Sunday, 3 May 2015

The English Martyrs: a contemporary reflection

There is a plaque - of modern origin - in the Church of St Mary the Virgin, the University Church in Oxford.
When I stood before this plaque a few months ago, the overwhelming impression it communicated to me was one of indifference. The list is indifferent between those names that are the names of Catholics and those names that are the names of Protestants/Church of England. I suspect that none of those on the list would have found it a matter of no difference as to whether or not they were Catholic, or Protestant or in some cases (High) Church of England. And this post suggests that it is also indifferent as to those who might be considered genuine martyrs in some sense and those whose deaths were more the result of a political endeavour.
In very different times, both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict have identified in the moment of martyrdom - that is, of death suffered in consequence of a profession of or living out of the Christian faith - a moment of particular ecumenical significance. It is indeed, they suggest, a moment of perfection of Christian unity. See my earlier post in this subject here. Pope Francis has again referred to the ecumenical implications of martyrdom in a short address to members of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (also reported here):
There is a strong bond that already unites us which goes beyond all divisions: it is the testimony of Christians from different Churches and traditions, victims of persecution and violence simply because of the faith they profess. And not only now, that there are many of them: I think also of the martyrs of Uganda, half Catholics and half Anglicans. The blood of these martyrs will nourish a new era of ecumenical commitment, a fervent desire to fulfil the last will and testament of the Lord: that all may be one (cf. Jn 17:21). The witness by these our brothers and sisters demands that we live in harmony with the Gospel and that we strive with determination to fulfil the Lord's will for his Church. Today the world urgently needs the common, joyful witness of Christians, from the defence of life and human dignity to the promotion of justice and peace.
There is here an indifference between the Catholic and the Anglican martyr that is not the same in nature as that manifested in the plaque in the University Church. It is an indifference that arises because the persecution involved arises from what is held in common among those who suffer, rather than from the oppositions between those who suffered that were extant at the time of the Reformation.

There is also another subtle point about the two eras: at the time of the Reformation, it was reasons of state (not acknowledging the monarch as supreme head of the Church in England was in law treason, for example) that were the immediate occasions of the deaths of both Catholic and Anglican, and not in se a conflict between those who were members of the two Churches. The common experience of Catholic and Anglican martyrs in the present time is not, therefore, any kind of contradiction of what happened in former times.

The Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of these Martyrs of England on 4th May, and the celebration prompts a reflection on the ecumenical implications of that celebration. Re-reading all the documentation around the event of the canonisation of the Forty Martyrs in October 1970 it is striking to recognise the ecumenical sensitivity that surrounded the conclusion of the cause and the celebration of the canonisation.

