Saturday, 23 July 2016

The Gospel is always ancient and always new. That is precisely why it is never old.

Il Vangelo è sempre nuovo e sempre antico. Proprio per questo non è mai vecchio. [The Gospel is always ancient and always new. That is precisely why it is never old.]
This rather elegant phrase can perhaps be seen as the leitmotif of Rocco Buttiglione's comments on the reaction of some to Pope Francis pontificate in general and to Amoris Laetitia in particular. Oddly enough, the inversion of the order of the "new" and "ancient" to become "ancient" and then "new" in the English translation seems to respect the elegance in the two different languages. And the nuances of the words "ancient", "new" and "old" is the same in both.

Rocco Buttiglione's remarks appeared in Italian in the L'Osservatore Romano of 19th July. The English translation is here, published under the same title as the Italian: The joy of love and the consternation of the theologians.

Two points I think of particular interest in Rocco Buttiglione's remarks, though, of course, I do think you should read the whole.

Firstly, his observation that the sensus fidelium - that is the sense of the faith of the ordinary Catholic community - has followed the teaching of Pope Francis and Amoris Laetitia in a very ready manner:
Il sensus fidei del popolo cristiano lo ha immediatamente riconosciuto e seguito.
The sensus fidei of the Christian people immediately embraced and followed him.
And I think this is true, for all the fuss and confusion created by a Traditionalist minority.

And secondly, Rocco Buttiglione points out that the barring of divorced and remarried persons from Holy Communion arises, not because they are considered of necessity to be in a state of mortal sin, but rather because their situation represents a manifest contradiction of the teaching on marriage:
Familiaris consortio ci dice però che i divorziati risposati non potranno ricevere i sacramenti. Il motivo è che vivono in una condizione pubblica di peccato e che bisogna evitare di dare scandalo. Questi motivi sono così forti che sembra essere inutile una verifica delle eventuali circostanze attenuanti.
Familiaris Consortio tells us that the divorced and remarried cannot receive the sacraments. The reason is that they are living in a state of manifest public sin and they must avoid giving scandal. These reasons are so strong that any attenuating circumstances were rendered inconsequential.
Rocco Buttiglione goes on to suggest that what is to be seen between the provision of Familiaris Consortio and that of Amoris Laetitia is not a contradiction of doctrinal teaching but rather a difference in the manner of the exercise of the power of loosing and binding that belongs to the office of the Successor of Peter; a difference that is suggested by a different historical circumstance in the life of the Church. He suggests that, more than anything else, the divorced and remarried are invited to the Sacrament of Confession.

[There appears to be a provision in the 1917 Code of Canon Law that a divorced and remarried person be excommunicated should they persist in their state of life after admonition from their Ordinary .... but it is not at all clear whether, or to what extent, this provision was actually put into practice. In this respect, I have not been able to verify the suggestion in Rocco Buttiglione's article that, previous to Familiaris Consortio and the 1983 Code of Canon Law, such people suffered excommunication.]

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

World Youth Day Krakow 2016

In 2005, when Zero and I were a little younger than we are now, we took part in the World Youth Day in Cologne. The experience can't have been too bad, as we are still together some 11 years later. We even did a commemorative trip on 15th August 2013 - the exact anniversary of our arrival in Cologne in 2005 - just for the day. The image below represents Pope John Paul II handing over the 2005 World Youth Day to Pope Benedict XVI, and can now be found to one side of Cologne Cathedral.

So I am very aware of what a wonderful experience World Youth Day is for those who are able to take part. One of my vivid memories of 2005 is the presentation "Pelikan" sponsored by Aid to the Church in Need, which was presented as part of the Youth Festival. It combined film, photographs, drama, dance and music to present the lives of martyrs of the 20th Century - Gianna Molla, Fr Miguel Pro, Archbishop Romero Fr Jerzy Popieluszko and Fr Karl Leisner among others. A second memory is the explanation of the idea of adoration offered by Pope Benedict during his homily during Mass at the end of the week at Marienfeld. After likening the propagation of love that grows from the Eucharist to the chain reaction of nuclear fission, Pope Benedict went on to say:
I like to illustrate this new step urged upon us by the Last Supper by drawing out the different nuances of the word "adoration" in Greek and in Latin. The Greek word is proskynesis. It refers to the gesture of submission, the recognition of God as our true measure, supplying the norm that we choose to follow. It means that freedom is not simply about enjoying life in total autonomy, but rather about living by the measure of truth and goodness, so that we ourselves can become true and good. This gesture is necessary even if initially our yearning for freedom makes us inclined to resist it.
We can only fully accept it when we take the second step that the Last Supper proposes to us. The Latin word for adoration is ad-oratio - mouth to mouth contact, a kiss, an embrace, and hence, ultimately love. Submission becomes union, because he to whom we submit is Love. In this way submission acquires a meaning, because it does not impose anything on us from the outside, but liberates us deep within.
 I still try to consciously recall this explanation of adoration as I genuflect in Church.

