Tuesday, 25 May 2021

Pentecost with Pope Francis

On the eve of Pentecost, Pope Francis took part, by way of a video message, in an international vigil, hosted in Jerusalem but with participation from around the world. A full video of the vigil can be found on Youtube: Pentecost Ecumenical Vigil 2021. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, offers a reflection at 1:10:54; the message of Pope Francis occurs at 1:32:21.

The vigil was ecumenical in nature, organised by CHARIS, the body recognised by the Holy See which offers a service of communion to the different expressions of the Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church (see here for an earlier post which refers to CHARIS). Pope Francis thanked them for having listened to him and realising in this vigil the mission he entrusted to them of working for Christian unity.

If you watch the full video, you will find reflected in it many of the different aspects of the Charismatic movement described in my recent posts for the novena of Pentecost. It may be worth dipping in and out rather than trying to watch it all in one go. A section I have just dipped in to recognises, for example, the activity of the Holy Spirit at the beginning of  non-Catholic Pentecostal churches.

I copy below two sections of Pope Francis' homily at Mass for the Solemnity of Pentecost. As I usually say when posting a section of a homily or speech, please do follow the link and read the whole. My choice of sections to quote is partly driven by the way in which they have been misrepresented in at least one online outlet:

The Paraclete is the Comforter. All of us, particularly at times of difficulty like those we are presently experiencing due to the pandemic, look for consolation. Often, though, we turn only to earthly comforts, ephemeral comforts that quickly fade. Today, Jesus offers us heavenly comfort, the Holy Spirit, who is “of comforters the best” (Sequence). What is the difference? The comforts of the world are like a pain reliever: they can give momentary relief, but not cure the illness we carry deep within. They can soothe us, but not heal us at the core. They work on the surface, on the level of the senses, but hardly touch our hearts. Only someone who makes us feel loved for who we are can give peace to our hearts. The Holy Spirit, the love of God, does precisely that. He comes down within us; as the Spirit, he acts in our spirit. He comes down “within the heart”, as “the soul’s most welcome guest” (ibid). He is the very love of God, who does not abandon us; for being present to those who are alone is itself a source of comfort.

Dear sister, dear brother, if you feel the darkness of solitude, if you feel that an obstacle within you blocks the way to hope, if your heart has a festering wound, if you can see no way out, then open your heart to the Holy Spirit. Saint Bonaventure tells us that, “where the trials are greater, he brings greater comfort, not like the world, which comforts and flatters us when things go well, but derides and condemns us when they do not” (Homily in the Octave of the Ascension). That is what the world does, that is especially what the hostile spirit, the devil, does. First, he flatters us and makes us feel invincible (for the blandishments of the devil feed our vanity); then he flings us down and makes us feel that we are failures. He toys with us. He does everything to cast us down, whereas the Spirit of the risen Lord wants to raise us up. Look at the apostles: they were alone that morning, alone and bewildered, cowering behind closed doors, living in fear and overwhelmed by their weaknesses, failings and their sins, for they had denied Christ. The years they had spent with Jesus had not changed them: they were no different than they had been. Then, they received the Spirit and everything changed: the problems and failings remained, yet they were no longer afraid of them, nor of any who would be hostile to them. They sensed comfort within and they wanted to overflow with the comfort of God. Before, they were fearful; now their only fear was that of not testifying to the love they had received. Jesus had foretold this: “[The Spirit] will testify on my behalf; you also are to testify” (Jn 15:26-27).

Let us go another step. We too are called to testify in the Holy Spirit, to become paracletes, comforters. The Spirit is asking us to embody the comfort he brings. How can we do this? Not by making great speeches, but by drawing near to others. Not with trite words, but with prayer and closeness. Let us remember that closeness, compassion and tenderness are God’s “trademark”, always. The Paraclete is telling the Church that today is the time for comforting. It is more the time for joyfully proclaiming the Gospel than for combatting paganism. It is the time for bringing the joy of the Risen Lord, not for lamenting the drama of secularization. It is the time for pouring out love upon the world, yet not embracing worldliness. It is more the time for testifying to mercy, than for inculcating rules and regulations. It is the time of the Paraclete! It is the time of freedom of heart, in the Paraclete....

