Friday 30 October 2015

A listening Church ... but listening to what?

It is nearly eleven years since I had the opportunity to hear Fr Raniero Cantalamessa speak at a Eucharistic Congress held in Birmingham. At the end of this talk, the audience showed their appreciation by applauding. Father turned towards the image of the Face of Christ that formed the backdrop to the stage and joined in the applause, re-directing it towards the person of Christ and, for the more reflective in the audience, through Christ to the Father in the Holy Spirit.

I recall Father's action from time to time as being a representation of what happens when a Christian offers a "testimony", a witness to the action of God in their life. In Catholic life, the range of movements in the Church which invite participants to offer such testimonies is more extensive than one might imagine. Some examples I am aware of: a session at the end of a "fundamental retreat" of the Foyers of Charity, at the end of a Youth 2000 retreat, in the magazine and on the website of the Focolare, the Charismatic Renewal. I am sure, in different ways, there are many others.

In all of these circumstances what we listen to may first and foremost be a person who shares their testimony. But most fundamentally, as Father Cantalamessa's action of turning towards the Face of Christ indicates, we seek to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking through the life and witness of the one who offers their testimony. This does make a significant demand on the person who offers the testimony, a demand that they be transparent to the Spirit and do not project themselves, that they recognise the mix of grace and failing in their story (the tares and the wheat of the Gospel story). But it also asks of the listener a certain discernment in order to hear what in that testimony is "of the Spirit". It isn't just anything that we listen to.

It is worth recalling that Pope Francis is very familiar with the Charismatic Renewal, so that, when he speaks of a "listening Church", we might expect the experience of testimonies to be at least a part of what he refers to.
A synodal Church is a Church which listens, which realizes that listening “is more than simply hearing”. It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. The faithful people, the college of bishops, the Bishop of Rome: all listening to each other, and all listening to the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of truth” (Jn 14:17), in order to know what he “says to the Churches” (Rev 2:7).
I have my doubts as to whether listening exercises undertaken by questionnaire and survey response, or in the form of "consultations", actually deliver this ecclesial form of listening. I suspect that they produce a rather indiscriminate listening that gives equal weight to everything that is said, without that element of discernment necessary in order to genuinely hear what the Spirit is saying to the local and to the universal Church.

What Pope Francis calls us to recognise, though, is the real possibility that testimonies offered among the faithful of the local Churches and ecclesial movements can illuminate the Christian mystery in a way that has a universal significance. Testimonies can be an expression of the sensus fidei, in its properly understood sense, an expression deserving of our attention in order to hear the voice of the Spirit. This is true listening.

Wednesday 28 October 2015

Nostra Aetate: 50 Years

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Vatican II's Declaration Nostra Aetate on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions. The anniversary has been marked in the Vatican by a General Audience with a particular inter-religious character. Pope Francis' address at that audience is here.

One of the things I find fascinating about Nostra Aetate is that, looking at the life of the Church since the Council, there are points where its teaching has been very vividly lived out, where its teaching has been transferred from the page, so to speak, into life on the part of the faithful. That teaching has itself been developed by the work of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, perhaps particularly its Dialogue and Proclamation published to mark the 25th anniversary of Nostra Aetate.
The nature of inter-religious dialogue, drawing on Dialogue and Proclamation, is very ably presented by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran in this lecture: Interreligious Dialogue - a risk or an opportunity? One of the very prophetic aspects of Nostra Aetate is its opening towards Islam, the significance of which could not have been foreseen in 1965.

It is important to read these texts, and to read them carefully, so that we gain a full understanding of the Church's teaching on inter-religious dialogue. It is a complex reality, and not to be dismissed in a glib or superficial way.

One locus where inter-religious dialogue has been lived out is in the charism of the Focolare Movement. The dialogue with believers of other religions is one of the series of dialogues of the movement, rooted in its spirituality of unity. And, in some of the most critical situations, it is a Focolare community or house which opens itself to receive refugees of all communities - as I write I recall accounts of a Focolare community in Lebanon which welcomed guests during the war between Israel and Hezbollah, which drove residents of the border areas between Lebanon and Israel to seek refuge further north.

Most strikingly, however, it is those Catholics, who at risk to themselves, remain to live among Muslim neighbours who live out this teaching on dialogue. The Martyrs of Tibhirine are indeed martyrs, that is witnesses, to this dialogue.

Perhaps we need to take rather more note of those circumstances where the teaching of the Council on inter-religious dialogue, as developed subsequently by the Pontifical Council, have been lived out in the Church, even to the point of martyrdom. And to take less note of those who would contest that teaching.

