Saturday 30 April 2011

Pope John Paul II: "Some definite service"

One of the Cardinal’s best-loved meditations includes the words, “God has created me to do him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another” (Meditations on Christian Doctrine). Here we see Newman’s fine Christian realism, the point at which faith and life inevitably intersect. Faith is meant to bear fruit in the transformation of our world through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the lives and activity of believers. No one who looks realistically at our world today could think that Christians can afford to go on with business as usual, ignoring the profound crisis of faith which has overtaken our society, or simply trusting that the patrimony of values handed down by the Christian centuries will continue to inspire and shape the future of our society.
The above words are taken from Pope Benedict XVI's address in Hyde Park on the eve of the beatification of Cardinal Newman. "God has created me to do him some definite service". If we apply these words, and Pope Benedict's commentary on them, to the life of Pope John Paul II I think we have to question the suggestion being made in some places that Pope John Paul II is being beatified because of his sanctity, and not because of the efficacy of his actions as the Successor of Peter. I do not think that it is right to say that we can separate the holiness of an individual from the the living out of the "definite service" entrusted to that individual. In the case of Pope John Paul II, that means that the way in which he lived out the Petrine ministry has to be seen as part of the charism that is offered to the Church through his beatification. [True, the criteria of judgement might not be that of perfection in the fulfilment of the office and instead that of faithfulness to the demands of the office - but then the former is to judge in "human" terms whilst the latter is to judge in the realm of "grace" which is, of course, the realm of judgement appropriate to the Church's processes of beatification and canonisation.]

I would like to suggest that Pope John Paul II lived in a very vivid way the office of Universal Shepherd to the Church, and that this forms part of his "definite service" and therefore of the gift to the Church represented by his beatification. One witness to the nature of this universal mission is represented in this piece by William Oddie which describes how Pope John Paul II's pontificate gave to Malcom Muggeridge and to William Oddie himself the confidence to enter the Catholic Church. Another is represented by Fr Tim's post with regard to Pope John Paul II's Holy Thursday letters to priests. Another witness can be found at Bridges and Tangents. One can also see the many visits to different countries in the same way. Oh, and here too.

In ecclesiological terms, it is the Bishop of the local Church who is the pastor of souls in the particular place in which that local Church exists. But the Pope also has a pastoral office in a direct relation to the individual faithful, an office that does not undermine that of the local Bishop but instead reinforces it within the (theological) notion of the communion of individual, diocese and universal Church. Though it has a juridical aspect, this universal office is not in essence juridical but instead pastoral, and Pope John Paul II's manner of living it showed this. This is his office of universal pastor, and I think the exercise of this universal office forms a key part of understanding the holiness of Pope John Paul II.

In this context, I believe that it is worth mentioning the following initiatives of Pope John Paul II, and this because they show how the exercise of his universal office can be seen as essentially pastoral/charismatic rather than juridical (and perhaps those who would like to see Pope John Paul's holiness as separate from his exercise of the Papal office would have preferred it to be more juridical). What is striking about these initiatives is the way in which they enabled activity at the level of the individual parish, group or movement in the Church.

Here is a list, in no particular order, and with no claim to completeness: World Youth Day; the programme of three preparatory years dedicated in turn to the three persons of the Trinity and the celebration of the Jubilee of the Year 2000; within the celebration of the Jubilee of the Year 2000, the celebrations dedicated to different areas of the life of the Church; the Year of the Eucharist; the Year of the Rosary, with the introduction of the Mysteries of Light (now very much my favourite mysteries); the Pentecost meeting with members of the new ecclesial movements during which he recognised the charismatic dimension of the Church as being "co-essential" with the hierarchical dimension; World Day for the Sick.

Friday 29 April 2011

A Royal Wedding

I have not followed the build up to the wedding of William and Kate very much at all.

With the result that I was rather stunned by the enthusiasm that it has generated, and that has been shown on the streets of London during the last 48 hours. I listened to the coverage on Radio 4, and found it all thoroughly gripping. The whole event was quite amazing.

I did gain the impression that the couple have taken the religious dimension of their marriage seriously, within its wider social and political contexts. Kate is reported to have been prepared for, and to have recieved, confirmation in the Church of England ahead of the "big day". The fact that the couple wrote a prayer for the day, too, suggests to me that there has been a religious preparation for the day. This is from today's order of service:
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in the sight of God and in the face of this congregation, to join together this man and this woman in Holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God himself, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church ...

... it was ordained for the increase of mankind according to the will of God, and that children might be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy name.

Secondly, it was ordained in order that the natural instincts and affections, implanted by God, should be hallowed and directed aright; that those who are called of God to this holy estate, should continue therein in pureness of living.

Thirdly, it was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.
I think the response of ordinary people - and, if the Radio 4 coverage is anything to go by, it was people of all ages and backgrounds who turned out in the centre of London today - also prompts a reflection on what it is that makes up a sense of nationhood. Edith Stein reflects on how the person of a monarch (or leader of a state) expresses in their own person something of the "personhood" that might belong to the unity of the people as a whole. The way in which today's Royal Wedding brought people together manifests in some way how the monarchy does express something of the nationhood of the British people, and not just in Britain itself. The number of visitors from overseas who Radio 4 presenters met on the streets of London today shows how the monarchy also represents British nationhood overseas.

