Monday, 27 September 2010

The Political Thought of John Henry Newman

This is the title of a book written by Terence Kenny in 1957, and now out of print. A search on has just revealed two copies, second hand, available at the rather exorbitant prices of £50 and £52! The search did not reveal any other similar, more recent study of Cardinal Newman's political thought.

I have been reading this for the last month or so. The pages I have just read this evening suggested particularly strongly something that I had begun to reflect on just before Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the UK. If Terence Kenny's presentation of Cardinal Newman's thought is correct, then there is a striking parallel between Newman and Pope Benedict's view of the part to be played by religious belief in the life of a nation and in the political life of the state. Pope Benedict's address at Westminster Hall, for example, could be referenced at some of its key points to the thought of John Henry Newman: the need for an ethical foundation to political discourse, religion seen as a vital contributor to the national conversation, a "purifying role" for religion with regard to the secular exercise of reason and of political activity, a rightful secularity according to which religious faith does not seek to impose solutions of a political nature beyond its competence. John Henry Newman would express all of this in a radically different language and, in some ways, a language appropriate to a different historical context. But it is interesting to read a book about this aspect of Cardinal Newman's thought and to be able to recognise in it some of Benedict XVI's key themes.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Pope Benedict XVI at Westminster Cathedral and Edith Stein

See here. I have enjoyed by fast read of this post, and will be going back to study it more fully.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Channel 4 at 9pm Sunday 26th September

.... and you will be able to watch a film called Juno. Zero and I saw this in the cinema in February 2008. Though being billed as a comedy (it is, with some very well crafted and funny exchanges), it is also a film with a serious side. The film shows a college student, her friends and her family, responding to an unexpected pregnancy. As a study of the way in which different "stakeholders" (sorry, can't think of a better word) react to unexpected pregnancy, this is a film that is worthy of study. There is, if I recall correctly, an interesting sound track, too.

Hanging and branding (or tapestries and a Dansette)

In the past, hanging and branding were judicial punishments. But that is not the subject of this post.

Zero and I went visiting museums in London yesterday, starting with the "hanging" part of the title of this post. We went to the Victoria and Albert Museum to see the exhibition which places four tapestries from the Vatican Museums alongside the cartoons used as their design template, cartoons which are displayed permanently in the Victoria and Albert Museum. We went from not expecting to spend long visiting four tapestries to finding it rather an exciting experience, spending nearly an hour in the gallery.

The V&A have an extensive web presence devoted to the exhibition, which can be accessed here. The video about the tapestries, here, is well worth watching. It shows some footage of the tapestries shown hanging in their originally intended locations in the Sistine Chapel, which provides an interesting "historic moment" to balance the "historic moment" of the first-time-ever display of the tapestries alongside their corresponding cartoons which is the essential point of the V&A exhibition. There is also an interesting section of film showing how the tapestries would be made from the cartoons. This page allows you to see images of the cartoons and more details about them.

What makes a visit to this exhibition exciting?

The way in which the tapestries have been displayed so that you can stand before them, look to one side to see the Raphael cartoon, and then look forward to see the tapestry. You can readily move your regard from cartoon to tapestry and back again.

The differences between the cartoons and the tapestries, which are indicated briefly in the booklet that you can pick up as you enter the exhibition. The tapestries transpose left with right compared to the cartoons, which also contributes to the fascination of moving your glance from one to the other.

These two points add to the third point, which is the sense of a "historic moment" in being able to see together cartoons and tapestries that are now together for the first time in 500 years. The occasion prompting the organisation of the exhibition is also a historic one - the state visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the UK.

To go with this last, I have chosen to include the cartoon entitled "Christ's Charge to Peter". This shows the three-fold interrogation and command recorded in John 21:15-17, about Peter's love of Christ and directing that Peter should feed Christ's sheep.

Admission to the exhibition is free, but by timed ticket only. You can pre-book on the V&A website, and the exhibition runs until 17th October 2010. When we were there, on a Friday morning, it was quite busy, so advance booking is advised.

At this point, there was a short adjournment to the Brompton Oratory for Mass and a visit to the newly established altar in honour of Blessed John Henry Newman (though I am not convinced by the complete accuracy of the statement on this page that "Beatification means that the Church confirms that the Servant of God is in heaven, among the ranks of the Blessed, that he has attained the Beatific Vision of God, and his intercession may be invoked by the faithful on earth".)

In the afternoon, we visited the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising. This is in a slightly obscure corner, perhaps five minutes walk away from Portobello Road and its famous market. A huge amount of material is packed into the display cabinets of this museum. Again, we spent much longer there than we had expected - some two hours. It is rather amusing looking at the website for the museum to see that it has a range of sponsors. Not only is it a museum of brands, packaging and advertising but it is also a living expression of a very modern manifestation of branding, packaging and advertising! It is quite interesting to see brands still existing today that reach back quite a long way; and to recognise when a brand "disappears" because it has been commercially taken over by another. The later part of the displays, where you can trace the packaging and branding of some products over time - with changes in packaging materials from tins with screw tops through to modern plastic bottles, and changes in shapes of packaging (but often a maintenance of brand colour throughout) - is quite interesting.

Zero's main interest as we walked from the Victorian age to the modern day seemed to be the changing fashions packaging of chocolates. One of the things that caught my eye were the examples of early crystal radio sets, with the crystals and "cats whiskers" visible. One of these had been designed with a freestanding wooden figure of a cat, perhaps six inches high, with a dozen wires from its face as whiskers; and the crystal to which these wires needed to be touched to allow the set to operate mounted on a movable front paw that could be positioned next to each of the wires. The stand on which this figure stood had terminals to make the required connections to the rest of the radio set. The other thing that caught my eye was an example of a Dansette Tempo (at least I think this was the particular Dansette model on display) record player.

Now, I am not old enough to remember either of these things directly ... they are just things I have heard about .... I do, though, have memories of my mother using a single tub, top loading washing machine fitted with a ringer, that needed to be filled and emptied by pipes from the kitchen sink rather than being plumbed in. This museum is like that. Every now and again you come across something that you do remember, and it takes you back ....

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

After the Papal Visit: a pause for thought

I have been prompted today to take a pause for thought in the light of a couple of things happening as the Papal Visit came to an end.

The first prompt to pause for thought was the numbers of people who turned out for the Protest the Pope demonstration in London on the Saturday of Pope Benedict's visit. The vast majority of the evidence I have seen indicates that the mingling of Papal pilgrims and anti-Papal protestors in pretty much the same area of our capital city was very good natured. In particular, the protestors did not try to disrupt the Papal drive along the Mall and the Hyde Park vigil. But, judging from this "guest post" at Protect the Pope, we should acknowledge that somewhere between 10 000 and 20 000 people turned out for the protest march, perhaps at the lower end of this range rather than the upper end. Tim H, in the post just referred to, describes the removal of one offensive banner, but my own sight of  the march, suggests that some offensive banners did remain (I saw one that accused the Pope of being a "practising homophobe"). Those turning out to greet the Holy Father far, far (far, far, far ...) outnumbered the protestors - but nevertheless the significant number turning out to protest along the lines offered by Messrs Tatchell, Dawkins et al, should give us pause for thought.

