Thursday, 7 December 2017

To understand Pope Francis, read Guardini

I am about to start reading a book by Romano Guardini. It is entitled The End of the Modern World, though the copy I have just bought includes the text of a subsequent work by Guardini, Power and Responsibility.

Pope Francis began higher studies looking at the thought of Romano Guardini, though he did not complete those studies. Footnote 182 of his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium references a quotation from The End of the Modern World. The Encyclical Letter Laudato Si cites the same work by Guardini in several places.

If you really want to understand Pope Francis, read Romano Guardini. It will be a better read than the latest recycling of inflammatory gossip masquerading as journalism....

Saturday, 2 December 2017

An unacceptable representative of patrimony?

Fr Hunwicke (or JH, if we adopt his own manner of referring to those in high ecclesial office) makes great play of the Anglican patrimony that has been brought into the Catholic fold in the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.

In richly Anglican fashion, he represents Pope Francis as the leader of a "party" in the Church:
The difference in our present situation is that one of these "schools" or parties - the Bergoglianist - is headed by the Roman Pontiff himself (or else by individuals who have worked themselves into the position of being able to manipulate the papal office). This is confusing; Christifideles are not accustomed to having to make the distinction between what the Pope does as the head of a party; and what he does by virtue of his Petrine Ministry. But we are left with no alternative except to work within this confusing situation. The pope is the boss, and this, clearly, is how he wants things.
JH then goes on to argue that unpopular (to some) passages of Amoris Laetitia (clearly an exercise by Pope Francis of his office as successor of St Peter whatever JH and other commentators might say about it not being a magisterial document) can be seen as the actions of the leader of a "party" in the Church rather than an exercise of office, and so be considered non-binding.

And now JH has indulged in what can only be described as character assassination of Pope Francis:
Would you like a careful explanation of PF's skills in playing people off against each other, in making use of a person and then discarding him, in ruthlessly humiliating or disposing of people whose aptitude for sycophancy he finds insufficiently crafted? It's all here....
It has, I think, become so clear as now to be uncontroversial that what you get in PF is not what it says on the tin. He is not a kindly humble avuncular figure with a winning smile and a passion for cripples and babies, who spends his days and nights thinking about the poor. He is a hard and determined politician with a vindictive temper and an appetite for power and a disinclination to let anybody or anything stand in his way. .....
Persistent discrediting of the Successor of St Peter is simply not Catholic. And presenting it under the guise of an Anglican Catholic patrimony, and, so ironically, in the language of "party" in the Church familiar to the Church of England, does not make it any more acceptable:
And the Anglican Catholic Patrimony has been transplanted, surely, for the good of all Catholic Christians. Papa Ratzinger replanted us within Christ's Catholic Church Militant here in Earth so that we can share and proclaim our experience. So that we can tell our fellow Catholics: "If you go down that path, we can explain to you here and now exactly where you will end up. We can show you the map. We have already visited the future ... the future to which Bergoglianism beckons the Catholic Church ... and, believe us, it does not work."
It is doubtful that JH should be seen as an authentic representative of Anglican patrimony for the wider Catholic Church.

All the Cathedrals (7): Brecon

There is a short climb up a hill from the town centre in order to reach Brecon Cathedral. As Cathedrals go, it is on the small side, but it gains something of clean lines as a result. The information panels that are displayed in the Cathedral can be downloaded from the Cathedral website (it is best to use the "download pdf" link from each of the pages, and to read the downloaded version). Following each of these information panels will allow you to make a "virtual visit" to the Cathedral.

The present Cathedral has a foundation in Norman times, though another Church may have pre-dated it on the site. Like a number of English Cathedrals, it shares the narrative of Benedictine monastery established or rebuilt in the Norman time, with the monastic community coming to an end with the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. Before dissolution, it appears to have been a centre of pilgrimage, with the crucifix of its rood screen being the subject of particular veneration by visitors. Unlike some of the larger Cathedrals, after the dissolution, Brecon became a parish church. It gained its status as a Cathedral as recently as 1923. Some rebuilding took place in the 14th century, and, like a number of other Cathedrals, there was a restoration in the Victorian era.

The oldest feature of the Church is thought to be its font, dating from the  original Norman foundation (see the first of the information panels). A nearby stone column features a number of mediaeval stone masons marks.

