Tuesday 25 October 2011

Jocelyn Bell-Burnell: The Life Scientific

There is a saying that "the pictures are better on the radio", and I think that this episode of a BBC Radio 4 Programme The Life Scientific is a good example of the saying. I was only able to listen to the first 15 minutes or so before I went out this morning, and have now downloaded the podcast to listen to at my leisure.

If you don't have time to listen to more than the first five minutes of the programme, do listen to that five minutes. It strikingly portrays the sexist treatment that Jocelyn was subject to in the first years of her scientific career, a career that included the "no-Bell" (Nobel) prize awarded to her male colleagues for a discovery that was in essence Joceyln's. If you listen further (to around 11 minutes), you will learn how it was attention to very fine detail - a quarter of an inch of data in hundreds of feet of chart recorder paper, analysed manually - that led to the discover of pulsars for which that prize was awarded.

As I say, the pictures are better on the radio. This programme gives a very nice picture of Jocelyn Bell-Burnell's personality - very clear about what she thinks of her treatment in the early years of her career, but at the same time without any kind of "chip" on her shoulder as a result. It is also fascinating to hear her talking about her discovery of pulsars. The programme also gives a very good picture of what scientific research was like in the days before computers became a part of every day life and before Hubble, describing how Jocelyn helped build her own radio telescope for her PhD and how she had to interpret the recorded observations manually from the chart recorder read out.

Do listen to the whole programme here. This link takes you to other BBC sources relating to the life and work of Jocelyn Bell-Burnell, including her appearance on Desert Island Discs in December 2000.

Monday 24 October 2011

Year of Faith (3): The "Year of Faith" in relation to Vatican II

When he comments in Porta Fidei on Pope Paul VI's "Year of Faith", Pope Benedict XVI observes:
In some respects, my venerable predecessor saw this Year as a "consequence and a necessity of the postconciliar period", fully conscious of the grave difficulties of the time, especially with regard to the profession of the true faith and its correct interpretation.
In a similar way, Benedict XVI presents the "Year of Faith" that will commence in October 2012 in a strong relation to the Second Vatican Council. This relation is established in the choice of date for the commencement of the Year, and Pope Benedict quotes Blessed John Paul II to explain it further in Porta Fidei n.5:
It seemed to me that timing the launch of the Year of Faith to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council would provide a good opportunity to help people understand that the texts bequeathed by the Council Fathers, in the words of Blessed John Paul II, “have lost nothing of their value or brilliance. They need to be read correctly, to be widely known and taken to heart as important and normative texts of the Magisterium, within the Church's Tradition ... I feel more than ever in duty bound to point to the Council as the great grace bestowed on the Church in the twentieth century: there we find a sure compass by which to take our bearings in the century now beginning."
There can be no doubt about Pope Benedict's commitment to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, or to his belief in the value of the teaching of that Council for the life of the Catholic Church in our own times. Traditional Catholics who might want to read into the Papacy of Benedict XVI some form of retreat from or negating re-evaluation of the teaching of that Council need to take note of this.

Pope Benedict immediately continues, though, and with a footnote referencing his Address to the Roman Curia of December 2005, which contained his account of a "hermeneutic of continuity" with regard to the Second Vatican Council:
I would also like to emphasize strongly what I had occasion to say concerning the Council a few months after my election as Successor of Peter: “if we interpret and implement it guided by a right hermeneutic, it can be and can become increasingly powerful for the ever necessary renewal of the Church.”
Can one read the petition coming from a Traditional Catholic background for a "more in-depth examination of the Second Vatican Council" in a way that is compatible with Pope Benedict's vision of the relation between the "Year of Faith" and the Second Vatican Council? As a headline, this petition looks like a challenge to the positive evaluation of that Council expressed in Porta Fidei (though we should note that the petition was published before the announcement of the "Year of Faith"). However, a reading of the text of the petition itself suggests that what it seeks is a detailed point-by-point working out of the "hermeneutic of continuity" and rebuttal of its contrary "hermeneutic of rupture" with regard to the Council. Whilst one might wish to express some caution with regard to the Church politics behind this petition, and to be careful not to promote it as a challenge to a positive evaluation of the teaching of the Council, its substantial content might well provide worthwhile points on which to deepen the Church's understanding of the content of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council during the "Year of Faith".

Sunday 23 October 2011

This and that: mostly about Catholic schools ...

Whilst in some quarters, the Westminster Diocese's education service is making headlines over its handling of Cardinal Vaughan school, in Twickenham it is the plans to build a new secondary school that are causing quite a different stir: here and here. The exact motivations of the lobby group opposing this proposed school cannot be determined from the media coverage, but there were protest activities against the Papal visit in the same area in 2010. In the context of both of these situations, there is an interesting account on the Catholic Education Service website about Catholic Schools: Mission and Governance. Whilst it notes that
For Catholic schools under the trusteeship of the diocese the Trusts under which Catholic schools are established contain within their objects a requirement to provide education for Catholic children.
it also points out that the Catholic character of such schools is supported in a number of other ways.

