Wednesday 31 August 2011

Dale Farm: " ..a humanitarian crisis."

Bishop Thomas McMahon has visited the travellers site at Dale Farm, with the Bishop of the Church of England diocese of Chelmsford, Stephen Cottrell. As well as visiting residents of the site, they spoke to journalists. The full text of a joint statement following the visit can be read here.

This is a desperate situation. It is important that people should know that it is a humanitarian crisis, whatever they make of the legality and politics of the situation. The travellers are frightened and anxious people. If elderly and infirm people were shown on TV being forced out of their homes, we wouldn’t think we were watching something happening in England, but that is what will happen here.

The BBC's most recent coverage is here, with links to earlier coverage.

Tuesday 30 August 2011

Relativising relativism?

The media discussion around the Field-Dorries amendment continues to reveal other aspects of the phenomenon of abortion in the UK. Compare this from Pope Benedict XVI's address in Westminster Hall in September 2010:
Each generation, as it seeks to advance the common good, must ask anew: what are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far do they extend? By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved? These questions take us directly to the ethical foundations of civil discourse. If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident - herein lies the real challenge for democracy. these three snippets from a "Thunderer" comment in today's Times, written by Viv Groskop:
It is surely the job of a responsible society to offer women choices without moral or religious prejudice. And that is exactly what NHS-funded abortion clinics currently do...

... who is better placed to advise on this subject than a counsellor who works in an abortion clinic?....

We can either set up a system that gives a not to the pro-life faction, or one that helps people to reach their own decisions. Currently, the law reflects the pro-choice majority.
The first snippet suggests that women should be able to approach a decision about abortion as if it is a decision that has no moral content - the decision is a-moral, that is, without morality. This is not even moral relativism, but a further step, a relativising of moral relativism itself.

The second snippet demonstrates the confusion of "advice" and "counselling" that I posted about yesterday.

And the third snippet demonstrates the fragile process to which Pope Benedict referred in Westminster Hall nearly a year ago.

John Smeaton appears to me to correctly identify the key issues, namely that in any proposals put forward by the Government
No counsellor should be required to be a conduit to abortion services;

and counsellors who refuse on grounds of conscience or other good grounds to refer women to abortion services are not prevented from operating as pregnancy counsellors.

Monday 29 August 2011

The Field-Dorries amendment and a Government consultation

I do not have the expertise to understand the full implications of the amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill that, so far as I do understand it, would require abortion providers to offer pregnant women approaching them seeking abortion access to counselling services independent of the provider themselves. The Coalition Government appear to have responded to this amendment by announcing a consultation about this very point, the terms of which are at the moment unclear.

Useful blogging comment can be found here and here. This article at the Guardian offers some relevant background, though I would respond to it by saying that the activity of Christian groups described here is the legitimate participation in political and public life that is open to all in a free society, and that Christians are just as much citizens in this respect as are those of a secularist intent.

However, the appearance of Nadine Dorries and Lucy Cavendish on the World at One, BBC Radio 4's lunchtime news magazine programme, this lunchtime put two additional elements into play. The full package can be found on the "I-player" facility for the next 7 days (go to 0:18:30), and I quote below a transcript of a key section of Nadine Dorries contribution.

Firstly, the debate used the words "counselling" and "advice" in connection with the proposed amendment and, apart from one point where the question was asked about the exact meaning of the term "independent" which just hinted at recognising a difference between the two, treated them as if they meant the same thing. The two are different. An advisor will propose to the client that, in the circumstances that have been discussed and reflected upon, and in the light of the facts of the situation, this or that course of action is the one that they believe is best for the client to follow. In most situations, an adviser will have a specialist expert knowledge and training that enables them to offer good advice. The client then makes a decision as to whether or not to follow the advice given, or to take a different course of action. A counsellor will not advise on one course of action over another. So the first question about the amendment is: what exactly is it about - counselling or advice? And does the term "counselling" in the reality of the abortion providers really mean "advice", in which case the separation of advice from service provision does have the precedent in the financial services sector that Nadine Dorries cited at the beginning of the debate? Or, being a bit cynical, do the abortion providers like to use the term "counselling" to permit their own staff to "advise" but to prevent pro-life organisations from doing anything other than "counselling" on the grounds that their "advising" would be biassed?

The second element was Nadine Dorries statement that she would be just as strongly opposed to Catholic groups being considered suitable for independent counselling as the abortion providers themselves. This is a transcript of her words from the I-player facility:

.. counselling would be offered by someone who is totally independent and impartial ..[Interviewer: What does that mean though?] ... Well, it means somebody who isn't an abortion provider, who isn't of a religious organisation. I can assure you that if a Catholic group said they were going to set up and offer advice I would be as against them offering advice as I am the abortion provider; so it would, I imagine, be counsellors who are registered with the British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapy, of which there are about eighty thousand in the UK ..
 Nadine Dorries' words are, in the first instance, bedevilled by her lack of clarity about "counselling" vis-a-vis "advising". In other respects, the implications of her position with regard to religious and Catholic groups are staggering.

Does she mean that Catholics are to be excluded (by law?), not just from government funding for advice and support services with regard to abortion (and by ready extension to a range of other medical fields), but from the privately funded provision of those services? Would this extend to Catholic advice services provided for the Catholic community itself? Surely it represents a profound example of religious discrimination, at the very least meeting the standard of "indirect discrimination" though I would argue meeting that of "direct discrimination", to a priori rule out Catholic groups from taking part in this kind of work. Nadine Dorries appears to me to directly deny to Catholics, and other religious believers, the right that they have as citizens to corporately take part in and contribute to the life of our society. Why should those experiencing a crisis pregnancy not be able to seek advice from a range of different providers, remembering that the principle underlying the Dorries-Field amendment is the separation of the abortion adviser from the abortion provider, and not the defining of what should (not) be included in the advice being given? And what is worrying about the Government's consultation is that it looks as if it might seek to specify what should be included in the advice being given by advice providers - and thereby also specify what cannot be said in that advice.

So I don't really know what to make of the amendment and of the announced Government consultation!

Comedy? ... or not?

Some readers might remember - and if you are like me, prefer to forget - Four Weddings and a Funeral. This film was a comedy, and it began with a four-fold repeat of a four letter word beginning with F. Some in the audience when I saw this film found this funny, but not everyone.

In almost any other situation, to approach someone out of the blue and utter those words, not necessarily at them but in their presence, would be considered unacceptable or, at least, "out of order". But should putting it into the context of a "comedy" film and doing that to a gathered audience in a cinema convert it into something that is acceptable?

My own take on this particular instance was to feel a distate that the makers of the film expected me to find this opening funny.

Now, a film currently on release is The Guard. If you look at the trailer here you will find examples of a profoundly racist attitude being expressed. This racism is directly expressed towards the character of the American detective; but it has a kind of mirrored expression directed towards the Irish. The trailer gives the impression that this racism is repeated at least twice in the film. Thanks to the review in The Times, and to a confirmation of that from someone who has spoken to a couple who have seen it, I also know that the film is liberally sprinkled with swearing. [There is an interesting question about the silence in this regard of Francine Stock's review in The Tablet ... She might not have seen it as a reason for comment herself, but writing for a Catholic publication one might think that she would realise it is a piece of information about the film that some readers might like to know about before going to see the film themselves.]

The same couple who confirmed the language of the film described it as being a "very funny" film, and being themselves of Irish heritage, probably appreciated aspects of the film that would pass me by. It might just be that they have a very different sense of humour than me.

But does the presence of this language and this racism in a comedy film, rather than in the ordinary life of people, make it thereby acceptable that it should be shown on screens up and down the country? Does that word "comedy" permit the translation of the otherwise unacceptable into acceptability?

Should we not exercise our consciences in deciding whether or not to see this film?

Fr John Abberton has a post raising a similar question with regard to Frank Skinner, with an interesting follow up discussion among the comments.

