Tuesday 20 April 2021

Amoris Laetitia: Our Daily Love

 I have long held the view that, in my own lifetime, we have been gifted with the Successors of Peter who uniquely correspond to the needs of the Church of their time. They have been different in their backgrounds and in the styles in which they exercise their pontificate. Where, before being elected Pope, St John Paul II was a philosopher and Pope Benedict XVI a theologian, Pope Francis was a pastor of a diocese. A particular feature of Pope Francis' pontificate has been his ability to speak to ordinary, practical circumstances, and it is this aspect of Amoris Laetitia that has been somewhat neglected. A section headed "Our Daily Love" (nn.90ff) exemplifies this aspect of the Apostolic Exhortation.

This section can be read as an application of St Paul's words from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 to the practicalities of married life. Under the heading "Love bears all things" (nn.112-113), Pope Francis writes:

Married couples joined by love speak well of each other; they try to show their spouse's good side, not their weakness and faults. In any event, they keep silent rather than speak ill of them.  This is not merely a way of acting in front of others; it springs from an interior attitude. Far from ingenuously claiming not to see the problems and weaknesses of others, it sees those weaknesses and faults in a wider context. It recognises these failing are part of a bigger picture. We have to realise that all of us are a complex mixture of light and shadows..... Love does not have to be perfect for us to value it... Love coexists with imperfection. 

There is, of course, a risk that not speaking ill of a spouse does become "a way of acting in front of others". The "interior attitude" that makes it otherwise is something to be achieved rather than something to be assumed. But learning to live with the imperfections of the other is something important for both marriage and for any long-lasting friendship. 

Under the heading "Love believes all things", Pope Francis reflects on the importance of trust between a married couple: 

This trust enables a relationship to be free. It means we do not have to control the other person to follow their every step lest the escape our grip. Love trusts, it sets free, it does not try to control, possess and dominate everything. This freedom, which fosters independence, an openness to the world around us and to new experiences, can only enrich and expand relationships... Those who know that their spouse is always suspicious, judgmental and lacking unconditional love, will tend to keep secrets, conceal their failings and weaknesses, and pretend to be someone other than who they are. On the other hand, a family marked by loving trust, come what may, helps its members to be themselves and spontaneously to reject deceit, falsehood and lies.

 At a time when our society is becoming more aware of the risks of controlling relationships, Pope Francis' messaging has a particular usefulness for young people. In their friendships as they grow up, they can try to experience this freedom in preparation for the future; and in preparing for marriage, in the period of engagement, they can learn to practise it with their future spouse.

Sunday 18 April 2021

A funeral

 The funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh, celebrated yesterday at Windsor Castle, was in many ways a typically English occasion with its combination of military splendour and the liturgy of the Church of England. The Order of Service, at the time of writing this post, can be found on the Royal Family website here.

It is impossible to escape the profoundly religious character of the funeral service itself - which presents a wonderful public witness of religious faith on the part of the Duke of Edinburgh to a country that increasingly prefers to leave religious faith aside from the mainstream of life.

It is impossible to escape the profoundly Christian character of the service - which indicates to the country a strong testimony of the Christian faith of the Duke of Edinburgh at a time when the confidence of Christians in mainstream churches, and their role in public life, is weakening.

And by determining that there should be no eulogy or sermon (and with the absence from the Order of Service of any photgraphs), the Duke of Edinburgh averted the possibility that  his funeral become a "celebration of the life of ...". The Bidding that opened the funeral service captured its spirit:

We are here today in St George's Chapel to commit into the hands of God the soul of his servant Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. With grateful hearts, we remember the many ways in which his long life has been a blessing to us. We have been inspired by his unwavering loyalty to our Queen, by his service to the Nation and the Commonwealth, by his courage, fortitude and faith. Our lives have been enriched through the challenges that he has given us, his kindness, humour and humanity. We therefore pray that God will give us grace to follow his example, and that, with our brother Philip, at the last, we shall know the joys of life eternal. 

