Sunday 14 October 2018


I am delighted that Archbishop Oscar Romero and Pope Paul VI are now "officially" saints of the Church. This from Pope Francis' homily at the canonisation Mass:
Jesus is radical. He gives all and he asks all: he gives a love that is total and asks for an undivided heart. Even today he gives himself to us as the living bread; can we give him crumbs in exchange? We cannot respond to him, who made himself our servant even going to the cross for us, only by observing some of the commandments. We cannot give him, who offers us eternal life, some odd moment of time. Jesus is not content with a “percentage of love”: we cannot love him twenty or fifty or sixty percent. It is either all or nothing.....
Today Jesus invites us to return to the source of joy, which is the encounter with him, the courageous choice to risk everything to follow him, the satisfaction of leaving something behind in order to embrace his way. The saints have travelled this path.
Paul VI did too, after the example of the Apostle whose name he took. Like him, Paul VI spent his life for Christ’s Gospel, crossing new boundaries and becoming its witness in proclamation and in dialogue, a prophet of a Church turned outwards, looking to those far away and taking care of the poor. Even in the midst of tiredness and misunderstanding, Paul VI bore witness in a passionate way to the beauty and the joy of following Christ totally. Today he still urges us, together with the Council whose wise helmsman he was, to live our common vocation: the universal call to holiness. Not to half measures, but to holiness. It is wonderful that together with him and the other new saints today, there is Archbishop Romero, who left the security of the world, even his own safety, in order to give his life according to the Gospel, close to the poor and to his people, with a heart drawn to Jesus and his brothers and sisters. We can say the same about Francesco Spinelli, Vincenzo Romano, Maria Caterina Kasper, Nazaria Ignazia of Saint Teresa of Jesus, and also our Abruzzese-Neapolitan young man, Nunzio Sulprizio: the saintly, courageous, humble young man who encountered Jesus in his suffering, in silence and in the offering of himself. All these saints, in different contexts, put today’s word into practice in their lives, without lukewarmness, without calculation, with the passion to risk everything and to leave it all behind. Brothers and sisters, may the Lord help us to imitate their example.  
Brief biographies of those canonised alongside Archbishop Romero and Pope Paul VI can be found here.

Friday 21 September 2018

All the Cathedrals (10): St Albans

Zero and I visited St Albans recently, to tick off another of England's cathedrals.

The Cathedral website has a highlights page here. The story of the martyrdom of St Alban is here. Other aspects of the history of the Abbey/Cathedral can be found on links from those pages.

Visiting the Cathedral today, there is no readily visible evidence of the different vicissitudes that have been suffered by the building over the centuries. There is no evidence, at least not that we saw, of the Anglo-Saxon church or medieval church that might typically have existed before the construction of the Norman church (if I understand correctly, any such structures were not on the same site but nearby, and the construction of the Norman church was undertaken to take advantage of the top of the hill on which the Cathedral now exists). Neither is there any evidence (unless you look closely, and then there are only clues arising from the later restoration of the Cathedral) of the destruction and decay of the Church building that occurred after the dissolution of the monastery by Henry VIII's commissioner. All the statues in the Cathedral today, for example, date from 19th and 20th century restoration work, as does the stained glass. St Albans changed hands several times during the Civil War, with Parliament finally holding it. The Cathedral was then used to hold prisoners of war, the consequent damage from which is also no longer evident.

The Cathedral does have some lovely elements, such as the reredos behind the high altar and the Lady Chapel behind the sanctuary at the east end.

There are also the statues of Christian martyrs in the reredos behind the nave altar. St Alban and the priest who he protected are accompanied, among others, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Oscar Romero and one of the Protestant martyrs who suffered during the reign of Mary. This does not leave a uniformly satisfactory impression - I could not quite decide whether I should recognise it as genuine effort at ecumenical understanding or a manifestation, with the best of intentions, of a degree of religious indifferentism. One might also wonder about it as an example of cultural appropriation in a religious context ….

I also found that the building as a whole left an incoherent impression. Individual elements just seemed to exist with no relation to others - mediaeval wall paintings on the pillars on one side of the nave with decorated pillars on the opposite side that replaced previously collapsed pillars, but with no effort to match the two sides at all. Plaster over Roman brick in the transepts reflects the original construction of the Cathedral, but does not convey any majesty.

All in all, given that it is a Church dedicated to the first Christian martyr of England (and the restored shrine does contain a relic of St Alban) I found it a disappointment.

Sunday 9 September 2018

Auntie Joanna's Adoremus Diary: a glorious celebration of the Eucharist

Read here.
More? Of course there was more. A pleasant meal with family and friends. Nightfever at the Blessed Sacrament shrine, packed with people, glittering with candles. Liverpool streets filled with Saturday night revellers, girls on hen nights, much shrieking and shouting. And some of them – many of them, the most unlikely of them – came in to pray, invited by the young congress teams.
As I post, the Eucharist is being carried in procession through the streets of Liverpool.

Saturday 8 September 2018

Adoration may seem useless....

...but the world needs it desperately.

I link to this article in connection with the National Eucharistic Congress and Pilgrimage taking place in Liverpool today.

Coverage, with video clips that you can watch, here:

Friday 7 September 2018

Adoremus: National Eucharistic Congress and Pilgrimage

This coming weekend sees the National Eucharistic Congress for England and Wales, being held in Liverpool: Adoremus.

Coverage of the Congress can be found here:

You can also watch it on the homepages of these websites:

LIVE Broadcast dates and time as below,
FRIDAY, 7th September
10:00AM to 2:00PM
SATURDAY, 8th September
10:00AM to 2:00PM
SUNDAY, 9th September
11:00AM to 1:00PM

The Eucharistic procession through the streets of Liverpool on Sunday will remind me of my own participation in similar processions (I often happen to be away on holiday at the time of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, so get the opportunity to participate in processions  in different places):

International Eucharistic Congress 2008 in Quebec.

The parish of Rivotorto, near to Assisi (twice).

Lisieux, at the Basilica dedicated to St Therese.

Bellano, on Lake Como.

Saturday 1 September 2018

Morning Prayer for Friday Week 1

Do not use harmful words in talking. Use only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you. And do not make God's Holy Spirit sad; for the Spirit is God's mark of ownership over you, a guarantee that the Day will come when God will set you free. Get rid of all bitterness, passion, and anger. No more shouting or insults. No more hateful feelings of any sort. Instead, be kind and tender-hearted to one another, and forgive one another, as God has forgiven you in Christ.
(Ephesians 4:29-32)

Wednesday 29 August 2018

Myles Dempsey speaks to Joanna Bogle

I came across this interview or, perhaps better, conversation of Myles Dempsey with Joanna Bogle somewhat by accident. I haven't managed to listen to all of it, rather catching snippets at different points in the video.

Myles Dempsey died in June of this year. He is well known as the founder of the New Dawn conference that takes place each year at Walsingham.

One of the snippets I caught - and which is particularly relevant in the present circumstances of the Church - was Myles' repeated assertion of his love for the Church. Also striking was his saying that the purpose of the annual New Dawn conference at Walsingham was to show the beauty and the whole of Catholic life, without missing any bits out.
Myles' vision from God for New Dawn is to bring together all the riches of the Catholic Faith. He comments, "I want the beauty of the Church to be seen in all her splendour;  the Church with all its lights on and all its aspects celebrated - the charismatic, the liturgical, the Marian, the Eucharistic, the Sacramental, the Mystical - and for the whole family to be there."[Source here]
In talking about his life, it is interesting to see how Myles Dempsey sits within the history of Catholic life in England, before his coming to being involved in Charismatic Renewal. I am looking forward to watching those parts of the conversation that I have so far not had time to watch.

