Saturday 31 July 2021

Taekwondo commentary and St Ignatius Loyola

I have not been following the Tokyo Olympics closely, and so have only come across Lutalo Muhammad in the Times newspaper today. According to the Times, Lutalo "has won the admiration of fellow broadcasters and athletes for his eloquent commentary" in presenting Tokyo's taekwondo events this last week.

Along with his mellifluous delivery, his commentary has been noted for its poeticism and use of analogy, among them the phrase: "Fear can either fuel you or be the fire that burns you up".

Lutalo attributes his lyrical bent to a life-long love of reading, which was initiated by trips to the local library with his mother when he was a child.

"As a little boy, fun for us was a trip to the library, which all sounds a bit geeky now. But I really do enjoy reading and I love books that chronicle people developing themselves. I'm fascinated by improvement and performance". 

Apparently, Lutalo's mother still reads a book a day, as well as running a taekwondo club in east London, along with Lutalo's father. 

The second reading in the Office of Readings for today, the feast day of St Ignatius Loyola, describes the effect on the saint of the reading that he undertook when recovering from illness.

Ignatius was very addicted to reading aimless and exaggerated books about the illustrious deeds of the famous and when he felt well again he asked for some to pass the time. But there were no books of that type in the house and he was given a book called The Life of Christ and another The Flower of the Saints, both in his native language.

The passage from the Office goes on to describe how St Ignatius reflected on this reading, but at the same time was also distracted back to thoughts of his more worldly reading.

But there was a difference in his two types of subject for thought. When he was intent on his worldly interests he got great pleasure at the time, but whenever he wearied of them and gave them up, he felt dejected and empty. On the other hand, when he thought about the austerities which he found that holy men practised, not only did he find joy in the account of them, but when he stopped thinking of them his joy remained unabated. However, he never noticed the difference or thought about it, until one day it dawned on him, and he began to wonder at it....Afterwards, however, when he had undertaken spiritual exercises, this experience was the starting point for teaching his followers the discernment of spirits.

In these times of on-line reading, of Kindle, and of the smart phone ......there is still something special about holding a real book in your hands ..... and using a real bookmark! 

And St Ignatius gives us a good example of how serious reading is of more value than the celebration of celebrity that is often to be found in television or online sources.

Friday 30 July 2021

XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops - coming to a diocese near you!

 L’apertura del Sinodo avrà luogo tanto in Vaticano quanto in ciascuna diocesi. Il cammino sarà inaugurato dal Santo Padre in Vaticano: il 9-10 ottobre.

Con le medesime modalità, domenica 17 ottobre, si aprirà nelle diocesi, sotto la presidenza del rispettivo vescovo.

I translate from the Italian version of the Bulletin of the Holy See Press Office, as it seems to make clearer sense than the English:

The opening of the Synod will take place both in the Vatican in in each diocese. The journey will be opened by the Holy Father in the Vatican: 9th-10th October.

It will be opened in the dioceses with the same formalities on Sunday 17th October, under the presidency of the respective bishop. 

 The note from the Synod of Bishops reported in the Bulletin indicates a path of consultation, starting with a phase at diocesan level, and continuing through phases at Episcopal Conference and continental levels, to a phase at the level of the Universal Church with the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October 2023. The subject of this synodal process is "For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission".

Here in England, the Archdiocese of Liverpool has reached the pastoral planning stage after the completion of a synodal process which, affected by the coronavirus pandemic, has stretched over several years. A website for that synodal process can be found here, with a resources page here.

At this point I have noticed a couple of subtle points about the Liverpool experience. The first is a recognition that a number of the ideas that were put forward at a listening stage were "matters outside the remit of the synod". This included ideas favouring the ordination of women, ending the discipline of celibacy for priests, wider use of general absolution for the Sacrament of Penance, and requests around the present liturgical texts. A note about these can be downloaded from the resources page mentioned above.

Might it not be useful, in the light of the forthcoming diocesan phase, for there to be a clear recognition in advance of what lies within the remit of the synodal process and what lies outside that remit? Will the Preparatory Document promised from the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, with its proposals for carrying out the consultation in each local Church, effectively provide this?

The second point was the description of the participants in Liverpool's synod as being "members" rather than "representatives". This is explained at this link. The underlying principle is that members are not representatives of a constituency or of a point of view, be that a majority or a minority point of view; rather they have an office of discernment in the light of their knowledge of the life of the ecclesial community from which they come.

