Friday 29 August 2014

Confessors for the Faith

Fr Tim drew attention to this article by Simon Caldwell a day or so ago.

Two weeks ago , Zero and I visited Vienna. On the Sunday morning, we joined the Vienna English Speaking Catholic Community - a kind of "personal parish" meeting the needs of English speaking Catholics in the city - for Mass. As it happened, St Francis of Assisi Church was just 5 minutes walk from the hotel we were staying in. It was quite an impressive Church building, though Mexikoplatz in which it was located was a bit untidy in appearance. The apse end of the Church overlooks the Danube river in quite an imposing kind of view. The square is named as it is because Mexico was, according to a stone in the square, the only country to speak out against Adolf Hitler's annexation of Austria. Five minutes in the other direction from our hotel was the Prater - but that was for later in the day, with the Reisenrad and Praeterturm as highlights.

After Mass we were asked to greet a Syrian family who had recently begun to attend Mass with the community. It is one thing to have followed the stories of the persecution of Christians in Syria and Iraq, but it is quite another to meet a family that have themselves experienced that persecution. Fortunately, Zero kept herself rather more together than I did .... Though this experience was totally unexpected, it was certainly an irreplaceable part of our visit to Vienna.

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Signs of a broken politics?

I did not watch the recent televised debate between Mr Salmond and Mr Darling, in respect of the forthcoming referendum on independence for Scotland. "I'm weary listening to two grown men fighting" was a text comment I received part way through - but it was on Sky News as well, so there was apparently no escape! Listening to radio coverage during the following day, I gained the impression that commenters felt obliged to take it all seriously when, deep down, they knew it was such a ridiculous exhibition that it was embarrassing. Two Scots people interviewed on The World at One first used the word "performance" and, subsequently, "pantomime" to describe the debate; evaluation of the debate itself was almost exclusively in terms of who had "performed" best.

The behaviour of Mr Salmond and Mr Darling appears to me to have been appalling - and that is the comment that no-one seems to have wanted to make during yesterday's coverage. That it came from two politicians of national standing, without censure from fellow politicians, is surely a sign of a broken politics.

In the international sphere, we have also recently seen signs of a broken politics on the part of the United Kingdom. Navi Pillay, as she leaves her role as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, criticised the UN Security Council (my italics added):
"Greater responsiveness by this council would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives," she told a meeting of the 15-member body.
She said that national interest had repeatedly taken precedence over human suffering and breaches of world peace.
And yet, in a situation where the Holy See's representative at the United Nations communicates the appeals of local Catholic bishops for international action to stop Islamic State violence against minorities and for an international presence to guarantee the right of Christians to return to their homes in Iraq rather than accepting that they will remain in exile, David Cameron's justification of the very limited British engagement on their behalf is articulated in terms of UK "national interest" accompanied by an insistence that there will be no "boots on the ground".

Current debates with regard to British membership of the European Union and with regard to immigration are couched in similar terms of "national interest".

And yet there is a different possibility in the political sphere, and it is a possibility that has been articulated to Parliamentarians in the United Kingdom. On 22nd June 2004, Chiara Lubich spoke to the title "Liberty, equality ... whatever happened to fraternity?" , describing the work of the Movement for Unity in Politics, a work of the Focolare movement.

But as we know well, if emphasis falls solely on liberty, it can easily become the privilege of the strongest. And as history confirms, emphasis solely on equality can result in mass collectivism. In reality, many peoples still do not benefit from the true meaning of liberty and equality….
How can these be acquired and brought to fruition? How can the history of our countries and of all humankind resume the journey toward its true destiny? We believe that the key lies in universal fraternity, in giving this its proper place among fundamental political categories.
Only if taken together can these three principles give rise to a political model capable of meeting the challenges of today’s world.

It is worth reading the whole, but towards the end of her talk, Chiara described the type of politics the movement attempts to achieve (my italics added):

The politicians I am speaking of choose to seek office as an act of love. It is a response to a genuine vocation, to a personal calling. Those who are believers discern the voice of God calling them through circumstances, while those with no religious affiliation respond to a human call, to a social need, to a city’s problems, to the sufferings of their people which speak to their conscience. In both cases, it is love that motivates them to act. And both find their home in the Movement for Unity in Politics.
The politicians for unity, having come to understand that politics at its root is love, realize that others too—even those who at times can be called their political opponents —may have also chosen politics as a vocation to love. They realize that every political group, every political choice can be a response to a social need and therefore is necessary in building up the common good. They are as interested in the others’ goals, including their political causes, as they are in their own, and thus criticism becomes constructive. They seek to live out the apparent contradiction of loving the other’s party as their own because they realize that the nation’s well-being requires everyone’s cooperation.
This, in outline, is the ideal of the Movement for Unity in Politics. And in my opinion it is a kind of politics worth living. It forms politicians capable of recognizing and serving the vision for their community, their town and nation, indeed for all humanity, because fraternity is God’s vision for the whole human family. This is the kind of genuine, authoritative politics that every country needs. In fact, with power comes strength but only love gives authority.

 We need a language in politics that looks out for the interest of the other, and not just our own interest. Such a language would completely re-cast a number of our contemporary political debates.

Friday 22 August 2014

Abortion in Ireland; Ouch on the BBC; Richard Dawkin's "apology"

I have not followed closely the reporting of  the recent case in Ireland where a woman requesting an abortion under the newly passed legislation gave birth by a Caesarean Section. Even had I done so, I would not be in a position to fully understand the circumstances involved - media reporting rarely enables that, particularly when the political/ideological stances of the reporting organisations and individuals are also in play.

