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.

Friday 29 July 2016

Pope Francis in Poland: " ...And once more, so the whole world can hear you! - Mercy!"

The homily that Pope Francis preached at Jasna Gora as here, in English. I think that is rather lovely, with its reference to a "divine thread delicately passing through history" and then a "Marian thread", both being delineated by the words "little", "near" and "real". [One is reminded of Pope Francis homiletic method, from the earliest days of his pontificate, of "three words".]
The transition from before to after Christ means little if it remains a date in the annals of history. May each one of us be able to make an interior passage, a Passover of the heart, towards the divine “style” incarnated by Mary. May we do everything in littleness, and accompany others at close hand, with a simple and open heart.
Pope Francis' words with the young people of World Youth Day can be found here, in English. I was struck by Pope Francis' attribution of the descriptor youthful to the virtue of mercy:
Dear young people, in these days Poland, this noble land, is in a festive mood; in these days Poland wants to be the ever-youthful face of mercy. From this land, with you and all those young people who cannot be present today yet join us through the various communications media, we are going to make this World Youth Day an authentic Jubilee celebration, in this Jubilee of Mercy. ...
Knowing your enthusiasm for mission, I repeat: mercy always has a youthful face! Because a merciful heart is motivated to move beyond its comfort zone. A merciful heart can go out and meet others; it is ready to embrace everyone. A merciful heart is able to be a place of refuge for those who are without a home or have lost their home; it is able to build a home and a family for those forced to emigrate; it knows the meaning of tenderness and compassion. A merciful heart can share its bread with the hungry and welcome refugees and migrants. To say the word “mercy” along with you is to speak of opportunity, future, commitment, trust, openness, hospitality, compassion and dreams. But are you able to dream? [Yes!] When the heart is open and able to dream, there is room for mercy, there is room to caress those who suffer, there is room to draw close to those who have no peace of heart or who do not have the bare necessities to live, or who do not have the most beautiful thing of all: the faith. Mercy. Let us together repeat this word: mercy. All of you! [Mercy!] Again! [Mercy!] And once more, so the whole world can hear you! [Mercy!]. 

Tuesday 26 July 2016

World Youth Day 2016: ..on the BBC

Video diaries from three pilgrims:

World Youth Day 2016: #LetsBeOne

One of my vivid memories of participating in World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne is the contribution to the Youth Festival by Aid to the Church in Need, a presentation entitled Pelikan. This presentation illustrated the witness of the martyrs of the 20th Century.

Go here to see details of their contribution at World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow. This reflects the witness of the martyrs of our own days.

See this page for more: #LetsBeOne.

Saturday 23 July 2016

The Gospel is always ancient and always new. That is precisely why it is never old. UPDATED (2)

Il Vangelo è sempre nuovo e sempre antico. Proprio per questo non è mai vecchio. [The Gospel is always ancient and always new. That is precisely why it is never old.]
This rather elegant phrase can perhaps be seen as the leitmotif of Rocco Buttiglione's comments on the reaction of some to Pope Francis pontificate in general and to Amoris Laetitia in particular. Oddly enough, the inversion of the order of the "new" and "ancient" to become "ancient" and then "new" in the English translation seems to respect the elegance in the two different languages. And the nuances of the words "ancient", "new" and "old" is the same in both.

Rocco Buttiglione's remarks appeared in Italian in the L'Osservatore Romano of 19th July. The English translation is here, published under the same title as the Italian: The joy of love and the consternation of the theologians.

Two points I think of particular interest in Rocco Buttiglione's remarks, though, of course, I do think you should read the whole.

Firstly, his observation that the sensus fidelium - that is the sense of the faith of the ordinary Catholic community - has followed the teaching of Pope Francis and Amoris Laetitia in a very ready manner:
Il sensus fidei del popolo cristiano lo ha immediatamente riconosciuto e seguito.
The sensus fidei of the Christian people immediately embraced and followed him.
And I think this is true, for all the fuss and confusion created by a Traditionalist minority.

