Saturday 30 January 2016

Norwich: Place and People

Zero and I visited Norwich Cathedral (here and here) a couple of weeks ago. The Cathedral has a West window with stunning colours, which we were fortunate to see when it was illuminated by bright sunlight. There is a lovely perspective view of the window looking back down the nave of the Church from the entrance to the choir. In the main frames of the window, scenes from the life of Christ are paralleled to scenes from the life of Moses.

Likewise, there is another splendid perspective looking along the north aisle from beside the Choir - if you stand carefully in the centre of that aisle, and time your visit for afternoon sunlight, the Romanesque arches in their white stone appear to disappear into a distance.

There is also a lovely modern stained glass window portraying the Virgin and Child - again we were fortunate to be able to view it back lit by afternoon sunlight.

Norwich Cathedral is associated with St Benedict, as the Church and its adjacent buildings were first built as a monastery for some 60 or so Benedictine monks. The founder of the Cathedral, Herbert de Losinga is buried in the presbytery (what Catholics might more commonly call the sanctuary) of the Choir.
But the two particular people associated with the Cathedral (or, at least, with Norwich) to whom I would like to draw attention are Edith Cavell and Julian of Norwich.
Edith Cavell is buried in the grounds of the Cathedral, and a memorial to her stands in the road adjacent to the Cathedral Close. Her link to Norwich is her residence there before travelling to Belgium at the outbreak of World War I.
Julian of Norwich is represented by a sculpture at the West Door (she is paired with St Benedict on the other side of the door) . If I had been a bit more alert, we might have found our way to St Julian's Church as well as to the Cathedral. If the study of Julian by Grace Jantzen is correct, Julian's attribution of the title "mother" to Jesus is not at a root a feminisation of the person of Jesus or of the divinity. It is associated with a Trinitarian teaching which sees Fatherhood in the first person, motherhood in the second person; and a linking of the idea that the Church being a mother implies that Christ, whose body is the Church, also has the character of mother.
(From a personal point of view, Norwich Cathedral has one really big thing going for it...... it isn't baroque!)

Image attributions: [By J.P.Guffogg [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons]]

Wednesday 27 January 2016

International Eucharistic Congress 2016: Christ in you, our hope of glory

It is perhaps because it is taking place so far away that the International Eucharistic Congress 2016 currently under way in Cebu City, Philippines has not attracted much attention in the UK. The Congress describes itself as being an occasion when the local Church in the Philippines turns in celebration towards the Eucharist and invites believers from throughout the world to join them in that celebration.

The "basic text", a theological/pastoral presentation of the Congress theme can be found here. Though I have not had time to read the complete text, it is the account of Eucharist as source and goal of dialogue, and of mission in dialogue, (sections IV to VIII) that caught my attention.
In the life of the Church, the Eucharist stands as both the source and goal of this dialogue. By our participation in the Eucharistic celebration we enter into a communion of life with the Triune God because we are inserted into the dialogue of life and salvation that began in history and now perpetuated in liturgical mystery in the power of the Holy Spirit. The various elements of the celebration engage our body, our senses, our consciousness, and our affectivity in that dialogue which unfolds enabling us to share in the rhythm of Christ’s life offered for our salvation. By gathering and forming an assembly of worship we respond to the Father’s summons to be his covenanted People. By listening to and assimilating the Word proclaimed we engage in a dialogue whereby the Father heals, forms and enriches us with his life and love, especially with the help of a homily which, on account of its Eucharistic context, surpasses all forms of catechesis because it leads up to sacramental communion.  
In a singular way, we enter into a dialogue of life with the Triune God by eating Christ’s body and drinking his blood, for responding to our prayer of epiclesis the Father sends the Holy Spirit through His Son upon the bread and wine so that they may become the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Emerging from the Eucharistic gathering, we are sent to continue and extend this Trinitarian dialogue of life and salvation in the form of loving service especially toward the least, the last, and the lost.  
The dynamic movement of the celebrative action, then, (gathering-word-meal-mission)makes us realize that the Eucharist is the living memorial of the dialogue that took place in the entire life and ministry of Jesus Christ but which finds its climax in the Paschal Mystery of his suffering, death, and resurrection and final glory. It was a dialogue that constitutes both an act of obedience to the Father (ascending movement) and compassion towards weak sinners (descending movement), a sacrifice of both adoration (ascending movement) and service (descending movement).
The presentation in terms of dialogue has a specific character that is proper to the Church in Asia, a timely reminder that we should not give to the term only a European/North American context.