Thursday 28 April 2011

Beatification of Pope John Paul II: tribute from Focolare

From the moving tribute of the President of Focolare, I take the following passage:
Together with all the other Movements, we have experienced the special love of John Paul II in his recognition of the role they have in the Church, an expression of its Marian dimension. Already in 1987, in speaking to the Roman Curia, he had highlighted the importance of this dimension: "The Church lives in this authentic ‘Marian profile,’ this ‘Marian dimension’ …. The Immaculate Mary precedes all the others, including Peter himself and the Apostles. … This link between the two profiles of the Church, the Marian and the Petrine, is profound and complementary. This is so even though the Marian profile is anterior not only in God’s design but also in time, as well as being supreme and pre-eminent, richer in personal and communitarian implications …".
I wonder whether, given Pope John Paul II's living of the Marian consecration in the spirit of St Louis Marie de Montfort (cf his motto Totus Tuus), this living of the Marian dimension of the Church represents his particular gift/charism for the Church?

Catholics of a certain age ...

... have lived almost all their adult lives in what might be termed "the times of Pope John Paul II".  Our experience gives us a particular attitude to his beatification this coming Sunday. My own memories of the early months of his pontificate are his address to the Conference of Latin American bishops  meeting in Puebla in February 1979, and his first encyclical , Redemptor Hominis.

The passages of the former that I recall most vividly are these, though the very wide ranging nature of the address is not summarised by them:
as Pastors you have the vivid awareness that your principal duty is to be Teachers of the Truth. Not a human and rational truth, but the Truth that comes from God, the Truth that brings with it the principle of the authentic liberation of man: "you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (Jn 8:32)...

The truth that we owe to man is, first and foremost, a truth about man. As witnesses of Jesus Christ we are heralds, spokesmen and servants of this truth. We cannot reduce it to the principles of a system of philosophy or to pure political activity. We cannot forget it or betray it.
At the time, it was impossible not to notice the references in this address to the need to safeguard the purity of Catholic doctrine and to the fact that the liberation of man needed to have regard to the whole person and should not be reduced to a solely political or ideological programme.

The opening passages of Redemptor Hominis are interesting in showing how John Paul II understood the pontificate of Pope Paul VI:
I chose the same names that were chosen by my beloved Predecessor John Paul I. Indeed, as soon as he announced to the Sacred College on 26 August 1978 that he wished to be called John Paul-such a double name being unprecedented in the history of the Papacy-I saw in it a clear presage of grace for the new pontificate. Since that pontificate lasted barely 33 days, it falls to me not only to continue it but in a certain sense to take it up again at the same starting point. This is confirmed by my choice of these two names. By following the example of my venerable Predecessor in choosing them, I wish like him to express my love for the unique inheritance left to the Church by Popes John XXIII and Paul VI and my personal readiness to develop that inheritance with God's help....
Entrusting myself fully to the Spirit of truth, therefore, I am entering into the rich inheritance of the recent pontificates. This inheritance has struck deep roots in the awareness of the Church in an utterly new way, quite unknown previously, thanks to the Second Vatican Council, which John XXIII convened and opened and which was later successfully concluded and perseveringly put into effect by Paul VI, whose activity I was myself able to watch from close at hand. I was constantly amazed at his profound wisdom and his courage and also by his constancy and patience in the difficult postconciliar period of his pontificate. As helmsman of the Church, the bark of Peter, he knew how to preserve a providential tranquillity and balance even in the most critical moments, when the Church seemed to be shaken from within, and he always maintained unhesitating hope in the Church's solidity. What the Spirit said to the Church through the Council of our time, what the Spirit says in this Church to all the Churches cannot lead to anything else-in spite of momentary uneasinesses-but still more mature solidity of the whole People of God, aware of their salvific mission.

Paul VI selected this present-day consciousness of the Church as the first theme in his fundamental Encyclical beginning with the words Ecclesiam Suam. Let me refer first of all to this Encyclical and link myself with it in this first document that, so to speak, inaugurates the present pontificate. The Church's consciousness, enlightened and supported by the Holy Spirit and fathoming more and more deeply both her divine mystery and her human mission, and even her human weaknesses-this consciousness is and must remain the first source of the Church's love, as love in turn helps to strengthen and deepen her consciousness. Paul VI left us a witness of such an extremely acute consciousness of the Church. Through the many things, often causing suffering, that went to make up his pontificate he taught us intrepid love for the Church, which is, as the Council states, a "sacrament or sign and means of intimate union with God, and of the unity of all mankind".

Monday 25 April 2011

Archbishop Sentamu comments on the Ordinariate

During an appearance on Radio 2's Good Morning Sunday programme on Easter Sunday, Archbishop Sentamu, the Anglican Archbishop of York was asked about his response to the numbers leaving the Church of England to join the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. He was asked if this was a cause for concern. For the next six days, the programme can be heard again on the BBC's i-player: The relevant section of the programme occurs shortly after the 1:46:00 point.

At one level, Archbishop Sentamu's comment is welcome in that it did not display antagonism towards those who are leaving the Church of England for the Roman Catholic Church. Indeed, it displayed a generous appreciation of the contribution made to the Church of England by those who are now joining the Roman Catholic Church.

At a deeper level, though, his response becomes more problematical. There were two or three different strands in his reponse, each of which raises its own problem. Fundamentally, though, I felt that it indicated a real indifference as to whether or not one belonged to one Christian denomination or another. That indifferentism is problematical to those leaving the Church of England for the Roman Catholic Church - for them it really does matter to be in communion with the Holy See and so denomination does matter - and problematical for ecumenical dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church - indifference to denominational affiliation is an inadequate basis for any realistic dialogue.

One strand is reflected in Archbishop Sentamu's suggestion that those leaving the Church of England could be compared to children who have grown up and are now leaving their family, and finding a better home elsewhere. Another strand is also reflected in his observation that if those leaving were to know Jesus more and know him as their Lord and Saviour in the Roman Catholic Church then it didn't really matter: "good luck to them, and God bless them". This strand indicates a lack of any real ecclesial sense, which feeds the indifference to denominational affiliation.

