Saturday, 4 July 2015

The Day of Christ, the Day of Mercy

I have just encountered a book Generating Traces in the History of the World,  a book which according to its blurb, "is a synthesis of Monsignor Luigi Giussani's reflection on Christian experience". In the last few months, excerpts from the book have appeared in Magnificat.

I was struck by the title of the last chapter of the book: "The Day of Christ, the Day of Mercy". Given Pope Francis' familiarity with the movement Communion and Liberation, I wonder whether that familiarity provides at least something of the background to his calling of the Year of Mercy, and a helpful way of understanding what the year is and is not about.

Just as the Bull of Indiction for the Holy Year includes a discussion of the relationship of justice and mercy to each other in the Christian mystery (nn.20-21), so does the chapter in Generating Traces suggest, albeit briefly, that where the reason of man can arrive at a notion of justice with regard to wrong doing, it takes the revelation of the Christian mystery to enable man to access the experience of mercy. The chapter does suggest an eschatological character to the revelation of divine mercy:
If every hour of history is the hour of Christ's human glory that happens through the conscious offering of believers, there will come a day that no one knows (neither the angels of God, nor the Son, but only the Father) when the definitive revelation of the Mystery will take place, as the valuing of every good the Father has generated, the Son has assumed, and the Spirit has made fruitful. All the good, even the furtive move stirred up in the almost unconscious darkness of human endeavours in history, will not be erased by God who, as the summit of Being, cannot contradict Himself by annihilating on single instant of good. It will be the day of the triumph of Christ, who will hand over everything to the Father, so that the Father may be "all in all".... If Christ is the protagonist of the "last day", the day of Christ's triumph will therefore be the day of mercy....
It is also worth reading the account of the parable of the prodigal son given in Generating Traces .. alongside that of Pope St John Paul II in his encyclical letter Dives in Misercordia (nn.5-6), in order to capture a nuance that is important in understanding a significance of the parable for the Holy Year:
In Rembrandt's famous painting, the prodigal son is the mirror image of the Father. The Father's face is full of sorrow at the son's error, at his denial, full of a sorrow that flows back into forgiveness. Human imagination can reach this point. But the most spectacular and mysterious thing is that the Father's face is the mirror image of the prodigal son. In Rembrandt's painting, the Father is in a position that mirrors the son - in Him is reflected the son's sorrow, the despair overcome, the destruction prevented, the happiness about to rekindle, in the instant in which it is about to rekindle, when goodness triumphs. Goodness triumphs in the prodigal son because he weeps for his mistake. But goodness triumphs in the Father: this is the concept of mercy which man cannot manage to understand, or speak of. And the Father's face is mercy, because it is pity for the one who has gone wrong and is there, turned towards the one who is coming back.
When we put this alongside words which occur about a page later in the chapter, and still commenting on the parable, it is impossible to take away from the proposal of the Jubilee of Mercy any sense that it is indifferent to wrong doing. Indeed, the call to conversion is of the essence of the response to mercy.
The concept of forgiveness, with a certain proportion between mistakes and punishments, is in some way conceivable for human reason, but not this limitless forgiveness that is mercy. Being forgiven arises here from something absolutely incomprehensible to man, from the Mystery; in other words, from mercy. It is what cannot be understood that ensures the exceptionality of what can be understood, because God's life is love, caritas, absolute free giving, love without profit, humanly "without reasons".
The chapter in Generating Traces .. suggests two ways in which we might in our turn try to be merciful as the Father is merciful. The first is that we should be sorrowful for what we have done, but sorrowful in a way that is at once also joy:
In virtue of the revelation of His mercy - which would seem to sanction all human behaviour, but it does not - God fills us with sorrow for the evil that we were not even aware of before ... his is a sorrow full of gladness, but it is still sorrow, sorrow at oneself.
The second is that of responding in astonishment at God's mercy, expressed in an attitude of entreaty, or begging, before the Lord:
We are not truly human if we do not wish to be merciful like our heavenly Father. The question is whether or not we really desire it. So the miracle of mercy is the desire to change.... This desire defines the present, the instant of man who is a sinner. The miracle is accepting oneself and entrusting oneself to an Other present so as to be changed, standing before Him and begging.
Entreaty is the whole expression of man now, in the instant.
Just as Pope Francis, at the end of the Bull of Indiction for the Holy Year of Mercy, indicates the dimension of evangelisation contained in the proclamation of mercy:
[The Church] knows that her primary task, especially at a moment full of great hopes and signs of contradiction, is to introduce everyone to the great mystery of God’s mercy by contemplating the face of Christ. The Church is called above all to be a credible witness to mercy, professing it and living it as the core of the revelation of Jesus Christ.
so does Generating Traces.., though from the viewpoint of an experience of Christian life:
The reality of mercy is the supreme opportunity that Christ and the Church have for making His Word reach man, not just as a mere echo of this word in man.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Same sex marriage is not a human right - UPDATED