In this second passage, Pope Francis speaks of the Holy Spirit under the title of "advocate":

The first advice offered by the Holy Spirit is, “Live in the present”. The present, not the past or the future. The Paraclete affirms the primacy of today, against the temptation to let ourselves be paralyzed by rancour or memories of the past, or by uncertainty or fear about the future. The Spirit reminds us of the grace of the present moment. There is no better time for us: now, here and now, is the one and only time to do good, to make our life a gift. Let us live in the present!

The Spirit also tells us, “Look to the whole”. The whole, not the part. The Spirit does not mould isolated individuals, but shapes us into a Church in the wide variety of our charisms, into a unity that is never uniformity. The Paraclete affirms the primacy of the whole. There, in the whole, in the community, the Spirit prefers to work and to bring newness. Let us look at the apostles. They were all quite different. They included, for example, Matthew, a tax collector who collaborated with the Romans, and Simon called the zealot, who fought them. They had contrary political ideas, different visions of the world. Yet once they received the Spirit, they learned to give primacy not to their human viewpoints but to the “whole” that is God’s plan. Today, if we listen to the Spirit, we will not be concerned with conservatives and progressives, traditionalists and innovators, right and left. When those become our criteria, then the Church has forgotten the Spirit. The Paraclete impels us to unity, to concord, to the harmony of diversity. He makes us see ourselves as parts of the same body, brothers and sisters of one another. Let us look to the whole! The enemy wants diversity to become opposition and so he makes them become ideologies. Say no to ideologies, yes to the whole. 

Monday, 24 May 2021

Ms Lovato is non-binary

The BBC news website has reported that Demi Lovato is non-binary and is changing pronouns to they/them. Their report includes this observation:

Many fans have said they're "proud" of Demi's announcement, with some describing the singer as a "role model".

Another comment in the report quotes a fan of Demi Lovato as now feeling able to speak about their gender identity to their parents in a way that they had not felt able to do before.

I do wonder, though, whether there are other narratives that are not being reported - of young people who would otherwise happily have a certainty in a conventional gender identity as they experience puberty but who now feel that they should question that certainty; not because they are in themselves uncertain, but because the surrounding culture is telling them that they should be uncertain.

Interestingly, the report is being carried in the Newsbeat section of the BBC site, part of BBC news  programming (for Radio 1 and Radio 1 Extra) aimed at younger listeners  and particularly carrying news relating to entertainment and social media.

My first thought is one that I have expressed before on this blog. There is a common courtesy in addressing another person in the manner in which they wish to be addressed, and this represents a respect for their person, precisely as person. This would certainly apply to someone who was a work colleague, for example, and would stand alongside such a simple thing as someone like myself having a preference for being addressed as "Joe" or "Joseph". 

But Ms Lovato's very public announcement, and widespread media following, provide an added complication to this principle. From the point of view of Ms Lovato, is there an intention in making the announcement that those who adopt the use of the preferred pronouns, particularly in the media, are in effect being asked to consent in the public domain to an underlying ideology of gender? Is there, not just an announcement of a personal decision, but an intention to promote for acceptance in wider society a particular ideology of gender? Whilst Ms Lovato is due the respect of my using her preferred pronouns as a question of respect for her person, at what point does that also become an expression of belief on my part in a notion of gender fluidity to which I do not subscribe (and therefore come into conflict with my own conscientiously held belief)?

Too often the term gender is conflated with that of biological sex, to the extent that the part to be played by biological sex is disregarded in discussions of gender identity. If gender can be considered as being determined by social conventions and roles, biological sex is not - it is determined by the physiology of a human body. So, whilst I might accept non-binary as being Ms Lovato's identification in terms of gender, I would still wish to say that she is a person of the female sex.

Once the question of biological sex is included in the conversation, we can then ask if  the pronouns that are used of people should, objectively speaking, follow their identified gender or follow their biological sex - the question cannot, of course, be asked if gender and sex are conflated together. The usage of language by the vast majority, if we are honest about it, is that pronouns follow from the biological sex of people; and for those who do not subscribe to gender ideology this is of added significance. If we wish to adopt a use of language that is consistent with this, we should still be able to use female pronouns to refer to Ms Lovato without that being seen as disrespectful towards her or towards others who identify as non-binary at the level of gender. Rather it is a recognition by us of her female sex and not an adverse comment about her identified gender; a statement about what we believe rather than an attack on Ms Lovato.