Archbishop Sentamu also referred to people leaving the Catholic Church to join the Church of England, and to seek ordination in the Church of England, something that the Church of England does not publicise. "I have baptised and confirmed people coming the other way who were never baptised in their own churches. And occasionally you get people wanting to join the ordained ministry of the Church of England". The question this raises from the Catholic point of view is whether there really is an equivalence of moving "one way" to moving "the other way". For Archbishop Sentamu, it is easy to see an equivalence in the two directions of movement. But will Roman Catholics see an equivalence? There is not a symmetry of understanding. There seems to me a real difference between non-practicing Catholics joining the Church of England and very much practicing Anglicans joining the Roman Catholic Church.

At the end of his interview, Archbishop Sentamu observes in effect that the Church of England is still part of the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic church". I am not sure how comfortably this fits with his evangelical notion of closeness to Jesus Christ and indifference to denominational affiliation expressed earlier in the interview.

But the saddest points arising from my reflection on this interview are that (1) it suggests there is no real possibility of a genuine ecumenical dialogue between the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church and (2) there is a real sense that the highest authorities in the Church of England do not feel that they have anything to pause and reflect upon in terms of ecclesiastical polity as a result of the establishing of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.

Benedict XVI: importance of the creation account at the Easter Vigil liturgy

I have not followed the Holy Father's celebration of Easter particularly closely, but was this morning particularly struck by Pope Benedict's reflection on the significance of the creation account that is the first of the readings at the Easter Vigil, a reflection which forms part of his homily at the Easter Vigil. After referring to the two great symbols, light and water, around which the Vigil turns - symbols that are both symbols of creation and symbols of the new life given in Christ - Pope Benedict reflected on the liturgical sense of the readings of scripture, all of them seen in the liturgical tradition as "prophecies".

He then turned to the first reading, the creation account from Genesis chapter 1:
Now, one might ask: is it really important to speak also of creation during the Easter Vigil? Could we not begin with the events in which God calls man, forms a people for himself and creates his history with men upon the earth? The answer has to be: no. To omit the creation would be to misunderstand the very history of God with men, to diminish it, to lose sight of its true order of greatness. The sweep of history established by God reaches back to the origins, back to creation. Our profession of faith begins with the words: “We believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth”. If we omit the beginning of the Credo, the whole history of salvation becomes too limited and too small. The Church is not some kind of association that concerns itself with man’s religious needs but is limited to that objective. No, she brings man into contact with God and thus with the source of all things. Therefore we relate to God as Creator, and so we have a responsibility for creation. Our responsibility extends as far as creation because it comes from the Creator. Only because God created everything can he give us life and direct our lives. Life in the Church’s faith involves more than a set of feelings and sentiments and perhaps moral obligations. It embraces man in his entirety, from his origins to his eternal destiny. Only because creation belongs to God can we place ourselves completely in his hands. And only because he is the Creator can he give us life for ever. Joy over creation, thanksgiving for creation and responsibility for it all belong together....

The creation account tells us, then, that the world is a product of creative Reason. Hence it tells us that, far from there being an absence of reason and freedom at the origin of all things, the source of everything is creative Reason, love, and freedom. Here we are faced with the ultimate alternative that is at stake in the dispute between faith and unbelief: are irrationality, lack of freedom and pure chance the origin of everything, or are reason, freedom and love at the origin of being? Does the primacy belong to unreason or to reason? This is what everything hinges upon in the final analysis. As believers we answer, with the creation account and with Saint John, that in the beginning is reason. In the beginning is freedom. Hence it is good to be a human person. It is not the case that in the expanding universe, at a late stage, in some tiny corner of the cosmos, there evolved randomly some species of living being capable of reasoning and of trying to find rationality within creation, or to bring rationality into it. If man were merely a random product of evolution in some place on the margins of the universe, then his life would make no sense or might even be a chance of nature. But no, Reason is there at the beginning: creative, divine Reason. And because it is Reason, it also created freedom; and because freedom can be abused, there also exist forces harmful to creation. Hence a thick black line, so to speak, has been drawn across the structure of the universe and across the nature of man. But despite this contradiction, creation itself remains good, life remains good, because at the beginning is good Reason, God’s creative love.
H/T Protect the Pope.

Saturday 23 April 2011


This is the Roding valley, in the countryside near Fyfield in Essex, at somewhere around noon today. Hidden in the trees, hedges and water course along the edge of this field is a cuckoo. We did hear it - twice.

As I post, the clouds have arrived, the thunder is rumbling and the downpour is about to begin ...

Trafalgar Square: The Passion of Jesus

Bridges and Tangents has posted on this year's passion play in Trafalgar Square. I went, meeting up with extended family members there for the 12 noon performance. It was very hot, but there was a great sense of dramatic build up to key points in the narrative. The number of people present - significantly more than for the "rehearsal" performance last year - meant that the performance area was more restricted.

I was struck this year as last by the way in which religious can be seen mingling with the ordinary people in the crowd - their visible presence having its own evangelising impact. There were also lots of young adults in the audience, with a real mix of backgrounds.

And my second, over-riding thought, is that something like this represents the new evangelisation writ large at the cultural centre of our country.

Archbishop Nichol's final words urged us to boast in Christ, and him crucified, rather than in all those other things represented in the square about which we might (rightly) be proud: the art and beauty of the National Gallery, the achievements of industry and commerce, the forthcoming Olympic games represented by the count-down clock in the square.

Benedict XVI: « curé du monde »,

This title to La Croix's coverage of Pope Benedict XVI's appearance on RAI television, answering questions from an international audience, caught my attention.

