Saturday, 29 November 2008

Events in Mumbai: the mystery of evil

Due to pressure of work, and being away from home, I haven't followed events in Mumbai very closely. One thing that did strike me - and it was the same thought that occurred to me after the attacks on London's transport system, after the attack on the twin towers, and on other occasions of horrific attacks - was how deep seated was the evil that took place. The media reports of the attacks suggests a wholesale, and completely wanton disregard for the lives and safety of those targetted in the attacks. However one might view the motivations and moral responsibility of the individuals who undertook the attacks - from the distance of the media reports I am not able to make any judgement of this sort - the attacks represent a profound manifestation of the mystery of evil.

At a political level, a response of condemnation may be appropriate. More than anything else, a condemnation involves a recognition that what took place was evil. It is not, however, enough to stop there.

An appropriate response to evil, from a Christian point of view is repentence; and whilst we may not have a direct responsibility for the events in Mumbai by making an act of repentence for our own, probably much smaller, contributions to evil we do nevertheless take an action on behalf of the mystery of good and against the mystery of evil.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Where is moral responsibility in large organisations?

This post is prompted by the response of the BBC Trust to the events surrounding Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand. The news reporting of the BBC Trust's report appeared to place most of the concern and responsibility for the broadcasting of the offensive remarks with the editorial people at the BBC. They were considered as having the responsibility to prevent this material being broadcast.

In my view, the prime responsibility for this offensive material lies with the two broadcasters themselves. The material, and the events during which it was recorded, were offensive and would have remained offensive even if they had not been broadcast. Without their initially offensive behaviour, more senior BBC staff would not have been put in a position of being expected to refuse its broadcast.

In this context, Archbishop Nichols observations about the financial system, made during a homily at a Civic Mass in Birmingham and reported here at ZENIT, are interesting. Archbishop Nichols comments on the limits that regulation should have, and indicates that regulation cannot replace virtue (though it might support it). I had a similar thought during recent calls for a windfall tax on oil producers as they announced huge profits. Quite rightly, I think those producers have an obligation in charity to share their wealth for the good of others in society - but to regulate for it by a windfall tax would be completely counter productive. It is a conversion on the part of company executives that is needed to achieve this act of communion.

The Focolare initiative of "Economy of Communion" shows the real possibilities here. But it is, of course, something that economic entities choose to join and not something that is forced by regulation. It is a function of society, as opposed to being a function of the state. It's core idea is that the profits of a company are deployed in three parts, each of equal importance:

1. Help people in need - creating new jobs and intervening to meet their immediate needs beginning with those who share in the spirit that animates the Economy of Communion;
2. Spread the "Culture of Giving" and of loving - indispensable and necessary values for an Economy of Communion;
3. Grow the business - which has to remain efficient while remaining open to giving.

More details here. An interesting implication of this initiative is the way in which it allows moral responsibility to remain with the managers of the businesses concerned, instead of being absorbed into some impersonal, "system". People can feel a responsibility for their economic activity - and have a real sense of accountability for it. Responsibility isn't just "pushed up the organisation".

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Byzantium 330-1453

This is the title of an exhibition running at the Royal Academy of Arts in London until 22nd March 2009. Zero and I are going to see it on 19th December, so I read with interest Thinking Faith's review of the exhibition. Their account indicates some disappointment - with regard to insufficiency in the labelling of some exhibits that makes them a bit inaccessible to Joe Blogs on a visit and with regard to weak presentation of the religious context, say, of the icons on display. However, it also suggests that there is an opportunity here to see a range particularly of icons that are rarely seen by the public.
My attention was caught by a reference to an icon of the Virgin Hodegetria (the Virgin indicating the way to Jesus). I hadn't come across this before, but then put "Virgin Hodegetria" into a Google Images search. There seem to be a number of icons with this title, the essential feature of the icon being that the Virgin Mary indicates with her right hand towards the Christ child held on her left arm.

I will be interested to see an example of representation of a culture profoundly influenced by Christian belief, and hope to gain some understanding of the relation of faith and culture of the Byzantine empire.

Feast of Christ the King in West Hull

Catholic and Loving it has an account of how a group of young people celebrated the Feast of Christ the King last Sunday. I link to it here, because of its resonance with what we did here in Romford on that day.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Blogging as "communion"

I think this post at Antagonistic Pots and Pans, and the dialogue in the comments, represents an interesting example of how blogging contributes to communion in the Church. It is interesting for me as a single to see how married people might be reflecting on the nature of their state of life in the Church.

An interesting Episcopal appointment in France

Catholic Analysis here reports an interesting episcopal appointment in France.

23rd International Conference of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry

I never quite know how to express the title of this Pontifical Council in English - English doesn't use the word "pastoral" as a noun as some other languages do, so it is often translated as the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral of Health Care. ZENIT are using the "health care ministry" way of translating it.

Earlier this month this Pontifical Council held its annual international conference, dedicated this year to "Pastoral Care in the treatment of sick children". The conference agenda can be found here. It is quite interesting to see the wide range taken in its approach to the topic. The pattern of the different sections of the agenda is that adopted by the Pontifical Council for previous conferences. I found striking the engagement with the work of the World Health Organisation, represented by more than one speaker, and the engagment with the insights of other religions in the section on inter-religious dialogue.

What follows is an extract from the address given by Pope Benedict XVI when he received the conference participants in audience at the end of their conference. The full text can be found here on the ZENIT web site.

The medical and human aspects must never be separated and it is the duty of every nursing and health-care structure, especially if it is motivated by a genuine Christian spirit, to offer the best of both expertise and humanity. The sick person, especially the child, understands in particular the language of tenderness and love, expressed through caring, patient and generous service which in believers is inspired by the desire to express the same special love that Jesus reserved for children. "Maxima debetur puero reverentia" (Juvenal, Satire xiv, v. 479): the ancients already acknowledged the importance of respecting the child who is a gift and a precious good for society and whose human dignity, which he fully possesses even unborn in his mother's womb, must be recognized. Every human being has a value in himself because he is created in the image of God in whose eyes he is all the more precious the weaker he appears to the human gaze.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Christ the King

The texts that I intend referring to during my short catechesis before we celebrate Evening Prayer are the following.

Colossians 1:15-20

He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities -- all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell,and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church

51. What is the importance of affirming “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1)?
The significance is that creation is the foundation of all God’s saving plans. It shows forth the almighty and wise love of God, and it is the first step toward the covenant of the one God with his people. It is the beginning of the history of salvation which culminates in Christ; and it is the first answer to our fundamental questions regarding our very origin and our destiny.

53. Why was the world created?
The world was created for the glory of God who wished to show forth and communicate his goodness, truth and beauty. The ultimate end of creation is that God, in Christ, might be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28) for his glory and for our happiness.

Visit to the John Fisher School (part 4)

The fourth - and last - instalment of the talk at John Fisher School.
3 … for the Life of the World

3.1 The Eucharist: memorial of the Paschal Mystery that takes away our

112. What is the importance of the Paschal Mystery of Jesus?
The Paschal Mystery of Jesus, which comprises his passion, death, resurrection, and glorification, stands at the centre of the Christian faith because God's saving plan was accomplished once for all by the redemptive death of his Son Jesus Christ.

