Sunday 28 December 2014

At the peripheries

Pope Francis' Urbi et Orbi address on Christmas day referred to situations in different parts of the world where people who suffer might feel, with some justification, that they have been abandoned by the international community. In doing this, Pope Francis placed these peripheries at the heart of international attention. Pope Francis spoke in a particularly forceful way about the suffering of children:
May Jesus save the vast numbers of children who are victims of violence, made objects of trade and trafficking, or forced to become soldiers; children, so many abused children..... 
The Child Jesus. My thoughts turn to all those children today who are killed and ill-treated, be they infants killed in the womb, deprived of that generous love of their parents and then buried in the egoism of a culture that does not love life; be they children displaced due to war and persecution, abused and taken advantage of before our very eyes and our complicit silence. I think also of those infants massacred in bomb attacks, also those where the Son of God was born. Even today, their impotent silence cries out under the sword of so many Herods. On their blood stands the shadow of contemporary Herods. Truly there are so many tears this Christmas, together with the tears of the Infant Jesus.
On Christmas Day, Cardinal Vincent Nichols was interviewed on BBC Radio 2's Good Morning Christmas (ie the Christmas Day equivalent of the weekly Good Morning Sunday). It was very striking that Cardinal Nichols chose to identify as his highlight of 2014 the work of the Santa Marta Group , which brings together bishops and police authorities from around the world in an effort to prevent people trafficking and provide support to those who are victims of trafficking. The group is led by Cardinal Nichols and Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, and held its second meeting in London in early December 2014. This page at the website of the Romanian Embassy in London gives some indication of the potential of the Santa Marta Group to engage at the highest international levels. The work of the Group is also linked to the elements of the Bakhita initiative - see this page at the website of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales.

Saturday 27 December 2014

A word or two on marriage

The BBC News website reported just before Christmas that Sir Elton John and David Furnish marry. The BBC report includes the sentence:
Mr Furnish and Sir Elton, who have two sons, became civil partners in 2005.
We were all invited to join the ceremony and celebrations by way of the electronic media.

From the point of view of Catholic teaching, of course, Mr Furnish and Sir Elton did not marry. According to Catholic teaching, marriage can only take place between a man and a woman, and not between two men. Their two sons are sons of a surrogate mother, so they are not uniquely the sons of Mr Furnish or Sir Elton, as if two men were able to have children together.

I do think it is worthwhile, from time to time, to explicitly recognise that there is a discordance between the use of language about marriage in the wider world and the use that accurately reflects Catholic teaching. While same-sex marriages now provide an immediate occasion to avert to this, the marriage of celebrity divorcees has been presenting such occasion for decades. It would be unfortunate, in the light of the two Synods dedicated to the mission of the family, if Catholics were to so readily assimilate the two usages of language to each other that they were as a result no longer able to distinguish what is truly Catholic teaching.

The Feast of the Holy Family, celebrated on the Sunday after Christmas Day, is an opportunity to reflect on marriage and family life. In different ways, bishops in England and Wales are doing this in the form of pastoral letters:  Bishop Davies (Shrewsbury) has chosen to affirm Catholic teaching, Bishop Campbell (Lancaster) has thanked Catholic families for the care offered in the circle of the extended family; and Bishop Williams (Brentwood) quotes St Francis:
As we gaze at the scene from Bethlehem we can make some words of Saint Francis our own: “We are mothers of Christ when we carry Him in our heart and body through divine love and a pure and sincere conscience and give birth to Him through a holy activity which must shine as an example before others.”

Wednesday 24 December 2014

Pope Francis invites the Curia - and the Church - to an examination of conscience

When he met with the members of the Curia for the traditional exchange of Christmas greetings, Pope Francis gave an address that was an invitation for both himself and his collaborators in the Holy See to an examination of conscience (English language press release here; at the time of posting no full English text on the Vatican website):
Desidero insieme a voi elevare al Signore un vivo e sentito ringraziamento per l’anno che ci sta lasciando, per gli eventi vissuti e per tutto il bene che Egli ha voluto generosamente compiere attraverso il servizio della Santa Sede, chiedendogli umilmente perdono per le mancanze commesse “in pensieri, parole, opere e omissioni”.
E partendo proprio da questa richiesta di perdono, vorrei che questo nostro incontro e le riflessioni che condividerò con voi diventassero, per tutti noi, un sostegno e uno stimolo a un vero esame di coscienza per preparare il nostro cuore al Santo Natale.
[I wish together with you to offer to the Lord a lively and heartfelt thanksgiving for the year that is just ending, for the events experienced and for all the good that He has wished generously to complete by way of the service of the Holy See, asking Him humbly for pardon for the failures committed "in thought, word, deed and omission". And beginning particularly with this request for pardon, I wish that this our meeting and the reflections that I will share with you will become, for all of us, a help and a prompt to a true examination of conscience to ready our heart for a Holy Christmas]
 And Pope Francis prefaced his "catalogue" of fifteen temptations that face the Curia - and indeed all parts of the Church, of the Mystical Body - with the observation that members of the Curia can only fulfil their mission if they maintain a living relationship with Christ, and that, without that relationship, they become simply bureaucrats.

Pope Francis certainly has a hard hitting turn of phrase as he presents each of the temptations. And sometimes his choice of phrase, removed from its complete context, gives a misleading impression of what was said in the Sala Clementina. A good example is his warning against "spiritual Alzheimer's", where he refers to a very specific circumstance which is lost if the phrase is taken apart from its more developed explanation:
C’è anche la malattia dell’“alzheimer spirituale”: ossia la dimenticanza della propria storia di salvezza, della storia personale con il Signore, del «primo amore» (Ap 2,4). Si tratta di un declino progressivo delle facoltà spirituali che in un più o meno lungo intervallo di tempo causa gravi handicap alla persona facendola diventare incapace di svolgere alcuna attività autonoma, vivendo uno stato di assoluta dipendenza dalle sue vedute spesso immaginarie.
[There is also the illness of "spiritual Alzheimer's": that is the forgetfulness of one's particular history of salvation, of a personal history with the Lord, of "the first love" (Ap.2:4). I am speaking of a progressive decline of the spiritual faculty that in a more or less long passage of time causes a serious handicap to the person, making them become incapable of undertaking any individual activity, living in a state of complete dependence on their views, often imagined.] 
[Do look up the reference to Revelation 2:4, and perhaps read 2:1-2:5.]

 Now this invitation to a shared examination of conscience..... is it fairly described as "sixteen paragraphs of sustained and immoderate abuse"?....... Was it a "stunning and very public 'dressing down' of his staff"?....... Was it "a coruscating and very public critique"?

No. It was an invitation to a shared examination of conscience.

And it is unfortunate that both secular and Catholic media are reporting it otherwise.

It is worth noting that, as with a number of the other statements by Pope Francis that have been taken badly by those of traditionalist inclination, some of the themes articulated here are not original to Pope Francis or original to this particular occasion. I was able to find, for example, an account of "Martha-ism" identical to that of Pope Francis, in a book by Terry Rush, a book written, I think, from an Evangelical Christian background. I expect, too, that the idea headlined "spiritual Alzheimer's" is also part of an ecclesial conversation that precedes Pope Francis' address. If you are not familiar with this wider context to what Pope Francis says then you will end up thinking it is a more specifically directed critique than it in reality is. My own quick look suggests that it is those familiar with the writing and life of the Charismatic Renewal who will most readily recognise the wider conversation of which this address forms a part. [A comment at another blog suggests the Spiritual Exercises and Pope Francis' Jesuit training as a background.] If anyone can shed further light on this aspect of Pope Francis' address, please do so via the comments.

UPDATE: For those who read French, Isabelle de Gaulmyn has posted to suggest that the essence of Pope Francis' proposal for the reform of the Curia is spiritual in nature and not managerial: Curie, la réforme spirituelle du pape François.