Julian of Norwich: Part 3

In which I consider Julian's treatment of God as mother or, more precisely, of Jesus as mother.
Thus our Lady is our mother in whom we are all enclosed and we are born from her in Christ; for she who is mother of our Saviour is mother of all who will be saved in our Saviour. And our Saviour is our true mother in whom we are eternally born and by whom we shall always be enclosed.
This is a first sense in which Julian describes Christ as mother, and she does it in a relation to her understanding of the motherhood of the Virgin Mary. A reading of both texts of the Revelations indicates a Marian dimension to Julian's writing that has a very modern ring to it, though studies explain this dimension in the context of a growth in Marian devotion at Julian's time, a growth that more feminist interpretations put down to wish at the time to find a more feminine aspect to a religion dominated by maleness. Julian also does this in the context of the Church as the Body of Christ and mother of all Christians, the Marian dimension also having an ecclesial dimension.

The second, and more systematically developed, way in which Julian describes Christ as mother is in the context of the Holy Trinity.
I considered the operation of all the Holy Trinity, and in doing so I saw and understood these three properties: the property of fatherhood, the property of motherhood and the property of lordship, all in one God. In our almighty Father we are sustained and blessed as far as our essential nature is concerned, which belongs to us through our making since before time began; and in the second Person, who is Intellect and Wisdom, we are sustained as far as our sensory being, our redemption and salvation are concerned; for he is our mother, brother and saviour. And in our good lord the Holy Ghost we have our reward and recompense for our living and suffering; and endless surpassing of all we desire comes from his marvellous generosity, his great and abundant grace.
Julian draws a distinction between the "essential" and the "sensory" in man, which might roughly though inexactly be considered a distinction between soul and body. This is a context in which she further develops the idea of motherhood in the activity of the Trinity. She identifies the act of creation with the Father, that of redemption with the Son/mother and that of grace with the lord/Holy Ghost. The moment of the passion and death of Jesus is described by Julian as a labour, giving birth to the redeeming of mankind; and his feeding us with his Body and Blood in the Eucharist is likened to a mother feeding her child with her own milk.
.. Jesus is our true mother by nature, at our first creation, and he is out true mother in grace by taking on our created nature ...

I understand three ways of seeing motherhood in God: the first is that he is the ground of our natural creation, the second is the taking on of our nature (and there the motherhood of grace begins), the third is the motherhood of works ...

... we are redeemed by the motherhood of mercy and grace and brought back into our natural dwelling where we were made by the motherhood of natural love; a natural love which never leaves us.
In using the word "mother" of Christ, there is no suggestion that Julian intends in any way to attribute a female identity to him, and indeed she uses the masculine pronoun of him. Whilst the offices of "father" and "mother" in the Godhead (see below) are in themselves analogous with regard to gender, Julian does not suggest anything other than that Christ becomes incarnate as a man.

In using the word "mother" of Christ, Julian does not intend any denial of a "fatherhood" in God. On the contrary, such fatherhood is affirmed.

Whilst it may not be possible to dissociate Julian's use of the word "mother" of Christ completely from a question about gender, nevertheless such a question is not the purpose of her writing with regard to the motherhood of God. In this sense, one can challenge the view that Julian should be seen as an icon for a feminist theological hermeneutic.

The essence of what Julian means by the term "mother" as applied to Christ is the delineation of an office (in the sense in which Hans Urs von Balthasar would use that term), an existence and a work, within the life of the Trinity and in the action of the Trinity ad extra. The same can be said of her use of the term "father" with regard to the first person of the Trinity, and one can suggest in following her that the Christian tradition might become more aware of fatherhood in the Trinity as an office. Both terms are analogous (in the sense of the analogy of being) to the human experiences of mother and father.

There is an ecclesiological development of Julian's thought that might be explored further. This arises from her use of the word "enclosed" - that we are enclosed in both the Virgin Mary and in Christ. We are enclosed in Mary as a figure of the Church and we are enclosed in Christ, whose mystical body is the Church.

Two snippets from ZENIT

Like Auntie Joanna, I thought this was a very interesting reaction to the recent World Youth Day in Madrid. In a vein similar to this reaction, the observation of the Mayor of Madrid about the willingness of the young people visiting Madrid to be helpful and cooperate with the instructions of police, etc, reminded me of a similar kind of reaction after the World Youth Day in Sydney - I recall one media report of police officers in Sydney finding themselves for the first time being thanked by people in the crowds for their work in respect of the events.

In the light of the forthcoming introduction of the new translation of the Roman Missal, a message of Pope Benedict XVI to Italy's 62nd annual Liturgical Week is interesting. The theme of the week is "God Educates His People: The Liturgy, Inexhaustible Source of Catechesis", which has some relevance to the idea that the introduction of the new translation provides an opportunity for catechesis about the Eucharistic Liturgy. The emphases in the following extract have been added by me.
The Church, especially when she celebrates the divine mysteries, recognizes and manifests herself as a reality that cannot be reduced to a solely earthly and organizational aspect. It must appear clearly in these mysteries that the beating heart of the community should be recognized beyond the narrow yet necessary limits of ritualism, because the liturgy is not what man does, but what God does with his admirable and gratuitous condescension. This primacy of God in the liturgical action was highlighted by the Servant of God Paul VI at the closing of the second period of the Vatican Council, when he announced the proclamation of the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium: "In this event we observe that the correct order has been respected of the values and duties: thus we have recognized that the post of honor is reserved to God; that as first duty we are called to raise prayers to God; that the sacred Liturgy is the primary source of this divine exchange in which the life of God is communicated to us; it is the first school of our soul, it is the first gift that must be made by us to the Christian people." (Paul VI, Address for the Closing of the Second Period, December 4, 1963, AAS [1964], 34).

In addition to expressing the absolute priority of God, the liturgy manifests its being "God with us," since "being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction." (Benedict XVI, encyclical Deus Caritas Est, 1). In this connection, God is the great educator of his people, the loving, wise, tireless guide in and through the liturgy, the action of God in the today of the Church.
The message also includes a reference to the Liturgy as "an integrated experience of catechesis, celebration and life". I do think that the catechetical possibilities of the homily at Sunday Mass are often not realised, with a kind of "pious encouragement" being offered instead of any systematic teaching that would be characteristic of catechesis more properly defined. An explanation of the Liturgical texts of the new translation does offer an opportunity for the "integrated experience" referred to here.

Sunday 28 August 2011

One week to go ...

...before we start using the new translation. And here.

Julian of Norwich: Part 2

One of the best known citations from Julian's account of her visions is the following:
At one time our good Lord said, "All manner of things shall be well"; and at another time he said, "You shall see for yourself that all manner of things shall be well"; and the soul understood these two sayings differently.
Julian's explanation of the first of these statements would today be expressed as a trust in the providence of God, who will take a care of the big things and the small things in the our lives.

Julian's explanation of the second statement puts an emphasis on its first words, "You shall see for yourself...". Referring to evil and sin, Julian observes that some evil is so serious that we are not able to see how any good can come of it; and, for the concerned soul, this represents a disturbance in the contemplation of God. The wisdom and power of the Trinity, however, is of a different order that we are not able to understand in our weakness, and it is to this wisdom and power that the Lord refers in the visions.

Julian further develops this in two ways. The first is eschatological:
It appears to me that there is a deed which the Holy Trinity shall do on the last day, and when that deed shall be done and how it shall be done is unknown to all creaturs under Christ ... This is the great deed ordained by our Lord God from eternity, treasured up and hidden in his blessed breast, only known to himself, and by this deed he shall make all things well; for just as the Holy Trinity made all things from nothing, so the Holy Trinity shall make all well that is not well.
In the Short Text, Julian identifies this deed as "referring to the union with the Holy Trinity of all mankind who shall be saved".

The second is in relation to what we would think of today as the problem of evil and the Church's teaching on hell. Julian suggests that it is praiseworthy that the Trinity should tolerate the evil that exists until that deed at the end of time that will make "all things well that are not well". In the light of the first, eschatological development, she insists on faithfulness to the teaching of the Church about hell and the condemnation of the Devil and of damned souls to hell. Julian then holds this in balance with the trust engendered in the visions that what is not well will be changed into that which is well.  A passage from the Short Text also conrtibutes to understanding Julian's position:
God showed me that sin is not shameful to man, but his glory ...

