Sunday 30 December 2012

Preaching in the Year of Faith (or "is anyone listening?")

In the last few weeks, I have had two quite contrasting experiences of the homily at Mass. On one occasion I just wondered whether the priest preaching the homily actually believed anyone present was listening; body language in the congregation gave absolutely no confidence that anyone was, and I had long ago exhausted the possibilities of the "Meditations of the Day" in Magnificat, so I certainly wasn't (mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa). On another occasion, with a much larger congregation, the attentiveness to the homily was almost tangible; it felt as if you could almost touch it. Clearly, factors of place and circumstance will go some way to explaining why these two experiences were so radically different, but, equally clearly, in one the homily "wasn't working" and in the other it was.

In the context of the Year of Faith, the homily at Mass takes on a particular significance. For most Catholics, it is the "ordinary" way in which they receive an ongoing teaching about the content of the Catholic faith and about how that content is to be lived out in daily life. The Year of Faith asks us, if it isn't working, to look at the homily and ask why it isn't working.

It is some time now since I stopped feeling obliged to listen to homilies that lack substantial content or preparation, or are just a pedestrian re-statement of the Scripture readings; I will read a meditation from Magnificat instead or, if in an unfamiliar Church, reflect on the religious art portrayed in windows or images of the Church. Just looked at from a human point of view, if someone is going to stand up and speak to a congregation of which I am a part, I expect them to have something to say and I expect them to say it in a reasonably organised way. If they haven't got anything to say, be they a priest or not, they should not presume on my attentiveness. The privileging of the priest in this regard is an innate clericalism that I don't share.

The homily is a privileged occasion for the bishop or priest in that it is a most solemn exercise of their office as a teacher of the faith to those entrusted to their pastoral care. The liturgy does, after all, reserve the homily to the ordained ministry, and perhaps particularly to the designated pastor in a particular place. In that sense, the homily is not open to the critique that might be offered to an article in an academic journal, for example, or in a public debate. It is not a question of liking or disliking what one hears. But that does not absolve the priest from the obligation to bring to bear his purely human skills in preparing the homily, and failing to do so only undermines his exercise of his office.

According to n.65 of the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, in the revised English translation:
The homily is part of the Liturgy and is highly recommended for it is necessary for the nurturing of the Christian life. It should be an explanation of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners.
I have added italics to indicate that n.65 suggests some five different sources on which the content of a homily might be based (though arguably some of them inter-relate strongly enough to say that they do not really constitute different sources). One of the major practical barriers to substance in homilies is the assumption that "the homily must be about the Readings" and the resulting rather pedestrian re-statement of the reading (though Pope Benedict XVI exemplifies time and again how a homily based on the Scripture Readings can both have substance and be more than just a re-stating of the reading, often doing this by making a connection between the reading and other parts in Scripture).
So, in the Year of Faith, I think it would be quite in order for a parish priest to:
preach week-by-week on the different articles of the Nicene Creed, or on the text of the Sanctus, etc
preach on the life and mission of the saint when celebrating the feast day of a saint
relate the Readings to how they are used in the Catechism (using the Scripture index of the Catechism to enable this)
teach on key Catholic doctrines (eg the office of the Successor St Peter, heaven) when the Liturgical occasion presents itself
make use of a source such as Magnificat for short meditations if preaching on a week day
be willing to look at Pope Benedict's homilies, or his volumes Jesus of Nazareth, for ideas
A final thought:

I wonder, do the clergy really recognise when their congregation are listening and when they are not?

Thursday 27 December 2012

Christmas miscellanea

A couple of items of interest courtesy of La Croix.

Les jeunes de Taizé en pèlerinage à Rome, la Ville éternelle. I was particularly struck by the number of young people from countries of Eastern Europe who are expected to take part in this annual "pilgrimage of trust for peace in the world" which takes place in a different European city each New Year. Pope Benedict is due to participate in the celbration of Vespers in St Peter's Basilica on 28th December, to welcome the young people to Rome at the start of the pilgrimage.

Quand les évêques descendent dans la rue. This blog post contains an interesting discussion of the part to be played by Bishops as far as political engagement is concerned. The particular context of the promotion of same-sex marriage makes it very topical in the light of recent interventions from Catholic bishops in our own country.

Wednesday 26 December 2012

Archbishop NIchols Christmas Homily - and a laugh at our expense

Archbishop Nichols caught the headlines over the Christmas period because of his remarks about gay marriage in a BBC interview. Reporting somewhat mixed this interview with the text of his homily at Midnight Mass for Christmas, giving the impression that the latter was significantly given over to the question of same-sex marriage. It wasn't, and the full text of the homily is here. It is worth reading the full text to capture the balance of the homily.

Some parts of the homily have a clear two-fold nature as far as what one might call "target audience" is concerned. They are addressed first of all to the faithful present at the Mass, and to the wider faithful of the Catholic community, calling them to "purification". But they also have a secondary address to society as a whole, challenging it to a similar purification, a recognition that not everything and anything is right and proper.
Yet, as St Paul reminds us, if this promise is to be realised in its fullness, then we need to be purified. There are, he tells us, things that we have to give up as they do not lead directly to God. There are aspects of our lives that cannot be lifted up to heaven without that purification.

Sometimes our charity is formed more out of self-interest that genuine compassion for the other. Perhaps we have more than half an eye on the onlookers who will be impressed by our public generosity so that we are seeking the glory that will be ours rather than the relief of need. Sometimes patterns of work and business are simply exploitative of employees, suppliers or customers. A corrosive disrespect can fashion the culture of a business and put in it need of refashioning.

Sometimes sexual expression can be without the public bond of the faithfulness of marriage and its ordering to new life. Even governments mistakenly promote such patterns of sexual intimacy as objectively to be approved and even encouraged among the young.

This Christmas is then a time to make fresh resolves that what we bring to the crib may be more readily, through the Lord's mercy, raised to heaven and become fittingly part of God's good work.
[The homily that I heard on Christmas night could be entitled A laugh at our expense.]

Monday 24 December 2012

Is the child a commodity to be chosen?

BBC News are reporting today on proposed changes to arrangements for adopting children in the UK, proposals which would allow prospective adopters to view the register of children awaiting adoption. The underlying intention is to speed up the adoption process so that children can be placed more quickly; there is not an underlying intention to allow adopters "choice" in the children they wish to adopt. But against the background of the impact of equalities legislation with regard to adoption of children by same sex couples - which was premised on the idea that approval for adoption was a service provided to the prospective adopters - one is entitled to wonder what the on-the-ground experience will turn out to be if these proposals go ahead.

Adoption is not the only context in which it is poignant to ask the question, on the eve of Christmas, as to whether or not the child is a commodity to be chosen or a gift to be received. Medical practices such as IVF treatments and direct abortion of children found in the womb to have a risk of being born with a disability convey the same question.

Is the Child a commodity to be chosen or a Gift to be received? Pope Benedict does not ask the question in these terms when, in the first chapter of his book on the Infancy Narratives he poses the question posed by Pilate in St John's Gospel: "Where are you from?" The answer to the question is both known - he is the son of the carpenter from Nazareth - and yet unknown - he speaks with an authority that comes from elsewhere. When the Church teaches that the office of parents with regard to the generation of new life is a participation in the creative work of God, the same can be said of any child. We do know where they come from - a mother and father can be identified. But at the same time their origin is hidden in that creative act of God.

For those baptised as Christians, this two-fold origin comes to its fulfilment. Pope Benedict ends his first chapter, referring to the prologue of the Gospel of St John:
... those who believe in Jesus enter through faith into Jesus' unique new origin, and they receive this origin as their own. In and of themselves, all those believers are initially "born of blood and of the will of man." But their faith gives them a new birth: they enter into the origin of Jesus Christ, which now becomes their own origin. From Christ, through faith in him, they are now born of God.

