Tuesday 20 May 2014

Appreciating Paul VI: Part Two

Speaking at the conclusion of the third session of the Second Vatican Council on 21 November 1964, Pope Paul proclaimed that the Virgin Mary was to be honoured throughout the Catholic world by the title of "Mother of the Church" (Italian text here, cf nn.27-32). For those of us who have no ecclesial experience other than that in which the role of the Virgin Mary is seen in its orientation towards the life of the Church, this declaration now seems unexceptional. We should perhaps appreciate it rather more as a profound gift to the Church of our times.

The "back story" to Pope Paul's action is somewhat involved. The schema that eventually became Chapter 8 of Lumen Gentium did originally include the title "Mother of the Church" in its title. It was removed by the Theological Commission of the Council (cf O'Malley's What happened at Vatican II p.246 and Wiltgen's The Rhine flows into the Tiber p.240). Debate on the Council floor included interventions in favour of the title and interventions against its adoption. Pope Paul's own feeling in favour of the title had been expressed at the closing of the previous, second session of the Council (Italian text here, cf n.21), when he had explicitly expressed the hope that the Virgin Mary could be given the title in view of the consideration of the nature of the Church that was so much a part of the work of the Council. His affection for the title was articulated again in the Apostolic Exhortation Signum Magnum in 1967, an Apostolic Exhortation which develops the meaning of the title in some detail.

Much of the discussion at the Council surrounding the title and the schema on the Virgin Mary appears to have been in terms of the potentially adverse ecumenical implications of the adoption of any new titles, but hindsight suggests that this was to rather miss the point. Indeed, the title "Mother of the Church" seems to have had precedent in the life of the Church both recent and more distant - Paul Haffner's treatment in The Mystery of Mary, for example, cites Irenaeus, Ambrose, Augustine, Anselm and Rupert of Deutz using terms that implicitly, through recognising the Virgin Mary as mother of the grace, mother of us all, and the like, indirectly recognise her as Mother of the Church. Papal precedent is also cited from Pope Benedict XIV, John the XXIII and now Paul VI. And there is the lovely, short passage in Cardinal Journet's Theology of the Church, published in French in 1958, within five years of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, a passage whose spirit can very much be seen in the work of Hans Urs von Balthasar/Adrienne von Speyr and others:
... Mary is, in the Church, more a Mother than the Church, more a Bride than the Church, more a Virgin than the Church. We mean that she is Mother, Bride, Virgin prior to the Church and for the Church; that it is in her, above all, and by her that the Church is Mother, Bride and Virgin. It is by a mysterious excellence that is diffused from Mary that the Church can truly be, in her turn, Mother, Bride and Virgin. In the order of the grandeurs of sanctity, which are the supreme grandeurs, Mary is, around Christ, the first wave, as it were, of the Church, the genetrix of all others, until the end of time.
How can we characterise Pope Paul's action in proclaiming the title of Mary as "Mother of the Church"? One can perhaps see in Pope Paul's affection for the title "Mother of the Church" a particularly vivid experience of this ecclesial heritage, and a wish to proclaim it anew to the Church of his own times. I wonder, though I have no way of knowing just how far it is true, if there is not at least a hint of an immediate intervention of the Holy Spirit that guided Pope Paul's action. (Perhaps that is a question that might be explored by those who might write an academic study Pope Paul's life and ministry in the light of the forthcoming beatification.).

Some see Pope Paul's action as being a deliberate one in which he asserted his own, proper, apostolic authority, vis-à-vis the Council, by insisting on a title that the Council itself had chosen, by whatever course of events, not to take up. However, a footnote in O'Malley's What happened at Vatican II suggests another insight. The footnote is about the events leading up to this action by Pope Paul and reads in part:
For a lengthy analysis, see Rene Laurentin, "La proclamation de Marie 'Mater Ecclesiae' par Paul VI: Extra concilium mais in concilio (21 novembre 1964)"
"Outside the Council" but "in council" loses something of the nuance of the original phrasing. But Laurentin is surely right to suggest that, though it was an action taken outside the immediate work of the Council, it nevertheless retains a very strong relation to the Council.