In his homily at the Mass of canonisation, Pope Paul VI clearly indicated that the martyrs died because of their loyalty to the Catholic faith, and in particular, their loyalty to the celebration of the Holy Eucharist and to the prerogatives of the Successor of Peter as the universal shepherd of the Church. (Pope Paul's Angelus address after the canonisation ceremony explicitly refers to their deaths as testimony to the "hierarchical and unifying structure of the Church".)  He also acknowledged that they were also loyal subjects of their country, many dying with a prayer for their King or Queen on their lips, who had been put in the dramatic situation where it became impossible to live these two loyalties without suffering death. (Catholics who were shown by historical research to have had political motives were not included among those canonised.) Pope Paul cited the words of Lumen Gentium n.42 to the effect that in martyrdom the Christian "becomes perfectly conformed to [his Master] in the shedding of his blood".
...these Martyr Saints are a shining example of the kind of Christian whose life is the true expression of his baptismal consecration, strengthened by the sacrament of confirmation. For such a one, religion is not something on the fringe; it is the very substance of his being and of all his activity ... 
But Paul VI's homily included a warm greeting to representatives of the Anglican Church and those who had come to the ceremony representing Great Britain. He ended his homily thus (italics added, to draw attention to a passage that has particularly struck me for its rather beautiful articulation of the meaning of ecclesial unity):
May the Lord grant, that, in these times of increasing religious indifference and of the spread of materialism, not only as a philosophy but as a way of life, the example and intercession of the Forty-Martyr Saints may comfort us in faith and strengthen our authentic love for God, for his Church and for all men.
May the blood of these Martyrs be able to heal the great wound inflicted upon God’s Church by reason of the separation of the Anglican Church from the Catholic Church. Is it not one-these Martyrs say to us-the Church founded by Christ? Is not this their witness? Their devotion to their nation gives us the assurance that on the day when - God willing - the unity of the faith and of Christian life is restored, no offence will be inflicted on the honour and sovereignty of a great country such as England. There will be no seeking to lessen the legitimate prestige and the worthy patrimony of piety and usage proper to the Anglican Church when the Roman Catholic Church - this humble “Servant of the Servants of God” -  is able to embrace her ever beloved Sister in the one authentic communion of the family of Christ: a communion of origin and of faith, a communion of priesthood and of rule, a communion of the Saints in the freedom and love of the Spirit of Jesus.
Perhaps We shall have to go on, waiting and watching in prayer, in order to deserve that blessed day. But already We are strengthened in this hope by the heavenly friendship of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales who are canonized today. Amen.
At the consistory in May 1970 at which the canonisations were approved, Pope Paul used a memorable phrase in connection with the ecumenical implications of the canonisations. He said that the canonisations would promote "an ecumenism worthy of the name". Looking back from the perspective of the present day suffering of both Catholics and non-Catholics in the name of Jesus Christ in many parts of the world; from the perspective of the existence of Ordinariates in the Catholic Church where the living of an Anglican patrimony is possible; and from the perspective of the challenge to us all, Catholic and non-Catholic, to live to the full the demands of our baptismal/confirmational consecration in the circumstances that we face today; Pope Paul's  phrase seems to be receiving a prophetic fulfilment.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

A misappropriation of "the Common Good"

The Green Party have adopted as their strap line for the current general election campaign a claim that a vote for them is a vote for "the common good".

And, indeed, if one reads the Core Values presented on the Green Party website that appears a quite justified claim (though, if a claim of affinity to Catholic social teaching is being made, one might want to differ with the equivalence of "other species" to the human species indicated at point 5). However, if one digs more deeply, Green Party policy is in favour of legal access to abortion and of a legalisation of assisted euthanasia which has provisions somewhat akin to those of the original 1967 Abortion Act (see points HE 516/517 and HE526 at this page on their website - both of which are preceded by points that make for an attractive rhetoric which is then in a certain opposition to the concrete proposals).

And in the last 24 hours, the Green Party launched their LGBTIQ Manifesto for the 2015 General Election. The coverage at the ITV news website includes a video clip which suggests that there was little interest in the launch itself. However, a Q+A with Pink News readers opened up a more significant aspect of future Green Party thinking on LGBTIQ issues. The manifesto itself is reported here; but Natalie Bennett's "openness" to polyamorous marriages is reported here:
We have led the way on many issues related to the liberalisation of legal status in adult consenting relationships, and we are open to further conversation and consultation.”
That this represents a significant misappropriation of the idea of "the common good" as articulated by Catholic social teaching can be readily be seen by referring to Pope Francis' recent General Audience addresses on male-female complementarity and marriage: 15th April 2015,  22nd April 2015 (with implications for the relative standing of the human person vis a vis other creatures), 29th April 2015 (the first audience on marriage, with at least one more to follow that will in due course be linked from this page). It is also worth recalling the almost unprecedented manner of Pope Francis' endorsement of Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae during his visit to the Far East in Autumn 2014.

I think we should not be under any illusions about what we should expect in Pope Francis forthcoming encyclical on environmental matters, or in the engagement of the Holy See as far as Sustainable Development Goals at the United Nations are concerned. The markers are clear in Pope Francis' public statements. The endorsement of a principle that action in favour of environmental sustainability is a moral imperative (and some application of that principle to particular situations) is not going to embrace the "progressive" agenda of such as the UK Green Party, though it may have some comparability of language.

