Sunday 29 December 2013

Homiletic thoughts for the Feast of the Holy Family

At Mass this morning, the celebrating priest abandoned his prepared homily in favour of sharing with the faithful some of Pope Paul VI's address given at Nazareth on 5th January 1964. An extract from this address forms the second reading of the Office of Readings for the feast day, and can be found at the Universalis website here; father had prayed it shortly before Mass. The full text, in the original French, can be found at the Vatican website here. Father used the Universalis English text which is, I understand, different in some respects from that printed in the books of the Divine Office used in England and Wales (cf Fr Lucie-Smith's comment here). Father shared with the faithful three lessons that Pope Paul VI indicated we could learn from the place of Nazareth:
First, we learn from its silence. If only we could once again appreciate its great value. We need this wonderful state of mind, beset as we are by the cacophony of strident protests and conflicting claims so characteristic of these turbulent times. The silence of Nazareth should teach us how to meditate in peace and quiet, to reflect on the deeply spiritual, and to be open to the voice of God’s inner wisdom and the counsel of his true teachers. Nazareth can teach us the value of study and preparation, of meditation, of a well-ordered personal spiritual life, and of silent prayer that is known only to God.
Second, we learn about family life. May Nazareth serve as a model of what the family should be. May it show us the family’s holy and enduring character and exemplify its basic function in society: a community of love and sharing, beautiful for the problems it poses and the rewards it brings, in sum, the perfect setting for rearing children – and for this there is no substitute.
 Finally, in Nazareth, the home of a craftsman’s son, we learn about work and the discipline it entails. I would especially like to recognise its value – demanding yet redeeming – and to give it proper respect. I would remind everyone that work has its own dignity. On the other hand, it is not an end in itself. Its value and free character, however, derive not only from its place in the economic system, as they say, but rather from the purpose it serves.
The second homiletic thought is from the "Day by Day" reading in Magnificat for today. It is part of an intervention by Liugi Giussani at a meeting on "The Fatherhood of God and Fatherhood in the Family" organised by the Pontifical Council for the Family in 1999. The full text was published in Communion and Liberation's magazine Traces in October 1999.
What can a father and mother wish more than to be able to look at and deal with their children with this gaze on what is human, in the imitation of Christ? Then, what is implied by the fact that a man and a woman want their union to be "blessed" by Christ and thus to become a Sacrament? This implies that the unity of their persons is understood and lived in function of God's Kingdom, and therefore of the human glory of Christ. Life itself is given us for this. The expression "human glory of Christ" means that the Mystery makes itself in some way visible, tangible, perceivable, experienceable because of a new reality that is created in its name.
The family is the locus of education in belonging, of education to the experience of fatherhood and, hence, of motherhood. In the family it is evident that the fundamental element in development of the person lies in the mutual, conjugated belonging of two factors: man and woman.
It is in the family that true belonging reveals itself as freedom, for true belonging is freedom. Freedom is that capacity to adhere-to the point of identification and assimilation-to what makes us be, to our Destiny, and it is made possible by our bond with it.
In ways that might not have been foreseen at the times at which these two speeches were first delivered, they both have a very striking relevance to the situation of the family after the widespread adoption of legislative proposals in favour of same-sex unions. It is probably also true that they reflect to a significantly lesser degree the actual experience of families today than at the times that they were delivered. However, even in those circumstances where family life is lived in a broken or imperfect way, it is nevertheless lived in an orientation towards the objective content and value of married/family life. In exercising the "catechetical moment" the Church can rightly offer the teaching of these two homiletic thoughts; and, in the accompanying "pastoral moment" that responds to the situation of individual families, the Church walks alongside and accompanies in practical and spiritual ways families that experience hardship and challenge.

Wednesday 25 December 2013

The grace which was revealed in our world is Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, true man and true God.

On this night, like a burst of brilliant light, there rings out the proclamation of the Apostle: “God's grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race” (Tit 2:11).

Pope Francis' homily at Midnight Mass.

The text itself is beautiful. But also moving is the image of Pope Francis venerating the statue of the Christ Child.

Monday 23 December 2013

Professionalism, Service and Holiness of Life

Pope Francis' recent address during the annual exchange of Christmas greetings with the members of the Roman Curia was very different in character to the one delivered at this time last year by Pope Benedict. Where the latter offered a survey, and analysis, of the key themes of the preceding year in the life of the Church, Pope Francis instead recognised and affirmed the nature of the tasks undertaken by those who work in the Curia.

My immediate thought as I read the text of Pope Francis' address was that it could apply just as much to the lay faithful in their working lives as it does to the officials of the Roman Curia. For the lay person, professionalism is about being able to do your job effectively - just as it is for the Curia. Carrying out the tasks of one's employment as a service can be very readily seen in jobs such as teaching or nursing, but perhaps less so in jobs such as engineering or managing a factory. Pope Francis' words encourage those who work for businesses, or run businesses that employ workers, to see that business as in some way a shared enterprise; the contribution of each to the success of the business represents a service to the community of all who have a stake in that business. Pope Francis' advocacy of a "conscientious objection to gossip" has ready application in any work place.

Pope Francis' words prompted two further reflections on my part. In the light of the recent consideration in the Church of the mission of the "new evangelisation", I have been considering for some time now the relationship between the professional competence of the layperson and their effectiveness as an evangeliser. In the workplace, or among peers, it is the effective carrying out of a day-to-day job that gives one a "way in", a credibility with colleagues. It is possible to be assertive in offering a Catholic point of view ... but that is not going to be taken seriously if you are someone who cannot do their job properly. So I think we should not underestimate the significance for evangelical effectiveness of professional training and competence.

The second reflection is related to the thought that many of the tasks undertaken in the Roman Curia do not require the dignity conferred by the Sacrament of Holy Orders. They might require a certain professional expertise that a priest, bishop or religious might gain during their formation; but there is no reason why a lay person with the same training should not be appointed to at least some of those roles. Ordination and religious profession might confer an office on its subject; but that can be distinguished from an exercise of authority or power (ordered towards service) that might go with a job in the Curia. Pope Francis' consideration of holiness of life can certainly apply just as much to the lay faithful in their day-to-day work as it does to those working for the Curia; but it indicates also an ecclesial orientation or sense in the manner of professionalism and service that applies particularly to working in the Curia. It is possible, then, to see in this consideration of holiness of life a kind of preferring of the priest, bishop or religious, though not an exclusion of the lay faithful, to carry out jobs in the Curia. The lay faithful who might share this ecclesial sense in a sufficient way are those who have been formed within one or other of the new ecclesial movements.

Friday 20 December 2013

Keep Calm and Trust Pope Francis

Keep Calm and Trust Pope Francis. Or can I express it in more traditional terms -  where is Peter there is the Church? Perhaps not perfect, depending on your point of view .... but the Church nevertheless.

Thursday 19 December 2013

Chapter and Verse (or Canon and Excommunication)

"It must be true, I saw it in the paper." Or, in the idiom of the 21st century:  "it must be true, I saw it on a blog". It is sometimes interesting to go back to the original sources to investigate an assertion that appears to have become common place simply for having been oft repeated unchallenged on blogs, even Catholic blogs.

Let's try looking at the assertion that politicians who vote in favour of legislation allowing procured abortion should be excommunicated or barred from receiving Holy Communion, if Canon Law and the teaching of Evangelium Vitae are implemented properly.

The relevant Canons of the 1983 Code of Canon Law are considered below.

Canons 915 and 916  address the question of those who should not be admitted to Holy Communion (those "excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin") and those who, on their own initiative, should not come forward to receive (those who are "conscious of grave sin", and who should seek sacramental absolution before receiving).