The second prompt is the motion passed (according to the Times today "overwhelmingly") at the Liberal Democrat conference calling for LGBT people to be able to marry as opposed to being able to just enter into civil partnerships. The resolution was moved by Dr Evan Harris and the Summation (I assume that refers to a summing up rather than a seconding) was by Stephen Gilbert MP. The full text of the motion can be found here, and the press release, which quotes Stephen Gilbert can be found here. If the report by Ann Trenemann on p.15 of today's Times is correct, the speakers to the motion represented a procession of LGBT activists. One can see this motion as a continued effort by the LGBT lobby to undermine the standing and effectiveness of marriage as an institution - having got as far as civil partnerships, the call for the legal equivalence of same sex and opposite sex commitment under the heading of marriage can be seen politically in this way. The evangelical intent of the motion is expressed in its sub-paragraph 8, which calls on the British Government:
8. To openly promote and encourage recognition of same-sex marriage and civil partnerships across the European Union, especially in countries where currently no laws exist.
Paragraph 2 calls on the British Government:

2. To allow approved religious and humanist celebrants who wish to do so to legally solemnise and celebrate same-sex and mixed sex marriages and civil partnerships in any authorised place.
I think Catholic Churches would be included under the heading of "authorised place", and so this paragraph seems to suggest that a priest who wanted to could be legally able to celebrate marriages or civil partnerships in his Church (or elsewhere). It is not clear where the ecclesiastical authority that wished to ban such activity in a Catholic Church or by a Catholic priest would stand in law.
I believe a much more detailed analysis of this conference motion can be undertaken, in the light of Pope Benedict's address in Westminster Hall. Many of the presumptions in its "Conference recognises that:" section need to be critically analysed, in particular its reference to the preamble to the Libieral Democratic Party constitution, which I suspect is misrepresented in its real import by being cited as it is in the motion.  Does the motion really represent the proper activity of "secular reason" to which Pope Benedict referred? Or does it attempt, by way of undermining the authority of religious bodies internal structures, to impose a secular morality (cf the quotation from Nick Clegg in paragraph (a) of the motion and the call to promote LGBT marriage across the European Union) on society as a whole and religious communities in particular? Compare it to Pope Benedict's words in Westminster Hall:
For such cooperation to be possible, religious bodies – including institutions linked to the Catholic Church – need to be free to act in accordance with their own principles and specific convictions based upon the faith and the official teaching of the Church. In this way, such basic rights as religious freedom, freedom of conscience and freedom of association are guaranteed.
That a motion like this can be passed overwhelmingly at a party conference within days of Pope Benedict's Westminster Hall address leads one to ask whether or not the liberal elites really understood what the Holy Father was saying.  Again, this should give us pause for thought.

General Audience: Pope Benedict reflects on his visit to the UK

The address given by Pope Benedict XVI at this mornings general audience is on the Vatican website: here.

Monday, 20 September 2010

P+3: Cofton Park - or not

There were some difficulties (very diplomatic word) with the coach arrangements for getting the group I was with from East London to Birmingham. Two coaches were needed, not one, and we had to wait for the promised second coach, which in the end didn't appear. So despite getting up at 2 am, getting myself organised to look after the fellow pilgrims in the group I was travelling with, and waiting some three hours beyond the advised pick up time, I didn't get there.

Letters have been written!

I put in writing to my fellow pilgrims (a little prematurely, as it turned out!) the following reflection on what had happened to us:
I am writing to let you know how much I share your deep disappointment that we are not able this morning to be with the Holy Father in Cofton Park. I am very conscious of, and appreciated very much, being able to see in the early hours of this morning your commitment to being at that momentous occasion. I am very aware that, for two of you, this was to be your only “live” participation in the events of the Papal Visit; and that, for one of you, the choice to go to Cofton Park was the fruit of a long standing family devotion to John Henry Newman. I reiterate again how deeply I share your disappointment, which only deepens as I follow the Mass of Beatification on a live webcast.

At a time when following the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI is made the object of ridicule and fierce criticism, the opportunity that I had this morning to meet a group of ordinary people of differing ages willing to go to great lengths to be with the Holy Father has made a great impression on me. This was particularly brought home to me by the enthusiasm of the younger members of our group with their banners and flags; by the thought that a number of us had attended the vigil in Hyde Park or been on the Mall during Saturday evening; and by the member of the group who said to me after we had returned home, “I just wanted to see the Pope!”
As I called in to deliver my letter after evening Mass on Sunday, I met six of our group, including the two teenagers - who by a totally accidental chain of events had spotted the coach that was meant to have picked us up, flagged down the driver, and, by stint of even more phone calls to National Express, ended up being provided with taxis to take them up to Cofton Park. Even that was fraught, as they had to rendezvous with National Express staff at a service station on the way up to get hold of passes to gain access to the coach park. They made it just 10 minutes before Mass started. Getting back was also fraught. They enjoyed a lovely experience of inter-religious dialogue, as their taxi drivers were Muslims and talked about how they had just celebrated the Eid festival at the end of Ramadan - as they drove Catholics to a Papal Mass!

I spent about half an hour with them, enjoying a very enthusiastic exchange of experiences of Catholic life and, I hope, prompting a young lady to start hunting for a way to get herself to Madrid next year!

P+2: eyewitness accounts

In case you have lost track, P+2 was Saturday, the day of Mass at Westminster Cathedral, drive up the Mall and Vigil in Hyde Park.

Zero and I duly set off for London as planned. On the Central Line going up we encountered other groups with their "pilgrim pack" bags and other Papal paraphernalia on the way to the Vigil. We arrived a few minutes late for our film - Certified Copy - but weren't likely to disturb the other nine people watching it in a cinema that could seat 160. The film is very cerebral - or, as Zero probably more perceptively expressed it, "a strange film". One novel - and very contemporary - aspect of the film is that uses pretty much equally English, French and Italian. Subtitles, of course, but it will be a very different experience if you do not have some understanding of French and Italian as well as English. But in this era of European unity, why should we not watch a film in three languages?

We emerged from the cinema on to Piccadilly at about 3.45 pm. The tail end of the Protest the Pope march, due to set off from Hyde Park Corner at 1.30 pm, was just reaching Piccadilly Circus. This means that, assuming it set off on time, there were sufficient protestors for the march to take about 2 hours to go by any single point. Estimates of numbers that I have seen are 10 000 and 20 000 - but certainly what one would call a good turnout. It has to be said that, despite the nastiness and anti-Papal ridicule of some of the placards, the atmosphere was very good natured. My guess is that the march will have been finishing at Downing Street somewhere soon after 5 pm, when the Holy Father was due to set off from Horse Guards Road (pretty much literally 5 minutes walk away) at 6 pm for his drive along the Mall.  I think it is to the credit of the protestors that they appear to have dispersed and not made any attempt to continue their protest during Pope Benedict's drive and the Hyde Park vigil.

After seeking physical food, Zero and I crossed Trafalgar Square to go to the Mall for the Papal Drive, getting there about 45 minutes before the Popemobile was due to set off. There was lovely sunshine, key vantage points along the barriers already occupied and others claiming their place beside the barriers in anticipation of a close up view. We walked up to Buckingham Palace, and then back down towards Admiralty Arch to position ourselves about one third of the way up the Mall. A wonderfully calm and tranquil atmosphere as people waited and others strolled up and down.

The Mall was lined from end to end. There were two signs that the Holy Father had arrived at Horse Guards Road and was getting ready to set off on his Drive. The helicopters had arrived overhead; and everyone got their cameras ready. My photographs don't show the number of Papal flags very well - these again appeared as the time of the Drive approached. In the event, there was no great roar or applause as the Pope approached and passed - because just about everyone had a camera in their hands! But that is not to underestimate the enthusiasm and commitment of those who turned out. I didn't try to get a photo, just wanting to enjoy the moment. At this point, I texted to my sister in Hyde Park: "HH has just waved at us".