280. In what way is the Eucharist a memorial of the sacrifice of Christ?
The Eucharist is a memorial in the sense that it makes present and actual the sacrifice which Christ offered to the Father on the cross, once and for all on behalf of mankind. The sacrificial character of the Holy Eucharist is manifested in the very words of institution, “This is my Body which is given for you” and “This cup is the New Covenant in my Blood that will be shed for you” (Luke 22:19-20). The sacrifice of the cross and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one and the same sacrifice. The priest and the victim are the same; only the manner of offering is different: in a bloody manner on the cross, in an unbloody manner in the Eucharist.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
The Ark of the New Covenant is decorated with the following icons: the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and death of Jesus, the Vigil of Mary (when she waits through Holy Saturday until the Resurrection on Easter morning), and the Resurrection.

3.2 The Eucharist: food for our life in the world, food for the life of others in the world

292. What are the fruits of Holy Communion?
Holy Communion increases our union with Christ and with his Church. It preserves and renews the life of grace received at Baptism and Confirmation and makes us grow in love for our neighbor. It strengthens us in charity, wipes away venial sins and preserves us from mortal sin in the future.

John 6: 32-35, 49-56
Jesus then said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world." ….

I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh." "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.

Matthew 25:34-40
Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?' And the King will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'

The Ark of the New Covenant is decorated with the following icons: the multiplication of the loaves, the Washing of the disciples feet, the disciples meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Visit to the John Fisher School (part 3)

This is the third instalment (but the end of part 2) of the notes of my talk on the Eucharist. I had intended highlighting during the talk the question about Jesus Christ having a true human body, but didn't do it as clearly as intended. It indicates a fulfilment, in the mystery of God's becoming man, of the original covenant with creation represented by Noah. Physical matter - the forms of bread and wine in the Eucharist - will be the way in which God comes to us in the Eucharist, too, so that again can be seen as flowing from the original covenant with creation.

2.3. The New Covenant: Jesus Christ

9. What is the full and definitive stage of God's Revelation?
The full and definitive stage of God’s revelation is accomplished in his Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, the mediator and fullness of Revelation. He, being the only-begotten Son of God made man, is the perfect and definitive Word of the Father. In the sending of the Son and the gift of the Spirit, Revelation is now fully complete …

82. Why is Jesus called “Christ”?
“Christ” in Greek, “Messiah” in Hebrew, means the “anointed one”. Jesus is the Christ because he is consecrated by God and anointed by the Holy Spirit for his redeeming mission. He is the Messiah awaited by Israel, sent into the world by the Father. Jesus accepted the title of Messiah but he made the meaning of the term clear: “come down from heaven” (John 3:13), crucified and then risen , he is the Suffering Servant “who gives his life as a ransom for the many” (Matthew 20:28). From the name Christ comes our name of Christian.

92. Did Christ have a true human body?
Christ assumed a true human body by means of which the invisible God became visible. This is the reason why Christ can be represented and venerated in sacred images.

John 1:1-3, 9-12, 14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made….The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; …. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.

The Ark of the New Covenant, used at the Eucharistic Congress, does not include a representation of the mercy seat of the Old Testament covenant. Instead, the upper part of the Ark shows a series of images relating to Jesus Christ - whose presence in the Eucharist replaces that represented in the mercy seat of the Old Testament covenant.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Visit to the John Fisher School (continued)

This is the second instalment of the notes I used for my recent talk at the John Fisher School.

2.2 The Covenant with Israel: Abraham, Moses, and the prophets

8. What are the next stages of God's Revelation?
God chose Abram, calling him out of his country, making him “the father of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:5), and promising to bless in him “all the nations of the earth” (Genesis 12:3). The people descended from Abraham would be the trustee of the divine promise made to the patriarchs. God formed Israel as his chosen people, freeing them from slavery in Egypt, establishing with them the covenant of Mount Sinai, and, through Moses, giving them his law. The prophets proclaimed a radical redemption of the people and a salvation which would include all nations in a new and everlasting covenant. From the people of Israel and from the house of King David, would be born the Messiah, Jesus.

Exodus 24:3- 8
Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, "All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do." And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD. And he rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the LORD. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient." And Moses took the blood and threw it upon the people, and said, "Behold the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words."

Exodus 25:10, 12-18, 20-22
"They shall make an ark of acacia wood; … you shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. You shall make poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark by them. The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. And you shall put into the ark the testimony which I shall give you. Then you shall make a mercy seat of pure gold; … And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark; and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you of all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.

The Ark of the New Covenant: The rings and poles at the side, the two angels with wings folded around the sides of the Ark - to represent the Ark of the Covenant carried through the desert by the people of Israel. The photograph shows the Ark of the New Covenant being carried, with the Blessed Sacrament, during a parish event in prepration for the International Eucharistic Congress. The Eucharist replaces the presence of God around the mercy seat of the Ark of the Old Testament; you can see the angels wings at either end of the Ark and the carrying poles and the rings.

Piracy and the situation of seafarers

The news of the hijacking of a large oil tanker in the Indian Ocean has brought to the attention of the media the vulnerability of seafarers to piracy. Their job already has enough hazards, so the addition of this unwelcome human hazard is particularly severe.

Piracy in this area of the world is not a new phenomenon. I recall coming across it a couple of years ago in the literature of the Apostleship of the Sea, the international Catholic agency that supports people of the sea. This page on their website gives an idea of the difficulties facing seafarers in today's world. Add piracy to this, and you have quite a hard life!

Two years ago I had an opportunity to join a port Chaplain in ship visiting. This literally involves walking onto a ship in port, introducing yourself as visiting from the Apostleship of the Sea ("Stella Maris" - Star of the Sea - must be one of the earliest and most widely recognised international brands!), and talking to crew members who you have never met before. The warmth of welcome we recieved was exceptional. The appreciation seafarers show to the work of ship visiting is quite special. On one visit, a Ukrainian crew member working on a small bulk carrier criss-crossing the English Channel showed as a video of his family, made in his home town of Odessa. Effectively, he gave two strangers the nearest thing he could to a guided tour of his home town, including an introduction to his family. He had made the video to take away with him to remind him of his home.

Often the conversation during a visit to a ship turns around practical issues like phone cards, where can we go if we do get some time on shore (increasingly rare, as even large ships can turn round in port in a matter of hours, and security concerns make it difficult for seafarers to leave their ships). When things go wrong (such as seafarers not being paid), a ship visitor can be a vital source of friendship and support in a tense or confrontational situation.

Let's do some research ...

... into the blindingly obvious? Or, perhaps, to ignore the blindingly obvious?

Independent Catholic News are carrying the following news item.

Bishops to research youth ministry provision in England and Wales
In a brief statement on Friday, the Bishops' Conference announced plans to carry out research into the provision of youth ministry in England and Wales. Monsignor Andrew J Faley, Assistant General Secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales wrote:

Following the closure of the Catholic Youth Services earlier this year, the Bishops of England and Wales have instructed that research is to be carried out to determine the current provision for youth ministry within the Dioceses, and directions for further development. This work will be carried out by an Interim Youth Ministry Co-ordinator under the supervision of Bishop Kieran Conry, within the Bishops' Department of Evangelisation and Catechesis.

One shouldn't really generalise, and there are some aspects of the ministry of diocesan youth services that have value (and some that probably don't have value), but .....

