Saturday 24 December 2016

We come like the shepherds who followed the call of the angel ....

Fr Raniero Cantalamessa is the preacher to the Pontifical Household, and has been so for many years. One of the tasks associated with this office is that of preaching the sermons to the Holy Father and his co-workers in the Vatican during Advent. The text of his fourth sermon for Advent 2016 is at the Vatican Radio website, and is worth reading. The prayer offered below the extract from Fr Cantalamessa's homily is one that I used one Christmas with children and families in a parish several years ago.

St. Augustine distinguished between two ways of celebrating an event in salvation history: as a mystery (in sacramento) or as a simple anniversary. In the celebration of an anniversary, he said, we only need to “indicate with a religious solemnity the day of the year in which the remembrance of the event itself occurs.” In the celebration of a mystery, however, “not only is the event commemorated, but we do so in a way that its significance for us is understood and received devoutly."
Christmas is not a celebration in the category of an anniversary. (As we know, the choice of December 25 as the date was chosen for symbolic rather than historical reasons.) It is a celebration in the category of a mystery that needs to be understood in terms of its significance for us. St. Leo the Great had already highlighted the mystical significance of the “the sacrament of the Nativity of Christ” saying, “Just as we have been crucified with him in his passion, been raised with him in his resurrection, . . . so too have we been born along with him in his Nativity.”

A prayer for a visit to the Crib during Christmas time
[This prayer was adapted from a meditation of St Edith Stein]

Dear Jesus, your hands reach out to us as we come to the Crib.
We come like the shepherds who followed the call of the angel.
We come like the wise men who followed the star.
“Follow me” say your little hands.

May we always listen to you when you call us.
Keep us together in faith and in hope.

Dear Jesus, your open hands welcome us, and they ask us at the same time.
They ask us to be at the service of your Peace.

Open our hearts to people who are suffering.
May each of us offer signs of friendship and welcome to people who are less well off than us.

Dear Jesus, your open hands welcome us, and they ask us at the same time.
They ask us to give our lives to you.

May we choose the way in life that you want us to follow.
In the light of Christmas, may we face the problems of life today, together with people of other Churches and religions.

Mary, you are the Mother of Love.
You praised the great things done by the Lord.
You sang about how God kept his promises to the people of Israel.

Mother of Love, protect our families.
Help them to stay together.
Give them the happiness of loving and passing on life.


Fr Cantalamessa: The Holy Spirit and the Charism of Discernment

This is the title of the second of Fr Cantalamessa's Advent sermons for 2016, delivered in the presence of the Holy Father and those who work at the Vatican.

It is a most interesting read, and, if I say that that the titles of its two main sections are "Discernment in ecclesial life" and "Discernment in our own lives", you will perhaps readily see why.

This sermon's explanation of discernment as a charism, and its indications of how this should be exercised in practice (with particular reference to Ignatius Loyola), can shed considerable light on Pope Francis' reference to discernment in Amoris Laetitia.

Thursday 22 December 2016

Pope Francis to the Curia 2016

The part of Pope Francis' address during the exchange of Christmas greetings with those employed in the Curia and their families that I enjoyed most was the following, the reflection offered at the beginning:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I would like to begin this meeting of ours by offering cordial good wishes to all of you, superiors and officials, papal representatives and staff of the Nunciatures worldwide, all those working in the Roman Curia and to your families.  Best wishes for a holy and serene Christmas and a happy New Year 2017!
Saint Augustine, contemplating the face of the Baby Jesus, exclaimed: “immense in the form of God, tiny in the form of a slave”.  To describe the mystery of the Incarnation, Saint Macarius, the fourth-century monk and disciple of Saint Anthony Abbot, used the Greek verb “smikryno”, to become small, to reduce to the bare minimum.  He says: “Listen attentively: the infinite, unapproachable and uncreated God, in his immense and ineffable goodness has taken a body, and, I dare say, infinitely diminished his glory”.
Christmas is thus the feast of the loving humility of God, of the God who upsets our logical expectations, the established order, the order of the dialectician and the mathematician.  In this upset lies all the richness of God’s own thinking, which overturns our limited human ways of thinking (cf. Is 55: 8-9).  As Romano Guardini said: “What an overturning of all our familiar values – not only human values but also divine values!  Truly this God upsets everything that we claim to build up on our own”.  At Christmas, we are called to say “yes” with our faith, not to the Master of the universe, and not even to the most noble of ideas, but precisely to this God who is the humble lover.
Blessed Paul VI, on Christmas of 1971, said: “God could have come wrapped in glory, splendour, light and power, to instill fear, to make us rub our eyes in amazement.  But instead he came as the smallest, the frailest and weakest of beings.  Why?  So that no one would be ashamed to approach him, so that no one would be afraid, so that all would be close to him and draw near him, so that there would be no distance between us and him.  God made the effort to plunge, to dive deep within us, so that each of us, each of you, could speak intimately with him, trust him, draw near him and realize that he thinks of you and loves you… He loves you!  Think about what this means!  If you understand this, if you remember what I am saying, you will have understood the whole of Christianity”.
God chose to be born a tiny child because he wanted to be loved.  Here we see, as it were, how the logic of Christmas is the overturning of worldly logic, of the mentality of power and might, the thinking of the Pharisees and those who see things only in terms of causality or determinism.
The thought of this last paragraph reminds me of the particular charism of Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity - the "I thirst" of Jesus on the Cross seen as a call that he should be loved.

And I laughed heartily when, at the end, Pope Francis referred to the reaction of one participant at the corresponding occasion in 2014:
When, two years ago, I spoke about the illnesses, one of you came to say to me: “Where must I go, to the pharmacy or to confession?”  “Well… both!” I replied.  And when I greeted Cardinal Brandmüller, he looked me in the eye and said: “Acquaviva!”  I, at the time, did not understand, but later, thinking about it, I remembered that Acquaviva, the third general of the Society of Jesus, had written a book which we students read in Latin; the spiritual fathers made us read it, and it was entitled:  Industriae pro Superioribusejusdem Societatis ad curandos animae morbos [roughly translates as "Guidance for Superiors of the Society for the care of illnesses of the soul"], that is, the illnesses of the soul.  Three months ago, a very good edition came out in Italian, done by Father Giuliano Raffo, who died recently, with a good prologue which indicates how to read the book, and also with a good introduction.  It is not a critical edition, but it is a really beautiful translation, very well done, and I believe it could be useful.  As a Christmas gift, I would like to offer it to each one of you.  Thank you.

NOTE: The Italian text includes extensive footnotes that have not been included in the English translation.

Tuesday 20 December 2016

The end of Traditionalism?

Traditionalists have always risked the following temptations:

1. That of being "cafeteria Catholics", but ones who pick different bits of the Catholic whole than do the liberal minded to whom at one time the Traditionalists would have applied this epithet. Isn't this the import of the discussion of the "non-magisterial" nature of those recent exercises of the office of the Successor of Peter that are not amenable - and this appears now to extend beyond Pope Francis?

2. That of making absolute for all time those things that are relative to their own particular time or place. Isn't this what lies behind the insistence on the "Traditional Latin Mass", even though Pope Benedict indicated that the Ordinary Form, celebrated according to the Missal of Paul VI, should be considered an authentic expression of the tradition of the Church?

3. That of becoming an alternative to the present day teaching office of the Church, with its own respected authorities and defining axioms. Do we not see this in the replacing of the "non-magisterial" in the exercise of the office of the Successor of Peter with the teaching of the Traditionalist "blogisterium", something that the internet has enabled in a way not seen before? And isn't there an irony in its claim to authentication by the support in the media of Catholic intellectuals* when it was precisely such a display of intellectuals in the media that they blame for undermining catechetics in the 1960s and 1970s?

4. That of living in a permanent state of contestation with others in the Church. Do we not see this in the critique of "conservatives" now, when in the past that contestation might have been directed only towards the liberal minded in the Church? Where other movements in the Church  can find their origin in a founding charism, an individual gift of grace given at a time and place but with a value for the Church as a whole, does not the Traditionalist movement only find its definition in contestation with the contemporary life of the Church in favour of a concept of "Tradition"?

