street for something to eat before returning home we kept very clear of trouble spots.

Saturday 26 March 2011

Benedict XVI: Third Sunday of Lent

This is Pope Benedict XVI's reflection on the Gospel of the Third Sunday of Lent, taken from his message for Lent 2011:
The question that Jesus puts to the Samaritan woman: “Give me a drink” (Jn 4: 7), is presented to us in the liturgy of the third Sunday; it expresses the passion of God for every man and woman, and wishes to awaken in our hearts the desire for the gift of “a spring of water within, welling up for eternal life” (Jn 4: 14): this is the gift of the Holy Spirit, who transforms Christians into “true worshipers,” capable of praying to the Father “in spirit and truth” (Jn 4: 23). Only this water can extinguish our thirst for goodness, truth and beauty! Only this water, given to us by the Son, can irrigate the deserts of our restless and unsatisfied soul, until it “finds rest in God”, as per the famous words of St. Augustine.

Why I am protesting today

The Coalition Government said it would protect funding for schools.

Schools in my authority are (gu-)estimating that a secondary school will be typically about £300 000 worse off in its 2011-12 financial year compared to its 2010-11 financial year. They can't know for sure how much worse off they will be because the budget lines are so confusing and dates for final announcement of some funding levels are so late that, just two weeks before the new financial year, they are still somewhat in the dark.

The Coalition Government says it needs to reduce the budget deficit.

But so far as I can see this is a smokescreen for an ideologically based cutting of funding for public services, witnessed, for example, by the campaigning against those receiving state benefits that occurred at points last year. And the idea that "front line services will be protected" is just not true.

So, there is an alternative. Being honest.

Friday 25 March 2011

Libya: the bombs are not working

I feel that I have not really been able to understand the nature of the events in Libya, be that the uprising against Colonel Ghadaffi or the subsequent launch of an airborne war against Colonel Ghadaffi's forces.

ZENIT are carrying a report that summarises statements by the Apostolic Vicar in Tripoli:
According to the apostolic vicar of Tripoli, the bombings by European forces are not resolving anything and the international community would do well to turn to the African Union to provide a peaceful solution.

Bishop Giovanni Martinelli told Fides: "I have trust in African wisdom to resolve the crisis. The Europeans delude themselves that they can resolve this matter with bombs. We need to allow room for mediation by the African Union."
The ZENIT report is based on a series of statements made over recent days by Bishop Martinelli to the Fides News Agency. These statements can be accessed from the right hand side of this page on the Fides site. This particular report refers to the situation of migrant workers caught up in the events, and the work of the Catholic community in Tripoli in their regard.
Those participating in our celebrations now are only African immigrants. And it is always a beautiful testimony of faith in this difficult time.

Thursday 24 March 2011


I haven't posted about the recent earthquake and tidal wave that hit Japan because I couldn't really think of anything appropriate that I could say about it. It was almost too overwhelming for comment from the opposite side of the world.

The way in which the Japanese people have responded, particularly in the areas directly devastated by the tidal wave, does, I think, set an amazing example to the whole world. They have just got on with things as best they can, responding to four different tragedies (earthquake, tsunami, nuclear disaster and the consequent economic problem,) any one of which would have been a big enough challenge on its own. This report on the BBC news website gives some idea of the response of the people, as do the "In pictures" linked at the bottom of the report.
Japan has never lost its sense of community and in dark times it is shining through.

This nation's great disaster has brought out the best in its people.

My own reflection has been that the Japanese have set the world a wonderful example of what should be intended by the term "social cohesion". It means the ordinary, every day care that we should have for our neighbour. My additional thought has been that this example of social cohesion is not something for which provision could have been made by legislation. It has occurred in circumstances that have been beyond any concept of legal jurisdiction, though the preparation for earthquakes that is part of Japenese life has clearly played its part. This example of social cohesion has occurred at the level of a personal turning from self towards neighbour.

International Eucharistic Congress 2012: Official Launch

The media launch of the International Eucharistic Congress 2012 is reported here.

The pilgrimage of the Congress Bell through the dioceses and parishes of Ireland has also begun. An image of the Bell in its carrying frame can be found here. In his homily at the beginning of this journey, Cardinal Brady said the following:

An example of a lam-chlog of that time can be found today in the National Museum of Ireland. So, in his work of evangelisation, of bringing the joy of the Gospel to the Irish people, the bell had an honoured place in the mission of our National Apostle. It called the people to pray. It invited them to pause from their busy and distracted lives and to turn to what gives life to the spirit and the soul. It beckoned people to meet Jesus himself in his Word and in the Eucharist.

The Eucharistic Congress Bell has a more recent history but its purpose is still the same. Originally from the Dominican Convent School in Portstewart it was used to usher in the new millennium in Glendalough in the Jubilee year 2000. It was used to summon us to what Pope John Paul II called the new evangelisation that is the mission of the Church at the beginning of the third millennium. That call to a new evangelisation will continue to ring out in every parish the bell will visit. It will ring out in memory of Patrick who, in spite of his personal weakness and the many obstacles that came his way, burned with zeal for the hope, life and love that the message of Christ offered to the people of Ireland. The bell will call every one of us to take up that mission from Patrick and make it our own in living out our baptismal call....
The Congress Bell is not a megaphone shouting for attention above all the other noise of our lives. It is not even a special ring tone designed to stand out from the crowd. It is a simple bell that tolls softly. It invites each one of us to quietly think again about the faith that brought courage, peace and hope to so many generations of Irish people at home and across the world. For those who have forgotten or rejected their faith, it is a gentle call to give faith in Jesus Christ and in His Word another chance.
Whilst it may be the case that the Congress Bell has a significance particular to the history of Ireland, I am disappointed that the Bell is not being seen in a wider international context. The Eucharistic Congress is, after all, an international Congress.

