Wednesday 29 August 2012

Paralympics Chaplain on Radio 2

It still being the school holidays, I was listening to the Chris Evans Breakfast show on BBC Radio 2 this morning. At about 9.15 am, the programme includes a "Pause for Thought". At the time of the main Olympic Games, I observed that these slots had been given by chaplains accompanying Olympic athletes to the Games.

This morning, "Pause for Thought" was given by a London 2012 volunteer Paralympic chaplain, Stacy James. The full text is on the programme website here (you will need to scroll down) and below (as I expect that the text will not stay on the site.)  Do listen rather than read - go to the i-player here, find the programme for 29th August and move to 2:54:00 to catch Chris's introduction of Stacy and the brief, but very moving exchange at the end. I expect that it will only be available to listen for the next 7 days.
Helen (my mom) was uneasy all day. “Something’s wrong,” she said at dinner. When she got home at 8:30 pm, the phone rang. It was my college roommate. “Helen, Stacy was in a diving accident. She broke her neck.”

She arrived in the ER , I had tubes down my nose and throat, paralyzed from the neck down. She looked down at me, and all I could say was, “I’m sorry mom, please don’t be mad.”

“I’m not mad at you, honey; we’ll get through this,” she said, touching my face.

I spent the night in the ICU; my mom spent the night outside my door. The next day the doctors told my mom I would never walk again. She never told me.

“Imagine yourself running along the beach,” she said, sticking with me for a month in the hospital and three months in rehab. She learned to give me shots, medicine, and stretch my legs. She helped me re-enroll in college and accompanied me to class, taking notes, because my fingers were still paralyzed, and typed my papers at work. Two years later, I walked on crutches to graduate, my mom by my side. “We both shared a faith in God and, as time went by, in the belief that I would find a way to live a full life, a good life, a life full of purpose…”

In 1999, my mom walked with me as I wheeled to complete the New York City Marathon in 11 ½ hours. Today I am grateful to be a wheelchair athlete, Ms. Wheelchair Ohio 2002, a motivational speaker and an author. In 2004, I was accepted to be a volunteer chaplain for the Paralympics. Over the years, this role has taken us to Greece, Italy, and Canada, and we’ve looked forward to London. For every dream, I could count on my mom to be cheering. She never let my broken neck break my spirit.
As Stacy finished:

Chris Evans: Thank you so much. What a lovely testament to your mum.

Stacy: Oh, she's, she's wonderful, the greatest gift to me that God could have given.

Chris Evans: And you to her.

Stacy (rather hesitantly, if you listen): Oh, thanks.

Rimsha Masih: latest reports

From John Pontifex at Aid to the Church in Need UK: PAKISTAN: Top Catholic human rights activist says blasphemy case against Rimsha Masih is "engineered"

From Fides News Service: ASIA/PAKISTAN - The verdict on the case of Rimsha has been postponed; for doctors she is a minor and mentally disabled

Fides also report on the actions of Pakistani Christian organisations in Italy and the UK in support of Rimsha: ASIA/PAKISTAN - Pakistanis in Europe are mobilizing for Rimsha Masih

Sunday 26 August 2012

Rishma Masih: further reports

La Croix is carrying coverage of the aftermath of the arrest of Rishma in a suburb of Islamabad - under the worrying title: « Les chrétiens doivent s’en aller, sinon ça va dégénérer » ["The Christians must leave, otherwise it will get worse"].

La Croix's report gives a claimed account of the arrest of Rimsha, and describes the departure of many Christian families from the Mehrabad quarter of Islamabad since the incident.

Perhaps most worrying is the following paragraph of the report:
A quelques pas de lui, se tient debout Hafiz Mohamed Zubair, l’un des deux mollahs de la mosquée. Lui ne perd pas son sang-froid mais explique avec calme : « Oui, c’est vrai, aujourd’hui les chrétiens doivent partir. Nous ne pouvons plus cohabiter, ce ne sont plus nos frères. Ce n’est plus possible de vivre ensemble. » [Nearby we met Hafiz Mohamed Zubair, one of the two mullahs at the mosque. He did not lose his composure but explained calmly: "Yes, it is true, today the Christians must go. We can no longer co-exist, they are no longer our brothers. It is no longer possible to live together".]
There is further reporting here: Imam accuses Christian girl of 'conspiracy' (this is an agency report from Agence France Press). Sources such as the British Pakistani Christian Association view these claims as completely false.

Scottish Bishops announce establishment of a Commission on Marriage

If one wishes to characterise in a headline the message being read today in the Catholic churches of Scotland, Scottish Catholic priests' letter condemns gay marriage would not be quite it. Neither would one report, as the BBC do, the establishing by the Scottish Bishops Conference of a National Commission on marriage as:
The letter also announces the launch of a National Commission for Marriage and the Family to co-ordinate a campaign against gay marriage.
Cardinal O'Brien's remarks in the press release do quite robustly address the current political situation:
"The Church's teaching on marriage is unequivocal, it is uniquely, the union of a man and a woman and it is wrong that Governments, politicians or Parliaments should seek to alter or destroy that reality.".... "While we pray that our elected leaders will sustain rather than subvert marriage, we promise to continue to do everything we can to convince them that redefining marriage would be wrong for society"
But they cannot justify the misrepresentation of the nature of the Commission :
"With this letter we will announce the creation of a National Commission for Marriage and the Family, a body which will be charged with promoting the true nature of marriage, it will develop an online prescence and produce materials and organise events which will help Catholic families to support and sustain marriage"
The major part of the message to be read in churches (full text at the end of the press release) describes the establishing of a Commission of the Bishops Conference, and the tasks that it will undertake. Rather than campaigning against the proposed legislation - something that does not feature in the Commission's terms of reference at all - the Commission will be tasked as follows:
... in the forthcoming Year of Faith we have decided to establish a new Commission for Marriage and the Family. This Commission will be led by a bishop and will be composed mostly of lay men and women. The Commission will be charged with engaging with those young men and women who will be future husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, and with those who already live out their vocation to marriage and parenthood in surroundings which often make it hard to sustain and develop the full Catholic family life we cherish.

We wish to support too, those who are widowed, separated and divorced and all who need to feel the Church’s maternal care in the circumstances in which they find themselves. The new Commission will promote the true nature of marriage as both a human institution and a union blessed by Jesus. The Commission will be asked to develop an online presence so that prayer, reflection, formation and practical information on matters to do with marriage and family life can be quickly accessible to all. It will also work to produce materials and organise events which will support ordinary Catholic families in their daily lives. During the course of the coming year we will ask for your support for these initiatives.