Sin is the sharpest scourge that any chosen soul can be struck with ... But when the touch of the Holy Ghost brings contrition, it turns bitterness into hope of God's mercy; and then their wounds begin to heal and the soul begins to revive into the life of Holy Church. The Holy Ghost leads a man on to confession, and he earnestly shows his sins... Then in accordance with the basic teaching which the Church has received from the Holy Ghost, his confessor imposes a penance on him for each sin. By this medicine every sinful soul needs to be healed ... Although a man has the scars of healed wounds, when he appears before God they do not deface but enoble him.
We can see her theological method of synthesising what is given in the visions with what is taught by the Church at play here.

The original citation can be very easily taken as meaning that Julian has an over optimistic view with regard to evil and the reality of sin. A full reading of its context and explanation in the two texts of the Revelations does not support this.

Julian's discussion does, I think, have relevance for the new evangelisation. At the stage of proclamation, it is a common place to speak of God's love for us and the mercy that he extends towards us. The way in which Julian holds in balance a reality in the sense of sin and evil and a trust in the providence of God to make well that which is not well could inform this proclamation.

Friday 26 August 2011

Julian of Norwich: Part 1

More by accident than by deliberate intention, I started reading a book about Julian of Norwich earlier this week. I then had to read corresponding passages of her Revelations of Divine Love to make sense of the book. From the point of view of her writings, Julian is perhaps best known for her treatment of God as mother, something that makes her a favourite for those who are proponents of a feminist theology and suspect for those of a more orthodox outlook. More of that in Part 3.

Adrienne von Speyr, in dictation to Hans Urs von Balthasar, gives an account of Julian of Norwich's prayer in her Book of All Saints. The vignettes in this book are accounts of the prayer of the saints (and others) based in Adrienne's mystical experience. Von Balthasar asks Adrienne about Julian:
(Is she correct on the whole?) Yes, she is. She is very childlike in her vision. She accepts things just as they are offered to her, and she carries them around with her. She does not separate herself from her experiences, but she does not at the same time accord them an undue importance. She is humble.
The Long Text of Julian's Revelations is considered to have been written much later than the Short Text, and adds to a simple account of her visions a very considerable theological reflection - as Adrienne says of her visions, "she carries them around with her". It is quite wrong to see Julian as a writer of a pious spiritual text. The Long Text in particular is a work of real theology that in places has a very modern feel (for example, in referring to Mary as mother of all the saved and mother of the Church, in a very startling description of Christ as one with Adam, and in seeing the open side of Christ as the source of grace).

An implicit thread running through the Long Text is a certain tension between what has been given to Julian in her visions and what is given in the teaching of the Church. One can almost see the Long Text as a systematic synthesis of her visions with the teaching of the Church. Indeed, this becomes explicit when Julian compares the teaching of the Church about the blame and anger that sinners deserve because of their sin and the lack of any such blame or anger on the part of God shown in her visions (cf chapter 45 of the Long Text). At several points, Julian affirms the need to be faithful to the teaching of the Church.

Though academics try to account for this affirmation of loyalty to the teaching of the Church by considering the historical context of Julian's times - it might not have been in the interests of her physical safety to be suspect of heresy - the integration of the insights received in the visions and  doctrine received from the Church seems to me quite intrinsic to the text and not accidental to it. Faithfulness to the teaching of the Church seems to me to be an important part of Julian of Norwich's charism and theological method.

Media malfunction

A short snippet in The Times today, as part of its coverage of GCSE examination results:
Deborah Thorpe passed her GCSE maths ten years before her classmates will even attempt the exam (Monique Rubins writes). The six-year-old from Chadwell Heath, East London, had extra lessons on Saturdays to help her achieve her E grade and took the exam when she was still only 5.
This is the story as it appears on the website of the Barking and Dagenham Post. There is probably a "back story" behind the Saturday morning lessons, though the not watching television during the week seems quite commendable.

But, as far as GCSE examinations are concerned, an E grade is not generally considered to be a pass grade. Only grades C and above are usually counted as pass grades. Oops!

A bit like the BBC and its failure to recognise that going on 2 million young people gathering to celebrate a vigil and Mass with Pope Benedict XVI was a news story....

UPDATE: The BBC are also carrying the GCSE Maths story.

Thursday 25 August 2011


See here for a view that I share.

In his letter that accompanied Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict wrote something that I think indicated his expectation that the Ordinary Form would unite parish communities:
The most sure guarantee that the Missal of Paul VI can unite parish communities and be loved by them consists in its being celebrated with great reverence in harmony with the liturgical directives.
Which is precisely the example that Pope Benedict XVI has offered in his Liturgical practice to date.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Britain's agenda for an "inclusive" Libya?

John Simpson, the BBC's World Affairs Editor, comments as follows on the Libyan civil war (I think that is a more accurate term than revolution):
If 17 February has come to be reckoned as the start of the uprising against him, then 24 August will probably be seen as the day it succeeded.

Six months and a week of often unco-ordinated effort. It would not have succeeded without British and French determination and Nato's involvement, but it was essentially a revolution created by Libyans themselves.
The BBC news website is reporting as follows. I have added the italics for emphasis:
Downing Street said David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy had invited Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) to attend a conference on the country's future in Paris next week.

"This will be an opportunity for the NTC to set out how the international community can help them on the path to establishing a free, democratic and inclusive Libya and for all those who wish to support Libya to discuss the role that they can play to support this," a Number 10 spokesman said.
The Dowining Street website attributes the same phrase to the Prime Minister, again with my addition of italics:
Our task now is to do all we can to support the will of the Libyan people, which is for an effective transition to a free, democratic and inclusive Libya.

This will be a Libyan-led and Libyan-owned process with broad international support co-ordinated by the UN – and I am in close contact with partners from NATO, the Arab League and with Chairman Jalil himself.
Within this reporting there is a visible tension between assertions of a Libyan led nature to the prosecution of the war against Gaddafi and the importance of French and British involvement through the NATO air campaign.

But what does the Prime Minister and No. 10 spokesman mean by that word inclusive? Used in an internal UK context it would imply the promotion of a particular equalities agenda. Does Her Majesty's Government intend to export that agenda to the new Libya?

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Re-defining obedience

This week's Tablet has an editorial entitled "Living with the Missal", which opens by asking:
What kind of obedience do Catholics owe the Church, with reference to the new English translation of the Roman Missal?
That this editorial is available freely on the website doesn't surprise, its writer no doubt wanting it to get maximum exposure. So far as I can tell, almost nobody reads the Tablet in the ordinary parishes - you either don't see it at all at the back of the Church or just one or two copies - so one has to try and get it read in some way.
Fr Kevin Kelly, Britain's eminent moral theologian ...
Most Catholics below my age will ask: Fr who? Fr Kelly is now emeritus, may be eminent in a very restricted circle that can remember back quite a few years, but has an eminence that is, I suspect, very non-evident to most people in the pews. The editorial suggests that Fr Kelly is accusing the Bishops of England and Wales of "doublespeak" by praising the new translation in public while expressing unhappiness with it in private. Now, Fr Kelly's original text can be found here and one can see a rather misleading conflation in the Tablet editorial of the first three paragraphs. Fr Kelly's original text is purely and entirely speculation - and admittedly so - when it refers to the Bishops expressing concerns about the new translation in private. Given what the editorial has made of Fr Kelly's first three paragraphs, one wonders whether the writer actually misread "emeritus" as "eminent" .....

The response "And with your spirit" is, so far as I can tell, one of the best and most commonly explained aspects of the new translation, so for the editorial writer to refer to an absence of any explanation for it appears silly in the extreme. It is also an example that very readily illustrates some key gains of the new translation: greater faithfulness to the original Latin text, a more sacred form of language, and greater transparency of the Scriptural references in the text (which in this case are completely lost in the previous translation).