Canon 1329 considers the situation of accomplices in an action for which the principle actor has suffered a penalty, and it is n.2 referring to latae sententiae penalties that is most relevant:
Accomplices who are not named in a law or precept incur a latae sententiae penalty attached to a delict if without their assistance the delict would not have been committed, and the penalty is of such a nature that it can affect them; otherwise, they can be punished by ferendae sententiae penalties.
Canon 1398 refers to the procuring of a direct abortion:

A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.
Or, as it is translated in my text edition of the Code:
A person who actually procures an abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.
When we turn to Evangelium Vitae, n.62 points out the provisions of both Canon 1329 and 1398, and indicates a reason for the penalty of excommunication:
The excommunication affects all those who commit this crime with knowledge of the penalty attached, and thus includes those accomplices without whose help the crime would not have been committed. By this reiterated sanction, the Church makes clear that abortion is a most serious and dangerous crime, thereby encouraging those who commit it to seek without delay the path of conversion. In the Church the purpose of the penalty of excommunication is to make an individual fully aware of the gravity of a certain sin and then to foster genuine conversion and repentance.
It is n.73 which addresses the situation of politicians who are asked to vote in favour of legislation allowing abortion. The subject is addressed, less in the context of a question of co-operation with any subsequent abortions that might take place, and more in the context of the moral licitness of a law which so fundamentally offends a human right:
Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection....
In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to "take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it".
Evangelium Vitae n.74 discusses the problem of co-operation that occurs as a result of legalised abortion, and I add emphasis to highlight how Evangelium Vitae understands this co-operation:
Christians, like all people of good will, are called upon under grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God's law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. Such cooperation occurs when an action, either by its very nature or by the form it takes in a concrete situation, can be defined as a direct participation in an act against innocent human life or a sharing in the immoral intention of the person committing it. This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it. Each individual in fact has moral responsibility for the acts which he personally performs; no one can be exempted from this responsibility, and on the basis of it everyone will be judged by God himself (cf. Rom 2:6; 14:12). 
This seems to me to represent the juridical situation against which we can evaluate the question of whether or not Catholic politicians who have voted in favour of legislation permitting abortion should be excommunicated or barred from receiving Communion. I would conclude that such a politician has:
cf Evangelium Vitae n.73, has committed a morally illicit act, and that that act goes against a "grave and clear obligation" to do otherwise; that is, provided the act has been undertaken with full knowledge of its gravity and appropriate freedom from coercion, it fulfils the conditions for what is traditionally termed a mortal sin;
In the light of this, he or she is obliged by Canon 916 not to receive Holy Communion without first seeking sacramental absolution
not necessarily met the condition of "obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin" which would justify a sacred minister refusing them Holy Communion; the circumstances might mean they have met this or not and would turn on the judgement of a particular case
not acted such that they might be considered an accomplice in, or a co-operator with, any individual act of procured abortion that might follow upon the enactment of the legislation, and which would attract the latae sententiae excommunication attached to such complicity or co-operation in a directly procured abortion by Canon 1398 cf Canon 1329; their participation in the network of structural complicity described in n.59 of Evangelium Vitae does not constitute that closeness of co-operation with an individual act of abortion that qualifies for the latae sententiae excommunication
Since it does not appear to me to automatically be the case that a politician voting in favour of legislation permitting abortion has fulfilled the conditions that would demand barring from Communion under Canon 915 or excommunication under Canons 1329 and 1398 - they may have done so in some situations or they may not have done so in others - I am unable to share in the opprobrium that some are directing towards bishops in this regard. It seems to me that a first responsibility lies with the Catholic politician under Canon 916 not to approach to receive Communion, and that there might be much better traction to be gained by pointing this out than by attacking bishops. I would also reflect on the purpose of excommunication in favour of repentance and conversion - cf Evangelium Vitae n.62. A pastor could certainly attempt to bring about this conversion in a manner other than by excommunication.

I posted in June on how these kinds of considerations might apply to politicians voting in favour of legislation with regard to same-sex unions: Same-sex marriage: ecclesial aftermath. I concluded that post with two points. The first was to suggest that the fundamental question at stake was less one of a need for an act of authority and more one of acting in a manner that most effectively promoted the witness of the Church to her teaching. I also observed that bishops cannot make up the loss to that witness occurring because the lay faithful do not fulfil their office; and, equally, the lay faithful cannot make up the loss to that witness that occurs when bishops do not fulfil their office. In this sense, I judged that an act of ecclesial authority intended only to reverse the poor witness of Catholic politicians simply is not going to deliver that reversal; of its nature it cannot do so. And, as I am doing here, I suggested that the promoting of obligations under Canon 916 might well represent a more effective path of witness to Catholic teaching.

And as a kind of postscript, I make two further points. Was it really the case that the bishops of Ireland failed to speak out against the legislation that has now been passed by the Irish legislature? I link to the homily of Archbishop Michael Neary at Knock on 1st June 2013. It really cannot be clearer about Catholic teaching, and its appeal to politicians is equally clear in its urging them to put in practice in their voting the beliefs that they might have from their religion. And secondly, the positions expressed by Cardinal Burke might represent an interpretation of the juridical position outlined above - but it does not represent the juridical position itself. One cannot justifiably use Cardinal Burke's essentially personally expressed positions to heap opprobrium on bishops who, quite legitimately, adopt a position just as much in accord with the juridical situation of the question.

To come back to the original question. Is it really true?

Sunday 15 December 2013

Film Review: Fill the Void

Zero and I went to see Fill the Void earlier today, feeling quite "with it" that for the second time in recent weeks we were seeing a film on the first weekend of its release in the UK (we did the same when we saw Philomena). Fill the Void is set in a Hasidic Jewish community in Tel Aviv, and the intention of the film's makers is that it should give to that community a voice in the wider world, which lives alongside them but hardly interacts with them.

The trailer for Fill the Void is here (though Sony, the distributors in the United States, are not the UK distributors). There are interesting interviews with the lead actress, Hadas Yaron, and the director, Rama Burshtein here and here (the FILMCLUB is a programme to promote interest in film in schools, and this latter interview seems particularly informative because the young lady interviewing Hadas Yaron appears close to her in age. The London Film Festival being referred to is that in Autumn 2012).

Fill the Void was entered in the main competition at the Venice Film Festival in 2012, with the lead actress, Hadas Yaron, winning the prize for Best Actress. The SIGNIS jury at the festival also gave the film a Special Commendation:
The Jury also decided to give a Special Commendation to the Israeli film Fill the Void , by Rama Burshtein.
"The youngest daughter of an orthodox Jewish family is asked to change drastically the course of her life in the interest of the unity of her family. The story unfolds in a small community of strict religious observance, the customs and traditions of which are presented with great cinematic beauty and an outstanding sense of pride, acknowledging at the same time the complexity of the challenge of postponing personal aspirations for the good of others."
The film is interesting in that all those who took part in the making of the film - certainly the lead actress, the director and the producer - demonstrate a great willingness to engage with a profoundly religious culture that, apart from the director herself, was largely unknown to them before the making of the film. They also share - and Hadas Yaron articulates this very well in her interviews - a desire to give that culture, largely hidden from view though lived in physical proximity to others, a voice to wider society. Indeed, Hadas Yaron, herself a secular Jew, describes how, through her participation in the making of the film, she came to know these people who live so closely and yet were almost unknown to her. There is a very telling exchange in this video extract of a press conference with Hadas Yaron and the producer at the Venice Film Festival in which they reply to the suggestion that the film portrays in an unwelcome way a religious fanaticism (starting at about 2:10). It is of great interest, I think, that film makers are willing to present a film rooted in such a profoundly religious culture and in their film to offer a very positive insight into that culture.

If you see the film, you will recognise that its title works on a number of different levels. There is the void created by the death of the elder sister, Esther, a void both for Esther's mother and for her "little sister"; the void created by the death of a wife and mother; the void created when Shira's planned marriage does not come to fruition. Providing what I saw as a kind of theological interpretation of all of this, though I may have been reading more into the film than was intended, is the context of the feast of Purim (a feast which celebrates Esther's intervention before the King to save the Jews in exile) and Shira's reading, even on the day of her eventual wedding to her sister's widower, of the psalm: "If I forget you, O Jerusalem ..". A very modern setting of these words provides the theme music for the film, something which gives a real sense of an encounter with a religious heritage that is lived in modern times.