Just as the Green Party use of "the common good" as a campaign strapline is a significant misappropriation of a principle of Catholic social teaching, so will any attempt to represent Pope Francis' encyclical as support for their position also be a gross misrepresentation of that encyclical.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Ban Ki-Moon's address to Vatican workshop on climate change: reflections on policy, science and the religions

On Tuesday of this week, the Pontifical Academy of Science and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences co-hosted a workshop entitled Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity: The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Humanity. As one of the organisers of the workshop recognised, the workshop engaged the three fields of science, of morality (and therefore of the religions) and of policy.

The General Secretary of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon gave a keynote address to the workshop. Two texts are available, a fuller text at he website of the United Nations and shorter text at the website of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences whose premises hosted the workshop.

From the point of view of science, I think it is fair to say that Ban Ki-moon spoke as if the science on climate change is one single, monolithic body of work:
Together, we must clearly communicate that the science of climate change is deep, sound and not in doubt.
Climate change is occurring – now -- and human activities are the principal cause.
According to this report, however, Martin Rees, a leading UK scientist, did acknowledge elements of uncertainty, or perhaps pluralism, in the science of climate change, though without in any sense advocating a climate change sceptic position. There is a danger that, in discussing the science of climate change as if it is a single entity rather than a phenomenon of multiple dimensions, it becomes an ideology that is imposed rather than a truth that is embraced. [I am no expert on the science of climate change, but it is generally of the nature of science that, even in areas of consensus, there will be different dimensions that make up the whole.]

From the point of view of religion and science, one wonders whether Ban Ki-moon, as a policy maker, reached beyond his competence when he said:
[Climate change] is a moral issue. It is an issue of social justice, human rights and fundamental ethics.
We have a profound responsibility to protect the fragile web of life on this Earth, and to this generation and those that will follow.
That is why it is so important that the world’s faith groups are clear on this issue – and in harmony with science.
Science and religion are not at odds on climate change. Indeed, they are fully aligned.
Whilst one would expect that the exercise of human reason that is the science of climate change does align with the exercise of faith that is religious belief, whether or not there is an alignment in terms of practical measures to respond to climate change - an implication of Ban Ki-moon's statement - is another question altogether. And in any case, the judgement of an alignment in terms of science and faith lies within the competence of scientists and believers, not a policy maker like Ban Ki-moon.

And with my third observation, I may be betraying an over-sensitivity to a philosophical nicety. I think there is only one point in the whole address where Ban Ki-moon refers to the human person, and that is when he quotes Pope Francis:
As His Holiness Pope Francis has said, "We need to see, with the eyes of faith … the link between the natural environment and the dignity of the human person."
 And where he might have made a second reference to the human person, he instead chose to speak of the individual:
The United Nations, too, champions the disadvantaged and the vulnerable.
We share a belief in the inherent dignity of all individuals and the sacred duty to care for and wisely manage our natural capital.
Is the dignity of the "individual" the same thing as the dignity of the "person"?  Is our moral orientation with regard to an "individual" the same as our moral orientation towards a "person"?

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Pope Francis: second catechesis on the complementarity of man and woman

I haven't got time to translate ..... but the full Italian text of today's General Audience address is here. I do think it is worth a careful read. I expect that a full English translation will eventually appear here. There is much here to prompt thought and reflection - and perhaps to give direction for comment on the forthcoming Synod of Bishops meeting on the Family.
La custodia di questa alleanza dell’uomo e della donna, anche se peccatori e feriti, confusi e umiliati, sfiduciati e incerti, è dunque per noi credenti una vocazione impegnativa e appassionante, nella condizione odierna. [The care of this covenant of man and of woman, even if they are affected by sin and are wounded, confused and humiliated, lacking in trust and uncertain, is therefore for us believers a binding and exciting vocation, in today's circumstances.]