But the language of the Note from the Synod of Bishops is one of "consultation", particularly a "consultation of the People of God" during the diocesan phase that will enable all to take part. It is interesting, however, that, when the Note refers to the consultation of the People of God, it references n.5 and n.6 of Pope Francis' Apostolic Constitution on the Synod of Bishops. I reproduce n.5 below, noting its carefully constructed account of how a Bishop is also a disciple who is able to listen to the voice of the Spirit speaking through his people. I also note the reference in the last sentence to "diocesan institutions whose task it is to advise the Bishop, promoting a loyal and constructive dialogue". Could not the diocesan phase be carried out by means of the already existing mechanisms of consultation in a diocese rather than by the establishing of a separate bureaucracy? And, indeed, is the term "consultation" really the appropriate term to describe that office of the Bishop as both teacher and disciple described in n.5?

It is certainly true, as the Second Vatican Council teaches, that “when Bishops engage in teaching, in communion with the Roman Pontiff, they deserve respect from all, as the witnesses of divine and catholic truth; the faithful must agree with the judgment of their Bishop on faith and morals, which he delivers in the name of Christ; they must give it their adherence with religious assent of the mind”. But it is also true that “for every Bishop the life of the Church and life in the Church is the condition for exercising his mission to teach”.

Hence the Bishop is both teacher and disciple. He is a teacher when, endowed with the special assistance of the Holy Spirit, he proclaims to the faithful the word of truth in the name of Christ, head and shepherd. But he is a disciple when, knowing that the Spirit has been bestowed upon every baptized person, he listens to the voice of Christ speaking through the entire People of God, making it “infallible in credendo. Indeed, “the universal body made up of the faithful, whom the Holy One has anointed (cf. 1 Jn 2:20, 27), is incapable of erring in belief. This is a property which belongs to the people as a whole; a supernatural sense of faith is the means by which they make this property manifest, when ‘from Bishops to the last of the lay faithful’, they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals”. So the Bishop is called to lead his flock by “walking in front of them, showing them the way, showing them the path; walking in their midst, to strengthen them in unity; walking behind them, to make sure no one gets left behind but especially, never to lose the scent of the People of God in order to find new roads. A Bishop who lives among his faithful has his ears open to listen to ‘what the Spirit says to the churches’ (Rev 2:7), and to the ‘voice of the sheep’, also through those diocesan institutions whose task it is to advise the Bishop, promoting a loyal and constructive dialogue”.

For completeness, here is the text of n.6, which describes how the Synod of Bishops can be seen as an expression of the voice of the entire people of God, though in a nuanced way that reflects the distinctive office of the Bishop:

Similarly, the Synod of Bishops must increasingly become a privileged instrument for listening to the People of God: “For the Synod Fathers we ask the Holy Spirit first of all for the gift of listening: to listen to God, that with him we may hear the cry of the people; to listen to the people until breathing in the desire to which God calls us”.

Although structurally it is essentially configured as an episcopal body, this does not mean that the Synod exists separately from the rest of the faithful. On the contrary, it is a suitable instrument to give voice to the entire People of God, specifically via the Bishops, established by God as “authentic guardians, interpreters and witnesses of the faith of the whole Church”, demonstrating, from one Assembly to another, that it is an eloquent expression of synodality as a “constitutive element of the Church”.

Therefore, as John Paul II declared, “Every General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is a powerful ecclesial experience, even if some of its practical procedures can always be perfected. The Bishops assembled in Synod represent in the first place their own Churches, but they are also attentive to the contributions of the Episcopal Conferences which selected them and whose views about questions under discussion they then communicate. They thus express the recommendation of the entire hierarchical body of the Church and finally, in a certain sense, the whole Christian people, whose pastors they are”.

Monday 26 July 2021

Freedom in reading the Scriptures

I have recently been reminded, twice, of a thought that I not infrequently mull over. That thought relates to how one approaches Sacred Scripture as a Catholic. The reading of Scripture within the life of the Catholic Church's tradition and teaching authority at first sight suggests a serious restriction to how an individual Catholic, be they an ordinary member of the faithful or a Scripture scholar, may read the Scriptural text. But what I mull over from time to time is the thought that, though the life of the Church does define how some passages of Scripture are to be understood (for example, on the office of the successor of St Peter and the institution of the Eucharist), these passages are relatively few compared to the entirety of the Scriptural canon, and there is enormous freedom with regard to how much of the Scriptural text can be understood. The Catholic, who reads Scripture in the framework of the tradition and teaching authority, therefore actually has much more freedom in relationship with the text than the Evangelical Christian, whose only source of the content of faith is the text alone and whose relationship to the text is make-or-break on every question.

