Monday, 16 October 2017

The concensus of the Holy Fathers .....

I have for a long time been familiar with St Robert Bellarmine's letter to Paolo Foscarini, which provides the good Cardinal's personal commentary on the situation of Copernicanism at the time (1615). It has always struck me because of its witness to both Catholic faith as a source of knowledge of what is true and reason, in this instance, that of science, as likewise a source of knowledge of what is true.

An English translation of the full text of the letter can be found here. The third paragraph could not be a stronger exposition of the obligation imposed by the Council of Trent that Holy Scripture should be understood and expounded in accordance with the Holy Fathers and doctors of the Church.

But the fourth paragraph qualifies this in a quite remarkable way (the part translated below is taken from James Brodrick's two volume 1928 biography of Bellarmine rather than the website linked above):
If there were a real proof that the sun is in the centre of the universe, that the earth is in the third heaven, and that the sun does not go round the earth but the earth round the sun, then we should have to proceed with great circumspection in explaining passages of Scripture which appear to teach the contrary, and rather admit that we did not understand them than declare an opinion to be false which is proved to be true....
I do not think any one today would insist on interpreting the passages from Genesis, Psalms, Ecclesiastes and Joshua according to the consensus of the Fathers and doctors as it existed in 1615.

Applying this to Catholic teaching on the death penalty:

1. Though there is a consensus in favour of the (conditional) legitimacy of capital punishment, I am finding it difficult to find a point at which one can clearly say it became defined teaching. That being the case, the freedom then still exists, in the sense in which Bellarmine suggests, that the cited passages of Scripture might be understood differently without it becoming a matter of heresy. (Indeed, I suspect that the passages of Scripture where the Church has defined one particular understanding rather than another are relatively few.)

2. In this case, the use of reason being suggested by Pope Francis lies in the field of the humanities, and, in particular, our understanding of the nature of the dignity of the human person. One can look, as does Pope Francis ("... No man, “not even a murderer, loses his personal dignity...”), to the inalienable nature of the rights of the person (cf the preamble to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights). And one can also look, as does Pope Francis again and as is recognised to an extent in the Catechism of the Catholic Church n.2267, to studying the injury to human dignity represented by the death penalty (the writing of Sr Helen Prejean provides an evidence that can be considered in this regard).

3. That a definition against the death penalty could constitute a genuine development of doctrine appears to me, in the light of the considerations above, quite possible, as Pope Francis himself suggests.

4. But I suspect that a final definition one way or the other may not be forthcoming and, rather like the question of conscientious objection and the legitimacy of military service in the teaching of Vatican II (cf Gaudium et Spes n. 79), the two strands of Catholic life with regard to the question will continue to exist side by side.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Guardini on the Rosary

MAGNIFICAT's "Meditation of the Day" yesterday, for the Feast of the Holy Rosary, has directed me to Romano Guardini's short book The Rosary of Our Lady. It is a book that contains both very practical advice to enrich the way in which we pray the Rosary and theological/catechetical instruction that places the manner of our praying of the Rosary within the context of salvation history and of a genuine human dynamic of prayer.

