Sunday, 22 January 2017

Reflecting on Trump and the Womens March ...

There is an aspect of the election and inauguration of Donald Trump to be President of the United States that I am not sure I have understood. Increasingly, that election (and the Brexit vote in the UK and No vote in Italy) are being characterised by the term "rising populism". However, what interests me more than this characterisation is the message that Donald Trump's election might have for the notion of "progressive politics". Does that phenomenon being characterised as "populism" represent a coherent and viable alternative to "progressive politics" or is it in reality a passing fad that will exhaust its appeal when it fails to deliver to the extent that it promises?

Rita, at tigerish waters, comments on the Womens March under the title What is it all about?, and I suggest that you read her observations. It raises the question as to whether or not the "progressive politics" to which many subscribe is really understood and shared by them.

The "Day by Day" feature in Magnificat for today has pointed me towards a homily preached by Pope John Paul II in New York in 1995. The full text at the Vatican website is here. The homily, in the context of the United States of America, addresses the question of what genuinely constitutes the "progress of the peoples", and, in doing, so offers a correcting insight to the themes of Donald Trump's inauguration speech. At the same time, it also offers a challenge to the advocates of "women's rights" who marched on Saturday.
The theme of this morning’s Holy Mass is the "Progress of Peoples". This is an appropriate issue in the context of my visit to the United States for the Fiftieth Anniversary of the United Nations Organization. The Pope’s presence at that international forum is in fact an act of evangelization, aimed at serving the progress of humanity in the great family of nations which that World Organization represents.
The "progress of peoples" is closely connected with the proclamation of Christ’s message of salvation and hope. Of this salvation Isaiah speaks in the first reading: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone" (Is. 9: 1). This darkness stands for the spiritual darkness which sometimes envelops people, nations and history itself, in its desolate mantle. Certainly the twentieth century has witnessed such periods of gloom. The two World Wars were times of great darkness which plunged peoples and nations into immense suffering. For many people, the twentieth century continues to be a time of terrible anguish and torture. From the depths of such sad experiences the human family searches for a path of justice and peace. ...
It is precisely through the Gospel of the Cross and through his Resurrection that Christ lays the foundations for the advancement of God’s Kingdom in the world. The presence of this Kingdom opens to us the dimension of eternity in God, and discloses the deepest meaning of our efforts to improve life here on earth.  People everywhere thirst for a full and free life worthy of the human person. There is a great desire for political, social and economic institutions which will help individuals and nations to affirm and develop their dignity (Cf. Gaudium et Spes, 9).
What kind of society is worthy of the human person? The Church responds with the unique perspective of salvation history. She proclaims the truth that the Word of God, through whom all things were made, was himself made flesh and dwelt among us. He entered the world’s history – our history – as a man, a human being, a divine person; he took on our history and made it complete. By his Resurrection he became Lord and was given full power in heaven and on earth. Thus through the power of his Spirit, Christ is now at work in our hearts and in our world. The Spirit instills in us a desire for the world to come, but he also inspires, purifies and strengthens those noble longings by which we strive to make earthly life more human (Cf. ibid. 38).
Dear Friends, we are gathered together in this enormous metropolis of New York, considered by many to be the zenith of modern civilization and progress , a symbol of America and American life. For more than two hundred years people of different nations, languages and cultures have come here, bringing memories and traditions of the "old country", while at the same time becoming part of a new nation. America has a reputation the world over, a reputation of power, prestige and wealth. But not everyone here is powerful; not everyone here is rich. In fact, America’s sometimes extravagant affluence often conceals much hardship and poverty.
From the viewpoint of the Kingdom of God we must therefore ask a very basic question: have the people living in this huge metropolis lost sight of the blessings which belong to the poor in spirit? In the midst of the magnificent scientific and technological civilization of which America is proud, and especially here in Queens, in Brooklyn, in New York, is there room for the mystery of God? That mystery which is "revealed to the merest children" (Mt. 11: 25); the mystery of the Father and the Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit; the mystery of divine love which is the source of everything? Is there room for the mystery of love? Is there room for the revelation of life – that transcendent life which Christ brings us at the price of his Cross and through the victory of his Resurrection? ...
In practical terms, this truth tells us that there can be no life worthy of the human person without a culture – and a legal system – that honors and defends marriage and the family. The well-being of individuals and communities depends on the healthy state of the family. A few years ago, your National Commission on America’s Urban Families concluded, and I quote: "The family trend of our time is the deinstitutionalization of marriage and the steady disintegration of the mother – father child – raising unit... No domestic trend is more threatening to the well-being of our children and to our long-term national security" (Report, January 1993). I quote these words to show that it is not just the Pope and the Church who speak with concern about these important issues.
Society must strongly re-affirm the right of the child to grow up in a family in which, as far as possible, both parents are present. Fathers of families must accept their full share of responsibility for the lives and upbringing of their children. Both parents must spend time with their children, and be personally interested in their moral and religious education. Children need not only material support from their parents, but more importantly a secure, affectionate and morally correct family environment.... 
The truth which Christ reveals tells us that we must support one another and work together with others, despite cultural, social or religious differences. It challenges us to be involved. It gives us the courage to see Christ in our neighbor and to serve him there. And, in imitation of our Divine Master who said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome" (Mt. 11: 28), we ought to invite others to come to us by stretching out a helping hand to those in need, by welcoming the newcomer, by speaking words of comfort to the afflicted. This is the goodness in which the Holy Spirit confirms us! This is how you – women and men; young people and old; married couples and singles; parents, children and families; students and teachers; professional people, those who work and those who are suffering the terrible burden of unemployment – this is how everyone can make a positive contribution to America and help to transform your culture into a vibrant culture of life.  