Our faith teaches us that marriage is a great and holy mystery. The Bishops of Scotland will continue to promote and uphold the universally accepted definition of marriage as the union solely of a man and a woman. At the same time, we wish to work positively for the strengthening of marriage within the Church and within our society.
What is striking about the message itself is the way in which it confirms Catholic teaching on marriage as being a life long union of a man and woman, and at the same time outlines a pastoral initiative to support the knowledge and practice of that teaching. It is being read on a Sunday that the Catholic Church in Scotland is marking as National Marriage Sunday, itself a pastoral initiative on behalf of marriage properly understood. All perfectly proper, and well within the role that would be expected of Catholic bishops.

Friday 24 August 2012

Church, Government, imam committed to save Rimsha, a Christian girl accused of blasphemy

Fides news service carries two updates on the case of the young Downs Syndrome girl imprisoned in Pakistan facing an allegation under that country's blasphemy law.

Church, Government, imam committed to save Rimsha, a Christian girl accused of blasphemy

Rimsha: Hearing for the release, the focus is on the Medical Commission

Particularly noteworthy is the following, taken from the first of these reports:
Muslim leaders have not accepted, as requested by the radicals, to launch anathemas from the pulpits of mosques and "incite the assault of Christians": this has prevented a bloodbath. Nevertheless, the situation is tense, and the police ensure the safety of Christians living in the suburb, in Rawalpindi, where, among about 700 families, Rimsha’s family lived.
The last paragraph of the second report raises a completely different aspect to the case:
Bhatti [Paul Bhatti, president of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance and Special Adviser to the Prime Minister for National Harmony] also condemns the behavior of the NGO "World Vision in Progress Foundation," which yesterday presented at the same court a request for bail, but without the official commission from the victim’s family, creating "ambiguity and confusion." According to Bhatti, the judge annulled the previous request from the NGO. "These organizations try to exploit and commercialize these tragic cases," he adds. Also according to Fr. Emmanuel Yousaf, Director of the Commission "Justice and Peace" of the Episcopal Conference, "The request of bail is not a good idea, since it exposes the girl to the danger of a small extrajudicial killing." A final release, however, would also open the possibility of her transfer abroad.
UPDATE: reporting here of the protest at the Pakistani High Commission in London, organised by the British Pakistani Christian Association.

Publishing the Pictures: in the public interest

The Sun (a newspaper I do not read) has done it: Prince Harry naked Vegas photos published by Sun. I must admit that arguing that the publication of the photographs represents a key issue in terms of the freedom of the press seems to me somewhat thin.

I do think there is a public interest in the publication of the photographs, though.

And it lies in the question that, to a large extent, is remaining unasked or being suppressed by the media.

According to the BBC report:
The Sun said in a statement that in publishing the photos it was not making any moral judgement about the prince's activities.

It said: "He often sails close to the wind for a royal - but he's 27, single and a soldier.
The unasked question is of course precisely the moral question that the Sun is disregarding.

Is it morally right for anyone - be they third in line to the throne, be they 27 years old, be they single or be they a soldier, or just any one of these - to be cavorting naked with others in their hotel room?

And it is interesting that, in so far as the BBC reporting does cover this aspect, the question being asked is not one about whether or not the behaviour is moral, but whether or not it is normal: Harry photos: Is it normal to drink and end up naked?

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Consecrated celibacy/virginity (2): development of doctrine

In the first of this series of posts, Consecrated celibacy/virginity (1), it was noted that a well-known anathema of the Council of Trent attributes a "higher excellence" to the state of virginity/celibacy when it is compared to the state of marriage, and that the force of that teaching should be recognised in the life of the Church today.

The teaching of the Second Vatican Council does not discuss virginity/celibacy with a direct intention of comparing it as a state to the married state. In that sense, we can see the terms of its teaching as not being set by the same challenge that prompted the anathema of the Council of Trent. Instead, virginity/celibacy are presented in a relation to baptism, in relation to the idea of consecration and therefore of the evangelical counsels seen as a whole, and in relation to the appropriateness of celibacy to the life of the ordained priest. This post wants to suggest that, in presenting its teaching in these different contexts, the Council does nevertheless provide a development of, and an articulation of the essential substance, of the teaching about a "higher excellence" expressed in the earlier anathema.

The first text to turn to is the chapter in Vatican II's Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium dedicated to religious (nn.43-46). The teaching on the evangelical counsels is to be found by reading nn.43-44 in their entirety. I extract below only those parts that are relevant to the consideration of a "greater excellence" of the state of the counsels, and add the italics to draw this out:
The faithful of Christ bind themselves to the three aforesaid counsels either by vows, or by other sacred bonds, which are like vows in their purpose. By such a bond, a person is totally dedicated to God, loved beyond all things. In this way, that person is ordained to the honor and service of God under a new and special title. Indeed through Baptism a person dies to sin and is consecrated to God. However, in order that he may be capable of deriving more abundant fruit from this baptismal grace, he intends, by the profession of the evangelical counsels in the Church, to free himself from those obstacles, which might draw him away from the fervor of charity and the perfection of divine worship. By his profession of the evangelical counsels, then, he is more intimately consecrated to divine service. This consecration will be the more perfect, in as much as the indissoluble bond of the union of Christ and His bride, the Church, is represented by firm and more stable bonds.

The evangelical counsels which lead to charity  join their followers to the Church and its mystery in a special way.... Christ proposed to His disciples this form of life, which He, as the Son of God, accepted in entering this world to do the will of the Father. This same state of life is accurately exemplified and perpetually made present in the Church.
The second text to turn to is the Decree on the renewal of religious life, Perfectae Caritatis. Again, italics added and not present in the original text.
5. Members of each institute should recall first of all that by professing the evangelical counsels they responded to a divine call so that by being not only dead to sin (cf. Rom. 6:11) but also renouncing the world they may live for God alone. They have dedicated their entire lives to His service. This constitutes a special consecration, which is deeply rooted in that of baptism and expresses it more fully...

12. The chastity "for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 19:12) which religious profess should be counted an outstanding gift of grace. It frees the heart of man in a unique fashion (cf. 1 Cor. 7:32-35) so that it may be more inflamed with love for God and for all men. Thus it not only symbolizes in a singular way the heavenly goods but also the most suitable means by which religious dedicate themselves with undivided heart to the service of God and the works of the apostolate. ...
The word translated from the Latin as "outstanding" here might also be translated as "priceless" or, as in the printed translation to which I have access, "exceptional".