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Recently visited ..... Leicester and Richard III

Whilst Leicester itself is not the most attractive of cities, the area around Leicester Cathedral is more amenable to the visitor. There is a largely traffic free shopping area known as "The Lanes", with small shops and cafes/restaurants. (Further from the Cathedral is a less attractive shopping area which does have some big name shops and a market that appeared to be strong on fruit and veg. If you are into retail therapy you might enjoy...).

Just opposite the Cathedral there is now a visitor centre, marking the place at which King Richard III's body was discovered. The centre has been very well designed, and, if you are doing your pilgrimage in honour of Richard III, you should go to the visitor centre. It tells the story of King Richard's reign and death at the Battle of Bosworth (ground floor) and the archaeological search for the Greyfriars and King Richard's body (first floor) in a very exciting way. It might be as well to pre-book your ticket - Zero and I found the centre comfortably busy when we visited on a Saturday afternoon. The visitor centre website gives a good impression of the centre.

At the end of your visit, you are able to look down through a glass floor to view the excavated site of Richard III's burial. Lighting shows how the bones of Richard's body were laid out when the burial was uncovered. This is a separate room, slightly apart from the rest of the visitor centre, and succeeds in giving a sense of reverence in the presence of the burial place of a King. As the website of the visitor centre says:
Visitors return to the ground floor to complete their experience with a visit to the site of King Richard’s burial, preserved in a quiet, respectful setting and with a contemplative atmosphere, fitting for the last resting place of a slain warrior and anointed monarch.
From the visitor centre it is just a few steps to Leicester Cathedral and a visit to King Richard's tomb - when Zero and I visited there was a 5 or 10 minute wait in a queue to visit.  The Cathedral is a very light building (on a sunny day, at least) and the tomb has been presented very well. The bridge across which Richard's body was returned to Leicester after the Battle of Bosworth is a 5 minute walk away.

The satellite image on Google maps is, of course, a few years out of date .... and shows the social services car park that used to cover the site of the Greyfriars and Richard III's burial place.

The exposition of the Turin Shroud

Zero and I will have an opportunity in a few weeks time to visit the Turin Shroud, which has just gone on display in the Cathedral of Turin.

The official website for the Turin Shroud is here, from which it is possible to book tickets (free) for your visit:Holy Shroud

See also reporting as follows:

The Shroud of Turin has been put on display to the public until June 24

Pope Francis to visit Turin Shroud

During Turin Shroud display, archbishop offers absolution to women who have had abortions (A similar permission for priests to absolve those who have procured an abortion was given, if I recall correctly, on the occasion of the World Youth Day in Madrid - and, I would assume, on the occasion of the more recent WYD in Rio.)

It would be saintly to be able to say that we were going on pilgrimage especially for the visit to the Shroud, but that would be to be economical with the truth! We will be making a day visit to Turin during a holiday by Lake Como.... visiting the central part of the lake, one is put in mind of Romano Guardini's Letters from Lake Como, the reading of which is a very different experience when you can recognise the locations to which he refers and the unique combination of the lake and its ferries with the surrounding mountains.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Pope Francis General Audience 15th April 2015: catechesis on male-female complementarity

The Vatican Information Service headlines its report on today's General Audience thus: General audience: the complementarity between man and woman.

And Vatican Radio headlined its report: Pope: "more weight and more authority must be given to women”

And the Catholic Herald report, following that at Vatican Radio: The Church must do more to recognise women, says Pope.

UPDATE: and the most useful coverage at Catholic News Service: Gender theory is the problem, not the solution, pope says.

