Sunday 31 May 2015

The Year of Consecrated Life (7): consecrated virginity in the world

This page at the website of the National Office for Vocation includes a paragraph indicating the origins and the juridical standing of the vocation of the consecrated virgin in the Church. A more detailed explanation of the vocation to consecrated virginity, as lived in the life of the Church of our own times, can be found here: Consecrated Virginity in the World. What is it? This post describes an experience of the Rite of Consecration itself: 'Sponsa Christi' on Consecrated Virginity.

Consecrated virginity, appears then, to be distinctive in comparison to consecrated life in general for two reasons. It first of all consecrates a state of life already existing. It requires the woman consecrated to have lived a life of virginity even before her consecration. This appears not to expect a conversion of life that might be characteristic of consecrated life in general - though I would expect that that conversion has occurred at some point in the time before consecration. And secondly, it is the prayer of consecration that constitutes the effective feature, and not the promises or vows made by the recipient of the consecration. The woman is consecrated, rather than making an act of consecration themselves. This creates a state of life from which the Church is not able to grant a dispensation. (There is a certain analogy to priestly ordination here, where the promises of obedience and celibacy are not of the essential form of conferral of the sacrament, and the sacrament confers a permanent character.)

That this form of life existed in the Church before that of religious life, and the consecration associated with religious life, is thought provoking. Does it perhaps, because of its indissoluble character, represent a fuller actualisation of a notion of "spiritual marriage" than do the vows of consecrated life in general?

Tuesday 19 May 2015

Replying to two comments received ...

...As someone who goes to both forms of the Mass I can't help but see the pews in the OF emptying quite quickly around me while the pews around me at the EF of the Mass, when I can get there, are slowly filling, almost like a reverse osmosis but the Church is going to be decimated before it rebuilds...
I would suggest that the comparative experience of the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms related in this part of a comment received can only be a partial picture. There is not a single narrative of "growth where you have the Extraordinary Form" and "decline where you have the Ordinary Form". One has only to look at the life of the new movements in the Church to see faithfulness to the Church and to an original charism that result in ecclesial growth, with little or no reference to the Extraordinary Form. Pope Francis draws attention to this growth with his knowledge and experience of Communion and Liberation and the Charismatic Renewal. (One or two of the remarks of Pope Francis that have caused most disaffection in Traditionalist circles have been a familiar part of the ecclesial conversation in these movements for some time.)

I would suggest that the particular situations of Extraordinary Form and Ordinary Form celebrations vary from place to place, and with the circumstances of the different places. The experience of one particular place should not be extrapolated to become the experience of each and every place. And I see a number of places where the pews around me at the Ordinary Form are full.

I found this account informative, in a number of ways, with regard to experience of attending the Extraordinary Form: the reform of the reform. seem not to have not read that Pope Benedict wanted the EF of the Mass in every parish...
But it is the last three words of the headline of the news report to which I was referred that says it all:
Pope would like Tridentine Mass in each parish, Vatican official says . "Vatican official says" ..... Cardinal Hoyos speculation in this regard during a visit to London in June 2008 would appear to still be the cause of wishful thinking on the part of at least some advocates of the Extraordinary Form. It is very difficult indeed to read Summorum Pontificum and Pope Benedict's accompanying letter and take away from them an intention that the Extraordinary Form should be established in every parish.

Pope Benedict's letter  clearly indicates that it is the Missal of Paul VI, celebrated with reverence, a sense of the sacred, and with obedience to its directives, that will unite parishes; it is that form that remains the ordinary form of celebration.  The preserving of the "riches that have developed in the Church's faith and prayer" to which Pope Benedict refers in his letter is as much about this enrichment of celebrations of the Ordinary Form from the greater availability of the Extraordinary Form. It is incorrect to read it as an intention that the Extraordinary Form should be celebrated in every parish, and I am not aware of any direct statement to such an effect from Pope Benedict himself.

Sunday 17 May 2015

An aside on transferred days of obligation

Since the Bishops Conference of England and Wales decided to move the celebration of the Solemnities of the Ascension of the Lord and the Body and Blood of the Lord from their previously-customary Thursdays to the following Sundays, I have not had a particularly strong feeling one way or the other about the change.