The first reminder came in a conversation with a lady I have only recently come to know. Over a lunch break, she steered conversation very quickly from asking whether or not I was a believer via the recent decision of the Methodist Church in the UK to allow same sex marriage to asking whether or not I thought the Catholic Church would give in on the issue as well. I pointed out that the arrangements which give the Holy See an existence as an independent state as well as a universal authority of faith protects the Church at a local level from political and social influences that might affect other ecclesial bodies - even if local bishops wanted to give in on the issue, they wouldn't be able to do so. But what struck me was this lady's very brief observation that same sex marriage was against Biblical teaching, which suggested that no other authority sat behind her belief on this question than that. The lady in question did not appear to recognise an insecurity that exists in that basis.

The second reminder came in the homily at Mass this last Sunday. Preaching on St John's account of the feeding of the 5 000, a visiting priest suggested that Jesus' intention in performing this sign was to teach the necessity for the Christian life of caring for the material needs of our neighbour. Noting St John's statement that the event occurred "shortly before the Jewish feast of passover", Father suggested that St John was putting this sign into the context of the first passover, where the Jewish people were to enter the desert with the need there for them to receive earthly nourishment. Father saw this as a first stage in St John's presentation of Jesus teaching, with the later parts of the chapter of his Gospel building up in steps from this first stage. This is not the customary Catholic reading of the text and its parallels in the other Gospels. The more usual reading sees in it, perhaps particularly in St John's Gospel, a sign of the abundance of the Eucharistic gift to the Church (cf Catechism of the Catholic Church n.1335, but see also n.1397, where commitment to the poor is indicated as one of the fruits of reception of the Sacrament). There is a question about the wisdom or otherwise of offering such an unusual interpretation (from the Catholic point of view) during a homily at Sunday Mass in a parish and in the context of a sequence of Sunday Gospel readings that are essentially eucharistic in their intent; but, if that question is put to one side, the interpretation lies within, but perhaps at the boundaries, of the range of freedom that a Catholic exegete has with respect to the Scriptural text.

Monday 12 July 2021

The Praise of Glory

 MAGNIFICAT for last Sunday uses as its "Meditation of the Day" an extract from St Elizabeth of the Trinity.  The text is published under the title Heaven in Faith in the Institute of Carmelite Studies (ICS) complete works of St Elizabeth, Volume 1. In the following I use the Scripture translations used in the ICS edition, rather than those used by MAGNIFICAT, which use the Jerusalem translations used in the Liturgy (and thereby seem to lose a subtlety in St Elizabeth's thought).

"If you knew the gift of God", Christ said one evening to the Samaritan woman. But what is this gift of God if not Himself? And, the beloved disciple tells us: "He came to His own and His own did not accept Him". St John the Baptist could still say to many souls these words of reproach: "There is one in the midst of you, 'in you', whom you do not know".

The two words "in you" are inserted into, and emphasized, in the quotation of St John the Baptist, and echo a phrase in St Luke's Gospel.

The MAGNIFICAT meditation then omits a following section, losing a Marian reference in St Elizabeth's thought (St Elizabeth may have included this section prompted by the occurrence of the solemnity of the Assumption at the time of her writing):

"If you knew the gift of God..." There is one who know the gift of God, one who did not lose one particle of it, on who was so pure, so luminous that she seemed to be the Light itself: "Speculum justitiae". One whose life was so simple, so lost in God that there is hardly anything we can say about it.

"Virgo fidelis": that is, faithful Virgin, "who kept all these things in her heart".

 The extract then takes up the theme of the praise of glory, quoting St Paul:

"We have been predestined by the decree of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, so that we may be the praise of his glory."

It is St Paul who tells us this, St Paul who was instructed by God Himself. How do we realize this great dream of the Heart of our God, this immutable will for our souls? In a word, how do we correspond to our vocation and become perfect Praises of Glory of the Most Holy Trinity?

"In Heaven" each sould is a praise of glory of the Father, the Word and Holy Spirit, for each soul is established in pure love and "lives no longer its own life, but the life of God". Then it knows Him, St Paul says, as it is known by Him.... St John of the Cross affirms that "the soul surrendered to love, through the strength of the Holy Spirit, is not far from being raised to the degree of which we have just spoken," eve here below! This is what I call a perfect praise of glory!

 Where the Jerusalem translation "..chosen to be, for his greater glory..." appears to be passive in its intent - it is God's action that makes us manifest his greater glory - ".. so that we may be the praise of his glory" suggests an active sense too, on the part of the soul, though active in response to the initiative of God. Whatever the subtleties of the exegesis of the Scriptural text, the idea that the soul should live as a praise of glory of the Trinity is a key part of St Elizabeth's thought.