Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Further to my earlier posts ....

ZENIT have carried two reports about the response from Anglicans to the announcement of the forthcoming Apostolic Constitution. The response of the primate of the Traditional Anglican Communion is perhaps of most significance, indicating I think a much deeper consideration of what is intended by the idea of an Anglican ordinariate than responses from members of organisations like Forward in Faith. In particular, its references to a petition of two years ago, and to the reaction of the Archbishop of Canterbury, suggest to me (correction, if necessary, in the comment box please) that this is more the intended direction of the Vatican's generosity than any other.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

The Anglican tradosphere - and the question of celibacy

I am sometimes inclined to describe to those Catholic blogs that to a greater or lesser extent promote the extraordinary form of the Liturgy as being the "tradosphere". I have just stumbled across what might loosely be considered its equivalent for the Church of England.

This is where I began: Musings of a City Priest. The references in this post to "continued reception" of the news of the Apostolic Constitution set me to pondering the use of the same phrase with regard to matters of doctrine and not just of discipline. Is there any real sense of accepting an idea of a Magisterium with an authority to teach?

From where I went to Richborough: Ancient Richborough. I link to this particular post - because, despite its claim to Anglo-Catholic credentials, it is totally and utterly Anglican. It is also quite inadequate in its omission of separation from the See of Rome as being part of the historical origins of the C of E. And it is to totally misunderstand the implications of the new movements in the Roman Catholic Church for a renewed witness to the life of the evangelical counsels. The post And pigs might ... is equally thorough in its Anglicanism. One could be forgiven for taking it as reading the provisions of the forthcoming Apostolic Constitution as being a mere version in the Roman Catholic Church of what they rather hope they could have within the C of E; and that they will avail of it if the C of E don't play ball.

Fr Hunwicke is, I believe, notorious in the Anglican tradosphere. If this is anything to go by, I am not at all sure that he has really got what an Anglican ordinariate is likely to be about:
I regard as significantly positive the willingness of Rome to allow married Anglican bishops to continue to exercise episkope in the guise of prebyteral Ordinaries. The Holy Father, as in the matter of Summorum Pontificum, has not just given the minimum.

St Peter's London Docks interested me because this particular post seemed to be struggling to identify a specifically Anglican patrimony that could be taken over into an ordinariate. The Church building might well be a patrimony of a sort, but it can hardly be the essence of such a patrimony; and the prayer and devotion can surely be transferred to a new building.

The point I particularly notice: married clergy being seen as part of the Anglican patrimony that will be accomodated in an ordinariate. I think my concerns already expressed about the witness to celibacy which, though a discipline of the Church rather than a doctrinal requirement, is nevertheless part of the nature of the Church's witness to Christ, appear quite justified.

Missionary training base up for sale

A landmark seven-acre property in London which  once housed foreign missionaries has been put up for sale for £25m.

St Joseph's College in Mill Hill, north London, is being marketed by Knight Frank on behalf of its owners, a private consortium, and is expected to generate significant investor interest.

The building, built in the 1860s and a training base for missionaries until 2005, has planning permission to be converted into a five-star retirement development. Emma Cleugh at Knight Frank said it was an "incredibly rare" site.

from the Business pages of today's Daily Telegraph. The St Joseph's Missionary Society sold, and moved out of, the property at the end of 2006. The developers who bought the site off them have now put it on the market again.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Christians should wear crosses - and Lourdes Magazine October-November 2009

The Anglican Bishop of Litchfield, Rt Rev Jonathon Gledhill, has called on Christians to wear crosses, or the fish symbol, to demonstrate their faith in the public arena. He particularly encouraged them to do so during the period leading up to Christmas. The BBC report here, and that from Christian Today here.

By a happy coincidence, the October-November issue of Lourdes Magazine arrived today. It has as its theme and cover story: "Learn to make the Sign of the Corss with Bernadette". This is to be the theme for the pilgrimages of 2010, and the magazine has dedicated this particular issue to the theme with the idea that it can be used to prepare for next year's pilgrimages. At the date of posting, there is nothing about the 2010 theme on the Lourdes website, but I expect that something will appear sooner or later.

In his editorial, Francois Vayne writes:
It seems to me intuitively that when we make this Sign, it is as if the shadow of the Cross covers us in the same way as it covered Mary at the instant the Crucified Christ gave up His Spirit. This fruitful shadow, that of the Spirit, associates us with the compassion of Mary, Mother of the new humanity.
A meditation entitled "You belong to Christ" echoes the words of the Bishop of Lichfield ("The mark of a real Christian community is not so much the lapel badges and crosses we wear as the spontaneous, generous and practical love we show to the world") , that the cross should be more to us than just a badge. Yes, it is a badge or a sign that we wear and express; but it is a badge and sign of a deeper reality.
The cross is not a badge. May it become more than a symbol for you: you are a Christian, you belong to Christ. Let the Cross dominate you life. It shows the descent as much as the ascent - the ascent which is effected in the same measure as the descent is extended downwards. It seems to want to say to you: don't look up so much, where you are seeking to flee. Come down, come down, become more silent, more docile, do not recoil in the face of suffering, ridicule, humiliation; a hand is holding you at the other end, and hoisting you up, without you even knowing it.
In an article intended to help parents pray the Sign of the Cross with their children, we find the following as a caption to one of the illustrations:
I am a child of God. When I make the Sign of the Cross, I trace over me the Cross of Jesus, the Saviour. When I touch my forehead, my heart and my shoulders, it is He who marks me with His Love.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

From the Newsletter

In this particular parish (not my own), the tabernacle is placed in the back wall of a side chapel, below a stained glass window depicting Eucharistic imagery. The tabernacle itself is a very worthy piece of work, the doors being very secure, prominent and decorated with Eucharistic imagery. Because there is no altar in this side chapel, the people can approach the tabernacle itself. The flooring of the chapel is, again, made of worthy materials. One might have asked for a tabernacle veil, but I do find the arrangement of the chapel a good one.
TABERNACLE: A custom has sprung up of touching or kissing the doors of the Tabernacle. Please do not do that because it is lacquered brass and such contact with the doors will blacken them. The makers recommend only cleaning with a very soft duster once a week.
Recalling Pope Benedict's catechesis on adoration ("ad oratio", to the mouth, an embrace or kiss), I would have a lot of sympathy for the piety shown in this action of touching or kissing the tabernacle. The arrangement of this chapel allows it, and there must be very few churches where it is possible. I can't help but feel that some way can be found of repairing any damage to the tabernacle without needing to discourage this practice, presumably by a relatively small number of people.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Anglican Ordinariate ... or Catholic "flying bishops"?

I haven't really known what to make of the announcement earlier this week of a forthcoming Apostolic Constitution to allow for "ordinariates" for Anglican converts. In some ways, we cannot be sure of the full implications until we see the details of the Apostolic Constitution itself.

The fullest explanation of the juridical implications as they have emerged so far is, I think, this one. From a canon lawyer, of course. It is an interesting exemplification of the idea that Canon Law is "applied ecclesiology"! Fr Boyle's post also includes links to some of the other coverage on the blogs. There is also some useful comment at Valle Adurni, particularly among the numbered points towards the end of his post.

My own thoughts:

1. I recall a lunch time conversation once with an Anglican priest, who expressed the feeling that he felt very unwelcomed by the Catholic Church's discipline that did not allow non-Catholics to receive Holy Communion if they attended Mass. This contrasts with the Anglican rule which is that, provided you are in good standing with your own denomination, you can recieve at an Anglican service. Taking the opportunity of a mouthful of food to think on my feet, I responded along the lines that, for the Roman Catholic, communion is not just social but about what is believed to be true and right (and, I would want to add with the benefit of hindsight, about a physically visible communion with the Bishop-in-communion-with-the Holy See). The problem with the C of E is that talking to one part of it is not talking to the whole, so the idea of "communion" as in "the Anglican communion" is at root a social idea - no other underpinning idea of "communion" can be held across all its different parts.

