Thursday 30 April 2015

Ban Ki-Moon's address to Vatican workshop on climate change: reflections on policy, science and the religions

On Tuesday of this week, the Pontifical Academy of Science and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences co-hosted a workshop entitled Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity: The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Humanity. As one of the organisers of the workshop recognised, the workshop engaged the three fields of science, of morality (and therefore of the religions) and of policy.

The General Secretary of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon gave a keynote address to the workshop. Two texts are available, a fuller text at he website of the United Nations and shorter text at the website of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences whose premises hosted the workshop.

From the point of view of science, I think it is fair to say that Ban Ki-moon spoke as if the science on climate change is one single, monolithic body of work:
Together, we must clearly communicate that the science of climate change is deep, sound and not in doubt.
Climate change is occurring – now -- and human activities are the principal cause.
According to this report, however, Martin Rees, a leading UK scientist, did acknowledge elements of uncertainty, or perhaps pluralism, in the science of climate change, though without in any sense advocating a climate change sceptic position. There is a danger that, in discussing the science of climate change as if it is a single entity rather than a phenomenon of multiple dimensions, it becomes an ideology that is imposed rather than a truth that is embraced. [I am no expert on the science of climate change, but it is generally of the nature of science that, even in areas of consensus, there will be different dimensions that make up the whole.]

From the point of view of religion and science, one wonders whether Ban Ki-moon, as a policy maker, reached beyond his competence when he said:
[Climate change] is a moral issue. It is an issue of social justice, human rights and fundamental ethics.
We have a profound responsibility to protect the fragile web of life on this Earth, and to this generation and those that will follow.
That is why it is so important that the world’s faith groups are clear on this issue – and in harmony with science.
Science and religion are not at odds on climate change. Indeed, they are fully aligned.
Whilst one would expect that the exercise of human reason that is the science of climate change does align with the exercise of faith that is religious belief, whether or not there is an alignment in terms of practical measures to respond to climate change - an implication of Ban Ki-moon's statement - is another question altogether. And in any case, the judgement of an alignment in terms of science and faith lies within the competence of scientists and believers, not a policy maker like Ban Ki-moon.

And with my third observation, I may be betraying an over-sensitivity to a philosophical nicety. I think there is only one point in the whole address where Ban Ki-moon refers to the human person, and that is when he quotes Pope Francis:
As His Holiness Pope Francis has said, "We need to see, with the eyes of faith … the link between the natural environment and the dignity of the human person."
 And where he might have made a second reference to the human person, he instead chose to speak of the individual:
The United Nations, too, champions the disadvantaged and the vulnerable.
We share a belief in the inherent dignity of all individuals and the sacred duty to care for and wisely manage our natural capital.
Is the dignity of the "individual" the same thing as the dignity of the "person"?  Is our moral orientation with regard to an "individual" the same as our moral orientation towards a "person"?

Wednesday 22 April 2015

Pope Francis: second catechesis on the complementarity of man and woman

I haven't got time to translate ..... but the full Italian text of today's General Audience address is here. I do think it is worth a careful read. I expect that a full English translation will eventually appear here. There is much here to prompt thought and reflection - and perhaps to give direction for comment on the forthcoming Synod of Bishops meeting on the Family.
La custodia di questa alleanza dell’uomo e della donna, anche se peccatori e feriti, confusi e umiliati, sfiduciati e incerti, è dunque per noi credenti una vocazione impegnativa e appassionante, nella condizione odierna. [The care of this covenant of man and of woman, even if they are affected by sin and are wounded, confused and humiliated, lacking in trust and uncertain, is therefore for us believers a binding and exciting vocation, in today's circumstances.]

Tuesday 21 April 2015

Recently visited ..... Leicester and Richard III

Whilst Leicester itself is not the most attractive of cities, the area around Leicester Cathedral is more amenable to the visitor. There is a largely traffic free shopping area known as "The Lanes", with small shops and cafes/restaurants. (Further from the Cathedral is a less attractive shopping area which does have some big name shops and a market that appeared to be strong on fruit and veg. If you are into retail therapy you might enjoy...).