In two respects, an International Eucharistic Congress prefigures those world scale Catholic events that catch much more media attention,  World Youth Day and the World Meeting of Families. It comes before them in time as an international celebration of Catholic faith, participation in which constitutes an experience that is deeply ecclesial in its nature, an experience in which one's own living of a Christian life encounters that others from distant parts of the world. And it comes "before" them in the celebration of the Mass "statio orbis" on the last Sunday of the Congress. On that day every celebration of Mass, wherever it takes place in the world, has an orientation towards the celebration that takes place at the Eucharistic Congress, giving to each and every celebration of Mass on that day a very particular character of ecclesial communion.
The term "Statio Orbis" came into being at the concluding celebration of the 37th Eucharistic Congress held in Munich 1960. Since then, the concluding celebration of Eucharistic Congresses has had particular Churches from various parts of the world join in communion with the Pope or one of his Legates, called a "Statio Orbis" Mass.
The word "Statio" means "station," as in "station days" in Tertullian's De Oratione. Because Wednesday and Friday, as "station days," were characterized by watchings and processions, when the faithful remained standing, the word "statio" eventually came to mean the place where the faithful walked in procession and stood for the celebration of the liturgy. The churches to which they went came to be known as "stationes" and the route to them became known as the "statio ad" (station to, meaning the procession route to) that place. Station days of that kind were once held in Rome, Constantinople and Jerusalem. Records that remain today give us the most information about such processions in Rome. Going to the "statio" was a major ceremony at one time, in which people carried all of the papal vessels used for the celebration of the Eucharist to a pilgrimage site or station church. The concept may be somewhat familiar today from the station churches of Rome during Lent.
The word "Orbis" means "circle," "ring" or "orb." In ancient Latin documents, it referred to the world. In the phrase "statio orbis," it refers to the global nature of the gathering for the closing Mass of each Congress.
When we celebrate Mass in our local communities this coming Sunday we might like to be conscious of the particular significance of that celebration.

Monday 25 January 2016

Maintaining the Church's Liturgical traditions?

In commenting on the recent change to the rubric of the Mass of Maundy Thursday in the Ordinary Form, the Latin Mass Society statement concludes:
These concessions have moved many to reconsider the Extraordinary Form, which is not affected by this decree, or similar concessions to liturgical abuses in the past. It is in the Extraordinary Form that the Church's liturgical traditions are maintained.
And commenting on the celebrations of Christmas Masses in the Extraordinary Form:
We have a long way to go, in making the Traditional Mass genuinely available to Catholics in England and Wales. But thanks to the tremendous work of the priests who love this Mass, and to the faithful who support them - including the Latin Mass Society - we are moving in the right direction.
And more recently:
What we have seen again and again is that where the Extraordinary Form is offered every week on a Sunday morning, even in places with no previous demonstrable demand for it, it quickly attracts a growing congregation of young people and families, and can play an important part in conversions and vocations to the priesthood....Let's stop blaming people for not knowing what has too often been deliberately hidden from them, and do our best to give them access to the liturgical riches which are every Catholic's birth-right.
 1. For all the publicity associated with it, the celebration of the Extraordinary Form remains of interest and immediate value to a minority, more or less small, within the Roman Rite. The likelihood of it ever being otherwise is remote, and the pretence that it might be so is becoming increasingly frustrating. The growing congregation that appears where there has been no previous demonstrable demand is, I suspect, attracted from a wider geographical area and not correctly associated with the one location; and, as I write, I can recall two instances in the blogosphere where it is the same familiar faces that are recognised at celebrations of the Extraordinary Form. As Pope Benedict wrote in his letter accompanying Summorum Pontificum, and as I believe still applies today:
The use of the old Missal presupposes a certain degree of liturgical formation and some knowledge of the Latin language; neither of these is found very often.  Already from these concrete presuppositions, it is clearly seen that the new Missal will certainly remain the ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, not only on account of the juridical norms, but also because of the actual situation of the communities of the faithful.
Moreover, the idea that the Extraordinary Form should be made readily available in each and every part of the England and Wales, even to the extent of being celebrated in every parish, has no justification in either Summorum Pontificum or Pope Benedict's accompanying letter.