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Quick thoughts on the Maltese Bishops' Guidelines on Amoris Laeitita-UPDATED

1. The original text is published in English and in Maltese. The English text can be downloaded from the website of the Catholic Church in Malta. The paragraphing and numbering make it much easier to read than the text as published in Italian in Osservatore Romano. It should be noted that the Italian represents a translation from an original released initially in two other languages. I am not able to comment on the Maltese text.

2. Note the observation in the preamble to the Guidelines themselves that:
It is important that the following guidelines be read in the light of the indicated references.
The references which occur in the Guidelines are to the text/footnotes of Amoris Laetitia itself.

3. Much of the Guidelines document does follow closely Amoris Laetitia itself. The Guidelines nn. 5-8 provide a good example of this, particularly the suggested examination of conscience, which is not going to be a soft touch in any circumstances.

4. The Guidelines at n.3 clearly indicate that those who are cohabiting should be encouraged towards living the full reality of marriage. Those at n.4 are clear in suggesting that, for those who are now living in a new union and where a reasonable doubt is seen as to the validity or consummation of their original marriage, should be directed to seek a declaration of nullity or dissolution.

5. Paragraph 9:
Throughout the discernment process, we should also examine the possibility of conjugal continence. Despite the fact that this ideal is not at all easy, there may be couples who, with the help of grace, practice this virtue without putting at risk other aspects of their life together. On the other hand, there are complex situations where the choice of living “as brothers and sisters” becomes humanly impossible and gives rise to greater harm (see AL, note 329).
...needs to be read in the light of a footnote - number 329 - to Amoris Laetitia that does not characterise living as brother and sister as "humanly impossible" nor make any comparative judgement as to greater or lesser harm:
John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (22 November 1981), 84: AAS 74 (1982), 186. In such situations, many people, knowing and accepting the possibility of living "as brothers and sisters" which the Church offers them, point out that if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, "it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers" (Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes n.51).
[It is incidentally useful to also follow through and read the texts of Familiaris Consortio n.84 and Gaudium et Spes n.51, to gain the full context of the references being made to them in the footnote. The context of the phenomenological observation about the endangering of faithfulness and the good of the children suffering is very different in Gaudium et Spes than in Amoris Laetitia, though that does not invalidate the referencing.]

6. And the problematical n.10. The English makes use of the term "cannot be precluded" where the Italian of Osservatore Romano uses a term which, in my translation is, "cannot be prevented from". There is a very subtle difference here. The English text suggests "cannot be ruled out from" rather than "must be allowed to" - which is, in essence, what the controversial Amoris Laetitia footnote indicates. (I am not able to comment on the Maltese text.)
If, as a result of the process of discernment, undertaken with “humility, discretion and love for the Church and her teaching, in a sincere search for God’s will and a desire to make a more perfect response to it” (AL 300), a separated or divorced person who is living in a new relationship manages, with an informed and enlightened conscience, to acknowledge and believe that he or she are at peace with God, he or she cannot be precluded from participating in the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist (see AL, notes 336 and 351).
The Italian text from Osservatore Romano:
....non le potra essere impedito di accostarsi ai sacramenti della riconciliazione e dell’eucaristia....[...they cannot be prevented from approaching the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist...]
And, of course, read the paragraph in the light of the three indicated references to Amoris Laetitia, particularly the text of n.300. Reading it out of that context gives a completely different impression of the intent of the bishops of Malta with their guidelines.