The editorial then goes on to cite Fr Timothy Radcliffe in justification of re-defining obedience as "deep attentiveness" rather than submission of will to a lawful command. I do think the editorial is correct in saying that obedience is not "unthinking compliance"; a genuine submission of the will has to be informed by a proper intelligence. But it is still an act of the will and not just of "attention". [There is a variation on this redefining of obedience among the comments to Fr Kelly's text at the ACP website.]

Two weeks to go and every sign outside of the media that the introduction of the new translation will be going ahead, though the ordinary faithful in the pews could do with some advance warning that their lines are going to be changing .....

Sunday 21 August 2011


These Reuters reports (here and here) give some indication of the size and nature of the protests in Madrid that accompanied the visit of Pope Benedict XVI and World Youth Day pilgrims to the city.

If the captions to the photographs are accurate to the events that are portrayed, they suggest seriously intolerant behaviour towards pilgrims from some of the protesters. Whether, as one of the comments in the video coverage here suggests, the police made a mistake in allowing protesters and pilgrims to meet in the way that they did, or the events display a genuine level of intolerance towards the pilgrims, the scenes in Madrid are in sharp contrast to those in London during the Saturday of Pope Benedict's visit to the UK last September. Then, anti-Papal protesters marched in the afternoon in streets only minutes away from the venue of the evening vigil in Hyde Park, mingling to some extent with pilgrims arriving for the vigil. The same day, some 80 000 pilgrims made their way to Hyde Park and others lined the Mall - all without any harrassment from the protesters.

There have been protests at previous Papal visits, but not with the bitterness that seems to have characterised those in Madrid. Will this mark a step change in the level of protest that can be expected in the future?

H/T Annie Elizabeth

Spain is a great nation

Spain is a great nation whose soundly open, pluralistic and respectful society is capable of moving forward without surrendering its profoundly religious and Catholic soul. In these days, it once more made this clear, revealing its technical and human resources in the service of an undertaking of immense consequence and promise: that of helping young people to become more deeply rooted in Jesus Christ, our Saviour.

Pope Benedict XVI, Departure ceremony 21st August 2011

Saturday 20 August 2011

"Martin": a life worth living

Earlier this week, the media covered the case of "Martin". "Martin" is nearly completely paralysed, having some eye and head movement that, with the use of a computer, screen and voice generation software, allows him to communicate.  "Martin" is pursuing a legal case that, if successful, would allow professionals to help him kill himself without risk of prosecution. His wife, family and friends who would enjoy some protection from prosecution under current guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service have all indicated that they will not assist "Martin" in killing himself.

In the interview broadcast on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, "Martin" stated that his life was not worth living and that what he wanted to happen was death. An interview with the chief executive of the charity Scope was broadcast immediately after the interview with "Martin", the key argument of that interview being that other disabled people were concerned that, if "Martin" is successful in his court bid, they will feel very vulnerable to pressure from others to take their lives.

I have three connected reflections on this coverage of the "Martin" case.

1. "Martin" clearly feels that his life is not worth living, and stated this clearly in his interview. However, when that judgement is broadcast by "Martin" in a media interview it implicitly asks those who are listening to "Martin" to agree with his judgement and makes it very difficult to express a contrary view in the media. A careful distinction needs to be drawn. It is clear that "Martin" is living a life that is difficult, a life that is far from easy; and it is not licit for those who do not experience his particular situation to make any comment that denies this significant hardship. However, I do think that it is legitimate for us to disagree with the judgment that that serious hardship in life is equivalent to a "life not worth living", because there is a subtle but important distinction between acknowledging the hardship of a life (and being sypathetic about it) and making the additional step of judging it to be worthless. I, for one, do not want "Martin" or anyone else, particularly those caring for him, to think that I agree with his own judgement of his life as being one that is not worth living.

2. The observations of the chief executive of Scope highlight that a legal decision in favour of "Martin" is not in effect just a decision about his own individual case but a decision that then represents a possibility for every other disabled person. The legal decision is not one that just affects the freedom of an individual to have help to kill himself but one that affects the freedom of all disabled people to have help to kill themselves - and therefore it is a legal decision that affects the freedom of all carers in this regard. Put simply, it appears to be a decision about a single case but is in reality a decision that affects society as a whole. There is clearly a legal aspect to this, and the pragmatic question of how the availability of the possibility of help from professionals might well lead to an assumption in favour of that help being provided, but I think there is also an underlying ethical or moral principle. Though he is paralysed, "Martin" nevertheless lives in a society, represented immediately by his carers, family and friends, but also extending to a wider community. Decisions made by "Martin" cannot be isolated from this society as a question of "individual choice" but need to be placed within the framework of the good of that society as a whole. In other words, a legal decision should be made that is in favour of the "common good", which in consequence, is also in favour of the genuine good of the individual case.

3. What is in the "common good" will need to be based on an objective ethical judgement of the good (in a philosophical sense) of the life of the human person. It needs to be clear that, just because life is hard, it is not therefore worthless. The "pastoral moment" that accompanies this "teaching moment" is to say to someone who is seriously ill that there is nothing wrong with the fact that they need others to care for them; and to say to those who care for the sick person that there is a natural dynamic of human society that makes that caring a time of particular value.

Friday 19 August 2011


Auntie Joanna has captured the atmosphere that reminds me of being in Cologne in 2005: Springtime in August. The sense of devotion is something that I can recognise.

This report suggests that a tiny protest has been magnified by the media. But whatever one makes of the figure of 150 suggested, it is quite clear that protesters are hopelessly outnumbered by the hundreds of thousands of young people in Madrid for WYD.

Thursday 18 August 2011

Riots and Chastity

This series of posts is based upon two premises. The first is that the motivations and circumstances of those involved in the disorder in some of the cities of England appear to be very varied; a range of factors appear to have been in play rather than a narrow set of "causes". The second is that, as Pope Benedict said in Westminster Hall, the role of religion is not to propose particular political solutions but instead to to offer a purification of reason applied in the search for objective moral principles.

It seems reasonable to suggest that saying to young people that there are no rules in one area of their lives is going to make it difficult to maintain that there are rules in other areas. Saying that in one area of life there is no need for restraint does make it difficult to insist that restraint is proper to other areas of life.

One feature of the riots that has been the subject of comment in both national and local media is the ferocity of the violence directed against the police; there has also been some comment of points where rioters turned on each other. The attack on a 68 year old in Ealing after he had remonstrated with rioters, leading to his death, also manifests this violence against the person. What is quite shocking about this is the lack of regard for the human person which underlies this violence.

But if respect for self and respect for the other is undermined in one area of human living, then should we not expect that lack of respect to also show itself in other areas of living?

During my summer tidy of the bookshelves, I came across an article in my trade union's magazine entitled "Gang culture", written by one the trainers that the union uses to deliver a course on managing challenging behaviour.
Breakdown of the family unit, loss of parental and family role models, poor parenting skills, a lack of moral guidelines, no sense of community and fear for safety has led to an increasing number being involved in gang culture.
These words were published in November 2010. It is necessary to recognise the contribution that the extent of divorce and remarriage, the extent of child bearing outside marriage, and the extent of short term "relationships" outside of marriage make to this situation. The re-defining of the idea of "family" to include every possible variation from its traditional meaning does not help, creating as it does greater uncertainty in the human relations involved.
Can. 599 The evangelical counsel of chastity assumed for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, which is a sign of the world to come and a source of more abundant fruitfulness in an undivided heart, entails the obligation of perfect continence in celibacy.
The Church has three things that it can offer to the common good:

(1) celibacy, exemplified by the religious life, is also something that should be promoted to those who are single, particularly the young
(2) marriage is a permanent and life long commitment of one man and one woman, ordered towards children

(3) underlying both the single and married states is the principle that restraint in matters of sexuality will develop a respect for the other that is for the general good.

