Tuesday 28 June 2022

Roe v. Wade overturned: what next?

I have not been able to keep track of all the reactions to the overturning of the Roe v. Wade judgement by the US Supreme Court. I also have my usual wariness of commenting on a situation whose details are beyond my own immediate knowledge - it is too easy to respond to the reporting of what someone said and to then find out that either they said something slightly different or that the fuller context of the remarks gives the quoted part a rather different sense.

What of President Biden?

His original remarks in response to the Supreme Court judgement can be found on the White House website: Remarks by President Biden on the Supreme Court Decision to Overturn Roe v. Wade. These remarks have worrying aspects to them, and reading them in full adds to that sense concern.

It was three justices named by one President — Donald Trump — who were the core of today’s decision to upend the scales of justice and eliminate a fundamental right for women in this country. 
Make no mistake: This decision is the culmination of a deliberate effort over decades to upset the balance of our law.  It’s a realization of an extreme ideology and a tragic error by the Supreme Court, in my view.

It is the idea that a judgement in law that opens the way to pro-life legislation to take effect in states of the US represents an "extreme ideology" that should give cause for thought. First of all, we should resist the idea that to be pro-life is to be an advocate of an "extreme ideology" - and in this phrase, the word "ideology" is as significant as the word "extreme". An ideology takes an aspect or part of a reality, and absolutises it at the expense of the complete picture; and, in doing so, it adopts a position that separates itself from objective reality itself. To be pro-life on the contrary recognises a reality - that abortion takes the innocent life of an unborn child, an unborn child who would otherwise be able to live their dignity as a human person. To argue, on the other hand, that abortion represents health care is to misrepresent the genuine meaning of the term health care as it would be applied in the wider generality of medical practice.

President Biden's reference to Donald Trump, though, highlights a hazard of that style of pro-life activity that allies itself to a particular political stance, a politics that can be fundamentally ideological in its real intent rather than having a genuine concern for the common good. More is needed to build a genuine culture of life in America than the legislative actions of Republican administrations, and too close an alliance to those legislative actions will be counter-productive to the wider building of a culture of life.

It is also interesting to contrast President Biden's narrative that:

The Court has done what it has never done before: expressly take away a constitutional right that is so fundamental to so many Americans that had already been recognized.

with the rather different narrative from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops statement:

America was founded on the truth that all men and women are created equal, with God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This truth was grievously denied by the U.S. Supreme CourtRoe v. Wade ruling, which legalized and normalized the taking of innocent human life. We thank God today that the Court has now overturned this decision. 

So far as I can tell, the essential import of the judgement to overthrow Roe v. Wade is that abortion should not now be seen in the United States as some form of right guaranteed by the constitution, and should never have been seen in such a way. And yet the barrage of criticism of the decision, following the lead of politicians such as President Biden, ignores this and continues to talk in terms of abortion as some form of human or constitutional right.

What of the culture?

In both the United States and here in the UK, abortion has been legally permitted for so long that it has embedded in medical practice and in the wider culture. The legal permission is only an aspect of that cultural embedding; the widespread hostility shown to the overthrow of Roe v. Wade exemplifies how deep this cultural embedding now is. I have thought for some considerable time now that our conversation about abortion should no longer be one characterised by "a woman's right to choose" or a "woman's right to have control over her own body". The stories of women who have had abortions - both those gathered by supporters of legalised abortion and those opposed - demonstrate the range of constraints that influence their decisions. In many stories, the experiences are such that the word "freedom" (in the full, philosophical sense of the term as applied to human actions) is difficult to apply as a descriptor of the decision making process. I cannot help but feel that, if our public conversation were to focus more clearly on the different narratives of  women seeking abortions, the practice of abortion in our society would change significantly. That conversation would need us to reflect more deeply on the nature of freedom in human acting, and how women seeking abortions can be supported to make decisions that manifest a fuller freedom of choice rather than expressing instead determining constraints. 

Perhaps the jolt given to the idea of abortion as a constitutional right by the recent Supreme Court ruling will enable this wider conversation to take place.

Friday 24 June 2022

Pope Francis to Families: "..you get married because you want to build your marriage on the love of Christ"

 On Wednesday, Pope Francis joined with families attending the Tenth World Meeting of Families in Rome for the "Festival of Families". This festival takes the form of a celebration with testimonies from different couples and their families; it is the part of the World Meeting that can be most readily described as a celebration of the family.

In his address Pope Francis responded to the testimonies that he had just heard, indicating some "steps forward" that need to be taken together and using the testimonies as stepping off points for his reflections. A brief summary of the testimonies can be found in the report here: Pope to the Families: Let us live with our eyes fixed on heaven.

Speaking of a "step forward towards marriage, in response to a testimony from a couple who had cohabited for many years, the Holy Father said:

We can say that whenever a man and a woman fall in love, God offers them a gift; that gift is marriage. It is a marvellous gift, which contains the power of God’s own love: strong, enduring, faithful, ready to start over after every failure or moment of weakness. Marriage is not a formality you go through. You don’t get married in order to be “card-carrying” Catholics, to obey a rule, or because the Church tells you to, or to have a party… No, you get married because you want to build your marriage on the love of Christ, which is solid as rock. In marriage, Christ gives himself to you, so that you can find the strength to give yourselves to one another. So take heart: family life is not “mission impossible”! By the grace of the sacrament, God makes it a wonderful journey, to be undertaken together with him and never alone. The family is not a lofty ideal that is unattainable in reality. God solemnly promises his presence in your marriage and family, not only on the day of your wedding, but for the rest of your lives. And he keeps supporting you, every day of your journey.