Zero's own special memory is, I think, of the exuberance of groups of young people spontaneously singing and rejoicing on the (at times extremely crowded) platforms of the metro and train stations.

So, if you aren't able to be there, follow the World Youth Day from afar.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Theresa May and the Nuclear Option

During yesterday's debate on the renewal of the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent, the Prime Minister affirmed in a most unambiguous way her willingness to authorise a strike using a weapon of indiscriminate mass destruction. The reporting of her answer to a question during the debate suggests that this explicit affirmation does not have any precedent from previous Prime Ministers, who have avoided directly answering such a question in public. It is certainly quite chilling to listen to the exchange, as embedded in the Independent's report. We should perhaps allow Theresa May some moral leeway, in that this affirmation has been made in a hypothetical context and does not reflect an actual decision made to deploy nuclear weapons "live" so to speak.

But, nevertheless, according to the teaching of Gaudium et Spes n.80:
The men of our time must realize that they will have to give a sombre reckoning of their deeds of war, for the course of the future will depend greatly on the decisions they make today. With these truths in mind, this most holy synod makes its own the condemnations of total war already pronounced by recent popes, and issues the following declaration.
Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities or extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.
The unique hazard of modern warfare consists in this: it provides those who possess modern scientific weapons with a kind of occasion for perpetrating just such abominations; moreover, through a certain inexorable chain of events, it can catapult men into the most atrocious decisions. That such may never truly happen in the future, the bishops of the whole world gathered together, beg all men, especially government officials and military leaders, to give unremitting thought to their gigantic responsibility before God and the entire human race.
Gaudium et Spes continues, in n.81, to speak of the money spent on developing new and better weapons of war, making a point that all those MPs voting in favour of the renewal of Trident might consider:
.... While extravagant sums are being spent for the furnishing of ever new weapons, an adequate remedy cannot be provided for the multiple miseries afflicting the whole modern world. Disagreements between nations are not really and radically healed; on the contrary, they spread the infection to other parts of the earth. New approaches based on reformed attitudes must be taken to remove this trap and to emancipate the world from its crushing anxiety through the restoration of genuine peace.
Therefore, we say it again: the arms race is an utterly treacherous trap for humanity, and one which ensnares the poor to an intolerable degree. 
The statement made on behalf of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales ahead of yesterday's debate is more circumspect, being geared to a particular political occasion, but is also clear in arguing against the renewal of a nuclear weapons system.

Forgiven - a theme for the Year of Mercy

Zero and I recently visited the Guildhall Art Gallery in London, to see the exhibition Unseen London (exhibition finishes on 31st July, so don't expect this link to work after then).

Zero's attention was caught by a painting displayed in the general exhibition at the gallery. It is called Forgiven and is by a painter called Thomas Faed.

The painting prompts a reflection that is very relevant to the theme of the Year of Mercy, as the commentary provided at the link above suggests.

How difficult was it for the young girl to return to her home with the baby? And might our families today make such a return so difficult that the daughter might instead seek an abortion? Are our families places of unqualified welcome to their members?

How can the shame of the girl who hides her face be a style of shame from which growth occurs rather than being the result of a stigmatisation by others that causes her harm? How do we understand a rightful idea of shame, and live it in our families and parishes?

What are we to make of the departure of the father from the scene, in contrast with the welcome to the baby being offered by the mother? When the young girl would appear to have been abandoned by the father of her baby, does not her own father receive a particular mission to demonstrate the love of a father?

I am caught by where light plays in the painting - the young girls hair, the baby and the arm of the mother, and the way in which the father has moved away from the light at the table.

Thomas Faed appears to have painted with a motif of "observing" what was there in a scene, which suggests a certain realist phenomenology in his work. If he allows his work to portray the "real" in the scene, then Forgiven would appear to be rich in ideas for catechetical use.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

This and that ....