So John has recapitulated the deepest meaning of the genealogies [of the Synoptic Gospels], and moreover he has taught us to understand them as an interpretation of our own origin, our true "genealogy".
I do not think a simply pietistic/emotional idea of the child as a gift received from God is a sufficient ground for a pastoral or prophetic mission to family life by the Church. If such an understanding of human origin is to be shared by others outside the Christian family (or even within it), remaining at that level is insufficient. The Christ-Child bears testimony to a supernatural destiny for every child, and some sense of that can be accessed outside of explicit religious belief. It is such a sense that can enable society to experience the child as a gift rather than a commodity to be chosen.

Saturday 22 December 2012

Concerning Pope Paul VI

I would add my voice to that of those who look forward to the possible beatification (and canonisation) of Pope Paul VI. Aunty Joanna: News... and Stella Maris: Pope Paul VI..Venerable? Yes.

It is possible to characterise him as a Pope who has been much misunderstood, but I think it is also important to recognise that he is a Successor of Peter whose stature matches up to that of his immediate successors. But it simply isn't known, perhaps largely to the media coverage that he attracted, though I was not around at the time to know how true that is.

My own thought has been that, at some key points in his pontificate, Pope Paul appears to have acted  with a vivid sense of his charism as the Successor of Peter. What I would dearly like to see is some investigation as to whether or not at these moments he acted in response to an immediately given charismatic intervention of the Holy Spirit. Of the nature of things, we might never know; but one can perhaps nevertheless see clearly a faithfulness to his calling as Successor of Peter.

One such moment might be his attribution of the title "Mother of the Church" to the Blessed Virgin Mary during his address at the closure of the second session of the Vatican Council (n.21 - no English translation on the Vatican website), when the Council itself had not seen fit to address her with that title. Hans Urs von Balthasar subsequently identified this as vitally important, and it certainly characterises the sense of Marian/ecclesial existence that is my natural environment post-Vatican II (as opposed to Marian devotion as some kind of "additionality").

Another has to be Humanae Vitae, and Pope Paul himself seems to offer a hint at this in his introductory remarks in the Encyclical:
6. However, the conclusions arrived at by the commission could not be considered by Us as definitive and absolutely certain, dispensing Us from the duty of examining personally this serious question. This was all the more necessary because, within the commission itself, there was not complete agreement concerning the moral norms to be proposed, and especially because certain approaches and criteria for a solution to this question had emerged which were at variance with the moral doctrine on marriage constantly taught by the magisterium of the Church.

Consequently, now that We have sifted carefully the evidence sent to Us and intently studied the whole matter, as well as prayed constantly to God, We, by virtue of the mandate entrusted to Us by Christ, intend to give Our reply to this series of grave questions.
And the last possibility is the Profession of Faith since known as the Credo of the People of God, delivered as the homily at the Mass to conclude the Year of Faith and delivered just weeks before Humanae Vitae was published. It is one of the most striking examples of "confirming the brethren int he faith" that one can read.

Thursday 20 December 2012

Is Brentwood the diocese Rome has forgotten?

It is now well over a year since the process of appointing a successor to Bishop Thomas began; and it is now pretty much a year since the suggested names from the Diocesan College of Consultors were forwarded to the Nuncio. Bishop Thomas has celebrated his Farewell Mass, with its subsequent pastoral letter.

A conversation earlier this week reminded me of what I feel to be the priority of a new Episcopal appointment. I think the new Bishop needs, before all else, to be able to unite the priests of the Diocese, and this in a very ordinary way.

This week's conversation described a situation where a new parish priest had arrived, as it happens a priest of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. Shall we say that "changes" have followed, and there are some difficulties as a result. The "changes" are leading to a Liturgy that is probably a more faithful celebration than previously, though I cannot really judge on the details as these did not form a part of a very general conversation. I was reminded of a situation now a good number of years ago where the arrival of a new parish priest led - with stunning speed - to "changes" in an opposite direction, towards a less faithful form of celebration of the Liturgy.

Even if one remains neutral as to which of these "changes" should be encouraged and which discouraged, the fact that the arrival of a new parish priest can lead to these kinds of situations indicates a radical division among the priests of the Diocese, a division that has significant consequence for the life of faith of the laity. [To be fair to Brentwood Diocese, this situation in all likelihood exists in other Dioceses too.]

A fundamental sign of the unity of the priests of a Diocese is that they should celebrate the Liturgy of the Church in the same way. A result of that unity is that the lay faithful also have a common experience of the Liturgy, be it across different parishes or when a new priest arrives in a parish. Working to promote this seems to me the priority for a new Bishop. It is a task in which the juridical aspect is only an aspect; there is an underlying work for the promotion of communion which cannot be reduced to just its juridical aspect (a danger of a traditionalist inclination) but will include that aspect alongside others.

Pope Benedict expressed it like this, in his letter accompanying the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum (my two distinct emphases added):
The celebration of the Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI will be able to demonstrate, more powerfully than has been the case hitherto, the sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage. The most sure guarantee that the Missal of Paul VI can unite parish communities and be loved by them consists in its being celebrated with great reverence in harmony with the liturgical directives. This will bring out the spiritual richness and the theological depth of this Missal.
Brentwood Diocese does enjoy celebrations, small in number, of Mass according to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite and according to the Syro-Malabar Rite. The principles of reverent celebration and harmony with Liturgical directives apply to all of these celebrations and represent a principle of unity across all Liturgical forms. But for the vast, vast majority of the faithful of the Diocese it is the Roman Rite celebrated according to its Ordinary Form that will unite them with their priests and this is why reverent celebration in accordance with the rubrics of the Ordinary Form is so important.

Monday 10 December 2012

"Marriage for all": (a) dishonest and (b) Nick Herbert's give away line

(a) One can see a timeline stretching from the attack on Section 28 of the Local Government Act which led to its repeal down to the present day debate on gay marriage or, as a more appealing strap-line puts it, "marriage for all". At each stage in the timeline there was the assurance, not in those terms but equivalent to them, that "this is as far as we want to go". The whole point to civil partnerships, for example, was that they weren't marriage and, unless I am mistaken, that was the basis on which that particular legislation was passed. But now it isn't enough. The whole thing has a thorough going dishonesty about it, an incremental push, and then push again, to get more and more  societal acceptance of LGBT lifestyles as absolutely equivalent to chaste heterosexual lifestyles, equivalent in every sense including the moral.

But, even if one remains completely neutral as far as the moral judgement one might express with regard to those lifestyles, that they are morally different seems to me as plain as the nose on my face. They are not the same, they never will be the same (whatever legislation might wish to claim) and whenever I have met "the ordinary person on the street" they have not had any sense that they are the same (though they might have a well developed sense of non-discrimination in terms of what they think is appropriate behaviour towards those who live one lifestyle rather than another).

The gay movement uses the language of "equality", but what they seek is not just fair and equitable treatment. They also seek a framework of legislation and culture that enforces onto everyone that absolutely equivalent evaluation of different lifestyles referred to above. The changes sought do not just change things for the LGBT community; they change things for everyone else as well, and this is more apparent in the push for "marriage for all" than it was in the push for civil partnerships.

It was Sir Ian McKellen, speaking at a Stonewall event, who gave the game away as far as the government of Tony Blair's activity in these matters was concerned. He described a visit to Mr Blair before the 1997 General Election at which Tony ticked off each of the demands of Stonewall for progress in "gay rights", saying yes, we will do all of that. Is there a corresponding moment for David Cameron? Because if there is, perhaps we have a right to know about it.

(b) When at the weekend Nick Herbert wrote in his Sunday Telegraph article:
But civil partnerships are not marriages. They convey almost the same legal rights, but they do not express the same universally understood commitment.
and some of the Conservative high and mighty joined him in writing in their letter to the same paper:
"We recognise that civil partnerships were an important step forward in giving legal recognition to same sex couples.

"But civil partnerships are not marriages, which express a particular and universally understood commitment."
I think he made a very significant choice of words. I have added the italics above to draw attention to it.

First, a thought on the use of the word commitment. Speaking of marriage as a "life long commitment of two people who love each other" is deficient because, in the all too common use of this kind of phrase, the terms commitment and love remain undefined. What is committed to is not defined; and love should not be reduced to the fact that two people feel attracted to each other (they may well be attracted to each other as part of the dynamic of their relationship) as that does not constitute love in its full sense. It will be apparent that, if marriage between a man and a woman is understood in this ill-defined way, then there is no reason why marriage understood in this ill-defined way should not be equally accessible to same sex couples.