And secondly, Rocco Buttiglione points out that the barring of divorced and remarried persons from Holy Communion arises, not because they are considered of necessity to be in a state of mortal sin, but rather because their situation represents a manifest contradiction of the teaching on marriage:
Familiaris consortio ci dice però che i divorziati risposati non potranno ricevere i sacramenti. Il motivo è che vivono in una condizione pubblica di peccato e che bisogna evitare di dare scandalo. Questi motivi sono così forti che sembra essere inutile una verifica delle eventuali circostanze attenuanti.
Familiaris Consortio tells us that the divorced and remarried cannot receive the sacraments. The reason is that they are living in a state of manifest public sin and they must avoid giving scandal. These reasons are so strong that any attenuating circumstances were rendered inconsequential.
Rocco Buttiglione goes on to suggest that what is to be seen between the provision of Familiaris Consortio and that of Amoris Laetitia is not a contradiction of doctrinal teaching but rather a difference in the manner of the exercise of the power of loosing and binding that belongs to the office of the Successor of Peter; a difference that is suggested by a different historical circumstance in the life of the Church. He suggests that, more than anything else, the divorced and remarried are invited to the Sacrament of Confession.

[There appears to be a provision in the 1917 Code of Canon Law that a divorced and remarried person be excommunicated should they persist in their state of life after admonition from their Ordinary .... but it is not at all clear whether, or to what extent, this provision was actually put into practice. In this respect, I have not been able to verify the suggestion in Rocco Buttiglione's article that, previous to Familiaris Consortio and the 1983 Code of Canon Law, such people suffered excommunication.]

UPDATE: More on Amoris Laetitia in the L'Osservatore Romano: The relevance of some reflections by Karol Wojtyła for understanding Amoris Laetitia: creative fidelity. I do agree with the suggestion in this article that Pope Francis' pontificate stands in continuity with that of Pope Benedict XVI, and that the grounds on which some criticise Pope Francis are equally grounds on which they would criticise Pope Benedict. I am also in agreement with the view that Amoris Laetitia represents an exercise by Pope Francis of his office as Successor of Peter, and that no further attempts should be made to choose which parts can be rightly opposed.

UPDATE (2): Sandro Magister's account, relaying that of another writer, clearly misrepresents Rocco Buttiglione's article (and as I post I have just re-read that article) by suggesting in an unqualified way that it favoured communion for the divorced and re-married - it didn't and any careful reading will show that.

Wednesday 20 July 2016

World Youth Day Krakow 2016

In 2005, when Zero and I were a little younger than we are now, we took part in the World Youth Day in Cologne. The experience can't have been too bad, as we are still together some 11 years later. We even did a commemorative trip on 15th August 2013 - the exact anniversary of our arrival in Cologne in 2005 - just for the day. The image below represents Pope John Paul II handing over the 2005 World Youth Day to Pope Benedict XVI, and can now be found to one side of Cologne Cathedral.

So I am very aware of what a wonderful experience World Youth Day is for those who are able to take part. One of my vivid memories of 2005 is the presentation "Pelikan" sponsored by Aid to the Church in Need, which was presented as part of the Youth Festival. It combined film, photographs, drama, dance and music to present the lives of martyrs of the 20th Century - Gianna Molla, Fr Miguel Pro, Archbishop Romero Fr Jerzy Popieluszko and Fr Karl Leisner among others. A second memory is the explanation of the idea of adoration offered by Pope Benedict during his homily during Mass at the end of the week at Marienfeld. After likening the propagation of love that grows from the Eucharist to the chain reaction of nuclear fission, Pope Benedict went on to say:
I like to illustrate this new step urged upon us by the Last Supper by drawing out the different nuances of the word "adoration" in Greek and in Latin. The Greek word is proskynesis. It refers to the gesture of submission, the recognition of God as our true measure, supplying the norm that we choose to follow. It means that freedom is not simply about enjoying life in total autonomy, but rather about living by the measure of truth and goodness, so that we ourselves can become true and good. This gesture is necessary even if initially our yearning for freedom makes us inclined to resist it.
We can only fully accept it when we take the second step that the Last Supper proposes to us. The Latin word for adoration is ad-oratio - mouth to mouth contact, a kiss, an embrace, and hence, ultimately love. Submission becomes union, because he to whom we submit is Love. In this way submission acquires a meaning, because it does not impose anything on us from the outside, but liberates us deep within.
 I still try to consciously recall this explanation of adoration as I genuflect in Church.

