Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Gordon Brown at the Brighton Conference

Like Tony Blair's speech to the Rimini Meeting, I believe that Gordon Brown's Labour Party Conference speech is worthy of some careful analysis. The full text can be found here, though it is the prepared text marked with those cautious words warning journalists to "check against delivery".

Let me start with the following passage (other passages, which are open to more positive evaluation, will follow, I hope):
And for all those mums and dads who struggle to juggle work and home, I am proud to announce today that by reforming tax relief we will by the end of the next Parliament be able to give the parents of a quarter of a million two year olds free childcare for the first time.

And I do think it’s time to address a problem that for too long has gone unspoken, the number of children having children. For it cannot be right, for a girl of sixteen, to get pregnant, be given the keys to a council flat and be left on her own.

From now on all 16 and 17 year old parents who get support from the taxpayer will be placed in a network of supervised homes. These shared homes will offer not just a roof over their heads, but a new start in life where they learn responsibility and how to raise their children properly. That’s better for them, better for their babies and better for us all in the long run.

We won’t ever shy away from taking difficult decisions on tough social questions.

Because we have to be honest – its not just bankers and politicians that have lost the people’s trust. Even though there is so much that is amazing about Britain, if you ask your neighbours or your workmates how they feel right now in this fast changing world, they will probably talk about their sense of unease.The decent hard working majority feel the odds are stacked in favour of a minority, who will talk about their rights, but never accept their responsibilities.

In a faster changing more mobile world of communities where family breakdown is more common, where children are at risk on the internet, where elderly people are too often isolated in their communities, the new society must be explicit about the boundaries between right and wrong- and about the new responsibilities we demand of people in return for the rights they have. And I stand with the people who are sick and tired of others playing by different rules or no rules at all.

First paragraph: in the interests of fairness, should not those families where the choice is that one parent not work in order to look after the children have access to equality of funding? If citizens are being increasingly encouraged towards choice in accessing public services, why can't that choice exist in childcare, and include the option to not work so as to care?

Second paragraph: doesn't the sense of this paragraph depend on where the emphasis lies? If sixteen is the age of consent, then surely Government has no right to say that girls of sixteen should not be allowed to conceive children; but if the emphasis in the sentence is on the question of appropriate access to social housing, then it is quite different.

Third paragraph: if this works out in practice as it looks, it is un-objectionable. However, as some media coverage today labelled it - "workhouses for pregnant teenagers" - if it works out in practice, or indeed in perceptions, as just making life harder for young mothers, will this end up simply being a driver towards abortion? And, indeed, will the "responsibility" that is promoted to these young people, along with all its positive and helpful aspects, include the promotion of contraceptive use and abortion in relation to the possibility of future pregnancy? It's not in the speech, and we can rightly say that such an intention can be denied by the Prime Minister; but for practitioners on the ground in this field, promotion of contraception and abortion is part of normal practice [Denials received in the com box will be welcome, and will be posted].

Sixth paragraph: in the same paragraph there is reference to increasing family breakdown, and the need to be explicit about boundaries between right and wrong. But is there any willingness to apply judgements of right and wrong to marital structures and to divorce? Do we not shy away from difficult decisions on a tough social question if we do not see divorce as a moral issue, a question that has a right and wrong about it? [This is not to suggest that couples experiencing breakdown in the sociological sense should be forced to stay together - but it is to suggest that the subsequent choice to move on and marry another, in the kind of serial monogamy that is not unusual now, should be the subject of a moral evaluation that is reflected in law.]

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

St Therese and "Lancashire Catholicism"

Photocredits: Lancaster Cathedral blog.

I can't resist copying a couple of quotes from this post, at the Catholic Relics blog:
Just as with previous venues, St Therese is attracting crowds to Lancaster Cathedral, where Catholicism has been strong since the days of the Romans and which boasts six martyrs within the confines of the city. ‘The County of the Saints’, as Lancashire Catholics are glad to speak of the county happily welcomed people from right across the north-west and Scotland as the relics reached the cathedral...

Yet, there are also those for whom Lancashire Catholicism is quietly undemonstrative, who have ‘just turned up’ and will continue to do so during the 48 hours of the visit.

Monday, 28 September 2009

St Therese at Preston Carmel

The photographs suggest that this was a particularly intimate setting for St Therese. If my memory serves me correctly, there is an army barracks fairly close to the Carmel in Preston, and hence perhaps the soldiers in the "bearer party". Photo credits:

St John the Baptist part 5: a patron of the Legion of Mary

This is the last part of this series, which has been made up from the last five weeks of allocutios for our Legion praesidium. Apart from this last post, the titles/themes of the other posts have been taken from the Preface of St John the Baptist in the Roman Missal. As is often the case, if you want a "quick guide" to understanding the meaning of a liturgical feast, look at the Preface for the feast. In the case of John the Baptist, the Preface gives a neat summary of how his role in the mystery of salvation is understood by the Church. This allocution tries to look at how St John the Baptist is a model for Legionaries, and, indeed, for all active Catholics.

Spiritual Reading: “I believe in You”, from Joseph Ratzinger Introduction to Christianity, pp.79-80

Christian faith is more than the option in favour of a spiritual ground to the world; its central formula is not “I believe in something”, but “I believe in you”. It is the encounter with the man Jesus, and in this encounter it experiences the meaning of the world as a person. In Jesus’ life from the Father, in the immediacy and intensity of his converse with him in prayer and, indeed face to face, he is God’s witness, through whom the intangible has become tangible, the distant has drawn near…. he is the presence of the eternal in the world. In his life, in the unconditional devotion of himself to men, the meaning of the world is present before us; it vouchsafes itself to us as love that loves even me and makes life worth living by this incomprehensible gift of a love free from any threat of fading away …

Of course, this does not do away with the need for reflection, as we have already seen earlier. “Are you really he?” This question was asked anxiously in a dark hour even by John the Baptist, the prophet who had directed his own disciples to the rabbi from Nazareth and recognized him as the greater, for whom he could only prepare the way. Are you really he? The believer will repeatedly experience the darkness in which the contradiction of unbelief surrounds him like a gloomy prison from which there is no escape, and the indifference of the world, which goes its way unchanged as if nothing had happened, seems only to mock his hope. We have to pose the question, “Are you really he?”, not only out of intellectual honesty and because of reason’s responsibility, but also in accordance with the interior law of love, which wants to know more and more him to whom it has given its Yes, so as to be able to love him more. Are you really he? Ultimately, all the reflections contained in this book are subordinate to this question and thus revolve around the basic form of the confession: “I believe in you, Jesus of Nazareth, as the meaning (logos) of the world and of my life”.