According to the BBC News reporting:
The US Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex marriage is a legal right across the United States.
But it is interesting to note that the European Court has ruled that the European Convention on Human Rights does not impose on countries adhering to the Convention an obligation to legalise same sex marriage - see here, paragraphs 60-64. And by a strong implication, since the European Convention is in some respect derivative from it, this suggests that the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights likewise does not articulate any right of same sex couples to marry as being a human right.

Article 16 (1) of the UN Declaration, therefore, should be seen as articulating only a right of a man and a woman to marry:
Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
As with all the human rights expressed in the UN Declaration this is a right that is universal (it applies equally to all men and women), and it is inalienable (that is, in the context of this post, it is neither conveyed by the positive law of a country and nor can it be taken away by that law).

According to the preamble to the  UN Declaration:
.... human rights should be protected by the rule of law ....
In other words, it is not the proper task of the law to convey human rights that do not in fact exist. It is rather the task of the law to protect and allow the exercise of rights that arise from the very nature of the human person, that is, rights that are universal and inalienable. A system of law that attempts to create a human right has overstepped its competence.

So, as we read the news of the US Supreme Court decision, I think we should be careful to recognise, first of all, what the decision has and has not done. And then we should also resist the suggestion that the decision is one that makes the United States a more equal or fairer place - in so far as the decision does not protect a recognised human right it can only be seen as being neutral in this regard.

UPDATE 1: Neil Addison analyses the dissenting judgements of the US Supreme Court here - and, interestingly, the dissenting judges appear to be raising a question about the Court's action from the point of view of the nature of law, but in a rather different way than I suggest above. There is a further post by Neil Addison here.

UPDATE 2: The President of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in the United States has issued a statement, the full text of which can be found here. The opening paragraph of the statement reads:
Regardless of what a narrow majority of the Supreme Court may declare at this moment in history, the nature of the human person and marriage remains unchanged and unchangeable. Just as Roe v. Wade did not settle the question of abortion over forty years ago, Obergefell v. Hodges does not settle the question of marriage today. Neither decision is rooted in the truth, and as a result, both will eventually fail. Today the Court is wrong again. It is profoundly immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex can constitute a marriage

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

First Glance at Laudato si

I have just had my first very quick read of some parts of Pope Francis' Encyclical Letter Laudato si.

I haven't by any means read it all, but have read enough to recognise that to characterise the Encyclical as being "about climate change" is simply not to do it justice. It contains a very wide ranging account of mankind's relation to the rest of the created world, and of the relation of that created world to its Creator. This theme in particular tempted me to reflect that, if one follows Pope Francis teaching, one would avoid the danger of an ecological concern that becomes an ideology because it is divorced from a relation to a Person. There is no possibility of coming away from a reading of Pope Francis' encyclical without recognising a teaching about the specific place and dignity of the human person among God's creatures.

Three quick thoughts.

1. I was very interested in Pope Francis' attribution to St Francis of Assisi of what he terms an "integral ecology". The account of St Francis' attitude to the created world in nn.10-12 of the Laudato si appears to me rich in its implications for how we understand St Francis life and his thought.

