Sunday 27 September 2015

Pope Francis: Vigil with families at World Meeting of Families

In February 2014, speaking to a meeting with engaged couples, Pope Francis, very much in the spirit of a pastor, suggested three words that might characterise the relationships in a marriage. He repeated them during a General Audience address, one of his series on the family in preparation for the forthcoming Synod. The words were please, thank you, and sorry, and if you read the text of the two addresses linked above you will see how he unpacks the meaning of those words for married and family life. Very practical, and surprisingly comprehensive. I try to live them in my own friendship, but perhaps not very well. I think they do make a difference.

Pope Francis didn't use these words in his spontaneous address with families in Philadelphia, but at the end of his talk he did repeat something else that he said during the same General Audience address referred to above, though with a certain vigour in his wording:
 I advise one thing: Never end the day without making peace in the family. In a family, a day cannot end at war.
The evening vigil at the World Meeting of Families, with its testimonies and sense of celebration of family life, is always one of the most moving parts of the World Meeting.

Pope Francis talk yesterday lived up to everything that one might expect of this occasion.

A transcription and translation is at ZENIT: Pope’s Off-the-Cuff Address to Families.

Take and read, for both its intense practicality and for its theological substance.

Isn't Pope Francis to love!

Love or approval?

A while ago now, I received a comment on the post The Family: what is the real question for the Synod that I have not yet published. In its most substantial part that comment read as follows:
On the question of how we treat people whose behaviour is contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ may I refer to something said by one of the two Scottish midwives whose case went to the Supreme Court. She is totally opposed to abortion but she said that she does not let that influence her behaviour towards the women in her hospital who have abortions. (Or something like that.) That must be very difficult to do but how do we show disapproval of the behaviour whilst showing love towards the person? Today, the world insists that we cannot show love without approving of the behaviour.
I would respond by suggesting that there are two distinct "moments" that can be seen in the difficulty articulated in this comment. The first moment arises from the obligation to show disapproval of an immoral action of another person. I would recast that obligation as one, on our part, of not letting ourselves become party to the immoral action, and that primarily from the point of view of a form of implicit internal consent. We need at the most fundamental level to say an internal "no" to that action. This appears to me to be what is meant by a prompting of conscience. But conscience prompts us to make that internal "no" manifest in an external way - it prompts us to give witness or to give testimony to our internal "no". The point, though, is that there can be other ways of externally manifesting that internal "no" than doing it by an expression of disapproval of the action of an individual who we encounter.

The second "moment" arises from wishing to act in love towards a person without approving, or rather, without being perceived by others as approving, a behaviour that we believe to be morally wrong. Here, where the demand of charity comes to the fore, I think we have to have the courage to act in charity, with a full consciousness of our internal "no", even though that acting in charity may be misunderstood by others as approval. It does require a particular style of courage to do this, but I believe that we are called to that courage.

I suspect that many Catholics, pastors and lay faithful, have, in the past and do in our own times, lived this second moment as a matter or ordinary common sense - "it just wasn't the right time and place".

Perhaps we need to be reminded of, and strengthened in, the internal "no" that accompanies such an act of charity, to avoid the situation where the act of charity slips imperceptibly into an indifference towards a behaviour that we believe to be contrary to the moral good.

And at the same time, pastors and those Catholics in public view might speak about the fact that an act of charity in a particular situation is about bringing Christ's presence to that situation and not about indicating approval of a behaviour contrary to Christian teaching.

Friday 25 September 2015

Pope Francis to the US Congress and to the United Nations

I think Abbey Roads is right - stay away from the "the naysayers, the doomsayers, the schism-mongers, the negative-mean-spirited people who seem to be so convinced of their own righteousness and despise everyone else.  Those who bind up heavy burdens too heavy to carry without lifting a finger to help..... We know who we are."

Go straight to the source.

Pope Francis to the United States Congress.

Pope Francis to the United Nations.

Pope Francis visit to the United States Congress has a parallel to the visit of Pope Benedict to the Palace of Westminster during the visit to the United Kingdom in 2010. The warmth of the reception given to the visiting Pope on both occasions is remarkable. Where Pope Benedict's audience was very strictly non-partisan in responding to his words, it would appear that the members of Congress were very obviously partisan as sections of the audience applauded different parts of the address. I have printed off both addresses to study side by side.
I have just read the address to the United Nations. I loved it. I don't think anyone can read that text and not recognise that Pope Francis' teaching on ecological questions is firmly integrated with a teaching on the dignity and rights of each and every human person - the "integral ecology" of Laudato si  - and clearly distinct from any merely ideological or political motivation. The sense of the Holy See's engagement with the Agenda for Sustainable Development has, I think, a clear outline in this address.
Viva Papa Franceso!