The last text of the Council to consider is the Decree on the ministry and life of priests, Presbyterorum Ordinis. The question of celibacy in relation to the priesthood is treated in n.16. Italics added, as before.
Through virginity, then, or celibacy observed for the Kingdom of Heaven, priests are consecrated to Christ by a new and exceptional reason. They adhere to him more easily with an undivided heart, they dedicate themselves more freely in him and through him to the service of God and men ...(they) evoke the mysterious marriage established by Christ, and fully to be manifested in the future, in which the Church has Christ as her only Spouse. They give, moreover, a living sign of the world to come, by a faith and charity already made present, in which the children of the resurrection neither marry nor take wives.
 What can be taken from these several texts of the Council to form a synthesis of the content of the idea of a "higher excellence" of the life of the evangelical counsels, and, in particular, that of virginity/celibacy? I would suggest:

1. There is a clear witness to a specific excellence for the life of the counsels, and of virginity/celibacy.
2. The life of the counsels, and the life of virginity/celibacy, lived under vow has the character of a consecration; that is, the character of being a specific and definitive way of living out by an individual of the (universal) call to holiness received through baptism. In itself, though, this character may not represent an excellence unique to the life of virginity/celibacy. Christians who do not take these vows might well live a consecration of a different form, such as that represented by consecration to the Virgin Mary or by "baptism in the spirit" as it is understood in the Charismatic Renewal. It is noteworthy that both these movements see their consecrations as specific ways of living out the original consecration received in baptism. However, consecration as choice does inform point 3 below.
3. Consecrated virginity/celibacy represents a direct and immediate dedication to love of God, without any mediating form, a dedication to "love of God above all things" or a living for "God alone". This can, of course, only apply to a chosen and consecrated virginity/celibacy, and not to a virginity/celibacy that is an accidental outcome of just not having got married. One might suggest that the un-married person should seek some form of consecration in order to live this element of choice in their virginity/celibacy.
4. Growing out of point 3 is the idea of the consecrated life, and of virginity/celibacy, as being a living sign in this world of the world that is to come, a living sign of our supernatural destiny. It cannot be understood in the terms of earthly existence alone, but only in a relation to the life of the world to come.
5. The life of the evangelical counsels, and therefore of virginity/celibacy, is literally the form of life that Jesus himself lived during his earthly ministry, and this is part of what constitutes its excellence.
6. From points 3 and 5 arises a dedication to the Church, as the Body of Christ, so that there is a particular ecclesial form to the life of virginity/celibacy.
7. And finally, the life of the counsels is a very particular gift, a grace, that is given to the one called to consecrated life. The person who consecrates themselves in virginity/celibacy does so in response to a grace received; it is a state of life to which some are called, but not all.

There is a postscript to the teaching of the Council in Pope Paul VI's Apostolic Exhortation Evangelica Testificatio of 1971, where consecrated virginity/celibacy is incidentally considered in the light of the married state. In explicitly addressing the question of consecrated chastity (nn.13-15), Pope Paul writes (italics added to draw out some of the links to the synthesis above):
Only the love of God—it must be repeated—calls in a decisive way to religious chastity. This love moreover makes so uncompromising a demand for fraternal charity that the religious will live more profoundly with his contemporaries in the heart of Christ. On this condition, the gift of self, made to God and to others, will be the source of deep peace. Without in any way undervaluing human love and marriage—is not the latter, according to faith, the image and sharing of the union of love joining Christ and the Church?(22)—consecrated chastity evokes this union in a more immediate way and brings that surpassing excellence to which all human love should tend....Chastity is decisively positive, it witnesses to preferential love for the Lord and symbolizes in the most eminent and absolute way the mystery of the union of the Mystical Body with its Head, the union of the Bride with her eternal Bridegroom. Finally, it reaches, transforms and imbues with a mysterious likeness to Christ man's being in its most hidden depths...

... We are in fact dealing here with a precious gift which the Father imparts to certain people....

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Consecrated celibacy/virginity (1): a better vocation?

My attention was caught, less by the citation of the anathema from the Council of Trent, than by the account of the dogmatic standing of the teaching expressed in the anathema:
If any one says, that the marriage state is to be placed above the state of virginity, or of celibacy, and that it is not better and more blessed to remain in virginity, or in celibacy, than to be united in matrimony; let him be anathema.  
(Remember that this is de fide teaching which we are bound to believe with the assent of faith. If we find it surprising today, it is our job to ponder how to reconcile our thinking with the teaching of the Church, not to adjust the teaching of the Church to our thinking.)
Fr Tim was actually making a different point, but picked this up in passing. Having a somewhat naive approach to anathema's, I assumed that this one represented in some way a summary answer to a question or discussion occuring earlier in the Council's Decree. If one clicks "previous" at this page of the IntraText copy of the Decree on Matrimony, to move from the anathemas to the preceding exposition, one finds instead that the anathema stands somewhat alone. So exactly what answer(s) does the anathema give, and to which question(s)?

Most immediately, it answers a question being set to the Catholic Church by the reformers at the time. Is it the challenge from the reformers which frames the question, and therefore the answer contained in the anathema, in terms of a comparison of the excellence of the married state to the excellence of the state of virginity/celibacy?

The anathema clearly asserts an excellence to virginity/celibacy that is higher than (the excellence of) marriage - and I am happy to include a reference to the excellence of marriage because of the reference to the way in which Christian marriage "excels in grace, through Christ, the ancient marriages" in the exposition of the Tridentine Decree. One cannot avoid, either, that the assertion of this higher excellence derives from a basis in Scripture and Tradition that preceded the Council - it being received teaching at the time - and a basis in Tradition which has continued since. Even if one quibbles with the dogmatic status of the anathema of the Council of Trent, the force of its assertion of a higher excellence for virginity/celibacy, as Fr Tim indicates, is not something that should be avoided in the life of the Church today.

The anathema is silent as to whether this higher excellence accrues to the person who lives virginity/celibacy simply by their being virgin/celibate in itself.  It does not say anything one way or the other about whether the person who is virgin/celibate is by definition more saintly than the person who is married. It compares instead the "state" of virginity/celibacy to the "state" of marriage, which retains a subtle play between the two as objective institutional states in the Church and as  "offices" (to use a Balthasarian phrase) fulfilled by individuals in the Church.

The anathema is almost totally, but in a most subtle way perhaps not so, about the state of virginity/celibacy as being a state taken up under vows or associated with ordination. Only by referring to the Council Decree On Regulars and Nuns of the next session can we recognise a background assumption that the present anathema might refer to virginity/celibacy lived under vows, or, in the context of the ordained priesthood. The historical context of the Council might well also justify assuming this reference in the intention of the anathema. The Latin verb "manere" translated in the anathema as "remain" has a subtle sense of "continuing to live in" - cf perhaps the sense of the same verb used by Pope John Paul II at the opening of his Apostolic Letter Mane Nobiscum Domine to refer indirectly to Christ's continuing presence with us in the Eucharist. Again, ever so subtly, we might detect an assumption of the state of virginity/celibacy as being a chosen state rather than one occuring accidently by way of absence of a marriage. Though at a first reading the anathema appears to suggest that the accidental virginity/celibacy of the person who simply has not married is better than the married state, it is possible to argue that the real comparison is made to a chosen and dedicated virginity/celibacy.

