Friday 31 December 2021

The end of a year: how have we lived the time that God has given us?

MAGNIFICAT for today, the eve of a new year, uses as its "Meditation of the Day" an extract from Pope Francis' homily at the Te Deum and celebration of Vespers on this corresponding day in 2013.  

The biblical and Christian vision of time and history is not cyclical but linear: it is a journey that moves toward completion. A year which has passed, then, does not lead us to a reality which ends but to a reality which is being fulfilled, it is a further step toward the destination that awaits us: a destination of hope and a destination of happiness, for we shall encounter God, who is the reason for our hope and the source of our happiness.

As 2013 draws to a close, we gather up, as in a basket, the days, weeks and months we have lived in order to offer them all to the Lord. And let us courageously ask ourselves: how have we lived the time which He has given us? Have we used it primarily for ourselves, for our own interests, or have we also sought to spend it on others? How much time have we reserved for being with God, in prayer, in silence, in adoration?

Pope Francis then directed his attention to the city of Rome, on what was his first New Year as Pope. (MAGNIFICAT did not include this section in its extract.) We can, however, take the words that he addressed to what is now his home and apply them to our own towns and cities.

It is the last day of the year. What shall we do, how shall we act in the coming year in order to make our City a little better? In the new year, Rome will have an even more beautiful face if it is richer in humanity, more hospitable and welcoming; if we are all considerate and generous to those in difficulty; if we cooperate with a constructive and caring spirit for the good of all. Rome in the new year will be better if people do not observe it as “from afar”, on a postcard, if they do not only watch life pass by “from the balcony” without becoming involved in the many human problems, in the problems of men and women, who in the end... and from the beginning, whether we like it or not, are our brothers and sisters. 

Pope Francis' homily concluded with the following passage, included in the MAGNIFICAT extract:

This evening let us conclude the Year of the Lord 2013 by giving thanks and also by asking for forgiveness. The two together: giving thanks and asking for forgiveness. Let us give thanks for all the blessings which God has bestowed on us, especially for his patience and his faithfulness, which are manifest over the course of time, but in a singular way in the fullness of time, when “God sent forth his Son, born of woman” (Gal 4:4). May the Mother of God, in whose name tomorrow we begin a new phase of our earthly pilgrimage, teach us to welcome God made man, so that every year, every month, every day may be filled with his eternal Love. 

Wednesday 29 December 2021

The Paradoxes of Christmas in Pope Francis' Christmas homily

 My familiarity with G K Chesterton is very limited - the Father Brown stories being my main reading of Chesterton. I understand, however, that the paradox is a staple of his prose, and I do have a memory of trying to read a passage of his that became incomprehensible as the paradoxes tripped over each other one after another.

Pope Francis' opened his homily at the Mass of Christmas this year with paradoxes that makes one think of Chesterton:

The Gospel emphasizes this contrast. It relates the birth of Jesus beginning with Caesar Augustus, who orders the census of the whole world: it presents the first Emperor in all his grandeur. Yet immediately thereafter it brings us to Bethlehem, where there is no grandeur at all: just a poor child wrapped in swaddling cloths, with shepherds standing by. That is where God is, in littleness. This is the message: God does not rise up in grandeur, but lowers himself into littleness. Littleness is the path that he chose to draw near to us, to touch our hearts, to save us and to bring us back to what really matters.

Brothers and sisters, standing before the crib, we contemplate what is central, beyond all the pretty lights and decorations. We contemplate the child. In his littleness, God is completely present. Let us acknowledge this: “Baby Jesus, you are God, the God who becomes a child”. Let us be amazed by this scandalous truth. The One who embraces the universe needs to be held in another’s arms. The One who created the sun needs to be warmed. Tenderness incarnate needs to be coddled. Infinite love has a miniscule heart that beats softly. The eternal Word is an “infant”, a speechless child. The Bread of life needs to be nourished. The Creator of the world has no home. Today, all is turned upside down: God comes into the world in littleness. His grandeur appears in littleness.

Let us ask ourselves: can we accept God’s way of doing things? This is the challenge of Christmas: God reveals himself, but men and women fail to understand. He makes himself little in the eyes of the world, while we continue to seek grandeur in the eyes of the world, perhaps even in his name. God lowers himself and we try to become great. The Most High goes in search of shepherds, the unseen in our midst, and we look for visibility; we want to be seen. Jesus is born in order to serve, and we spend a lifetime pursuing success. God does not seek power and might; he asks for tender love and interior littleness.

Pope Francis then goes on to tease out the message of this littleness for us today:

This is what we should ask Jesus for at Christmas: the grace of littleness. “Lord, teach us to love littleness. Help us to understand that littleness is the way to authentic greatness”. What does it mean, concretely, to accept littleness? In the first place, it is to believe that God desires to come into the little things of our life; he wants to inhabit our daily lives, the things we do each day at home, in our families, at school and in the workplace. Amid our ordinary lived experience, he wants to do extraordinary things. His is a message of immense hope. Jesus asks us to rediscover and value the little things in life. If he is present there, what else do we need?  Let us stop pining for a grandeur that is not ours to have. Let us put aside our complaints and our gloomy faces, and the greed that never satisfies! Littleness and the amazement of that little child: this is the message.

Yet there is more. Jesus does not want to come merely in the little things of our lives, but also in our own littleness: in our experience of feeling weak, frail, inadequate, perhaps even “messed up”. Dear sister or brother, if, as in Bethlehem, the darkness of night overwhelms you, if you feel surrounded by cold indifference, if the hurt you carry inside cries out, “You are of little account; you are worthless; you will never be loved the way you want”, tonight, if this is what you are feeling, God answers back. He tells you: “I love you just as you are. Your littleness does not frighten me, your failings do not trouble me. I became little for your sake. To be your God, I became your brother. Dear brother, dear sister, don’t be afraid of me. Find in me your measure of greatness. I am close to you, and one thing only do I ask: trust me and open your heart to me”.

To accept littleness means something else too. It means embracing Jesus in the little ones of today. Loving him, that is, in the least of our brothers and sisters. Serving him in the poor, those most like Jesus who was born in poverty. It is in them that he wants to be honoured. On this night of love, may we have only one fear: that of offending God’s love, hurting him by despising the poor with our indifference. Jesus loves them dearly, and one day they will welcome us to heaven. A poet once wrote: “Who has found the heaven – below – Will fail of it above” (E. DICKINSON, Poems, P96-17). Let us not lose sight of heaven; let us care for Jesus now, caressing him in the needy, because in them he makes himself known. 

Wednesday 22 December 2021

Pope Francis' message for the World Day of Peace 2022

 The first of three "paths" to which Pope Francis refers in his message for the 55th World Day of Peace is one about which he has spoken on a number of occasions before, that is, the need for a dialogue between those who are elderly and those who are young. He returns again to the idea that there is wisdom to be found among those who are older in life from which those who are younger have much to learn:

Although technological and economic development has tended to create a divide between generations, our current crises show the urgent need for an intergenerational partnership. Young people need the wisdom and experience of the elderly, while those who are older need the support, affection, creativity and dynamism of the young.