However, if the reporting indicated below is correct, it would appear that the panel which reviewed the woman's case have taken their responsibilities under the legislation seriously. Again, if reporting is correct, the fact that this has occurred in one of the earliest instances of the application of the new legislation perhaps lays down a marker for how panels will act in future cases. This does represent a contrast to the implementation of abortion legislation in the UK, where, de facto, abortion on request exists despite the legal requirement that two doctors make an essentially clinical judgement of grounds for an abortion before signing the appropriate forms.

Reports from the BBC here and here (though notice the way in which the case appears to be being used in the media in this last report).

Post from efpastoremeritus Woman lawfully was refused an abortion under Ireland’s new laws (though contrast it with the reporting by the Guardian, which assumes a right to abortion on request, something not allowed under UK law let alone the newly passed law in Ireland, and which contains some contradiction in terms of the reasons for the woman involved seeking an abortion: here and here).

Richard Dawkins seems to have overstepped the mark, with his tweet to the effect that it would be immoral not to abort a baby known to have Down's Syndrome. Again, I haven't followed this very closely.

But, by accident, I was led to the a blog on the BBC News website called Ouch.
Ouch explores the disability world in blog posts and a monthly internet radio talk show (earlier shows can be found here). 
It is brought to you by an award-winning team of disabled journalists – Emma Tracey and Damon Rose – with help from guest contributors who all have personal connections to disability.
Ouch goes behind the headlines of disability news, and also lifts the lid on the little details about being disabled that are not widely talked about. You can add your comments on each story - click here for the house rules on taking part.
 A post on the blog which includes a response to Richard Dawkin's remarks is here : Richard Dawkins: 'Immoral' not to abort Down's foetuses. There is an earlier post by the mother of a Down's Syndrome child, which now has an added relevance: 'My son has Down's syndrome and I wouldn't swap a thing about him'.

Richard Dawkin's also seems to have exemplified how not to apologise. According to a short snippet in today's Times:
On his website, [Richard Dawkins] clarified his stance under the headline "Abortion & Down' Syndrome: Apology for Letting Slip the Dogs of Twitterwar", in which the scientist said his "phraseology may have been tactlessly vulnerable to misunderstanding" and that his comments were intended only for a specific audience [ie a sub-set of his twitter followers - see Dawkins website itself].
But in the extended presentation of his original Twitter comment offered in the website post, Dawkins appears to me to simply repeat the position that originally gave offense - the suggestion that it would be immoral to give birth to a child known during pregnancy to have Down's Syndrome.

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Pope Francis' Press Conference (2)

Please see this post for my earlier comments about Pope Francis' press conference.

A third point has occurred to me as being worthy of significant comment. It is Pope Francis' explanation of his reasons for wishing to visit Albania. The Pope gave two reasons, two reasons which have a certain contrast to them.

The first is that Albania has been able to establish a government reflecting an inter-religious harmony: Albania represents an example to others of the possibilities of inter-religious dialogue:
First, because they have been able to form a government  – just think of the Balkans, they have been able to form a government of national unity with Muslims, Orthodox and Catholics, with an interreligious council that helps a lot and is balanced.  This is good, and harmonious.  The presence of the Pope wishes to say to all the peoples (of the world) that it’s possible to work together. I felt it as a real help to that noble people.
The second is Albania's history of being a state in which atheism, at a practical level, was formerly part of the country's constitutional arrangement.
... if we think about the history of Albania, in terms of religion it was the only country in the communist world to have in its constitution practical atheism. So if you went to mass it was against the constitution. And then, one of the ministers told me that 1820 churches were destroyed, both Orthodox and Catholic, at that time. Then other churches were transformed into theatres, cinemas, dance halls. So I just felt that I had to go. 
The presence of the Pope also wishes to give a testimony in favour of the part that should be played by religion in public life.

Interesting, eh? 

Pope Francis press conference on the way back from Korea

A full transcript of the "Q and A" between Pope Francis and journalists during the flight back to Rome from his recent visit to Korea has been published. A copy can be found at Catholic Voices, along with some links to news reports following it: Pope Francis press conference on papal plane from Seoul: full transcript.

Of course, traditionalist comment has totally, and it seems to me quite deliberately, mis-represented the following remark made by Pope Francis, in answer to a question about how he manages his extraordinary popularity. I quote Pope Francis full answer, with my emphasis added:
 I don’t know how to respond. I live it thanking the Lord that his people are happy.  Truly, I do this. And I wish the People of God the best .  I live it as generosity on the part of the people.  Interiorly,  I try to think of my sins, my mistakes, so as not to think that I am somebody.  Because I know this will last a short time, two or three years, and then to the house of the Father. And then it’s not wise to believe in this. I live it as  the presence of the Lord in his people who use the bishop, the pastor of the people, to show many things.  I live it a little more naturally than before, at the beginning I was a little frightened.  But I do these thing, it comes into my mind that I must not make a mistake so as not to do wrong to the people in these things. A little that way.
 AFP's reporting of these words suggests that Pope Francis spoke "light-heartedly" - but even if he did not, it is the most crass of interpretations to read into these words the sin of presumption.