And, in a completely different context, another story about Catholic schools: Cardinal ‘fasts’ over court ruling and Hundreds of young people supported Cardinal Joseph Zen on third day of Hunger strike in Hong Kong.

A point made in discussion during yesterday's London event of Aid to the Church in Need was that, since the fall of dictatorial regimes in north Africa and the Middle East, the situation of Christians in those countries has deteriorated. There is a real concern that the new governments that will succeed the dictators will embrace an Islamic fundamentalism that will discriminate against Christians in those countries. Reference was also made to the experience of Christians in Iraq. There is a tempting prudential judgement that it would have been better for Christians had the dictators remained in power. But it really is damaging to Christian testimony when those communities appear as being "sheltered" by regimes whose actions with regard to other citizens are contrary to Christian teaching on the dignity of the human person and the freedom due to each and every person. There is a more authentic witness when Christians are persecuted. I think it is Hans Urs von Balthasar who wrote somewhere that it is the normal condition of the Christian that he or she should be subject to discrimination or persecution and, in consequence, the absence of such persecution should be a cause for an examination of conscience with regard to the quality of Christian witness being given.

PS. The Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign website is here. It is interesting to look at the list of supporters at the foot of the page, as this, and the content of the page itself, gives some context to the "set up and backed by local people" lead.

Saturday 22 October 2011

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof ...

There is a custom in Europe that, on the Feast of the Epiphany, blessed chalk is used to inscribe the date and the initial letters of the names of the three Magi above the door of your house. Different explanations are offered of the exact meaning of the letters "C+M+B" that are inscribed, one being that it represents the Latin for "May Christ bless this house".

In January of this year, I did this for the first time (OK, the chalk would not write clearly on the paint of the door frame, so I compromised!). This was partly prompted by my frequenting a parish served by priests from Poland and partly by my having neighbours from other European countries. I did think about how I would explain the inscription to anyone who asked me about it, and it is interesting to see where I got to.

I ended up somewhat dissatisfied with explanations such as that about blessing of the house, though the custom does clearly have this aspect to it. They seemed a little bit fanciful, and I felt they were trying to "read into" the practice something that might not have been there in its original inspiration. The fundamental reference, determined because the practice is to place the inscription above the door at the entrance to your house, seemed to me to be to St Matthew's Gospel (Mt 2:10-11, with my emphasis added):
When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him.
One sense of this custom, then, is that every time we enter our own house we are reminded of the way in which the Magi entered the house and worshipped the child Jesus. A second sense is that we are encouraged to make our homes places where, like Mary, we worship God. We might also see it as an invitation to guests who visit our house to recognise and share in these two senses of the inscription. This seems to me the simple, straightforward sense of the practice based in its Biblical source.

But what interests me for the purposes of this post is how the idea of "the house" in the Gospel passage (the house where Mary and Jesus were staying) becomes a different idea (the house were we live today) in the custom of marking our door frames with the letters "C+M+B".

When it comes to considering the new English translation of the Domine, non sum dignus in the Communion Rite at Mass, I think that it is helpful to recognise a similar way in which a Gospel text is used. The new translation makes much more transparent than did the previous translation the reference to the Gospels (Mt. 8:8, with a parallel in Lk. 7:1-10):
Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.
The "under my roof" of the Gospel text (ie the house of the Centurion whose servant is ill, and to which Jesus has been invited) becomes, in the Liturgical text, the "under my roof" of the physical body and soul of the person about to receive the Eucharist, now seen as a "house" to which Jesus-Eucharist is invited. The act of a physical healing becomes the idea of a saving from sin through receiving the Eucharist. Again, I think the Biblical text itself should be allowed to speak to our understanding of how it is used and becomes a different idea in its Liturgical use.

In the light of Andrew Cameron-Mowat SJ's criticism of the revised translation on this point at Thinking Faith, I think it is useful to have some understanding of the dynamic of how the Biblical text is used in the Liturgical context. Since, in the Gospel text, Jesus has indicated that he will come to the house of the Centurion in the immediately preceding verse, the suggestion that the Liturgical text is intended for a situation where the faithful do not as a rule receive the Eucharist seems to me a reading into the text of something that is not there. To go on to argue that the previous translation - "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you .." - provides a better reading for times when many more people do receive the Eucharist is in consequence irrelevant.