5. That of siding with a concept of Tradition over and against the Successor of Peter. Do we not see this in the discussion of "conservatives" who have "sided with the Pope against Tradition"? When one moves aside from the exercise of the office of the Successor of Peter - and, indeed, from that of an ecumenical council - does not Tradition become something of the past rather than something that has its living expression in the exercise of office in the Church? Are we not seeing a certain legitimisation here of the stance taken by the Society of St Pius X at the time of their illicit episcopal ordinations?

When I read something like this, from a spokesman of the Traditionalist movement, and I cut through its apparent credibility and its pigeon-holing of others, do I not in reality see Traditionalism arriving at a destination that is inherent in its risks highlighted above? A move away from a living of a Catholic whole towards an isolated corner, in a permanent state of "against" and adhering to a certain concept of Tradition as its prime source of judgement? means is that a very large proportion of our conservative Catholic voices have been forced to reconsider the narrative, which has been a favourite of their school of thought, that everything which has gone wrong has gone wrong because of people misunderstanding or mis-implementing Vatican II or the post-Conciliar popes. When a pope has made it clear that his personal view is something nor really consistent with the Tradition--Paul VI on the liturgy, John Paul II on the death penalty or the authority of the husband over the family--they have tended to side with the Pope against Tradition, despite the fact that the Papal statements on the subject tended to lack magisterial weight....
...What happens to ultra-montanist Catholic conservatives** who finally realise that some at least of the Church's problems go right to the top--who take, as the metaphor of the hour has it, the red pill?
Ask a Traditionalist. Almost all us have gone through this process personally: I certainly have.
That move from the "conservative" to the "Traditionalist". Isn't it telling that the terms are "conservative" and "Traditionalist", and not "Catholic"?
Are we not instead called to live according the Catholic "whole", in which Tradition lives in its context of Scripture and the living teaching office, the Magisterium?

*... but are these intellectuals in large part from among the "usual suspects" of Traditionalism?
** .... the irony of this when Pope Francis has been accused of setting up "straw men"!

Saturday 17 December 2016

Amoris Laetitia nn.304-306

Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin - which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such - a person can be living in God's grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church's help to this end. [AL n.305]
In context, this refers to "irregular" marital situations such as those of the person who has divorced and re-married. In this situation, the Church's discipline does not allow the person to receive Holy Communion.

But I do think we need to be careful in how we understand the grounds for the Church's discipline in this regard. It represents a particular application of Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law:
Those ....  obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion. 
The key words here are, firstly, persevering. For the person who is re-married, their situation is one that persists and is not going to foreseeably end, it is one in which they perservere, continue. Secondly, the word manifest. Their situation is a visible situation, one that can be seen in the public record and practice of life, that can give scandal in the technical sense of the word.  And the third word is grave (sin). Divorce and re-marriage constitutes what is termed "grave matter", and this not only because of the injustice it represents to the nature of marriage seen in its human dimension but also because it denies its irrevocable representation of the union of Christ and his Church, that is, the love of God towards mankind.

In other words, it is the "objective situation of sin", to use the words of n.305, that is the ground for not admitting the divorced and remarried to Holy Communion, and this remains in place independently of any judgement or discernment that might be made with regard to mitigating factors.

The teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on mortal sin is found in n.1855 ff (my italics added):
Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God's law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him. .... Mortal sin, by attacking the vital principle within us - that is, charity - necessitates a new initiative of God's mercy and a conversion of heart which is normally accomplished within the setting of the sacrament of reconciliation.... For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: "Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.".... Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God's law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice.
It is clear from this that a person who is divorced and remarried might be in an objective situation of sin - and therefore be unable to receive Holy Communion - but not in a situation of mortal sin. Equally, if the conditions of knowledge and consent are met, they might be both in a situation of objective sin and unable to receive Holy Communion for that reason, and in a situation of mortal sin and unable to receive Holy Communion for that reason too (cf Canon 916), though it is unlikely to be publicly visible.

When Amoris Laetitia n.305 refers to the possibility that someone living in an objective situation of sin can nevertheless be "living in God's grace" it is referring to the first of these two possibilities. Charity might be wounded in that case, but it is not destroyed as would be the case in the second of the two possibilities.

This then makes complete sense of Amoris Laetitia n.306:
In every situation, when dealing with those who have difficulties in living God's law to the full, the invitation to pursue the via caritatis must be clearly heard. Fraternal charity is the first law of Christians ....
Where "the vital principle within us - that is, charity -" has not been broken, then the pastoral discernment of the particular situation should arrive at that style of charitable engagement that is appropriate to the individual situation and which will lead to a growth in grace. It is this growth in charity that is the first object of pastoral discernment and accompaniment.

It also makes sense of the reference in the preceding n.303 to the role of conscience, suggesting that it will firstly recognise the objective wrong of the situation and then prompt towards a progress along the way of charity:
...conscience can do more than recognise that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognise with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that is what God himself is asking ...
Much of the comment that is critical of Amoris Laetitia, and of these paragraphs in particular, lazily conflates the "objective situation of sin" to being one of "mortal sin", and with similar laziness identifies the mortal sin as the canonical ground for the Church's discipline of refusing the divorced and remarried Holy Communion. Having done these two, it is then natural to accuse these paragraphs of Amoris Laetitia and their urging of pastoral discernment - utterly  inaccurately - of having overturned the Church's discipline on Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried.

Peter: A rock who has been asked to love.

In May 1952, Madeleine Delbrel undertook a visit to Rome, spending some twelve hours in prayer at the tomb of St Peter in the Vatican Basilica. Madeleine travelled by train from Paris, spent her time in prayer, and returned by train, all in 24 hours. The circumstances of the visit are described in We, the Ordinary People of the Streets pp.77-78 and on pages 125-127 of the biography Madeleine Delbrel: A Life Beyond the Boundaries.

Madeleine's note of her visit was circulated to a few of her friends and can be found in We, the Ordinary People of the Streets pp.114-116. The following is an extract:
During the journey and also in Rome, I discovered the immense importance of bishops for the faith and the life of the Church.
"I will make you fishers of men". It seem to me, in relation to what we call authority, we tend to react either as liberals or as people with a fetish. We do not flow back to the bishops with everything we have encountered in or learned from the world.
Either we obey like a second-class soldier; or else at best we submit our requests for their signature. We do not bring back images, or sensations, etc, like eyes to the brain.
We're under the rule of authorizations rather than the rule of authority, which would mean to receive that which is "to be done", that of which we are meant to be "authors" in the work of God.....
I also thought a lot about the fact that, though St John is the "disciple Jesus loved", it was Peter that Jesus asked: "Do you love me?" and it was after his affirmations of love that Jesus gave him the flock. He also explained what it means to love: "That which you have done to the least of my brothers, you have done unto me".
It became clear to me how essential it is that people, all people, come to know that the hierarchical Church loves them. Peter - a rock who has been asked to love. I understood that all the expressions of the Church have to be penetrated through and through with love.

Wednesday 7 December 2016

The Pope today

Earlier today I re-read the essay with this title, to be found in Hans Urs von Balthasar's book Elucidations. First published in German in 1971, the immediate context of the essay is the pontificate of Pope Paul VI.

It is an essay that has a striking resonance for the pontificate of Pope Francis, and for many of the critical observations made of him and of those who defend him. It does need to be read as a whole, so that the trenchant critiques of the behaviour of ecclesiastics (this is not in von Balthasar's original context a reference to cardinals as it might be in the present context in respect of Amoris Laetitia) is seen also against its background of von Balthasar's equally trenchant comment on the teaching of Vatican I with regard to the Papal office and its balancing by the teaching of Vatican II (that at the former bishops seemed to readily offload to the higher authority a responsibility that was rightly their own, a tendency which achieved its correct balancing at the latter).
In the process of humiliation it is necessary to distinguish between the burdensome responsibilities which are accepted for the wrong reasons (even if in good faith) and that pastoral load which the man who follows in Peter's tracks cannot pass on to other men. The formulations promulgated in such an inflated style by Vatican I will, in a quite different style, retain their truth, a very humble truth, without sparkle or strength, for as long at least as men do not seek spontaneously to take the lowest place.
On the other hand, the loud-mouthed, Christian, mostly clerical rogues who take such pleasure in attacking Rome can study their own physiognomies in the satirical pictures of Bosch and Breughel. They will never be truly in the right even if they themselves imagine that they are angels of truth sent by heaven or by the human race or by the future to the Church, and even it if appears that they again and again receive plausible confirmation of their views by innumerable faux-pas of the central government of the Church. They have all the laughs on their side. But Peter must have seemed fairly laughable too when he was crucified upside down ....
There ... I did say the critiques were trenchant! It is perhaps the observation that "they will never be truly in the right .." to which we must pay most heed.