The chapter entitled "Mary", for example, offers an explanation of how the Christian relates uniquely among the saints to Mary, without compromising the orientation towards Christ:
It is Mary on whom the Rosary is centred in a focus ever new. This prayer means a lingering in the world of Mary, whose essence was Christ.
It is this chapter which precedes the chapter entitled "Christ in us" from which the MAGNIFICAT meditation was taken:
To linger in the domain of Mary is a divinely great thing. One does not ask about the utility of truly noble things, because they have their meaning within themselves. So it is of infinite meaning to draw a deep breath of this purity, to be secure in the peace of the union with God ...
All prayer begins by man becoming silent - recollecting his scattered thoughts, feeling remorse at his trespasses, and directing his thoughts toward God. If man does this, this place is thrown open, not only as a domain of spiritual tranquillity and mental concentration, but as something that comes from God.
We are always in need of this place, especially when the convulsions of the times make clear something that has always existed but which is sometimes hidden by outward well-being and a prevailing peace of mind: namely, the homelessness of our lives. In such times, a great courage is demanded from us; not only to dispense with more and to accomplish more than usual, but to persevere in a vacuum we do not otherwise notice. So we require more than ever this place of which we speak, not to creep into as a hiding place, but as a place to find the core of things, to become calm and confident once more.
For this reason the rosary is so important in times like ours - assuming , of course, that all slackness and exaggeration are done away with, and that it is used in its clear and original forcefulness. This is all the more important because the rosary does not require any special preparation, and the petitioner does not need to generate thoughts of which he is not capable at the moment or at any other time. Rather, he steps into a well-ordered world, meets familiar images, and finds roads that lead him to the essential.
[So far as I can tell, this book was first published in German in 1940 - so Guardini's reference to "times like ours" is a reference to war time conditions in Germany.]

Guardini offers an explanation of the part played by each of the prayers in the structure of the Rosary. This is what he says about the Our Father, prayed at the beginning of each decade:
The start and the goal of all spiritual movement is the Father. So the prayer to Him is placed at the beginning of each decade, to ask Him for the things that are really vital. The meditation that follows is thus made in the sight of the Father; like the seer in the Revelation of St John we look at all the different events that pass before the eyes of Him "who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever".
And on the Glory be:
And finally, with the "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit" at the end of each decade, he who prays bows before the triune God, from whom everything comes and to whom everything returns.
Guardini has already spoken about the role of the Hail Mary in representing for us the mystery that is the subject of each decade. He assumes a practice that is not well known in the English speaking world, of introducing into the Hail Mary a reference to the mystery being prayed:
...the Rosary is, in its deepest sense, a prayer of Christ. The first part of the Hail Mary ends with His name: "And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus". After this name follow the so-called mysteries (for example, "Whom thou, O Virgin, dids't conceive of the Holy Spirit, "Whom though didst bear with thee to Elizabeth", "Who was born to thee in Bethlehem"). Every decade of the Rosary contains such a mystery.
It is worth noting, too, Guardini's suggestion that the Rosary needs to be both given the time that it needs by the one who prays, and also to be allowed to take the time that of its own nature it will ask:
The Rosary is a prayer of lingering. One must take one's time for it, putting the necessary time at its disposal, not only externally but internally..... It is not necessary to ramble through the whole Rosary; it is better to say only one or two decades, and to say them right.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Further reading ....

.... on Amoris Laetitia and the correction (of that which didn't need correcting).

Rocco Buttiglione suggests that the correction is premised on reading in to the text of Amoris Laetitia things that  Amoris Laetitia does not in reality say (read the article in full, do not rely just on the headline): “The correctio? The method is incorrect: they do not discuss, they condemn”.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet has presented a more overarching analysis of Amoris Laetitia and its call for a "pastoral conversion" in speaking to the Canadian Catholic Bishops Conference. The full text has been published at the National Catholic Reporter (scroll down this report to find the embedded text): Critics of Filial Correction of Pope Francis Weigh In.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Correcting the correction .....

There is a thought that I came to adopt quite some time ago now, prompted I think by an observation of Hans Urs von Balthasar in his study Therese of Lisieux: The Story of a Mission. Von Balthasar suggested that Therese was reduced in her experience of Christian life, in particular the mystery of confession, by an early confessor who said to her that she had never committed a mortal sin. The thought prompted by this is that the person who has experienced sin has a deeper experience of the Christian mystery, because that mystery is one of redemption from sin rather than being one of perfection originally achieved. Perhaps those who try to live in the Church with the greatest experience of sin are also those with the greatest experience of the Christian life. In any case, we can say that, both at the level of the individual Christian life and at the level of the community of the Church as a whole, there co-exists that which is sin and that which is grace, this co-existence characterised by the wish that it is the latter that will be in the ascendant over the former.