2. Am I right to recognise in the following passages something of the thought familiar to the FAITH Movement? See here,  here and here.
In this universe, shaped by open and intercommunicating systems, we can discern countless forms of relationship and participation. This leads us to think of the whole as open to God’s transcendence, within which it develops. Faith allows us to interpret the meaning and the mysterious beauty of what is unfolding.... [n.79]
Human beings, even if we postulate a process of evolution, also possess a uniqueness which cannot be fully explained by the evolution of other open systems. Each of us has his or her own personal identity and is capable of entering into dialogue with others and with God himself. Our capacity to reason, to develop arguments, to be inventive, to interpret reality and to create art, along with other not yet discovered capacities, are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology. The sheer novelty involved in the emergence of a personal being within a material universe presupposes a direct action of God and a particular call to life and to relationship on the part of a “Thou” who addresses himself to another “thou”. The biblical accounts of creation invite us to see each human being as a subject who can never be reduced to the status of an object. [n.81]
The ultimate destiny of the universe is in the fullness of God, which has already been attained by the risen Christ, the measure of the maturity of all things. Here we can add yet another argument for rejecting every tyrannical and irresponsible domination of human beings over other creatures. The ultimate purpose of other creatures is not to be found in us. Rather, all creatures are moving forward with us and through us towards a common point of arrival, which is God, in that transcendent fullness where the risen Christ embraces and illumines all things. Human beings, endowed with intelligence and love, and drawn by the fullness of Christ, are called to lead all creatures back to their Creator. [n.83]
3. In the account of "Technology: Creativity and Power" [n.102 ff], Pope Francis refers six times to the thought of Romano Guardini. The particular work referred to has, in English translation, the title The End of the Modern World, though I suspect the original German title, Das Ende der Neuzeit, contains a subtlety lost in the English. My own familiarity with Guardini's thought on the theme of technology, nature and the human person comes from another book, Letters from Lake Como. Two visits to Lake Como in the space of the last year have given me a deeper appreciation of Guardini's book. I was delighted - and not surprised - to see Pope Francis obvious familiarity with Romano Guardini and his willingness to cite him in Laudato si.

See here for an account of the influence of Romano Guardini on Pope Francis and in Laudato si.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

St Charles Lwanga and Companions: an opportunity to comment on recent events

Today sees the celebration in the Catholic Church of the feast of St Charles Lwanga and Companions. The account of their martyrdom below is based on Butler's Lives of the Saints New Concise Edition:
In the interior of central Africa the first Catholic missions were established by the White Fathers in 1879.In Uganda some progress was made under the not unfriendly local ruler, Mtesa, with catechumens being prepared for baptism; but his successor, Mwanga, determined to root out Christianity from among his people.  
Mwanga was an active homosexual, and his hostility towards Christianity was made worse when Christian boys in his service refused to give in to his sexual advances. Joseph Mkasa, a Catholic, reproached Mwanga after the killing of a protestant missionary and his team. He also reproached Mwanga for his lifestyle. Mwanga beheaded Joseph Mkasa.  
The following May, Mwanga was infuriated when he learnt that a servant he had sent for had been receiving instruction from one of his fellow servants, Denis Sebuggwawo. Denis was sent for, and the king killed him by thrusting a spear through his throat. Charles Lwanga, who had succeeded Joseph Mkasa in charge of the servants, secretly baptised four of them who were catechumens, including Kizito, a boy of thirteen whom Lwanga had repeatedly saved from the designs of the king. The next day, the servants were drawn up before Mwanga and the Christians were ordered to separate themselves from the rest. Led by Mwanga and Kizito, the oldest and the youngest, they did so - fifteen young men, all under twenty five years of age. They were joined by two others already under arrest and by two soldiers.  
Mwanga asked them if they intended to remain Christians. " Till death” came the reply. “Then put them to death”, said the king. Three of the young people were killed on the road to the execution site. The others were burnt to death on a pyre on 3rd June 1886.  
The persecution continued, with both protestants and Catholics giving their lives rather than denying Christ. Charles Lwanga and 21 others, including 17 royal servants, were beatified in 1920 and canonised in 1964.
A more recent testimony on behalf of the Church's teaching with regard to same sex relations is that of Rocco Buttiglione, in 2004. What follows is an extract from a speech given by Rocco Buttiglione, Italian Minister of European Affairs, at the VI Congress on Catholics and Public Life, in Madrid, Spain, on November 20, 2004
As you know, I was recently a candidate to be a European Commissioner. And as you also know, I was rejected for the position for expressing my Catholic beliefs on sexuality and marriage at the hearing (before the appointment). One may think: If we cannot express our principles in public we will seem to be ashamed of them. ….  
I was not ashamed; but I was not provocative. I was prudent. I don't know if God would give me the courage to offer my head for my faith, like St. Thomas More... But a seat on the EU commission – yes, that I can offer. …  
They introduced the category of sin into the political discourse, and I said "No, in politics we may not speak of sin. We should speak of non-discrimination, and I am solidly opposed to discrimination against homosexuals, or any type of discrimination." I did not say that homosexuality is a sin, as many newspapers reported. I said, "I may think." It is possible that I think this, but I did not tell them whether I think it or not. What I think about this has no impact whatsoever on politics, because in politics the problem is the principle concerning discrimination and I accept that principle.  
That was not enough. They wanted me to say that I see nothing objectionable about homosexuality. This I cannot do because it is not what I think. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church it is written that, from a moral point of view, homosexuality is not a sin but rather an objectively disordered condition. Homosexuality can become a sin if one adds the subjective element, which is to say, full knowledge that this is wrong and also freedom of the will which accepts this wrong position. I was not allowed to say that and for this reason I was deemed not worthy to be a European commissioner.  
Catholics have the right to hold positions in the European Union. Is it conceivable that Catholics can be prohibited from exercising public office because of their Catholicism? Because they take the Church's position? Some say that the Catholic position on sexuality is aberrant, and this view should be grounds for discrimination at the EU, or in regard to holding public office. I do not want this to become accepted practice. They have established that a Catholic who says that perhaps it is possible that homosexuality would be a sin can be discriminated against. I found myself in a position in which I clearly had to decide with respect to whether I would keep my position, between my faith (or if not my faith at least the doctrine of my faith) or to accept being discriminated against. For my faith I was able to sacrifice a seat in the EU, which is not such an important thing. Ultimately, this is what happened.
At the present time, the question that Catholics face in this regard arises from the legalisation of marriage between people of the same sex. How do we go about maintaining a testimony in favour of the Church's teaching in the circumstances created by the recent referendum in the Republic of Ireland and the earlier legalisation of same sex marriage in the United Kingdom?