Great social challenges and peace processes necessarily call for dialogue between the keepers of memory – the elderly – and those who move history forward – the young. Each must be willing to make room for others and not to insist on monopolizing the entire scene by pursuing their own immediate interests, as if there were no past and future. The global crisis we are experiencing makes it clear that encounter and dialogue between generations should be the driving force behind a healthy politics, that is not content to manage the present “with piecemeal solutions or quick fixes”, but views itself as an outstanding form of love for others, in the search for shared and sustainable projects for the future.

If, amid difficulties, we can practise this kind of intergenerational dialogue, “we can be firmly rooted in the present, and from here, revisit the past and look to the future. To revisit the past in order to learn from history and heal old wounds that at times still trouble us. To look to the future in order to nourish our enthusiasm, cause dreams to emerge, awaken prophecies and enable hope to blossom. Together, we can learn from one another”. For without roots, how can trees grow and bear fruit?

Pope Francis' second "path" is that of education, and he particularly indicates the disproportion between expenditure on military hardware and that on education:

In recent years, there has been a significant reduction worldwide in funding for education and training; these have been seen more as expenditures than investments. Yet they are the primary means of promoting integral human development; they make individuals more free and responsible, and they are essential for the defence and promotion of peace. In a word, teaching and education are the foundations of a cohesive civil society capable of generating hope, prosperity and progress.

Military expenditures, on the other hand, have increased beyond the levels at the end of the Cold War and they seem certain to grow exorbitantly. 

It is high time, then, that governments develop economic policies aimed at inverting the proportion of public funds spent on education and on weaponry. The pursuit of a genuine process of international disarmament can only prove beneficial for the development of peoples and nations, freeing up financial resources better used for health care, schools, infrastructure, care of the land and so forth.

The third "path" is that of work, and Pope Francis highlights the difficulties faced by many different aspects of the field of work that have been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic:

It is more urgent than ever to promote, throughout our world, decent and dignified working conditions, oriented to the common good and to the safeguarding of creation. The freedom of entrepreneurial initiatives needs to be ensured and supported; at the same time, efforts must be made to encourage a renewed sense of social responsibility, so that profit will not be the sole guiding criterion.

In light of this, there is a need to promote, welcome and support initiatives that, on all levels, urge companies to respect the fundamental human rights of workers, raising awareness not only on the part of institutions, but also among consumers, civil society and entrepreneurial entities. As the latter become more and more conscious of their role in society, the more they will become places where human dignity is respected. In this way, they will contribute to building peace. Here, politics is called to play an active role by promoting a fair balance between economic freedom and social justice. All who work in this field, starting with Catholic workers and entrepreneurs, can find sure guidelines in the Church’s social doctrine. 

Wednesday 15 December 2021

Human Rights and Forced Adoption

 At the end of BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning, there was a piece about the way in which single women who became pregnant were, as recently as the 1970's,  pressured and shamed into giving up there babies for adoption. You can listen to the clip on BBC Sounds for the next 29 days - the item starts at 2:44:00.

The interview is with Harriet Harman, the longest serving female MP in the House of Commons, and chair of the Parliamentary select committee on Human Rights. The committee is launching an enquiry into the forced adoptions, on the basis that the birth mothers involved may have been deprived of their right to a family life (cf both the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 12 and the European Convention on Human Rights Article 8) by the persuasion/coercion applied to them to give up their babies for adoption.

Ms Harman makes a number of remarks in her interview that gave me reason to pause for thought.

Firstly, she is already clear that women who found themselves in the situation of pregnancy were effectively forced into giving up their babies for adoption, even though there was a perception at the time that they were making a choice to give up their babies. The clip before her interview certainly seems to bear out Ms Harman's suggestion, but, from the point of view of the person who is going to lead on an enquiry into the matter, one might expect this to be something that she says at the end of the enquiry after hearing the evidence rather than being a  position adopted before the committee has heard its evidence. I think this does indicate something about the nature of select committee enquiries and reports, namely, that they have an element of political direction in their initiation rather than being intentionally neutral. (I recall feeling something the same with regard to Robert Halfon and the Education Select committee when they launched an enquiry into home schooling with an intention of considering that education needing to be subject to registration and inspection.)

In referring to the shame, indeed stigma, attaching to pregnancy outside marriage at the time, Ms Harman adds that this was a time when there was "no sex education, no contraception and no abortion". Ms Harman clearly feels that this is something of relevance to the situation of these women, though it is difficult to be exactly sure what relevance she intends. If nowadays a young girl presents with a pregnancy outside marriage or a fixed relationship, how far do sexual health professionals act with a different shaming that asks why the girl was not "taking precautions" when, in an earlier time, that shaming might have been instead on the basis of her not being married? And might there not now be a presumption on the part of professionals in favour of abortion that parallels the earlier presumption in favour of adoption? And does this latter possibility not also raise the question of whether or not there has been a violation of the right to a family life, which would bring it within the remit of Ms Harman's enquiry?

When she articulates the meaning of the right to family life, Ms Harman speaks of "the right of a mother to keep her child and the right of a child to be brought up by her mother". Whilst this is straightforward in the immediate context, it raises an interesting question for such different contexts as  a surrogate mother acting for a male same sex couple; and, if the similar right is recognised for the father of a child, for a sperm donor acting with respect to a female same sex couple or a single lady. Whilst these two contexts do have the major difference of a genuine consent to the giving up of the child, I suspect that Ms Harman did not intend her remark to suggest that what was happening in these situations is a voluntary renunciation of a right to a family life.

And finally, I noted Ms Harman's suggestion of the need for an official record that would allow these  voices of women about their motherhood to be heard, in a way that those voices were not heard in an earlier time. This seemed to me to be a laudable aim of her committee's enquiry.

Saturday 11 December 2021

Freedom and the Common Good

As the governments of the United Kingdom begin to put in place measures in an attempt to limit the increasing number of COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant, a narrative from the right of the political spectrum speaks of these measures as a reprehensible denial of our freedom, to be opposed at all costs.

But that is to see the question of freedom only in the negative term of "freedom from ..", rather than in its positive term of "freedom to ...". In this positive conception, the proper end of the exercise of human freedom is that which is true and good, that is, our own good and the good of our neighbour. This is expressed in n.365 of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

365. Why does everyone have a right to exercise freedom?
The right to the exercise of freedom belongs to everyone because it is inseparable from his or her dignity as a human person. Therefore this right must always be respected, especially in moral and religious matters, and it must be recognized and protected by civil authority within the limits of the common good and a just public order.
That reference to "the limits of the common good" defines the purpose towards which the exercise of human freedom in society is directed, and recognises a qualification to any idea that freedom means freedom to do whatever one likes in the exercise of rights, regardless of the interests of our neighbour.