Two other points in the transcript caught my attention. The first is in relation to the beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero, which is something I would like to see occur "subito". I have only a limited understanding of why the cause was ever blocked "for reasons of prudence" - many of Archbishop Romero's advocates can appear to be problematical (to use a diplomatic word), but his own teaching and practice have always appeared to me impeccable. Indeed, he exemplifies for me how a pastor should apply the teaching of the universal Church in the particular circumstances of his own time and place. The interesting point in Pope Francis' remarks refers to how we understand the nature of martyrdom - way back in 1985, I spoke and wrote of Archbishop Romero and Fr Jerzy Popieluszko as "martyrs for the truth" about the human person and about the situations in which they had to live out that truth. Again, I quote the full answer, with my emphasis added:
What I would like is to have clarified when there is martyrdom in ‘odium fidei’ (out of hate for the faith),  whether it is for confessing the credo or  for performing the works that Jesus commands us to do  for our neighbor. This is a work of theologians that is being studied.  Because behind him (Romero), there is Rutillio Grande and there are others.  There are other that were also killed but are not at the same height as Romero. This has to be distinguished theologically. For me, Romero is a man of God.   He was a man of God but there has to be the process, and the Lord will have to give his sign (of approval). But if He wishes, He will do so!   The postulators must move now because there are no impediments.

The other point that caught my attention was the suggestion that the retirement of a Pope was now perhaps a possibility that was "normal" or "institutional", rather than "exceptional", and that this was a possibility created by Pope Benedict's resignation:
... as I said before, some theologian may say this is not right, but I think this way.  The centuries will tell us if this so or not. Let’s see.
But you could say to me, if you at some time felt you could not go forward, I would do the same!  I would do the same.  I would pray, but I would do the same. He (Benedict) opened a door that is institutional, not exceptional.

Tuesday 19 August 2014

A "Special Adviser" and "British Values".

There has been some concern expressed at the moves by the Department for Education with regard to the teaching of "British values" in schools (including nurseries) in the United Kingdom. News reports and comment can be found here: DfE consultation,  BBC news, and more recently, here and here; Christian Institute and, perhaps more considered, Catholic Voices.

Alan Craig brings to light another dimension to this question: Rising Gay Christian: Bright, Able and Wrong. Read Alan's post before continuing.

Two thoughts immediately come to mind. What are the implications of Luke Tryl's appointment for the "British values" agenda, particularly for its implementation in schools with a religious designation? And, if instead of Luke Tryl, Nicky Morgan had chosen an orthodox Christian believer as a special adviser, would there have been an uproar? The particular concern about Luke Tryl's appointment is that Nicky Morgan might well receive and act on advice that claims to be consistent with Christian belief when, as Alan points out, it is not.

As the Catholic Voices comment points out:
It is questionable to what extent the state can and should be the arbiter of British values. Values are the wellspring of a society rich in traditions, including mature religious belief, which is at the forefront of the fight against extremism. Faith schools which reflect that mature religion are not the problem, and should be a major part of the solution.
Catholic Voices end their comment with the observation:
The answer to extremism and sectarianism is not secularism, which is a state-imposed attempt to flatten society and shape it in the image of a minority belief. The national educational vision needs to challenge and sift faith traditions; intolerance and violence are distortions and perversions of true religion. This endeavour eschews “top down” solutions to defining the correct values. The challenge requires hard work, listening, and crucially the expertise held within religious traditions. Our values are important, but values do not proceed from the state – they are supported by the state as manifestations of a pluralistic society. Where extremism is an issue, the criticism of a religion lived in a pluralist society is the best, and only coherent, response. 
What strikes me as providing a basis for a common set of values, or principles, for successful living in a religiously diverse society is the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is this Declaration that can provide the basis for the criticism of religion suggested by the Catholic Voices comment - and its terms provide an effective response to extremism (which, in the media coverage, largely remains an undefined term) without representing an imposition by the state of its own values. I cannot see any reason why the UN Declaration should not be part of the expected school curriculum.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Monday 18 August 2014

Appreciating Paul VI: part 6

Some things are the same now as they were at the time of the Second Vatican Council. In this case, I think of the reasons being advanced in favour of modifying the Church's discipline with regard to priestly celibacy. John O'Malley (What happened at Vatican II) gives less coverage to the content of the discussion at the time of the Council than does Ralph Wiltgen (The Rhine flows into the Tiber pp.96-99, in the context of debate on the restoration of the permanent diaconate, and pp.262-267, in the context of the debate on the schema relating to the ministry of priests). The arguments being proffered in favour of ending the discipline were much the same then as now: responding to the shortage of priests, the difficulties being experienced by priests in keeping their promise. According to Wiltgen, the acceptance of the idea of married men being ordained to the permanent diaconate was one factor in creating a media storm in favour of changing the Church's discipline. In the end Pope Paul VI removed the question from the competence of the Council just two days before the schema on the ministry of priests was to be discussed, indicating that the discipline was to be maintained and its practise encouraged.

If Wiltgen is correct, there really was very little sense among the Fathers of the Council themselves that the Church's discipline on priestly celibacy should be changed. It was something very much "taken as read". I have for some years been struck by something similar with regard to the new ecclesial movements. Despite the lay character of the charisms of many of these movements, they by and large also have sections of their membership who, wishing to live the charism more deeply, undertake to live the evangelical counsels (Focolare and Communion and Liberation are the most obvious, but by no means the only, examples). One wonders whether Pope Paul VI's intuition in favour of priestly celibacy was not in fact a better reading of the "signs of the times" than that of the advocates of its mitigation.