2. Another conversation I had some time ago with a convert to Catholicism from Anglicanism painted a picture of ideas of "corporate" moves to Rome along the following lines. "Are you going to join?" "No." "Oh, well, I won't then". Or, in reverse: "If you join, I will. Shall we ask Sheila (name made up!) if she is going to join as well?" It was a rather jolly picture of tea and cake in the parish hall; again, rather more to do with the social than with religious conviction. So I ended up not at all convinced by the possibilities of whole Anglican parishes converting and retaining their parish identities in the Roman Catholic Church.

3. Again, some time ago I visited a "high Church" Anglican parish - and, almost physically, felt a sense of "acting" like Rome, but, at heart, remaining totally and utterly Anglican in spirit. It's the very idea that the same Church can contain completely contradictory beliefs with regard to teaching and morals and consider that normal. The "high Church Anglican" / "Anglo-Catholic" is in this sense as thoroughly Anglican as the "broad Church" / "low Church" Anglican.

I know this doesn't sound very welcoming to Anglicans who are looking to make use of the new possibilities created by Anglican Ordinariates. And I know it does not fairly represent those Anglicans who genuinely search for truth, and are more and more coming to see that truth of Christian revelation in the Roman Catholic Church. But I think it does lead me to two conclusions:

4. The process of establishing an Ordinariate is, if I understand it correctly, to be undertaken by the Roman Catholic Church - the Holy See in consultation with the relevant Bishops Conferences. I have not understood it to mean that organisations such as the Traditional Anglican Communion (though they may have more claim to the possibility than other organisations), Forward in Faith or individual Anglican parishes will, in themselves, become Ordinariates. This retains the sense of conversion that I feel is still necessary. An Anglican movement that becomes Roman Catholic, but remains Anglican in spirit in the sense outlined above, will sooner or later evaporate.

5. The Apostolic Constitution allows the possibility of the establishing of Anglican Ordinariates. I still think there needs to be a process of discernment as particular Anglican organisations approach the Roman Catholic Church. In some cases, I would expect that the establishing of an Ordinariate or affiliation to an Ordinariate will not be appropriate; but, where there is a stronger sense of a corporate identity that is theological/spiritual among those approaching the Roman Catholic Church, then the establishing of an Ordinariate becomes more appopriate.

Two postscripts:

6. I think the potential for the ordination as Roman Catholic priests of significant numbers of married ex-Anglican clergy raises a real question about the witness of the Roman Rite Church to the value of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom. The testimony of the new movements, rather than being one of reducing the witness to the evangelical counsels, is one of increasing such witness. I think there should be some genuine discernment of priestly vocations, rather than an assumption that a vocation as an Anglican priest is automatically read as being a sign of a vocation to be a Catholic priest; and marital status should be considered here, as it would be for someone who is already a Roman Catholic. This is not to say that I feel married ex-Anglican clergy should not be ordained; but it is to say that I feel some consideration of the witness to the evangelical counsel of virginity needs to be undertaken.

7. Amid the wide ranging comments suggesting that Pope Benedict XVI can be seen as the "Pope of Christian unity" [see here, and here - and see my A Comment on Unity as a complement to these comments - remember, you saw it first on Catholic Commentary!], it is interesting to look at how the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is seeing his role as Primate with regard to the Anglican Communion as a whole. For some time now, and over a range of issues that, frankly, divide the Communion - particularly the ordination of women as priests and bishops, and the disputes surrounding the Anglican communions stance with regard to homosexuality - Archbishop Rowan Williams seems to me to have desperately tried to keep the Communion together. He has tried to keep it together in a very Anglican way - a unity at a social level, a being in "communion" that does not reach much more deeply than the social suggested at point 1, and then at points 2 and 3 above, and which leaves aside divisions in religious belief and morals, and finds almost any kind of construction to avoid a visible split. It has interested me that he seems to see his role as being one of a "ministry of unity" for the Anglican communion, yes in a very Anglican sense, but a ministry of unity nonetheless.

Which brings me back to the title of this post. I think that Fr Boyle's post does make clear that the Anglican Ordinariate will be something quite different than the "oversight", "pastoral care" provision for those unhappy with the ordination of women made by "flying bishops" in the Church of England (though the note from the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith does use this terminology in its second paragraph, in my view, not very helpfully). It is precisely this discernment that needs to be clear, both for those seeking to become Roman Catholics in an Anglican Ordinariate and those on the Roman Catholic side who are establishing the Ordinariate. I suspect the move will not be quite the rush that some of the media coverage of the last few days suggests.

Care of souls ... or of the parish car park?

From the web site of Brentwood Diocese:
Brentwood Diocesan Pastoral Council Plenary Meetings are usually held twice a year. The next one is scheduled for 7. November, 2009.

These meetings discuss diocesan events and support deaneries and parishes. There is also an update from the Bishop. Invitations go to a representative from each parish and deanery. Interested priests and members of various diocesan groups also attend. Those likely to be interested in the topics to be discussed and people involved in various aspects of diocesan life may also be invited.

Plans for November’s plenary meeting include looking at an update on the Pastoral Support Team’s survey of linked parishes and the proposed rationalization of mass times. In addition to his usual “Points from the Bishop”, Bishop Thomas will also be holding a Question and Answer Session for everyone. It is important that your parish is represented at the plenary to maintain two-way communication so make sure your parish has a representative.

..."proposed rationalization of Mass times" ... : presumably a proposal is ready to be put to the Pastoral Council Plenary Meeting. But what principles will underpin the proposal?

Will it be a consideration of the care of souls? Will the proposal include assessments of the likely impact on the lay faithful's attendance at Sunday Mass of the proposed changes? Cut out one Sunday Mass = overcrowd the Church at the other Sunday Masses = at least some who will no longer attend Mass on a Sunday. Make it harder to get to Mass, and some will stop going who otherwise would keep going. One can respond that this represents poor motivation on the part of the now non-attending faithful, and there is some truth in that. But why shouldn't there be an element of outreach and effort for them? Why should it be made harder than is really necessary?

Or perhaps the Church is already overcrowded on a Sunday. Ah, we need to extend the Church .... Oh, we can't afford it. Why can't we have an extra Sunday Mass instead? Canon Law does allow the Bishop to permit a priest to celebrate a third Mass on a Sunday in the case of pastoral need, after all? Oh, but we are short of priests and can't exhaust them. [Aside: well, if they "say the black and do the red", I'm sorry, celebrating Mass is a lot easier than all the stress of ad libs, contrived introductions that force the readings into the penitential rite, and all the other elements of "performance" that can be prevalent amongst precisely those priests who are most worried about this.]

Perhaps a re-orientation in the priorities of the priest is required. As I heard it expressed a month or two ago, clearly with a reference to a situation in one particular parish, but with I suspect a completely analagous application in other parishes and at diocesan level:

Surely the priest should be worrying about the care of souls, not about the parish car park.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Jessica Hausner's Lourdes

UPDATE: See Thinking Faith's review of this film. I suspect that, when he refers to the "coldness" of the film towards the end of the review, Fr Hanvey has not taken a full account of the "stylised" / "choreagraphed" form of the film. He instead suggests a "discreet nihilism" - which is perhaps a fair interpretation of Jessica Hausner's premise of separating character from activity. Since writing my own review, I have reflected that, in leaving aside the warmth of the friendships that are typical of a visit to Lourdes, there is an unintended mis-representation of the phenomenon of Lourdes. See my last paragraphs below.