Sunday 21 December 2014

SIGNIS - an international public association of the faithful

I noticed a month or so ago, in passing, the recognition by the Pontifical Council for the Laity of the organisation SIGNIS as an international public association of the faithful. A report on SIGNIS website is here.

This recognition does have points of interest. First of all, the organisation that is now known as SIGNIS - "World Catholic Association for Communication" has a long history in two predecessor organisations, one dedicated to the field of radio and television and the other to the field of cinema - see here. The organisation therefore has a background of a genuinely lay engagement of Catholic professionals in these fields of communication, that is, an engagement arising from the professionals themselves and not by delegation from the hierarchy. In the present times of the Church that is something that might be taken for granted, but I suspect that in the early days of the two founder organisations this was something quite novel. [Corrections will be gratefully received in the com box if anyone knows otherwise with regard to the history of these organisations.] The objects of SIGNIS, which are included in their newly approved statutes, are here. The move towards recognition as a public association of the faithful, with an Ecclesiastical Assistant appointed by the Pontifical Council for the Laity, represents an assurance of ecclesial communion alongside the principle of a rightly autonomy of lay expertise in fields that more than many other do require a specialist expertise.

A second point is the way in which SIGNIS contributes to the professional development of Catholics (and others) in the field of cinema, radio and television. This is of particular significance in less developed countries, where funding and technology will be less available. So, for example, SIGNIS trains colleagues to take part in festival juries.

A third point of interest is the strongly ecumenical dimension to SIGNIS work, both in practice and as expressed in its Statutes. One of the most prestigious aspects of SIGNIS work is its presence at major film festivals throughout the world, through a jury that will evaluate films from a Christian perspective (see here). Not infrequently, the juries involved are ecumenical juries - which not only enables a wider Christian dimension but also allows access to a wider range of professional expertise. It is the kind of field in which ecumenical collaboration is almost natural. The presence of these juries - some of them reaching back a long way in the history of the relevant film festival - is, so far as I can tell, accepted readily by festival organisers. It thereby facilitates a dialogue between Christians and their fellow professionals, the presence of Christians in the field being welcomed.

A particular aspect of SIGNIS work that I have found helpful for some time now has been their publication of reviews of, or statements about, recently released films (see here, and the links to recent reviews on this page). Topical at the moment might be their statement on Exodus: Gods and Kings.

Tuesday 2 December 2014

The Year for Consecrated Life: No to "temporary commitment"

A blog post at The Tablet for the beginning of the Year of Consecrated Life suggests that a form of temporary participation in religious life should be offered alongside the permanent commitment that is the traditional form of such life in the Church: Commitment-shy young people need mini tasters of consecrated life.

Bishop Hugh of Aberdeen has observed that, since Vatican II, one area of the Church's life that has not shown a great flourishing is that of the religious life. The Year for Consecrated Life certainly provides an opportunity for those who live other vocations in the Church to gain some experience of consecrated life, perhaps by spending some time with religious communities or sharing in the apostolic activity of such communities. One impact of the decline in religious life has been that a typical parish now has little or no visibility of religious in the day to day life of the parish - and so young Catholics grow up without any direct experience of consecrated life. So, not only might the lay faithful spend some time in an experience of religious life, but also religious might make a particular effort during this year to be more visible to the Church at large.

But is the kind of "temporary commitment" suggested in The Tablet blog post really the way forward?

Louis Bouyer observes in the Preface to his book The Meaning of the Monastic Life (with my italics added):
The purpose of this book is primarily to point out to monks that their vocation in the Church is not, and never has been, a special vocation. The vocation of the monk is, but is no more than, the vocation of the baptized man. But it is the vocation of the baptized man carried, I would say, to the farthest limits of its irresistible demands. All men who have put on Christ have heard the call to seek God. The monk is one for whom this call has become so urgent that there can be no question of postponing his response to it: he must accept forthwith.
And Pope Francis said something similar in an interview, cited in the letter from the Congregation for Institute of Consecrated Life linked above (again with my italics added):
“It is a question of leaving everything to follow the Lord. No, I do not want to say ‘radical’. Evangelical radicalness is not only for religious: it is demanded of all. But religious follow the Lord in a special way, in a prophetic way. It is this witness that I expect of you. Religious should be men and women able to wake the world up.”
Can this evangelical radicalness admit of a temporary response, a temporary commitment to consecrated life?

In two complementary essays in his book Elucidations, first published as long ago as 1971, Hans Urs von Balthasar argues that the evangelical counsels so characteristic of consecrated life are the form in the Church of a decisive act of discipleship, a decisive choice to follow Jesus Christ:
But nothing has been said about the attitude of the man who gives himself....[The counsels] mean discipleship, not only material, but above all, spiritual discipleship. They mean precisely and centrally our total offering of ourselves to be disposed of by the Lord, just as he puts himself totally at the disposition of the Father's will.
And in an essay entitled "Temporary Christians", von Balthasar challenges explicitly ideas of temporary commitment in marriage, in the priesthood and in religious profession:
For here the very basic act of the Christian life is put in question, namely that God in Jesus Christ can dispose of a man's life once and for all and that this man is enabled to ratify that act of God's disposing. 
Recognising that the Church might by way of dispensations free those who might otherwise break under the demands of a task they have taken on; and recognising that "temporary vows" or first profession exist as a step towards a final and complete consecration; von Balthasar nevertheless argues that, if the permanence of the commitment in the Christian life of discipleship ceases to be the expected norm in favour of the "limiting cases", then it is all up for the essence of such discipleship.
The fear of lifelong decision gnaws today at the marrow of the life of society, most dangerously in the Church. Perhaps young people speak about commitment so much today because they are frightened of the "once for all" character of decision. They seek refuge in provisional commitments which for their limited period are meaningful (a spell of work in overseas development), which hold open the possibility of changing over to something else later. They imagine that they are being serious about it but in truth, a truth which is hidden to them, they are only flirting like half-virgins who have all kinds of experience but not the decisive one: namely, that of finally giving oneself...
.... ultimately what stands behind these three programmes, "temporary marriage", "temporary priests", "temporary vows", is the unsaid "temporary Christians"....
 [It is interesting to see in this essay how vividly von Balthasar compares the commitment of man and wife in marriage to what is to be expected of commitment to consecrated life.]

There will always be those who start out on the way of religious life, with every intention of persevering, but who do not stay the full course and leave before permanent consecration. Some might even try several times, and in different institutes. This kind of temporary participation in consecrated life there will always be.

But it is quite different than the acceptance in principle of "temporary commitment", of commitment that knowingly and deliberately from the beginning is going to be temporary. The kind of temporary commitment that undermines the authentic decision for Christian discipleship, not just for the religious, but for the lay faithful too.

Whatever initiatives are undertaken during the Year for Consecrated Life to make such life better known and lived in the Church, they should avoid any encouragement of a sense of temporary commitment as the norm.

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Pope Francis speaks to Europe

The early BBC news reporting of Pope Francis' address to the European Parliament is utterly woeful - even to the extent of suggesting the figure of 200 years as the extent of the Christian influence on Europe rather than the 2000 years that appears in the full text. Presumably some correction, and fuller reporting, will follow in due course, but I would not rely on it.