I do have some sympathy for the reasoning of their Lordships at the time that, with a low adherence of the faithful to the practice of the obligations on a Thursday, the transfer to the Sunday would make it easier for the faithful to celebrate these Solemnities. There appears to me to be some analogy between this motivation and one expressed by Pope Benedict XVI in his letter to bishops accompanying the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum:
One has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden.  This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to make every effort to enable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew. 
But, if I remember correctly, the Bishops Conference also intended that, in making the change, the faithful would celebrate the two Solemnities with a much greater appreciation of the mysteries that they celebrate. That requires that the Solemnities are celebrated at parish level in a way that makes rather more of them than the adjacent Sundays of Eastertide or of Ordinary Time.

In the parish where I most often go to Mass, though, today's celebration of the Ascension has been overwhelmed by the fact that young people in the parish are receiving Holy Communion for the first time at the principle Mass - and the same will happen again next Sunday on the Solemnity of Pentecost. I suspect that this is not unusual around the parishes of England and Wales during the "First Communion season". It does mean that the intention that a celebration of the Ascension on a Sunday would lead to a greater appreciation of the mystery being celebrated has somewhat gone by the board. The association of First Communions with the Solemnity of Corpus Christi works, as does the celebration of Confirmation on the Sunday of Pentecost, though an attentive linking of them to the mystery marked by the Church's liturgy of that day is required if the Bishops' intentions with regard to the faithful as a whole are to be met. The Sundays of the Ascension and the Trinity, though, are not the right days to use. There appears to me to be a significant discordance between Episcopal intention and parochial practice.

As the conundrums represented by the move of the Solemnities to their nearby Sundays comes round each year, I have reflected, too, on the way in which those with attachment to the Extraordinary Form have continued to celebrate the two Solemnities on Thursdays, almost as a way of getting round the Bishops' decision in this matter. Until such time as the calendars according to which celebrations in the Extraordinary and Ordinary Forms are determined are brought together, it would be a gesture in favour of ecclesial communion if celebrations in the Extraordinary Form complied with the calendar being observed in the Ordinary Form in so far as these two Solemnities are concerned.

Friday 15 May 2015

Three Words

At his General Audience on Wednesday, in the first of a series of audience addresses looking at family life in its lived reality, Pope Francis spoke of three key words for family life. This is not the first time that he has spoken of them. They are: please, thank you and sorry. Vatican Information Service report here, and I expect that the full English text of the audience address will eventually be posted here.
The first word is “please. “To enter into the life of another person, even when that person forms part of our life, requires the delicacy of a non-intrusive attitude, that renews trust and respect. Confidence, then, does not authorise us to take everything for granted. Love, the more intimate and profound it is, the more it demands respect for freedom and the capacity to wait for the other to open the door of his or her heart”.
I expect that in these forthcoming addresses we will see Pope Francis' particular charism as Successor of St Peter - that of a pastor (where Pope John Paul II manifested the charism of a philosopher and Pope Benedict XVI manifested the charism of an academic).

Monday 11 May 2015

The commandments of God are given to us precisely as a mercy

Those who counterpose the mercy of God and the commandments of God misunderstand both mercy and commandment. The commandments of God are given to us precisely as a mercy. They are not, in some strange way, more important than mercy. They are not rules imposed from the outside that above all else have to be obeyed. They are given to help us to live the pathway of our true dignity and highest calling. As Pope Francis says, commandments are not restrictions on our freedoms but indicators of our freedom. Understanding the true purpose of the commandment helps us to see how much we need God’s mercy.
God’s mercy is misunderstood if it is taken as something which enables us to overlook those commandments or somehow imagine that we are excused their calling. Rather it is the eternal restlessness of God’s love calling us again and again to raise our eyes beyond the horizons we have set for ourselves, the limits of what we believe we can manage, the limits of what we think can reasonably be asked of us and to reach out again for the fullness of his love, opening our hearts again to its light and joy. Mercy enables us to start out again. It does not enable us to stop where we are, comfortable in a sense of being accepted just as we are.
Of course we are accepted. And of course we are disturbed, disturbed by God’s love which is never quiet within us until it has truly filled and reshaped us. Let us never try to quieten the call of that great love!
Source: here.