Sunday 20 March 2011

The Cross, the Crucifix and a Court Ruling

Yesterday I posted about Stations without the figure of Christ? As part of that post I asked the question:
Under what circumstances, if any, is it true to the Christian mystery to leave out a representation of the bodily figure of Christ from a work of art that shows his presence?
In asking that question I did not particularly have in mind the representation of the figure of Christ - sometimes known from the Latin term the "corpus" - that makes a Cross into a Crucifix, though that is clearly a proximate question to the slightly wider one that I was asking.

In response to that post I received a comment with a link to the website of St Andrew's RC Church in Bearsden, Glasgow. The header image of the site shows the sanctuary of the Church, and the purpose of the comment I received was to point out that there is a representation of the Cross on the wall behind the altar, but that it is a Cross rather than a Crucifix - the figure of Christ is absent. From the point of view of the Liturgy, n.308 of the Revised General Instruction on the Roman Missal sets the context for an initial comment:
There is also to be a cross, with the figure of Christ crucified upon it, positioned either on the altar or near it, and which is clearly visible to the people gathered together. It is fitting that a cross of this kind, recalling for the faithful the saving passion of the Lord, remain near the altar even outside of liturgical celebrations.
That having been said, I do find the arrangement of the sanctuary at St Andrew's attractive. One can see an alignment of the ambo, altar and tabernacle that would not exist if the tabernacle were positioned in a side chapel. I might be inclined to suggest that the priest preside from "sideways on" rather than from the chair positioned so that he has his back to the tabernacle. Moreover, such an arrangement would give an analogue to the "Benedictine arrangement" whereby people and celebrating priest both have an orientation towards the Cross for at least part of the Liturgy. The impression conveyed by the images to either side of the sanctuary is one of the presence of Eucharistic imagery - the loaves and fishes of the young boy on the right, for example. So it would be wrong to see this as an example of a work of art - or architecture - which removes all images of the physical body of Christ.

In general, apart from the rubrical point made above, I am relaxed about whether or not the Crucifix should be seen as "better" in some way than a Cross. In a Roman Catholic context, it appears to be preferred by way of historical practice to which most of the people are accustomed. I do not buy into an explanation for a Cross that it represents Christ as risen - its symbolism seems to me to be still one of the saving death of Christ. I also expect that in many contemporary contexts the viewing of a Cross shows a presence of the Christian mystery rather than any sense of a removal of the figure of Christ. The World Youth Day Cross, for example, is a Cross and has no figure of Christ on it. Yet it must be one of the most powerful symbols of the presence of Christ to contemporary culture that we could possibly have.

My post coincided with the Grand Chamber judgement of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of the display of crucifixes in the classrooms of state schools in Italy. The press release from the registrar of the court giving explanation of this judgement is here and, as usual, I do think it is useful to read the original source. The full text of the judgement itself can be found here. There is also an interesting summary of previous cases relating to religious liberty that have been considered by the European Court. If we look at the judgement, what are the grounds that it gives in allowing Italy to continue with its current practice? My following remarks are based on the text of the press release.

1. The court did not feel entitled to encroach on what it calls the "margin of appreciation" proper to individual member states, in this case Italy, in meeting the requirements of the parents' right to ensure the education of their children in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions. As far as the provision of education by the state is concerned, an individual member state is entitled to decide how that will be done in their own country in a way that respects the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights. The view of the court was that a decision about whether or not crucifixes should be displayed in classrooms was within this "margin of appreciation", that is, within what Catholic social teaching would recognise as an area of subsidiarity.

2. The effect of the presence of the crucifix on the walls of Italian classrooms was considered from the point of view of its impact on the pupils. Fundamentally, this is a question of whether or not the presence of the crucifix represents a proselytising impact for pupils of religions other than Christianity, Roman Catholicism in particular, or of no religion at all. The view of the court was that no such proselytising impact existed in Italian state schools, and the press release cites a range of ways in which those of non-Catholic belief are respected in the Italian state school system.

3. The effect of the presence of the crucifix on the walls of Italian classrooms was also considered from the point of view that it gave to the majority religion in the country an unjustly greater visibility in the school environment. Citing previous cases, the court did not consider that this of itself amounted to a form of indoctrination (ie teaching that would not respect the rights of parents to ensure the education of their children in accordance with their own religious or philosophical convictions). The court took this view in the light of the non-proselytising nature of the presence of crucifixes as already noted at 2 above.