..... some of the best youth ministry in the UK is to be found in the work of the new movements, or among clergy and young people who have received a formation from one or other of those movements.

It's not rocket science, and it doesn't take a research project to realise that.

So will the new movements be ignored in this research? Or, if not ignored, will it effectively marginalise them? Or, more positively, will it be used as an opportunity to grow the collaboration/ecclesial communion between dioceses and movements, between hierarchical structure and charismatic gifts?

Monday, 17 November 2008

Eucharistic Adoration for December

Eucharistic Adoration Friday 5th December 2008: “God sent his Son, born of a woman”

During Advent the Church encourages us to look forward to the coming of Christ at Christmas. We will meditate on this theme once again using the writings of St Paul to help us. “When the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman”.

Adoration will begin at 1 pm last until 9 pm. A list for adoration will be placed at the back of the Church nearer the time. Please sign up to spend some time with Jesus on this day, and show your love for His Eucharistic presence. WE NEED TO HAVE AT LEAST ONE PERSON WATCHING AT ANY TIME.

Adoration for children and families 6.30 - 7.00 pm: we will continue with our learning about prayer and adoration.

Holy Hour 8.00 - 9.00 pm: This concludes the day’s adoration.

A visit to the John Fisher School

On Friday last, I paid a visit to the John Fisher School to give a talk to the FAITH group that meets there each Friday. As was pointed out to me, this is the birth place of one of the "new movements", namely FAITH Movement. The FAITH group(s) at the school are run by Dan Cooper, previously a teacher at the school but now fulfilling a role that might be described as a kind of assistant chaplain.

My subject was the Eucharist, and I spoke to the title "The Eucharist: Gift of God for the Life of the World", the theme of the International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec last June. I took along my model of the Ark of the New Covenant (see here and here), and used the talk to explain the meaning of the different parts of this work.

The notes of my talk were structured in three parts: The Eucharist, Gift of God, and then Life of the World. Each section contains a relevant question or questions from the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and a passage from Scripture. A link is then made to the Ark of the New Covenant. Herewith the notes on sections 1 and 2; later parts to follow.

1. The Eucharist

271. What is the Eucharist?
The Eucharist is the very sacrifice of the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus which he
instituted to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until his return in glory. Thus he entrusted to his Church this memorial of his death and Resurrection. It is a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet, in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.

282. How is Christ present in the Eucharist?
Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist in a unique and incomparable way. He is present in a true, real and substantial way, with his Body and his Blood, with his Soul and his Divinity. In the Eucharist, therefore, there is present in a sacramental way, that is, under the Eucharistic species of bread and wine, Christ whole and entire, God and Man.

2. Gift of God

2.1 Creation: the Covenant with Noah

51. What is the importance of affirming “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1)?
The significance is that creation is the foundation of all God’s saving plans. It shows forth the almighty and wise love of God, and it is the first step toward the covenant of the one God with his people. It is the beginning of the history of salvation which culminates in Christ; and it is the first answer to our fundamental questions regarding our very origin and our destiny.

53. Why was the world created?
The world was created for the glory of God who wished to show forth and communicate his goodness, truth and beauty. The ultimate end of creation is that God, in Christ, might be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28) for his glory and for our

Genesis 9:8-17
The rainbow as a sign of the Covenant between God and creation, and God's promise to Noah after the flood not to destroy the world again.

The Ark of the New Covenant: boat shaped to represent the ark of Noah that floated on the waters of the flood. The photograph below shows the Ark as it was arranged for Eucharistic Adoration, 24/7, during the Eucharistic Congress.

After the talk, we adjourned to the sixth form block for toast, tea and orange juice ... while the youngsters had a game of snooker.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

US election: more on voting for Barack Obama

Following up yesterday's links to Radical Catholic Mom, I have been led to the following (from a post at Young Fogeys).

Associated Press are carrying a news report of a Roman Catholic parish priest in America who has asked his parishioners not to approach to receive Holy Communion, without first receiving the Sacrament of Penance, if they voted for Barack Obama in the recent Presidential election. The parish priest's grounds for this are that a vote for Barack Obama was a material co-operation in grave evil, namely the promotion of abortion.

The Rev. Jay Scott Newman said in a letter distributed Sunday to parishioners at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Greenville that they are putting their souls at risk if they take Holy Communion before doing penance for their vote.

"Our nation has chosen for its chief executive the most radical pro-abortion politician ever to serve in the United States Senate or to run for president," Newman wrote, referring to Obama by his full name, including his middle name of Hussein.

"Voting for a pro-abortion politician when a plausible pro-life alternative exists constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil, and those Catholics who do so place themselves outside of the full communion of Christ's Church and under the judgment of divine law. Persons in this condition should not receive Holy Communion until and unless they are reconciled to God in the Sacrament of Penance, lest they eat and drink their own condemnation."

This position has been repudiated by the administrator of the Diocese concerned.

Statement of Monsignor Martin T. Laughlin
Administrator of the Diocese of Charleston

CHARLESTON, S.C. (November 14, 2008) - This past week, the Catholic Church’s clear, moral teaching on the evil of abortion has been pulled into the partisan political arena. The recent comments of Father Jay Scott Newman, pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenville, S.C., have diverted the focus from the Church’s clear position against abortion. As Administrator of the Diocese of Charleston, let me state with clarity that Father Newman’s statements do not adequately reflect the Catholic Church’s teachings. Any comments or statements to the contrary are repudiated.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions." The Catechism goes on to state: "In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path; we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. We must also examine our conscience before the Lord’s Cross. We are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church."

Christ gives us freedom to explore our own conscience and to make our own decisions while adhering to the law of God and the teachings of the faith. Therefore, if a person has formed his or her conscience well, he or she should not be denied Communion, nor be told to go to confession before receiving Communion.

The pulpit is reserved for the Word of God. Sometimes God’s truth, as is the Church’s teaching on abortion, is unpopular. All Catholics must be aware of and follow the teachings of the Church. We should all come together to support the President-elect and all elected officials with a view to influencing policy in favor of the protection
of the unborn child. Let us pray for them and ask God to guide them as they take the mantle of leadership on January 20, 2009.

I ask also for your continued prayers for me and for the Diocese of Charleston.

What I find interesting in the Administrator's statement is the suggestion that we should "examine our consciences before the Lord's Cross". This would seem to me to be quite a reasonable suggestion for a parish priest to make to his parishioners. It should be remembered that, when the Catechism talks about freedom of conscience, it is not presenting an argument that a Catholic conscience is not obliged by the moral teaching of the Church; it is presenting an argument in a broader context.

I am a little uncomfortable with the suggestion that, if you have formed your conscience well there is no requirement to receive the Sacrament of Penance. This will, I suspect, simply communicate a message that "if you think you did the right thing, you do not need to go to Confession", and it can be extrapolated to many other situations. I think there is an entitlement of the Church to say that there are certain actions that constitute grave matter and require reception of the Sacrament of Penance before receiving Holy Communion, so this is not I think a strong argument.

The difficulty of Fr Newman's position is, I think, that it is not absolutely clear that a vote for Barack Obama is a vote for abortion - that may or may not be the case when drilled down to the level of the individual casting their individual vote. However, an examination of conscience by someone who voted for Barack Obama might prompt them to express to him or to the Democratic Party in their locality that they do not support his publicly stated position on abortion. This would be a reasonable suggestion to make to such voters, and would involve a complete dissociation of their vote from support for abortion.