Sunday, 23 May 2021

Novena for Pentecost: a novel community - the Church

Pentecost is at once both a festival of the Holy Spirit and a festival of the Church - it's almost as if the two are inseparable. The "prayer group" of the Apostles, Mary and the disciples in the Upper Room received the gift of the Spirit, not as isolated individuals, but as individuals within a community. The gift then establishes an evangelising impulse that is, in time, to have a universal reach.

It is not a surprise, then, that the gift of Baptism in the Spirit should give rise to new communities rich in evangelising energy. Charismatic Renewal has given rise to a wide range of communities, some of them quite local and others with a national or international reach. They have become schools of Christian life and mission for Catholics in every part of the world. Often these communities include members from different states of life in the Church - men, women, married and single, those in consecrated life. There are also new religious congregations, whose individual charisms are rooted in the grace of Baptism in the Spirit. These communities, whilst being entirely "new," are at the same time faithful to "old" principles of Christian life such as poverty, chastity and obedience lived out according to an individual's state of life.

Such communities are a model for the present times of the "first community" of Christian life that is the Church, actualising in a particular place and time a style of life that is of universal value for the Church and for the Christian life.

Saturday, 22 May 2021

Novena for Pentecost: Baptism in the Spirit, Ecumenism and Social Action

 Recognising that the Holy Spirit can act outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church does not in any way compromise belief about the necessity of the Church for salvation, and belief that, once we come to know the Church as founded by Jesus Christ, we have an obligation to join that Church. As Catholics came to experience Baptism in the Spirit, they were able to recognise that same gift in Pentecostal and Protestant communities and to be influenced by them. Baptism in the Spirit has thus had an inherently ecumenical impulse from the start. The sense of spiritual fellowship with Christians of other denominations is based on a common experience of deeper conversion to Christ, expressed principally in worship and prayer, leading to a love for the Holy Spirit's work for reconciliation and unity. From the Catholic point of view, it has involved a positive regard for what can be seen to be good in the life of other Christian communities.

Many of the communities and prayer groups founded in the Charismatic Renewal have initiated vibrant programmes of outreach to the poor, such as soup kitchens and homeless shelters. Many are also involved in pro-life ministries or other activities in favour of more just and loving conditions in society. The strength of this commitment to charitable action follows immediately from the experience of a faith that "has come alive" and therefore needs to be lived in the situations of every day life. It also provides an opportunity for Christians of different denominations to engage together in activity rooted in a common conversion to Christ.

Together, these impulses for ecumenism and social action are an example of what might be termed "spiritual ecumenism" - a shared experience of life rooted in a common conversion towards the Father, through the Son in the Spirit.

Friday, 21 May 2021

Novena for Pentecost: Baptism in the Spirit and Evangelisation

The liveliness of worship often associated with those who have experienced Baptism in the Spirit is matched by a similar liveliness in efforts to make known the person and teaching of Jesus, that is, in evangelisation. It combines a confidence in the content of evangelisation and a boldness in announcing that content. People transformed by the Spirit come to speak of Christ from their own personal experience of the encounter with Him, and from an understanding of the Gospel that is rooted in that experience. Schools of evangelisation equip their members with both the knowledge of the Gospel and an understanding of techniques for preaching the Gospel, the Sion Catholic Community for Evangelisation being one example. Street evangelisation, processions, city missions (in London, Spirit in the City, affected in recent times by the COVID pandemic, is an example) and the use of internet media are fruits of this renewed commitment to evangelisation.

A feature of the Renewal is that many of its initiatives - city missions, new communities - are led by lay people, and often inspired by a particular charism among the laity. That having been said, events such as missions typically manifest a strong collaboration of lay people, priests and religious. The harmonious nature of this collaboration does not reflect the more common relationship of hierarchy - that is, of the religious or ordained providing the leadership - but might be better described as a relationship of communion in which each individual vocation is able to fulfil its own purpose alongside the others. The spiritual dynamism unleashed by Baptism in the Spirit takes on a particular importance in the context of the "new evangelisation" in countries now less imbued with the Christian culture that was in the past a feature of their societies.

A last observation of significance with respect to evangelisation, seen as a fruit of Baptism in the Spirit, is that it is undertaken with respect for Church authority. It is not unusual for training on matters such as doctrine and methods of evangelisation to be based on the documents of the Popes and of the dicasteries of the Holy See. At the level of principle, it is this that enables the experience of communion on the ground that is typical of the Charismatic Renewal.