As we then headed for home (Zero was putting me to bed early for the 2 am start on Sunday for Cofton Park), we found ourselves accompanied in the tube trains by others who had obviously come up to wave the Holy Father along the Mall.

Earlier in the day, my sister had travelled in to Victoria from south London with her older children. She described the walk from Victoria to Hyde Park as being rather like a procession - the pavements full of people all heading in the same direction, having to move slowly to keep with the flow. She saw no sign of any protestors, though they will have been setting off from Hyde Park Corner at about the time she arrived at Victoria. They stayed towards the back of the crowd, but enjoyed a really good experience. So far as I can gather, the staging in Hyde Park was tremendous; the testimony of Jimmy Mizen's parents intensely moving; and the silence for the time of Adoration quite stunning. My sister and the boys seem to have really enjoyed themselves, and she described them kneeling in adoration at the end of what will have been quite a long, busy day.

Friday, 17 September 2010

P+2: the plan for tomorrow

No doubt I will do a real P+2 post in due course.

The plan for tomorrow is an example of the dialogue between "secular reason" and "faith" of which Pope Benedict spoke in Westminster Hall.

Zero and I will set off soon after mid-day, with our first destination being the Curzon Cinema, Mayfair. This is to see the film Certified Copy, which we have been talking about seeing for a couple of weeks now. The timing of the film means that we might well be walking along Piccadilly within the half hour before the Protest the Pope march off from Hyde Park Corner, so I intend having Papal flags on display.

After the film it will be something to eat.

Then to the Mall or Green Park to watch the Pope go by ...

P+1: Lambeth Palace and the Palace of Westminster

I was half planning to go up to London to be at Westminster. Decided that was to risk physical exhaustion by Sunday morning (I will be in London tomorrow afternoon). So ...

I have just watched (on the Papal Visit live webstream) Pope Benedict's visit to Lambeth Palace, and the exchange of addresses by Archbishop Rowan Williams and the Holy Father.

I was really impressed by what Archbishop Williams chose to say. His willingness to stand full square in support of the Pope's contributions with regard to the state of the "soul" of Europe I thought was tremendous. And to quote from Pope Benedict's first homily as Pope, words which I remember hearing "live" again in Cologne... (will post them when I find the text of the address). I have yet to fully analyse Pope Benedict's own address.

Currently about to watch the drive from Lambeth Palace to Westminster ..

Arriving ....

I think that the reception given to Pope Benedict by the audience in Westminster Hall was genuinely warm - both the applause before he spoke and the applause after he spoke I thought was much, much warmer than the "polite". Pope Benedict was, I thought, most courteous in his understanding of Britain's parliamentary tradition.

Things I liked:
the way in which Pope Benedict cited the example of the abolition of the slave trade as something to Britain's credit - and as an example of a political activity rooted in an ethical basis

the way in which Pope Benedict referred to the widespread recognition that the origin of the financial crisis lay in an economic activity that lacked an ethical basis

the way in which Pope Benedict not only cited the example of St Thomas More, but pointed out that the challenge faced by St Thomas More still arises in life today, that of the right balance between Caesar and God

the way in which Pope Benedict talked about the need for dialogue between the realms of "secular reason" and those of religious faith - reason here being a key word

the clarity, yet courtesy, of the way in which Pope Benedict raised controversial points: that religious faiths, in their participation in public life and contributing to the good of society should be allowed to act in accordance with conscience, in freedom, and in obedience to the official teaching of their religion

the contribution of the Speaker of the House of Commons, which recognised the differences between some of the legislative action of Parliament and the teaching of the Church, but nevertheless extended a genuine welcome to Pope Benedict

the vote of thanks from the Leader of the House of Lords, speaking without notes and clearly responding to Pope Benedict's address, which showed a genuine appreciation of what the Holy Father had said [the look on Pope Benedict's face, and his instinct to stand up to shake her hand, showed just how much he appreciated this, and recognised how well it showed understanding of his own address]

the way in which the audience applauded Pope Benedict the whole length of Westminster Hall as he made his way down the aisle among them, pausing at the point at which St Thomas More was condemned

After all the unpleasantness that has been directed at the Catholic Church in general and Pope Benedict in particular, this whole occasion showed a most encouraging appreciation by those in British public life of the person of Pope Benedict and of his contribution to genuine dialogue.
My judgement: a triumph, not just for Pope Benedict, but for the Parliament of the United Kingdom. I think it is an occasion which will provide much cause for reflection. I will certainly study the texts of the addresses involved.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

P-0: Pope Benedict is here!

Two addresses into the visit ... and it is definitely a case of "Go, Benedict, Go!"

By chance I caught BBC Radio 5Live's coverage of the speeches of Her Majesty the Queen and Pope Benedict XVI at Holyrood House, just before lunchtime today. The Queen's speech can be found on the site of the Monarchy, here. I was particularly struck by her reference to the contribution made by the Catholic Church's "extensive network of schools", and the recognition of a role that is played by religion in national identity and self-consciousness. This latter remark is echoed by Pope Benedict when he talks about the Christian heritage of the United Kingdom. There was a particular subtlety in Her Majesty's remark about religious freedom, a subtlety that seems to have been missed by commentators:
Your Holiness, in recent times you have said that ‘religions can never become vehicles of hatred, that never by invoking the name of God can evil and violence be justified’. Today, in this country, we stand united in that conviction. We hold that freedom to worship is at the core of our tolerant and democratic society
As you will see below, Pope Benedict is clear that religious freedom is about much more than just freedom to worship - and it is surprising that secularists haven't spotted the possible implications of this choice of phrase by Her Majesty. Whether Her Majesty, or perhaps Her Majesty's government, intended anything by this choice of phrase is not clear.

In the address at Holyrood House:
The name of Holyroodhouse, Your Majesty’s official residence in Scotland, recalls the “Holy Cross” and points to the deep Christian roots that are still present in every layer of British life. The monarchs of England and Scotland have been Christians from very early times and include outstanding saints like Edward the Confessor and Margaret of Scotland. As you know, many of them consciously exercised their sovereign duty in the light of the Gospel, and in this way shaped the nation for good at the deepest level. As a result, the Christian message has been an integral part of the language, thought and culture of the peoples of these islands for more than a thousand years....

Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a “reductive vision of the person and his destiny” (Caritas in Veritate, 29).

And this latter paragraph is already causing controversy, though one should perhaps note that the suggestion that the Pope compared today's atheists with the Nazis is to invert the way in which Pope Benedict expressed himself.

From the homily during Mass in Glasgow:
The evangelization of culture is all the more important in our times, when a “dictatorship of relativism” threatens to obscure the unchanging truth about man’s nature, his destiny and his ultimate good. There are some who now seek to exclude religious belief from public discourse, to privatize it or even to paint it as a threat to equality and liberty. Yet religion is in fact a guarantee of authentic liberty and respect, leading us to look upon every person as a brother or sister. For this reason I appeal in particular to you, the lay faithful, in accordance with your baptismal calling and mission, not only to be examples of faith in public, but also to put the case for the promotion of faith’s wisdom and vision in the public forum. Society today needs clear voices which propose our right to live, not in a jungle of self-destructive and arbitrary freedoms, but in a society which works for the true welfare of its citizens and offers them guidance and protection in the face of their weakness and fragility.
Zero was able to watch most of the Mass on television after getting home from work, and reports it to have been a very moving occasion.

