Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Our Lady of the Annunciation

Our Lady of the Annunciation is the Redemptorist parish, just across Woolton Road from the Hope Park campus of Liverpool Hope University. I visited it during my recent sojourn in Liverpool. The church houses a lovely shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. This page on their website has some photographs of the church, including of the shrine (above). The parish website is well worth a visit.

This extract is from the parish newsletter for 27th June:
Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and there will be an Open Air Mass at 1.30pm. NO 6.00pm Evening Mass. There will be a short procession around the Monastery Gardens before the Open Air Mass. Afterwards there will be a parish picnic; please bring your own food, chairs and rugs. A bar will be available. Any profits made will go to the Redemptorist Vocations Fund. Unfortunately, Fr Desmond is unable to provide an Open Air Screen for the football, but there will be limited places to watch the match for the keen supporters.

Faith in Health Conference 2010: what makes a medical professional?

Though the question of what constitutes medical professionalism was not prominent in the titles of the sessions, it did nevertheless arise in more than one of the plenary lectures. The quality of the contributions on this point was, in my view, disappointing; but I should perhaps qualify that by recognising that those speakers who did touch on the question were not addressing it directly or fully.

Introducing one of the plenary lectures, Baroness Cumberlege referred to the report of a working party that she had chaired for the Royal College of Physicians in 2005, a report entitled Doctors in society: Medical professionalism in a changing world. The report can be downloaded in .pdf format from the website of the Royal College. Baroness Cumberlege cited its definition of medical professionalism, from chapter 5 of the report:
Medical professionalism signifies a set of values, behaviours, and relationships that underpins the trust the public has in doctors.
In itself, this didn't sound very useful (my notes taken at the time used the word "poor") because it does not define the "values, behaviours and relationships"; but it does need to be read with the description that follows immediately in the RCOP report:
Medicine is a vocation in which a doctor’s knowledge, clinical skills, and judgement are put in the service of protecting and restoring human well-being. This purpose is realised through a partnership between patient and doctor, one based on mutual respect, individual responsibility, and appropriate accountability.

In their day-to-day practice, doctors are committed to:

• integrity
• compassion
• altruism
• continuous improvement
• excellence
• working in partnership with members of the wider healthcare team.

These values, which underpin the science and practice of medicine, form the basis for a moral contract between the medical profession and society. Each party has a duty to work to strengthen the system of healthcare on which our collective human dignity depends.
In the same session of the conference, Sr Margaret Atkins talked about how Catholic health practitioners might preserve the sense of purpose which they had on entering the medical profession in a working environment that pressures them to move away from that purpose towards purposes driven by their employers or by government policy. Though not offering it as a definition of what medical professionalism is, Sister identified the healing vocation as having three elements: the making better of people who are sick (cure or healing), the provision of care and comfort, and the preventing of illness or keeping of health. The medical professional has responsibility for the patient in terms of their health, that is, in terms of these three elements.

At the beginning of her talk, Sr Margaret indicated that what she was going to talk about was, firstly, how those present as health care workers could keep their sense of purpose and secondly, and in my view quite significantly, how they might pass on that sense of purpose to others following them into the medical profession. This idea of "passing on" indicates that there is something that is permanent and unchanging in the idea of what it means to be a medical professional, and that that something is determinative of the nature of the profession. The implication of the RCOP working party report is quite the opposite. It suggests that the defining of medical professionalism needs to be responsive instead to the wishes of society around us.

I was a little disappointed that, in the discussion on professionalism in medicine, no reference was made to Luke Gormally's chapter "Medicine as a profession and the meaning of health as its goal" in the Linacre Centre publication Issues for a Catholic Bioethic. In that chapter, Luke Gormally is very critical of the World Health Organisation definition of health in terms of human well-being, the term that is adopted by the RCOP report. He argues instead that it is somatic health - the well-ordered organic functioning of the body - that is the proper goal of medicine as a profession. The purpose of the medical professional is then the restoration and maintenance of health defined in this way. It is this purpose that is the basis of the relationship of trust between the health professional and the patient. The professional is dedicated to the restoration and maintenance of health, and will not act in a way opposed to this, even if asked to do so by a patient; and the patient is deserving of courteous and just conduct from the professional out of respect for his dignity as a human being. The language of partnership and mutual respect in the RCOP description allows for something completely different.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Outrage reposted

UPDATE: Another element in this story, which I repost, is this report from the Brussels journal. Much of this report is carefully factual. That there has been incidence of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy, some of them in senior positions, in Belgium has become quite apparent. I am not in a position to know how widespread that incidence is, though this report suggests that it is very widespread. A warning is being given by other bloggers linking to this report that some aspects of it are sexually explicit and may be upsetting to some.

I have been away from home for a few days, so am coming to this story late. It is the story of the interrogation of members of the Belgian conference of Catholic Bishops and their staff by the police of that country.

The Vatican communique on the matter is here, being mainly made up of the text of a statement by the spokesman of the Belgian Bishops conference. I quote the section that appears to have been added to that statement by the Vatican Secretariat of State (further reporting from the BBC is here):
In publishing this statement, the Secretariat of State reiterates its firm condemnation of all sinful and criminal acts of abuse of minors by members of the Church, and the need to repair and face such acts in accordance with the requirements of justice and the teachings of the Gospel. It is in the light of these needs that the same Secretary of State also expresses great surprise at how some searches were conducted yesterday by the Belgian judicial authorities and its indignation at the fact that the tombs of Cardinals Jozef-Ernest Van Roey and Léon-Joseph Suenens, deceased archbishops of Malines-Brussels, were violated. Added to the dismay over those actions, is regret for some breaches of confidentiality, owed to those very victims for whom the searches were conducted.
I am not an expert in diplomatic language, but words like "great surprise", "indignation" and "dismay" appear quite strong to me.
As far as the violation of the tombs of Archbishops Van Roey and Suenens are concerned, my word would have been "outrage". I cannot think of any other circumstance in which the violation of graves, particularly those of public figures representative of a whole community, would not attract widespread condemnation.