By analogy, watching the lives of marriages that I have encountered, I wonder if those marriages that experience the most difficulty (and difficulty arising from a whole range of different causes), and the lack of both financial and emotional security that result from difficulty, might have a deeper experience of the Christian life than other, more stable marriages. There can be among those difficulties a very radical experience of poverty - of not knowing what the next day, or week, or month will bring. The Christian in these kinds of circumstances has an experience of poverty that may not be readily experienced by others; they may not advert to it consciously as a Christian vocation, but they might nevertheless live it in a profoundly existential way.

There can, of course, be causes for a marriage break up that are a result of choices that go against the teaching of the Catholic Church with regard to marriage. This might be an extra-marital affair, where one spouse betrays the other. But then, later, both of the spouses involved might enter into a second marriage through a close friendship that comes about through the every day circumstances of life. Both of those second marriages are choices that are not morally just according to Catholic teaching. In both cases, the "objective state of sin", to use the term of Amoris Laetitia, means that they cannot receive Holy Communion should they still wish to practice their Catholic faith. The second is, however, perhaps more understandable in human terms than the first.

The situation that Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia tries to address does not primarily appear to me to be the situation at the time of the entering in to the second marriages, or of first embarking on a cohabitation. Instead, it appears to me to address a situation much later in time, when the immediacy of the decisions that created the "objective state of sin" has been moderated with the passage of time (cf n.298).

At this point, I am prompted to reflect on the  requirements set for the admission of a person to the monastery set out in chapter 58 of the Rule of St Benedict. It is not a requirement of any particular perfection but instead a requirement that the aspirant should "truly seek God", with provision for the testing of the integrity of that seeking of God:
A senior, skilled in conversion, should supervise him to see if he truly seeks God and eagerly hopes for the Divine Office, obedience and humiliations. He must be told of the difficulties and austerities ahead of him on the pathway to God.
At this later point in time, there might well emerge for the re-married person through a conversion, experienced in all probability in some limited way, a wish to "truly seek God". Equally, for some, no such wish may exist and the people involved will move away from the practice of the faith altogether; these would take the view that there is nothing wrong with being in a second marriage or with cohabiting. Chapter 8, however, faces up to the question of how, in practical terms, the Church approaches the situation of those who do have an at least latent wish to "seek God" (ie fidelity to Catholic teaching and life with regard to marriage) in their irregular situation.

[Whilst it is less easy to see how it might occur, it is also possible that those who are living together without marrying, or who contract a civil marriage only, might also reach this point of conversion that represents a wish to "seek God" through fidelity to Catholic teaching. Though some of these situations might be readily resolved through a marriage, one might think, for example, of a couple co-habiting when one of the couple is prevented from marriage by a previous marriage, or where one might wish to move to marriage and the other not.]

In this light, I propose the following theses.

1. The person who, even in a limited way, wishes to "seek God" in the sense suggested above, already knows that there is something (morally) wrong with their situation. They do not need to be told it. "Doctrinal clarity" is neither here nor there for them. I recall the parable of the ship's captain and the lighthouse that Mgr Paul Watson was wont to tell when he was at Maryvale Institute - once the captain of the large ship realises that he is heading towards a lighthouse on land instead of a smaller ship that can move out of his way, he does not need to be told that he needs to change direction. And this is where the logic of the dubia and the clamour for clarification runs up against the pastoral approach proposed in Chapter 8. None of the doctrine being "defended" by the dubia and the calls for clarification have ever been put into question by Chapter 8 or by any other passage in Amoris Laetitia. There is no objective need for Pope Francis to clarify that teaching. There is every need, in the pastoral intention of Amoris Laetitia, to maintain the sense of welcome to those whose conversion leads them to "seek God" in their marital situation. The need for clarification has arisen because of the activity of those who call for it, and not because of the manner of Pope Francis' exercise of the office of the Successor of Peter.