And second, a thought on Mr Herbert's choice to refer to a particular and universally understood commitment. That particular and universally understood commitment is that a marriage takes place between a man and a woman and thereby establishes a community ordered towards giving life to children and to bringing them up. The commitment (subjective, belonging to a particular couple) is to an institution (objective, and which defines the content of the subjective commitment). "Marriage for all" seeks to redefine in law and in culture the objective content of the commitment of a couple in marriage. The crucial point of Mr Herbert's choosing to refer to a particular and universally understood commitment,however, seems to me to be that, once the content of this commitment has been redefined for the purposes of civil law, the redefined content will become the  particular and universally understood even for opposite sex couples (and for religious bodies such as the Roman Catholic Church).

Mr Herbert's choice of words represents a case that in essence depends on an indifference towards the particular and universally understood commitment to marriage (first thought) but with a deliberate intention of redefining that particular and universally understood commitment (second thought). A rather exquisite kind of contrariness!

After legislation, what will be the position of those whose understanding of the particular and universally understood commitment remains the genuinely particular and universally understood one rather than the redefined one? Will they in conscience be able to take part in "marriage for all" as, in law, there will be nothing else available to them? Will they be forced in conscience to cohabit, in legal terms, whilst in fact having undertaken a clandestine marriage according to the genuinely particular and universally understood manner? Will Roman Catholic parishes cease to act as places for the registration of marriages for the purposes of civil law since, by doing so, their witness to the genuinely particular and universally understood commitment in their liturgy will be contradicted by their acting as places of solemnisation of "marriages for all"?

If Mr Herbert's choice of words indicates, as I believe that it does, an intention that legislation should establish "marriage for all" as the universally understood manner of marriage according to civil law, then there are serious implications for those who do not subscribe to the idea of "marriage for all", implications that can only reinforce the distrust being expressed with regard to assurances that religious organisations, for example, will not be forced to undertake gay marriages if they do not wish to do so.

Saturday 8 December 2012

A treat for the Immaculate Conception

The parish where I from time to time attend Mass on a weekday is celebrating Mass in the Ordinary Form, in Latin, on the evenings of the Friday's of Advent. This appears to have come about from a suggestion made to the parish priest by some of his parish community.

Yesterday evening, Father celebrated the Mass for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, explaining that it being subsequent to the celebration of the first Vespers of the feast we were therefore already in the celebration of the day itself. A real treat!

Booklets were provided with the Latin texts, though they still retained the former English translation. (Newly ordered booklets from the CTS had not arrived in time.) At the homily, Father spoke ably about the Immaculate Conception, but also explained the use of Latin as the official language of the Church and that, by using it in our prayer today, we entered into a language of prayer that had been used by many of the saints before us. An echo here, perhaps, of a remark that Pope Benedict made with regard to the Extraordinary Form - but applicable to the Ordinary Form in so far as many of the texts (eg of Collects and Prefaces) do have roots in the history of the Church's liturgy.

Mass was celebrated in a sensitive manner, and without any "edge" or sense of "making a point"; Father celebrated Mass in a manner that was positive about the language being used, encouraged participation by the faithful in the congregation, but did not "make an issue" of it. And that was important, even for someone like myself, who has a more natural affinity for the use of Latin than might have a typical parishioner.

Particularly because Mass was "said" rather than "sung", it was very easy to see how the new English translation better reflected the Latin than did the previous translation. This was very noticeable for, among other texts, the Entrance Antiphon and the Collect, where it was possible to follow the English in Magnificat in an absolute parallel with the Latin as it was being pronounced. The new English translation can therefore mediate, because of its proximity to the Latin, our participation in the language of prayer used by the saints of the past, to which Father referred in his homily. Its evaluation depends not just on a judgement with regard to the principles of translation that were used, but on a judgement arising from the nature of the Liturgy itself.

It will be interesting to see how the Friday evening Mass attendance plays out during the rest of Advent. There were certainly a number of people present yesterday evening who I had not seen before, and who had come for the Latin. Some may have attended the morning Mass rather than the evening Mass. But a good number of the familiar faces were there, too.

Father had - literally - spent several hours reading the Latin to try and make sure that he could pronounce it in a way that matched its sense. And he did very well. I, for one, was very appreciative of his efforts.

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Day of Prayer for Peace in the Middle East

The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales have asked that today, the Memorial of St John Damascene, be kept as a special day of prayer for peace in the Middle East.

The news in the last 24 hours - with regard to Syria (a proposed deployment of missile batteries to Turkey and concerns that the Syrian regime might use chemical weapons) and with regard to Israel/the Palestinian Territories (the challenge to long term negotiations represented by the building of Israeli settlements) - suggests that the need for this act of solidarity with the people of the Middle East is more urgent than ever.

The Bishops Conference website has a page devoted to the theme: Day of Prayer for the Middle East.
St John Damascene or St John of Damascus (Priest and Doctor of the Church
St John was born about 675 in Damascus (Syria) and died near Jerusalem about 749. He is understood to have followed his father as a Christian official in a Moslem government. Later he became a monk and later Priest at Mar Saba monastery near Jerusalem, where he was renowned as a theologian and biblical commentator. He is remembered for his vigorous defence of the veneration of images against the iconoclasts, for his theological writings synthesising the thought of the Greek Fathers, and for his poetry and hymnody.
O God of peace, who are peace itself
and whom a spirit of discord cannot grasp,
nor a violent mind receive,
grant that those who are one in heart
may persevere in what is good
and that those in conflict
may forget evil and so be healed.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
St John Damascene, pray for us.
Prayer text from Roman Missal © 2010 ICEL

Saturday 1 December 2012

I've got a little list ....

... or, rather, earlier this week, The Universities and Science Minister David Willetts had a little list.

It was a list of academic institutions that are to be awarded university status in the near future, following a change in regulations that allows smaller institutions to be recognised as fully fledged universities. They can then use the title "university" in its fullest sense. The BBC report is here 'New' universities set to be created in England;  and the announcement on the site of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills here: Ten institutions on track to become universities.

Two Catholic university colleges are included in the list: Newman University College, Birmingham and Leeds Trinity University College. They will now be recognised by the Privy Council as universities in English law/civil society. It would be interesting to see what would happen if they were also now to seek recognition from the Holy See as Catholic universities, enabling them to use the name "Catholic" as well as the term "University" in their titles.

St Mary's University College was not on the list.

Thursday 22 November 2012

Female bishops: ..even more nonsense

While Parliamentarians continue to speak what, at least in the BBC reporting, is theological nonsense as far as the debate about female bishops is concerned, but what politically speaking might lead to most unhelpful consequences:
Ms Johnson said it was vital that the Church "is led by the very best, not just those who happen to be male".

"There should be no stained-glass ceiling for women in our church," she told MPs.

"The Church of England now stands to be left behind by the society it seeks to serve, looking outdated, irrelevant, and frankly eccentric by this decision.

"A broad church is being held to ransom by a few narrow minds."

Ms Laing added: "When the decision-making body of the established church deliberately sets itself against the general principles of the society which it represents then its position as the established church must be called into question."

This was "a perfectly good point", Mr Baldry replied.

"What has happened as a consequence of the decision by general synod is the Church of England no longer looks like a national church, it simply looks like a sect like any other sect," he continued.

"If the Church of England wants to be a national church, then it has to reflect the values of the nation."
.....Aunty rather got to the point:
I do not accept the theological thinking behind the "men are meant to be leaders, women not" idea, since women can certainly lead and teach. Priesthood is different from that, and it is this precise thing, the priesthood, that has not been fully explored and grasped.
The problem is that much of what is being said at large about the Church of England in this context can all too easily be extended to public discussion with regard to any other religious body - the references to "narrow minds" and to a Church which is expected to represent society, for example. And the consequences? Cranmer flags up a most immediate one here, and summarises the situation:
Forget the need to find a solution that might be acceptable to everyone: this is now the raw politics of power.