Hadas Yaron says in her interview for FILMCLUB that the film is a love story, and this is true. The actress also speaks of the film showing how her character, Shira, is struggling to understand herself and her feelings. The film also portrays the kind of family relationships that can readily occur in any culture. But it also portrays how these ordinary experiences are lived out by those who share in a religiously rich culture and lived practice. In her response at the press conference, Hadas Yaron indicates that, though the Hasidic culture has its restrictions, nevertheless it is Shira's own choices that are being shown in the film. What struck me, reflecting on it in the different context of the recent debates about same sex marriage, is that Fill the Void shows, in its portrayal of arranged marriages in the Hasidic community, an interplay between the subjective feelings of a couple (the rabbi points out to Shira at one point, in reply to her saying that it is not about feelings at all, that it is indeed all about feelings) and a more objective component to the institution of marriage represented by the inter-family negotiations.

I found particularly moving the three points in the film where Shira is shown playing the accordion. The lighting of the actress in two of these scenes shows one side of her face lit and the other in shadow - and in the third scene at the kindergarten, as the tune changes to a sorrowful tune, a child moves across in front of Shira so that her face comes in and out of view to the film goer. That most of the film's scenes take place indoors is an indicator of the separation that exists between the community being portrayed and the wider society among whom it lives.

It is a very beautifully shot film. Highly recommended.

Monday 2 December 2013

Catholic response to Tom Daley [UPDATED]

Tom Daley's Youtube video appeared initially in a certain isolation from other media coverage. The day after it was posted, the more popular print newspapers in Britain provided stories that named, or at least suggested the name of, Tom's boyfriend (the Evening Standard seemed to lead the way with this report).Today (6th December) sees advance coverage of Tom's appearance on the Jonathon Ross Show, due for broadcast on Saturday.

One can certainly welcome the extent of support that Tom Daley has received during the last few days. The one thing that cannot be justified in any way at all is a campaign of vilification directed against Tom - though there would appear to have been some of this alongside the massive support for Tom. Part of the narrative of these days is the relative balance between how these different responses have played out, particularly in the electronic media.

However, I do wonder whether the narrative that we can now see is quite the same as it looked when Tom Daley's video message was first posted. In the video, Tom makes a passing reference to "rumours" at the same time as he indicates that he is now ready to talk publicly about his relationships in a way that he was not ready before. [In the reports of the Jonathon Ross Show, Tom refers to feeling trapped and alone before making his news public, something that has since been overcome. This suggests a different type of readiness to talk about his relationships than that suggested in the video post.] There appears to be a hint here that Tom sensed that the story was about to emerge into the public domain at some point. Posting the video has given Tom a much greater control over how the story has emerged - as he said in the video, he wanted to be the person to tell his followers/fans. And the coverage of his appearance on the Jonathon Ross Show also shows a competent handling of the news media.

In the light of the above - which is not intended as a criticism of Tom who, as a person in the public eye, is entitled to manage a news story in the way that is best for him - I do feel that the narrative has changed in some respects from what it was when the video clip was first posted. Tom has continued to talk about his relationship in terms that, as I suggested in my original post, are not an adequate expression of what the word "love" means in its truest and most objective sense. This is not to challenge Tom's integrity, or his courage, in making the statement that he has made. I think he has communicated justly where he is; and many another person would have expressed themselves in a similar way.

But I think we can legitimately see this articulation of his relationship as being part of the narrative, and we are entitled to engage with that part of the narrative (without it being seen as in any way as an attack on Tom or a manifestation of homophobia). As tigerish waters post pointed out, from a Catholic point of view, there is a an understanding of what it means to love another person that is deeper than its aspect of how one feels about the other. And a Catholic contribution to the current discussion will be precisely an articulation of this deeper understanding.

In so far as any response is going to be one to Tom Daley as a person, a Catholic will be happy to support him, as they would support the dignity of any person. At the same time, however, in so far as it is going to be a response that is a response to the narrative in the media, it will want to offer a different content to the meaning of the word "love".

tigerish waters has posted a very considered response to the news that the Olympic swimmer Tom Daley is dating another man.

Catholic response to Tom Daley

It is certainly legitimate to recognise the courage it takes to make an announcement of this sort; and it would be quite wrong to react in a way that makes a personal attack of any sort on Tom. Such a reaction would constitute a failure in charity if nothing else.

And yet, something nags at the back of the mind.

According to the BBC report:
Gay rights campaigners Stonewall tweeted: "Moving and inspiring video from @TomDaley1994. A role model for thousands of other young people." 
At the very least, we can suggest that this tweet of support is not disinterested.

Again, according to the BBC report:
 "In spring this year my life changed massively when I met someone, and they make me feel so happy, so safe and everything just feels great."
What follows is not to comment on the genuineness of the feelings expressed here by Tom Daley. But for others reading these words - those for whom Stonewall are suggesting that Tom might be a role model - is "everything just feels great" really an adequate defining of what is meant by the love of one person for another? Is love really so completely subjective and without permanent objective content as these words suggest?

Do read tigerish waters' Catholic response to Tom Daley.

Friday 29 November 2013

Pope Francis on Time - and Andrei Tarkovsky

In a section of Evangelii Gaudium devoted to "The Common Good and Peace in Society", the first of four principles offered by Pope Francis is that "time is greater than space" (nn. 222-225):
A constant tension exists between fullness and limitation. Fullness evokes the desire for complete possession, while limitation is a wall set before us. Broadly speaking, "time" has to do with fullness as an expression of the horizon which constantly opens before us, while each individual moment has to do with limitation as an expression of enclosure. People live poised between each individual moment and the greater, brighter horizon of the utopian future as the final cause which draws us to itself. Here we see a first principle for progress in building a people: time is greater than space.  
....One of the faults which we occasionally observe in sociopolitical activity is that spaces and power are preferred to time and processes. Giving priority to space means madly attempting to keep everything together in the present, trying to possess all the spaces of power and of self-assertion; it is to crystallize processes and presume to hold them back. Giving priority to time means being concerned about initiating processes rather than possessing spaces. Time governs spaces, illumines them and makes them links in a constantly expanding chain, with no possibility of return. What we need, then, is to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society and engage other persons and groups who can develop them to the point where they bear fruit in significant historical events. Without anxiety, but with clear convictions and tenacity.  
This criterion also applies to evangelization, which calls for attention to the bigger picture, openness to suitable processes and concern for the long run. The Lord himself, during his earthly life, often warned his disciples that there were things they could not yet understand and that they would have to await the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 16:12-13). The parable of the weeds among the wheat (cf. Mt 13:24-30) graphically illustrates an important aspect of evangelization: the enemy can intrude upon the kingdom and sow harm, but ultimately he is defeated by the goodness of the wheat.
I have added the italics above because they represent the point in these paragraphs where the thought of Pope Francis most readily points to that of Andrei Tarkovsky, the Russian film director.  In writing about his film making in the book Sculpting in Time, Tarkovsky writes of the "image" that is presented in a film. What that "image" can do is take an impression of time, an imprint of time:
For the first time in the history of the arts, in the history of culture, man found the means to take an impression of time. And simultaneously the possibility of reproducing that time on screen as often as he wanted, to repeat it and go back to it...
In a discussion of the process of editing a film after it has been shot, Tarkovsky writes of "time imprinted in the [individual] frame" and of "time itself, running through the [different] shots". It is in a section at the beginning of Chapter III of Sculpting in Time, entitled "Imprinted time", where one can recognise in Tarkovsky's thought something of what Pope Francis expresses in Evangelii Gaudium:
Time is necessary to man, so that, made flesh, he may be able to realise himself as a personality. But I am not thinking of linear time, meaning the possibility of getting something done, performing some action. The action is a result, and what I am considering is the cause which makes man incarnate in a moral sense.
History is still not Time; nor is evolution. They are both consequences. Time is a state: the flame in which there lives the salamander of the human soul.
Time and memory merge into each other; they are like the two sides of a medal. It is obvious enough that without Time, memory cannot exist either.... Memory is a spiritual concept!.... As a moral being, man is endowed with a memory which sows in him a sense of dissatisfaction. It makes us vulnerable, subject to pain.
....The time in which a person lives gives him the opportunity of knowing himself as a moral being, engaged in the search for the truth; yet this gift which man has in his hands is at once delectable and bitter. And life is no more than the period allotted to him, and in which he may, indeed  must, fashion his spirit in accordance with his own understanding of the aim of human existence.... The human conscience is dependent upon time for its existence.
Time is said to be irreversible.... by contrast, I want to draw attention to how time in its moral implication is in fact turned back. Time cannot vanish without trace for it is a subjective, spiritual category; and the time we have lived settles in our soul as an experience placed within time.
I have no way of knowing whether or not Pope Francis was influenced by Tarkovsky in writing the passage of Evangelii Gaudium devoted to time. However, as I have observed in earlier posts - here , here and here - Pope Francis is very familiar with the charism of Communion and Liberation. And Communion and Liberation have been admirers of Andrei Tarkovsky for many years. Tarkovsky twice attended the Rimini meeting, and Communion and Liberation publications have over the years presented articles about him. At the very least, we can suggest that Tarkovsky's thought helps us to understand what might otherwise appear a somewhat obscure piece of writing from Pope Francis.

