Sunday 28 July 2013

The Field of Faith: "Jesus offers us something bigger than the World Cup!"

I have been away from home (and will be again from tomorrow). This means that I have only been able to dip in to the coverage of Pope Francis' visit to Brazil and the World Youth Day.

The two texts that I have so far had time to read are Pope Francis' address at the Way of the Cross on Friday evening and his address at the Vigil on Saturday evening. This vigil included a time of Eucharistic Adoration. Both texts are well worth reading in full.

A thought occurring spontaneously to me as I read both texts was that, given a certain difference in style, "this could be Benedict XVI".  Pope Francis drew a contrast between what Jesus offers to young people and a contemporary context that was very pertinent to Brazil:
..... Here in Brazil, as in other countries, football is a national passion.

Now, what do players do when they are asked to join a team? They have to train, and to train a lot! The same is true of our lives as the Lord’s disciples. Saint Paul tells us: “athletes deny themselves all sorts of things; they do this to win a crown of leaves that withers, but we a crown that is imperishable” (1 Cor 9:25). Jesus offers us something bigger than the World Cup! He offers us the possibility of a fulfilled and fruitful life; he also offers us a future with him, an endless future, eternal life. But he asks us to train, “to get in shape,” so that we can face every situation in life undaunted, bearing witness to our faith.
And at the Mass which concluded the World Youth Day in Cologne in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI also offered an analogy between the living of Catholic faith and contemporary scientific culture:
In their hearts, people always and everywhere have somehow expected a change, a transformation of the world. Here now is the central act of transformation that alone can truly renew the world: violence is transformed into love, and death into life.  
Since this act [ie the Eucharistic consecration] transmutes death into love, death as such is already conquered from within, the Resurrection is already present in it. Death is, so to speak, mortally wounded, so that it can no longer have the last word.  
To use an image well known to us today, this is like inducing nuclear fission in the very heart of being - the victory of love over hatred, the victory of love over death. Only this intimate explosion of good conquering evil can then trigger off the series of transformations that little by little will change the world.

Saturday 13 July 2013

Adam, where are you? ... Where is your brother?

It is somewhat late to comment on Pope Francis' visit to Lampedusa. It is of interest, though, to reflect on the significance of this journey for the Church and the world at large. I have been inclined, precisely because of the significance of this journey as an appeal to the consciences of peoples and of nations, to place it alongside the visit that Pope Paul VI made to the United Nations in 1965. As L'Osservatore Romano expressed it, the intention of Pope Francis' journey was
... to reach out from that centre which must be exemplary in presiding “in charity over all the Churches”, as the Pope recalled, presenting himself to the world, to one of the geographical and existential peripheries of our time.
Just as Pope Francis in his homily issued a resounding appeal to the consciences of the peoples and nations of the world, an appeal all the more forceful for being made in the very place that epitomises the failure of those consciences, so did Pope Paul VI suggest at the end of his address to the UN that the work undertaken by the United Nations is built upon human consciences.