The Prayer over the Offerings at Mass this Sunday (16th Sunday in Ordinary Time) has reminded me of one the strengths of the revised English translation of the Roman Missal.
O God, who in the one perfect sacrifice brought to completion varied offerings of the law, accept, we pray, this sacrifice from your faithful servants and make it holy, as you blessed the gifts of Abel, so that what each has offered to the honour of your majesty may benefit the salvation of all.
Some are inclined to criticise the offertory prayers in the Ordinary Form for their lack of sacrificial character. But not infrequently, if those prayers are combined with the text of the Prayer over the Offerings, a sacrificial character is very apparent. The revised translations of the prayers frequently make this very clear indeed.

This particular prayer puts me in mind of a phrase from Eucharistic Prayer 1:
For them, we offer you this sacrifice of praise, or they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them: for the redemption of their souls, in hope of health and well-being, and paying their homage to you, the eternal God, living and true.
Since this blog supports the teaching of Amoris Laetitia, I am taking the opportunity to offer a couple of its highlights below:
52. No one can think that the weakening of the family as that natural society founded on marriage will prove beneficial to society as a whole. The contrary is true: it poses a threat to the mature growth of individuals, the cultivation of community values and the moral progress of cities and countries. There is a failure to realize that only the exclusive and indissoluble union between a man and a woman has a plenary role to play in society as a stable commitment that bears fruit in new life. We need to acknowledge the great variety of family situations that can offer a certain stability, but de facto or same-sex unions, for example, may not simply be equated with marriage. No union that is temporary or closed to the transmission of life can ensure the future of society.....  
53.“Some societies still maintain the practice of polygamy; in other places, arranged marriages are an enduring practice… In many places, not only in the West, the practice of living together before marriage is widespread, as well as a type of cohabitation which totally excludes any intention to marry”. In various countries, legislation facilitates a growing variety of alternatives to marriage, with the result that marriage, with its characteristics of exclusivity, indissolubility and openness to life, comes to appear as an old-fashioned and outdated option. Many countries are witnessing a legal deconstruction of the family, tending to adopt models based almost exclusively on the autonomy of the individual will. Surely it is legitimate and right to reject older forms of the traditional family marked by authoritarianism and even violence, yet this should not lead to a disparagement of marriage itself, but rather to the rediscovery of its authentic meaning and its renewal.
And the second highlight, which very ably presents and reaffirms the teaching of Humanae Vitae:
80. Marriage is firstly an “intimate partnership of life and love” which is a good for the spouses themselves, while sexuality is “ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman”. It follows that “spouses to whom God has not granted children can have a conjugal life full of meaning, in both human and Christian terms”. Nonetheless, the conjugal union is ordered to procreation “by its very nature”. The child who is born “does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfilment”. He or she does not appear at the end of a process, but is present from the beginning of love as an essential feature, one that cannot be denied without disfiguring that love itself. From the outset, love refuses every impulse to close in on itself; it is open to a fruitfulness that draws it beyond itself. Hence no genital act of husband and wife can refuse this meaning, even when for various reasons it may not always in fact beget a new life.  
81.A child deserves to be born of that love, and not by any other means, for “he or she is not something owed to one, but is a gift”, which is “the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of the parents”. This is the case because, “according to the order of creation, conjugal love between a man and a woman, and the transmission of life are ordered to each other (cf. Gen 1:27-28). Thus the Creator made man and woman share in the work of his creation and, at the same time, made them instruments of his love, entrusting to them the responsibility for the future of mankind, through the transmission of human life”.
82.The Synod Fathers stated that “the growth of a mentality that would reduce the generation of human life to one variable of an individual’s or a couple’s plans is clearly evident”. The Church’s teaching is meant to “help couples to experience in a complete, harmonious and conscious way their communion as husband and wife, together with their responsibility for procreating life. We need to return to the message of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Blessed Pope Paul VI, which highlights the need to respect the dignity of the person in morally assessing methods of regulating birth…

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Amoris Laetitia: what Pope Francis really said in nn.302-306

I can recall a conversation many years ago now, in, of all places, an airport coffee bar, in which the subject of conversation was trying to understand why some families succeeded in passing on practice of the Catholic faith to their children and others did not. A strong component in that conversation was the impact that an irregular marriage situation could have, leading to family members even from strongly practicing backgrounds ceasing to live their Catholic faith. That the recent Synod of Bishops meetings, dedicated to the mission of the family in the contemporary world in the context of the new evangelisation, should address this issue is not surprising.