4. The presence of the crucifix in Italian classrooms was also considered from the point of view, argued by the Italians, that the display of the crucifix in classrooms formed a tradition in Italy that the government now considered important to perpetuate. This has a historical origin particular to Italy, but can now also be argued from the point of view that the crucifix, beyond its specifically religious meaning, also symbolises the principles and values which are at the foundation of democracy and western civilisation (and indeed at the heart of the founding of the European Union). The view of the court was that the maintenance of such a tradition also lay within the "margin of appreciation" proper to an individual state, but that it did not allow a state to disregard its obligations towards the rights of parents with regard to the education of their children contained in the European Convention. A role of supervision by the Court was stated in this respect and, in effect, is contained in the decisions view that the presence of crucifixes in Italian schools does not have a proselytising impact.

I do not think that the press release really says that the Court decision allows Italian schools to continue displaying the crucifix because they have no influence on pupils, as some are suggesting. When the press release is read as a whole, rather than just focussing on "there was no evidence before the Court that the display of such a symbol on classroom walls might have an influence on pupils" and "a crucifix on a wall was an essentially passive symbol whose influence on pupils was not comparable to that of didactic speech or participation in religious activities", then its decision is more securely founded than this assertion suggests.

The implication for schools is that their attitude to non-Catholic pupils is one of dialogue and not proselytism - and the Court decision is saying that that is completely compatible with the display of the crucifix and, by a certain implication, of other religious images, in the school environment. So far as I am aware, this is where any Catholic school would be at with regard to non-Catholic pupils who might attend the school.

UPDATE: Further interesting comment here, focussing on the significance of the place in the court judgement of the idea of "margin of appreciation".

Saturday 19 March 2011

Stations without the figure of Christ?

If we were Buddhists, when we meditate, we would try to empty our minds. But we're Catholics. When we meditate we try to fill our minds with thoughts of Jesus, His life and work, the people around Him, the times in which He lived and what we can glean from that and gain from that and how we can become like that.
This is a remark that Ask Sr Mary Martha makes as part of a post which discusses colouring books of the Stations of the Cross for young children to use during Lent. It followed a previous post, in which Sister wrote about newer forms of the Stations of the Cross that use only Scriptural sources, and the problem that using these newer forms can cause when the parish Church has a lovely set of "traditional stations". Like Sister, I am quite comfortable with the idea of different forms of the stations and, indeed, with their extension into a "stations of the Resurrection" that can be used during the Liturgical season of Easter. Indeed, I have buried away on my hard drive at least one set of Stations of the Cross intended for use during a period of Eucharistic Adoration and a set of Stations of the Resurrection also intended for the same type of use. The way in which the Stations of the Cross are prayed during World Youth Days shows how this "traditional" devotion can be successfully "updated" without losing anything of its original vigour and life.

However, yesterday evening I encountered a "Stations of the Crown of Thorns" at the Anglo-Catholic parish of St Paul's in Goodmayes. Images of some of the stations can be found here and here, though they have now been placed around the Church as would be typical of Stations of the Cross. The Vicar of the parish has written a set of prayers/meditations for each station - a strength of which is the use for some stations of Old Testament passages that would not often be associated with the Stations of the Cross and a weakness of which is that two stations have meditations that reflect the "inclusive" (ie in some respects liberal) nature of the parish.

However, what prompts my reflection is the absence of the figure of Christ himself from the images in the Stations. One station - Jesus dies on the Cross - is represented by the lovely crucifix with figure that was already in place on the East wall of the Church behind the altar, so this is an exception. The absence of a representation of the figure of Christ in the station representing the Eucharistic presence of Jesus (see the first photogaph here) might also be seen as an exception because of the appropriateness of the absence of a bodily representation. The artists responsible for the commission describe it as follows:
In this semi-abstract scheme, Christ is represented solely by the Crown of Thorns..... The additional Station represents the risen Christ in the form of bread and wine and will be located in the Lady Chapel.

The stated intention of the artist is that the Crown of Thorns "represents Christ"; but there remains a sense in which the figure of Christ's body is not represented in the images for the stations. For a religion whose centre is the teaching that Jesus Christ, in his human body, is God-made-man - and therefore God can be artistically represented in human flesh - this raises a first interesting question. Under what circumstances, if any, is it true to the Christian mystery to leave out a representation of the bodily figure of Christ from a work of art that shows his presence? As Ask Sister Mary Martha suggests in the passage quoted above, should we "empty" ourselves of the presence of Christ or should we "fill" ourselves with that presence in a work of Christian art?
There is also a second question, which occurs because of the context of a parish whose website includes the description (my italics added):
We are a friendly, multi-ethnic, inclusive congregation, offering a warm welcome to everyone, regardless of their background.
Does avoiding a bodily representation of Christ allow the artist to avoid representing the person of Christ as being male, if not in intention than at least in effect? Such would be to completely re-write the doctrines of the Incarnation and of the Trinity.

Benedict XVI: Second Sunday of Lent

In his message for Lent 2011, Pope Benedict XVI writes the following with regard to the Gospel for Mass on the Second Sunday of Lent:
The Gospel of the Transfiguration of the Lord puts before our eyes the glory of Christ, which anticipates the resurrection and announces the divinization of man. The Christian community becomes aware that Jesus leads it, like the Apostles Peter, James and John “up a high mountain by themselves” (Mt 17: 1), to receive once again in Christ, as sons and daughters in the Son, the gift of the Grace of God: “This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favor. Listen to him” (Mt 17: 5). It is the invitation to take a distance from the noisiness of everyday life in order to immerse oneself in God’s presence. He desires to hand down to us, each day, a Word that penetrates the depths of our spirit, where we discern good from evil (cf. Heb 4:12), reinforcing our will to follow the Lord.