The Last Typewriter

Reports of the production of the last typewriter to be made in the UK remind Joe of a summer holiday - I think it was the one between leaving school and arriving at university. I was not allowed to use the portable typewriter at home unless I went to the trouble of learning to use the keyboard properly. A consequence perhaps of my mother knowing that Dad was only able to use the "search and destroy" technique (a descriptor of two finger typing I heard yesterday) and not being that impressed?

So many a happy hour during that summer was spent doing the exercises from the book. "asdfg - ;lkjh". And I still use the home keys to orientate myself on a keyboard. I have to confess that I never quite fully mastered the top line (the numbers) before the summer ended, but I did get to do everything else with reasonable efficacy.

Many years later, when the use of a computer became all but obligatory for the preparation of teaching materials, I was extremely grateful (please note the severe understatement here, and this is not me being sarcastic) for the fact that I knew the keyboard, and could - quite literally - keyboard a section of text much faster than I could hand write it.

In the early days of computers, one of my placement schools during teacher training had a policy of teaching its pupils how to keyboard properly on the grounds that this was a universally required skill whatever the make or operating system of computer they were likely to use later in life. I am not sure that any school now would adopt such a policy....

Wednesday 21 November 2012

A criterion: reflecting on the Synod vote (and other matters)

I have not followed the debate about women bishops that has taken place at the General Synod of the Church of England meeting in London. However, I have been very struck by the terms of much of the comment that has followed the votes that have stopped progress towards the introduction of female bishops for the Church of England. The sloppiness of media coverage that chooses to describe the three votes as a (single) vote against women bishops is worth noting. The figures for the votes in the three houses of the Synod cited by the BBC report put paid to this idea. A summary of print media comment is here.

It is, however, the characterisation of the decision of the Synod in relation to its responsiveness or otherwise to modern beliefs and feelings both within and without the Church of England that is very striking. It is striking because it is, so far as I can tell, an almost universal characterisation in the media. Indeed, the BBC report already cited suggests that Archbishop Rowan Williams has led the way in this characterisation:
 "Whatever the motivations for voting yesterday, whatever the theological principle on which people acted and spoke, the fact remains that a great deal of this discussion is not intelligible to our wider society - worse than that, it seems that we are wilfully blind to some of the trends and priorities in that wider society." 
The BBC report ends by citing the Equalities minister:
Equalities minister Maria Miller said the vote outcome was "very disappointing", and showed that the Church was "behind the times", sources said.
However, Archbishop Williams did go on to say (see the full transcript here), and the BBC does not report it, that:
We have, as the result of yesterday, undoubtedly lost a measure of credibility in our society, and I make that as an observation as objectively as I can; because it’s perfectly true, as was said yesterday, that the ultimate credibility of the Church does not depend on the good will of the wider public. We would not be Christians and believers in divine revelation if we held that; but the fact is as it is.
This report, also at the BBC website, indicates the positions being adopted by politicians in response to the General Synod vote, also manifesting the criterion of popular opinion as the source of right judgement on matters of Divine revelation:
Mr Cameron - who is a supporter of woman bishops - told MPs: "I'm very sad about the way the vote went yesterday.

"I think it's important for the Church of England to be a modern church in touch with society, as it is today, and this was a key step they needed to take."...

During Prime Minister's Questions Labour MP Ben Bradshaw asked David Cameron what parliament could do to "ensure that the overwhelming will of members of the Church of England, and of this country, is respected".
Archbishop Williams' qualification is important because its omission in much of today's reporting suggests that he accepts the criterion of judgement on this question according to which it is the present day supremacy of "Equalities" as a principle that is determinative. And he does not.

It is odd, though, that those whose responsibilities are not immediately religious - the media and politicians - have been so ready to comment on the outcome of the General Synod vote. But not surprising that the comment has followed a secular agenda that has not captured the essentially religious nature of the debate.

Additional comment on the media coverage and the implications of politcal comment: Disturbing prospects after Synod vote and BBC and Sky enraged by CoE democratic vote against allowing women bishops (though, as I suggest above, the vote was more a failure to muster enough votes in favour than it was a vote against).

Monday 19 November 2012

"Missiles understand neither ethics nor morality"

This page at the website of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem gives some idea of the experience of living in Gaza under the Israeli bombardment: Gaza - Update on the Offensive: Day 6.
The attentive reader will ask: how are the people? What kind of experience are they living? In a word, they are scared, and it cannot be otherwise. Missiles understand neither ethics nor morality. They do not distinguish between young and old, between Christians and Muslims, between men and women … they simply fall and destroy. When we hear the planes and missiles, we experience a very great inner distress, and for some, a relief to see that they have not been hit. Always with the same question: “Until when?” The people want nothing more than simply to live their lives. We ask all leaders to let Gaza live in peace!

Dates for the Diary

At their recent plenary meeting, the Bishops Conference of England and Wales asked the faithful of their dioceses to observe two days of prayer.

The first is for peace in the Middle East, and is to be marked on the feast day of St John Damascene, and has gained an added urgency in the light of the Israeli assault on Gaza:
Conscious of the civil war in Syria and its impact on neighbouring countries, as well as the continuing conflict in the Holy Land, the Bishops’ Conference asks that a day of prayer for peace in the Middle East be observed on 4 December 2012, the Feast of St John Damascene.
The second is a day of prayer for the victims of trafficking and those who work to combat it, to be marked on the feast day of St Josephine Bakhita:
The Bishops’ Conference commends the request to observe the Feast of St Josephine Bakhita - 8 February - as a Day of Prayer for Victims of Trafficking and those who work to combat it.
It wold be nice if these days were to be marked by times of prayer in parishes, perhaps before the Eucharist. One dimension of times of Eucharistic Adoration is that of intercession at a time of urgent need, and these two intentions would reflect that dimension of Eucharistic Adoration. Individuals could also try to make a special effort to attend Mass on these days.

The choice of feast days, and the appropriateness of the lives of the saints involved for the intentions of prayer suggested for these days, reminds us of the universality of the Catholic Church, a universality in both space and time. The participation of individuals and ecclesial communities in these days of prayer would also express a readiness of communion with their bishops.

Saturday 10 November 2012

Madeleine Delbrel: "Love for the Church"

Yesterday's feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica is a multi-layered feast. At one level it is the same feast as that of the dedication of any other Church, be it our own parish Church (celebrated only in the parish) or our own Diocesan Cathedral (celebrated throughout the diocese). It prompts a meditation on the nature of the Church building as a physical place of the presence of Christ in the world and on the way in which the physical building represents the communion of the faithful; both in their own way representing the place of our encounter with the Father through the Son in the Spirit. In the case of the Diocesan Cathedral it also celebrates the office of the Bishop as the centre of communion and of unity in the Diocese. The antiphons for the Liturgy of the Hours from the Common of the Dedication of a Church express all of these themes.

At a second level, the feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica celebrates the office of the Successor of St Peter, an office of communion for the whole Church made up of the local Churches/Dioceses. The "Meditation of the Day" in Magnificat was particularly interesting in this regard. It was taken from an essay entitled "Love for the Church" by Madeleine Delbrel, and published in the collection We, the Ordinary People of the Streets. [See here for my earlier posts about Madeleine Delbrel, and here for the site of the Association des Amis de Madeleine Delbrel where there is a page considering the theme of love of the Church.]The meditation was very much an excerpt, and it is worth going to the original text to read the whole. Madeleine is very clear that we love "the Christ-Church" and she does not envisage any playing off of love of Christ against love of the Church. And Madeleine's love of the Church was not without its tests, particularly when the  "worker priest" movement in France was suppressed, a movement of which she had been a firm supporter and collaborator. At that time, she undertook a visit to Rome to pray at the tomb of St Peter, and her reflection on that visit ends with these paragraphs:
I also thought a lot about the fact that, though St. John is the "disciple Jesus loved", it was Peter that Jesus asked: "Do you love me?" and it was after his affirmations of love that Jesus gave him the flock. He also explained what it means to love: "That which you have done to the least of mmy brothers, you have done unto me".