Every text used in the service was a Christian text, drawn from Scripture or a prayer explicitly Christian in its nature.  And, celebrated during the liturgical season of  Easter, the service communicated a witness to eternal life. In the words of the Collect:

O merciful God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the resurrection and the life, in whomsoever believeth shall live, though he die; and whosoever liveth, and believeth in him, shall not die eternally...We meekly beseech thee, O Father that, when we shall depart this life, we may rest in him, as our hope is this our brother doth; and that, at the general resurrection in the last day, we may be found acceptable in thy sight...

The dignity retained by this service, focussed on its Christian meaning in relation to eternal life, might be a useful lesson to many in the Catholic Church, who allow funerals instead to become "celebrations of the life of ...". 

Saturday 17 April 2021

Amoris Laetitia: the right of parents in educating their children

In speaking of parents' responsibilities with regard to the education of children, Amoris Laetitia n.85, referring to parents, reads in part: 

.... by their reception of the sacrament of marriage they become ministers of their children's education. In educating them, they build up the Church, and in so doing, they accept a God-given vocation.

 Whilst this paragraph presents the responsibility of parents in the education of their children in the realm of a religious office received in the grace of sacramental life, the preceding paragraph, n.84, argues for the same responsibility in a way that applies to all (though still with a reference to Canon Law):

... I feel it important to reiterate that the overall education of children is a "most serious duty" and at the same time a "primary right" of parents. This is not just a task or a burden, but an essential and inalienable right that parents are called to defend and of which no one may claim to deprive them.

What Pope Francis goes on to say about a correct understanding of the part played by the State in the provision of education equally applies to other contributors in the field of education, be they providers of schools themselves, providers of curriculum materials or providers of academic qualifications used in schools. 

The State offers educational programmes in a subsidiary way, supporting the parents in their indeclinable role; parents themselves enjoy the right to choose freely the kind of education - accessible and of good quality - which they wish to give their children in accordance with their convictions. Schools do not replace parents, but complement them. This is a basic principle: "all other participants in the process of education are only able to carry out their responsibilities in the name of the parents, with their consent and, to a certain degree, with their authorisation".

 Most fundamentally, in the context of the United Kingdom, with its well established state funding of primary and secondary schooling, Pope Francis' remarks have application to how the funding and regulation of education are understood. It is all too easy to feel that, because the school receives its funding from government, the government therefore has some kind of ownership of the educational work of the school. According to Pope Francis, that funding enables the school to play its subsidiary part in supporting parents in fulfilling their "primary right". And likewise, the regulation of the work of schools supports parents by trying to ensure that the education offered in the school is of sufficient quality that parents will be fulfilling their responsibility in entrusting their children to the care of the school.

If funding and regulation are used instead to enforce a uniformity of education in each and every school, the "primary right" of parents is undermined. A pluralism of school provision and of curriculum is essential to allowing parents to exercise their right with regard to the education of their children, and funding/regulation should not discriminate against, for example, schools with a religious designation which wish to adopt a curriculum consistent with that designation.

Thursday 8 April 2021

Amoris Laetitia: "a right to natural death"

In my most recent post, I commented on nn.80-82 of Amoris Laetitia. This post looks at the next paragraph, n.83.

It is difficult to imagine a stronger assertion of the teaching of the Catholic Church on abortion and euthanasia than that contained in n.83 of Amoris Laetitia. On both points, Pope Francis' words address the subjects in relation to the context of today:

So great is the value of a human life, and so inalienable the right to life of an innocent child growing in the mother's womb, that no alleged right to one's own body can justify a decision to terminate that life, which is an end in itself and which can never be considered the "property" of another human being. The family protects human life in all its stages, including its last. Consequently, "those who work in healthcare facilities are reminded of the moral duty  of conscientious objection. Similarly, the Church not only feels the urgency to assert the right to a natural death, without aggressive treatment and euthanasia", but likewise "firmly rejects the death penalty".

For some, it has been the reference to the death penalty that has prompted comment. But I am finding more interesting the language of a "right to natural death". The term is cited in a quotation from the Relatio Finalis of the 2015 Synod, n.64, which, in its turn, includes a reference to the Catechism of he Catholic Church "cf CCC, 2258", the paragraph which opens the Catechism's treatment of the fifth commandment:

God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning to until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.

