Monday 28 November 2011

The new translation: two implications

One more public, and one more individual.

First, the public one. I was looking forward to the development of a renewed "style" of celebration to accompany the introduction of the new English translation of the texts of the Mass. This could perhaps be summarised by my expecting a greater sense of faithfulness to the given texts, something totally consonant with the principle of greater faithfulness to the Latin typical (ie definitive) texts that is part fo the new translation. I think I have seen something of this in the parishes I attend, perhaps particularly with the introduction to the Our Father and the dismissal at the end of Mass. However, I am perhaps disappointed in not seeing a more sacred "style" in general. I therefore have sympathy with the question being asked by these two posts: New translation: renewed liturgy? and First Mass With The New Missal.

However, I have found rather beautiful in recent days the new translations of the Preface of Corpus Christi (sung at a Mass for the opening of the Forty Hours devotion in a parish not far away), of Eucharistic Prayer III (used at the aforementioned Mass) and of the Preface for Advent.

The more individual one relates to my praying of the Divine Office each morning. The coming of the new translation of the Missal draws attention to the frustrating choice of hymns and translations (or not in some cases) of the intercessions in the Divine Office. So I now use three different books for this.

I use the Latin for the invitatory, hymn and intercessions. My Latin is far from brilliant, and just good enough to cope with this.

I use the English of the Divine Office for the psalms, Scripture reading, responsory and Gospel canticle.  I expect some will not be surprised by the damage to the spine, which is overcome by use of a zip cover.

And I end with the Collect from the new translation of the Missal (I can do this every day now that it is Advent and there is an allocated Collect for each day).

Friday 25 November 2011

Youtube, a dog in Richmond Park, and the name of the Lord

Youtube is a wonderful phenomenon, but it does seem to have a certain lack of accountability. Like blogging, one can post what one likes - and that leaves it open to the positive aspects of a freedom that empowers ordinary users and to the abuse that can also result from that freedom.

This video clip is an example: Fenton the Dog (Original). This video seems to have been reposted in a number of different versions by different people - so I do not know whether the claim of this version to be the original is true or not. This link will take you to the response page I got to a search on Youtube, and you will be able to see the numbers of views of various re-posts of the video. The BBC report on the incident is here, and, if you compare it to the video clip to which it refers, you will notice the editing.

But what I object to is the three-fold utterance of "Oh, Jesus Christ" - that is, a three-fold taking of the name of the Lord in vain. I think I would have objected to hearing it uttered if I had been there as the incident took place, though I might have had some understanding of the context and circumstances that would have mitigated my degree of offense.

But that a video of the incident is posted to Youtube, that it goes "viral", and no-one sees a problem with viewing and propagating it, removes any sense of mitigation. For those with a Christian conviction, this video is offensive. If the remarks had been racist or homophobic in nature, the outcry at their being posted would be quite deafening. Such remarks would have been clearly seen as discriminatory and, quite possibly, as promoting hatred. So why is this video not seen as offensive?

I think there are three guilty parties here. Firstly, and perhaps primarily, those who have posted (and re-posted) the video clip. They should remove it. Secondly, Youtube. They should not be willing to host a video clip that is offensive in this way, and should remove it. And they do not have a category under their "flag as inappropriate" option that allows for this situation - the nearest is "promotes hatred or violence". The third guilty party are all those who are watching the video and finding it amusing.

Perhaps we should all go over and start hitting the "I dislike" button as a way of making the point!

The BBC report deserves some credit for not reproducing the language that gives offense to those of Christian conviction. But it is interesting that the "story" for their report is the risk presented to the deer by dogs that might chase them in the park and not the civil rights of Christian believers!

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Brian Sewell (4); the "gay scene" in the frame

The extract from Brian Sewell's autobiography published in the London Evening Standard (here), and on which I have already commented (Catholicism in the frame, Abandoning moral constraint and Pleasures of the flesh), also puts the "gay scene" in the frame for some questioning. Let me present this by responding to the following comment made on one of the earlier posts in this series:
The story of Brian Sewell's sexual exploits after he gave up the practice of religion is indeed depressing. He glories in the emptiness of as many as five casual partners in a single evening. Yet, there is too a question for Catholics. Now that we know that some people can only truthfully have sexual relationships with the same sex, if the proper standards of faithfulness and constancy apply, should we really deny them the sort of permanent, creative, relationship of, say, Benjamin Brittan and Peter Pears? The ugliness of Sewell's story is the grimness of promiscuity, not of the homosexuality with which he was born.
Is it possible, as this comment suggests, to entirely separate the aspect of promiscuity in Brian Sewell's account from the homosexual nature of his acts, thereby taking the "gay community" out of the frame?