Friday 16 May 2014

Appreciating Paul VI: Part One

I am quite convinced that the Catholic Church has been gifted in our times with exactly the right Popes, at exactly the right times, to meet the needs of her mission. At a time when there seems to be a developing fashion for criticising recent Popes - and Pope Paul VI has always been a ready target for criticism from different tendencies within the Church - I was delighted to learn of the beatification of Paul VI to be celebrated in October of this year. I share the feelings about this expressed by Aunty Joanna (Working closely with Pius XII ...) and Fr Alex Lucie-Smith (If Pope Paul was a saint, he was a martyr too — a martyr for truth and a martyr to duty). I hope that the beatification will prompt the writing and publication of a full study of Pope Paul.

As Monsignor Montini, and Sostituto in the Secretariat of State in the Vatican, the future Pope Paul VI was a close collaborator of Pope Pius XII. His wartime activity alone would appear to have been enough for a whole lifetime, and represents a first "great moment" that one might consider in evaluating his life and work.

Alden Hatch, in his biography Apostle on the Move (pp.65-66), describes how Mgr Montini and Pope Pius XII reacted to the beginning of war:
Now that it was war, there was the work of mercy to be done, and Pius laid the bulk of it on Montini's shoulders. The Pope pointed out that one the great trials of was felt by the innocent civilians whose loved ones had disappeared, whether dead of prisoners no one knew. He ordered Montini to organize an information bureau to receive the frantic enquiries about missing persons and to track them down if possible.
Montini opened the bureau in the building of the Congregation for the Oriental Church... During the war this bureau received 9,981,497 inquiries and actually sent out replies to nearly all of them.
The bureau was staffed by seminary staff whose students had been called home on the outbreak of war. Mgr Montini also held overall responsibility for a vast system of relief work, made possible by the fact that the Italian government did not interrupt telegraph, postal or rail communications with the Vatican.
Supplies were purchased with money raised in countries all over the world and distributed to those in need wherever they could be reached. A great deal of food was distributed in Italy itself. For example, in 1944 three and a half million free food rations were sent out from the Vatican kitchens, and in 1945, the year the war ended, this was increased to a total of twenty-nine million, and to forty-one million in 1946.
Alden Hatch, writing in 1967, refers in one sentence, to the activity of Mgr Montini on behalf of Jews after the Nazi occupation of Italy and Rome:
But the details of the cloak-and-dagger operation that Montini set up, with the Pope's approval, for the rescue of the Jews and escaped prisoners of war are still coming out.
And it is this work to which Joanna refers in her post cited above and which she encountered in her research into the work of the Bridgettine nuns in sheltering Jews in their convent on Piazza Farnese.

Any one of these three great areas of activity would have been enough for one person to undertake. Mgr Montini undertook them in addition to his diplomatic role in the Secretariat of State...

Monday 12 May 2014

Why saints? .... Why blogs?

From time to time - and perhaps rather less so now than in the past - I have had cause to write about "saints" in a broad sense; that is, about men and women who, whether formally recognised by the Church as saints or not, offer inspiration to us in the living of the Christian mystery. I recall quite consciously trying to do three things whenever I did so:
1. To describe something of the saints personal life journey
2. To give some sense, usually by anecdote, of what it would have been like to know the saint as a person
3. To identify the particular charism of the saint, the particular gift that they represent to the Church and for the world.
It will always be the case that a saint, in this broad sense, lives at a particular time and in a particular place and so their charism has roots in a particular time and a particular place - and, indeed, perhaps in a particular activity in that time and place. A particular dimension that occurs when the Church officially recognises such a saint in the processes of beatification and canonisation is the recognition of a universal significance to that charism from a particular time and particular place. At this point, it is perhaps my second and third points that are most in play, though they cannot be completely separated from the first.