At the time of our visit, the sacrament was reserved in a veiled tabernacle in the St Keynes chapel (see the information panel on the St Keynes chapel) rather than the wall shrine more customary for the Church of England, suggesting a worship of an ecclesiastically "high" character. An interesting feature of this chapel is the stained glass window showing Brychan, Cynog and Alud, pioneers of Christianity in the area.

Another feature of the Cathedral, that is well described in the relevant information panel, is the Harvard Chapel in its role as the Regimental chapel of what is now, after the amalgamation of its former regiments, the Royal Welsh regiment. Do download and read the information panel. A visit to this chapel acts as a reminder of the impact on local communities of warfare on the scale that was seen in the 20th century.

The highlight for me, however, was the reredos in the main sanctuary of the Cathedral. This is described in the information panel on the sanctuary on the website. Dating from 1937, it really is a lovely work. Where the reformation sought to remove such features as the previous reredos and the rood screen with its venerated crucifix, the presence of this reredos restores something of a Catholic character to the Church.

Brecon Cathedral enjoys a more "homely" feel than some of the other Cathedrals that we have visited, and this is probably due to its smaller size. It is worth the walk up the hill to visit.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

"Love not in word but in deed": World Day of the Poor

 When the Successor of Peter establishes a "World Day" he exercises his office in a very particular way. Whilst there may well be a single event at an international level, the real success of such a day depends on the collaboration of the bishops in their local Churches and of the Catholic faithful in each of their particular places in the Church and in the world. A "World Day" represents a highly collaborative exercise of the Papal office.

This Sunday sees the first celebration of a World Day of the Poor, instituted by Pope Francis. The Holy Father opens his message for the day as follows:
“Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18). These words of the Apostle John voice an imperative that no Christian may disregard. The seriousness with which the “beloved disciple” hands down Jesus’ command to our own day is made even clearer by the contrast between the empty words so frequently on our lips and the concrete deeds against which we are called to measure ourselves. Love has no alibi. Whenever we set out to love as Jesus loved, we have to take the Lord as our example; especially when it comes to loving the poor. The Son of God’s way of loving is well-known, and John spells it out clearly. It stands on two pillars: God loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:10.19), and he loved us by giving completely of himself, even to laying down his life (cf. 1 Jn 3:16).  
Such love cannot go unanswered. Even though offered unconditionally, asking nothing in return, it so sets hearts on fire that all who experience it are led to love back, despite their limitations and sins. Yet this can only happen if we welcome God’s grace, his merciful charity, as fully as possible into our hearts, so that our will and even our emotions are drawn to love both God and neighbour. In this way, the mercy that wells up – as it were – from the heart of the Trinity can shape our lives and bring forth compassion and works of mercy for the benefit of our brothers and sisters in need.
Pope Francis' suggestion that we should enter into an encounter with the poor that involves a sharing in their lives brings to mind the Houses of Hospitality of the Catholic Worker Movement or the "teams" of Madeleine Delbrel. Pope Francis also reminds us that, for the Christian, poverty represents a call to follow Christ (I have added the emphasis below). For the religious and lay faithful who live according to the evangelical counsels, this is their orientation towards the poor.
Let us never forget that, for Christ’s disciples, poverty is above all a call to follow Jesus in his own poverty.  It means walking behind him and beside him, a journey that leads to the beatitude of the Kingdom of heaven (cf. Mt 5:3; Lk 6:20).  Poverty means having a humble heart that accepts our creaturely limitations and sinfulness and thus enables us to overcome the temptation to feel omnipotent and immortal.  Poverty is an interior attitude that avoids looking upon money, career and luxury as our goal in life and the condition for our happiness.  Poverty instead creates the conditions for freely shouldering our personal and social responsibilities, despite our limitations, with trust in God’s closeness and the support of his grace.  Poverty, understood in this way, is the yardstick that allows us to judge how best to use material goods and to build relationships that are neither selfish nor possessive (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 25-45).
Pope Francis, following the Year of Mercy, wishes that this day will each year prompt the Catholic community in its exercise of the works of mercy.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Respect and appreciation for differences ...