"Now that we know that some people can only truthfully have sexual relationships with the same sex..." There is an implicit assumption here that would apply to heterosexual activity just as much as to homosexual activity. That assumption might be stated something like "as I am so inclined, so I have to act"; or, as the assumption that a physical sexual activity is a necessary and essential part of a person's life. It is important to ask whether or not this is really the case. Is sexual activity, of any type, really as necessary a condition for human well being as we are led to believe? If one were to agree (and I don't happen to) that "some people can only truthfully have sexual relationships with the same sex" the option of not having sexual relationships at all is still an option, and an option that respects entirely the sense of the inclination involved. It is possible to truthfully not have sexual relations.

If we challenge the assumption - that sexual inclination has to be converted into sexual activity, a principle that applies equally to heterosexual as to homosexual activity - then a clear step is seen to exist between the inclination towards same-sex behaviour and the actual undertaking of that behaviour. This leads us to recognise that there is an ethical step that is taken in moving from inclination to activity. This does apply to heterosexual activity as well, but, in our present context, it recognises the choice that is taken to engage in homosexual activity subsequent to an experience of inclination. In not distinguishing clearly between how we consider inclination and how we consider activity, the point of view represented by my commenter tries to take the "gay scene" out of the frame being set by the London Evening Standard extract. The ethical step in this context - or, to use the language of one of my earlier posts in this series, the breaking through of a moral restraint - is there for both heterosexual and homosexual behaviours. But it has a certain additionality in the case of homosexual behaviour because it involves stepping over the moral restraint represented by the physiological disposition of the male body towards the female body and vice versa. The scenario of the gay couple who are in a faithful relationship does not have the breach of the moral constraint with regard to promiscuity that characterises Brian Sewell's story; but it retains this latter element of overcoming a moral constraint.

So in what respects does the London Evening Standard extract put the "gay scene" within the frame for questioning? At a simple level, those who are in leadership in the gay community need to tell us honestly whether or not it is a community characterised by the promiscuity that Brian Sewell's story portrays, and I say that recognising that promiscuity is going to be a feature in opposite sex relations too. At a deeper level, the implications of the turning away from moral constraints that previously held in society - and this is something with regard homosexual acts that is promoted by the gay community - presents a question to be answered. Is this really in the interests of the common good of society as a whole, particularly when the removing of "internal barriers" is one of the themes in understanding the behaviour of sex offenders? (This is not to suggest that gay people are any more likely to be offenders than others, but only to suggest that a culture that maintains moral constraints will better discourage offending by those likely to offend.) The discussion in these series of posts also challenges the gay community to be willing to talk in the language of behaviours, which represent ethical choices, rather than using the language of "orientation" to reduce the element of ethical choice involved. Along with this is the question of external moral constraints to behaviour such as those that might be provided by religious belief; or the question of the part that can be played by religions in being a moral reference point that calls wider society to a purification of its reason (cf Pope Benedict XVI speaking in Westminster Hall).

Sunday 20 November 2011

Brian Sewell (3): Catholicism in the frame

The extract from Brian Sewell's autobiography published in the London Evening Standard - Sex life of Brian Sewell: Story of my 1000 lovers - gains its prurience from the catalogue of promiscuous gay encounters that form the last two-thirds or so of the extract. A certain piquancy is added by the inclusion of reference to Roman Catholicism in the first two paragraphs, with the effect of placing Catholicism in the frame of the reader's perception alongside a promiscuous homosexuality.