But it is the pictures (and here) that say it all. I am particularly struck by the smile on the Queen's face as she greets Pope Benedict from the car at the Palace of Holyrood.

Zero also tipped me off to a Youtube video of the Pope arriving at Holyrood House to be greeted by the Queen, and then on his drive through Edinburgh. I think the Pope is quite moved at the moment the band begins to play the anthem. But the funny moment is when Mgr Gänswein tries to give Pope Benedict his glasses - above his hand, and then below - but His Holiness is not having anything of it! The route of the Papal drive looks as if it was quite well lined.

PS: I have now got my pilgrim pack for Cofton Park ...

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

P-1: compare your clangers

David Cameron, the Prime Minister, has issued a warm welcome to Pope Benedict ahead of the beginning of the Papal Visit tomorrow.

I had intended tracking down these words of Pope Benedict just as he was elected Pope, but have been saved the trouble.

Fr Tim has drawn attention to this initiative. St Mary's is where I did my teacher training - in the last century, but not at the same time as Fr Tim's father - so I find this a very interesting initiative: Benedict XVI House. I am quite taken, too, by the dedication of their oratory to Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office dropped its one a few months ago:

Has the Vatican, in the person of Cardinal Kasper, kindly made it 1-1 today?

What both clangers have in common is the subsequent affirmation that neither will affect the visit, though the attack of gout being suffered by the Cardinal does appear to have its parallel in the transfer to other duties of a junior official at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Now, if I had a ticket in my hand, I would get ready for Cofton Park .... I have had a Papal flag in my window for the last week or so. Two floors up, it is at a perfect height for the upper deck of the buses that pass, and at busy times of the day have to stop in the traffic queue ...

Feast of Our Lady of La Salette

Compared to the minor event of a beatification, Sunday sees the celebration of the anniversary of an apparition of the Mother of God, that of Our Lady at La Salette.  This has come to my attention because there are three parishes nearby cared for by Polish priests of the Missionaries of La Salette. At the moment, these parishes are praying a novena in preparation for the celebration of the Feast.

These two pages - here and here - give you the story of the apparition, and of its message. It all seems strikingly contemporary, with its reference to blasphemy and failing to keep Sunday as a day for the Lord.

Part of the novena prayers each evening is the Memorare of La Salette:
Remember, Our Lady of La Salette, true Mother of Sorrows, the tears you shed for me on Calvary. Remember also the care you ahve always taken to keep me faithful to Christ your Son. After having done so much for your child, you will not now abandon me. Inspired by this consoling thought, I come to cast myself at your feet in spite of my infidelities and ingratitude. Do not reject my prayer, O merciful Virgin, but intercede for my conversion, obtain for me the grace to love Jesus above all things, and to console you with a holy life, that I amy one day see you in heaven. Amen.
I was reminded when I went to Mass in one of these parishes for yesterday's feastday (Exaltation of the Cross) that there is something a little special about a parish that is in the care of a religious order. This involvement of their parishioners in a novena in preparation for their Order's "feast day" seems typical of this.

P-2: around the web

I know it is P-1 today, but I missed P-2 so this is yesterday's post.  Two topics:

Who is my neighbour?

Viviane Reding is the justice commissioner, vice-president of the EU executive and a force to be reckoned with. The BBC news report of her attack on France's policy in the forcible return of Roma people to their countries of origin leaves out the most ferocious part of her remarks. Referring to the deportations from France during the Nazi era, she talked about seeing something that she had not expected would ever be seen again after the Second World War. The relevant French ministers have responded strongly.

Viviane Reding's comparison is close to that made earlier in the affair by the Archbishop of Toulouse, speaking during his diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes. Responding to the controversy that his remarks caused, Mgr Le Gall suggested that his real message was that Catholics should follow, in the case today of the Roma, the example of those who, in the time of the Nazi's, had shown hosptitality towards their Jewish neighbours.

This question is not just one for the French, as this report at Independent Catholic News shows. The site that is referred to here has been a particular focus for Catholic engagement on behalf of the traveller community over a number of years.
“The Irish Chaplaincy has worked on the Dale Farm traveller site in Essex for a number of years now. Dale Farm is the the biggest IrishTravellers community in Europe and we know that the 86 familes there are now under imminent threat of eviction. It will be the same bailiff company involved, and they see Hovefields evictions as a dry run for what is going to be the biggest eviction in British history. The Irish Chaplaincy is committed to calling for these evictions to stop”.

Celibacy debates

These are reported at Catholic Voices and by Tina Beattie. There is some interesting discussion in the comments on the latter report.

It is interesting to see the question of celibacy being put in the context of chastity in its wider sense, and I get the impression that this is something of which Tina Beattie is willing to recognise the value. An aspect that does not appear to have been reflected (correct me if my rapid reading of the reports has missed something) is the situation of celibacy or chastity as one of three evangelical counsels. If the form of the evangelical counsels is seen as a form of consent to vocation in the Church - and that is the witness of both religious life and, in the years leading up to and since Vatican II, the life of lay people in secular institutes and new movements - then one area of the debate on priestly celibacy is that of celibacy as part of the form of the structure of the consent that a priest gives to his vocation. That would, of course, raise the question of poverty as part of priestly life as well. As I have already commented, I do feel that the life of the Church at present offers a mixed message, with the ordination of married converts from the Church of England creating a de facto mixture of married and celibate clergy. This is something that Tina Beattie picks up. The debates have also led to a very useful witness of priests who value their celibacy and live it with joy.

Monday, 13 September 2010

P-3: where IS my ticket for Birmingham?

I was somewhat amused to hear on BBC Radio 4's Six O'Clock News this evening that there are thousands of tickets for Papal events still unsold, and just three days to go until His Holiness arrives. Particular mention was made of Brentwood Diocese, my own diocese, as having a substantial number of tickets allocated for both Hyde Park and Birmingham that were not being used.

Now, I was "elected" - very much in the Biblical sense (ie by lot of the parish priest concerned) rather than the democratic sense - to be the group leader for eight of us going to Birmingham (small parish, initial allocation for Birmingham just 10 tickets, 80% take up, not bad so far as I can gather, and pretty much all the tickets for Hyde Park taken up, too). But the parish has still not received its "pilgrim packs" for Birmingham. So my question is: have our tickets been mistakenly placed in the "returns" pile rather than the "out" pile?

I have sent an e-mail to our diocesan co-ordinator about this ... but if I tell you that it is a  e-mail address ... well, you can perhaps understand my confidence in the efficiency of any action in response.

Oh, and by the way, how about a competition for the earliest departure time to Birmingham? We have been told 2 am (!), and that is leaving from East London in easy reach of the M25. My estimate of the journey time 3 1/2 hours ...

Meanwhile, around the blogs, Catholic Voices and Protect the Pope seem to vying with each other, though perhaps unconsciously. Fr Rosica at Salt and Light TV published a few days ago a reflection on the forthcoming beatification of John Henry Newman. (H/T Communio.) It reminds me that perhaps, as far as Newman is concerned, the observation that a prophet is not recognised in his own country has some truth in it. His beatification will certainly attract attention in other countries. And some self righteous indignation is in full swing, as one might expect (yawn).

Tigerish Waters has a good reflection on how we should respond to the criticism that the Church has been taking, with a suitable and so very English touch: Holding vs Close 1976.