Do go and read their account. I copy below the account of the second question, received from a mother sitting beside her son who has been in a coma for two years. The mother's question was to ask whether or not the soul of her son was still present in the body of her son. Pope Benedict's answer was "yes" and he gave a beautiful analogy to a guitar with broken strings, which meant that they could no longer resonate through the body of the instrument, in answering the question. "I am also sure that this hidden soul receives in  depth your love even though it does not understand the details, the words, etc. But it senses the presence of a love". [Full English translation when I have a bit more time.]
C’est une mère, Maria Teresa, filmée de façon saisissante aux côtés de son fils Francesco, qui apparaît ensuite à l’image. Depuis deux ans en coma végétatif, il est là, assis et habillé. Sa mère dit au pape sa souffrance et son interrogation, celles de beaucoup de personnes qui vivent une situation identique : « L’âme de mon fils Francesco, qui est dans un état végétatif depuis le jour de Pâques 2009, a-t-elle abandonné son corps, puisqu’il n’est plus conscient, ou est-elle encore en lui ? » En Italie, ce débat, lié à l’éventuelle légalisation de l’euthanasie, est extrêmement vif.

Benoît XVI a répondu, comme une évidence : « Bien sûr, son âme est encore présente dans son corps. » Et il a poursuivi avec une analogie : « La situation, est un peu celle d’une guitare dont les cordes sont détruites et ne peuvent plus résonner. L’instrument qu’est le corps est lui aussi fragile, il est vulnérable, et l’âme ne peut résonner, pour ainsi dire, mais elle est bien présente. Je suis aussi certain que cette âme cachée ressent en profondeur votre amour, même si elle n’en comprend pas les détails, les paroles, etc. Mais elle sent la présence d’un amour. »

« C’est pourquoi votre présence, chers parents, chère maman, près de lui, chaque jour, durant des heures, est un véritable acte d’amour de grande valeur », a insisté le pape, « parce que cette présence entre dans la profondeur de cette âme cachée et votre acte est ainsi également un témoignage de foi en Dieu, de foi en l’homme, disons, d’engagement pour la vie, de respect pour la vie humaine, y compris dans les situations les plus tristes. »

Thursday 21 April 2011

Just a thought ....

.... but wouldn't it rather solve the problem of "gagging orders"/injunctions if celebs could just remain chaste and faithful to their husbands or wives, according to their state of life? I know it's not a terribly new idea to keep ones public and private lives in harmony with each other, but it might just avoid a lot of problems ....

A recent injunction is reported here, which report contains the following wonderful conundrum quoted from the judgement granting the injunction:
"The reasons for her leaving may interest some members of the public but the matters are not of public interest...

Wednesday 20 April 2011

Good Friday: The Passion in Trafalgar Square

I hadn't realised until a few minutes ago, but the Wintershall Estate are again peforming the Passion in Trafalgar Square this Good Friday.

I went to what they termed the "rehearsal" last year. It was a very rewarding experience, and quite brilliant for children. Last year it had the nature of a "promenade" performance, so the audience could follow part of the action round the square - this is what makes it fun for children.

This year there are two performances, one at 12 noon and the second at 3.15 pm.

Details here: highly recommended.

Saturday 16 April 2011

After the debate on laïcité ...

La Croix has reported a meeting between the representatives of the main religions in France and the Minister of the Interior, following the governing party's debate and proposals on the question of religion/state relations in France - the question of what in continental Europe is referred to as laïcité but we might term secularity of the state.
Le ministre de l'intérieur Claude Guéant a privilégié vendredi 15 avril l'apaisement et la concertation en recevant les responsables des cultes en France, après le débat polémique de l'UMP sur l'islam et la laïcité et une série de déclarations controversées

The minister of the interior Claude Guéant moved on Friday 15th April towards appeasement and consultation by receiving the leaders of religions in France, after the polemical debate of the UMP on Islam and laïcité and a series of controversial statements.
La Croix's report suggests that the meeting took place in a helpful manner, and addressed some of the practical issues that occur in the debate. One participant observed that, while there was considerable acceptance of the general principles proposed by the public authorities, problems arose when the principles were put into practical application. Some practical initiatives have been put in place to manage particular instances of difficulties that arise in France.
Enfin, le rabbin Lewin a estimé que la réunion avec Claude Guéant était "le début d'un travail qui aboutira à ce que doit être la laïcité, c'est à dire non pas la négation des religions, mais l'application de règles identiques avec, également, la possibilité pour chacune des religions d'être ce qu'elle est".

Finally, Rabbi Lewin judged that the meeting with Claude Guéant was "the beginning of a work which will arrive at what must be laïcité, that is to say, not the negation of the religions, but the application of identical laws with, equally, the possibility for each of the religions to be what they are".
[I have yet to examine more closely the propositions prepared by the UMP as a result of their debate, on which I posted earlier (here and here). The meeting between religious leaders and the minister of the interior reported here is a follow up to that debate.]

Thursday 14 April 2011

An important event .... upstaged?

In the world of theatre, you upstage a fellow actor by coming on to the stage behind them so that, because they are facing the audience they do not see you, but since the audience are facing the stage they (the audience, that is) do see you. Your poor fellow actor remains in complete ignorance of who is really entertaining the audience, quite possibly at his or her expense. In some situations, the stage actually slopes gently downwards from rear to front, so that you can be quite literally "upstage".

The apathy towards a certain big wedding on the part of Catholic blogs is interesting. It is commented on here and here, to which blogs I tip my (virtual) hat. I think the second of these comments is particularly worth reading. There is clearly a value that Catholics should recognise in the fact that William and Kate (sorry, I have to call her Katherine now) are getting married, and that the said ceremony will be a religious ceremony rather than the registry office re-marriage of another royal who shall remain diplomatically un-named.

