Monday 30 March 2015

Good Friday Way of the Cross at the Colosseum

Over the years, the celebration of the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum, at which the Holy Father presides, has given us a wonderful range of meditations written for the occasion. This celebration, and that which forms part of the World Youth Days, has contributed to the renewal for our own times in the celebration of a devotion which can be called "traditional" in the best sense of that word.

The meditations for this year's celebration have been written by Msgr. Renato Corti, Emeritus Bishop of Novara, and have the title The Cross Radiant Culmination of God's Protective Love with a subititle We, too are called, in love, to be protectors. One can identify in the meditations a certain Jesuit spirit, and also the particular spirit of Pope Francis.

The meditations have been posted at the Vatican website: The Cross Radiant Culmination of God's Protective Love. I have not read them all yet, but found the second meditation moving:

From the Gospel according to Mark
“After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him”
The soldiers of the governor surround me. For them, I am no longer a person but a thing. They want to toy with me, to mock me. So they dress me up as a king. There is even a crown, a crown of thorns. They strike my head with a reed. They spit on me. They lead me off.
I keep thinking of the striking passage of the prophet Isaiah about the Servant of the Lord. It says that he had no appearance of beauty; he was despised; he was a man of sorrows; he was like a lamb led to the slaughter; he was cut off from the land of the living; he was beaten to death. I am that Servant, sent to reveal the greatness of God’s love for man.
You, Jesus, were “numbered with the transgressors”.  Among the first generation of Christians, simply because they spoke openly of you, Peter and John, Paul and Silas were cast into prison. This has happened repeatedly throughout history.
In our day too, men and women are imprisoned, condemned and even slaughtered for the simple reason that they are believers or engaged in promoting justice and peace. They are not ashamed of your cross. For us they are wonderful examples to imitate.
On the morning of 2 March 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Minister for Minorities, was killed by a group of armed men. In his spiritual testament he had written:
“I remember a Good Friday when I was only thirteen years old. I heard a sermon on the sacrifice of Jesus for our redemption and for the salvation of the world. And I thought of responding to that love by showing love for our brothers and sisters, placing myself at the service of Christians, especially the poor, the needy and the persecuted who live in this Islamic country.
“I want my life, my character and my actions to speak for me, and to say that I am a follower of Jesus Christ. This is so strong a desire in me that I would consider it a privilege if Jesus should wish to accept the sacrifice of my life”.
In the light of this testimony, let us pray: Lord Jesus, you strengthen inwardly all who suffer persecution. May the fundamental right of religious freedom spread throughout the world. We thank you for all those who, like “angels”, give marvellous signs of your coming Kingdom.

Friday 27 March 2015

The Passion in Trafalgar Square

The Passion of Jesus in Trafalgar Square (and also here) is a very impressive occasion each year. If there is an example of the "new evangelisation" in action, then surely this is it. Performances at 12 noon and 3.15 pm on Good Friday.

Thursday 26 March 2015

The Synod on Marriage and the Family

I have for some time now been meaning to link to this sequence of posts about the Synod.

The Synod on Marriage and the Family 1

The Synod on Marriage and the Family 2

The Synod on Marriage and the Family 3

The Synod on Marriage and the Family 4

The Synod on Marriage and the Family 5

The Synod on Marriage and the Family 6

The Synod on Marriage and the Family 7

The Synod on Marriage and the Family 8

I am particularly struck by Fr Richard's suggestion that Humanae Vitae teaches the mission of spouses for the transmission of life and places their mission centre stage, not just in the life of the Church, but in the life of the world.

Friday 20 March 2015

Give Away Lines (2): From the Traditionalist Camp

From here and then circulated elsewhere (with my italics added):
My deepest fear is that if Pope Francis continues to push the Church toward heresy that we may experience a war among the faithful that would make Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s opposition after Vatican II appear like a simple objection!
So it is taken as read that Pope Francis is pushing the Church towards heresy? There really isn't a glimmer of truth in that assertion.

But the "give away" is not so much that something is being said about Pope Francis that isn't true. The "give away" is about how it comes to be that such a point of view has any traction at all amongst those who self identify as traditionalists (or as "faithful Catholics" or "loyal Catholics").

If you keep saying it, and saying it, and saying it again, ..... within your own self-referential circle ..... well, you end up believing it. And you end up convincing yourselves that you are on shaky ground and without any certainties of faith any more. And you all buy in to a fear that should not have been aroused in the first place. WYSIWYG - what you say is what you get. You end up needing to "mind the gap" between your own little world and the real one....