Note: I have not been able to find an on-line text of this essay, so if you do know of one, I would be happy to link to it.

Thursday 1 December 2016

Four Cardinals and a funeral?

It is axiomatic ("self-evident" according to the Concise Oxford Dictionary) to much of the commentary and reaction to Amoris Laetitia that is visible in the media that:
there is something wrong with Amoris Laetitia;
and there is widespread confusion among Catholics as a result of Amoris Laetitia.
I don't think there is anything wrong with Amoris Laetitia, if it is read for what it actually says;  and I believe that a significant responsibility for the spreading of confusion lies with those who are themselves exerting great effort in decrying the said confusion. Had the great and good kept rather more of their own counsel, I suspect that there would have been rather less legitimisation of such confusion as might have existed.

On the latter point, I think most of the Church's pastors and faithful would see it rather as Aunty does here (but I don't share the sentiments of the comments), or as Bishop Egan described it in a pastoral letter in July 2016:
When Amoris Laetitia was published, there was a controversy about the care of the divorced and remarried. In fact, Pope Francis reaffirms Jesus’ teaching on chastity, marriage, sexuality and family life; he does not change Church discipline. But he does speak in a new compassionate way about those who have drifted from the practice of faith because they have found themselves in marital situations and patterns of behaviour at variance with the Gospel....
Given this perspective, there is a certain bemusement that pertains with regard to the efforts of 45 theologians and, more recently, four cardinals to seek clarification from Pope Francis in respect of what has not in the first place been denied. As far as the cardinal's letter is concerned, I am inclined to characterise Pope Francis' choice not to respond in a similar way as does Rocco Buttiglione - that he has considered it not opportune to respond rather than it constituting a refusal to respond. And in respect of the 45 theologians, I just wondered what, with all the doctorates represented among them, they thought to achieve by writing in the language of censure and the citation of authorities. It is difficult to appreciate their approach to capital punishment, for example, when the question of today is no longer about the exercise of justice by Christian rulers but about executions under Sharia law in countries like Saudi Arabia and the experience of "death row" in the United Stages to which Sr Helen Prejean gives witness.

I find fanciful in the extreme the idea that Pope Francis has in some way declined to exercise his teaching authority because he happens not to have replied to a particular communication from four Cardinals (or, earlier, to 45 theologians). That this has subsequently engendered a discussion - taken seriously in some particular quarters - about a "suspension of the Magisterium", "doubts" and "a formal act of correction" is even more fanciful; and all the more so for its appearance of learning. "Authoritative teaching" might suit the mind set of some; but Pope Francis more gentle style of such teaching does not represent the absence of teaching of which he is accused.

In September, I read the following in a blog post reflecting on the situation since Amoris Laetitia :
...I fear for many Catholics that rather than as Newman says, "I shall drink to the Pope, if you please, still, to Conscience first", we must make a conscious choice between Conscience and the Pope, and that choice will have very uncomfortable consequences for those who feel compelled to follow conscience. The Kasper doctrine which the Pope has signified he favours is for many of us a sign of the distancing of the Church from Revelation and the person of Jesus Christ, that is not what the Church is for ...
At the time, I wondered on the final destination of one whose orientation moves from an adherence to the exercise of the office of the Successor of Peter towards an adherence to a notion of Tradition or of ecclesial life that is in some way distanced from the exercise of that office (though in the blog post cited this was articulated as a choice of conscience). Perhaps we are now seeing the final working out of such a distancing, the emergence of an orientation towards a Tradition distinguished from a Magisterium rather than an orientation towards a Tradition that lives with a Magisterium.

I, for one, prefer to stay alongside the successor of St Peter.

[Postscript: It should be clear that this is not a question of having to like everything a particular Pope does and says. The question is indifferent as to whether I like what Pope Francis does or do not like what Pope Francis does. The question is an objective one about an ecclesial orientation.]

Tuesday 8 November 2016

The Vatican and China: a new ostpolitik?

I haven't been able to follow the details of the reported rapprochement between the Holy See and the authorities in China. Reuters reporting, from 21st October, appears comprehensive - but a phrase like "... China is preparing to ordain at least two new bishops before the end of the year..." does not inspire confidence in the precision of its content. Pope Francis is reported to be the driving force behind the negotiations, and so is taking the negative coverage for it.

Cardinal Zen has criticised the reported progress towards an agreement, most particularly in an interview published in the Wall Street Journal (but behind a subscription/registration firewall). Reports of his criticism can be found here and here.

As I write I do not know whether an agreement has been reached; and nor do I know the subtleties of its contents, particularly as regards the appointment and ordination of bishops. What I have wondered, though, is whether or not Pope Francis' moves in this area are in continuity with Pope Benedict XVI's letter to Chinese Catholics of May 2007. That letter, as I recall it from the time, had an underlying anxiety to achieve some degree of reconciliation between the faithful of the "underground Church" and those of the "patriotic Church", whilst at the same time being very clear in its affirmation of the requirements of authentic ecclesial communion. It also includes a call for dialogue between the Holy See and the authorities in China. I do find it difficult to believe that any agreement will conflict with the provisions of Pope Benedict's letter (events might prove me wrong?), from which I quote a passage that may well provide some background to the reports with regard to the recognition of "state appointed" bishops (or, in the language of Pope Benedict's letter, the "legitimisation" of bishops appointed without an Apostolic mandate):
Currently, all the Bishops of the Catholic Church in China are sons of the Chinese People. Notwithstanding many grave difficulties, the Catholic Church in China, by a particular grace of the Holy Spirit, has never been deprived of the ministry of legitimate Pastors who have preserved the apostolic succession intact. We must thank the Lord for this constant presence, not without suffering, of Bishops who have received episcopal ordination in conformity with Catholic tradition, that is to say, in communion with the Bishop of Rome, Successor of Peter, and at the hands of validly and legitimately ordained Bishops in observance of the rite of the Catholic Church.
Some of them, not wishing to be subjected to undue control exercised over the life of the Church, and eager to maintain total fidelity to the Successor of Peter and to Catholic doctrine, have felt themselves constrained to opt for clandestine consecration. The clandestine condition is not a normal feature of the Church's life, and history shows that Pastors and faithful have recourse to it only amid suffering, in the desire to maintain the integrity of their faith and to resist interference from State agencies in matters pertaining intimately to the Church's life. For this reason the Holy See hopes that these legitimate Pastors may be recognized as such by governmental authorities for civil effects too – insofar as these are necessary – and that all the faithful may be able to express their faith freely in the social context in which they live.
Other Pastors, however, under the pressure of particular circumstances, have consented to receive episcopal ordination without the pontifical mandate, but have subsequently asked to be received into communion with the Successor of Peter and with their other brothers in the episcopate. The Pope, considering the sincerity of their sentiments and the complexity of the situation, and taking into account the opinion of neighbouring Bishops, by virtue of his proper responsibility as universal Pastor of the Church, has granted them the full and legitimate exercise of episcopal jurisdiction. This initiative of the Pope resulted from knowledge of the particular circumstances of their ordination and from his profound pastoral concern to favour the reestablishment of full communion. Unfortunately, in most cases, priests and the faithful have not been adequately informed that their Bishop has been legitimized, and this has given rise to a number of grave problems of conscience. What is more, some legitimized Bishops have failed to provide any clear signs to prove that they have been legitimized. For this reason it is indispensable, for the spiritual good of the diocesan communities concerned, that legitimation, once it has occurred, is brought into the public domain at the earliest opportunity, and that the legitimized Bishops provide unequivocal and increasing signs of full communion with the Successor of Peter.
Finally, there are certain Bishops – a very small number of them – who have been ordained without the Pontifical mandate and who have not asked for or have not yet obtained, the necessary legitimation. According to the doctrine of the Catholic Church, they are to be considered illegitimate, but validly ordained, as long as it is certain that they have received ordination from validly ordained Bishops and that the Catholic rite of episcopal ordination has been respected. Therefore, although not in communion with the Pope, they exercise their ministry validly in the administration of the sacraments, even if they do so illegitimately. What great spiritual enrichment would ensue for the Church in China if, the necessary conditions having been established, these Pastors too were to enter into communion with the Successor of Peter and with the entire Catholic episcopate! Not only would their episcopal ministry be legitimized, there would also be an enrichment of their communion with the priests and the faithful who consider the Church in China part of the Catholic Church, united with the Bishop of Rome and with all the other particular Churches spread throughout the world.
In individual nations, all the legitimate Bishops constitute an Episcopal Conference, governed according to its own statutes, which by the norms of canon law must be approved by the Apostolic See. Such an Episcopal Conference expresses the fraternal communion of all the Bishops of a nation and treats the doctrinal and pastoral questions that are significant for the entire Catholic community of the country without, however, interfering in the exercise of the ordinary and immediate power of each Bishop in his own diocese. Moreover, every Episcopal Conference maintains opportune and useful contacts with the civil authorities of the place, partly in order to favour cooperation between the Church and the State, but it is obvious that an Episcopal Conference cannot be subjected to any civil authority in questions of faith and of living according to the faith (fides et mores, sacramental life), which are exclusively the competence of the Church.
In the light of the principles expounded above, the present College of Catholic Bishops of China cannot be recognized as an Episcopal Conference by the Apostolic See: the "clandestine" Bishops, those not recognized by the Government but in communion with the Pope, are not part of it; it includes Bishops who are still illegitimate, and it is governed by statutes that contain elements incompatible with Catholic doctrine.