Sunday 26 August 2018

Pope Francis in Ireland

As at the time of writing, the texts of three addresses of Pope Francis are available on the website of the Holy See. It is interesting, I think, to read the whole of these addresses. Inevitably, even the most conscientious of news reporting can highlight one aspect of an encounter (the most news worthy for the general audience) and leave out another of significance.

An example of this is in Pope Francis' meeting with Authorities, Civil Society and Diplomatic Corps. The Pope's remarks expressing shame about the abuse of children in the Church were widely reported. But the following paragraph includes a very strong observation, albeit indirect, to the recent referendum on the abortion provisions of the Irish Constitution:
The Gospel reminds us that true peace is ultimately God’s gift; it flows from a healed and reconciled heart and branches out to embrace the entire world.  Yet it also requires constant conversion on our part, as the source of those spiritual resources needed to build a society of authentic solidarity, justice and service of the common good.  Without that spiritual foundation, our ideal of a global family of nations risks becoming no more than another empty platitude.  Can we say that the goal of creating economic or financial prosperity leads of itself to a more just and equitable social order?  Or could it be that the growth of a materialistic “throwaway culture” has in fact made us increasingly indifferent to the poor and to the most defenceless members of our human family, including the unborn, deprived of the very right to life?  Perhaps the most disturbing challenges to our consciences in these days is the massive refugee crisis, which will not go away, and whose solution calls for a wisdom, a breadth of vision and a humanitarian concern that go far beyond short-term political decisions.
And Pope Francis concluded with a claim for the role of the Catholic faith in the future life of the country:
Today as in the past, the men and women who live in this country strive to enrich the life of the nation with the wisdom born of their faith.  Even in Ireland’s darkest hours, they found in that faith a source of the courage and commitment needed to forge a future of freedom and dignity, justice and solidarity.  The Christian message has been an integral part of that experience, and has shaped the language, thought and culture of people on this island.
It is my prayer that Ireland, in listening to the polyphony of contemporary political and social discussion, will not be forgetful of the powerful strains of the Christian message that have sustained it in the past, and can continue to do so in the future.  
On can see some carefully framed "push back" against the reported remarks of the Taoiseach.

In his meetings with married couples and at the Festival of Families, Pope Francis' responded to the testimonies and questions of families with a very practical, and at times quite moving, encouragement in the context of family life in today's world. I select three points, though I do think you should read the whole of both addresses.

The international nature of the testimonies offered at the Festival of Families - some of them on video rather than in person, if I understand correctly - reminded me that the concerns of families in conflict zones are rather different than those in European nations. Responding to a testimony from a family from Iraq:
Abbiamo sentito da Enass e Sarmaad come l’amore e la fede in famiglia possano essere sorgenti di forza e di pace persino in mezzo alla violenza e alla distruzione, causate da guerra e persecuzione. La loro storia ci riporta alle tragiche situazioni che quotidianamente patiscono tante famiglie costrette ad abbandonare le loro case in cerca di sicurezza e di pace. Ma Enass e Sarmaad ci hanno indicato anche come, a partire dalla famiglia e grazie alla solidarietà mostrata da molte altre famiglie, la vita può essere ricostruita e la speranza può rinascere. Abbiamo visto questo supporto nel video di Rammy e suo fratello Meelad, in cui Rammy ha espresso profonda gratitudine per l'incoraggiamento e per l’aiuto che la loro famiglia ha ricevuto da tante altre famiglie cristiane di tutto il mondo, che hanno reso loro possibile di ritornare nei loro villaggi. In ogni società le famiglie generano pace, perché insegnano l’amore, l’accoglienza, il perdono, i migliori antidoti contro l’odio, il pregiudizio e la vendetta che avvelenano la vita di persone e di comunità.
[We have heard from Enass and Sarmaad how love and faith in a family can be the source of strength and peace lost in the midst of violence and destruction, caused by war and persecution. Their story told us of the tragic situations suffered daily by so many families forced to leave their homes to seek safety and peace. But Enass and Sarmaad also showed us how, beginning from the family and thanks to the solidarity shown by many other families, life can be rebuilt and hope can be reborn. We saw this support in the video of Rammy and his brother Meelad, in which Rammy expressed deep gratitude for the encouragement and for the help that their family received from so many other Christian families throughout the world, which made it possible for them to return to their villages. In all societies families generate peace, because they teach love, welcome, pardon, the best antidotes to hate, prejudice and vendetta that poison the lives of persons and communities.]
A reminder for me of this meeting with a Syrian family in 1984.

 Pope Francis also answered a question about the possibility of living out married life as a permanent commitment in a world that generally lacks a sense of permanence:
There is a temptation that the phrase “all the days of my life” that you will say to one another may change and, in time, die. If love does (not) grow by more love, it doesn’t last long. Those words “all the days of my life” are a commitment to make love grow, because love has nothing of the provisional. Call it excitement, call it, I don’t know, enchantment, but real love is definitive, a “you and I”. As we say in my country, it is “half of the orange”: you are my half of the orange and I am your half of the orange. That is what love is like: everything and every day for all the days of your life. It is easy to find ourselves caught up in the culture of the provisional, the ephemeral, and that culture strikes at the very roots of our processes of maturation, our growth in hope and love. How can we experience “what truly lasts” in this culture of the ephemeral? This is a tough question: how can we experience, in this culture of the ephemeral, what is truly lasting?
Here is what I would say to you. Of all the kinds of human fruitfulness, marriage is unique. It is about a love that gives rise to new life. It involves mutual responsibility for the transmission of God’s gift of life, and it provides a stable environment in which that new life can grow and flourish. Marriage in the Church, that is, the sacrament of matrimony, shares in a special way in the mystery of God’s eternal love. When a Christian man and woman enter the bond of marriage, God’s grace enables them freely to promise one another an exclusive and enduring love. Their union thus becomes a sacramental sign – this is important – the sacrament of marriage becomes a sacramental sign of the new and eternal covenant between the Lord and his bride, the Church. Jesus is ever present in their midst. He sustains them throughout life in their mutual gift of self, in fidelity and in indissoluble unity (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 48). Jesus’ love is, for couples, a rock and refuge in times of trial, but more importantly, a source of constant growth in pure and enduring love. Gamble big, for your entire life! Take a risk! Because marriage is also a risk, but it is a risk worth taking. For your whole life, because that is how love is.
And a third theme that recurred was that of the family reaching across its different generations being a source of values and culture, and the means of passing on those values and culture to succeeding generations.
Le famiglie sono ovunque chiamate a continuare a crescere e andare avanti, pur in mezzo a difficoltà e limiti, proprio come hanno fatto le generazioni passate. Tutti siamo parte di una grande catena di famiglie, che risale all’inizio dei tempi. Le nostre famiglie sono tesori viventi di memoria, con i figli che a loro volta diventano genitori e poi nonni. Da loro riceviamo l’identità, i valori e la fede. Lo abbiamo visto in Aldo e Marissa, sposi da più di cinquant’anni. Il loro matrimonio è un monumento all’amore e alla fedeltà! I loro nipotini li mantengono giovani; la loro casa è piena di allegria, di felicità e di balli. Era bello vedere [nel video] la nonna insegnare a ballare alle nipotine! Il loro amore vicendevole è un dono di Dio, un dono che stanno trasmettendo con gioia ai loro figli e nipoti.
[Families are everywhere called to continue to grow and move forward, even in the midst of difficulties and limits, just as past generations have done. We are all part of a large chain of families, that arises from the beginning of time. Our families are living treasures of memory, with children who will in their turn become parents and grand parents. From them we receive our identity, values and the faith. We saw this in Aldo and Marissa, married for more than fifty years. Their marriage is a monument to love and faithfulness! Their grand children keep them young; their house is full of cheerfulness, of happiness and dances. It was lovely to see (in the video) the grandmother teaching the grandchildren to dance! Their reciprocal love is a gift of God, a gift that is being passed on with joy to their children and grandchildren.]