Friday 8 May 2015

A politics of self interest?..Or a politics worth living? [UPDATED]

A few days before the General Election, a then Parliamentary candidate, now the duly re-elected member, delivered his election letter through my letter box (emphases in the original).
As your M.P., I have dedicated myself to standing up for [constituency name], fighting for our community and looking after the interests of local people....
Parliament also needs M.P.s who are not afraid to speak up for what is right for Britain and for England too, which is something I have always done.....
Let me give you this clear commitment now:
As your M.P., I shall only support a Government that gives the British people a referendum on the European Union and promises to put Britain first!
And from his "top 10 pledges" on the reverse of his letter (again, the emphases are in the original]:
1. Keep working hard for [constituency name] all year round - always putting[constituency name] first!
2. Continue to stand up for Britain as our voice in Parliament.
3. Let the British people vote in a referendum to get OUT of political union with the E.U. - free trade and co-operation is the only relationship we need with Europe.
4. Control immigration, protect our UK Borders and end welfare benefits to foreign nationals who have not contributed to our country.
Now in a political structure which allies membership of the House of Commons to representation of a specific geographical area, there is both a political and moral legitimacy in an MP working in favour of the interests of his constituents. However, the Honourable Member's electoral missive appears to me to do two things that go beyond this legitimate activity. I think it first of all articulates on his own part a politics of interest only in his own town and country, a politics of self-interest in his own community. And secondly, and rather more sadly, it promotes such a politics of self-interest among his constituents as something worthy of electoral support; it encourages them to see political engagement as an activity of self-interest.

There is, of course, another possibility in politics. That is to build one's politics, not on the interest of self or my own group, but on the interests of the other. This is what is meant when the Second Vatican Council taught (Gaudium et Spes n.74):
The political community exists, consequently, for the sake of the common good, in which it finds its full justification and significance, and the source of its inherent legitimacy. Indeed, the common good embraces the sum of those conditions of the social life whereby men, families and associations more adequately and readily may attain their own perfection.
One of the most widespread attempts to live out a politics "for the other" is that of the Movement for Unity in Politics, a work of the Focolare movement. When she visited Britain in June 2004, Chiara Lubich spoke of this movement to a meeting of Parliamentarians at the Palace of Westminster.
What this movement proposes and gives witness to, is a lifestyle that allows politics to reach its goal in the best possible way, that is, the common good in the unity of the social body.
In fact, one would wish to invite all those involved in politics to commit themselves to this lifestyle by making a pact of fraternity for their country, one that puts the country’s good above all partial interests, whether that of individuals, groups, classes or parties.
Fraternity offers surprising possibilities. It helps to give cohesion and value to human demands which otherwise could develop into insoluble conflicts. It harmonizes the experiences of local authorities with the sense of a shared history. It strengthens our awareness of the importance of those international organizations and systems which attempt to overcome all barriers, taking important steps towards the unity of the human family.
And in a section of her address sub-headed "Beyond the Party Divide", Chiara said (my italics added for emphasis):
The politicians of unity become aware of the fact that politics is rooted in love. They understand that others, too, sometimes called political opponents, might have made their choices out of love. They realize that every political group, every political option can be the answer to a social need and therefore necessary to building up the common good. Therefore, they are as interested in all that concerns the other – including his or her cause - as they are in their own cause, and criticism becomes constructive. They seek to live out the apparent paradox of loving the other’s party as their own because the good of the nation needs everyone’s cooperation.
This, summarizing the main points, is the ideal of the "Movement for Unity in Politics", and this is – it seems to me – politics worth living, politics capable of recognising and serving the plan for one’s community, one’s town and nation, indeed that of all humanity, because fraternity is God’s plan for the whole human family.
This is the genuine, authoritative politics which every country needs. In fact, strength comes with power, but only love gives authority.
This is a politics that does not oppose the interests of an MPs constituency to national or international interests, but sees them in unity each with the other. Its implications for my re-elected Parliamentary representative and for the new Conservative government are:
Will immigration policy be rooted in the need of the refugee and asylum seeker, or the self interest of the British people?
Will the debate about Europe be one about how Britain can contribute to the needs of the other nations, or will it be about the self interest of the British people?
Will the debate about savings in the welfare budget be about the needs of the other who is less well off in our society or about the self interest of the ill-defined "hard working family"?
UPDATE: Auntie Joanna (here) has reminded me of David Cameron's farewell speech at the end of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to our country, in which he expressed something of the theme of this post:
...people do not have to share a religious faith or agree with religion on everything to see the benefit of asking the searching questions that you, your Holiness, have posed to us about our society and how we treat ourselves and each other.
You have really challenged the whole country to sit up and think, and that can only be a good thing.
Because I believe we can all share in your message of working for the common good and that we all have a social obligation to each other, to our families and our communities.
And, of course, our obligations to each other – and our care for each other – must extend beyond these shores too. 