Saturday 5 November 2016

Madeleine Delbrel: Counting on Mercy

Magnificat for 4th November offered, as the "Meditation of the Day", an extract from the writings of Madeleine Delbrel. Magnificat published it under the title "Counting on Mercy". In the English translation of the original text it is the first paragraphs of a section entitled "Those who are unhappy". It is part of a study written by Madeleine, dated 1951, that reflects on what it means to be a missionary in the Church of her times. The resonance of the study as a whole to Pope Francis' ideas of "missionary parishes" and "missionary disciples" is striking, as is the comparison of the passage offered by Magnificat to the evangelising significance of the Year of Mercy. It is also worth recalling, as we read the following words, Madeleine's own radical choice to live among the workers of a Communist suburb of Paris.
We cannot let mercy dry up, as so often happens today. A greater awareness of the economic hardship of the masses cannot lead us to have scorn for other forms of suffering, or to lose interest in them.
Christ's mercy for the poor is one part of a mercy as vast as all the human griefs combined. It is a mercy for sinners, a mercy for the sick, a mercy for those lamenting their dead, a mercy for those in prison, a mercy for all the little ones.
Because of a reductively materialistic notion of poverty, we are often in danger of forgetting that there are people who are poor in other ways than merely economically; there are other little ones than the workers. There are those who are morally or psychologically weak. There are those who are poor in gifts, in appeal, in love. In addition to the oppressed classes are those who are "unclassifiable".
Those who are little, those who are poor, are not only in the working class. And the working class itself is not made up exhaustively of militants, militants who are already rich in hope, rich in heart, rich in intellectual formation.
It is not up to us to correct Christ's heart either - it belongs to all people and we have to give it to all people.
The personal love of Christ. He calls each one by name - he does not call a category. He knows each one of as the Father knows the Son.

As I looked up this extract in my copy of We, the Ordinary People of the Streets, my eye was caught by the following in the last but one paragraph of the preceding section:
All great human activities function as signs. Just as marriage is the most perfect sign of the union of Christ and his Church, and voluntary celibacy makes us live more fully the reality towards which this sign points, human work is a sign of the Church's toil over the world, a suffering and fruitful labour.

Wednesday 2 November 2016

Pope Francis' homily for All Saints

I have not been able to follow Pope Francis' visit to Sweden to mark the anniversary of the Reformation, due to pressures of work and family events.

However, I have just read the text of his homily for the Solemnity of All Saints which, though it touches on ecumenism only lightly, nevertheless speaks of an underpinning principle of ecumenical activity, that is, of a common search for holiness rooted in the consecration of Baptism.

Like Pope Benedict XVI before him, Pope Francis can provide a lovely turn of phrase:
The Beatitudes are the image of Christ and consequently of each Christian..... 
....meekness is the attitude of those who have nothing to lose, because their only wealth is God..... 
The Beatitudes are in some sense the Christian’s identity card. They identify us as followers of Jesus..... 
To our heavenly Mother, Queen of All Saints, we entrust our intentions and the dialogue aimed at the full communion of all Christians, so that we may be blessed in our efforts and may attain holiness in unity.
I also noted his reference to the foundress (and re-foundress) of the Order of St Bridget, topical both because of Pope Francis' presence in Sweden and because of the ecumenical context of his visit. The charism of the Bridgettines is hospitality and prayer for the unity of Christians and, for me, they represent one example of how the mission to ecumenism represented in the teaching of the Second Vatican Council is lived out, not as some kind of "extra", but as an ordinary part of the life of the Church. (The charism of the spirituality of unity of the Focolare movement is another example of the living out of the ecumenical impulse in the daily life of the Church).

Saturday 29 October 2016

Proud of our diversity?

The commitments, particularly in the field of education, contained in the Labour Party's recent Proud of our Diversity document make it timely to re-post the Catholic teaching below.

Perhaps the proposed changes to the National Curriculum will also include the discrimination against those who oppose the legislative outcomes achieved by gay activists in recent years?

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,140 tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered."141 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.
And from Pope Francis' Amoris Laetitia:
56. Yet another challenge is posed by the various forms of an ideology of gender that "denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby elimination the anthropological basis of the family. This ideology leads to educational programmes and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity  and emotional intimacy radially separated from the biological difference between male and female. Consequently, human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time". It is a source of concern that some ideologies of this sort, which seek to respond to what are at times understandable aspirations, manage to assert themselves as absolute and unquestionable, even dictating how children should be raised. It needs to be emphasised that "biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated"..... It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt o sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality. Let us not fall into the sin of trying to replace the Creator. We are creatures, and not omnipotent. Creation is prior to us and must be received as a gift. At the same time, we are called to protect our humanity, and this means, in the first place, accepting and respecting it as it was created.

Saturday 22 October 2016

I think I shall miss the Year of Mercy when it ends ....

It can appear that, in inaugurating a Year of Mercy, Pope Francis was being radical and novel in the way in which he wished to encourage us to live the Christian life. Actually I believe that what he has done is draw attention to a dimension of the Christian life that is already present and multiform in Catholic life.