Now, it should be clear from any reading of the London Evening Standard extract that Brian Sewell had abandoned entirely his practise of Catholicism in his turn towards promiscuity. In that sense, there is a lot of very clear water - a wide ocean of it, in fact - between Roman Catholicism and the lifestyle that Brian Sewell describes in the latter part of the extract.
...I had found chastity of the imagination impossible to achieve, and that this, now more turbulent than ever, was separating me from the Church. ... I returned to Phillimore Place with no further thought of Mass and have not since been a communicant.
But the first two paragraphs of the London Evening Standard extract give rise to the question as to how realistic is the possibility that Brian Sewell, had he not taken a turn towards promiscuity, might have been ordained as a Catholic priest. The first part of this question is about how realistic Brian Sewell's own intention was. The published extract does not allow us to answer this part of the question - we need to wait until we can read the earlier parts of the book, and perhaps bear in mind that we should be a little wary of relying on Brian Sewell's own perception. The other part of the question is one about whether or not a diocese or religious order would have accepted Brian Sewell for training had be put himself forward. Today, this latter would be covered by the provisions of the Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders of the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, which expect an affective maturity in accordance with Catholic teaching of candidates for the ordination: 
... this Dicastery, in accord with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, believes it necessary to state clearly that the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called "gay culture".
Independently of his homosexual tendencies, but not without some connection to them, Brian Sewell would in all probability not meet the requirement of affective maturity.

There is a final manner in which the London Evening Standard extract puts Catholicism in the frame of public perception, though the extract does not enable a conclusion to be drawn. As already noted above, Brian Sewell rejected Catholicism in turning towards homosexual promiscuity. But how far was his previous experience of Catholic life - on his own admission a dry and unconvinced experience - a part of Brian Sewell's disposition towards homosexual activity?

Saturday 19 November 2011

Brian Sewell (2): the abandoning of moral constraint

There was in 1959 a change in my life - a change essential for my sanity.
These are the opening words of the extract from Brian Sewell's autobiography published recently in the London Evening Standard and available on their website under the title The sex life of Brian Sewell: Story of my 1000 lovers. I have already posted on one aspect of this piece - the pleasures of the flesh. That post will, I think, indicate to you that the style of life adopted by Brian Sewell after the change of 1959 is not one to which I would apply the descriptor "sanity".

In the first two paragraphs of the published extract, Brian Sewell describes turning away from a practise of Roman Catholicism that was "a dry discipline scarcely spiritual", a practise that had been "much troubled by my sexuality" (ie homosexuality). Now what Brian Sewell would have us believe is that this turning away from Catholicism was necessary for his sanity because it then liberated him to practise his homosexuality, removing the tension in his life that otherwise existed between Catholicism and his homosexuality.

However, if we consider the utter licentiousness in which Brian Sewell describes himself as engaging after this change in his life, then we can perhaps recognise that even his rather dry relationship to Catholicism was actually exercising an important influence in his life before he abandoned it. It was exercising a moral constraint. It is possible to read the first two paragraphs of the London Evening Standard extract and see that, though Brian Sewell admits to finding what he terms "chastity of the imagination" impossible, he had nevertheless sustained a physical chastity in so far as involvement of other people was concerned. Brian Sewell uses the word "turbulent" to describe the pressure on him, though one might also see this as an experience of the necessary effort to try and overcome a temptation to a behaviour that is recognised as morally wrong. It was the experience of a moral constraint, the maintaining of a boundary to human behaviour against a strong desire to cross that boundary. One suspects, from the subsequent events that Brian Sewell describes in this extract, that it was a moral constraint that he was willing to abandon with a certain readiness.

So the question being asked in this post is the following. Was the change in Brian Sewell's style of life a change "essential for my sanity", as he wishes to present it, or the abandoning of a legitimate moral constraint, of value both to Brian himself and to society as a whole, and the abandonment of which led Brian to a life of promiscuity?

Friday 18 November 2011

Brian Sewell (1): the pleasures of the flesh

The London Evening Standard printed an extract from Brian Sewell's forthcoming autobiography in its edition of 17th November 2011. It can be found on their website with the title: The sex life of Brian Sewell: Story of my 1000 lovers. In the print edition it had the title: "Easily a thousand sexual partners in a quinqennium". To date, there appears to have been very little reaction to the piece, or to the trailed accounts of the contents of the autobiography.

The later two-thirds or so of the extract published in the Evening Standard describes a catalogue of casual gay pick ups in the street, at parties and through introductions. There are a sprinkling of longer relationships, though the term relationship can only have a rather analogous meaning in the context. [It is not referred to in the Evening Standard extract, so I think I have encountered it in a review of the autobiography I have read, but there is also the suggestion that Brian Sewell was used as a kind of sexual bait by an employing art auction house when visiting and staying over with clients.]