Pope Ramps up Charity Office to Be Near Poor, Sick

Pope Ramps up Charity Office to Be Near Poor, Sick
"Being an almoner, it has to cost me something so that it can change me," he said. He contrasted such alms-giving with, say, the unnamed cardinal who once boasted about always giving two euros to a beggar on the street near the Vatican.
"I told him, 'Eminence, this isn't being an almoner. You might be able to sleep at night, but being an almoner has to cost you. Two euros is nothing for you. Take this poor person, bring him to your big apartment that has three bathrooms, let him take a shower — and your bathroom will stink for three days — and while he's showering make him a coffee and serve it to him, and maybe give him your sweater. This is being an almoner."

What is there to add?

Tuesday 26 November 2013

Pope Francis on the homily

One might not expect humour in an Apostolic Exhortation, but Pope Francis does provide it. Here is what he has to say as part of his treatment of the homily in  Evangelii Gaudium nn.135 ff.:
We know that the faithful attach great importance to it, and that both they and their ordained ministers suffer because of homilies: the laity from having to listen to them and the clergy from having to preach them!
[My own experience suggests that homilies at every weekday Mass can add to this suffering, especially when there is an insistence on preaching on the Scripture readings of the day. Finding something significant to say is not easy, and tediousness too readily results. I am not sure how far Pope Francis example in this regard is one for others to follow.]

That Pope Francis takes the subject seriously, though, is indicated by the sentence which immediately precedes the above:
The homily is the touchstone for judging a pastor’s closeness and ability to communicate to his people.
and by the observations that follow it:
It is sad that this is the case. The homily can actually be an intense and happy experience of the Spirit, a consoling encounter with God’s word, a constant source of renewal and growth.

Let us renew our confidence in preaching, based on the conviction that it is God who seeks to reach out to others through the preacher, and that he displays his power through human words.
Pope Francis goes on to offer an extensive treatment of the art of preaching during the Liturgy, a treatment that is of considerable interest. He assumes that the homily will be on the Scripture readings, though the rubrics do allow the other Liturgical texts, or, indeed, the saint of the day, to be the subject of the homily. There is a particularly interesting reflection on the homily in its Liturgical context, seeing it as a moment in the dialogue between God and his people and oriented towards bringing both the preacher and the congregation to a communion with God in the Eucharist. Pope Francis is characteristically forthright when he concludes a paragraph asking pastors to prioritise giving time to preparing the Sunday homily, even if that means setting aside other activities, by saying:
Trust in the Holy Spirit who is at work during the homily is not merely passive but active and creative. It demands that we offer ourselves and all our abilities as instruments (cf. Rom 12:1) which God can use. A preacher who does not prepare is not "spiritual"; he is dishonest and irresponsible with the gifts he has received.
[It is worth noting that an unscripted homily is not necessarily an unprepared homily, though an unprepared homily will certainly be unscripted. I do not expect that Pope Francis homilies at morning Mass in the Casa Santa Marta are delivered without some preparation.]

Monday 18 November 2013

Protect the Pope: the publican or the pharisee?

It is some considerable time now since Protect the Pope appeared on my side bar; I took it off because, if I am quite honest, I got a bit fed up of the harping/antagonistic tenor of many, though not all, of its posts. I also felt that it was not trustworthy as a news source - not that it was deliberately dishonest, but that I felt I could never quite trust it enough not to want to check out what it said from other sources before relying on it. It had become very difficult to separate the blogger's spin from the news story itself. And that was quite a considerable time ago. I have never felt the need to put it back on my side bar.

One might benignly forgive the pontificating - that is, the desire to busily tell others, particularly those in ecclesial authority, how they should be living out their Christian vocations.  See here for a recent example, or perhaps reflect on the implications of the erstwhile excommunication of Enda Kennedy portrayed in the side bar. [In this latter case, one might want to suggest that Mr Kennedy might have better represented the Catholic point of view in the political sphere ... but that has a definite dose of humility about it rather than busily telling bishops how to live out their vocations.]

One is less forgiving of those posts where, essentially, Protect the Pope has just got it plain wrong. I think of his post on Philomena, upon which you will recognise my own comment. This was something I was familiar with because I had seen the film (my own post on it is here) and could comment on it - but I just wonder how many other posts at Protect the Pope, about which I do not know the background, are just as unreliable as this one was. And yet, it was all stated with such confidence (and considerable levels of what I remember being termed "glosses" - aside marginal additional comments - when many years ago I studied Nestle-Aland's critical apparatus to the New Testament Greek text). And with the support of commenters who appear to be a rather uncritical fan club and appeared to have not seen the film itself. I was tempted to comment again, to the effect that Protect the Pope and his commenters might want to ride the train of anti-Catholic media and attach all sorts of different carriages to that train, perhaps quite justifiably or perhaps not ... but that Philomena was a carriage that definitely would not belong on that train as it had the wrong gauge and would only derail the whole train by undermining its credibility.

One cannot forgive a post that is just plain cyberbullying,  I refer to the attack on Mike Conway. There is a hefty dose of getting it wrong again - just look at the spin put on Mike Conway's letter, which completely distorts its intention, and the complete failure to understand any idea of a dialogue as per the "Court of the Gentiles" that underpins the publication of the article about Peter Tatchell. Protect the Pope might not have published that article, and, if he had done so, might not have been as unqualified in the praise of Peter Tatchell as Mike Conway appears to have been. He is quite entitled to explain why, but to then turn that into pontificating about what Mike Conway and others should or should not be doing .... The advocacy among the comments of sending emails to Mike is clearly bullying. [Everything I know about Alive Publishing suggests that they are a positive apostolate in the Church - a couple of years ago they even published an article by me on Edith Stein, for heaven's sake!]

I would suggest that those who "like" Protect the Pope as a defender of the faith might like to consider more carefully how far he is actually reliable in this regard. The more thoughtful among us do not find him always credible - and that does matter as much as hits. And, of course, one takes one's life in one's hands (in blog/web terms at least) by offering criticism such as that in this post ....

Which leads me to ask of Protect the Pope: in the Gospel story, is he the publican or the Pharisee?

Sunday 17 November 2013

Fr Brian D'Arcy on BBC Radio 2

I have just listened to part of an interview of Fr Brian D'Arcy on Radio 2's Sunday morning programme. The presenter was Clare Balding.

In part - and in a way that would be reflected by many other Catholics from the kind of background from which Fr D'Arcy comes - Fr D'Arcy spoke about the impact of Pope Francis' election for him. The way in which he spoke about the resignation of Pope Benedict and the subsequent election of Pope Francis as a miracle for him in his own situation at first sight seems somewhat hostile to Pope Benedict, but it was combined with a tribute to the greatness of an act of someone who stepped aside as he realised that another was needed to do what was needed for the good of the Church. Perhaps we should not be mean in recognising the disposition of divine providence for Fr D'Arcy in this regard.