Pope Benedict in Madrid

World Youth Day brings us a message of hope like a pure and youthful breeze, with rejuvenating scents which fill us with confidence before the future of the Church and the world. ...
But, with all my heart, I say again to you young people: let nothing and no one take away your peace; do not be ashamed of the Lord.
 Full text here.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Riots and Obedience

This series of posts is based upon two premises. The first is that the motivations and circumstances of those involved in the disorder in some of the cities of England appear to be very varied; a range of factors appear to have been in play rather than a narrow set of "causes". The second is that, as Pope Benedict said in Westminster Hall, the role of religion is not to propose particular political solutions but instead to to offer a purification of reason applied in the search for objective moral principles.

Perhaps particularly on the Monday night of the disturbances in London, the word "lawlessness" was a ready descriptor of the situation on the streets of some areas of the city. Since the events, there has been an emphasis, from both the police and politicians, on making arrests and bringing perpetrators before the courts. There is in connection with the riots an existential question about the rule of law; and some comment has observed that the riots indicate how little it took for the rule of law to break down, how thin was that rule in our society.

Nationally it is reported that somewhere around 21% of those appearing in court after the riots are aged under eighteen. A debate has taken place about the role of parents with regard to their children, in one form expressed by the slogan "what were their parents doing" letting their children out on the streets and in another form expressed in a debate about family breakdown.

Continuing the theme of the evangelical counsels, and the idea that they represent something that the Church can offer to the common good, these aspects of the recent events prompts a reflection on the virture of obedience.
Can. 601 The evangelical counsel of obedience, undertaken in a spirit of faith and love in the following of Christ obedient unto death, requires the submission of the will to legitimate superiors, who stand in the place of God, when they command according to the proper constitutions.
There are a number of different situations in society where there are "legitimate superiors" who can rightly command obedience. Parents can rightly expect obedience from their children, teachers can expect pupils to obey instructions, an employer can expect an employee to fulfil the terms of their employment contract, and we are all expected to obey the law of the land. It is clear that in each of these situations that exercise of obedience is not, and cannot, be arbitrary. Each situation has its framework that defines the appropriate exercise of authority and therefore of obedience - parents exercise authority towards the good of the upbringing of their children, teachers ask pupils to behave well towards the purposes of learning and within the rules of the school, an employer exercises authority only within the terms and conditions of employment and not beyond.

Just as an exercise of authority is not arbitrary, so a genuine act of obedience is not arbitrary. As the Code of Canon Law suggests, it involves an engagement of the will of the one who obeys, an active choice to obey, and not just a passive "doing what I am told". That is not to say that some particular instances will not be experienced as "do what you're told", but it is to say that such instances are part of a wider and more willed choice to obey. This means that the one who obeys needs to have some understanding of the framework within which authority is being exercised towards them, and to recognise their stake in that framework. The more those who obey can recognise a common purpose with those who command, the more successful will be the exercise of authority and obedience.

One of the lessons about a well lived obedience is that, though it does have an element of enforcement, reliance on the enforcement alone is not sufficient. An education for obedience is also needed, so that those who are the object of commands are already disposed to obey them. An education to respect for law is a question of culture and it needs to include the small things as well as the large. The age profile of those coming before the courts in England at the moment suggests that this is not just a question for young people but for all ages in society.

[At one time the idea that rulers ruled by a "divine right" and were therefore representative of God's authority on earth held a certain sway. The Code of Canon Law refers to religious superiors as representing the will of God. I think it is reasonable to argue that, though a parent, a teacher or an employer do not represent God in any way in the life of those who need to obey them, nevertheless it is true that, under providence, they happen to be the ones placed in authority.]

A contribution that the Church can make to the debate about the riots is:
(1) to offer the example of obedience as lived by religious in our own cities, to talk about this in the media and to encourage its visibility in the life of parishes and dioceses
(2) to show how obedience is, when well lived, a positive contribution to community life
(3) to promote in parishes and schools the idea of obedience, and how this should be lived in a mature way that reaches beyond enforcement and that fully engages the will of the one who obeys
(4) not to be shy of offering the example of an obedience that is explicitly religious in its inspiration, as a contribution to a common good for which others in society also work, recognising that those of no religious faith will adopt the concept in an analagous manner.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Riots and Poverty

This series of posts is based upon two premises. The first is that the motivations and circumstances of those involved in the disorder in some of the cities of England appear to be very varied; a range of factors appear to have been in play rather than a narrow set of "causes". The second is that, as Pope Benedict said in Westminster Hall, the role of religion is not to propose particular political solutions but instead to to offer a purification of reason applied in the search for objective moral principles.

There is a poverty that, rightly, the Church teaches should be eradicated. This is that un-chosen poverty that leaves the human person without dignity - without sufficient means to meet their daily needs of food, health, accomodation and participation in society. I expect that in some places poverty of this type is part of the story of the riots.

But there is also a second poverty, a chosen poverty, that the Church encourages as part of the way in which Christians respond to the challenge of living the Christian life. In its strongest manifestation this is seen in the vow of poverty typical of the life of religious orders.

Can. 573 §1. The life consecrated through the profession of the evangelical counsels is a stable form of living by which the faithful, following Christ more closely under the action of the Holy Spirit, are totally dedicated to God who is loved most of all, so that, having been dedicated by a new and special title to His honor, to the building up of the Church, and to the salvation of the world, they strive for the perfection of charity in the service of the kingdom of God and, having been made an outstanding sign in the Church, foretell the heavenly glory....

The Church encourages her members to promote the value of this chosen poverty, freely entered in to, in the life of the Church. If religious life is understood as the most radical form of living that life that should be proper to all the Christian faithful - a thought, I think, that can be found in the writing of Louis Bouyer on monastic life - then chosen poverty becomes something in which all the faithful have a stake. Different vocational contexts mean that this counsel of poverty will be lived analagously, or "according to state of life".  The fruit of this is a certain detachment from material goods, a recognition that some material goods are "surplus" and not necessary, and can be dispensed with.

Within the dynamic of theft that was part of the recent rioting in English cities, an excessive desire for possession of "status" consumer goods played a part. Clearly those who gave in to temptation, or who engineered the looting of these goods, bear a prime responsibility for their actions. But we should also recognise that many others have shared in creating a culture in society that values the possession of status consumer goods in a quite inordinate way.

A contribution that the Church can make to the debate about the riots is:

(1) to offer the example of voluntary poverty as lived by religious in our own cities, to talk about this in the media and to encourage its visibility in the life of parishes and dioceses

(2) to promote in parishes and schools the idea of a certain "detachment" from material goods

(3) to encourage the presence of religious in the deprived areas of our cities, and to encourage social action on the part of Catholics in those areas

(4) not to be shy of offering these examples, explicitly religious in their inspiration, as contributions to a common good for which others in society also work.


The front page of the Times one day last week asked "Why did I do it?", over a pretty much full page picture of Natasha Reid. Natasha is a graduate, aspiring to work as a social worker. She handed herself in to the police after stealing during the recent events in London. I believe that Natasha deserves credit for two things. The first is the way in which she responded to the promptings of conscience, recognising that what she had done was wrong. To attend a police station and admit what you have done in circumstances like these takes a good deal of courage. The second thing for which I think Natasha deserves credit is the dignity with which she has conducted herself in terms of the media coverage. As she left court, being harried by TV cameras and photographers, she used her arms to cover her face and try to protect something of her privacy. The Times photograph showed her with her arms in front of her face. There was no swearing or swagger, just a calm, determined walk away from the court.

It is a bit out of fashion at the moment to speak up for those involved in looting and assaults on police during last week's events, but I do think Natasha should be admired for what she has done after recognising the wrongness of her theft (not for the theft itself). I hope that she will, at some point, get a break in life that will overcome the difficulty presented by her inexplicable moment of failure.

"Ignore the rule book and lock up looters, JPs told" is the headline across the front page in today's Daily Telegraph. Even the paragraphs of the Telegraph's own report make clear that that is not at all the advice that has actually been given to Magistrates, so it must score highly among what one might gently describe as "misleading" headlines. As Natasha Reid's case, and other media coverage shows, there are a range of "stories" behind those who were involved in last week's events, and to reduce them all to one that demands a custodial sentence or remand in prison before trial is just not appropriate. Whilst circumstances might well mean that offences of theft are aggravated compared to normal situations, and therefore more severe sentencing is appropriate (this is the judical essence of the advice given to magistrates), that is a judgement to be made in each individual case and not in an undiscriminating way for everyone involved. If instead the judiciary just respond to the pressure of public opinion then they will in effect undermine the very rule of law that they are trying to uphold.