Democrat activists who are Catholics, and who have a publicly recorded pro-abortion position, it would seem to me fall into the category of those of whom "Eucharistic consistency" might be expected. But ordinary voters would not meet this condition. The call to an examination of conscience as suggested in the Diocesan administrator's statment seems sufficient for them.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

US election: four links to Radical Catholic Mom

I am afraid I am unable to resist linking to this.

What I really was going to link to whas this, where Radical Catholic Mom gives some idea of what a pro-life Democrat thinks in the wake of the recent American presidential election. I think this post - and dialogue in the comments - does shed some light on the nature of pro-life politics in the United States. Pro-life politics does need to keep a certain distance from the political right - at the end of the day, it is a politics that is open to those of both left and right. And it seems quite right to me to now point out that those who have a chance, though perhaps a small one, of influencing on behalf of unborn children are pro-lifers within the Democrat party. It should also be borne in mind that Radical Catholic Mom is active and loyal to the Church.

Radical Catholic Mom has also posted on "working the polls" on election day. I expect this is a job similar to that of those who work in polling stations in the UK for elections. It is quite fascinating how, for whatever reason, the Americans seem to have committed to voting in this election in a quite unprecedented way. This is a moving post to read. And here, Radical Catholic Mom has posted on some of the reaction she got as a pro-lifer who indicated that she would be voting for Barack Obama.

Voting in any election involves an element of prudential judgement. One might not agree with everything that is in a particular party's electoral position, but one can come to the judgement that it is the correct way to vote. In that case, the vote is cast in support of what is morally acceptable in the party's position, and one should perhaps look for a way to witness against that which one cannot support in its position. At heart, this involves a judgement of conscience - conscience that should, for a Catholic, be informed by the teaching of the Church and careful enquiry about the electoral positions of those standing for election. And it may well be that different people in the same situation will come to different judgements as to how it is prudent to vote - but it is the judgement of prudence that is the object of the act of conscience, not a judgement that a policy proposal contrary to what is known through Catholic teaching is morally permissible.

Bishops clearly have a teaching role in this sort of context, and some of the American bishops exercised that role very vigorously in the run up to the election. I wonder whether their interventions were experienced more as an attempt to direct Catholics how to vote rather than as a part of a forming of conscience of voters?

From the Parish Newsletter

These two extracts are from the parish newsletter of a nearby parish (not my home parish). My commenting on them might appear that I am being critical of the priest involved - though I am doing my best to keep him anonymous unless you have seen the original newsletter. In some ways I try not to have a "critical blog". But, on the other hand, I feel that lay people are entitled to engage in a dialogue with their clergy. It is not fair, I think, to have a position that the clerical status of a parish priest means that they are in some way immune from or exempt from lay people responding to their pronouncements; and, if their statements are in the public arena, they cannot expect to be immune from response in the public arena. The obligation of charity is observed, I think, by focussing on the content, and not attacking the individual.

The first extract is from last week's newsletter, commenting on the election of Barack Obama as the next President of the United States.

Unlike the ordinary American, the people of God have no say in those who are supposedly "elected" to lead them. There is a "so-called" process of consultation but nobody knows what it is. In 1970, the Council of Priests of the diocese of Brentwood, authorised a survey among all the priests of the diocese about what kind of bishop we wanted. It was for the most part ignored. Instead of getting a bishop with vision, we got a kind, holy man who couldn't make a decision without phoning Cardinal Heenan first! One priest writing in the "Brentwood Survey" wrote the problem with the church is we have a "self perpetuating" system. Is it any wonder then that the young and not so young feel there is little they can do to bring about change. This is a sobering thought as we celebrate the Dedication of the Cathedral church of the Diocese of Rome, St John Lateran.

In one sense, it is quite right to see the Church as a self perpetuating system - in one aspect we might call it the Apostolic Succession, in another aspect it is the handing on of the tradition received from Christ himself, particularly in catechesis. However, it would be better expressed as saying that it is a God-sustained system - it is the action of the Holy Spirit that keeps the Church in faithfulness to its founder, Christ. It might also be better to refer to a life rather than a system. So the Church is a Spirit sustained life - a life that is the same now as it was in the past.

The reference to changing reminds me of the story a bishop told during a catechesis at the 2005 World Youth Day. His punchline was to refer to a young pilgrim in Cologne who, interviewed on television, observed that, no, it wasn't for the Church to change its teaching. It was us who needed to change, to live up to that teaching, so that we would therefore become more true to Christ. In this sense, there is everything we can do to bring about the change that we need, whether we are young, not so young, lay person or priest.

Now, is this really the sort of change that is implied or hinted at in this extract? [The bishop being referred to is not, I think, the present incumbent!]

In this week's newsletter, we have a story about two mountaineers in Peru. One of them fell and was injured. His friend did not leave him on the mountain, but helped him down the mountain. Part way down, a second accident happened and the uninjured climber then had to cut the rope supporting his injured friend in order to save himself. It would appear both survived, but the parish priest asks whether or not the two remained friends.

What a moral dilemma? What would you have done in the circumstances? I'm always suspicious of moral theologians who have clear cut solutions to every moral problem. Human beings are very complicated and, like my golf swing, there are so many variables that every set of circumstances needs looking at with the greatest of care.

I do think you can look at this paragraph and find no fault with its strictly expressed content. I do not think that any of us know for sure what we would do in a particular situation - we can only hope that we will act in a morally right way, in accordance with Catholic teaching, when we are put to the test. I doubt that any individual moral theologian has a clear cut solution to every moral problem, just as a matter of academic common sense; suspicion of a moral theologian who does claim that is probably quite justified! But (see below) that is not really to the point. Human beings are very complicated and each circumstance does need to be looked at carefully - my post today about Hannah Jones, for example, shows how characterising her choice as a "choosing to die rather than have a transplant" is to ignore a number of aspects of her case that alter one's judgement of her case. It is a truism - a statement of the obvious - so it doesn't move the argument forward.

So, it is not in the form of words themselves, but exactly what message is being communicated in this extract?

Is there a suggestion that, rather than there being objective moral absolutes, everything depends on the situation? One could certainly be forgiven for taking away from these remarks a certain hesitation about there being absolute rights and wrongs in our lives.

Pope John Paul II addressed precisely this question in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor. There he clearly teaches that there are some actions that are always morally wrong, of their very nature, because of the way in which the go against the good of the human person. The deliberate and directly intended killing of another innocent person would be an example of one such action.

In all likelihood, there was no deliberately intended killing on the part of the uninjured climber in the story told in the newsletter. But that does not provide a ground for suggesting that there are no actions that are, of their nature, always morally wrong.

Feast of St Albert; Mass of Mary, Mother of Fairest Love

I haven't noticed the collect for the feast of St Albert before, but, for the scientists among us, here it is. Translation taken from the Divine Office rather than from the Missal.

Lord God,
you made Saint Albert great by his gift for reconciling human wisdom with divine faith. Help us so to follow his teaching that every advance in science may lead us to a deeper knowledge and love of you.