Just opposite the Cathedral there is now a visitor centre, marking the place at which King Richard III's body was discovered. The centre has been very well designed, and, if you are doing your pilgrimage in honour of Richard III, you should go to the visitor centre. It tells the story of King Richard's reign and death at the Battle of Bosworth (ground floor) and the archaeological search for the Greyfriars and King Richard's body (first floor) in a very exciting way. It might be as well to pre-book your ticket - Zero and I found the centre comfortably busy when we visited on a Saturday afternoon. The visitor centre website gives a good impression of the centre.

At the end of your visit, you are able to look down through a glass floor to view the excavated site of Richard III's burial. Lighting shows how the bones of Richard's body were laid out when the burial was uncovered. This is a separate room, slightly apart from the rest of the visitor centre, and succeeds in giving a sense of reverence in the presence of the burial place of a King. As the website of the visitor centre says:
Visitors return to the ground floor to complete their experience with a visit to the site of King Richard’s burial, preserved in a quiet, respectful setting and with a contemplative atmosphere, fitting for the last resting place of a slain warrior and anointed monarch.
From the visitor centre it is just a few steps to Leicester Cathedral and a visit to King Richard's tomb - when Zero and I visited there was a 5 or 10 minute wait in a queue to visit.  The Cathedral is a very light building (on a sunny day, at least) and the tomb has been presented very well. The bridge across which Richard's body was returned to Leicester after the Battle of Bosworth is a 5 minute walk away.

The satellite image on Google maps is, of course, a few years out of date .... and shows the social services car park that used to cover the site of the Greyfriars and Richard III's burial place.

The exposition of the Turin Shroud

Zero and I will have an opportunity in a few weeks time to visit the Turin Shroud, which has just gone on display in the Cathedral of Turin.

The official website for the Turin Shroud is here, from which it is possible to book tickets (free) for your visit:Holy Shroud

See also reporting as follows:

The Shroud of Turin has been put on display to the public until June 24

Pope Francis to visit Turin Shroud

During Turin Shroud display, archbishop offers absolution to women who have had abortions (A similar permission for priests to absolve those who have procured an abortion was given, if I recall correctly, on the occasion of the World Youth Day in Madrid - and, I would assume, on the occasion of the more recent WYD in Rio.)

It would be saintly to be able to say that we were going on pilgrimage especially for the visit to the Shroud, but that would be to be economical with the truth! We will be making a day visit to Turin during a holiday by Lake Como.... visiting the central part of the lake, one is put in mind of Romano Guardini's Letters from Lake Como, the reading of which is a very different experience when you can recognise the locations to which he refers and the unique combination of the lake and its ferries with the surrounding mountains.

Wednesday 15 April 2015

Pope Francis General Audience 15th April 2015: catechesis on male-female complementarity

The Vatican Information Service headlines its report on today's General Audience thus: General audience: the complementarity between man and woman.

And Vatican Radio headlined its report: Pope: "more weight and more authority must be given to women”

And the Catholic Herald report, following that at Vatican Radio: The Church must do more to recognise women, says Pope.

UPDATE: and the most useful coverage at Catholic News Service: Gender theory is the problem, not the solution, pope says.