2. As two forms of the same Rite, there is, from the juridical point of view, nothing that is more "of tradition" about the Extraordinary Form than there is about the Ordinary Form. This is the sense of Pope Benedict's words in his letter, read as they should be in the context of his remarks about mutual enrichment:
There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal.  In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture.  What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.  It behoves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place. 
Whilst the traditionalist might want to read this in favour of widespread celebration of the Extraordinary Form, it more correctly refers to  the influence on celebrations of the Ordinary Form of the Extraordinary Form. It is not legitimate to assert that the Extraordinary Form in some way preserves the Liturgical tradition in a way set over and against the Ordinary Form; and those who wish to celebrate the Ordinary Form in a faithful manner cannot but resent such an assertion. Traditionalists talking among themselves might wish to say so; but they do not have a right to assert it to those who wish faithfully to celebrate the Ordinary Form.

3. This last observation is related to the idea of "mutual enrichment" to which Pope Benedict referred in his letter. In persisting in talking of the "Traditional Latin Mass", and taking little or no interest in how the celebration of the Extraordinary Form might contribute to the celebration of the Ordinary Form, the traditionalist movement is, in effect, creating a kind of enclave from which there is trumpeted a superiority of the Extraordinary Form. Those outside the traditionalist enclave are not going to be very interested. Their "birth right" would be better served by a positive engagement of the Extraordinary Form with the Ordinary Form. Both the traditionalists themselves and the Commission Ecclesia Dei appear to me to have singularly failed in this, even at the relatively basic level of showing an interest in unifying the calendar between the two forms and inserting the celebrations of new saints into the Missal of 1962.

So, dear traditionalists, do be more realistic about the scale of your enterprise .... a little less convinced of your own righteousness.....  and a little more aware of the temptation to become your own magisterium.

Saturday 23 January 2016

The Name of God is Mercy

When he edited Adrienne von Speyr's book Confession in 1960, Fr von Balthasar wrote at the end of his foreword:
It is fashionable today to speak of a "sacrament of penance" instead of "confession". In a certain superficial historical sense this may be correct to the extent that in the first centuries confession was present in Christian consciousness primarily under the aspect of penance. However, everyone knows that in reality this was only an initial seed and not the full-grown plant. Indeed, it was a seed that scarcely suggested the dogmatic basis just mentioned [ie the Trinitarian and Christological basis that is the subject of Adrienne's book], a basis whose centre is expressed by "confession" (Augustine's confessio, to admit or confess). Thus there is no real reason to dispense with the traditional word.
I suspect that Fr von Balthasar would all the more strongly speak against the use of the word "reconciliation", though he must have had to come to terms with the title of the sacrament as the Sacrament of Penance used in the 1983 Code of Canon Law. He might have found some consolation in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, where the title "confession" is included along with the other titles now used of the sacrament:
It is called the sacrament of confession, since the disclosure or confession of sins to a priest is an essential element of this sacrament. In a profound sense it is also a "confession" - acknowledgment and praise - of the holiness of God and of his mercy towards sinful man.
When Pope Francis' book The Name of God is Mercy arrived this week, it was therefore striking to see a chapter entitled "The Gift of Confession":
It is true that I can talk to the Lord and ask him for forgiveness, implore him. And the Lord will forgive me immediately. But it is important that I go to confession, that I sit in front of a priest who embodies Jesus, that I kneel before Mother Church called to dispense the mercy of Christ. There is objectivity in this gesture of genuflection before the priest; it becomes the vehicle through which grace reaches and heals me.  
And again, at the beginning of a short chapter devoted to how Catholics should live the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis identifies confession as the first of the important things that should be done to live the Year of Mercy:
[The believer] should open up to the mercy of God, open up his heart and himself, allow Jesus to come toward him by approaching the confessional with faith. And he should try and be merciful with others. 