The teaching of the Second Vatican Council's constitution Lumen Gentium (n.50) on the communion of saints is instructive in this regard (my emphasis added):
When we look at the lives of those who have faithfully followed Christ, we are inspired with a new reason for seeking the City that is to come and at the same time we are shown a most safe path by which among the vicissitudes of this world, in keeping with the state in life and condition proper to each of us, we will be able to arrive at perfect union with Christ, that is, perfect holiness. In the lives of those who, sharing in our humanity, are however more perfectly transformed into the image of Christ, God vividly manifests His presence and His face to men. He speaks to us in them, and gives us a sign of His Kingdom, to which we are strongly drawn, having so great a cloud of witnesses over us  and such a witness to the truth of the Gospel.
The next section of this paragraph, however, goes on to suggest that our regard for the saints is at the service of the communion of the Church (my emphasis added):
 Nor is it by the title of example only that we cherish the memory of those in heaven, but still more in order that the union of the whole Church may be strengthened in the Spirit by the practice of fraternal charity. For just as Christian communion among wayfarers brings us closer to Christ, so our companionship with the saints joins us to Christ, from Whom as from its Fountain and Head issues every grace and the very life of the people of God. It is supremely fitting, therefore, that we love those friends and coheirs of Jesus Christ, who are also our brothers and extraordinary benefactors, that we render due thanks to God for them and "suppliantly invoke them and have recourse to their prayers, their power and help in obtaining benefits from God through His Son, Jesus Christ, who is our Redeemer and Saviour." For every genuine testimony of love shown by us to those in heaven, by its very nature tends toward and terminates in Christ who is the "crown of all saints," and through Him, in God Who is wonderful in his saints and is magnified in them.
I reflect on this because of the reaction on Catholic blogs to the recent canonisations of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II (and what is probably about to ensue with regard to the beatification of Pope Paul VI). Whilst it is a truism that canonisation does not canonise each and every action of the saint, it does nevertheless "canonise" the charity and charism of the saint indicating that this charity and charism are of permanent and universal value for the life of the Church. It recognises the second and third points made above.

I have found it somewhat disingenuous - and decidedly not at the service of communion - to see blog comment that criticises the canonisations because this or that policy of the one Pope or the other does not meet with approval. That is to avoid the real question that exists for a canonisation, namely, the recognition of the charity and charism of the person canonised, and of their universal significance for the Church. If we are completely honest, can we not recognise in much of that criticism an underlying antagonism towards the Second Vatican Council?

If blogging has the same purpose for a Catholic as has regard for the saints - namely, growth in communion - what has been the point of Catholic blogging in this regard? And should not that blogging examine its conscience a little more critically than it appears inclined so to do?