It was only in December 1949, some twenty eight years after the beginning of the Legion, that St John the Baptist was included among the patrons of the Legion. This followed some two years of debate and persuasion within the leadership of the Legion. Those opposed to including St John the Baptist as a patron were reluctant to allow a change to the Legion system that might open the way to endless changes or to the inclusion of every saint who ever lived as a patron of the Legion.[1]

In an essay entitled “The Legion is pure Christocentrism”, Frank Duff places the understanding of how the Legion has chosen its patrons in the context of the doctrine of the Mystical Body. That doctrine sees the Church as the continuation on earth of the work undertaken in his physical body by Jesus himself. Those elements that are to be found in Jesus earthly life are also to be found in the life of the Church. Apart from the Blessed Virgin and the angels, the choice of other patrons for a mission of the Mystical Body is determined by their association with the earthly mission of Jesus. It is this principle that allows the admission of St John the Baptist as a patron of the Legion.[2]

In adopting St John the Baptist as a patron, the Legion is suggesting to its members that, like John the Baptist, they should be:

- prophets who prepare the way for the Lord, through their weekly work obligation[3]

- people who have been marked out with a special favour, through their baptism, and called to prepare the way for a new heaven and a new earth

- people chosen to show the world its redeemer, through their participation in the Church’s mission of evangelization, in some or all of its different stages

- people with an unshakeable commitment to the mission of the Church, in all the difficult circumstances they might encounter.[4]

The Legion Handbook also suggests that St John the Baptist is a model for Legionaries in two more specific ways. He is formed in the school of Mary, during the time of the visitation of Elizabeth by Mary. As a beneficiary of this “first Visitation”, St John is also a patron of Legionary visitation in all the different forms that it takes. The Handbook sees St John the Baptist as the first to receive from Mary’s role as mediatrix.[5]

[1] cf Official Handbook of the Legion of Mary p.143; cf Frank Duff A Living Autobiography. This is the transcript of a series of videotaped interviews with Frank Duff, made in 1979-1980.
[2] cf Frank Duff, in “The Legion is pure Christocentrism” in Virgo Praedicanda pp.107-109. St Louis Marie de Montfort is recognised as an exception to this principle, being included as a patron of the Legion because of his inspiring the Marian charism of the Legion.
[3] cf Official Handbook of the Legion of Mary p.143.
[4] cf Official Handbook of the Legion of Mary p.143.
[5] cf Official Handbook of the Legion of Mary p.143.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Cllr Cheetham

... is a Labour councillor in Barnsley. He tweeted, adversely, about the veneration of St Therese's relics, and this post on his blog is the attempt on his part to undo the damage.

My own comment to that post is, roughly, as follows (I should have copied it verbatim before posting it, but forgot to do so). I expect that the dear Councillor will post it in due course.
Dear Tim

I quote from the post above this one on your own blog:

I can't pretend not to be upset not to be there [ie Labour Party Conference], it's an important time for the party, the country and for me. Most of all though, I really needed to spend some time around like-minded people. Having been plagued of late by some of the most obnoxious and unpleasant people at almost every department of my life, I'm suffering with a bit of a downer on the world.

Most of the people I know would face disciplinary action if they were to refer to their clients or colleagues in this way, even in private. As a trade union representative, I would find it impossible to defend someone against evidence as public as this in a blogpost.

I was with council colleagues recently including a Tory member, hatcheting Tory policy with some vigour and sweary gusto, when I thought to interrupt myself to say 'I don't mean you obviously, you are the acceptable face of conservatism'. He just grinned at me and said 'You ****ing ******'. We laughed and finished our pints. Because that's how it ought to be.

The foul language suggested by this part of your post could readily appear as evidence in a harassment case, should your colleagues be ill-disposed towards you. And the claim that it was "humour" would not be effective as a defence.

As far as your remarks about the veneration of the relics of St Therese go, I object to them, yes, as someone who expects to venerate the relics at a later point during their visit to England, but also because they reflect a general disrespect that you show towards people in general.

Cllr Cheetham's remarks are certainly objectionable to Catholics. What I find quite incredible, though, is that someone in elected office feels able to refer to his colleagues and clients in the way that Cllr Cheetham does, to conduct himself with colleagues as he does - all on his own admission - and to find it normal and acceptable. And this is not just a "foot soldier" councillor, but one of the cabinet members for his council. His remarks about the veneration of the relics of St Therese are, in this context, just par for the course. I think a resignation is in order ....

PS. Some of the other comments on Cllr Cheetham's post are worth reading.

Therese in Salford Cathedral

Full report at here, at the visit blog, but a couple of quotes below (not related to the photo). The report suggests that 20000+ visited the relics at Salford Cathedral during a 24 hour period. The Manchester Evening News report is here, with a link to their own picture gallery.

Photo credit:

“We drove down from Glasgow early this morning and will drive back there this evening. Yes, it’s a long way to come, but we love St Therese and decided that we can’t yet go to Lisieux, but we could come to see her while she’s here in England, so we just climbed into the car and drove.”

“I have seen that faith is part of the DNA of people in this part of the country”, added a Sister who has travelled from Lisieux to accompany the relics.

Pope Benedict XVI in the Czech Republic

It is interesting to see that Pope Benedict XVI is addressing a number of his well known themes during his visit to the Czech Republic. Whilst this should not be a surprise, it is interesting to see these themes still coming to the fore in a country whose culture is now decidedly non-religious. Vaclav Hawel, though not himself a religious believer, did recognise in a positive way the part played by religious believers in the unofficial "civil society" of the communist era. When we visited Prague about a year ago, it was quite striking to see such small numbers at Mass (in St Vitus Cathedral on the Solemnity of All Saints and at St Gabriels on a Sunday). The shrine of Our Lady of Victories, where the statue of the Infant of Prague "lives", attracts more visitors. The Czech's own awareness of their recent history is more focussed around figures like Jan Palach, not I understand a religious believer, but in some sense a secular version of a saint. In my post about Jan Palach I reflected on a possible indifference of Czech society today to its past.

In this context, Pope Benedict is recalling Catholic figures from the history of the Czech lands: St Wenceslaus, St Ludmilla, St John Nempomuk and more recent confessors:
I recall the experiences of two Archbishops of this local Church, Cardinals Josef Beran and František Tomášek, and of many Bishops, priests, men and women religious, and lay faithful, who resisted Communist persecution with heroic fortitude, even to the sacrifice of their lives.
Noting that the president of the Czech Republic wishes to see a greater role for religion in the life of the country, Pope Benedict ended his address during the welcome ceremony at the airport in Prague with these words:

The authentic progress of humanity is best served by just such a combination of the wisdom of faith and the insights of reason. May the Czech people always enjoy the benefits of that happy synthesis.

The texts of Pope Benedict's addresses at the airport in Prague, and in St Vitus Cathedral, in which he addresses the themes of the Christian heritage of the Czech lands, the witness of Catholics during communist persecution and the challenges of increasing secularisation in Czech society, can be found here and here, on the Vatican website.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

A bout of LIS

Last weekend, I suffered a very serious bout of LIS. LIS is caused by one of those bugs that normally lives in the body, though it has perhaps been more prevalent since 1970; most Catholics seem to live with this bug and not even notice they have got it. I am not sure which is actually worse - that they have managed to pick up the bug from someone (usually a cleric or sometimes a religious), or that, having caught the bug, their awareness of things Catholic is at such a low ebb that they don't notice they have caught it. That is not to say that those of us who notice we have caught it, and therefore suffer from LIS, are more saintly than those who don't notice they have it - the reverse might well be the case.