St Albert gains the rank in the universal calendar of an optional memorial, which allowed us at Mass this morning (not in my home parish - where there is no Saturday morning Mass) to have a Mass in honour of the Blessed Virgin. The priest chose the Mass of Mary, Mother of Fairest Love, from the Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The texts of this Mass celebrate the spiritual beauty of the Blessed Virgin - it must be my favourite Mass. This is the preface of this Mass:

Father, all-powerful and ever-living God,
we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks
and, as we celebrate the memory of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to proclaim with fitting praise the greatness of your name.

Beauty was hers at her conception:
free from all stain of sin, she is resplendent in the glory of grace.

Beauty was hers in her virginal motherhood:
she brought forth her Son, the radiance of your glory,
as the Saviour and brother of us all.

Beauty was hers in the passion of her Son:
marked by his blood,
in her meekness she shared the suffering
of the Lamb of God, her Son, silent before his executioners,
and won for herself a new title of motherhood.

Beauty was hers in the resurrection of Christ:
she reigns with him in glory,
the sharer now in his triumph.

Through him the angels of heaven
offer their prayer of adoration
as they rejoice in your presence for ever.
May our voices be one with theirs
in their triumphant hymn of praise.

Hannah Jones: press mis-representation

Hannah Jones is the young girl whose declining to undergo a heart transplant led the Primary Care Trust for her area to take legal steps to take her into care so that the operation could go ahead. The decision of the Primary Care Trust to drop the legal case after the intervention of child protection professionals was reported earlier this week. The events involved took place in the period July 2007 - February 2008, but have only just emerged in the public domain.

Today's Times reports concerns by doctors that the coverage of Hannah's case my have glamourised "transplant refusal", and have damaged the positive image of transplant surgery. They are concerned that this will discourage others from agreeing to transplant surgery, that it has been "hugely damaging for transplant patients".

Who is responsible for causing this concern? Hannah Jones and her family? The Primary Care Trust and the local hospital who first raised the possibility with the family that Hannah would be removed from the family to receive the treatment, and then followed it through to a High Court action? Or the news media?

It looks to me rather as if members of the medical profession started the chain of events - so it is a little bit much for other doctors to then express concern without recognising that some of their own colleagues should accept responsibility for creating the situation in the first place.

And then take this quality of reporting, taken from this same Times report. From the opening paragraph - and those who have undertaken media training will know that you try to say in your first paragraph enough to communicate the essence of your whole story in case the editor only uses your first paragraph (or, if you are a reader, you only read the first paragraph):

The courage of Hannah Jones, the 13-year old girl who has chosen to die rather than undergo a heart transplant ...

Well, no, Hannah has not chosen to die. She has declined one particular course of medical treatment. Later in the report, we find:

After speaking to a child protection officer, Hannah won her battle to die at home. "I just decided that there were too many risks and, even if I took them, there might be a bad outcome afterwards", she said. "There is a chance that I may be OK and there is also a chance that I may not be as well as I could be, but I am taking that chance".

This does not sound like the choosing to die of the first paragraph. The first paragraph grossly misrepresents the nature of the decision of the Jones' family.

But the mis-representation is directed in a particular direction ... and it is this that makes it a particularly dangerous mis-representation.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Clare Short MP - invitation withdrawn

Catholic and Loving it has posted on the outcome of the invitation extended to Clare Short to present the prizes at St Paul's Catholic School for Girls. This is the report of the withdrawal of Clare Short's invitation on the website of the Birmingham Mail newspaper.

My own reflection on this invitation can be found here.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Prague 8: Seven Men at Daybreak

"Seven Men at Daybreak" is the title of a book by Alan Burgess. It tells the story of a group of Czech resistance fighters who were parachuted into then German occupied Czechoslovakia to kill Reinhard Heydrich, the SS officer who commanded occupied Czechoslovakia. A film "Operation Daybreak" was based on the book.

The mission to kill Heydrich was, as I have understood it, an operation initiated by the leaders of the Czech government in exile in London, headed be Edvard Benese. In part at least, their motiviation was to enhance their own standing in relation to the allied powers by bringing off a high profile assassination. The British trained the fighters involved and parachuted them into Czechoslovakia - I suspect they were willing to support a mission that would cause problems for the Germans in occupied Europe. I can't help but be a little cynical about the pragmatism of Benese's decision, and this has been reinforced by reading Vaclav Havel's account (follow the link from this page)of Benese's stance with regard to both the Nazi's before the Second World War and the communists afterwards.

At the time of the mission, Czechoslovakia was one of the most docile of the territories occupied by the Germans, something the British were quite keen to see change. This made it a difficult mission, as the parachutists could not rely on support except from the most determined Czechs in Prague and the nearby area. After Heydrich's death, and the German retaliations against the Czech population, there was a wave of support for the Czechoslovak people and a strengthening of anti-German feeling in the world at large. The Western powers repudiated the Munich accords, which had ceded part of Czechoslovakia to Germany, something that no doubt delighted the Czech government in exile.

The attempt on Heydrich's life in a Prague street did not go to plan. A Sten gun jammed at the key moment, and it was the back up of hand grenade thrown into his car which eventually killed him. Heydrich died three days later, of blood poisoning caused by fragments driven into his body from the exploding hand grenade. The German retaliation is estimated to have killed some five thousand Czechoslovak citizens, in Prague and elsewhere. The most notorious part of this massacre was the destruction of the village of Lidice - burnt to the ground, and its citizens either executed or sent to concentration camps.

The parachutists were eventually cornered in the crypt of the Orthodox church of St Cyril and Methodius on Resslova street. They fought to the end of their ammunition, and then killed themselves rather than be captured by the Germans.

This crypt is now a museum and memorial to all those who died in the German retaliation after the death of Reinhard Heydrich. The memorial below is in the wall of the crypt, above an opening through which the Germans pumped water and smoke in attempts to force the Czech fighters to surrender.

Inside the crypt itself, we saw a number of small wreaths and crosses left in memory of those who died there. The parachutists are still seen very much as heroes who died for the freedom of their country.

Note: the above account is based on memories of reading "Seven Men at Daybreak" (many years ago) and on the content of the displays in the museum at the crypt.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Prague 7: "I don't want to die like Tycho Brahe"

Apparently - or at least according to one of the guide books that we took to Prague with us - this is the English translation of a colloquial Czech phrase meaning that one needs to visit the toilet. How true this is, I have no way of knowing. If we assume it is true, I don't know whether it is a polite expression to use or a rude one - so herewith my apologies if necessary.

Tycho Brahe (1547-1601) was a Danish astronomer. He had built an observatory on the island of Uraniburg where, for twenty years, he undertook the precise series of astronomical observations which were probably his greatest contribution to the development of astronomy at the time, and certainly the envy of Johannes Kepler. Tycho also produced a theory of the motion of the planets that was an alternative to Copernicus theory of a system with a stationary sun at the centre. Tycho's theory had a stationary Earth at the centre, with the Sun going round the earth. All the other planets known at the time - Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn - moved in orbits round the Sun (which was going round the earth). This theory could account for the astronomical observations of the time. [Further reading: I Bernard Cohen The Birth of a New Physics p.78 footnote.]