The Catholic Whistle reflects on the formula that will be used to beatify Cardinal Newman, observing that the "words simply do what they say" . Now, a canonisation, that is a real form of words, that also "do what they say":
For the honour of the Blessed Trinity, the exaltation of the Catholic Faith and the fostering of the Christian life, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and our own, after due deliberation and frequent prayers for divine assistance, and having sought the counsel of many of our Brethren in the Episcopate, we declare and define that XX is a Saint and we enroll him/her among the saints, decreeing that he/she is to be venerated in the whole Church as one of the Saints.
"By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ ... and our own ... we declare and define (my emphasis) .. to be venerated in the whole Church ...".  Now, if this is a solemn exercise of the Papal magisterium for the whole Church - and Pope Benedict's practice of having the celebration of beatifications undertaken by the head of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in the local diocese of the individual concerned, and preserving canonisations to himself in Rome draws attention to this; and if Pope John Paul II canonised more people than all his predecessors; can one suggest that Archbishop Nichols was only partly correct in saying that the privilege of infallibility had not been exercised by the last three Popes (at the end of the Telegraph interview) and that, in the form of canonisations, the solemn exercise of the Papal office has in fact had quite a good outing of late?

PS: I had offered to be on child care duty on Saturday, but it now looks as if I am being relieved .... so even if I don't get to Birmingham, I should get to the Mall on Saturday afternoon!

Sunday, 12 September 2010

P-4 (again): The Bishop of Brentwood, and BBC Radio London

Bishop McMahon of Brentwood wrote a short pastoral letter to be read at all Masses in his Diocese this Sunday.  He cited Luke 22:31-32 ("...when you have turned again, strenghten your brethren."), saying that Pope Benedict XVI comes to confirm us "in our unity and communion". [I liked this, having just posted a reflection on unity in the Church!]. He then asked his people to give the same strength and warmth of welcome to Pope Benedict XVI that was given to Pope John Paul II some twenty years ago. He went on to encourage those who do not have tickets for the specific events themselves to go up to London on the Friday or Saturday to line the routes to be taken by Pope Benedict in the Popemobile.

I have not listened to all of BBC Radio London's Inspirit programme from this morning (available to listen again I expect for one week only). As you might expect, Protest the Pope (in the person of Andrew Copson) and Catholic Womens Ordination (in the person of Pat Brown) have a say in the programme. But there are at least two excellent testimonies from Catholics as they look forward to the Papal visit, and Fr Paul Keane does an excellent job of presenting the Catholic position in discussion with the above-mentioned. Listen, I suggest, to the last half hour or so of the programme.   The presenter of this programme, a lady called Jumoke Fashola, made a favourable impression on me.  She is heading up BBC London's live coverage of the Hyde Park vigil next Saturday. H/T Catholic Voices Media Monitor

1 000th post: some thoughts on the unity of the Church

This is my 1000th post. As I post, Sitemeter records 52 498 visits to the blog - so by the time that you read this post, the chances are that will have crept above 52 500 visits. I do feel sorry for the postulators of causes in years to come - in this era of electronic media communications, their work is going to change drastically, and the evidence is going to be on servers and hard drives distributed about the world! [Note to myself: do not encrypt or password protect any drives that I would like to be part of the process in a certain eventuality ...]

It would have been nice to wait until Pope Benedict XVI arrives in the United Kingdom on Thursday, so that the 1000th post could report his arrival. Instead, a not unrelated post on the nature of the unity of the Church.
161. Why is the Church one?

The Church is one because she has as her source and exemplar the unity of the Trinity of Persons in one God. As her Founder and Head, Jesus Christ re-established the unity of all people in one body. As her soul, the Holy Spirit unites all the faithful in communion with Christ. The Church has but one faith, one sacramental life, one apostolic succession, one common hope, and one and the same charity.
The last sentence of the answer to this question from the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church identifies for us five different components that make up the unity of the Catholic Church. We cannot take one or other of these components, and raise them above any of the others; they all belong together, and together make up the unity of the Church.

"The Church has but one faith .." This means that the content of what the members of the Church believe is one and the same - Catholics do not choose to believe some of what the Church teaches and to disregard other parts of what she teaches. What is believed forms itself a unity. Expressed in a slightly different way, this means that the idea of the truth of the doctrine taught by the Church, and the acceptance by the faithful of its truth, is a key component of the unity of the Church. This same consideration applies if one wishes to speak, theologically, in terms of the person of Christ as being Who is taught by the Church, rather than articulating it in terms of doctrine.

"The Church has one and the same charity .." Unity in charity, seen as the living out of Christian faith, refers to unity in moral life and practise. Every moral failing offends against the unity of the Church, and the idea of "mortal sin" is that there is a point reached where moral failing significantly separates a believer from the unity of the Church (though, of course, the Sacrament of Penance allows the restoration of that unity). A useful reflection on this idea of unity in moral life, presented in a very specific context (see particularly pp.5-9), introduces the idea that there are substantive life choices which are incompatible with the teaching of the Church and which therefore mean that the person making those choices can be seen objectively, and without any element of individual judgement, not to be in unity with the moral life of the Church (and therefore should not receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist).

"The Church has one common hope .." The Church does form a single, visible social reality. The Diocese, as the "particular Church", the presence in a particular location of the universal Church, is a particular manifestation of this. Within the Diocese, the parish is another expression of this unity at a social level. This social unity is also related to the unity of the Apostolic succession and sacramental life. It is not true to the nature of the unity of the Church to understand and express it exclusively in these social terms and therefore feel able to leave out questions of truth of doctrine and moral practise. And, on the other hand, neither is it correct to leave out the demand of this social unity.

And now I suggest some examinations of conscience, the common theme to which is that the unity of the Church is social, but cannot be reduced to the social alone:

Is the "picking and choosing" of the young people cited by Fr Tim from the BBC Radio 4's "The Pope's British Divisions" compatible with the unity of faith of the Church? Does the praising of the community aspects and denial of the morally demanding aspects not raise the social aspect of the unity of the Church over and above that of unity in moral life?

Does a pastorally inspired anxiety to be welcoming, and so respect the social aspect of the Church's unity, not at times undermine the demands of unity in faith and moral life, or, at the very least, lead to confusion about those aspects of the Church's unity? Thus the inadequacy of Fr Joe Wheat's response on Radio 4, noted here, and the painfulness of Liturgical celebrations that reduce the sacred to the banal and everyday - "Good morning everyone, Good morning Father" ...

Do those Catholics who challenge the Church's moral teaching, in the name of equality of rights and inclusivity, not put to one side the unity of faith and unity of moral life that is also part of the unity of the Church's life, and raise the unity at a social level above these?

And, on a different tack, is the persistent public attacking of Archbishop Nichols and others by some in the blogosphere (here and here, for example) compatible with the unity of the Church at its social level, or does it consider that aspect of the unity of the Church of no account at all?

P-4: A BBC poll

BBC Radio 2's news bulletins have this morning been reporting a survey that suggests that the majority of Catholics in Britain would like to see the Church's rule in favour of priestly celibacy relaxed. The BBC website reports the survey here (with a slightly different lead than was given to the Radio 2 bulletins), but I haven't been able to find my way to the full report of the survey.
Almost 70% of British Catholics expect the Pope's visit to help the Catholic Church in the UK, a BBC poll suggests.
It is difficult to know what to say about the survey's findings on the response of Catholics to the sex abuse scandal. One can only expect it to have had a negative impact on how Catholics feel about the leadership of the Church.

The poll reports that 57% of Catholics do not feel their faith is valued by wider society - which raises interesting questions for British society's "equality agenda".