At the time of posting, a full English text of Pope Francis' audience address is not yet on the Vatican website - I assume it will in due course replace the short English summary here. The full Italian text is here. I translate the highlights from there.
E come tutti sappiamo, la differenza sessuale è presente in tante forme di vita, nella lunga scala dei viventi. Ma solo nell’uomo e nella donna essa porta in sé l’immagine e la somiglianza di Dio: il testo biblico lo ripete per ben tre volte in due versetti (26-27): uomo e donna sono immagine e somiglianza di Dio. Questo ci dice che non solo l’uomo preso a sé è immagine di Dio, non solo la donna presa a sé è immagine di Dio, ma anche l’uomo e la donna, come coppia, sono immagine di Dio. La differenza tra uomo e donna non è per la contrapposizione, o la subordinazione, ma per la comunione e la generazione, sempre ad immagine e somiglianza di Dio. [As we all know, sexual difference is present in many forms of life, in the long ascent of living things. But only in man and woman does it carry in itself the image and the likeness of God: the biblical text repeats this three times in two verses: man and woman are the image and likeness of God. This is to say not only that man taken in himself is the image of God, not only is woman taken in herself the image of God, but also man and woman, as a couple, are the image of God. The difference between man and woman is not for opposition, or for subordination, but for communion and generation, always to the image and likeness of God.] 
What I find of particular interest here is the idea that it is together, as a couple, that the likeness of God is present in man and woman, in addition to such a presence in each individually. And let us not overlook that "...for communion and generation ...". Those who believe that the separation of the purpose of generation from the sexual encounter by means of the contraceptive pill and the condom is in favour of the liberation of women will not find solace in Pope Francis' words. Pope Francis also inserts a phrase in the light of the biblical account that says that "God has entrusted the earth to the covenant between man and woman", a thought that I also find interesting. Whilst all of this has an immediate reference to those who are called to the vocation of marriage, and that is the context of the Holy Father's current series of catecheses, I am prompted to ponder -  if it is indeed something that is of the nature of God's creative act - how this also extends to those who are not married. mi domando, se la cosiddetta teoria del gender non sia anche espressione di una frustrazione e di una rassegnazione, che mira a cancellare la differenza sessuale perché non sa più confrontarsi con essa. Sì, rischiamo di fare un passo indietro. La rimozione della differenza, infatti, è il problema, non la soluzione. Per risolvere i loro problemi di relazione, l’uomo e la donna devono invece parlarsi di più, ascoltarsi di più, conoscersi di più, volersi bene di più. [...I ask myself, if the so-called theory of gender is not also an expression of a frustration and a resignation, that looks to strike out the sexual difference because it no longer knows how to face up to it. The removal of the difference, in fact, is the problem not the solution. To resolve the problems of their relations, man and woman must instead speak more to each other, listen more to each other, know each other more, wish each others good more.]
And from this basis, Pope Francis identifies two points, and is not making the first in isolation from the second. The first is that women should be given a stronger voice both in society and in the Church - note that the reference to the Church is alongside that to society as a whole:
E’ necessario, infatti, che la donna non solo sia più ascoltata, ma che la sua voce abbia un peso reale, un’autorevolezza riconosciuta, nella società e nella Chiesa. [It is necessary, in fact, that women are not only more listened to, but that their voice carries a real weight, a recognised authority, in society and in the Church.]
The second is to suggest that a weakness in collective belief in God is connected to a weakness in faith in the covenant between man and woman:
Mi chiedo se la crisi di fiducia collettiva in Dio, che ci fa tanto male, ci fa ammalare di rassegnazione all’incredulità e al cinismo, non sia anche connessa alla crisi dell’alleanza tra uomo e donna. In effetti il racconto biblico, con il grande affresco simbolico sul paradiso terrestre e il peccato originale, ci dice proprio che la comunione con Dio si riflette nella comunione della coppia umana e la perdita della fiducia nel Padre celeste genera divisione e conflitto tra uomo e donna. [I ask myself if the crisis of collective faith in God, which does so much ill, which makes for resignation to incredulity and cynicism, is not also connected to the crisis in the covenant between man and woman. In effect the biblical account, with its great symbolic fresco of the earthly paradise and original sin, tells us that communion with God is reflected in the communion of the human couple and the loss of faith in the heavenly father generates division and conflict between man and woman.]
Which is, of course, all very different to the impression created by some of the headlines!