Wednesday 22 August 2018

The meaning of "family": UPDATED

I am, unfortunately, not able to find a full text of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin's remarks during the lead opening ceremony of the World Meeting of Families in the RDS.  I am therefore relying on the reporting of the Irish Times, with the inherent risk that it does not offer a full picture of the Archbishop's address:
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin greeted families in the “variety of their expressions” at the opening prayer service of the World Meeting of Families on Tuesday night.
“There are some who would look at the world meeting as some sort of ideological rally to celebrate a type of family which probably does not exist,” he said, but added that the event was, in fact, much more profound.
“The family is not a remote ideological notion but the place where compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience and forgiveness are learned, practised and are spread,” he said.
There seems to be a contrast between Archbishop Martin's reference to families in their "variety of expressions" and the recent  suggestion of Pope Francis that, though there is an analogical use of the term "family", there is also a single and unique usage of the term in the context of human families:
Then today — it hurts to say it — we speak of ‘diversified’ families: different types of family. Yes, it is true that the word ‘family’ is an analogical term, because it refers to the ‘family’ of stars, to ‘families’ of trees, to ‘families’ of animals ... it is an analogical term. But the human family as the image of God, man and woman, is one alone. It is one alone. It may be that a man and a woman are not believers: but if they love each other and become joined in marriage, they are the image and likeness of God, even though they do not believe. It is a mystery: Saint Paul calls it the “great mystery”, the “great sacrament” (cf. Eph 5:32). A true mystery. I like everything you said and the passion with which you said it. And this is how one should speak about the family, with passion.
There is some lack of precision in Pope Francis' words - the term "human family" might have a reference both to the entirety of the human family and to the exact instance of the family formed by the marriage of a man and woman to which he then immediately refers - arising from the unscripted nature of his remarks. I do think, however, that he has opened up a way of talking about the family that can present Catholic teaching in a way that allows the unique understanding of the term "family" to engage successfully with the indiscriminate use of that term by a wider society that seeks to undermine the living of that unique understanding.

UPDATE: Archbishop Eamon Martin was the keynote speaker (replacing Archbishop Wuerl) on the first full day of the pastoral congress. The full text of his talk can be found here: Keynote address of Archbishop Eamon Martin at the Family Arena at the WMOF2018 Pastoral Congress ‘The welfare of the family is decisive for the future of the world’. As I do regularly, I suggest that you do follow the link and read the whole. The extracts below do not convey the sense of the whole, though the perhaps do rather better than the ITV news website headline: Archbishop tells faithful abuse scandals have damaged trust in church’s teaching.

[But we should credit this ITV report with its prominent citation of these words of Archbishop Martin:
"We must work together with all people of goodwill to encourage the State to support the family, and especially the uniqueness of the faithful and exclusive union between a married man and a woman as a cherished space for the bearing and upbringing of children".]
My extracts below:
We believe that the Church’s proclamation of the family – founded on a circle of faithful loving between a man and a woman which is open to the gift of children who are the fruit of that love – is Good News for society and the world.  There is no getting away, however, from the fact that communicating the family in this way can appear increasingly counter-cultural in many parts of the world, including Ireland.  This has been accelerated to a large extent by the departure in public discourse from the philosophical and anthropological underpinning of marriage and the family in natural law, and by the erosion of social supports for traditional marriage in the form of constitutional guarantee and positive legislation. In presenting God’s plan for marriage and the family which includes God’s plan for the transmission of life itself, the Church sometimes be accused of being exclusive or lacking in compassion. ….
Into this complicated ‘topsy turvy’ world we have the joy and challenge of communicating a clear and positive vision of family and marriage: the Good News that human life is sacred, that each human being comes from God, who created us, male and female; that we are willed by God who loves each and every one of us; that self-giving love and commitment in the marriage of a man and a woman open to life is not only possible, but is a beautiful and fulfilling gift with the power of God’s grace; that chastity is achievable, healthy and good for our young people; that the giving of oneself to another in marriage for life is special, rewarding and a wonderful symbol of Christ’s forgiving, faithful love for his Church. 
We proclaim the Gospel of the Family because we believe in it, and we also believe and firmly hope that, with the help of God, it is attainable.
Of course, it is one thing to have a joyful message to proclaim and propose – it is quite another to find effective ways of communicating this message.  If no one is listening, it is difficult to communicate!  The task of proclaiming the Gospel of the Family in the Church therefore belongs to all of us because it is communicated most effectively from cell to cell, from family to family, witnessing intentionally and courageously, and by lived example, to the Church’s vision.
Together we proclaim the Gospel of the Family because we are convinced that the welfare of the family is decisive for the future of the world! Or, as Pope St John Paul II loved to put it: “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live”. ….
…. if we truly believe the Good News that the welfare of the family is decisive to the future of the world, then how can we keep from singing and proclaiming this vital truth? We must work together with all people of goodwill to encourage the State to support the family, and especially the uniqueness of the faithful and exclusive union between a married man and a woman as a cherished space for the bearing and upbringing of children.  In doing this, the State is not only caring for its citizens, but it is also strengthening and nurturing the foundations of society itself.  As Pope Francis has said: ‘The family deserves special attention by those responsible for the common good, because it is the basic unit of society, which brings strong links of union that underpin human coexistence and, with the generation and education of children, ensure the renewal and the future of society.’  
There is a sentence in Archbishop Martin's address which I find more subtle and thought provoking, with its suggestion that it is through our families that we become conscious of a culture:
 Family also links us to a community, a parish, a county, a country, to a history and culture, a language and tradition, our past, present and future.  
It is thought provoking to reflect as to how far a generation that has suffered an undermining of their family experience will also have suffered an undermining of their genuine sense of a culture and its replacement by something of considerably less value.

Sunday 19 August 2018

World Meeting of Families 2018: my highlights.

Reading the programme for the Pastoral Congress associated with the World Meeting of Families 2018, there are three things that attracted my attention as "highlights". The nature of the Congress is that it is not possible to get to everything because things happen simultaneously. If I were able to be at the World Meeting, the events below reflect things that I would particularly want to attend. I expect that I will also want to listen to the Family celebration on the Saturday evening, especially the family testimonies which are usually very moving.

The first is the involvement of members of the Focolare movement, and in particular Focolare's families movement, in a number of the panels/presentations. So, for example, a Focolare speaker is involved in a panel entitled "And the greatest is love: Pope Francis on 1 Cor 13" on the Wednesday. Representatives of the New Families Movement are part of a panel on Thursday: "The Joys and Challenges of Parenting Today". Also on Wednesday, a Focolare initiative in the field of economics ("Economy of Communion") is represented in one of the speakers, Professor Bruini, in a session entitled "The Family: A Resource for Society". And on Thursday, the movement is represented in a session entitled "Handing on the Faith between the Generations: The Role of Grandparents".