A similar qualification to the exercise of human rights and freedoms exists in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, where Article 29 n.2 reads as follows, the term "the general welfare in a democratic society" expressing the idea of a common good:
In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

So a narrative which seeks to oppose the establishment of measures in law intended to limit the adverse effects of COVID-19 variants in society only on the grounds of their being infringements of human freedom is a partial perspective, neglecting the recognition in major human rights instruments of the limitation to that freedom that can be applied in the interests of the common good. And as a partial perspective, pursued alone, it becomes an ideology of freedom rather than an advocacy of true freedom.

[One might want to argue that the proposed measures are not actually required by the common good... but that is to then enter into a debate about the (scientific) evidence, and that is a rather different position to adopt.]

Tuesday 7 December 2021

Pope Francis on evangelization and proselytism during his journey to Cyprus and Greece

Some of the comment on Pope Francis' recent apostolic journey to Cyprus and Greece selects out his observation on proselytism for criticism. But it is interesting to be able to read what Pope Francis actually said on the subject, in its full context, rather than in the selectivity of a headline or soundbite.  I copy key texts below.

Further comment, in the wider news media, has focussed on Pope Francis' words with regard to migration and the welcome that is due to migrants today. Pope Francis' voice is perhaps a universal call to the consciences of all peoples, and his visit to meet refugees a sign to the leaders of our nations:

How many conditions exist that are unworthy of human beings! How many hotspots where migrants and refugees live in borderline conditions, without glimpsing solutions on the horizon! Yet respect for individuals and for human rights, especially on this continent, which is constantly promoting them worldwide, should always be upheld, and the dignity of each person ought to come before all else. It is distressing to hear of proposals that common funds be used to build walls and barbed wire as a solution. We are in the age of walls and barbed wire. To be sure, we can appreciate people’s fears and insecurities, the difficulties and dangers involved, and the general sense of fatigue and frustration, exacerbated by the economic and pandemic crises. Yet problems are not resolved and coexistence improved by building walls higher, but by joining forces to care for others according to the concrete possibilities of each and in respect for the law, always giving primacy to the inalienable value of the life of every human being. For as Elie Wiesel also said: “When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders become irrelevant” (Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, 10 December 1986).

From the homily of Pope Francis at Mass in Nicosia, during his recent visit to Cyprus, in which he refers explicitly to proselytism:

And now, the third step: They joyfully proclaimed the Good News.  After Jesus healed them, the two men in Gospel, in whom we can see a reflection of ourselves, began to spread the good news to the entire region, the talk about it everywhere. There is a bit of irony in this. Jesus had told them to tell no one what had happened, yet they do exactly the opposite (cf. Mt 9:30-31).  From what we are told, it is clear that their intention was not to disobey the Lord; they were simply unable to contain their excitement at their healing and the joy of their encounter with Jesus. This is another distinctive sign of the Christian: the irrepressible joy of the Gospel, which “fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus” (Evangelii Gaudium, 1); the joy of the Gospel naturally leads to witness and frees us from the risk of a private, gloomy and querulous faith.

Dear brothers and sisters, it is good to see you living with joy the liberating message of the Gospel. I thank you for this. It is not proselytism – please, never engage in proselytism! – but witness; not a moralism that judges but a mercy that embraces; not superficial piety but love lived out. I encourage you to keep advancing on this path. Like the two blind men in the Gospel, let us ourselves once more encounter Jesus, and come out of ourselves to be fearless witnesses of Jesus to all whom we meet! Let us go forth, carrying the light we have received. Let us go forth to illuminate the night that often surrounds us! We need enlightened Christians, but above all those who are light-filled, those who can touch the blindness of our brothers and sisters with tender love and with gestures and words of consolation that kindle the light of hope amid the darkness. Christians who can sow the seeds of the Gospel in the parched fields of everyday life, and bring warmth to the wastelands of suffering and poverty.

From Pope Francis' meeting with bishops, priests, religious, consecrated persons, seminarians and catechists in Athens, in which he places a reference to proselytism in the context of evangelization:

I would now like to highlight a second attitude shown by Paul before the Areopagus, and that is acceptance, the interior disposition essential for evangelization. An attitude of acceptance does not try to occupy the space and life of others, but to sow the good news in the soil of their lives; it learns to recognize and appreciate the seeds that God already planted in their hearts before we came on the scene. Let us remember that God always precedes us, God always sows before we do. Evangelizing is not about filling an empty container; it is ultimately about bringing to light what God has already begun to accomplish. And this was the remarkable pedagogy that the Apostle adopted with the Athenians. He did not tell them: “You have it all wrong”, or “Now I will teach you the truth”. Instead, he began by accepting their religious spirit: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found an altar with this inscription, ‘To an unknown god’” (Acts 17:22-23). He draws from the rich patrimony of the Athenians. The Apostle dignified his hearers and welcomed their religiosity. Even though the streets of Athens were full of idols, which had made him “deeply distressed” (v. 16), Paul acknowledged the desire for God hidden in the hearts of those people, and wanted gently to share with them the amazing gift of faith. He did not impose; he proposed. His “style” was never based on proselytizing, but on the meekness of Jesus. This was possible because Paul had a spiritual outlook on reality. He believed that the Holy Spirit works in the human heart above and beyond religious labels. We heard this in the witness given by Rokos. At a certain point, children fall away from religious practice, yet the Holy Spirit continues to do his work, and so they believe in unity, in fraternity with others. The Holy Spirit always does more than what we can see from the outside. Let us not forget this. In every age, the attitude of the apostle begins with accepting others. For “grace presupposes culture, and the gift of God is embodied in the culture of those who receive it” (Evangelii Gaudium, 115). There is no abstract grace flying above our heads; grace is always incarnated in a culture.

Reflecting on Paul’s visit to the Areopagus, Pope Benedict XVI noted that we must have at heart those who are agnostics or atheists, but take care that, when we speak of a new evangelization, they not be put off. “They do not want to see themselves as a target of the mission, nor do they want to give up their freedom of thought and will” (Address to the Roman Curia, 21 December 2009).  Today we too are asked to cultivate an attitude of welcome, a style of hospitality, a heart desirous of creating communion amid human, cultural or religious differences. The challenge is to develop a passion for the whole, which can lead us – Catholics, Orthodox, brothers and sisters of other creeds, and also our agnostic brothers and sisters, everyone – to listen to one another, to dream and work together, to cultivate the “mystique” of fraternity (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 87). Past hurts remain on the path towards such a welcoming dialogue, but let us courageously embrace today’s challenge! 

Sunday 5 December 2021


 Posted following a suggestion from our parish priest as to one way in which we might look forward to the coming of Christ in our homes ...

Wednesday 1 December 2021

Believing in Two

 Believing in Two is the title of the September 2021 issue of the magazine Women Church World, published as a supplement to L'Osservatore Romano. This issue seeks to explore spiritual relationships between men and women in the mission of the Church. 

