Monday, 30 March 2009

The Marian character of the Lenten Season (6)

The Blessed Virgin Mary at the Foot of the Cross II

The motif that runs through the second formulary of the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Foot of the Cross is that of the plan of salvation and redemption. The two words - salvation and redemption - are often used interchangeably, as if they have an identical meaning. However, we can see in them a subtle difference of emphasis. We can suggest that salvation means a coming to completion, a fulfilment - and, seen in this sense, the coming of Jesus Christ is the completion and fulfilment of the purpose of creation:

Only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word does the mystery of man come into a true light.[1]
In using the word redemption, the emphasis moves from completion to the restoring of something that was lost; and, seen in this sense, the coming of Jesus Christ is a saving of us from the consequences of sin:

The work of creation culminates in the still greater work of redemption, which in fact gives rise to a new creation in which everything will recover its true meaning and fulfilment.[2]
The references to “new creation” and to “recover its true meaning and fulfilment” imply in this answer of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church tell us about redemption as a restoration after sin.

Some theologians argue that Jesus Christ would have come in human flesh as the completion and fulfilment of creation (“saviour” in the sense of our understanding fo the word salvation) even without original sin; original sin means that he must also come as a “redeemer” to save us from sin. Salvation and redemption are conflated to become, in effect, the same thing.

We can see this double sense of the plan of salvation at play in the texts of the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Foot of the Cross II:

Lord our God, you placed at the side of your suffering Son his mother to suffer with him, so that the human race, deceived by the wiles of the devil, might become a new and resplendent creation. Grant that your people may put aside their inheritance of sin and put on the newness of life won by Christ the Redeemer.[3]
The reference to a “resplendent creation” indicates completion, fulfilment, salvation; the reference to putting “aside their inheritance of sin” and to “Christ the Redeemer” indicate the overcoming of sin, redemption. The two are united in the suffering of the Son.

In your divine wisdom you planned the redemption of the human race and decreed that the new Eve should stand by the cross of the new Adam..[4]
Again, the references to a “new Eve” and a “new Adam” imply completion and fulfilment of the creation of the first Eve and the first Adam, salvation. And the reference to “redemption” and “the cross” reflect the restoration from sin, redemption.

The Entrance antiphon brings in to sharper relief the references to the plan of redemption, and to the “decree” referred to in the Preface, and to the “placing” of the Virgin at the side of the Son referred to in the Opening Prayer:

Simeon said to Mary: This child is destined to be a sign which people will reject; he is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel; and your own soul a sword shall pierce.[5]
This destiny continues over into the destiny of the Church:
… she was to be a partner in his passion, and she who had given him birth without the pains of childbirth was to endure the greatest of pain in bringing forth to new life the family of your Church.[6]

[1] Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church Qn.67; cf Vatican II Constitution Gaudium et Spes n.22.
[2] Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church Qn. 65.
[3] Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Foot of the Cross II, Opening Prayer A.
[4] Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Foot of the Cross II, Preface.
[5] Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Foot of the Cross II, Entrance Antiphon.
[6] Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Foot of the Cross II, Preface.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Real sources of anti-Catholic discrimination

Recent days have seen a plethora of coverage of attempts to remove what, if the coverage is to be believed, is the discriminaton that most hurts and offends Catholics in the UK. I refer to the private members bill, defeated on Friday in the House of Commons, and to Prime Minister Gordon Brown's discussions with the Queen, about changing the law to allow the monarch to marry a Roman Catholic. The BBC news report of these events is here.

The MP who proposed the private members bill, Dr Evan Harris, is in other respects not a friend of Catholic teaching. His own website reports his efforts to make access to abortion easier, his support for making assisted suicide easier (also here), and it also suggests an anti-religious intent to his private members bill.

But are ordinary Catholics really bothered by the thought that the King or Queen of England would have to forfeit their right to the crown if they were to marry a Roman Catholic?

Frankly, I don't think they can be bovvered. What ever.

It is a discrimination, if one wants to use the term, that affects fewer Catholics than one can count on the fingers of one hand. And, should the monarch's husband or wife be a Catholic, it would have the potential only to embarrass other Catholics if it were to lead to public compromises of Catholic teaching.

There are much more real instances of indirect discrimination against Catholics that do affect a significant number:

1. Can a Catholic, faithful to the teaching of the Church, get a job as a year head in a state school, where they will be expected to manage a sex education programme that promotes contraception and, at best, remains indifferent to abortion, where they will be complicit in the referral of girls from the school for abortion?

2. Can Catholics, faithful to the teaching of the Church, progress in the fields of obstetrics and gynaecology in the NHS?

3. How do Catholic GPs, nurses and midwives fare when, after child birth, it is expected that they will offer advice to their patients on methods of contraception?

4. How do Catholic nurses and doctors fare with regard to the care of patients living out the last days of their lives under regimes such as the Liverpool Care Pathway, which do not make adequate provision for nutrition and hydration?

These are real discriminations that affect ordinary Catholics in their every day lives. I wonder what Dr Evan Harris wants to do about these?

Not unrelated to this question is the article "Conscience coercion: from Sacred to Curious" by Elizabeth Lev over at ZENIT.

UPDATE: see the partial re-post and comments at Fr Ray's blog.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Indulgences - an interesting discovery

I had reason to look up the Enchiridion Indulgentiarum in the Vatican web site a few minutes ago - as one does! This is the document from the Apostolic Penitentiary which sets out the rules for gaining indulgences, and lists the acts that the faithful can perform to gain indulgences.

The website carries the fourth edition, whereas my printed version is the original first edition from 1968. There are four "general concessions" for a partial indulgence listed at the beginning of the fourth edition of the Enchiridion, only the first three of them appearing in the first edition. The "usual conditions" - sacramental Confession, performance of the action itself, receiving Holy Communion and prayer for the intentions of the Holy Father - also need to be met. One can easily underestimate the value of these "general concessions" in favour of the more specific indulgences granted for special occasions such as the Year of St Paul or participation in the World Youth Day, but they do encompass very much the spirit of the revision of indulgences after the Second Vatican Council. They aim to encourage the faithful in their living of the Christian life so that they strive to live it more richly and more deeply, for their own good, for the good the whole Church and for the good of the whole world.

My shaky translations of the "general concessions" from the Latin are:

(1) for the raising of the heart and mind to God during the day, by means of a pious invocation, even if the invocation is only mental and not spoken

(2) for an act of service towards someone in need, undertaken in a spirit of faith

(3) for abstaining from something that is licit and good, in a spirit of penitence

(4) for giving an open testimony of their faith, in the particular circumstances of their daily life.

Number (2) is interesting in terms of how we understand an act of charity undertaken by a Catholic voluntary service in comparison to state provided welfare. The "spirit of faith" gives a kind of value added, a something more, than just the provision of the service in an exclusively material sense.

Number (4) is an encouragement to what we would now term the "new evangelisation", and I was most interested to discover it.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

The Annunciation and the Veil of the Temple

An interesting read here, for yesterday's Solemnity of the Annunciation.

Pope Bendict XVI in Africa

I have not been able to follow in detail Pope Benedict's recent visit to Africa.

Blog-by-the-Sea, however, has posted a summary account, rich in links to source materials, covering the visit.

The same blog put me on to Fr Raniero Cantalamessa's website, which is now on my blog roll.

Faith Matters Lecture 3: Who is Jesus?

Fr Gerald O'Collins SJ gave the third lecture in the "Faith Matters" series at Westminster Cathedral yesterday evening. The transcript of his lecture can be found here, on the website of Wesminster Diocese. This offered an opportunity for nostalgia, as I attended lectures on fundamental theology given by Fr O'Collins when I was a student in Rome (this isn't anything that special since Father taught at the Gregorian University for some 33 years so there are many a few of us who experienced his lectures at one time or another). Dr Anthony Towey, of St Mary's University College Strawberry Hill, who chaired the lecture, is also a contact from my past.

It was one of the questions at the end of the lecture that I think really focussed on what the lecture was about. This asked about how we can actually come to a genuine personal relationship with Jesus Christ today. This question is worthy of reflection in two ways: delineating exactly what the question means, and then providing a fully Catholic answer.