The findings with regard to priestly celibacy were getting most attention in the radio bulletins. But the figures reported suggest that 49% feel the rule for priestly celibacy should be relaxed, with 35% giving a response in favour of keeping the rule in place. My own thoughts on the celibacy question: (1) In the new movements and religious orders that have come into existence in the life of the Church in recent decades, there is a clear witness to the life of the evangelical counsels, including celibacy, as part of a life lived in greater commitment to the charism of the movement; (2) The ordination of married convert clergy from the Church of England as priests in the Catholic Church, albeit that each and every case represents an "exception" to the general rule of celibacy granted by dispensation from the Holy See, has de facto created a body of married clergy, certainly in the some of the dioceses of England; (3) one can be forgiven for feeling that the lived experience and practice of the discipline of celibacy in the Church represented by (1) and (2) is at the present time offering a mixed message; (4) those of a more liberal inclination who actively lobby for an end to priestly celibacy are not to be found in the experiences of Catholic life represented by (1) and (2), coming instead from a wider ideological positioning in the Church - but they will make use of the mixed message noted at (3) to further their cause. The survey result - 49% in favour of change - does not suggest that Catholics in England and Wales, seen as a whole, desperately want to see change. It will, I expect, disappoint those who do want to see a change in the rule on priestly celibacy; but it will also give those who wish to see the rule retained some pause for thought, too.

There is some further coverage and comment at Catholic Voices Media Monitor, where they give some attention to the responses about the place of women in the Church. The wording of this question hides the question about the ordination of women, and no doubt some of those responding intended this by their call for women to "have more authority and status" in the Church. Catholic Voices rightly indicate some of the roles that women do already have in the Church. At least one leading Vatican position has been held by a woman in the past and now is held by her again, and that woman is Mary Ann Glendon, President of the Pontifical Academy for the Social Sciences. Mary Ann Glendon took a break from this role whilst she was the United States Ambassador to the Holy See under the George Bush administration.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

P-5: "Benedict grasps a lot of the nuances of modern Britain"

There are some nice pieces of media coverage today about Pope Benedict and his forthcoming visit to Britain.

The Times has published, on its Faith page, an account of an interview with the Her Majesty's Ambassador to the Holy See, Francis Campbell.  A snippet:
Having to calm the Vatican a few months ago over the infamous "Foreign Office Memo"... was "not a good moment", he says. "It is not every day you have to apologise for the stupidity of your colleagues".
I am looking forward to Pope Benedict's address in Westminster Hall, and agree with the Ambassador's assessment that this will be the number two highlight of the visit, after the beatification of John Henry Newman. I am certainly expecting that it will provide much food for thought and discussion. The place and the occasion are so full of different resonances.

The article does discuss something that I believe lies at the heart of the visit, and at the heart of the address in Westminster Hall:
The Pope, however, does not want to return "to some golden era in which the Catholic Church has some unique position in the constitutional order. He draws a distinction between the Anglo-Saxon version of the Enlightenment, which was about freedom for religion, and the French or continental version, which was about freedom from religion". Consequently the Vatican does not see Britain as a rabidly secular state hostile to Christians in general and Catholics in particular.

Benedict's 2004 dialogue with the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas confirmed his belief that "faith and reason must have a conversation. What he would object to is not atheism or humanism, they have their place and are part of the dialogue with faith. What he objects to is the irrationality of some of those on the polemical militant fringe who want to impose their order to the detriment of everything else."
The analysis of the way in which the Enlightenment relates to the situation of religious belief in Britain today is not one that all may follow. My own sense is that life in Britain is more profoundly secularised than, say, in France, where there might be a greater polarisation between belief and secularism but there is a greater public "presence" of religious belief. But the essential question being raised here is a key one. It is the question of what constitutes a rightful secularity ("laicite" in the French or Italian contexts) of the state with regard to religious belief, and the rightful place of religious belief and practice in civil society.

I am, in passing, fascinated by the post to which Ambassador Campbell will move after he finishes his posting at the Holy See. It is to be Deputy High Commissioner in Pakistan.

The Daily Telegraph is carrying this comment in its print edition today:  Can't we set aside old hatreds, and simply welcome the Pope?  There is also an interview with Archbishop Nichols, which is set in a somewhat combative tone and, as published, devotes a lot of space to the question of clerical sexual abuse: "He is a man of real poise, with an inner peace". But the following passage from the interview with Archbishop Nichols describes, quite elegantly and with a turn of phrase of which I think Pope Benedict himself would be proud, a point that is complementery to that made by Francis Campbell:
Is it difficult defending a man regarded by so many as reactionary?

"That's unfair. He is out there intellectually and spiritually. He engages with the contemporary world but retains an inner peace and a rooted spiritual life. He is a man of real poise, gentle and respectful.

"His view is that the Church should not be a closed place, trying to preserve tradition, but that it should be a luminous place. And he believes the only way the Church can shine is by being deeply rooted. People try to construct him as a conservative pope, but he's not. What he's trying to say is that, as a society, we need deep roots from which to draw this luminosity."
UPDATE: Some critical comment is being offered on this passage, which I think arises from reading it in too narrow a context. I think it is alright, and quite nicely expresses how the Church, precisely in its engagment with the wider world, seeks to make its tradition live. It also brings to my mind the remarks that Pope Benedict was going to make at La Sapienza about the contribution of a religious tradition to a dialogue in a secular university.
The important thing in this assertion, it seems to me, is the acknowledgment that down through the centuries, experience and demonstration – the historical source of human wisdom – are also a sign of its reasonableness and enduring significance. Faced with an a-historical form of reason that seeks to establish itself exclusively in terms of a-historical rationality, humanity’s wisdom – the wisdom of the great religious traditions – should be valued as a heritage that cannot be cast with impunity into the dustbin of the history of ideas.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Chiara "Luce" Badano: the other beatification

While John Henry Newman will be beatified in Birmingham on 19th September, there will be another beatification on 25th September, that of Chiara Badano.

This article gives an idea of the life of Chiara and the significance of her beatification: Generation X gets a "blessed".

London Film Festival 2010 to screen "Of Gods and Men"

I missed this when I searched for it yesterday, but am delighted to have discovered, courtesy of The Times, that there will be two screenings of the film Of Gods and Men at the London Film Festival.

As last year, when the film of interest was Jessica Hausner's Lourdes, it will be possible to spend the day at Aid to the Church in Need's London event "Hope without Fear" and go on to the cinema after dinner. Of Gods and Men is getting a higher profile than Lourdes had last year, being screened at a West End venue rather than the South Bank Centre, and being one of the "gala screenings". I am not sure what the implications of this will be for the availability of tickets. Booking for ordinary members of the public opens on Monday 27th September.

Of Gods and Men (in English the title has been reversed when compared to the French: Des Hommes et des Dieux) won the Grand Prix at the Cannes film festival, and has just gone on general release in France. The Times review at the time of the Cannes festival is here. The French daily La Croix has a dossier about the events at Tibhirine, linked to the general release of the film.

My own earlier comments, which includes some more links, can be found here.

P-6: We're off to see the pontiff

Politics and protests as the papal roadshow rolls into London is the title of the first article of coverage on the website of the London Evening Standard today. The title of my post comes from the caption to the cartoon accompanying the text. The text contains some interesting comments - like the one referring to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as "only liking doing things they have done before" and another making passing reference to the "local difficulty of the Reformation". It is the last paragraph, though, that is perhaps most revealing:
A non-Catholic senior Foreign Office source agrees: “You'd be very foolish as a Government to fall in with the negative voices on a papal visit. Look at Australia — he went there at the height of the backlash about his handling of child abuse and among predictions that it would be a disaster.