The anathema - but not attaching common sense and the received teaching of Scripture - is silent about whether or not all people are called to virginity/celibacy rather than to marriage. It is clearly a vocation for some but not for others. This makes acute the question of exactly how the state of virginity/celibacy has a higher excellence than that of marriage, and also raises a question for how vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life are promoted in the Church.

I do think that it is possible to trace in the teaching of the Church at Vatican II and since a development of the essential teaching of this anathema - that of a higher excellence to the vocation of virginity/celibacy - that does not reduce its force and, indeed, develops its essential substance.  [See Consecrated celibacy/virginity (2): development of doctrine - link when I have posted. Consecrated celibacy/virginity (3): theological synthesis, when it follows, is intended to explore how the married and virgin states of life orient one to another.]

But meanwhile, two passing thoughts. One of the quite fascinating things about many of the new movements, many essentially lay in their character, is the existence within them of a core of members living a consecrated life according to the evangelical counsels. Focolare and Communion and Liberation are examples. (Another, perhaps not accidentally, is the presence of a Marian character.) If one leaves aside a certain fashion, now appearing to have passed, for lay communities characterised by short term temporary commitment, there is an interesting witness to consecrated virginity/celibacy to be found among the new movements. The second thought is that a vocational initiative such as Invocation appears to represent a significant move away from presenting all vocations in the Church as of equal excellence (in the sense in which that term is used above). Invocation seems to have the confidence to suggest to young people that the different vocations to priestly and religious life (and in some cases lay life, but lay life characterised by the evangelical counsels and a particular charism) have a an excellence which, while not denying to marriage its own excellence, nevertheless makes a demand on all. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church n.915 suggests, while recognising that not all are called to the consecrated life:
Christ proposes the evangelical counsels, in their great variety, to every disciple.

Monday 20 August 2012

Pakistan: New blasphemy low - Downs syndrome girl arrested!

Report here, with link to original source. H/T to Fr Tim, who refers to other news reports: see here.

A BBC news report can be found here.

Sunday 19 August 2012

Pussy Riot and the Plastic People of the Universe

An Opinion piece by Victor Sebestyen in The Times on Saturday 18th August compared the plight of the three girls of Pussy Riot to that of "the Plastics" in (then) Czechoslovakia in the 1970's. To get a feel for Sebestyen, try here, here and here. A native of Hungary, he worked for many years as a journalist, most notably for the London Evening Standard; as a journalist, he covered the events in Eastern Europe during 1989 - hence his book on the subject, which, the Telegraph review suggests is probably more the work of a journalist than of a careful academic.

Vaclav Havel describes how he came to know "the Plastics" in his book length interview Disturbing the Peace (p.125 ff of the Faber and Faber 1990 English translation - according to Wikepedia, the translator was the band's lead guitarist/singer). Havel's characterisation of the music of the already banned Plastic People of the Universe and that of other bands forming an "underground" in the then Communist controlled Czechoslovakia, was:
..... I immediately felt that there was something rather special radiating from these performances, that they were not just deliberately odd-ball or dilettantish attempts to be outlandish at any price, as what I had heard about them before might have suggested; the music was a profoundly authentic expression of the sense of life among these people, battered as they were by the misery of this world. There was disturbing magic in the music, and a kind of inner warning. Here was something serious and genuine, an internally free articulation of an existential experience that everyone who had not become completely obtuse must understand ...

.. I realized that, regardless of how many vulgar words these people used or how long their hair was, truth was on their side. Somewhere in the midst of this group, their attitudes, and their creations, I sensed a special purity, a shame, and a vulnerability; in their music was an experience of metaphysical sorrow and a longing for salvation. It seemed to me that this undergound of Jirous' was an attempt to give hope to those who had been most excluded.
Not long after Vaclav Havel came to know them, "the Plastics" and other members of the "underground" were arrested by the authorities. Havel orchestrated a campaign of support for the band, drawing a distinction between the nature of this trial in 1976 and trials earlier in the 1970's when an essentially political motiviation governed the imprisoment of those opposed to the regime.
What was happening here was not a settling of accounts with political enemies... This had nothing whatsoever to do with a struggle between two competing policial cliques. It was something far worse: an attack by the totalitarian system on life itself, on the very essence of human freedom and integrity.... They were simply young people who wanted to live in their own way, to make music they liked, to sing what they wanted to sing, to live in harmony with themselves, and to express themselves in a truthful way.
The international attention given to the case surprised the authorities, led to the release of all but four of the detainees and, Havel suggests, moderated the sentences given to all but the artistic director of the band.

How far is the comparison between the predicament of Pussy Riot and that of the Plastic People of the Universe justified? Certainly the terms of the charges laid against Pussy Riot (hooliganism and public disorder) are similar to those pursued against the Plastics. They also share the use of a vulgar language (an interesting point for someone such as myself who has a particular sensitivity in that regard) - but I suspect there is a study to be made of the use of such language in the context of samizdat writing and culture - think perhaps of the visciousness of the sarcasm employed in The Gulag Archipelago. Pussy Riot do seem to have engaged in an explicitness of political intent that does not seem to have featured for the Plastics (Sebestyen perhaps adds a gloss by seeing the Plastics as having sparked a revolution that, via Charter 77, led to the fall of Communism in 1989); and to have engaged in an anti-religious statement that, too, does not appear to have been there for the Plastics.

But, to follow a line of analysis that Havel suggested with regard to the Plastics: when you cut through all the details of the case, each worthy of its own distinct evaluation - see Cranmer here and here, who covers most of the details; or Fr Ray reflecting some other comment from a Catholic angle; the question arising from the apparent close relationship between the Patriarch and the President here; or, for a comparison between the sentences given to the three girls and those given to participants in last year's riots in England, here; or my own reflection which would be about the place of vulgar language in any form of art - are we looking at "an attack by the totalitarian system on life itself, on the very essence of human freedom and integrity"?

And to follow Havel again, who regularly identified in the free West the same moral crisis that he saw in the (then) Communist states, have the liberal Western nations really understood the point? Are the cultural elites of these Western countries not just as intolerant of anything that is different to their own point of view as the authorities in Russia have been towards Pussy Riot, and as the Communists in Czechoslovakia were towards the Plastics in 1976? Are they not just as guilty of having governing apparatus' that do not admit the space that is due to individual conscience?