But quite apart from such socio-political-religious implications, the royal wedding is a national occasion and, regardless of what one might feel about its rights/wrongs or pros/cons or anything else about it, Catholics should feel part of a national occasion. Does the absence of attention to the wedding in Catholic blogs indicate that Catholics, and Catholic bloggers in particular, do not feel that they have any stake in this national occasion? If that is indeed the case, it would be interesting - and perhaps challenging - to explore the reasons for that lack of a sense of belonging at a national occasion. After all, the way in which the people of Britain responded to Pope Benedict's visit here last October really did make that visit a national occasion, the various protests notwithstanding. Surely we should now reciprocate that generosity towards Pope Benedict by a similar generosity towards William and Kate's (sorry, Katherine's) wedding.

Now, of course there is another big occasion that weekend that might be attracting more attention from Catholics. One cannot help but feel that William and Kate (sorry, Katherine) have been upstaged; but that is not a good excuse.

PS. I do have to plead guilty here - I am rather more interested in the beatification than the wedding. I have to say, though, that despite the above post, I have not yet been able to articulate exactly why I am  so un-interested in the wedding. I will give it some thought ...

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Off Message

Standing up for what you think when you are in a minority - or just being a rather awkward so-and-so? I was recently described in the former terms, and pointed out that the reality was probably the latter. Never mind.

But I am not going to join any bloggers guild because:

1. I am not convinced of its charism - sounds (sorry, reads, looks) more like a nice club for the likeminded.
2. I do not see much point in another forum for traditionalist, or traditionally minded, Catholics to talk to themselves all over again.
3. The language of "guild" and "confraternity" - aghh, so 20th Century, 19th Century, 18th Century .... Come on, get with it!

The story of Blessed Titus Brandsma is, from what little I know of it, quite fascinating. [Note to self: actually read the book about him on the bookshelves!] A charism associated with his name, though, should not be limited to blogging. And I would find it unfortunate to see his charism being appropriated to an essentially traditionalist cause.

Tuesday 12 April 2011

Documenting dissent?

Protect the Pope gives an account of the lecture given by Professor Conor Gearty as part of the Faith Matters: Being Catholic Today series in Westminster Cathedral Hall. Protect the Pope's account is based on coverage in The Tablet.

If you look at the page on the Westminster Diocese website dedicated to Professor Gearty's lecture, you will find the following:
On 30 March Professor Conor Gearty, Professor of Human rights law at the London School of Economics and Political Science, asks ‘Human rights - does faith matter?’ Professor Gearty writes: ‘what is rational about human rights without God? Can you believe in human rights without believing that humans are in some important and defining way God's creatures?’ Conor Gearty brings a broad experience of academic and legal expertise to this field as Professor of Human Rights law at LSE and a barrister at Matrix Chambers. From 2002-2009 he was also the inaugural director of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights at LSE

Listen to the lecture in full here:

If you would like to know more about some of the issues covered in this lecture then please look at the following links which will take you to the teaching of the Catholic Church on many of the topics.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church on who may receive Holy Orders:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church on Chastity and homosexuality:  and from John Paul II on ‘Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons:  .

The Diocese of Westminster also has a statement on the Warwick Street Masses attended by homosexual people, and homosexuality: Statement_from_the_Diocese.pdf

On married Anglican priests in the Catholic Church: In 2005 at the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops ‘The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church’:

Information about the Ordinariate of the Our lady of Walsingham can be found here:

Lateral thoughts on happiness

I had the opportunity this morning to listen to the Today programme's coverage of the launch of Action for Happiness. The Today package included a visit to a coffee shop where a representative from Action for Happiness offered to buy the person behind them in the queue a coffee. That person in turn bought a coffee for the person behind them .... but then it broke down because the third person in the queue hadn't quite caught the context and didn't trust the offer of a free coffee being placed before them. Towards the end of the package, reference is made to the part that a movement for happiness might play in a world that is increasingly secular.

The package prompted in my mind two distinct thoughts. The first was that the acts of consideration for others being advocated by Action for Happiness carry, in the Christian context, a very traditional name: caritas or charity. An aspect of this, too, is awareness of a "context" of charity, the lack of which led to a break down in the chain of purchasing of coffee in the Today package. As Pope Benedict XVI argues in Caritas et Veritate, charity is something that we are called to live not only as individuals but also as a community. Ecclesial life does, of course, provide precisely this shared context for charity.

The second thought had to do with how quickly the relationships of trust between the one who offered and the one who received the free gift of a cup of coffee broke down. I think it is fair to say that relationships of trust have changed in society, certainly during my lifetime. Asking about the factors that have contributed to these changed relationships of trust can be uncomfortable. Divorce, or more particularly, the frequency of re-marriage after divorce; co-habitation; cultural acceptance of sexual activity outside marriage; cultural acceptance of same sex lifestyles. Whilst it is true to say that these factors have always been present, their increasing prevalence and societal acceptance alter the assumptions of trust in our relating to each other.  Situations that in the past would have been assumed to be completely neutral in sexual terms are no longer so neutral, and the relationships of trust in those situations are changed. Whilst, at the level of individual life situations involved here, one might quite rightly hesitate to adopt an attitude of apportioning blame or stigma, nevertheless at the level of public policy we do need to be realistic about the changes in trust that have occurred. I believe we should also be realistic about those organisations in our society that are deliberatetly trying to alter these relationships of trust, but not for the good. The scale of child abuse in the Church and other caring professions, with, in the past inadequate response by those in authority, and the consequent emergence of a culture of "child protection", needed as it was, is a factor of quite a different nature that has also altered assumptions of trust in society.