Saturday 10 May 2014

Coming out

For the first time in a number of years I attended my union's annual conference over the Easter holiday. One of the motions debated at Conference, proposed on behalf of the Executive Committee, was the following:
Tackling workplace homophobia, biphobia and transphobia
THAT Conference notes a recent YouGov survey revealing that 2.4 million people have witnessed verbal homophobic bullying at work over the past five years and that a further 800,000 people of working age have witnessed physical homophobic bullying at work. Further polling shows that over a quarter of LGBT people are not at all open to colleagues about their sexual orientation.
Conference applauds the establishment of a union-wide network for LGBT members and those who are supportive of LGBT issues, and the keynote speech given by our general secretary at the Stonewall Education Conference. Conference notes the good work being done by ATL to eradicate homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in the classroom and applauds the Stonewall campaign 'Lots to do' to eradicate homophobic bullying in the workplace.
Conference calls upon the Executive Committee to continue to work with Stonewall, Schools Out, the Forum for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Equality in Post-School Education and other organisations:
(i) to raise awareness of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in the workplace
(ii) to issue guidance on tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying and harassment in the workplace
(iii) to update ATL's guidance on homophobic bullying and its model LGBT equality policy.
The prepared text of my speech opposing the motion is below. The speech as delivered differed in some respects from the prepared text due to the time limit (the aside in italics, for example, was omitted, and the two notes have been inserted for the benefit of readers of this blog). I was the only person to speak against this motion.
“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family …” 
These are the opening words of the Preamble to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that I would commend to the Equality and Diversity Committee in the drafting of future Conference motions. 
I want to draw out an implication of those words “equal”/”universal” and “inalienable”.
The rights articulated in the UN Declaration belong to each and every human person, precisely because of their dignity and worth as a human person – or, in the opening words of the preamble – precisely because of their being a “member of the human family”. 
The rights are equal or universal – that is, they apply to each and every member of the human family without distinction, and without any regard to one characteristic or another that a member of the human family might manifest. 
They are inalienable – that is, they are not to be removed or taken away from any member of the human family on any grounds whatsoever. 
From the principle expressed by these words derives a principle of non-discrimination that applies to the life of peoples, the life of societies and the life of nations. 
And what I want to suggest, Conference, is that the embracing of a vigorous principle of non-discrimination is sufficient to underpin any work that ATL might want to do with regard to workplace bullying in general, and the particular examples of workplace bullying that are the subject of this motion. [Note: cf here the position expressed by Rocco Buttiglione]
My own commitment to that principle of non-discrimination is total and unequivocal. I would argue to the hilt that LGBT communities in countries such as the Russian Federation and Uganda are entitled to the same protections from violence and intimidation as their fellow citizens, protections that should be provided by a rule of law in those countries. I condemn the absence of those protections without qualification. 
However, I am going to vote against this motion today for two reasons. 
Firstly, I do not believe the motion adequately identifies a principle of non-discrimination such as that I have just outlined, and which I believe should be the basis for ATL’s work on equalities. It therefore gives the Executive Committee a blank canvass to continue to align ATL with whatever stance the different organisations named in the motion choose to follow. 
This, and the fact that Conference is being asked for its approval after ATL are already firmly seated at the top tables of those organisations, is not good news for an organisation that prides itself on member led policy making. 
Breaking “the gender binary of male and female” and including the terms “’undecided’ and ‘other’ for those who do not relate to the …essentialist categories of lesbian, gay, bisexual and heterosexual”.  This is the proposal advocated in the Chair’s update in the most recent newsletter of the Forum for sexual orientation and gender identity equality in post-school education.  
 It is not a question of equality; it’s a question of insisting that we all sign up to a particular ideology which gives no objective content to notions of sex and gender.  It is not a question of an equal and inalienable right deriving from the dignity of a human person, but a kind of dictatorship of thought [Note: cf Pope Francis' words preaching at one of his morning Masses] as far as sex and gender are concerned. 
And the reverse intolerance that this involves is shown very clearly by Stonewall’s “Bigot of the Year” award. 
This award was described by a New Statesman column as “offensive and out of date”. That same column describes the intolerance shown towards one of Stonewall’s  award winners, Ruth Davidson,  in 2012. Ms Davidson was booed at the awards ceremony that year for suggesting that Stonewall should drop the “Bigot of the Year” award. 
And as an aside. 
Do not try telling me that the policy expressed in this motion represents “member led” policy. It’s first sentence is, bar a rearrangement of the word order to suit a conference motion, verbatim from a Stonewall press release. 
The figures need to be put into context, too, appalling as any bullying is. The YouGov data (from Nov/Dec 2011 – hardly recent)  is that just 6% of people witnessed verbal homophobic bullying in the workplace, and just 2% physical homophobic bullying, over a 5 year period. It would be interesting to compare these figures to corresponding figures for other forms of workplace bullying, so that we can judge whether or not the attention given to homophobic bullying is proportionate to the genuine needs of ATL members in the workplace. 
As I vote against this motion I make two very clear statements. 
I make a statement that I do not subscribe to the ideology of sex and gender represented by the range of organisations named in the motion and to which this motion indicates ATL’s alignment. I do not believe that this alignment is necessary in order for ATL to maintain a robust policy of non-discrimination with regard to LGBT persons. 
I make a total and unequivocal commitment to the principle of non-discrimination, based on the universal and inalienable nature of the rights that belong to each and every member of the family, rights that belong without regard to one characteristic or another that any such member of the human family might manifest.
 A member of Conference suggested to me afterwards that people saying the kind of things I said in my speech were now in a rather similar position to a gay person ten or twenty years ago.  It is not just a case of "how times have changed", but of just how rapidly they have changed. My own afterthought was to think of my speech as analogous to an LGBT person "coming out" ..... but in the opposite sense.

As I post this, Abbey Roads has a post that is worth reading alongside mine: Something about SSA.

Tuesday 6 May 2014

Film Review: Calvary

Zero and I saw this film recently, and herewith my thoughts on it.

SIGNIS (the World Catholic Association for Communication) reviewed the film favourably -  Calvary - and it will be worthwhile to read their review before your continue reading my post.

An aspect of the film that the SIGNIS review does not address is that of the sense in which it is a humorous film. The online review from the Independent, for example, has a heading that refers to the film as a "dark religious comedy"; other reviews have likened its humour to the "dark humour" of an earlier film by the same director, The Guard, a film that I have not seen. Zero and I saw the film in a cinema with somewhere around 50 people. My estimate is that just a quarter of those, at most, laughed at some point during the film; and I was not convinced that the points at which they laughed reflected any credit on them for laughing.