Thursday, 20 May 2021

Novena for Pentecost: Baptism in the Spirit - charisms and prayer for healing

I think it is the case that every Catholic should be comfortable with the idea that the Holy Spirit can show his power in particular interventions, from what most might recognise as the working of providence, through the occurence of miracles, and then on to more extraordinary gifts such as praying in tongues or the gifts of healing in prayer. In the vast majority of cases, such specific interventions are given for a particular case or a particular moment, and while they might form the content of an individual testimony they do not possess a universal interest for the Church. Whilst being comfortable with the idea that such interventions occur, no Catholic is obliged to believe in the veracity of each and every such intervention (with, perhaps, the exception of the very few recognised publicly by the Church in processes of beatification and canonisation).

Within the Charismatic Renewal, the occurrence of extraordinary charisms is readily accepted. The best known such charism is that of prayer in tongues; but equally there is the existence of a charism of healing. The life of the Renewal is characterised by prayer for healing (understood in a wide sense as referring to physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual healing), though in many cases this occurs in the ordinary prayer of a prayer group rather than in the context of a specific healing ministry. The extraordinary healing ministries - that of Sr Briege McKenna comes to mind as I write - form only a small part of this aspect of the life of the Renewal, and a care is taken that it is not seen as a substitute for the Sacrament of the Sick.

Linked to prayer for healing is a strong awareness of the need for spiritual battle against the powers of evil. There is an experience of both temptation by Satan and the power of the Holy Spirit to resist that temptation. The experience of spiritual battle is lived anew, giving rise to recognition of the need for prayers and ministries of deliverance to free people from various forms of spiritual oppression. However, it should be said that this experience is a mature experience for those in the Renewal and not one pursued in an irresponsible way. In particular, the Renewal has provided many of the priests who exercise the ministry of exorcism in the Church, with all the precautions that accompany that ministry.

Wednesday, 19 May 2021

Novena for Pentecost: Baptism in the Spirit and love of the Church, of Mary and of the saints

 It is now some years since the relics of St Therese of Lisieux were brought to Britain. The blog recording that visit can still be accessed: Saint Therese relics blog. Very large numbers gathered at each of the venues to pray alongside the relics, in a quite exceptional manifestation of faith on the part of largely ordinary people.

A fruit of Baptism in the Spirit is exactly this kind of affection and devotion to the saints of the Church, with its double aspect of celebration of their holiness and source of teaching for the living of the Christian life. The practice of testimonies, typical of the Renewal but not exclusive to it, is a kind of reflection of this. 

Often there is also a new closeness to Mary, the Mother of Christ and spouse of the Holy Spirit. Her presence in the upper room awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is a prompt leading to an appreciation of Mary's presence to and intercession for the Church today. It is interesting in this respect that Pope Francis, very familiar with the Charismatic Renewal, has established in the universal calendar the Memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church, that is celebrated on the Monday immediately after Pentecost Sunday.

It is not a surprise that, alongside this love for the saints and for the Virgin Mary, there is a love for the Church. Baptism in the Spirit encourages, not a sense of separation between the Church as a visible institution and the freedom of those gifted with a charism, but a profound sense that the visible, hierarchically structured institution is at one and the same time the institution that is animated by the Holy Spirit. There is a strong commitment to unity within the Body of Christ.

Tuesday, 18 May 2021

Novena for Pentecost: Baptism in the Spirit and prayer, Scripture and the Sacraments

People who have been baptised in the Spirit typically manifest a great love for Scripture, expressed in Bible studies and an anxiety to read the Scriptures in order to discover a relevance that can guide in every day life. Teaching is often strongly biblical in character. Again, while this faithfulness to Scripture is a feature of the Renewal, it also reflects something that can be seen in the wider life of the Church - for example the "Gospel Questions and Inquiries" of Fr Bernard Basset SJ, with their "see, judge, act" structure, and the meditations of the Spiritual Exercises.

Alongside this faithfulness to Scripture there is also a renewed awareness of the presence of Christ in the sacraments of the Church, particularly the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. Attending Mass and participating in prayer in the presence of the Eucharist are features of the Renewal. Again, the growth in Eucharistic Adoration and the frequenting of the Sacrament of Penance can be seen in other aspects of Catholic life, the events of recent World Youth Days being a prominent example.