The second is the involvement of Aid to the Church in Need in two different sessions. On the Wednesday, as part of the evening programme, they are hosting a session entitled "The Family of Families: the experience of Catholic Families in Russia":
In this interactive workshop we listen to the stories of faith and family from Catholics in Russia, through the initiatives supported by the Pontifical Foundation, Aid to the Church in Need International.
They are also presenting a similar session "The Family of Families: the experience of Catholic Families in Africa" on the Thursday of the Congress.

And thirdly, Rocco Buttiglione is speaking on Thursday: "A Hidden Treasure: The Theology of the Body of Saint John Paul II". There can be few people who so effectively represent an authentic Catholic voice in the political and cultural field as does Rocco Buttiglione.

The relics of St Therese of Lisieux and her parents, Louis and Zelie Martin, are also on an extended visit to Ireland, and will be present at the World Meeting of Families. They will be present at the concluding Mass of the World Meeting. Remembering the impact of the visit of St Therese to the UK, this too will be another highlight - and perhaps one that we should not underestimate.

Wednesday 8 August 2018

BBC Radio 2: Gerard Manley Hopkins cited on the Folk Show

Wednesday evening on Radio 2 is the regular slot for Mark Radcliffe's The Folk Show. Often there is a live guest band on the show, and this week it was  band called Mishaped Pearls. They released an album earlier this year entitled Shivelight.

You can listen again for a further 29 days to the programme, but you will need to have BBC account in order to sign in to the iPlayer to do so. If you do listen again, go to this link and then to 36:50. At his point Mishaped Pearls perform the track "Queen May", and then discuss the origins of the title of the album.

They have taken it from Gerard Manley Hopkins use of the word in the poem "That Nature is a Heraclitian Fire", to indicate the shaft of light that can be seen shining through the canopy of a forest. It is an appropriate choice of title, as many of the songs on the album do reflect on nature in a way with which Gerard Manley Hopkins might be familiar.

What is very striking in the programme, though, is Mark Radcliffe's familiarity with and enthusiasm for Gerard Manley Hopkins. He is able to quote the first lines of "The Windhover", adding the comment that it is "stunning stuff". Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised at the connection between folk music and an interest in Hopkins' poetry ...

Do listen if you can ….

Friday 3 August 2018

On the inadmissability of the death penalty ...

In the light of Pope Francis' promulgation of new wording for n.2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (though it is worth reading the preceding n.2266 as well for a complete context), I have searched "death penalty" on this blog.

It produced these two earlier posts: The consensus of the Holy Fathers ..... and The end of Traditionalism?

Thursday 19 July 2018

Sex Education and the European Convention on Human Rights: is Damian Hinds right?

According to the BBC report:
In an oral statement to the Commons on Thursday, Mr Hinds said: "We've previously committed to parents having a right to withdraw their children from the sex education part of RSE [relationships and sex education], but not from relationships education, in either primary or secondary school.
"A right for parents to withdraw their child up to 18 years of age is no longer compatible with English case law nor with the European Convention on Human Rights."
But is it true to suggest that the European Convention on Human Rights disallows withdrawal by parents of their children from sex education in the years immediately leading up to age 18?

The consultation document about which Damian Hinds was speaking can be found at the Department for Education website: here. It represents a draft of statutory guidance to which, if it is implemented, schools will have "have regard". The relevant sections can be found on page 12 and following.  My emphasis added in the extract below:
36. The role of parents in the development of their children’s understanding about relationships is vital. Parents are the first educators of their children. They have the most significant influence in enabling their children to grow and mature and to form healthy relationships.
And the relevant article of the Protocol to the European Convention on Human  Rights, which forms a full part of the Convention, with my emphasis added (cf Article 26 n.3 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights):
Article 2: right to education  
No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.
Damian Hinds' consultation document at n.36 represents a clear and blatant derogation from the provision of the Convention to which it has reference.

This derogation is further followed by the suggestion of a good practice which expects headteachers to, in effect, make every effort to dissuade a parent from exercising a right to withdrawal. Given the likely power imbalance in the conversation between a head teacher and an individual parent, the use of the terminology of "discuss" or "discussion" may not accurately reflect the provision of the Convention that the State respect the right of parents with regard to the education of their children.
41. Parents have the right to request that their child be withdrawn from some or all of sex education delivered as part of statutory RSE. Before granting any such request it would be good practice for the head teacher to discuss the request with the parent and, as appropriate, with the child to ensure that their wishes are understood and to clarify the nature and purpose of the curriculum.
42. Good practice is also likely to include the head teacher discussing with the parent the benefits of receiving this important education and any detrimental effects that withdrawal might have on the child. This could include any social and emotional effects of being excluded, as well as the likelihood of the child hearing their peers’ version of what was said in the classes, rather than what was directly said by the teacher (although the detrimental effects may be mitigated if the parent proposes to deliver sex education to their child at home instead).  
43. Once those discussions have taken place, except in exceptional circumstances, the school should respect the parents’ request to withdraw the child, up to and until three terms before the child turns 16. After that point, if the child wishes to receive sex education rather than be withdrawn, the school should make arrangements to provide the child with sex education during one of those terms.
So is Damian Hinds telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth with regard to his proposals and the European Convention on Human Rights?

Tuesday 17 July 2018

Humanae Vitae is here to stay

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae.

There is a view that the teaching of the encyclical on the moral illicitness of contraception is widely disregarded by the ordinary Catholic faithful. I am not sure that such a generalised view is really true to the reality seen as an ecclesial reality, rather than as a sociological reality. I can think of several families I know who are obedient to its teaching; and I ponder that the real witness to the integrity of the teaching of Humanae Vitae lies in the witness of families like these rather than the percentages produced by surveys or opinion polls. If there are areas in which the Church's life appears to be in decline, then there are always the ordinary places, like these families, where it is truly alive.

Since 1968, the universal teaching office of the Church has, amidst a severe contestation, held to the teaching of Humanae Vitae without change. Combine this with the witness of families referred to in the previous paragraph, and we can say with some confidence that Humanae Vitae is here to stay.

Penny Morduant is tilting at windmills if she really thinks that the Holy See will change on this.

The following passages from Humanae Vitae use the translation given in Fr George Woodall's 2008 "Humane Vitae: forty years on".
Upright people can also be persuaded more fully of the truth of the doctrine which the Church proposes in this matter, if they turn their minds to those things which will come about form the means adopted and the grounds put forward for restricting artificially the increase of births. In the first place they themselves may recognise what a wide and easy road can be opened by this way of acting both to conjugal infidelity and to the general weakening of the discipline of morals. Nor is long experience necessary for someone to discover human infirmity and to understand that people - and especially the young, so subject to the pressure of their desires - stand in need of incitements to observe the moral law and that it is wrong to proffer to them the easy road to violating the law itself. [HVn.17]
Clearly the situation in less developed nations is not the same as that in highly developed nations such as our own. But what we can now see in the reality of widespread successive marriage/partnerships, and a culture of sexual intimacy as a recreational activity whose only possible moral constraints are consent and the condom, can surely be foreseen in the future of those less developed nations if they are subject to the promotion of a contraceptive ideology and practice.
It is indeed to be feared that husbands, already accustomed to these ways of blocking conception, may forget the reverence due to their wives and, putting the well-being of their bodies and minds in second place, may make their wives into instruments at the service of their own desire and no longer value them as companions with whom they ought to go through life with respect and with love. [HV n.17]
The narrative of women's control over their own bodies, presented as if it is the only and universal narrative, should be put beside the equally possible alternative that the availability of contraception permits a greater control of men over women. One signal of this might be those women whose decisions for abortion are driven by the attitudes of boyfriends to their pregnancy, particularly if the pregnancy has resulted from a contraceptive failure. It is misleading to suggest that the marketing of contraceptives to women in less developed nations will uniformly have the effect of increasing the empowerment of women.
… unless we wish the duty of procreating life to be left to the arbitrary decision of human beings, we must necessarily recognise that there are some limits beyond which it is not licit to proceed in the power which a person can exercise over his or her own body in undertaking tasks which are natural to it; limits, we say, which it is licit for no-one, either as a private individual or as one endowed with public authority, to violate. These limits are not established for any other reason that that of the reverence which is due to the human body as a whole and to its natural functions... [HV n.17]
And with the promotion of LGBT ideology and an ideology of gender - what Pope Francis refers to as an "ideological colonisation of the family" - we see, at the level of our culture, precisely a full implication of the removal of any accepted limits to what a person can licitly do with their bodies.