Friday 21 October 2011

Year of Faith (2): inspired by Pope Paul VI

When I first read news reports that Pope Benedict XVI had announced a "Year of Faith" I thought immediately of the "Year of Faith" celebrated at the initiative of Pope Paul VI from 29th June 1967 to 30th June 1968. That year culminated in the solemn proclamation by Pope Paul of what is now known as his Credo of the People of God. This formed the homily during the concluding celebration of the year on 30th June 1968, and was an extended proclamation of the Nicene Creed used at Mass; Fr Tim gives some idea of its significance in this post. It was subsequently promulgated as a motu proprio. I have on my bookshelves Monsignor Eugene Kevane's Creed and Catechetics which tells the story behind Pope Paul's Credo and provides much documentation relating to the "Year of Faith" and the background controversies in catechetics.
I was therefore delighted to read in Porta Fidei n.4 an explicit reference to Pope Paul VI's "Year of Faith":
It is not the first time that the Church has been called to celebrate a Year of Faith. My venerable Predecessor the Servant of God Paul VI announced one in 1967, to commemorate the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul on the 19th centenary of their supreme act of witness. He thought of it as a solemn moment for the whole Church to make “an authentic and sincere profession of the same faith”; moreover, he wanted this to be confirmed in a way that was “individual and collective, free and conscious, inward and outward, humble and frank”. He thought that in this way the whole Church could reappropriate “exact knowledge of the faith, so as to reinvigorate it, purify it, confirm it, and confess it”. The great upheavals of that year made even more evident the need for a celebration of this kind. It concluded with the Credo of the People of God, intended to show how much the essential content that for centuries has formed the heritage of all believers needs to be confirmed, understood and explored ever anew, so as to bear consistent witness in historical circumstances very different from those of the past.
Pope Paul's equivalent of Porta Fidei was an Apostolic Exhortation Petrum et Paulum Apostolos. Reading that exhortation suggests that Pope Benedict has been inspired in a more specific way by Paul VI's earlier "Year of Faith".

Compare Pope Benedict XVI, in Porta Fidei n.8:
On this happy occasion, I wish to invite my brother bishops from all over the world to join the Successor of Peter, during this time of spiritual grace that the Lord offers us, in recalling the precious gift of faith. We want to celebrate this Year in a worthy and fruitful manner. Reflection on the faith will have to be intensified, so as to help all believers in Christ to acquire a more conscious and vigorous adherence to the Gospel, especially at a time of profound change such as humanity is currently experiencing. We will have the opportunity to profess our faith in the Risen Lord in our cathedrals and in the churches of the whole world; in our homes and among our families, so that everyone may feel a strong need to know better and to transmit to future generations the faith of all times. Religious communities as well as parish communities, and all ecclesial bodies old and new, are to find a way, during this Year, to make a public profession of the Credo.
And Pope Paul VI, in Petrum et Paulum Apostolos:
We would be very happy if in every cathedral the Creed were recited expressly in honour of SS. Peter and Paul, in the presence of the bishop, the college of priests, the seminarians and the lay Catholics active in promoting the kingdom of God, men and women Religious, and as many members as possible of the assembly of the faithful. Similarly every parish and every religious house should do the same in the presence of its assembled community. And so we should like to suggest that on a fixed day this profession of faith be made in every single Christian household, in every Catholic association, in every Catholic school, hospital and place of worship, in every group and gathering where the voice of faith can be raised to proclaim and strengthen a sincere adherence to our common Christian calling.
The idea that, on a given day, every Catholic community in a diocese should gather to solemnly proclaim the Creed appears to me a very powerful one.

Thursday 20 October 2011

Year of Faith (1): an opportunity for communion

Pope Benedict XVI has announced a "Year of Faith", and has published an Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei that outlines the themes that will characterise the year.

The celebration of a "Year of X" has its archetype in the idea of a Jubilee Year and, in our own times, it is the celebration of the Jubilee of the Year 2000, with its preceding three year programme of preparation, that is the most significant such celebration. We have also seen the "Year for Priests", the "Year of the Eucharist" and the "Year of the Rosary".

What each of these different "Years" have had in common is that they represent an exercise of the universal pastoral office of the Successor of Saint Peter. It is an exercise of pastoral office that reaches to the individual members of the faithful - we are all invited to take part in the celebration of the Year - without for all that having any sense of cutting across the office of the Bishop with regard to the faithful of his diocese. These "Years" represent an opportunity for ecclesial communion, of the Bishops with the Pope and of the faithful with their Bishop.

I must admit that I have felt once or twice during the last few months that I was missing the experience of a "Year of X", and was wondering what Pope Benedict XVI would do next in this regard, or even whether the idea of such "Years" had run their course. For all the criticism that has sometimes been aimed at the Holy See's media relations, the "embargo" on the announcement of the "Year of Faith" seems to have been carefully kept.