For many, certainly in the early days, the main means of contact with the Renewal was through taking part in the regular meetings of a local prayer group. This is an event that moves the experience of prayer to less a matter of routine (though, in itself, that is not a bad thing) towards more a spontaneous response of love and gratitude to God and a confidence in his grace in providing for all our needs.

If we want to understand how Baptism in the Spirit gives rise to a particular style of life in the Church, it is important to place all three of these elements (appreciation of Scripture, sacramental life, prayer group) together and to see, for example, the life of a prayer group in its orientation towards the liturgical celebrations in which its members also participate. 

Monday, 17 May 2021

Novena for Pentecost: Praise and Worship

 Whilst the experience of Baptism in the Spirit can often be seen as having fruits in quite extraordinary gifts, such gifts can at the same time be understood as being ordinary, expected gifts of a vividly lived Christian life. 

One of these gifts is a style of worship characterised by a certain exuberance. Though this prayer is not readily identified as liturgical in its character, it nevertheless has something in common with prayer that is more strictly identified as liturgical. It is prayer that has at its heart the praise and adoration of God - that is, worship - that is a first intention of liturgical prayer.  It is manifested, too, in the Trinitarian form of liturgical prayer - to the Father, through the Son and in the unity of the Holy Spirit. This movement of the Spirit has led to the composition of many new songs and melodies, often based on the psalms or other Scriptural texts, to express the praise of God, a movement which can also be seen at work in places outside the Renewal (CJM's Born for This comes readily to mind as an example). The gift of tongues, primarily as a gift for prayer and praise, is perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of this exuberance in prayer and praise.

Alongside this gift of praise and worship, Baptism in the Spirit has a power to lead those who receive it to a deeper conversion and holiness of life. Growth in holiness leads to an experience that becomes less one of self-striving against sin and more one of yielding to the Holy Spirit. The cross and resurrection of Christ come to be known not only as an event of the past but a present source of grace enabling a death to sin and a living for God. The ability to resist sinful tendencies and deep-rooted patterns of sin, freedom from addictions and the healing of relationships - these are fruits experienced by those who have received Baptism in the Spirit, fruits which can be found wherever there is growth in Christian life.

In observing the Charismatic Renewal from the outside, it is perhaps important to recognise this connection between exuberance in prayer and praise, which may not be for everyone, and the deeper conversion and holiness of life that accompanies it.

Sunday, 16 May 2021

Novena for Pentecost: A new awareness of the Trinity

St John Paul II, along with many others, spoke of the need of the Christian to achieve a living encounter with Jesus Christ, and through that encounter, with the Father. Chapter 1 of the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America  for example, is entitled "The Encounter with the Living Jesus Christ".

The Church is the place where men and women, by encountering Jesus, can come to know the love of the Father, for whoever has seen Jesus has seen the Father (cf. Jn 14:9). After his Ascension into heaven, Jesus acts through the powerful agency of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete (cf. Jn 16:17), who transforms believers by giving them new life. Thus they become capable of loving with God's own love, which “has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Rom 5:5).

An experience of this living encounter with Jesus, bringing about a profound awareness of the love of the Father poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, is a most immediate effect of Baptism in the Spirit. There is a new consciousness of the presence and power of the Spirit, that brings about an existential knowledge that "Jesus is Lord": "Jesus is Lord and Saviour" is an experience of the heart before it is an acclamation. 

One who has been baptised in the Spirit lives the words of St John:

What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, we have looked upon and touched with our hands...

Saturday, 15 May 2021

Novena for Pentecost: Characteristic features of Baptism in the Holy Spirit

 Charismatic Renewal's first experience of Baptism in the Holy Spirit is, both historically and individually  speaking, that of its being a surprise, a sovereign gift of God that is not dependent on any human merit or activity. This can be said both in reference to the historical beginnings of Catholic Charismatic Renewal and to the fact that Catholics involved in the Renewal have come to be baptised in the Spirit in very different ways: through being prayed for by others already baptised in the Spirit, during their own private prayer, through study groups, through praying the Scriptures, through discovering the testimonies of others. 

Baptism in the Spirit is an unexpected grace, and so the Renewal does not have enrolled members. Instead, people are part of the Renewal through having been baptised in the Spirit, and because they subsequently affirm this grace and seek to be faithful to it. Any organisation, in for example a specific community or national structure, comes after this as way to support the fruitful reception of this grace. The gift is charismatic in a strict theological sense and not in a subjective, emotional sense.