2. If the pastoral programme of Chapter 8 is followed, there is a certain testing of the desire to "seek God" and of the conversion giving rise to it. An examination of conscience and moments of reflection and repentance are proposed by Amoris Laetitia n.300; and the discernment is against the bench mark of "truth and charity as proposed by the Church", humility and discretion, and love for the Church and her teaching. If priests and bishops fulfil their responsibility in respect of this part of the pastoral programme of Chapter 8, it is difficult to see how a person in a second marriage could embark on the process of discernment and integration without a genuine wish to "seek God". Indeed, the one who "flaunts an objective sin as if it were part of the Christian ideal ... needs to listen once more to the Gospel message and its call to conversion" in the words of Amoris Laetitia n.297. There is no question here of accepting as morally just the "objective state of sin" with regard to a second marriage or cohabitation.

3. A key point of both pastoral and theological importance in Chapter 8 is the suggestion that, though a couple might be in an objective state of manifest sin (ie a state of sin that is openly visible), there are circumstances where the element of consent in particular, but also of knowledge, that are necessary for that sin to be mortal may be lacking or compromised. In other words, it is possible for someone living in an irregular marital situation, with that desire to "seek God", to still share in the life of grace that is the common life of the Church. This is the discussion that extends across nn.301 - 305 of Amoris Laetitia, with reference to both St Thomas and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It seems to me that this discussion reflects what one might call traditional teaching with regard to the requirements of mortal sin - full knowledge, full consent and grave matter. It does not question that the irregular marriage situations represent grave matter, and leaves intact the provision of Canon 915 that persistence in manifest sin in grave matter means that a person should not be admitted to Holy Communion. It also reflects what is said above about the Christian life being one that shares in sin and grace, with the effort always that grace should become the ascendant. If one can summarise the discussion, it is in this sentence from n.305:
Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin - which may not be subjectively culpable, of fully such - a person can be living in God's grace, and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church's help to this end.
4. The discernment expected by the pastoral programme of Chapter 8 is not a discernment with regard to admission to the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. That aspect is relegated to a footnote to n.305 just quoted (or it was until the critics raised it to a kind of canonical status that is entirely sui generis), the essence of which is to say that the process of discernment does not rule out an eventual access to the sacraments and neither does it rule it in. The admission to these sacraments is not itself the subject of the discernment. It should also be absolutely clear that recognising that an objective state of sin can exist alongside grace does not represent a kind of acceptance as a status quo of the objective state of sin, and to suggest so is a very serious misrepresentation of the teaching of Chapter 8. Amoris Laetitia is not suggesting a standing still in that objective state of sin. Instead, it is presenting a discernment of a way forward enabling a growth in the life of grace and charity, "so they can reach the fullness of God's plan for them, something which is always possible by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Amoris Laetitia n.297).

5. When I look at the manner of Pope Francis' exercise of the ministry of the Successor Peter, its most striking feature appears to be the raising of the status of the act of charity in terms of the living of the Christian life. For Pope Francis, it is a central focus of the bringing of grace into ascendancy over sin in the life of the individual Christian and in the life of the Church as a whole. The promotion of the corporal works of mercy - exemplified by Pope Francis himself in his Friday "visits of mercy" - was perhaps an underestimated intention of the recent Year of Mercy. It is n.306 of Amoris Laetitia which is crucial to recognising the part to be played by engagement with the Church's mission of charity in the process of discernment intended by Chapter 8:
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".
It is the discernment, and accompaniment, of how a person might engage in this activity of charity that is seen by Pope Francis as the manner of an approach that integrates them in the life of the Church rather than rejecting them from it. Its spiritual, and therefore redemptive, value derives from the possibility that the person has participation in the life of grace of the Church. For the one who "seeks God", it offers a way of moving forward, of growing towards perfection. There is no reason why such a person should not be active in an SVP conference, engaged in hospital visiting or engaged in ship visiting (to give examples with relevance to my own locality).