At the beginning of his Encyclical Letter on Priestly Celibacy, Paul VI wrote that he wished: fulfill the promise We made to the Council Fathers. We told them that it was Our intention to give new luster and strength to priestly celibacy in the world of today. Since saying this We have, over a considerable period of time earnestly implored the enlightenment and assistance of the Holy Spirit and have examined before God opinions and petitions which have come to Us from all over the world, notably from many pastors of God's Church.
As well as a wide ranging discussion of reasons for and against the discipline of priestly celibacy, Pope Paul confirmed the discipline, with a qualification applicable to ministers of other Christian Churches and communities who are received into the Catholic Church: (Sacerdotalis coelibatus nn.14, 42):
We consider that the present law of celibacy should today continue to be linked to the ecclesiastical ministry. This law should support the minister in his exclusive, definitive and total choice of the unique and supreme love of Christ; it should uphold him in the entire dedication of himself to the public worship of God and to the service of the Church; it should distinguish his state of life both among the faithful and in the world at large......
In virtue of the fundamental norm of the government of the Catholic Church, to which We alluded above, while on the one hand, the law requiring a freely chosen and perpetual celibacy of those who are admitted to Holy Orders remains unchanged, on the other hand, a study may be allowed of the particular circumstances of married sacred ministers of Churches or other Christian communities separated from the Catholic communion, and of the possibility of admitting to priestly functions those who desire to adhere to the fullness of this communion and to continue to exercise the sacred ministry. The circumstances must be such, however, as not to prejudice the existing discipline regarding celibacy.
Despite all the contestation then and since, Pope Paul's encyclical represents the discipline of the Western Church; and, if one really looks at the sense of the Church's life rather than the efforts of the news media and activists, there has been no real sign of the discipline changing.

The Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, providing for the establishing of personal ordinariates for those being received into the Catholic Church from the Anglican Church, explicitly cites Sacerdotalis coelibatus (VI.1-2):
Those who ministered as Anglican deacons, priests, or bishops, and who fulfil the requisites established by canon law and are not impeded by irregularities or other impediments may be accepted by the Ordinary as candidates for Holy Orders in the Catholic Church.In the case of married ministers, the norms established in the Encyclical Letter of Pope Paul VI Sacerdotalis coelibatus, n. 42 and in the Statement In June are to be observed. Unmarried ministers must submit to the norm of clerical celibacy of CIC can. 277, §1.
The Ordinary, in full observance of the discipline of celibate clergy in the Latin Church, as a rule (pro regula) will admit only celibate men to the order of presbyter. He may also petition the Roman Pontiff, as a derogation from can. 277, §1, for the admission of married men to the order of presbyter on a case by case basis, according to objective criteria approved by the Holy See.
So far as I am aware, it is only under the first of these provisions that married men have been ordained to the priesthood, both in the Ordinariates and in cases of individual conversions (corrections in the comments box, please, if I am wrong). But I have wondered about the implementation of that provision more than once. My own personal anecdote in this connection refers to a meeting I was involved in several years ago, a meeting attended by myself and three priests. As it turned out, the only unmarried person at the meeting was me, my priest colleagues all being former Anglican clergy (this was before the days of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham). In some areas of the Church's life in England, the number of married priests is such that one can genuinely consider there to be, at the level of practical experience, a mixture of married and celibate clergy. There is clearly a balance to be struck between the consideration of the situations of individual cases, for which Paul VI's provision exists, and the impact more widely for the witness to the discipline of celibacy (and perhaps also, in a limited way, for a sense of justice towards those already in the Catholic Church who might feel that former Anglican clergy have access to a path to the ordained priesthood without the demand of celibacy that is not available to them). There is, I think, some value to be gained in sharing more widely how that balance is considered in decisions relating to the ordination of former Anglican clergy.

[As a somewhat personal reflection, I would find any change to the Church's discipline with regard to priestly celibacy a counter-witness to the ecclesial value of the evangelical counsels, counsels which are not "the" exclusive way of living the Christian life, but nevertheless do form a part of the whole that is ecclesial existence. They provide a "form" for all vocations, even those that do not involve embracing them in the fullest sense, and an ending of priestly celibacy would undermine witness to that "form".]

Tuesday 12 August 2014

"No religion can justify such barbarity"

The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue: no religion can justify such barbarity


I have hesitated to comment on the recent Circular Letter on the sign of peace without being able to read the text itself. An English version has been posted here, though the blog posting it has not been sympathetic to the Letter in its own comments.

I have been thinking about a number if inter-related points over the last few months, relating both to the sign of peace and to the practice of people who are not able to receive Holy Communion approaching the priest for a blessing. One prompt has been Fr Tim's post in June: The modern Sign of Peace is a distortion, a certain affinity to which you will recognise in what follows. The discussion around access to sacramental Communion for the divorced/re-married adds some immediacy to my points.

1. Approaching the priest for a blessing.
From a liturgical point of view, this does not seem to me to be envisaged by the rite of reception of sacramental Communion (a neutral point, in itself). From a pastoral point of view, it seems to be motivated by a desire at a social level that no-one appears to be left out, that everyone can feel to be taking a full part even if they are unable to receive sacramental Communion. It also seems to provide for two quite distinct types of pastoral situation: firstly, those who will at some point in the future receive Communion sacramentally (young children, catechumens and those entering into full communion with the Catholic Church); and, secondly, those who regularly attend Mass but whose life situations mean that they are not foreseeably going to be able to receive Communion (non-Catholics, non-Catholic partners, those who have re-married).