Monday 13 April 2015

Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us

Pope Francis apostolic letter initiating the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy opens with the words:
Misericordiae vultus Patris est Christus Iesus. ....Jesus Christ is the face of the Father's mercy.
The Jubilee will begin on 8th December 2015, the 50th anniversary of the closing of Vatican Council II and the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Pope Francis sees in both of these celebrations a significance for the Jubilee of Mercy (cf nn.3-4). Pope Francis identifies the event of the Council as a time when the Church entered a new phase of her history, a time when the Council fathers sensed the need, inspired by the Holy Spirit, "to talk about God to men and women of their time in a more accessible way...The Church sensed a responsibility to be a living sign of the Father's love in the world". The Solemnity, too, marks the moment when God, faced with the gravity of sin, makes the first step in mercy, the mercy that is always greater than sin. The language and action of mercy, to which Pope Francis calls us in this Jubilee, are in absolute continuity with the inspiration of the Council and of the Church's liturgy.

There should be no doubt that Pope Francis call to experience the Divine mercy is also a call to conversion of life (cf n.19-20). He is not at all advocating a mercy that is indifferent to the seriousness of sin.
May the message of mercy reach everyone, and may no one be indifferent to the call to experience mercy. I direct this invitation to conversion even more fervently to those whose behaviour distances them from the grace of God (... qui ob suae vitae rationem a gratia Dei longe absunt ... those who by reason of their way of life are a long way from God's grace).
Pope Francis refers to two particular situations - criminal gangs and corruption - which, I suspect, reflect his own pastoral experience in both South America and in Italy. But the principle applies to all of us in our different situations.
When confronted with evil deeds, even in the face of serious crimes, it is the time to listen to the cry of innocent people who are deprived of their property, their dignity, their feelings, and even their very lives. To stick to the way of evil will only leave one deluded and sad. True life is something entirely different. God never tires of reaching out to us. He is always ready to listen, as I am too, along with my brother bishops and priests. All one needs to do is to accept the invitation to conversion and submit oneself to justice during this special time of mercy offered by the Church.
In this context, one should also note the central part that Pope Francis expects the Sacrament of Penance (though Pope Francis uses the title Sacrament of Reconciliation, I have a preference for the title used in the Code of Canon Law) to play during the Jubilee of Mercy (cf nn.17-18).

Pope Francis firstly asks the Church to use a language and a gesture of mercy (cf n.12) in approaching the world during the Jubilee. But he also asks the Church to act in a merciful way (cf n.15):
In this Holy Year, we look forward to the experience of opening our hearts to those living on the outermost fringes of society: fringes modern society itself creates. How many uncertain and painful situations there are in the world today!...
It is my burning desire that, during this Jubilee, the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. It will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty. And let us enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy. Jesus introduces us to these works of mercy in his preaching so that we can know whether or not we are living as his disciples. Let us rediscover these corporal works of mercy: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead. And let us not forget the spiritual works of mercy: to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offences, bear patiently those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead.
 As far as the language and gesture of mercy are concerned, I am reminded of two anecdotes. A friend recently related to me her experience of encountering street preachers from evangelical/Pentecostal traditions in our town centre. The most off putting of these preachers was one who referred only to the evil of sin.

The second anecdote is a story often used by Mgr Paul Watson, a former Director of Maryvale Institute. He would start a talk with the story of the captain of a large oil tanker, who, on seeing a light ahead of his ship, radioed the other ship to ask them to change course. The reply was an insistent refusal, to which the captain of the oil tanker pointed out that he was a very large ship and could not change course as easily as a smaller ship. However, as soon as the other light pointed out that it was in fact not another ship but a light house, the captain immediately recognised the need to change course, without that need being in any way an externally imposed demand. Mgr Watson likened this to the first conversion to Christ that is the aim of a primary proclamation of the Gospel, a conversion that is needed first in order that a change to a new way of life might then readily follow as action of authentic freedom.