UPDATE: Pope Benedict has written a letter of support to Archbishop Leonard and the bishops of Belgium in this situation. The text - in French - can be found here, at the Vatican website. The BBC reporting presents this letter as an upping of the Vatican's response to the police raids.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Faith in Health Conference 2010: Archbishop Nichols' lecture

The first plenary lecture at the 2010 Faith in Health conference was given by Archbishop Nichols. The title of his lecture was The Spiritual Care Needs of Older People. Some details of the Faith in Health conference can be found at the website of the Archdiocese of Liverpool.

If you haven't followed the link to read Archbishop Nichols text, this comment is not going to make much sense. I think there is a very interesting parallel between Archbishop Nichols idea of an intergenerational exchange in the context of health care and something that Pope Benedict XVI was going to say had he been allowed to speak at La Sapienza university in January 2008. Pope Benedict is, in passing, commenting on how he as the Pope might be able to justify speaking at a university where some would say that, speaking from the perspective of faith, he cannot therefore also be speaking from the perspective of reason.
At this moment I would like to only briefly note that John Rawls, although denying to comprehensive religious doctrines the character of "public" reason, nevertheless sees at least in their "nonpublic" reason a reason that cannot, in the name of a secularly hardened rationality, simply be disregarded by those who support it.

He sees a criterion for this reasonableness in, among other things, the fact that similar doctrines derive from a responsible and validly grounded tradition in which, over a long period of time, sufficiently good argumentation has developed to support the respective doctrine. What seems important to me in this affirmation is the recognition that experience and demonstration over the course of generations, the historical background of human wisdom, are also a sign of its reasonableness and its enduring significance. In the face of an a-historical reason that tries to construct itself through a-historical rationality, the wisdom of humanity as such -- the wisdom of the great religious traditions -- is to be valued as a reality that cannot be with impunity thrown into the dustbin of the history of ideas.
What I found most interesting about Archbishop Nichols lecture was something that was not in his text, but which he said during the discussion/questions at the end of his lecture. In the field of education, it is a common place of Catholic teaching that the prime responsibility for the education of children rests with parents, and that others who contribute to the education of children (ie teachers and schools) do so as collaborators with the parents enabling them to fulfil their responsibility at the level at which an expertise is required that they as individual parents do not have. Archbishop Nichols suggested that the provision of health and social care should be seen in the same sort of way. It is not the hospital, National Health Service (NHS) or social services that have the prime responsibility for delivering health and social care to individuals or to society as a whole. The first responsibility rests with families (towards their family members who are sick or elderly) and with neighbours (towards those nearby who are sick or elderly). The hospital, the NHS and social services are then to be seen as collaborating with members of society in the care for the sick and elderly, enabling society to fulfil its responsibility when that requires an expertise and a level of resources that would otherwise not be possible.
Not only does this have implications for the relationship between national government and the health and social care system (the latter or not instruments of the policy of the former), but it also has implications for how employees in health and social care services view their role. Rather than being at the service of the government or employer, their employment mechanism, be it public or private sector, is instead at the service of civil society, at the service of what the Catholic Church would call the "common good". It also has a profound implication for the relationship of communities to their local health and social care institutions. Communities should not let these institutions take over their responsibility - they still have a duty to care for their weaker members through acts of charity and service.
[The agenda of "patient choice" in the NHS might appear to be supportive of this perspective. However, such "patient choice" is confined by national policy, so I suspect that its support of this perspective is more apparent than real.]

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral

Paddy's Wigwam.

People either seem to love it to bits, or to dislike it with an intensity that is unique among the feelings addressed towards a cathedral. The website for the Cathedral is here; and this page on the site gives an account of some of the features of the cathedral. One should perhaps remember that the cathedral is dedicated to Christ the King, and that the crown over the altar when you are inside the cathedral and the stained glass/crown rising from the centre of the building towards the sky represent the crown of thorns. In this context, the thought that it is the crown of thorns worn by Christ on the cross that dominates the skyline of the city is rather a good one. The only other place where I have seen a similar building with a similar dominance of its city is the shrine of Our Lady of the Tears in Syracuse, Sicily.

My memories of visiting when I was a lot younger than I am now are of CONCRETE. When I had opportunity to visit on Friday, I felt that the sense of concrete had been somewhat diminished. Banners inside the cathedral, some representing the dioceses within the metropolitan area of Liverpool archdiocese, another representing the visit of Pope John Paul II, do soften the sense of the concrete.

It is a building of its time in a more subtle way than just the use of concrete, concrete and more concrete. The stained glass that is extensively used in the windows between the concrete buttresses and in the "dome" is just patterned and does not display an image. The portrayal is purely in the colours, and these are dominated by a strong blue, red and yellow. How they play out in the cathedral depends on the time of day, whether or not the sun is shining and wherabouts you happen to be standing. The building is of its time in two senses. What does this apparently random arrangement of colours, which certainly has its own beauty, represent that is specifically Christian? And, as a matter of lighting design, it just doesn't work. Internally, the cathedral has a significant dependence on artificial lighting. Without changing the structure of the cathedral, I feel sure that a contemporary architect would design the windows to admit much more natural light into the cathedral and reduce its dependence on artificial lighting.