Those who blog and re-blog, and tweet and re-tweet, need to recognise their share in the responsibility for this .....

Those who find excuse to, oh ever so reasonably (not), attack Pope Francis time and time again need to recognise their share in the responsibility for this too, perhaps particularly those who have a certain discretion about it but nevertheless help to create the aetherial environment in which ideas gain traction that are not worthy of credibility .....

I suspect that Pope Francis' word for much of this would be "gossip" - and his scathing comment on the harm that it does to all involved is very much on the record.

Tuesday 17 March 2015

Je suis Stefano, je suis Domenico (UPDATED - AGAIN)

Messrs Dolce and Gabbano are taking some criticism from the great and good over the content of an interview given to the Italian magazine Panorama. In publishing the text of the interview online (sorry, no time to translate), Panorama observes that much of the (international) controversy has arisen as a result of Elton John's intervention rather than from a reading of the text of the interview itself. Unfortunately, the words that provoked the ire of the great and good occur early in the interview thus losing a certain context that is gained by reading the rest of the interview.

The first context is a project of Dolce and Gabbano to gather images of families from all over the world: #DGfamily, with its strapline "The family is our point of reference". The #DGfamily archive is also the subject of a study at the Centre for Fashion and Cultural Production at the Catholic University of Milan. There is also a context in their recent presentation of their collection at Milan Fashion Week.

The recognition that it is not possible/appropriate that a relationship such as their own should be seen as a marriage or a family, or that it should issue in children, represent an interesting contribution to contemporary discussion on the family. The Panorama interview, seen as a whole, offers a fascinating reflection on the question of the family, from the point of view of two gay men (at one time in a relationship but now just professional colleagues) and from  the point of view of  their own experiences of lives lived in families. The interview offers an argument for a permanence in value of the "traditional family" - they do not believe there is any family other than that. Clearly Elton John - with two children conceived through IVF and carried by a surrogate mother - has a stake in trying to silence this point of view.

Which is why the most fundamental thing to be said in the context of the controversy following Elton John's intervention is said at the beginning of further coverage at Panorama online:
"Dolce e Gabbana sono liberi di esprimersi sulla famiglia e sui figli, nessuno ha diritto di censurarli, come hanno preteso di fare Elton John e altri"... [Dolce and Gabbana are free to express themselves on the family and on children, no-one has the right to censor them, as Elton John and others have tried to do...]
Or, as the title of this post says:
Je suis Stefano, je suis Domenico 
The Catholic theologian commenting in Panorama does not accept the description of IVF conceived children as "children of a chemistry" or "synthetic children" given by Domenico Dolce in the interview, wishing instead to refer to them as children who "remain human individuals ... who have a dignity and value as such". However, he insists that it is possible to remain critical of the means used to conceive such a child whilst still respecting and recognising them fully as human persons. Mgr Cozzoli goes on to offer a very capable exposition of a Catholic position for a general audience.

The whole original interview is worth reading, but I offer a flavour here. Domenico Dolce's reply to the question "Would you like to have been parents?":
Sono gay, non posso avere un figlio. Credo che non si possa avere tutto dalla vita, se non c’è vuol dire che non ci deve essere. È anche bello privarsi di qualcosa. La vita ha un suo percorso naturale, ci sono cose che non vanno modificate. E una di queste è la famiglia. [I am gay, I cannot have a child. I believe that it is not possible to have everything in life, if it is not possible one can say that it must not be. And it is also beautiful to deny oneself something. Life has a natural course, there are things that cannot be changed. And one of these is the family.] 
This article offers more comment on the Dolce and Gabbana vs. Elton John controversy, and usefully summarises the substance of the interview as follows:
The sexual complementarity of parents, the indispensability of the mother and father, and the centrality of love in procreative relationships, are serious issues, and Gabbana’s praise of the ‘supernatural sense of belonging’ in family life strike me as a charismatic endorsement of the family.
UPDATED: Thinking Faith has a post here that comments on the Elton John/Dolce and Gabbana flare up in terms of the nature of the internet and how St Ignatius might suggest we use that medium: #BoycottOnlineAnger: Elton John and Dolce & Gabbana . I quote from this post:
...St Ignatius’s advice to spiritual directors in the famous Paragraph 22 of the Spiritual Exercises, which says the following:
To assure better cooperation between the one who is giving the Exercises and the exercitant, and more beneficial results for both, it is necessary to suppose that every good Christian is more ready to put a good interpretation on another’s statement than to condemn it as false.
This is often referred to as the ‘Presupposition’, and it has a wider application than the Exercises: is a foundation stone for all civil communication. 
Whilst I have not followed events fully, it is apparent that Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana have received more support for the position on marriage articulated in their interview than one might have expected.