There is something disguised behind the use of the term "lovers" in the title of the website posting of the extract; it is still disguised, but perhaps less so, in the print edition's use of the term "sexual partners". What is disguised in the title, but abundantly clear in the text itself, is the exploitative nature of Brian Sewell's activities (I hesitate to use the word "relationships" - it just doesn't seem to apply to the encounters being described). He is exploiting other men for his own satisfaction and others are no doubt exploiting him for their pleasure. The extract seems to recognise this, when Brian refers to his "metamorphosis from celibate to whore". The behaviours involved would probably have been recognised as exploitative at the time, in the years from 1959 onwards, to which Brian Sewell's account refers.

Today, I wonder whether we might use the word "abusive" to describe these activities. Procedures for the protection of children and vulnerable adults indicate behaviours ranging from neglect or failure in a duty of care, through a spectrum, to explicitly physical and sexual activity, as being relevant to their considerations. That the activities Brian Sewell describes took place between adults who had, we presume, consented - is this enough for us to take them out of the spectrum of neglectful-to-violent/sexual that would now be considered within the wider sense of the term "abuse"? Are the activities described neglectful of any real care towards the other man involved, in circumstances where freedom of will to consent may itself be impaired? The at least potentially abusive nature of these activities appears to be recognised by Brian Sewell, with his inclusion of the word "violence" and reference to opportunism in the following passage from the extract:
I learned that sex ranges from tenderness to violence, from the short and sharp to the night long, from the security of the bedroom to the thrilling risky business of doing it while standing up in a canoe, and that the opportunist must make his opportunities.  

Wednesday 16 November 2011

New translation: "And with your spirit"

The change from "And also with you" to "And with your spirit" in the new English translation of the texts of the Roman Missal is perhaps iconic of the whole process of the new translation. Some would criticise it as being archaic, as part of a process of "putting the clock back"; others might argue that it is not a phrase that ordinary Catholics can understand. Those who are supportive of the new translation point out - rightly - that the new translation is more immediately faithful to the Latin original, and that it makes more transparent the Scriptural roots of the text, in this case, in the writings of St Paul. These latter two points apply to a number of different aspects of the new translation. My own experience suggests that the introduction of "And with your spirit" is now fairly well embedded in parishes, and has gained the instinctive status previously held by "And also with you".

Thinking Faith have just published what I think is the best consideration that I have seen of the significance of the phrase "And with your spirit".  I do not think there was much confusion about it among the ordinary faithful, as the lead paragraph of the article at Thinking Faith suggests. I found Fr Mahoney's account of the patristic and historical background to the suggestion that the phrase in some way relates to the grace of ordination of the celebrating priest very useful. I share with him the view that this interpretation seems fanciful and contrived.

It seems to me fundamentally correct to see the dialogue "The Lord be with you" /"And with your spirit" as being a greeting and a response to that greeting. This is the simple straightforward sense of how this dialogue occurs in the Liturgy, particularly at the beginning of the Eucharistic celebration. It has the nature of a greeting exchanged between the priest and the people.
Taken over into the Eucharist to express the people’s response to the celebrant’s greeting of, ‘The Lord be with you’, the phrase is to be understood fully as ‘And the Lord be with your spirit’.
It also seems to me correct to take the Scriptural origins of the phrase in a literal way, looking at how it occurs in the writings of St Paul. This does not, however, mean that we should underestimate its theological complexity. The account given by Fr Mahoney of St Paul's anthropology of body, spirit and soul is therefore, in my view, the correct way to explain the response and the one that is taken in the resource Become One Body One Spirit in Christ. I would want to add, perhaps, the suggestion that in writing of the "spirit" St Paul also refers to that in man which represents his orientation or openess towards God.

In passing, Fr Mahoney suggests that the debate about how the phrase "And with your spirit" is understood is a debate about whether the priest is seen as being separate from the people or as being one with them.
I wonder also if part of the modern popularity of this interpretation in terms of the grace of priestly ordination is because it can help to propagate the difference between priests and people which the Vatican Council tried so much to diminish and which others are now regrettably attempting to re-establish.
The reference to n.9 of the Decree on the Life and Ministry of Priests, where the community of life of the priest with the lay faithful is described, is quite apposite in giving a context to the greeting dialogue understood precisely as one of mutual greeting. I would not agree that, in this passage, Vatican II was making an effort to diminish the difference between priests and people, as this passage needs to be read alongside others in the Decree which discuss those particular gifts and office that a priest receives through ordination, and which do mark him out as different from the people. The relationship between priests and people as described in n.9 is one that should be our goal; but I do not think that it is reversed by a rightful consideration of the specific dignity of the priestly vocation through such initiatives as the Year for Priests.