Sunday 25 October 2015

Pope Francis' address at the conclusion of the Synod on the Family

The full English text of Pope Francis' address is at the Vatican website: Conclusion of the Synod of Bishops: Address of His Holiness Pope Francis. Do read the whole so that you get the full picture of what Pope Francis has said, rather than just a partial perspective.

Pope Francis has not, for example, criticised "conservative bishops" - his remark that is being interpreted that way is part of my extract below. Read properly, it isn't an attack on any particular party (note that balance of the reference to the "Church's teachings" by the reference to "good intentions") but an account of an experience of the Synod. An experience from which those commenting on the Synod, and on Pope Francis' pontificate in general, might learn something.

I have provided the Italian of the second paragraph below as my translation does not entirely follow the English at the Vatican website; that translation does not seem to me to capture the sense of the Italian verb spogliare, (to strip away, undress), used here in a very particular way in what I am assuming is the original, Italian text.

The elegance of the imagery and Scriptural reference in the first paragraph below makes it my favourite in the whole address. Think about it after you have read it.
[The Synod] was about bearing witness to everyone that, for the Church, the Gospel continues to be a vital source of eternal newness, against all those who would “indoctrinate” it in dead stones to be hurled at others.
It was also about shedding closed hearts which often hide themselves even behind the Church’s teachings, or behind good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families.
[Significa anche aver spogliato i cuori chiusi che spesso si nascondono perfino dietro gli insegnamenti della Chiesa, o dietro le buone intenzioni, per sedersi sulla cattedra di Mosè e giudicare, qualche volta con superiorità e superficialità, i casi difficili e le famiglie ferrite.] 
It was about making clear that the Church is a Church of the poor in spirit and of sinners seeking forgiveness, not simply of the righteous and the holy, but rather of those who are righteous and holy precisely when they feel themselves poor sinners.
And I love the way in which, towards the end of his address, Pope Francis successively quotes Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI on the theme of divine mercy!

Saturday 24 October 2015


Extracts from a piece by George Weigel at the Catholic Herald. [I know, I wasn't going to read the "media synod", but I read this by accident...]
...too much of the mainstream media – and, increasingly, the blogosphere media – believes in its unlimited infallibility with a tenaciousness that makes Pius IX’s grip on his quite limited infallibility seem tenuous by contrast....
And if anyone challenges the infallibility of the traditionalist blogosphere .... woe betide!
Eight months after Pope Francis was elected, I wrote in the Wall Street Journal that he had become a global Rorschach blot, on to which Catholics and non-Catholics alike were projecting their hopes and fears, often without paying serious attention to what the Pope actually said or did. The Rorschaching of the Pope has not abated since then; it’s intensified, and it’s the primary distorting filter through which a lot of bad reporting and commentary on Synod-2015 has been run.
This Rorschaching knows no ideological bounds: the conservative and traditionalist Catholic blogosphere has been just as sunk in it, albeit with an obviously different analysis of What It All Means, than the usual suspects on the port side, like the National Catholic Reporter and the New York Times. But to cite an old friend previously quoted in these Letters – Sergeant Joe Friday of the 1950s detective series, Dragnet – any serious analysis of Pope Francis and Synod-2015 should begin with “Just the facts, Ma’am.” ..
Yes. Look at the original texts Some of those infallible sources definitely need to be triangulated with other sources before you can trust what they are saying and repeat it to the aether. (Is Pope Francis really proposing decentralisation of doctrinal teaching?...)
Pope Francis is, admittedly, a complex man. But why do Catholic traditionalists miss his defence of orthodoxy as badly as the two Times, that of New York and that of London? It’s not a great mystery why the Times people miss, or wilfully ignore, the Pope’s commitment to the truths the Church holds; it ill serves the cultural, social, and political purposes into which they’d like to recruit Pope Francis as a trophy chaplain. But serious Catholics ought to know better.  

Thursday 22 October 2015

Pope Francis affirms fidelity in marriage: "Fidelity to the promise, a work of art"

Vatican Information Service have entitled their report of Pope Francis' General Audience address yesterday: Fidelity to the promise, a work of art. It continues the Holy Father's series of addresses dedicated to the family. The full text of the address, in Italian, is at the Vatican website here.