And it is somewhat disingenuous for politicians to speak about the "family" when they indicate by that term "different models of family", rather than defining it properly.

Sunday 14 August 2011

Too Many Books

... was the title of a programme broadcast on Radio 4 at lunchtime today. There is a synopsis here, but it isn't available to listen again.

Bookbarn International, referred to in the programme synopsis, have a home page here. The search engine requires you to know exactly what book you are looking for, so may well not be as useful as that on Amazon's site. You might also like to read their latest news, which reports on a "must have gadget".

Once again, Radio 4's 1.30-2 pm slot on a Sunday came up with a very rewarding listen!

Easter in August: The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin

Our Lord could have left us only with the pledge of his own resurrection, Easter in April, hope of eternal life. But he has given us too the pledge of his mohter's Assumption, Easter in August, additional hope of eternal life: the woman as well as the man, the handmaid as well as the Lord, the Church as well as the Christ, creation as well as Creator.
Source: Hugh Gilbert OSB, previously Abbot of Pluscarden and about to be Bishop of Aberdeen, quoted in Magnificat.

St Maximilian Kolbe

When I had the opportunity to visit the concentration camp at Auschwitz a number of years ago, I was taken a bit by surprise when we visited the cell in which Maximilian died. My mind was more on Edith Stein, who died at the nearby Birkenau camp.

In my view, Maximilian is one of the key saints of the twentieth century. One part of his relevance is the Marian character of his apostolate - Fr Rene Laurentin includes a section on Maximilian Kolbe and the Militia Immaculata (in comparison to Louis de Montfort) in his study of Marian consecration. Another is the exemplification of martyrdom as the free offering of life for another, martyrdom as a witness to charity. At its deepest origins, this martyrdom is a profound testimony towards the truth about the human person, about the dignity of the person for whom life is offered. Maximilian does in a way foreshadow the activity of the Church on behalf of the dignity of the human person. [Witnesses of Maximilian's offering to replace another prisoner chosen for death indicate that it was when he identified himself as a priest that the German officer agreed to his request, his priesthood therefore also being an aspect of his martyrdom. The religious inspiration of his self offering is also apparent in the witness statements.] Another aspect of his relevance might be described as his "evangelisation of his milieu". In some ways, his self offering and subsequent death were witnessed only by a very few. Whilst Maximilian Kolbe's milieu as quite unique, I do think the principle extends more widely; that is, that our small actions of testimony can have a significant meaning for those who immediately know us, and that this for many of us represents our calling.
".. I felt his influence with far greater strength afte the event which shook the camp, that is, after he offered his own life for that of another prisoner. The news of the episode spread throughout the entire camp that same night."
The comment of the author (he was the general postulator for Maximilian's cause for canonisation) of the biography of Maximilian Kolbe  that I have read is:
"All the survivors of Auschwitz are unanimous in testifying that from the feast of the Assumption, 1941 [ie the day after Maximilian died], the camp became a somewhat less hellish place."
In a camp that is maintained almost as a testimony to death, to the absence of life, the candle placed in the punishment cell in which Maximilian Kolbe died came to me as a welcome testimony to life.

Photo credit: see here.

Saturday 13 August 2011

The Wall

.... is a phrase that means something quite different to the Facebook generation than it did to my parents' generation. Berlin - BFPO 45, if you had cause to write to British forces stationed there - had a symbolism for that generation that it is difficult to appreciate now.

My parents met in Berlin when both were serving in the British Army, though it is not a city I have visited. I was acutely aware of the significance of the night that the wall "came down", or perhaps more accurately, was "opened".

The BBC are today reporting on the 50th anniversary of the building of the Berlin Wall.  They have linked from that page to a page marking the 20th anniversary of the opening of the crossing points, here, in which is embedded Brian Hanrahan's coverage of the night itself.

I have two particularly vivid memories of the night the wall opened. One is the confusion of an East German girl crossing into the West when she was asked if she would go back. Effectively, her response was to say that she just did not know. This was part of Capital Radio's coverage. The second was waking up the next morning and thinking, before I even took my head off the pillow, "the world has changed".

A new bishop

My own Diocese (Brentwood) is one among others in England awaiting the appointment of a new bishop. I do think that a good job has been done in the Diocese to explain the process involved to the faithful (more detailed information has been available in parishes than on the website, and here).

The prayer card mentioned here has been made widely available, and is being used in the intercessions at Mass. The faithful are also being encouraged to use it daily. There is a call for every parish in the Diocese to hold an hour of prayer on 9th October, the Feast of Blessed John Henry Newman, to seek God's blessing on the appointment of a new bishop.

I do like the prayer, and the image on the card - that of the Good Shepherd.

However, in my own use of the prayer card I am adding a couple of things. The first of them is to add a prayer seeking the intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church which, given the Marian sense of the Church that is an implication of the inclusion of the chapter on Our Lady in Vatican II's constitution on the Church, seems entirely appropriate. The second is to add a short litany of the patron saints of the diocese: Our Lady of Lourdes, St Edmund of Canterbury, St Erconwald and St Cedd.

Whilst I do like the prayer and card, it seems to lack something, a certain warmth, without these added intercessions.

My hope is that the prayer campaign being proposed here will encourage a sense of unity in the Diocese. It should also encourage an underlying trust that, whatever the human/political aspects that form a quite natural part of the process of choosing a bishop, the choice made will be at the service of the will of the Triune God.

World Youth Day 2011

The Official Website

A lovely vocation story here.

The ancient and the new? Or, the new evangelisation written large?

Thursday 11 August 2011

The rule of law and the jerk of the knee

Three observations on recent events in London and other cities of the United Kingdom.

1. Should those found to be responsible for criminal activity in the course of recent events, who are receiving state benefits and/or living in social housing, lose their benefits and/or social housing by way of penalty?

This appears to me to be a very ready knee jerk reaction to what has happened, perhaps driven by a degree of stereotyping and a certain political ideology. It is perhaps an idea that certain sections of the media will very readily rally behind, and drive public opinion. It is an idea that I would warn against.

One of the efforts of the former Labour government was to make providers of social housing - either Councils, council owned management organisations or private social housing organisations - share the responsibility for handling anti-social behaviour on their estates (and indirectly in the area of the local authority as a whole). Hence the "neighbourhood warden" or equivalent.

It is one thing for a resident to suffer a penalty relating to their housing if their behaviour has in some way been related to their residence - perhaps anti-social behaviour directed at neighbours or property on their own estate. But it seems to me quite a different thing for such a penalty to be applied for behaviour that has no relation to their residence. There is a question about justice, about due process with regard to tenancy conditions and due consideration for the circumstances of individual cases, particularly those cases where participation in recent events constitutes a "one off".

I am unable to see how putting people into financial and housing difficulties forms a just and effective response to the types of misconduct we have seen. For those who are convicted of offences after the recent events, there is already the possibility of serious knock-on consequences in employment without adding further consequences.

2. The rule of law

The word "lawlessness" has been often used over recent days in connection with events in the cities of the UK. Phrases like "lack of responsibility" and , less commonly, "lack of morals" have also been used.

From the point of view of a democratic society, or, perhaps more fundamentally, any free society even were it not based on a democratic process, is acceptance of the rule of law. This does have an element of coercion - the system of criminal law and the courts, governed by due process. But, as we have seen, it breaks down when those who are subject to the rule of law reject the legitimacy of that rule. There is a question - and the ages and profiles of those now appearing before all night court sittings suggest that it does not extend just to young people - of how society promotes the importance of the rule of law to its citizens.