The year has given me a sensitivity, for example, to those occasions when the Church's Liturgy makes reference to the mercy of God. The Collect for the Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, for example, is:
O God, protector of those who hope in you, without whom nothing has firm foundation, nothing is holy, bestow in abundance your mercy upon us and grant that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may use the good things that pass in such a way as to hold fast even now to those that ever endure.
And for Twenty Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time:
O God, who manifest your almighty power above all by pardoning and showing mercy, bestow, we pray, your grace abundantly upon us and make those hastening to your promises heirs to the treasures of heaven.
Reading recently about Elizabeth of the Trinity, I came across a reference (which I can't at the moment trace) to St Catherine of Siena's praise of Divine Mercy in her Dialogue. This occurs in the section "A Treatise of Discretion" (text taken from EWTN website, and the same as that in the translation published by Baronius Press in 2006):
How this soul wondering at the mercy of God, relates many gifts and graces given to the human race.
Then this soul, as it were, like one intoxicated, could not contain herself, but standing before the face of God, exclaimed, "How great is the Eternal Mercy with which You cover the sins of Your creatures! I do not wonder that You say of those who abandon mortal sin and return to You, 'I do not remember that you have ever offended Me.' Oh, ineffable Mercy! I do not wonder that You say this to those who are converted, when You say of those who persecute You, 'I wish you to pray for such, in order that I may do them mercy.' Oh, Mercy, who proceeds from Your Eternal Father, the Divinity who governs with Your power the whole world, by You were we created, in You were we re-created in the Blood of Your Son. Your Mercy preserves us, Your Mercy caused Your Son to do battle for us, hanging by His arms on the wood of the Cross, life and death battling together; then life confounded the death of our sin, and the death of our sin destroyed the bodily life of the Immaculate Lamb. Which was finally conquered? Death! By what means? Mercy! Your Mercy gives light and life, by which Your clemency is known in all Your creatures, both the just and the unjust. In the height of Heaven Your Mercy shines, that is, in Your saints. If I turn to the earth, it abounds with Your Mercy. In the darkness of Hell Your Mercy shines, for the damned do not receive the pains they deserve; with Your Mercy You temper Justice. By Mercy You have washed us in the Blood, and by Mercy You wish to converse with Your creatures. Oh, Loving Madman! was it not enough for You to become Incarnate, that You must also die? Was not death enough, that You must also descend into Limbo, taking thence the holy fathers to fulfil Your Mercy and Your Truth in them? Because Your goodness promises a reward to them that serve You in truth, You descended to Limbo, to withdraw from their pain Your servants, and give them the fruit of their labours. Your Mercy constrains You to give even more to man, namely, to leave Yourself to him in food, so that we, weak ones, should have comfort, and the ignorant commemorating You, should not lose the memory of Your benefits. Wherefore every day You give Yourself to man, representing Yourself in the Sacrament of the Altar, in the body of Your Holy Church. What has done this? Your Mercy. Oh, Divine Mercy! My heart suffocates in thinking of you, for on every side to which I turn my thought, I find nothing but mercy. Oh, Eternal Father! Forgive my ignorance, that I presume thus to chatter to You, but the love of Your Mercy will be my excuse before the Face of Your loving-kindness."
"In the darkness of Hell Your Mercy shines ..." is the phrase which strikes me most as capturing something of the spirit of the Year of Mercy.

This is without considering the more recent development of devotion to the Divine Mercy prompted by the charism of St Faustina, and the establishing of the Liturgical celebration of that devotion at the beginning of the Easter season.

As I said above, rather than representing a radical innovation, the Year of Mercy draws our attention to a dimension of Christian life that is present already in the history and life of the Church and encourages us to live it with an ever greater richness.

Monday 10 October 2016

Is there a right to offend?

There is a certain fashion for saying, in its negative expression, that we have no right to be protected from others giving offence to us; or, in the corresponding positive expression, there is a right of one person to act or speak in a manner that gives offence to another. I heard it again the other day, expressed by a BBC radio interviewer.

Now there is certainly a prudential judgement to be made as to whether or not the giving of offence should be proscribed by law, and thereby attract a criminal or civil sanction before the law. This arises because the law would find it difficult to distinguish between legitimate difference of opinion and an offence of giving offence, however the latter might be defined. So the law, at least in this country, does not proscribe offensive language used towards another and, instead, remains silent on the matter.

But does the absence of legal proscription thereby confer its opposite - that is, does it confer a right to carry out the action that it does not proscribe? Many would believe that it does. A reading of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights would, in my view, suggest otherwise.

Its preamble argues from the "recognition of the inherent dignity .... of all members of the human family", while Article 1 argues that all persons "should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

Article 12 reads: "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks."

Article 12 has a particular bearing on Articles 18 and 19, which propose the freedom of religious belief and the freedom of belief and expression. Neither of these freedoms can be effectively exercised if people are subject to abusive behaviour or language in their regard; that is, if through attacks on the honour and reputation of their religious or political community, people are subject to mediated attacks on their individual honour and reputation.

Now the content of one person's religion or belief might be such that it is offensive to the religion or belief of another (which is the difficulty that the law faces in proscribing offensive language and behaviour). The expression of difference of opinion in this respect might give rise to offence in a very qualified manner as regards the content of what is expressed. But the recognition of the dignity of the person in the other, and regard for his or her honour and reputation, certainly constrains the manner of the expression of difference. And in this sense, I think the UN Declaration should suggest to us that, no, there is not an unqualified right to be offensive towards others.

Whilst the proscription of the law might extend only to hate crime based on certain protected characteristics, and not to offensiveness itself, there remains the obligation, articulated in human rights instruments, for citizens to maintain the dignity of others, and to respect their honour and reputation. The lack of legal proscription makes the responsibility of the citizen in this regard all the more important.

Sunday 9 October 2016

The Ordinary Form in the style of Fortescue?

Visiting a parish recently, I experienced what might be stereotyped as a celebration of the Ordinary Form according to the style of Fr Adrian Fortescue. That's not to say that the celebration was authentically derived from Fortescue - in some ways it was, but, I suspect, in other ways it wasn't.

Poor Father. He definitely appeared to be more concerned with the inches between his extended hands (I doubt that centimetres, that most heinous modern innovation, would have entered his mind), the burse stood upright on the altar when not in use, and several other like things, rather than anything else. One can be irrelevantly pedantic in suggesting that a priest should "celebrate" Mass rather than "say" Mass - but if ever I have encountered Mass being "said" rather than "celebrated" this was it. It was Liturgical form without any soul; it appeared to have only the smallest regard for the congregation present who could be forgiven for feeling that they were an inconvenience; and that included the homily which was read like a prescribed script (I can't comment on content because I very quickly stopped listening and reverted to Magnificat, my resort in circumstances that are usually different in nature). I suspect that even the most evenly balanced of MCs wouldn't have coped with it (there wasn't one, and no altar servers either, which perhaps wasn't surprising).

The funniest bit for me was the three strong tugs on the maniple to stop it sliding down over the wrist - I think towards the end of Eucharistic Prayer I, though my memory fails me a little here. Oh, and much as I might want to encourage other priests to give Eucharistic Prayer I its fair use, this unfeeling recitation left me cold. I can only remember the "Through Christ our Lord. Amen" recited without pause between the end of one paragraph and the start of the next.

I tell the story because, if the Trads have the idea that this kind of thing is a model of the mutual enrichment sought by Pope Benedict XVI in his letter to bishops that accompanied Summorum Pontificum, they couldn't be more wrong. To misquote Pope Francis, it is more like an ideological colonisation of the Ordinary Form. It won't have anything to say beyond their own enclaves. (Perhaps my recent experience was untypical, I don't know).

Likewise, the persistent reference to the "new Mass" or "novus ordo", and indiscriminating reference to the "Latin Mass" or the "Traditional Mass", don't help the cause of mutual enrichment either. One of the clear points to Pope Benedict's letter, and to Summorum Pontificum itself, is that the one form is just as "traditional", in the juridical sense, as the other. Playing them off against each other was not something that Pope Benedict envisaged at all.

As with the campaign against Amoris Laetitia (much that I read of this campaign, which gains the approbation of the Trad blogosphere, appears exactly like the kind of thing that would be written by others to denigrate the teaching of the Successor of Peter, and be excoriated by the same Trad blogosphere - perhaps the appeal to Canon 212 n.3 to justify their actions being an illustrative point), there seems to be a selection of those bits of the exercise of the Office of the Successor of Peter, be that Benedict or Francis, that suit and a disregard for those bits that don't. Once one begins to have a conversation in terms that distinguish between the present day exercise of the Office of Peter and that of his predecessors, with the intention of undermining the former, I fear there is shifting sand under one's feet rather than firm foundations.

But then perhaps the Traditionalist movement has always carried with it the risk of becoming a kind of magisterium of its own....

Wednesday 5 October 2016

National Poetry Day 2016

At school, colleagues have been encouraged to share a favourite poem with their classes to mark National Poetry Day tomorrow. The poems are also being displayed in the school library.