6. Pope Francis' answer to the dubia and to the correction is already there in Amoris Laetitia n.308:
I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion. But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, 'always does what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street'".

According to one of its signatories, the real claim of the correction is that Pope Francis has left  little doubt about how he wants Amoris Laetitia to be understood and applied, and this understanding is in the last analysis incompatible with the Catholic Faith. I think this claim is in the realm of speculation. Several of the cited instances of actions by Pope Francis that are claimed to indicate how he wishes us to understand and apply Amoris Laetitia do not in reality do any such thing unless a speculative interpretation is placed on them; and in so far as there is any indication of how Amoris Laetitia might be understood and applied, it is as  I indicate above. The Argentine bishops guidelines referred to, for example, do not say anything other than what is already in Amoris Laetitia itself, so Pope Francis' endorsement of them has no content in addition to Amoris Laetitia in any case.

Perhaps the authors of the correction would have better spent their time in promoting an understanding and application of Amoris Laetitia that is faithful to its text.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

The "correction" of that which is in no need of correction ....

I have already posted on why I have no problem with Amoris Laetitia:  see here and, for a "compendium" of my posts on the subject, here.

I also wonder how much an "anti-Francis" attitude, rather than just the question of Amoris Laetitia, sits behind those passages in the so-called "correction" that address other aspects of Pope Francis' exercise of the Office of St Peter. I quote, for example, the full section of Pope Francis' address to members of Communion and Liberation in March 2015, an excerpt of which in the so-called "correction" seems to suggest that we are forgiven without conversion and which demonstrates very little appreciation of the charism of Communion and Liberation:
One cannot understand this dynamic of the encounter if astonishment and adherence are inspired without mercy. Only one who has been caressed by the tenderness of mercy truly knows the Lord. The privileged place of encounter is the caress of Jesus’ mercy regarding my sin. This is why you may have heard me say, several times, that the place for this, the privileged place of the encounter with Jesus Christ is my sin. The will to respond and to change, which can give rise to a different life, comes thanks to this merciful embrace. Christian morality is not a titanic, voluntary effort, of one who decides to be coherent and who manages to do so, a sort of isolated challenge before the world. No. This is not Christian morality, it is something else. Christian morality is a response, it is the heartfelt response before the surprising, unforeseeable — even “unfair” according to human criteria — mercy of One who knows me, knows my betrayals and loves me just the same, appreciates me, embraces me, calls me anew, hopes in me, has expectations of me. Christian morality is not a never falling down, but an always getting up, thanks to his hand which catches us. This too is the way of the Church: to let the great mercy of God become manifest. I said in recent days to the new Cardinals: “The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for eternity; [but] to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart. The way of the Church is precisely to leave her four walls behind and to go out in search of those who are distant, those essentially on the ‘outskirts’ of life. It is to adopt fully God’s own approach”, which is that of mercy (Homily, 15 February 2015). The Church, too, must feel the joyous impetus to become an almond blossom, i.e. spring, like Jesus, for all of humanity.
And this passage from the so-called "correction" is to me a gross misrepresentation of the integration of persons into the life of the Church by way of the "via caritatis" that is proposed in Amoris Laetitia nn.305-306, the fuller context for n.299:
How can we not see here a close similarity with what has been suggested by Your Holiness in Amoris laetitia? On the one hand marriage is supposedly safeguarded as a sacrament, while on the other hand divorce and remarriage are regarded ‘mercifully’ as a status quo to be – although only ‘pastorally’ – integrated into the life of the Church, thus openly contradicting the word of our Lord.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Padre Pio and the stigmata

Today's memorial of St Pio of Pietrelcina has reminded me of writing an article about him for a parish magazine at the time of his canonisation. At the time, St Pio was not someone about whom I knew much, and he was not someone to whom I had any special devotion.