Friday 22 January 2016

Pope Francis and the Liturgy of Maundy Thursday - UPDATED

I expect that a number of priests who have, over the years, held the line in their respective parishes and only invited men to have their feet washed at the Mandatum will now be feeling somewhat let down by Pope Francis' decision to change the rubrics of the Roman Missal in this regard. Whilst staying neutral on the rights and wrongs of the newly established rubric (see below), I do think it would have been nice to have some recognition, as the change was being made, for those priests who have up to the present time acted faithfully to the now former rubric, and in all likelihood taken the pressure in their parishes for doing so.

Even if attending the Maundy Thursday Mass in a parish where only men are chosen to have their feet washed, I have for some time now felt that a quasi-political or ideological statement exists in making that choice. And an equally quasi-political or ideological choice is made if both men and women are chosen. In most cases I would arrive just not knowing which choice the parish priests were going to make. The decisive point for me, though, is the feeling that as I arrive I have to take a stance of my own with regard to the choice made - and I feel that I should be able to approach a Liturgical celebration without having to take such a stance as to the rights and wrongs of its practise.

Even though the rite of the washing of feet is itself optional, and allowed for pastorally appropriate circumstances; and the choice of women to have their feet washed is not immediately mandated but only mediated by a criterion of  representing the variety and unity of a particular parish community; the new rubric leaves my problem here unchanged. Like tigerish waters, though for different reasons, I expect I will prefer to absent myself from this particular celebration as I have done on a number of occasions in recent years.

tigerish waters offers a range of Thoughts on the Mandatum, which I recommend to readers. I would suggest that you read her post before continuing with mine.

I have for some time struggled with trying to understand the exact meaning of the rite of the Mandatum. Is it intended to be a sign of Christ's, and therefore the priest's and the Church's, ministry of charity to others (in which case it is and should be indifferent as to whether men or women are chosen)? Or is it intended to be a re-enactment or representation of Christ's action towards the Apostles at the Last Supper (in which case it should be restricted to men)? Pope Francis' letter to Cardinal Sarah indicates the meaning of the rite as being a sign of: suo donarsi “fino alla fine” per la salvezza del mondo, la sua carità senza confine.[(Christ's) gift of himself "even to the end" for the salvation of the world, his charity without limit.]
The decree of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments describes the meaning as follows (rough translation - my Latin isn't all that strong!):
Episcopi et presbyteri hoc ritu agentes intime invitantur ad sese conformandum Christo qui «non venit ministrari sed ministrare» (Mt 20, 28) et, caritate «in finem» (Io 13, 1) compulsus, vitam dare pro totius generis humani salute.  
[Bishops and priests carrying out this rite are invited to conform themselves to Christ who "did not come to be served but to serve" and who, driven by love "to the end", gave his life for the salvation of the whole human race.] 
This all puts me in mind of a talk that I heard a good number of years ago now. It drew a literary analogy between the account of the washing of feet in the Gospel of St John (13:1-20) and St Paul's account in the Letter to the Philippians (2:6-11) of Christ's abasement in becoming as men are. The suggestion of the speaker was that, where the synoptic Gospels have an account of the institution of the Eucharist at this point in their accounts of the Last Supper, St John has instead placed the account of the Mandatum; and that both are a pre-figuring of the events of the following day on Calvary. St John's account of the Mandatum on this line of thought represents the institution of the Eucharist.