My choice is Gerard Manley Hopkins The Windhover.

To Christ our Lord

To Christ our Lord I caught this morning morning's minion, kingdom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-     dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
  As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
  Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, - the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
  Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

  No wonder of it: shèer plòd makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
  Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold vermilion.

Thursday 15 September 2016

Faith and reason in a letter of Robert Bellarmine

To mark his feast day on 17th September, Thinking Faith have published an article about St Robert Bellarmine by Br Guy Consolmagno SJ, who works at the Vatican Observatory: Bellarmine in Perspective.

In part, the article gives an account of a letter written by Robert Bellarmine in connection with the Galileo affair. Br Consolmagno observes in connection with the letter:
We now recognise that the way science understands the universe is not subject to the kinds of proof that one would demand in mathematics. Rather, science argues from probability to probability, always recognising that no description is perfect or final. 
I suspect that this reading of a letter from the 17th century in the framework of a later time skews Br Consolmagno's way of reading it. I am not sure, for example, that practicing cosmologists do really consider the heliocentric view of our solar system as a "probability". My own reading of Bellarmine's letter, from the days of my youth some 20 years ago when Cardinal Ratzinger was still Cardinal Ratzinger and not Pope Benedict XVI, is offered below. What struck me then, and still strikes me now, about the letter is its profound trust in both human reason and in religious faith as giving access to knowledge. (My translation is, so far as I recall, taken from Part V of Arthur Koestler's book The Sleepwalkers.)
In April 1615, St. Robert Bellarmine wrote a letter to the author of a book which had defended the Copernican view of the universe, clearly addressing the letter to Galileo as well.  St. Robert Bellarmine fulfilled a role in the Church of his time similar to that of Cardinal Ratzinger in our own time.  He was a man of great intellect and profound devotion.  He was well informed about the state of contemporary scientific endeavour and seems to have had quite cordial communications with Galileo.  His letter is strikingly modern, and very concisely presents an answer to the debate as it had come to be presented. 
“..It seems to me that your Reverence and Signor Galileo act prudently when you content yourselves with speaking hypothetically and not absolutely, as I have always understood Copernicus spoke..”

This is a reference to the fact that the Copernican view was an interpretation of astronomical observations.  At least one other successful interpretation was possible, and it is in this sense that the Copernican view represented a “hypothetical” rather than an “absolute” claim.  To accept it as a “hypothesis” in this sense was quite a different thing than accepting it as being the way things really were.
“..If there were a real proof that the Sun is in the centre of the universe ... 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..”
This is the critical passage in the letter.  Underlying it is the conviction that the results of scientific study and the content of Christian faith are in harmony with each other.  When science can offer convincing proof, then it is necessary to look again at the way in which Scripture is understood.
“But I do not think there is any such proof since none has been shown to me.....I believe that the first demonstration (i.e. that the Copernican view is a workable hypothesis) may exist, but I have grave doubts about the second (i.e. the existence of proof that the Copernican view is the way things really are); and in the case of doubt one may not abandon the Holy Scriptures as expounded by the holy Fathers..”
This is an important balancing of the previously expressed willingness to look again at the way in which Scripture is understood.  In the seventeenth century there really was not any absolute evidence of the earth’s movement through space.  In the twentieth century there is, and, if he were alive today, St. Robert Bellarmine would accept that proof and be willing to understand Scripture differently as a consequence.

Tuesday 6 September 2016

Keith Vaz: the nature of "scandal"

While Jeremy Corbyn is reported as saying that "he has not committed any crime that I know of, as far I'm aware it is a private matter", Theresa May indicated that it was for Keith Vaz to make his decisions about his future course of action. But Theresa May did preface her remark by saying that it was important that people feel they are able to have confidence in their politicians. In other quarters, it is the apparent conflict of interest between Keith Vaz's chairmanship of the Home Office select committee, which has included drugs and prostitution in its recent considerations, that presents the main problem.

The reporting of the scandal is at the BBC news site (here and here)..... and with rather more lurid detail on the website of today's Daily Mirror. Since Keith Vaz's own statements have been very limited, there is only the Sunday Mirror and Daily Mirror reporting to go on as far as the circumstances of the meeting with the male prostitutes is concerned; and this leaves some uncertainty as to the exact circumstances (was it, for example, a "sting" by the newspaper?)

The comment on Radio 4 yesterday morning came from Peter Tatchell. He was clear that the scandal did not represent a resigning matter, that there was no inconsistency between Keith Vaz's public view in favour of gay rights, legalisation of sex work (Peter Tatchell's phrase) and against the criminalisation of party poppers. Since Keith Vaz had not broken the law in any way, and had not hurt anyone (Keith's own apology, quoted in the Sunday Mirror, for  the hurt particularly to his family would seem to gainsay this), it was an entirely private matter and there was no need for him to resign.

A first thought is that it is quite wrong that Keith Vaz should be vilified for his behaviour in the print and electronic media. Whatever he has done, he still has a right to his good name, and to be treated in a manner that respects him as a person like any other. Likewise, he should not be subject to bullying with regard to his future decisions.

A second thought, though, and it is the one that Theresa May's remark touches on, is a question about how far citizens and fellow MPs can now have confidence in Keith Vaz as an elected representative. Given the fallibility of his private life that has now become public knowledge, is it possible to trust Keith Vaz in his public/political activity? Can we really live with a complete separation of the principles of integrity and probity in public life from those same principles in private life? Or should we be able to expect from those who hold public office, and perhaps to a degree determined by the level of public office that they hold, more by way of a unity of these principles across both the private and the public realms than we would insist on from others?

A third thought is prompted by the phrase "moral relativism" as a reaction to Peter Tatchell and Jeremy Corbyn's comments. Has Keith Vaz actually done anything wrong? I suspect that our society still retains an implicit sense of there being something wrong with using prostitutes (despite the cultural re-wording to "sex worker") and something wrong with cheating on your wife and family, though at the same time there is an unwillingness to articulate that uneasiness in terms of moral right and wrong. From a Catholic point of view, he has certainly done something that is morally wrong,  and perhaps we should not be hesitant in saying that. And, particularly because his behaviour sets an adverse example for others with regard to the institution of marriage, that moral wrong has an impact for the common good of society as a whole. Whilst a personal persecution would be quite wrong, I think it is unfortunate that the question of whether Keith Vaz's behaviour is morally right or wrong does not form part of the public conversation.

And the final thought arises from this third thought. Keith Vaz's behaviour is a "scandal", in the sense that it has caused a political and media furore. It should be recognised as a "scandal" in a second sense, too. When someone in public office does something wrong, it sends a message to society as a whole, and the idea of "scandal" communicates that there was something untoward about it.

One might end with some words of Pope Benedict XVI, speaking in Westminster Hall in 2010:
If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident - herein lies the real challenge for democracy.

Sunday 4 September 2016

The Church: "catholic" or "inclusive"?

At the time of posting, gay activists within the Church of England are calling for "a way forward to greater inclusion" that will allow those parishes that wish to do so to celebrate same sex marriages in Church. It follows the reporting of Bishop Nicholas Chamberlain's long term and committed gay relationship, a relationship that is celibate; and the response of Gafcon that his appointment was a "major error".

There is a first difficulty in the use of the word "inclusive" here. The word can have two distinct senses, and, typically for the debate about LGBT issues, the word is used in the letter to the Times in a way that does not distinguish between the two senses. The outcome of this failure to distinguish is an unjustified presumption that "inclusion", poorly defined, should become a characteristic of the life and practice of the Church.

If the object of the term "inclusive" is persons, then one can quite rightly say that the Church should have an openness to everyone, as persons, regardless of their origins or lifestyles. Pope Francis' use of the term "accompaniment" expresses something of this idea.

If the object of the term "inclusive" is the teaching of the Church on matters of marriage and sexuality, then it is quite another matter. And the meaning is quite different. It is the assimilation of this second sense to the first sense in the common sensibility of both Christians and others that is the unfortunate, and, I suspect, intended consequence of failure to distinguish between the two senses on the part of pro-gay advocates.