The most fundamental difficulty lies in the social sense of communion that is encouraged by this practice. It certainly seems to me a rather less appropriate practice with regard to those who will at some point in the future receive sacramentally - not approaching for a blessing in this case appears to me a better reflection of the nature of sacramental Communion as a completion of the cycle of the sacraments of initiation - than for those who regularly attend Mass but are not going to foreseeably be able to receive Communion.

2. The form of the sign of peace.
So far as I can tell, the sign of peace is always exchanged between the people in parishes in the form of a handshake (though, of course, there is some individual variation from this, say, between close family members, and my experience is limited to Europe and does not extend to the Far East, where a quite different form might be used). In the majority of those countries, a handshake is a sign that does not have a religious significance - it is the greeting that might be exchanged at the start of a business meeting, for example. A sign without a religious significance is therefore used at a point in the liturgy where the representation is one deeply laden with a religious significance.

3. A sign that is celebrated without understanding.
The explanation/directions with regard to the sign of peace in the Roman Missal only partly communicate the weight of the sign being offered (cf General Instruction nn. 82, 154):
There follows the Rite of Peace, by which the Church entreats peace and unity for herself and for the whole human family, and the faithful express to each other their ecclesial communion and mutual charity before communicating in the Sacrament....
... all express to one another peace, communion and charity.
The suggested dialogue (cf the General Instruction n.154) is, in my experience, entirely neglected, though its use would go some way towards practising the religious character of the sign:
While the Sign of Peace is being given, it is permissible to say, "The peace of the Lord be with you always", to which the reply is "Amen". 
My experience suggests that most of the clergy and most of the faithful celebrate the sign of peace as a sign of communion at a social level, and little more.

So, what is to do?

A. Restore a sense of communion in the order of grace.
It seems to me that this represents the fundamental pastoral challenge, or purpose, that practical suggestions about the sign of peace and the practice of approaching the priest for a blessing needs to meet. The "peace, communion and charity" expressed by both the sign of peace and by sacramental Communion are the "peace, communion and charity" that are given by Christ to his Church and, in the liturgical context, are given through the action of the priest ("in persona Christi") at the altar and then shared from the altar to the people. In this respect, the practice of the sign of peace in the celebration of High Mass in the Extraordinary Form is instructive, and offers a clear opportunity for enriching the celebration of Mass in the Ordinary Form.

The suggestion in the Circular Letter that Bishops Conferences might give consideration to changing the way in which the sign of peace is exchanged seems to offer a significant opportunity to achieve this. The Letter also attributes to Pope Benedict XVI a recognition of a contemporary relevance to the question:
Pope Benedict XVI, further than shedding light on the true sense of the rite and of the exchange of peace, emphasized its great significance as a contribution of Christians, with their prayer and witness to allay the most profound and disturbing anxieties of contemporary humanity ...
If the faithful through their ritual gestures do not appreciate and do not show themselves to be living the authentic meaning of the rite of peace, the Christian concept of peace is weakened and their fruitful participation at the Eucharist is impaired.
A period of catechesis in this regard seems important, if the changes suggested below are to be implemented successfully.

B. Change the manner of exchanging the sign of peace.
I think that the handshake should be replaced by the more liturgical practice of the person offering the sign placing their hands on the shoulders of the person receiving the sign, while the person receiving the sign places their hands under the elbows of the person offering. At the level of the individual members of the congregation there is therefore mirrored the offering of peace by Christ and its being received by the Church. I would also suggest that, as the Circular Letter indicates, there are circumstances where omitting the exchange of the sign of peace among the congregation is appropriate (I know one parish, for example, where the exchange of the sign of peace is reserved to Sunday Mass and major celebrations). If the relation of the exchange among the congregation to the dialogue between priest and congregation that immediately precedes it is taken seriously, then there has still been an exchange of peace. The exchange of a sign of peace among the congregation becomes a fuller liturgical expression of the exchange contained in this dialogue.

The Extraordinary Form offers an additional possibility that could inform the Ordinary Form - that the priest should kiss the altar before the dialogue with the people, so that there is represented the origination of the peace with the person of Christ represented by the altar and its subsequent communication to the Church represented by the lay faithful. See The modern Sign of Peace is a distortion.

C. End the practice of people approaching to receive a blessing.
I suggest this with two strands in support. For those who are able to receive sacramentally, or can be foreseen as being able to do so in the future, this would reduce the sense of the social in the reception of the Eucharist and enhance the sense of communion in the order of grace.

For those who are not going to be able to receive sacramentally, the promotion of a much more sacred sense of the sign of peace offers opportunity for that to become the point at which they are able to participate in an act of communion. This is, of course, a suggestion that has particular relevance to the discussion around the admission of those who are divorced/re-married to sacramental Communion.

The practical points of the Circular Letter (n.6 (a)-(d)) contain nothing that is new or has not already been said - but I have yet to see a text of the attachment to the Circular Letter referred to in (d). This is indicated as offering "helpful guidelines" to help Bishops Conferences in preparing catecheses on the rite of peace and its proper realization in the Liturgy.

And, for those who would insist on a practice of the sign of peace that reflects a social, pastoral care or congratulatory role (cf n.6 (a) of the Circular Letter), I would end with the same suggestion made by Fr Tim at the end of his post. All of these pastoral needs can be met by adopting strategies outside of the immediate liturgical celebration - greeting people before or after the celebration, arrangements for a social gathering after Mass.