There is a criticism of Pope Francis' call to renew our proclamation of Divine mercy that suggests that Pope Francis is accusing the Church, unjustly, of not being merciful in the past. However, the temptation to proclaim a morality before we proclaim the conversion towards a Person is present in some reactions towards both Pope Francis' calling of the Jubilee of Mercy and towards events surrounding the Synods on the Family. Pope Francis call for us not judge or to condemn (cf n.14) is precisely about us having a correct ordering of the proclamation of mercy and conversion of life, and not about denying the need for conversion. [And for the record: there is no suggestion here that giving a missionary primacy to the conversion towards the Person of Christ is intended to alter or undermine the fullness of Catholic doctrinal or moral teaching, which follows from that conversion. That would be to mis-represent both Pope Francis and me.] A renewal of a language and gesture of mercy seems to me very timely, and to be something that can be achieved without loss to the integrity of faith.
We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to a hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.... [n.2]
The Jubilee year will close with the liturgical Solemnity of Christ the King on 20 November 2016. On that day, as we seal the Holy Door, we shall be filled, above all, with a sense of gratitude and thanksgiving to the Most Holy Trinity for having granted us an extraordinary time of grace. We will entrust the life of the Church, all humanity, and the entire cosmos to the Lordship of Christ, asking him to pour out his mercy upon us like the morning dew, so that everyone may work together to build a brighter future. How much I desire that the year to come will be steeped in mercy, so that we can go out to every man and woman, bringing the goodness and tenderness of God! May the balm of mercy reach everyone, both believers and those far away, as a sign that the Kingdom of God is already present in our midst! [n.5]

Saturday 11 April 2015

Did Jesus appear to the Virgin Mary before he appeared to the Magdalen?

This week the meditations in MAGNIFICAT have offered alternative answers to this question. On Monday, the meditation was an extract from Dom Prosper Gueranger's The Liturgical Year vol.7:
Meanwhile, our Risen Jesus has been seen by no mortal eye; he has sped to his most holy Mother. He is the Son of God; he is the vanquisher of death; but he is, likewise, the Son of Mary. She stood near him to the last, uniting the sacrifice of her Mother's heart with that he made upon the cross: it is just, therefore, that she should be the first to partake of the joy of his Resurrection.
The Gospel does not relate the apparition thus made by Jesus to his Mother, whereas all the others are fully described. It is not difficult to assign the reason. The other apparitions were intended as proofs of the Resurrection; this to Mary was dictated by the tender love borne to her by her Son. Both nature and grace required that his first visit should be to such a Mother, and Christian hearts dwell with delight on the meditation of the mystery. There was not need of its being mentioned in the Gospel; the tradition of the holy Fathers, beginning with St Ambrose, bears sufficient testimony to it; and even had they been silent, our hearts would have told it us.
And why was it that our Saviour rose from the tomb so early on the day he had fixed for his Resurrection? It was because his filial love was impatient to satisfy the vehement longings of his dearest and most afflicted Mother. Such is the teaching of many pious and learned writers; and who that knows aught of Jesus and Mary could refuse to accept it?
For Saturday, the vigil of the Feast of Divine Mercy, we are offered this extract from Adrienne von Speyr's meditations on the Gospel of St Mark: Mark, Meditations for a Community. Adrienne comments on the text "He appeared first to Mary of Magdala":
The Lord appears first to the former sinner. She is the first to experience his being alive. And from this, she comprehends the cross. All the sins of the world, also her own, which were so visible, struck the Lord on the cross. But because she is no longer a sinner but, rather, was converted by the Lord already before the cross, he appears to her. She is surely to embody in her person the absolution that is granted to all sinners on the cross.
But beyond this, the Lord placed her under the cross as one who has been converted, as one who loves and does penance in a very profound union of her suffering with his suffering and also of her suffering with the suffering of his Mother. And if the Holy Spirit has found it right to leave the Mother's suffering in mystery and not to mention her joy at the Resurrection of her Son, then it is as if Mary Magdalene is sent ahead in order to represent all those who suffered together directly with the Crucified, above all, the Mother of the Lord. From the outside, she remains, above all, the former sinner, who with the apparition on Easter morning receives the certainty of absolution for the whole Church.
 Adrienne gives an account of Mary's joy at the Resurrection in a chapter of her book The Handmaid of the Lord entitled "Easter". Her words very carefully nuance the primacy of Mary's joy and the absence of a physical apparition.
On Easter morning [the Virgin Mary] is again, as she once was at the angel's apparition, sheer open expectation. She does not anticipate any particular apparition. But her faith is so open that anything can appear within it space. And there he stands before her, her Son in the glory of God, and he fills this space with a fullness which surpasses all human senses. He not only fills the emptiness at hand; he fills it to overflowing, in the way the Godhead brims over man's every expectation. Her first Yes to the angel, her first joy at the conception, her first jubilation in the Magnificat, are like a tiny human beginning compared with this storm of the Easter assent and this fire of a new Magnificat. The first Yes to the angel was full of responsibility for the future. It was spoken wholly in joy, but with the background of the coming suffering as the price she was to pay for this joy in her conception. But the joy of the new assent is so great, it so outshines all else, that it can survey as if from a mountain peak all past suffering and separations and those which are perhaps to come..... She could formulate and utter her first assent herself - could give it expression in the song of the Magnificat. Her new Yes is nameless. It flows into the eternal Yes of God himself like a river into the sea and is washed over and absorbed by it. What she says now is a jubilation that is beyond words.
The two writers do come from very different times, and very different contexts, in the life of the Church, which may go some way to explaining their difference in perspective. But I do find Adrienne von Speyr more compelling than Dom Gueranger.