Saturday 9 April 2011

Pope Benedict XVI: Fifth Sunday of Lent

Reflecting on the Gospel story of the resurrection of Lazarus, Pope Benedict XVI writes in his Message for Lent 2011 (the added emphasis is mine, and does not appear in the original):
On the fifth Sunday, when the resurrection of Lazarus is proclaimed, we are faced with the ultimate mystery of our existence: “I am the resurrection and the life… Do you believe this?” (Jn 11: 25-26). For the Christian community, it is the moment to place with sincerity – together with Martha – all of our hopes in Jesus of Nazareth: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world” (Jn 11: 27). Communion with Christ in this life prepares us to overcome the barrier of death, so that we may live eternally with him. Faith in the resurrection of the dead and hope in eternal life open our eyes to the ultimate meaning of our existence: God created men and women for resurrection and life, and this truth gives an authentic and definitive meaning to human history, to the personal and social lives of men and women, to culture, politics and the economy. Without the light of faith, the entire universe finishes shut within a tomb devoid of any future, any hope.
An item reported by Independent Catholic News earlier this week, London: Irish Stations of the Cross in Holy Week, has been prompting my thinking (again, my emphasis added):
The Irish Chaplaincy in Britain (ICB) will lead a special Stations of the Cross with a social justice theme during Holy Week at Our Lady of Help for Christians' Catholic church in Kentish Town, north London on Monday 18 April at 7pm.
A fussy comment, in which there is some truth, would be to say that the idea of a "theme" for a celebration of the Stations of the Cross is contradictory - by definition, the "theme" of such a celebration is the crucifixion and death (and, in some places, the resurrection) of Jesus. So a mind set which seeks to insert into a celebration of the Stations of the Cross a theme "from the outside", a theme that does not arise from within the nature of the Stations of the Cross itself, is an inauthentic mind set. The language of the Independent Catholic News report is written as if this is the type of mind set involved - though that may not in fact be the reality of what the Irish Chaplaincy are in fact doing.

Less fussily, the Stations of the Cross has in recent years shown itself to be a devotion capable of a quite lively and powerful renewal in the life of the Church. It is an example of a tradtional (in the best sense) devotion being given a new life through a genuine updating. One can think of the meditations written for the annual Way of the Cross at the Colosseum in Rome each Good Friday, the celebrations of the Way of the Cross that from a part of World Youth Day and, here in England, Boyce and Stanley's Born for This. This being the case, there is no reason why a set of meditations for the Stations of the Cross should not relate the Stations to their meaning for, or reference to, the contemporary circumstances of those who pray the devotion. That will mean that aspects of "social justice" may be reflected in the meditations.

What has exercised my mind, though, is the danger that the reference to social justice or to any element of relevance to the particular situation of those who pray them in the meditations can express a reduction of how we see the saving work of Jesus carried out in the events that we mark in the Stations of the Cross. There is a danger that the universal work of salvation, of victory over sin and the devil, of victory over my own individual sin to which I can gain access through the Sacraments and life of grace in the Church, is presented just as an action of, for example, "social justice". It is such an action, but it is also more.

The resolution of this danger, at least at the level of theological understanding, appears to me to lie in the principle of analogy, and this is what has been exercising my mind over the last couple of days. The idea of analogy can be approached from the notion of "analogy of being". But Pope Benedict's reflection for the fifth Sunday of Lent suggests rather that it is an "analogy of faith" that provides the correct answer to the question of how the events marked in the Stations of the Cross should be related to the daily experience of those who pray the devotion. [The definitions below aren't particularly Catholic, but give the idea of what is being said here.]
analogy of being (analogia entis)

The theory, especially associated with Thomas Aquinas, that there exists a correspondence or analogy between the created order and God, as a result of the divine creatorship. The idea gives theoretical justification to the practice of drawing conclusions concerning God from the known objects and relationships of the natural order.

analogy of faith (analogia fidei)

The theory, especially associated with Karl Barth, which holds that any correspondence between the created order and God is only established on the basis of the self-revelation of God.

Wednesday 6 April 2011

"Laicite": the Bishops of France respond

The Catholic Bishops in France chose not to take part in the debate on "laicite"/secularity about which I posted yesterday: "Laicite": a debate about religion and state.

La Croix reports the response from the Catholic Bishops of France, who are meeting in Lourdes for their Spring plenary meeting: L'Eglise catholique défend sa vision de la laïcité.
Une réponse vigoureuse, par la bouche du cardinal André Vingt-Trois, archevêque de Paris et président de la Conférence épiscopale, qui, dans un discours musclé et politique, n’a pas hésité à critiquer à la fois les conditions du débat, et le risque que celui-ci faisait courir à la liberté religieuse en France.

Après avoir évoqué la déclaration de la Conférence des responsables de culte en France, dans laquelle bouddhistes, catholiques, juifs, musulmans, orthodoxes et protestants ont déjà exprimé leurs réticences, il a insisté sur le danger de voir ce débat cristalliser un malaise, mais aussi de réduire la compréhension de la laïcité « à sa conception la plus fermée »: celle du refus de toute expression religieuse dans la société.

L’archevêque de Paris a même donné les exemples de « certaines pratiques administratives qui versent dans cette manière de voir », citant les difficultés rencontrées aujourd’hui par les responsables religieux dans les prisons, les lycées ou les hôpitaux.

Tuesday 5 April 2011

'Day of reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace and justice in the world'

In October of this year, Pope Benedict XVI will visit Assisi to mark the 25th anniversary of the first inter-religious encounter held there at the invitation of Pope John Paul II. The Press Office of the Holy See has issued a news release "Pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace" which entitles the visit on 27th October as a "Day of reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace and justice in the world".