Read the complete text: Pope Francis’s address to the European Parliament in full. I think it will reveal a side to Pope Francis that many have not wanted to recognise. Not for the first time, I have read Pope Francis and been reminded of Pope St John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI (and this happens before you even look at the footnotes). This is Pope Francis in an absolute line of continuity with his immediate predecessors. Do read the whole, because it is only then that you can really appreciate the import of any small extracts you will see in news reporting - even the extracts below, which I offer in the expectation that they will be missed out of most media reporting:
Men and women risk being reduced to mere cogs in a machine that treats them as items of consumption to be exploited, with the result that – as is so tragically apparent – whenever a human life no longer proves useful for that machine, it is discarded with few qualms, as in the case of the terminally ill, the elderly who are abandoned and uncared for, and children who are killed in the womb....
The family, united, fruitful and indissoluble, possesses the elements fundamental for fostering hope in the future. Without this solid basis, the future ends up being built on sand, with dire social consequences....
A Europe which is no longer open to the transcendent dimension of life is a Europe which risks slowly losing its own soul and that “humanistic spirit” which it still loves and defends.
Taking as a starting point this opening to the transcendent, I would like to reaffirm the centrality of the human person, which otherwise is at the mercy of the whims and the powers of the moment. I consider to be fundamental not only the legacy that Christianity has offered in the past to the social and cultural formation of the continent, but above all the contribution which it desires to offer today, and in the future, to Europe’s growth. This contribution does not represent a threat to the secularity of states or to the independence of the institutions of the European Union, but rather an enrichment. This is clear from the ideals which shaped Europe from the beginning, such as peace, subsidiarity and reciprocal solidarity, and a humanism centred on respect for the dignity of the human person....
The absence of mutual support within the European Union runs the risk of encouraging particularistic solutions to the problem, solutions which fail to take into account the human dignity of immigrants, and thus contribute to slave labour and continuing social tensions. Europe will be able to confront the problems associated with immigration only if it is capable of clearly asserting its own cultural identity and enacting adequate legislation to protect the rights of European citizens and to ensure the acceptance of immigrants. Only if it is capable of adopting fair, courageous and realistic policies which can assist the countries of origin in their own social and political development and in their efforts to resolve internal conflicts – the principal cause of this phenomenon – rather than adopting policies motivated by self-interest, which increase and feed such conflicts. We need to take action against the causes and not only the effects....
 And the concluding paragraph:
Dear Members of the European Parliament, the time has come to work together in building a Europe which revolves not around the economy, but around the sacredness of the human person, around inalienable values. In building a Europe which courageously embraces its past and confidently looks to its future in order fully to experience the hope of its present. The time has come for us to abandon the idea of a Europe which is fearful and self-absorbed, in order to revive and encourage a Europe of leadership, a repository of science, art, music, human values and faith as well. A Europe which contemplates the heavens and pursues lofty ideals. A Europe which cares for, defends and protects man, every man and woman. A Europe which bestrides the earth surely and securely, a precious point of reference for all humanity!
UPDATED: Pope Francis' address to the Council of Europe - also well worth reading in full - is here: Pope Francis’s speech to the Council of Europe in full. I must admit to not having yet fully understood the notions of "multipolarity" and "transversality", but I am going to make sure I do within the next few days!

See also the following recent addresses by Pope Francis, which have not received as much attention as they might have done (Aunty is right again!):

Address to Participants in the International Colloquium on the Complementarity between Man and Woman

[And Lord Sacks' address to the same colloquium: In full: Lord Sacks speech that brought Vatican conference to its feet .]

Address to Participants in the Commemorative Conference of the Italian Catholic Physician's Association

Wednesday 12 November 2014

The Church we are in


Writing in 1935, in the interval between the First Vatican Council and the Second, Dom Anscar Vonier wrote in the Foreword to his book The Spirit and the Bride:
I have noticed with a feeling of pain how several recent books by Catholic writers of fame make a distinction that is a surrender to Protestant feeling between an ideal Church and the real Church. Being themselves very orthodox Catholics the writers in question abound, of course, in their encomiums of the beauty of the Church conceived ideally. But after that they seem to gloat on the Church's human infirmities, piling it on and letting the Protestant have it his own way with his century-old fault-finding. Different, indeed, was the mentality of the Vatican Council [ie the First] which considered the Church in her actuality to be a testimonium irrefragibile, a "witness that cannot be gainsaid", of her divine mission: The Church, through herself, on account of her admirable extension (propagationem), her exceeding sanctity (eximiam sanctitatem), her inexhaustible stability, is a great and everlasting motive of credibility and a witness to her divine mission that cannot be gainsaid (Vatican I, sess, III, cap. 3,7).
The Council means, of course, the actual living Church, not an ideal, or a mere system of the means of sanctification. To say the least, it is very bad taste on the part of a Catholic to represent Catholicism as a divine religion and to speak of Catholics as having been the world's worst sinners.... The eximia sanctitatis, "exceptional holiness", which the last of the General Councils perceived in the Church is the true portrait of what exists.
In a subsequent chapter entitled "The Great Metaphors", Dom Vonier insists that the titles used of the Church in the Scriptural writings of St Paul and of Revelation refer, not to an "ideal" Church of some kind, but to the actual living experience of the Church in the immediately apostolic period.

There is a limited parallel to the quoted passage from Vatican I in the constitution Lumen Gentium of Vatican II (nn.39-40, my italics added to draw out the parallel): the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness, according to the saying of the Apostle: "For this is the will of God, your sanctification". However, this holiness of the Church is unceasingly manifested, and must be manifested, in the fruits of grace which the Spirit produces in the faithful; it is expressed in many ways in individuals, who in their walk of life, tend toward the perfection of charity, thus causing the edification of others...
Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society.....  In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes the passage from Vatican I, though with slight difference in translation compared to Abbot Vonier (n.812), referring to the historical manifestations of the unity, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity of the Church as speaking clearly to human reason of the truthfulness of her mission. Hans Urs von Balthasar, in a passage of The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church (p.196 ff in the Ignatius Press translation), suggests the figure of Mary as the point, theologically speaking, where the temptation to divide the Church into "ideal" and "earthly" realities is overcome.

Abbot Vonier was speaking to a very different ecclesial context than the one that pertains today; and clearly he was not denying the human frailties that must have been as much present in the Church of his time as they are in the Church of our own time. (If the Church of our own time has offered sorrow and repentance for failings of the past, then so to has the Protestant ceased from using those failings as an argument to denigrate the Catholic Church.)

But it is of value, I think, to take Abbot Vonier's fundamental insight - that there is no distinction to be made between a Church "ideal" in its faithfulness to Christ and a Church "real" in the vagaries of its earthly life - and use it to reflect on the Church during the papacy of Pope Francis.

Reform-minded Catholics

As an example of the movement that self-identifies as a "reform movement" in Catholicism we have ACTA. On 25th October 2014, they held a national conference at Liverpool Hope University. One of the talks was entitled "Remarriage and the Eucharist - after the Synod". You have to dig down to page 10 of the text on the ACTA website (it is the talk by Fr Buckley) to find the suggestion that indicates just how far away from an authentically Catholic position it is (my italics added):
....we have been willing to accept that we understand more about the psychology of human relations and therefore the possibility that the bond of marriage may not have been validly formed for many more reasons than hitherto thought possible, but we don’t seem willing or able to question a theological notion that has tied us up in knots and leaves us with little or no room for manoeuvre. If we are willing to accept the judgement of a tribunal on whether or not an indissoluble bond was formed, why can we not also accept that the very fact that two people subsequently become totally estranged and unable to live out their marriage commitment is itself a sign that the bond was never properly formed? I fail to see how such a judgement would mean that we had abandoned our belief in the sanctity and permanence of marriage. It would simply acknowledge that there is much that we will never know for certain on this earth, in spite of our best efforts.
Unfortunately, and somewhat inaccurately, Fr Buckley has earlier in his talk given the impression that Pope Francis appears to support his position, even though I am not aware of any suggestions that Pope Francis would accept the idea that marital breakdown is sufficient evidence for invalidity of the original marriage:
..... I sense that more and more people’s instincts now lead them to conclude as I did that the official position simply doesn’t add up and it is a relief to find that it would seem that the Pope himself thinks likewise.
It is Professor Mary Grey's comments on the ordination of women to the Catholic priesthood - see pages 5-6 of the text of her talk at the ACTA website - that reveal how far she is from a truly Catholic position:
.... some Roman Catholic women of great courage have sought to authenticate their own call to ordained ministry. One group is the well publicised ordination on a boat on the Danube in 2002. These pioneering women are referred to as “The Danube Seven”. This event was swiftly followed by excommunication from Rome, even though technically speaking, the ordinations might be reckoned as valid. Dramatic consequences ensued: nine further women sought ordination in the Roman Catholic Church on July 25 2005, in the international waters at the mouth of the St Lawrence Seaway (known as the St Lawrence Nine). Two other women Catholic theologians, Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger of Austria, and Gisela Forster of Germany, now bishops, came to the St Lawrence River to ordain these women. Other ordinations have followed, and now, as WOW (Women's Ordination Worldwide) attests, there are increasing numbers of women being ordained and practising ministry especially in the United States...
Fr Tony Flannery's blog reveals something of the extent of this latter development in posts during his tour of America: here  and here. Elizabeth Scalia posted recently on Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger here.