Archbishop Romero: two diary entries

It is rather intriguing to see the connection being made between Archbishop Romero and the participation of Christians in the "March for the Alternative" on 26th March. There is a report of this here. It would be interesting to know whether Archbishop Romero would have made such a direct connection between his mission in the life of El Salvador and such a specific political protest.

It prompted me to look in his diary for an entry for 19th March, to go with my feast day today. This is part of the entry for Monday, March 19-Friday, March 23 1979; it refers to Archbishop Romero's participation in a seminar in the Dominican Republic on the subject of devotion to the Sacred Heart:
We studied how to make this devotion attractive to the people of today - this devotion that undoubtedly continues to be important, but that, perhaps because of not having been brought up to date sufficiently, is considered by some to be antiquated. Nevertheless, enlightened by our reflections, we understood that it needs to regain the attention that it deserves. For this reason, those of us attending from Central America decided to organise a small committtee which, working with the international centre, will look for ways to carry out the ideal renewal of the worship of the Sacred Heart in our countries.

I had the honour of being named president of the small Central American group. I accepted with pleasure because it has always been my preferred devotion and because I know that devotion to the Sacred Heart could be very fruitful for the pastoral work of our diocese.
The entry for 19th March 1980, just days before Archbishop Romero's death, includes the celebration of two feast day Masses and whirlwind of different pastoral and adminstrative meetings. Two particular paragraphs indicate Archbishop Romero's view of politicization among the priests of his diocese. The Archibishop's concerns need to be understood against the background of his own contribution to the political arena in his country, in denouncing atrocities and speaking against all violence.
I went to the chancery for a while. There were a large number of visits, the most significant one from Fathers Toruella and Mejia, who came to share with me some ideas from a group of priests who are concerned about the politicization of some of the priests. They invited me to a reflection so that we may have a dialogue among the different sectors of the clergy and, if possible, an inquiry in order to neutralize anything which might divide us as priests....

At four o'clock in the afternoon we had a meeting with the council or committee for humanitarian aid, an ecumenical committee of which Caritas is part. It was to discuss a problem that has arisen in the refugee centres. What is happening is that the agents of the popular political organizations are using these people for their political activities. We have tried to make it clear that a refugee centre should not be a headquarters for their operations. There was a great deal of discussion. I always have the impression of extreme politicization in the declarations made by Father Rogelio and Father Tilo Sanchez, as well as by others who participated in the meeting. But I was also very glad to see the very balanced position of some of the priests and some of the members of the Protestant Churches who collaborate with us in this ecumenical work. The manager of Caritas, Miss Carmen, was also very prudent in her orientation.

Friday 18 March 2011

In the circle of the saints

In girotondo con i santi is the title of an interview published in the Italian, daily edition of the L'Osservatore Romano. It is an interview with Fr Francois-Marie Lethel OCD, who has been preaching the Lenten retreat for Pope Benedict and the Curia this week. The theme for his retreat is "The Light of Christ in the Heart of the Church: John Paul II and the theology of the saints", chosen because Fr Lethel wanted to give his meditations an orientation as a spiritual preparation for the beatification of Pope John Paul II. Fr Lethel believes that the beatification of Pope John Paul II has an enormous signficance for the life of the Church.
Per sviluppare il tema, ho scelto un'icona della comunione dei santi: un dipinto del beato fra Angelico che rappresenta i santi e gli angeli in cielo che si danno la mano e fanno come un girotondo. I santi si danno e ci danno la mano per guidarci sul cammino della santità. Questo è il senso della conversione quaresimale: impegnarci di più entrando anche noi in questo "girotondo dei santi". Un girotondo guidato da Papa Wojtyla, che dà la mano ai due santi più vicini a lui: san Luigi Maria di Montfort, che ha ispirato il suo Totus tuus, e santa Teresa di Lisieux, l'unica santa proclamata dottore della Chiesa durante il suo Pontificato.

To develop the theme, I chose an image of the communion of saints: a painting by Blessed Fra Angelico that represents the saints and angels in heaven holding hands and making a kind of circle. The saints give their hands to each other and give their hands to us to guide us on the way of sanctity. This is the meaning of Lenten conversion: to dedicate ourselves again to entering in this "circle of the saints". A circle guided by Pope Wojtyla, who gives his hand to the two saints most close to himself: Saint Louis Marie de Montfort, who inspired his motto "Totus tuus", and Saint Therese of Lisieux, the only saint proclaimed a doctor of the Church during his Pontificate.
Fr Lethel's identification of the two saints closest to John Paul II - Louis Marie de Montfort and Therese of Lisieux - is very interesting.

H/T to ZENIT here.

Sunday 13 March 2011

26th March 2011: will you be joining us?

