Saturday 28 November 2015

Bombing Daesh in Syria

Members of Parliament here in the UK are currently being asked/cajoled as to how they might vote on a motion that would extend the participation of British aircraft in attacks on Daesh targets in Syria and Iraq.

At the time of an earlier vote on British involvement in air strikes in Syria, Pope Francis called a vigil of prayer in St Peter's Square, to offer intercession in favour of peace. It occurs to me that we have for some months now been facing a threat to peace at least as significant as on that occasion, and in all probability more so.  I took advantage of the Liturgical option of the Saturday memorial of Our Lady today (last possibility for a little while .... though I might well exercise a certain discretion in this regard during Advent!) to pray a votive office of Our Lady Queen of Peace.

In examining the moral question with regard to the bombing campaign currently being waged against Daesh, it seems to me that there are two questions. That Daesh are an evil that should be resisted is beyond question; and that that resistance requires the force of arms appears equally beyond question. However, to be proportionate (in the sense in which that word is used in Catholic teaching on the just use of arms) that use of arms must be directed to resist the threat as it is actually presented, and not only to the people of the developed nations remote from Syria and Iraq, but also as it is actually presented to the peoples of Iraq and Syria, and indeed the near neighbours of those countries. An aerial campaign to "degrade and destroy" Daesh, to use the language of the Western backed campaign, is not doing this and does not have that as its aim. [Some air strikes in particular tactical situations may be doing this - but that is clearly not the stated aim of the air campaign as a whole.] It leaves the ordinary people of Syria and Iraq the potential victims of collateral damage and fails to resist the threat at the point that the threat exists.

If to attack Daesh from the air alone is not proportionate (in the sense in which that word is used in Catholic teaching), then there is a clear requirement for "boots on the ground" (to use the current phrase). This would meet the threat at its direct point of being a threat. The current political conversation in the UK recognises this - but by insisting on relying on the forces already fighting in Iraq and, in Syria, on the various forces of the opposition groups engaged in the civil war there. But, in effect, by arming and supporting short of actual direct military engagement those forces in the civil war in Syria perceived as being "moderate" (while Middle Eastern nations do likewise for the forces that they consider to be for the good of the causes they espouse, perhaps those of the politics of the Shia/Sunni divide in Islam and Russia does so in favour of the regime of President Assad), are we not engaging in precisely the trade in weapons and warfare that Pope Francis (and his predecessors in the See of St Peter) has  condemned and which can never be at the service of peace or justice?

You might be gathering that the course of action being proposed by the Conservative government is not one that I would support.....

Friday 27 November 2015

Something the Synod said (3) ....

The final relatio of the Synod, in n.5 addresses, or attempts to address the social-cultural context facing the family today. Using a terminology of an "anthropological-cultural transformation", this paragraph appears to me to give an account on the one hand of an increased sense of individual satisfaction as a purpose to be gained from a marriage whilst on the other trying to maintain that the commitment to the other in the community of marriage is still strong. And I couldn't put my finger on the exact intention of the term "anthropological-cultural transformation". During a train journey a couple of weeks ago I read an essay by Mary Ann Glendon entitled "Family Law in a Time of Turbulence". This essay in part surveys the impact of social changes on families and family law in the late twentieth century. It seems to me to articulate rather more effectively than does the Synod relatio the sense of individualism that is now often present on the part of those entering marriage and of its impact on the institution of marriage.

The final relatio of the Synod, in n.6, addresses the religious context facing the family today. I use below the translation by Bishop Campbell, but with some adaptations of my own from the original Italian:
The Christian faith is strong and alive. In some parts of the world can be seen a marked decline of religious influence in the social ambience which has its effect on the life of the family. This orientation tends to relegate the religious dimension to the private and family sphere, and risks obstructing the witness and mission of Christian families in the present day world. In the social setting of an advanced well being in society, people run the risk of entrusting every hope to the exaggerated search for social success and economic prosperity. In other regions of the world, the negative effects of an unjust world economic order lead to forms of religiosity embracing sectarian and radical extremism. One can mention movements animated by a political-religious fanaticism,  often hostile to Christianity. Creating instability and sowing disorder and violence, they are the cause of great misery and suffering for the life of families. The Church is called to accompany the religiosity lived out in families to direct it to a gospel sense.
 One can see in this paragraph an attempt to speak to the different situations of the developed nations and those where there is a lack of development. Apart from its reference to the impact of secularisation, the paragraph seems to me to fail to address the essentially religious dimensions of the context of Christian families today. Among my work colleagues, for example (and this came to the fore recently when one of my colleagues brought in sweets to celebrate Diwali), are Muslims who fast during Ramadan, a Sikh colleague, at least two Catholics and at least one Hindu. A number of these colleagues are younger people who have recently married. So the religious context against which the Christians live out their married life is one of dialogue with the idea of marriage as manifested by other religions.