Traditional Catholics

But equally absurd in its distance from being an authentic Catholic position is the following, commenting on Archbishop Nichols pastoral letter after the October 2014 Synod on the Family (my italics added):
.... it makes for incredibly concerning reading in the wake of the Synod. Cardinal Vincent Nichols uses some striking language that prompt more questions over the 'mind' of Pope Francis and the safety, in his hands, of the Deposit of Faith.
 Or this, from the same source:
To Muslims, Jews, Evangelicals and other religions, Pope Francis has only good things and words of encouragement to say (though actual pagans could be offended by recent remarks).
Yet, I am beginning to wonder whether he believes in and prays to the same God as Cardinal Burke and many others. Where is the "fraternity" and "brotherhood" for those who uphold the Magisterium and defend Church teaching from pagans and the 'enemies of the Cross of Christ'? They don't seem to be terribly welcome in Rome.
Sitting in the background to these more explicit comments is an array of more discretely expressed antipathy towards the papacy of Pope Francis, which appears very rational and mature, until recognised as an incessant carping that undermines the office of the Successor of St Peter. Some blogs have a greater discretion than others - compare Fr Ray to Eponymous Flower, for example - but nevertheless maintain the same line of thought. Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote many years ago of an "anti-Roman attitude" or "anti-Petrine attitude" on the part of some Catholics. It is difficult to read the Traditionalist blogs today without being reminded of such an attitude.
Elizabeth Scalia has written tellingly of how both the Traditionalist and Reform-minded in the Church are creating idols of Cardinal Burke on the one hand, and of Pope Francis on the other.
It takes conceit to imagine that the Holy Spirit is not to be trusted, does not know what it is about, and needs the instruction and exhortation of liberal writers to sustain a direction — or of traditionalist bloggers to “turn the course” — of an event like the recent synod.
Yes, one might want to support the position of Cardinals Burke, Pell et al with regard to the controversies of the recent Synod (or, if one is so minded, the proposals of Cardinal Kasper), and to do so with the energy that questions of faith will prompt. But when the former are given adulation at the expense of the Office of Peter and the latter excoriated as encouraging the Church to accept mortal sin; or Pope Francis is adored for incorrect assumptions of radical change to come; then we are in the realm of idols in Elizabeth Scalia's sense of the term.

A conclusion: the Church we are in

To return to the reflection based on Abbot Vonier's notion that the Church should not be seen as divided into an "ideal" and a "real", but exists as a single entity whose beauty and holiness shine out to the world. If we look around us during the papacy of Pope Francis, we see the Church that we are in, and some of it - perhaps more on the reform-minded side than on the Traditionalist side - appears pretty far off the wall. But if we take Abbot Vonier's insight seriously, there is an abiding beauty and splendour that is there in all of it. And we need to trust that it is there and that it does still shine out.

The touchstone of that shining out is, as it has ever been, the office of the Successor of Peter. Nothing is to be gained by excoriating - or mis-representing -  its holder.

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Giovanni Battista Moroni at the Royal Academy

Another visit that Zero and I managed during half term was to the exhibition of paintings by Moroni at the Royal Academy.

The exhibition divides itself in two, with one part being the portraits and the other Moroni's religious work. Moroni was a literal contemporary of the Council of Trent, which took place within his home region, and of the counter-reformation in the Catholic Church. The religious work takes the form of altar pieces, some of which have a drabness about them that would be very much at home in the somewhat shabby pretend-baroque that one can find in a certain type of provincial Italian Church. One example, that showing the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, can be seen on the exhibition home page linked above. However, what is interesting about the religious work is that it usually shows a devout person in contemplation of the biblical scene shown - a representation in art of the use of imagination to place oneself "within" a Scriptural scene that is a feature of the contemplations of St Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises.

But it is really the portraits that are the high point of the exhibition - so much so that, rather than asking yourself as you leave which of the paintings you would like to take home, you instead ask yourself who it is that you would like to take home.

Sunday 2 November 2014


Yesterday evening I was able to visit the display of ceramic poppies at the Tower of London. They form an evolving installation called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red. There is an interview with the ceramic artist responsible for making the poppies embedded in this BBC news report of the large number of visitors to the Tower of London, drawn by the installation. It is worth watching the interview to gain some sense of what is going in to the making of the installation.


Even at 8 pm there were significant numbers of people visiting. It was very thought provoking and, whilst to an extent ordinary Saturday night life continued, there was a certain sense of the dignified among those who were looking at the poppies. It was certainly possible to find quiet places to stop and reflect.

This installation has captured the public imagination in quite a surprising way - as the artist says in his interview, it isn't really his work any more, but rather a work that belongs to everyone. Part of that capturing of the imagination arises, I think, from the way in which an iconic London landmark - the Tower of London - provides a unique backdrop to the sea of red.

All Saints

It seems to have become an unquestionable absolute that the homily at Mass should be based upon the Scripture readings - but the rubric actually reads (General Instruction n.65, with my italics added):
The Homily is part of the Liturgy and is highly recommended, for it is necessary for the nurturing of Christian life. It should be an explanation of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners.
So, for a feast like that of All Saints, it is quite legitimate to use the Liturgical texts other than the readings to explain exactly what it is that the feast celebrates. And this is an interesting exercise, and one that itself is not lacking in Scriptural reference.

From the Preface, which has a title in the Missal of "The glory of Jerusalem, our mother":
... today by your gift we celebrate the festival of your city, the heavenly Jerusalem, our mother ... Towards her we eagerly hasten as pilgrims advancing by faith ...
The proper prayers of the Mass also indicate an important characteristic of the Feast, namely that of our need for the intercession of the saints. The Prayer over the Offerings, for example:
May these offerings we bring in honour of all the Saints be pleasing to you, O Lord, and grant that, just as we believe the Saints to be already assured of immortality, so we may experience their concern for our salvation.
What is striking too is something that emerges from the hymns at Vespers and Lauds for the feast day. It is very apparent in the Latin hymns, rather less so but not absent from the hymns in the English "Liturgy of the Hours". These hymns refer in turn to the Virgin Mary, the angels, patriarchs and prophets, the apostles, martyrs and confessors, virgins and religious, in turn asking each category of saint to intercede for us.

I suspect that it is common place for the feast to be explained as a celebration of those who are in heaven but have not been formally declared saints by the Church - and it is certainly that. It may well refer to people whom we have known and who have lived their Christian vocation in a way that has inspired others - and I do feel that this "ordinary sanctity" of parish life can too often go unnoticed.

But the office hymns suggest challenging models of the road to sanctity followed by the saints. The celebration of the feast asks us to learn how these models can be lived in the contemporary world.  Those who live the married vocation in fidelity to Catholic teaching, for example, might well in future times be seen as confessors of the faith in their particular circumstances of life; current events in the Middle East also clearly show confessors and martyrs in the more usual sense.