Friday 17 August 2012

von Balthasar on Marriage

The "Meditation of the Day" in Magnificat for today is an extract from Hans Urs von Balthasar's The Glory of the Lord Vol. 1. The extract makes more sense if, before reading it, you look at Matthew 19:3-12, which is the Gospel reading at Mass today. An intuitive sense of what von Balthasar intends by the word "form" in this passage will do for understanding the passage; but a grasp of the complex and particular philosophical background to this term does make it a bit less obscure. The warning of the last paragraph has, in the present political context, a relevance that perhaps could only have been guessed at the time of the original writing.
What could be stronger than marriage, or what shapes any particular life-form more profoundly than does marriage? And marriage is only true to itself if it is a kind of bracket that both transcends and contains all an individual's cravings to "break out" of its bonds and assert himself. Marriage is that indissoluble reality which confronts with an iron hand all existence's tendencies to disintegrate, and it compels the faltering person to grow, beyond himself, into real love by modelling his life on the form enjoined.

When they make their promises, the spouses are not relying on themselves - the shifting songs of their own freedom - but rather on the form that chooses them because they have chosen it, the form to which they have committed themselves in their act as persons. As persons, the spouses entrust themselves not only to the beloved "thou" and to the biological laws of fertility and family; they entrust themselves foremost to a form with which they can wholly identify themselves even in the deepest aspects of their personality because this form extends through all the levels of life - from its biological roots up to the very heights of grace and of life in the Holy Spirit. And now, suddenly, all fruitfulness, all freedom, is discovered within the form itself, and the life of a married person can henceforth be understood only in terms of this interior mystery ... which mystery is no longer accessible from the profane sphere of the general.

But what are we to say of the person who ignores this form and tramples it underfoot, then to enter into relationships answerable only to his own psychology's principle of "this far and no further?" He is but quick-sand, doomed to certain barrenness. The form of marriage, too, from which derives the beauty of human existence, is today more than ever entrusted to the care of Christians.

Thursday 16 August 2012

Three University Colleges set to become Catholic Universities

The September 2012 issue of FAITH TODAY carries an article entitled Degrees of Change. This covers the expectation that, at some point during the Autumn, the three Catholic University Colleges - St Mary's in Twickenham, Newman College in Birmingham and Leeds Trinity - will become Universities in their own right. The barrier that has so far existed to this step is the requirement that, to be a University in their own right, these colleges needed to enrol at least 4 000 students. That regulation has now been scrapped. The article is based on conversations with the principals of Newman and Leeds Trinity Colleges.

The FAITH TODAY article has prompted two lines of thought. The first is prompted by the repeated reference in the article to the way in which the student is put at the centre of what the Catholic Universities-to-be do, with the smaller size of the institutions compared to other universities being a factor in this.
When we say our students come first, and that they're names not numbers, we know that really does mean something. Lots of universities say it, of course, be we feel there's a depth to our pledge and that we really do practice what we preach ...

Our basis is what Cardinal Newman said - he always believed that the rationale for a university was its students, and we've always seen ourselves as a student-centred institution. The individual is genuinely central for us.
Care for the students at an individual level is, of course, a quite praiseworthy practice. But it does not define either a specific identity as an educational institution or a specific identity as a Catholic institution, and the Universities-to-be possess both of these identities. One would hope, for example, that local sports clubs might have the same sense of the individual with regard to their members. A quick - very quick, so corrections in the com-box if necessary - glance suggests that Cardinal Newman's assertion that the rationale of a university was its students has a more specific reference. The context of his discussion was a distinction between the teaching function of a university - without which a university would indeed have no students at all - and the research function of a university, which Newman preferred to identify with (research) academies separate from (teaching) universities. See the first paragraphs of his preface to The Idea of a University. The other element of Newman's sense of the place of the student was that he saw the purpose of the education given by the university as being in the cultivation of the intellect and an associated integration of knowledge. The student-centredness that Newman sought to express appears more specifically educational than generically pastoral, and can be associated with an identity as an educational institution.

My second line of thought is prompted by what the FAITH TODAY article has to say about the proportion of the student body at the Universities-to-be who are Catholics:
At their inception, all three catered very largely for Catholic students: today, the number of Catholic students at Newman is around 15%. "Other Christians make up around 55% of the total, Muslims make up around 13%," says [the principal of Newman College]. "Beyond these groups, we have Hindus, Sikhs - and, of course, non-believers"

But it doesn't matter, he says, what creed students belong to, or whether they don't believe at all: it's individuality that's prized at the new Catholic universities. And at a time when access to higher education is high on the agenda the Catholic institutions have long championed the right of students from any background to have the chance to study there.
 I do find it interesting to reflect on the implications of that low proportion of Catholic students. I am not at all of the view that the student body needs to be predominantly Catholic for a University to have a Catholic identity.The provisions of the Apostolic Constitution Ex corde ecclesia recognise that not all the student body of a Catholic university will be Catholics; the Constitution does not make any comment on the proportion of Catholics to non-Catholics among the student body, only doing so as far as the faculty are concerned (see Article 4-4 of the General Norms). But, without making any statement that their non-Catholic students are not valued members of their learning communities, surely the Universities-to-be should be seeking to increase the proportion of Catholic students following their courses, just as they might seek to increase applications from minority communities? One side of this question has to do with the educational and Catholic identity of the institutions themselves - is that identity sufficiently educational and is it sufficiently Catholic? The other side has to to with the wider Catholic community and its appreciation of educational and Catholic identity in universities in general and in Catholic universities in particular - do they really understand the vision of a Catholic higher education institution, as it is expressed in Part I of Ex corde ecclesia, for example?

What I found most telling in the remarks accredited to the principal of Newman College was the observation that, "it doesn't matter, he says, what creed students belong to, or whether they don't believe at all". In the intended sense that non-Catholics, and even those of no religious belief, should be able to study at the Catholic Universities-to-be, this is unexceptional. But if you put it beside Ex corde ecclesia's two-fold statement of the educational and Catholic identities of a Catholic University, and the expectation of Article 4-4 of Ex corde ecclesia's General Norms that all students are to recognise and respect the distinctive Catholic identity of the University, then it does begin to matter what the students believe. Though they may not hold Catholic beliefs, they nevertheless do need to share something at least of the two-fold identity, with perhaps the advancement of human dignity and of a cultural heritage, and an at least latent recognition of some form of transcendent goal in life, a minimum measure of that. Clearly, this cannot be formulated in the manner of "admissions criteria", and it would be utterly inappropriate to attempt to do so. On the other hand, and perhaps just as much for Catholic students as for non-Catholic, it should be recognised that students should be educated to share, in so far as they are able, in the two-fold identity of the Universities-to-be.