Zero's own special memory is, I think, of the exuberance of groups of young people spontaneously singing and rejoicing on the (at times extremely crowded) platforms of the metro and train stations.

So, if you aren't able to be there, follow the World Youth Day from afar.

Tuesday 19 July 2016

Theresa May and the Nuclear Option

During yesterday's debate on the renewal of the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent, the Prime Minister affirmed in a most unambiguous way her willingness to authorise a strike using a weapon of indiscriminate mass destruction. The reporting of her answer to a question during the debate suggests that this explicit affirmation does not have any precedent from previous Prime Ministers, who have avoided directly answering such a question in public. It is certainly quite chilling to listen to the exchange, as embedded in the Independent's report. We should perhaps allow Theresa May some moral leeway, in that this affirmation has been made in a hypothetical context and does not reflect an actual decision made to deploy nuclear weapons "live" so to speak.

But, nevertheless, according to the teaching of Gaudium et Spes n.80:
The men of our time must realize that they will have to give a sombre reckoning of their deeds of war, for the course of the future will depend greatly on the decisions they make today. With these truths in mind, this most holy synod makes its own the condemnations of total war already pronounced by recent popes, and issues the following declaration.
Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities or extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.
The unique hazard of modern warfare consists in this: it provides those who possess modern scientific weapons with a kind of occasion for perpetrating just such abominations; moreover, through a certain inexorable chain of events, it can catapult men into the most atrocious decisions. That such may never truly happen in the future, the bishops of the whole world gathered together, beg all men, especially government officials and military leaders, to give unremitting thought to their gigantic responsibility before God and the entire human race.
Gaudium et Spes continues, in n.81, to speak of the money spent on developing new and better weapons of war, making a point that all those MPs voting in favour of the renewal of Trident might consider:
.... While extravagant sums are being spent for the furnishing of ever new weapons, an adequate remedy cannot be provided for the multiple miseries afflicting the whole modern world. Disagreements between nations are not really and radically healed; on the contrary, they spread the infection to other parts of the earth. New approaches based on reformed attitudes must be taken to remove this trap and to emancipate the world from its crushing anxiety through the restoration of genuine peace.
Therefore, we say it again: the arms race is an utterly treacherous trap for humanity, and one which ensnares the poor to an intolerable degree. 
The statement made on behalf of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales ahead of yesterday's debate is more circumspect, being geared to a particular political occasion, but is also clear in arguing against the renewal of a nuclear weapons system.

Forgiven - a theme for the Year of Mercy

Zero and I recently visited the Guildhall Art Gallery in London, to see the exhibition Unseen London (exhibition finishes on 31st July, so don't expect this link to work after then).

Zero's attention was caught by a painting displayed in the general exhibition at the gallery. It is called Forgiven and is by a painter called Thomas Faed.

The painting prompts a reflection that is very relevant to the theme of the Year of Mercy, as the commentary provided at the link above suggests.

How difficult was it for the young girl to return to her home with the baby? And might our families today make such a return so difficult that the daughter might instead seek an abortion? Are our families places of unqualified welcome to their members?

How can the shame of the girl who hides her face be a style of shame from which growth occurs rather than being the result of a stigmatisation by others that causes her harm? How do we understand a rightful idea of shame, and live it in our families and parishes?

What are we to make of the departure of the father from the scene, in contrast with the welcome to the baby being offered by the mother? When the young girl would appear to have been abandoned by the father of her baby, does not her own father receive a particular mission to demonstrate the love of a father?

I am caught by where light plays in the painting - the young girls hair, the baby and the arm of the mother, and the way in which the father has moved away from the light at the table.

Thomas Faed appears to have painted with a motif of "observing" what was there in a scene, which suggests a certain realist phenomenology in his work. If he allows his work to portray the "real" in the scene, then Forgiven would appear to be rich in ideas for catechetical use.