The "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" referred to in the question seems to me to indicate an attachment to Christ that has a spontaneity about it. By this I mean an attachment that seems to arise from within the individual concerned, and so to have a liveliness and energy about it that would not be the case for an attachment that is in some way achieved from outside (by a form of coercion or by an adaptation to surrounding culture or norms). There may be external factors that contribute to the situation of that attachment, but the core of it arises from within. It is spontaneous in perhaps three senses: the initiative is essentially internal to the individual, it is lively and energetic, and in being both of these it is also profoundly an act of freedom. In the Catholic Church, we can look with a certain envy towards Evangelical protestants to see this spontaneity; but it is also to be seen in the Church in the commitment of Catholics who participate in the life and activities of the new movements.

To introduce a Catholic answer to how this "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" can be achieved, let me try to describe a distinction made by Edith Stein in her doctoral thesis On Empathy. She distinguishes between a physical human body that is presented through sense perception (and which could be "my" body or the body of another) and the "living body", which is how my own body is presented to my consciousness, as something that is always "here" whereas other things, including other bodies, are always "there". The "living body" is therefore to be associated with the "I", the personal consciousness. In Edith's own words, the "I" or individual is:

.. a unified object inseparably joining together the conscious unity of an"I" and a physical body in such a way that each of them takes on a new character. The physical body occurs as a living body; consciousness occurs as the soul of the unified individual.

Edith Stein then continues her analysis to interpret the physical body of others (that we can percieve through the senses) as being also, for the other, a living body united with an "I" and capable of consciousness. Acts of empathy involve our ability to place ourselves, in a kind of secondary way, into the place of the physical body of the other so that we experience it as a living body, a centre of the others "I". Such acts represent inter-personal relationship. In her habilitation thesis, Edith Stein develops this idea of one-to-one personal relationship further in a study of relationships between individuals and communities. She suggests that communities have a kind of personal character, a kind of "I" of their own; they have a "spiritual sphere" with which the members of the community form a relationship. One might think of it as empathy between an individual and a community. What is interesting, though, is that the community has a "physical body" - it has physical members who can be seen, touched, heard - but it also has a kind of "living body" that cannot just be identified with the sum total of its individual physical members but in some way exists "in them" when the community undertakes activities of its life. And this "living body" has a kind of "soul" analagous to that which Edith Stein proposes for the "living body" of the individual person.

Now, where is this going in trying to answer our question about achieving a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ"? What I want to suggest is that our personal relationship with Jesus Christ is a personal relationship with his Church, the Catholic Church. Just as our empathic relations to other persons are mediated through a physical perceivable body, so with our relationship with Jesus Christ. It was first of all the physical body of Jesus, made flesh in Palestine; but it is for us now the physical body of his Church, under its aspect as a visible, tangible institution, and most fundamentally expressed in the hierarchical nature of the Church. It is the Church as institution, represented in the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar by the figure of St Peter and his successors. But the physical body reveals to us a "living body", and the term "Mystical Body of Christ" applied to the Church is profoundly significant in this regard. Our empathetic relation to the Church leads us to enter into the space of this "living body", this "mystical body", which is the love of God. For von Balthasar, this aspect of the Church is represented by the figure of St John, the disciple whom Jesus loved.

The achieving of a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" is about moving from an experience of the institutional body (which is good and utterly indispensable - and what is missing for the Evangelical protestant) to an experience of the "mystical body" (which cannot be separated from the institutional body, though the Evangelical protestant undoubtedly has some experience of this through an ever abundant grace from God and through a faithfulness to Scripture).

For most Catholics, this rather lofty reflection boils down to a very practical matter. It is about coming to see Sunday Mass as the awe inspiring presence and action of the love of God (St John) through the visible and audible forms of the liturgical texts and actions (St Peter). In this context, one can talk about meeting Jesus in the Scriptures, in the witness of the community of the faithful, in the priest who is most especially "in persona Christi" at the celebration of Mass, and in reception of Holy Communion. These meetings are all expressed in the liturgical form.

All these forms of meeting with Jesus Christ need to be lived out "again", outside of the liturgy itself, so that they become part of our lives and in turn bring us back to the liturgy with the threefold spontaneity to which I referred above. We should not be surprised if a parish that has no devotional life outside of the liturgy - Scripture study or prayer groups, Eucharistic Adoration, etc - has an experience of the liturgy that is little more than formalistic.

For Hans Urs von Balthasar, the figure in the Church who joins hierarchical structure (St Peter) to charismatic love (St John) is the Mother of the Lord, the Virgin Mary. Mary is a figure who represents the whole of the Church, in both its "physical" and its "mystical" aspects. A simply pietistic Marian devotion is, I think, of limited value. I prefer the notion of a "Marian character", which should spread through every aspect of Christian life, and not be an "add-on devotion". The ecclesial nature of our relationship with Jesus Christ is in this way at once also a Marian nature.

It is very interesting to recognise features that are almost universal among the new movements in the Church, the locus in which many people are able to achieve the "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" to which the question referred: a Marian charism, Eucharistic Adoration, reflection on the Scriptures and on their application to daily living, and faithfulness to the hierarchy of the Church.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Catholicism and Capitalism: Questions and Answers

Following my earlier post on the second Faith Matters lecture at Westminster Cathedral, Professor Philip Booth offered to respond to a "questions and answers" for this blog. The questions from the audience at the end of Professor Booth's lecture expressed concern about the inequality that many saw as being an implication of a "free economy". I hope that these three "questions and answers", though not directly asking about that concern, do nevertheless shed some light on it. I am grateful to Professor Booth for his willingness to do this, and hope that this post will promote discussion about his lecture. A video of Professor Booth's lecture can be found here on the Diocese of Westminster website.

Q1. You prefer the term “free economy” to other terms such as “market economy” or, perhaps, “capitalism”. You also refer to the “market sector of a free economy”.

What features distinguish a “free economy” in the sense in which you intend the term from, say, “capitalism” as it might be intended in general use by others?

This is clearly a question of semantics. I am not sure that the word “capitalism” communicates the essence of a free economy very effectively. Communities may choose to live freely whilst having little or no capital and whilst holding their goods in common (monks for example). A free economy, subject to the rule of law clearly allows this. The word “capitalist” I think promotes an emphasis on “accumulation”, “investment” and, of course, “capital”. I have nothing against these things but they do not communicate the essence of what a free economy is all about.
Q2. In your lecture, you refer to “self interest” and to “selfishness”, and say that these two should not be conflated.

Is there a real difference between “self interest” and “selfishness”, or is this just a play on words with the former term implying a positive valuing of the same thing that receives a negative valuing from the latter term?

I am not a philosopher so I would not want to say where one concept begins and the other ends. Let me answer as an economist (and as a Christian) who sees both concepts in practical operation. It is a bit like the difference between breathing and panting for breath. Somebody panting for breath is clearly still breathing just as somebody who is acting selfishly clearly believes they are acting in their own self interest. But, also like breathing, merely going about one’s daily economic business acting in one’s own self interest is not selfish. I was not selfish by cycling to the station today, or eating toast for breakfast, or buying the bread to make the toast, but I was acting in my own self interest. More generally living a clean life (which we may do even if we have no Christian beliefs) is in our self interest, even if Christians do it for different reasons. So, what I am saying is that we need an economy that works in harmony with self interest for two reasons. Firstly, because self interest is a generally benign force by which we make many economic judgements and, secondly, because a free economy (unlike one where power is centralised in government) at least brings some good from the fallen human nature that manifests itself in selfishness. A free economy requires agreement from another person to enter into a contract so self interest generally promotes the general economic interest. [The repeated use of the word “general” is important – economists often try to be too precise and try to perfect things that cannot be perfected].

Now lots of qualifications are needed here: Christians can read this far and then try to make my logic go further than is intended. Firstly, there are many areas of life where self interest is not the main criteria for judging whether to undertake an action: any mother or father will be aware of that. Secondly, selfishness can, especially where there are concentrations of economic power (whether local or national), create significant damage (though, in general, I fear that such damage is worsened by concentrating power in the government so how we deal with the problem is a moot point). Thirdly, we should never neglect the importance of “ethics” in business – as consumers and producers, as managers and owners. This is not the often meaningless doctrines of “corporate social responsibility”, nor is it the well-meaning but possibly not helpful process of “socially responsible consuming”. I mean straightforward, good, old fashioned ethics (not cheating, not exploiting ignorance, not hiding things from the board of directors, not riding roughshod over property rights when the state does not protect them properly and so on).
Q3. “The state has … taken upon itself …. the provision of income to families in times of need …” “The state may intervene, as a last resort, to try to assist the poor”.