Two particular points, though.

Fr D'Arcy attributed his being the subject of disciplinary provisions from the Congregation for Doctrine to his being outspoken in his criticism of the way in which superiors in the Catholic Church had responded to the child sex abuse scandal in Ireland, and he insisted that, though progress has been made by the Church in this area, he would still be just as outspoken today. However, I suspect that the reasons for the intervention of the Congregation for Doctrine are actually other than this. This BBC News report refers to other issues in Fr D'Arcy's work, as well as to those around sexual abuse:
Fr D'Arcy has spoken out against mandatory celibacy for priests, church teaching on contraception and has been a vocal critic of the handling of clerical sexual abuse. In the wake of the Murphy Report into clerical abuse in the Archdiocese of Dublin Fr D'Arcy called for reformation of church structures and accused the Holy See of using legal procedures to shield itself from criticism over its handling of abuse.
The second point is that, in his interview, Fr D'Arcy spoke in a way that contrasted the institutional in the Church to the living of the Christian life by its people in, for example, action in favour of those suffering in the Philippines at the moment.  Though Fr D'Arcy was presenting himself as being very much encouraged by Pope Francis action in the Church (though with an aside qualification that "strangely enough, he hasn't changed any rules or regulations yet" - memory quote, not exact), he appeared to me to be very much off-Pope-Francis-message here. Pope Francis has repeatedly spoken to the effect that to know Christ is to know the Church, to be one with Christ is to be one with the Church. The following is from a General Audience address earlier this year, but in other addresses Pope Francis has made the point more systematically (I will post those links when I have time):
Still today some say: “Christ yes, the Church no”. Like those who say “I believe in God but not in priests”. But it is the Church herself which brings Christ to us and which brings us to God. The Church is the great family of God’s children. Of course, she also has human aspects. In those who make up the Church, pastors and faithful, there are shortcomings, imperfections and sins. The Pope has these too — and many of them; but what is beautiful is that when we realize we are sinners we encounter the mercy of God who always forgives.
This having been said, it was interesting to hear Fr D'Arcy speaking in a way that acknowledged the difficulty of the situation in which he found himself as a result of the intervention of the Holy See - he observed that he had come to a position where he felt he was going to assert his own freedom and that you could not go on feeling that you are being hounded for what you are doing. The way in which he spoke, however, seemed to me to lack any edge of bitterness, and this was something I found encouraging.

Saturday 16 November 2013

Two Collects

One of the themes of Pope Benedict XVI's time as Pope was that of the correct relationship between faith and reason, between what we can know through revelation and what we can know through the natural exercise of human reason. Two of his most controversial addresses - that at Regensburg and the one that he was unable to deliver at La Sapienza University in Rome - touched on this in different contexts. The Regensburg address set the question in the light of the nature of religious freedom and the challenge to that freedom represented by coercion of religious belief, before going on to examine the relationship between Christian faith and reason in a treatment ranging from ancient times to the present day. The La Sapienza address started from the point of view of how a historically received set of beliefs still remains a form of the wisdom that should have a part in a contemporary search for ethical truth, and then explored this particularly in the relative relationship between reason and belief in the search for what is ethically true, in the context of the mediaeval university and the contemporary university. Pope Benedict's address in Westminster Hall placed the question in the context of the relationship between religious belief and political activity.

In the light of this, I found the Collect for yesterday's feast of St Albert the Great quite pertinent. I offer two translations, one from the "Liturgy of the Hours" and the second from the revised English translation of the Missal. Their relevance to the pontificate of Benedict XVI illustrates, in my view, how the texts of the Liturgy at once can specifically reflect the charism of a particular saint, but at the same time retain a universal applicability:
Lord God,
you made Saint Albert great by his gift
for reconciling human wisdom with divine faith.
Help us so to follow his teaching
that every advance in science
may lead us to a deeper knowledge and love of you.

O God, who made the Bishop Saint Albert great
by his joining of human wisdom to divine faith
grant, we pray, that we may so adhere to the truths he taught,
that through progress in learning
we may come to a deeper knowledge and love of you.
In my own diocese, Saint Edmund of Abingdon's feast day is today celebrated as an obligatory memorial. He is one of the patrons of the diocese. Again, the Collect for the feast day expresses both something of St Edmund's charism whilst retaining an uncanny relevance to modern times:
O God, by whose grace the Bishop Saint Edmund of Abingdon
was vigilant over integrity in public office
and discipline in religious life,
grant, we pray, through his intercession,
that same spirit of constancy to your Church,
that she may be fearless in promoting justice.

Tuesday 5 November 2013

Mis-reporting the survey ...

How does this, from the Vatican Information Service, with my italics added:
Finally, Archbishop Bruno Forte recalled that the approach for addressing the challenges of contemporary family life should be that which Blessed John XXIII noted in his diary shortly before the opening of Vatican Council II: “All is to be seen in the light of pastoral ministry: that is, in terms of souls to save and to edify”. He added, “It is not, therefore, a matter of debating doctrinal questions, which have in any case been clarified by the Magisterium recently … the invitation deriving from this for all the Church is to listen to the problems and expectations of many families today, manifesting her closeness and credibly proposing God's mercy and the beauty of responding to His call”.
become this, from the BBC:
The Vatican has launched a worldwide survey to find out what Catholics really think about its teaching on marriage and family life.
I have only quickly perused the questions contained in the Lineamenta for next October's Extraordinary Synod. But I do not believe there is a single question which asks for what the respondent thinks about Church teaching, or about whether or not they believe it should be changed. Some questions do ask about the extent of acceptance of teaching and about difficulties with putting it in to practice; some others ask about the attitudes and practice in local Churches.  But there is no suggestion anywhere in the Lineamenta of debating the truth or otherwise of the teaching itself...

UPDATE 2: If you saw the earlier update referring to how my own Diocese of Brentwood was presenting the "survey" (it isn't a survey in any conventional sense) on its website, I have now deleted that update. The wording on the Brentwood Diocese website is now significantly different: Calling for Responses.

Sunday 3 November 2013

Thoughts on "Philomena" [UPDATED]

Philomena has gone on general release in Britain this weekend, after premiering in the UK during the London Film Festival. It is a film that is recommended. A screen caption indicates that the film has been "inspired by true events", so one should perhaps see it as representing the story rather than following it exactly in every respect.  Martin Sixsmith's book is probably where one needs to go to find the story in an exact form: The Lost Child of Philomena Lee. [UPDATE: This piece by the real Philomena at the MailOnline gives some indication of where the film varies from the exact story, and gives a perhaps more realistic picture of Philomena's character. A Google search will throw up a number of media reviews. The MailOnline are also now reporting the response of the religious order involved in Philomena's story to the film: Hit film makes us look like villains, say nuns: Judi Dench movie Philomena 'twisted the truth'. The MailOnline report is based on this report at The Tablet.]Nothing in watching the film suggests that it is misleading in any way, though I make that observation as someone who has no immediate experience of Catholic life in Ireland or of the environment of "cover up" that has characterised the Catholic Church's response to historical abuse.