I am not aware of the term being used previously in the teaching of the Catholic Church (correction, please, via a comment if I have got that wrong), and nor does it occur in the major international human rights instruments (the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the European Convention on Human Rights).

The paragraphs of the Catechism which immediately address the question of euthanasia are nn.2276 - 2279. The intention of the expression "a right to a natural death", as used by Pope Francis, is to articulate in a positive perspective the prohibition of n.2277:

Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable.

And Pope Francis' qualifications - "without aggressive treatment and euthanasia" - equally have a fuller expression in nn.2277 - 2279 of the Catechism, which should be seen as part of how he intends the term to be understood.

However, the term does need to be understood and used carefully. In a clinical context, there is a risk that a direction to "allow natural death" (AND) may in practice be read as a (positively worded) alternative to a direction to "do not resuscitate" (DNR); and, certainly in the UK context, where they are legally seen as a form of treatment and not of ordinary care, it is likely to involve the withdrawal of assisted nutrition and hydration. So, in public discussion, to simply use the term "a right to natural death" without a further specification of your meaning might be unwise.

But, in the context of political, professional and social pressures in favour of euthanasia, the notion that there is an inalienable right (ie a right that cannot be taken away from each and every person) NOT to be subject to euthanasia offers an interesting counter argument to those whose seeking of a legal permission of "assisted dying"/euthanasia threatens to put everyone at risk of pressure to accept euthanasia at the end of their own lives.

Tuesday 6 April 2021

A footnote in Amoris Laetitia

 The Amoris Laetitia Family year, which began on 19th March 2021, has prompted me to dip into Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation and read those sections that have not drawn my attention in the past.

It is footnote 86 that has caught my eye:

cf Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae (25 July 1968), 11-12: AAS 60 (1968), 488-489.

 Pope Francis had already spoken positively of Pope Paul VI's teaching in Humanae Vitae during his press conference on his return to Rome from a visit to Sri Lanka and the Phillipines - he there spoke of Pope Paul as being a "prophet" in the light of his foreseeing the consequences of a movement to control birth rates. I link here to the Italian version of the press conference as the English translation appears somewhat imprecise in its account of Pope Francis' reprimand of a mother expecting an eighth child, which he cites in an unfortunate way that illustrates how responsible parenthood can equally be lived by parents who accept having many children and by parents who for good reason choose to have fewer children.

What I find interesting in the passage of Amoris Laetitia that I quote below, and which includes the footnote and  reference to Humanae Vitae, is the association it establishes between the love of the married couple for each other and the new child as a fruit, not only of the sexual act, but also of that wider love (my emphasis added to the text to bring this out). What the teaching of Humanae Vitae defends is not only the inseparability of the unitive and procreative dimensions of the sexual act but also the inseparability of the child as being born of a love between the couple and their proper physical act that is open to life.

80. Marriage is firstly an “intimate partnership of life and love” which is a good for the spouses themselves, while sexuality is “ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman”. It follows that “spouses to whom God has not granted children can have a conjugal life full of meaning, in both human and Christian terms”. Nonetheless, the conjugal union is ordered to procreation “by its very nature”. The child who is born “does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfilment”. He or she does not appear at the end of a process, but is present from the beginning of love as an essential feature, one that cannot be denied without disfiguring that love itself. From the outset, love refuses every impulse to close in on itself; it is open to a fruitfulness that draws it beyond itself. Hence no genital act of husband and wife can refuse this meaning, even when for various reasons it may not always in fact beget a new life. 

81. A child deserves to be born of that love, and not by any other means, for “he or she is not something owed to one, but is a gift”, which is “the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of the parents”. This is the case because, “according to the order of creation, conjugal love between a man and a woman, and the transmission of life are ordered to each other (cf. Gen 1:27-28). Thus the Creator made man and woman share in the work of his creation and, at the same time, made them instruments of his love, entrusting to them the responsibility for the future of mankind, through the transmission of human life”.