Sunday 17 July 2016

This and that ....

The Prayer over the Offerings at Mass this Sunday (16th Sunday in Ordinary Time) has reminded me of one the strengths of the revised English translation of the Roman Missal.
O God, who in the one perfect sacrifice brought to completion varied offerings of the law, accept, we pray, this sacrifice from your faithful servants and make it holy, as you blessed the gifts of Abel, so that what each has offered to the honour of your majesty may benefit the salvation of all.
Some are inclined to criticise the offertory prayers in the Ordinary Form for their lack of sacrificial character. But not infrequently, if those prayers are combined with the text of the Prayer over the Offerings, a sacrificial character is very apparent. The revised translations of the prayers frequently make this very clear indeed.

This particular prayer puts me in mind of a phrase from Eucharistic Prayer 1:
For them, we offer you this sacrifice of praise, or they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them: for the redemption of their souls, in hope of health and well-being, and paying their homage to you, the eternal God, living and true.
Since this blog supports the teaching of Amoris Laetitia, I am taking the opportunity to offer a couple of its highlights below:
52. No one can think that the weakening of the family as that natural society founded on marriage will prove beneficial to society as a whole. The contrary is true: it poses a threat to the mature growth of individuals, the cultivation of community values and the moral progress of cities and countries. There is a failure to realize that only the exclusive and indissoluble union between a man and a woman has a plenary role to play in society as a stable commitment that bears fruit in new life. We need to acknowledge the great variety of family situations that can offer a certain stability, but de facto or same-sex unions, for example, may not simply be equated with marriage. No union that is temporary or closed to the transmission of life can ensure the future of society.....  
53.“Some societies still maintain the practice of polygamy; in other places, arranged marriages are an enduring practice… In many places, not only in the West, the practice of living together before marriage is widespread, as well as a type of cohabitation which totally excludes any intention to marry”. In various countries, legislation facilitates a growing variety of alternatives to marriage, with the result that marriage, with its characteristics of exclusivity, indissolubility and openness to life, comes to appear as an old-fashioned and outdated option. Many countries are witnessing a legal deconstruction of the family, tending to adopt models based almost exclusively on the autonomy of the individual will. Surely it is legitimate and right to reject older forms of the traditional family marked by authoritarianism and even violence, yet this should not lead to a disparagement of marriage itself, but rather to the rediscovery of its authentic meaning and its renewal.
And the second highlight, which very ably presents and reaffirms the teaching of Humanae Vitae:
80. Marriage is firstly an “intimate partnership of life and love” which is a good for the spouses themselves, while sexuality is “ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman”. It follows that “spouses to whom God has not granted children can have a conjugal life full of meaning, in both human and Christian terms”. Nonetheless, the conjugal union is ordered to procreation “by its very nature”. The child who is born “does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfilment”. He or she does not appear at the end of a process, but is present from the beginning of love as an essential feature, one that cannot be denied without disfiguring that love itself. From the outset, love refuses every impulse to close in on itself; it is open to a fruitfulness that draws it beyond itself. Hence no genital act of husband and wife can refuse this meaning, even when for various reasons it may not always in fact beget a new life.  
81.A child deserves to be born of that love, and not by any other means, for “he or she is not something owed to one, but is a gift”, which is “the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of the parents”. This is the case because, “according to the order of creation, conjugal love between a man and a woman, and the transmission of life are ordered to each other (cf. Gen 1:27-28). Thus the Creator made man and woman share in the work of his creation and, at the same time, made them instruments of his love, entrusting to them the responsibility for the future of mankind, through the transmission of human life”.
82.The Synod Fathers stated that “the growth of a mentality that would reduce the generation of human life to one variable of an individual’s or a couple’s plans is clearly evident”. The Church’s teaching is meant to “help couples to experience in a complete, harmonious and conscious way their communion as husband and wife, together with their responsibility for procreating life. We need to return to the message of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Blessed Pope Paul VI, which highlights the need to respect the dignity of the person in morally assessing methods of regulating birth…