In my own diocese of Brentwood, where a new Bishop will be appointed at some time in the early part of 2012, the "Year of Faith" seems to offer a very particular pastoral opportunity. A vigorous celebration at the diocesan level of a "Year of Faith" would be a wonderful way for a new Bishop to start his ministry.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Ministry to the Sick: "ordinary" and "extraordinary"

Evangelical Christianity has its strengths and it has its weaknesses. It can also refer to a range of different realities. There is an Evangelical Christianity that is to be found within the Church of England, for example, which gives to the individuality of that Christianity a degree of ecclesial principle and recognition, a degree of dogma and structured Christian life. And then there is the completely independent evangelical Church, with its self-appointed pastor or pastors, and little or no relation to any other formal Church structure, what one might describe as a completely non-ecclesial form of Christianity.

Pope Benedict XVI commented on the challenge that this non-ecclesial style of Christianity presents to the more established Churches during his recent visit to Germany.
Faced with a new form of Christianity, which is spreading with overpowering missionary dynamism, sometimes in frightening ways, the mainstream Christian denominations often seem at a loss. This is a form of Christianity with little institutional depth, little rationality and even less dogmatic content, and with little stability.
This report of a BBC investigation, and a fuller report here, illustrate the frightening aspect of this type of Christianity, and its utter lack of rationality:
A woman from east London says her friend died after her Evangelical Christian pastor told her to stop taking HIV medication.

The woman, who wished to remain anonymous, said a pastor "prayed with her friend and told her to stop taking her medication".

"She passed away. It was a senseless loss," she added.

At least three people with HIV have died after they stopped taking life-saving antiretroviral drugs on the advice of their Evangelical Christian pastors, a BBC London investigation has found.
It is quite irrational to put to one side the skills of the medical profession with the idea that a prayer for healing can replace medical care, even if we grant that that prayer is part of an authentic charismatic gift. The Christian is called to care for the sick person with their humanly acquired knowledge and skill, as well as in the spiritual realm. The story told in these reports is in very sharp contrast to the situation in Lourdes, for example, where without exception the clinical care of the sick who visit the shrine is fully maintained. The rejection of rationality that the BBC reports suggest characterises this particular Evangelical Church is profoundly inhumane, and that it is undertaken in the name of Christianity makes it all the more abhorrent.

Within the Catholic Church there is an "ordinary" ministry to the sick that comprises, first of all, the engagement of Catholics in the different components of the medical profession as nurses, doctors, physiotherapists, etc and as hospital chaplains and visitors. The second element of "ordinary" ministry to the sick is made up of the Sacramental ministry of the Church, and, in particular, the Sacrament of the Sick. This second element is always in addition to the first, and does not displace it or ask that it should cease. It is a prayer for the healing of the sick person - and this aspect of the Sacrament is perhaps undervalued by many Catholics - but in a way that is accepting of God's will should physical healing not occur. It is certainly not a prayer for healing that is in any way a "test" of the faith of the sick person.

Within the Catholic Church there is also what one might term an "extraordinary" ministry to the sick. This first of all lies in the recognition of miraculous healings, either through the intercession of a particular saint or through the grace of a pilgrimage to a place such as Lourdes. It might be particularly manifested in a novena or campaign of prayer offered to a particular saint for a person who is sick. Secondly, it can lie in a particular gift of healing prayer given to an individual. We should recognise the possibility of this charismatic gift of healing prayer, though due, perhaps severe, caution should be exercised with regards to the claims of a particular person to possess this gift. The circumstances of the exercise of this gift are that it will only rarely receive public recognition by the Church, and healings that occur will equally rarely receive public recognition as miracles. This leaves Catholics with a great freedom in terms of the attitude that they adopt towards these charismatic ministries, some being more accepting of their reality and others being more skeptical. But again, I am not aware of any situations where the expectation is that these "extraordinary" ministries to the sick in the Catholic Church should displace "ordinary" ministry; and particularly that practical medical care should cease in favour of the "extraordinary" ministry.

Assisi 3

The "Day of reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace and justice in the world" in Assisi is approaching. My earlier coverage of this event has, if the blog statistics are to be believed, been viewed more frequently in the last week or so.

My two posts are:

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

Assisi Three and the question of multireligious prayer

A recent report at news.va - Pilgrims of Truth, Pilgrims of Peace - gives an updated view of the event due to take place next week. It is interesting to see the different Vatican dicasteries that have been involved in preparing the Day.
For the first time there will also be a number of non-believers invited by the Pontifical council for Culture – undersecretary of the council, Mgr Melchior Sanchez de Toca explains why: "It was this Pope's desire to invite some people, non-believers or at least who do not belong to any particular confession or religion.......It may seem a contradiction, but you can find sometimes in non-believing people a spirituality which can help us to examine ourselves and grow in our spirituality"

Unlike previous Assisi events, there will be no praying together in public but rather time for individual prayer and silent mediation during a joint pilgrimage to the tomb of St Francis. Representatives of the world’s religious traditions will then recommit themselves to praying and working for peace in the world...
The invitation extended to atheist philosophers is an aspect of the "courtyard of the gentiles" initiative. Reports indicate that one of the invitees has withdrawn, though this appears to be more to do with the nature of the particular event in Assisi rather than hostility towards dialogue with the Church.