All Saints is a good example of a feast day on which a homily limited to explaining  the Scripture readings will miss out important aspects of what the feast itself actually celebrates.

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Auntie's advice ....

"Is it true, is it kind, is it necessary?"

How much consternation would be avoided if we were always to ask even the first of these questions before posting, linking or commenting ...?

Monday 27 October 2014

Reacting to the Extraordinary Synod on the Family. UPDATED

The title of the recent Extraordinary Synod of Bishops was "Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelisation". What I find striking about the Synod is that, whilst the notion of evangelisation was implicit behind the concerns of the Synod fathers, it seems to have received little explicit attention from them, or from those who have subsequently commented on the Synod.

Vatican II's decree Ad Gentes (nn.11-12), Pope Paul's apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (nn.21-29) and, following them, the General Directory for Catechesis (n.48), identify different stages, or "moments", in evangelisation: (1) a presence in charity, or, if we use the title from Ad Gentes, (2) Christian witness; (3) explicit "primary proclamation" or as Ad Gentes terms it, preaching the Gospel; (4) initiation into the faith and Christian life, which Ad Gentes terms the assembling the people of God, and which would commonly be associated with catechetical activity; (5) ongoing nourishment of the gift of communion, or as Ad Gentes terms it, forming the Christian community; (6) the arousing of a missionary sense among the people of God (cf General Directory for Catechesis n.48).

The relatios of the recent Extraordinary Synod (the official English translation of the final relatio synodi is here) were structured in a different way than this, following an approach recognisable as the "see, judge, act" method associated historically with Cardinal Cardijn and the movement Young Christian Workers. But it is interesting to read the work of the recent Synod within the framework of the stages of evangelisation.

1. Presence in Charity
This moment can clearly be seen in three aspects of the Synod's work. The testimony at the beginning of one of the sessions during the first week of a married couple about how a Catholic family welcomed a same sex partner to their Christmas celebrations; the paragraph n.512 of the final relatio with regard to the divorced and remarried; and the paragraph n.55 with regard to the position of those in families who experience a same-sex attraction/homosexual orientation. Indeed, much of nn.41-59 of the final relatio can be understood as a call to implement a "presence in charity" towards those in the different situations considered. As the relatio says at one point, this exercise of charity implies no compromise in Catholic teaching. [As an aside, there is an aspect of the history of the mother-and-baby homes that is sometimes neglected in discussions today. It is the cultural context in which girls who were expecting babies but were not married came to be ostracised from their families. An appropriate "presence in charity" on the part of their families might have avoided much of the anguish that has followed.]

The primary agents of this "presence in charity" appear to me to be the lay faithful in their relations within their own immediate and extended families. The priest or bishop cannot replace the lay faithful in this, though they can help to create the ecclesial environment in which it occurs. I also suspect that many families will recognise that this is something they already undertake with regard to family members who might, for example, only enter into a civil marriage.

2. Christian witness
The decree Ad Gentes treats of the "presence in charity" and "Christian witness" under the same heading, whereas the later teaching of the Church separates theme into distinct moments. The famous phrase of Pope Paul VI, from Evangelii Nuntiandi, is of great importance here:
"Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses."
The family that lives its witness to the beauty of the Gospel of marriage and the family will represent a visible sign to those who live around them, and not only within the Christian community. Similarly, those who remain faithful to the indissolubility of marriage even when separated or divorced are a sign to others around them. There is apparent in the work of the recent Synod a reaction to the concern for difficult family situations in wishing to see at the same time an offer of affirmation to those families who do remain faithful to the Church's teaching.

One might suggest that the custom among some of the new movements of offering testimonies during their celebrations might include testimonies of faithfulness to marriage.

3. Primary proclamation
This might also, in the context of the Extraordinary Synod, be described as teaching the beauty and splendour of God's plan for marriage, both in terms of original creation and in terms of the raising of marriage to a sacrament. The purpose of primary proclamation is to bring about a conversion of heart on the part of the listener, so that they will turn towards a life with Christ. It is an insight of the  "new evangelisation" to recognise that this moment of primary proclamation is not a once for all moment, as it might be for someone who previously did not believe in Christ. It is a moment that needs to be renewed among those who already follow Christ, and perhaps particularly so at our present time in the Church when her teaching is so little understood.

The idea of a primary proclamation of the Church's teaching on marriage is clearly represented in the second part of the final relatio nn.12-16. This duty of primary proclamation has a particular relevance to the charism of the priest and bishop, who are "teachers of the faith" to their people and to the world. Those who expect that the content of the primary proclamation is going to change are, I would suggest, indulging in wishful thinking of a very high order. This second section of the final relatio should make that very clear.

I have posted in the past on the idea that there is a "teaching moment" and a "pastoral moment" in the life of the Church. The two do not contradict each other, but are complementary. And, as far as the Gospel of marriage and the family is concerned, there is I think a complementarity between the office of the teacher, perhaps in the first instance a priest or bishop, and that of charity, exercised in the first instance by the lay faithful in their family circles. They each need to be exercised at the appropriate time, and with a respect for how a lay person might "speak" to an individual situation in a way that complements the way a priest might speak to that situation. Perhaps the challenge for primary proclamation of the Gospel of marriage and the family lies in recognising the appropriate moment and manner for that proclamation.

In the light of the (reported) extent to which Catholics fail to follow the Church's teaching on, for example, the openness to new life in marriage and divorce and remarriage, it seems to me that the "primary proclamation" of the Gospel of the family should be the most significant element of the discussions to take place in dioceses ahead of the Ordinary Synod in October 2015. The delineation of an appropriate content for this "primary proclamation" and a manner of exercising its distinctive character - what might be called a charism of teaching/evangelising - appears to me essential. Once a conversion of heart towards the Gospel of the family has taken place, then the embracing of what are seen as controverted teachings follows quite naturally.

4. Initiation into faith and Christian life.
In some ways this might well be the most important "teaching moment" in someone's Christian life. Clear catechetical teaching on marriage should follow the primary proclamation indicated above. If it does follow an effective primary proclamation, it will cease to be controversial and be experienced instead as a consequence following upon a conversion of heart. Again, the second part of the final relatio, perhaps particularly nn.17-20, gives indications for this. This is perhaps the point where the "teaching moment" should take clear precedence over a "pastoral moment", and precisely because it prepares the way for an effective "pastoral moment" in later circumstances. Once again, it is important to observe that those who are expecting a change in the content of catechesis on marriage and the family are sharing in wishful thinking of a high order.

5. On-going nourishment of the life of communion.
Under this heading we should perhaps recognise a need in the present time for a renewal of the "primary proclamation" as already suggested above. The passages of the relatio (nn.39-40) referring to preparing and accompanying couples as they marry and in the first years of their marriage relate to this stage of evangelisation.

What I have noticed, too, in the relatio are the references to the "vita affectiva" in the life of married persons. This might best be expressed in English as referring to a growth in the love between man and wife. It occurs in the paragraphs referring to openness to life (nn.57-59):
Occorre aiutare a vivere l'affettività, anche nel legame coniugale, come un cammino di maturazione, nella sempre più profonda accoglienza dell'altro e in una donazione sempre più piena. Va ribadita in tal senso la necessità di offrire cammini formativi che alimentino la vita coniugale e l'importanza di un laicato che offra un accompagnamento fatto di testimonianza viva. È di grande aiuto l’esempio di un amore fedele e profondo fatto di tenerezza, di rispetto, capace di crescere nel tempo e che nel suo concreto aprirsi alla generazione della vita fa l'esperienza di un mistero che ci trascende.[ "We need to help people to live their love, also in counjugal relations, as a journey of growth, in the always deeper welcome of the other and in a self-giving always more complete ..."]
The challenges in this regard are referred to in nn.9-10 of the relatio, and nn.18-20 indicate sources in the teaching of the Magisterium that develop this theme. I am also reminded of the "integration of the person in action" of Karol Wojtyla's The Acting Person. What is needed is the development of a practice of this growth in love in the life of people who are married, not just a teaching about it. This seems to me to be a key area for attention in the consideration of on going nourishment of the life of communion; it was reflected in the testimony at one of the Synod sessions given by a couple from the movement Retrouvaille.