Some additional observations: about half of all women seeking abortions do so after using an effective means of contraception (source here). Penny Morduant cannot be unaware of this, and one can suspect that, in asking the Catholic Church to change its teaching on contraception, she also foresees abortion provision.

Pope Benedict, at the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae:
The possibility of procreating a new human life is included in a married couple's integral gift of themselves. Since, in fact, every form of love endeavours to spread the fullness on which it lives, conjugal love has its own special way of communicating itself: the generation of children. Thus it not only resembles but also shares in the love of God who wants to communicate himself by calling the human person to life. Excluding this dimension of communication through an action that aims to prevent procreation means denying the intimate truth of spousal love, with which the divine gift is communicated: "If the mission of generating life is not to be exposed to the arbitrary will of men, one must necessarily recognize insurmountable limits to the possibility of man's domination over his own body and its functions; limits which no man, whether a private individual or one invested with authority, may licitly surpass" (Humanae Vitae, n. 17). This is the essential nucleus of the teaching that my Venerable Predecessor Paul VI addressed to married couples and which the Servant of God John Paul ii, in turn, reasserted on many occasions, illuminating its anthropological and moral basis.
Forty years after the Encyclical's publication we can understand better how decisive this light was for understanding the great "yes" that conjugal love involves. In this light, children are no longer the objective of a human project but are recognized as an authentic gift, to be accepted with an attitude of responsible generosity toward God, the first source of human life. This great "yes" to the beauty of love certainly entails gratitude, both of the parents in receiving the gift of a child, and of the child himself, in knowing that his life originates in such a great and welcoming love.

Pope Francis, speaking during his visit to the Phillipines:
The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life.
I think of Blessed Paul VI. At a time when the problem of population growth was being raised, he had the courage to defend openness to life in families. He knew the difficulties that are there in every family, and so in his Encyclical he was very merciful towards particular cases, and he asked confessors to be very merciful and understanding in dealing with particular cases. But he also had a broader vision: he looked at the peoples of the earth and he saw this threat of families being destroyed for lack of children. Paul VI was courageous; he was a good pastor and he warned his flock of the wolves who were coming. From his place in heaven, may he bless this evening!
And, later this year, Pope Francis will canonise Pope Paul VI. It is difficult to see these actions as anything other than an affirmation by Pope Francis of the teaching of Paul VI.

Sunday 17 June 2018

Pope Francis speaking to the Italian Forum of Families

Pope Francis' prepared speech is being circulated - but on the occasion itself, he set it aside to respond "off the cuff" or rather, "from the heart", to the introductory words that had been addressed to him by a representative of the participants in the meeting. An English text of the Pope's remarks as actually delivered is not yet available, but the Italian is here. [UPDATE: English text, along with English text of Pope Francis' prepared text, here.]

The London Evening Standard website is citing what will no doubt be seen as the most controversial section of this address:

Quando ero ragazzo, la maestra ci insegnava storia e ci diceva cosa facevano gli spartani quando nasceva un bambino con malformazioni: lo portavano sulla montagna e lo buttavano giù, per curare “la purezza della razza”. E noi rimanevamo sbalorditi: “Ma come, come si può fare questo, poveri bambini!”. Era un’atrocità. Oggi facciamo lo stesso. Voi vi siete domandati perché non si vedono tanti nani per la strada? Perché il protocollo di tanti medici – tanti, non tutti – è fare la domanda: “Viene male?”. Lo dico con dolore. Nel secolo scorso tutto il mondo era scandalizzato per quello che facevano i nazisti per curare la purezza della razza. Oggi facciamo lo stesso, ma con guanti bianchi.

[When I was a boy, the teacher who taught us history spoke of what the Spartan's di when a disabled child was born: they carried them up the mountain and threw them down from there, to look after "the purity of the race". And we were amazed: "But how, how could they do this, poor children!" It was an atrocity. Today we do the same. You can ask yourself why we do not see as many disabled people* on the street? Because the protocol of many doctors - many, not all - is to ask the question "Will it go badly?" I say it with sorrow. In the last century the whole world was scandalised by what the Nazis did to keep the purity of the race. Today we do the same, but with white gloves**".]

That last sentence is hard hitting, to say the least.

But this is one paragraph of a much wider, from the heart, reflection by Pope Francis on the life of families in our own times. The whole is worth a read.

Pope Francis shares the questions he asks when he meets married couples at audiences; he very clearly speaks of marriage between a man and a woman (throughout!) and indicates how it is an image of God to the world; he comments on the analogical use of the term "family" and distinguishes that usage from the specific use of the term in relation to human families, made up of a man and woman with children; he suggests that we need a catechumenate for marriage like that we have for baptism; in an anniversary year of Humanae Vitae, he clearly calls on families to welcome the children that are the gift of God; and, as you would expect, he explains his three key words for married life - please, sorry and thank you - with the need for ensuring reconciliation at the end of the day.

It is probably better to view this address as being "from the heart" rather than "off the cuff". The content clearly arises from a long standing pastoral experience, and reflection on that experience, by Pope Francis.

And do read the whole.

*This is not a literal translation of the word "nani", but I think it will better capture the sense of Pope Francis' use of the word in this context.
**A reference to the surgical gloves of the medical profession.

Thursday 7 June 2018

Corpus Christi by Lake Como

I recall that, early in his pontificate, Pope Francis observed that it is popular devotions that represent the inculturation of the Gospel in a particular place. I was reminded of this last week when Zero and I were able to take part in the celebration of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi in the town of Bellano on Lake Como. We had noticed earlier in the week a notice of the celebration of the feast to take place on the Thursday at the Church of Saints Nazaro and Celso in the town square.

A solemn Mass, at a level that might have been typical of a reasonably capable parish, was celebrated at 8 pm. Ambrosian Rite (scroll down the page to find an account of the differences of the Ambrosian Rite from the Roman Rite), including with the particular Eucharistic Prayer that that rite has for the celebration of Maundy Thursday and other Eucharistic feasts. I particularly noticed the manner of the incensations (you can't really miss it!) and the blessing of the readers.

As Zero expressed it, the parish priest was someone who visibly communicated the joy of Christ (I'm not sure how well I translated that into Italian for him at the end of the procession!). The first communion children and their families were out in force, and there was a comfortably full Church. There was a choir, and three concelebrating priests. Parishioners seemed to be very familiar with the hymns being sung.