Sunday 16 October 2011

Two translations, two apparitions and the service of God's majesty

The Latin text of the prayer at the conclusion of Morning Prayer for 29th Sunday of the Year, today, is as follows. The same prayer would be used as the Collect at Mass, if Mass were to be celebrated in Latin.
Omnipotents sempiterne Deus, fac nos tibi semper et devotam gerere voluntatem, et maiestati tuae sincero corde servire.
[My rough translatation: Almighty eternal God, make us always and devoutly to do your will, and to serve your majesty with a sincere heart. BUT: there is a possible translation of "servire" as "obey" and of "gerere" as "celebrate" or "to bear, in the sense of carry". My commas have been placed as in the original, but the placing of a comma before "servire" would then apply that verb to the previous clause as well and indicate more clearly a translation of "servire" as "obey" and "gerere" as "celebrate".]

The English translation provided in the Divine Office:
Almighty, ever-living God,
make us ever obey you willingly and promptly.
Teach us how to serve you with sincere and upright hearts
in every sphere of life.
And the English translation provided in the (now previous - I haven't yet got access to the propers of the new) translation of the Roman Missal:
Almighty and ever-living God,
our source of power and inspiration,
give us strength and joy
in serving you as followers of Christ.
By the time we reach the (previous) Missal translation the connection with the Latin original has become what one might diplomatically describe as "loose", and the detailed nuances pretty much lost altogether. The Divine Office translation appears much more honest as a translation, "willingly and promptly" expressing some idea of "devoutly", "upright" providing a not unfair, though perhaps unnecessary, gloss on "sincere". It's weakness, though, is in the substitution of serving God "in every sphere of life" for the serving of God's "majesty". It is the case that God's "majesty" is served by every aspect of Christian living, both the immediately Liturgical and the generally apostolic. But the idea of serving God's "majesty" is saying more than this, and, whilst it includes the apostolic aspect, it nevertheless suggests a certain priority to the Liturgical aspect.

What has caught my attention is the comparison of the question raised by this translation to aspects of the messages of two Marian apparitions, those at Fatima and La Salette. I was able to visit Fatima last June, and will be in La Salette in ten days time.

The first year of preparation for the celebration of the centenary of the apparitions at Fatima is taking for its theme the apparitions of the Angel that preceded those of the Virgin Mary herself. The words of the prayer of the Angel provide the strap line:  "Most Holy Trinity, I adore you profoundly" and are the inspiration of a "pilgrim way" for the year.

At La Salette, one of the appeals made by the Virgin Mary was to respect Sunday as a day dedicated to the Lord and not to treat it just like any other working day. The "beautiful Lady" also encouraged the children to say their prayers with sincerity.

Both of these apparitions contain a call to the direct adoration of God, something that was relevant to the particular context of each apparition and which is still very relevant at a time when Europe is losing its sense of God. In this context the reference to service of God's majesty in the Prayer for the 29th Sunday of the Year has something to say to us, and it is unfortunate that it should be "lost in translation", so to speak.

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Let the pupils decide ....

Now, as someone who teaches Physics, I know that I am somewhat behind the times. If I was really at the cutting edge of the educational enterprise, I know exactly what I would do.

At the beginning of the academic year, in early September, I would sit down with my new AS Physics class and hold an extensive consultation with the students as to what they feel the content of the course should be. The students knowledge of Physics would be sufficient for them to recognise the inter-relation of the different areas of the subject, and to know which parts needed to be taught first as a basis for the later topics. They would also know which parts of the subject were most important for future study and for understanding the world around them. They would even realise that some of the most intellectually "obscure" topics do actually underpin some of the most common technological developments of our time and so, even though they are in all appearance "not relevant", would include them in what they want to be taught.


It would be utterly absurd to ask students beginning Physics in Year 12 to determine the content of their own course.

So why should Brook want to do exactly that with regard to the content of sex education in schools, as reported here by the BBC?

Should we laugh or cry?

The BBC news website is reporting: Over-60s safe sex class in Portsmouth cancelled over 'lack of interest'
The session would have formed part of this year's 60+ festival in the city.

It was advertised as a "frank, fun and factual" event "designed to inform older residents about the truth of sex in later years".