One hopes that, if Pope Francis is going to include something of these paragraphs in his Apostolic Exhortation, he draws on more substantial work which I am sure could be available to him through the work of the relevant Pontifical Councils and Academies.

[I expect that I will skip commenting on the rest of this chapter of the relatio, for reasons which might be apparent from the above.]

Monday 23 November 2015

Proselytism and education

To you, who represent the Church in Latin America, today I symbolically entrust my Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, in which I sought to point out to everyone the essence of the Christian message. The Church considers herself the disciple and missionary of this Love: missionary only insofar as she is a disciple, capable of being attracted constantly and with renewed wonder by the God who has loved us and who loves us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:10). The Church does not engage in proselytism. Instead, she grows by “attraction”: just as Christ “draws all to himself” by the power of his love, culminating in the sacrifice of the Cross, so the Church fulfils her mission to the extent that, in union with Christ, she accomplishes every one of her works in spiritual and practical imitation of the love of her Lord.
[Source: here]

And Pope Francis, answering a question about what we should do if an educational institution is to be truly Catholic in the widely differing circumstances of today:
..... E mi viene in mente quello che ha detto un grande pensatore: “Educare è introdurre nella totalità della verità”. Non si può parlare di educazione cattolica senza parlare di umanità, perché precisamente l’identità cattolica è Dio che si è fatto uomo. Andare avanti negli atteggiamenti, nei valori umani, pieni, apre la porta al seme cristiano. Poi viene la fede. Educare cristianamente non è soltanto fare una catechesi: questa è una parte. Non è soltanto fare proselitismo – non fate mai proselitismo nelle scuole! Mai! – Educare cristianamente è portare avanti i giovani, i bambini nei valori umani in tutta la realtà, e una di queste realtà è la trascendenza. Oggi c’è la tendenza ad un neopositivismo, cioè educare nelle cose immanenti, al valore delle cose immanenti, e questo sia nei Paesi di tradizione cristiana sia nei Paesi di tradizione pagana. E questo non è introdurre i ragazzi, i bambini nella realtà totale: manca la trascendenza. Per me, la crisi più grande dell’educazione, nella prospettiva cristiana, è questa chiusura alla trascendenza. Siamo chiusi alla trascendenza. Occorre preparare i cuori perché il Signore si manifesti, ma nella totalità; cioè, nella totalità dell’umanità che ha anche questa dimensione di trascendenza. Educare umanamente ma con orizzonti aperti. Ogni sorta di chiusura non serve per l’educazione.
[Source: here - not RC]

My (rough) translation:
It comes to my mind what a great thinker said: "To educate is to introduce into the totality of the truth".  It is not possible to speak of catholic education without speaking of humanity, because precisely Catholic identity is God who was made man. Moving ahead in attainments, in human values, opens the door to the seeds of Christianity. Then comes faith. To educate in a Christian way is not only to make a catechesis: this is a part. It is not only to proselytise - never proselytise in schools! Never! - To educate in a Christian way is to move young people, children, forward, in human values in all their reality, and one of these realities is transcendence. Today there is a tendency towards a neo-positivism, that is to educate in material things, to the values of material things, and this both in countries with a Christian tradition and countries with a pagan tradition.  And this does not introduce youth, children to total reality: it lacks transcendence. For me, the greatest crisis of education, from the Christian perspective, is this closure towards transcendence. We are closed to the transcendent. We should prepare hearts so that the Lord is shown forth, but in the totality: that is, in the totality of humanity that has also this dimension of transcendence. To educate humanly but with open horizons. Every type of closure does not work for education.
What Pope Francis actually said...

Fr Luigi Giussani, whose movement Communion and Liberation is very familiar to Pope Francis, from p.105 of my English translation of his The Risk of Education (Pope Francis, in answering a later question, refers to the risk that is necessary in education):
As we said forty years ago, and we still haven't been able to come up with a better definition, to educate means to help the human soul enter into the totality of the real".
And, for both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis, the word "proselytism" refers, not to the perfectly legitimate missionary activity of the Church, but to those actions that take advantage of a person's situation of trust or vulnerability to abuse their freedom in seeking to draw them to Christ - such as that of a pupil in a school.

Tuesday 17 November 2015

The anti-Francis attitude: it isn't Catholic ....

The persistence of some in taking every opportunity their imagination suggests to broadcast across the aether their projections (or to re-broadcast uncritically the projections of others) of what Pope Francis has said and what they think he should have said instead ..... it has quite honestly become tiresome beyond belief. Do give over, and get a life ...