Our faith has come alive, our believing has become a kind of knowing. Suddenly, the world of the supernatural has become more real than the natural. In brief, Jesus Christ is a real person to us, a real person who is our Lord and who is active in our lives. We read the New Testament as though it were literally true, now, every word, every line. Prayer and the sacraments have become truly our daily bread instead of practices which we recognise as "good for us". A love of Scripture, a love of the Church I never thought possible, a transformation of our relationships with others, a need and a power of witness beyond all expectation, have all become part of our lives. The initial experience of baptism in the Spirit was not at all emotional, but life has become suffused with calm, confidence, joy and peace.

Friday, 14 May 2021

Novena for Pentecost: the fruits of "Baptism in the Spirit"

 The Catholic Charismatic Renewal is a little unusual among the range of new movements that have taken root in the Church in recent decades. Rather than representing one community or organisation in the Church it embraces a wide range, from communities with specific foundations and houses to diocesan service committees supporting individual prayer groups. Charis, instituted by the Holy See in December 2018, carries out an office of service to the different expressions of the Renewal throughout the world. It has received a three-fold mission from Pope Francis: sharing the experience of "Baptism in the Holy Spirit" with the whole Church, working for Christian unity (though, speaking soon after the institution of Charis, Pope Francis expressed this in terms of serving "the unity of the Body of Christ, the Church", suggesting a promotion of communion in the Church itself) and serving the poor. Received anew as a mission from the Holy Father, these are features already reflected in the life of the Charismatic Renewal.

The characteristic feature of the Charismatic Renewal is what is known as "Baptism in the Spirit", which can be associated in the minds of those unfamiliar with the Renewal with extraordinary phenomena. But many of the chracteristics and fruits of "Baptism in the Spirit", as described by those involved in the Renewal, are ordinary gifts that would be recognised in many of the other ecclesial movements - love of the Church, Marian devotion, strong sense of evangelisation etc. I am going to post on these fruits in the coming days.

In this post I want to start by suggesting that, just as life in a religious order or life lived in accordance with the charism of any ecclesial movement represents for the individuals concerned a specification in their own circumstances of the universal call to holiness received through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, so "Baptism in the Holy Spirit" represents for those in the Charismatic Renewal the way in which their baptismal and confirmational consecration is made specific to their individual lives. Understood in this way, "Baptism in the Spirit" is at one among a wide range of charisms in the Church that enable the faithful to live, in a specific way, the call to holiness that is addressed to all, though it gains a certain vividness because of a clarity of its connection to Baptism and Confirmation. The recognition of that charism by those in authority in the Church indicates further that it is a charism that, like those of other ecclesial movements and communities, is of value for the life of the Church as a whole. Whilst not everyone will be called to live this charism, it is nevertheless worthy of the attention of all in the Church.

Saturday, 8 May 2021

Amoris Laetitia: love as courtesy

 The two paragraphs nn.99-100 of Amoris Laetitia are a part of Pope Francis' reflection on St Paul's account of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, under the general heading "Our Daily Love".  In the English translation, these paragraphs have a sub-heading "Love is not rude"; the Italian sub-heading is "Amabilita" (rough translation: "lovable-ness", perhaps with a nuance of "gentleness" implied by the context; Italian has the words "cortesia" and "gentilezza" to express more explicitly the idea of courtesy); and the French: "Amabilite" (which my French dictionary translates as "kindness" or "courtesy"). The Spanish is "Amabilidad" and the Portuguese "Amabilidade", neither of which I am able to translate directly, but which probably represent the source of Pope Francis' choice of terminology. 

The sub-heading is not the only aspect of these two paragraphs where a reading of the Italian and French translations aids understanding. Pope Francis wishes to draw our attention to an idea of love expressed in the courtesy, gentleness of every day living.

Setting on one side Pope Francis' citation of Octavio Paz' The Double Flame (of which more below), part of n.99 in the English translation reads somewhat enigmatically:

[Courtesy] is not something that a Christian may accept or reject. As an essential requirement of love, "every human being is bound to live agreeably with those around him".