82. The Synod Fathers stated that “the growth of a mentality that would reduce the generation of human life to one variable of an individual’s or a couple’s plans is clearly evident”. The Church’s teaching is meant to “help couples to experience in a complete, harmonious and conscious way their communion as husband and wife, together with their responsibility for procreating life. We need to return to the message of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Blessed Pope Paul VI, which highlights the need to respect the dignity of the person in morally assessing methods of regulating birth… The choice of adoption or foster parenting can also express that fruitfulness which is a characteristic of married life”. With special gratitude the Church “supports families who accept, raise and surround with affection children with various disabilities”.

Thought provoking is the suggestion of nn.80-81 that a "disfiguring of love itself" occurs when the origin of new life in the love of the couple, from the very beginning of that love, is not respected. One can read this in terms of the motivations and intentions of those involved, but this is not perhaps the true way to read it - many couples seeking to conceive children using artificial clinical methods will do so with the best of intentions. It is more about the objective character of the love that is involved, and that is about more than just the intentions - it is about the nature of actions themselves as well, and the best of intentions (which we should always respect in others) can still be associated with a less-than-perfect objective love. 

What the outcomes of a widespread availability of contraceptive methods, and of artificial clinical methods of conception, in developed societies will be is something that we have yet fully to see.

Sunday 4 April 2021

Peace be with you

 Our Lord's words, when he addresses the disciples gathered together on the day of his resurrection, are "Peace be with you". This greeting, of the risen Lord to his new church, is echoed in the sign of peace at Mass. It's been more than a year since the peace was last physically shared by those attending Mass - some people may not miss it, but I know some do. It's just one element of  what we do in church that serves to remind us of our unity and fellowship. And what binds us together, above all, is our Easter faith.

These are the words that open the Easter week parish newsletter of the parish where I go to Mass. It reminds me of the thought of Fr Cantalamessa on the Christological foundation of human fraternity in my last post. It is also the opening greeting of a bishop at the start of the celebration of Mass, which I hadn't until now appreciated for its Christological/ecclesiogical significance.

At the day time Mass of Easter, Pope Francis' first liturgical action is a witness to the resurrection,  in the veneration of an icon showing the risen Lord.

The deacon opens the doors of the icon of the Most Holy Redeemer.

The deacon, turning to face the assembly, sings:

Allelulia, allelulia, alleluia.

The assembly sings:

 Allelulia, allelulia, alleluia.

The deacon sings:

The Lord has risen from the tomb, who for us hung on the cross.

The assembly sings:

 Allelulia, allelulia, alleluia.

The deacon, turning towards the Holy Father, sings:

The Lord has truly risen, and has appeared to Simon.

The assembly sings:

 Allelulia, allelulia, alleluia.

The Holy Father venerates the icon.

Video and photographs here.

Saturday 3 April 2021

Good Friday at the Vatican Basilica

 The celebration of Good Friday at the Vatican has been different in two ways this year. Firstly, the celebration of the Liturgy which normally takes place at 3 pm appears to have taken place at 6 pm (I'm not sure I understand exactly why). And secondly, the celebration of the Way of the Cross that normally takes place at the Colosseum in the evening took place in St Peter's Square, with a minimal participation  of the faithful. It is worth recognising that these celebrations are taking place during an Easter weekend when the whole of Italy has been designated a "red zone", Italy's highest level of coronovirus restrictions, equivalent to a national lockdown.

At the Liturgy, Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa offered a reflection on a Christological basis for human fraternity, reported at the Vatican News website: Cross, the Christological foundation of fraternity. The full text of his homily is at Fr Cantalamessa's website: The First-born Among Many Brothers (Rom8:29).

Significantly, only after the resurrection for the first time Jesus calls his disciples brothers. He instructs Mary Magdalene, “Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’” (Jn 20:17). The Letter to the Hebrews uses the term in the same sense, “The one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers” (Heb 2:11). 
After the Easter event, this is the most common use of the term brother. It indicates a brother in the faith, a member of the Christian community. They are also blood brothers – but in the blood of Christ! Because Christ is also God, this fraternity is both unique and transcendent. Christ’s fraternity does not replace other types of fraternity, due to family, nation, or race, but rather it crowns them. As creatures of the same God and Father, all human beings are brothers. The Christian faith adds a second and decisive dimension. We are brothers not only because we all have the same Father in virtue of creation, but we also have the same brother, Christ, “the firstborn among many brothers” in virtue of redemption.