I posted about this film when it was premiered at the Venice Film Festival earlier this year; on Saturday, Zero and I went to see its UK premiere (sounds very grand!). It was being screened twice in London as part of the London Film Festival. It can be described as a minority interest film in three senses - it is what one would call an "art house" production, it is a French language film rather than English, and it has a title that suggests a religious theme. For all that, the NFT1 cinema at the British Film Institute was pretty much full for a 9 pm screening on a Saturday night.

The film won the FIPRESCI prize (awarded by a jury of film journalists) at the Venice Film Festival, and has since won the grand prize at the Warsaw Film Festival (and here). An interview with the producer, Jessica Hausner, can be found at the site of the Austrian Film Commission, and is worth reading before you continue to read my comments below.

It is a quite enjoyable film to see and does, in my view, represent a genuine encounter of the producer with the phenomenon of Lourdes. The film's credits suggest a considerable collaboration with the Shrine, and scenes are shot in Lourdes itself. That having been said, I think it would be wrong to view it as being a religious film or as being a film about Lourdes as a religious phenomenon - see the interview with Jessica Hausner to see what I am getting at here. Nevertheless, that a producer such as Jessica Hausner is willing to engage with Lourdes is something that I find quite fascinating.

One thing that has to be appreciated about this film is that its artistic style is one of being very "stylised" (my own word for it) or of being characterised by a certain "choreography and geometry" (the words of the interviewer, endorsed explicitly by Jessica Hausner). This means that its characterisations are intended to be, and need to be seen as, representative rather than literal. As you watch some scenes in the film, this creates a difficulty in understanding the meaning of the actions and words of the characters, and you end up not quite sure what to make of them. The portrayal of the priest accompanying the pilgrimage, for example, seems rather distant, unwelcoming and perhaps hostile until you see it in a stylised way. This whole stylised nature is stated explicitly (in visual form, of course) in the opening title sequence, which shows the laying out of the tables in the pilgrims hostel for their first meal, and then the arrival of the pilgrims, almost as if it were a dance. Another word that Jessica Hausner uses to describe her intentions for the film is that Lourdes is to be seen as a setting for a parable, in the sense in which parables occur in the Bible, but a parable for a theme that is not in itself Christian.

So let me review the film by answering three questions.

1. Does the film give an accurate portrayal of what a pilgrimage to Lourdes is like?

In some ways, yes. A pilgrimage to Lourdes, particularly if you go with a diocesan or pilgrimage organisation does have its own choreography. The meal times with announcements by the group leader, the gathering in the entrance to the hotel before forming up to proceed to the Shrine for the next event, the coach trip out of town, the last night party, the visit to the Baths, the afternoon Adoration, the Stations of the Cross, opportunity for Confession. All these are portrayed in the film. However, what is not shown is the warmth of personal friendship between helpers and the sick, and between fellow pilgrims - these are hidden by the "choreography", which uses these relationships to represent other aspects of the film. The visits to the Baths, for example, do not show the warmth of care and the degree of communication that actually occurs between the sick person and the helpers; it does have its element of ritual, but the film removes any sense of the more personal element which, when I had an opportunity to work in the Baths for one day during a stage with Hospitality, moved me in a way that I can still remember vividly several years later. Some details are shown with a keen accuracy - the way in which Christine is lifted from her wheel chair into bed early in the film reminded me of how I was taught to lift a person from a wheel chair on my first stage with the Hospitality. Someone who is not familiar with visiting Lourdes could leave at the end of the film with a wrong impression in this regard, thinking that Lourdes is a rather impersonal place - but remember that the producer was quite familiar with visiting Lourdes (see the interview) so one should not read into this hostility on the part of the producer.

There are some occasional points where the film steps out of its choreography to become more literal. One of these is the conversation between Christine and two fellow pilgrims on the coach on the afternoon trip out, where Christine talks about the difference her cure has made to her - she feels she has a future now. This was the only point at which I can recall the film showing something of the types of conversations and interest between pilgrims that I know from my own visits to Lourdes.

2. What is the theme that the film is trying to communicate?

The underlying themes are those of hope and of happiness, perhaps to be seen philosophically rather than just socially. So, after her cure, Christine will talk about feeling that she has a future, a meaning to her life, that she did not have before. The French phrase for this - "un sens de vie" - combines in an economic use of just four words the implications of meaning, of direction along a road, and of purpose. In the final scene at the end of pilgrimage party, after Christine has been able to dance with the male helper she has poached from the young girl who had been Christine's own assigned helper before her cure; after she has been left by him after falling over; after first refusing her wheel chair as she no longer needs it; and then, as she sits again in the wheel chair, still smiling; the song being sung is one about happiness. The film then immediately ends, going to a black screen for the closing credits, leaving us to wonder whether or not Christine's cure is permanent, or whether the real message of the film is the hope that her cure engenders and which we are led to believe will still be there even if she does have to return to her wheel chair. The iconic image of this happiness is that of Christine shown in a cafe, on her own, eating an ice cream without help - none of which she could have done before her cure.

I think it would be Jessica Hausner's view that, in the film, Lourdes is to be understood as a parable of this theme of hope and happiness, of the sudden and unforeseen event that can change one's life forever. The scene in the film that I found most sad was one where Christine is describing to the priest how here cure happened; first of all she found she could move her arms during a second visit to the grotto and lifted her hands to touch the rock; and the next morning, she found she could get out of bed and dress herself on her own. As Christine describes this, she has stepped out of the choreography and is quite real and natural about it. However, the priest interrupts her account to ask about how she has changed interiorly, inside. Christine is stopped in her tracks as she doesn't really know what the priest is talking about, and this is not something that features in her experience. It seemed sad to me that the priest appeared incapable of recognising that there was possible a hope and happiness, at just the human level, which, yes, is a sign of something of grace, of God, for the person of religious faith, but which, for the person who does not have that faith, can be enjoyed and lived at the level of the human - and which for Christine was destroyed through the forced articulation of it in religious terms.

Linked to this is another theme that is articulated at several points in the film. This is the apparent arbitrariness of who it is who is sick and who it is that is healthy - see Christine's confession where she says she is jealous of those who are not sick and cannot understand why it is she who is sick, and is angry about this. Or the recognition, at several points in the film, that the same apparent arbitrariness applies in the choice of who it is that is cured, a much more worthy example in the pilgrimage not being cured.

3. What is wrong with the fundamental premise of the film?

I think there is something wrong with the premise with which the producer has approached the film; but I do not think that Jessica Hausner has mis-represented Lourdes. The idea of approaching Lourdes from a non-religious perspective and seeing it as a parable for hope and happiness occurring as a result of the unexpected and unforeseen in every day life - what, in the parable, is the miraculous cure - represents in my view a genuine dialogue with the phenomenon of Lourdes. I think it is valuable to see this dialogue present in the realm of non-religious culture. It is a quite fascinating inversion, turning through 180 degrees, of the usual way of understanding a parable - the religious is used as a parable for the non-religious, rather than the other way round. Jessica Hausner, in her interview, identifies this as the "ironic" in the conception of the film.

Two passages from the interview with Jessica Hausner bring out what I think is wrong with her premise in making the film, and which I think needs to be overcome in the portrayal of human character in the film:
The film grammar consists of long, highly precise shots, many of them static. Basically two words come to my mind for the way in which the images are composed: choreography and geometry. Jessica Hausner: Yes, I see it exactly the same way. That’s because I always see the characters in contrast to their task, their obligation. I have a strong sense of these characters like in a game of chess, what’s their role in this process? .....

