Monday, 12 March 2018

Pope Benedict XVI: there is continuity with Pope Francis' Pontificate -UPDATED

Read here and watch the video clip here.

According to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, there is a profound continuity between his pontificate and that of Pope Francis, granted a difference in style and in theological language.

Do we need a "hermeneutic of continuity" rather than the "hermeneutic of rupture" that is a fashion for some?

UPDATE: The full text of Pope Benedict's letter is now available. My source here, with the original Italian source here.
Thank you for your kind letter of 12 January and the attached gift of the eleven small volumes edited by Roberto Repole.
I applaud this initiative that wants to oppose and react to the foolish prejudice in which Pope Francis is just a practical man without particular theological or philosophical formation, while I have been only a theorist of theology with little understanding of the concrete life of a Christian today. 
The small volumes show, rightly, that Pope Francis is a man of profound philosophical and theological formation, and they therefore help to see the inner continuity between the two pontificates, despite all the differences of style and temperament.
However, I don’t feel like writing a short and dense theological passage on them because throughout my life it has always been clear that I would write and express myself only on books I had read really well. Unfortunately, if only for physical reasons, I am unable to read the eleven volumes in the near future, especially as other commitments await me that I have already made.
I am sure you will understand and cordially greet you.
If we read it for what it actually says, rather than reading into it what we might want to read into it (that really is the way to create "fake news"), the suggestion by Pope Benedict of an "inner continuity" between his pontificate and that of Pope Francis remains perfectly intact. If Vatican News might be fairly criticised (and I don't altogether accept that they can) for omitting reference to the fourth paragraph, then those who would use that paragraph to undermine the insistence on continuity are equally guilty of selective quotation to suit a purpose.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Two new saints: Archbishop Oscar Romero and Pope Paul VI

I am delighted with the news of the forthcoming canonisations of Archbishop Romero and Pope Paul VI, which emerged this last week.  Bishop Campbell has posted accounts of both the future saints at his weekly blog: Two new Saints for the Church.

As far as Archbishop Romero is concerned, I think it is important to go to original sources to learn about him as a person and about his work as a Bishop. I am unconvinced by the narrative of "sudden conversion" that is a feature of some accounts of his life.  I have always sensed an absolute continuity of faith, but a faith that responded to his changing mission in the Church. I recall, for example, a number of years ago attending a Paul VI lecture organised by CAFOD at which Maria Lopez Vigil spoke about Archbishop Romero. She was asked a question after her talk (by Peter Hebblethwaite, if I recall correctly - corrections via the comments if I have this wrong) which framed Archbishop Romero within the narrative of "sudden conversion". I remember chuckling to myself as Ms Lopez Vigil's answer to the question declined to take up such a view. Soon after Archbishop Romero's death, I placed him alongside Fr Jerzy Popieluszko in a talk, identifying both of them as martyrs for the truth about the human person (cf now the provisions of Maiorem Hac Dilectionem)

I remain convinced that, in recent decades, we have had Popes who have quite immediately been the most appropriate for their particular times. I include in that Pope Paul VI, who I consider to be very much underestimated, and Pope Francis. The denigration that both receive from certain quarters is, in my view, greatly to the discredit of those responsible for that denigration. There are a number of aspects of Christian life that I take for granted, and which have their modern day roots in the pontificate of Pope Paul VI: a vivid sense of the Christian life as an ecclesial life (witness for, example, Paul VI's Year of Faith and the Credo of the People of God), a vivid sense of the Marian dimension to ecclesial life (witness his proposal of the title Mother of the Church when the Council fathers had not taken it up, a proposal now taken up by Pope Francis in establishing a memoria in the universal calendar with precisely that dedication); and a deep responsiveness to the promptings of the Holy Spirit (it may never be possible to verify it historically, but I like to speculate that, at least in a general sense, that Humanae Vitae was written at a prompting of the Holy Spirit). All of these themes are recognisable in the exercise of his office by Pope Francis.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Placuit Deo

I have been finding the recent Letter to Bishops of the Catholic Church on Certain Aspects of Christian Salvation a somewhat difficult read. As an attempt to explain the way in which two particular references in the ordinary magisterium of Pope Francis should be understood, my first instinct is to think that such an exploration might have more suitably come from the International Theological Commission rather than from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The authorship by the Congregation appears to me to constrain the range of the conversation contained in the letter to more strictly doctrinal/dogmatic sources (cf the footnotes to the Letter).