The corresponding Italian translation reads:

Essere amabile non è uno stile che un cristiano possa scegliere o rifiutare: è parte delle esigenze irrinunciabili dell’amore, perciò «ogni essere umano è tenuto ad essere affabile con quelli che lo circondano».

Translating directly from the Italian, in the light of the French, gives:

To be courteous is not a style that a Christian can choose or refuse: it is part of the indispensable demands of love, since "every human being is obliged to be courteous with those who surround him".

The terms "essential" and "irrinunciabili" (indispensable) need to be read in a metaphysical sense, as indicating that courtesy is of the essence of what it means to love rather than being an incidental to that love. It is intrinsic as part of love and, as such, is not something that the one who loves either chooses or refuses - it is simply given.

N.99 ends with a quotation from what must be one of Pope Francis' most memorable General Audience addresses, where he speaks of three expressions for the every day living of family life, most easily stated in English as  "please", "thank you" and "sorry". It is worth reading this Audience address to  grasp the practical intention of the term "courtesy" as intended by these two paragraphs of Amoris Laetitia: General Audience 13 May 2015.

N.100, though addressed specifically to the relationships within family life itself, nevertheless reads as if it applies to how family life affects society as a whole:

Loving kindness builds bonds, cultivates relationships, creates new networks of integration and knits a firm social fabric. In this way, it grows ever stronger, for without a sense of belonging we cannot sustain a commitment to others; we end up seeking our convenience alone and life in common becomes impossible.

Pope Francis' citation of Octavio Paz is from a book that represents a wide ranging study of the relationship of eros and love in the history of literature and culture. The immediate citation is somewhat nuanced, and refers to an idea of love as courtesy in a historical and literary cultural context. Paz's discussion here parallels approximately in a secular sphere the discussion of eros and agape that Pope Benedict XVI pursued in a specifically Christian context in Deus Caritas Est nn.3 ff. Writing of stories of lovers in literature from all parts of the world, Paz comments (in English translation):

Their encounter requires, in turn, two contradictory conditions: the attraction that lovers experience must be involuntary, born of a secret and all-powerful magnetism; at the same time, it must be a choice. In love, predestination and choice, objective and subjective, fate and freedom intersect. The realm of love is a space magnetized by encounter.... 

But sometimes reflection on love becomes the ideology of a society; then we find ourselves in the presence of a way of life, an art of living and dying, an ethic, an aesthetic, and an etiquette. A courtesy, to use the medieval term. 

Courtesy is not within the reach of all: it is a body of knowledge and a practice. It is the privilege of what might be called an aristocracy of the heart. Not an aristocracy founded on bloodlines and inherited privileges but on certain qualities of the spirit. Although these qualities are innate, in order that they be manifested and made second nature, the adept must cultivate his mind and his senses, learn to feel, speak, and sometimes remain silent. Courtesy is a school of sensibility and selflessness.... 

"Courtly love" is learned: it is a knowledge of the senses illuminated by the light of the soul, a sensual attraction refined by courtesy.

Pope Francis cites from the Spanish original of Octavio Paz's work, and, in the English translation of Amoris Laetitia, it appears as follows: 

Courtesy "is a school of sensitivity and disinterestedness" which requires a person "to develop his or her mind and feelings, learning how to listen, to speak and, at certain times, to keep quiet".

A glance at the French, Italian and Spanish translations of Amoris Laetitia, and the translation from the original work above, suggests that a reference to the cultivation of the senses in Paz's original text has dropped out of the English translation of Pope Francis' citation though it is present in other translations; and there is as a result an ambivalence as to how far the term sensitivity/sensibility refers to the senses or more generally to a sensitivity/sensibility of spirit. 

Monday, 3 May 2021

Transitioning - a single narrative?

 What is now known as "gender reassignment surgery" would, in an earlier time, have been referred to as a "sex change operation". The latter term is perhaps more honest in public discussion, avoiding as it does the conflation of the idea of physiological sex to that of social presentation that occurs with the current prevalent usage of the term "gender".

In February 2008, I saw a film called Juno, starring Ellen Page (who has since transitioned to a man and is now known as Elliot Page). See here for comments relating to Juno that have appeared previously on this blog. The part played by Ellen Page in Juno, as an unexpectedly pregnant high school teenager, attracted very significant acclaim at the time the film was released.