Monday 14 November 2011

Year of Faith (6): the profession of faith

The Year of Faith promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1967-1968 came to its conclusion with the proclamation of what has since become known as the Credo of the People of God. Issued as a motu proprio, it was first declared by Pope Paul VI as the homily at the Eucharistic celebration that marked the end of the Year of Faith.

In Porta Fidei n.8, Pope Benedict XVI has also called on the Church, during a Year of Faith, to celebrate the profession of faith:
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.
The profession of faith has, in the life of the Church, three particular expressions. The first is the question and answer form associated with the sacrament of Baptism and with the Liturgy of Easter Sunday. The second is the form known as the Apostle's Creed, particularly associated with the Church in Rome and with textual sources that reach back to the fourth century, but whose articulation in the twelve articles we have today dates from the ninth century. The third is the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, deriving from the Council of Constantinople in 381, which gained a usage within the Liturgy of both East and West.

The profession of faith is something that is a possession of the Church and, at the same time, a possession of the individual believer. It is not an accident that, as part of the preparation for Baptism, a catechumen recieves a copy of the Creed from the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reflects this two-fold ownership of the profession of faith in its first section which is headed "'I believe' - 'We believe'".
167 "I believe" (Apostles' Creed) is the faith of the Church professed personally by each believer, principally during Baptism. "We believe" (Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed) is the faith of the Church confessed by the bishops assembled in council or more generally by the liturgical assembly of believers. "I believe" is also the Church, our mother, responding to God by faith as she teaches us to say both "I believe" and "We believe"....
180 "Believing" is a human act, conscious and free, corresponding to the dignity of the human person.
181 "Believing" is an ecclesial act. the Church's faith precedes, engenders, supports and nourishes our faith. the Church is the mother of all believers. "No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother" (St. Cyprian, De unit. 6: PL 4, 519).

There is an interesting dynamic that arises from the wearing of an external sign of Christian faith, such as a cross or a witness wrist band. The wearing of such a sign is a witness, a testimony of faith. My own experience suggests that, primarily, this acts as a reminder or testimony to oneself; and that this reminder to oneself is much more significant than any witness or testimony that is given to others who might see the sign. What might be described as a question of conscience, or a  "moment of Christian witness", in this regard arises primarily in my view from this testimony of what one believes given to oneself and about oneself. The question of whether others see that testimony is secondary and not always of itself a question of conscience. [I would not, for example, insist on wearing a witness band on my wrist on a hospital ward which has a "bare below the elbows" policy as part of its infection control regime, being happy to remove the witness band before working on the ward and replacing it afterwards.] There is, though, a mutual interplay between the personal nature of this witness and its public nature; it is the wearing of the sign in public that provides the power of the witness to oneself. 

[There is a difference here between the Catholic who wears such a sign of witness and an evangelical Christian who might wear exactly the same sign, the difference arising from the ecclesial orientation of the Catholic witness compared to the highly individual witness of the evangelical Christian who lacks the Catholic sense of ecclesial adherence.]

The public profession of the Credo to which Pope Benedict calls the different communities in the Church enters precisely into this dynamic of witness and testimony. It is interesting that Pope Benedict refers to a "public profession" of the Creed. This might, of course, take the form of a Liturgical celebration. But could it not also take the form of a gathering in a public square in a city centre, so that the profession of faith is made in a visible way before others and before the world?

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Gay activism and reversed intolerance

Alan Craig has posted an exchange of e-mails between himself and and the acting editor of Pink News, under the title Stonewall's Yellow Star? The e-mails make reference to an article that Alan wrote for the Church of England Newspaper, and which he also published on his blog.

I quote from the e-mail sent by Pink News to Mr Craig:
Concerns have been raised that, inter alia, an instruction for people to “rise up” against gay “leaders” could be construed as an incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation.
I have just carefully read Alan Craig's piece as published on his blog, and nowhere in that piece is there any call for people to rise up against gay leaders. I say that again, in bold, so there can be no misunderstanding: nowhere in that piece is there any call for people to rise up against gay leaders.

This is how Alan ends his piece:
Now is the time for people of courage to rise up and defend marriage, our children and the very foundations of our civilisation.
To attempt to construe this in the way that Pink News are doing involves a certain looseness with the actualite, as one might say. Others might have said this about Mr Craig's piece, but the piece itself says nothing of the sort.