I think Pope Francis speaks very much to a contemporary situation - he highlights how many today approach a marriage, or other relationship, on the basis of its fulfilment of their own satisfaction and how this can be exalted as a principle above all others. From there Pope Francis goes on to discuss the freedom that arises from fidelity to the promises made in marriage, promises that are made to a spouse, to openness to children and to the older or weaker members of a family. Fidelity generates a bond that does not deny freedom.
Possiamo aggiungere che, a ben guardare, l’intera realtà famigliare è fondata sulla promessa - pensare bene questo: l’identità famigliare è fondata sulla promessa -: si può dire che la famiglia vive della promessa d’amore e di fedeltà che l’uomo e la donna si fanno l’un l’altra.
[... the whole family reality is built on a promise - recall this well: the family identity is founded on a promise - : one can say that the family lives from the promise of love and faithfulness that a man and a woman make one to the other.]
And an excerpt from the VIS report:
“Being faithful to promises is a true work of art by humanity”, added Pope Francis. “No relationship of love – no friendship, no form of caring for another person, no joy of the common good – reaches the height of our desire and our hope, if it does not arrive at the point of inhabiting this miracle of the soul. And I use the word 'miracle', because the strength and persuasiveness of fidelity, in spite of everything, can only enchant and surprise us. …  
[The word used in the Italian original is "capolavoro", or "masterpiece", translated in the VIS report as "true work of art"]

The way in which Pope Francis extends his reflection on fidelity in marriage to any form of friendship suggests a theme for consideration in marriage preparation. Should not young people who are dating, or engaged couples, use their friendships as a school of growth in this practice of fidelity?

Sunday 18 October 2015

Synodality: Pope Francis on "healthy decentralisation"

A full English translation of Pope Francis' address to mark the 50th anniversary of the establishing of the Synod of Bishops by Pope Paul VI is not yet available. There is an Italian text at the Vatican website (here) , and what is described as a "working English translation" here.

My first immediate observation is that it is necessary to read the whole, and read each of its elements in the framework of the whole, and not to take out just this section or that section for one-sided approbation or equally one-sided derision. The text is a whole, and the vision it presents of a "synodal Church" is a whole. If it urges a "listening Church" it does so in a framework of hierarchical communion, with and under the bishop in the diocese, and, at the level of the universal Synod of Bishops, with and under Peter's successor. This requirement of communion does not give permission to that dissent that Pope Benedict memorably observed should be recognised for what it is. To suggest such would be to do Pope Francis a great disservice. The urge to "listen" is also about a style of action, not an idea that anything and everything that is said has value.

The section of the recent motu proprio reforming the sections of the Code of Canon Law relating to annulment of marriages (I link to the Italian text at the Vatican website, where there is, as yet, no English translation) that struck me most was the preamble. I was struck firstly by how it presented the office of the bishop towards the people of his diocese as being one with a juridical character. But I was then struck by the indication of an intention for the provisions that came later in the motu proprio to be provisions that empowered a bishop in this regard. So the bishop is discouraged from seeing the operation of his diocesan tribunal as a delegation of his office; it is rather a necessary collaboration of others that enables him to fulfil his office (cf his responsibility for appointing a judge). The part to be played by the episcopal conference is not one that should intrude on the bishops closeness to the people of his own diocese, but rather must respect the juridical office of the bishop in his own diocese.

I think this background gives an insight into the notion of "synodality" as exercised in the local diocese. Firstly, we have to read the reference to "healthy decentralisation" in the context from which it is cited, a passage in Evangelii Gaudium n.16:
Countless issues involving evangelization today might be discussed here, but I have chosen not to explore these many questions which call for further reflection and study. Nor do I believe that the papal magisterium should be expected to offer a definitive or complete word on every question which affects the Church and the world. It is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory. In this sense, I am conscious of the need to promote a sound “decentralization”.
We are looking at the discernment of the situation of a local diocese and of activity in that diocese, not at putting Catholic teaching up for debate. If we also read carefully the reference in Pope Francis' address to the notion of "hierarchical communion", the exercise of synodality in the diocese depends upon the exercise by the bishop of his office in favour of communion, both within his own diocese and with the universal Church. The diocesan synod, and the activity of the other organs of communion in the diocese, will be truly synodal in nature in so far as the bishop fulfils his proper office towards them as the guardian of communion. In what he says about the way in which bishops should exercise their office, he clearly takes up the idea of closeness and proximity to the people that is apparent in the preamble to the motu proprio. I think, too, in talking about the way in which the organs of communion are called to operate in a diocese, Pope Francis does not envisage them as a kind of bureaucracy but as an immediate closeness to the real lives of the people. [And, as an aside, I wonder whether "listening" is really about surveys and responses to surveys .... a pastor who is close to his sheep, be he bishop or parish priest, "listens" as he exercises his office.]