It isn't Catholic to operate with a category of "faithful Catholics" and the presumably unfaithful others .... as if one can allocate oneself uncritically to the wheat without recognising that you might actually be among the tares .... both of which the Lord allows to grow side by side in his field and which, for most of us, grow alongside each other in our hearts and souls. And to then characterise Pope Francis as if he were running a campaign against you .....

Neither is it Catholic to work with categories of "Traditionalist", "Liberal" and "Conservative" - the last of which is all too readily used by the adherents of the first to pigeon hole those they think lack the intelligence of faith to see what they think is the obvious heresy before their eyes (but which, in reality, is largely the recycled gossip of the imagination of a few who, for some reason I cannot fathom, gain a credibility that unfortunately doesn't justify the bits and bytes strewn across the electronic media).

And the real underlying point: almost without exception, what is projected on to Pope Francis words, what he is interpreted as saying, is not justified from what he actually said. Put simply, the anti-Francis rant isn't true .... but it is put about with a persistence and a lack of critical faculty that makes the saying of it enough for it to believed. All that "confusion" caused by Pope Francis ... isn't most of it the result, not of Pope Francis' words, but of the commentary that the great and the good of a sector of the Catholic electronic world propagate?  If you have difficulty understanding him .... aren't you the one who is the source of confusion if you broadcast your own non-understanding to the world at large?

Let's take Pope Francis' observation, some time ago now, about the risk of living the Christian life as a kind of ideology, rather than as a living encounter with Jesus Christ, and so with the life of the Trinity. All that anxiety about a comment aimed at criticising the "faithful" or "Traditional" Catholic .... when, if you read Luigi Giussani's The Religious Sense you find a discussion of ideology in a context of the possibility of religious faith. It wasn't a targeted arrow at all, but a reflection of a conversation in an ecclesial movement with which Pope Francis is very familiar. And more recently I have been able to readily find on my bookshelves texts that place Pope Francis remarks about the risks of gnosticism and a certain pelagianism in similar contexts. And so on. If you think he is just nagging and criticising you .... take the trouble to read around a bit and place his remarks in the context of the ecclesial conversation ...

And the most recent occasion of shock - horror ..... is a complete non-story. Read properly what Pope Francis said in reply to the question from the wife of a Lutheran, recalling that he speaks of discernment of conscience in the sense intended by the Spiritual Exercises and not in a liberal sense .... and the confusion is being sown by the all too ready commentary. It simply isn't true to give the impression that Pope Francis said to the lady that she should make her own decision on the matter.

And the Year of Mercy .... in which, in case you missed it, the Sacrament of Penance (confession) is clearly going to have a central role. And which is absolutely in line with the teaching of both John Paul II and Benedict XVI on divine mercy. There is no justification in trying to rubbish the Year itself, or Pope Francis' understanding of mercy.

The anti-Francis attitude is not Catholic in two further ways. Read the blogs .... and doesn't it form a kind of alternative Magisterium? .... A Magisterium that, if you challenge it, you find yourself being told that you are ignorant of the Catholic faith?.... with its authorities who are above reproach and who are lauded to the high heavens as "defenders of the faith"? And doesn't it involve a "pick-n-mix" approach to Pope Francis himself? Take the bits you don't like and slate them across the networks .... ignore the bits that you should like. Cafeteria Catholicism .... but taking and leaving different parts of the menu than those normally associated with this phrase .... "hermeneutic of continuity" when it suits, but not when it doesn't .... big up Pope Benedict, do down Pope Francis (I am personally convinced that those who play off Benedict against Francis didn't really get Benedict either ...).

It is's not Catholic's not true ....... and we can all do without it.

Friday 13 November 2015

Something the Synod said (2) ......

Continuing my reading of the relatio from the recent Synod on the family, from the Italian text and aided by Bishop Campbell's working English translation.

From n.4 of the relatio, which introduces the part in which the Synod Fathers discuss the situation of the family in the world of today (Bishop Campbell's translation, with some adjustments, added emphasis mine):
.... The family founded on the marriage of a man and woman is the splendid and irreplaceable place of the personal love which transmits life. Love is not reduced to an illusion of the moment, love is not an end in itself, love seeks the trustworthiness of a personal “you”. In the mutual promise of love, in good times and in bad, love desires continuity of life, right until death. The fundamental desire to form networks of love, sound and inter-generational within the family presents itself in a constant and significant way, over and above cultural and religious limits and social changes. In the liberty of the free “yes” exchanged life-long between a man and a woman, the love of God is both present and experienced. For the Catholic faith marriage is a sacred sign in which the love of God for his Church becomes effective. The Christian family is consequently a lived part of the Church: a “domestic Church”.
The couple and life in marriage are not abstract realities, they remain imperfect and vulnerable. For this reason the will to conversion is ever necessary, to forgive and to begin again. In our responsibility as Pastors, we are concerned for the life of families. We wish to listen to the reality of their life and their challenges, and to accompany them with the look of love which comes from the Gospel....
Can you notice the clear assertion of marriage as being between a man and a woman; and that this marriage is the foundation for the family? And that it is asserted as a life-long "yes", even until death?