Sunday 3 May 2015

The English Martyrs: a contemporary reflection

There is a plaque - of modern origin - in the Church of St Mary the Virgin, the University Church in Oxford.
When I stood before this plaque a few months ago, the overwhelming impression it communicated to me was one of indifference. The list is indifferent between those names that are the names of Catholics and those names that are the names of Protestants/Church of England. I suspect that none of those on the list would have found it a matter of no difference as to whether or not they were Catholic, or Protestant or in some cases (High) Church of England. And this post suggests that it is also indifferent as to those who might be considered genuine martyrs in some sense and those whose deaths were more the result of a political endeavour.
In very different times, both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict have identified in the moment of martyrdom - that is, of death suffered in consequence of a profession of or living out of the Christian faith - a moment of particular ecumenical significance. It is indeed, they suggest, a moment of perfection of Christian unity. See my earlier post in this subject here. Pope Francis has again referred to the ecumenical implications of martyrdom in a short address to members of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (also reported here):
There is a strong bond that already unites us which goes beyond all divisions: it is the testimony of Christians from different Churches and traditions, victims of persecution and violence simply because of the faith they profess. And not only now, that there are many of them: I think also of the martyrs of Uganda, half Catholics and half Anglicans. The blood of these martyrs will nourish a new era of ecumenical commitment, a fervent desire to fulfil the last will and testament of the Lord: that all may be one (cf. Jn 17:21). The witness by these our brothers and sisters demands that we live in harmony with the Gospel and that we strive with determination to fulfil the Lord's will for his Church. Today the world urgently needs the common, joyful witness of Christians, from the defence of life and human dignity to the promotion of justice and peace.
There is here an indifference between the Catholic and the Anglican martyr that is not the same in nature as that manifested in the plaque in the University Church. It is an indifference that arises because the persecution involved arises from what is held in common among those who suffer, rather than from the oppositions between those who suffered that were extant at the time of the Reformation.

There is also another subtle point about the two eras: at the time of the Reformation, it was reasons of state (not acknowledging the monarch as supreme head of the Church in England was in law treason, for example) that were the immediate occasions of the deaths of both Catholic and Anglican, and not in se a conflict between those who were members of the two Churches. The common experience of Catholic and Anglican martyrs in the present time is not, therefore, any kind of contradiction of what happened in former times.

The Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of these Martyrs of England on 4th May, and the celebration prompts a reflection on the ecumenical implications of that celebration. Re-reading all the documentation around the event of the canonisation of the Forty Martyrs in October 1970 it is striking to recognise the ecumenical sensitivity that surrounded the conclusion of the cause and the celebration of the canonisation.