One of the things I found unusual about him was that, as a man, he experienced the stigmata, the marking of his body with the wounds of the passion of Christ. Most of the other stigmatists I knew of at the time were women, so I had a sense of the stigmata as part of a feminine charism in the Church, certainly as far as the contemporary life of the Church is concerned. This is what I wrote about it at the time:
The core of Padre Pio’s active apostolate and his spiritual mission in the Church, however, is his being marked with the wounds of Christ, the stigmata.  The visible marks are an outward sign of a lived experience of the crucifixion, both as a willing self-offering on the part of the person involved and as a gift from God of being able to take part in the suffering of Jesus himself.  Padre Pio is distinguished from his contemporary stigmatists (Marthe Robin, Adrienne von Speyr, Therese Neumann) as a man and as a priest.  Where their experience of the Passion is associated with time - from Thursday evening to Sunday morning or the period of the Easter Triduum - Padre Pio’s experience is associated with his celebration of the Eucharist.  Eyewitness accounts describe the intense pain that he experienced in his hands, feet and whole body as he celebrated Mass.  At the words of Consecration, said hesitantly and with frequent repeating of words, “he is literally on the cross with Christ”.  Blood flowed from the wounds in Padre Pio’s hands, feet and side.  After his Mass, Padre Pio would spend many hours celebrating the Sacrament of Penance.  This aspect of his mission in the Church can also be seen in the light of the stigmata.  In this sacrament, the Church bears the burden of sin “for others” and for Padre Pio this was explicit in the way in which he offered himself as a victim for others.  Whilst there are many stories of Padre Pio’s supernatural insight into the lives of those who came to him for confession, he was for the majority of people simply a very good confessor and counsellor.
The Collect for his feast captures something of the essence of St Pio's mission in the Church:
Almighty ever-living God, who, by a singular grace, gave the Priest Saint Pius a share in the Cross of your Son and, by means of his ministry, renewed the wonders of your mercy, grant that through his intercession we may united constantly to the sufferings of Christ, and so brought happily to the glory of the resurrection.
[For those not familiar with the phenomenon of the stigmata, it is a rare occurrence in the life of the Church, but well attested in the lives of those who experience it. As I indicate above, it should not be seen as just a "wonder" but as an expression of a particular gift and mission given to an individual in the Church.]

Thursday, 21 September 2017

A patients best interest? Really?

In a report headlined "Court ruling not needed to withdraw care, judge says", the BBC reports in its analysis of a court ruling with regard to patients in a permanent vegetative state that:
Today's ruling makes clear that as things stand, courts need not be involved in these sorts of cases, so long as doctors and families are in agreement, and the removal of food and water are in the best interests of the patient.
They quote a spokesperson of Compassion in Dying (a pro-euthanasia campaign group) as saying:
"When all parties - family, the hospital and treating doctors - are agreed on what someone would have wanted for their care, it seems absurd to require a costly court process to confirm this." 
The good of human life, in its ethical sense, means that it can never be supportive of that ethical good to remove nutrition and hydration from a human person. They are so fundamental to the good of life that their removal on the grounds of "best interest" in reality constitutes a denial of that good.

[From an ethical point of view, the removal of nutrition and hydration if provided by a clinical means such as a nasogastric tube may only be justifiable when a patients condition reaches the point where their organs are no longer able to metabolise that food and water. Its provision is then futile in the strict sense, and there is no ethical judgement in terms of "best interest", there instead being a quite different recognition of futility. I suspect that such a situation might only be reached in the last minutes or hour of life; and the situations being envisaged by this court judgement are not of this type at all.]

How family, hospital and treating doctors are entitled, or even able, to agree on what a non-communicative patient would have wanted for their care at the particular moment is also a mystery. That a spokesperson for a euthanasia campaign group should be quoted in this way is worrying for its indication of the potential pressure (from decision making by others) on patients to agree to steps taken to end their lives should euthanasia be legalised at some point in the future.

This ruling is likely to be appealed - with the potential that, if it is upheld at appeal, there will be no further redress.