I wish to make clear that the above post does not assert that the Sign of Peace of the Ordinary Form is meaningless, nor that it is about a social inclusion only. I express the view, based on my own experience, that "most of the clergy and most of the faithful celebrate the sign of peace as a sign of communion at a social level, and little more" - an observation about the practise rather than the principle of the meaning of the sign. The post intends to suggest a way in which clergy and faithful can celebrate the sign such that its full liturgical and ecclesial meaning is better expressed; and it goes on to suggest a relevance of this to the question of the admission of divorced/re-married Catholics to sacramental Communion.

Monday 11 August 2014

Appreciating Paul VI: Part 5

When Pope Benedict XVI announced the Year of Faith that was to begin on 11th October 2012 and end on 24th November 2013, he identified the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council as prompts for the date chosen to open the year. He went on to refer to the Year of Faith that had been celebrated in 1967-68 at the instigation of Pope Paul VI.
My venerable Predecessor the Servant of God Paul VI announced one in 1967, to commemorate the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul on the 19th centenary of their supreme act of witness. He thought of it as a solemn moment for the whole Church to make “an authentic and sincere profession of the same faith”; moreover, he wanted this to be confirmed in a way that was “individual and collective, free and conscious, inward and outward, humble and frank”. He thought that in this way the whole Church could re-appropriate “exact knowledge of the faith, so as to reinvigorate it, purify it, confirm it, and confess it”. The great upheavals of that year made even more evident the need for a celebration of this kind. It concluded with the Credo of the People of God, intended to show how much the essential content that for centuries has formed the heritage of all believers needs to be confirmed, understood and explored ever anew, so as to bear consistent witness in historical circumstances very different from those of the past.
Pope Paul's Profession of Faith, pronounced solemnly as the homily during Mass in St Peter's Square on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul in 1968 was, and remains, a tremendous gift to the Church. It very quickly came to be known by the title Credo of the People of God, and the full text is well worth reading. There is a "back story" to Paul VI's Credo, one aspect of which Paul VI refers to himself in his introductory paragraphs to the Credo, and the other of which has emerged since.

During the year or so leading up to the proclamation of the Credo, the Holy See engaged in a lengthy dialogue with the authors, or at least the representatives of the authors designated by the Dutch Bishops Conference,  of what was known as the Dutch Catechism. This catechism had the imprimatur of the Dutch Bishops Conference; it was eventually judged to be inadequate as an expression of Catholic faith by a commission of Cardinals appointed by the Holy See to examine it, in dialogue with its authors. At the time, it was the subject of considerable controversy, and it was to the disquiet caused in the Church by this controversy that Paul VI refers in the introduction to the Credo. Mgr Eugene Kevane's book Creed and Catechetics describes this background (pp.61-71 in my 1978 paperback edition); I have not found an on-line account. Mgr Kevane points out that many of the doctrinal difficulties that can be identified in the text of the Dutch Catechism receive a response in the text of the Credo.

The second aspect of the "back story" relates to the formulation of the text itself. According to the account of this article from the magazine 30 Days, it is to Jacques Maritain that we owe a draft that largely became the text proclaimed by Paul VI. Reading the 30 Days article suggests that Maritain experienced a certain charismatic inspiration for his suggestion that Pope Paul should make a profession of faith akin to the great professions of faith of earlier times in the Church. But there is also a more interesting intuition on Maritain's part, and that is the intuition that anathematic condemnations would not be a sufficient way of responding to the situation of the Church at that time. There is a genius in the Credo of the People of God that combines both a clarity and a firmness of teaching with a beauty of expression, an exercise of the Office of the Successor Peter with a regard for the dignity that belongs to all the faithful. Pope Paul explained at the end of his introductory paragraphs (my italics added):
On this day which is chosen to close the Year of Faith, on this feast of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul, we have wished to offer to the living God the homage of a profession of faith. And as once at Caesarea Philippi the apostle Peter spoke on behalf of the twelve to make a true confession, beyond human opinions, of Christ as Son of the living God, so today his humble successor, pastor of the Universal Church, raises his voice to give, on behalf of all the People of God, a firm witness to the divine Truth entrusted to the Church to be announced to all nations....
To the glory of God most holy and of our Lord Jesus Christ, trusting in the aid of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the holy apostles Peter and Paul, for the profit and edification of the Church, in the name of all the pastors and all the faithful, we now pronounce this profession of faith, in full spiritual communion with you all, beloved brothers and sons.

Thursday 7 August 2014

I am a Christian

This morning ACN received an urgent message from Patriarch Louis Sako in Baghdad. Overnight the largest Christian town and surrounding villages on the Niniveh Plains fell to ISIS (now Islamic State) and, as we speak, up to one hundred thousand Christians are evacuating on foot, leaving everything behind them. The Patriarch calls it ‘an exodus, a real via crucis’.

He says, “The ISIS militants attacked with mortars most of the villages of the plain of Niniveh, during the night of 6th-7th August and now they are controlling the area. The Christians, about one hundred thousand, horrified and panicked, fled their villages and houses [with] nothing but... the clothes on their backs. An exodus, a real via crucis, Christians are walking on foot in Iraq’s searing summer heat towards the Kurdish cities of Erbil, Duhok and Soulaymiyia, the sick, the elderly, infants and pregnant women among them. They are facing a human catastrophe and risk a real genocide. They need water, food, shelter…”

“Regarding the churches and church properties in the villages now being occupied by the ISIS militants, we have reports of destruction and desecration. The old manuscripts and documents are being burnt.”