The council said proof of age and Portsmouth residency would have been required by those attending.
I wonder whether Portsmouth council gave any real thought as to whether or not their over-60's population wanted a "safe sex" class before arranging it? Or did they just try to push an agenda onto the over-60's that had little relevance to their genuine needs?

Should we laugh or should we cry?

Tuesday 11 October 2011

A Lutheran reacts to Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Germany

At the time of Pope Benedict's state visit to Germany, I posted on two of his addresses, that given to the Bundestag and that given to representatives of the Lutheran church: Benedict XVI: A Pope for Europe and Pope Benedict, Martin Luther and non-ecclesial Christianity. I have since recognised a certain humour on the part of Pope Benedict in the former address. In praising the ecological movement, and by implication the Green Party, he was praising a movement a number of whose representatives had chosen to boycott his meeting with the Bundestag!

First Things have posted a response by an American Lutheran pastor to the latter address. The post indicates that reaction among members of the Lutheran church still retained a certain charitable hostility (and this is not the contradiction it appears if you read the post itself) towards the Church of Rome. This is interesting for us to take note of from the Roman side of the Rhine (sorry, rather a mixed-up metaphor there). As I tried to indicate in my post about this address, I perceive Pope Benedict's ecumenical methodology as being one in which the principles of a non-Catholic theology are taken up and assimilated to corresponding principles in a Catholic point of view, with the intention of achieving dialogue between the non-Catholic theology and a Catholic point of view. If the reaction described in the First Things post is fair, this does not appear to have been reciprocated by some on the Lutheran side. One can see in the post's account a negation of the idea of dialogue among "conservative Lutherans" that is analagous to the similar stance taken by "traditionalist Catholics".

The writer of the First Things post, Joshua D Genig, offers his own appreciation of Pope Benedict's visit to Germany:

He loves his homeland, so he makes his third apostolic visit to Germany in six years (the most of any country except Spain). He loves the dignity of the human person, so he once again spent heartrending time with victims of abuse. He loves young people, so even after a Mass in Erfurt and a flight to Freiburg, he stayed awake long enough to exhort the youth of Germany at a prayer vigil to be the light of the world. And he loves his own church enough that he was willing to bid them to do what would seem to us Lutherans to be the unthinkable for Catholics: to learn from Luther.

Sunday 9 October 2011

Jon Cruddas dropped from Catholic intern programme

The Romford Recorder, one of my local newspapers, is carrying a report about Jon Cruddas MP. Mr Cruddas, a practising Catholic, is the MP for Rainham and Dagenham, and was due to work with an intern on the 2011-12 Catholic intern programme run by the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. His participation has now fallen through, because of his stance on abortion and gay rights. These views, as stated in the newspaper report, do give a shading to the descriptor "practising Catholic". Even if one might to still grant Jon Cruddas that descriptor (after all, being perfect in the living of the Christian life is not the condition necessary for that descriptor), its implication that Mr Cruddas is a good representative of Catholic participation in public life cannot be granted. It is this latter that represents a problem for his participation in an internship programme which seeks precisely to form young Catholics to be good representatives of Catholic participation in public life.
A spokesman for the Catholic Bishop’s Conference said: “We seek to ensure that their [the MPs on the scheme] views on fundamental moral questions are consonant with those of the Catholic Church.

“One of the MPs we intended to work with this year has views on abortion significantly at variance with the Church’s position.”

Despite the rebuke, Mr Cruddas told the Recorder he will continue to work with the church on a number of local and national issues and said he understood its decision.

“It was just a pity I couldn’t be of help in this instance,” he said. “Simply put, no one likes abortion, but simply outlawing it could lead us back to the days of the backstreet.”

Darinka Aleksic from Abortion Rights, a pro-choice campaign group, said : “We are really pleased Jon stood up for pro-choice.

“There are many pro-choice Catholics. We don’t think his support should bar him from any area of his Catholic duties.”
This last comment is particularly rich!

As a bit of a post-script. Do I think that Jon Cruddas, because of his stance on abortion and gay rights, should be barred from all participation in Catholic events? I do think that it is quite possible that someone who does not hold a consistently Catholic point of view can nevertheless have a contribution to make to developing the Church's work in areas other than those in which they are at variance with Catholic teaching. Working with them on such areas should not automatically be read as giving approval to their differences from Catholic teaching in other areas; but it does need to be clear that they are taking part in the event, not out of any statement of their being a good representative of a Catholic point of view, but rather out of the particular contribution that they can make on the immediate topic under discussion.

UPDATE: This post at Protect the Pope includes some additional material on this topic.

Blessed Chiara Badano

In September 2010, Chiara "Luce" Badano was beatified. Something of her significance for young people of our times can be found here and in this report of a presentation of her life that was offered as part of the cultural programme of the 2011 World Youth Day in Madrid.