The World Catholic Association for Communications (SIGNIS) jury at this year's Venice Film Festival gave its award to Philomena:
The SIGNIS Award went to the film Philomena, of Stephen Frears (United Kingdom), a film about an elderly woman who has fought during all her life to find her son, taken from her and given in adoption by the nuns of the convent where she was abandoned by her family after becoming pregnant. In its citation, the jury explains that the Award was given to the film “for its vibrant and touching portrait of a woman whose faith sets her free. In her search for the truth, she is further liberated from the burden of the injustice done to her, when she overcomes it with forgiveness”.  
Philomena was widely greeted by critics and audiences, and went on to receive the award of the official jury of the Festival to the best screenplay, as well as the award of the Interfilm jury. It is particularly interesting that, apart from obtaining the Catholic and Protestant awards, it received the award of the Italian Association of Atheists and Agnostics, in a striking demonstration that cinema is indeed polysemous.
The Catholic Church does not come out of the film without some criticism. One of the representative aspects of the film is the dialogue between Judi Dench (as Philomena) and Steve Coogan (as Martin Sixsmith). At times it is Sixsmith who appears to lead by bringing to light a naivety on the part of Philomena in terms of her relationship to the Church and to the sisters in whose care she had lived as a young girl as they respond to her situation. To me this appeared most clearly in the discussions around sexuality - Sixsmith arguing that surely if God has given us a sexual faculty we should enjoy it, while Philomena, recognising that she enjoyed her one night stand, still seemed to retain some sense of discretion (by which I mean shame in its most healthy sense) about it. At other times, it is Philomena who seems to take the lead - as in the closing scenes where she insists on forgiveness over and against Sixsmith who determinedly refuses to forgive, Philomena asserting that she does not want to hate people like he does.

What remains utterly incomprehensible, though, is the somewhat condescending attitude of the sisters towards Philomena as she visits them trying to gain information about the son they had sent for adoption. Whilst sister appears very gentle and caring in the reception room, she nevertheless blocks as strongly as she possibly can any possibility for Philomena to gain the information she wants. When, at the end of the film, it emerges that Anthony is in fact buried in the grounds of the very convent in which this blocking action takes place, one cannot help but recognise a deeply rooted dishonesty on the part of these religious. As portrayed in the film, this dishonesty is not only a dishonesty on the part of individual sisters, but a dishonesty at the level of the institution of the religious community itself.

In the final scenes, an elderly sister defends the treatment given to Philomena (and, by implication, the other girls in the care of the convent) as being a punishment for their immorality, something they brought on themselves, and contrasts it with the virtue of her own life of self-denial. Some of that treatment has earlier in the film been described as "evil" (though Philomena herself is shown as not sharing the use of that term), and I suspect that it is the behaviour of the elderly sister portrayed in these last scenes that prompts one newspaper review I have seen to refer to the behaviour of the sisters as "pure evil".  What is most striking in this scene is that, while Philomena is shown as forgiving the said sister and Martin Sixsmith as refusing it, the elderly sister herself does not even seem to appreciate that a question of forgiveness exists at all.

The Catholic Church in Ireland does have a very striking counter-example to the practice with regard to unmarried mothers reflected in the film Philomena. It lies in the work of the Regina Coeli hostel operated in Dublin by the Legion of Mary. This opened in 1930, and part of its work was intended to provide an environment in which unmarried mothers could keep the care of their children - with no other such arrangement existing anywhere in Ireland at the time. The fullest account that I can quickly find of the work of this hostel is on pp.91-98 of Finola Kennedy's Frank Duff: A Life Story. The arrangements in the hostel, operated by volunteers from the Legion, seemed deliberately to go against that of the provision in convents at the time:
Every woman would pay a small contribution towards her keep, and a "task system" of laundry or domestic work would be avoided at all costs.... The object was to create a "home-life feeling about the place". Duff stressed that the surrounding should be as beautiful as possible because "the silent influence of beautiful and artistic surroundings is incalculable"...

In the first week fifteen women were admitted to the hostel. Soon after the opening, a pregnant woman sought admission. Her entry to the hostel and keeping her child led to the inauguration of the Mater Dei aspect of the hostel, a type of hostel within a hostel specifically organized on the basis of units for mothers and children. One of the mothers in each unit elected to stay at home and care for the children, while the others took jobs to pay for household costs. Thus began a revolutionary system for assisting lone mothers to keep their children.
The depth of Frank Duff's feelings in favour of enabling single mothers to successfully keep the care of their children is revealed in a letter written in 1970, forty years after the opening of the hostel, a letter which has earlier recognised the opposition to its work. The following observation from that letter, cited by Finola Kennedy on p.98 of her book, is indeed extremely hard hitting in the context of the events portrayed in Philomena and the recent legalisation of abortion in Ireland:
I find it a little difficult in my own mind to make a broad differentiation between the determined separating of the unmarried mother from her child and the relieving of the unmarried mother from her unwanted child by way of abortion. Deep down it seems to me that those two processes have an identical root. This root would be the denial of the fact that a spiritual relationship of the supremest order exists between a mother and her child, inclusive of the unborn child.

UPDATE: Among the reviews now appearing on Google is one at the Guardian. This is not particularly sympathetic to the Catholic Church - though its description of the process of adoption experienced by Philomena/Anthony as 
.... stealing babies from vulnerable teenagers, selling them overseas and then preventing them tracing their parents by burning records of the transactions...
is pretty much what the film portrays though, for the record, it is not clear from the real Philomena's account in the MailOnline  whether or not any money was paid to the sisters at the time of adoption. It is the final paragraph of the review, though, that prompts my linking to it (with my italics added):
At the end of the film, it's Martin who's bitter and confounded. Philomena, for all that she's been through, is both cheery and serene. Such is the priceless reward that only her faith can yield. How she managed to cling to it while it slipped from Martin's grasp remains beyond his understanding. Yet her ingenuousness turns out to have been more productive than his scepticism. The Catholic church survives its scandals, Philomena's story shows us, because it delivers the goods.
SECOND UPDATE:  The MailOnline are also now reporting the response to the film of the religious order involved in Philomena's story: Hit film makes us look like villains, say nuns: Judi Dench movie Philomena 'twisted the truth'. The MailOnline report is based on this report at The Tablet. Perhaps the most significant points made in the response are that the elderly sister portrayed in the film's final scene,  a scene added in the film and not occurring in Martin Sixsmith's book, had in fact been instrumental in reuniting many mothers with their children.  The sister speaking for the order also denies that any records were destroyed and said they never received any payment in relation to adoption. What I have written in my original post will indicate that I believe the film represents a dialogue - in the film this occurs between Philomena and Martin Sixsmith - exploring the Catholic Church's participation in and response to the abuse involved, rather than any anti-Catholic diatribe. In this, I agree with the observation reported of the film makers at the end of this MailOnline report, and can understand the representive/dramatic character of the addition of the final scene.

UPDATE AT 2nd MARCH 2014: Oscar Night

This is the text of a comment I posted at another blog, responding to a critical stance towards the film.

1. In evaluating the film Philomena, I do think it is useful to be aware of where the film differs from the actual events that, to quote the film’s credits, “inspired” the film. The statement from the Sisters reported in the Tablet is useful in this. There are other significant differences too. In real life, for example, Philomena Lee did not accompany Martin Sixsmith to the United States, something that is quite central to the narrative of the film. If I understand correctly, too, Philomena was for many years not a practising Catholic, where the film suggests that she is.
2. I do not believe the film to be an anti-Catholic film. One feature of the film is a kind of dialogue between (sceptical) Martin Sixsmith/Steve Coogan and the (believing) Philomena/Judi Dench around their respective responses to the situation of Philomena’s search for her son and the difficulties to this search presented by the sisters. This gives the film a representative rather than a literal/documentary character – and it is in this context that I think the final scenes (which show Sr Hildegard in a less than positive light) need to be understood. While it may be legitimate for the sisters to point out that Sr Hildegard as portrayed in the film, is not the real Sr Hildegard, nevertheless the significance of what her character represents in the film is something that needs to be recognised.
3. I believe the film usefully represents different responses to the experience of women such as Philomena, and represents those responses in a genuine dialogue with each other rather than as conflicting ideologies.
4. The obstructive attitude of the sisters to Philomena’s efforts to find her son, as portrayed in the film, is utterly incomprehensible – and it was that which struck me rather more in watching the film than Sr Hildegard’s unfeeling attitude portrayed in the final scenes. So far as I have been able to determine, the representative character of the film in this regard is accurate to the real events. (I would be happy to be corrected if this is wrong …) The unfortunate aspect of the sisters statement, as reported, is that it does not appear to address this aspect of the film, and nor does it appear to address the practice of involuntary adoption.
4. I recommend seeing the film. As the SIGNIS jury indicated when they gave Philomena their award at the Venice Film Festival: the Award was given to the film “for its vibrant and touching portrait of a woman whose faith sets her free. In her search for the truth, she is further liberated from the burden of the injustice done to her, when she overcomes it with forgiveness”. By all means be aware of where the film differs from reality … but that does not undermine the film’s real and quite genuine value.
[And for the journalists ... there is a sub-theme involving the ethics of journalistic practice ...I missed it watching the film, and only recognised it after reading reviews.]