At the end of Mass we all moved out of the Church to form up outside for the Eucharistic procession. This was well organised - we were organised to walk in two lines at either side of the road, led by a cross and candles, with the town band about half way down the procession and the Blessed Sacrament carried under its canopy towards the rear. Loudspeakers carried on poles ensured that all could hear the meditations (on Gospel accounts of the meetings of Jesus with people on the roads), and the band played gentle music during times of our own meditations. The procession followed a loop around the town, including along the main lake side provincial road which was closed for half an hour or so. At the lake, there was a pause while the lake was blessed with the Blessed Sacrament, and a prayer offered of both thanksgiving for the lake and sorrow for those who have died in accidents on the lake.

And then back to the Church, through the narrow lanes of the town, for concluding prayers and Benediction. As we all left the Church, the town band played a short concert in the square outside.

Over the years, Zero and I have taken part in several Eucharistic processions during our holidays - one year at Rivotorto parish during a visit to Assisi and on another occasion at the International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec in 2008. Bellano provided an experience as moving as any of them.

Saturday 19 May 2018

Bishop Michael Curry: Nul points!

It is a powerful homily on what can be achieved by love when it is exercised in the world.

Delivered with an evangelical fervour.

And it does acknowledge at one point our origins in the creative love of God.

But it wasn't a homily about marriage.

Let alone a homily about Christian marriage.

Which is unfortunate.

Especially when you are preaching at a wedding.

Between a baptised man and a baptised woman.

In a Christian chapel.

Thursday 3 May 2018

Pope Francis said ....

h/t to Abbey Roads for the link: Pope Francis on ...

In the year during which Pope Paul VI is expected to be canonised, I was particularly pleased to see reference here to Pope Francis' clear affirmation of the magisterium of Paul VI.

The principle underlying Pope Francis' response presented in the section on persons struggling with their sexual identity has since been developed more fully by the Holy Father. As I post I can't find the relevant passage (I will update when I have found it), but Pope Francis' well argued suggestion was that truth in it's more objective sense is also to be spoken about and lived with a respect for the truth of the person to whom we speak or with whom we live, and that there is no contradiction in doing this.

UPDATE: I have found the passage referred to above. It comes from Pope Francis homily at the Chrism Mass on 29th March 2018:
Closeness, dear brothers, is crucial for an evangelizer because it is a key attitude in the Gospel (the Lord uses it to describe his Kingdom). We can be certain that closeness is the key to mercy, for mercy would not be mercy unless, like a Good Samaritan, it finds ways to shorten distances. But I also think we need to realize even more that closeness is also the key to truth; not just the key to mercy, but the key to truth. Can distances really be shortened where truth is concerned? Yes, they can. Because truth is not only the definition of situations and things from a certain distance, by abstract and logical reasoning. It is more than that. Truth is also fidelity (émeth). It makes you name people with their real name, as the Lord names them, before categorizing them or defining “their situation”. There is a distasteful habit, is there not, of following a “culture of the adjective”: this is so, this is such and such, this is like… No! This is a child of God. Then come the virtues or defects, but [first] the faithful truth of the person and not the adjective regarded as the substance.
Note carefully: the "not only ... more than" and the "... then come the virtues or defects...". Pope Francis is affirming, not denying, the objective truth or definition of a situation. He is affirming that there is something additional to this, that is, the fidelity to the truth of the person, and is suggesting that in the pastoral action of the priest this has, in a very specified meaning, a certain priority.

Tuesday 17 April 2018

National Education Union and abortion rights: not in my name

During the Easter holidays, the ATL Section of the National Education Union meeting in their annual conference carried the motion that I reproduce below:
THAT Conference believes that access to safe, free, legal abortion is crucial to women’s and girls’ educational, economic, and social equality. Barriers to abortion services are barriers to women’s and girls’ rights. Fifty years on from the 1967 Abortion Act, women and girls still face unacceptable delays, threats of violence and intimidation, inaccurate and misleading information and unequal access to abortion services.
Conference therefore instructs the Executive Committee to put forward to the Joint Executive Council that the Joint Executive Council:
(i) adopt a pro-choice position on abortion rights that is inclusive of all people who need to access abortion services (trans men; non-binary and gender non-conforming people) in all regions of the UK
(ii) lobby Government to ensure that reproductive rights and women’s health are taught as an essential element of the RSE and PSHE curriculum to ALL secondary and post-16 students regardless of their gender, delivered by trained teachers and supported by local sexual health services
(iii) signpost age-appropriate and good-quality teaching resources and training opportunities to members
(iv) oppose attempts by anti-choice groups to present inaccurate and misleading information in schools and colleges
(v) support the work of the campaigning group Abortion Rights.

I will  be enquiring of the leadership of the trade union how this motion came to be considered suitable business. I suspect that in the past it would have been ruled as unsuitable business for conference on two grounds: (1) adopting a position for or against legalised abortion lies outside the objects of the union; and (2) the allegations of threats of violence and intimidation, and of the presentation of inaccurate and misleading information by pro-life groups are in every likelihood factually incorrect, and can be seen as such without the need to probe at all deeply. In the present day climate, though, I wonder whether the relevant rules/procedures committee even gave it a second thought (happy to be corrected on that...). Oddly enough, a motion of like intent put to the NUT Section conference does not appear to have made it to their final conference agenda (compare the final agenda to the conference motions on this page).

I haven't attended annual conference for a number of years now, so was not present to see how much debate this motion generated.

Somewhat mischievously, I am as I write pondering the possible outcome if Marie Stopes and BPAS had to provide their abortion services without receiving funding to do so ... ie make provision for genuinely free abortions, as advocated by the first line of the above motion.

It is sub-sections (ii) and (iv) that are particularly sinister, and, as worded, somewhat dishonest. In effect, they argue that only supporters of legalised abortion (decode "trained teachers and local sexual health services") should be allowed to teach on the subject of abortion in schools, and that those who are pro-life (decode "anti-choice") should be barred from speaking to pupils in schools. This is a somewhat totalitarian position for a supposed member led, democratic trade union to have adopted.

I wonder, too, at the possible implications of identifying barriers to abortion as barriers specifically to girls rights ... A February 2018 Joint Serious Case Review (read around page 90 ff, and note reference to earlier serious case reviews that raise the same question) with regard to child sexual exploitation clearly raises issues around the climate of confidentiality when young girls seek sexual health services, including the morning after pill and abortion, and are not recognised as possibly being subject to sexual exploitation. The readiness of access to such services appears, albeit inadvertently, to mask possible exploitation.

If you are also a member of the National Education Union, particularly the ATL Section, you might like to join me in letting our union leadership know that they do not adopt this policy in our name.