In France, the movement Manif pour tous, and the vigil movement that started on the edge of its protests against "la loi Taubirau", have used the term "resistance" to articulate a permanent stance in favour of their opposition to the law. It is of great interest to me that these movements are not explicitly Catholic - indeed, the vigil movement is expressly non-denominational/non-religious and the suggestion recently in the Catholic Herald that Manif pour tous had largely ecclesial backing from the Catholic Church is not one that I share. The statement from Senator Mullen after the referendum in the Republic of Ireland suggests the emergence of a similar movement, at least in sentiment, in that country. These movements call, not for the engagement of the Catholic Church as institution, but for the engagement of citizens, the lay faithful, translating into a lived experience "in the world" of  a stance rooted in their Catholic belief. It is their proper "office", irreplaceable by the action of clergy or religious in the Church.

I have not thought through the full implications, but I do think there is something to be said for Catholic priests/parishes no longer acting as the civil registrars of marriages conducted in their churches. It would provide one way of clearly saying that the term "marriage" in a Catholic Church is not the same as the term "marriage" in a register office. However, whilst this suggestion might provide a testimony on the part of the officiating Catholic priest, it still leaves the couple themselves with the compromise of their testimony when they have additionally to go through the civil form of marriage at the register office. And perhaps the compromise of testimony has been there in a different way for many years already, by way of legal provision for divorce.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

The Year of Consecrated Life (7): consecrated virginity in the world

This page at the website of the National Office for Vocation includes a paragraph indicating the origins and the juridical standing of the vocation of the consecrated virgin in the Church. A more detailed explanation of the vocation to consecrated virginity, as lived in the life of the Church of our own times, can be found here: Consecrated Virginity in the World. What is it? This post describes an experience of the Rite of Consecration itself: 'Sponsa Christi' on Consecrated Virginity.

Consecrated virginity, appears then, to be distinctive in comparison to consecrated life in general for two reasons. It first of all consecrates a state of life already existing. It requires the woman consecrated to have lived a life of virginity even before her consecration. This appears not to expect a conversion of life that might be characteristic of consecrated life in general - though I would expect that that conversion has occurred at some point in the time before consecration. And secondly, it is the prayer of consecration that constitutes the effective feature, and not the promises or vows made by the recipient of the consecration. The woman is consecrated, rather than making an act of consecration themselves. This creates a state of life from which the Church is not able to grant a dispensation. (There is a certain analogy to priestly ordination here, where the promises of obedience and celibacy are not of the essential form of conferral of the sacrament, and the sacrament confers a permanent character.)

That this form of life existed in the Church before that of religious life, and the consecration associated with religious life, is thought provoking. Does it perhaps, because of its indissoluble character, represent a fuller actualisation of a notion of "spiritual marriage" than do the vows of consecrated life in general?

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Replying to two comments received ...