I suspect strongly that, if we want to really grasp Pope Francis use of the terms "neo-Pelagianism" and "Gnosticism", we need to look at his familiarity with the charism and life of Communion and Liberation, just as this familiarity also enables us to understand what Francis meant when he referred to the possibility that the Christian life can be lived as an "ideology".

See here for my post on Pope Francis' talk when presenting Luigi Giussani's book The Religious Sense in Argentina in 1999. The text of Pope Francis' address can be downloaded from this page.

See here for an account of his talk when presenting the book The Attraction that is Jesus, also by Giussani. I do not have a copy of this book, so cannot fully verify Pope Francis' words in relation to what might be considered their original source. I posted on this when part of it was used as a meditation in MAGNIFICAT.

This address during Pope Francis' visit to Brazil also expands on the three themes of ideology, Pelagianism and Gnosticism, and suggests an origin in the Aparecida meeting of Pope Francis' thinking.

Those who are not familiar with these wider conversations in the life of the Church will inevitably find Pope Francis' references to ideology, neo-Pelagianism and Gnosticism somewhat disconcerting.

There is a further term in Pope Francis' lexicon that is worth a similar background search. One place in which the term "ideal" is used is in Amoris Laetitia n.292:
Christian marriage, as a reflection of the union between Christ and his Church, is fully realized in the union between a man and a woman who give themselves to each other in a free, faithful and exclusive love, who belong to each other until death and are open to the transmission of life, and are consecrated by the sacrament, which grants them the grace to become a domestic church and a leaven of new life for society. Some forms of union radically contradict this ideal, while others realize it in at least a partial and analogous way.
Those who might want to criticise the use of the word "ideal" here might do well to carefully read how that term is understood in the early experience of the Focolare Movement (cf the text entitled "The Beginnings" in Chiara Lubich's Essential Writings) and in Luigi Giussani's Generating Traces in the History of the World.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Film Review: Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

[Spoiler alert: I think my review will give away the ending to anyone who has not yet seen the film.]

Wikipedia page.

The SIGNIS review of this film can be found on this page (you will need to scroll down to near the bottom of the page): SIGNIS Film reviews - January 2018.

I certainly concur with that review in saying that it is a very interesting film, though I am not sure about its use of the word "entertaining". There are several points where others in the cinema laughed - usually where some violent wrongdoing was being blatantly denied - most of which I failed to find in the least bit funny. To identify this film in any way as a comedy is, I think, to miss its point altogether. Take out the reference to having your funny bone repeatedly knocked, and the review at the Guardian captures something of the seriousness of the film.

The Guardian review is also correct to recognise the extent of the violence portrayed in the film, just as the SIGNIS review identifies the extent of the use of expletives (and the expletives used are not the polite ones). As the early parts of the film unfold one gains a sense of violence, both physical and in language, growing and feeding upon the violence that has preceded it. As the Guardian review suggests, one is led to wonder whose violence is really at the centre of the film; and, likewise, whose character is at the centre of the film. Is it the Chief of Police Willoughby, the police officer Dixon or Mildred Hayes?

But there is a point at which the plot of the film reaches a turning point. This is when two key protagonists (Dixon and Mildred), in different ways, have the hatred that is eating up their characters pointed out to them. These scenes are particularly moving, and beautifully shot. And the later parts of the film show how these characters gradually overcome their hatred. The stillness of the cinema audience at this point in the film was quite marked.

In the very last scenes, however, we are left with the possibility that they have not after all finally overcome their hatred, as they set off to track down and kill a culprit. When Mildred asks Dixon "Are you sure about this?", the tension as you wait for his reply - "No. How about you?" - is quite tangible. The characters leave us having agreed to sort it out on the way.

So in the end, the violence born of hatred that is portrayed in the film - and is not completely absent even in its later stages - is redeemed in the portrayal of hatred overcome by precisely the characters who have most clearly manifested their hatred. Seen in this perspective, the film is quite stunning. One can also appreciate in this perspective that the hatred being overcome is not just a hatred directed towards others, but a hatred that has a dimension directed towards one's own behaviour as well.