Why should the provision of benefits through the welfare state not be understood as appropriate last resort intervention by the state? What is the boundary that distinguishes between the state “taking upon itself” and appropriate “last resort” intervention?

Thankfully the answer to this one is shorter. There is no absolute boundary here. I also made the criticism that the state was increasingly taking over child care so I was trying to indicate a gradual encroachment by the state. I think the state has two main roles. One is providing income to those who are simply poor (despite working). How this should be done and to what extent is a matter of debate. I do feel, however, that, with regard to the contingencies of life (health, life, pensions, unemployment etc), voluntary initiative (insurance companies, mutual associations, unions and charity) will do better than the state. The principle of subsidiarity demands that the private sector be given its opportunity. The state may fill in the gaps; it may provide the legal framework; it may help finance the contributions that are necessary for the
poor. I think that if you were able to take the 19th century social reformers around an area of serious UK poverty (and poverty is not just a lack of money, remember; in many senses people seem to have less hope, drive, initiative and desire for self improvement than, say, 80 years ago) and tell them that the British government will spend over 50% of national income, the biggest chunk of which is on the welfare state, in 2010-2011, they would be horrified. Indeed, many of them would have predicted it!

Monday, 23 March 2009

Marian character of the Lenten Season (5)

The Blessed Virgin Mary at the Foot of the Cross I

The Gospel readings at Mass for the third, fourth and fifth Sunday’s of Lent have a particularly catechumenal significance, and must be used when the “scrutinies” of catechumens take place at those Masses. They are, in order, St John’s account of the Samaritan woman at the well (the water that I shall give will become a spring of eternal life)[1]; his account of the curing of the man who was blind from birth (faith as “seeing”)[2]; and the story of the raising of Lazarus (I am the resurrection and the life)[3]. We can here see a baptismal significance of Lent and, implicitly, a penitential character.

The fifth week of Lent, and Holy Week, the sixth week of Lent, change the mood. They draw our attention much more closely to the crucifixion and death of the Lord. The two Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Foot of the Cross reflect this, and are more appropriate to the later weeks of Lent.
Lord our God, in your mysterious wisdom you fill out the passion of Christ through the suffering that his members endure in the many trials of life. As you chose to have the mournful mother stand by your Son in his agony on the cross, grant that we too may bring love and comfort to our brothers and sisters in distress.[4]
This opening prayer expresses an ecclesial perspective that reflects the theme of Mary as Image and Mother of the Church. The Preface of this Mass develops the theme in four stages.

Mary as daughter of Zion, and fulfilment of the promises to Israel:
In your loving providence you decreed that Mary, the mother of your Son, should stand faithfully beside his cross, and so fulfil in her person the prophecies of old, and enrich the world with her own witness of loving faith.
Mary as the “new Eve”, in parallel to Jesus Christ as the “new Adam”:
At the cross the Blessed Virgin appears as the new Eve, so that, as a woman shared in bringing death, so a woman would share in restoring life.
Mary as Mother of the Church/Israel, the two peoples made one in Christ (we can perhaps see the "scattered children" as referring to both the Jewish people and to the Gentiles):
At the cross with motherly love she embraces her scattered children, reunited through the death of Christ, and she fulfils the mystery of the mother of Zion.
Mary as a model and figure of the Church:
At the cross she stands as the model of the Church, the Bride of Christ, which draws inspiration from her courage and keeps constant faith with its Bridegroom, undaunted by peril and persecution.[5]

[1] Jn 4:5-42
[2] Jn 9:1-41
[3] Jn 11:1-45
[4] Mass of The Blessed Virgin Mary at the Foot of the Cross I, Opening Prayer
[5] Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Foot of the Cross I, Preface. cf the introduction to the Mass in the Sacramentary.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

"At our time in the day"

Laetare Sunday, or, at least, the weekend of Laetare Sunday. This is my excuse for going to the theatre during Lent (see post below). We also went to the theatre on Gaudete Sunday during Advent - to see War Horse - which is now about to transfer from the National Theatre to another London theatre.

At our age, it did seem very rebellious to be in the West End of London on a Friday evening.

This was a "posh watches" occasion. And, yes, that does mean 12.30 am, in the middle of the night, not the middle of the day. We still have some staying power, as well as having watches that match! Notice the existence, though, of "Irish time" - the watch set five minutes fast to make up for delay ....

Dancing at Lughnasa

Zero and I went out to the Old Vic Theatre last night, to see Dancing at Lughnasa byBrian Friel. This has been getting very good reviews. The blurb on the Old Vic website describes the play as:

a bittersweet reflection of rural Ireland in the thirties on the brink of industrialisation, returns to London for the first major revival since its premiere nearly 20 years ago.This vital, life affirming play is a passionate portrait of the five Mundy sisters following their loss of love and opportunity played out against the echoes of the twentieth century with a dark humour, raw energy and tenderness.
The play has the form of a "memory play", and is narrated by Michael, the illegitimate son of the youngest of the five sisters, as he looks back to the summer of 1936. At one level, it is a portrayal of the situation of the five sisters at that time, and of attitudes that now appear alien to us and would probably be labelled as prejudiced. As spinsters, for example, the sisters experience a sense of being "outsiders" to the ordinary family structures of the Ireland of the1930's (they do not feel able to go to the dance, for example). That Father Jack has lost his Catholic faith in favour of the religion of the African people he spent 25 years among is also a cause of shame, and leads to Kate losing her job as a teacher in the local school. There are also representations of the history of the time - references to the Spanish Civil War, to De Valera, to the coming of industrialisation and the loss of home working cottage industries, to emigration to England, to the arrival of the wireless. This page gives some idea of themes that can be seen in the play. It is also a play that lacks an immediate plot.

There is reflected very strongly, and in some ways as a theme that gives the play a purpose other than just a historical/memory, a theme of pagan imagery. This is part of Brian Friel's exploration of the nature of Irish culture. This has two parts to it: the paganism of the African religions represented by Fr Jack's reminiscences of his time in Africa, and the pagan religion of pre-Christian Ireland, represented by the harvest celebration in honour of the God Lugh, from which the play gets its title Lughnasa. In this context, it is interesting to see the representation of Catholicism. Kate criticises the pagan expressions of others in the play, but one does not gain an impression of a Catholic faith being lived out at anything more than a cultural level, a level which has a social expression rather than a truly religious one, and which is expressed in certain prejudices. The sisters are not shown, for example, going to Mass on Sunday. One comes away, rightly or wrongly, with a sense of Catholicism as having been portrayed as just another form of paganism or superstition.

Those who know Ireland and Brian Friel better than I do may well feel differently!

I found it interesting to compare the situation of the five sisters in the play to my Mother's generation in my own family. With the exception of my Mother (in some ways the "rebel" amongst them), they all stayed their whole lives in, or very near, the Lancashire town in which they were born and grew up. When three of them died, they were living less than a mile from the house in which they had been born. The circumstances which led to this were akin to those portrayed in Dancing at Lughnasa, and the outcomes in the every day tensions between them were also similar.

Faith Matters Lecture 2: Catholicism and Capitalism

The second lecture in this series was given by Professor Philip Booth, and economist, of the Institute of Economic Affairs. If we are to place Professor Booth within the political spectrum, it is probably fair to say that he is on "the right" rather than on "the left". The text of Professor Booth's slides, and a video of the lecture, can be found on the Diocese of Westminster website.

The lecture was chaired by Daniel Johnson, editor of a political magazine Standpoint that will, in its next issue, publish the text of the lecture. Whilst it is certainly fair that the chair of a lecture should be someone who has an empathy with the lecturer - that is only to be fair to the lecturer - on the other hand, the connections here seemed a little too cosy.