The theme of the issue is introduced in an article entitled Equality:

... in the September edition of Women Church World we are taking a journey to explore great spiritual friendships between men and women. These articles demonstrate that common and co-responsible work, as an inclusive “combination”, has always been fruitful in the life of the Church. In fact, it is often precisely these “couples” who have initiated innovative processes.
The male-female pairings treated in the issue are those of Hans Urs von Balthasar and Adrienne von Speyr ( A double mission in the Church); Romana Guarnieri and Giuseppe de Luca (The "singular friendship"..);St Clare and St Francis (Clare's gift); Raissa and Jacques Maritain (Between Faith and Reason); St Jane Frances de Chantal and St Francis de Sales (The social force of friendship); Armida Barelli and Agostino Gemelli (Culture in action). There is also a discussion of the standing of St Scholastica (in relation to St Benedict) and St Clare (in relation to St Francis), as being independent saints, not just women subordinate in some way to their respective siblings (To be saints without living in the shadow of saints).

In our own times, a defence of the complementarity between male and female is part of the Church's mission with regard to marriage and an authentic understanding of human sexuality. But Believing in Two draws our attention to another aspect of this complementarity, namely its spiritual dimension in terms of charisms in the life of the Church. We should expect to be able to see it in our own experience of life in the Church.

These relationships of the masculine and the feminine reflect the spousal relationship between Christ (masculine) and the Church (who, in the figure of the Virgin Mary, is feminine). There is, therefore, a rich ecclesial and theological theme to be developed from these, and the many other, examples of masculine/feminine complementarity.

Saturday 27 November 2021

Pope Francis: St Joseph in Salvation History

 As the Year of St Joseph comes to an end, Pope Francis has begun, at his weekly General Audiences, a series of catecheses on the figure of St Joseph. They, and all of the Holy Father's other General Audience addresses, can be accessed at the website of the Holy See: Audiences 2021

Two passages from the most recent catechesis have caught my attention. The first reflects on St Joseph as a hidden protagonist of salvation history (my emphasis added):

The evangelist Matthew helps us to understand that the person of Joseph, although apparently marginal, discreet, and in the background, is in fact a central element in the history of salvation. Joseph lives his role without ever seeking to take over the scene. If we think about it, “Our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people, people often overlooked. People who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines. … How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small ways, and in everyday ways, how to accept and deal with a crisis by adjusting their routines, looking ahead and encouraging the practice of prayer. How many are praying, making sacrifices and interceding for the good of all” (Apostolic Letter Patris corde, 1). Thus, everyone can find in Saint Joseph, the man who goes unnoticed, the man of daily presence, of discreet and hidden presence, an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of difficulty. He reminds us that all those who are seemingly hidden or in the “second row” are unparalleled protagonists in the history of salvation. The world needs these men and women: men and women in the second row, but who support the development of our life, of every one of us, and who with prayer, and by their example, with their teaching, sustain us on the path of life.

I suspect that many of us can think of people we know, in our parishes and communities, who sit in the "second row", and who Pope Francis encourages us to recognise as key protagonists in the work of salvation.

The second passage articulates St Joseph's guardianship of Jesus and Mary in an ecclesial dimension (again, an emphasis of my own added):

In the Gospel of Luke, Joseph appears as the guardian of Jesus and of Mary. And for this reason, he is also “the Guardian of the Church”: but, if he was the guardian of Jesus and Mary, he works, now that he is in heaven, and continues to be a guardian, in this case of the Church, for the Church is the continuation of the Body of Christ in history, even as Mary’s motherhood is reflected in the motherhood of the Church. In his continued protection of the Church – please do not forget this: today, Joseph protects the Church – and by continuing to protect the Church, he continues to protect the child and his mother” (ibid., 5). This aspect of Joseph’s guardianship is the great answer to the story of Genesis. When God asks Cain to account for Abel's life, he replies: “Am I my brother's keeper?” (4: 9). With his life, Joseph seems to want to tell us that we are always called to feel that we are our brothers and sisters’ keepers, the guardians of those who are close to us, of those whom the Lord entrusts to us through many circumstances of life. 

Wednesday 24 November 2021

Last of the Tibhirine monks dies

 Vatican News have reported the death of the last of the two monks who escaped from the monastery at Tibhirine when Islamist extremists seized seven of his fellow monks in 1996. Their report is here.

The story of the monks of Tibhirine is very ably told in John W Kiser's book "The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria", and in the film "Of Gods and Men", which draws significantly on John Kiser's book. My observations on the film can be found by inserting the search "Of Gods and Men" in to the search box of this blog.

After the events in Algeria, the two monks who remained from the community settled in Morocco.

In their new home, they both used to say they considered themselves as a “small remnant” of Tibhirine: “Our presence in the monastery – Frère Jean-Pierre said – is a sign of faithfulness to the Gospel, to the Church and to the Algerian people”. 

He also said he often asked himself why he was allowed to survive the massacre and that in time he realized that God had assigned him the mission to witness the events of Tibhirine and “to make known the experience of communion with our Muslim brothers, which we continue now here in the monastery of Midelt”.

Another significant witness to the experience of dialogue with the Muslim community of Tibhirine, and with Islam in general, is to be found in Christian Salenson's study of the thought of Christian de Cherge, the prior of the Tibhirine community who was among those who died as a result of the events of 1996: "Christian de Cherge: A Theology of Hope". 

Saturday 20 November 2021

"Arise and bear witness": Pope Francis message for World Youth Day 2021

 I had missed the fact that the celebration of World Youth Day 2021 in the universal Church had been transferred to the Solemnity of Christ the King this year - an understandable occurrence in the light of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year.

Pope Francis' message for the celebration of the day, released in September, is on the website of the Holy See. The major part of the message is a meditation on the encounter between St Paul and Jesus on the road to Damascus. At each point in his reflection, Pope Francis makes an application of St Paul's experience to that of young people today. It makes a lovely read for anyone who wishes to be active in the life of the Church.

At the end of his message, Pope Francis makes a series of appeals to young people:

Today Christ speaks to you the same words that he spoke to Paul: Arise! Do not remain downcast or caught up in yourself: a mission awaits you! You too can testify to what Jesus has begun to accomplish in your lives. In Jesus’ name, I ask you: 
- Arise! Testify that you too were blind and encountered the light. You too have seen God’s goodness and beauty in yourself, in others and in the communion of the Church, where all loneliness is overcome. 
- Arise! Testify to the love and respect it is possible to instil in human relationships, in the lives of our families, in the dialogue between parents and children, between the young and the elderly. 
- Arise! Uphold social justice, truth and integrity, human rights. Protect the persecuted, the poor and the vulnerable, those who have no voice in society, immigrants. 
- Arise! Testify to the new way of looking at things that enables you to view creation with eyes brimming with wonder, that makes you see the Earth as our common home, and gives you the courage to promote an integral ecology. 
- Arise! Testify that lives of failure can be rebuilt, that persons spiritually dead can rise anew, that those in bondage can once more be free, that hearts overwhelmed by sorrow can rediscover hope. 
- Arise! Testify joyfully that Christ is alive! Spread his message of love and salvation among your contemporaries, at school and in the university, at work, in the digital world, everywhere. 
The Lord, the Church and the Pope trust you and appoint you to bear witness before all those other young people whom you will encounter on today’s “roads to Damascus”. Never forget that “anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love. Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Evangelii Gaudium, 120).