“By the time he left, more people had turned out to see him than had seen the Sydney Olympics.”
There is also a link from this page to another page, a page that gives some information about where and when it will be possible to see Pope Benedict during his visit to London.  Within the text of this second page, Archbishop Nichols invites Londoners to take the opportunity to come out and welcome Pope Benedict during his time in London.

And The Times is due to publish a 16 page supplement next Thursday, dedicated to the Papal visit.

H/T Catholic Whistle.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Two heresies

Heresy number 1.

I like the sanctuary that has been designed for the Mass of Beatification of John Henry Newman in Cofton Park, Birmingham.

Heresy number 2.

I like "Shine Jesus shine", and, given the words, think it is very appropriate that it be sung at a vigil with Pope Benedict during a visit whose theme is "Heart speaks unto heart". So far as I can tell, it will be sung before the time of Eucharistic Adoration begins - but look at the words of the second verse and imagine them being sung before the Blessed Sacrament.
Lord, the light of Your love is shining
in the midst of the darkness, shining;
Jesus, Light of the World, shine upon us,
set us free by the truth You now bring us,
shine on me, shine on me.

Shine, Jesus, shine,
fill this land with the Father's glory;
blaze, Spirit, blaze,
set our hearts on fire
Flow, river, flow
flood the nations with grace and mercy
send forth Your word, Lord,
and let there be light.

Lord, I come to Your awesome presence
from the shadows into Your radiance;
by the blood I may enter Your brightness,
search me, try me, consume all my darkness.
Shine on me, shine on me.
As we gaze on Your kingly brightness
so our faces display Your likeness
Ever changing from glory to glory
mirrored here may our lives tell Your story.
Shine on me, shine on me.
Anathema sum?

P-7: around the blogs

BBC Radio 4's "The Pope's British Divisions" was broadcast at 9.30 am this morning. I expect that it will be available to listen to on the BBC i-player for the next seven days. A good account of it is given here, by The Sensible Bond. My flexible working arrangments (ie my school hasn't started its sixth form timetable yet so I haven't had to go in - mind you, being supply, I have not been paid either) meant that I was able to listen to it. I think I share the view that it was, in general, an informative, though not perfect, account of the state of the Catholic Church in England and Wales. Mark Dowd did make it quite clear when positions being held by Catholics were actually at odds with Catholic teaching; and I think it was the responsibility of Catholic participants in the programme to have provided an effective apologetic in response to the idea that a Catholic doesn't have to believe what the Church teaches. I will have to reserve that discussion to another post.

Independent Catholic News are carrying a short report of Archbishop Peter Smith's meeting yesterday with leaders of the Protest the Pope coalition. It is very welcome news that the coalition have no plans to disrupt the events of the Papal visit, and that this has been made clear in a very public way will hopefully remove one of the deterrents to Catholics participating in the events of the visit. However, one of the things that Archbishop Smith asked was that any protests against the Pope's visit should take place in a way that respects those taking part in the events of the visit. This event, taking place on the Friday of the Pope's visit is hardly able to be described as "respectful". That any profits will go to an organisation advocating on behalf of those abused by religious leaders does not make this event any more acceptable.

Dolphinarium has posted on Peter Tatchell, who is being very prominent in Protest the Pope, and who is the host for the above-mentioned example of "respectful" protest. It does put things into a rather interesting context. Not for the faint hearted!

And following along the same thread, an absolute first for this blog - a link to Holy Smoke. There is normally the distance of several virtual barge poles between this blog and Holy Smoke, but since vitriol is the condiment of the season - and I would, of course, never engage in vitriol myself, but just for once I might try it to see what it tastes like - it seems appropriate. Holy Smoke has commented on Peter Tatchell's programme about Pope Benedict XVI for Channel 4 television. Read the original blog post, but it might be as well to give most of the comments a miss (a long way down the comments is some real discussion of the content of the post, but searching it out will take you an age). I do recall Peter Tatchell commenting somewhere that many of the Catholics he had tried to interview for the programme declined to take part (not surprising, that) which might explain the imbalance of participants to which Holy Smoke refers.

To return to Independent Catholic News report, it is amusing to see an acknowledgement on the part of anti-Pope protesters that the threat to arrest the Pope during his visit to the United Kingdom is what it was from the very beginning - just so much hot air and empty posturing.

BBC: London Catholics to welcome Pope Benedict XVI

I have just come across this page on the BBC London website, and encourage you to go and read it.

I particularly appreciated James Blythe's comments about the intellectual and pastoral standing of Pope Benedict:
However, Pope Benedict is also an inspiring intellectual and theologian with a profound understanding of the needs of the church, so I'm really keen to hear his advice for Catholics in Britain. I'm looking forward to experiencing a happy and festive atmosphere, where Catholics can be unafraid to show their faith and their love for Pope Benedict.

Support for Pope Benedict XVI

It won't catch the headlines in the main stream media, but it is an expression of the extent of affection and support for the Pope from Catholics in the United Kingdom - and, quite possibly, from some non-Catholics as well.

More than 130 days of Eucharistic Adoration ...

6 300 financial donations to support the work of the Church in the Middle East ....

11 500 Mass offerings for the the Holy Father's intentions ....

32 000 decades of the Rosary ....
Aid to the Church in Need’s fundraising and marketing manager Patricia Hatton spearheaded the initiative.

She said: “This scheme has given a voice to all those benefactors who, in the face of media indifference and worse, believe strongly in the message of Christ. They are convinced that prayer has the power to strengthen the life of the Church.”

Meanwhile, many messages of support have come in to the charity’s office in Sutton, Surrey.

One message reads: “I am concerned that every opportunity should be taken to show the world, particularly the secular ascendancy here, that British Catholics are devoted to the Pope.”

The Polo Shirt

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Humour from the Times letter pages

Sir, I am not alone among British Catholics in viewing the impending visit of Pope Benedict XVI with mounting disquiet.... In much of what has been said and done this papacy does not represent the Church of which I have been a member all my life. I do not accept the Pope's authority to redefine my Church beyond recognition and relevance.
Thus writes, in part, a correspondent in the letters page of the Times newspaper today. Not surprising that, if you do not accept the Pope's authority and you do believe in the existence of "my Church" (sounds rather like those pastors of a strongly evangelical leaning who establish their own community churches and do not have any real source of authority beyond their own natural abilities), the Pope's forthcoming visit does not enthral you.

But the humour comes in the headline above this letter, a humour which might be lost on the correspondent himself. That headline reads: Pope not Catholic?

Lourdes 4: the Lord's Day

Our recent visit to Lourdes was meant to be a pilgrimage as well as a holiday. The Sunday of our stay was designated a "religion" day.

This began with the International Mass at 9.30 am. The Diocese of Rome were on pilgrimage at the time, so the principal celebrant on this morning was the Pope's episcopal vicar for Rome. I hadn't quite realised that it is possible, each Wednesday and Sunday of the pilgrimage season, to follow the International Mass live on a web stream from the Lourdes shrine's website. It was interesting to see that the Our Father was sung in Latin - and that the congregation joined in with considerable energy. This seemed to me a much better idea than something I have previously experienced in Lourdes, which is pilgrims being invited to pray the Our Father in their own different languages. The undergound basilica was full for Mass, which I think puts the numbers attending at 20 000 people or thereabouts.