In the light of my earlier post on the question of Assisi 3 and the question of inter-religious prayer, this release makes interesting reading. What will be distinctive of 27th October 2011 compared to the previous days of prayer in Assisi are the times of silence during which the participants can reflect or pray according to their own beliefs. There is a time of such silence scheduled for the meeting at St Maria degli Angeli, and for the pilgrimage towards the Basilica of St Francis later in the day. We have become used to the "moment of reflection", for example, that has replaced the "prayer" that used to be said on BBC Radio 2's Sunday morning programme just before the news at 8. am. A "moment of reflection" is not uncommon in assemblies in schools. The point is this: for those of different religious belief, does this shared time of silence constitute a time of "inter-religious prayer" or of "multi-religious prayer" in the sense of the debate in my earlier post? How does the invitation of persons from the world of culture who do not have a religious belief alter the nature of this time of silence?

It is interesting that Pope Benedict will take part in a vigil of prayer the evening before, and invites his fellow Catholics to organise similar vigils in their own dioceses:
In preparation for this Day, Pope Benedict XVI will preside over a Prayer Vigil at Saint Peter’s the previous evening, together with the faithful of the Diocese of Rome. Particular Churches and communities throughout the world are invited to organize similar times of prayer.

"Laicite": a debate about religion and state

Some controversy has occurred in France over a debate that is taking place today about the idea of "laicite", that is, about the relationship between the organisations of the state and the religions. In some ways, the debate takes the 1905 law that decrees a separation of Church and state from its original context of reference to the relationship between the Catholic Church and the state to the modern context where other religions, and in particular Islam, are significantly represented in French society. The point of controversy arises because this debate is being sponsored by one of France's political parties, rather than by a politically neutral forum, and that it will also involve a number of proposals. The proposals will make up a "code of secularity (laicite) and of religious liberty".

La Croix carries a report today: L’UMP veut donner une vision positive de la laïcité. Yesterday, they outlined the questions that are raised by this debate. While I have not had time to read this report fully - Le grand chantier de la laïcité - I think the range of the questions is interesting. They are: extending the obligation of neutrality of functionaries of the state (eg teachers) in the context of a debate about private providers whose services are state funded; clarifying the funding of different religions by the state (eg the funding of cultural and social centres run by mosques); taking account of religious demands (eg areas of cemeteries for use be Jews or Muslims, questions of halal meals); making more precise the right of religious expression in the public sphere (eg questions of the burqua, of prayers in public and of religious processions); clarifying the place of religions in schools (eg the display of religious symbols, allowed in private schools but not in public - the distinction between private and public being rather different than that existing in the UK); improving the representations of religions in relations/dialogue with local and national government.

The debate does, I believe, have international implications. Pope Benedict XVI speaks of an "appropriate secularity", and the questions being raised in this debate in France explore the practical implementation of such an "appropriate secularity". Recent events in the Arab world also indicate evidence that, within the Islamic world, there is also a trend of thought that would be supportive of the same sort of idea. Whether the resulting "code of secularity and of religious liberty" will genuinely reflect a concensus of opinion in French society is yet to be seen, but it will also need to be cognisant of Christian and Islamic ideas of "appropriate secularity". It might well provide precedents that could be transferred to the situation in the United Kingdom, something that would have a certain historic irony. A number of religious orders, particularly teaching orders, moved their houses from France to Britain in the years after France adopted its 1905 law on separation of Church and state. That a thorough analysis of "appropriate secularity" might make the same journey across the Channel is an interesting thought!

UPDATE: Having had an opportunity to look in more detail, it is not at all obvious that the idea of secularity being promoted by the UMP is the same as the "appropriate secularity" of Pope Benedict XVI. More to follow!

Saturday 2 April 2011

Colloquium on Baptism in the Spirit

In his message for Lent 2011, Pope Benedict XVI drew attention to the baptismal orientation of the Lenten season. It is therefore appropriate that, under the auspices of the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services (ICCRS), a colloquium should have taken place addressing the question of "Baptism in the Spirit". ZENIT have a report here, and ICCRS have their own report here (you will need to scroll down the page to find the account of the event itself).

During Eastertide last year I took part in some Life in the Spirit seminars taking place locally, and at that time posted on the idea that Baptism in the spirit should be seen as a particular specification of the grace received in the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation and that this gave it a close parallel to Marian consecration in the tradition of St Louis Marie de Montfort. This theme is clearly articulated in the accounts of the ICCRS colloquium.

Fr Raniero Cantalamessa was one of the speakers at the colloquium, and in part spoke of the ecclesial nature of Catholic Charismatic Renewal. This is pertinent, since the subject matter of the colloquium is not just of relevance to those who take part in the life of the Charismatic Renewal but of relevance to the whole Church.
The preacher noted that in contrast to many other charismatic and prophetic groups in Church history, the Catholic Charismatic Renewal has had a strong ecclesial bent. “It aligned itself with previous renewal movements through the capacity it brought for a change of life, but differed from them in its fidelity to the institutional Church.” He emphasized that credit for this belongs not to the Charismatic Renewal alone but also to the hierarchy, and particularly to the courage of popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
Another speaker described how the fathers of the Church wrote about Baptism in the Spirit, relating it clearly to the sacraments of initiation:
Bishop Michel Santier of Créteil, France, observed that for Justin Martyr, Origen and Cyril of Jerusalem, “baptism in the Spirit” was synonymous with Christian initiation. Many of the Fathers regarded the reception of charisms as integral to the sacraments of initiation. Santier quoted St. Cyril, who urged baptismal candidates, “Let each one prepare himself to receive the divine gift (that is, prophecy),” and St. Hilary of Poitiers, who wrote, “We who have been reborn through the sacrament of baptism experience intense joy when we feel within us the first stirrings of the Holy Spirit. We begin to have insight into the mysteries of faith; we are able to prophesy and speak with wisdom.”