Professor Booth presented an account of Papal teaching against socialism, noting, if I recall correctly, that this opposition was not just to what one might term "extreme" or explicitly totalitarian socialism, but to socialism in principle. The quotations can be seen in the slides at the Westminster Diocese website. His core thesis was then based around the twin concepts of solidarity and subsidiarity in Catholic social teaching, and argued that a "free economy" (essentially what would be understood by the term a "market economy") delivered these concepts.

1. I think Professor Booth's analysis is worthy of considerable attention, and should not be ignored by Catholic thought, be that from those on the political left or on the political right.

2. Professor Booth's analysis needs to be carefully examined. I do not think it advocates a totally anarchic free market economy. The adoption of the term "free economy" does indicate, in the detail of its presentation, something distinct from the idea of a complete "free for all".

3. Professor Booth takes a very interesting approach to the relationship between self interest and the promotion of the common good. In essence, I think this asserts the possibility of pursuing at once an activity that is both in a person's self interest and in the interest of society as a whole. It depends, so far as I can tell, on seeing the interest of the common good as being actually my own interest too. This asks for a kind of conversion towards the interests of the other in economic (and indeed political) activity. I think this is something that could be developed much more in the context of how a Christian individual can play a morally just part in economic and political activity.

4. In discussing the balance between the role of individual responsibility (or spontaneous exercise of responsibility by citizens coming together to pursue a common purpose) and the role of the state (whose role is to facilitate the exercise of responsibilities only when lower levels in society are not able to do that themselves - subsidiarity), I think Professor Booth failed to develop a more exact understanding of when state intervention becomes appropriate. This left a kind of "unanswered question" in the mind of the listener. The notion of subsidiarity does recognise a part to be played by the state; one wondered in this lecture whether a silence remained on this aspect of subsidiarity which left open the possibility that Professor Booth was really advocating a completely non-interventionist position.

5. An interesting part of the discussion of the lecture was around the relationship between the morality of the "free economy" and that of society as a whole. To the argument that a "market economy" encourages greed and selfishness, Professor Booth responded that the ordering was the reverse. The existence of greed and selfishness in society as whole would drive a moral disordering of the "free economy" so the answer is to restore a moral stance in society as whole rather than to attack the idea of a "free economy" as being the cause of the evils. One can admit that the behaviour of people in society as a whole will drive their behaviour when they take part in economic activity. However, there is mutuality in this relationship. If the economic system encourages a particular type of behaviour, then that will also spill over into wider society too. And where the economic in human activity is seen as the essence of politics (this can be recognised in both capitalist and socialist thinking), then the influence of economic activity on the moral activity of society as a whole will be even greater. I think Professor Booth needs to be more strongly challenged on the mutuality of this relation.

6. Connected to this, I suspect there was a selectivity in Professor Booth's presentation of Papal teaching. I recall that, when Pope John Paul II wrote his encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, this was seen in some media treatments as standing between the two positions of liberal market economy and Marxist socialism, with a critique of them both. As I post this, I have not been able to read this up fully, but I certainly think it is worthy of further study in the light of Professor Booth's lecture.

7. Professor Booth referred to the idea that the state cannot replace the spontaneous action of charity to care for others in society, be that the spontaneous action of an individual or of a group of persons coming together. This is the principle of solidarity. This point does, I think, have a double import. One is that, as Cardinal Cordes noted when he spoke in England last year, and commented on Pope Benedict's Deus Caritas Est, the charitable activity of the Church cannot be separated from its roots in Catholic faith and so always needs to be undertaken in faithfulness to one's love of God (and so in accordance with the teaching of the Church). This gives an "added value" to care provided by the Church, when compared to that provided by the (impersonal) state, an "added value" that is there for any act of charity truly so called. Government should therefore not remove the freedom needed for this action of charity to be effective in society. This is a valid idea; but, as I have already noted, there is a point where, exercising its role in the framework of subsidiarity, government might contribute to this activity. This is the second import of Professor Booth's reference. In questions at the end of the lecture it was expressed in the concerns about inequality that many Catholics would have with a free market system. It is essentially about determining the point at which an intervention of the state becomes appropriate, something that I have already noted as being a kind of "silent point" in the lecture.

8. During questions, Professor Booth was asked, through the mediation of the chair of the lecture, about how his idea of a "free economy" responded to the inequality that can exist in such a system, and that was the difficulty that many Catholics would feel with his position. I felt his response was inadequate, perhaps primarily because of the failure to elaborate fully the point at which state intervention became appropriate. A less cosy relationship between the chair and the lecturer might have brought this out more clearly and presented Professor Booth with more of a challenge to answer (though, to be fair, the chair did present the question in very much the terms I have just used).

In the contemporary situation of our society, Professor Booth's lecture prompted some questions for me. These questions do touch very much on the relationship of the employees of what are often termed public services and their employers.

Are those who work in state funded schools, hospitals, social services etc agents of the state? Or are they agents of civil society, with the state funding being a mechanism by which the state fufils its role, in accordance with subsidiarity, of empowering those at "lower" levels in society to properly and in freedom play their part?

Is it really the role of central government to set performance targets and develop strategies at a national level for public services? Or should this be left much more to the levels of local government (remembering, of course, that it was Conservative government that introduced the pattern of local responsibility for implementation and highly centralised control of what it was that was to be implemented, a pattern that new Labour have followed through with a vengeance)?

What is the proper role of the state towards those in civil society who fail to fulfil the responsibilities that are properly theirs according to the principle of subsidiarity?

Update: Spokesman's clarification of Pope Benedict's remarks about condoms

ZENIT are carrying a statement issued by the director of the Vatican Press Office, about the position expressed by Pope Benedict with regard to condom use.

This presents a threefold strategy in favour of overcoming HIV/AIDS: education in the responsibility of persons in the use of sexuality, and the affirmation of the role of marriage and the family; research into treatments for HIV/AIDS and the making available of those treatments as widely as possible; human and spiritual assistance to those suffering from AIDS.

The concluding paragraph of the statement is very nuanced:

These are the directions in which the Church concentrates her commitment, considering that, to seek essentially a greater diffusion of condoms, is not in reality the best way, the broadest view or the most effective way to address the scourge of AIDS and to safeguard human life.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

What Pope Benedict actually said about condoms

Catholic News Service have a report of the press conference on the flight to Cameroon, where the Pope made the remarks that are now the target of such criticism.
The solution can only be a double one: first, a humanization of sexuality, that is, a spiritual human renewal that brings with it a new way of behaving with one another; second, a true friendship even and especially with those who suffer, and a willingness to make personal sacrifices and to be with the suffering. And these are factors that help and that result in real and visible progress.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Templeton Prize awarded to Bernard d'Espagnat

The website of the Templeton Prize reports the award of the 2009 Templeton Prize to Bernard d'Espagnat. Physics World's report of the award is here. This award is interesting because Bernard d'Espagnat's work as a physicist and philosopher has explored the implications of quantum mechanics for how we understand the reality of the world.

As I understand his thought, d'Espagnat argues from the non-localisation of objects associated with a quantum mechanical understanding of them to the notion that the whole of reality has being "as a whole" and that "being" should not be associated with any individual object in isolation from others. He argues that the (mathematical) formulations of quantum mechanics represent a tool that can be used to predict the outcomes of measurements that we might make of events, and resists the giving of any "reality" to the wavefunctions and their associated probabilities of differing outcomes. Thus, at a superficial glance, his thought can appear to be idealistic - in the philosophical sense of that word.

However, d'Espagnat does talk about "Being", with a capital letter, as being a kind of ground behind the phenomna of quantum mechanics. In my own way of expressing it, d'Espagnat recognises that quantum mechanics, because of its probabilistic and non-localised nature, moves the question of existence away from being just a question about the existence of old-fashioned, physical objects that we can touch, feel, throw around and measure with a metre rule to being a question about what it existence is in itself. The philosophical implication of quantum mechanics is to force us to think about the idea of Being, and, for d'Espagnat, this consists of some sort of "Being" that takes in the "whole" of what is contained in the quantum mechanical formulation of things.