Thursday 9 April 2015

A Call to Communion: a bishop's blog and ACTA

One of the things that struck me about Bishop Campbell's blog post A Call to Communion in the Diocese of Lancaster with regard to ACTA was that he based his post upon his understanding of his own ministry as Bishop of Lancaster diocese as being a ministry in favour of ecclesial communion and unity:
“This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed we profess as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, handed on to Peter to shepherd, committed to him and the other apostles to extend and rule, and erected for ever as “the pillar and ground of the truth”. This Church constituted and ordered in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although outside its structure, many elements of sanctification and of truth are found, which as gifts proper to the Church of Christ, impel towards catholic unity.” (LG 19).
My own favourite image (not excluding any of the others) is that essentially we are the baptised pilgrim People of God, and thus the Body of Christ; head and members united by the Holy Spirit in visible communion with the successors of the Apostles, united with the Pope as successor to Peter. Such unity forged in bonds of charity and communion in the Church is a precious – sometimes fragile – gift of the Lord to His Church – be cherished, protected and shared. 
As Bishop of Lancaster and thus as a Successor of the Apostles, I am charged, in accord with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, with a special care in my ministry as ‘overseer’ to uphold the unity of the Church in this Diocese of Lancaster and so to guard against any attempt to confuse the faithful regarding authentic Catholic teaching and ministry in this Diocese. 
In his BBC Radio Lancashire interview linked from the blog post (it is only available to listen again on line for a limited period), Bishop Campbell describes how he found it offensive (Bishop Campbell's very word) that an ACTA spokesman, interviewed earlier that same day, should suggest that he was in any way out of step with Pope Francis. Fr Alex Lucie-Smith's piece at the Catholic Herald web site relates something of the radio interviews: Bishop Campbell’s criticism of ACTA is spot-on.

It is from this perspective that Bishop Campbell then makes his carefully judged observations with regard to ACTA, observations that have some echo of Pope Benedict XVI's words about recognising dissent for what it is:
In this light there appears at times a momentum for certain pressure groups in the life of the Church Universal. Amongst these at the present moment is a small but vocal interest or lobby group self-styled A Call to Action (ACTA) which happens to meet within the Diocese of Lancaster and other dioceses and appears to espouse positions – at times and among others – in opposition to the defined teaching of the Catholic Church on faith and morals....
I need to make it clear here that in my judgement, as Diocesan Bishop, ACTA moves well beyond its self-described aim of ‘dialogue’ on controversial issues on its agenda and so does not provide an assured authentic forum or interpretation of sound Catholic teaching and sound pastoral practice in this Diocese. Accordingly great care is required here from priests and people. 
I believe that we need to understand Bishop Campbell's words in a catholic way - that is, we must take them as a whole. We must take both the critique of ACTA, and the urgency of communion in the diocese and with Pope Francis. Some of those who have heaped praise on Bishop Campbell's "calling out" of ACTA might need also to examine their consciences with regard to recognising the implication of his anxiety in favour of communion, and in particular communion with Pope Francis.