It is also one thing to make some expression of solidarity in your local community, but quite another to take the law into your own hands. Some of what we have seen in the last two nights appears to me to be rather more like the latter than the former, something that is very vulnerable to being taken up by an objectionable style of political ideology. I did, however, spot a very neat and powerful act of solidarity via a thank you note in a tweet (published on the web) from one of the police forces. This thanked all those members of the public who, during the course of Wednesday, had brought cakes to police stations throughout the county. I am sure that my own work place is far from being the only one where the custom is to bring cakes in on your birthday - but the "minsitry of hospitality" strikes me as being a way of expressing solidarity with those affected by events that does not carry with it the danger of vigilantism.

This question of respect for the rule of law might attract the term "responsibility" from those in the political world, but an interesting thought has occured to me, though I have not really had the time to explore it. St Thomas Aquinas treatment of the subject of natural law in the Summa - "morals", if one wants to translate it approximately into a language of the politicl sphere - is placed within his treatment of law in general. This suggests that it will not be possible to separate a promotion of respect for the rule of law without at the same time promoting an objective sense of morality.

3. International Comment

La Croix has a thoughful comment from an overseas perspective, though I have not had time to translate any of it.

Tuesday 9 August 2011

Events in London

Fr Tim's comment reflects the best comment that can be made on events.

Judging by the reports of some of the areas affected, these events may have directly affected people I know, work with and teach.

Monday 8 August 2011

St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross: Patroness of Europe

9th August is the feast of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein). It has the rank of Feast in the dioceses of Europe, since St Teresa is one of the patron saints of Europe. The UK and Ireland edition of Magnificat includes proper prayers and readings for the feast day - I suspect that only the most alert of parish clergy will realise to use them. The reading from the Book of Esther is particularly significant for the way in which St Teresa understood her own vocation. The "Meditation of the Day" is from Edith Stein's own writings on women and women's education:
The more clearly and distinctly the student understands the relation of the Creator and the creted, the facts concerning the fall of man and redemption, the deep mysteries of the divine inner life of the Trinity, the nature of Christ, the essence and the exalted calling of the Mother of God, the deeper will her union with divinity, the Redeemer, and the Queen of heaven.

One can see clearly in the lives of the saints that their advancement in personal sanctity and in a more profound insight into the truths of faith postulate and promote each other reciprocally. This is also precisely true of those saints without a scholarly education.
A good account of Edith Stein's life, and its meaning, can be found on the website of the Holy See, from the page devoted to beatifications and canonisations. The August 2011 issue of Bible Alive also has an article about Edith Stein, which reads her life alongside that of Cardinal John Henry Newman, beatified during Pope Benedict's visit to the UK last year. This article also draws on the account that Hedwig Conrad-Martius, Edith's closest friend, Godmother and philosophical colleague, gives of her life.

According to Hedwig Conrad-Martius, the essence of Edith Stein can be found in the beauty of a three-fold obedience to the real: that of the saint (the interior receptivity of the soul to the life of the Holy Spirit), that which she lived in a spirit of child-likeness (openness of personality), and that which she lived as a philosopher dedicated to the truth of things as they presented themselves to her (phenomenology). That is, obedience to the truth of things, the truth of persons and to the truth of God. This is the meaning of her life for us today.

Sunday 7 August 2011

Valle Adurni: 500 (a-g)

I had my own attempt to understand events in Ireland, prompted initially by reading Cardinal Danielou, and then by reflecting on the place of Christianity in a culture and on Christianity as politics. I don't think it was a particularly effective attempt. My own experience of Irish Catholicism is very (and I mean very) limited. My reflection on Mass at Knock during a visit a couple of years ago may, however, not be as far off the mark as I might have thought:
Mass struck me as expressing Irish Catholicism at its best - a very strong devotion on the part of the faithful - and at its worst - a complete lack of any real sense on the part of the clergy that this was Liturgy and was due some objective sense of honour.
My previous visit to Ireland was during the first August after the canonisation of Edith Stein, and I made the effort to get to Mass for her feast day (9th August). On a weekday, a good number of the laity prayed the Rosary before Mass, and then ... of course, the prayers for Edith Stein were not in the Missal, and the feast may not have been included in the Diocesan Ordo, though I recall she had by that time been proclaimed a patron saint of Europe and therefore her feast day had the Liturgical rank of Feast in Ireland and its celebration was compulsory according to Liturgical law ... as fast as an express train, the Mass of the feria. Again, the strength and the weakness of Irish Catholicism on display.

Valle Adurni has undertaken a much longer and better informed account of Irish Catholicism. I encountered part (g) before reading any of the other parts, and it seems to validate the impression that I gained from these two encounters.

The 500, by the way, refers to the membership of the Irish Association of Catholic Priests. If there is one post of the series to read in addition to part (g) it is this part (a). It gives a very useful insight into the situation of the priest in Ireland, and perhaps indicates the flawed presence of the Church in the culture.

Saturday 6 August 2011

Most Holy Trinity, I adore You profoundly

Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly, and I offer You the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifference with which He Himself is offended. And, through the infinite merits of His Most Sacred Heart, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of You the conversion of poor sinners.
The prayer of the Angel who appeared to the children at Fatima is appropriate to the Feast of the Transfiguration, when the Church celebrates the glory of God made manifest to Peter, James and John on the mountain top.

The prayer reminds us of the doctrine of the Trinity, and it reminds us of the fundamental calling of the Christian to an attitude of adoration. It is also Eucharistic in character - as was the apparition of the Angel during which the prayer was revealed - and it calls us to pray for the conversion of sinners.

An interesting aspect of the apparitions of the Angel is the part played in them by the posture of prayer - kneeling, and more precisely, prostration with the forehead touching the ground as the children pray as taught by the Angel. One contemporay apostolate for Eucharistic Adoration with children encourages this posture in prayer - the Children of Hope apostolate of the Community of St John.

For the first year of preparation for the centenary of the apparitions, the shrine at Fatima invite pilgrims to follow a "way" that is based on the apparitions of the Angel. The notes to accompany the Pilgrim Itinerary include an account of the apparitions given by Sr Lucia and directions for prayer and meditation. During a visit to Fatima at the end of May, we were able to follow this "way" on one of the days.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa

At the start of Night Prayer, the rubric says that "here an examination of conscience is commended. In a common celebration this may be inserted in a penitential act using the formulas given in the Missal". A few days ago, I thought it might be a good idea to start using the new English translation of the "I confess" at this point.

In the "previous" translation, the phrase "mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa" does not really exist - it is conflated into an earlier phrase and appears only as "... I have sinned through my own fault". The principle behind this, I guess, was that of removing unnecessary repetition, though it probably was not even a particularly good implementation of that principle.

In the new translation, it appears accompanied by the rubric "striking their breast, they say" as:
through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault
The effect of this when it is prayed within the context of Night Prayer, and immediately following an examination of conscience, is interesting. It expresses, and therefore at the same time communicates to the person praying it, a real sense of the wrongness of what they have just considered in their examination of conscience. That has been my own experience, at any rate.

For many people, this enhanced awareness of a sense of sin will be a pastoral advantage of the new translation when compared to the previous translation and has the potential to provide a positive impetus towards conversion of life. However, particularly in a situation where someone repeatedly commits a sin which is addictive in nature, or where someone's life situation means that they suffer for reasons that are not their own fault, it might lead to an exaggeration in the sense of sin, a sense of "guilt" in the unhealthy meaning of that word.

What one hopes, from a pastoral point of view, is that a greater awareness of the reality of sin will also mean that there is a greater awareness of just how great is God's mercy. In catechesis, one can point out that "mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa" is followed by the prayer of the priest which asks for God's mercy, His forgiveness of our sins and that He will lead us to eternal life. The reality of sin is more than matched by the reality of Divine Mercy.

In this context, Fr Boyle's remarks about the prayer of commendation after absolution seem very helpful. This is a prayer that could also be used as part of catechesis about the penitential rite.