A clear symptom of having caught the bug, but not having noticed, is replying "Good morning, Father" to the greeting "The Lord be with you" at the beginning of Mass. Another is the inability to resist talking in Church before Mass starts, even for a few moments, all in the interests of "welcome" and "community".

Some would suggest that a strong dose of "extraordinary form", taken at least weekly but perhaps more often, is the cure. The problem with this cure, though, is that biological comparators suggest the bug involved will simply mutate from its "ordinary form" into an "extraordinary form"-resistant variant fairly quickly. The business of spreading the bug is simply not going to be given up that easily! I think that a systematic adoption of "mutual enrichment" is far more likely to eliminate this bug - but, sadly, there is little sign of that so far.

In the mean time, when LIS strikes more severely than one can cope with, the answer is to travel to a parish where either the bug has not yet appeared or, if it has appeared, a cure has been applied. That's what I did earlier this evening, anticipating tomorrow. Nothing special, just a said Mass with no music (OK, alleluia sung, as per the unofficial rubric that makes it obligatory even, presumably, when there is no congregation) and a half decent homily. My LIS has abated somewhat, to my relief.

It's not rocket science: say the black, do the red, cut out all the ad libs and, Father, do not project yourself onto the Liturgy!

UPDATE: Someone after my own mind: Have alb - will travel.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Lourdes at the London Film Festival

I posted recently on the film Lourdes, as it premiered at the Venice Film Festival (as far as I can tell, it was the world premiere, unless it had been shown at an earlier festival that I have missed).

The London Film Festival takes place from 14th October. It is a non-competitive festival, and shows a large number of films in cinemas across London. Films presented at the festival must be UK premieres, and English sub-titles are provided to films made in languages other than English. Most showings are open to the public, much like in any cinema. Each film that is presented at the Festival gets at least two screenings, with films anticipated to be more popular getting more.

Lourdes has two screenings, both at the British Film Institute/National Film Theatre on the South Bank. These are on Saturday 17th October at 21.00 (you can do Aid to the Church in Need's event at Westminster Cathedral in the day, dinner, and then on to Lourdes) and Tuesday 20th October at 13.00.

Online booking at (priority booking only today, open booking from Saturday).

St Therese in Liverpool

Three reports of St Therese's visit to Liverpool:

One paragraph from this report reads, with my emphasis:
At the end of Mass those who had already venerated the relics were asked not to linger on account of the needs of those waiting outside [ie several hundred] but for some time things were a bit confused. No one seemed to have considered how to deal with the large number of us still in the cathedral who had not yet had the opportunity. To be fair to all concerned, I don't think that either the hierarchy or clergy of England and Wales had expected the tremendous response that the visit has occasioned. Yesterday I listened to a brief talk on a website [where the speaker ] seemed completely bemused- as if (and this is just my own personal opinion) there was a faith "out there" in the country that he hardly recognised!

Photo credits:

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Are you sitting comfortably? (Or, a story about the meaning of life)

One Saturday night, a physics teacher, another physics teacher, an English teacher (well, advisory teacher, which just about counts) and a midwife went to London.

They started from Newbury Park Station on the Central Line, where a serious discussion was held about midwife's parking. Herewith a previous example:

On the way, they realised they had time to tour the West End before dining, so visited Trafalgar Square to see One and Other: where this lady had just been deposited atop the fourth plinth. She can be seen here being admired by, from left to right, midwife, physics teacher (2) and English teacher (advisory):

There was a game of chess, complete with erudite commentary, under way in the square: The Tournament, a centre piece of the London Design Festival.

Midwife then requested a visit to Seven Dials, an area of London just north of Covent Garden. As you will realise from the map getting in to Seven Dials is easy, but if you are stood at the Seven Dials itself, with its different choice of directions to take, and one direction only being the one you want to take, and having lost your orientation from the road on which you arrived, all the roads look the same .....

It was then on to 2 Greek Street, just off Soho Square: to a restaurant called The Gay Hussar. This had been the suggestion of English teacher (advisory), attracted by the restaurant's reputation as the haunt of sundry politicians whose caricature portraits decorate the walls. This was, of course, the ideal place to discuss the future of the world and such like matters.

Physics teacher (2) and midwife

English teacher (advisory) and physics teacher (1)

Over dessert, a book was produced and the following problem posed by midwife and English teacher (advisory), who appeared to have been in deliberate collusion.

As a participant in a game show, you are given a choice of three doors to open. Behind two of the doors there is a goat (not the same one, presumably, two separate goats, each one behind a different door), and behind the third door there is a brand new car. You are given a choice of door to open, which you indicate to the show's host. The host then opens one of the doors that you have not chosen, and there is a goat behind it. At this point, would you change your choice of door to open?

Physics teacher began to think about the quantum mechanical wave functions of the two individual goats and the car, and that the original state before the opening of the first door by the show host was a superposition of the three overlapping wavefunctions. Opening the first door constituted a measurement of part of the system, leading to a partial collapse of the wavefunction, and the new situation being now represented by a superposition of the wavefunctions of the one remaining goat and the car ... at which point the effect of a glass and half of wine kicked in and he returned to his dessert without saying anything.

Then physics teacher (2) took hold of the book, and carefully set about studying the analysis of the probabilities of opening a door with the car behind it, calculated first with no doors having been opened and then with the one door having been opened. The argument was apparently that the chances of choosing the door with the car correctly first time were smaller than those of choosing it second time, after the one door had been opened, so you should change your choice of door.

At this point, physics teacher and physics teacher (2) both agreed that the situation of the second choice was a new one compared to the first choice, and so to compare a probability calculated on the basis of the first situation to one calculated for the second was nonsensical.

Neither midwife nor English teacher (advisory) offered a solution.

As I am sure the astute readers of this blog will realise, the key to finding the answer to the problem about the meaning of life contained in this conundrum is:

Should we really value to the car

more highly than we value the goat?

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Today's Therese photographs: Cardiff

Photo credits:

At one level, the practice of touching the casing surrounding the relics can be seen as an exercise of piety (and I mean that in a good sense) on the part of the faithful. This last photograph suggests another way of thinking of it. For very young children, like this little girl, it also provides a style of participation in the essentially inner act of veneration, a style of participation that makes the veneration accessible to them at their level of development, when otherwise it might not be accessible at all. Each of us will have a style of veneration that suits us; it is something in which we have a great freedom within an intense unity of purpose and devotion.

Did St Therese want to be a priest?

Other bloggers have responded to a letter in this week's Tablet suggesting that St Therese of Lisieux expressed a wish to be a priest. A full refutation of the conclusion from this that St Therese was an advocate of women priests can be found in an article by Peter McDonald at Church in History.