I did like the way in which the Lady Chapel appeared to open out and look across from the side of the Cathedral towards the main altar. You can get this sense when you stand near the main entrance and look back towards the main altar. This represented, for me at least, a very appropriate Marian/ecclesial sense with regard to the celebration of the Eucharist on the main altar; and it represents a corresponding Christological sense, too.

The slight problem is the statue of the Virgin and Child, which is large enough to communicate the sense of "looking out" over the main area of the cathedral, but in other respects can be described diplomatically as "un-remarkable". I barely glanced at it; it had no power to hold my attention or to draw devotion.

And it typified the sense of the "cold" in the cathedral design. Some people clearly like that sense of "cold" and it attracts them. As a style of liturgical art and therefore of spirituality, it might not appeal to all, but perhaps it needs to be recognised as a legitimate style of such art. A consequent reflection on the ecclesial "style" implied by this point had better wait until another post.

Visiting the cathedral as we did for a relatively small celebration is going to be rather different than visiting for a big occasion when the main cathedral is full. Such large occasions are when the cathedral must come into its own. Somehow, my fellow visitors didn't seem as fascinated by the thought of the remnants of a synchrocyclotron being buried somewhere under the front steps of the cathedral as I was ....


I have been away from home for a few days, so am coming to this story late. It is the story of the interrogation of members of the Belgian conference of Catholic Bishops and their staff by the police of that country.

The Vatican communique on the matter is here, being mainly made up of the text of a statement by the spokesman of the Belgian Bishops conference. I quote the section that appears to have been added to that statement by the Vatican Secretariat of State (further reporting from the BBC is here):
In publishing this statement, the Secretariat of State reiterates its firm condemnation of all sinful and criminal acts of abuse of minors by members of the Church, and the need to repair and face such acts in accordance with the requirements of justice and the teachings of the Gospel. It is in the light of these needs that the same Secretary of State also expresses great surprise at how some searches were conducted yesterday by the Belgian judicial authorities and its indignation at the fact that the tombs of Cardinals Jozef-Ernest Van Roey and Léon-Joseph Suenens, deceased archbishops of Malines-Brussels, were violated. Added to the dismay over those actions, is regret for some breaches of confidentiality, owed to those very victims for whom the searches were conducted.

I am not an expert in diplomatic language, but words like "great surprise", "indignation" and "dismay" appear quite strong to me.
As far as the violation of the tombs of Archbishops Van Roey and Suenens are concerned, my word would have been "outrage". I cannot think of any other circumstance in which the violation of graves, particularly those of public figures representative of a whole community, would not attract widespread condemnation.

UPDATE: Pope Benedict has written a letter of support to Archbishop Leonard and the bishops of Belgium in this situation. The text - in French - can be found here, at the Vatican website. The BBC reporting presents this letter as an upping of the Vatican's response to the police raids.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Attempts for unity in the Church of England?

There is one aspect of Archbishop Rowan Williams ministry as Archbishop of Canterbury that I have found interesting over the last few years. I believe that he considers his ministry as being one for unity, for the achievement of unity within the Anglican Communion. He is, of course, doing it in a very Anglican way. But I still find interesting the implicit recognition that the Anglican Communion needs in some way a minstry of unity, albeit one that is not accepted by everyone, rather than one of presiding over ever increasing difference.

Stella Maris post The Arcbhishops' Offer, in response to the attempt by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to resolve a problem over the ordination of bishops in the Church of England, does bring to light the fundamental inadequacy of this very Anglican exercise.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Commissioning the chief cook and bottle washer (or, doesn't baptism suffice?)

Among the suggestions for how parishes might prepare for and participate in the forthcoming visit of Pope Benedict to the UK is one about holding a service of commissioning, perhaps at the priniciple Mass on the Sunday before the visit or at an occasion specifically for that purpose, of those from the parish who are going to attend one of the events with Pope Benedict.
The parishioners who do attend a main event will do so as parish representatives. Perhaps pencil in a prayer and commissioning time during the Sunday Mass or on a week day preceding the Pope’s arrival? This will provide an opportunity for parish representatives to be sent to a Papal event with the love and prayer intentions of the whole parish. Attendees could in turn be invited to share their experiences (testimony) and photographs with parishioners the following Sunday.
What's the problem with "commissioning"?

As practised in parishes here in the UK, this usually involves one of two things. Either a lay person is being "commissioned" to take on a role as an "extraordinary" minister (ie to take on a task that properly belongs to the ordained ministry, but which they will take on to help out the ordained ministry) - in which case the "commissioning" is probably inappropriate because it gives the impression that this task is somehow proper to the lay state when in fact it isn't. Or a lay person is being "commissioned" to take on a responsibility that is proper to their lay state - in which case "commissioning" is probably inappopriate because the mission received by the lay faithful in baptism and confirmation is sufficient as the basis for the taking up of that task (this a big theme of Vatican II's thought on the lay apostolate).

In both of these cases, a lay person acts in unity with the parish priest and bishop, and perhaps "commissioning" has some meaning in that sense. But I can think of many a thing that I have done over the years in unity with a parish priest without it occuring to anyone to "commission" me to do it ...

So my first question about the suggestion of commissioning people to go to Papal events is: surely the mission received in baptism and confirmation suffices?

What's the problem with "parish representatives"?

The Successor of St Peter is the universal pastor of the Catholic Church, and the aspect of Pope Benedict's visit that is "pastoral" is an exercise of this office as universal pastor. One language for this office as universal pastor is to see it as a universal jurisdiction, though one that is exclusively ecclesial and not political. But this universal pastoral office is exercised in a relation to the local pastoral office of the bishop. It is events like the Year for Priests that has just ended, the Year of the Rosary and the Year of the Eucharist that best represent the way in which an exercise of a univeral pastoral office by the Pope (it is the Pope who called these different years of celebration into being) in a relation to the local pastoral office of the bishop (the years have been celebrated by events in the local dioceses) has come to take place.