Tycho Brahe might have been a very precise and careful observational astronomer. But he appears to have been a spectacularly unpleasant character. He lost a part of his nose during a duel as a student, and acquired an artificial nose made of silver and gold (according to Arthur Koestler's The Sleepwalkers, made of tin according to our guide book) to fill the missing part. He eventually got completely the wrong side of the authorities in Denmark, and went into exile, along with his haughty and arrogant personality, finally finding his way to Prague. There he met and worked with Kepler, through a fraught professional relationship.

In Prague, Tycho Brahe was the Imperial Mathematicus to the Emperor Rudolph II - some sort of equivalent to an Astronomer Royal in the UK. In theory, this attracted a very handsome salary; in practice Tycho Brahe had to fight for his pay, as the Emperor's finance's weren't in a brilliant state.

Tycho Brahe is buried in the Church of Our Lady at the Tyn, just off the main town square in Prague. We were able to visit him there, though I am not sure what other visitors made of us trying to spot the artificial nose on the sculpture on his gravestone (now mounted on a pillar overlooking the grave itself).

The traditional story of Tycho Brahe's death is cited, from the original document, in Arthur Koestler's The Sleepwalkers:

Tycho Brahe, in the company of Master Minkowitz, ahd dinner at the illustrious Rosenberg's table, and held back his water beyond the demands of courtesy. When he drank more, he felt the tension in his bladder increase, but he put politeness before his health. When he got home he was scarcely able to urinate ... After five sleepless nights, he could still only pass his water with the greatest pain, and even so the passage was impeded ... On 24th October, his delirium ceased for several hours, nature conquered and he expired peacefully.
This account has passed into folklore as a death from a ruptured bladder, and hence the reported Czech expression. The suggestion of politenss attributed to Tycho Brahe doesn't ring true with the rest of his reported behaviour. According to the web, recent studies of Tycho Brahe's hair during an exhumation suggest that he actually died of mercury poisoning. How boring ...

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Death is not a blessing

This post is prompted by the discussion of suicide here and here. It also has a glance at the discussion of the use of black vestments for requiem Masses - see here and here. Clearly it is about a sensitive subject, which will have affected many who read this. I offer it as a reflection - please feel free to leave any responses in the comments box (mark "not for publication" if you do not want me to post it). Comments from those who have more experience of pastoral care of the sick and of their relatives than I have will be particularly welcome.

When someone dies after an illness, particularly an illness that has involved a time of pain or distress for the patient, one often hears it said that their death is a blessing, perhaps a "blessing in disguise".

With the proviso that is indicated below, I don't think we can say that "death is a blessing". It always remains a negation of that human good that is life, and a negation of the impulse of life to continue living. In some situations this is very obvious - a death that is the result of violence directed against the person or of a traumatic accident. In other situations it is not so obvious - the end of a chronic illness, for example. However, I would suggest that death is always an "evil" in the technical sense as a negation of the good of life.

I think that the relatives or friends of a deceased person have an intuition of this - it is expressed in their grief. Grief can perhaps be seen as the way in which the human person comes to terms with this reality of death. The pastoral care of the grieving person should respect the underlying intuition about death as an "evil" (technical sense, remember, not the moral sense) and not try to pretend or give the impression that it is "good". I think, too, that this is an aspect of the traditional use of black vestments for a requiem Mass.

So, for pastoral reasons, in most situations, I would not want to say to anyone that I thought a death was a blessing or a relief (though it may well be the latter). I would not want to give the impression that I thought the death was a good - and therefore unworthy of grief. I also would not feel qualified to make a judgement about the good or evil of a particular death; instead, I think our attitude needs to be one, not of coming to a judgement, but of accepting the reality that, in a certain sense, is given to us in the circumstances of that particular death, precisely as it is given to us.

Unless the circumstances allowed me to talk about death as being overcome by the Cross of Christ, as a result of which death can become an entry into eternal life: "life is changed, not ended". This - and its baptismal implication - is what makes a case for the use of white vestments for a funeral Mass. We might in such a discussion accept that, in the providence of God, a period of continued suffering has been avoided - but this is a kind of "double effect" which should still allow us to recognise the nature of death as "evil" (technical sense, again, not moral). It is difficult to see how such an understanding could be shared with a grieving person who has no religious belief, though I expect that it is possible.

I suspect that those who have just experienced a death have an intuition of all this, and so we do not help them by giving an impression that we think the death was in some way a "good thing" (technical sense ..).

As well as the immediate pastoral situation, there is a consideration based on the political discussion of a suicide and euthanasia. If we are going to make a judgement after a death that it was a blessing, why should we not make that judgment before the death? We are more consistent if we always recognise death as "evil" (technical sense) and have an attitude of acceptance rather than judgment of a particular situation.

I would like to add a proviso to this consideration. Catholic teaching does not oblige medical professionals or relatives to work to maintain human life at all costs; it allows that life should be allowed to come to its own (natural) end, either as a result of infirmity resulting from age or as a result of an illness or trauma taking its natural course. I think, at the bottom line, I would still want to say that death in this sort of situation remains, in a technical sense, an evil. However, I can see that it is easier in this sort of situation to see death as in some way a technical "good". Again, though, our attitude towards it is not one of making a judgement as to the good or evil of a particular situation, but rather one of accepting the reality that we receive in that a situation.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Prague 6: the Municipal House

The Municipal House is the foremost Art Nouveau building in Prague. As well as housing a cafe and a famous restaurant, it also houses a large concert hall (the Smetana hall). If you like tiling, this is the place for you.

Zero's "portrait" in a foyer area of the building.

One for a lover of tiling!

This is my attempt to be artistic with the mirrors on the stair way.

This photo of the bar has been taken from the web, as mine was a bit blurred.

Now, somewhere I am sure there must be a Church built and decorated in this style ...

Prague 5: Exclusive - St Gabriel's Church, Smichov

I am claiming this as a blog exclusive on the grounds that I doubt that any other English visitors to Prague have found this Church, or, having found it, have been able to find it open, or, having found it open, have been able to go to Mass there. We managed all of this! I understand that the Church is open on Sunday mornings, for Mass at 11.15 am. There was a young and energetic priest saying Mass; I think he was newly appointed to the Church and anxious to develop the life of the congregation. Mass was sung, in Czech, with black vestments for All Souls. A decade of the Rosary and the Salve Regina before the altar of Our Lady at the end of Mass.

I first learnt about this Church from reading a book about the Beuron School of Art (I believe the book is still in print, and I obtained it with little difficulty by ordering it through a local bookshop), which made a reference to St Gabriel's as being important because it is the most complete, surviving work of Desiderius Lenz, the monk who is seen as the founder of the Beuron School. It was a conversation about this Church that prompted Zero to comment, "Well, let's go to Prague then", though is is probably overstating things to say that it was the purpose for our going.

I first encountered the Beuron School when I visited the Abbey of St Hildegard, Eibingen, during a visit to my parish's twin parish in Germany. The guided tour of the Church on the Abbey website gives an excellent first glance at the Beuron School and its implementation at St Hildegard's. Do explore the whole tour, as it is catechetically and Liturgically superb. There is quite a technical understanding of the principles of the Beuron School - a relation to Egyptian representation of human figures, a complex geometric rule for the representation of male and female figures that is explicitly linked to what we would now talk about as male-female gender complementarity in Adam/Eve and in Christ/Mary - but it is not necessary to follow all this in order to appreciate the work of the Beuron School.