Literally, it is true that Therese wrote that she wanted to be a priest, and described with what love she would handle the sacred host if she were a priest (the understanding of priesthood expressed in her words is strikingly similar to that of St John Vianney, an interesting point to note in the Year for Priests). But if you take that literal statement in the context of the surrounding paragraph, any possible conclusion that St Therese claimed to have a vocation to the priesthood or that she claimed that the Church could ordain women evaporates rather rapidly. She was really expressing, in a completely idealistic manner, a desire to fulfil every vocation in the Church, at every time and in every place. And she concludes by saying that she has found her vocation as that of being "love in the heart of the Church" (ie a contemplative), a vocation that embraces all the other vocations at once.

H/T: Hermeneutic of Continuity and Caritas in Veritate.

Monday, 21 September 2009

St John the Baptist part 4: "found worthy of a martyr's death"

Spiritual Reading: St Mark’s account of the beheading of John the Baptist

And he called to him the twelve, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, "Where you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. And if any place will not receive you and they refuse to hear you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet for a testimony against them." So they went out and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them.

King Herod heard of it; for Jesus' name had become known. Some said, "John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; that is why these powers are at work in him." But others said, "It is Elijah." And others said, "It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old." But when Herod heard of it he said, "John, whom I beheaded, has been raised." For Herod had sent and seized John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife; because he had married her. For John said to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe. When he heard him, he was much perplexed; and yet he heard him gladly.

But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and the leading men of Galilee. For when Herodias' daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will grant it." And he vowed to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom." And she went out, and said to her mother, "What shall I ask?" And she said, "The head of John the baptizer." And she came in immediately with haste to the king, and asked, saying, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter." And the king was exceedingly sorry; but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. And immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard and gave orders to bring his head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother.

When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb. [1]


The duty of Christians to take part in the life of the Church impels them to act as witnesses of the Gospel and of the obligations that flow from it. This witness is a transmission of the faith in words and deeds. Witness is an act of justice that establishes the truth or makes it known

Martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness even unto death. The martyr bears witness to Christ who died and rose, to whom he is united by charity. He bears witness to the truth of the faith and of Christian doctrine. He endures death through an act of fortitude.[2]
From this definition of martyrdom in the Catechism we can identify a number of different elements the most fundamental of which are the elements of witness to the person of Christ and the fact that this witness leads to death of the person giving witness. After these two elements, however, there are a number of different ways in which martyrdom is manifested in the life of the Church.

In the case of John the Baptist, the direct witness that he gave that led to his death was a witness to fidelity in marriage. It was his condemnation of Herodias relationship with Herod that provoked the anger of Herodias, and led her to ask for his death. This is a witness to a particular teaching about Christian living, a particular point of Christian doctrine.

We can suggest a parallel between this witness to teaching about fidelity in marriage and the wedding feast at Cana, which in St John’s Gospel, foreshadows the events of the Last Supper and Calvary as the “wedding feast of the Lamb”. The witness to fidelity in marriage is therefore much more profoundly a witness to the person and mission of Jesus than at first appears.

This can be further developed if we see in the structure of St Mark’s account of the death of John the Baptist a foretelling of Jesus’ own passion and death.[3] This can be done by comparing the account of his death to the passion account in St Mark’s Gospel. John the Baptist’s martyrdom then follows integrally from his mission as the forerunner of Jesus:

Herod is wrong about John being raised up from the dead; Jesus will rise from the dead (Mk 16:6-8)

Herodias had to be devious about achieving John’s death, because of the respect that Herod had for him; the Chief priests will also have to be devious in bringing about Jesus death because of what the people might do (Mk 11:18, 14:1-2)

Herod has John beheaded even though he knows that he has done no wrong, under pressure from Herodias and his guests; Pilate will have Jesus put to death, though he knows he has done no wrong, and acting under pressure from the chief priests and the people (Mk 15:14)

John’s disciples lay his body in a tomb; a disciple of Jesus will lay his body in a tomb (Mk15:46)[4]

This understanding recognises, too, that all martyrdom is aligned towards and gains its meaning from the death of Jesus himself on the Cross.

[1] Mk 6:7-27; cf Mt 14:1-12 (in this shorter account it is Jesus’ own preaching that comes directly to the attention of Herod, rather than that of the twelve; in both accounts, however, it is essentially Jesus reputation that is involved.); St Luke records only the imprisonment of John the Baptist Lk 3:19-20.
[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church nn.2472-2473.
[3] cf The Collegeville Bible Commentary p.916.
[4] cf The Collegeville Bible Commentary p.916

More photographs from Birmingham Cathedral

The queue of pilgrims outside the Cathedral:

Below: the Bridgettine Sisters, who look after the visitors to Maryvale Institute in Birmingham

Below: Eucharistic Adoration in the presence of the relics of St Therese
Photo credits:
This post gives an idea of the numbers of people visiting the Cathedral, and some idea of what if was like to be there.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

This blog supports Salt and Light TV

I have come late to the spat that has been taking place between Salt and Light Catholic TV Network and others in relation to the funeral of Senator Edward Kennedy. If I have understood the situation correctly, Salt and Light were approached by Lifesite News (and perhaps others) to join a lobby/campaign to stop Cardinal O'Malley's participation in the funeral and Cardinal McCarrick's participation in the interment. When they did not join in such a campaign, heated exchanges (well, very heated exchanges) followed through e-mail and blog posts.

The original texts are, so far as I can see, these:

Fr Thomas Rosica's strongly worded post of 3rd September, which reproduces the text of Cardinal O'Malley's own blog post. Fr Rosica is the Chief Executive of Salt and Light Catholic TV.

Lifesite News commentary of 4th September responding to Fr Rosica's post.

A radio interview by Fr Rosica, broadcast on 9th September. The transcript is here, posted on 15th September.

A Lifesite News editorial of 14th September, responding to Fr Rosica's Sirius interview.

A Lifesite News editorial of 17th September, responding to Fr Rosica's contributions.

1. Lifesite News
Quite some time ago now, I had reason to read a Lifesite News report in looking up a story. I found a problem then that I have found with every attempt since to use a Lifesite News report. That problem is one of being able to distinguish the hard news content of the report from the spin or emphasis being added to the hard news content. It makes Lifesite News unusable as a reliable source of news reporting - you always have to go and find another report of the same story elsewhere in order to check that you really know what is going on. This is why I do not link to Lifesite News, and why I would only very cautiously base a post on a report from Lifesite News.

What purpose is, then, served by Lifesite News reports? There is, of course, some purpose served in providing news, or at least giving a head up on a story. And there is probably also some political value in terms of indicating a clear opposition to those who support abortion. But, as with most public voice politics, is the essential audience Lifesite News' own supporters? Is it most effective in building its own standing with its own supporters? I make this as a morally neutral observation - the building of status with your own constituency is a perfectly legitimate part of the process of politics and is the ordinary bread and butter of seeking election to office. But issue politics, as opposed to party politics or the politics of electoral office, needs to be successful in influencing those outside your own constituency - and my question is about how far Lifesite News can do this or, indeed, if they want to do this.