Tuesday 10 April 2018

Gaudete et Exsultate: Spiritual combat, Vigilance and Discernment

I have just read Chapter Five of Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate which begins with these words.
The Christian life is a constant battle. We need strength and courage to withstand the temptations of the devil and to proclaim the Gospel. This battle is sweet, for it allows us to rejoice each time the Lord triumphs in our lives.
 The chapter ends as follows:
Discernment, then, is not a solipsistic self-analysis or a form of egotistical introspection, but an authentic process of leaving ourselves behind in order to approach the mystery of God, who helps us to carry out the mission to which he has called us, for the good of our brothers and sisters.
The whole chapter is worth reading - and not only because of its realist teaching on the existence and activity of the Devil.
 I would like these reflections to be crowned by Mary, because she lived the Beatitudes of Jesus as none other. She is that woman who rejoiced in the presence of God, who treasured everything in her heart, and who let herself be pierced by the sword. Mary is the saint among the saints, blessed above all others. She teaches us the way of holiness and she walks ever at our side. She does not let us remain fallen and at times she takes us into her arms without judging us. Our converse with her consoles, frees and sanctifies us. Mary our Mother does not need a flood of words. She does not need us to tell her what is happening in our lives. All we need do is whisper, time and time again: “Hail Mary…”

Sunday 8 April 2018

All the Cathedrals (8): Worcester Cathedral

Zero and I visited Worcester at the February half term, so we were there for Ash Wednesday. We weren't able to make Mass on the day, and so frequented the Cathedral for their evening service, with imposition of ashes. The crosses on our foreheads were sufficiently dramatic to be noticed as we walked out for our supper afterwards!

Worcester Cathedral shares a narrative common to a number of English cathedrals: first foundation in Anglo-Saxon times; a Benedictine monastic phase brought to an end by the Henry VIII's dissolution of the monastery and establishing of a Cathedral and chapter; significant damage as a result of the attention of the Parliamentary side during the Civil War (though the extent of this is hardly apparent today, with the only visible defacing in the Hall); and subsequent measures of restoration. The names of St Oswald and St Wulfstan are associated with the building of the Cathedral, the latter continuing to hold the see after the Norman conquest. A summary history of the building can be found here.

The restored Norman crypt is very striking, in part because of its contrast to the construction of the later Cathedral above it.

King John, of Magna Carta fame, had extensive connections with Worcester and his tomb lies in the choir of the Cathedral, before the high altar. (The tomb would appear to have escaped the attention of the Parliamentarians at the time of the Civil War.)

There is also a chantry chapel to Prince Arthur, oldest brother of the future Henry VIII and first wife of Catherine of Aragon, who died before he could succeed to the throne.

A striking feature for an Anglican Cathedral is the window dedicated to Sir Edward Elgar. Though Elgar was a Catholic, he had a strong musical link to Worcester Cathedral and to the Three Choirs Festival. The window represents Elgar's Dream of Gerontius, a strikingly Catholic theme. The Cathedral is just a stone's throw from the modern shop that now occupies the site of the Elgar's family music shop.

Much of the stained glass in the Cathedral dates from the Victorian restoration, with the West window depicting the story of the creation while the East window tells the story of Jesus life, death and resurrection. A repair of the West window was still underway at the time of our visit, with scaffolding in place on the exterior hiding the otherwise distinctive view from the river. Many of the fittings that we see today date from this Victorian restoration. The reredos of the high altar by Sir George Gilbert Scott, for example, represents Christ enthroned with the four Evangelists. The effect is to render almost imperceptible to the contemporary visitor the damage done during the Civil War - it is only in the School Hall that a defaced image remains visible. The Victorian restoration also replaced the majority of the external stone work, which disguises the earlier history of the Church as the visitor approaches from the outside.

A much more recent restoration programme has taken action to preserve both the appearance and structure of the Cathedral.
There is a cloister with memorials in the glass windows. Access to the river can be gained by passing through the grounds and down a walk way. Set in the wall are stones that mark the water levels reached by floods of the Severn.
As a city, Worcester suffers from a bit of a split personality. The High Street is occupied with many modern buildings that have replaced some of the older buildings, such as the music shop owned by Edward Elgar's parents. Friar Street and New Street, however, have preserved a number of their older buildings, including the public house from which Charles I is said to have made his escape after the second Battle of Worcester. A number of the businesses in these streets occupy premises that retain features of historic interest.

Thursday 5 April 2018

A forgotten chapter in the life of Pope Paul VI

h/t to Auntie Joanna forthis: An overlooked chapter in the life of Blessed Paul VI.

I do think Pope Paul VI is very much underestimated, and I look forward to new studies of him being published to accompany his canonisation.

Monday 2 April 2018

Pope Francis' reflection on the "Our Father"

At his General Audience on 14th March, Pope Francis continued his series of meditations on the Liturgy of the Eucharist, reaching the Communion Rite and the prayer of the Our Father. My italics added to the paragraph that particularly caught my attention (though the whole is, of course, worth reading):
What better prayer than the one taught by Jesus could prepare us for sacramental Communion with him? Apart from in the Mass, the “Our Father” is prayed in the morning and at night, in the Praises [ie Lauds] and in Vespers; in this way, the filial attitude toward God and that of fraternity with our neighbour help give Christian form to our days.

Friday 30 March 2018

Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum

Over the years, the meditations written for the Stations of the Cross led by the Holy Father have given rise to some excellent spiritual reflections. They have sometimes taken advantage of the freedom that goes with a devotional practice and perhaps not restricted themselves to the traditional stations; and they vary in style from author to author. It is, each year, a remarkable encounter of faith and culture in the heart of Rome.

This year's meditations have been written by a group of young people, and can be found on the website of the Holy See here, along with an explanation of how they came to be written. I have yet to pray them fully, but they do look to be well written and a testimony to the faith of the young people who have written them.

Thursday 29 March 2018

Pope Francis: "Closeness is more than the name of a specific virtue..."

Pope Francis' homily at the celebration of the Chrism Mass in the Vatican Basilica encourages priests in their closeness to Christ and in their closeness to their people. Pope Francis' words, as is often the case with Pope Francis, reflect the charism of a pastor:
Closeness is more than the name of a specific virtue; it is an attitude that engages the whole person, our way of relating, our way of being attentive both to ourselves and to others... When people say of a priest, “he is close to us”, they usually mean two things. The first is that “he is always there” (as opposed to never being there: in that case, they always begin by saying, “Father, I know you are very busy...”). The other is that he has a word for everyone. “He talks to everybody”, they say, with adults and children alike, with the poor, with those who do not believe... Priests who are “close”, available, priests who are there for people, who talk to everyone... street priests.
Pope Francis suggests that we should recognise closeness as as the key to truth, and he does this by proposing the two dimensions of "truth as definition" and "truth as fidelity":
Closeness, dear brothers, is crucial for an evangelizer because it is a key attitude in the Gospel (the Lord uses it to describe his Kingdom). We can be certain that closeness is the key to mercy, for mercy would not be mercy unless, like a Good Samaritan, it finds ways to shorten distances. But I also think we need to realize even more that closeness is also the key to truth; not just the key to mercy, but the key to truth. Can distances really be shortened where truth is concerned? Yes, they can. Because truth is not only the definition of situations and things from a certain distance, by abstract and logical reasoning. It is more than that. Truth is also fidelity (émeth). It makes you name people with their real name, as the Lord names them, before categorizing them or defining “their situation”. There is a distasteful habit, is there not, of following a “culture of the adjective”: this is so, this is such and such, this is like… No! This is a child of God. Then come the virtues or defects, but [first] the faithful truth of the person and not the adjective regarded as the substance.
He then goes on to speak of three particular moments of closeness for priests:
Closeness in spiritual conversation. Let us reflect on this by considering the encounter of the Lord with the Samaritan woman. The Lord teaches her to discern first how to worship, in spirit and in truth. Then, he gently helps her to acknowledge her sin, without offending her. And finally, the Lord infects her with his missionary spirit and goes with her to evangelize her village. The Lord gives us a model of spiritual conversation; he knows how to bring the sin of the Samaritan woman to light without its overshadowing her prayer of adoration or casting doubt on her missionary vocation.
Closeness in confession. Let us reflect on this by considering the passage of the woman caught in adultery. It is clear that here closeness is everything, because the truths of Jesus always approach and can be spoken face to face. Looking the other in the eye, like the Lord, who, after kneeling next to the adulteress about to be stoned, stood up and said to her, “Nor do I condemn you” (Jn 8:11). This is not to go against the law. We too can add, “Go and sin no more”, not with the legalistic tone of truth as definition – the tone of those who feel that that they have to determine the parameters of divine mercy. On the contrary, those words need to be spoken with the tone of truth as fidelity, to enable the sinner to look ahead and not behind. The right tone of the words “sin no more” is seen in the confessor who speaks them and is willing to repeat them seventy times seven.
Finally, closeness in preaching. Let us reflect on this by thinking of those who are far away, and listening to Peter’s first sermon, which is part of the Pentecost event. Peter declares that the word is “for all that are far off” (Acts 2:39), and he preaches in such a way that they were “cut to the heart” by the kerygma, which led them to ask: “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). A question, as we said, we must always raise and answer in a Marian and ecclesial tone. The homily is the touchstone “for judging a pastor’s closeness and ability to communicate to his people” (Evangelii Gaudium, 135). In the homily, we can see how close we have been to God in prayer and how close we are to our people in their daily lives.
Now, if Pope Francis' words are read for what they actually say, rather than for what some might like the Holy Father to have said instead, they are rather beautiful - particularly the three Scriptural images that are used to represent the three instances of closeness.  They reflect the "pastoral conversion" to which Pope Francis has repeatedly called the Church, including with his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia. Do read the whole, from the original source, rather than relying on commentary.