I would observe that:
 - the Maltese bishops are giving an instruction here to their pastors with regard to the admission or otherwise of the faithful to the sacraments; they are not saying that it is for the faithful in these situations to come to their own decision
- the situation of not being precluded from the sacraments only arises when objective conditions are met, and not just from the subjective sense of peace with God of the faithful (and perhaps the reference to peace with God should be read, too, in the sense of the situation for making a good choice of state of life of the Spiritual Exercises, rather than in a purely subjective sense); the conditions include love for the teaching of the Church; and the conditions arise within a process of discernment, whose terms are indicated in previous sections of the Guidance
- it is quite misleading, and, it appears to me, deliberately mischievous, to simply headline coverage of the Maltese Bishops' Guidelines as unconditionally admitting those in second unions to the sacraments.

[ This characterisation at EWTN , for example, seems to me quite false, however learned its author or acclaimed the site publishing it:
The bishops of Malta, in a document that can only be called disastrous, repeatedly invoking Pope Francis’ Amoris laetitia, have directly approved divorced and remarried Catholics taking holy Communion provided they feel “at peace with God”. Unlike, say, the Argentine document on Amoris which, one could argue, left just enough room for an orthodox reading, however widely it also left the doors open for abuse by others, the Maltese bishops in their document come straight out and say it: holy Communion is for any Catholic who feels “at peace with God” and the Church’s ministers may not say No to such requests.]

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Aunty on Amoris Laetitia. Cardinal Mueller on Francis and Benedict XVI

I do think Aunty has expressed an approach to Amoris Laetitia that I share - and has probably expressed it more clearly than I could, and with the benefit of a lived experience that I do not have.

See The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith...

The view that I have already expressed on this blog is that, if Amoris Laetitia is read for what it actually says, rather than for what commentators think others might think it says, it is fine both from the doctrinal point of view and from the point of view of pastoral practice. See the first paragraphs here and here.

The original source, in Italian, of Cardinal Muller's remarks is here. Cardinal Muller's remarks about Amoris Laetitia occur at the end of a wider conversation, starting at about 06:00 in the video clip, considering Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis in relation to each other. Cardinal Muller argues that, though they have their own individual personalities and life experiences, it is wrong to put them in contrast with each other. We should accept the missions of both the Pope Emeritus and Pope Francis to the Church, "both are a gift to the Church". Cardinal Muller highlights one example where Pope Francis takes up a theme from Pope Benedict - the idea that evangelisation does not involve an imposition of the Gospel but an effort to draw or attract people to the Christian faith.

I like the idea of a "hermeneutic of continuity" between Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis!

Saturday, 24 December 2016

We come like the shepherds who followed the call of the angel ....



Fr Raniero Cantalamessa is the preacher to the Pontifical Household, and has been so for many years. One of the tasks associated with this office is that of preaching the sermons to the Holy Father and his co-workers in the Vatican during Advent. The text of his fourth sermon for Advent 2016 is at the Vatican Radio website, and is worth reading. The prayer offered below the extract from Fr Cantalamessa's homily is one that I used one Christmas with children and families in a parish several years ago.

St. Augustine distinguished between two ways of celebrating an event in salvation history: as a mystery (in sacramento) or as a simple anniversary. In the celebration of an anniversary, he said, we only need to “indicate with a religious solemnity the day of the year in which the remembrance of the event itself occurs.” In the celebration of a mystery, however, “not only is the event commemorated, but we do so in a way that its significance for us is understood and received devoutly."
Christmas is not a celebration in the category of an anniversary. (As we know, the choice of December 25 as the date was chosen for symbolic rather than historical reasons.) It is a celebration in the category of a mystery that needs to be understood in terms of its significance for us. St. Leo the Great had already highlighted the mystical significance of the “the sacrament of the Nativity of Christ” saying, “Just as we have been crucified with him in his passion, been raised with him in his resurrection, . . . so too have we been born along with him in his Nativity.”