UPDATED - AGAIN: see also this blog post at the Tablet website: Children raised by gay parents thank Dolce and Gabbana.

Sunday 15 March 2015

Give Away Lines (1): Theresa May on Child Sexual Abuse

Quoted in a BBC News headline, the Home Secretary Theresa May's original words come from an article in The Telegraph : Theresa May: Child abuse in the UK runs far deeper than you know. (The article, by the way, is a useful read for what it suggests about an appropriate language to use with regard to sexual abuse of children.)
We already know the trail will lead into our schools and hospitals, our churches, our youth clubs and many other institutions that should have been places of safety but instead became the setting for the most appalling abuse. However, what the country doesn’t yet appreciate is the true scale of that abuse. And that is understandable. I have only learnt about the extent and breadth of the problem since I first announced an overarching inquiry into whether public bodies and other non-state institutions had failed in their duty of care towards children. ....
In my discussions with older victims and survivors and their representatives, I began to realise how abuse is woven, covertly, into the fabric of our society.  
Of the institutions referred to in Theresa May's articles, I suspect that some are already "there" in terms of recognising where the trail will lead. The Catholic Church, for example, has already been rocked for many years by the scandal of the abuse of children by clergy. In addressing that issue, the Church in England and Wales already has in place a regime that takes harsher action in response to a report of an allegation against clergy or employees than would be taken in comparable circumstances for other professionals working with children.

What I find interesting in Theresa May's article are the following words:
....I began to realise how abuse is woven, covertly, into the fabric of our society.
The inquiry into how institutions failed in this regard aims to undo the "weave" of the abuse that has occurred, and to lead to institutions and individuals being held to account. But, after having undone that "weave", is there not a work to be done with regard to the remaining "fabric"?  Institutions and society are not co-terminous, and so, if Theresa May is right in what she says, there is a need for a searching look at the fabric of society, too, to see whether or not there are aspects of the fabric that allow abuse to be woven through it. And that is inescapably a question about what constitutes the shared morality of our society.

Pope Benedict XVI recognised this need for a renewal to accompany action on abuse of children in his Letter to the Catholics of Ireland, where n.14 gives outlines of a programme of renewal in the Church in Ireland that were to go alongside the expectation of decisive action by ecclesiastical authorities. And, speaking in Westminster Hall in 2010, he indicated the part that religion can play "to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles".

Whilst Theresa May's words are horrifying in their implications about the extent of abuse, do they not also have a "give away" character to them in asking a challenging question of our society that she might not have intended?

Saturday 14 March 2015

A Year of Mercy

In the context of a world wide day particularly dedicated to repentance and the celebration of the Sacrament of Penance, Pope Francis has announced an extraordinary Jubilee Year dedicated to Divine Mercy:
Dear brothers and sisters, I have often thought about how the Church might make clear its mission of being a witness to mercy. It is journey that begins with a spiritual conversion. For this reason, I have decided to call an extraordinary Jubilee that is to have the mercy of God at its center. It shall be a Holy Year of Mercy. We want to live this Year in the light of the Lord's words: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (cf. Lk 6:36)”
This Holy Year will begin on this coming Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and will end on November 20, 2016, the Sunday dedicated to Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – and living face of the Father’s mercy. I entrust the organization of this Jubilee to the Pontifical Council for Promotion of the New Evangelization, that [the dicastery] might animate it as a new stage in the journey of the Church on its mission to bring to every person the Gospel of mercy.
I have in the past commented on this blog about a "teaching moment" and a "pastoral moment" that I believe exist in the experience of living a Christian life. There are opportunities and times when it is entirely appropriate that the Pope, Bishop or priest should teach the content of the faith and its subsequent demand for conversion of life. In catechesis of the young and those who are new to the Catholic faith and in programmes of marriage preparation, for example, it would be entirely right to teach fully and with charity what the Church holds with regard to marriage and sexuality. And there are other moments when, in caring for an individual in their particular circumstances, it is a pastoral care that has priority in showing the love of the Father shown in Jesus Christ to an individual. Indeed, to teach at that moment might have the character of a proselytism that denies the freedom of the individual in circumstances where they are vulnerable. I suspect, to continue my topical example, that the person who has divorced and remarried does not need to be told that what they have done is wrong in the eyes of the Church. In fulfilling its mission, the Church needs both moments, the "teaching moment" and the "pastoral moment", held in their appropriate balance. To play the one off against the other, or to try and practice the one without an adherence to the other, is to undermine the work of evangelisation.