I next encountered it during a visit to the Abbey at Monte Cassino. The crypt, particularly enshrining the tombs of St Benedict and St Scholastica, is decorated in the Beuron style. A good account of the crypt, including pictures can be found here.

According to Wikimedia:
Church of Saint Gabriel (more precisely Church of Annunciation) and adjacent abbey in Prague-Smíchov (in Czechia) were built at the end of the 19th century and belonged to the Order of Saint Benedict. In 1919, after the declaration of Czechoslovak Republic, Benedictine sisters left for Austria and sold the buildings to the Czechoslovak Ministry of Postal Services. In present, both the church and the abbey belong to Czech Post.

Though the photographs may make the Church appear bright and well maintained, I am not sure that substantial effort is being made to preserve the paintings. Some of the paintings, particularly in the nave, appeared to be darkened and faded. I haven't been able to find anything in English on the web, so herewith some photographs, either scanned from post cards, found on Czech sites or taken myself. If I have time, I will try to post more about the Church later.

This full picture is taken from a post card, and makes the paintings look much brighter than they are now. The grille that you can see on the right is also no longer there, but the arrangement of the high altar has not been changed. I loved the image of the Father in the apse (the text either side of the image reads "I am who am", though you can't see it on this picture), so that, offering Mass at the altar, there is a real representation of the offering being made "to the Father". Over the arch you have the Lamb, standing above the new Jerusalem with its towers and four streams of life; the saints in their white dress approach offering incense in adoration of the Lamb. The text beneath reads: "Blessed are they who have washed their clothes in the blood of the Lamb". This, and the many other images of saints in the Church, gave a real sense of the Liturgy being a presence of heaven on earth

This is my own photograph of the sanctuary as it was for Sunday Mass. You can see the angels around the side of the apse - giving a real sense of a Liturgy that is first of all a heavenly Liturgy, and then a Liturgy that is celebrated on earth.

These two statues, of the Angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary, face each other across the Sanctuary - you can see them in the photograph above. They look strikingly modern - particularly the stance of the Virgin - but I think they date from the same time as the decoration of the Church. On the column beneath St Gabriel you have the words "Hail, full of grace" and beneath the Virgin Mary "Behold the handmaid of the Lord" - and this represented across the altar at which, during the celebration of Mass, the Lord again becomes flesh under the forms of bread and wine.
The most striking image in the Church is that of the Virgin Mary, Seat of Wisdom. This is behind the high altar, beneath the painting of the Father in the apse. It can be seen from the nave, framed by the four columns that support the baldechino over the altar.

St Joseph blurred a little bit, I am afraid, but I have to put him in!

Friday, 7 November 2008


We have just enjoyed a successful afternoon as far as Eucharistic Adoration is concerned. About 50 people turned up for the Adoration for Children and Families - a result of a good plug being given at the session of the First Communion programme last weekend. For one of the meditations I talked about adoration, and how a genuflection is meant to be an act of adoration. This was followed by an "action prayer" in which we all gathered around the altar, and genuflected together before the Lord. The grown ups mustered about 15 or so for the Holy Hour. If you include those who spent some time in Adoration during the afternoon, this puts it at some 70 or 80 people participating at one point or another during the afternoon and evening.

Zero has also passed me a photograph of my "15 minutes of fame" (well, perhaps it didn't take me 15 minutes to complete the reading, but ...), on the large screen during the Statio Orbis Mass at the end of the International Eucharistic Congress in June.

I have also watched it again - the DVD's from the Congress that I had ordered arrived yesterday. I have DVD's showing the Statio Orbis Mass, the Eucharistic Procession and the testimonies.
And on Friday of next week I am due to visit the John Fisher School, Purley to talk to the FAITH group. My subject is "The Eucharist: Gift of God for the Life of the World", which was the theme of the Congress in Quebec. I will be taking along my model of the "Ark of the New Covenant" to act as a visual aid. It is a theme that can be assimilated to the "FAITH line".

Thursday, 6 November 2008

The Word of Life: November 2008

Last night three of us met for our monthly consideration of Focolare's "Word of Life". The idea of such a meeting is that those taking part share their experience of trying to live out the particular short Scripture quotation that has been chosen for that month, using a meditation written by the President of the movement. At the moment, "past" editions written by Chiara Lubich are being used, in a kind of returning to the source from which the movement first came. [Chiara died earlier this year, and a new President has been elected.] For November, the chosen text was: "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23).

We can’t think that just because we are in the world we can take to it like a fish to water.We can’t think that simply because the media offers us all kinds of choices we are free to watch every program.We can’t think that just because we walk the streets of the world we can freely look at all the ads and billboards and buy just any publication at the newsstand or bookstore.We can’t think that just because we are in the world we can live as we please, the way everyone else does, following along passively accepting abortion, divorce, hatred, violence or embezzlement. We can’t.

We are in the world; no one can deny that. But we are not of the world (see Jn 17:14).

This makes a great difference. It puts us among those who don’t live according to what the world says, but rather according to what the voice of God suggests to us from within. God lives in the heart of every human being. If we listen to him, he will lead us into a kingdom that is not of this world, a society in which true love, justice,
purity, meekness and selflessness are lived, where self-control is the norm.

This was the opening passage of the meditation that we considered. I was very struck at how close it was to a consideration I had recently had while writing a chapter on citizenship and RE for Maryvale Institute's initial teacher training course. If there is a key principle to good citizenship it is that one should live and be politically active in accordance with one's beliefs; and, for Catholics, this means living and being active in accordance with Catholic teaching. The separation of "privately opposing" but publically supporting something - popular among politicians as it gets them off rather awkward hooks - is profoundly bad citizenship. It leaves public life at the whim and fancy of the latest popular trend, a totalitarianism of the political party, of the government department, etc. (Whilst in Prague, I was reading some of the writing of Vaclav Havel on this sort of theme; he would slate the "privately oppose" what I publicly support approach, though he is not a religious believer!).

So the problem with Clare Short's visit to a Catholic school to give out prizes is not just that she votes in a way that conflicts with Catholic teaching on abortion and respect for life - she is also a bad example for what a Catholic school would want to present as good citizenship.

UPDATE: As of 11th November 2008, all references to Clare Short's visit to St Paul's Catholic School for Girls in Birmingham have been removed from Catholic Mom of 10's blog. So the above link will not work. That Clare Short is due to visit the school today, 12th November, is verifiable from her own website. I think the substance of the above post still stands.

Eucharistic Adoration for November

Oops, nearly forgot to post the poster for tomorrow's time of Eucharistic Adoration in the parish!

PS. Adoration will also be on tour again to St Mary's Parish, in collaboration with the Knights of St Columba. The planned date is 11th December - more details nearer the time.

US Election: the small print

At the same time as voters went to the polls in America to vote for a new President, they were asked to vote on a number of "propositions" at state level. If I have understood this aright, these "propositions" amount to being amendments to the constitutions of the state concerned; they effectively allow the residents of the state a referendum that will decide whether or not the proposition will be incorporated into the constitution of the state.

ZENIT are today reporting on the outcomes of a number of these "proposition" votes in different states. The headline vote comes from California, where a vote to include a traditional definition of marriage - between one man and one woman - was successful. The ZENIT report is headlined "California celebrates marriage definition vote: Arizona and Florida join in banning gay marriage".