The idea of God to which d'Espagnat is attracted is that expressed in the way God reveals his name to Moses: "I am who am". He is in some ways more attracted to Eastern religions, with their sense of mystery about existing/being, than he is to Christian faith which has a "harder" tradition of the way it understands being. So far as I can gather, he is agnostic so far as the existence of God is concerned.

The most accessible account of his thought I have been able to find is in the text of a lecture or paper on the website of the Pontifical Lateran University: "State of the Art" and perspectives: Quantum Physics and the Ontological Problem. There is also a shorter account in Bernard d'Espagnat's statement on receiving the Templeton Prize.

d'Espagnat's work does raise a question about the ability of mankind, whether it be through the methods of science or those of philosophical enquiry in the broadest sense of that term, to come to knowledge of the Reality that he describes as being "veiled". If this "veiled" is understood in a Balthasarian sense (and there is no reason to think that d'Espagnat explicitly does understand it in this sense), it is at once a "hiding" and a "showing" that can reveal to us Reality. One can perhaps imply this possibility in d'Espagnat's thought. At the end of his paper from the Lateran University, he writes: seems to me that there is some relationship between the "ontological suggestions" of contemporary physics and the "negative theology". My point is that there exists a similarity between the notion of Mind-Independent Reality - so much removed from our way of thinking that is is not even embedded in space and time - and the God of this theology, concerning which we can say what it is not. Consequently, I would not be averse to a view that, leaving somewhat aside the awkward question of "God as a person", would identify Man-Independent Reality with the notion we have of some divine Being.
And at the end of his statement on receiving the Templeton Prize:

I consider I have sound reasons to believe in the ground of things I mentioned,lying beyond our ability at conceptualizing and which from time immemorial thinkers, less naive than was often thought, called “the Divine.”

It also raises a second question, a question about the exact nature of the "veiled" Reality of which d'Espagnat speaks and writes. Is it the same idea of Being that we find in traditional metaphysical study, or is it something different?

St Joseph

St Joseph's feast on 19th March celebrates "St Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary". Because the feast has a rank of "Solemnity", I was able this evening to participate in a Vigil Mass of the feast day.
Almighty God, at the beginnnings of our salvation, when Mary conceived your Son and brought him forth into the world, you placed them under Joseph's watchful care. May his prayer still help your Church to be an equally faithful guardian of your mysteries , and a sign of Christ to mankind.

St Joseph is invoked as the Protector of the Universal Church, seen as the household of God and so in analogy with the household of Nazareth. For that reason it is a feast day for all of us who are members of the Church..... so I wish you all a happy feast day!

Monday, 16 March 2009

Marian character of the Lenten Season (4)

The Blessed Virgin Mary, Image and Mother of the Church

This allocutio refers to two formularies for a Mass with the title of “Mary, Image and Mother of the Church”. Though they are not assigned to the Lenten season in the Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary, they do nevertheless have a relation to the themes of the Lenten season.

The title of these Masses has two origins that are distinct, but in fact also related. The first is from the chapter of Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy which sets out principles for the celebration of the Liturgical year (my emphasis added):

In celebrating this annual cycle of Christ's mysteries, holy Church honors with especial love the Blessed Mary, Mother of God, who is joined by an inseparable bond to the saving work of her Son. In her the Church holds up and admires the most excellent fruit of the redemption, and joyfully contemplates, as in a faultless image, that which she herself desires and hopes wholly to be.[1]
The second origin is Pope Paul VI’s solemn proclamation of the title of Mary as “Mother of the Church” at the end of the third session of the Vatican council. Reflecting on the Council’s Constitution on the Church, with its chapter dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Paul VI considered this a most opportune moment to declare in explicit terms the maternal role of Mary with regard to the Church, and to do so using officially the title of Mary as Mother of the Church:

To the glory of the Blessed Virgin and for our consolation we declare Mary most Holy to be Mother of the Church, that is of all the Christian people, be they the faithful or the Pastors, who call her Mother most loved; and we establish that with this title all the Christian people will from now on offer even more honour to the Mother of God and put before her their supplications.[2]
If we look at some of the texts for the third formulary of the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, we can see these origins and we can see the aspects pertinent to the Lenten season (my emphases added):

Lord our God, through your power and goodness the Blessed Virgin, the fairest fruit of your redeeming love, shines forth as the perfect image of the Church; grant to your people on their pilgrim way on earth that, with eyes fixed on Mary, they may follow closely in the footsteps of her Son until they come to that fullness of glory, which now they contemplate in his mother, with hearts filled with joy.[3]
The prayer that we might follow in the footsteps of Christ reflects the penitential aspect of Lent. It reflects a theme of Mary as Disciple of the Lord that we have already seen, and which here is implied as a model for the discipleship of believers.

Lord, grant that this offering, consecrated to your glory, may purify your people and fashion your Church more and more in that image of Christ, which it admires and praises in his glorious mother.[4]
This prayer reflects both the baptismal and penitential aspects of Lent in its reference to purification and taking on the image of Christ, thought the baptismal aspect is most prominent.

You have given the Blessed Virgin Mary to your Church as the perfect image of its role as mother and of its future glory. She is a virgin unsurpassed in purity of faith, a bride joined to Christ in an unbreakable bond of love and united with him in his suffering. She is a mother by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, filled with loving concern for all her children.[5]
Again we can see both a penitential and a baptismal character, the baptismal character being particularly expressed by her title as mother, here referring to her title as Mother of the Church where the previous prayers refer to Mary’s motherhood as motherhood of Christ.

If we look at the texts of the first formulary of a Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Image and Mother of the Church, we find similar baptismal and penitential themes. There is, though, an emphasis on the preaching of the Gospel and the drawing of people to the Christ and the Church, in which one might see the catechumenal sense of Lent as preparation for baptism.
God of mercies, your only Son, while hanging on the cross, appointed the Blessed Virgin Mary, his mother, to be our mother also. Like her and under her loving care, may your Church grow day by day, rejoice in the holiness of its children and so attract to itself all the peoples of the earth.[6]

She accepted God’s parting gift of love as she stood beneath the cross and so became the mother of all those who were brought to life through the death of her only Son.[7]

Lord god, we have received the foretaste and promise of the fullness of redemption. We pray that your Church, through the intercession of the Virgin Mother, may proclaim the Gospel to all nations and by the power of the Spirit reach to the ends of the earth.[8]

[1] Vatican II Sacrosanctum Concilium n.103.
[2] Paul VI Allocutio at the Solemn Closing of the Third Session of the Second Vatican Council nn.29-30.
[3] Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Image and Mother of the Church III, Opening Prayer.
[4] Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Image and Mother of the Church III, Prayer over the Gifts.
[5] Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Image and Mother of the Church III, Preface.
[6] Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Image and Mother of the Church I, Opening Prayer
[7] Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Image and Mother of the Church I, Preface
[8] Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Image and Mother of the Church I, Prayer after Communion.

Joseph Holland, innkeeper of Cuerden m. Elizabeth

A good few years ago now, a second cousin of mine put together our family tree on my mother's side. These are my great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandparents on my mother's side. [The question of someone buying property in trust for Joseph Holland relates to the fact that, at the time, Catholics were not allowed to conveyance land or property in their own name.]
Joseph Holland, innkeeper of Cuerden

Buried 4/4/1761 at Leyland Parish Church
Deed of 1756 describes him as Innkeeper of Cuerden, late of Preston. This deed also mentions deed of 1742 when he bought land in Cuerden.
Deed of 1748 Thomas Woodcock Gentleman of Woodcock Hall Cuerden buys a cottage in Cuerden on the west side of the King's Highway from Wigan to Preston in trust for Joseph Holland, Innkeeper of Cuerden. The Inn was situated on the east side of the King's Highway from Wigan to Preston.

Will dated 31/3/1761 Proved 29/1/1766.
Leaves everything to Elizabeth his wife during her natural life so long as she continues in her chaste widowhood. After her death or on her marriage to be divided equally among his children, share and share alike, after all just debts and funeral expenses be paid.

Elizabeth Holland

Born c. 1707
Buried 22/10/1787 at Leyland Parish Church
Papist list 1767 describes her as widow aged 60 who has resided in Leyland parish for 20 years (Cuerden).
Deed dated 20/11/1787 describes her as deceased late in the possession of a cottage on the west side of the King's Highway leading from Wigan to Preston and half rood of land situated in Cuerden.
This is just to show that at least one Catholic in England is English in his Catholicism ....