Whilst I might have written the article in a rather different way, I do nevertheless believe that Mr Craig has a perfectly correct analysis in suggesting that gay rights activists are responsible for a reverse bullying and intolerance applied to those who oppose their aims. The archetypal example of this is the one that Mr Craig himself cites in his reply to Pink News - Stonewall's "Bigot of the Year" award.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Berlusconi to go ... and not before time!

It is possible for the media to hound a person in public life over events that do not have a direct relation to that person's contribution; and it is possible for the media to do that in a way that does not express the gifts of consideration and charity due towards the human frailty that we all share (but which for most of us does not reach the public domain).

But on the other hand, the ordinary people can legitimately expect "something more" of those who hold public office. One can expect them to demonstrate integrity and a degree of moral decency and, within the range of the charity due towards human failings, to nevertheless offer an example that is worthy of imitation. I think it is putting it mildly to suggest that Silvio Berlusconi has not done this, thereby not only failing to live up to expectations that the Italian people might rightly have had of him but also bringing into disrepute the very idea of public office. News reports of his impending resignation can only be welcome.

La Croix, with the facility of the French language, puts it very nicely with this headline which doesn't really successfully translate into English:
Les Italiens préparent l’après-Berlusconi (Italians prepare for the "after-Berlusconi")
The opening paragraph of their report is as follows - the added emphasis in bold is mine:
Au centre de la vie politique italienne depuis 1994, Silvio Berlusconi, 75 ans, semble plus proche que jamais du terminus. L’incapacité de son gouvernement, contesté de toutes parts, à gérer la crise économique, ses démêlés avec la justice, les scandales de mœurs qui ont entouré sa vie privée lui ont fait perdre sa crédibilité, tant aux yeux des Italiens qu’à ceux des partenaires européens et des marchés.

At the centre of Italian political life since 1994, Silvio Berlusconi, 75 years, seems closer than ever to the end. The incapacity of his government, challenged on all sides, to solve the economic crisis, his troubles with the law, the moral scandals that have surrounded his private life have made him lose his credibility, as much in the eyes of Italians as in those of European partners and the markets.
According to the BBC:
The euro rose sharply against the dollar following the news of Mr Berlusconi's decision.  

Len Deighton's Bomber on Radio 4 Extra

In recent years, one of the most outstanding pieces of radio broadcasting has been a production of Len Deighton's book Bomber. It combined elements of documentary - interview extracts with those who had experienced bombing, for example - and the story of the book itself. The book tells the story of a night raid on a German city, from its beginning in the briefings on an air base in Britain and on German bases in Europe, to the destruction in the target city and the return of the bombers at the end of the raid. The quality of the production was outstanding, but it was the manner of its broadcast which caught the imagination.
Len Deighton's powerful documentary drama unfolds in "real time" across the day. An RAF Bomber Command attack on Germany is experienced from both sides. Featuring memories from some of the participants in the actual raid. Dramatised by Joe Dunlop, narrated by Tom Baker and starring Samuel West.
The first episode was broadcast at about 2.30 pm, as the raid was being planned. It was then broadcast in three further episodes, spread through the afternoon and evening, so that the action of the raid as it unfolded was matched to the time of day at which it would have occurred. The top of the hour news bulletins in between also ended with a brief reference to the progress of the raid being broadcast, so you got a real sense of immediacy about the story.

When it was first broadcast, I missed the first episode, and caught the second episode by accident - and was then gripped totally until the end of the last episode at about 11 pm. That I hadn't intended listening to it, and that I carried on with my life around the house as I did listen, added to the sense of reality. Radio 4's Feedback programme the following week was inundated with praise from listeners.

This programme is due to be broadcast again on Radio 4 Extra this Friday, so if you have the chance to listen to it, take it. It does not glorify warfare in any way, and, indeed, some of the images that it portrays are quite harrowing. It is one of the most moving pieces of radio broadcasting I have ever heard.

Monday 7 November 2011

La Salette: a different view

Zero and I recently visited the shrine at La Salette. Photographs give the impression that the site of the shrine is larger than it actually is. It is located a 15 minutes twisting, climb up into the mountains, in the French Alps south of Grenoble. On the morning of our first full day, we prayed the events of the apparition by the statues that recall the events (the photograph is not mine, but taken from the page of photographs linked to above).