In this sense, strictly pastoral rather than just juridical, every Catholic, by virtue of their communion with their parish/diocese and therefore the universal Church, can see themselves as being under the universal pastoral care of the Successor of St Peter. This doesn't mean that they can play off their love for the Pope over and against their Bishop - the two loyalties exist in a relation to each other. But it does mean that their being a part of the universal care of Pope Benedict when he comes to the UK in September is not something delegated to them by their parish or diocese - it is something that is proper to them simply as being a Catholic in communion with their parish/diocese and the Holy See.

Now, practical arrangements might well make it necessary for the events at which Pope Benedict is present to be all-ticket, and some way of allocating tickets more or less fairly to people is a consequence of that. Using dioceses and parishes as the structures through which to do that allocation is as likely to be as fair as any other way.

But I am afraid I do not buy into the premise underlying the idea of "commissioning" that those who are allocated tickets through their parish are therefore "representatives of the parish".

My second question about people being "commissioned" to attend Papal events is: aren't they going simply as Catholics - perhaps Catholics a bit more lucky than others - and isn't it their communion with the Catholic Church that suffices as their basis for going to be with the Pope?


Regardless of parish shenangins, I suspect that a lot of us who don't have tickets will in any case exercise our status as baptised and confirmed Catholics and simply go off to London on the Saturday to catch our glimpse of Pope Benedict XVI and to cause as much traffic chaos (totally peacefully, of course) as we can. I just dare Transport for London to try closing down most of the tube network on that particular day!


.... to any chief cooks and bottle washers to whom this post has given offence. Vitriolic comments (within reason) will be published and penance done (eventually)!

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Three asides on evangelisation

If the Church's mission of evangelisation is carried out at different levels, should a criterion of evaluation relevant to one level of that mission be applied to an action being carried out at a different level? This is a question prompted by three situations encountered in the past week.

The General Directory for Catechesis, published by the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy in 1997, describes the process of evangelisation in nn.47-49, referring to the fuller account of its different stages given in the Vatican II decree Ad Gentes on the missionary activity of the Church:
The Church, while ever containing in herself the fullness of the means of salvation, always operates "by slow stages". (n.6) The conciliar decree Ad Gentes clarifies well the dynamic of the process of evangelization: Christian witness, dialogue and presence in charity (nn.11-12), the proclamation of the Gospel and the call to conversion (n.13), the catechumenate and Christian Initiation (n.14), the formation of the Christian communities through and by means of the sacraments and their ministers (nn.15-18). This is the dynamic for establishing and building up the Church.
First aside

Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the United Kingdom is clearly going to operate at a number of levels from the point of view of evangelisation. In the circumstances of our country, I believe that the level of witness, dialogue and presence in charity might well have a larger significance than in Pope Benedict's visits to other countries.

In this light, it is my view that the criticisms of Archbishop Nichols being expressed at Catholic and Loving it (and perhaps elsewhere), over his reference to the delicacy of the mission that Pope Benedict has undertaken in coming to Britain, are plain wrong. Presence in charity as a level of the process of evangelisation requires a discretion appropriate to time and place, and that this should be exercised in the context of Pope Benedict's visit is not a surprise.

Is the criticism applying a criterion appropriate to primary proclamation or catechumenate to the level of presence in charity?

Second aside

This week I heard a trenchant criticism of the new English translation of the Roman Missal. This related most directly to the text of prayers such as the Opening Prayers, where the new translation is closer to the Latin, generally longer than the translation presently in use, more demanding in its grammatical structure and more sacral in its language. [We had just been comparing the Latin, present English translation and the new "Grey Book" English translation of the Opening Prayer for the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time.] The criticism made was that, if the Liturgy was to be effective in evangelisation, its language should be simple and easy to understand, and so we should stick with the present translations.

However, the role of the Liturgy in the process of evangelisation is only partly at the level of primary proclamation; it is also, and perhaps more importantly, at the level of formation of the Christian community. The need to engage more fully with the text in order to understand and experience its meaning, and to have access to its essentially sacral nature, is quite appropriate to this level in the process of evangelisation.

Did this criticism apply a criterion for primary proclamation to the level of formation of the community?

Third aside

An article in the June issue of Faith Today describes the work of the Apostleship of the Sea at Teignmouth.
The ship's name - the Maria - is clearly visible on its side, and its seamen are on deck, preparing to throw ropes to the dock-hand. When a ship arrives into port there are certain formalities that have to be gone through, and waiting on the quayside are a customs officer and someone from the harbourmaster's office.

But standing there too are a couple of smiling women in high-visiblity jackets and white hard harts: and as the ship docks they wave to the sailors, and move closer so that they can chat. The men, it turns out, are Russian: one of them calls out in his native tongue. He looks astonished when one of the women on the quay answers in Russian, smiling broadly...

Oleg Kovalev, the Maria's electrical engineer, wants to say goodnight to his daughter Alina, seven. "I haven't called her for almost a week but it's nearly her bedtime so I need to do it quick", he explains. Liuba is already on the case, exchanging his Euros for sterling and explaining how to get to the shop that sells top-up cards, and is still open.
This example, does, I think give an indication of the power that presence in charity has as a part of the process of evangelisation.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Desk and altar ....

I am sure there is a theological and/or pastoral reflection to be had on the relationship of one's desk to the altar .... on the relationship between and one's daily work and the Eucharist.... but it is perhaps quite rare for the connection to be as direct as in the case of Cardinal Newman's desk at Littlemore: The secret of success at work.