See also two earlier posts on this blog:
The Church we are in
Dialogue in the Church (or: What should bishops do about ACTA)

Tuesday 7 April 2015

The Year of Consecrated Life (6): secular orders as consecrated life?

In my previous post in this series dedicated to the Year of Consecrated Life, I suggested in particular that the consecrated life lived in a monastery should, in a Christian milieu, exist among a people who also live that same life of constant seeking of God. This might be generalised to a suggestion that one might expect those who enter the religious life to have associated with them a wider community of lay faithful who share the charism of their particular order.

The suggestion readily brings to mind the "third orders" which allow lay people to share in the charism of a traditionally constituted religious order. Of these, the Franciscan third order - now known as the Secular Franciscan Order - is prominent and popular. The Constitutions and Rule of Life of the Secular Franciscan Order can be found at this web page, and fraternities of the Secular Franciscan Order exist in most parts of Britain. Another well known third order is that associated with the Order of St Benedict, whose members are known as oblates. Pluscarden Abbey, for example, has a community of oblates and its website explains the vocation of Benedictine oblates and includes the statutes for the oblates of its own monastery. A last third order worth mentioning is that associated with the Discalced Carmelite Order, the UK website of which can be found here and whose constitutions are posted here.

There are some common features that can be discerned in these third orders (do read the links above to fully understand the summary below, as each religious family is different):
the lay faithful are seen as fully a part of a religious "family" that includes consecrated men and women
the lay faithful undertake a time of formation in the life of their religious family that, while being shorter than that required for the consecrated life as such, precedes a commitment to the order
the manner of life of the lay faithful is modelled on the specific charism of the religious family to which they are associated
the lay faithful make a form of commitment to the life of the religious family that is mitigated to their circumstances as lay people; as with the commitment to the consecrated life, this is a public commitment that is received by the responsible superiors of the relevant institute
In so far as the experience of life as a member of a "third order" involves a form of commitment, and in so far as that commitment has a specificity in ordering the life of the person making it to a particular way of living a Christian existence, it has the character of consecration as discussed in this earlier post in the present series. It can be understood as the specification of an original baptismal/confirmational consecration. However, it is not a commitment to a life of the evangelical counsels, and so does not involve a consecrated life in that fuller and more excellent sense.

The contribution that "third orders" continue to make to the life of the Church and to the Christian life of their religious families is somewhat hidden from view. I would not wish to be seen as underestimating that value in  the cases of any of the three examples that I have cited. However, it is worth noting that revised constitutions in the cases of the Discalced Carmelites and the Franciscans suggest a greater secularity of the "third order" in relation to the first and second orders of their religious families than might have been the case in the past. Article 2 of the OCDS constitutions, for example, includes the slightly odd statement:
In light of the Church’s new theology of the laity, Seculars live this membership with a clear secular identity.
The underlying question appears to me less one about a theology of the laity and more one as to how society as a whole - which at the time of the founding of the Carmelite reform will have had a profoundly religious fabric that it does not have today - has changed. This might well demand a development in the way of life of the "third order" in favour of a certain "secularity" (the demands of living in a largely irreligious society, for example, might require a rather different adaptation of the charism to daily living now than it did in the past). This, however, is not to be equated with a "secularisation" of the charism of the religious family, that is, with a reduction of its essential character as a religious vocation to become instead the character of a lay vocation. While the language of "Secular Order" rather than "Third Order" must be seen as quite neutral in this regard, should the Secular Order come to carry the greater weight of the living of the charism of the religious family when compared to the members consecrated by vows of the evangelical counsels, perhaps in numerical terms or in apostolic activity, then the charism does risk suffering such a secularisation.