Pope Francis' reference to episcopal conferences as being among "mediate instances" of the exercise of collegiality in the same sentence that he refers to an "integration and renewal of some of the aspects of the ancient ecclesiastical order" (which, if the motu proprio and Pope Francis' text itself gives any indication, possibly refers to the situation of metropolitan sees?) I find particularly interesting.

The idea of "synodality", particularly at a diocesan level and particularly in reference to the participation of the lay faithful, prompts another thought. Just as Pope Francis is suggesting that it is not for the Pope to take over the office of the bishop of the particular diocese but rather to respect the bishop's proper office with regard to his diocese; likewise the bishop or his priest co-worker cannot replace the office of the lay person in the Church, or vice versa. However badly the one is at fulfilling his calling, the other cannot step in and undo it. Rather, the call is that both should take on and fulfil their office in accordance with its demands. This respect for the different offices in the Church is, I suspect, a dimension of the notion of "synodality".

I haven't time to translate it, but below is the section of the address in which Pope Francis summarises the different levels of synodality in a Church that is "entirely synodal". One should not underestimate the reference to a "dynamism of communion" in the first sentence - "communion" here referring to an ecclesial reality which has been increasingly recognised in the teaching of Vatican II by those of the Communio school and others.
In una Chiesa sinodale, il Sinodo dei Vescovi è solo la più evidente manifestazione di un dinamismo di comunione che ispira tutte le decisioni ecclesiali.
Il primo livello di esercizio della sinodalità si realizza nelle Chiese particolari. Dopo aver richiamato la nobile istituzione del Sinodo diocesano, nel quale Presbiteri e Laici sono chiamati a collaborare con il Vescovo per il bene di tutta la comunità ecclesiale[22], il Codice di diritto canonico dedica ampio spazio a quelli che si è soliti chiamare gli "organismi di comunione" della Chiesa particolare: il Consiglio presbiterale, il Collegio dei Consultori, il Capitolo dei Canonici e il Consiglio pastorale[23]. Soltanto nella misura in cui questi organismi rimangono connessi col "basso" e partono dalla gente, dai problemi di ogni giorno, può incominciare a prendere forma una Chiesa sinodale: tali strumenti, che qualche volta procedono con stanchezza, devono essere valorizzati come occasione di ascolto e condivisione.
Il secondo livello è quello delle Province e delle Regioni Ecclesiastiche, dei Concili Particolari e in modo speciale delle Conferenze Episcopali[24]. Dobbiamo riflettere per realizzare ancor più, attraverso questi organismi, le istanze intermedie della collegialità, magari integrando e aggiornando alcuni aspetti dell'antico ordinamento ecclesiastico. L'auspicio del Concilio che tali organismi possano contribuire ad accrescere lo spirito della collegialità episcopale non si è ancora pienamente realizzato. Siamo a metà cammino, a parte del cammino. In una Chiesa sinodale, come ho già affermato, «non è opportuno che il Papa sostituisca gli Episcopati locali nel discernimento di tutte le problematiche che si prospettano nei loro territori. In questo senso, avverto la necessità di procedere in una salutare "decentralizzazione"»[25].
L'ultimo livello è quello della Chiesa universale. Qui il Sinodo dei Vescovi, rappresentando l'episcopato cattolico, diventa espressione della collegialità episcopale all'interno di una Chiesa tutta sinodale[26]. Due parole diverse: “collegialità episcopale” e “Chiesa tutta sinodale”. Esso manifesta la collegialitas affectiva, la quale può pure divenire in alcune circostanze "effettiva", che con­giunge i Vescovi fra loro e con il Papa nella sollecitudine per il Popolo di Dio[27].

Sunday 11 October 2015

Gogglebox ...

.... the programme where everyone has their place somewhere on the dysfunctional spectrum.

["What do Britain's most opinionated telly fanatics really think of the country's biggest TV programmes" is the official line ....]

Saturday 10 October 2015

Holy Havoc

Tigerish Waters is one of those bloggers who belong in the "more thoughtful" category, and to whom I am always pleased to link. Must be something about physicists .....

The quote from Prigogine at the end of this post made me chuckle, as perhaps only a physicist would: Holy Havoc.

Friday 9 October 2015

General Audience 7th October: "family spirit" constitutional of the Church

Pope Francis' address at the General Audience this week: The family spirit.
An attentive look at the everyday life of today’s men and women immediately shows the omnipresent need for a healthy injection of “family spirit”. Indeed, the form of the relationship — civil, economic, juridical, professional, civic — seems quite rational, formal, organized, but also very “dehydrated”, arid, anonymous. At times it becomes unbearable. While seeking to be inclusive in its forms, in reality it abandons more and more people to loneliness and discards them.
This is why, for the whole of society, the family opens a much more human prospect:....