Normandy (2): Corpus Christi in Lisieux

We spent the Solemnity of Corpus Christi in Lisieux, visiting the sites in Lisieux associated with St Therese. Given the huge popularity of Therese, and perhaps with an expectation created by the numbers of pilgrims who visit Lourdes, the number of pilgrims present seemed somewhat underwhelming. At Mass in the Basilica on Sunday morning there were groups from Poland, Tahiti and a local French school.

In the town itself, the main sign of devotion to Therese appeared to be a blue line. This line identified a walking route linking all the places in Lisieux associated with Therese. Our guide books suggested, quite unfairly we thought, that the town had been rebuilt in rather uninspiring manner after its destruction during the liberation of France in 1944. The roundabouts in the town had some character - the first one below appearing to have been sponsored by a well known low cost airline.

At Mass in the morning, the Rector of the Basilica took as his text a poem by St Therese. The poem had been printed out and was handed to those arriving for Mass, and we were referred to it during the homily. It was the poem "Mes Desirs aupres de Jesus cache dans sa Prison d'Amour", in which Therese reflects in turn on each of the Liturgical items that come into contact or proximity with the Eucharist. Each verse is represented in the mosaic roundels above the sanctuary of the Basilica. As Father preached, a server displayed the item and a spotlight shone on the relevant roundel. It really was, I thought, a very effective catechesis both on the Eucharist and on the decoration of the Basilica. Father concluded his homily by emphasising the need to receive Holy Communion with reverence and adoration, including when receiving in the hand. My attempt at summary/translations of the eight verses of the poem:
1. Little key, oh I envy you.
Because each day you can open
The prison of the Eucharist ...

2. I wish to be consumed in the Sanctuary close to my God
Like the Lampe of the Holy Place ...

3. Each dawn, I envy you
O Sacred Rock of the Altar.
Like in the blessed cowshed
Upon you will be born the Eternal ....
[At this point Father spoke about the altar stone, with its relics]

4. O Corporal ...
I see Jesus my only treasure
Change my heart, Virgin Mary
Into a Corporal pure and beautiful
To receive the white host
where is hidden your Sweet Lamb.

5. Holy Paten, I envy you
Upon you Jesus comes to rest..

6. Oh, how I envy the blessed Chalice
Where I adore the Divine Blood ...

7. Jesus, holy and sacred Vine...
I am a gilded grape
Who must dissapear for you ...
Under the press of suffering

8. Ah, what joy, I am chosen
From among the grains of pure Wheat
Who lose their life for Jesus
The last, and central, roundel above the Sanctuary of the Basilica does not display an image from the poem. Instead - and most interestingly - it shows an image of a priest and the words written by Therese about the vocation of the priest as she was expressing her aspiration to be and to live every vocation in the Church (these words are sometimes cited, quite unfairly, to suggest that Therese wanted to be a priest as such). These words have a particular resonance as we come to the end of the Year for Priests: lovingly I'd carry you in my hands when you came down from heaven at my call; how lovingly I'd bestow you upon men's souls!
After some lunch, we visited the Carmelite Convent where (most of - there are relics in the Basilica and in a reliquary that visits around the world) Therese's body is preserved. The buildings of Carmel somewhat miraculously survived the bombardments of 6-7th June 1944, which hit the nearby railway station and caused a severe fire in the very street in which the Convent exists.

This was followed by a visit to Therese's family home at Les Buissonets. This was a lovely spot, with a small but steady stream of visitors during the afternoon. We just beat the school pilgrimage, who were being divided into smaller groups for their visit. The sculpture below shows Therese asking her Father for permission to enter Carmel.

And then back to the Basilica for Vespers and a procession of the Blessed Sacrament. Numbers were disappointing for this, so I made a point afterwards of thanking the Rector for the procession, explaining (in my best French, of course) that we had come from England and had seen the notice the procession on the website. Father's reply was "Vive l'internet!". Benediction was given from the altar at the Stations of the Cross behind the Basilica, everything having been done with a splendid degree of care and devotion.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Normandy (1): D-day Festival

That our visit to Normandy coincided with the celebrations of the 66th anniversary of the D-day landings was a complete accident. We arrived by ferry at Ouistreham-Caen on Friday 4th June, stayed in Lisieux for the following three nights, and then finished off staying in Bayeux for the Monday and Tuesday nights. We did not therefore take part in any of the D-day Festival events, but were able to follow the extensive coverage in the local newspapers, and were accompanied on both the outward and return ferry journeys by people visiting for the anniversary.


1. The people of Normandy do celebrate the anniversary of the D-day landings, and do so in a very big way. There is still very much a sense of gratitude to the soldiers who liberated them. Events take place along the whole length of the Normandy coast on which the landings took place. In Arromanche, for example, the principle Mass on the Sunday was celebrate out of doors in front of the D-day museum on the sea-front of this small town. This then integrated with the civic ceremonies of the morning. The newspaper reports of similar events suggested that a ceremony like this would have been attended to two or three thousand people. Another event that caught my eye was a picnic along the sea front - I can't remember where exactly it was. Tables and chairs were set up along a considerable length of the sea wall, and an open invitation extended to residents and visitors to bring along their own picnic. Apparently those arriving a little late rather than early had to perch themselves on the sea wall etc.

2. In Normandy, the events of the D-day landings and the subsequent Battle of Normandy are still very much seen as events that restored to France their freedom. There is a strong recognition of the sacrifice of those who died or were injured during the landings as being a sacrifice made in order to secure freedom, and particularly the freedom of France. The gratitude addressed towards the nations whose soldiers landed on D-day appeared to me to be as strong as ever it was. This is something that I wonder at, given the extent of French civilian casualties caused by Allied bombardments of towns such as Caen and Lisieux.