At the time of posting, a full English text of Pope Francis' audience address is not yet on the Vatican website - I assume it will in due course replace the short English summary here. The full Italian text is here. I translate the highlights from there.
E come tutti sappiamo, la differenza sessuale è presente in tante forme di vita, nella lunga scala dei viventi. Ma solo nell’uomo e nella donna essa porta in sé l’immagine e la somiglianza di Dio: il testo biblico lo ripete per ben tre volte in due versetti (26-27): uomo e donna sono immagine e somiglianza di Dio. Questo ci dice che non solo l’uomo preso a sé è immagine di Dio, non solo la donna presa a sé è immagine di Dio, ma anche l’uomo e la donna, come coppia, sono immagine di Dio. La differenza tra uomo e donna non è per la contrapposizione, o la subordinazione, ma per la comunione e la generazione, sempre ad immagine e somiglianza di Dio. [As we all know, sexual difference is present in many forms of life, in the long ascent of living things. But only in man and woman does it carry in itself the image and the likeness of God: the biblical text repeats this three times in two verses: man and woman are the image and likeness of God. This is to say not only that man taken in himself is the image of God, not only is woman taken in herself the image of God, but also man and woman, as a couple, are the image of God. The difference between man and woman is not for opposition, or for subordination, but for communion and generation, always to the image and likeness of God.] 
What I find of particular interest here is the idea that it is together, as a couple, that the likeness of God is present in man and woman, in addition to such a presence in each individually. And let us not overlook that "...for communion and generation ...". Those who believe that the separation of the purpose of generation from the sexual encounter by means of the contraceptive pill and the condom is in favour of the liberation of women will not find solace in Pope Francis' words. Pope Francis also inserts a phrase in the light of the biblical account that says that "God has entrusted the earth to the covenant between man and woman", a thought that I also find interesting. Whilst all of this has an immediate reference to those who are called to the vocation of marriage, and that is the context of the Holy Father's current series of catecheses, I am prompted to ponder -  if it is indeed something that is of the nature of God's creative act - how this also extends to those who are not married. mi domando, se la cosiddetta teoria del gender non sia anche espressione di una frustrazione e di una rassegnazione, che mira a cancellare la differenza sessuale perché non sa più confrontarsi con essa. Sì, rischiamo di fare un passo indietro. La rimozione della differenza, infatti, è il problema, non la soluzione. Per risolvere i loro problemi di relazione, l’uomo e la donna devono invece parlarsi di più, ascoltarsi di più, conoscersi di più, volersi bene di più. [...I ask myself, if the so-called theory of gender is not also an expression of a frustration and a resignation, that looks to strike out the sexual difference because it no longer knows how to face up to it. The removal of the difference, in fact, is the problem not the solution. To resolve the problems of their relations, man and woman must instead speak more to each other, listen more to each other, know each other more, wish each others good more.]
And from this basis, Pope Francis identifies two points, and is not making the first in isolation from the second. The first is that women should be given a stronger voice both in society and in the Church - note that the reference to the Church is alongside that to society as a whole:
E’ necessario, infatti, che la donna non solo sia più ascoltata, ma che la sua voce abbia un peso reale, un’autorevolezza riconosciuta, nella società e nella Chiesa. [It is necessary, in fact, that women are not only more listened to, but that their voice carries a real weight, a recognised authority, in society and in the Church.]
The second is to suggest that a weakness in collective belief in God is connected to a weakness in faith in the covenant between man and woman:
Mi chiedo se la crisi di fiducia collettiva in Dio, che ci fa tanto male, ci fa ammalare di rassegnazione all’incredulità e al cinismo, non sia anche connessa alla crisi dell’alleanza tra uomo e donna. In effetti il racconto biblico, con il grande affresco simbolico sul paradiso terrestre e il peccato originale, ci dice proprio che la comunione con Dio si riflette nella comunione della coppia umana e la perdita della fiducia nel Padre celeste genera divisione e conflitto tra uomo e donna. [I ask myself if the crisis of collective faith in God, which does so much ill, which makes for resignation to incredulity and cynicism, is not also connected to the crisis in the covenant between man and woman. In effect the biblical account, with its great symbolic fresco of the earthly paradise and original sin, tells us that communion with God is reflected in the communion of the human couple and the loss of faith in the heavenly father generates division and conflict between man and woman.]
Which is, of course, all very different to the impression created by some of the headlines!