A prayer for a visit to the Crib during Christmas time
[This prayer was adapted from a meditation of St Edith Stein]

Dear Jesus, your hands reach out to us as we come to the Crib.
We come like the shepherds who followed the call of the angel.
We come like the wise men who followed the star.
“Follow me” say your little hands.

May we always listen to you when you call us.
Keep us together in faith and in hope.

Dear Jesus, your open hands welcome us, and they ask us at the same time.
They ask us to be at the service of your Peace.

Open our hearts to people who are suffering.
May each of us offer signs of friendship and welcome to people who are less well off than us.

Dear Jesus, your open hands welcome us, and they ask us at the same time.
They ask us to give our lives to you.

May we choose the way in life that you want us to follow.
In the light of Christmas, may we face the problems of life today, together with people of other Churches and religions.

Mary, you are the Mother of Love.
You praised the great things done by the Lord.
You sang about how God kept his promises to the people of Israel.

Mother of Love, protect our families.
Help them to stay together.
Give them the happiness of loving and passing on life.

Amen.

Fr Cantalamessa: The Holy Spirit and the Charism of Discernment

This is the title of the second of Fr Cantalamessa's Advent sermons for 2016, delivered in the presence of the Holy Father and those who work at the Vatican.

It is a most interesting read, and, if I say that that the titles of its two main sections are "Discernment in ecclesial life" and "Discernment in our own lives", you will perhaps readily see why.

This sermon's explanation of discernment as a charism, and its indications of how this should be exercised in practice (with particular reference to Ignatius Loyola), can shed considerable light on Pope Francis' reference to discernment in Amoris Laetitia.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Pope Francis to the Curia 2016

The part of Pope Francis' address during the exchange of Christmas greetings with those employed in the Curia and their families that I enjoyed most was the following, the reflection offered at the beginning:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I would like to begin this meeting of ours by offering cordial good wishes to all of you, superiors and officials, papal representatives and staff of the Nunciatures worldwide, all those working in the Roman Curia and to your families.  Best wishes for a holy and serene Christmas and a happy New Year 2017!
Saint Augustine, contemplating the face of the Baby Jesus, exclaimed: “immense in the form of God, tiny in the form of a slave”.  To describe the mystery of the Incarnation, Saint Macarius, the fourth-century monk and disciple of Saint Anthony Abbot, used the Greek verb “smikryno”, to become small, to reduce to the bare minimum.  He says: “Listen attentively: the infinite, unapproachable and uncreated God, in his immense and ineffable goodness has taken a body, and, I dare say, infinitely diminished his glory”.
Christmas is thus the feast of the loving humility of God, of the God who upsets our logical expectations, the established order, the order of the dialectician and the mathematician.  In this upset lies all the richness of God’s own thinking, which overturns our limited human ways of thinking (cf. Is 55: 8-9).  As Romano Guardini said: “What an overturning of all our familiar values – not only human values but also divine values!  Truly this God upsets everything that we claim to build up on our own”.  At Christmas, we are called to say “yes” with our faith, not to the Master of the universe, and not even to the most noble of ideas, but precisely to this God who is the humble lover.
Blessed Paul VI, on Christmas of 1971, said: “God could have come wrapped in glory, splendour, light and power, to instill fear, to make us rub our eyes in amazement.  But instead he came as the smallest, the frailest and weakest of beings.  Why?  So that no one would be ashamed to approach him, so that no one would be afraid, so that all would be close to him and draw near him, so that there would be no distance between us and him.  God made the effort to plunge, to dive deep within us, so that each of us, each of you, could speak intimately with him, trust him, draw near him and realize that he thinks of you and loves you… He loves you!  Think about what this means!  If you understand this, if you remember what I am saying, you will have understood the whole of Christianity”.
God chose to be born a tiny child because he wanted to be loved.  Here we see, as it were, how the logic of Christmas is the overturning of worldly logic, of the mentality of power and might, the thinking of the Pharisees and those who see things only in terms of causality or determinism.
The thought of this last paragraph reminds me of the particular charism of Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity - the "I thirst" of Jesus on the Cross seen as a call that he should be loved.