It became clear to me how essential it is that people, all people, come to know that the hierarchical Church loves them. Peter - a rock who has been asked to love. I understood that all the expressions of the Church have to be penetrated through and through with love.
This is the background to Madeleine's observation in the last paragraph of the Magnificat meditation that:
Rome, through everything else, is the love of God that has been promised to the Church for eternity.
Though some might want to read Madeleine as criticising the hierarchy of the Church when she observes that we all need to come to know that the hierarchical Church loves us, I think that is to mis-represent her. Rather she is expressing an idea that it is of the very office of the hierarchical Church that it represents the love of God in the Church. The "through everything else" indicates that Madeleine's love of the Petrine office is not just a pietism, but an attitude that takes a real account of the difficulties that can arise from the decisions of ecclesial authority and which she and her friends felt. Madeleine's example for today is that we should continue to love that office and not to adopt an attitude that attacks it.
We will be incapable of incarnating God's love in the world, we will be incapable of bringing the Gospel, which is but the manifestation of love, to the world, if we do not first accept the incarnation of this love in the Church, in the mystical Body of Jesus Christ ....

If, through the long course of history, it was necessary to adapt the liturgy, to explain it, to translate it, and if it is once again necessary to do so in our own time, it never has been and is not today a question of making the liturgy more human. It already is human, and tragically so: it is the Passion of the Son of God made man, made continually present among us....
And, in what might be considered a "strap-line" for the Constitution Gaudium et Spes:
The Church will forever aspire to the world. She doesn't need the world in order to accomplish her mission, but without the world, she would have no mission.

Thursday 8 November 2012

SP: Two glances

Some time ago now I posted to the effect that Summorum Pontificum was promulgated with a glance being given in two different directions. See here, and scroll down to question 4; and here, scroll down towards the end.

It has therefore been quite interesting to see two recent contributions from the Holy See that seem to support my interpretation of Summorum Pontificum.

The first was the declaration of the Pontifical Council Ecclesia Dei, with regard to negotiations between the Holy See and the Society of St Pius X.
...Once these doctrinal dialogues were concluded, it became possible to proceed to a phase of discussion more directly focused on the greatly desired reconciliation of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X with the See of Peter.

"Other critical steps in this positive process of gradual reintegration had already been taken by the Holy See in 2007 with the extension of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite to the Universal Church by the Motu Proprio 'Summorum Pontificum' ....
The second is the message sent in the name of Pope Benedict XVI by the Cardinal Secretary of State to the participants in a pilgrimage to Rome of those attached to the Extraordinary Form.
" this Motu Proprio, the Holy Father wished to respond to the hopes of the faithful regarding the forms of liturgy", prior to Vatican Council II.
I find a double interest in the fact that it was the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments who celebrated Mass for this pilgrimage, and not Pope Benedict himself. It has been noted that, in matters Liturgical, Pope Benedict is inclined to lead by example rather than by direction. In not acceding to requests to celebrate Mass in the Extraordinary Form on such a high profile occasion, is not the Holy Father setting an example with regard to the Ordinary Form of the Roman rite being the form that should unify the Church (cf his letter to Bishops accompanying Summorum Pontificum)? One might also see in his decision an exercise in respect for his collaborators, the celebration being left to the Prefect of the dicastery properly responsible for matters Liturgical.

The second interest lies precisely in that. It suggests to me that the celebration of the Extraordinary Form exists in a relation to the Liturgical life of the Church as a whole, and not simply in a relation to the life of those attached to the Extraordinary Form itself (which would have been suggested if the pilgrimage Mass had been celebrated by a representative of the commission Ecclesia Dei). One can read this as suggesting a higher profile across the wider Church for the Extraordinary Form. Or one can read it as promoting the mutual relation of the Extraordinary Form and the Ordinary Form in one Roman rite - the agenda of "mutual enrichment" to date almost totally disregarded.

A final observation might be made about the underlying impulse for unity, expressed in the two-fold glance contained in Summorum Pontificum and the accompanying letter to the bishops, and also in the message to the recent pilgrimage:
Cardinal Bertone adds that in the Year of Faith, which coincides with "the fiftieth anniversary of Vatican Council II, the Holy Father invites all the faithful to make a special demonstration of their unity in faith; in this way they will become effective agents of new evangelisation”.

Sunday 4 November 2012

Worth seeing: Barbara

Earlier this evening, Zero and I saw a film called Barbara. It is a German language film, showing in the UK with English sub-titles. It is very much worth seeing, but on a very limited release, courtesy of Soda Pictures (trailer on this link, too).

Wikepedia description here.

Review from the Independent here.

Review from the Economist here.

The film maintains a tension throughout; there is no scene or dialogue that is without a rationale or a meaning. The striking maintenance of a culture and a medical skill against a background of systemic bullying on the part of a totalitarian regime is a striking testimony to the nature of human freedom. This reaches its final expression in the heroines choice to let another escape to the West in her place.

Well worth seeing.

Thursday 1 November 2012

Texts for All Saints

On the basis that the texts of the Liturgy can offer a teaching on the nature of a feast day being celebrated, it is quite interesting to look at the texts that I encountered for todays Solemnity of All Saints.

The first text to catch my attention was the office hymn for Morning Prayer, or perhaps more strictly, Laudes matutinas, since I use the Latin breviary for the hymn rather than the English. The hymn is Iesu, salvator saeculi and a translation can be found by scrolling down at this page. I was struck by the way in which the hymn presents categories of saints in order interceding for us: the Mother of God (v.1) , the angels, patriarchs and prophets (v.2), the Baptist (v.3), martyrs, confessors and virgins (v.4) and monks (v.5). The hymn for Vespers, Christe, redemptor omnium (translation on the same page as before) has a similar ordering, which includes the apostles. The ordering represents a ranking in order of closeness of participation in the work of Christ, and also in the historical order of salvation history.

The other text that I encountered was the introduction to the Mass for today contained in Magnificat. This was extracted from the words of Pope Benedict XVI:
To become saints means to fulfil completely what we already are, raised to the dignity of God's adopted children in Christ Jesus ...The saints bring to light in a creative fashion quite new human potentialities .... The saints are themselves the living spaces into which one can turn ... There is no isolation in heaven. It is the open society of the saints and, consequently, also teh fulfilment of all human togetherness ... One might say that the saints are, so to speak, new Christian constellations, in which the richness of God's goodness is reflected. Their light, coming from God, enables us to know better the interior richness of God's great light .....Nothing can bring us into close contact with the beauty of Christ himself other than the world of beauty created by faith and light that shines out from the faces of the saints, through whom his own light becomes visible.
And the final text was the Preface from the Mass for today:
For today by your gift we celebrate the festival of your city, the heavenly Jerusalem, our mother, where the great array of our brothers and sisters already gives you eternal praise.

It is true that this feast day celebrates the future glory for which we on earth live in hope, and so has an aspect of reference to ourselves. But these texts point us away from ourselves and towards heaven, towards the "great array" of the angels and saints who there live in worship of the glory of God

Wednesday 31 October 2012

post - Sandy

The video clip here is, I think, one of the nicest bits of coverage of the super-storm that I have seen. I think it communicates something of the natural resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity.

The gentleman arranging his showers in different places for the next three days ....

The young girl recognising that the children are perhaps enjoying a fun side of the very serious events ....

Monday 29 October 2012

Far be it from me ....

... to differ from the Holy Father and the Synod of Bishops, but a thought has occurred to me since posting on the homily at the Mass celebrated to close the Synod. and on the Propositions of the Synod.