6. A missionary sense among those who have been evangelised.
Families who have been the subject of an effective evangelisation in terms of the Gospel of the family are then able to become in their turn agents of that evangelisation, both to the world at large and to others in the Church. With a consciousness of the different moments in the evangelisation of the Gospel of the family they will be able to engage appropriately in each of those moments.

Concluding remarks.
If we read the events of the Extraordinary Synod, and in particular the relatio synodi, as I have suggested above, then I think we can respond to those events with the tranquillity of which Pope Francis spoke in his address to the Synod fathers during the final session. Indeed, I would suggest that you read the first paragraphs of that address, including its observations on the different temptations that we might face in reacting to the events of the Synod, as you finish reading this post.

I was also struck by the coincidence of two meditations in Magnificat, those for the 18th and 19th October, the concluding days of the Extraordinary Synod. The first was from Madeleine Delbrel, of whom I have more than once been reminded when Pope Francis talks of a "missionary conversion" on the part of the Church (cf also relatio synodi n.32):
What the missionary parish has to propose to those who are indifferent or who don't believe is precisely what makes it most alien to the world formed by them: it proposes its faith.
But in order for the faith to be heard, for it's message to be understood, those that proclaim it must be willing to be separated from the world by their faith; they must desire to be united to the people of this world as brothers and sisters of the same blood and the same destiny; they must be aliens because of their faith but not because of anything that they themselves add to it....
If God has given his law to men, it is only a sign of God if we observe it with a solemn fidelity and not haphazardly. At the same time, if we show ingratitude in the way we live, if grace is something we take to be our due, it will be impossible for us to understand what it means to be without faith, without reference to God in a world that finds it has thereby become formless, random and blind. We will speak "naturally" about the single reality that can genuinely transform life, and when one makes faith into something natural, it becomes for the nonbeliever something absurd.
The second meditation, for the day that Pope Paul VI was beatified, was from the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi:
It is appropriate first of all to emphasise the following point: for the Church, the first means of evangelisation is the witness of an authentically Christian life, given over to God in a communion that nothing should destroy and at the same time give to one's neighbour in limitless zeal. As we said recently to a group of lay people, "Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses"...
What is the state of the Church ten years after the Council?...Is she firmly established in the midst of the world and yet free and independent enough to call for the world's attention? Does she testify to solidarity with people and at the same time to the divine Absolute? Is she more ardent in contemplation and adoration and more zealous in missionary, charitable, and liberating action? Is she ever more committed to the effort to search for the restoration of the complete unity of Christians, a unity that makes more effective the common witness, "so that the world may believe"? We are all responsible for the answers that could be given to these questions.

UPDATE: This post is also a useful reflection on some of the reaction to the Synod: The synod, catechetical practice, and the elephant in the room. Does the addressing of those elephants really belong in the stage of "primary proclamation" rather than "catechesis", remembering that these two moments do not always neatly follow each other in terms of time? And would a greater awareness by catechists of the stages in evangelisation help them to rise to the challenge described in Hannah's post?

H/T to Aunty

Tuesday 14 October 2014

Thank you John ... UPDATED

... NOT.

Those who have labelled the Relatio post disceptationem (the French translation is here, and it is interesting to note the difference of nuance at points between the French and the English - between, for example, the philosophical implications of the term "vie affective" in French and their absence from the generally used English term "emotional life"; or between the French "la prise en compte" and the English "accepting the reality" in reference to civil marriages and cohabitation in n.22) a "betrayal" and argued that Catholics are "morally obliged to oppose the course being taken within the synod" .....

... have made it impossible to argue in the news media today that those pro-gay groups delighting in a "breakthrough" are in fact seriously mis-representing the content of the Relatio.

I think, for example, that it is to mis-represent the Relatio if one does not say that the recognition of the "seeds" of the truth about marriage that exist in civil marriages, cohabitation and in same-sex relations are to be seen in an orientation towards the fullness of the beauty of marriage that are referred to by the (unfortunate, because it suggests unreachable, when the context does not mean that) word "ideal", and that those seeds are very specifically defined in the Relatio. The "seeds" are recognised only as the stepping stones that might be nurtured towards the full beauty .... there is no denying anything of the "moral problems" that the Church sees in these situations, and indeed, in reference to cohabitation that has no direction towards marriage, there is an explicit indication that this does not represent a "seed" that can be nurtured.

Something of this is expressed in the Catholic Herald comment: The synod has a long way to go before it truly realises Francis’s vision.

The news item about the Relatio on the website of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales: Second phase of Family Synod discussions to take place in Vatican from 4-25 October 2015

UPDATED: It is instructive to read the account of Debate of the Synod Fathers following the post-discussion Report, and to note the Declaration of the director of the Holy See Press Office on behalf of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.

Sunday 12 October 2014

Film Review: Ida

Zero and I went to see Ida a couple of weeks ago; I have not found the time to post a review, and this is not going to be the review that I would really like to post. I might update it when I find the time.

The film distributors site devoted to Ida is here. You can download the press notes here, and it is of interest to scroll down and read the interviews with the director and lead actress as they shed an interesting light on the making of the film and the real life characters who lie behind the screenplay's characters.

Stephen Wang has posted a review that captures something of the beauty of the film: Ida: beauty in black and white. I, too, was reminded somewhat of Tarkovsky, but perhaps more deeply than Fr Stephen. The more one understands the details of Polish history of both the wartime and Communist eras the more one can enter into the real depth of this film. It is a Polish film about the Poland of its times - and much as Tarkovsky portrays something of the Russian soul in his film making, so does Ida portray something of the (divided) soul of Poland in the 1960's. The figure of Wanda, a prosecutor for the Communist authorities, is a challenging figure to Poland today - and her nicely appointed flat would only have been accessible to Communist Party apparatchniks (to use the language of those times). The portrayal of her flat is an icon of a whole era in recent Polish history - but it is an icon that will only be read by those who know something of that history. When I discussed this aspect of Ida with my Polish neighbours, they spoke of there only being fruit available at Christmas time, and of family members taking it in shifts to queue for days to buy white goods. Similarly, the dark secret of the farming family - and, indeed, it was a secret that Wanda knew of and had hidden to protect her own career - is challenging to Poland today, though my knowledge of Polish history struggles to understand how widespread the events portrayed really were.

The film, for me, also represented in part a dialogue between a Poland that has a profoundly religious (Roman Catholic) culture, represented by the figure of Anna/Ida herself, and a Poland that almost literally, because of Communist propaganda, had no knowledge of that culture whatsoever. Wanda's total indifference to Ida's religious practice - "...your Jesus..." manifested the latter part of this dialogue. The dialogue comes to its zenith in the sequence during which Ida for 24 hours indulges the lifestyle previously lived by Wanda, drinking, smoking and sleeping with the jazz musician. As Fr Stephen points out, it is the words "..and what then...", repeated several times by Ida in response to the description of the life that she might have with her musician as she lies beside him in bed, that form the heart of the films ending. It is the contrast between the implications of these words and Wanda's suicide that represent the ending towards which the film moves.

And as Fr Stephen points out, the black and white cinematography, and the play of light and shadow that is so distinctive in character from that which would occur in colour, are stunning.