Friday 1 November 2013

Law, Morality and Religion

Sir James Munby's recent lecture was given at an annual conference on Family Law organised by the Law Society. As such, the range of its treatment was limited to that of family law, and not the law in general. The full title of the published text of the lecture is "Law, Morality and Religion in the Family Courts" (the full text can be downloaded as a pdf). That having been said, there are some important implications of his lecture that reach across all areas of the practice of law and its relation to the life of our society as a whole.

Firstly, I think we should recognise the truth of Sir James Munby's observation of the morally pluralistic nature of contemporary society (cf pp.7-8 of the full text in pdf). Sir James perhaps assumes that this plurality is mostly driven by a move away from Christian belief by today's citizens, primarily towards secularism (ie lack of religious belief of any kind). Sir James does acknowledge that there is a pluralism in religious belief in society. I would not argue for a privileged position for Christian belief in our law based on the history of our country; I think that any such position is rooted in the extent and manner in which Christian faith continues to be lived in our land (though, of course, that is not to deny that there are historically Christian roots to much of our law and legal process). However, the question raised by Sir James' observation on this point is not that which he pursues, namely, the promotion of an absence of religious consideration in matters of law. On the contrary, I think it raises the much harder question of what is an appropriate consideration of religion in matters of law. If it is quite correct that (p.10 of full text in pdf)
... reliance upon religious belief, however conscientious the belief and however ancient and respectable the religion, can never of itself immunise the believer from the reach of the secular law.
the real underlying question of how the formulation of  law that will apply to believer and non-believer alike takes in to consideration matters of religion remains unasked. As I might choose to express it, rather than religion becoming less relevant, the question of religion and its proper place in society and law is now alive and well and of greater importance than ever.

Secondly, I think we can ask ourselves exactly what Sir James intended by his use of the term "secular" to describe the role of judges and the nature of the law that applies in our land. In France and Italy, the equivalent term is often "laicite" or "lay-ness", with its slightly different nuance. If by this term Sir James intends that any religious consideration should be over-ridden in law unless it happens to be acceptable on secular grounds - and we can be forgiven for believing that this is his intention despite the assertions of the law's having (p.9 of full text in pdf) "every respect of the individual's or family's religious principles" - then he is in effect suggesting the imposition of a secular "religion". Cranmer weighs into this point of view with gusto:
Except, of course, when it comes to enforcing the state orthodoxy of equality and the inviolable beliefs of secularity. In this new theology, there is no theos: human rights are sacred writ, and salvation is found in the veneration of secularism. Therein lies the true source of freedom and justice.

Except, of course, it is no freedom at all; indeed, it becomes a manifest oppression to Christians seeking to live their lives in spirit and in truth....

It is ironic indeed that we are winding back the clock on the 1689 Act of Toleration and 1829 Roman Catholic Relief Act, and moving toward the reintroduction of a religious bar to holding office. Christian magistrates, registrars, paediatricians, GPs, teachers, nurses and foster parents are finding it increasingly difficult to manifest their faith without risk of disciplinary action, dismissal or prosecution for offending the ascendant secular religion.
 What is really required of the law and of judges is that, while not promoting or imposing any one particular religious belief (or, for that matter, secular "religion"), they allow the space in society for those beliefs to flourish. This is what Pope Benedict would have termed an "appropriate secularity". The address in Westminster Hall in 2010 sets out both this and a way of understanding the part to be played by religion in political processes, and by implication in the law and law making process:
Britain has emerged as a pluralist democracy which places great value on freedom of speech, freedom of political affiliation and respect for the rule of law, with a strong sense of the individual’s rights and duties, and of the equality of all citizens before the law...

The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles. This “corrective” role of religion vis-à-vis reason is not always welcomed, though, partly because distorted forms of religion, such as sectarianism and fundamentalism, can be seen to create serious social problems themselves. And in their turn, these distortions of religion arise when insufficient attention is given to the purifying and structuring role of reason within religion. It is a two-way process. Without the corrective supplied by religion, though, reason too can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person. Such misuse of reason, after all, was what gave rise to the slave trade in the first place and to many other social evils, not least the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century. This is why I would suggest that the world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilization.
But the third, and perhaps most worrying, point to be made about Sir James' lecture is its advocacy of a relativistic standard for the working of judges (p.7 of the full text in pdf):
Today, surely, the judicial task is to assess matters by the standards of reasonable men and women in 2013 - not, I would add, by the standards of their parents in 1970 - and having regard to the ever changing nature of our world: changes in our understanding of the natural world, technological changes, changes in social standards and, perhaps most important of all, changes in social attitudes.

As a letter in today's Times points out:
What if in time these changes render acceptable matters which he currently views as "beyond the pale"?
[cf p.10 of full text in pdf where forced marriage, female genital mutilation and honour violence are listed as being in this category of "beyond the pale"]. One can see here an almost complete refusal to engage at the level of genuine reason, despite Sir James' use of the adjective "reasonable". And its inevitable consequence, as Cranmer cited above appreciates, is the persecution of the minority who do not adhere to the prevailing majority "social attitude". Am I naïve to think that the role of judicial decisions is to uphold the rule of law?

In the specific context of family law that was Sir James Munby's subject, this does have a significant implication. Whatever the historical context of case law cited by him in the first pages of his lecture, and whatever view one might take of those judges in the past who have seen their role as being, at least to a certain extent, one of  upholding morals in society, there are nevertheless strong legal grounds for giving to marriage a preferential protection in law. Article 16 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for example, states:
(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
And we should be clear - as intended by the declaration we are here talking about marriage between one woman and one man, with a view to children, and it is this that is intended by the term family. At the time of its writing, no other meaning would have been intended and it would be quite misleading to interpret the Declaration in any other way. If the law, and the work of judges, does provide this preferential protection for marriage and (authentic) family, it is not a question of judges being guardians of public morality in any sense. It is instead their acting in the interests of a common good that is for the welfare of all in society.

And a final aside. Sir James suggests (pp.7-8 of the full text in pdf) that earlier jurisprudence assumed a society marked by a very high degree of homogeneity in moral outlook, and that the content of this outlook could be easily ascertained. Now, on many of the topics coming before the courts, society no longer has a single, discernible voice. Does not this raise a very significant question with regard to what is nowadays referred to as social cohesion? How much commonality of moral outlook is necessary in order to assure social cohesion, and at what point does a lack of such commonality lead to social disintegration?

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Pope Francis and Ideology

As I pondered the reaction to Pope Francis' remarks about a faith that can become an ideology (and here), I found it interesting to read this week two blog posts suggesting that the (however delicately expressed) criticism of Pope Francis from Traditionalist, or Traditionally minded, circles is not really the way to go: Just a thought .. and Is this the Pope's Response to his Critics? There is something in these posts of my own thoughts expressed here: Puzzled ... but not by Pope Francis. The efforts of the Chair of the Latin Mass Society to argue that it is the Traditionalists who are really the most Franciscan are entirely different in character than the criticism being offered from other quarters, though I suspect that they still do not issue in what I might term a "comfortable attitude" towards and with Pope Francis.

That the emergence of Traditionalist discomfort with Pope Francis should prompt the question in dogmatic terms of what must be followed of a Pope's teaching and what may be the subject of  "respectful" disagreement is surely very telling: Assent and Papal Magisterium. In the discussion around our response to Pope Francis' interviews and morning homilies this is not the question at stake, and only to one whose ecclesial environment is "dogma" alone could it appear to be the question at stake. Rather it is a question of trying to grasp in the manner of Pope Francis' exercise of his office as a Christian, as a priest, as a Bishop, as the Successor of St Peter the roots from which his life in the Church emerge.