In his homily, Pope Benedict referred to the need for appropriate catechesis to accompany preparation for the sacraments of initiation - Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist.
It has been reaffirmed that appropriate catechesis must accompany preparation for Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.
And among the propositions that the Synod presented to the Pope, Proposition 38 refers to the need for a suitable mystagogical approach to the sacraments of initiation:

Therefore we propose that the traditional process of Christian initiation, that has often become simply a proximate preparation for the sacraments, be everywhere considered in a catechumenal prospective, giving more relevance to permanent mystagogy, and thus becoming true initiation to Christian life through the sacraments. (cf. General Directory of Catechesis, 91)
According to the General Directory for Catechesis, the terms "catechesis" and " mystagogy" have a very well defined meaning, and are distinct from an idea of "primary proclamation". Paragraph 61, for example, says:

61. Primary proclamation is addressed to non-believers and those living in religious indifference. Its functions are to proclaim the Gospel and to call to conversion. Catechesis, "distinct from the primary proclamation of the Gospel", promotes and matures initial conversion, educates the convert in the faith and incorporates him into the Christian community. The relationship between these two forms of the ministry of the word is, therefore, a relationship of complementary distinction. Primary proclamation, which every Christian is called to perform, is part of that "Go" which Jesus imposes on his disciples: it implies, therefore, a going-out, a haste, a message. Catechesis, however, starts with the condition indicated by Jesus himself: "whosoever believes", whosoever converts, whosoever decides. Both activities are essential and mutually complementary: go and welcome, proclaim and educate, call and incorporate.
A distinction is also drawn between "initiatory catechesis" and a catechesis at the service of an ongoing faith formation (cf nn.67-70).

There strikes me as being a particular situation for a new evangelisation with regard to the relationship of "primary proclamation" and "initiatory catechesis". Precisely where the situation of a first evangelisation might expect a "primary proclamation" to have prepared the way for the more systematic nature of "catechesis" in the strict sense, the "primary proclamation" to Christians in those regions in need of a new evangelisation has not done so.

It seems to me part of the particularity of the situation of the new evangelisation that preparation for the sacraments of initiation should therefore be associated with a renewal of "primary proclamation", of initial conversion to Christ, and not just with a renewal of catechesis strictly so-called.

John XXIII and the Cuban Missile Crisis

As the anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council approached, I dipped into Meriol Trevor's biography of Pope John XXIII and into Alden Hatch's biography of Pope Paul VI. I read the chapters relating to the part played by the two pontiffs with regard to the Council.

According to chapter 19 of the former, it was Norman Cousins, a political activist and editor of a publication called the Saturday Review, who telephoned the Vatican on 24th October 1962 and suggested that the Pope should make an appeal for peace. Pope John was initially concerned that what he said might offend the Soviet side, but Cousins assured him that the terms of the appeal could be checked with each side before publication. Pope John is reported to have stayed up until midnight preparing a radio message that he delivered the next day, 25th October 1962. Given the genuine fear that nuclear war was a possible outcome of the crisis, Pope John's words are very powerful.  Appealing to the consciences of those who held power, he said:
May they hear the anguished cry which rises to heaven from every corner of the earth, from innocent children to old men, from persons and communities: peace, peace!

Vatican Radio's coverage marking Pope John's radio broadcast is here, and gives an account suggesting that the initial approach suggesting the Pope issue an appeal for peace came from President Kennedy.

According to Meriol Trevor, Russian premier Kruschev acknowledged to Norman Cousins that he had been moved by the Pope's appeal, which contributed to the easing of tension. The Vatican Radio coverage suggests that the broadcast, while not a crucial factor in bringing the crisis to a conclusion, was nevertheless a factor among others that led to its conclusion.

This article at Crisis Magazine gives an impression of a stronger influence of Pope John's appeal. It also refers indirectly to the part played by John XXIII in helping achieve the nuclear test ban treaty between the Soviets and the United States in 1963.

Sunday 28 October 2012

Pope Benedict's homily at Mass to close the Synod of Bishops

The full text of Pope Benedict's homily at Mass this morning is being carried at homily at the Mass concluding the XIII Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the New Evangelization .

Particularly striking is the way in which Pope Benedict cites St Augustine in order to interpret the situation of Bartimaeus as being analagous to that of the Christian in the evangelised world who has fallen from the dignity of Christian belief and living, and is now in need of receiving again the light of faith by way of a "new evangelisation".

The Holy Father then goes on to highlight three themes emerging from the Synod:
I would like here to highlight three pastoral themes that have emerged from the Synod. The first concerns the sacraments of Christian initiation. It has been reaffirmed that appropriate catechesis must accompany preparation for Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. The importance of Confession, the sacrament of God’s mercy, has also been emphasized. This sacramental journey is where we encounter the Lord’s call to holiness, addressed to all Christians. ....... 
Secondly, the new evangelization is essentially linked to the Missio ad Gentes. The Church’s task is to evangelize, to proclaim the message of salvation to those who do not yet know Jesus Christ. During the Synod, it was emphasized that there are still many regions in Africa, Asia and Oceania whose inhabitants await with lively expectation, sometimes without being fully aware of it, the first proclamation of the Gospel. So we must ask the Holy Spirit to arouse in the Church a new missionary dynamism, whose progatonists are, in particular, pastoral workers and the lay faithful. Globalization has led to a remarkable migration of peoples. So the first proclamation is needed even in countries that were evangelized long ago. All people have a right to know Jesus Christ and his Gospel: and Christians, all Christians – priests, religious and lay faithful – have a corresponding duty to proclaim the Good News. 
A third aspect concerns the baptized whose lives do not reflect the demands of Baptism. During the Synod, it was emphasized that such people are found in all continents, especially in the most secularized countries. The Church is particularly concerned that they should encounter Jesus Christ anew, rediscover the joy of faith and return to religious practice in the community of the faithful. Besides traditional and perennially valid pastoral methods, the Church seeks to adopt new ones, developing new language attuned to the different world cultures, proposing the truth of Christ with an attitude of dialogue and friendship rooted in God who is Love. In various parts of the world, the Church has already set out on this path of pastoral creativity, so as to bring back those who have drifted away or are seeking the meaning of life, happiness and, ultimately, God. We may recall some important city missions, the “Courtyard of the Gentiles”, the continental mission, and so on. There is no doubt that the Lord, the Good Shepherd, will abundantly bless these efforts which proceed from zeal for his Person and his Gospel.

Saturday 27 October 2012

The Synod: Message of the Synod and the Propositions

Now that the Synod of Bishops dedicated to the subject of the New Evangelisation has come to an end, we can consider the message of the Synod and the propositions of the Synod fathers submitted to the Holy Father.

A summary of the Message can be found at the Holy See Press Office: FINAL MESSAGE OF THE SYNOD ON NEW EVANGELISATION. An (unofficial, kind of) English translation of the propositions submitted to Pope Benedict XVI can be found in the Bulletin of the Synod at the Vatican website:  FINAL LIST OF PROPOSITIONS.

Both the Message and the propositions cover a wide range of ideas, so it is difficult to pick out any one or two ideas without giving the misleading impression that they have a "priority" over other ideas in the mind of the Synod fathers. I pick out the following more because it touches on my own situation in the Church and the world than for any other reason.

Proposition 27 refers to the part to be played by Catholic educational institutions in the new evangelisation. Part of the proposition reads:
Education is a constitutive dimension of evangelization. To proclaim the Risen Jesus Christ is to accompany all human beings in their personal story, in their development and in their spiritual vocation.  
Education needs, at the same time, to promote everything that is true, good and beautiful that is a part of the human person, that is to say, to educate the mind and the emotions to appreciate reality.  
Children, teenagers and young people have a right to be evangelized and educated. The schools and Catholic universities respond in this way to this need. Public institutions should recognize and support this right. 
Schools should assist families in introducing children into the beauty of the faith. Schools offer a great opportunity to transmit the faith or at least to make it known. 
The core of this proposition seems to me to lie in the statement that "children, teenagers and young people have a right to be evangelised and educated". This represents the double polarity expressed in the preceding two paragraphs of the proposition. But if each word of the polarity - "evangelised" and "educated" - has its own significance in this statement, so does the connective word "and". On the one hand, in so far as a school educates it also evangelises. On the other, if a school does not in some way offer an explicit introduction to, or at least an offer of, the Christian message, the evangelisation that is education remains incomplete. This should not, of course, be read as approving proselytism (ie an unjust effort to convert) towards those of non-Christian beliefs. I find interesting the implication that might be drawn from this proposition that children, teenagers and young people have this right to be evangelised and educated in their own right, and that it is not a right mediated through rights with regard to education that belong to parents/guardians.