Fr Rosica has posted an account of a meeting he had with young people on 10th September, in the context of this controversy, which provides a good example of what I am trying to say is needed here.

2. Internet lobbying
I have posted previously (I'll insert the link to that post when I find it!) about using blogs to encourage others to e-mail or protest to people. Even if the resulting communications are courteous and considered, there is still a point at which this becomes a form of cyber-bullying. It is a modus operandi which takes advantage of the ease of electronic communication to get people to lobby over something in which they may not have a direct stake. A much more appropriate way of doing things seems to me to be one which encourages others to post on their own blogs their views about an issue.

The following, at the bottom of Lifesite News editorial of 14th September, is, in my view, quite out of order, despite that word "respectfully":

To RESPECTFULLY contact Fr. Rosica:

3. Conclusion
To say that the kind of spat between parties who should be allies which has occurred here is the work of the devil isn't to blame either of the parties as if they were directly undertaking the work of the devil. Somewhere in it all we might accept that the devil has worked his mischief and that the parties involved might need to keep their eyes open to try and see where this mischief is present.

But, that having been said, this blog is declaring on the side of Fr Rosica on this one, and a link to Salt and Light TV Network can now be found on the links list.

Understanding the relics of St Therese

An informative post at Humble Piety about understanding St Therese's relics. This article would be good as an answer to those who are criticising Catholics for "worshipping" relics etc.

St Therese in Brum

During Saturday and Sunday, the relics of St Therese are at St Chad's Cathedral, in the centre of Birmingham. Photo credit to

This historic and spiritual event is a holy time. This is from the homily at 6 am Mass this morning, celebrated in the presence of the relics.

During the week, there was a wonderful atmosphere of anticipation as Birmingham awaited the arrival of St Therese. At the beginning of the week, it was suggested that we pray for God's blessing for He has been good to us. Since the relics arrived, over 5 000 pilgrims have passed through the Cathedral. ...

This holy time - this time when we have a saint among us.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Times letters on ... Therese

Under the heading Patience of a Saint, the Times today prints three letters relating to the visit of the relics of St Therese. These follow a piece earlier in the week by Matthew Parris, a piece that can quite politely be described as an anti-relics rant - rant being the only word to describe it. It was quite an interesting experience reading that article on the day it first appeared, and getting the quite distinct feeling that the atheist/secularist was on the back foot, reacting to a Catholic initiative. A good result for the "new evangelisation"!

An interesting point from Sheridan Gilley's letter:
If God became man in Jesus Christ, then the human body is holy, a reason for treating it with reverence in death, as well as for ascribing an enduring holiness to the remains of the saints.
And, from Bill Lea's letter, a point of view that will no doubt be reflected by some Catholics, but I suspect more by non-Catholics undertaking a certain amount of wishful thinking:
There will also be very many deeply committed Roman Catholics who cringe at their faith being associated with this practice.

Therese in Taunton

Taunton, in Devon, is twinned with the town of Lisieux. The Catholic Church in the town is dedicated to St Therese. The small Church appears to have attracted hundreds of visitors during Friday's visit of the relics of the saint. Photo credit to

Friday, 18 September 2009

"Pure Therese" from the writing of Madeleine Delbrel

Catching some of this recently as a daily meditation in Magnificat prompted me to re-read it in the original book (We the Ordinary People of the Streets published by Eerdmans). I was very struck by just how closely it teaches the "little way" of St Therese of Lisieux. Where for Therese herself the doctrine is lived more from the side of "contemplation" (an enclosed convent), for Madeleine Delbrel it is lived more from the side of "action" (in a poverty ridden suburb of Paris); but the proximity of their teaching is striking. Madeleine had a connection to Lisieux, as she was an advisor to the project of the Mission of France and the seminary opened at Lisieux to train worker priests for that Mission. There are many points in this passage at which one might say "that is pure Therese".


We, the ordinary people of the streets, are certain we can love God as much he might desire to be loved by us.

We don't regard love as something extraordinary but as something that consumes. We believe that doing little things for God is as much a way of loving him as doing great deeds. Besides, we're not very well informed about the greatness of our acts. There are nevertheless two things we know for sure: first, whatever we do can't help but be small; and second, what­ever God does is great.

And so we go about our activities with a sense of great peace.

We know that all our work consists in not shifting about under grace; in not choosing what we would do; and that it is God who acts through us.

There is nothing difficult for God; the one who grows anxious at difficulties is the one who counts on his own capacity for action.

Because we find that love is work enough for us, we don't take the time to categorize what we are doing as either "contemplation" or "action."

We find that prayer is action and that action is prayer. It seems to us that truly loving action is filled with light.

It seems to us that a soul standing before such action is like a night that is full of expectation for the coming dawn. And when the light breaks, when God's will is clearly understood, she lives it out gently, with poise, peacefully watching her God inspiring her and at work within her. It seems to us that action is also an imploring prayer. It does not at all seem to us that action nails us down to our field of work, our apostolate, or our life.

Quite the contrary, we believe that an action perfectly carried out at the time and place it is required of us binds us to the whole Church, sends us out throughout her body, making us disposable in her.

Our feet march upon a street, but our heartbeat reverberates through the whole world. That is why our small acts, which we can't decide whether they're actio­n or contemplation, perfectly join together the love of God and the love of our neighbor.

Giving ourselves over to his will at the same time gives us over to the Church, whom the same will continuously makes our saving mother of grace.

Each docile act makes us receive God totally and give God totally, in a great freedom of spirit.

And thus life becomes a celebration.

Each tiny act is an extraordinary event, in which heaven is given to us, in which we are able to give heaven to others.

It makes no difference what we do, whether we take in hand a broom or a pen. Whether we speak or keep silent. Whether we are sewing or holding a meeting, caring for a sick person or tapping away at a typewriter.

Whatever it is, it’s just the outer shell of an amazing inner reality: the soul’s encounter, renewed at each moment, in which, at each moment, the soul grows in grace and becomes ever more beautiful for her God.

Is the doorbell ringing? Quick, open the door! It’s God coming to love us. Is someone asking us to do something? Here you are! … it’s God coming to love us. Is it time to sit down for lunch? Let’s go … it’s God coming to love us.

St Therese: Day 3

This is an extract from the homily preached as St Therese's relics were welcomed to Plymouth Cathedral yesterday:

Yesterday, early afternoon I took a call from a member of the news team at the BBC in London who was very anxious to know what we were doing in Plymouth. He told me they were planning to highlight the visit and perhaps make a permanent record of it. My curiosity couldn’t resist asking him how familiar he was with the story of St Therese to which he replied: “I never heard of her until this morning but with many of my colleagues I am bowled over by her story and the power and clarity of her message”.

“I can see,” he said “why her message is good news and has the power to change lives.”

When I put the phone down I said to myself that’s why St Therese’s relics have been invited to nearly forty countries.

Photo credits:

Thursday, 17 September 2009

St Therese: today's photos

These photographs are still from Portsmouth Cathedral. Credit: From some of the other photographs, it looks as if the Cathedral was pretty much full for an over night vigil.