In desperation he concludes, “We appeal with sadness and pain to the conscience of all and all people of good will and the United Nations and the European Union, to save these innocent persons from death. We hope it is not too late!”

At this moment in history when Christianity in Iraq stands on the brink of extinction, ACN needs your help. Your prayers and your efforts WILL make a difference.

This weekend, Aid to the Church in Need, working with the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, is calling for personal and parish prayer for the Church in Iraq. Please download our Prayer for Peace in Iraq, Solidarity Poster and our Bidding Prayer and other resources from our website and Like and Share them via Facebook.

If we work together and share information with our networks we can create a groundswell of prayerful solidarity for the Christians of Iraq and all those caught up in this disaster. Please help.

We owe a deep debt of gratitude to all of our ACN benefactors who so generously and loyally offer support when they can. If, at this moment, you feel you are in a position to reach out to the stricken community in Iraq, a gift - no matter how small - will be an act of love and compassion and helps us to provide emergency aid.

This weekend, let us stand by our brothers and sisters by saying ‘I am Iraqi, I am Christian.’

Thank you and God Bless. 

Wednesday 6 August 2014

Quoting Pope Francis on what makes for human happiness

On 5th August, speaking to a large group of German speaking altar servers on pilgrimage to Rome, Pope Francis said (see the CNS report here and original text at the Vatican website here):
Prima di tutto ricordiamoci che il mondo ha bisogno di persone che testimonino agli altri che Dio ci ama, che è nostro Padre. Nella società, tutti gli individui hanno il compito di mettersi al servizio del bene comune, offrendo le cose necessarie per l’esistenza: il cibo, i vestiti, le cure mediche, l’istruzione, l’informazione, la giustizia… Noi discepoli del Signore abbiamo una missione in più: quella di essere “canali” che trasmettono l’amore di Gesù. ....
[First of all let us remember that the world needs people who will testify to others that God loves them, that he is our Father. In society, every individual has the task of placing themselves at the service of the common good, offering the things necessary for existence: food, clothing,...We disciples of the Lord have a mission that is more: that of being "channels" which transmit the love of Jesus....]
Se seguirete Gesù e il suo Vangelo, la vostra libertà sboccerà come una pianta in fiore, e porterà frutti buoni e abbondanti! Troverete la gioia autentica, perché Lui ci vuole uomini e donne pienamente felici e realizzati. Solo aderendo alla volontà di Dio possiamo compiere il bene ed essere luce del mondo e sale della terra!   
[If you follow Jesus and his Gospel, your freedom will blossom like a plant in bloom and will bring good and abundant fruit. You will find authentic joy, because he wants us to be men and women who are happy and fulfilled. Only by adhering to the will of God can we fulfil the good and be the light of the world and salt of the earth]
And speaking at the General Audience on 6th August (full Italian text at the Vatican website here), he spoke further of what makes for our happiness. The Holy Father was speaking of what constitutes the "newness" of the people of the Church compared to the people of the Old Testament, and presented the Beatitudes in comparison to the Decalogue in this respect. The italics added are mine:
Come Mosè aveva stipulato l’alleanza con Dio in forza della legge ricevuta sul Sinai, così Gesù, da una collina in riva al lago di Galilea, consegna ai suoi discepoli e alla folla un insegnamento nuovo che comincia con le Beatitudini. Mosè dà la Legge sul Sinai e Gesù, il nuovo Mosè, dà la Legge su quel monte, sulla riva del lago di Galilea. Le Beatitudini sono la strada che Dio indica come risposta al desiderio di felicità insito nell’uomo, e perfezionano i comandamenti dell’Antica Alleanza.
[As Moses had set out the covenant with God in terms of the law received on Sinai, so Jesus, from a hillside on the bank of Lake Galileee, gave to his disciples and to the crowd a new teaching that begins with the Beatitudes. Moses gave the Law on Sinai and Jesus, the new Moses, gave the Law on this mountain, on the bank of Lake Galilee. The Beatitudes are the road that God indicates as the answer to the desire for happiness inserted in mankind, and they complete the commandments of the Old Testament.]
Pope Francis concluded his audience (again my italics added):
Cari amici, la nuova alleanza consiste proprio in questo: nel riconoscersi, in Cristo, avvolti dalla misericordia e dalla compassione di Dio. È questo che riempie il nostro cuore di gioia, ed è questo che fa della nostra vita una testimonianza bella e credibile dell’amore di Dio per tutti i fratelli che incontriamo ogni giorno. 
[Dear friends, the new covenant consists precisely in this: in recognising, in Christ, the fullness of the mercy and the compassion of God. It is this that fills our heart with joy, and it is this that makes of our life a beautiful and credible witness to the love of God for all our brothers and sisters who we meet every day.]
Perhaps those who would misrepresent Pope Francis' recent interview in an Argentine weekly (CNS report here, and an example of its misrepresentation here) would do well to read more widely.

Tuesday 5 August 2014

Appreciating Paul VI: part 4

During the pontificate of Pope Paul VI, the Vatican pursued a policy of rapprochement towards the then-Communist regimes of Eastern Europe. This Ostpolitik paralleled the policy pursued at the same time by Western governments that went by the name détente. Those with greater historical knowledge and analytical skill will be able to answer the question as to how far this approach enabled a sufficient survival of Christian faith behind the Iron Curtain to provide a foundation for the changed situation that came about with the later election of Pope John Paul II to the See of St Peter.