Other reviews: at Thinking Faith - which largely, in my view, misses the depth and point of the film, despite appearing a quite sophisticated review. At the SIGNIS website, which notes the award of the Ecumenical prize at the 2013 Warsaw film festival.

Ida was first shown in London in 2013, at the London Film Festival, where it was awarded the prize for best film.

Like Fr Stephen, I think it is a must see.

Saturday 11 October 2014

Further Synod Comment

Once again, it is a contribution from lay auditors that attracts my attention. It is a clear call for the effective pastoral teaching of the doctrine on birth control contained in Humanae Vitae - and yet it contains a form of language that proposes a positive synthesis of the part played by sexuality in married life. The original text is here, in Portuguese; and there is an English translation at Zenit. I quote the end below, but the richness of this testimony is really contained in its earlier paragraphs. As I usually suggest in these circumstances .... do read the whole.
Holy Father, Synoodal Fathers, ladies and gentlemen, if at least married couples found light and support with the clergy it would already be a great encouragement! Many times contradictory advice aggravates their confusion. We ask, the Magisterium to give the Fathers and faithful the great lines of a pastoral pedagogy, which helps to adopt and observe the principles agreed by Humanae Vitae.13
Necessary and urgent is the pronouncement of an easy and safe orientation, which responds to the needs of the present-day world, without wounding what is essential of Catholic morality, which must be amply diffused.
We end by reiterating our total and unconditional fidelity to Jesus Christ, through the Holy Father and the Church.
Fr Hugh has made some observations on the way in which the proceedings of the Synod are being communicated - or in reality, largely not communicated - to the wider world. Like others, including myself as the days of the Synod go by, he shares the view that the daily briefings provided by the Vatican press office are proving less than helpful. Fr Hugh also offers a critical analysis of a post by Austen Ivereigh at Catholic Voices Comment . I would share his analysis - I do not think Austen Ivereigh's posts are providing an accurate or useful communication of the events of the Synod. Fr Hugh's comments are in a post entitled: Synodalia: Losing Perspective. I have already posted on an earlier post by Austen Ivereigh here.

I think I noticed in an earlier testimony from lay auditors an observation that the couple, who worked in a marriage related ministry, knew many re-married couples who had left the Catholic Church to join other Christian affiliations that were more accommodating of their for-the-Catholic-Church irregular situations. Many other Catholics must simply cease to practice any Christian life in this kind of situation. This clearly is a pastoral challenge within the range of the title of the current Synod. Two thoughts come to my mind. The first is that, whilst there may be re-married couples who do leave the Church in these circumstances, there are also other couples, perhaps few in number or perhaps not,  who continue to live their Catholic faith, going to Mass but not receiving the Eucharist. Any kind of reversal of practice in this regard would really let down these latter couples, couples who may have lived as faithfully as they can in their life situations and experienced some anguish in doing so. The second is to reflect on Pope Paul VI's phrase, I think in Evangelii Nuntiandi, that what the Church needs more today is witnesses rather than teachers. In the context of re-married Catholics, the witnesses are those who continue to practice the Catholic faith but who abide by the Church's discipline with regard to receiving the Eucharist - even if the witnesses may be few in number and unheard in the media.

Or even more so, the witnesses are those Catholics who are divorced civilly or separated from spouses but have not re-married.

H/T to Fr Hugh for drawing my attention to the article by Louise Mensch in the Spectator: Louise Mensch: I'm a divorced Catholic. And I'm sure it would be a mortal sin for me to take Communion. Again, do read the whole as it is a moving testimony to Catholic belief with regard to marriage and with regard to the Eucharist. It might also be interesting to read Louise Mensch's account of her own situation alongside my recent observations on the Sign of Peace.

Wednesday 8 October 2014

The lay auditors and the Synod: personal reflections

Like Elizabeth Scalia (read her post, and explore the links therein), I think that the contributions being made by the lay auditors at the Synod are of great interest.

I think what must be said first is that the contributions of the lay auditors have been totally faithful to Catholic teaching - there has been no expression of dissent. To suggest otherwise is to seriously misrepresent what is being said.

I link to the texts of four testimonies as published in the Vatican Press Office's daily bulletin: here, here, here and here.

Like one of these couples, I too have reflected on what exactly it was that my parents did that ensured that I and my brother and sister continued to live the Catholic faith when we left home. I have never been able to put my finger on any one strategy or programme that they undertook. One aspect, certainly, is that we left home with the idea of Sunday Mass as being just second nature. It certainly never occurred to me that it was something I should drop. I also remember my mother being somewhat annoyed when a parish priest thanked her for getting my brother and I out to serve Mass .... she did nothing of the sort as we headed off early to do so of our own initiative. With hindsight, what perhaps says more than anything else was the gift mother bought each of us just as the first of us was about the fly the nest - a statue of Our Lady of the Wayside. I can recall her saying how much trouble it had taken to find an attractive image, one that had a genuine beauty rather than the saccharine that can be found in some images of the Virgin Mary. And I only learnt years afterwards that it was my father's idea to use some money given to my parents for a family visit to Lourdes, again just before we started leaving home. (I now suspect that my father took part in one of the earliest, if not the first, International Military Pilgrimages to Lourdes.)

I also found interesting the observation of the couple with regard to a family welcoming a same sex couple at a family celebration. The lay faithful - and therefore families - live in the space between the Church, seen institutionally, and the world; or perhaps better, the live both in the Church and in the World. Is it for the parish, as institution, to welcome a same sex couple in this way? Or is it for families, as the parish lived in the world, to do so? It strikes me that the evangelising presence in charity, of which this is an example, pertains particularly to the mission of lay people who can undertake it with less risk of being seen to compromise Catholic teaching as a result. If we consider the situation of family members who marry outside of the Church in the same kind of way, then this experience of welcoming in charity must be the experience of many other families too.

I can also recognise the value in seeing marriage as a vocational choice, not just a social convention. Whilst I think the recent recovery, certainly in the UK, of the sense of the vocations to priesthood and religious life as having in a certain sense a "greater excellence" is a good development, nevertheless it is necessary to see marriage as a vocational choice too. For that reason it should be proposed to young people alongside those other vocations, precisely as a vocational choice. Its paradigm would not be that of the proposal by the man and the acceptance by the woman; rather it would be the shared discernment of a retreat.

I look forward to reading more testimonies from the lay auditors.

Tuesday 7 October 2014

The Synod: Does Austen misrepresent?

I have not shared the criticism that others have at times offered of Austen Ivereigh of Catholic Voices.

I do, however, feel that his second post at Catholic Voices Comment From the synod (2): Erdö speech seeks to frame the debate misrepresents two aspects of the Extraordinary Synod.
Under John Paul II and Benedict XVI, synods were conceived more as talking shops than deliberative bodies, intended to reaffirm existing doctrine and practice while bonding bishops to Rome and to (each) other. Attempts at debate were stifled, and displays of disagreement frowned on.
This is certainly grossly unfair towards Benedict XVI, who himself introduced changes to the way in which the Synod of Bishops worked, changes which laid the ground for what Pope Francis has now done in this regard. I recall, for example, Pope Benedict attending the meetings of the Synod on the Eucharist much as he might have attended many a conference in his previous role as an academic, even apologising to his fellow participants for missing one session as he needed to visit the dentist!. He also introduced a period of "free speeches" at the end of each day, during which Bishops could put down their names to share their thoughts with the whole body of the Synod. Summaries of these contributions were then published each day in the bulletin of the Synod. I think it is also fair to say that Pope Benedict's Apostolic Exhortation after the Synod on the Eucharist reflected much more the contributions made during the Synod than perhaps the Exhortations of Pope John Paul II, which had the form of a synthetic presentation of teaching.