This march is being organised by the Trades Union Congress. Website here explains reasons for the march, and here gives details of the logistics.. Zero and I are not sure which of our respective unions we will walk with yet. Mine is offering facilities and refreshments before assembling on the Embankment ... We are both of an age to be very aware of the injustice of suddenly taking away a chunk of our pensions, as well as asking us to pay more for them (well, in truth, to pay more to help pay off the deficit). And we are both in professions - NHS and teaching - where the promised "protection" of front line services is turning out to be rather a smokescreen for real and significant cuts as 2011-12 budget figures become available.

Saturday 12 March 2011

Benedict XVI: First Sunday of Lent

...the Church, in the Gospel texts of the Sundays of Lent, leads us to a particularly intense encounter with the Lord, calling us to retrace the steps of Christian initiation: for catechumens, in preparation for receiving the Sacrament of rebirth; for the baptized, in light of the new and decisive steps to be taken in the sequela Christi and a fuller giving of oneself to him.
In his message for Lent 2011, Pope Benedict XVI invites the Church to live in a particular way the catechumenal/baptismal nature of the Lenten season. The readings of the Sunday cycle A which are being used this year lend themselves particularly to this.
The First Sunday of the Lenten journey reveals our condition as human beings here on earth. The victorious battle against temptation, the starting point of Jesus’ mission, is an invitation to become aware of our own fragility in order to accept the Grace that frees from sin and infuses new strength in Christ – the way, the truth and the life (cf. Ordo Initiationis Christianae Adultorum, n. 25). It is a powerful reminder that Christian faith implies, following the example of Jesus and in union with him, a battle “against the ruling forces who are masters of the darkness in this world” (Eph 6: 12), in which the devil is at work and never tires – even today – of tempting whoever wishes to draw close to the Lord: Christ emerges victorious to open also our hearts to hope and guide us in overcoming the seductions of evil.

Friday 11 March 2011

Repaying to God what is God's

The Director of Childcare - Brentwood Catholic Children's Society, Dick Madden, wrote the following in the March 2011 issue of the society's newsletter:
During the recent successful papal visit, the Pope made an inspirational speech at Westminster Hall, in which he said: "There are many areas in which the church and public authorities can work together for the good of citizens. For such co-operation to be possible, religious bodies need to be free to act in accordance with their own principles".

Prime Minister, David Cameron, in his farewell address to the Holy Father said: "The common bond of uniting is at the heart of the new culture of social responsibility we want to build in Britain. People of fatih are great architects of that new culture and crucially it is their faith that inspires them to help others"....

Though we would retain our identity, there will be more opportunities where we can explore working together or in collaboration with other organisations and charities. An example of this is that we have been successful in securing money to undertake educational and preventative work with children in East London to encourage them not to become involved with violent crimes and gang culture. Along with a neighbouring Diocese and similar charitable organisations we are being given the opportunity to seek additional government monies to expand our work in this area.
Travelling by train into London earlier this week gave me an opportunity to see the extent of the different graffiti "tags" on the walls and buildings adjacent to the rail line, clear evidence of the need for the work with regard to gang culture.

This week I also read a "Meditation of the Day" in Magnificat that provided a very thought provoking commentary on the possibility of the collaboration of the Church with civil authorities. It was written by Madeleine Delbrel, writing in reference to a very different context than that which exists in Britain today, but it retains a startling relevance. I think the dichotomy between capitalism and Marxism can be seen in analogy in the contemporary politics of Britain. The added emphasis is mine, and does not appear in the original. Madeleine Delbrel's full essay can be found in We, the Ordinary People of the Streets Wm B Eerdmans 2000 pp.96-107.
We cannot allow ourselves to mix up the Good News of salvation with the various recipes for happiness bandied about by the world. We cannot allow ourselves to give credit to the world for certain key notions that are in fact segments of the Gospel that have been taken out of their context and taken over by certain sectors of society.  We cannot allow ourselves to let Christ's message be welded to other messages, making it a moment in man's salvation of man, putting the Gospel at the service of causes that are not purely and simply those of salvation.

The Gospel cries out fom one end to the other that God alone is, that the world on its own is incapable of producing life, truth, or love. The kingdom of heaven is the personal love of God, through Christ, for each one of us, and the love of each one of us for each one of the others. It is through loving each one in particular that we are able to love humanity. Each one of us is meant to receive the Gospel. Salvation is not a collective abstraction.

For its part, the world oscillates between two poles, in which "each one" is sacrificed to an abstraction: on the one hand, in practice, self-centred capitalism, for the sake of the well-being of the few, casts out all the others into a collective destitution; on the other hand, Marxism, for the sake of a collective well-being, casts out those who oppose it into another kind of destitution. In either case, then, we risk losing from view all that evangelisation and salvation have to do with the individual .....

The kingdom of God is not love of the world but love of people.
Dick Madden is quite correct in taking up the idea of working with other charities and with local/national government at the service children in need. The idea of working with young people to discourage gang adherence is, from the point of view of a Christian engagement, an expression of the love of the individual person that is the Gospel being put into practice. But does the nature of that engagement change when it is grant funded by government? Does it become - or at least risk becoming - a Catholic society being paid to carry out a function of government, and therefore allowing "Christ's message to be welded to other messages"? The answer to these questions is not by any means a straightforward "yes", and I would not want my asking them to be seen as a specific criticism of Childcare - Brentwood Catholic Childrens Society.