3. The scale of the D-day landings is brought home when you realise that, for a length of some 80 km along the coast of Normandy, there is hardly a stretch of beach that was not part of one or other of the Allied landing beaches. And that is before you take account of the airborne landings which took place at either flank of the sea borne landings.  Each significant town has its own museum of the events, and memorials dedicated to the military units that landed there.

4. We visited three museums during our time on the Normandy coast. The third was the 360 degree cinema at Arromanches. This cinema is arranged with nine screens forming a complete circle around the audience, who watch the film standing. The film shown is entitled "The Price of Freedom" and blends news reel film and still photographs from the 1944 landings with present day film of the same locations as those shown in 1944. There is no commentary.  One striking sequence shows a farm building that was used as field hospital during the Battle of Normandy. Another striking sequence, filmed I suspect from a helicopter, travels up to what is recognisable as Omaha beach if you have visited it before seeing the film. The sequence takes the audience up the beach, across the sand dunes behind the beach and on up the bluff behind the beach, and then over the large American cemetery that overlooks the beach. Circling over the cemetery, you gain the impression of a never ending field of crosses, each marking a grave. The second was the visitors centre at the American Cemetery overlooking Omaha beach. As well as telling something of the story of the landings themeselves, the centre also includes a number of individual stories. This is well worth a visit. The first museum we visited was that at Ranville, where British glider borne troops succeeded in capturing intact two key bridges at the very beginning of the D-day assault.

5. A bit by accident (I had missed the turning I wanted to take to get to Cabourg), we visited the British and German military cemeteries just outside Lisieux. This is a beautiful spot in the middle of farmland, set a little back from the main road. An interesting feature of these cemeteries is the "peace way", a smartly arranged path way that links the two cemeteries. Mid-way between the two cemeteries is a monument dedicated to reconciliation, indicating that the initiative for this path way came from a range of local French civil organisations. The German cemetery is, in part, maintained by volunteers from Germany on summer camps.

6. At a time when British and American service men are seeing action in Afghanistan, a visit to Normandy does prompt a reflection on how one might understand and value the work that these service men undertake.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Closing the Year for Priests at Westminster Cathedral

This is the only report that I have seen of what appears to have been a quite wonderful occasion. Westminster Diocese's own website reports on Archbishop Nichols' homily, but does not describe the Eucharistic procession.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Papal liturgy setting an example

Elsewhere on Catholic blogs, there is not infrequent consideration of how the liturgy as celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI seeks to teach and set an example that can be followed by others in the Church.

Two recent thoughts have occurred to me, thoughts which others citing Pope Benedict's celebrations as examples might not wish to see as examples.

Thought number one:

Mgr Marini, the Papal MC, is reported recently as indicating that it is not for the moment expected that Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate Mass in the extraordinary form. In the words of Rome Reports account:
He says that for now it is not expected that the pope will celebrate a mass according to rites prior to the Second Vatican Council.

Thought number two:

The celebration of Mass in St Peter's Basilica for the closing of the Year for Priests .... was a concelebration by Pope Benedict XVI and some 15 000 priests, bishops and Cardinals. At least one report suggests that it was the largest number of concelbrants at a single Mass ever.

I do have a difficulty with the concept of "presiding", which appears to me to have become a necessary part of the language of the ordinary form because of concelebration. The function of "presiding" distinguishes the role of the principle celebrant from the other celebrants; this has then extended to seeing the single celebrant as also "presiding".
A closer look at the notion of concelebration does, in my view, remove the need for this rather non-theological notion of presiding. The first and strongest occasion of concelebration is when the priests, who are his co-workers, celebrate Mass with the Bishop. Quite naturally, the office of the Bishop is that of the principle celebrant - so that his priests celebrate with him - and the idea of "presiding" is redundant. This same idea can be seen analogically when a religious superior concelebrates with priest members of his community, or a parish priest/pastor concelebrates with his assistant priests. Again, the natural office makes the idea of "presiding" redundant. And at the closing of the Year for Priests it can be seen in the priests concelebrating with the Pope.
I wonder what example Pope Benedict wishes us to take away from these two thoughts?

Talking to strangers

A report from the Spirit in the City festival 2010 can be found here, at Bridges and Tangents.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Year for Priests: Pope Benedict's homily for 11th June 2010

The text of the homily preached by Pope Benedict XVI at the Mass he concelebrated to mark the closing of the Year for Priests can be found here on the Vatican website. As I post, I have not studied it in its entirety, but have been struck by the following two points.