Fr Cantalamessa goes on to draw a conclusion that a concern to build this fraternity should start with the Catholic Church itself:

What is the most common cause of the bitter divisions among Catholics? It is not dogma, nor is it the sacraments and ministries, none of the things that by God’s singular grace we fully and universally preserve. The divisions that polarize Catholics stem from political opinions that grow into ideologies after being given priority over religious and ecclesial considerations. In many parts of the world, these divisions are very real, even though they are not openly talked about or are disdainfully denied. This is sin in its primal meaning. The kingdom of this world becomes more important, in the person’s heart than the Kingdom of God.

I believe that we all need to make a serious examination of conscience in this regard and be converted. Fomenting division is the work par excellence of the one whose name is ‘diabolos’ that is, the divider, the enemy who sows weeds, as Jesus referred to him in the parable (see Mt 13:25).... 

Pastors need to be the first to make a serious examination of conscience. They need to ask themselves where it is that they are leading their flocks – to their position or Jesus’.

 At the Way of the Cross, the meditations were written and read by young children, while a small group made their way round the obelisk at the centre of St Peter's Square. The meditations for the celebration are at the Vatican website: here, with video and photographs here. (From the video I can't work out exactly where the readers are, but it looks as if they are out of direct view from the Square, in the atrium of the Basilica.) Watching the video and looking at the photographs gives a real sense of the way in which a practice of piety, that is not strictly speaking liturgical, represents nevertheless an inculturation of the Gospel in the lives of the people taking part.

Thursday 1 April 2021

Pope Francis' Chrism Mass homily 2021

 The text of Pope Francis' homily at the Chrism Mass this morning (Holy Thursday) can be found at the website of the Holy See: Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis

Though I usually encourage a reading of the whole, rather than just focussing on a particular passage, there is a section of this homily that particularly appeals to me. Pope Francis refers to St Ignatius Loyola's Spiritual Exercises - "excuse the family advertising", he adds in passing - where there is a meditation on the Nativity of the Lord. 

There [St Ignatius] invites us “to see and consider what Saint Joseph and Our Lady did in setting out on their journey so that the Lord could be born in extreme poverty and after many labours – experiencing hunger, thirst, heat and cold, injuries and indignities – die on the Cross, and all this for me”. He then invites us, “in reflecting on this, to draw some spiritual profit” (Spiritual Exercises, 116). The joy of the Lord’s birth; the pain of the Cross; persecution.

In a first thought reflecting on this meditation, Pope Francis says:

All this makes us realize that the mystery of the cross is present “from the beginning”. It makes us understand that the cross is not an afterthought, something that happened by chance in the Lord’s life. It is true that all who crucify others throughout history would have the cross appear as collateral damage, but that is not the case: the cross does not appear by chance. The great and small crosses of humanity, the crosses of each of us, do not appear by chance. 

But it is Pope Francis' second thought that caught my attention most:

A second thought: true, there is an aspect of the cross that is an integral part of our human condition, our limits and our frailty. Yet it is also true that something happens on the Cross that does not have to do with our human weakness but is the bite of the serpent, who, seeing the crucified Lord defenceless, bites him in an attempt to poison and undo all his work. A bite that tries to scandalize – and this is an era of scandals – a bite that seeks to disable and render futile and meaningless all service and loving sacrifice for others. It is the venom of the evil one who keeps insisting: save yourself.

It is in this harsh and painful “bite” that seeks to bring death, that God’s triumph is ultimately seen. Saint Maximus the Confessor tells us that in the crucified Jesus a reversal took place. In biting the flesh of the Lord, the devil did not poison him, for in him he encountered only infinite meekness and obedience to the will of the Father. Instead, caught by the hook of the cross, he devoured the flesh of the Lord, which proved poisonous to him, whereas for us it was to be the antidote that neutralizes the power of the evil one.