Apart from the philosophical themes of happiness and hope, Lourdes also involves the social aspect, in the sense of “What role do I play in society? Where can I find my place and the recognition that goes with it? What do I have to do for that?”

In the Christian point of view, and with Jesus Christ himself as the archetypal model, it is the identity of the character and the task, identity of the person and the mission - not a contrast between character and task - that gives meaning, purpose and direction and fulfilment to life. In the Christian point of view, the "stylising" and "choreography" of the film represents a false premise from the start.

PS. Apart from the high brow - the film does have some very funny moments, and the rather ordinary delight of Christine succeeding in taking another girl's boyfriend from her, in some ways a thread that runs throughout the film and on which many of the other considerations of the film hang.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

A Comment on Unity

Fr Tim has an interesting post about the funeral of Bishop James Lin Xili of Wenzhou in China, with a link to the news agency report on which his post is based. The last paragraph of Fr Tim's post is the following:
Another thought which struck me was the fine example of tolerance and co-operation shown by the Chinese Catholics in such difficult and highly-charged circumstances. With our relatively easy civic freedom, perhaps we could see this as a model for co-operation with the Society of St Pius X? Please don't misunderstand me: I know that the comparison is not exact and I am certainly not suggesting that either side is the equivalent of a "patriotic Church" but if the Catholics in China can work together despite such important and emotive differences, should it be so hard for us to do so?

I originally wrote the following as a comment to Fr Tim's post, and then realised it was a bit long for a comment, so am posting it as a new post and expanding it. Read Fr Tim's full post first

Fr Tim:

The suggestion of a certain parallel between the conversation with the Society of St Pius X and the situation of the Catholic Church in China ("underground" and "patriotic") is, I think, closer than you suggest if we look at it as an exercise of the "ministry of unity" of the Successor Peter.

I came rather late to reading Pope Benedict's Letter to Chinese Catholics, but there seemed to me to be a striking similarity between the principle underlying that initiative and the principle underlying the initiative towards the Society of St Pius X (and, therefore indirectly, the initiative of Summorum Pontificum - and, in my view, this consideration of unity is at least as important as Liturgical ones, if not more so, to understanding Summorum Pontificum).

As I read the Letter to Chinese Catholics (and an associated Q+A released, I think, to counter distortion of the original Letter by the Chinese authorities), I was struck by its concern with regard to the unity of the Church and the vital necessity of the communion of the Bishop with the Successor of Peter to assure that unity, so much so that I read that concern as being the most important theological principle underlying the Letter.

In both the Chinese and St Pius X contexts, I think we can see Pope Benedict doing everything that he can to try and restore that unity based on the communion of the Bishop with the Holy See where it has suffered injury - fundamentally the same enterprise undertaken in two very different historical/political contexts. In the one context, the Letter to Chinese Catholics encourages communion between the "underground" and "patriotic" churches, in exactly the way described in Fr Tim's post and achieved in such a profound way at the funeral liturgy of a Bishop, so that communion between their Bishops can grow; and in the other the Liturgical intitative of Summorum Pontificum is about encouraging increasing communion between those attached to "ordinary" and "extraordinary" forms to help bring about communion of the Bishops (and religious superiors/communities) concerned. This is why I consider the agenda of "mutual enrichment" of Pope Benedict's letter accompanying Summorum Pontificum to be so important, as it represents the aspect of building of ecclesial communion. Sadly, it is the aspect of the initiative of Summorum Pontificum that has been almost totally neglected.

I think the example of communion between underground and patriotic Catholics at the funeral of Bishop James Lin Xili is a very striking and profound witness to the unity of the Church that Pope Benedict seeks to encourage, and Fr Tim is quite right to point it out as a model for the dialogue with the Society of St Pius X.

PS: The tangible concern for the unity of the Church that I am suggesting here has, I think, a distinctly Patristic feel to it; we in the West have perhaps lost sight of it since the Reformation in a concern for the truth of the content of the faith (not that the two are contradictory, but rather go together). It also prompts a rather interesting reflection on the nature and definition of ecumenical activity - I recall there being comment at the time of the lifting of the excommunications of the Bishops of the Society of St Pius X that it was fortuitious that that action coincided with the octave of prayer for Christian unity.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

A Year for Priests or a year to pray for vocations?

I had reason to visit St Therese again yesterday evening - driving Zero up to Westminster Cathedral. We arrived in time to catch the ending of the opening Liturgy of the night vigil being held for the Year for Priests. In his homily, Bishop Longley spoke mostly about what we might learn from Therese about response to vocations.
Each one of us will bring our own particular petitions to be united to the intercessory prayer of St Thérèse. But together let us ask her to strengthen the resolve of those who are contemplating a call to priesthood at this time and to inspire all our Seminarians to follow their calling, faithfully obedient to the voice of Christ. Let us pray for any of our brothers in the priesthood who are struggling because of temptations, problems or ill health. And as we listen to the words of our Lord: do not neglect the gift that is in you, let us give thanks with all those who celebrate their special anniversaries of ordination this year, or who are simply grateful day by day that the Lord has entrusted us with the gift of the priesthood.

In his letter inaugurating the Year for Priests, Pope Benedict wrote:
This Year [is] meant to deepen the commitment of all priests to interior renewal for the sake of a stronger and more incisive witness to the Gospel in today’s world ....

In today’s world, as in the troubled times of the Curé of Ars, the lives and activity of priests need to be distinguished by a determined witness to the Gospel. As Pope Paul VI rightly noted, “modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses”. Lest we experience existential emptiness and the effectiveness of our ministry be compromised, we need to ask ourselves ever anew: “Are we truly pervaded by the word of God? Is that word truly the nourishment we live by, even more than bread and the things of this world? Do we really know that word? Do we love it? Are we deeply engaged with this word to the point that it really leaves a mark on our lives and shapes our thinking?”. Just as Jesus called the Twelve to be with him (cf. Mk 3:14), and only later sent them forth to preach, so too in our days priests are called to assimilate that “new style of life” which was inaugurated by the Lord Jesus and taken up by the Apostles.

So, whilst prayer for vocations to the priesthood is undoubtedly necessary and good - and the presence of the seminarians from Allen Hall at the vigil in Westminster Cathedral made this an appropriate prayer for that occasion - we should not lose sight of the intention of Pope Benedict that the Year for Priests be a year for the renewal of priestly life and ministry, and a year of prayer towards that end.

St Therese ......

Rita has commented on her visit with the relics of St Therese at Oxford, and, I think, captures two of the important points about the visit. One is the sheer enthusiasm in an ordinary expression of Catholic faith:
The faithful and the keen to be more faithful, have regained a sense of worth and belonging. Forget traditional and liberal divides, this was about the ordinary being so ordinary in their faith, simplicity and togetherness that it was extraordinary.

And the other is that there was a freedom available in the way in which people venerated the relics. Different people venerated in different ways, and, I suspect, each venue had its own different "feel". This freedom is possible, and enriching, in devotional life; and it exists in an orientation towards the Liturgical, where rubrics rightly constrain freedom.

The two points - the enthusiasm of the ordinary expression of faith, and its freedom - are closely connected; and one hopes that the visit will prompt a growth in the devotional life in parishes, and end situations where the only things that happen in Church are the strictly Liturgical.

Committee or charism?