To finish: Ex corde ecclesia's statement of the two fold identity of a Catholic University, alongside which can be placed a statement of identity agreed between the three Universities-to-be :
12. Every Catholic University, as a university, is an academic community which, in a rigorous and critical fashion, assists in the protection and advancement of human dignity and of a cultural heritage through research, teaching and various services offered to the local, national and international communities. It possesses that institutional autonomy necessary to perform its functions effectively and guarantees its members academic freedom, so long as the rights of the individual person and of the community are preserved within the confines of the truth and the common good.
13. Since the objective of a Catholic University is to assure in an institutional manner a Christian presence in the university world confronting the great problems of society and culture, every Catholic University, as Catholic, must have the following essential characteristics:
"1. a Christian inspiration not only of individuals but of the university community as such;
2. a continuing reflection in the light of the Catholic faith upon the growing treasury of human knowledge, to which it seeks to contribute by its own research;
3. fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church;
4. an institutional commitment to the service of the people of God and of the human family in their pilgrimage to the transcendent goal which gives meaning to life".

Monday 13 August 2012

Olympics Week Two: Religion

Part way through last week, Zero sent me a text pointing out that television coverage showed a number of the athletes taking part in the London Olympics making the sign of the cross before taking part in their events, and then praying again at the (successful) end of their event. At the time I responded cautiously (see below), but it is certainly worth reflecting just how much of a presence religion, and in particular manifestations of Christian belief, has had at the Olympic Games. The Vatican News Service/Vatican Radio has picked up this aspect of the Olympic Games, and, rightly in my view, points out that it is a clear but unspoken feature of the Games.

I haven't been able to find out where it was in the Olympic Park, but there was a "Faith" centre - what in the past would have been called, and probably still is in most people's every day language, a chaplaincy centre. This was multi-faith in character, with the Catholic Church taking part. [UPDATE: but see the comments.] Reports indicate that Mass was celebrated there three times each day. A link from the official Olympic Games wesbite gave information about Churches and places of worship of all the major religions, with links to websites of those faith communities. I was able to listen to BBC Radio 2, with Chris Evans broadcasting from the Olympic on the mornings of the Olympic Games. At about 9.15 am on at least two mornings, the "Pause for Thought" spot in the programme was taken by chaplains accompanying Olympic teams from other countries. The Mass celebrated at Westminster Cathedral to mark the opening of the Games "was attended by almost a 1000 people from all over the world, including dignitaries such as the Ambassador of Paraguay, High Commissioner of Jamaica, High Commissioner of Trinidad, and international Chaplains to the Olympic Teams."

So perhaps the first message that a secularised British culture can learn from the Olympic Games - that is, from one of the most profound expressions of culture the world has to offer - is that, for many of its participants, religious faith has been a part and parcel of their way of taking part. For those athletes who made the sign of the cross before their events, that sign is much less exceptional for them than it has been for us who have seen it on television. Just as Edith Stein describes a point in her intellectual development where the encounter with fellow philosophers of stature who held religious beliefs prompted her to recognise that the field of religion was one worthy of phenomenological study; so perhaps expressions of British culture should now recognise that religion as a phenomenon is not something that can be excluded from public life and culture.

The second thought is that the engagement of the Catholic Church in outreach activity around the Olympic Games has proven to be a very prescient contribution to the religious culture of the Games. Three Catholic parishes in East London, for example, have between them maintained continuous Eucharistic adoration for the duration of most of the Games. The Sion Community have animated the Joshua Camp, an evangelisation project involving outreach in locations near to the Games (and at St Patrick's Soho Square, for their Nightfever). Details of these activities are at the Brentwood Diocese website.

Cranmer led the way in commenting on the manner of the BBC's coverage of Usain Bolt's Christian faith - they ignored it - and Fr Tim has picked up the confusion caused to commentators by Meseret Defar's act of witness. I am struck though by the difference between these two examples. The first is a "celebrity", a sporting "super star" (and see my observations on this here). Meseret Defar is an unknown (or at least she was). The content of the first act of witness was somewhat generic. By displaying an image of the Mother and Son, Meseret Defar bore witness to an explicit content of her Orthodox faith, an image that in itself is profoundly evangelising. Meseret Defar has also shown not inconsiderable skill in the use of the media - her image of the Mother and Son has gone round the world, just as much as has her own picture. Is it those atheletes who are not celebrities who have really given the most effective witness to their Christian faith at the Olympics?

Which brings me back to the caution that I expressed in response to Zero's text half way through the week. Undoubtedly, sporting ability, as with any other talent (to use the Biblical word), is something that is received as a gift from God that can be used to his greater glory. An athelete can rightly give thanks to God for success in this field, and in public not only in private. But is it always going to be the case that a particular instance of sporting success (or any other success) represents the will of God? This requires a certain discernment, rather than a presumption, on the part of the athlete concerned. My caution was with regard to those whose Christian belief is of a non-ecclesial nature, where the idea of discernment can lack an objective character and where there can be a mis-placed presentation of success in the world as a sign of God's blessing.

All of which brings us back to the importance of the engagement of the Catholic Church at events such as the Olympics ...

[UPDATE: I did not see the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games, or listen to it on the radio. The pre-publicity suggested to me that it wasn't going to be worth the candle (ie the late night). Zero's view of the music was the same as the one I had formed from the pre-publicity - rubbish. Humblepiety's post The Olympics: A Tale of Two Ceremonies offers an interesting critique of the closing ceremony, particularly in the light of the opening ceremony. It takes up in part the themes of my post above, and I endorse particularly its view of songs such as "Always look on the bright side of life" and "Imagine".]

Sunday 12 August 2012

Olympics Week Two: Respect

"Respect" - a word that can mean some rather different things depending on the context and the place in which it is used.

In the street language (not intended in a negative or derogatory sense) of cities characterised by the presence of differing cultures, its use has a fundamental and worrying ambiguity. It can be used as a greeting between friends - "Respect" - and has an interesting parallel among some Asian young people of everyone in the group shaking hands with each other when they meet or separate, or a new arrival making a point of shaking hands with everyone as they arrive. It's use can represent a genuine courtesy. Or it can represent the intimidation and threat of a gang member who demands "Respect" - that is, fear and obeisance.

It has also become a strap-line with a variety of meanings in the realm of general politics (think George Galloway) and the politics of anti-racism, and for social organising in response to various forms of discrimination. The English Football Association has used "Respect" as the title of a programme aimed at improving the experience of everyone involved in football at every level.

During the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games, the President of the International Olympic Committee said to the athletes about to compete in the Games (my emphasis added):
Now you have a chance to become true Olympians. That honour is determined not by whether you win but by how you compete. Character counts far more than medals. Reject doping. Respect your opponent.
Jacques Rogge here used the word "respect" in its original meaning, asking the athletes to treat their fellow competitors with the proper regard due to them as persons and as fellow participants in a grand enterprise for which they have all prepared at some effort, a regard that represents a profound equality between the multiple gold medal winner and the athlete who comes last in the qualifying round of their only Olympic event.