And I laughed heartily when, at the end, Pope Francis referred to the reaction of one participant at the corresponding occasion in 2014:
When, two years ago, I spoke about the illnesses, one of you came to say to me: “Where must I go, to the pharmacy or to confession?”  “Well… both!” I replied.  And when I greeted Cardinal Brandmüller, he looked me in the eye and said: “Acquaviva!”  I, at the time, did not understand, but later, thinking about it, I remembered that Acquaviva, the third general of the Society of Jesus, had written a book which we students read in Latin; the spiritual fathers made us read it, and it was entitled:  Industriae pro Superioribusejusdem Societatis ad curandos animae morbos [roughly translates as "Guidance for Superiors of the Society for the care of illnesses of the soul"], that is, the illnesses of the soul.  Three months ago, a very good edition came out in Italian, done by Father Giuliano Raffo, who died recently, with a good prologue which indicates how to read the book, and also with a good introduction.  It is not a critical edition, but it is a really beautiful translation, very well done, and I believe it could be useful.  As a Christmas gift, I would like to offer it to each one of you.  Thank you.

NOTE: The Italian text includes extensive footnotes that have not been included in the English translation.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

The end of Traditionalism?

Traditionalists have always risked the following temptations:

1. That of being "cafeteria Catholics", but ones who pick different bits of the Catholic whole than do the liberal minded to whom at one time the Traditionalists would have applied this epithet. Isn't this the import of the discussion of the "non-magisterial" nature of those recent exercises of the office of the Successor of Peter that are not amenable - and this appears now to extend beyond Pope Francis?

2. That of making absolute for all time those things that are relative to their own particular time or place. Isn't this what lies behind the insistence on the "Traditional Latin Mass", even though Pope Benedict indicated that the Ordinary Form, celebrated according to the Missal of Paul VI, should be considered an authentic expression of the tradition of the Church?

3. That of becoming an alternative to the present day teaching office of the Church, with its own respected authorities and defining axioms. Do we not see this in the replacing of the "non-magisterial" in the exercise of the office of the Successor of Peter with the teaching of the Traditionalist "blogisterium", something that the internet has enabled in a way not seen before? And isn't there an irony in its claim to authentication by the support in the media of Catholic intellectuals* when it was precisely such a display of intellectuals in the media that they blame for undermining catechetics in the 1960s and 1970s?

4. That of living in a permanent state of contestation with others in the Church. Do we not see this in the critique of "conservatives" now, when in the past that contestation might have been directed only towards the liberal minded in the Church? Where other movements in the Church  can find their origin in a founding charism, an individual gift of grace given at a time and place but with a value for the Church as a whole, does not the Traditionalist movement only find its definition in contestation with the contemporary life of the Church in favour of a concept of "Tradition"?

5. That of siding with a concept of Tradition over and against the Successor of Peter. Do we not see this in the discussion of "conservatives" who have "sided with the Pope against Tradition"? When one moves aside from the exercise of the office of the Successor of Peter - and, indeed, from that of an ecumenical council - does not Tradition become something of the past rather than something that has its living expression in the exercise of office in the Church? Are we not seeing a certain legitimisation here of the stance taken by the Society of St Pius X at the time of their illicit episcopal ordinations?

When I read something like this, from a spokesman of the Traditionalist movement, and I cut through its apparent credibility and its pigeon-holing of others, do I not in reality see Traditionalism arriving at a destination that is inherent in its risks highlighted above? A move away from a living of a Catholic whole towards an isolated corner, in a permanent state of "against" and adhering to a certain concept of Tradition as its prime source of judgement?
...it means is that a very large proportion of our conservative Catholic voices have been forced to reconsider the narrative, which has been a favourite of their school of thought, that everything which has gone wrong has gone wrong because of people misunderstanding or mis-implementing Vatican II or the post-Conciliar popes. When a pope has made it clear that his personal view is something nor really consistent with the Tradition--Paul VI on the liturgy, John Paul II on the death penalty or the authority of the husband over the family--they have tended to side with the Pope against Tradition, despite the fact that the Papal statements on the subject tended to lack magisterial weight....
...What happens to ultra-montanist Catholic conservatives** who finally realise that some at least of the Church's problems go right to the top--who take, as the metaphor of the hour has it, the red pill?
Ask a Traditionalist. Almost all us have gone through this process personally: I certainly have.
That move from the "conservative" to the "Traditionalist". Isn't it telling that the terms are "conservative" and "Traditionalist", and not "Catholic"?
 
Are we not instead called to live according the Catholic "whole", in which Tradition lives in its context of Scripture and the living teaching office, the Magisterium?


*... but are these intellectuals in large part from among the "usual suspects" of Traditionalism?
** .... the irony of this when Pope Francis has been accused of setting up "straw men"!