Not infrequently I find myself talking about some organisation or other in the Church and asking the person I am talking to about the charism or particular founding intuition of the organisation. I think about diocesan youth services in this way, and the question could also be extended to other diocesan set ups, such as the justice and peace commission, etc. This doesn't mean that I think these various committees should necessarily be disbanded. It does mean that I think that, if they are to successfully renew their activity in the life of the Church, they should seek an inspiration or charism round which to form and direct their work; or they might as well disband. In a recent conversation it was the National Conference of Priests; this post - Catholic Youth Quango - raises the same question with regard to the latest enterprise in national Catholic youth ministry.

Yes, there is a nice acronym. Yes, there appears to be a launch congress. But no, there is no sign of a patron saint, no sign of what are characteristic features of the new movements, Eucharistic and Marian devotion. Look at their six objectives - and, since it doesn't seem to have properly formed or launched yet, the claim to be "the single most experienced and qualified body in the UK to hold, protect and further the vision of youth ministry" seems fanciful.

But absolutely no sense of being founded or begun in response to a particular gift or grace from God, or, indeed, to a particularly discerned need in the Church and the world (I don't think they are offering anything that isn't already out there, in a much more lively form, within the framework of the charisms of the new movements).

Secularist fundamentalism

How dare you call us extremists! I am amused to read of Tony Blair's two penny worth on this!

Since the "top table" of my trade union appear to have signed up hook, line and sinker to the secularist agenda [denials welcome in the com box, will be posted], I am rather taken by this post. The vitriol at the National Secular Society web pages after reports of a possible visit to Britain by the Holy Father says it all.

Eureka! .... or perhaps not?

Zero passed me a copy of a new science (?) magazine that appeared with the Times this month. If I have understood correctly, it is to be a monthly, issued along with the newspaper. The title is Eureka.

The editorial on p.3 suggests that climate change is the dark side of technological advances (er, nuclear weapons and .. and ..?).

We have two choices. The first option, a self-denying one, takes us backwards: a retreat from technology and the wealth that has come with it. The second, more uncertain, path marches forward into a world saved by science. The success of this choice depends on the brains of our scientists, the will of our politicians and the hearts of our citizens.

"Will" and "hearts" suggests to me ethics having something to do with it, in addition to the science itself, rather putting in question the preceding sentence. And the materialistic assumption is as clear as the lack of logic.

Now, if we are dependent on the quality of the science present in the magazine ... God save us! The complete muddle of the units in the box "Quantum of Cool" on p.5 is described in the first comment to the post Eureka.

The suggested area of contact of 1 square centimetre in the calculation below suggests that the female of the species walks only on the heels of her stilettos. The units of pressure are not newtons, and weight is not measured in kilogrammes, the working of the calculation is incorrect but the answer is correct.

If you can identify a single correct statement of physics in the piece below, do let me know - again see the comments at Eureka.

As usual - it must be wrong, it was in the Times!

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

St Therese ...

Photo credits:

Monday, 12 October 2009

What have I missed while posting about Therese?

Five new saints. I can't help but think that Fr Damien's commitment to the lepers can in some way be a model for the commitment of Christians to caring for those suffering from HIV/AIDS or, possibly, cancer and the various forms of dementia. These are the illnesses viewed today with fear or dread, and perceived as being in some way "incurable".

The Second Synod of the Bishops of Africa. A daily summary of the interventions at the Synod has been published, appearing on ZENIT's web pages. Unfortunately, they have not been assembled on one page. This particular day's summary includes interventions from Cardinal Tauran, Cardinal Arinze. Others have taken issue with an earlier contribution presenting President Obama's election as a "divine sign", though, I have a suspicion from the accounts of it that I have been able to find, that when the remark is placed in its full context it is not as outrageous as it appears in an isolated sound bite.

Someone was given a prize - this, perhaps, being the most pertinent observation to be made in response. In some ways it is churlish for international leaders or organisations not to congratulate the recipient of a Nobel prize, so one should not read into a statement of congratulation or welcome to that award, a statement that is of the form of a public courtesy, an approval for policies that is not intended. The statement of the Vatican spokesman was, for example, very restricted in what it felt gave justification for congratulation. That having been said, one might also expect some thought to be given to the dynamics of the media in response to such a statement - which might prompt a certain silence instead.

And, in the wake of the controversies over President Obama's visit to Notre Dame University and the funeral Mass of Senator Kennedy, in the wake of the spat between Lifesitenews and Fr Rosica, in the wake of Archbishop Burke's address, a question I have been pondering, with regard to the relative roles of the Bishop and the lay person:

If the lay person fails in his Christian task of "mediating" between Church and world, if he lives a political or social praxis that is at odds with the content of the Catholic faith (what Archbishop Burke described as "scandal" in a technical sense), can the action of the Bishop put that right? My answer: no. The Bishop simply cannot replace in some sense the office of the lay person with an action of his Episcopal Office. If you like, the damage is done, and it is done as a result of a failing of the lay office in the Church, and the exercise of another office in the Church is not going to be able to reverse that. [Doesn't mean the Bishop shouldn't do something - just that it won't be able to undo the scandal caused by the lay person.]

And, more provocatively, is it really the role of the Bishop, or of the Bishops' Conference, to develop and lead a political programme of opposition to, for example, the pro-abortion policy making of President Obama? Seen just in the context of a theological understanding of a difference in office between the Bishop and the lay person, it really isn't appropriate for a Bishop to impinge on the office (in the sphere of political activity) of the lay person. Surely, such political programming belongs as a duty of the lay person. The Bishop does have an office as a teacher of the truth - and that might well involve at some point discerning that it is not possible for a politician to support a particular piece of legislation without contradicting their faith and thereby placing themselves in a position of objective, public scandal. But, I would argue, there is nothing to be served by the Bishop taking on the programmatic political role proper to the lay person when the lay person fails. In the long run, that is going to be to the detriment of his Episcopal office.

In the recent controversies, have lay people at times expected Bishops to adopt political stances appropriate to those of the lay office? Have Bishops at times taken a programmatic political role rather than that of discernment? And, at heart, have the failings been in the realm of the lay office, prompting the thought that the essential answer is increased teaching and formation of lay people for the political aspects of their office in the Church?

Sunday, 11 October 2009

St Therese at Aylesford (4)

Yesterday (Saturday) seems to have been "bloggers day" at Aylesford - perhaps an accident of the geography that the south east of England is home to several priest bloggers. Groups from their parishes were visiting yesterday.

A round up:

The Friars, Aylesford, Saturday - I suspect that the number of pilgrims cited is on the cautious side.

Aylesford today - has some links to follow to other coverage. Updated here.

Aylesford today - same title, different blog.

The relics of St Therese at Aylesford - scroll down for the photographs, particularly of the queue at a "confessional tent", which indicates an aspect of the day that might otherwise be missed. I think this is the post that best communicates something of the feel of the day.

The text of Fr Keating's homily at the main Mass of the day can be found here, and there is a link to the flickr site with photographs of the day. I offer four "sound bites" from the different sections of Father's homily
God desires not great deeds but our availability....
[I am a little wary of how Fr Keating expresses Therese in a framework of transcending a narrowness and rigidity of her time - she certainly speaks to such a narrowness and rigidity, but, reading her own writing, for example, I don't feel there was any sense of her own lived experience of being one of transcending it - her own experience was, I think, one in which that narrowness and rigidity simply weren't there to be transcended - sorry, me being fussy!]