A first reflection, from the point of view of Christian life, arises from the moment of Baptism, the Sacrament by which a person becomes a member of the Church. The Baptismal profession of faith expresses a turning away from sin and a turning towards the person of Christ, a conversion of life. That call to a conversion of life asks those who enter the Church to live a changed life, not just at the temporal moment of Baptism but existentially in the subsequent living of the Christian life. Each individual might face that call in a different specific manner, and so the specificity of that call experienced by a person who identifies as LGBT will differ from the specificity of the call for a person who has, say, pursued a life of crime.

A second reflection arises from considering whether or not the Church should use the term "inclusive" to describe its nature. According to the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, n.166:
The Church is catholic, that is universal, insofar as Christ is present in her: "Where there is Christ Jesus, there is the Catholic Church " (Saint Ignatius of Antioch). The Church proclaims the fullness and the totality of the faith; she bears and administers the fullness of the means of salvation; she is sent out by Christ on a mission to the whole of the human race.
This is more fully developed in the corresponding paragraphs of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 830-831:
Secondly, the Church is catholic because she has been sent out by Christ on a mission to the whole of the human race:
All men are called to belong to the new People of God. This People, therefore, while remaining one and only one, is to be spread throughout the whole world and to all ages in order that the design of God's will may be fulfilled: he made human nature one in the beginning and has decreed that all his children who were scattered should be finally gathered together as one.... the character of universality which adorns the People of God is a gift from the Lord himself whereby the Catholic Church ceaselessly and efficaciously seeks for the return of all humanity and all its goods, under Christ the Head in the unity of his Spirit.
It is clear, I think, that the Church describes herself as "catholic" or "universal", and does not use the term "inclusive" to describe her own nature.  I would suggest that, in responding to the misguided claim in favour of an "inclusive" Church, we should instead respond with an account of the catholic, or universal, nature of the Church.

Monday 29 August 2016

Abortion: not a single narrative

"I think it is time to give women a say on their own reproductive rights,"...
is the strap line of a beauty contestants recent intervention in Ireland. But the reality of legalised abortion does not follow that single narrative of the empowerment of women with respect to their bodies.
For some of us the availability of legal abortion releases us from the emotional and physical trauma associated with an unwanted pregnancy, but for others there can be various feelings which differ in intensity and depth. Therefore we can only be approximate about the possible effects of abortion and point out those who may be exposed to the threat of extreme long-lasting feelings. Those who appear to suffer, from moderate to severe feelings, tend to be women who:
- have little support, from family, friends and partners;
- wanted the baby but were pressurised into having an abortion by others;
- are already stressed, eg a recent bereavement;
- have a psychiatric history;
- show ambivalence during the  decision phase;
- do not involve their partner in the experience;
- experience late abortion;
- are young;
- consciously or unconsciously use the pregnancy to resolve conflicts, eg bring their relationship back together;
- are deserted by their partners as a result of their pregnancy.

Source: Abortion and afterwards  Vanessa Davies (1991), page 120.

It is only fair that women such as these, with different narratives, should also have their voices heard.

Monday 22 August 2016

The Sleep of Reason

The novel entitled The Sleep of Reason is the penultimate novel in C P Snow's sequence Strangers and Brothers. It is set around the trial of two young women, living in what we would now call a same-sex relationship, who had kidnapped a young boy from a city play area to a country cottage one weekend and subjected him ill treatment before killing him. The crime appears clinically planned, and the two women are duly found guilty of murder. The central point at issue in the trial is not the events of the crime themselves, but the question of the responsibility of the two women for their actions, as their defence lawyers argue for a diminished responsibility that would mean they were guilty of manslaughter rather than murder.

The question of responsibility for actions, and particularly responsibility for actions of a most evil kind, is therefore a theme of the novel. It particularly reflects back to an earlier novel in C P Snow's sequence, George Passant. I have yet to read that novel, but George would appear to have been the centre of group of young people encouraged to reject all societal limitations and live in a complete freedom from any constraints whatsoever. The two women on trial in The Sleep of Reason were around the edges of a later generation in this group, a group with which Snow's narrator, Lewis Eliot, was associated in his younger days. The narrative of The Sleep of Reason speculates as to whether or not Cora and Kitty would have behaved differently if they had not had the association with George Passant's group, whether that association with a lifestyle lacking in any constraint could have any causal link to their actions against the boy they kidnapped. The insistent answer given is that one could never know one way or the other, though Lewis asks himself whether one of the two might have been the leader of the other.

The novel gains its title from the following passage, towards the end, when the protagonists are reflecting back on the outcome of the trial:
Reason. Why had so much of our time reneged on it? Wasn't that our characteristic folly, treachery or crime?
Reason was very weak as compared with instinct. Instinct was closer to the aboriginal sea out of which we had all climbed. Reason was a precarious structure. But, if we didn't use it to understand instinct, then there was no health in us at all.
Margaret said, she had been brought up among people who believed it was easy to be civilised and rational. She had hated it. It made life too hygienic and too thin. But still, she had come to think even that was better than glorifying unreason.
Put reason to sleep, and all the stronger forces were let loose. We had seen that happen in our own lifetimes. In the world: and close to us. We couldn't get out of knowing, that it meant a chance of hell. [Both at the time of C P Snow's writing and in the setting of the novel, this reference includes the events of World War II.]
Glorifying unreason. Wanting to let the instinctual forces loose. Martin said - anyone who did that, either hadn't much of those forces within himself, or else wanted to use others' for his own purpose. And that was true of private leaders like George as much as public ones.
(Were others thinking, as I did, of those two women? Was it true of one of them?)
To move to a different context, one wonders whether, since the legalisation of marriage between people of the same sex, those who have praised the consequent freedom to "marry the person they love" have really considered the relationship of reason to the life of passions and emotions. How does the readiness of the great and good to use the word "love" in a way that lacks substantial definition compare to a reasoned study of the affective life such as that proposed by the recently produced programme of the Pontifical Council for the Family, for example? Have we, in this context, also put reason to sleep?

Thursday 4 August 2016

Opening our hearts

New City Magazine is the magazine published by the Focolare movement, and has a United Kingdom edition.

Opening our hearts is the title of a testimony offered by a couple to the part played in their family life by two young people with physical or learning difficulties, and appears in the August/September 2016 issue. It is a very moving read.

As the story of Cara and Mario unfolds, one can see something of the possibilities of the "accompaniment" of which Pope Francis speaks in Amoris Laetitia. There is a journey from a marital situation that is "irregular" towards a marriage in Church, by way of a choice to foster vulnerable young people. One cannot but see also an action of grace in the acceptance into their family of a baby who was otherwise going to be allowed to die. The story of their family also verifies something of the experience of L'Arche, that those who are the carers can receive much from the people for whom they care. The lives of those with physical or learning difficulties are not a waste of time.

Cara and Mario's story provides an example of how grace can still be seen and recognised to be at work in the circumstances of a marriage that the Church might rightly recognise as being "irregular", the idea that is the basis for the accompaniment that Pope Francis suggests.

Wednesday 3 August 2016

Eyewitness: WYD Krakow

A number of years ago now I took part in a "fundamental retreat" at the Foyer of Charity at Chateauneuf de Galaure. I took the opportunity to undertake a similar retreat there a second time shortly afterwards. This community is the home from which the Foyers were founded. The charism of the Foyers of Charity is described in English here.

My experience of the Foyers made this account of a participation in the World Youth Day in Krakow particularly attractive. The inspiration of the "fundamental retreat" foreshadows what is now the idea of a "new evangelisation", so it has a particular relevance to World Youth Day.

Monday 1 August 2016

Pope Benedict and nuclear fission: Pope Francis and the social media

I am unable to resist placing Pope Francis' use of the image of the use of social media at the closing Mass of World Youth Day 2016 alongside Pope Benedict XVI's use  of the image of nuclear fission at the corresponding point of World Youth Day 2005.