The vote in California is significant in two ways. One is that it overturns by an electoral process an earlier court decision that allowed gay marriage. The phenomenon of court decisions effectively making law rather than implementing it is not unique to this issue, or to the United States. The second is the number of gay marriages that had taken place in California since the court decision effectively legalised gay marriage - some 18 000 according to the ZENIT report.

Catholic Analysis, on his political blog, offers some "post election" comment. He points out that the Democrat domination of Congress isn't quite as complete as one might think - it looks as if a filibuster is still possible. He also points out that if Barack Obama appoints to the Federal Supreme Court as one might expect, then judgements of that court could well overturn the state votes in favour of marriage. California, for example, voted for Barack Obama as President but also voted against gay marriage. Catholic Analysis highlights this as a political contradiction that will quite possibly become apparent in the future.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Thinking about black

Discussion has been taking place on other Catholic blogs (here, here, here and here, for example) about the use of black as the appropriate Liturgical colour for funerals or for the celebration of All Souls.

I found it interesting a few years ago when helping to organise a family funeral to investigate exactly what the rules/rubrics were about funeral Masses. In a section of the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (2000) headed "Masses for the Dead" there is the following provision (not the official English translation):

n.385. In arranging and selecting the variable parts of Masses for the dead, especially of the funeral Mass, (for example, the prayers, the readings, the universal prayer) it is right and proper that consideration be given to the pastoral circumstances of the deceased, his family, and those present.

Does this refer only to choosing texts from among those indicated in the Missal and Lectionary for Masses for the Dead, or for the Funeral Mass? Or does it allow the choice of texts from other Masses, and in particular, from a votive Mass? Such a choice may reflect a particular pastoral care for the family and friends.

Elsewhere (n.346) the General Instruction allows the use of violet or black for Masses for the Dead, though the Bishops Conference is allowed to propose adaptations. The Bishops Conference for England and Wales has allowed white to be used for Masses for the Dead, in addition to violet and black.

What has occurred to me about these provisions is that the Liturgical colour chosen for the Mass should reflect the texts that have been chosen. So, if the texts to be used are chosen from among those indicated for Masses for the Dead, it seems to me that violet or black are the appropriate colours to use. If the texts for a votive Mass are chosen, then white vestments makes sense. Though the provisions about Liturgical colour and those about choice of texts occur in different sections of the General Instruction, I think they should be related to each other.

I am not expecting to shuffle off this mortal coil at any time soon (especially if I have managed to reduce my cholesterol levels over the last few months), but I think I would rather like a votive Mass of St Joseph at my funeral.

For Dad, I asked for a Mass of Our Lady of Cana, one of the 40+ Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It reflected his married vocation, the idea of death as a hope of entering into the celebration of the wedding feast of the Lamb in heaven, the idea that the Eucharistic celebration of the funeral Mass is itself a celebration of the wedding feast of the Lamb. We used an opening prayer from one of the funeral Masses to retain the sense of the funeral Mass as being a prayer for the repose of the soul of the deceased, but all other texts from the votive Mass. I noticed at the last minute that the celebrating priest was going to wear violet, and would have liked to ask for white. I didn't for diplomatic reasons, as we were in an "away from home" parish, where my Dad had lived in the past but where we were not previously known to the priest.

US Presidential election

Barack Obama's election victory appears to have been quite decisive, at least in terms of winning the electoral college votes of states necessary to be appointed as president of the United States and to gaining majority positions in the Senate and House of Representatives. a report on BBC radio this lunch time indicates that he won 52% of the popular vote. This is decisive in the sense that it represents an absolute majority of the votes cast, and electoral systems can quite often produce a victor with a much lower proportion of the total votes cast - the UK being a good example of this. But it still leaves 48% of the vote going elsewhere - and this is something that the Obama administration will need to bear in mind if it is to live up to the language of unifying the nation that has been used today.

Diakonia's reaction to the election is here. These are Young Fogey's observations.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Prague 4: C & A and trams

We tended to make use of the tram system more than the buses or metro during our stay. All rather more fun than one is generally used to, here in the UK. (I have yet to ride on Croydon or Manchester trams - and I suspect Blackpool's trams are being allowed to fall into decay rather than being the subject of investment). Zero didn't quite get the hang of waiting for the tram in the middle of the road, as was necessary at stops like that shown in the first picture, and sometimes had to be retrieved from the pavement. And that was before worrying about which direction we wanted to go ...

Prague 3: Charles Bridge

This is the place to be seen in Prague (if you are a tourist - I doubt the locals go anywhere near it). As you cross it you pass a series of statues of different saints, on both sides of the bridge. And lots of portrait sketching or busking musicians. While we were there, about half of one side of the bridge was behind fencing and plastic sheeting for repair. This channelled the pedestrian crowd into an even narrower passage and hid a number of the saints. Needless to say, most of the crowd just ignored the saints.

The Calvary half way across the bridge is particularly lovely. My apologies to the group for catching them in the photo - but my other photo clipped the top off the crucifix.

As we came off the bridge, a pigeon posed for a photo opportunity.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Prague 2: Christmas comes early to St Vitus Cathedral

This is part of the notice board at the entrance to St Vitus Cathedral, in the precincts of Prague Castle.
We did attend Mass at the Cathedral on the morning of the Solemnity of All Saints - with about a dozen others. I suspect that it is not a holy day of obligation in the Czech republic.

Prague 1: Jan Palach and the state of Czech society

We made it to Prague -and back again. It was interesting to visit two sites associated with Jan Palach - the memorial in Wenceslaus Square, at the spot where he set himself on fire, and his grave in the Olsanske cemetery.

Jan Palach set himself on fire in January 1969, protesting against the Soviet invasion and occupation of then Czechoslovakia the previous August. He died a few days later. His suicide note indicated the reason for his suicide. A month later, another student, Jan Zajic also committed suicide at the same spot. Both names appear on the memorial cross at the site in Wenceslaus Square. Whilst their protest had a direct purpose in opposing the Soviet occupation of their country, it also expressed a protest against the lack of freedom of people under a communist regime.

An immediate reflection is that their suicide is not morally justified, and that one should not therefore celebrate it. On the other hand, as Vaclav Havel writes, a feature of "living in the truth" within the context of the lies of an imposed totalitarian state is the willingness to pay the ultimate price for a defence or exercise of freedom against the regime. The memory of Jan Palach in particular has become part of the Czech consciousness.

Jan Palach's grave in the Olsanske cemetery quickly became a place of pilgrimage. The communist authorities then exhumed his remains, cremated them, and sent them to his mother in their home village. Another person was buried in the grave - but it still continued as a shrine to Jan Palach. After the fall of communism, the ashes were returned to the original grave.

Visiting both sites left me with a mixed assessment of Czech society. As we visited the site in Wenceslaus Square after dinner one evening, another group of visitors were just leaving as we arrived. So Jan Palach seems to be definitely remembered. However, the vast majority of visitors to the square, both tourists and Czechs, simply pass on their daily business with little attention to the memorial. Similarly, at the cemetery there were three or four other visitors during the time we were there, one person in particular staying for a while and leaving a lighted candle. Again, I got the impression he was remembered, but not by everyone.

Is Czech society becoming indifferent to its painful recent history?