Elliot Page has recently gained media coverage following an interview with Oprah Winfrey, in which he speaks of how liberating he found being able to have "top surgery" and so present visibly to himself as male. UK coverage can be read on the BBC news website and the Guardian newspaper website.

“I want people to know that not only has it been life-changing for me, I do believe it is life-saving and it’s the case for so many people,” the actor told Oprah Winfrey on her new show for Apple TV+...

Page said the surgery has given him newfound energy “because it is such a freeing, freeing experience”, adding: “This is incredibly new. I feel like I haven’t gotten to be myself since I was 10 years old.”
 In the interview, Elliot speaks of feeling a discomfort with his own body that was only partly relieved by coming out as a gay woman (and entering a same sex marriage from which he has divorced); and how his (partial) transitioning enables him to now feel comfortable with his body. He goes on to challenge steps being taken in the United States in response to concerns about the treatment of children for gender reassignment, that he sees as limiting access to important health care. (There is some echo in those steps of concerns raised here in the UK about the work of the Gender Identity Development Service at the Tavistock Clinic.)

Whilst it is important to treat Elliot Page's account of his own experience with respect - it is a courtesy, I think, to refer to him now as he would wish to be referred, and hence my use of "Elliot" and masculine pronouns in this post - it does nevertheless raise two questions in the context of a wider debate.

Firstly, a narrative such as Elliot Page's should not be seen as the only and normative narrative. Alongside those suffering from gender dysphoria who may be helped by transitioning, there are also young people who may not be helped by considering transitioning, and who simply need health care as they grow up through puberty in the sex that they already have. Our public conversation needs to recognise that there are differing background stories - multiple narratives - around gender dsyphoria, and that an assumption in favour of transitioning is not always going to be helpful. The public acceptance of transitioning by the media and wider culture, which in effect promotes this acceptance to others, is not going to be helpful for everyone.

Elliot Page's earlier experience as Ellen Page in the film Juno also highlights a second question in a very visible way. He has transitioned (at least partly) from the female sex to the male sex; he is now someone who was of the female sex but is now of the male sex. How far can someone identify fully with their new physiological sex, or, as is implied by the identification as part of a "trans" community, is the fundamental identification that of a person who was of one sex and is now of the other, that of a person who has changed sex?

[In December 2020, I posted indirectly on this last point, in the context of the alacrity of media sources such as Wikipedia in changing the previous "Ellen Page" in their cast list for the film Juno to "Elliot Page": Ellen or Elliot?]

Saturday, 1 May 2021

Canon Michael Bourdeaux

 The Times newspaper today carries an obituary of Canon Bourdeaux, who died on 29th March 2021.  (The Guardian obituary can be read here; and an appreciation from the Keston Institute here.)

The obituary in the Times refers to Canon Bourdeaux's influence with political leaders, based on the integrity of the research work of Keston College:

In Britain Bourdeaux was consulted in the 1970s by Harold Wilson, and in 1983 after he had briefed Thatcher she took a personal interest in securing the release of Irina Ratushinskaya, a Christian poet, and Alexander Ogorodnikov, the founder of a Christian seminar in Moscow.

At that time, Keston College had a network of support groups in the UK, including one based in Hornchurch. Each group was assigned a particular religious believer experiencing persecution behind the iron curtain in order to pray for them and support them by, for example, sending supporting cards to their prison addresses. Irina Ratushinskaya was the prisoner assigned to the Hornchurch support group. I still have in my possession the minute book of the Hornchurch support group, as I was secretary for a number of years. If I recall correctly, I became a member of the support group after visiting an open day at Keston College, in the days when it was based in the former village school at Keston.

The minutes of the group Annual General Meeting in October 1986 record a collection of £120 being taken at the meeting, and handed to a representative of Keston College so that it could be spent to buy orthopaedic boots and a warm coat for Irina Ratushinskaya, who at that time had just been released from prison and was seriously ill following her ill-treatment in prison.

Irina visited the Hornchurch support group in September 1988. My minutes of that meeting read as follows:

Over eighty members and friends of the Group put questins to Irina Ratushinskaya. Irina first answered questions about her time at school in the Soviet Union, and then answered questions from the floor. Irina was accompanied by her husband Igor, and Mrs Alyona Kojevnikov from Keston College.... Irina's closing remarks were to thank members of the Group for providing the money for a pair of boots. After the meeting, refreshments were served, and Irina signed copies of her books.

 Very different times ....