Thursday 24 September 2015

Pope Francis to the US bishops

The full text of Pope Francis' address to the bishops of the United States can be found here.

It is resplendent with the beauty of a universal pastor who genuinely desires to "confirm his brethren" - and, as Pope Francis himself notes - it is in continuity with the teaching offered by his predecessors during their visits to the same country. You do need to read the whole to appreciate its beauty... especially the passage about dialogue which follows on from the excerpt below:
And yet we are promoters of the culture of encounter. We are living sacraments of the embrace between God’s riches and our poverty. We are witnesses of the abasement and the condescension of God who anticipates in love our every response.
Dialogue is our method, not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One who never wearies of visiting the marketplace, even at the eleventh hour, to propose his offer of love (Mt 20:1-16).
 And note among Pope Francis' references to the challenges faced by the American bishops:
I appreciate the unfailing commitment of the Church in America to the cause of life and that of the family, which is the primary reason for my present visit.
I have not been able to follow Pope Francis apostolic journey closely - but please do look out for the texts of his addresses which I am sure are very worthwhile. And for the lovely photos with the President of the United States during the Holy Father's visit to the White House!

Thursday 17 September 2015

St Robert Bellarmine on faith and reason

Nearly 20 years ago now I encountered the text of a letter written by St Robert Bellarmine at the time of the Galileo controversy. I am reminded by his feast day of the passage in that letter which demonstrates his faith in human reason in relation to his faith in the texts of Sacred Scriptures. The passage follows a previous section in which Bellarmine has insisted on the need to respect the sense in which Sacred Scripture has been understood by the previous tradition of the Fathers of the Church.
“..If there were a real proof that the Sun is in the centre of the universe, that the earth is in the third heaven, and that the Sun does not go round the Earth but the Earth round the Sun, then we should have to proceed with great circumspection in explaining the passages of Scripture which appear to teach the contrary, and we should rather have to say that we did not understand them than declare an opinion to be false which is proved to be true..”
Bellarmine indicates that (at the time at which he was writing) it was not definitively proven by science that the Earth rotated round the Sun, and that therefore the previous interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures on the matter should still be maintained. If he were alive today, and familiar with the evidence of science as we now have it, he would undoubtedly change his mind.

But it is interesting to note the comfortable existence of both a profound trust in human reason and a strong faith in Sacred Scripture.

The universal scope of the family

This is the title given to the Vatican Information Services report of Pope Francis' General Audience address yesterday.
".... A new alliance of man and woman would seem not only necessary, but also strategic for the emancipation of peoples from their colonisation by money”, he continued. “This alliance must once again guide politics, the economy and civil coexistence. It decides the habitability of the earth, the transmission of the sentiment of life, and the bonds of memory and hope”.
“Of this alliance, the matrimonial-familiar community of man and woman is its generative grammar, its 'golden bond', so to speak. Faith draws upon knowledge of God's creation: He entrusted to the family not only the care of intimacy for its own sake, but also the project of making the entire world domestic. It is precisely the family that is at the origin and the base of this worldwide culture that saves us: it saves us from many attacks, many forms of destruction, and many forms of colonisation, for instance by money and ideologies, that so threaten the world. The family is a base from which we defend ourselves”.
I expect that a full English text of the address will appear here in due course.

Saturday 5 September 2015

Refugees are welcome

The title Our Lady of the Wayside is rendered in Italian as Nostra Signora delle strada - Our Lady of the road, or perhaps, Our Lady of the Streets. There is a chapel with that dedication in the Church of the Gesu in Rome, the home Church of the Jesuits in the city. I expect Pope Francis has that chapel in mind today.

The title commemorates the journeys undertaken by the Virgin Mary to visit her cousin Elizabeth, and into exile in Egypt.

It seems a fitting dedication for these days in Europe.

My own statue:

Wednesday 2 September 2015

The Family: what is the real question for the Synod?

In a recent Victoria Derbyshire programme, a survivor of abuse in orphanages run by religious in Ireland talks of the impact of that abuse on her later life, including the impact on her own experience of being a mother. Her daughter also takes part in the interview.

Whilst the reason for "Irene" being placed in orphanages was that she was experiencing abuse in the family home, watching the clip from the programme prompted a thought that occurred to me at the time of the release of the film Philomena. At the time I didn't explore the thought and, not having a great familiarity with Catholic life in Ireland, I am still not in a position to do so fully.

The public comment about the experience of unmarried mothers placed in mother and baby homes in Ireland focusses around their treatment in those homes. It is right that abuse is the subject of vigorous challenge and appropriate redress, particularly when that abuse was perpetrated by religious. The responsibility for abuse is rightly assigned to those who carried out the abuse.