So, for example, with Pope Francis' decision to live at the Casa Santa Martha rather than in the apartments of the Apostolic Palace. Time and again, Pope Francis has explained this as being, not the result of any great sense of poverty or virtue on his own part, but rather as being a result of his own felt need to live with and alongside others. Some Traditionalists have wanted to see in it a certain turning away by Pope Francis from the dignity of the Office of the Papacy. But perhaps one should see its root, consistently with Pope Francis' own explanation, in his experience of the movement Communion and Liberation where there is a great sense of the encounter with Christ being experienced and lived out in a community of life with others in the movement and in the Church.

And I suspect that a familiarity with Communion and Liberation is perhaps the way to gain some understanding of the homily in which Pope Francis refers to the possibility that a certain manner of living the Christian life can in fact constitute an adherence to an ideology. Don Luigi Giussani's book The Religious Sense , which represents the most fundamental articulation of the charism of Communion and Liberation, for example has a section headed "Preconception, Ideology, Rationality" (and, as Cardinal Bergoglio, Pope Francis presented the Spanish edition of this book at its launch in Argentina):
Ideology is the theoretical-practical construction developed from a preconception.
More precisely it is a theoretical-practical construction based on an aspect of reality, a true aspect, but taken up in such a way that it becomes unilaterally and tendentiously made into an absolute; and this come about through a philosophy or a political project.
This last suggests the way in which an ideology achieves intellectual expression in the realm of ideas or practical expression in the pursuit of objectives that are more or less explicitly political (with a small "p"). Towards the end of her book The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt discusses something of the role of ideology with regard to the practice of totalitarian regimes. Don Giussani continues:
Ideology is built up on some starting point offered by our experience; thus, experience itself is taken up as a pretext for an operation that is determined by extraneous or exorbitant preoccupations.
Vaclav Havel's essay "The Power of the Powerless" (an edition, with other essays, is currently the "Book of the Month" at the website of Communion and Liberation) is a classic account of the part played by ideology in the ordinary life of people under the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe. To quote from Havel, though you need to read the whole essay to grasp his full notion of what ideology is and does to a human person:
Ideology is a specious way of relating to the world. It offers human beings the illusion of an identity, of dignity, and of morality while making it easier for them to part with them.
All of this can help us understand what it is that Pope Francis refers to in his use of the term "ideology". What Pope Francis is warning against is a shift (which can happen all too imperceptibly) from centring our Christian life on the person of Christ to centring it on the proximate requirements of a moral system - not to say that Catholic moral teaching does not form a consistent whole that is based in the dignity of what it means to be a human person, nor that it is "secondary", but rather to say that the living of the moral life arises in the encounter with Jesus Christ and not apart from that encounter. Without that openness to the "whole" of Christian experience, the Christian life becomes an ideology - a partial perspective, a theoretical-practical construction developed from a preconception rather than being something rooted in the "whole".

It is possible to go further in suggesting Communion and Liberation as a way to help understand this homily by Pope Francis. Don Giusssani has a short book entitled Morality: Memory and Desire in which he gives an account of what Christian life should look like. The suggestion that the one who does not pray falls into living the Christian life as an ideology in the sense indicated above, expressed in Pope Francis' homily, can be recognised in this book, though the book does not identify it by the term ideology.
... the key point at which we begin to do good [in the world at large] is found first of all in those whom Christ has placed at our sides: our fellow Christians.
According to a "moralistic" attitude, however, this key point is derived from ideas or plans that originate in our own consciousness.
.... which could be termed an "ideology" in the sense suggested above.

But what happens if you read of Pope Francis' homily outside of this kind of context, particularly from a somewhat Traditional background? It isn't going to make much sense, not helped by its nature as an unscripted (though not necessarily unprepared) homily, by the lack of a full text and, possibly, by being delivered in a language other than Pope Francis' first language (Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II would appear to have been much stronger linguists than Pope Francis).

So perhaps it is going to take an effort to get to grips with the ideas of this homily. But for me the idea that the Christian life could be lived in a way that constituted an "ideology" was not new....

Sunday 20 October 2013

If .... then why not .....

Am I alone in wondering why, if the UK Government can arrange to process a Visa application in China in 24 hours (Visa rules for Chinese coming to the UK to be relaxed and scroll down to the end of the report), they can't sort out asylum applications in Croydon (UK immigration backlog 'tops 500,000' say MPs )?

Sunday 13 October 2013

Archbishop Bergoglio: ".. the privileged locus of the encounter is the caress of the mercy of Jesus Christ on my sin."

The "Day by Day" meditation in Magnificat for today is an extract from the text of an address given at a book launch by the now-Pope Francis but then-Archbishop Bergoglio in 2001. The original source, and a fuller text, is the magazine Traces of Communion and Liberation, in an article entitled: The Attraction of the Cardinal.

What is topical in the text of this address is the way in which the now Pope Francis presents the Christian conception of morality as a response to the encounter with the person of Jesus. The articulation of the primary proclamation of God's love for us in terms of God's mercy towards us has become an almost every day feature of Pope Francis' teaching. It is now very familiar when, listened to during his first Angelus address, for example, it sounded very unusual. In the text of this address published in Traces we can detect a long history of this theme in Pope Francis' own personal thought, and we can see it as Pope Francis' particular way of experiencing the charism of Communion and Liberation:
Everything in our life, today just as in Jesus’ time, begins with an encounter. An encounter with this Man, the carpenter of Nazareth, a man like all men and yet different. The first ones, John, Andrew, and Simon, felt themselves to be looked at into their very depths, read in their innermost being, and in them sprang forth a surprise, a wonder that instantly made them feel bound to Him, made them feel different.
Thus far Fr Luigi Giussani and a classic account of the idea of the encounter with Jesus according to the charism of Communion and Liberation. But then what, with the hindsight of Pope Francis' preaching since being elected Successor of St Peter, we might see as Archbishop Bergoglio's distinctive articulation in terms of mercy (this section of text taken in its fuller form from Traces - my emphasis added):
We cannot understand this dynamic of encounter which brings forth wonder and adherence if it has not been triggered–forgive me the use of this word–by mercy. Only someone who has encountered mercy, who has been caressed by the tenderness of mercy, is happy and comfortable with the Lord. I beg the theologians who are present not to turn me in to the Sant’Uffizio or to the Inquisition; however, forcing things a bit, I dare to say that the privileged locus of the encounter is the caress of the mercy of Jesus Christ on my sin.
Archbishop Bergoglio then goes on - following the line of thought of Fr Giussani and the classic presentation of Communion and Liberation - to indicate how a moral imperative arises from this encounter:
In front of this merciful embrace .... we feel a real desire to respond, to change, to correspond; a new morality arises. .... Christian morality is not a titanic effort of the will, the effort of someone who decides to be consistent and succeeds, a solitary challenge in the face of the world. No. Christian morality is simply a response. It is the heartfelt response to a surprising, unforeseeable, “unjust” mercy .....The surprising, unforeseeable, “unjust” mercy .... of one who knows me, knows my betrayals and loves me just the same, appreciates me, embraces me, calls me again, hopes in me, and expects from me. This is why the Christian conception of morality is a revolution; it is not a never falling down but an always getting up again.
 And, again in a manner that is familiar from his preaching as Pope Francis, Cardinal Bergoglio goes on to speak about the Church as the place where Jesus is encountered today:
Jesus is encountered, just as 2,000 years ago, in a human presence, the Church, the company of those whom He assimilates to Himself, His Body, the sign and sacrament of His Presence.
The topicality of Cardinal Bergoglio's words lies in the way in which a Christian conception of morality is consequent upon the encounter with Christ. It allows us another insight into Pope Francis' controversial observation about the teaching with regard to abortion etc coming after the first proclamation of God's mercy, an observation that I have previously understood in the context of an understanding of the different stages in evangelisation archetypally taught in the Decree Ad Gentes and Pope Paul's Evangelii Nuntiandi.