First Pope Francis, speaking during a year celebrated as a "Year of Mercy":
We can say that World Youth Day begins today and continues tomorrow, in your homes, since that is where Jesus wants to meet you from now on. The Lord doesn’t want to remain in this beautiful city, or in cherished memories alone.  He wants to enter your homes, to dwell in your daily lives: in your studies, your first years of work, your friendships and affections, your hopes and dreams.  How greatly he desires that you bring all this to him in prayer!  How much he hopes that, in all the “contacts” and “chats” of each day, pride of place be given to the golden thread of prayer!  How much he wants his word to be able to speak to you day after day, so that you can make his Gospel your own, so that it can serve as a compass for you on the highways of life!
In asking to come to your house, Jesus calls you, as he did Zacchaeus, by name.  All of us, Jesus calls by name.  Your name is precious to him.  The name “Zacchaeus” would have made people back the think of the remembrance of God.  Trust the memory of God: his memory is not a “hard disk” that “saves” and “archives” all our data, his memory is a heart filled with tender compassion, one that finds joy in “erasing” in us every trace of evil.  May we too now try to imitate the faithful memory of God and treasure the good things we have received in these days.  In silence, let us remember this encounter, let us preserve the memory of the presence of God and his word, and let us listen once more to the voice of Jesus as he calls us by name. 
Pope Benedict spoke during a year dedicated as a "Year of the Eucharist":
By making the bread into his Body and the wine into his Blood, he anticipates his death, he accepts it in his heart, and he transforms it into an action of love. What on the outside is simply brutal violence - the Crucifixion - from within becomes an act of total self-giving love. This is the substantial transformation which was accomplished at the Last Supper and was destined to set in motion a series of transformations leading ultimately to the transformation of the world when God will be all in all (cf. I Cor 15: 28).
In their hearts, people always and everywhere have somehow expected a change, a transformation of the world. Here now is the central act of transformation that alone can truly renew the world:  violence is transformed into love, and death into life.
Since this act transmutes death into love, death as such is already conquered from within, the Resurrection is already present in it. Death is, so to speak, mortally wounded, so that it can no longer have the last word.
To use an image well known to us today, this is like inducing nuclear fission in the very heart of being - the victory of love over hatred, the victory of love over death. Only this intimate explosion of good conquering evil can then trigger off the series of transformations that little by little will change the world.
All other changes remain superficial and cannot save. For this reason we speak of redemption:  what had to happen at the most intimate level has indeed happened, and we can enter into its dynamic. Jesus can distribute his Body, because he truly gives himself.
 Re-reading both homilies fully, one after the other, it is instructive to note the absolute continuity in the messages of Pope Francis and Pope Benedict to the young people of the Church and of the world.

Sunday 31 July 2016

Pope Francis: "sofa" Catholics are called to lace up their boots

There is a very good report on the evening vigil at World Youth Day at the website of he Guardian: Pope Francis holds vigil near Kraków amid tension over refugees. Do read the whole report, as the reference to the tension over refugees forms only a small part of the whole report. The Catholic Herald also carries a report here, that I suggest you read before continuing.

The text of Pope Francis' address to the young people is here (English) and here (Italian - the language of delivery). I do think one needs to read the whole, but I was particularly struck by Pope Francis use of the image of a "sofa":
We have heard three testimonies. Our hearts were touched by their stories, their lives. We have seen how, like the disciples, they experienced similar moments, living through times of great fear, when it seemed like everything was falling apart.....
But in life there is another, even more dangerous, kind of paralysis. .... I like to describe it as the paralysis that comes from confusing happiness with a sofa. In other words, to think that in order to be happy all we need is a good sofa. A sofa that makes us feel comfortable, calm, safe. A sofa like one of those we have nowadays with a built-in massage unit to put us to sleep. A sofa that promises us hours of comfort so we can escape to the world of videogames and spend all kinds of time in front of a computer screen. A sofa that keeps us safe from any kind of pain and fear. A sofa that allows us to stay home without needing to work at, or worry about, anything. “Sofa-happiness”! That is probably the most harmful and insidious form of paralysis, which can cause the greatest harm to young people. And why does this happen Father? Because, little by little, without even realizing it, we start to nod off, to grow drowsy and dull. ...
For many people, that is more convenient than having young people who are alert and searching, trying to respond to God’s dream and to all the restlessness present in the human heart. I ask you: do you want to be young people who nod off, who are drowsy and dull? [No!] Do you want others to decide your future for you? [No!] Do you want to be free? [Yes!] Do you want to be alert? [Yes!] Do you want to work hard for your future? [Yes!] You don’t seem very convinced… Do you want to work hard for your future? [Yes!]....
..... Dear young people, we didn’t come into this work to “vegetate”, to take it easy, to make our lives a comfortable sofa to fall asleep on. No, we came for another reason: to leave a mark. It is very sad to pass through life without leaving a mark. But when we opt for ease and convenience, for confusing happiness with consumption, then we end up paying a high price indeed: we lose our freedom. We are not free to leave a mark. ....
My friends, Jesus is the Lord of risk, he is the Lord of the eternal “more”. Jesus is not the Lord of comfort, security and ease. Following Jesus demands a good dose of courage, a readiness to trade in the sofa for a pair of walking shoes and to set out on new and uncharted paths. To blaze trails that open up new horizons capable of spreading joy, the joy that is born of God’s love and wells up in your hearts with every act of mercy. To take the path of the “craziness” of our God, who teaches us to encounter him in the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the friend in trouble, the prisoner, the refugee and the migrant, and our neighbours who feel abandoned. To take the path of our God, who encourages us to be politicians, thinkers, social activists. The God who encourages us to devise an economy marked by greater solidarity than our own. In all the settings in which you find yourselves, God’s love invites you bring the Good News, making of your own lives a gift to him and to others. This means being courageous, this means being free!
[It is interesting that the BBC news report that I have just heard on the radio spoke of Pope Francis encouraging young people to become social activists and politicians - but omitted to mention his account of this as a following of Jesus Christ and a practicing of God's love towards others].
The times we live in do not call for young “couch potatoes”, but for young people with shoes, or better, boots laced. The times we live in require only active players on the field, and there is no room for those who sit on the bench. Today’s world demands that you be a protagonist of history because life is always beautiful when we choose to live it fully, when we choose to leave a mark. History today calls us to defend our dignity and not to let others decide our future. No! We must decide our future, you must decide your future! As he did on Pentecost, the Lord wants to work one of the greatest miracles we can experience; he wants to turn your hands, my hands, our hands, into signs of reconciliation, of communion, of creation. He wants your hands to continue building the world of today. And he wants to build that world with you. And what is your response? Yes or no? [Yes!] 
The reference to the "sofa" reminded me of the preface to Hans Urs von Balthasar's study of the witness of martyrdom, published in English with the title The Moment of Christian Witness.  The context may be strictly different than that in which Pope Francis was speaking - an academic/ theological reflection on the nature of martyrdom for a particular debate then occurring in the life of Church rather than a pastoral encouragement to young people to live the Christian life - but perhaps there is not that much difference after all. The 2016 World Youth Day has been overshadowed by the martyrdom of Christian communities in Syria and Iraq (one of the testimonies during the vigil was from a young lady from Aleppo in Syria) and by the martyrdom of Fr Jacques Hamel in France. So perhaps one can see Pope Francis' call to young people to get themselves up off the sofa and tie their boot laces as a call to that "decisive moment" of von Balthasar, a "decisive moment" that may involve the ultimate witness of the martyr:
If you say to Georges Bernanos, "Come along with me. It's the Ernstfall - the crucial moment in Christian experience", the old grumbler will get up out of his armchair without so much as raising an eyebrow and follow you like a lamb. But if you go to Reinhold Schneider, the author of Winter in Vienna, and say the same thing to him, there is no telling what might happen.  Whether you would finally manage to get any response at all from those who have been "demythologised" and converted to the world, I do not know. They have already explained everything away and are left with a merely symbolic belief in a message that they understand only by analogy. For them, both belief and the message are worth dying for only by analogy, just as they consider their Christianity worth living for only by analogy to something else.
In Krakow, Pope Francis has clearly called young people to live up to the demand of the "decisive moment" that they may encounter in their Christian lives.