Now I wonder why I think 19th March is a more important date than 17th March?

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Pope Benedict XVI's letter of clarification

The full English text of Pope Benedict's letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church can be found here.

I would like primarily to comment on two aspects of the letter. The first is its great precision. This precision is manifested in the careful explanation of the significance of the remission of the excommunciations of the four bishops of the Society of St Pius X, and the careful explanation of the status - or rather, the lack of status - of that society in the Church. In the paragraph which describes the future of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei as part of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the collegial nature of the activity of that Congregation, and by implication, of the Pontifical Commission, is also carefully explained. The last sentences of this paragraph very beautifully offer a vision of the continuity between the teaching of Vatican II and the whole life of the Church over the centuries; they are addressed towards the leaders of the Society of St Pius X, and towards those who advocate Vatican II over and against the earlier tradition of the Church (cf my contention that Summorum Pontificum and its accompanying letter have a two fold glance, answers A2 and A4 at this post). Both the wording, and the tone communicated by that wording, are crucial to the future of dialogue with the Society of St Pius X.

The second thing I would like to comment on is the understanding of the Petrine ministry expressed in the letter. I would like to identify four steps in the way Pope Benedict presents this.
1. "... the overriding priority is to made God present in this world and to show men and women the way to God". This is a particular concern of the Successor of Peter, who has received the mandate to "strengthen your brothers", a mandate expressed by St Paul in terms of being "prepared to make a defence to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you". If you read what I posted here about Pope Benedict's understanding of ecumenism as expressed during his meeting with leaders of other Christian denominations in Cologne, you will see the importance I think this has as a starting point.

2. "Leading men and women to God, to the God who speaks in the Bible: this is the supreme and fundamental priority of the Church and the Successor of Peter at the present time. A logical consequence of this is that we must have at heart the unity of all believers. Their disunity ... calls into question the credibility of their talk of God". And what follows is a key way of understanding the notion of ecumenism: "Hence the effort to promote a common witness by Christians to their faith - ecumenism - is part of the supreme priority". Again, one can see the parallels to the talk that Pope Benedict gave in Cologne; but here it is addressed, to an extent towards the Society of St Pius X, and towards the Catholic Church, instead of towards other Christians. " promote a common witness by Christians to their faith.." is interesting as a statement of the purpose of ecumenical activity, and perhaps worthy of further exploration.

3. "Added to this is the need for all those who believe in God to join in seeking peace, to attempt to draw closer to one another". This Pope Benedict identifies as the mission for inter-religious dialogue.

4. And, finally, this leads to the social dimension of Christian faith, the life of charity and care for others. Pope Benedict here refers to his encyclical Deus Caritas Est.

What I find interesting about this is the understanding of the mission of the Successor of St Peter that it expresses - and that Pope Benedict XVI does not just talk about but lives out as well. There is a clear connection between the mission for unity and the mission of safeguarding the doctrine of the Church, so it is not the case that unity trumps doctrine.

The Focolare Movement would, I think, recognise in Pope Benedict's understanding of his mission an expression of their charism of unity, another point that is interesting to note.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Pope Benedict XVI promotes Eucharistic Adoration

ZENIT are today carrying a report of Pope Benedict's meeting with participants in the plenary assembly of the Sacred Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Sacraments. This assembly has been dedicated to consideration of Eucharistic Adoration. The full text of Pope Benedict's address, in Italian, can be found on the Vatican website.

In his address, Pope Benedict referred to his visit to Cologne in 2005 for the World Youth Day, and his account of Eucharistic Adoration offered to the young people there:
"The doctrine of the transubstantiation of the bread and wine, and of the real presence, are a truth of faith," the Holy Father affirmed, "already evident in sacred Scripture and later confirmed by the Fathers of the Church.""Adoration must become union," Benedict XVI added, "union with the living Lord and with His mystical Body."

I have now lost count of the number of occasions on which I have used Pope Benedict's two-fold presentation of Adoration as "going down before the Lord" and "entering into union with Him", based on the words proskynesis and ad-oratio. This can be found in his homily at the closing Mass in Cologne, and is quoted in the Italian text of the Pope's address here.

I have wondered for some time now about the anxiety that some have to import into the Liturgy, and in particular into Sunday Mass, things that do not really belong there. Sometimes what is introduced is pastorally or catechetically useful - but it is in the wrong place. Not unusually, this happens when there is little other pastoral and catechetical activity in a parish, perhaps driven by concern for the welfare of overworked clergy. Sunday Mass is then only place of parish life ....

Times of Eucharistic Adoration, however, can provide opportuntities for catechesis adapted to the needs of different ages or ecclesial experience, without it being in conflict with the celebration of the Liturgy. One can have a freedom in terms of catechetical style, of music etc, without it offending the nature of the Liturgy. And, done carefully, it leads to a deepening of our understanding and celebration of the Liturgy.

I look forward to finding out more about the work of this plenary assembly.

Friday, 13 March 2009


It is a little while since I went over to visit Diakonia, but, in doing so today, I have found a series of very thoughtful posts. They are at once "theoretical" but at the same time very practical.

The Family, the Vital Cell of Society, presents Catholic teaching about marriage and comments on the legitimization of "de facto" unions;

Courtship - A Concept that Many in Society has Forgotten: The concept of courtship is not the same as dating. For many, the concept of courtship has been replaced by "dating," which has in fact lowered the expectation. For many, dating is not about finding the one that you will spend the rest of your life with, but rather, a means of meeting personal needs and satisfying personal desires (clearly not the same thing).

The post goes on to look at the period of engagement, too, offering this advice early in its list: Check to see if your partner prays, goes to Mass, Confession and is obedient to the Church.

Really a friend or not: compares what we might call "friendship" to what it really is.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Should we care about the mollusc? Environmentalism out of proportion

Mary Colwell has a piece in this week's issue of the Tablet entitled "Call of the Wild" and an article in the Jesuit on-line journal Thinking Faith called "Merging Worlds - Slime Moulds, the Environment and Human Dignity". Though both of these articles address the topic of Christian engagement with the environmental movement, they each propose within their contexts of global meetings on the issue, a distinct thesis.

The thesis that I suggest lies at the centre of the first of these articles is expressed in the answer "Yes" that Mary Colwell wished to give to the following question:
To put it baldly, does nature have a value in and of itself outside its contribution to human well-being?

This question touches on the purpose of the creation of the physical world, and on the purpose of the place of women and men in that world. From the point of view of Christian doctrine, the purpose of creation is, in the first instant, the glory of God; and, in a second but not contrary instant, that God, in Christ, might be "all in all" - for his glory and for our happiness. [cf. Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church qn.53] This vision is not just doctrinal, but profoundly Biblical, too. The instruction of Genesis to our first parents that they should "subdue the earth" is less a mandate for a wasteful destruction of our environment than it is a permission to use the environment for their own good. The Pauline and Johannine writings of the New Testament paint for us the vision of Christ as the centre and turning point of the whole history of the world. There is, too, a cosmic understanding of the celebration by women and men of the Liturgy. Not only do we offer our praise and worship to God representing the human race; we give voice indeed to the praise and worship of the whole of creation, being the only creatures able to give it "voice" in word and song.
Human beings are the only creatures on earth that God has willed for their own sake... God has created everything for them; but he has created them to know, serve and love God, and to offer all of creation in this world in thanksgiving back to him... [Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church Qns.66-67]

So, whilst there is a limited sense in which we can speak of the physical world having a value in its own right independent of its value for women and men (ie its value as a percievable expression of the glory of God), at the same time we should insist that, if an unqualified answer is to be given to Mary Colwell's question, it should be "No". That doesn't, of course, give a licence to abuse the physical world, which would be to abuse the glory of God; but it does recognise that the Amazon rain forest is at the service of the human race, and not the other way round.