The first is the way in which Pope Benedict refers to the priesthood as a demonstration of the "audacity of God":
The priesthood, then, is not simply “office” but sacrament: God makes use of us poor men in order to be, through us, present to all men and women, and to act on their behalf. This audacity of God who entrusts himself to human beings – who, conscious of our weaknesses, nonetheless considers men capable of acting and being present in his stead – this audacity of God is the true grandeur concealed in the word “priesthood”. That God thinks that we are capable of this; that in this way he calls men to his service and thus from within binds himself to them: this is what we wanted to reflect upon and appreciate anew over the course of the past year. 
The second is the way in which Pope Benedict comments on the scandals of abuses by priests that emerged during and, in a certain sense, have been a feature of, the Year for Priests:
It was to be expected that this new radiance of the priesthood would not be pleasing to the “enemy”; he would have rather preferred to see it disappear, so that God would ultimately be driven out of the world. And so it happened that, in this very year of joy for the sacrament of the priesthood, the sins of priests came to light – particularly the abuse of the little ones, in which the priesthood, whose task is to manifest God’s concern for our good, turns into its very opposite. We too insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved, while promising to do everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again; and that in admitting men to priestly ministry and in their formation we will do everything we can to weigh the authenticity of their vocation and make every effort to accompany priests along their journey, so that the Lord will protect them and watch over them in troubled situations and amid life’s dangers. Had the Year for Priests been a glorification of our individual human performance, it would have been ruined by these events. But for us what happened was precisely the opposite: we grew in gratitude for God’s gift, a gift concealed in “earthen vessels” which ever anew, even amid human weakness, makes his love concretely present in this world. So let us look upon all that happened as a summons to purification, as a task which we bring to the future and which makes us acknowledge and love all the more the great gift we have received from God. In this way, his gift becomes a commitment to respond to God’s courage and humility by our own courage and our own humility. The word of God, which we have sung in the Entrance Antiphon of the liturgy, can speak to us, at this hour, of what it means to become and to be priests: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble of heart” (Mt 11:29).
Pope Benedict's homily then goes on to reflect on the texts of the Liturgy for the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, particularly Psalm 23.

Year for Priests: Vigil of Prayer in St Peter's Square

On the eve of the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, some 15 000 priests gathered in St Peter's Square for a vigil of prayer with Pope Benedict XVI. The Vatican Information Service report is here.
During the first part of the vigil, live television linkups enabled those present in St. Peter's Square to share the witness and experiences of a German family with six children, a deacon, an Argentinean priest who works in a poor neighbourhood, a pastor from Hollywood, U.S.A., and a cloistered nun.

The second part of the vigil began with the Pope's arrival in St. Peter's Square by popemobile. Cardinal Claudio Hummes O.F.M., prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, greeted the Holy Father noting how this Year for Priests has served "to promote commitment to interior renewal among all clergy, for an evangelical witness that is more powerful and incisive in the modern world".

Year for Priests: more testimonies

ZENIT have posted a report of a meeting for priests which took place on 10th June: Clergy share testimonies on stage. The report includes accounts of three of the testimonies given and, if you are familiar with the charisms of the new movements, you will recognise in them the spirituality of unity of the Focolare movement.
Three African priests from Burundi took the stage first: Father Ildephonse Niyongabo, Father Pasteur Manirambona and Father Marc Bigirindavyi.

The first told how he entered the seminary in 1992, shortly before a civil war broke out in his country. Troops invaded the minor seminary in Buta where he was engaged in his formation.

"I remember that on April 29, 1997, the adversaries entered our seminary," Father Niyongabo recalled. "We wondered, how we should behave?"

He continued: "We thought of staying united. They began to shoot at random. We remained united and that day I lost my brother along with others."

"They wounded me and I got under the bed," the priest said. "All of a sudden there was a great explosion -- a grenade had been thrown next to us."

He said: "They continued to shoot. In the midst of this hell my companions were dying, saying: 'God, forgive them for they know not what they do.'

"The rest began to treat the wounds of the others, risking death."

Father Niyongabo admitted that after this incident he experienced an interior battle, and began to wonder if it was necessary to be a priest to be a good Christian.

Then the rector of the seminary asked him to teach there, where he felt called again. "I entered the major seminary and became a priest in 2004," the presbyter concluded.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Year for Priests: a testimony

During our visit to Normandy, we came across the story of Fr Joe Lacy, who landed on the beaches as chaplain to an American Ranger unit. President Bush referred to him when he visited the American cemetary at Omaha Beach in 2002:

Only a man who is there, charging out of a landing craft, can know what it was like. For the entire liberating force, there was only the ground in front of them -- no shelter, no possibility of retreat. They were part of the largest amphibious landing in history, and perhaps the only great battle in which the wounded were carried forward. Survivors remember the sight of a Catholic chaplain, Father Joe Lacey, lifting dying men out of the water, and comforting and praying with them. Private Jimmy Hall was seen carrying the body of his brother, Johnny, saying, "He can't, he can't be dead. I promised Mother I'd look after him."

Fr Lacy's story is a wonderful testimony to priestly mission and identity.

I was reminded of Fr Joe's story by this post at Wheat and Weeds.

Annus Sacerdotalis: the closing events

Tomorrow, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, brings to an end the Year for Priests.

A gathering of priests from all over the world is taking place in Rome, under the auspices of the Congregation for the Clergy. This gathering culminates with a vigil of prayer wiht Pope Benedict on the evening of the 10th June, and a celebration of Mass for the Solemnity tomorrow (11th June). The booklets for these two celebrations can be downloaded from the Vatican website: here. The vigil is due to take place in St Peter's Square, and the concelebration of Mass in St Peter's Basilica. The same page at the Vatican website includes links to a number of addresses that Pope Benedict has given during the Year for Priests, and that are relevant to the Year.

Some coverage of the events can be found at the ZENIT site:  Pope to World: close Year for Priests with prayer, Cardinal to Priests: feel the urgency of mission, Priestly meeting shows "beauty" of celibacy (interesting to see the involvement of new movements here).

It would be a good day to go to Mass, and to pray for priests throughout the world.

Thursday, 3 June 2010


I was intrigued to see this post today, as I will be setting off later today for a visit to Normandy. We will be in Lisieux for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi.

Papal Visit website

The website for the papal visit is:

From the home page you can follow a link to a section of the site about Cardinal Newman. The biography is a worthwhile read, the last two sections, on liberalism and faith, I think being of particular interest (though I suspect some readers will be a bit critical of the paragraph on liberalism). The section offering his key teachings on the office of the Papacy is made up of two two quotations that will be very helpful in answering those who pick up, totally out of context, Cardinal Newman's toast in favour of conscience over the Pope. It would, however, IMHO, have been helped by some additional explanation.