First the words of Pope Francis in his homily on the island of Lampedusa:
This morning, in the light of God’s word which has just been proclaimed, I wish to offer some thoughts meant to challenge people’s consciences and lead them to reflection and a concrete change of heart....  
How many of us, myself included, have lost our bearings; we are no longer attentive to the world in which we live; we don’t care; we don’t protect what God created for everyone, and we end up unable even to care for one another! And when humanity as a whole loses its bearings, it results in tragedies like the one we have witnessed.  
"Where is your brother?" His blood cries out to me, says the Lord. This is not a question directed to others; it is a question directed to me, to you, to each of us. These brothers and sisters of ours were trying to escape difficult situations to find some serenity and peace; they were looking for a better place for themselves and their families, but instead they found death. How often do such people fail to find understanding, fail to find acceptance, fail to find solidarity. And their cry rises up to God! Once again I thank you, the people of Lampedusa, for your solidarity. I recently listened to one of these brothers of ours. Before arriving here, he and the others were at the mercy of traffickers, people who exploit the poverty of others, people who live off the misery of others. How much these people have suffered! Some of them never made it here.  
Today too, the question has to be asked: Who is responsible for the blood of these brothers and sisters of ours? Nobody! That is our answer: It isn’t me; I don’t have anything to do with it; it must be someone else, but certainly not me. Yet God is asking each of us: "Where is the blood of your brother which cries out to me?" Today no one in our world feels responsible; we have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters. We have fallen into the hypocrisy of the priest and the levite whom Jesus described in the parable of the Good Samaritan: we see our brother half dead on the side of the road, and perhaps we say to ourselves: "poor soul…!", and then go on our way. It’s not our responsibility, and with that we feel reassured, assuaged. The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalization of indifference. In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business!
Then the words with which Pope Paul VI ended his address to the United Nations:
.... Messieurs, un dernier mot: cet édifice que vous construisez ne repose pas sur des bases purement matérielles et terrestres, car ce serait alors un édifice construit sur le sable; il repose avant tout sur nos consciences. Oui, le moment est venu de la « conversion », de la transformation personnelle, du renouvellement intérieur. Nous devons nous habituer à penser d'une manière nouvelle l'homme; d'une manière nouvelle aussi la vie en commun des hommes, d'une manière nouvelle enfin les chemins de l'histoire et les destins du monde, selon la parole de saint Paul: « revêtir l'homme nouveau créé selon Dieu dans la justice et la sainteté de la vérité » (Eph. 4, 23). Voici arrivée l'heure où s'impose une halte, un moment de recueillement, de réflexion, quasi de prière: repenser à notre commune origine, à notre histoire, à notre destin commun. Jamais comme aujourd'hui, dans une époque marquée par un tel progrès humain, n'a été aussi nécessaire l'appel à la conscience morale de l'homme. Car le péril ne vient, ni du progrès, ni de la science, qui, bien utilisés, pourront au contraire résoudre un grand nombre des graves problèmes qui assaillent l'humanité. Le vrai péril se tient dans l'homme, qui dispose d'instruments toujours plus puissants, aptes aussi bien à la ruine qu'aux plus hautes conquêtes.
[...Gentlemen, a last word: this edifice that you are building does not rest on purely material or earthly foundations, since that would be an edifice built on sand; it rests before all on our consciences.   Yes, the moment has come of "conversion", of personal transformation, of interior renewal. We must become accustomed to thinking  of man in a new way; in a new way, too, of the shared life of men, in a new way in the end of the roads of history and of the fate of the world, according to the word fo St Paul: "put on the new man created according to God in justice and holiness and truth" (Eph. 4:23). Here is the hour which imposes a stop, a moment of recollection, of reflection, almost of prayer: think again of our common origin, of our history, of our common destiny. Never like today, in a time marked by so much human progress, has it also been necessary to appeal to the moral conscience of man. Because the danger does not come from progress or from science, which, used well, are able on the contrary to solve a great number of the serious problems which assail humanity. The true danger is found in man, who has instrument ever more powerful, which can be used both for ruin or for ever higher conquests.]
Here in the UK the question of immigration has a high political profile. But do we ever hear in that debate considerations of our duty to be neighbours to those who arrive here from overseas? Pope Francis' appeal to consciences should surely be recognised for its significance to our own country.

Sunday 7 July 2013

Can we continue to disbelieve in his disbelief?

Today's "Day by Day" meditation in Magnificat is extracted from the collection of writings of Madeleine Delbrel published in English under the title We, the ordinary people of the streets.

It has a striking relevance to the themes of Pope Francis' encyclical, Lumen Fidei - perhaps not least in the phrase I have used as the title of this post. At least, on my rapid scan reading of the encyclical this appears to be the case. The text of the meditation in Magnificat is taken from the second half of an essay entitled "The Good News" (p.171 ff in my copy of We, the ordinary people of the streets) and is a contribution to a series of discussions about parish life and evangelisation at a conference. If you can find the full text of the essay to read, it is worthwhile.
For his brothers and sisters around him, the Christian is a man who loves the things of this world as they really are, according to their true value, but he is also a person who prefers the God in whom he believes to all other things. This preference leads him to make certain choices. People see him choosing the invisible God. These choices pose a new question to the world, a question about whether there may not be something greater than the world...

The believer, even if his faith is weak, is never completely alone, never completely without help. The non-believer is one who knows loneliness in its absolute form, and inhuman loneliness. He is deprived of the relationship that most fundamentally belongs to him ....