I believe this is what makes Thérèse so relevant and universal in the 20th and 21st centuries. Her struggles, despite the short and very different circumstances she faced, are ours also. In the 1940’s and 50’s her story touched a champion of the New York poor, Dorothy Day by means of a little medal given to her in hospital that would lead Dorothy to a life-long relationship with the saint. A visit to the tomb of Thérèse by the French singer Edith Piaf, as a little girl, would remain with her throughout her tortured life, which was so beautifully expressed in the film La vie en rose.
[I have been citing a passage from Madeleine Delbrel, in many ways a French counterpart to Dorothy Day.]
Life calls for a truthfulness in the face of our own reality and limitation. Only God can lead us loving beyond all the limits of this world. In this moment we must surrender and let the Lord lead us – let God’s will be done. Literally, she had to throw herself on the mercy of God. To use the phrase of the mystic Adrienne von Speyr “littleness absorbed into holiness”.
[I couldn't resist the citation of Adrienne von Speyr.]
Saints are models, teachers, witnesses…. Thérèse herself describes them as levers that have “lifted the world” (Ms C36v).... It is not policies, or politics, or programmes or even economics that will change the world we live in. What can silently touch hearts and bring it peace but God’s love shining through our human weakness! It is the power of holiness. This little saint enables us to perceive a little way to holiness that is accessible. It is obvious that Thérèse still speaks to our world. Just look around you....

Saturday, 10 October 2009

St Therese at Aylesford (3)

Photo credit:; taken at Aylesford, Friday afternoon 9th October 2009

I think I have already commented on how St Therese fascinates - she draws people of all ages and backgrounds, and all states of life! During a visit to the relics some prefer to hold back and spend a length of time in prayer, while others find it more important to approach the reliquary and spend time in a more visible, physical contact with it. The freedom for different styles in prayer is quite interesting to see, and the arrangements at the visit venues seem to have been designed to make provision for this.

There is a combination of an intense privacy (I suspect that each person's visit is quite unique to them) and a very powerful evangelising witness that is open and public (I doubt that anyone has sensed that they were "alone" during a visit and I, for one, really appreciated those around me during my visit). I wonder whether this profound balance between the personal and the public in what is a devotional act of the Church has something to teach us about the same balance in the more strictly Liturgical life? How do we put into practice the boundaries that protect rightful privacy and yet enable an appropriate public participation?

During my visit, I loved:

the Traveller families, especially the girl who knelt on her heels for minutes on end beside the relics, before coming and going

the children of two or three families who came and went, and returned, and wandered around the chapel

the Sisters who sat just behind me, praying the Rosary, and who were still there when I left

those who, as it got later and there were fewer visitors coming and going, knelt on their own beside the casket to make their visit, in full view of everyone else

a silence that was not literal (the occasional exchange of a few words, the sound of feet coming and going) but was nevertheless very real, and quite spontaneous

the natural discretion of those taking photographs - no fuss, no complaints, no posing beside the casket, and space around the casket for it to be done discretely, it being in some way a part of the freedom of a style of prayer in a technological age when people return again to the photographs on their mobile phones, care taken to make it non-intrusive

The Knights of St Columba who combined supervising the visitors with standing as a kind of guard of honour at the casket, especially when they enouraged hesitant visitors to approach the casket

[I think some venues have discouraged photographs at the reliquary or in the Church, and there is something to be said for this. The situations of different venues might well be making photographs less appropriate in some places than in others. Aylesford appeared to be neither encouraging nor discouraging them, and there can be no doubt that the photographs on the catholicrelics blog are a wonderful aspect of the evangelising impact of the visit.]

I think it would be very easy to underestimate the extent to which those visiting the relics have evangelised each other during their visits, through the profound balance of privacy and publicity in their visits, as well as contributed to an evangelisation "ad extra" to the Church.

Friday, 9 October 2009

St Therese at Aylesford (2)

I arrived at Aylesford just as the last of the coaches of school children were leaving after the welcoming service. The weather was, by this time, overcast and threatening rain. The field being used as a car park was comfortably occupied, but not full. We were able to enter the Relics Chapel to visit St Therese Relics after only a short queue, and spent about half an hour there before Mass. These are my photos ...

As you can see from the first photograph, the arrangement of the casket in the chapel allowed for people to move through the chapel, to move close up to and to touch the casket, or to position themselves away from the casket towards the walls of the chapel for a longer time of prayer.

Attendance at the 4.30 pm Mass was probably smaller than anticipated - the prospect of serious rain was quite apparent by this time, and probably meant that some went home who would have otherwise stayed for Mass. The relics were moved to a position before the altar on the main shrine area - which is open air - for Mass. The rain duly materialised during Mass itself; we were definitely wet by the end of Mass. I could cope with the rain. I found it rather more difficult to cope with the notion aired in the homily that Therese was someone who "wrote her own narrative" and was a "risk taker" for God. What on earth (or, indeed, in heaven!) these categories really meant in reference to St Therese escaped me altogether - I think she very much tried at all times to write God's narrative rather than her own, and few Christians have lived their lives with the utter conviction with which Therese lived hers. That she was taking a "risk" simply would not have occurred to her.

The rain drops on my camera lens, and visible on the surface of the pond, give you some idea of how wet it was at the end of Mass.

After a return to the car for a few minutes shelter and a repast of chocolate, sandwiches, fruit and cake, we tracked down a hot drink before returning to the Relics Chapel to spend some more time with St Therese. There, emerging from the celebration of Evening Prayer we met someone we both knew, though through different ways. He was staying at Aylesford, on retreat, during the visit of the relics.

I had decided to visit at this time because I hoped it would be less busy than at other times during the weekend, and that we would catch a kind of lull between the welcoming service and people arriving later in the evening after work. A less busy time, I thought, would allow us to spend more time in the presence of the relics, and to spend that time more prayerfully; we would not be hindering other people's visits. This turned out to be exactly what happened for us. We were able to spend as much time as we wanted with Therese.

The sense and the power of that time spent in the company of Therese lived up to every expectation that I had had of it. It was utterly irreplaceable, so much so that at one point I thought I might have difficulty leaving. In the end there came a quite natural time to take my leave.

I had intended to print off the interview with St Therese to use as my prayer during my visit, but forgot. Instead I prayed Madeleine Delbrel's meditation "We, the ordinary people of the streets".

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. ...

As I prayed this paragraph, I felt as if I was in the position of the comma between "understood" and "she" - knowing what I should be doing, but not yet doing it. And the fact that it was dark outside added depth to the sense of the expectation for a coming dawn.

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...

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.

But, perhaps more fundamentally, I simply spent some time with Therese looking towards the Lord. And this is what I shared with all those others also visiting the relics at the time, and to whom it may not have occurred to pray with the words of Madeleine Delbrel.

I finished my time of prayer with a votive Evening Prayer of St Therese of Lisieux, having prayed a similar votive office at Morning Prayer; and with a few moments knelt, touching the casket.

And with a last look back towards the main shrine area, and some photographs, before returning to the car to come home.

St Therese at Aylesford (1)

I know, I have missed out one or two stops ... but you can catch up on them if you wish by going to the relics blog on the links alongside. These photographs are from the welcoming ceremony at The Friars, Aylesford this afternoon. Photo credits, as usual, to

The headline of the post on the Catholic Relics blog is: 4 000 pilgrims, 131 coaches. Kentonline reports the figure as 2 000 pilgrims, and gives an expectation of 25 000 visitors over the coming weekend. Whichever figure you accept, it is still quite impressive for the welcoming service, held on the afternoon of a working day. The weather deteriorated towards the end of the afternoon ...