And this introducing the part of the relatio that looks at the situation of the family today.

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Pope Francis: the features of the new humanism, in Jesus Christ

Pope Francis' address to the Italian Ecclesial Congress in Florence today does, I think, deserve careful attention and study. It is not a superficial text. I have yet to read it fully, but have been challenged by what I have been able to read so far.

As another blogger has commented... if some do not like the things that Pope Francis is saying in an address like this, perhaps they need to listen more closely and attentively to what he is actually saying rather than being seduced by what editors and journalists of Catholic news sources (and blogs) are extrapolating and projecting on to the Pope's allocutions.

There are extensive extracts in English translation at the site of the Vatican Information Service.

The full Italian text is at the Vatican website.

At my first reading, I chuckled to read the following passage:
La Chiesa italiana ha grandi santi il cui esempio possono aiutarla a vivere la fede con umiltà, disinteresse e letizia, da Francesco d’Assisi a Filippo Neri. Ma pensiamo anche alla semplicità di personaggi inventati come don Camillo che fa coppia con Peppone. Mi colpisce come nelle storie di Guareschi la preghiera di un buon parroco si unisca alla evidente vicinanza con la gente. Di sé don Camillo diceva: «Sono un povero prete di campagna che conosce i suoi parrocchiani uno per uno, li ama, che ne sa i dolori e le gioie, che soffre e sa ridere con loro».
The Italian Church has great saints whose example can help it live the faith with humility, generosity and joy, from St. Francis of Assisi to St. Philip Neri. But let us also think of the simplicity of  invented characters like Don Camillo who is paired with Peppone. I am struck by how, in the stories of Guareschi, the prayer of a good parish priest unites with evident closeness to the people. Don Camillo could say of himself: "I am a poor country priest who knows his parishioners one by one, loves them, who knows their sorrows and joys, who suffers and laughs with them".
For those who don't know the stories of Don Camillo, the Wikipedia page provides a good introduction.

Sunday 8 November 2015

Something the Synod said (1)....

I have been waiting patiently for an English translation to appear on the Vatican website of the final relatio of the recent Synod of Bishops dedicated to the family. Alas, patience has not yet been rewarded, so I am having to start a systematic reading of the Italian (though that appears to be courtesy of the L'Osservatore Romano).  UPDATE: Just after posting, I have found a "working English translation" at the website of Lancaster Diocese, courtesy of Bishop Campbell, and have substituted his translation for mine.

In the very first paragraph - a preamble - we find the Synod Fathers saying (Bishop Campbell's translation, and my own emphasis added):
We thank the Lord for the generous fidelity with which so many Christian families respond to their vocation and mission, even in the face of obstacles, misunderstandings and sufferings. To these families go the encouragement of the whole Church, which united to its Lord and guided by the action of the Spirit, knows that it has a word of truth and of hope to offer to all people. Pope Francis recalled this in the celebration which opened the last stage of this synodal journey dedicated to the family: “God has not created human beings to live in sadness or solitude, but to share their journey with another person to complement them…..It is the same plan which Jesus..…sums up in these words:”From the beginning of creation (God) made them male and female; for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife and the two will become a single flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh” (Mk.10;6-8; CF. Gen. 1:27; 2:24)” God “unites the hearts of a man and a woman who are in love, bonding them in unity and indissolubility. This means that the object of married life is not only to live together for ever, but to love each other for ever! Jesus therefore re-establishes the original and originating order (…..) only in the light of the folly of the gratuitousness of the paschal love of Jesus does the folly of the gratuitousness of a single married life until death make sense” (homily of the opening Mass of the Synod, 4th October 2015).
 A bit by accident, I noticed something else. It is easy to pick up the idea of "accompaniment" for those who are suffering breakdown in their marriages and have perhaps entered into new relationships and see this as in some way a derogation from the integrity of marriage. This is particularly true when our own ecclesial experience does not include knowledge of ministries of accompaniment that already exist in different parts of the Church. But there are such ministries already active in different countries and movements. If we are familiar with these ministries, the words of the Synod Fathers about "accompaniment" take on a different light.