Sunday 14 November 2021

Christ the King: a mixed reflection

The Solemnity of Christ the King, to be celebrated this coming weekend, prompts each year a mixed reflection. In the dioceses of England and Wales, it is also celebrated as "Youth Sunday", when, as the branding goes, we celebrate and encourage the part that young people play in the Church. In my own diocese, it is an opportunity for the promotion of the diocesan youth service in parishes.

Inevitably, this celebration of young people moves attention from the celebration of the liturgical feast to something else, especially if the only marking of the day is during the celebration of Mass. and this is the first cause of a mixed reflection on my part. But a second cause is that I wonder whether the celebration of youth ministry, as if that is an end in itself in the mission of the Church, is really something we should do in isolation from a wider consideration.

Whilst a universal call to holiness, and to the living and practice of a Christian life, exists from the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, the way in which each individual lives out that call requires a specification, a making more precise for the individual situation, of that universal call. The experience of a particular charism in the Church, perhaps through the life of an ecclesial movement, seems to me an important way of achieving this specification of the universal call to holiness. I am not sure that youth ministry always captures this, and perhaps it is this need for a specification of the call to holiness that might better be the focus for a Youth Sunday.

My own background from student days was FAITH Movement, and the current issue of their magazine offers two articles that respond to my mixed reflections. Fr Nesbitt provides an account of the theological vision of FAITH Movement on pages 22-25, a vision that offers a charism that is able to form a vivid Christian life.  It is also a vision highly relevant to the liturgical celebration of Christ the King. The editorial, published as a separate article on the website, is entitled On to 2022. It is the remarks about teaching of the Catholic faith that caught my attention:

We also need a clear affirmation of the right and obligation of Catholics to teach the Faith in the family, in church, and in Catholic schools. This need not be announced in any angry or polemical spirit, but it must be stated clearly as something positive and as contributing to the common good, confirming the human rights of families as stated in international charters.

Monday 8 November 2021

St Catherine of Genoa on purgatory

 MAGNIFICAT had a "Meditation of the Day" for All Souls Day that I found an interesting read, and to which I have returned in the days since. It was an extract from St Catherine of Genoa, from a treatise on purgatory whose English translation used as the source for the meditation dates back to 1946. (A quick look at Amazon suggests that there are more recently published editions.)

The extract first articulates a teaching that, whilst guilt for sin has been forgiven, there remains a stain or harm caused by sin that is still to be removed (the added italics are mine):

The souls in purgatory have wills accordant in all things with the will of God, who therefore sheds on them his goodness. And they, as far as their will goes, are happy and cleansed of all their sin. As for guilt, these cleansed souls are as they were when God created them, for God forgives their guilt immediately who have passed form this life having confessed all they have committed and having the will to commit no more. Only the rust of sin is left them, and from this they cleanse themselves by pain in fire. Thus cleansed of all guilt and united in will to God, they see him clearly in the degree in which he makes himself known to them, and see too how much it imports to enjoy him and that souls have been created for this end.

There then follows an account of how God and the soul are related in this process of cleansing, first of all from the perspective of God himself:

I perceive there to be so much conformity between God and the soul, that when he sees it in the purity in which his divine majesty created it he gives it a burning love, which draws it to himself, and which causes it to be so transformed in God that it sees itself as though it were none other than God. Unceasingly he draws it to himself and breathes into it, never letting it go until he has let it to the state whence it came forth, that is to the pure cleanliness in which it was created.

And then, secondly, from the point of view of the soul: 

When with its inner sight the soul sees itself drawn by God with such loving fire, then it is melted by the heat of the glowing love for God, its most dear Lord, which it feels overflowing it. And it sees by the divine light that God does not cease from drawing it, nor from leading it lovingly and with much care and unfailing foresight to its full perfection, doing this of his pure love. But the sould, being hindered by sin, cannot go where God draws it; it cannot follow the uniting look with which he would draw it to hismelf. Again the soul perceives the grieviousness of being held back from seeing the divine light; the soul's instinct too, being drawn by that uniting look, craves to be unhindered. I say that it is the sight of these things which begets in the souls the pain they feel in purgatory.

The meditation ends with a reflection that suggests the soul might even look forward to the experience of purgatory (again, the added italics are mine): 

Not that they take account of their pain; most great though it be, they deem it a far less evil than to find themselves going against the will of God, whom they clearly see to be on fire with extreme and pure love for them. Strongly and unceasingly this love draws the soul with that uniting look, as though it had nothing else than this to do.

Saturday 30 October 2021

Climate Justice

I wonder ... is a first justice owed towards our Creator, rather than towards the Earth in itself? 

Psalm 8 was part of Morning Prayer today, though I offer below the revised Grail translation.

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic
is your name through all the earth!
Your majesty is set above the heavens.
From the mouths of children and of babes
you fashioned praise to foil your enemy,
to silence the foe and the rebel.

When I see the heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars which you arranged,
what is man that you should keep him in mind,
the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him little lower than the angels;
with glory and honor you crowned him,
gave him power over the works of your hands:
you put all things under his feet.

All of them, sheep and oxen,
yes, even the cattle of the fields,
birds of the air, and fish of the sea
that make their way through the waters.
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic
is your name through all the earth!

Saturday 23 October 2021

Any Questions?... Any Answers?....22nd/23rd October 2021

Zero made the suggestion just over a week ago that we might go along to a broadcast of BBC Radio 4's Any Questions? The broadcast on 22nd October was coming from Sydney Russell School, very near to us. 

The students who helped to host the event and were the main source of the questions asked during the programme were excellent. I suspect they had a very exciting experience - they were certainly very keen to meet the Education Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, at the end of the broadcast (I think this encounter had been pre-arranged).

The full broadcast can be heard at BBC Sounds for at least the next 12 months from the date of this post. If you listen from 32:40 onwards you will hear the answers given by the panel to a question about assisted dying, which had been the subject of a debate in the House of Lords that same day.

I reacted with considerable sadness when Nadhim Zahawi and Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, unsure of exactly what they felt about the legalisation of assisted dying, both included in their remarks an expression of concern as to how they would feel if they were to become a burden to their loved ones. I found it sad that two very capable individuals, in good health and contributing significantly to public life, should have this sense that, at some point in the future, they might feel that they were a burden to others.

I was able at the end of the broadcast to catch a brief word with Nadhim Zahawi, to say to him how sad I found it that he felt the way he did. I shared with him that I have been able to see some quite special moments as a volunteer visiting with patients in my local hospital trust who are nearing the end of their lives. I ended by expressing my hope that, as he nears that point, he might not feel as he does now.  Unfortunately, I was unable to catch Dr Allin-Khan to share the same thoughts.

Though the discussion of assisted dying in Any Questions? was only a short part of the programme as a whole, the topic was the only topic in the corresponding Any Answers? broadcast on 23rd October. That programme can also be found on BBC Sounds here, though it only appears to be available for the next 29 days from the date of this post.