Once we realise this profound misfortune that besets the non-believer, will be ever more dare to infer from what he says, from what he does, from what he seeks, that the Good News of the Gospel would be useless to him? Can we continue to disbelieve in his disbelief?  Or wouldn't the living God of the Gospel rather burn in us with an unbearable intensity to the extent that we did not cry his name out loud to those living in quiet desperation? If, in hearing us call upon God, they were to turn themselves around, it would be for them the beginning of the one and only good News.

Wednesday 3 July 2013

Fides News Agency: reports on the situation in Syria

I have for some time included a link to the Fides News Agency in a side bar. From time to time, Fides carries reports based on news received from Catholics present "on the ground" in difficult situations, thereby offering an insight into events in the news that might not be noted by mainstream media.

Some recent reports on the situation in Syria are particularly pertinent, given the move on the part of the governments of developed nations to start militarily supporting rebel groups in the country. The following reports are in date order of publiction:

ASIA/SYRIA - New report on the civil war: Christians are among the "most vulnerable"

ASIA/SYRIA - Military offensive on refugee camps in the north

ASIA/SYRIA - The "Caliphate" of Saraqib, where Fr. Murad was killed

ASIA/SYRIA - Rape and atrocities on a young Christian in Qusair

Monday 1 July 2013

Pope Francis: United in our differences ...

I have found it somewhat amusing (and that is probably not to my credit) to watch the Traditionalist minded in the Catholic blogosphere trying desparately to come to terms with Pope Francis' homily for the Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul:
United in our differences: there is no other Catholic way to be united.
So, for example, Fr Ray observes that:
... like much of what he [ie Pope Francis] says there is often a great deal of ambiguity ..
and one of the comments on Fr Ray's post remarks that
... his [ie Pope Francis'] gift does not include precision of expressions of thought....
The Bones, after placing Pope Francis' words alongside those of Pope Benedict XVI speaking on a the same occasion a year ago, asks:
Does anyone detect a shift in emphasis?
I am amused by the sudden change from decrying perceived reluctance on the part of bishops and priests to do what they thought Pope Benedict wanted with regard to the Liturgy to a legitimising of disregard for the pastoral approach of Pope Benedict's successor, Pope Francis. It would appear that the idea of a "hermeneutic of continuity" has only lasted as long as it suited.

Now the "eastward gaze" of Pope Francis' homily becomes quite transparently obvious when it is placed alongside the address given the day before the Solemnity, to the delegation of the Ecumencial Patriarch of Constantinople, visiting Rome to join the celebration of the Solemnity. And the references to difference and to synodality gain their very specific, and not in the least big confusing or ambiguous character, from that "eastward gaze". In so far as it also has a "westward glance", the reference to the work of the Synod of Bishops - established after the Second Vatican Council as a continuing expression and realisation of collegiality rightly understood, and perhaps better characterised by the term "communion" - is equally un-problematic, though I had not previously taken cognisance of its ecumenical import in quite the way suggested here.
To confirm in unity: the Synod of Bishops, in harmony with the primate.
I do actually think that, like Pope Benedict XVI before him, Pope Francis has a quite exquisite and precise choice of phrase. It is different in style to that of Pope Benedict, but in an absolute continuity with it; it has been most apparent in some of the strap lines emerging from his homilies at the morning Mass in Domus Santa Martha. The following is from Pope Francis's homily for Sts Peter and Paul , with my italics added:
In the Church, variety, which is itself a great treasure, is always grounded in the harmony of unity, like a great mosaic in which every small piece joins with others as part of God’s one great plan.
... compared to Pope Benedict XVI's homily a year before (h/t to The Bones), again with my italics added and the suspicion that Pope Benedict was referring to a thought by Hans Urs von Balthasar:
we know that together we are all cooperators of the truth, which as we know is one and “symphonic”, and requires from each of us and from our communities a constant commitment to conversion to the one Lord in the grace of the one Spirit.
As an exercise in use of the communications media, the Traditionalist minded who have sought to undermine Pope Francis' homily in the blogosphere appear to me to have scored an enormous own goal. Apart from feeling that they simply haven't "got it" as far as the homily and Pope Francis in general goes (they need to move out from their own limited territory in order to achieve that), their broadcasting of what they think others will make of it has rather given the views of those others a huge boost.

[In the context of the discussion of Pope Francis' homily, there is a very sensible analysis of how we should understand Pope Francis here: Understanding Pope Francis.]