It is interesting to read this in the light of article 19 and  article 26 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and against the background of a notion of secularisation which wishes to remove the presence of religion from schools and to deny parents/guardians rights to educate their children in their own beliefs:
Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 26:
1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
There is an implicit cross-reference to Proposition 16 of the Synod fathers, which refers to the importance of the right to religious liberty for the new evangelisation:
In light of the recognition of the Second Vatican Council as an instrument for the New Evangelization and the growing need to protect the religious liberty of Christians throughout the world, the Synod Fathers propose a renewed commitment to and wider diffusion of the teachings of Dignitatis Humanae. This renewal seeks to affirm and promote freedom in religious matters for individuals, families and institutions to protect the common good of all. Such a freedom includes the right to teach the Christian faith without compromise of its tenets to children in the family and/or school. 
The Synod Fathers propose that the Holy Father consider the opportuneness of establishing a commission of Church leaders representing various parts of the Church throughout the world or entrusting this task to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, to address attacks on religious liberty, and to obtain accurate information for public witness to the fundamental right to religious freedom and freedom of conscience.

This cross-reference does not just consist in the opposition to coercion in matters of education and religious belief on the part of society or the organs of the state. It requires a genuine access to information about matters of religion. It is interesting to see the way in which Pope John Paul II, in his book Sources of Renewal on the implementation of Vatican II, cites Dignitatis Humanae in his discussion of the nature of faith. This is a discussion which could usefully be read alongside the propositions of the Synod fathers.

Monday 22 October 2012

More from the Synod

I had been hoping to follow the discussions at the Synod of Bishops more closely than, in the event, I have been able to.

Bishop Campbell of Lancaster has been blogging from the Synod, and the extracts below from a post on 20th October give some idea of his experience. I have added italics so that you can see the observations that caught my attention.
A fascinating aspect of this Synod of Bishops is its worldwide dimension, with bishops and other speakers shedding light on their own particular Church situations from many different countries. We needed to be reminded of the realities of the Church in current turbulent areas such as Syria and parts of Africa, living in the shadow of war and civil unrest.  
Bishops from Cambodia and Vietnam described the life of their local Church communities, while believers in parts of Europe which were originally behind “the Iron Curtain” were now living in freedom and catching up on the work of the Second Vatican Council and other theological trends in the last fifty years. There is much more to the Church than the large cities of the Western world!

Despite these vastly differing local circumstances certain common threads are emerging, such as the centrality and importance of the family for the life of the Church, the responsibility of each baptised person for handing on the faith, the necessity of conversion for all members of the Church, and the challenges posed for example by globalisation.....

The courage, faith and resilience of those bishops from unsettled and war-torn regions was evident to us all, as exemplified in the moving reflection by a Sudanese bishop after the opening morning prayer earlier in the week. His optimism and deep faith were a living proof of the presence of Christ through the Holy Spirit in what we would consider harrowing, even desperate situations. I mused on just how in spite of everything the Church goes on.
The text of the "Report after the Discussion" by Cardinal Wuerl, referred to in Bishop Campbell's blog, can be found in this issue of the daily bulletin of the Synod. If you want to gauge the situation of the Synod as it moved from the general interventions in the aula to the small language group discussions, scan through this "Report after the Discussion" and look out for the questions that were proposed for discussion in the small groups.

H/T to Fr Ray for the link to Bishop Campbell's blog.

Sunday 21 October 2012

Six points for a "new evangelisation"; and "environmental cells"

The October 2012 issue of New City, the magazine of the Focolare movement in the United Kingdom, contains an article dedicated to the Year of Faith. It identifies six points for a "new evangelisation" which are interesting because of the way in which they could be shared by Christians who are not Catholics.
1. It preserves the patrimony of faith: "Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow"
2. It looks for new language and new methods to announce the Gospel with renewed enthusiasm
3. It is addressed primarily to those who already know the Gospel but became indifferent to it
4. It come from Baptism and calls every Christian to become more aware of their vocation
5. It convinces people that faith needs to be lived out as well as understood and studied
6. It highlights relationships: when announced, faith become credible if supported by a lifestyle.
Maria Voce, the President of the Focolare Movement, made an intervention at the Synod of Bishops on 17th October. What caught my attention in the summary of this intervention was the reference to "environmental cells". Previous interventions, from different parts of the world, have suggested a need for "small communities" in parishes, so that the parish then become a "communion of communities". Such a suggestion might be very different in its implications in different parts of the world, not all of the implications being positive. In a country such as Great Britian, for example, such groups might become the preserve a certain "chattering class".  But the "environmental cells" to which Maria Voce refers might well offer a different model for what is intended by the suggestion of "small communities" in parishes:
‘Environmental cells’, made up of two or more people in the same place, bring the living presence of the ‘Risen One’ everywhere, into families, factories, places of public administration, hospitals, schools and universities. At the local level, it builds relationships of fraternity inspired by the Gospel through ‘local communities’ within suburbs and towns.

Saturday 20 October 2012

Today's Gigs

Out of the three possible gigs today - A Future that Works, Aid to the Church in Need's annual event at Westminster Cathedral, and the procession of the Blessed Sacrament from Westminster Cathedral to Southwark Cathedral - I made the first and the last.

For the first, branch officers from London branches of my trade union had been asked to volunteer to join the union's contingent of stewards for the day. So, below, is yours truly on duty outside Westminster underground station. I am not expecting to be asked again to stand in the middle of the road outside of the Houses of Parliament waving my arms around to direct crowds. It was a fun day, though obviously with a very serious point being made. [NB. The TUC insist on having the pink high visibility vests back, so I don't have it as a souvenir.]

At the end of our stint, I managed to walk along to Westminster Cathedral in time to join the Blessed Sacrament procession, something I hadn't expected to do. The procession was well attended, the crowd filling St George's Cathedral for benediction at the end of the procession.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

The Synod of Bishops: a delegation to Syria and a thought on small communities

At the beginning of this morning's session of the Synod of Bishops, an announcement was made of a delegation from the Synod to visit Damascus, Syria. I have italicised part of the text below because I think it expresses the collegial character of this action on the part of the Synod and the Holy See. This delegation represents a quite dramatic intervention of the Synod Fathers.
Most Holy Father,
Most Eminent and Most Excellent Synodal Fathers,
Dear brothers and sisters,
We cannot be mere spectators of a tragedy like the one that is unfolding in Syria: some of the interventions we have heard in the hall bear witness to this.
Certain that the solution to the crisis cannot be but political and thinking of the immense suffering of the population, the fate of the evacuees as well as the future of that nation, some of us suggested that our synodal assembly might express its solidarity.
The Holy Father has thus arranged for a delegation to make its way in the next few days to Damascus with the aim of expressing, in his name and in all our names:
our fraternal solidarity to the whole population, with a personal offering from the Synodal Fathers as well as from the Holy See;
our spiritual closeness to our Christian brothers and sisters;
our encouragement to all those who are involved in the search for an agreement that respects the rights and duties of all with particular attention to what is demanded by humanitarian law.

The delegation will be made up of:

Synodal Fathers:
- His Em. Card. Laurent Mosengwo Pasinya, Archbishop of Kinshasa;
- His Em. Card. Jean-Louis Tauran, President of Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue;
- His Em. Card. Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York;
- His Exc. Mons. Fabio Suescun Mutis, Military Ordinary of Colombia;
- His Exc. Mons. Joseph Nguyen Nang, Bishop of Phat Diem;

In addition to the Synodal Fathers quoted above, the following persons are part of the delegation:
- His Exc. Mons. Dominique Mamberti, Secretary for Relations with States of the Secretariat of State;
- Mons. Alberto Ortega, Official of the Secretariat of State.

It is expected that once the necessary formalities have been carried out with the Apostolic Nuncio and the local authorities, the Delegation will make its way to Damascus next week. In the meantime time we pray that reason and compassion might prevail. 
More than once in the last couple of days, interventions in the Synod hall have referred to the part that might be played in the new evangelisation by "small communities" in parishes. The "small communities" being referred to have been explicitly distinguished from those associated with new ecclesial movements and explicitly identified as having a relation to a parish community.