The thesis of Mary Colwell's second article is that the protaganists on behalf of the environment and those on behalf of religious faith (special reference, I think, to Catholics) are being drawn closer and closer together. Returning for a moment to the theme of the first article, Mary Colwell cites the Professor of Archaeology at Sheffield University in the context of the loss of contact with nature that arises in a technological society:
" ... one of the greatest problems has been the rise of mono-theistic religions that puts humans, or imaginary human like beings, at the centre of the world. Who cares about a mollusc when there is the Kingdom of Heaven to look forward to?"

But what Mary Colwell describes as the coming together in the socio-political sphere of the environmentalist and the person of religious belief was addressed many years ago in different terms by Romano Guardini. I think of his book Letters from Lake Como, in which he addresses the implications for human culture of growing industrialisation and mechanisation. Romano Guardini recognises the distancing of the human person from the natural world that is a consequence of this, and he decries it. At one point, he compares a sailing boat on Lake Como to a steamer powered by a diesel engine that crosses the oceans. In the former, he sees that there is still an encounter with nature in the mastery of the water in that the boat will float and in the mastery of the wind by which it is moved forward. Of this he writes:
We have here real culture - elevation above nature, yet decisive nearness to it. We are still in a vital way body, but we are shot through with mind and spirit. We master nature by the power of mind and spirit, but we ourselves remain natural.

In the steamer, Romano Guardini notes that something has been lost. The naturalness of existence has been replaced by an artificiality. The steamer progresses on its way regardless of the water it crosses or the winds it encounters; and those on board live in a way that is no different than if they were on land in a luxury hotel.
.... nature has been decisively eliminated.

Whilst both Romano Guardini and Mary Colwell would want to shout out loud a call for a simpler existence, and a more natural existence, there is a difference between the two. Romano Guardini would recognise that nature, in its encounter with the human person, is at the service of a human culture, and the call for a simpler life is a call to make our culture more human rather than less human. The implication of Mary Colwell's suggestion that the physical world should be valued independently of its relation to women and men is that her call for a simpler life is a call to form a culture that is, in principle, less human.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009


I am not in a position to really understand the events in the Latin Mass Society relating to the resignations of their Chaplain, Chairman and Treasurer. What I have suggested already on this blog is that, after Summorum Pontificum, "traditional Catholicism" cannot any longer define itself in terms of attachment to one particular form of the Roman Rite rather than the other. I see the adoption of the language of "ordinary form" and "extraordinary form", and abandoning the usage of "traditional Latin Mass", as a kind of indicator of this. The question I do have, and others may be in a position to let me know whether or not I am correct about this, is the following: do the events surrounding these resignations represent an attempt by a section of "traditional Catholicism" to define itself for the post-Summorum Pontificum environment?

Fr Ray's post on this matter, and its comments, do I think represent something of what is happening in the wider "tradosphere". I would disagree with Fr Ray and his commenters over the following, believing that none of the following is justified from the text of Summorum Pontificum and Pope Benedict's accompanying letter, this earlier post indicating my reasons for so thinking:

1. The continuance in use of the terminology of the "TLM", the reference to "liberating" the extraordinary form, and the reference to "showcasing" the extraordinary form

2. The reference to the "Benedictine Liturgical Project" as if that project is about promoting the extraordinary form over the ordinary form

3. I think, with the agenda of "mutual enrichment" as expressed in Pope Benedict's accompanying letter, those attached to the extraordinary form should feel some responsibility also towards the ordinary form, just as they are expecting priests attached to the ordinary form to fulfil a responsibility towards the extraordinary form.

I have yet to read Pope Benedict XVI's clarificatory letter with regard to the lifting of the excommunciations of the bishops of the Society of St Pius X. I am going to save a full comment until I can read the full text as released by the Holy See. But the comments already available suggest that Pope Benedict announces in the letter that the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei is going to be incorporated or moved into the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Fr Zuhlsdorf suggests that this indicates that, as far as discussions with the Society of St Pius X are concerned, the Liturgical issues are now pretty much resolved courtesy of Summorum Pontificum and that the real issues - ie the doctrinal ones - have now got to be addressed.

If Fr Zuhlsdorf is correct, can we also suggest that what some have wanted to see as a "Benedictine Liturgical project" or a "reform of the reform" has also reached its end point, an end point expressed in the provisions of Summorum Pontificum?

I recall being quite stunned by the brilliance of the language of "ordinary" and "extraordinary" form when I first encountered it in Summorum Pontificum and I have articulated what I see as its significance here. Rather mischievously, I think the same brilliance lies behind the move to place the Ecclesia Dei Commission within the Congregation for Doctrine. Fr Zuhlsdorf suggests an implication for dialogue with the Society of St Pius X. But if, as I contend, the provisions of Summorum Pontificum also have a glance towards those attached to the extraordinary form within normal parish and diocesan situations, then this move also has an implication for them. Does it give an expression to the need for them to define their "traditional Catholicism" in a manner other than that of attachment to the extraordinary form? [This is a question that I am still, quite genuinely, trying to get to grips with.]

Faith Matters Lecture 1: the existence of God

I went yesterday evening to Wesminster Cathedral (the Cathedral hall, to be exact) for the first in the series of lectures entitled Faith Matters. This was quite interesting in a number of ways.

Without any deliberate foresight, I ended up sat next to a Christian Brother, from their community in Twickenham. It turned out he had attended, as a pupil, a school called St Joseph's College, Blackpool. The school does not exist any more, having been incorporated into what was known as St Mary's RC High School, but now appears to be St Mary's Catholic College. The school website shows almost no indication of the Christian Brothers at all, so I am not linking to it. I attended the school some twenty years later than him. Small world.

The lecture was by Dr Peter Vardy, of Heythrop College. Dr Vardy's slides can be found from the home page of the lecture series. Points of interest:

1. It was interesting to see modern science at the centre of the discussion of the existence of God. A problem with discussing science in this sort of context is that you can end up using a kind of watered down or "populist" science. I would have liked, for example, to have seen some advertance to the work of Stanley Jaki, who is particularly acute when it comes to looking at the significance of science for philosophy and religious belief. A thoroughly post-modern outlook would lack the faith in science that is necessary if science is to be discussed as a key component in answering the question about God, so it is quite significant that it did not seem out of place to be holding such a discussion.

2. It would be wrong to say that a reference to metaphysics (ie the philosophical study of what is means for things to be) was absent from the lecture. On the other hand, a more explicit advertance to metaphysics would have cast Dr Vardy's references to St Thomas "five ways" in a rather different light. It would also have allowed a notion of analogy some play, too.

3. Slide 51 contains the apparently contradictory statements that God's existence cannot be proven, but that God's existence provides a very persuasive ultimate explanation of the world that we know. "Not proofs, but very good pointers" is Dr Vardy's phrase with regard to proofs of the existence of God. What might have been looked for here, instead of the generalised reference to religious experience (in an individualised way) as a pointer toward's God's existence, is a reference to a rather more rigorous phenomenology of religion. It is quite right to say that a "proof" of the existence of God may not convince someone; but if a "proof" is correct, it still remains, in the order of truth or of being, a "proof". The idea of analogy has something to contribute at this point, as has a phenomenology of religious faith, in enabling us to understand how the person comes or does not come to believe in the existence of God when faced with the arguments for his existence.

4. I must admit to having been left with a latent sense of unease at the willingness of Dr Vardy to so "no" in answer to the question as to whether the existence of God can be proven. But this willingness on his part has a double aspect. One aspect refers to the substantiveness of the argument itself, while the other refers to the receptiveness of the person to the force of the argument (the proof that may be correct, but does not convince the individual), and you are never quite sure which aspect a statement like Dr Vardy's refers to most. The philosophical method of realist phenomenology, with its openness to "the things in themselves", appears to me to provide a way of understanding "proofs" in their genuine rigour as "proofs" whilst at the same time recognising in its understanding of the nature of faith itself that not all will be "convinced" by the proofs. I feel that there was a potential here that was only hinted at in the lecture (see slide 53) and which could have been developed much further.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

A back of the envelope calculation: the answer is 608

In the annals of the history of physics there is a famous "back of the envelope" ( well, scraps of paper anyway, while sat on a tree trunk during a Christmas holiday walk) calculation. This was undertaken by Lise Meitner and Otto Frisch, during a walk near Gothenburg in December 1938. Lise Meitner had just received news of an experiment that seemed to show the splitting of uranium atoms into two large-ish parts, at that time a completely unknown phenomenon. The calculation undertaken by Lise and Otto showed the theoretical possibility of this phenomenon, that we now talk of quite casually as "nuclear fission".