The second photograph (below) shows the view from outside the shrine on the morning of our return. The movement of the clouds across the front of the mountain facing the shrine made this a fascinating view to watch, with its change of mood accompanying the changes in the clouds. Believe it or not, a small aeroplane had landed and taken off again from the slope that you can see left-of-centre in the photograph, and just above the trees on the slope. The third photograph should enable you to see the sloping landing strip more clearly - look just above the sloping tree line at centre-right in the photograph. The main shoulder of hillside that you can see was, for one day of our stay, home to a flock of sheep and goats - and their shepherd who lived in a house hidden from view.

This fourth photograph (below) was taken in the side valley to the right, where you can see thin cloud along the right hand edge of the photograph above. Two things do not show up well on the photograph. Spread across the near hillside is a flock of some 100 or so sheep and goats - you can see them if you look closely. They had been brought up the valley from their sheepfold (see above) by the shepherd and his three dogs, and they continued on towards the upper left corner of the photograph to spend a day grazing on the upper most part of the mountain. The second thing that does not show up well is the sound of the alpine bells attached to the flock which, literally, filled this valley with a steady musical sound. It could have been a different century!

At the foot of the mountain, in the village of La Salette itself, there is a cemetery containing the graves of some Canadian pilgrims and aircrew. The Canadians were returning from a pilgrimage to Rome in November 1950 when their DC 4 aircraft crashed into a nearby mountain called L'Obiou (I think it might be the mountain hidden behind cloud in the second photograph above). Most of the pilgrims were older in years, and many were married couples. One can just see them having saved up for a once in a lifetime trip shortly after the end of the Second World War. The ages of the aircrew are noticeably younger.

The representation of the apparition at the entrance to the cemetery was made by students from a school in the Vosges region of France, using wreckage of the crashed aeroplane recovered from the mountain side. It was constructed to mark the 60th anniversary of the accident in 2010.

As you will see from my photographs, we were at La Salette at a most beautiful time for colours. I think we were able to see just about every possible colour of leaf as autumn seemed almost frozen at its most colourful.

Saturday 5 November 2011

Year of Faith (5): the idea of a "journey of faith"

To describe catechetical programmes, and particularly those associated with the Rite of Christian Inititaion of Adults, as a "journey of faith" has become a common place in some parishes. Different people are seen as being "at different stages or places in their journey of faith". This idea has come to be associated with a reduction in the emphasis placed on doctrinal teaching as part of the catechetical process. Instead of being a person who "hands on" or "hands over" the content of the faith, the catechist is seen as someone who "accompanies others on their journey of faith". From the point of view of doctrine, an unfortunate aspect of this idea is that not accepting certain teachings of the Church can be seen as just being at a "different point in the journey of faith" rather than as being a call to conversion to deeper faith.

There is, of course, an authentic sense to the idea of a "journey of faith", when the word "faith" is taken to refer to the act of the individual who believes and not to the content of what is believed. Then, the journey of faith is one of deepening one's knowledge and love for the Person who is the content of what is believed. The journey is one in the act of believing, not, in the first instance, a journey in or of doctrine itself (though the journey is nourished by doctrinal teaching).

It is in this latter sense that Pope Benedict XVI refers to rediscovering the journey of faith in Porta Fidei nn.1-2(the emphasis added in bold is mine):
The “door of faith” (Acts 14:27) is always open for us, ushering us into the life of communion with God and offering entry into his Church. It is possible to cross that threshold when the word of God is proclaimed and the heart allows itself to be shaped by transforming grace. To enter through that door is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime. It begins with baptism (cf. Rom 6:4), through which we can address God as Father, and it ends with the passage through death to eternal life, fruit of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, whose will it was, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, to draw those who believe in him into his own glory (cf. Jn 17:22). ....  
Ever since the start of my ministry as Successor of Peter, I have spoken of the need to rediscover the journey of faith so as to shed ever clearer light on the joy and renewed enthusiasm of the encounter with Christ. During the homily at the Mass marking the inauguration of my pontificate I said: “The Church as a whole and all her Pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert, towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance.”