Thursday 4 August 2011

From a parish newsletter: comment on the new English translation of the Mass

The following is taken from a parish newsletter for the 18th Sunday of the Year. It provides first a reflection on how the new English translation of the Roman Missal better expresses the gestures of Jesus as he instituted the Eucharist. It also makes a point that many of those criticising the new translation prefer to disregard, namely, that there has been an extensive and long period of consultation and discussion with many in the Church during the course of preparing the new translation. Are the series of twelve newsletter inserts referred to part of a national initiative here in England and Wales or are they an initiative specific to this particular parish?
We hear St Matthew's account of the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes this Sunday. This is not only a demonstration of divine mercy but also a prefiguring of the Holy Eucharist. The liturgy of the Mass recalls the gestures of Our Lord when he raised His eyes to Heaven, gave thanks and said the blessing. One of the lovely aspects of the new translation of the Roman Missal (which we shall begin using partially at Sunday Mass in September and fully by Advent) is that the nobility of these actions is better expressed: On the day He was to suffer, He took bread in His holy and venerable hands, with eyes raised to Heaven....In a similar way, when supper was ended he took this chalice in His holy and venerable hands, and once more giving you thanks He said the blessing and gave the chalice to his disciples....

When the Missal was first produced in English in 1970, the translation of the Latin text was necessarily hurried and without much precision and sometimes lack of faithfulness to the original. I am very much looking forward to using these texts in full (I have already begun using some them at weekday Masses), as they are the fruit of many years of study and consultation between literally thousands of Bishops, Priests and Faithful throughout the English-speaking world. They are more scriptural, theological and properly liturgical in the way they express the truths of our Faith in worship. From September there will be a series of inserts in the Newsletter, for twelve weeks, each providing us with a thorough explanation and catechesis of these new translations of the Missal. It is the desire of all of us involved with the celebration of Catholic worship, that this new Missal will assist us ever more towards an authentic offering of, and participation in, the Eucharistic Sacrifice.

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Christianity as politics?

In yesterday's post I suggested that Cardinal Danielou had a fundamentally correct insight in arguing that we ought not to be shy of a circumstance where a Christian culture (though the example countries to which he referred were in fact historically Catholic countries) provides a matrix that encourages the practice of Christianity by its people. At the end of that post, I pointed out that the implicit question that Cardinal Danielou did not address in his writing was that of whether or not the presence of a Christian culture should also comprise an exercise of political power by the Church.

In the example countries that the Cardinal cited - countries like Spain, Italy and the Catholic countries of South America - there has been a historic perception that the Catholic Church in those countries has at times and in certain ways been allied to former governments. My knowledge of history is not good enough to really understand how far this should be seen as an exercise of political power by the Church. The other recent chapter in the story is that of the Christian Democrat parties in countries such as Germany and Italy.

The contemporary model for how the Catholic Church sees its relationship to the exercise of political power is that of Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Benedict speaks of an "appropriate" or a "healthy" secularity, by which he wishes to recognise the rightful autonomy of the exercise of political and legislative power from the provisions of any one particular religion. At the same time, he does not allow that this secularity should constitute a hostility towards religion and insists that it should allow all citizens to live according to their religious beliefs in the public sphere as well as in their own private lives. The ethical element of Pope Benedict's model was expressed in his address in Westminster Hall (my emphases added):
The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles.
It is very easy to indicate a distinction in principle between the Christian culture of a nation, and the exercise of political power by the Church in that nation, and to say that the legitimate existence of the former is not dependent on the latter. Events on the ground might well blur the distinction. Perhaps the situation in Ireland, for example, does demand a stronger sense of "appropriate secularity" or separation of Church from State. Archbishop Martin of Dublin recognised something of this in his homily for 17th July 2011 (worth reading in full):
Great damage has been done to the credibility of the Church in Ireland. Credibility will only be regained by the Church being more truly what the Church is. Renewal will not be the work of sleek public relations moves. Irish religious culture has radically changed and has changed irreversibly. There will be no true renewal in the Church until that fact is recognised.

The Church cannot continue to be present in society as it was in the past.
How far a flawed political/cultural presence of the Catholic Church in Irish society has contributed to the poor response to allegations of the abuse of minors is difficult to tell without a much closer knowledge of the actual events themselves than I have. As Archbishop Martin recognises, though, it is a question for reflection.

Christianity in culture?

This post could have been titled "Christianity and Culture", but as you will realise that title would both accurately portray the question being addressed - that of the appropriate relation between the Christian life of believers and the culture of the society in which they live - and at the same time miss the essential point being made.

Part of my holiday reading was Cardinal Jean Danielou's book Why the Church? The book was written in French in 1972, and its English translation dates from 1974. My interest in reading the book was to look at how it analyses the situation of the Church of those times. In the first chapter, there are four pages or so devoted to a discussion of the relationship between Christian life and its surrounding culture.
One of the aspects of the present crisis is that we are witnessing the turning point for one form of the embodiment of Christianity in western culture, the form of Christianity which began with Constantine and was the reality in the Occident until the nineteenth century. During that time Christianity was the inspiration for the whole of the literary, philosophical and artistic culture of the Occident. Therefore, there was an expression of Christianity on the very level of civilisation. Now this Christianity is not only in crisis, but, more profoundly, its very validity is being contested.
Cardinal Danielou contrasts the challenging of this cultural form of Christian faith in the west with the recognition that, in mission territories, it is when Christianity becomes an embedded part of the local culture that it is able to evangelise effectively. He contrasts two views. The first view is that of those who would argue that a Christianity that is separated from its cultural embodiment will be better since those who adhere to it will have a real personal faith in Christ and not just a superficial faith that is just lived in a merely social way. The second view is that which favours a situation where a whole nation can be said to be "Christian" and where the embodiment of Christianity in the national culture provides a major impetus towards Christian life for the ordinary person.

The conclusion that Cardinal Danielou draws from this discussion is, I think, most interesting in the light of, for example, events in Ireland, where an embodied Catholic culture would appear to have gone very sadly awry in regard to the abuse of minors and responding appropriately to eradicate that abuse. I do think that Cardinal Danielou has a fundamentally correct insight - that where circumstances mean it exists we should not be shy of the idea of a "Catholic country" which therefore favours Catholic practice - but "events", as one might say, have shown that where the embodiment of Christian life itself in the cultural milieu  is seriously flawed the outcomes are going to be quite devastating. The challenge to be faced by the Church in Ireland is perhaps less one of successfully withdrawing Catholicism from the public culture in order to purify it than one of correcting the manner of its presence within that culture through a process of purification. This latter appears to me to be the import of the practical proposals of Pope Benedict's letter to the Catholics of Ireland.
That is why, on this point which seems to me to be of greatest importance, I think that its absolutely impossible to separate the proclamation of God's word, which is our mission as such, from the necessity of acting upon civilisation and culture in order to impregnate them with Christian values, for only this makes it possible for all men to be Christian still and prevents Christianity from becoming in the future a clique, a little esoteric group. It must remain this great people of God, into which all men are called, and to which we have the hope that those who are still strangers can yet belong. That is why, where we still have the good fortune "that the race is evangelised", according to the words of Peguy, as is the case in certain western countries such as France, Spain or Italy, as is the case for the immense Catholic continent of South America, as is the case for Canada and a part of the United States of America, where there is still the opportunity to have a Christian people, I say that this is something essential that we must not lose.... Certainly it is important that the Christianity of every Christian be directed more and more toward a personal type of commitment, but we must consider it a tremendous thing when a whole nation is a race of baptised people, when baptism is an integral part of the very tradition of the race..
It would be interesting to know whether, if he were alive today, Cardinal Danielou would still describe France, Spain and Italy as "evangelised nations" in the way the he did writing in 1972. The emergence of the notion of a "new evangelisation" suggests an acceptance that these countries should no longer be considered as "baptised peoples" in Cardinal Danielou's sense.

[There is an aspect to the cultural embodiment of Christianity to which Cardinal Danielou refers that he only hints at and does not pursue in an explicit way. This is the extent to which a cultural embodiment of Christian life is also a political embodiment of that Christian life, and whether such a political embodiment is essential to achieving the cultural embodiment that Cardinal Danielou so highly values, or whether the cultural embodiment can be achieved without a political embodiment. I hope to post on this aspect of the question in the next day or two.]