I wonder how many people today visited Karl Marx's grave in Highgate Cemetery...?

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

St Therese: relics arrive in England

UPDATE: This link will take you to the Guardian's web coverage of the arrival of the relics. The audio link in the report is worth listening to.

I have just placed a link to the blog covering the visit of the relics of St Therese into a blogroll at the right. It looks as if it is going to be updated very regularly, so do visit for the latest news and photographs.

Today's favourite photograph:

But I couldn't resist two more - this appears to be at stop during the drive from Eurotunnel to Portsmouth, but I can't really work out where!

One can't help but feel that these photographs show the "new evangelisation" being lived out.
[Credit for all three photographs:]

Monday, 14 September 2009

St John the Baptist part 3: "chosen to show the world its Redeemer"

Spiritual Reading; Luke 1:68-79 - the canticle of Zechariah, included by the Church in Morning Prayer (Lauds) of the Liturgy of the Hours each day

"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people,
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us;
to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath which he swore to our father Abraham,
to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life.

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins,
through the tender mercy of our God, when the day shall dawn upon us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet intothe way of peace."


The suggestion that John the Baptist was “set apart” and “marked out with a special favour” contains in itself the concept of an individual and specific mission that is entrusted to him. If that mission is in the first instant a mission directed towards the physical flesh of Jesus Christ, it also becomes in turn a mission in the mystical body of Jesus Christ that is the Church. The mission of John the Baptist is representative of a mission that continues in and is, in some measure, constitutive of the Church.

The words of the canticle of Zechariah, the “Benedictus”, used each morning in the Liturgy of the Hours, express this mission of John the Baptist in its ecclesial form.

The words of the first part of the canticle[1] are focussed on God (the Father) and on the salvation that has come to us through his “visiting” of us in the person of the Son. The Baptist’s mission, like that of the Church, has its origin in the Father and the sending of the Son; and it has its purpose in pointing towards the Father through the Son. The mission of evangelisation in the Church, and indeed every aspect of the Church’s life and activity, needs to reflect the transparency towards the Lord that is part of John the Baptist’s charism:

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to
bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light….

He must increase, but I must decrease.[2]
The second part of the canticle[3] directs us towards John the Baptist himself. In so far as it describes the office of the Baptist in announcing the presence of Jesus and his saving work, and in introducing Jesus to others, it describes a mission that in the Church now would be termed that of “evangelisation”. Indeed, it is possible to draw a close parallel between the verses of this second part of the canticle of Zechariah and the way in which the Church understands different stages in the work of evangelisation[4]:

you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways

Christian witness, dialogue and presence in charity

– is urged by charity, impregnating and transforming the whole temporal order, appropriating and renewing all cultures;
– bears witness amongst peoples of the new way of being and living which characterizes Christians;

(to give knowledge of salvation to his people) in the forgiveness of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God

Proclamation of the Gospel and the call to conversion

– proclaims explicitly the Gospel, through "first proclamation", calling to conversion

to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death

Catechumenate and Christian Initiation

– initiates into the faith and the Christian life, by means of "catechesis" and the "sacraments of Christian initiation", those who convert to Jesus Christ or those who take up again the path of following him, incorporating both into the Christian community

to guide our feet into the way of peace

Formation of the Christian communities through and by means of the sacraments and their ministers

– constantly nourishes the gift of communion amongst the faithful by means of continuous education in the faith (homilies and other forms of catechesis), the sacraments and the practice of charity

you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways


– continuously arouses mission, sending all the disciples of Christ to proclaim the Gospel, by word and deed throughout the whole world.

This specific mission of John the Baptist therefore continues in the work of the Church for the evangelisation of the world.

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, `After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me.' I myself did not know him; but for this I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel." And John bore witness, "I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, `He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God." [5]

[1] Lke 1:68-75
[2] Jn 1:6-8, 3:30
[3] Lke 1:76-79
[4] The table that follows compares the verses of the canticle to the presentation of the stages of evangelisation in the General Directory for Catechesis nn.47-48.
[5] Jn 1:29-34

St Therese of Lisieux: media coverage

This page at the website of the Catholic Bishops Conference provides an index of media coverage relating to the visit of the relics of St Therese. It is quite interesting to notice the extent of BBC coverage.

Whilst I have not looked at all of the coverage and so cannot vouch for its quality, I do recommend the following two:
BBC Radio 4 "You and Yours"
St Thérèse of Lisieux: Mgr Keith Barltrop 31 July 09

National Co-ordinator of the relics' visit, Mgr Keith Barltrop, on 'You and Yours'.

You can listen to the full "package", which is both very sympathetically presented and very informative. "You and Yours" is a daily consumer/general interest magazine programme on Radio 4; it is quite unusual for them to cover a religious topic.

'Through the visible to the invisible’ 27 Sept 08 by Mgr Keith Barltrop,

Chairman of the national organising group for the visit of the relics of St Thérèse to England and Wales, wrote an article in The Tablet on the visit.

"Pilgrimage is a big draw for people today, and this is a kind of pilgrimage in reverse, whereby a holy person comes to us rather than we to them. That is why the visit of the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux to England and Wales next year has been conceived as an opportunity to reach out to spiritual seekers of all faiths or none, who may actually be far more open to such things than we realise."

Mgr Keith Baltrop: 'Through the visible to the invisible’ (pdf)

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Adoption: are children commodities to meet the needs of others?

There might well be more to Elton John's suggestion that he would like to adopt a child than has appeared in the media (though the wording of coverage such as this and this seems to suggest that it has been generated by Elton John himself). From a political point of view, one wonders whether what we are actually seeing is an attempt to extend the fashion for "celebrity adoption" into gay adoption.

Elton John's suggestion does raise any number of questions - and one hopes that any attempt by Elton John to go through with an adoption will be subjected to the same examination and safeguards as would apply to others seeking to adopt.

Is an on-the-spot, perhaps emotional, reaction to meeting a child sufficient grounds for a serious wish to adopt that child?

Should a serious attempt to adopt a child - if that is what it proves to be - be announced in the media, thereby creating a momentum that makes it difficult for due scrutiny to be given to the request?

What influence will the fact that Elton John and David Furnish are a high profile same-sex couple have on the outcome of the scrutiny of an attempt to adopt a child? In the present cultural environment, will it create a presumption in favour that would not exist in a similar situation with an opposite sex couple?

And, within the scheme of things in the UK, it is the "best interests of the child" that are meant to be paramount, whereas, assuming that the media quotation of Elton John is accurate, a large part of this seems to be about Elton John meeting his own needs:
[Elton] John said the death of his long-term keyboardist, Guy Babylon, had also helped change his mind.
"Last week I lost one of my best friends ... It broke my heart because he was such a genius and so young and has two wonderful children. What better opportunity to replace someone I lost than to replace him with someone I can give a future to."