But Madeleine Delbrel's critique does prompt the question of whether the model of government grant funding of particular projects, which are then undertaken by a Catholic charity, is the best financial model for implementing thecollaboration of the Church and public authorities envisaged by Pope Benedict XVI. If the work of a Catholic charity is for the common good of civil society, why should government not fund that work in itself rather than tying funding to particular projects?

Wednesday 9 March 2011

Branch theory

According to the BBC news website, in a piece entitled Dissident Anglicans leave Church of England:
A first wave of about 600 Anglicans are officially leaving the Church of England in protest at the decision to ordain women as bishops.

They will be enrolled as candidates to join a new branch of the Catholic Church - the Ordinariate - which has been specially created for them.
If I have understood aright, those joining the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham are not leaving the Church of England "in protest". The prospect of women bishops in the Church of England is I expect part of their story, but the fundamental question is one of which women bishops is only a symptom. The question is one of unity with the Catholic faith, and therefore of unity with the Holy See.

More inaccurate than the report's reference to "in protest" is its reference to the Ordinariate as a "new branch of the Catholic Church"! This suggests that the Ordinariate is a kind of "Church of England" within the Catholic Church ... but it is precisely the notion of the Church of England as a "branch" of the universal Catholic Church that has now become untenable for those who are leaving. To speak of the Ordinariate in that same language is not only inaccurate but mis-represents both the intentions of those joining the Ordinariate and the reality of the juridical structure erected by Pope Benedict XVI.

Just war and the military vocation

I went and listened to Charles Lord Guthrie giving the first of the Lent 2011 Faith Matters lectures at Westminster Cathedral Hall yesterday evening. I have missed out on the more recent series of these lectures, but did go to those of March-April 2009 - you can find me among those contributing to the on-line debates on one or two of those lectures.

At the time of posting, the video of Lord Guthrie's lecture can be found here, but the promised on-line debate is not yet up and running. Lord Guthrie presented what was a quite traditional kind of exposition of the criteria for commencing and then engaging in a just war. His criteria for going to war were: just cause, proportionate cause, right intention, right authority, reasonable likelihood of success and the use of war as a resort when all other efforts to resolve the issue have been exhausted. His criteria for justice during the execution of war were discrimination between those who cause harm and those who do not and proportionality in the use of force and destructive power.

Lord Guthrie recognised the difficulty in applying these criteria to the situation of modern warfare where the complexity of practical judgements made using them might not be as easy as in earlier times. A question that was not asked, but would have been interesting to consider, is that about how these criteria can be used in the conduct of an insurgency - and there can be circumstances where the conduct of such a type of warfare might be as just as the conduct of a conventional conflict.

Given that the common theme to this series of lectures is drawn from Pope Benedict's address at Westminster Hall in September 2010:
Westminster Hall was the scene of an historic event on 17 September 2010. On the eve of Pope Benedict’s visit to our Cathedral, centre of Catholic life in our country, the Holy Father addressed various representatives of public life in a place of great historical significance, reminding us of the often hostile relationship between Church and State. It was here that he called us to an authentic dialogue between faith and reason, between religion and society. “I would invite all of you, therefore, within your respective spheres of influence, to seek ways of promoting and encouraging dialogue between faith and reason at every level of national life”.

my own question was about how the principles of a just war might be reflected into an articulation of what it is that constitutes the vocation of a member of the armed forces. The teaching of n.79 of Vatican II's Constitution Gaudium et Spes offers a context for this question: seems right that laws make humane provisions for the case of those who for reasons of conscience refuse to bear arms, provided however, that they agree to serve the human community in some other way....

Those too who devote themselves to the military service of their country should regard themselves as the agents of security and freedom of peoples. As long as they fulfill this role properly, they are making a genuine contribution to the establishment of peace.
Each year since 1958 an International Military Pilgrimage (and here) has taken place in Lourdes, a pilgrimage that expresses the idea that military service is, correctly understood and lived, a service to peace.

It is very easy to see the conscientious objector as being on the side of peace and the soldier as being on the side of war. But is it possible to use the principles of a just war to produce a more specific articulation of the mission of the soldier that would overcome this polarisation? An individual might be called to one or other of these two ways of life - and the judgement of conscience might be seen as one of judgement of a particular vocation in the specific situation.

Going to a lecture like this is not just about the substance of the lecture and discussion itself. It also gives an opportunity for "meeting" the person of the lecturer, for getting a sense of them as a person. In that sense it is interesting to meet someone of Lord Guthrie's standing - he is a former Chief of the Defence Staff. Though he did insist on the relevance of the theory of a just war for today on the grounds that it provides a reminder that moral and ethical questions should be asked by those who make decisions to go to war, I was a little disappointed in the lack of a deeper justification of this insistence. In part, I think this is because the question was not brought down to the level of the individual soldier as would have been needed to answer my question; in part it was also due to what one might consider quite "conservative" answers in favour of Britain's possessing a nuclear weapon and in favour of the justness of the Falklands conflict. I wondered whether, in retirement, Lord Guthrie might have undertaken a moral assessment of greater depth than was apparent.