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

True Devotion to the Nation

The season of political party conferences here in the UK prompted me to look at a style of (potentially political) engagement envisaged by a project of the Legion of Mary called "True Devotion to the Nation". There are a couple of contemporary projects that I know of that reflect the principles underlying this Legion idea. One is the movement for unity in politics of the Focolare, the other London Citizens.

Spiritual Reading: Official Handbook of the Legion of Mary pp.76-77

The Legion has a compelling motive for that service of the community. It is that Jesus and Mary were citizens of Nazareth. They loved that town and their country with a religious devotion, for to the Jews faith and fatherland were so divinely intertwined as to be but one. Jesus and Mary lived the common life of their locality with perfection. Every person and thing there was an object of deepest interest to them. It would be impossible to conceive them as indifferent or neglectful in any respect.

Today the world is their country and each place is their Nazareth. In a baptised community they are bound more intensely to the people than they were to their own blood-kindred. But their love has now to issue through the Mystical Body. If its members exert themselves in this spirit to serve the place in which they live Jesus and Mary will move through that place shedding their beneficial influences not only on souls but on the surroundings. There will be material betterment; problems will shrink. Nor is true betterment to be gained from any other source.

This attention to Christian duty in each locality would add up to patriotism for the nation. This word denotes uncharted territory, for what is true patriotism? There is no map or model of it in the world. An approximation is the devotion and self-sacrifice which develop during a war. But this is motivated by hate more than by love, and appropriately it is directed towards destroying. So it is imperative that a correct pattern of peaceful patriotism be provided. It is this spiritualised service of the community which the Legion has been urging under the title: True Devotion to the Nation. Not only is that service to be undertaken out of the spiritual motive but it and all the contacts arising from it must be used to promote the spiritual. Operations which produced advance but only on the material plane would falsify the whole idea of True Devotion to the Nation. Cardinal Newman perfectly expresses that basic idea when he says that a material advance unaccompanied by a corresponding moral manifestation is almost too awful to consider. The correct balance must be preserved.


The Legion of Mary has a clear rule that there is “no politics in the Legion”[1]; a rule whose relevance can be seen in the historical context of Ireland at the time the Legion began[2] and whose relevance continues for most circumstances in which the Legion operates today. The Legion needs to be able to bring to membership Catholics who might in their political allegiances have great differences between them, and the “no politics in the Legion” rule enables this unification in the society of the Legion. In a similar way, the giving of material relief and the collection of funds for the giving of material relief, are prohibited by the Legion system.[3]

And yet the Legion does, in the idea of “True Devotion to the Nation”, propose a type of engagement that might be called “social” or “economic” and might, in some situations, be called “political” - with a small “s”, and small “e” and a small “p”.

“We must not for a moment lose sight of the soul.”[4] The first point in understanding the idea of True Devotion to the Nation lies in recognising what is primary and what is secondary. What is, and must be, primary is the religious motivation and the religious object of the work undertaken. Where those who are the object of the work do not have a religious belief, then the primary object becomes that of their spiritual and moral betterment. Frank Duff was strongly critical of the tendency to rule out this motive and to reduce Christian action to only the material. He argues, however, that this should not be viewed too narrowly, because all of those specific initiatives that are considered secondary are in reality related to what is primary, related to the spiritual. “If we have to distinguish between what is primary and secondary, it should not result in the neglecting of either”[5].

“Mary’s own outlook must be ours”[6]. The model or criterion that we can use to judge a correct course of action with respect to True Devotion to the Nation is that of the Virgin Mary. As our spiritual reading suggests, this model combines an immediate concern for the spiritual with a real concern for the betterment of the things of every day life; a real concern for Jesus present as our neighbour and a real concern for his happiness, prosperity etc.[7]

What are the secondary, but still essential, elements envisaged by True Devotion to the Nation? “Included in that process of Christianising must be the making of one’s place more happy, more prosperous, more beautiful, more enlightened; the creating of employment, the stopping of emigration”[8]. The doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ, a motive power of Legion activity, “obliges us to think in terms of every person in each place and of all aspects of life there, cultural, economic, recreational, and of development in every sense”[9]. Frank Duff cites an un-named successful example of this activity, which turned round a village that was previously dying out in every respect: “The place had put itself on the tourist map. Early vegetables were being profitably grown. A knitting industry had been launched. Every aspect of its defect had shown striking amelioration. The revival has taken in all sections of life, the spiritual, the economic, marriages, culture”[10].

The successful engagement with these secondary elements envisaged by the programme of True Devotion to the Nation is achieved by members of the local community being enlivened to take responsibility for them. This is something that has both a political implication and an ecclesial implication. “This is doubly necessary having regard to the way in which the modern state tends to widen its functions … It moves more and more towards thinking for each one, arranging his life in detail. By a creeping process it is appropriating to itself rights which Christianity has always regarded as belonging to the individual …. That tendency towards taking over by the State is largely due to the passivity of the citizens. Having been taught no sense of responsibility in respect of the defects around them, they do nothing towards remedying them. So it is inevitable that the state is forced to intervene in regard to the greater evils. Then the intervention and the inertia are both progressive…. If the people had shown a proper sense of responsibility much of this would have been avoided and healthy communities would be the result. Most of the graver problems are due to maladjustment of some kind, and would yield to principles of self-help and Christian living. So there is no need for the individual to forfeit his rights to the State in order to be able to live”.[11]

The ecclesial implication arises from the consideration that a Legion of Mary praesidium, or some equivalent structure of the apostolate, is the ideal mechanism needed to do the “enlivening” needed by the idea of True Devotion to the Nation[12]. It is a programme that needs to be led by a well formed laity, well formed both spiritually and in the methods of the apostolate; a praesidium achieves both of these. The praesidium structure also contains the correct balance between the part to be played by the lay faithful and the part to be played by the priest. Whilst the spiritual director guides and forms the praesidium, he does not do its work for it. Expertise in economic, social and cultural spheres is proper to the laity, and is part of the mission of the Mystical Body which is rightly theirs. [13]


Official Handbook of the Legion of Mary (2005 edition).

“True Devotion to the Nation” in Frank Duff Virgo Praedicanda pp.214-230

Second Vatican Council Decree Apostolicam Actuositatem on the Apostolate of the Laity

Pope John Paul II Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici

Pope Benedict XVI Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est

Pope Benedict XVI Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate

[1] “No legionary body shall allow its influence or its premises to be used for any political purpose or to aid any political party”, Official Handbook of the Legion of Mary p.293.
[2] ie, the civil war that followed independence from Britain.
[3] cf Official Handbook of the Legion of Mary pp.291-293.
[4] Frank Duff “True Devotion to the Nation” p.217; cf spiritual reading above.
[5] Frank Duff “True Devotion to the Nation” p.217.
[6] Frank Duff “True Devotion to the Nation” p.218.
[7] cf Frank Duff “True Devotion to the Nation” pp.216-218.
[8] Frank Duff “True Devotion to the Nation” p.218. The reference to emigration has a particularly specific reference to the situation in Ireland.
[9] Frank Duff “True Devotion to the Nation” pp.223-224.
[10] Frank Duff “True Devotion to the Nation” p.227.
[11] Frank Duff “True Devotion to the Nation” pp.218-220; cf “the spontaneity of charity” described in Pope Benedict XVI Deus Caritas Est n.28 (b); cf also the idea of an “economy of gratuitousness and fraternity” as expressed in Pope Benedict XVI Caritas in Veritate n.38
[12] cf Frank Duff “True Devotion to the Nation” pp.223-226.
[13] cf the account of the “secular character” of the lay vocation in John Paul II Christifideles Laici n.15; cf Apostolicam Actuositatem n.7, which describes the part to be played by lay people in renewing the temporal order, and includes a paragraph illustrating the part to be played by pastors in relation to that to be played by the lay faithful.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

The Sacrament of Marriage - Homily for 4th October

Just in case you didn't get a homily today that quite caught what the readings were really about - try Deacon Pat Kearns homily for today. An extract which shows a very perceptive pastoral sense, but do follow the link and read the whole to put the extract into a full context:
I am saddened to say that many have left the church, or neglect the communion of Jesus due to a divorce and remarriage, yet they have not taken any steps to resolve this issue with the church. There are many misconceptions regarding what can and cannot be repaired. Neither God, nor the church would ever want to push anyone away, rather just the opposite. Mercy and Love are God’s greatest gifts. If you or someone you know, has endured a divorce and remarried outside of the church, and has a desire to return to full communion, please don’t hesitate to contact one of the Priests or Deacons and begin the process of repair. It is our greatest desire and would be our honor to assist you with reuniting with the church and the Sacraments.