Sunday 4 October 2015

Pope Francis at the start of the Synod

English texts of Pope Francis' address at the Vigil of prayer in St Peter's Square in preparation for the Synod on the Family, and his homily at the opening Mass for the Synod, are not yet at the Vatican website. I expect they will be posted there in due course: with links respectively from this page and this page.

I link to texts published at the website of the Catholic Herald - I'd rather not, given their indulgence in a "Synod of the media" (see here), and suspect they may be publishing the texts with a certain mischief, but at the moment I can't find the English texts elsewhere.  [UPDATE: links now to texts at the Vatican website].

Pope Francis’ address at family synod prayer vigil: full text

A snippet:
In the “Galilee of the nations” of our own time, we will rediscover the richness and strength of a Church which is a mother, ever capable of giving and nourishing life, accompanying it with devotion, tenderness, and moral strength. For unless we can unite compassion with justice, we will end up being needlessly severe and deeply unjust.
A Church which is family is also able to show the closeness and love of a father, a responsible guardian who protects without confining, who corrects without demeaning, who trains by example and patience, sometimes simply by a silence which bespeaks prayerful and trusting expectation.
Above all, a Church of children who see themselves as brothers and sisters, will never end up considering anyone simply as a burden, a problem, an expense, a concern or a risk.  Other persons are essentially a gift, and always remain so, even when they walk different paths.
Pope Francis’ homily at the family synod’s opening Mass: full text

Another snippet:
....the Church is called to carry out her mission in fidelity, truth and love. To carry out her mission in fidelity to her Master as a voice crying out in the desert, in defending faithful love and encouraging the many families which live married life as an experience which reveals of God’s love; in defending the sacredness of life, of every life; in defending the unity and indissolubility of the conjugal bond as a sign of God’s grace and of the human person’s ability to love seriously.
To carry out her mission in truth, which is not changed by passing fads or popular opinions. The truth which protects individuals and humanity as a whole from the temptation of self-centredness and from turning fruitful love into sterile selfishness, faithful union into temporary bonds. “Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love” (BENEDICT XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 3).
To carry out her mission in charity, not pointing a finger in judgment of others, but – faithful to her nature as a mother – conscious of her duty to seek out and care for hurting couples with the balm of acceptance and mercy; to be a “field hospital” with doors wide open to whoever knocks in search of help and support; to reach out to others with true love, to walk with our fellow men and women who suffer, to include them and guide them to the wellspring of salvation.
I do think Pope Francis has understood very well the challenge to which the Synod is intended to respond.

Thursday 1 October 2015

Synod blog-out

I don't want to know about the Synod. The Synod being run by the media, that is. Didn't someone once refer to a "Council of the media" that wasn't the same as the "Council of the aula"? Aren't those treating us to a repeat of this doing the Church the same disservice that was done at the time of the Council?

I don't want to know about those who are predicting disaster for the Church as it gives up on teaching anything worthwhile about marriage.

I don't want to know about those who have convinced themselves that they can cite Pope Francis as being in favour of "all change" when he talks of charity and mercy; or of those who believe that "all change" is for the good, and that Pope Francis can be canonised in the cause.

I don't want to know about those who have organised themselves into lobby groups, of the left or of the right ("liberal" or "traditional" in ecclesial terminology though the political terminology seems to me more appropriate), some claiming their particular cardinalatial or episcopal heroes in support, but nevertheless operating in a most secularised manner in order to apply as much pressure to the Synod Fathers as they can. I don't want to know about their attempts to manipulate the "Synod of the media" so that it presents their point of view.

I don't want to know about the results of surveys, or about their publication to the media as if they are the magisterial teaching of the Church in England and Wales.

I don't want to know about whatever muddled procedure may operate during the Synod deliberations, since there isn't actually anything I can do about it!

And I don't want to read the water fall of verbiage from commentators earning their crust by feeding the media frenzy. It is all so ..... 1960's.

I will dedicate my daily use of Pope John XXIII's prayer written to commemorate the opening of the Council for the success of the Synod:
Holy Spirit, who are sent by the Father in the name of Jesus to be with the Church by your presence and sure guidance,we pray,show once more your wonders in our day as on the day of Pentecost.Grant to your Church that, constant and united in prayer with Mary the Mother of Jesus, and following the lead of Blessed Peter, the reign of our divine Saviour may be advanced, a reign of truth, of justice, love and peace.