The other "steps forward" that Pope Francis proposed were towards embracing the cross, towards forgiveness, towards welcome and towards fraternity. The full text of the Pope's address can found on the Vatican website here.

Wednesday 22 June 2022

Corpus Christi reminiscences

Last Sunday saw the celebration of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi. After the principle Mass in our parish there was a short Eucharistic procession round a block of the local streets, ending with Benediction in the garden outside the Church. Five photographs can be seen here. The parish's first communion children led the procession; an A5 sheet with the words of hymns to be sung during the procession was provided - though, as I suspect is quite typical of these occasions, the head of the procession tended to be singing a line or two ahead of those of us further back. During Mass we were treated to a homily that resoundingly affirmed belief in the real presence of Jesus Christ, true God, in the Eucharistic species.

Last Sunday's procession reminded me of when I was still at school, and a memory of a visit we made to a parish where an aunt was the housekeeper, for the Eucharistic procession in that parish. A procession in the nearby street was followed by Benediction in the garden beside the Church, more or less as happened on Sunday.

The day prompted us to reminisce about other occasions on which we had taken part in Eucharistic processions. One of the largest such occasions was during the International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec in 2008: International Eucharistic Congress: the Procession of the Blessed Sacrament. Another notable occasion was during a visit to Lake Como, when we were able to take part in the procession in  Bellano: Corpus Christi by Lake Como. We have also been in Assisi (twice if my memory serves me correctly) for the Solemnity, when we joined the parish in Rivotorto for Mass and a Eucharistic Procession. All of this takes place with Assisi itself overlooking the Church and the procession route. There are also the occasions when we have taken part in the Eucharistic procession in Lourdes: Following the Eucharistic Procession

Whilst it can be the larger celebrations that prompt the most vivid memories, it may well be the case that the celebrations which most deeply express the faith of the participants are the slightly makeshift efforts of ordinary parishes. I was reminded once again on Sunday last of Pope Francis' observation that manifestations of popular piety represent the inculturation of the Gospel in a particular place, and it appears to me that small parish processions do exactly this.

Sunday 12 June 2022

Pope Francis speaking to the Bishops and Priests of Sicily

I have just read the address that Pope Francis gave when meeting with the Bishops and Priests of Sicily. It can be found on the Vatican website, but only in Italian: here.

The very major part of the address discusses the social and pastoral situation of the people of Sicily, and of the Church in relation to that situation. It demonstrates an extensive interest in the problems faced by Sicilian society and how the Church can and does engage with the people experiencing those problems.

It is rather misleading to concentrate comment on the last three paragraphs, and to read them outside of a Sicilian (or, at least, a south Italian) context as if they are remarks intended of a universal application. It is unfair, too, to remove them from the context of the concerns of the major part of the address that precede them.

I would draw particular attention to the two paragraphs immediately preceding the last three, in which Pope Francis speaks highly of, and encourages, the Marian devotion of the priests of Sicily.

As far as popular piety is concerned, I have a memory of a remark from early in Pope Francis' pontificate that suggests he has a very high valuing of popular piety. He observed that popular piety represents the inculturation of the Gospel. (If anyone can find a reference for this remark, please put it in the comments box - I have not been able to trace it yet.) That is the context of Pope Francis' remark about popular piety, and it should be read as encouraging such piety rather than discouraging it.

My own experience of Italy means that I can readily identify with Pope Francis' remarks about lace and about people leaving the Church for a cigarette during the homily (perhaps not literally a cigarette); and I can certainly recognise the long homily that does not really have very much of substance. Pope Francis' way of expressing things may be either rather amusing or heavily sarcastic depending on your taste. I expect that, if I had been in Pope Francis' audience, I would have had a quiet chuckle at these remarks.  But then I am not a fan of liturgical lace or of birettas. 

There is a very Italian context for these remarks, and it is quite misrepresentative to suggest that they are intended for some kind of universal application.

Perhaps we who comment should pay more attention to that last paragraph of Pope Francis where he talks about the problem of gossip....

Monday 6 June 2022

Mary, Mother of the Church

One of Pope Francis' contributions to our liturgical life has been the establishing in the universal calendar of the Monday after the Solemnity of Pentecost as a Memoria of Our Lady, Mother of the Church.

The Collect that I used in the office that I prayed this morning:

Lord our God, through your power and goodness the Blessed Virgin, the fairest fruit of your redeeming love, shine forth as the perfect image of the Church; grant to your people on their pilgrim way on earth that, with eyes fixed on Mary, they may follow closely in the footsteps of her Son until they come to that fullness of glory, which now they contemplate in his mother with hearts filled with joy.

And the Preface that would be used at this Mass from which this Collect was taken:

You have given the Blessed Virgin Mary to your Church as the perfect  image of its role as mother and of its future glory. She is a virgin unsurpassed in purity of faith, a bride joined to Christ in an unbreakable bond of love and united with in his suffering. She is a mother by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, filled with loving concern for all her children. She is a queen adorned with the jewels of grace, robed with the sun and crowned with stars, sharing eternally in the glory of her Lord.