In his homily at the Mass of canonisation, Pope Paul VI clearly indicated that the martyrs died because of their loyalty to the Catholic faith, and in particular, their loyalty to the celebration of the Holy Eucharist and to the prerogatives of the Successor of Peter as the universal shepherd of the Church. (Pope Paul's Angelus address after the canonisation ceremony explicitly refers to their deaths as testimony to the "hierarchical and unifying structure of the Church".)  He also acknowledged that they were also loyal subjects of their country, many dying with a prayer for their King or Queen on their lips, who had been put in the dramatic situation where it became impossible to live these two loyalties without suffering death. (Catholics who were shown by historical research to have had political motives were not included among those canonised.) Pope Paul cited the words of Lumen Gentium n.42 to the effect that in martyrdom the Christian "becomes perfectly conformed to [his Master] in the shedding of his blood".
...these Martyr Saints are a shining example of the kind of Christian whose life is the true expression of his baptismal consecration, strengthened by the sacrament of confirmation. For such a one, religion is not something on the fringe; it is the very substance of his being and of all his activity ... 
But Paul VI's homily included a warm greeting to representatives of the Anglican Church and those who had come to the ceremony representing Great Britain. He ended his homily thus (italics added, to draw attention to a passage that has particularly struck me for its rather beautiful articulation of the meaning of ecclesial unity):
May the Lord grant, that, in these times of increasing religious indifference and of the spread of materialism, not only as a philosophy but as a way of life, the example and intercession of the Forty-Martyr Saints may comfort us in faith and strengthen our authentic love for God, for his Church and for all men.
May the blood of these Martyrs be able to heal the great wound inflicted upon God’s Church by reason of the separation of the Anglican Church from the Catholic Church. Is it not one-these Martyrs say to us-the Church founded by Christ? Is not this their witness? Their devotion to their nation gives us the assurance that on the day when - God willing - the unity of the faith and of Christian life is restored, no offence will be inflicted on the honour and sovereignty of a great country such as England. There will be no seeking to lessen the legitimate prestige and the worthy patrimony of piety and usage proper to the Anglican Church when the Roman Catholic Church - this humble “Servant of the Servants of God” -  is able to embrace her ever beloved Sister in the one authentic communion of the family of Christ: a communion of origin and of faith, a communion of priesthood and of rule, a communion of the Saints in the freedom and love of the Spirit of Jesus.
Perhaps We shall have to go on, waiting and watching in prayer, in order to deserve that blessed day. But already We are strengthened in this hope by the heavenly friendship of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales who are canonized today. Amen.
At the consistory in May 1970 at which the canonisations were approved, Pope Paul used a memorable phrase in connection with the ecumenical implications of the canonisations. He said that the canonisations would promote "an ecumenism worthy of the name". Looking back from the perspective of the present day suffering of both Catholics and non-Catholics in the name of Jesus Christ in many parts of the world; from the perspective of the existence of Ordinariates in the Catholic Church where the living of an Anglican patrimony is possible; and from the perspective of the challenge to us all, Catholic and non-Catholic, to live to the full the demands of our baptismal/confirmational consecration in the circumstances that we face today; Pope Paul's  phrase seems to be receiving a prophetic fulfilment.

Saturday 2 May 2015

A misappropriation of "the Common Good"

The Green Party have adopted as their strap line for the current general election campaign a claim that a vote for them is a vote for "the common good".

And, indeed, if one reads the Core Values presented on the Green Party website that appears a quite justified claim (though, if a claim of affinity to Catholic social teaching is being made, one might want to differ with the equivalence of "other species" to the human species indicated at point 5). However, if one digs more deeply, Green Party policy is in favour of legal access to abortion and of a legalisation of assisted euthanasia which has provisions somewhat akin to those of the original 1967 Abortion Act (see points HE 516/517 and HE526 at this page on their website - both of which are preceded by points that make for an attractive rhetoric which is then in a certain opposition to the concrete proposals).

And in the last 24 hours, the Green Party launched their LGBTIQ Manifesto for the 2015 General Election. The coverage at the ITV news website includes a video clip which suggests that there was little interest in the launch itself. However, a Q+A with Pink News readers opened up a more significant aspect of future Green Party thinking on LGBTIQ issues. The manifesto itself is reported here; but Natalie Bennett's "openness" to polyamorous marriages is reported here:
We have led the way on many issues related to the liberalisation of legal status in adult consenting relationships, and we are open to further conversation and consultation.”
That this represents a significant misappropriation of the idea of "the common good" as articulated by Catholic social teaching can be readily be seen by referring to Pope Francis' recent General Audience addresses on male-female complementarity and marriage: 15th April 2015,  22nd April 2015 (with implications for the relative standing of the human person vis a vis other creatures), 29th April 2015 (the first audience on marriage, with at least one more to follow that will in due course be linked from this page). It is also worth recalling the almost unprecedented manner of Pope Francis' endorsement of Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae during his visit to the Far East in Autumn 2014.

I think we should not be under any illusions about what we should expect in Pope Francis forthcoming encyclical on environmental matters, or in the engagement of the Holy See as far as Sustainable Development Goals at the United Nations are concerned. The markers are clear in Pope Francis' public statements. The endorsement of a principle that action in favour of environmental sustainability is a moral imperative (and some application of that principle to particular situations) is not going to embrace the "progressive" agenda of such as the UK Green Party, though it may have some comparability of language.

Just as the Green Party use of "the common good" as a campaign strapline is a significant misappropriation of a principle of Catholic social teaching, so will any attempt to represent Pope Francis' encyclical as support for their position also be a gross misrepresentation of that encyclical.