It should be clear, first of all, that Pope Paul's teaching opposed Communist ideology. It can be seen as having an origin in the Constitution Gaudium et Spes (nn.20-21), a constitution of the Second Vatican Council that Paul himself promulgated:
Not to be overlooked among the forms of modern atheism is that which anticipates the liberation of man especially through his economic and social emancipation. This form argues that by its nature religion thwarts this liberation by arousing man's hope for a deceptive future life, thereby diverting him from the constructing of the earthly city. Consequently when the proponents of this doctrine gain governmental power they vigorously fight against religion, and promote atheism by using, especially in the education of youth, those means of pressure which public power has at its disposal....
While rejecting atheism, root and branch, the Church sincerely professes that all men, believers and unbelievers alike, ought to work for the rightful betterment of this world in which all alike live; such an ideal cannot be realized, however, apart from sincere and prudent dialogue. Hence the Church protests against the distinction which some state authorities make between believers and unbelievers, with prejudice to the fundamental rights of the human person. The Church calls for the active liberty of believers to build up in this world God's temple too. She courteously invites atheists to examine the Gospel of Christ with an open mind. 
While Communism is not here condemned or referred to by name, what is intended by this teaching is clear enough in the text - but even more so when the footnotes referring to Pius XI, Pius XII and John XXIII are consulted. Pope Paul VI was to issue his own, more explicit treatment of Communism in 1971, in the Apostolic Letter Octogesima Adveniens  n.26:
Therefore the Christian who wishes to live his faith in a political activity which he thinks of as service cannot without contradicting himself adhere to ideological systems which radically or substantially go against his faith and his concept of man. He cannot adhere to the Marxist ideology, to its atheistic materialism, to its dialectic of violence and to the way it absorbs individual freedom in the collectivity, at the same time denying all transcendence to man and his personal and collective history;

And with a balancing teaching against a liberal ideology:
nor can he adhere to the liberal ideology which believes it exalts individual freedom by with drawing it from every limitation, by stimulating it through exclusive seeking of interest and power, and by considering social solidarities as more or less automatic consequences of individual initiatives, not as an aim and a major criterion of the value of the social organization. 
 An evaluation of Vatican Ostpolitik published in 1976 in Keston College's (as it then was) journal Religion in Communist Lands summarised (but do read the whole article as well): has had the following results: first, the persecution of the Church in Poland, Hungary and East Germany has been reduced (this did not apply, however, to the Church in the USSR, Romania and Czechoslovakia); second, the Vatican's anti-communist propaganda has declined; third, a series of exchanges have taken place between papal and communist officials; fourth, Catholics under communist regimes have felt abandoned by the Vatican.
 From an ecclesiological point of view, one might ask whether the pursuit of direct contacts between the Vatican and Communist regimes which appear, at least at times, to have by-passed the "local churches" in the persons of their bishops was a practise that truly reflected the nature of the "local church" as the presence in a particular place of the universal Church. One might also wonder whether or not the particular genius of Roman Catholicism in having a Supreme Pastor out of the reach of worldly powers able to "confirm in the faith" a local pastor without grace or favour to said worldly powers was adequately expressed.

Ostpolitik certainly had its low points - the humiliation of Cardinal Mindszenty, for example, as he was persuaded to leave Hungary to make possible an agreement between the Vatican and the Hungarian government, and the appointment of a number of inadequate bishops in (then) Czechoslovakia. Another commentator, journalist Desmond O'Grady, identifies a substantial success for Ostpolitik in a chapter of his book The Turned Card. It was the Holy See that proposed that the Helsinki accords on security and cooperation in Europe should acknowledge liberty of conscience and religious freedom as being the right of all peoples. It is worth remembering how influential these accords were for the Human Rights movement in the then- Communist countries in the late 1970's and the 1980's.

The tensions latent in the policy of Ostpolitik were apparent in the particular situation of Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski. In the early pages of his prison notes published under the title A Freedom Wthin, Cardinal Wyszynski explained why he worked towards achieving what was at the time termed "the Mutual Understanding" between the Church in Poland and the Communist authorities, a move that foreshadowed what was later to be undertaken by Cardinal Casaroli as Ostpolitik:
Why did I work towards the Mutual Understanding? From the very beginning, I was and continued to be of the opinion that Poland, like the Church, had lost too much blood during the German occupation to be able to afford to shed any more. It was necessary at any and all costs to stop this process of spiritual bloodshed and return to a normal life so indispensable in the development of the country and the Church.
This was the early 1950s. By the time that Cardinal Casaroli visited Poland in 1974 for meetings with the government, there was a clear concern on the part of Cardinal Wyszynski that an agreement might be reached between the Vatican and Poland's government that left unaddressed his concerns about the Church being allowed to play its proper part in Polish society (cf Poland: Troubled Relations between Church and State, an article published in Religion in Communist Lands).

Somewhat as a postscript, one can perhaps observe that a question in the background of the "dialogue" of Ostpolitik is still relevant today. It is the question of the appropriate relation of religious institutions to the instruments of the State, and of religious believers in respect of wider society. Read again Pope Benedict's words in Westminster Hall in 2010, and ask yourself whether or not they might have been applied to the countries of the Communist bloc in the years before 1989:
Religion, in other words, is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation. In this light, I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalization of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance. There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere. There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none. And there are those who argue – paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination – that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience. These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square. I would invite all of you, therefore, within your respective spheres of influence, to seek ways of promoting and encouraging dialogue between faith and reason at every level of national life.