I think I have also in the past reflected on the nature of the various "Years of X" that were a feature of the pontificates of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI as a particular manner of the exercise of the office of the Successor Peter in the Church. They hold in balance the teaching of n.882 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter's successor, "is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful." "For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.
and the teaching of n.886:
"The individual bishops are the visible source and foundation of unity in their own particular Churches." As such, they "exercise their pastoral office over the portion of the People of God assigned to them," assisted by priests and deacons. But, as a member of the episcopal college, each bishop shares in the concern for all the Churches. The bishops exercise this care first "by ruling well their own Churches as portions of the universal Church," and so contributing "to the welfare of the whole Mystical Body, which, from another point of view, is a corporate body of Churches"
In other words, it is an exercise of the office of the Successor of Peter which promotes and encourages, in the local Churches by way of the rightful exercise of the office of the Bishop, priest and deacon, a universal concern and immediacy of the office of the Successor Peter. It is profoundly an act of ecclesial communion.

For me it is also essential to view the Year of Mercy in an absolute hermeneutic of continuity with the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and not to suggest that it is in any way in contradiction to them. If commentators want to see it that way, well, WYWSIWYWG - "What you will see is what you will get", with the angst that goes with that being spread through the Church - whether or not it is the reality. That Pope Francis should initiate a Holy Year that reflects the charism of pastor that he has brought to his particular way of exercising the office of the Successor Peter (where Pope Benedict XVI brought the charism of a teacher) should not surprise us.

I, for one, look forward to the Extraordinary Jubilee of the Year of Mercy.

But, meanwhile, don't forget the Year of Consecrated Life (and here).

Sunday 8 March 2015

Film Review: Still Alice

Still Alice is a film based on a novel of the same title by Lisa Genova. According to her Amazon page:
Lisa Genova is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Still Alice, Left Neglected, Love Anthony, and Inside the O'Briens. Lisa graduated valedictorian from Bates College with a degree in biopsychology and holds a PhD in neuroscience from Harvard University. She travels worldwide speaking about Alzheimer's Disease, traumatic brain injury, and autism. She lives with her family in Massachusetts.

At least from the professional point of view, the book and subsequently the film, seem to have an element of autobiography. I have not yet had the opportunity to read the novel, so cannot really consider the film in the light of the book.

If you haven't seen the film yet, beware - the review that follows includes some key plot spoilers.

When Zero and I saw it yesterday, representatives of the film makers were asking viewers of the film to fill out response questionnaires after the film. I do not know if this is a common practice, but it is the first time I have encountered it. So far as I could tell, the response rate was very high, and cinema goers seemed to be taking considerable care over their responses. The film review at SIGNIS captures something of the kind of sense as you see this film (and I do think it is a film to see at the cinema rather than at home):
It was extraordinary the silence in the cinema as people, we together, watched Still Alice. What were we thinking, what were we feeling? Were we identifying with Alice personally, the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease, the fact that she was only 50, that she was a world-class academic and expert on linguistics and was suffering deterioration in her deepest talent? Were we thinking about relatives or friends with Alzheimer’s, trying to appreciate the condition, their feelings? Had we had some experience of care for a person with Alzheimer’s or was this a prospect to come? Watching the film was certainly a personal, sad, even draining experience.   
There is an aspect of the experience of Alzheimer's shown in the film that it is easy to miss. The experience being portrayed is not that of someone now in their 80's or 90's, whose early life memories would reach back to the 1930's and 1940's, when the lap top computer would have been beyond imagination. Instead, it is the experience of someone who has been young in our own lifetimes, an experience likely to be ours of the future, rather than the experience of the older generation of today. It would be interesting, too, to reflect on whether a similar film made in an attempt to portray the experience of a man would show a significantly different experience. I suspect that it might.

I may have missed them, but I was struck by the way in which the film did not seem to portray the strategies that a family or friends might use when living with and helping to support an Alzheimer's sufferer.