Some "late" Therese photos

I can't remember where these photos were taken, but I think they just have to be posted! I think they are from Lancaster Cathedral.

Therese in Leeds

Photographs from the celebration for young people. Photocredit to

Bishop Roche's homily

I have had the experience during the last few months of re-acquainting myself with the writings of St Therese of Lisieux - and of others writing about her. One aspect of this experience has been seeing just how much she is able to fascinate - and to catch the imagination of the most varied people. The enthusiasm for the visit of her relics also bears witness to this. The other aspect that has struck me is that, though in some ways simplicity is a leitmotif of St Therese, the gaining of a full and proper understanding of her teaching is far from simple. She is like a diamond, with lots of different facets which all need to be put together to get the full picture.

Bishop Roche's homily appears to me to capture this complexity very well.

She was only a nun for nine of her twenty four years yet, today, she stands alongside some of the greatest thinkers and philosophers of her age, as one who wrestled with the deepest problems of human existence, the enigma of human suffering and the mystery of despair. And now she stands among the Doctors of the Church – those theological giants, and mystics, to whom has been revealed insights into the divine life that are important for Christian living.

And these words surely indicate a relevance of her teaching and life to our contemporary situation:

He led her into the deeper trials of the spirit where the soul was purified because against all the odds, in the darkness and the sense of abandonment, and the questions that arose as to whether God was there, she remained faithful because she knew this was the ultimate test of love. She described this experience as a night of nonexistence where she mingled with the spirits of atheism and unbelief.

Apologies ...

.. to Miriam Padilla who posted a comment over a week ago, which in part asked if I would share more about the Adoration for Children and Families in or parish. I have been trying to find time to do this, and hope to do so soon.

... and to Francine Tremblay. I am hoping to include your comment within a post, again, hopefully soon.

St Therese has rather been taking my attention of late ...

Friday, 2 October 2009

An interview with St Therese

I am not able to be present for Eucharistic Adoration in the parish today, as I am away for a union branch secretaries conference. A team of collaborators are looking after it all for me. This is one of the meditations, an interview with St Therese. The idea of an "interview" was originally intended for the Adoration for Children and Families, but I also use it for the "grown ups".

Interviewer: St Therese, you are a very popular saint. You are the patron saint of missionaries who preach the Gospel in far away countries. It is good of you to join us today.

I’m happy to be here.

Interviewer: Please, tell us a little about yourself. Where were you born?

I was born in a town called Alencon, in the north of France in 1873. I was the youngest child in our family.

Interviewer: Were you very close to your family?

Yes. My mother died when I was four years old, and this upset me a lot. My eldest sister, Pauline, was then like a “second mother” to me. When she joined the Carmelite convent in Lisieux, the next eldest sister took over looking after me. I was very close to my father - he used to call me his “Queen”.

Interviewer: Were you able to make your first Holy Communion?

Yes. It made a big impression on me. It was so real for me that I kept on thinking of St Paul’s words: ‘I am alive; or rather, not I; it is Christ that lives in me’. It was unusual at that time to receive Holy Communion every time you went to Mass. I was so keen that I was given permission to receive Communion on every big feast day. Every time, my sister Marie would talk with me the night before to prepare me to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion.

Interviewer: Did you always want to be a Carmelite nun?

I wanted to enter the convent when I was 14, but I was too young. Everyone said “no” - the nuns in the convent, the local priest and even the Bishop. I was so determined I even asked the Pope when I went to Rome with a pilgrimage! Eventually I was allowed to enter when I was 15.

Interviewer: What difficulties did you face in life?

There are always lots of difficulties in life, especially in a convent! I had to learn how to live with lots of little things that annoyed me, and to see them as a way of coming closer to God. But I had three big difficulties. When my oldest sister entered the convent, I was quite ill with headaches and bad dreams. This came to an end when I saw an image of the Virgin Mary smiling at me one Christmas.

Interviewer: … and the second problem?

In the convent, I was quite sick. I spent the last 18 months or so of my life in bed suffering from a disease called tuberculosis. This was very painful, and was my second big difficulty.

Interviewer: Was that the end of your difficulties?

No. During my last illness I had a third difficulty that was more spiritual. I had serious doubts about the existence of heaven - and when you know you are dying this is quite terrifying. Deep down, I suppose I didn’t lose my faith and hope - but it sometimes felt as if I had lost it.

Interviewer: How did you become famous after you had died?

When I was a nun, I was asked to write a kind of autobiography by my superiors. The first part I wrote as childhood memories for the Prioress. I later wrote two more parts at the request of my superiors. These became the book “Story of a Soul” - and when it was published, it was a best seller. That is how I became so famous.

Interviewer: What is the “little way”?

The phrase refers to the idea that we do not have to do “big things” to be a saint. We can be a saint by doing “small things”. For most people, in fact, small things are the only way in which we can be a saint because we don’t get the chance to do big things. Most of us need this short cut to being a saint. I once compared this to going up to God in a lift instead of using the stairs (lifts in buildings were a new invention when I was alive!). But this is only one part of my teaching.

Interviewer: What are the other parts of your teaching?

The really basic thing is that we should trust God’s love for us. It is true that we have to try hard to love God; but the important thing is that He loves us first. Our trying to love God is not something that we have to do “on our own”. It is an answer to God’s love for us. It is enough for us to hand ourselves over into the love of God, and then “rest” in that love. Sometimes people don’t understand this state of being in the love of God, and think the “little way” is just about what you do. The “little things” that we do follow on from this being in the love of God and show it to the world.

Interviewer: What does the “little way” have to say about suffering?

I suffered a lot in my life, so I can speak from experience about this. It is easy to think of suffering as a punishment for what we have done wrong, and some Christians do think like this. But I think that suffering has a lot more to do with love. We talk about someone’s heart “burning up with love”; what we are trying to say is that they are overwhelmed by love. In the spiritual life, the overwhelming love that God has for us purifies - and so it is suffering. At one point in the convent I made an offering of myself to the merciful love of God - but notice that it was an offering to be burnt up by the love of God, not to be destroyed by his punishment.

Interviewer: Did you ever want to do anything else except be a nun?

Sometimes I thought I would want to be a missionary, but I was not strong enough to join the convents being opened in Asia. I kind of wanted to do everything at once, and be everywhere at once, in order to preach the Gospel. But I realised that loving God where I was in the convent had a power that reached everywhere in the Church, and that this was what I was meant to do. Near the end of my life I spoke about my mission being that of “making God loved by others in the way that I love Him”, of letting others know about my “little way”.

Interviewer: And you died on 30th September 1897. Thank you Therese of Lisieux for joining us today, and sharing the story of your life with us.