The summary of the intervention of the Archbishop of Dublin, for example, states:
The culture of individualism can be counteracted by the creation of a variety of new ecclesial communities, not just those of the ecclesial movements, but around our parishes, which will be the building blocks of the Eucharistic communities of the future.
And the summary of the intervention of the Anglican Bishop of Sheffield , one of the fraternal delegates, included the suggestion:
Third, I would encourage the Synod to reflect further on the formation of new ecclesial communities for the transmission of the faith to those who are no longer part of any church. For the last ten years, the Church of England has actively encouraged a new movement of mission aimed at beginning fresh expressions of the church, as a natural part of the ministry of parishes or groups of parishes or dioceses.
Such "small communities" within parishes are quite different in character if one considers a parish that is large in geographical area and in the developing rather than the developed world.  But it will be interesting to see whether or not the Synod will take up this idea.

My own immediate thought is to suggest that the problem faced by such "small communities" is that they will become an imposed structure rather than a response to a genuinely given charism, and that leadership in these communities will lack the appropriate intellectual and spiritual/ecclesial formation to effectively undertake the new evangelisation. Both aspects of this would be overcome within the framework of the charism and formation provided by an ecclesial movement.

Monday 15 October 2012

The Synod of Bishops: two interventions

I have not read all the summaries of the interventions being reported in the Bulletin Synodus Episcoporum, but have just spotted two, that I copy in full below:

H. Exc. Rev. Mons. Francis Xavier Kriengsak KOVITHAVANIJ, Archbishop of Bangkok (THAILAND)
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Thailand is of the opinion that it is necessary that all the Bishops, priests, men and women religious and the laity be concretely revived in faith and Christian life aiming at “Discipleship and sharing the Good News” with regards to the teaching of the Church, liturgy, life of prayers and continuous formation, using the means of “BEC” (Basic Ecclesial Communities) through coordination of the various Catholic entities and the CBCT commissions especially the Episcopal Commission for Pastoral Care of the Christians. The parochial community will enable the BEC to be the sign of active life of a parish which will be a new community, “communion of communities”, based on the culture of love and will become a good approach for the pastoral care and evangelization “Ad gentes”.

The Catholic Church in Thailand is amid our brothers and sisters of other faiths. The Church is essentially the sign and instrument of announcing the Kingdom of God and all the disciples of Christ are called to announce and share the Good News to both those who have not yet heard and those who are not yet in the same sheepfold. The appropriate way to bring about mutual understanding in society is through the “Interreligious Dialogue” which is the way suitable for our new evangelization.
In the context of multiple cultures in Asia the dialogue with respect will widen the venue of mutual listening to the religious experiences and mutual collaboration. The Catholic faithful through the Basic Ecclesial Community, therefore, filled with faith, love and hope will be able to enter into the dialogue not only, with our Christian brothers and sisters of various denominations, but also with the Buddhists, the majority of the population in Thailand, to cooperate and together create true unity and peace in Thai society. And with the Risen Lord in the midst of “two or three, united in His name”, we Catholic faithful in Thailand, can share God's love to everyone.
- H. Exc. Rev. Mons. Dominique REY, Bishop of Fréjus-Toulon (FRANCE)
Evangelization’s finality is the conversion of men, in other words, embracing the novelty of Christ (cf. Instrumentum laboris, no. 24). This conversion begins within the Church through the pastoral changes to be carried out. For the countries of ancient Christianity this means going from a traditional Christianity to a Christianity of personal adhesion to Jesus Christ and missionary involvement.
This pastoral conversion concerns all the baptized and all the actors of ecclesial life, but especially the pastors: bishops and priests. For the new evangelization to not be merely a slogan or a catalogue of actions to be taken, to not be asphyxiated by immobility, bureaucracy or clericalism, the pastors must be better prepared in the practice of the pastoral governing.
1. This conversion of the pastors first points out a task of personal sanctification.
2. This conversion must be followed by a deeper re-reading of the Council texts and the Magisterium of the Church, to be able to penetrate an ecclesial and theological intelligence of missionary renewal, of which he is the minister.
3. This conversion also calls for an apprenticeship on the new way of practicing pastoral responsibility: to place the direct proclamation of faith at the head of the ordinary pastoral, to promote a catechesis of initiation of the catechumenal type for beginners and those starting again and proper apologetic paths, to develop an ecclesiology of communion that allows the complementarity of the states of life and embraces the charisms, to favor the creation of places of welcome and of dialogue open to spiritual expectations, to incite the witness of charity in Christians.
4. Finally, the new evangelization calls for “a new style of pastoral life” (Pastores dabo vobis, no. 18) for priests and for bishops.
What I thought was worth reflecting on was the very different situations of the Church in Thailand and in France, and the way in which these very different situations colours these two contributions.

The Year of Faith: Comparing Pastoral Letters

On the whole, I think I preferred reading this on the web than listening to this in the pew.

In the former, I was particularly struck by the kind of summary profession of faith of Archbishop Smith beginning part way through the third paragraph and ending part way through the fourth. And what I couldn't really make out in the latter was the parallel reference to the "spirit" and the "documents" of the Council, the first being un-defined and it then not being clear that it is the latter that are definitive as the expression of the ecclesial experience of the Council. The profession of faith contained in the former, which could be seen as a proposed content for the primary proclamation of the Gospel, also appears more invigorating than the proposal for evangelistion contained at the end of the latter (though this clearly has merit, and is full of echoes for those with experience in the Legion fo Mary).

Archbishop Smith's account of the teaching on the "new people of God" and "co-responsibility" of the laity is also more coherent than Bishop McMahon's reference to
One of the predominant images was that of the ‘People of God’ having an inclusive character based on baptism.
 which appears, in comparison, to be selective and removed from its Biblical and ecclesial context.

And there is also Bishop Egan's Pastoral Letter, here, which is different again in its character, seeming more practical and immediately pastoral in its proposals.

Thursday 11 October 2012

General Audience: Pope Benedict XVI reflects on Vatican II

The Vatican Information Services report of this Wednesday's general audience, including a full translation of the Holy Father's address can be found here: Audience: Pope's personal memories of Vatican II.

Once again Pope Benedict cited John Paul II:
Blessed John Paul II, on the threshold of the third millennium, wrote: "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" (Apostolic Letter. NMI, 57). I think this is telling. The documents of the Second Vatican Council, to which we must return freeing them from a mass of publications that often instead of making them known, have hidden them, are, for our time, a compass that allows the ship of the Church to set sail, in midst of storms or calm and quiet waters, to navigate safely and reach port.
No-one, be they traditionalist or liberal, should be in any doubt Pope Benedict's commitment in favour of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. The added italics in the citation above are mine, and the words emphasised are in my view a rather diplomatic way of saying that not everything that claims to speak for the Council actually does so! And the analogy of the ship quite clearly sees the documents of the Council, not just as a point of departure that can now be disregarded as some would have us believe, but as the guide to which we must still refer in order that the Church can reach her destination.

Pope Benedict also cites Pope Paul VI's homily at the final session of the Council. Pope Paul
 .. affirmed that in order to properly asses this event, and I quote, "it is necessary to remember the time in which it was realized. In fact, the Pope says, it took place at a time in which, everyone admits man is orientated toward the conquest of the kingdom of earth rather than of that of heaven; a time in which forgetfulness of God has become habitual, and seems, quite wrongly, to be prompted by the progress of science; a time in which the fundamental act of the human person, more conscious now of himself and of his liberty, tends to pronounce in favor of his own absolute autonomy, in emancipation from every transcendent law; a time in which secularism seems the legitimate consequence of modern thought and the highest wisdom in the temporal ordering of society;... it was at such a time as this that our council was held to the honor of God, in the name of Christ and under the impulse of the Spirit". Thus said Paul VI. He concluded by indicating in the question of God the central focus of the Council, that God, I quote again, that " He is real, He lives, a personal, provident God, infinitely good; and not only good in Himself, but also immeasurably good to us. He will be recognized as Our Creator, our truth, our happiness; so much so that the effort to look on Him, and to center our heart in Him which we call contemplation, is the highest, the most perfect act of the spirit, the act which even today can and must be at the apex of all human activity".
This last sentence gives a clear indication of the theme of Archbishop Rowan Williams address to the Synod of Bishops, an address that is very well worth reading and I think will become one of the Synod highlights.