Sunday 6 March 2011

Forthcoming census: make sure you vote

The ten-yearly census that is soon to be undertaken in the United Kingdom is not an election or a referendum on a particular issue. So it should not be a case of "voting" at all. The purpose of the census is to provide a base of data that will be used to inform the planning of services in the years to come.

Everyone should be included in the census - all people, households and overnight visitors.

It is used to help plan and fund services for your community - services like transport, education and health.

Taking part in the census is very important and it's also compulsory. You could face a fine if you don't participate or if you supply false information.

Your personal information is protected by law and will be kept confidential for at least 100 years.

So help tomorrow take shape and be part of the 2011 Census.

But the British Humanist Association are campaigning in order to encourage people to indicate that they have "no religion" in their Census response. Their campaign ran into a bit of bother when the owners of advertising space in railway stations, acting on advice from the Advertising Standards Authority's committee of advertising practice that the advert had the potential to cause widespread and serious offence, refused to carry the advertisements. The report of this on the Guardian website is here. The BHA have ammended their posters in the light of this.

One strand of their campaign is to encourage those who say they are "Christian" out of culture rather than active conviction to say they have "no religion". I think this suggestion is misleading for two reasons.

The first is that what is a cultural identification as Christian represents a pre-disposition towards a level of religious practice at moments of life crisis - such as illness and serious criminal proceedings, to give two possible examples. This might well be expressed to a visiting chaplain as "I do believe, but I don't go to Church" or "I do believe, but I haven't been to Church for ages". And that visit, and the opportunity for the person concerned to express something like this, is of value for their well being at an important moment in their lives. And the service that they have accessed is one that has a religious character. The expression of a cultural adherence to Christianity in the census by those who do have such a cultural affiliation (I am not, by the way, suggesting that someone who genuinely has no religion should express this affiliation) will inform an appropriate provision of such a service.

The second has to do with the phenomenological nature of religion as possessing a cultural dimension. The cultural sense of Christian faith that someone may have cannot be as easily separated from a genuine religious sense as the BHA would have us believe. Though the history of Britain contains a deeply grounded Christian heritage that we receive today, history does not provide a grounds for saying that "Britain is a Christian country" today - in this very limited sense I agree with the BHA. What does justify the assertion of a Christian character of British society is the continued living of a Christian culture by a significant proportion of the people of our nations, and the way in which many of our institutions still express the Christian culture that lay in their historic origin. In other words, it is the continued living of that culture today that justifies a stake for Christian culture in national culture, and not history.

In an appropriately secular society the organs of state will not promote or impose one religious practice over and above any other; they will remain in essence neutral with regard to one religion over and above another, and, indeed, neutral with regard to those of no religious belief as well. But the word "secular" in this context does not mean "non-religious" or "anti-religious". As Pope Benedict XVI indicated when he spoke in Westminster Hall in September 2010:
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.

Religion, in other words, is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation. In this light, I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalization of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters.
So, when it comes to completing your census return, do not hesitate to indicate your religion! Make your vote (?) count!

Friday 4 March 2011

A local story of commerce and politics ...

I live on the outskirts of what might be termed "West Ham territory", and could get to their present stadium in about 15 minutes by car. A bus route from outside my abode passes Upton Park. It isn't cheerful territory at the moment, since West Ham appear to be quite firmly established in the relegation zone of the Premier League. I believe they are also a club with quite a big debt, though debt is not something that makes a football club insolvent. Relegation to the Championship, though, would have a serious financial implication for the club, particularly if they were to remain in the Championship for more than one season.

So one wouldn't think that West Ham United would be a good choice for taking on the flagship project of occupying the 2012 Olympic Stadium when that stadium goes into its "legacy" phase.

Yet their bid has been chosen by the Olympic Park Legacy Company as "preferred bidder", and that choice has been approved by central government and the Mayor of London. The bid involves the setting up of a company by West Ham United and the London Borough of Newham to run the stadium in its legacy phase, with West Ham playing their home fixtures at the ground. West Ham's own report of the approval is here.

A key part of the bid appears to be a loan of £40m arranged through the local authority, the London Borough of Newham. If I have understood the story correctly, favourable terms have been gained for this loan because it is based on Newham's credit rating, giving access to more favourable terms than would have been the case if West Ham United had sought a loan in another way. This report of the approval of that loan by the Council of the London Borough of Newham appeared on the BBC news site on the same day that the Council voted on it at the end of January. Do read it.

And yesterday the BBC news site reported that it would be the local residents of Newham who would be liable for the £40m loan if the West Ham United project were to fail. Do read this report, too.

Just a local story of commerce and politics in local government .....

"Why I avoid both the Catholic left and the Catholic right"

H/T to A Catholic Mom in Hawaii for the link to this post. I think there is a role for Catholics to engage in controversy, but I think Heather King makes a good point that it is possible that such engagement can be about one's own status among fellow controversialists. And there is also the condition of charity that should govern that engagement, a condition that is much harder to maintain at the "distance" of the electronic media than in direct face-to-face contact.