I did my own little calculation over the weekend.

Five years multiplied by ten months in the year (we usually miss out January and August), plus three months for the beginning of 2009 (when we did do January) and three months for the end of 2003 = 56 months

56 months multiplied by 8 hours every first Friday = 448 hours

Plus 32 hours multiplied by 5 to include the additional hours that go with the "Forty Hours" during the last five years = 608 hours.
If I take into account one or two extra events not included in the calculation, that puts 608 hours as a slightly conservative estimate of the number of hours of Eucharistic Adoration that I have facilitated in the parish since October 2003.

Monday, 9 March 2009

President Obama and funding for embryonic stem cell research

A guest from America's scientific community spoke on BBC Radio 4's PM programme this afternoon, welcoming President Obama's decision to rescind the ban on public funding of embryonic stem cell research.

It is interesting to read the presentation of this decision here on the White House website. I reproduce it below, as I am not expecting the link to be permanent.

“A debt of gratitude to so many tireless advocates”
Moments ago President Obama marked a monumental moment for hope with an audience of Nobel Laureates, leaders of the faith community, and patient advocates.

Today, with the Executive Order I am about to sign, we will bring the change that so many scientists and researchers; doctors and innovators; patients and loved ones have hoped for, and fought for, these past eight years: we will lift the ban on federal funding for promising embryonic stem cell research. We will vigorously support scientists who pursue this research. And we will aim for America to lead the world in the discoveries it one day may yield.

The President acknowledged that there are those who strongly oppose this research, and insisted that even as he had come to a different conclusion those opinions deserved full respect. He explained that the American government has not only a role but a responsibility to keep the country at the forefront of medical science. But he also made clear that his decision was not made based on his belief in science alone: "As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease
human suffering."

The President said that a false choice has often been presented between science and faith, and that corrupting, shielding, or shying away from the facts science lays bare benefits nobody:

That is why today, I am also signing a Presidential Memorandum directing the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop a strategy for restoring scientific integrity to government decision making. To ensure that in this new Administration, we base our public policies on the soundest science; that we appoint scientific advisors based on their credentials and experience, not their politics or ideology; and that we are open and honest with the American people about the science behind our decisions. That is how we will harness the power of science to achieve our goals – to preserve our environment and protect our national security; to create the jobs of the future, and live longer, healthier lives.

One of the President’s closing notes was to pay homage to those who dedicated so much of their time and energy, often in their last days when both were short, to the cause of allowing this research to see its full potential:

As we restore our commitment to science, and resume funding for promising stem cell research, we owe a debt of gratitude to so many tireless advocates, some of whom are with us today, many of whom are not. Today, we honor all those whose names we don’t know, who organized, and raised awareness, and kept on fighting – even when it was too late for them, or for the people they love. And we honor those we know, who used their influence to help others and bring attention to this cause –
people like Christopher and Dana Reeve, who we wish could be here to see this moment.

The text raises some interesting questions:

1. The claim is that politics has been removed from decision making about science. But, if we read the last paragraph of the release above, there is a clear acknowledgement of the political campaigning that has led up to this decision by President Obama. The decision itself is profoundly political. And, let's be clear, the promise to appoint scientific advisers on the basis of their scientific credentials and not their ideology is probably one sided .... anyone who is pro-life will be considered ideological/political and not be appointed, while those not on the side of the angels (as I would view it!) will be non-ideological and non-political and so be appointed.

2. It is also interesting to notice the interest in the aim that America might lead the world in the discoveries to which this research might lead. At the press conference, President Obama also referred to the potential for scientists to leave America to work in countries where the research was allowed. An interesting motivation, which does not seem to leave much room for properly ethical considerations.

3. In so far as any moral consideration comes into this decision, President Obama cites the possibility that the research might help in developing cures for certain illnesses, and that we have a duty to care. The line of argument is purely consequentialist, and leaves out any consideration of a moral value or disvalue intrinsic to the pursuit of the research itself.

4. But of greater significance is an unstated underlying principle. Decisions about science are to be made based on science. With little or no reference to objective moral considerations. The presentation above seems to portray a separation of scientific endeavour from moral endeavour. On BBC Radio 4's PM programme (the evening current affairs programme that partners the morning Today programme), for example, an American scientist welcomed President Obama's decision, saying that the decision had been made on the basis of science and not of ideology. There is a certain obfuscation in President Obama's talk that "a false choice has often been presented between science and faith"; radio coverage is quoting him as opposing a "false choice between sound science and moral values". This all seems to speak of an abandoning of a sense of the moral responsibility of the scientific enterprise, and of the idea that religious belief can contribute to the moral nature of this enterprise.

I must re-read C P Snow's article on "The Moral Un-neutrality of Science" ...

Marian character of the Lenten season (3)

One of the Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary, intended for use during Lent, has the title The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Reconciliation.

Pope John Paul II concluded his Apostolic Exhortation on penance and reconciliation in this way:

I likewise invite you to turn with me to the immaculate heart of Mary, mother of Jesus, in whom "is effected the reconciliation of God with humanity..., is accomplished the work of reconciliation, because she has received from God the fullness of grace in virtue of the redemptive sacrifice of Christ." Truly Mary has been associated with God, by virtue of her divine motherhood, in the work of reconciliation.

Into the hands of this mother, whose fiat marked the beginning of that "fullness of time" in which Christ accomplished the reconciliation of humanity with God, to her immaculate heart - to which we have repeatedly entrusted the whole of humanity, disturbed by sin and tormented by so many tensions and conflicts - I now in a special way entrust this intention: that through her intercession humanity may discover and travel the path of penance, the only path that can lead it to full reconciliation.[1]
In the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the questions about the Sacrament of Penance[2] are presented under the title “The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation”[3]. In this way, the “path of penance” is seen also as the “path of reconciliation”, as Pope John Paul II suggests.

300. What is interior penance?
It is the movement of a “contrite heart” (Psalm 51:19) drawn by divine grace to respond to the merciful love of God. This entails sorrow for and abhorrence of sins committed, a firm purpose not to sin again in the future and trust in the help of God. It is nourished by hope in divine mercy.

301. What forms does penance take in the Christian life?
Penance can be expressed in many and various ways but above all in fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. These and many other forms of penance can be practiced in the daily life of a Christian, particularly during the time of Lent and on the penitential day of Friday….

310. What are the effects of this sacrament?
The effects of the sacrament of Penance are: reconciliation with God and therefore the forgiveness of sins; reconciliation with the Church; recovery, if it has been lost, of the state of grace; remission of the eternal punishment merited by mortal sins, and remission, at least in part, of the temporal punishment which is the consequence of sin; peace, serenity of conscience and spiritual consolation; and an increase of spiritual strength for the struggle of Christian living.
The theme of forgiveness of sins as reconciliation can be seen in the prayers of the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Reconciliation:

Lord our God, through the precious blood of your Son you reconciled the world to yourself and at the foot of the cross you chose the Blessed Virgin Mary to be the mother of reconciliation for sinners; grant through her intercession that we may obtain pardon for our sins.

Lord, we offer you these gifts of reconciliation and praise, that through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, refuge of sinners, you may in your mercy pardon our sins and steady our wavering hearts.

In your infinite goodness you do not abandon those who stray from you, but in marvellous ways you call them back to your love: you gave the Blessed Virgin Mary, sinless as she was, a heart of compassion for sinners; seeing her love as their mother, they turn to her with trust as they ask your forgiveness; seeing her beauty of spirit, they seek to turn away from sin in its ugliness…[4]
Our recourse to the Sacrament of Penance, and to practices of fasting, prayer and almsgiving, during Lent can therefore be seen as having a clear Marian character.

[1] Pope John Paul II Reconciliatio et Paenitentiae n.35.
[2] cf the title of the Sacrament in the 1983 Code of Canon Law c.959, and ff.
[3] cf Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church n.296 ff.
[4] Respectively, the Opening Prayer, the Prayer over the Gifts and the Preface.