Thursday 3 November 2011

Year of Faith (4): the idea of "catechism"

In recognising the relationship between the Year of Faith to be celebrated in 2012-13 and the Second Vatican Council, Pope Benedict XVI makes a particular reference to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The starting date of the Year of Faith coincides with the twentieth anniversary of the publication of the Catechism (cf Porta Fidei n.4); and the Catechism has a particular role with regard to defining the content of the Catholic faith (cf Porta Fidei n.11):
In order to arrive at a systematic knowledge of the content of the faith, all can find in the Catechism of the Catholic Church a precious and indispensable tool. It is one of the most important fruits of the Second Vatican Council. In the Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum, signed, not by accident, on the thirtieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, Blessed John Paul II wrote: “this catechism will make a very important contribution to that work of renewing the whole life of the Church ... I declare it to be a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion and a sure norm for teaching the faith.”
Pope Benedict goes on to explain (the added emphasis is mine):
It is in this sense that that the Year of Faith will have to see a concerted effort to rediscover and study the fundamental content of the faith that receives its systematic and organic synthesis in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Here, in fact, we see the wealth of teaching that the Church has received, safeguarded and proposed in her two thousand years of history. From Sacred Scripture to the Fathers of the Church, from theological masters to the saints across the centuries, the Catechism provides a permanent record of the many ways in which the Church has meditated on the faith and made progress in doctrine so as to offer certitude to believers in their lives of faith.
The Year of Faith therefore has a clear import for the manner in which the Catholic faith is taught, be that in the preparation of new converts or in the catechesis of those who are already members of the Church. The Year of Faith represents a call to establish a clear role for doctrinal content in the teaching and living of the faith.

By the end of the Year of Faith, will every parish catechist have become familiar with, if not the content of the full Catechism, at least the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church? And will parish catechetical programmes, particularly those for sacramental preparation, be specified in terms of the questions of the Compendium that they will cover?

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Assisi 2011: A decisive stand for human dignity

I was away from home at the time of the meeting in Assisi on 27th October. These reports give a summary of the events of the day and a sense of its underlying meaning: Assisi 2011: Card. Tauran on religions building peace and Pilgrims of truth , pilgrims of peace. It has been widely noted that Assisi 3 has not included a time of common prayer - indeed, the element of prayer from the Catholic point of view was expressed at the Vatican on the eve of the day of pilgrimage.

The full text of Pope Benedict's intervention during the meeting is published here, on the Vatican news website. The Pope, to roughly summarise, identifies three key challenges for peace. Firstly, there is a violence that is motivated by religious belief though it is in fact a contradiction of the true nature of religion. Secondly, there is a violence that arises from the denial of God, and the resulting removal of any sense of constraint on the behaviour of a person towards others. And thirdly, there are those who genuinely seek what is true, and therefore ask questions of both religious believers and of non-believers in what is in essence a search for peace. But do read the whole address to get the full sense of Pope Benedict's words.

At the beginning of his address, Pope Benedict referred to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, an event which took place three years after the first Assisi meeting that was being marked this year. It is interesting to note in this passage the close relation that Pope Benedict draws implicitly between the terms "freedom" and "peace" (my emphasis added in bold):
Twenty-five years have passed since Blessed Pope John Paul II first invited representatives of the world’s religions to Assisi to pray for peace. What has happened in the meantime? What is the state of play with regard to peace today? At that time the great threat to world peace came from the division of the earth into two mutually opposed blocs. A conspicuous symbol of this division was the Berlin Wall which traced the border between two worlds right through the heart of the city. In 1989, three years after Assisi, the wall came down, without bloodshed. Suddenly the vast arsenals that stood behind the wall were no longer significant. They had lost their terror. The peoples’ will to freedom was stronger than the arsenals of violence. The question as to the causes of this dramatic change is complex and cannot be answered with simple formulae. But in addition to economic and political factors, the deepest reason for the event is a spiritual one: behind material might there were no longer any spiritual convictions. The will to freedom was ultimately stronger than the fear of violence, which now lacked any spiritual veneer. For this victory of freedom, which was also, above all, a victory of peace, we give thanks. What is more, this was not merely, nor even primarily, about the freedom to believe, although it did include this. To that extent we may in some way link all this to our prayer for peace.

But what happened next? Unfortunately, we cannot say that freedom and peace have characterized the situation ever since. Even if there is no threat of a great war hanging over us at present, nevertheless the world is unfortunately full of discord. It is not only that sporadic wars are continually being fought – violence as such is potentially ever present and it is a characteristic feature of our world. Freedom is a great good. But the world of freedom has proved to be largely directionless, and not a few have misinterpreted freedom as somehow including freedom for violence. Discord has taken on new and frightening guises, and the struggle for freedom must engage us all in a new way.