In focussing on the figure of Alice, one can lose sight of the experience of family members and professional colleagues that is shown in the film. A scene where Alice's department head reads the negative feedback from students who have been attending her lectures, and only then learns of her Alzheimer's, though the students have been adversely affected by it for all of the preceding semester, is telling in this regard. The impact on family members is portrayed at different points throughout the film, though it is useful to consciously notice it rather than just seeing it as part of the narrative of Alice's experience. At the level of the acting performances, a similar comment can be made. Julianne Moore's Oscar winning performance as Alice is framed by outstanding performances from Kristen Steward, Alex Baldwin and Kate Bosworth.

Still Alice is full of moving moments. The scene where Alice and John tell their children that Alice has Alzheimer's, and that it is a hereditary form comes first. Both within the narrative of the film and in the mind of the viewer, it is a scene that asks the question: how do we cope with looking forward to possibly struggling with Alzheimer's later in our lives? This foreknowledge is perhaps part of the experience of our generation in a way that was not true for earlier generations.

A second key scene is where Alice speaks to a conference of Alzheimer's care givers. The speech in this section of the film represents a kind of manifesto in favour of those who struggle with Alzheimer's - "struggle" being the word chosen rather than "suffer". Part of that speech features in the end of the trailer that can be found embedded in the Telegraph online review. I was particularly struck by Alice's choice to talk about struggling with slowly losing everything that had previously been part of her life and of her connection to life around her (this is why I think this is a film to see with others in a cinema rather than in isolation on a small screen).

Next is the scene where Alice's daughter asks her to describe what it feels like and Alice, in a moment of lucidity, does so.

And the final scene where, after her daughter has read to her a long passage, Alice responds to the daughter's asking that "It's about love" (it wasn't). Since this comes after the daughter has returned home to care for her mother, it is very poignant.

Without giving an answer either way, the film asks whether it would be better for someone to die rather than struggle with Alzheimer's. At a relatively early point in the film, Alice says to her husband that she would rather have cancer than Alzheimer's, with the husband replying "Don't say that". Alice also records a movie on her laptop giving instructions about how to take an overdose once she has reached the point where she cannot remember her family. In an intensely dramatic moment, she later accidentally opens this movie and starts to follow its instructions (her memory is so impaired that she has to take the laptop upstairs to the bedroom cabinet in order to follow the instructions one at a time). The arrival of her carer at the last minute saves Alice's life. And shortly before the end of the film, Alice is asked by her husband in an ice cream parlour whether or not she still wants to be here. At this point, Alice can only understand the question in terms of the ice cream parlour, and the fact that she has not yet finished her ice cream - very sad but also very informative of the possibility of consent to assisted suicide at that point in the disease.

It is a film to see, but do take tissues.

Sunday 1 March 2015

Immigration, Human Rights and the General Election

In their letter to Catholics ahead of the General Election, the Bishops Conference of England and Wales observe that:
We support policies which fairly regulate immigration and uphold the human rights of all, recognising the rights, dignity and protection of refugees and migrants.
Speaking today on BBC television, Cardinal Vincent Nichols has urged that the people who are at the centre of the debate about migration - those seeking to cross the Mediterranean to enter Europe, those desperate to cross the Channel from Calais into the UK - be recognised and treated as persons:
"But what I want to say is these are people we're talking about - the people who drown in the Mediterranean trying to get into Europe, the people caged in Calais because they're desperate. We have to somehow keep the human person at the front of all these issues..."
It is well that we remind ourselves of the obligations that Britain has, not only arising from its membership of the European Union, but arising from its commitment to United Nations protocols. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for example, expresses a right for all people to be recognised everywhere as a person before the law and as having a right to seek asylum in a country other than their own to escape persecution. The UN Convention and Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees also specifies the different aspects of a general obligation that refugees should be treated equally with nationals or with other foreign persons living in a country of refuge.

It is true to say that these obligations arise under the condition that a refugee resides legally in their host country. But equally one can ask whether the nations of the European Union, collectively and individually, are really willing to recognise that those seeking to enter their countries have a right to be recognised as refugees. Are these countries preventing people who should rightfully be allowed legal residence as refugees from entry, and therefore giving rise to their illegal entry? Are they, in effect, being denied any recognition as persons before the law, whose access as refugees to a country should be given full consideration?

As Cardinal Nichols observed, we have to somehow keep the human person at the forefront of these issues.