From listening to media coverage during this week, it appears that some events have their own unwritten courtesies, their own ways of showing respect for other competitors. So the winner of the heptathalon event is, by custom and practice, accompanied by the other competitors for the lap of honour round the stadium. In rowing, the medals were presented on a pontoon without a podium, with all three medal winning crews on the same level. In part this has a practical aspect (three crews of eight would fall off a traditional podium) but, according to the coverage I heard, it is also intended as a sign of respect for the non-winning crews. I am sure that there are other examples like this tucked away among the many sports represented in the Olympic Games.

But what about the behaviour of the super stars of the Games? Do their trade mark performances before and after their events really show proper respect for their fellow competitors? Kris Akabusi has written something along these lines: Akabusi: Bolt gives to athletics, but also takes away. Usain Bolt might be the most obvious example, but in the "celebrity games" there are others who have gone into events with a presumption of success that has not always materialised. The news media certainly have had a part to play in this, but one cannot therefore take away from the athletes themselves their share of the responsibility. And, after an event, what is the point at which a rightful celebration of success becomes an arrogance towards fellow competitors?

Returning to Jacques Rogge's use of the word "respect". Exactly what is the shade of meaning that we believe athletes should give to that word in terms of the way in which they compete and behave?

Kris Akabusi suggests Kirani James as a counter example to Usain Bolt:
Just look at Kirani James, the Olympic 400 metres champion and Grenada's first ever medallist. He embodies the Olympic spirit: what a great example he is setting for youngsters all over the world. After he won the final, he went and shook the hand of every single competitor. When he beat Oscar Pistorius in the semi-final, he even went over to trade his number with the South African as James was so humbled to have competed against a man who has overcome so much just to be able to run in these Games.
And I am sure that there have been other examples of this style of respect for fellow competitors during the course of the Games.

[UPDATE: This story, too, demonstrates a form of respect for an opponent that deserves to be better known: A moment of Olympic glory that could never be caught on camera.]

Friday 10 August 2012

London Exhibition: Life and Spirituality of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

Hat tip to Auntie Joanna. I visited this exhibition yesterday, and would entirely endorse Aunty's observation that it is "WELL WELL WORTH IT" (Aunty's capitals).

Blessed Teresa is someone I have up to now known about rather than feeling that I have known her, if you can get a hold of what I mean by that distinction. The exhibition really does enable you to get to know Blessed Teresa, both as a person and as someone whose life is lived in a radical following of God's call.

It is easy to see how the founding of the Missionaries of Charity meets a great need that exists in the world of today. This is evidenced by the expansion of the order throughout the world and by the clear evidence of the poverty to which they respond. But the exhibition indicates very clearly the charismatic inspiration given to Mother Teresa - her "call within a call" - given in a direct action of God in her soul that lies at the beginning of the Order she founded. [During her life Mother Teresa appears to have kept much of this experience to herself; the explicitly charismatic aspect indicated in the exhibition appears to have emerged during the gathering of evidence for her beatification.] From an ecclesial point of view, it is faithfulness to this charism that constitutes the efficacy of the family of the Missionaries of Charity. In recognsing the Constitutions of the Order, the Church has recognised the authenticity of this founding charism.

The exhibition also indicates the two-fold nature of the charism given to Blessed Teresa. Starting from the words of Jesus on the Cross - "I thirst" - the Missionaries of Charity aim is to quench the infinite thirst of Jesus for love of souls, and to do this in a radical action on behalf of the poorest of the poor. The Eucharistic/contemplative aspect and practical work with the poorest people of their neighbourhoods - these well-known elements of the life of the Missionaries of Charity today are rooted in the original charismatic gift given to Blessed Teresa.

The last aspect of Blessed Teresa's charism, again well portrayed in the exhibition, is that of her darkness, the fact that she lived many years of her life with a profound sense of an absence of God. Much misunderstood by main stream media, this should again be seen as a particular charism given to Blessed Teresa along the lines of the experience of St John of the Cross or of those who receive the gift of the stigmata.

The main exhibition is made up of a sequence of display boards covering Blessed Teresa's life, her formation with the Loreto Sisters, the founding of the Missionaries of Charity and the development of the order and its various branches. There are also some cabinets displaying items used by Mother Teresa, examples of her handwriting, the certificate of her Nobel Peace Prize and the like. There is also a reconstruction of her room at the Mother House in Calcutta. One room of the exhibition is a chapel, with the Blessed Sacrament, typical of that to be found in the houses of the Missionaries of Charity and so giving to the exhibition the character of prayer. A fifty minute DVD, weaving together an interview Mother Teresa and images from her state funeral in India to present the key themes of her charism, is being shown every hour starting at half past the hour. If you are going to watch the video and make a full visit to the main exhibition you probably need to allow two and a half hours. I would suggest doing two visits, one to watch the video and another to view the main exhibition, with a break in between.

The exhibition can be viewed at St Patrick's Soho Square until 15th September. It is open 11 am to 7 pm, Tuesday to Sunday (closed Monday). Access is not from Soho Square, but from Charing Cross Road. From Foyle's bookshop walk up towards Tottenham Court Road (towards the massive building site), on the left hand side of the road. You will find posters and signs directing you round the works towards the entrance to the exhibition.

And a final thought: particularly as one watches the DVD, there is a great sense of the way in which the exhibition represents an action of the new evangelisation.

Thursday 9 August 2012

St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)

My favourite saint.

This is the biography published on the Vatican website, to mark her canonisation.

And a piece I wrote a year ago which likens her life to that of Blessed John Henry Newman.
 "We bow down before the testimony of the life and death of Edith Stein, an outstanding daughter of Israel and at the same time a daughter of the Carmelite Order, Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, a personality who united within her rich life a dramatic synthesis of our century. It was the synthesis of a history full of deep wounds that are still hurting ... and also the synthesis of the full truth about man. All this came together in a single heart that remained restless and unfulfilled until it finally found rest in God." These were the words of Pope John Paul II when he beatified Edith Stein in Cologne on 1 May 1987.

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Pope Paul VI: "misunderstood and underrated"

To mark the anniversary of his death, Vatican Radio have posted an archive interview that gives an insight into the personality of Pope Paul VI. Whilst the interview only touches on what one might term matters of "policy" or the particular actions of Pope Paul's pontificate, it is nevertheless worth listening to the end.