I quote below from one of the sections of Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia that some are finding problematical (the added emphases in bold are mine):

302. The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly mentions these factors: “imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors”. In another paragraph, the Catechism refers once again to circumstances which mitigate moral responsibility, and mentions at length “affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen or even extenuate moral culpability”. For this reason, a negative judgment about an objective situation does not imply a judgment about the imputability or culpability of the person....
 304 ..... It is true that general rules set forth a good which can never be disregarded or neglected, but in their formulation they cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations. At the same time, it must be said that, precisely for that reason, what is part of a practical discernment in particular circumstances cannot be elevated to the level of a rule. That would not only lead to an intolerable casuistry, but would endanger the very values which must be preserved with special care.
305. For this reason, a pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those living in “irregular” situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives. This would bespeak the closed heart of one used to hiding behind the Church’s teachings, “sitting on the chair of Moses and judging at times with superiority and superficiality difficult cases and wounded families”. Along these same lines, the International Theological Commission has noted that “natural law could not be presented as an already established set of rules that impose themselves a priori on the moral subject; rather, it is a source of objective inspiration for the deeply personal process of making decisions”. Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end. Discernment must help to find possible ways of responding to God and growing in the midst of limits. By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God. Let us remember that “a small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order, but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties”. The practical pastoral care of ministers and of communities must not fail to embrace this reality.
306. In every situation, when dealing with those who have difficulties in living God’s law to the full, the invitation to pursue the via caritatis must be clearly heard. Fraternal charity is the first law of Christians (cf. Jn 15:12; Gal 5:14). Let us not forget the reassuring words of Scripture: “Maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet 4:8); “Atone for your sins with righteousness, and your iniquities with mercy to the oppressed, so that your prosperity may be prolonged” (Dan 4:24[27]); “As water extinguishes a blazing fire, so almsgiving atones for sins” (Sir 3:30). This is also what Saint Augustine teaches: “Just as, at the threat of a fire, we would run for water to extinguish it… so too, if the flame of sin rises from our chaff and we are troubled, if the chance to perform a work of mercy is offered us, let us rejoice in it, as if it were a fountain offered us to extinguish the blaze”.
What is the essential argument of these paragraphs?

Without indicating any compromise on Catholic teaching that irregular marriage situations, and in particular the situation of those who are divorced and civilly remarried, represent an objective situation that is sinful/contrary to the law of God, Pope Francis teaches that this does not equate in every case to a situation of mortal sin (= a full separation from the grace of God). The objective situation is what bars the divorced and re-married from receiving Holy Communion, as indicated in n.1650 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and not the discernment as to whether or not the particular situation represents a situation of mortal sin on the part of the people involved:
If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God's law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists. For the same reason, they cannot exercise certain ecclesial responsibilities.
Pope Francis then intends that the Church propose to those who find themselves in these cases that, in the discernment of their particular situations, they may not be excluded from the life of grace by mortal sin but may have access to grace, the lifeblood of the Church, in the communion of saints. This is not to suggest that this is the case for everyone in an irregular situation; it is subject to discernment, and requires a certain conversion of heart on the part of the people involved (the small step in the circumstances of human limitations). This is where the accompaniment of a pastor comes in to play, and Pope Francis words directed at pastors asks them to take this responsibility for discernment seriously.

And finally, Pope Francis asks that the Church offers clearly the invitation to take part in what he terms the "via caritatis". In other words, those whose objective situations mean that they are not able to receive Holy Communion or to exercise responsibilities such as catechesis, should nevertheless be encouraged to engage in the life of the charity that is Christ-love offered to others. Pope Francis attempts to give this form of participation in the life of the Church a higher value for all, but especially for those in irregular situations, though he expresses it in a language of atonement for sin that is very traditional. This life of charity to others is as much a part of the life of the Church as is being a Eucharistic minister or a catechist.

I suspect that, for those in irregular situations, it will require a sensitivity to the supernatural, to a sense of the life of the spirit, if this pastoral approach is to be effective. Those whose sense of their Catholic faith is more secularised or worldly, and are really looking for a positive judgement on their objective situation, will not find comfort here.

I do wish that those who attack Pope Francis for these paragraphs would, rather than themselves contributing to the confusion that they decry, should read and teach what the paragraphs really do say.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

It's unbelievable ....

... that the Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives in the UK should suggest that abortion is part of a midwife's calling (reported today in several print/online media sources).

It is also disingenuous of the Chief Executive to at the same time argue that her position does not mean that the RCM is in favour of or opposed to abortion, that it is a neutral position. Cathy Warwick's position is one that clearly favours the free availability of abortion. It is a pro-abortion position, and she should be honest enough to say so.

The petition at this link allows separate sign up for those who are midwives and those who are members of the general public. The link also provides updated background to the story of the RCM Chief Executive's decision to add RCM support to a campaign to remove any limits on the availability of abortion in the UK.