Magnificat published the following short account of Chiara Badano's life, under the heading "Saints of Today and Yesterday", for Saturday 8th October. One detail of this account appears to differ from other sources, that is, the description of the initial pain of Chiara's illness being felt in the spine rather than, as other accounts suggest, in the shoulder.
As a child, Chiara Badano, of Savona, Italy, imbibed from her mother a deep love for Jesus and Mary. At the age of nine, she learned of the Focolare apostolate, of which she became a devoted member. Chiara was sixteen when as she was playing tennis she suddenly felt a sharp pain in her spine. It proved to be the first sign of bone cancer. As she underwent a gruelling series of medical treatments, she suffered without complaint. Chiara developed a special devotion to Christ in the mystery of the abandonment he experienced in his passion. During her illness, she spent hours conversing with her mother about her faith. Chiara also experienced the higher states of prayer, finding it difficult afterward to descend "from the heights where I spend my days, and where all is silence and contemplation". She was repeatedly heard to pray in her sufferings, "If you will it, Jesus, I will it too". When on her deathbed a priest brought her Viaticum, she saluted the Blessed Sacrament with the words, "Come, Lord Jesus". Having spoken of Christ as her Spouse, Chiara, nineteen at her death on 7th October 1990, was buried in a wedding gown as she had requested.
The first paragraph of the "Day by Day" meditation for today, Sunday, is then taken from the writings of St Catherine of Siena, and has a happy coincidence of theme:
I Caterina, servant and slave of the servants of Jesus Christ, am writing to you in his precious blood. I long to see you clothed in the wedding garment without which I know we cannot please our Creator or have a place at the wedding feast of everlasting life. So I want you to dress up, and to make that more possible, I want you to take off all your selfish ... love.

Thursday 6 October 2011

IEC 2012: Developing the theme (2)

The Eucharist: Communion with God and with one another is the overarching theme of the Dublin Eucharistic Congress. It is intriguing to look at how this theme is expressed in the Congress Week programme.

One wonders, for example, whether it is adequate to consider Exploring and Celebrating Ministry – Ordained and Lay as one theme given the manner in which the ordained ministry is particularly a ministry of the Eucharist towards the lay faithful. There is a question about the indiscriminate use of the term "ministry" to refer univocally to both the ordained and the lay state. The day might, of course, present this theme in a way entirely consonant with the genuine sense of the overarching theme - the ordained ministry as a ministry of communion and centre of communion for the lay faithful. In a not dissimilar way, it is not clear that the themes of justice and reconciliation, and of suffering and healing, will be developed in a way consonant with the overall theme - though, of course, it is possible that that will be the case.

What I think is of particular note is the theme for the Monday of the Congress: Exploring and Celebrating our Communion through Baptism. The plenary celebration for this day is to be an ecumenical liturgy that celebrates baptism. And the person who will preside at this celebration is the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin and Glendalough. One can ask two questions, from somewhat opposite perspectives, about the choice of a non-Catholic cleric to preside over an event at a Catholic Eucharistic Congress.

1. If baptism, as the first sacrament of initiation, is seen as being oriented towards the last of the sacraments of initiation, that is, the Eucharist, and in particular, reception by the person who has been baptised of the Eucharistic Jesus. If this is so, is it appropriate for someone who is not in communion with the Catholic Church and therefore not in Eucharistic communion with Catholics, to preside at a celebration of baptism that is premised, by virtue of its being part of a Eucharistic Congress, on the orientation of baptism towards Eucharistic communion?

2. Since baptism is the foundation of that imperfect unity that exists between Christians of different denominations, then it appears to be quite appropriate that this celebration of baptism should be ecumenical in nature. Seen from this perspective, the choice of a non-Catholic cleric to preside over the celebration is an authentic challenge to Catholics taking part in the Congress to recognise that degree of unity that does exist. The extent of this unity was emphasised by Pope Benedict during his meeting with leaders of other Christian denominations in Cologne:
I feel the fact that we consider one another brothers and sisters, that we love one another, that together we are witnesses of Jesus Christ, should not be taken so much for granted. I believe that this brotherhood is in itself a very important fruit of dialogue that we must rejoice in, continue to foster and to practice.

Among Christians, fraternity is not just a vague sentiment, nor is it a sign of indifference to truth. As you just said, Bishop, it is grounded in the supernatural reality of the one Baptism which makes us all members of the one Body of Christ (cf. I Cor 12: 13; Gal 3: 28; Col 2: 12).
It is absolutely right that time should be given to consideration of the sacrament of baptism during a Eucharistic Congress whose theme is that of Eucharistic communion. The particular way chosen to do this during the Dublin Congress next June presents an interesting juxtaposition of questions. It is to be hoped that participants and organisers will be sensitive to the significance of these questions for the plenary liturgy on the Monday of the Congress.