I made two mistakes in my attempt to contribute to Any Answers? (I wasn't able to phone in at the time of the programme as I was involved in an all day Teams meeting at the time). I sent in an email, when I should have sent in a text or tweet at the time of the programme itself; and I also tried to respond to things said during the Any Questions? programme. If you listen to the Any Answers? programme you will very readily recognise my tactical errors.

The text of my emailed comment is below:

After attending Any Questions this evening at Sydney Russell School in Dagenham, I would like to submit the following comment to Any Answers:
SUBJECT:  assisted dying

In their remarks about assisted dying, both Nadhim Zahawi and Dr Rosena Allin-Khan were torn as to whether or not they supported proposals to legalise assisted dying.

What saddened me greatly, however, was that both of them expressed a real concern that they might, at the end of their lives, feel that they had become a burden to their family and friends.

In a volunteer role at my local NHS hospital trust I am able to visit with patients and their loved ones as a patient approaches the end of their life; and I see some lovely moments that friends and family are able to spend with a patient at this time in their lives.

Perhaps as a society we need to re-frame the conversation so that it is one about how we love and care for those who are seriously ill; and how we recognise what they in turn have to offer to those who love them and care for them. We need to abolish the language of burden from our discourse.

I hope, at a personal level, that both Mr Zahawi and Dr Allin-Khan will be able, as they grow older, to feel that the experience of illness is not one of being a burden to others but instead an experience of a shared love and care between them and their loved ones.

There was one suggestion made in the Any Answers? programme that, on a considered reflection, has a more unfortunate implication than, clearly, was intended by the contributor making the suggestion, and it passed without challenge in the programme. The comparison was made between how we allow that animals suffering can be put down but we insist on humans in similar conditions having to continue in their suffering. The suggestion that our treatment of animals can provide a model for how we treat human persons has a chilling implication for how we actually understand the dignity of human persons, an implication that is in need of challenge.

Apart from all this, it really is a quite fascinating experience to go along to a programme like Any Questions? in order to see how the programme works and to watch how its presenters and producers go about their jobs - and how other attendees conduct themselves! Even if you just sit and watch what is going on around you, there is a valuable experience to be had. It is also possible to get a more personal feel for political figures who, when interviewed on radio or television, can appear distant and remote.

Zero had done her homework before we went along .... so she was the only person in the room who, during the warm up discussion before the broadcast itself, was able to correctly answer the question about when Any Questions? had first been broadcast .... in 1948.

Wednesday 20 October 2021

A further thought on the Synodal journey

 The Archdiocese of Liverpool has lately undertaken its own Synodal journey, before there was any intimation of the process just begun with respect to the 2023 meeting of the Synod of Bishops. It was waylaid to an extent by the COVID-19 pandemic, but nevertheless reached its conclusion. The recommendations of the Synod process can be read here; but I can't resist feeling a touch of irony that the actioning of these recommendations has now been entrusted to a pastoral planning team, which will prepare a pastoral plan due for publication by the first Sunday of Advent.

Over the last few days, I have found this post a thought provoking read: Synod Diary 1. I do have complete faith in Pope Francis' intentions with regard to the journey towards the meeting of the Synod of Bishops in 2023, and my most recent post suggests how I have understood that intention (as distinct from the way in which the BBC reported it). In particular, I think we should recognise the seriousness of Pope Francis' notion of "discernment" (cf Pope Francis' Jesuit background) and the seriousness of his understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in that discernment (cf Pope Francis engagement with the Charismatic Renewal). 

I do, however, share the hesitation expressed in Synod Diary 1:

A synod about itself is like asking the question: what the hell are we doing, doing what we’re doing? Fair enough, I ask this question every morning brushing my teeth. It isn’t the question that worries me but, rather, who else will be asking it. My utter faith in those raising it extends as far as Pope Francis himself and no further. I think I understand his perspective on this, (EG #262-280). Notwithstanding that beautiful Spirit without which (as Pope Francis has warned) the Synod will be dead, I believe there’s still a massive problem.

You will need to read the beginning of Synod Diary 1 to understand the reference to the "JWs" in the following passage. I am not sure that I fully share the feelings of the first two paragraphs below, but I do like the idea of a reversal of the discernment process, so that the ordinary faithful should discern the deliberations of the bishops:

What if the combined Magisterium might be more than a little like those JWs? As the Pope clearly senses. If you assume it was God who elected you, why would you listen to any mere mortal who might question whether you’re the right person to be asking the questions in the first place, or editing the responses, or being the appropriate representative voice for the answers? If the Spirit blows where He wills, why assume it’s always from your direction? Unless, of course, it’s actually about power and control. 
With all the stomach churning scandal of sexual abuse, incompetent complicity and calculated cover-ups, the chilling truth is: we don’t very often walk together – decision-makers and disempowered, barely accountable shepherds and disaffected sheep. In the current moment, this Synod runs the terrible risk of being an exercise in the infuriatingly obvious: another non-conversation masquerading as conversation. And the obviously infuriating: sold back to us as representative voice. 
What if a Synod concluding in clerical conversations is, in fact, not the answer and the whole process should be reversed: with lay discernment over the synthesised reflections of the bishops being presented to the Pope? If it’s really a question of change and of a different Church, isn’t it time to start trusting the gift of prophecy that also resides at the heart of the lay faithful, (CCC 91-94)? Where now is the true and trusted voice to be found?

At the end of the day, I suspect that anything resulting from the Synodal journey that might impact on my Christian life is something I could be getting on with anyway. Indeed, my wrestling with the notion of "synodality" has concluded that it is about lay people being better lay people, priests being better priests and bishops being better bishops, and each seeking to live out fully their office in the Church. I therefore find it difficult to muster any motivation to commit time and effort to the process. Synod Diary 1 expresses this more strongly, with the anxiety about the role of (the bureaucracy) of episcopal conferences reflecting my own sense, though I might want to express a recognition of at least good intentions:

I love the Church in my bones, but I’m bone-tired with an unheeding, self-referential institution. Popes Benedict and Francis have asked us to set aside cynicism for the sake of mission and, by God, I’ve heard their call. But if the episcopal conferences are the conduits for the message then God help us. That’s a prayer, by the way.

There’s only so many times those smiley people can come a-knocking and pretending to listen, with their misplaced certainties and pat, glossy pamphlets, before you really do decide that your open mind is far better developed behind your unopened door. 

And not because you don’t care, but because you know it makes absolutely no difference to the result whether you do or don’t.

Sunday 10 October 2021

The Synodal Journey

The BBC are reporting the opening by Pope Francis of the journey towards the Synod of Bishops meeting on synodality under the headline: Pope Franics launches mass consultation on Church reform. That is of course, a gross mis-representation of the intention of the Synodal journey. The BBC reports' citation of a "progessive" and a "conservative" voices demonstrates this mis-understanding:

Some Catholics hope it will lead to change on issues such as women's ordination, married priests and same-sex relationships.

Others fear it will undermine the principles of the Church.

I do recommend reading, instead of the BBC report, the two addresses by Pope Francis in relation to the Synodal journey.

The first is a "moment of reflection" for the opening of the Synodal journey, held in the New Synod Hall on Saturday 9th October. Here Pope Francis speaks about each of the three key words that express more concretely the notion of synodality: communion, participation and mission.