In the light of a current news story in the UK, these two passages from Amoris Laetitia make for interesting (and balanced) reading. The second paragraph rightly distinguishes those things that are  variable (denoted by the terms "masculinity" and "femininity", and carefully exemplified) from that which cannot be varied and which is addressed in the first paragraph - the difference and complementarity of our bodies given to us as two sexes (denoted by the terms "male" and "female"). I have added my own emphases.
285. Sex education should also include respect and appreciation for differences, as a way of helping the young to overcome their self-absorption and to be open and accepting of others. Beyond the understandable difficulties which individuals may experience, the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created, for “thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation… An appreciation of our body as male or female is also necessary for our own self-awareness in an encounter with others different from ourselves. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment”. Only by losing the fear of being different, can we be freed of self-centredness and self-absorption. Sex education should help young people to accept their own bodies and to avoid the pretension “to cancel out sexual difference because one no longer knows how to deal with it”.
286. Nor can we ignore the fact that the configuration of our own mode of being, whether as male or female, is not simply the result of biological or genetic factors, but of multiple elements having to do with temperament, family history, culture, experience, education, the influence of friends, family members and respected persons, as well as other formative situations. It is true that we cannot separate the masculine and the feminine from God’s work of creation, which is prior to all our decisions and experiences, and where biological elements exist which are impossible to ignore. But it is also true that masculinity and femininity are not rigid categories. It is possible, for example, that a husband’s way of being masculine can be flexibly adapted to the wife’s work schedule. Taking on domestic chores or some aspects of raising children does not make him any less masculine or imply failure, irresponsibility or cause for shame. Children have to be helped to accept as normal such healthy “exchanges” which do not diminish the dignity of the father figure. A rigid approach turns into an over accentuation of the masculine or feminine, and does not help children and young people to appreciate the genuine reciprocity incarnate in the real conditions of matrimony. Such rigidity, in turn, can hinder the development of an individual’s abilities, to the point of leading him or her to think, for example, that it is not really masculine to cultivate art or dance, or not very feminine to exercise leadership.
A key point to note: the openness to roles that might at one time have been associated with one sex rather than the other, outlined in n.286, does not contain any suggestion that this openness should be identified with a sense of being a person of the wrong sex. This paragraph does not suggest that flexibility in roles is to be associated with a fluidity of sex/gender.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

.... with Pope Francis and not against

I have already observed on this blog that I believe that much of the responsibility for the alleged confusion following Amoris Laetitia must lie with those who have promoted that confusion by a persistent campaign of criticism of the Apostolic Exhortation articulated in part in terms of, oh irony, condemnation of the confusion caused by it and by Pope Francis.

A strand in the criticism has been a discussion of whether or not Amoris Laetitia, both as a document in itself or seen in terms of its specific content, can be considered a document of the Ordinary Magisterium (capitals intended). The intention of this line of argument has been to suggest that, if it is not part of the Magisterium, it can therefore be considered non-binding. The term "Magisterium" in this context refers narrowly to teaching offered as teaching for the universal Church and which is permanent in its character and therefore applicable over all time - Magisterium with a capital "M".

This has appeared to me to be rather beside what is the real point. Whatever we think of it, Amoris Laetitia is clearly an exercise by Pope Francis of his office as the Successor of Peter. It may contain pastoral indications that apply to particular situations of our own times, and therefore might not apply in the future; and it may contain indications for pastoral action that are for a time rather than being such that a future generation might consider binding. But it might also contain parts that are of more permanent value (for example, Chapter IV on love in marriage). In this, it is no different than many other actions of the ordinary magisterium, that is, of the exercise of their office by the Successors of Peter and the bishops in communion with him. The strict discussion of whether or not it is "Magisterium" appears somewhat sterile in this context; the real question for Catholics today is a  rather different question.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet's address to the Canadian Bishops conference very subtly captured the appropriate response (with my emphasis added):
So we must re-read Amoris Laetitia in a spirit of pastoral conversion that assumes, first of all a genuine and unprejudiced receptivity to the pontifical teaching; secondly, a change of attitude in the face of cultures that are far from the faith; thirdly, a convincing testimony to the joy of the Gospel that emerges from faith in the Person of Jesus and his loving and merciful gaze upon all of human reality.
The reading from St Peter Chrysologus offered as the "Meditation of the Day" in MAGNIFICAT for yesterday struck me as very apposite. St Peter Chrysologus is commenting on the Gospel text for yesterday's Mass, in which Jesus dines at the house of a leading Pharisee (Luke 14:1-6). The title given to the meditation was Jesus Went to Dine:
When he had entered the house, it says. In the house there was a trap, in the greeting a trial, in the seat at table a snare .....There jealousy was burning, envy was inflamed, anger was being cooked up, pretence provided the seasoning, and all the courses of slander were being made ready.
And, nevertheless, there that Lamb of God was eating, and not to be fed, but to be killed, just as if he knew none of this. He certainly was eating, brothers, not as if he were ignorant of this, but so that at least by his companionship, by their very intimacy and the gracious way in which he dined together with them, their ferocity might be tamed, their anger soothed, their envy extinguished. Then by his very humaneness these men might now return to being human again, they might acquire some affection, they might notice his gracious charm, they might welcome their parent, they might recognise his kindness, they might acknowledge his powers, they might love his curative treatments, and they might desire, and not attack, his acts of healing.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Abortion: a tragic anniversary [UPDATED]