Put this together with tigerish waters' Thoughts.. (I think there is a lot to be said for her suggestion that the Mandatum is in some way an extra-liturgical rite) and I am not sure that the rubrical change now introduced does make clearer the meaning of the rite as is its stated intention, both according to Pope Francis' letter and the decree of the Congregation for Divine Worship. The now allowed, but not mandated, practice of including women among those chosen to have their feet washed does not appear readily consistent with the meaning of the rite as stated in the letter and decree. I do, however, have a certain trust in Pope Francis' pondering of this subject and his practise (cf some of tigerish waters remarks), and await the development of a catechesis that effectively communicates the meaning of the rite.

UPDATE: Perhaps Fr Hunwicke's articulation of the situation - More Foot Washing - makes clearer what is actually happening .... I do appreciate the attitude shown by him here towards Pope Francis, too.

Saturday 16 January 2016

Catholicism and Lutheranism: can we learn from Fr Bouyer?

Whilst those of a traditionalist inclination lighted upon Fr Bouyer's comments about the way in which changes were made to the Liturgy in the years following the Second Vatican Council, the part of the good Father's Memoirs that most interested me were those describing his life as a Lutheran pastor and his journey into the Catholic Church. Fr Bouyer summarises this experience on pp.59-60 of the Memoirs, where he speaks of his experience of the early ecumenical movement, an experience that he had as a Lutheran and not as a Catholic. He has also described the beginning of his encounter with both Newman and the Orthodox.
All of this confirmed a sentiment that has never left me since and which I was to explain and develop in my Spirit and Forms of Protestantism. It was completed and published after my conversion, but conceived and outlined long before it. There was no question of jettisoning what I saw as the unquestionable strong points of Protestantism: a direct relationship with God through Christ involving the whole person, whence, as a universal principle, Christianity nourished, for all its faithful, by the meditation of the divine Word, and, from that point, a religion whose essence could only consist in a total acceptance in faith of grace alone, which God gives us in His Son.
Yet, as a consequence, it seemed to go without saying that the whole ecumenical question was about restoring these certainties to their vital environment: the one Church willed by Christ, founded on the Apostles, and cutting across the centuries in an uninterrupted tradition.
I think Fr Bouyer's observation provides a useful background to the idea that the Catholic Church can share in celebrating an anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. Indeed, n.9 of the document From Conflict to Communion of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity has a distinct echo of Fr Bouyer's thought:
The historical remembrance has had material consequences for the relationship of the confessions to each other. For this reason, a common ecumenical remembrance of the Lutheran Reformation is both so important and at the same time so difficult. Even today, many Catholics associate the word »Reformation« first of all with the division of the church, while many Lutheran Christians associate the word »Reformation « chiefly with the rediscovery of the gospel, certainty of faith and freedom. It will be necessary to take both points of departure seriously in order to relate the two perspectives to each other and bring them into dialogue.
I think it is a useful background for understanding the response of Pope Francis with regard to the sharing of Holy Communion between Catholic and Lutherans during his visit to the Evangelical Church in Rome in November 2015, in which he emphasised the shared basis of Baptism for a walking together of believers of both communities (and note that Pope Francis explicitly declined permission to go ahead with inter-communion). In this, Pope Francis followed a similar point made by Pope Benedict during his visit to Cologne in 2005, suggesting that the significance of Baptism for our experience of ecumenical closeness is underestimated, with an implicit reference in Pope Francis' case to the orientation of Baptism towards the Eucharist. This, indeed, appears to be something of Fr Bouyer's lived experience during his time as a Lutheran pastor. When I read Fr Bouyer's experience as a Lutheran pastor I sensed that there was a pertinence of the question of inter-communion to Lutheran-Catholic dialogue that is not there, for example, in Anglican-Catholic dialogue.

Fr Bouyer's observation is also a useful background from which to appreciate the five commitments of the shared service prepared for the 2017 commemoration of the Reformation, and reported here, commitments taken from a study undertaken by the World Lutheran Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity:
The service includes five commitments for Catholics and Lutherans together. “Catholics and Lutherans should always begin from the perspective of unity and not from the point of view of division in order to strengthen what is held in common even though the differences are more easily seen and experienced.” They “must let themselves continuously be transformed by the encounter with the other and by the mutual witness of faith” and should “commit themselves to seek visible unity, to elaborate together what this means in concrete steps, and to strive repeatedly toward this goal”. And they “should jointly rediscover the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ for our time” and “witness together to the mercy of God in proclamation and service to the world”.