Why, however, did unmarried mothers experience such rejection from their family homes and local communities that there was the need for a network of mother and baby homes? I do not gain the impression that the homes purpose was just to provide clinical and social care that the family could not provide - if that were the case, the permanence of placement and separation from family that was the experience of women such as Philomena would not have occurred. What was the social, cultural - and, in the situation of Irish society at the time, religious - matrix that gave rise to this rejection, a rejection which appears to have had at least to some extent a systemic character? Whilst the responsibility for abuse rests rightly with those who actually carried out the abuse, is there not also a responsibility to be explored for the societal matrix which gave rise to an apparently systemic need for mother and baby homes?

I do not believe the question is purely academic, or purely a question of history. We can equally ask, in the context of the forthcoming World Meeting of Families (whose theme is Love is our Mission: the Family fully alive) and Synod of Bishops (dedicated to The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and in the Contemporary World): what are the situations in Catholic families today that might lead to the extent of rejection from family and ecclesial life that, in a former time in Ireland, contributed to the circumstances of the mother and baby homes, and the shame that that has subsequently brought on the Church?

What do family members make of a son or daughter who marries outside the Church, or who do not marry at all and simply cohabit? How does a parish react to a co-habiting couple who seek marriage in the Catholic Church? What do Catholics in a parish make of a daughter who is pregnant outside of marriage, perhaps even while still at school? What do Catholics in a parish make of a parishioner who has an abortion? The two situations that have given rise to a vehemence of debate in the run up to the Synod are in reality only two questions among others: what should Catholic families and parishes make of validly married couples who have civilly divorced and entered into new unions; and what should families and parishes make of members who enter into same-sex relationships be they instances of cohabitation or civilly recognised unions?

The question is much less one about reception of Holy Communion than it is one about a mission of hospitality (see below), and I think it is unfortunate that the question has been framed in terms of admission to Holy Communion or change in the Church's teaching on same-sex relationships. Those decrying "confusion about Catholic teaching" in these matters have, in my view, contributed as much to the discussion of the wrong question as have those who in the first instance are attempting to promote change in teaching and sacramental practice. Providing an answer to the questions above certainly will not be served by a derogation from Catholic teaching; but neither will it be served by reaffirming that teaching and offering nothing more than that reaffirmation (cf, for example, Pope Benedict XVI response to the last question during the evening of witness of the World Meeting of Families in Milan in June 2012).

Reading Chapter VIII of the catechesis of the World Meeting of Families 2015  is, I think, instructive in offering a response to the questions asked above. It opens by referring to the "hard teachings" of Jesus, that challenge the disciples, and even cause some of them to leave: should surprise no one that some Church teachings are also perceived as “hard sayings,” out of step with current culture, especially on marriage, sexual expression, and the family.
Starting from Pope Francis' image of the Church as a "field hospital", the chapter goes on to develop an account of the pastoral nature of the Church's teaching with regard to marriage.
Pope Francis helps us to see the Church’s “hard sayings” as words for our healing. But we need to engage in a kind of triage, treating the wounds according to their severity.
It sees the starting point as the call of every Christian has to a personal encounter with the person of Christ, and that the action of the Church and of her members is aimed at bringing about this encounter. In a strictly correct sense, the chapter indicates a need for accompaniment in a journey of spiritual growth that applies to all Christians, including those whose marital situations present difficulties. It also skillfully indicates that Pope Francis is in complete continuity with his predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, in this regard. What particularly strikes me in this chapter is its call on families and parishes to engage in a mission of hospitality:
Many of Christ’s moral teachings, and thus Catholic ethics, are demanding. But they presume in Christians a spirit of discipleship, a life of prayer, and a commitment to social and economic Christian community -   i.e., a family of other men and women who have encountered Jesus, who together confess that he is Lord, wanting his grace to shape their lives, and helping each other respond to him....
The key is to create within the family, the parish, and the wider Christian community an environment of mutual support where moral growth and change can occur...
 ... if ordinary parishioners understood the rationale behind celibacy as a community practice, and if more domestic churches took the apostolate of hospitality more seriously, then the ancient Catholic teaching on chastity lived in continence outside of marriage might look more plausible to modern eyes. In other words, if our parishes really were places where "single" did not meant "lonely", where extended networks of friends and families really did share one another's joys and sorrows, then perhaps at least some of the world's objections to Catholic teaching might be disarmed. Catholics can embrace apostolates of hospitality no matter how hostile or indifferent the surrounding culture might be. Nobody is limiting lay or ordained Catholics in the friendship we can offer those who struggle.
The barriers to achieving this will differ from place to place. But nothing is served by presenting this call to an apostolate of hospitality as if it is a denial of Catholic teaching.