...As someone who goes to both forms of the Mass I can't help but see the pews in the OF emptying quite quickly around me while the pews around me at the EF of the Mass, when I can get there, are slowly filling, almost like a reverse osmosis but the Church is going to be decimated before it rebuilds...
I would suggest that the comparative experience of the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms related in this part of a comment received can only be a partial picture. There is not a single narrative of "growth where you have the Extraordinary Form" and "decline where you have the Ordinary Form". One has only to look at the life of the new movements in the Church to see faithfulness to the Church and to an original charism that result in ecclesial growth, with little or no reference to the Extraordinary Form. Pope Francis draws attention to this growth with his knowledge and experience of Communion and Liberation and the Charismatic Renewal. (One or two of the remarks of Pope Francis that have caused most disaffection in Traditionalist circles have been a familiar part of the ecclesial conversation in these movements for some time.)

I would suggest that the particular situations of Extraordinary Form and Ordinary Form celebrations vary from place to place, and with the circumstances of the different places. The experience of one particular place should not be extrapolated to become the experience of each and every place. And I see a number of places where the pews around me at the Ordinary Form are full.

I found this account informative, in a number of ways, with regard to experience of attending the Extraordinary Form: the reform of the reform. seem not to have not read that Pope Benedict wanted the EF of the Mass in every parish...
But it is the last three words of the headline of the news report to which I was referred that says it all:
Pope would like Tridentine Mass in each parish, Vatican official says . "Vatican official says" ..... Cardinal Hoyos speculation in this regard during a visit to London in June 2008 would appear to still be the cause of wishful thinking on the part of at least some advocates of the Extraordinary Form. It is very difficult indeed to read Summorum Pontificum and Pope Benedict's accompanying letter and take away from them an intention that the Extraordinary Form should be established in every parish.

Pope Benedict's letter  clearly indicates that it is the Missal of Paul VI, celebrated with reverence, a sense of the sacred, and with obedience to its directives, that will unite parishes; it is that form that remains the ordinary form of celebration.  The preserving of the "riches that have developed in the Church's faith and prayer" to which Pope Benedict refers in his letter is as much about this enrichment of celebrations of the Ordinary Form from the greater availability of the Extraordinary Form. It is incorrect to read it as an intention that the Extraordinary Form should be celebrated in every parish, and I am not aware of any direct statement to such an effect from Pope Benedict himself.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

An aside on transferred days of obligation

Since the Bishops Conference of England and Wales decided to move the celebration of the Solemnities of the Ascension of the Lord and the Body and Blood of the Lord from their previously-customary Thursdays to the following Sundays, I have not had a particularly strong feeling one way or the other about the change.

I do have some sympathy for the reasoning of their Lordships at the time that, with a low adherence of the faithful to the practice of the obligations on a Thursday, the transfer to the Sunday would make it easier for the faithful to celebrate these Solemnities. There appears to me to be some analogy between this motivation and one expressed by Pope Benedict XVI in his letter to bishops accompanying the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum:
One has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden.  This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to make every effort to enable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew. 
But, if I remember correctly, the Bishops Conference also intended that, in making the change, the faithful would celebrate the two Solemnities with a much greater appreciation of the mysteries that they celebrate. That requires that the Solemnities are celebrated at parish level in a way that makes rather more of them than the adjacent Sundays of Eastertide or of Ordinary Time.

In the parish where I most often go to Mass, though, today's celebration of the Ascension has been overwhelmed by the fact that young people in the parish are receiving Holy Communion for the first time at the principle Mass - and the same will happen again next Sunday on the Solemnity of Pentecost. I suspect that this is not unusual around the parishes of England and Wales during the "First Communion season". It does mean that the intention that a celebration of the Ascension on a Sunday would lead to a greater appreciation of the mystery being celebrated has somewhat gone by the board. The association of First Communions with the Solemnity of Corpus Christi works, as does the celebration of Confirmation on the Sunday of Pentecost, though an attentive linking of them to the mystery marked by the Church's liturgy of that day is required if the Bishops' intentions with regard to the faithful as a whole are to be met. The Sundays of the Ascension and the Trinity, though, are not the right days to use. There appears to me to be a significant discordance between Episcopal intention and parochial practice.

As the conundrums represented by the move of the Solemnities to their nearby Sundays comes round each year, I have reflected, too, on the way in which those with attachment to the Extraordinary Form have continued to celebrate the two Solemnities on Thursdays, almost as a way of getting round the Bishops' decision in this matter. Until such time as the calendars according to which celebrations in the Extraordinary and Ordinary Forms are determined are brought together, it would be a gesture in favour of ecclesial communion if celebrations in the Extraordinary Form complied with the calendar being observed in the Ordinary Form in so far as these two Solemnities are concerned.