Thursday 14 January 2016

We do not choose our sex.....

From Pope Francis' General Audience address on 15th April 2015:

And as we all know, sexual difference is present in so many forms of life, on the great scale of living beings. But man and woman alone are made in the image and likeness of God: the biblical text repeats it three times in two passages (26-27): man and woman are the image and likeness of God. This tells us that it is not man alone who is the image of God or woman alone who is the image of God, but man and woman as a couple who are the image of God. The difference between man and woman is not meant to stand in opposition, or to subordinate, but is for the sake of communion and generation, always in the image and likeness of God.....
Modern contemporary culture has opened new spaces, new forms of freedom and new depths in order to enrich the understanding of this difference. But it has also introduced many doubts and much skepticism. For example, I ask myself, if the so-called gender theory is not, at the same time, an expression of frustration and resignation, which seeks to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it. Yes, we risk taking a step backwards. The removal of difference in fact creates a problem, not a solution. In order to resolve the problems in their relationships, men and women need to speak to one another more, listen to each other more, get to know one another better, love one another more. They must treat each other with respect and cooperate in friendship. On this human basis, sustained by the grace of God, it is possible to plan a lifelong marital and familial union. The marital and familial bond is a serious matter, and it is so for everyone not just for believers. I would urge intellectuals not to leave this theme aside, as if it had to become secondary in order to foster a more free and just society. God entrusted the earth to the alliance between man and woman: its failure deprives the earth of warmth and darkens the sky of hope. The signs are already worrisome, and we see them....
I wonder if the crisis of collective trust in God, which does us so much harm, and makes us pale with resignation, incredulity and cynicism, is not also connected to the crisis of the alliance between man and woman. In fact the biblical account, with the great symbolic fresco depicting the earthly paradise and original sin, tells us in fact that the communion with God is reflected in the communion of the human couple and the loss of trust in the heavenly Father generates division and conflict between man and woman.

From Pope Benedict XVI, speaking to the representatives of the Roman Curia in December 2012:

While up to now we regarded a false understanding of the nature of human freedom as one cause of the crisis of the family, it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question. He quotes the famous saying of Simone de Beauvoir: “one is not born a woman, one becomes so” (on ne naît pas femme, on le devient). These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term “gender” as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female – hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves. Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed. But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation. Likewise, the child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and the dignity pertaining to him. Bernheim shows that now, perforce, from being a subject of rights, the child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain. When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being. The defence of the family is about man himself. And it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends God is defending man. 

Monday 11 January 2016

What Pope Francis actually said ...... video on inter-religious dialogue

The introductory paragraphs of Dialogue and Proclamation, published by the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue in 1991, include the following (with my emphasis added):
Proclamation and dialogue are thus both viewed, each in its own place, as component elements and authentic forms of the one evangelizing mission of the Church. They are both oriented towards the communication of salvific truth.....
[addressing members of the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue] Pope John Paul II declared: "Just as interreligious dialogue is one element in the mission of the Church, the proclamation of God's saving work in Our Lord Jesus Christ is another... There can be no question of choosing one and ignoring or rejecting the other."
The paragraphs also draw attention to Pope John Paul II's encyclical letter Redemptoris Missio, nn.55-57, which discuss the relationship between inter-religious dialogue and the proclamation of the Gospel.

In the video Pope Francis expresses himself in a situation where inter-religious dialogue has its place. In another situation it might well have been proclamation that had its place; but not here. The absence of proclamation when dialogue is the appropriate manner of communication does not manifest any denial of the role of proclamation on the part of Pope Francis.