Sunday 2 October 2011

IEC 2012: Developing the theme (1)

I posted recently on the subject of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress which will take place in Dublin in June 2012. In that post, I suggested that there is a discussion to be had about how the overarching theme of the Congress is being developed during the preparation of the Congress.

In presenting the Congress theme - The Eucharist: Communion with Christ and with one another - the official website cites its origins in the teaching of the Second Vatican Council :
Really partaking of the body of the Lord in the breaking of the Eucharistic bread, we are taken up into communion with Him and with one another. "Because the bread is one, we though many, are one body, all of us who partake of the one bread". In this way all of us are made members of His Body, "but severally members one of another" (Lumen Gentium, 7).
It is quite appropriate that the theme of a Congress that will take place in the 50th anniversary year of the opening of the Second Vatican Council should draw on a seminal theme of the Council. The page quotes Pope John Paul II:
The church appears in this way as the universal communion of charity, founded in the faith, in the sacraments and in the hierarchical order in which pastors and faithful are personally and communally nourished at the sources of grace, obedient to the Spirit of the Lord, who is the Spirit of truth and love. (Address to the Roman Curia, 20/12/1990, AAS 83, 1991, 742)
The different headings of possible developments of the theme that follow on this same page are, in my view, very helpful, and I can recognise in them some of the aspects of the last International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec, where the theme was The Eucharist: Gift of God for the life of the World.

However, if we turn to look at the first stage of the programme of pastoral preparation for the Congress, I do think there is a question to be raised, a discussion to be held. The website page outlining the first stage theme is here. There is, I believe, an almost imperceptible yet significant shift between what is outlined above about the Congress theme and this statement about Stage 1 of the preparation programme (my italics added, to draw out this shift):
Stage 1 of this catechetical programme marks the beginning of a journey of discovery. It is an invitation to revisit the celebration of the Eucharist and explore it part by part. We start with the Introductory Rite of the Mass, which facilitates the gathering of the parish community. This is the focus of Stage 1.
Instinctively, this seems to me to feel different.  And I think it feels different because it represents a kind of reversal of the direction of look. The presentation of the overall theme has a look "from the Eucharist towards the Church"; the presentation of Stage 1 of the preparation programme separates the gathering of the people of the Church from its Eucharistic centre. The gathering of the people is presented in a man-centred way - "the gathering of the parish community" - rather than a Trinitarian-Christ centred way.
As I indicated in my earlier post, I find the choice of icon to represent the first stage of the preparation programme very striking indeed. The question that I think is up for discussion is this: Does the "coming together of the people of the Church" represented by the figures of Mary and St John in the chosen icon really represent the same thing as the rather human "activity of gathering for Eucharist" of the first stage of the preparation programme? In Liturgical terms, does the chosen icon represent the Penitential Rite or does it represent the Communion Rite? If this stage of preparation is going to be reduced to that superficial notion of "gathering" that is the wont of a particularly shallow idea of Liturgy, then I think it will do a great disservice to the development of the theme of the Congress. However, the chosen icon itself has the roots of a much deeper reflection on the nature of communion, ecclesial communion in the first instance as Mary and John's mutual entrusting, but ecclesial communion flowing from Eucharistic communion in the event of the Cross and then turning back towards ecclesial communion in the life of the new-born Church. Now, this does have a movement of looking "from the Church towards the Eucharist", and there is some hint therefore of the approach of Stage 1 of the preparation programme. But the approach of the preparation programme does not complete the representation that is there in the icon of the movement "from the Eucharist towards the Church".

The Theological Document of the Congress explores the elements of the preparation programme in a more detailed way. The section on the Introductory Rites and the Collect (nn.56 ff) does shed some light on the way in which the idea of "gathering" is expected to be treated in the preparation programme. It is worth reading, but does not altogether answer the question being asked by this post.

London's Eucharistic Procession - a great success

Auntie Joanna reports on yesterday's Eucharistic Procession in London. In the end, I was not able to make it (I still haven't finished moving everything back into my newly installed kitchen!). This appears to have been a great success in every respect - the procession that is, though the new kitchen is also a great success.

Auntie's reports are here, in reverse order of her posting them:  There is a really good report...; History was made...; A huge, unforgettable procession ... . The posts contain links to photographs and to other reports, and give a very good feel for what the day was like. The photographs make the weather look very good - but, in the reality, it was probably too good, with temperatures heading towards 30 degrees Celsius.

The photograph above is taken from this flickr photoset, where you can find more photographs.

Saturday 1 October 2011

Film review: The Cardboard Village

I have just read this film review, and found it interesting. If this film does make it to the UK, I do not expect that it will make general release. So far as I can tell, it is not showing at the London Film Festival.