Santier noted that the ancient Syriac church, like the Church today, practiced infant baptism and faced the need for a way to “activate” the grace of initiation in adult life. The eighth-century Syriac mystic Joseph Hazzaya, he said, spoke of a “sign by which you will sense that the Spirit received at baptism is at work in you,” and mentioned effects familiar to charismatics today: “a flow of spiritual words” and “a knowledge of two worlds, with joy, jubilation, exultation, glorification, praise, song, hymns and odes.”
It is expected that the proceedings of the colloquium will be published in due course as a book. I look forward to reading it.

Pope Benedict XVI: Fourth Sunday of Lent

This is Pope Benedict's short reflection on the Gospel for the fourth Sunday of Lent, taken from his Message for Lent 2011:
The Sunday of the man born blind presents Christ as the light of the world. The Gospel confronts each one of us with the question: “Do you believe in the Son of man?” “Lord, I believe!” (Jn 9: 35. 38), the man born blind joyfully exclaims, giving voice to all believers. The miracle of this healing is a sign that Christ wants not only to give us sight, but also open our interior vision, so that our faith may become ever deeper and we may recognize him as our only Savior. He illuminates all that is dark in life and leads men and women to live as “children of the light”.

Friday 1 April 2011

The "Courtyard of the Gentiles"

The idea for the initiative that has come to be known as the "Courtyard of the Gentiles" lies in a passage of the address of Pope Benedict XVI to the Roman curia in December 2009:
Finally, I would like once again to express my joy and gratitude for my visit to the Czech Republic. Prior to this Journey I had always been told that it was a country with a majority of agnostics and atheists, in which Christians are now only a minority. All the more joyful was my surprise at seeing myself surrounded everywhere by great cordiality and friendliness, that the important liturgies were celebrated in a joyful atmosphere of faith; that in the setting of the University and the world of culture my words were attentively listened to; and that the state authorities treated me with great courtesy and did their utmost to contribute to the success of the visit. .... I consider most important the fact that we, as believers, must have at heart even those people who consider themselves agnostics or atheists. When we speak of a new evangelization these people are perhaps taken aback. They do not want to see themselves as an object of mission or to give up their freedom of thought and will. Yet the question of God remains present even for them, even if they cannot believe in the concrete nature of his concern for us. In Paris, I spoke of the quest for God as the fundamental reason why Western monasticism, and with it, Western culture, came into being. As the first step of evangelization we must seek to keep this quest alive; we must be concerned that human beings do not set aside the question of God, but rather see it as an essential question for their lives. .... Here I think naturally of the words which Jesus quoted from the Prophet Isaiah, namely that the Temple must be a house of prayer for all the nations (cf. Is 56: 7; Mk 11: 17). Jesus was thinking of the so-called "Court of the Gentiles" which he cleared of extraneous affairs so that it could be a free space for the Gentiles who wished to pray there to the one God, even if they could not take part in the mystery for whose service the inner part of the Temple was reserved. A place of prayer for all the peoples by this he was thinking of people who know God, so to speak, only from afar; who are dissatisfied with their own gods, rites and myths; who desire the Pure and the Great, even if God remains for them the "unknown God" (cf. Acts 17: 23). ....  I think that today too the Church should open a sort of "Court of the Gentiles" in which people might in some way latch on to God, without knowing him and before gaining access to his mystery, at whose service the inner life of the Church stands. Today, in addition to interreligious dialogue, there should be a dialogue with those to whom religion is something foreign, to whom God is unknown and who nevertheless do not want to be left merely Godless, but rather to draw near to him, albeit as the Unknown.

A conference/gathering held in Paris on 24th-25th March was, in effect, the inauguration of this initiative. A summary report can be found here at ZENIT. La Croix carries reports here and here.

One aspect of the gathering in Paris is what might be more exactly described as the conference. This was co-sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the Sorbonne University and the Institut Catholique, with different parts of the discussions taking place at each of these culturally significant locations. The choice of UNESCO as the "place" of this first major activity of the "Courtyard of the Gentiles" is interesting in two ways. It first of all places, or perhaps better, recognises, the mission of UNESCO as being in some way akin to that intended by the "Courtyard of the Gentiles". The elements of dialogue between cultures and striving for what it is that constitutes the human spirit are core to the mission of UNESCO and to the presence at UNESCO of a permanent observer from the Holy See. Secondly, it recalls the visit of Pope John Paul II to Paris in 1980, when he gave two key addresses on culture, one of them at the Institut Catholique and the other at UNESCO.  On 2nd June 2005, the 25th anniversary of this visit was comemorated by a conference organised by the representation of the Holy See at UNESCO in collaboration with the Institut Catholique, entitled "Culture, reason and freedom". These events are striking precursors of the "Courtyard of the Gentiles" initiative.

Another aspect of the gathering in Paris is better described by the word "gathering" than "conference". On the evening of Friday 25th March, the young people of Paris, believers and non-believers, were invited to a dialogue in the square in front of Notre Dame Cathedral, an event entitled "In the court yard of the Unknown ..". The Cathedral was illuminated, and it was possible to enter the Cathedral to pray (if you were a believer) or for what in England might be called a "moment of reflection" (if you were not a believer). Pope Benedict addressed the young people gathered there in a  video message projected on a large screen. The square before the Cathedral reflected in a physical manner the intellectual content of the idea of a "Courtyard of the Gentiles" and was intended to provide a place for dialogue. Rather thought provoking is the report of La Croix which suggests that few non-believers took part in this encounter at Notre Dame.