The second is Pope Francis' homily at Mass celebrating the opening of the Synodal journey.

You need to read these in their entirety, if you are to gain a true sense of Pope Francis' intentions with regard to the Synodal process. The BBC report could be covering an event on a different planet! 

The following quotations are only part of the story, though they are the parts that have caught my attention on a quick reading.

How Pope Francis understands the idea of a "listening Church" - prayer and adoration:

The Synod then offers us the opportunity to become a listening Church, to break out of our routine and pause from our pastoral concerns in order to stop and listen.  To listen to the Spirit in adoration and prayer.  Today how much we miss the prayer of adoration; so many people have lost not only the habit but also the very notion of what it means to worship God!  To listen to our brothers and sisters speak of their hopes and of the crises of faith present in different parts of the world, of the need for a renewed pastoral life and of the signals we are receiving from those on the ground.....

As we initiate this process, we too are called to become experts in the art of encounter.  Not so much by organizing events or theorizing about problems, as in taking time to encounter the Lord and one another.  Time to devote to prayer and to adoration – that form of prayer that we so often neglect – devoting time to adoration, and to hearing what the Spirit wants to say to the Church.  Time to look others in the eye and listen to what they have to say, to build rapport, to be sensitive to the questions of our sisters and brothers, to let ourselves be enriched by the variety of charisms, vocations and ministries.  Every encounter – as we know – calls for openness, courage and a willingness to let ourselves be challenged by the presence and the stories of others. 

How Pope Francis understands the idea of "discernment" - adoration, prayer and the word of God:

The Synod is a process of spiritual discernment, of ecclesial discernment, that unfolds in adoration, in prayer and in dialogue with the word of God.  Today’s second reading tells us that God’s word is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12).  That word summons us to discernment and it brings light to that process.  It guides the Synod, preventing it from becoming a Church convention, a study group or a political gathering, a parliament, but rather a grace-filled event, a process of healing guided by the Spirit.  In these days, Jesus calls us, as he did the rich man in the Gospel, to empty ourselves, to free ourselves from all that is worldly, including our inward-looking and outworn pastoral models; and to ask ourselves what it is that God wants to say to us in this time.  And the direction in which he wants to lead us.

Sunday 3 October 2021

All the Cathedrals (11): Truro

Zero and I have just returned from a visit to Cornwall, where we stayed in what is very much Daphne du Maurier country. We stayed in the village of Tywardreath, which featured in the du Maurier novel that Zero was reading (The King's General), just a 5 minute drive from Menabilly, where Daphne du Maurier lived for many years, and which recognisably features in both The King's General and in My Cousin Rachel, which I started reading during our time away.

On one of our days, we visited Truro Cathedral, which is sharply distinguished from our earlier Cathedral visits by the fact that it was built relatively recently - that is, in Victorian times. The typical story of a (Norman) monastic house dissolved by Henry VIII's commisioners to become a diocesan cathedral with chapter, subsequent despoliation by Parliamentary forces during the Civil War, and then restoration and (Victorian) repairs, is therefore absent. That having been said, the Gothic style and layout does echo the style and layout of those much older Cathedrals, as does its city centre location, something that our guide suggested was the result of a deliberate attempt to imitate that tradition of cathedral building. The history of the building of the Cathedral can be accessed from this page on the Cathedral website: History

One of the best features of the Cathedral is the reredos behind the high altar. The best online pictures of this I can find are at this blog post - you can enlarge the photographs there by clicking on them. The reredos is very striking, and you can see in it an idea of portraying key moments in salvation history, with Old Testament types of Christ's sacrifice in Calvary, and Eucharistic representations such as the gathering of the manna in the desert.

Another feature of note is the very extensive stained glass. An outline of the themes of the stained glass can be found on the Cathedral website: Stained Glass Windows. A much more detailed account of the planning of the windows, and pictures and exploration of each window can be found in the links from this page (though you might like to jump straight to this page to find links to accounts of the windows themselves).  In some ways, it is the last windows in the order, on the left as you face the high altar from the end of the nave, that allow the visitor to appreciate the one of the intentions of the whole. They show such figures as Queen Victoria, John Keble, Bishop Butler, Richard Hooker, and Lancelot Andrewes - that is, figures that represent the history of the Anglican Church with a specific reference to the High Church tradition in that Church. A Catholic is struck by a certain incongruity in seeing representations of the medieval saints such as Bernard and Francis, the Tudor humanists Thomas More, Dean Colet and Erasmus and key figures of the Reformation such as Wycliffe, Cranmer and Coverdale. Along with the intention to show the history of the Church in England, there is an implied assertion that the Anglican Church of today lies in a continuity with the Church of the medieval times and the times of the Fathers.

So Truro Cathedral is a very different visit than our previous visits to Cathedrals.

Tuesday 14 September 2021

International Eucharistic Congress: President Janos and Patriarch Bartholomew I

 The website of the Budapest International Eucharistic Congress now carries reports of some of the events during the Congress. Two of these events have caught my eye.

The first is the testimony of the President of the Hungarian Republic, given on Friday 10th September, which is reported under the title: A coincidence or the will of the Lord? It is significant that a person who is the representative figure of the Hungarian state should be willing to offer a testimony at a Eucharistic Congress. President Janos testimony referred to three different situations where he believes he has experienced a "coincidence" that was rather a sign of God's presence. Do read the whole of the report to gain a full flavour of President Janos testimony.

The testimony of the President of the Republic of Hungary was closed with the conclusion that searching for and accepting God needs real activity, it cannot be a passive action. “We all receive our signs, and it is up to us whether we take them as a simple story or a parable. It is up to us to see it as a ‘coincidence’ or God’s action.” Áder János is of the belief that “if we well apply the talents we have been entrusted with, if we are looking for God in our hearts, souls, and actions, then we will surely find Him.”

It is also interesting to place this testimony alongside President Janos speech before the Hungarian National Assembly after his election as President in May 2012. A written text of that speech can be found here; a video recording with English subtitles is here. It is worth persevering through to the end, again to gain a sense of the full context. I have not yet had time to read President Janos' other speeches which are linked from those pages.

The second event is the speech of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. This was given before the celebration of Mass on the Saturday of the Congress, and the Eucharistic procession which followed the Mass. It is interesting that Patriarch Bartholomew I's speech was so closely linked to the Eucharistic celebration and procession, and there is a clear ecumenical significance in his being present.

Patriarch Bartholomew also spoke at length about the need of the reconciliation the Eastern and Western Churches. He declared: The eucharistic realization of the Church in the common chalice and in the shared Christian witness in the world is the vision and the dream of all of us”. Regarding the schism he cited Father Georges Florovsky who said that according to the plan of God should not have taken place”, since Christians belong to the very same spiritual space, East and West organically belong together in the unity of Christendom” – quoted again Father Florovsky according to whom we can call the two denominations cultural sisters” or even Siamese twins”. The Patriarch of Constantinople invited the pilgrims to pray to the merciful God to strengthen and bless our endeavors to advance on the path to unity”.