On Friday, which marks the 50th anniversary of the Abortion Act in Britain, I will be away from home at an all day meeting and then travelling home. This will prevent me from taking part in the prayer vigil to which we are being called by our bishops on that day (though I expect I may be able to join in spirit during my train journey home).

After fifty years of legalised abortion, few in our countries have not had some experience of abortion. This is something that makes it a difficult topic to discuss in a public arena, particularly for a man, as the articulation of an objective ethical view is all to easily read by members of an audience as an individually directed comment on their personal choices in a situation whose complexity may be unknown to the writer/speaker. It is also the case that legalised abortion has impacted on the lives of Catholics, again, in a variety of ways.

The provision of Canon Law (Canon 1398) for a latae sententiae excommunication of the person who actually procures an abortion is intended to teach how seriously the Catholic Church views the offence of abortion. The joint statement of bishops describes every abortion as a "tragedy"; the Second Vatican Council, taking place at a time before abortion was legally available in many of the western democracies, described abortion as an "unspeakable crime" (Gaudium et Spes n.51). This teaching is balanced by the provisions of charity towards those who have experienced abortion. The absolution from the penalty of excommunication can now be offered by any priest and is no longer reserved to the bishop (earlier special provisions for the Year of Mercy and for participants in World Youth days are now permanent); and the bishops statement indicates a similar approach of mercy:
When abortion is the choice made by a woman, the unfailing mercy of God and the promise of forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation are always available. There is always a way home to a deeper relationship with God and the Church, as recent Popes have emphasised, which can heal and bring peace.
A particular challenge of conscience that faces a Catholic is that of how, given the prevalence of abortion in the culture and practice of life in our countries, we indicate our own "no" to abortion and thereby avoid feeling that, however distantly, we are complicit in the culture of abortion. One way of doing this is to join with those initiatives that seek to help women facing a choice for abortion. Peaceful prayer vigils at abortion clinics are one way of doing this, and the work of one such vigil in Ealing has been in the news recently. Coverage can be seen here, here, here and here.  Radio 4's World at One has an interesting clip here of an interview with a lady which indicates a value for the practical help offered by these vigils (you might need to register at the site to hear the clip).

From time to time I am stunned by the "economy with the truth" that I encounter on the subject of abortion. British law, for example, does not recognise in any way that access to abortion is a human right. On the contrary, it is framed to establish exemption from prosecution under other legislative provisions if certain conditions are met; and it is difficult to reconcile the availability of abortion in our countries with the right of life of Article 3 of the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights. And an interview on the World at One with a woman who had travelled from Northern Ireland to Manchester for an abortion describes the woman waiting for her return flight in pain and with bleeding .... and yet she had been discharged from the abortion clinic, something that did not cause comment. (I can't trace the clip, but I am quite confident of my memory). The allegations of "harassment" at abortion clinic vigils, including the one at Ealing, are utterly unfounded as I have good reason to know.

UPDATE: The BBC News website is carrying this report of three women's experience of abortion. The reactions of boyfriends that occur in two of these stories appears to me very striking, with implications not only for the education of men in terms of understanding and taking responsibility for their sexual activity but also for the authenticity/character of their love for the girlfriends involved. Two phrases stand out to me: "I felt pressured into having an abortion" and "I didn't have much choice". So much for "choice" in the real experience of abortion.