It should also be pointed out that the nature of the Synod of Bishops was not "conceived" by either John Paul II or Benedict XVI. Its nature goes back to Pope Paul VI; and the process of preparing and circulating a Lineamenta ahead of a meeting of the Synod is not a novelty of Pope Francis.
In the afternoon, the synod heard from an Australian married couple who criticized church documents as complex and abstract.
This last sentence of Austen's post gives an impression that this couple "criticised" the Church's teaching for its complexity and abstractness. The full text of the couple's testimony is here (scroll down to find it, in English). What they actually said was:
Occasionally we looked at Church documents but they seemed to be from another planet with difficult language and not terribly relevant to our own experiences.
A footnote to this part of their testimony cited an example of re-writing the Pontifical Council for the Family's Charter of the Rights of the  Family in terms common to secular society in order to make it pertinent to that society. Later on in the testimony, there is a not dissimilar suggestion with regard to the teaching of Humanae Vitae. It is totally out of the context of the full testimony to give the impression that they are a couple critical of Church teaching. To get the full intent of this testimony, it is important to read the whole.

If I had been going to take one paragraph from their testimony to post, it would not have been the one Austen chose, but this one, from the end of the testimony:
....we resonate with the suggestion of one of our daughters regarding the development of what she calls a nuptial paradigm for Christian spirituality, one that applies to all people, whether single, celibate or married but which would make matrimony the starting point for understanding mission. It would have a solid biblical and anthropological basis and would highlight the vocational instinct for generativity and intimacy experienced by each person. It would remind us that each of us is created for relationship and that baptism in Christ means belonging to his Body, leading us towards an eternity with God who is a Trinitarian communion of love.

Monday 6 October 2014

Prayer Vigil at start of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family

These vigils of prayer in St Peter's Square, taking place on different occasions, have become a significant symbol in the life of the Church over recent decades. Their archetypes are perhaps the encounters with the ecclesial movements on the eve of Pentecost; but, Pope Francis has brought to light a particular character of these vigils. The character is the character of a response on the part of the faithful to an invitation from the Holy Father, particularly clear in his invitation to a vigil for peace. This has been the nature of these gatherings under John Paul II and Benedict XVI, but it is more apparently so with Pope Francis.

The vigil on Saturday evening - reported below - is a very tangible moment of ecclesial witness to the truth about the family. It should undoubtedly been seen as a part of the events of the Synod.

Pope leads prayer vigil ahead of Synod

Pope Francis’ Family Synod Forgoes Flash for Spiritual Depth

H/T to Aunty Joanna

Sunday 5 October 2014

The Extraordinary Synod as witness to the Family

Hans Urs von Balthasar frames his book The Moment of Christian Witness (original German title Cordula oder der Ernstfall) with two striking motifs. A key principle underlying the book is that the Christian life experience contains that decisive moment of Christian witness, manifested in the literal blood-martyrdom of those killed for their belief in Christ, or manifested in decisive openness to the possibility of such a witness by those who are not called to its literal fulfilment. In the Preface to his book, von Balthasar contrasts the response of the faithful Christian in the figure of Georges Bernanos with that of the Christian whose liberal thinking has robbed him of any real Christian commitment:
If you say to Georges Bernanos, "Come along with me. It's the Ernstfall - the crucial moment in Christian experience", the old grumbler will get up out of his armchair without so much as raising an eyebrow and follow you like a lamb. But if you go to Reinhold Schneider, the author of Winter in Vienna, and say the same thing to him, there is no telling what might happen. Whether you would finally manage to get any response at all from those who have been "demythologised" and converted to the world, I do not know. They have already explained everything away and are left with a merely symbolic belief in a message that they understand only by analogy. For them, both the belief and the message are worth dying for only by analogy, just as they consider Christianity worth living for only by analogy to something else.
The motif that closes the book is that of Cordula, whose name features in the German title of the book:
When the Huns caught sight of the young girls they fell upon them with savage howls, like wolves among sheep, working havoc among them and destroying them all.
But there was one girl, called Cordula, who out of fear hid herself the whole night long in a ship. The following morning, however, she offered herself up to the fury of the Huns, and thus received the crown of martyrdom. Afterward, her feast day was not celebrated because she had not suffered together with the others. A long time afterward, therefore, she appeared in a vision to a woman hermit and asked for her death to be commemorated on the day after the feast of the eleven thousand virgins. 
The Legend of the Eleven Thousand Virgins
[The historical accuracy of this legend of eleven thousand virgins martyred in Cologne in the fourth century is pretty much rejected. See St. Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins at New Advent.]

It is difficult to read Simon Caldwell's report Iraqi Christian: ‘ISIS terrorist held a sword to my throat but I refused to convert’ without being reminded of the story of Cordula, and without also asking ourselves whether, in the comfort of our developed nations, we would get out of our armchairs like Georges Bernanos if we faced a similar call to witness to Christian belief.

Does not, in a very different way, the Extraordinary Synod (and the Ordinary Synod that will follow) represent a "decisive moment" that calls the Church to witness to the beauty of God's plan for family life even to the point of derision and marginalisation? Witness in this sense relates to the teaching of the Bishops gathered in Synod; but it also relates to the living out of that teaching by Christian families in their own individual life situations. The witness may be imperfect - but at the "decisive moment", will we get out of our armchairs like Bernanos or hesitate like Schneider?  

Sunday 28 September 2014

In the news ....

Once again today's news demonstrate the power of sexual scandal to bring about a resignation from political office, and also from ecclesial office. Particularly as far as the resignation from political office is concerned, there is a certain irony that this can still occur in times that are by and large characterised by indifference to questions of moral right and wrong in the realm of sexual conduct.

As far as Brooks Newmark is concerned, events reported today remind all of us that our private lives can and do impact on our public lives. We are not just Christians on Sunday, but throughout the rest of the week, too. Our calling is to put our faith into practice in our public life.

Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith has written what I believe is a most authentically Catholic response to Bishop Conry's resignation: There is always a way back for everyone who fails. The suggestion that part of our response to this situation should be to go to the Sacrament of Penance appears to me particularly pertinent. A nuance of the word "Confession" used to describe this Sacrament is the sense of carrying, yes our own immediate sins, but also of carrying with the Church as a whole, the burden of the sins of others too. (I think this is one of the themes developed by Adrienne von Speyr in her book Confession, which, written before the Council, insists on the use of the word "confession" for the Sacrament.)

Also today, the papers are full of the news of the marriage of George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin. And, of course, most Catholics will happily speak in terms of the two now being married. But, in the light of the forthcoming Synods devoted to marriage and family life, should we not perhaps be a little more critical in asking whether or not their union is in fact a valid marriage (valid, but not sacramental)? The question is relevant, less from the point of view of being critical of George and Amal, but more from the point of view of how our attitude to their wedding is actually colouring our own understanding of what marriage is.  According to this BBC report:
Clooney was previously married to Talia Balsam, who he divorced in 1993.
If a Catholic couple marry with an understanding of marriage formed by that of George and Amal, it is not going to be a valid marriage. This ambient culture, antithetical to a Catholic understanding of marriage, does represent a pastoral challenge among the others that the Synod faces. It is naïve not to recognise how this culture impacts young people in the Catholic community.

Friday 26 September 2014

Appreciating Paul VI: part 7

Humane Vitae.

Francis Phillips has already said essentially what I would want to say about Pope Paul VI and Humanae Vitae: The future Blessed Pope Paul VI was a great champion of family life (but I think one can safely ignore the comments on Francis' post).

That Popes subsequent to Pope Paul have not only held to the teaching of Humanae Vitae but have offered able and contemporary defences of its teaching strikes me as being very significant.

And I suspect that a complete sociological analysis of the response of Catholics to Humanae Vitae will, as well as verifying the extent to which its teaching may have been ignored, also reveal the extent of faithful living out of the teaching by many. This latter group, of course, do not catch the media attention of the former.