Saturday, 12 September 2009

The Venice Film Festival: Lourdes

A little note first on how film festivals work. Apparently there are several hundred different film festivals around the world each year. Some of them are competitive in the sense that films are entered in a competition and then judged to receive awards such as "best film", "best actor" etc. In these cases, the organisers of the festival assemble a jury to judge the films and award what might be termed the "official awards" of the festival. These awards are prestigious for those in the industry, and success in competition can help a producer or company considerably.

As well as designating their official juries, these competitive festivals also welcome a jury from the International Film Press (FIPRESCI) organisation and, in many cases, a jury from SIGNIS, the World Catholic Organisation for Communication. [Aside: at a number of festivals SIGNIS collaborates with representatives of other Christian denominations to provide an "ecumenical jury".]

On the website of the 2009 Venice Film Festival, the "official jury" awards can be found by following the link to "66th Festival: the official awards". The FIPRESCI award and the SIGNIS award can be found by following the link to "66th Festival: collateral awards".

Now, Lourdes did not win any of the "official awards", though one can speculate that it was perhaps a runner up to the film Lebanon which won the Golden Lion as "best film".

Lourdes did much better in the "collateral awards". It received the FIPRESCI "best film Venezia 66" - ie "best film" of those entered into the main official festival competition. And it received the SIGNIS award (Lebanon receiving a "special mention", which is why I speculate that Lourdes was a runner up to it in the official awards). These are probably the most prestigious of the "collateral awards". Lourdes also received two other collateral awards, the details about which I have not been able to find.

I still can't work out whether Lourdes is what you might call a film that is sympathetic to Lourdes, or has perhaps a more critical intent. It does appear to offer a pretty accurate glimpse of the experience of visiting Lourdes - what I have read in different on-line reviews rings true to my own experience of visits to Lourdes. It is due for general release in December, but who knows if a French language film will make it across the channel to the UK?

Another interesting "collateral award" is way down at the bottom of that page: the Gianni Astrei Award. This is a pro-life award awarded, I think, by the Italian Movement for Life. The film Lo spazio bianco won this award - see trailer below (but you need Italian to follow it)! The synopsis from the Venice Film Festival site is as follows:
Maria is waiting for a little girl; she is no longer pregnant but is waiting anyway. She is waiting for her daughter to be born or to die. If there is one thing Maria is unable to do, it is to wait. This is why these three months that she has to face, alone, waiting for her daughter Irene to come out of the incubator, have caught her unawares. Used to relying exclusively on herself and taking all decisions by herself, Maria forces herself into a passive state of apnea, excluding the whole world and imprisoning herself in the white space of waiting. However, this effort at painful isolation consumes the last ounce of strength she has: The bubble of isolation Maria has closed herself in is put to the test and finally explodes. Maria has to save herself if she is to
save the child.

Dear St Therese

[If you are confused by this post, the title is a hyperlink ... click on it to take you to the post at Tigerish Waters.]

Fr Christopher O'Donnell O.Carm: the relevance of St Therese today

On Thursday of this week I was able to hear a lecture by Fr Christopher O'Donnell O.Carm about St Therese of Lisieux. His title on the publicity for the lecture was "The Challenge of St Therese: Thoughts on the visit of her relics to England", but I think it is better to think of it as being about how she is still very relevant in the world of today. The title Fr O'Donnell used on his handout was: "A saint for our world: St Therese of Lisieux and contemporary spirituality".

The most interesting aspect of Fr O'Donnell's lecture was that it took Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical Caritas in Veritate, and suggested that the teaching and charism of St Therese can be seen in the teaching of the encyclical. This is a rather cute idea in itself, but it has an added power in that it establishes a very profound relevance of an enclosed nun whose life was dedicated directly and immediately to union with God to the life of Christians in a world today that is largely characterised by an absence of belief in God. As Fr O'Donnell expressed it, where Caritas in Veritate urges the necessity of a spirituality in the response to the economic and social problems of our time, St Therese provides an example of a person whose whole life could be defined as spirituality. [Aside: the use of a terminology of "spirituality" was not, I suspect, entirely felicitous. Pope Benedict does, I think, refer to the need for an acknowledgement of God and of the eternal destiny of man in the search for the solutions to the problems of the world today.]

One can perhaps point out two aspects of St Therese teaching that are apparent in Caritas in Veritate. Fr O'Donnell briefly referred to the word "truth" in St Therese's writing, saying that is is not very frequent but that its occurrences are very significant. Just hours before her death, for example, Therese said: "Yes it seems to me I never sought anything but the truth". Jean Guitton also identifies truth, "a sense of reality", as one of seven key terms needed to understand the spiritual genius of St Therese.

Another aspect can be recognised in the term "gratuitousness" as it is used by Pope Benedict in Caritas et Veritate. In his talk, Fr O'Donnell did, I think, use the term "spirituality" as a kind of short hand to cover this, so it was not perhaps as explicit as I am now about to make it. Particularly in discussing different economic entities, Pope Benedict urges that the role of "gratuitousness" and "solidarity":
When both the logic of the market and the logic of the State come to an agreement that each will continue to exercise a monopoly over its respective area of influence, in the long term much is lost: solidarity in relations between citizens, participation and adherence, actions of gratuitousness, all of which stand in contrast with giving in order to acquire (the logic of exchange) and giving through duty (the logic of public obligation, imposed by State law). In order to defeat underdevelopment, action is required not only on improving exchange-based transactions and implanting public welfare structures, but above all on gradually increasing openness, in a world context, to forms of economic activity marked by quotas of gratuitousness and communion. The exclusively binary model of market-plus-State is corrosive of society, while economic forms based on solidarity, which find their natural home in civil society without being restricted to it, build up society. The market of gratuitousness does not exist, and attitudes of gratuitousness cannot be established by law. Yet both the market and politics need individuals who are open to reciprocal gift.

Interestingly, this urging of the place of love can also be found in Pope Benedict's first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (n.28 ff), where the context is that of love as agape, as commitment to the good of the other, lived out by the Christian who has first received love from the Incarnate Word.

A major element of St Therese's teaching is that of her confidence in the merciful love of God. When she makes an offering of herself to God it is not an offering to His Justice or punishment of some form; instead she asks to be a burnt offering immolated by His Merciful Love. She can have a complete confidence in the merciful love of God because she recognises its gratuitousness, the fact that it is given first and that we are then called to live it out in our acts of love. This recognition of its gratuitousness also removes the pressure on us to undertake great acts of love - little acts are sufficient because of the greatness of the love that God has first had for us. And so we arrive at a "little way" towards God.

So, taking my cue from Fr O'Donnell, I would argue that there is a complete affinity between the gratuitousness that Pope Benedict sees in the freely given love that God first has for us (Deus Caritas Est) and in the love=gratuitousness that needs to have its place in public and economic life today (Caritas in Veritate) and the confidence that we can have in the merciful love of God for us and our living of that love in the small acts of the "little way" (St Therese).

Therese, a hidden contemplative, teaches a doctrine utterly relevant to a contemporary life lived in the world.

The Tablet argues for the relevance of St Therese

Joanna Moorhead's article in the Tablet has attracted comment here and, less charitably, here (though to be fair to both bloggers there is a link to the Tablet so that you can read the full article: The real Therese).