But the speed at which most of the cinema audience left when the credits started to run made me think that very few of them appreciated this perspective at all ....

It isn't for the faint hearted, but I do think this is a film to see.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

The question that is not being asked about the Tom Daley baby news

"Tom and Dustin are thrilled to share that they are expecting their first child in 2018".
No mention of the mother who is expecting to give birth to the child. One might expect, just as a matter of honesty in language, that coverage would report that a mother is expecting a child conceived on behalf of the all male couple.
Agree or disagree, it should be noted that our society accepts without question a world in which women can be used to give birth.... having been airbrushed out of the equation for the sake of promoting in the media a couple whose marriage was described by Daley only in December as "far from perfect".
Daley and Black are not the first high profile couple to do this.... 
But questions should be raised about babies becoming commodities, the result of transactions. 
Do read the full comment at Christian Today.

I have not followed it fully, but The Archers has a story line about a lady acting as a surrogate for a same sex couple. It will be interesting to see how far this story line explores the issues surrounding surrogacy.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

“Because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold” (Mt 24:12)

Pope Francis' Message for Lent 2018: full text here. It is worth reading the whole. It is hard hitting, not only for those who advocate for the "culture of death" outside the confines of the Church, but for those of us within the Church too.

Like Abbey Roads, I think the message reads as being very prophetic  - and I was particularly struck by the way in which Pope Francis refers to creation itself as a witness to the "cooling of charity":
More than anything else, what destroys charity is greed for money, “the root of all evil” (1 Tim 6:10).  The rejection of God and his peace soon follows; we prefer our own desolation rather than the comfort found in his word and the sacraments.  All this leads to violence against anyone we think is a threat to our own “certainties”: the unborn child, the elderly and infirm, the migrant, the alien among us, or our neighbour who does not live up to our expectations.
Creation itself becomes a silent witness to this cooling of charity.  The earth is poisoned by refuse, discarded out of carelessness or for self-interest.  The seas, themselves polluted, engulf the remains of countless shipwrecked victims of forced migration.  The heavens, which in God’s plan, were created to sing his praises, are rent by engines raining down implements of death.
Pope Francis' remarks about fasting are particularly strong:
Fasting weakens our tendency to violence; it disarms us and becomes an important opportunity for growth.  On the one hand, it allows us to experience what the destitute and the starving have to endure.  On the other hand, it expresses our own spiritual hunger and thirst for life in God.  Fasting wakes us up.  It makes us more attentive to God and our neighbour.  It revives our desire to obey God, who alone is capable of satisfying our hunger.
And, too, his invitation to those who are not Catholics to share with us the venture of the Lenten fast:
I would also like my invitation to extend beyond the bounds of the Catholic Church, and to reach all of you, men and women of good will, who are open to hearing God’s voice.  Perhaps, like ourselves, you are disturbed by the spread of iniquity in the world, you are concerned about the chill that paralyzes hearts and actions, and you see a weakening in our sense of being members of the one human family.  Join us, then, in raising our plea to God, in fasting, and in offering whatever you can to our brothers and sisters in need! 
In a year in which the Catholic Church in England and Wales is holding a national Eucharistic Congress, we might pay particular attention the "24 hours for the Lord":
One such moment of grace will be, again this year, the “24 Hours for the Lord” initiative, which invites the entire Church community to celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation in the context of Eucharistic adoration. In 2018, inspired by the words of Psalm 130:4, “With you is forgiveness”, this will take place from Friday, 9 March to Saturday, 10 March.  In each diocese, at least one church will remain open for twenty-four consecutive hours, offering an opportunity for both Eucharistic adoration and sacramental confession 

Friday, 2 February 2018

Decrees of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints

I was delighted to hear that the Trappist monks of the monastery at Tibhirine have been recognised as martyrs - a step that makes possible their beatification. They are among the "18 companions" of Bishop Claverie.

Also a great delight: the recognition of the heroic virtues of Madeleine Delbrel, included in the same announcement from the Holy See but which only came to my attention today.

Text of notice at the Holy See website.