Patriarch Bartholomew also used a neat phrase to describe how the presence and actions of those who have celebrated the Eucharist should be lived as a kind of "liturgy after the Liturgy". The report of Patriarch Bartholomew's speech ends by referring to the recognition in the year 2000 of St Stephen of Hungary as a saint to be honoured by the Orthodox churches:

In 2000 in front of the Basilic of Saint Stephen’s Basilica His Holiness Bartholomew I Patriarch in a Holy Mass issued the bull about the honoring as saint of our first king Saint Stephen also in the orthodox church. The orthodox church leader’s gesture was extraordinary because since the schism on behalf of the the orthodox church there has been no example of recognition as own one of the Roman Catholic Church’s saint. The person of Saint Stephen, Hungarian king is a bridge between Eastern and Western Churches. 

Monday 13 September 2021

March for Life: London 2021

I was not able to take part in this year's March for Life in London on 4th September because of a family commitment - but a report of the march can be found here: March for Life UK - A Resurgence of Life. Videos of the day can be found here: The Talks and Highlights. The videos include testimonies during the rally in Parliament Square, and the talk from Bishop Paul Swarbrick, of Lancaster Diocese.

‘All lives matter! It’s not that some matter more than others but some do need that bit more love, they are so easily overlooked.’

Thursday 9 September 2021

Assisted dying/euthanasia: three thoughts

Earlier this afternoon, I listened to an item on BBC Radio 4's PM programme. Featuring Baroness Meacher and Robert Winston, it discussed reasons for and against proposed legislation to allow assisted dying/euthanasia. If you are reading this within 29 days of my posting, you will be able to listen to the item on BBC Sounds, here. The item occurs immediately after the news summary at the beginning of the programme.

In two distinct ways, it was the references to suffering and burdensomeness in the discussion that have prompted the following thoughts.

What does it mean if I suggest that "I do not want to be a burden on others"?

For a person who experiences an illness that is, to a small or to a greater extent, life limiting, there is merit in keeping as much independence and self-sufficiency in daily living as long as that is possible. But, as with those who have good health, that independence and self-sufficiency is nevertheless lived in a relation to others and not in an individualised bubble - it encounters bus drivers, shop staff, etc, the people of daily living. Our lives are shared with others, even when we are in good health.

There is nevertheless a graciousness in accepting assistance when that becomes necessary, be that social care or medical care. This graciousness has a reciprocal dimension - it does not just exist from the point of view of the person experiencing illness but also finds a reflecting mirror in the people who provide care. And it does not extend just to those who might provide care to a particular patient but extends to wider society too. 

The recognition of this reciprocal graciousness is sadly absent from our society's conversation about end of life care and so, for some, the conversation is framed in terms of being a burden to others. That framing is often exclusively voiced from the point of view of the patient who is ill, which is to neglect the place of those who are potential carers. Surely our society needs to be much better in encouraging this reciprocal graciousness in our care for those experiencing serious illness.

Experiencing illness as you approach the end of life.

Perhaps we could all do well to think to some extent about what it means to experience serious illness and come to the end of our lives. What it does do is create a very special - and that does not mean that it is easy - time for a patient and their relatives/friends to have together. Clearly, different people will experience this differently, depending upon their individual situations; some will find it more difficult than others. But, at least for many, there is an opportunity for a specially shared time together with the patient who is coming to the end of their life. [This isn't theory on my part, but something I have been privileged to see a number of times.] 

What would happen to this time if, because assisted dying/euthanasia were legally permitted, that possibility were admitted to the conversation? Or if, as has happened with legalized abortion, the offering of the opportunity for assisted dying/euthanasia comes to be seen as a normal practice of health care on the part of medical professionals?

It really is not good enough to say that people would have a freedom to choose assisted dying/euthanasia or to not choose it; so why not permit it for those who would choose it. With legalised assisted dying/euthanasia, everyone is put in a position where they have to make a choice, even if that choice is implicit. Everyone's experience of the end of life is affected, and that special time is irretrievably altered for everyone.

Unnecessary suffering.

I believe that it is entirely possible with proper end of life care for a patient not to have to endure unmanageable pain. And, with sufficient commitment to pastoral care, both the patient and relatives/friends can be supported through what might be termed the anguish that accompanies the end of life. If relatives/friends are worried about unnecessary suffering by  the patient, that is a result of poor care both for the patient and for the relatives/friends. And it is not unusual for an end of life patient to "let go" when they are ready, and a key element of their care is recognising when that can come about. In the mean time, that privileged time that is the end of someone's life deserves to be respected rather than curtailed. 

My two thoughts above, of course, do also feed in to this third thought.

Tuesday 7 September 2021

"... All my springs are in you" :International Eucharistic Congress 2021

Like the Olympic Games, the Budapest International Eucharistic Congress was originally due to take place in 2020 but was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is taking place this week, with the closing Statio Orbis Mass to be celebrated by Pope Francis on Sunday 12th September.

The home page for the Congress is here: 52nd International Eucharistic Congress.

The theme of the Congress is taken from Psalm 87, which reads in the RSV translation that is closest to the expression of the adopted theme: 

On the holy mount stands the city he founded;
the Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob.... 
Singers and dancers alike say
"All my springs are in you".

This video clip rather nicely explains the theme and logo of the Congress: Logo of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress.

A video of the opening Mass of the Congress, celebrated on Sunday last, can be found on Youtube: IEC 2020: Opening Ceremony and Holy Mass. The celebration of Mass itself begins at 2:35:00.

I have yet to find online English texts or videos of the various catecheses and testimonies that are taking place, though a full programme for the Congress can be found here.

A couple of things have caught my eye so far. The first is a report of the theological symposium of the Congress that took place on 6th September. The programme for the symposium is here; the English report is here, with the Italian version of the report here. The English report seems to have suffered a little in the translation, so I offer instead my own translation from the Italian of the part that caught my eye:

[Participants] indicated, among other things, that if we wish to preserve the Liturgy of the Church into the future, instead of a desacralisation and of a deformation, we must continue to consider it as a sacred event, in a strictly formal context. They also said that the Gospel, fertilizing and renewing the history of humanity, must shine its own light and force in the same way in our secularised world.

Hanno indicato tra l’altro, se vorremmo conservare la liturgia della Chiesa anche nel futuro, al posto della desacralizzazione e della deformazione dobbiamo continuare a considerarla come un evento sacro, in un rigido contesto formale. Hanno anche enunciato che il Vangelo, fecondante e rinnovante la storia dell’umanità, deve splendere la sua luce e la sua forza proprio allo stesso modo nel nostro mondo secolarizzato.

The second is the subject of one of the workshops, which will be given by Bishop Massimo Camisasca, ordinary of the diocese of Reggio Emilia-Guastalla. He is a native of Milan, where one of his school teachers was Luigi Giussani. He has a long standing and leading position with respect to Don Giussani's movement Communion and Liberation. His subject is one of immediate relevance to the area of his present pastoral responsibility in the northern part of Italy: the martyrdom of Italian priests after World War II.