At one point in the video, the representatives of the different religions express their belief in love. Those familiar with the spirituality of the Focolare, and the engagement of Focolare in inter-religious dialogue, will recognise in this the part played by the notion of God as love in that spirituality: see here, here and, for its relevance to inter-religious dialogue, here. This reference reflects a lived experience of dialogue on the part of a movement that has practised inter-religious dialogue over many years.

Likewise, the reference that Pope Francis makes to us all being "children of God" - and in the context this refers to our all being part of one human family in the order of creation - is to a principle recognised readily in understanding dialogue between the followers of different religions. A common recognition of the unity of the human family, in its origin and a shared destiny, is part of conversation between the religions that constitutes dialogue.

In the closing image of the video, objects representing the four religions shown in the video are brought together and offered to the viewer. It's early January, its Christmastide ..... the symbol of the infant with arms open in welcome .... what stronger representation of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh and Son of the Father, born for the salvation of the world and made manifest to the nations, can be offered at this particular time of the year?

But perhaps striking - and easy to miss - are the opening words of the video, in which Pope Francis' observes that the majority of people on the planet describe themselves as believers. This represents a clear testimony to the religious dimension of each and every human person, wherever they might be in the world. And, for those in the world who are not believers, that common testimony from a dialogue between the religions has a profoundly evangelising significance.

Sunday 10 January 2016

"Laicite", "Faith", and "Religion"

This last week has seen the first anniversary of the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, in which a number of the staff of the magazine were killed by Islamists. In passing, I heard a conversation on BBC Radio 4 referring to this anniversary, in which, under the heading of that specifically French notion "laicite", a distinction was drawn between "faith" and "religion".

Now, as the headline to an opinion piece in the Times of 9th January expresses it, "Charlie Hebdo took offensiveness too far". Satire is a literary/journalistic (and indeed political) genre that of its nature offers a degree of offense to those who are its targets. In Britain,  Private Eye is a publication that sits in exactly that tradition. Charlie Hebdo, however, set about its satire of religions with a deliberateness to give offense that was quite marked. Islam was the target which led to the attack on its offices; but the Catholic Church was at times on the receiving end of Charlie Hebdo's ire.

Nigel Biggar's piece in the Times argues that it is quite right that the law of the land should offer a publication like Charlie Hebdo a right to offend without fear of legal penalty. He is also very clear that the attack on their offices, and the killing of the staff of the magazine, was an outrageous atrocity, which called for the solidarity of the world that was shown in the large demonstrations in Paris in the days following the atrocity. But he does point out that what might be allowed by the law of the land is not always what people should actually do, and that there is a moral consideration that intervenes. Freedom is a freedom for and not just a freedom from; the exercise of satire should draw attention to a critical or neglected truth in a situation (which may also cause offense), and not simply set out to give gratuitous offense to those things which others hold sacred. According to Nigel Biggar, Charlie Hebdo's writers "knew and flaunted their legal right to offend; they neglected their moral duty not to".

If I have understood correctly, the conversation that I heard on Radio 4 intended to defend precisely the offensiveness of Charlie Hebdo. It did this first by referring to the idea of "laicite", that is, to the idea that there should be no expressions of religious belief in any aspect of the activities of the state. The anti-religious stance of Charlie Hebdo might be seen as a manifestation of this principle of "laicite". It then suggested that religions, as institutions of essentially political power, could be distinguished from the faith of the individual believer; and I implied from that an argument that it was legitimate to offend the political power, the structures of religion, as that does not involve giving an offence to the individual believer.

The distinction is quite false. Whilst the act of belief is specifically individual, it is nevertheless directed towards an object that is shared with others who profess the same religion. And the nature of the major religions is that their followers form part of a visible community. The distinction is dangerous, too, in that it opposes itself to the provisions of religious freedom contained in, for example, Article 18 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 18 does not admit of a distinction between the right to freedom of religion of the individual and the exercise of that right in community with others, that is, as part of an organised society or religion:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
In the context of the journal Charlie Hebdo, the drawing of a distinction between "faith" and "religion" can be seen in its explicitly secularist intent. It is more subtly present when politicians or public figures here in the UK use a language of "faith" and are shy of using the language of "religion".