The whole article, and its comments, are thought provoking and well worth reading. I was particularly struck by the following paragraph, though I think its real force can only be appreciated if you have read the whole post:
.... I’m always a little taken aback by the complete lack of affection, often within her own ranks, for the Church. To me, the Church is kind of like having an alcoholic mother: majestic one minute; engaging in some cringingly  non-Christ-like behavior the next. But no matter what, she’s your Mother. No matter what, you love your mother. And the way you love her is you notice when she goes wrong, you grieve for her, you mourn for her, and then you silently resolve to help her do a little better. You don’t pretend not to see her faults and get all self-righteous and militaristic if someone attacks her—but you also don’t kick her when she’s down. I think the way we feel about the Church is very much an indication of how we feel, in our hearts, about the least of our brothers and sisters.
I am not sure where I gained my perception of Pope Paul VI as being a man who suffered greatly for his love of the Church - I see this as being his particular charism for the Church of our time - but this paragraph put me in mind of that perception.

Thursday 3 March 2011

Shahbaz Bhatti: martyr for the truth about man

This BBC report gives news of the reaction in Pakistan following the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic, and, before his murder, the minister responsible for minority communities in Pakistan. The country is to observe three days of mourning. Mr Bhatti's killing follows shortly after that of Salman Taseer who, like Mr Bhatti, spoke out in opposition to Pakistan's blasphemy laws.
The response of the Holy See is reported here by ZENIT.
The Vatican statement concluded with a call to respect religious freedom: "Our prayers for the victim, our condemnation for this unspeakable act of violence, our closeness to Pakistani Christians who suffer hatred, are accompanied by an appeal that everyone may become aware of the urgent importance of defending both religious freedom and Christians who are subject to violence and persecution."
Aid to the Church in Need UK have condemned the attack, and called for greater respect for human rights and religious freedom.
Expressing outrage at the murder, Mr Kyrke-Smith asked: “How can the British government be planning to increase aid to the Pakistan government when religious freedom is not upheld and those who are against the infamous blasphemy laws are not protected and just gunned down?”
It is difficult to underestimate the political significance of Shahbaz Bhatti's murder, and not only in the context of Pakistan. This killing has implications for any situation where a violent interpretation of Islam has a presence, or a potential presence.

At a more theological level, I believe Mr Bhatti can be viewed as a martyr, as one who laid down his life in testimony to the truth about that highest freedom of mankind, his freedom in relation to religious faith. He is a martyr for the truth about the human preson in the same way as were Jerzy Popieluszko and Oscar Romero, but in a different type of context.

Further comment on the murder of Mr Bhatti can be found here (H/T to Fr Ray):
.... the distortion of religious values about which Pope Benedict alerted the world in his Regensberg address has arrived at its logical conclusion with these murders in Pakistan. How many more such murders will take place until honest Muslims in Pakistan and elsewhere and the world community at large take a stand against this evil and barbarous perversion of religion.
UPDATE: William Oddie writes about Mr Bhatti's killing on the Catholic Herald website: Shahbaz Bhatti was a hero of the Catholic faith, a martyr by whose courage we should be inspired. He links to this report by Orla Guerin on the BBC news site: Pakistan murder: Shahbaz Bhatti's 'goodbye' call. Orla Guerin's report describes the political, and indeed moral, implications of Mr Bhatti's killing.

Tuesday 1 March 2011

Catholics need not apply (3)

Gavin Drake is a Christian journalist, employed as the director of communications for the Bishop and Diocese of Lichfield. To a good extent he has beaten me to my more detailed comments on the judgement of the High Court. He has drawn on a reading of the text of the judgement itself to say that:
It isn’t a landmark judgement.
Gavin Drake's post is based on reading the text of the judgement. I concur with his exegesis of the text of the judgement that indicates that it is not the landmark judgement that media coverage has been calling it. The judges themselves identify so many difficulties with what they were asked to do, and what they have actually done, that that alone would say "no" to the "landmark" label. At one point they recognise that they are at the very outermost limit of their jurisdiction.

What I am not able to assess is how far the account of the case given by the judges in the text of their judgement is in fact the whole story. The account does clearly move the person who reads it to a particular view of the way in which the case was brought and presented on behalf of Mr and Mrs Johns.

However, if the account of the situation of Mr and Mrs Johns as given in the judgement is accepted as being more or less accurate, I believe a second ground emerges for arguing that the High Court judgement was not a "landmark" judgement. I do not think that their situation, and their articulation of their position in response to social worker enquiries, means that it constitutes a good "test case". It has too many weaknesses relating to the particular individual situation for it to be readily extendable as a typical case for other situations.

That having been said, the way in which the media are reporting the judgement, and some of its detailed comments in the judgement, are likely to lead to discrimination against Christians.

H/T  Catholic Herald.

Catholics need not apply (2)

I still hope to offer my more detailed comment on the text of the judgement itself, but meanwhile Ben Summerskill is quoted in today's Times as follows:
We’re delighted that the High Court’s landmark decision has favoured 21st-century decency above 19th-century prejudice.
The characterisation of traditional Christian beliefs and, in effect the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as "19th Century prejudice" is unacceptable and itself betrays an anti-religious prejudice. Mr Summerskill shoud retract.

The full comment from Stonewall is here.

[A thought on note 2 at the foot of Stonewall's media release. There are more Roman Catholics in the Britain than LGB people and, assuming a similar demographic/economic profile, they will contribute more than the claimed £40bn annually contributed by LGB people to public services. Where is our equality?]