Thursday 22 March 2018

Pope Francis and St Pio

Pope Francis recent pastoral visit to the birth place of St Pio of Pietrelcina and San Giovanni Rotondo was covered significantly by Vatican News, but appears to have attracted very little comment in the wider electronic media.

I was struck, following the visit last weekend, by a sense of how well Pope Francis knew the life and the charism of St Pio, who is a saint without an immediate attraction for me. The visit marked the centenary of the appearance of St Pio's stigmata and the fiftieth anniversary of his death. The address to the faithful in Pietrelcina and the homily at the celebration of Mass in San Giovanni Rotondo are, at the time of writing, not available in English on the website of the Holy See. Reading Pope Francis words during his visit, I am prompted to think that we can recognise in St Pio at least two key features of Pope Francis pontificate: his manner of speaking about the reality of the devil and his manner of speaking about the sacrament of Penance.

The most striking thing about the address in Pietrelcina is Pope Francis - and St Pio's - vivid sense of the reality of the Devil.

In quei terribili momenti padre Pio trasse linfa vitale dalla preghiera continua e dalla fiducia che seppe riporre nel Signore: «Tutti i brutti fantasmi – così diceva – che il demonio mi va introducendo nella mente spariscono allorché fiducioso mi abbandono nelle braccia di Gesù». Qui c’è tutta la teologia! Tu hai un problema, tu sei triste, sei ammalato: abbandonati nelle braccia di Gesù. E questo ha fatto lui. Amava Gesù e si fidava di Lui. Così scriveva al Ministro provinciale, asserendo che il proprio cuore si sentiva «attratto da una forza superiore prima di unirsi a Lui la mattina in sacramento». «E questa fame e sete anziché rimanere appagata», dopo averlo ricevuto, «si accresce[va] sempre più» (Lettera 31, in Epistolario I, p. 217). Padre Pio si immerse quindi nella preghiera per aderire sempre meglio ai disegni divini. Attraverso la celebrazione della Santa Messa, che costituiva il cuore di ogni sua giornata e la pienezza della sua spiritualità, raggiunse un elevato livello di unione con il Signore. In questo periodo, ricevette dall’alto speciali doni mistici, che precedettero il manifestarsi nelle sue carni dei segni della passione di Cristo.
[In these terrible moments Padre Pio drew his life blood from continuous prayer and from trust that they could be given over in the Lord: "All the horrible images", he said "that the devil introduced in the mind vanished as soon as I abandoned myself in the arms of Jesus". This is the whole of theology! If you have a problem, if you are sad, if you are sick: abandon yourself in the arms of Jesus. And this is what he did. He loved Jesus and entrusted himself to Him. This is what he wrote to the Provincial, assuring that his own heart felt "attracted by a higher force before uniting himself with HIm in the morning in the Sacrament". Padre Pio therefore immersed himself in prayer so as to always adhere more to the divine plans. By way of the celebration of Holy Mass, that constituted the heart of his every day and the fullness of his spirituality, he rose to a higher level of union with the Lord. In this time, he received from above special mystical gifts, the preceded the manifestation in his flesh of the signs of the passion of Christ.]

In the light of what I have written here about the relationship between St Pio's stigmata and his celebration of Mass, I find Pope Francis remarks at the end of this paragraph particularly interesting.

Preaching at Mass in San Giovanni Rotondo, Pope Francis spoke of three words from the scripture readings of the Liturgy -  prayer, smallness, and wisdom - relating each to the life and charism of St Pio.
Conoscere Lui, cioè incontrarlo, come Dio che salva e perdona: questa è la via della sapienza. Nel Vangelo Gesù ribadisce: «Venite a me, voi tutti che siete stanchi e oppressi» (Mt 11,28). Chi di noi può sentirsi escluso dall’invito? Chi può dire: “Non ne ho bisogno”?. San Pio ha offerto la vita e innumerevoli sofferenze per far incontrare il Signore ai fratelli. E il mezzo decisivo per incontrarlo era la Confessione, il sacramento della Riconciliazione. Lì comincia e ricomincia una vita sapiente, amata e perdonata, lì inizia la guarigione del cuore. Padre Pio è stato un apostolo del confessionale. Anche oggi ci invita lì; e ci dice: “Dove vai? Da Gesù o dalle tue tristezze? Dove torni? Da colui che ti salva o nei tuoi abbattimenti, nei tuoi rimpianti, nei tuoi peccati? Vieni, vieni, il Signore ti aspetta. Coraggio, non c’è nessun motivo così grave che ti escluda dalla sua misericordia”. [To know him, that is, to encounter him, as God who saves and pardons: this is the way of wisdom. In the Gospel Jesus confirms: "Come to me, you who are tired and oppressed" (Mt 11:28). Who among us can feel themselves excluded from the invitation? Who can say: "I have no need of it?" St Pio offered his life and innumerable sufferings to enable the Lord to encounter his brothers. And the decisive means of encountering him was Confession, the sacrament of Reconciliation. There begins and begins again a life that is wise, loved and pardoned, the start of a healing of the heart. Padre Pio was an apostle of the confessional. Today also he invites us there; and he says: "Where are you going? To Jesus even in your anguish? Where do you turn?  Towards him who saves you even in your despondency, in your regrets, in your sins?  Come, come, the Lord is waiting for you. Courage, there is no reason so serious that it excludes from his mercy".]
One can recognise here the language that Pope Francis has frequently used in encouraging confession, particularly during the Year of Mercy.
I gruppi di preghiera, gli ammalati della Casa Sollievo, il confessionale; tre segni visibili, che ci ricordano tre eredità preziose: la preghiera, la piccolezza e la sapienza di vita. Chiediamo la grazia di coltivarle ogni giorno. [The prayer groups, the sick of the Casa Sollievo, the confessional: three visible signs, that remind us of three precious inheritances: prayer, smallness and wisdom of life. Let us ask for the grace to cultivate them every day.]