Tuesday 5 January 2016

Thoughtfulness ....

..... isn't meant to mean the same thing as "mindfulness", which has a certain vogue these days.

Over the Christmas period, this blog has received a couple of comments that have expressed an appreciation of, in one case, "thoughtful insights" and in the second "level headed blogging".

This post is to acknowledge those comments. That thoughtfulness is not an accident, and is something I make an effort to achieve. I hope it comes out level headed as well! It is therefore pleasing to know that the approach taken is appreciated.

Thank you to those who sent me those comments.

Saturday 2 January 2016

The Holy Family: what Pope Francis actually said .... UPDATED for the Feast of the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God

In his homily for the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God, Pope Francis returned to his suggestion, made in the homily for the Feast of the Holy Family (see my earlier post here), that Jesus sought forgiveness of his parents for leaving them worried by his leaving them to stay among the doctors in the Temple:
At the foot of the Cross, Mary sees her Son offer himself totally, showing us what it means to love as God loves.  At that moment she heard Jesus utter words which probably reflected what he had learned from her as a child: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:24).  At that moment, Mary became for all of us the Mother of forgiveness.  Following Jesus’ example and by his grace, she herself could forgive those who killed her innocent Son.
The Italian reads, with my own translation from "In quel momento ... " onwards, intended to capture something of the subtlety of the Italian that does not translate into the English above:
Ai piedi della Croce, Maria vede il suo Figlio che offre tutto Sé stesso e così testimonia che cosa significa amare come ama Dio. In quel momento sente pronunciare da Gesù parole che probabilmente nascono da quello che lei stessa gli aveva insegnato fin da bambino: «Padre, perdona loro perché non sanno quello che fanno» (Lc 23,34). In quel momento, Maria è diventata per tutti noi Madre del perdono. Lei stessa, sull’esempio di Gesù e con la sua grazia, è stata capace di perdonare quanti stavano uccidendo il suo Figlio innocente.  
.... In that moment, she heard words uttered by Jesus that probably were born out of what she herself had taught him since he was a child: "Father, forgive them because they do not know that they are doing". At that moment, Mary became for all of us the Mother of forgiveness. She herself, on the example of Jesus and with his grace, is made able to forgive those who  were killing her innocent Son.
[The French text uses the word "viennent", "come from", and likewise loses the sense of "giving birth to" that is present in the Italian. The German text - at least according to Google translate, and I declare my total lack of ability in this language - seems to retain the sense of "springing up from".]

Now, the sense of Jesus' words "being born out of" the teaching given by the Virgin Mother during Jesus' childhood indicates a proximity, an inter-relation between the missions of the Mother and the Son. It provides a certain completion to Pope Francis' words on the Feast of the Holy Family, and begins to resolve the problem of their audacity. Rather than Pope Francis' words indicating an imperfection in the mission of the Son, we should read them as an indication of the correlation between that mission of the Son and the mission of the Mother. And they reside, too, in that space between Jesus' divine nature and his human nature.

It is worth reminding ourselves at this point of the nature of the Holy Father's words as being speculative in nature rather than dogmatic. A certain style of speculativeness can be recognised in St Ignatius Spiritual Exercises - recalling that Pope Francis is, after all, a Jesuit. The second point of the contemplations for the second week of the Exercises is to consider what the persons in the scene of the particular contemplation are saying; and the third day of the week includes a contemplation on the obedience of Jesus to his parents and on the finding of Jesus in the Temple. This is clearly going to involve some use of the imagination on the part of the person making the Exercises, for their own spiritual benefit as they place themselves in the place and time of the subject of the contemplation, and not for the purpose of dogmatic teaching offered to others. Indeed, how one person imagines the dialogue might be quite different than how another person does so.

Is there not, perhaps, something of Pope Francis' own experience of the Spiritual Exercises in the suggestion contained in his two homilies, namely that Jesus learnt in some way the art of forgiveness from his Mother?