Saturday 4 April 2015

International Year of Light: a thought for Easter

In case you have not seen it yet, the United Nations General Assembly has declared 2015 to be an International Year of Light and Light based Technologies, with the acronym IYL2015. A Youtube channel dedicated to the opening ceremony for the year, which took place at UNESCO headquarters in Paris in January, can be found here. The UK Institute of Physics is one of the founding partners for the year - their homepage for the IYL2015 is here.

IYL2015 is clearly of particular interest to the scientific community. But if you look at the home page for the year linked above, it should be clear that the protagonists of the year have much wider interests. The headings as you scroll down the home page certainly include aspects that might be described as being more purely scientific. But there are included among the headings others that clearly indicate a cultural dimension to the use of light and light based technologies. A page  dedicated to Art and Culture, for example, refers to a range of fields in which light or colour plays a part. (Interestingly, this page includes  reference to stained glass, largely used to represent Biblical images). I would also include within the cultural dimension - perhaps because it is more immediately "human" - the page dedicated to Light for Development. The page on Study after Sunset is, I think, of particular significance here, and highlights how new developments in LED lighting make possible, with appropriate commitment of resources, a major impact on the cultural life of less developed nations.

The IYL2015 has a blog: light

I am prompted to post on the subject by the "Critical Point" article in the April 2015 issue of the Institute of Physics' magazine Physics World, which discusses the reaction to Isaac Newton's 1704 publication of Opticks. The article opens:
Until the end of the 17th century, writes art historian Kenneth Clark, artists thought of light as "an act of love", for it seemed to reveal, brighten and intensify nature. Light was the principle of epiphany, the self-disclosure of the world and its beauty.
Isaac Newton's famous 1704 book Opticks seemed to massacre that picture. Subtitled A Treatise of the Reflections, Refractions, Inflections and Colours of Light, it saw Newton treat light as just a mechanical phenomenon governed by mechanical laws. Colour is subjective, a sensation produced after light rays strike the eye. Sunsets, rainbows and moonbeams are explained by geometry in action, followed by the brain in motion.
The article continues to consider a response to Newton's work: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Theory of Colours. If one can attempt to summarise Goethe's intent it was to preserve something of the human, or cultural, understanding of the nature of light that had preceded Newton's work. The article ends with the following paragraph, to which I have added the bold:
Still, Goethe's polemics fascinate because he seems to champion a way of doing science that is different from the "usual sense". Science, then and now, is often pictured as an activity that's mostly about postulating "correct" mechanisms underneath phenomena, rather than about discerning phenomena in the first place. As the philosopher Ernst Cassirer wrote, "The mathematical formula strives to make the phenomena calculable, that of Goethe to make them visible". The problem is that the first way threatens to drive out the second. Goethe inspired those who viewed his anti-reductive approach - colour is a human, not a spectroscopic, phenomenon - as rescuing not only the science of colour, but an entire way of being a scientist.
The thought for Easter? Perhaps the most vivid moment of the Easter Vigil liturgy comes when the new light of the Easter Candle is processed into a Church that is otherwise in darkness - the symbol of the light of the Divine life of the risen Christ overcoming the darkness of sin. In the Liturgy of the Hours, there is another dynamic of darkness overcome by light that is played out daily. At Night Prayer, the Nunc Dimittis with its antiphon sends the Christian people to sleep after the manner of Christ's sleep in the darkness of the tomb represented by the darkness of night. And it is the moment of the next dawn - the coming of light - that they rise again to mark the time of the day that is particularly identified with that of the Resurrection.

For the Christian believer, light is at once a scientific phenomenon and a human phenomenon; and as a human phenomenon it has a supernatural dimension in our culture as well as a "secular" dimension, a supernatural dimension that is determinative in consequence of some two millennia of history.