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.