At the time of the interview, Paul VI might have appeared to be in the shadow of Pope John XXIII. Looking back now, his pontificate appears much more in the shadow of those of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. One thing that emerges from the Vatican Radio interview is the idea of how Pope Paul VI initiated some things taken for granted today - overseas travels by the Pope, meeting with journalists on the plane, for example. The Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei, promulgating the Year of Faith which will start in October, draws on the Year of Faith called by Pope Paul VI and the profession of faith, since known as the Credo of the People of God, with which he concluded that year.

I am convinced that an honest appraisal of the pontificate of Pope Paul VI (which cannot be separated from an understanding of his particular charism in the Church of his time - and how one can understand the promulgation of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae outside an idea of a specific charism is beyond me) will demonstrate how, just as Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have been since, he was the correct Pope for his time. I am also convinced that it will demonstrate that he has a stature in the Church to match that of his successors. The forthcoming Year of Faith, because of its resonance with that called by Pope Paul VI, offers an opportunity for precisely such an appraisal.

Year of Faith: Official website

I have just added a link alongside to the website for the Year of Faith, hosted by the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation.

There is a lot to explore on the site.

Tuesday 7 August 2012

Role Models

It is possible to watch the whole of the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympic Games here. I was only wanting to check out the short speech by Mr Jacques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committtee, towards the end of the ceremony.... but found myself watching rather more than just that. What I think impressed me most in the "Pandemonium" sequence was representation of the pouring of molten steel and forging of an olympic ring, which I thought was done quite brilliantly, the whole sequence really looking like what would have happened in a steel works.

The following is my own transcript of some of the words of Mr Rogge. You can find his full words in the video link above. Addressing the atheletes about to take part in the Games, Mr Rogge said:
Your talent, your dedication and your commitment have brought you here. Now you have a chance to become true Olympians. That honour is determined not by whether you win but by how you compete. Character counts far more than medals. Reject doping. Respect your opponent. Remember that you are all role models. If you do that you will inspire a generation.
In referring to the athletes as role models, the President of the Olympic Committee in all probability wished to refer to them as being models for others who may take up sport inspired by them. But, as in other spheres of public life, being a role model extends to life as a whole and is not limited to just the athletes' participation in sport. Mr Rogge's reference to "character" hints at this wider implication of being a role model.

I found the willingness of the President of the Olympic Committee to refer to the athletes taking part in the Olympic Games as "role models" very interesting, and worth some reflection as far as its wider implications are concerned.

And particularly in the light of this type of reporting, which gives a certain impression of life in the Olympic village, an impression which may or may not be true. Towards the end of that Guardian article, one Ryan Lochte, a repeat visitor to the medal podium in the aquatic centre at the London games, is quoted as saying:
"My last Olympics, I had a girlfriend - big mistake. Now I'm single, so London should be really good".
I suspect that this is not quite the role-modelling that Mr Rogge had in mind!

Someone who has made a good impression on me has been Hope Powell, the coach of the Team GB women's football team. The way in which she conducted herself on the touchline during the game against Brazil at Wembley set an example that some premiership managers would do well to learn from. The glimpses of her in the video at the top if this report are enough to indicate what I am referring to.

[As a PS: I was very interested, too, in the willingness to include "Abide with me" in the Opening Ceremony. It's presentation by Emeli Sande and contemporary dance made sure that it came across in a very positive manner. Emeli Sande and Akram Khan, the dancer and choreographer, describe the experience in a report in the London Evening Standard.]

Sunday 5 August 2012

Olympics Week One

Saturday 12.30: depart East London
Saturday 18.00: arrive Llangattock, dinner at the Red Lion Llangynidr.

Sunday: lazy stroll along the bank of the River Usk, followed by evening Mass in Abergavenny. Don't do mornings on holiday. Below is the bridge across the Usk at Crickhowell, taken mid-afternoon. Please note my artistic catching of the sunlight on the small water fall just below the bridge.

Monday: Walk from Llangenny up Sugar Loaf Mountain and back. NOT a lazy walk! Lunch at the top, caught in a shower, but otherwise a good walk. Brilliant views. Top of Sugar Loaf Mountain before the shower:

Tuesday: Table Mountain. Easy after Sugar Loaf. Evening: dinner at Red Lion, as above, and watch first half of the womens Team GB football at Wembley - drive back to our "home" in time for second half. [PS: brother-in-law and three nephews/niece at Wembley for this game, on first tier above what was the Brazilian goal in the first half! They had a wonderful time.] Some photographs from Table Mountain, the first looking across to Sugar Loaf Mountain ... see the difference! The second was a picturesque spot on the (longer) way back down.

Wednesday: pilgrimage to Hay-on-Wye. Very restrained, only £38 spent. A history of the Trades Union Congress and a collection of articles on the unity of Christians by Cardinal Bea, published on the eve of the Second Vatican Council. As in reading some books on matters liturgical published at about the same time, it is interesting to see what was taken for granted before "the changes".

Thursday: A superb walk from the Brecon Beacons visitor centre. Brilliant views and very varied terrain. It wasn't quite as gentle as the blurb suggested, with a couple of sustained sections of steep-ish uphill. And about a mile out from the finish we were treated to a red kite sweeping across before us on the hunt for a late lunch or an early dinner. Rather less in keeping was the RAF helicopter which flew just 20 m or so above us about 10 minutes later!

Friday: Llangattock and the Craig y Cilau nature reserve. The walk we did took us on a downward loop into Llangattock village, a short stretch along the Brecon and Monmouth Canal .... and then a steep climb up to about half way up the escarpment. Part of our route was the path of the former tram way (ie single track horse drawn railway) used to bring limestone down from the cliffs to the canal. Lovely views from the top of this climb while we had our lunch. We got a bit confused at one point on the way along the escarpment and down into the valley again:

Saturday morning: a visit to the Big Pit at nearby Blaenavon. This is Wales' National Coal Mining museum. We found the undergound tour disappointing compared to that at the English National Coal Mining museum, but some of what is demonstrated undergound in the latter is shown in above ground exhibitions at the Big Pit. The exhibition in the pit head baths and the Mining Galleries are an important part of a visit to the Big Pit. The buildings have been preserved much as they were when the mine ceased operating, so the offices and lamp room have a dated feel! The canaries - used by mines rescue teams to detect poisonous gases - are still kept, too. The slag heaps, now to a large extent covered by vegetation, are visible on the hillside opposite the pit. The interest in mining arises from the fact that my father was Bevin Boy towards the end of the Second World War. He was able to march past the Cenotaph with the Bevin Boys Association on the first occasion that the Association was allowed to join the Remembrance Day parade.

[PS: two nephews at the morning session in the Olympic Stadium to see Jessica Ennis doing the javelin and 100 m heats with Usain Bolt et al, plus others. They were part of a group of competitors who had represented their borough in the 'mini'-marathon race that precedes the London Marathon each year.]

Saturday evening: back home.