The page of the site on the Catholic faith appears to me a bit condescending. It is clearly written for someone who has no knowledge of the Catholic faith, or indeed, much knowledge of anything about Christianity. It is not in my view by any means the most brilliant piece of "primary proclamation", particularly in its account of the Eucharist. I suspect that Christians of denominations other than the Catholic Church will not find it helpful, though those without any faith at all will find it more help.

It may be the case that the most useful pages of the site are those linking to an account of the three encyclicals of Pope Benedict XVI - though I have not had time to read through these as I post.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Keep Christ's Image In You

Mother Maria-Michael's latest reflection is here: Keep Christ's Image in You.

An unsympathetic reader of this reflection might think that the immediacy of response expected of the monk when he is asked to do something represents a kind of subservience, an unthinking obedience:
In the monastery we make a vow of obedience. If we’ve vowed obedience and we’re asked to do something and instead stop and ask ourselves if we want to do what we’re told, we’re vacillating with the world. St. Benedict says in his chapter on obedience that as soon as a monk is asked to do something he is to drop everything immediately and do it. We aren’t supposed decide each time whether or not we’re going to obey. It should be a pattern in our life. It should be something that’s sealed within us, imprinted on us.

I wonder whether St Benedict's point is most fundamentally a point about the disposition expected of the monk? Not so much that the monk literally does everything asked of him, instantly - though, of course, that is how his disposition to obedience will manifest itself. More that the monk is disposed at every moment to that obedience, a disposition that represents an orientation towards acceptance of God's will for him. [The one who commands obedience is, of course, bound by a similar obedience in his life; so that the practical exercise of obedience in the monastery is mutual in nature, a mutuality that arises from the duty owed by the Abbot to the care of his monks.]

From the point of view of the lay faithful, the monastic vocation is the same as that of every Christian, though lived to its most radical extent. The disposition to obedience is lived out in very different circumstances, but it is still part of the lay persons vocation.

First Reith Lecture - a disappointment

In 1960, C P Snow delivered a lecture entitled "The moral un-neutrality of science".

In 2010, Martin Rees delivered the first of his Reith Lectures, entitled "The Scientific Citizen".

In comparison to the former, the latter is very disappointing, though in many respects the subject matter of the two lectures is the same. Read the two lectures - perhaps read C P Snow's lecture first - and make your own judgement.

C P Snow is willing to discuss the idea of truth, the idea that scientists are motivated by a search for the truth of things, a desire to know what is there; and that this constitutes a moral component at the heart of the scientific enterprise.
The desire to find the truth is itself a moral impulse, or at least contains a moral impulse.
He also highlights the moral problem faced by those scientists who, like many of his friends, worked on military projects of one type or another, or who, like himself, took on a scientific role in the Civil Service.
I can put the result in a sentence: I was hiding behind the institution, I was losing the power to say 'No'.
He also indicates another moral imperative in the life of the scientific community, one that arises from the particular knowledge that scientists might have, and their specific knowledge of the outcomes to which their work might be directed.
It throws upon scientists a direct and formal responsibility. It is not enough to say scientists have a responsibility as citizens. They have a much greater one than that, and one of a different kind. For scientists have a moral imperative to say what they know. ... It is a duty which seems to me to live in the moral nature of the scientific activity itself.
Like, C P Snow, Professor Rees addresses in his lecture the role of the scientist in relation to society as a whole. Though both lectures refer to science as a "self-correcting system" (Professor Rees qualifies the phrase by the word "generally", and we might read something of significance into that), they mean that in quite different ways. I don't think you will find the word "truth" anywhere in Professor Rees' lecture. In its stead, there are phrases like "Science is 'organised skepticism'" or the following, which suggests concensus as an epistemological principle for science:
... what's crucial in sifting error and validating scientific claims is open discussion.... The imperative for open-ness is a common thread through all the examples I've discussed. It ensures that any scientific concensus that emerges is robust and firmly grounded.
Open discussion, understood as freedom of enquiry, is a clear pre-requisite for the anxiety to discover the truth that C P Snow sees in the scientific enterprise; but in itself it is not sufficient as an epistemological prinicple for the enterprise that is science. For Professor Rees, it is quite natural then to focus the attention of his lecture on the relationship between scientists and the media who are able to promote - or undermine - the concensus of the scientific community to the whole of society.

Professor Rees very subtly separates the scientific enterprise from any intrinsic ethical impulse:

.... political decisions are seldom purely scientific. The involve ethics, economis and social policies as well. And in domains beyond their special expertise, scientists speak just as citizens.
In some ways, Professor Rees' concluding paragraph is akin to C P Snow's view of the responsibility of scientists to "say what they know" - but I think it is also fundamentally different:
...professionals have special obligations to engage .... Scientists shouldn't be indifferent to the fruits of their ideas. They should try to foster benign spin-offs - commercial or otherwise. And they should resist, as far as they can, dubious or threatening applications

There's a widening gap between what science allows us to do and what it's prudent or ethical actually to do - there are doors that science could open but which are best left closed. Everyone should engage with these choices but their efforts must be leveraged by 'scientific citizens' - scientists from all fields of expertise - engaging, from all political perspectives, with the media, and with a public attuned to the scope and limit of science.
Because of its lack of reference to truth, does not Professor Rees offer us a picture of science that is ethically/morally pragmatic? And, at a time when religious belief is playing an increasingly significant part in society, where does Professor Rees offer any basis for a dialogue between science and religion?