Much of the humour lay in portrayals of a priest being confronted, deliberately and facetiously, with the wrongdoing of the person in front of him. So, for example, in the scene with the portrait described in the Independent review, the film maker seems to have delighted in actually showing the "local squire" (to use the terms of the review) relieving himself over the painting as the camera shot at the same time showed the priest. Whilst there is in this section of the film a deeper reflection to be made about the nature of wealth (see below), nevertheless its portrayal in a manner that represents deliberate affront to the priest typifies the calibre of the humour in the film.

I can see that a film maker might not have a high regard for the priesthood and the Catholic Church and that the situation of both in Ireland provides a particular context for that. It makes sense that such a film maker might portray in his work that lack of regard. That is one thing. The really fundamental question I have with regard to Calvary, though, is: can this lack of regard be justly represented in the form of humour just described? Is it really legitimate for the film maker to expect people in cinemas to laugh at it? Does it in fact represent an affront, not to the priest as priest, but to the priest as a human person like any other, and therefore also an affront to the cinema goer who is expected to find it funny?

A particular scene that has prompted my sense of objection in this regard is that where, as the priest visits an accident victim in hospital to administer the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick (referred to in the film as the "last rites"), he is confronted by the atheistic doctor. My own experience of the medical profession is that they are very respectful of the role of chaplains in hospitals; and, as Zero pointed out, what is portrayed in this scene certainly would not happen in Ireland, let alone any other country. This scene struck me as being particularly gratuitous.

If you have seen the film yourself, you will realise at this point that I rather lost the plot - perhaps literally! Within the plot line of the film, all these affronts to the parish priest are intended to create the possibility in the mind of the cinema goer that just about every other resident of the parish is a possibility for the would be assassin. I was too busy thinking about the issues above to notice the plot.

There is some comparison between Calvary and George Bernanos' Diary of a Country Priest. The visit of the parish priest to the house of the local "squire", and its dialogue, has its parallel's in the Cure's visit to the Comtesse in Bernanos' novel. But I thought that the Bernanos was far superior in its human and religious insight. The visits of the priest to his bishop, too, has a very loose parallel to the encounters between the Cure and his mentor. And the whisky and beer of the priests drinking session parallel the wine of the Cure. Perhaps both film and book portray the encounter between good and evil in the concrete, everyday life of a priest -  the film however exaggerating the latter to the point of the grotesque. The comparison really is very limited.

The film has a definitely Irish character. The willingness of the parish priest to intervene in the marital (and love) affairs of his flock reflects a controlling aspect of Catholic culture in Ireland. There are references to the sinful nature of the economic exploitation of the "tiger economy" and the excessive wealth and economic collapse that followed it. This motif recurs in the film. The parish priest also displays a somewhat acerbic pacifism in a scene in which he opposes a young man's expressed wish to join the army. The way in which an innocent meeting with a young visitor on a country lane is so readily interpreted as abusive - and the sadness and anguish of the parish priest's facial expression as he realises this implication - manifests something of the experience of priests in the wake of abuse scandals.

The SIGNIS review considers the film to be one of the most sympathetic portrayals of the priesthood in recent cinema. In some ways this is true - the parish priest is the "hero" of the film. But what of the assistant priest? He is portrayed as being a little loose with the seal of the confessional; as being decidedly obsequious and mercenary at the possibility of a donation to the parish, in (stereo)typical Irish fashion; and his most memorable facial expression seems to be a sneer. Perhaps he is the foil to the parish priest's "hero" - but his character does not leave a good impression.

At the denouement, the parish priest is shot dead on the beach. The graphic portrayal of blood and brains emerging from the back of his head - shown twice, from two different directions - and splaying across the sand represented, for me at least, a final affront (to the priest? or to the cinema goer?). And since affront appears to be of the essence of the style of humour in the film, is the cinema goer not meant to see in it the darkest of dark humour? If the scene is not understood in this way, it becomes supremely gratuitous in its violence. It is an ending that left a sense of shock in the cinema, with people not knowing quite how to react.

A final thought, that is left unresolved in the closing sequence of the film. In this sequence, all the characters who the parish priest has encountered - and some of whom he was due to meet after his appointment on the beach - are shown one after the other. Have they all been abandoned by the parish priest in his death, or have all their cares been borne by him "to the end" in a sacrificial death?