Now the "house style" for the Tablet does make for very frustrating reading. It seems to be compulsory to write with a sense of superiority, an appearance of sophistication and intellectual stature that, when you get to the end of the last paragraph, leaves you wondering what the writer has actually said of substance. Have they said X (quote from paragraph 2 or 3 says it) or have they said Y (which a quote from paragraph 7 or 8 says they said, but which seems to be at odds with X)? Or have they just done some deliberate playing of one person off against another?

It is a style of writing that lends itself to other commenters headlining one sentence, and giving the impression that that one sentence expresses the whole of the article. Particularly if the Tablet is being seen as a target at which stones must regularly be thrown.

There are some questions of accuracy about Joanna's article. What she says about the attitude of previous Archbishop's of Westminster with regard to a visit of the relics of St Therese might well be largely speculation; as saints go, "long dead" is not the best descriptor to apply to St Therese as she is, relatively speaking for saints, recently dead; and, from what I can see of the preparations for the visit, there is an expectation of a very significant manifestation of Catholic faith during the coming month.

But, to play the game of taking sentences from the article to make a point, let me offer these two:

Behind the myths about her lies an impressive woman who still resonates with the contemporary age.

Strip away the hagiography, and against the odds there’s someone surprisingly real, and surprisingly relevant, lurking underneath.

See my post here to gain some idea of the relevance of Therese today.

Pope Benedict XVI stresses religious dimension of ecology

ZENIT report the meeting of Pope Benedict with sponsors of the Holy See's pavilion at an international exposition on "Water and Sustainable Development", held in Spain last year.
"The truth is that when God, through creation, gave man the keys to the earth, he wanted him to use this great gift responsibly and respectfully, making it fruitful."

"The human being discovers the intrinsic value of nature if he learns to see it for what it really is, the expression of a plan of love and truth that speaks to us of the Creator and of his love for humanity, which will find its fulfillment in Christ, at the end of time," the Pontiff affirmed.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Venice Film Festival: Lourdes

A short piece in the arts pages of The Times today has put me on to the film Lourdes, featuring at the Venice Film Festival:

Best-received film
Lourdes has met with universal support and deservedly so - the film is exquisite, blending a sardonic humour with compassionate humanism. Sylvie Testud is outstanding as the wheelchair-bound MS sufferer who regains the use of her limbs after a pilgrimage.

The Times also reports that "The strongest contender for the top prize however is Jessica Hausner's brilliant Lourdes." The film is in French.

Here are some links to presentations and reviews of the film:

In Italian: (includes brief interview with Jessica Hausner, the film's producer).
In English:,

From reading these presentations and reviews, it appears that one can read the film in different ways, perhaps depending on the point of view from which you come to it.

An opportunity to view the film in London is provided by the London Film Festival, where it will be shown on 17th and 20th October. I think it is also featuring at the Toronto Film Festival.

There is at present a paucity of material about the film on the web - but that might change should the film be awarded the top prize on Saturday evening!

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Tony Blair in Rimini: what is "Faith"?

In his address to the 30th Rimini meeting, Tony Blair speaks of "faith" in a way that has now become customary in public discourse but which has a certain novelty when compared to the way in which the word is used in religious discourse: "Faith", "people of Faith", "the world of Faith", "Faith communities". Interestingly, there is a passage in Tony Blair's address which removes a possible indifferentist understanding of this term (though one could ask whether it treats the different Christian denominations indifferently):
In my foundation - dedicated to respect and understanding between the religious Faiths - I always say clearly: I am and remain a Christian, seeking salvation thru our Lord, Jesus Christ. Globalisation may push people of different Faiths together. But it does not mean we all become of one, lowest common denominator, belief. We are together but retain our distinctive Faith. We respect each other. We are not the same as each other. However, we work together.

The use of the term "Faith" in this sort of way has a certain ambivalence. By the word "Faith" do we refer to the act of believing in certain things, generally seen as religious? Or are we referring to a body of belief, referring therefore to what it is that is believed? In the first of these, the use of the word is essentially undifferentiated in referring to people of widely differing religious beliefs, or indeed, to people whose beliefs might be loosely spiritual but in essence not religious at all. In the second case, the use of the word is still often undifferentiated - but it should not be so. Clearly the different religions have beliefs that differ greatly, so to refer to them under the one word heading "Faith" is to suggest an identity of content that is not fair to the religions themselves. It is to treat religions as a secular phenomenon (a secularist is not going to recognise differences between religious beliefs as being of importance, but simply to put them together as different manifestations of the same phenomenon); and to be fair to religions they need to be treated as religious phenomena. There needs to be an explicit recognition of their supernatural character.

To return to the first of these ways of using the word "Faith", the undifferentiated use may not even be justified here. It is not the case that "Faith" seen as the act of believing is understood in the same way by different religions - the difference in the what is believed has a reflexive kind of effect on the act of believing itself, and how that act is understood.

According to the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church we can understand both faith as an act of believing (n.28) and faith as referring to what it is that is believed (n.32) - my emphasis added:
28. What are the characteristics of faith?
Faith is the supernatural virtue which is necessary for salvation. It is a free gift of God and is accessible to all who humbly seek it. The act of faith is a human act, that
is, an act of the intellect of a person - prompted by the will moved by God - who freely assents to divine truth.
Faith is also certain because it is founded on the Word of God; it works “through charity” (Galatians 5:6); and it continually grows through listening to the Word of God and through prayer. It is, even now, a foretaste of the joys of heaven.

32. In what way is the faith of the Church one faith alone?
The Church, although made up of persons who have diverse languages, cultures, and rites, nonetheless professes with a united voice the one faith that was received from
the one Lord and that was passed on by the one Apostolic Tradition. She confesses one God alone, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and points to one way of salvation. Therefore we believe with one heart and one soul all that is contained in the Word of God, handed down or written, and which is proposed by the Church as divinely revealed.

There is a certain contradiction between Tony Blair's assertion of his Christian faith, as cited above, particularly if we imply that as referring to Roman Catholic belief, and his continued use of the term "Faith" in an undifferentiated way. There are also curious references in his address to "our Faith" and "our Church", into which it might be possible to read to much, but which would not be out of place in a secularised understanding of religious believing.

Towards the end of his address, Tony Blair offers what might be seen as his definition of what faith is. He refers to the role of Faith as representing God's Truth to the world, "Faith as the salvation of the human condition ... Faith as purpose in life. Faith, not as a mystery we seek to solve; but Faith as a mystery which expresses the limitations of the human mind". One can see something of the Compendium's description of faith as a full surrender of ourselves to God (n.25), but again, perhaps not. And Tony Blair's appeal for the voice of the Church to be heard in the world contains a persisting sense of the ambivalence of the usage of the word "Faith":
That is why the voice of the Church should be heard. That is why it should speak confidently, clearly and openly. Because within any nation and beyond it, in the community of nations, the voice of Faith needs to be and must be heard.