After a coffee, we then took ourselves off to pray the Stations of the Cross, using the "high stations". Our timing was good in that there were no large pilgrimage groups praying the stations at this time. One of the most powerfully evangelising aspects of a visit to Lourdes is when you see small groups, perhaps of two or three, following the stations in a prayerful way. On our visit, it was interesting to notice more pilgrims from the far East and the Asian sub-continent, who communicated a particular affection for the devotion of the stations as they prayed them. One or two people were climbing the hill in bare feet .... And, in front of the fifteenth station recalling the Resurrection, we were asked to take a photo of a group of about a dozen Italians, I expect on pilgrimage from one of the new ecclesial movements.

We used the meditations that Pope Benedict, Cardinal Ratzinger as he then was, prepared for the Colosseum on Good Friday in the year 2005.  I had used an adapted form of these meditations in the parish previously, but they were very rich meditations to use, and pray together, in Lourdes.

When we took part in the Eucharistic Procession that afternoon, we waited under the arches by the grotto for the procession to pass, with the intention of joining at the end after the Blessed Sacrament had passed. The procession starts at 5 pm. It was 5.50 pm before the procession had passed us and we could follow on behind the Blessed Sacrament - which gives some idea of the numbers taking part. Again, the underground Basilica was full for the occasion.

The Rosary procession was rather smaller (the Saturday evening procession had, I think, been much larger). We walked it, with the inevitable distractions to prayer that that entails.

My observation to our host at the hotel the next morning was to say: "Nous n'avons plus les genoux".

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Catholic Voices vs Protest the Pope

Independent Catholic News are carrying two reports of this debate, held at the invitation of the Central London Humanist Group and the British Humanist Association. The first is a report by Jo Siedlecka and the second a text of the speech given during the debate by Fr Christopher Jamieson.

From all appearances, this looks to have been a very useful engagement by Catholic Voices on behalf of the Catholic Church and the forthcoming visit of Pope Benedict XVI.

UPDATE: There is more coverage of this debate here. This coverage suggests that it took quite a bit of courage for those supportive of the Papal visit, and of the Catholic Church in general, to express their views. "Bear pit" is the descriptor used.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Lourdes 3: a holiday as well as a pilgrimage

Our recent trip to Lourdes was intended as a holiday, as well as a pilgrimage, so we took a trip out one day to Pont d'Espagne, a well known resort in the High Pyrenees National Park. The drive up to Pont d'Espagne from the town of Les Cauterets takes you past some beautiful waterfalls. This is not my photograph - I was driving, after all.

From the car park at Pont d'Espagne there is a walk up to the Lac de Gaube, graded in the leaflet as "moderate". We managed it in the expect one hour and 15 minutes.  On the way up:

Once there, after refreshment at the "refuge", we scrambled up among the trees to find some shade and to eat our picnic. The amusement came as one of our nectarines bounced away down the hill, across the path in front of another visitor and on into the Lac de Gaube.

Before coming back down, we paddled our feet in the river flowing out from the lake. COLD - despite the warm looks of the sunny weather.

It was easier coming down. In classic Lake District style, we were able to watch the cloud coming down over the tops of the surrounding mountains as the afternoon wore on. By the time we had got down to the car park again, there was quite a bit of cloud cover.

We were blessed with a lovely day - warm sunshine but a cooling breeze and, at many points in the walk, the shade of trees.

The debate about God - continued

At The Emperor has no clothes, Paulinus comments on coverage by the BBC of Stephen Hawkings denial of God. This makes a useful read. I offered my own first comments here.

Prompted by the following paragraph from the Times leader yesterday, I have since reflected on the place that reason has - or should have - in this debate.
The ground for religious faith in the modern age cannot be a misguided insistence that science is the path to God: that way lies intellectual chaos. It is more likely to lie in the pull of emotion and - in the title of a famous essay by William James - the will to believe. Because proof of God's existence is ultimately lacking only a decision of the heart will suffice.
The first sentence suggests a disjunction between the use of reason (intellect) that belongs with science, and knowledge of the existence of God; the one is reasoned while the other is "intellectual chaos". It should really be clear that reason, intellect, has a part to play both in the study of the physical sciences and in the study of the question of God's existence. Reason might be deployed differently in the two spheres, but it is to be deployed in both. Science can rightly contribute to the way in which someone comes to religious belief, while for another person it might not so contribute. The difference is made by the particular play of reason in the circumstances of the life of the individual. It is "intellectual chaos" to limit the legitimacy of the range of human reason to the physical sciences only - that form of irratinality known as scientism.

The last two sentences of the leader also indicate a denial of the part played by reason, though this is hidden behind a rightful recognition of other factors at play alongside that of the intellect. A decision for religious faith is certainly an act of the will; but it is also an act of the intellect. There might be an attraction that might be characterised by the term emotion; but that is not to say that there is not at the same time an exercise of reason. It is one of the contributions to our thought of John Henry Newman to present the profoundly rational character of the way in which people come to knowledge, a way that embraces other aspects of human being along with the intellect. It would be most unfortunate if the reference to a "decision of the heart" in the last sentence quoted - resonant as it is with Cardinal Newman's motto and the theme of the forthcoming Papal visit, "Heart speaks to heart" - were to be seen as attributing irrationality to any knowledge outside of the area of the physical sciences. There is nothing irrational about the way in which Newman would understand a "decision of the heart", quite the contrary.

Stephen Hawking seems to me to be denying the possibility of reason outside of the realm of the physical sciences. A little ironically, he has in the last two or three days displaced from the media headlines the militant secularists, who deny the possibility that a kind of collective reason might be expressed in a religious tradition.

Both of these styles of the denial of reason are not very skilled. They are rather like gentle full tosses being bowled down the wicket towards Pope Benedict XVI, ready to be struck over the bowlers' heads into the stands for six runs in two weeks time. And that John Henry Newman might well provide the thought that Pope Benedict uses as he swings his bat on both aspects of this denial of reason is quite exquisite!


ZENIT are reporting the Tablet's reporting of a survey undertaken in the UK ahead of the visit by Pope Benedict XVI.

From a Catholic point of view, there are some encouraging aspects to the poll. The results do, for example, suggest that the vitriolic antipathy of such as the Protest the Pope coalition is not reflected among ordinary members of the population, and that the media attention it might gain is disproportionate to the level of real support that such views have.

That something like one in five of the general population as a whole look as if they will follow the Papal visit is also an encouraging statistic.

One of the most interesting results is the response to a question about the Christian culture that forms a part of the history of the United Kingdom, though it does need to be treated with some caution.  Some 76% of the general population responded to say that they thought the United Kingdom should retain its Christian culture. It is worth looking at the seventh slide of the Tablet's reporting, to see the wording of this question and the related question about the Catholic Church's strong moral views. The question is one about Christian culture, and not about Christian beliefs - so one should not draw too strong a conclusion in favour of an influence of Christian beliefs in public life from this response. The significance perhaps lies more in the defining of UK culture as Christian over and against other, possibly religious or possibly secular, cultures. But even with his caution attached to it, the response is interesting in the view of the secularisation of our culture as it is manifested in the media. But the most interesting question on this slide is that about the value of the Catholic Church's strong moral beliefs. That nearly half the general population are indicated as finding this at least a "tend to agree" suggests an acceptance of the place of the Church in public life when she teaches on moral questions, though this is clearly not to say that those "tending to agree" thereby all agree with what is taught. I think the implications of this response are interesting.

A final thought on the question about support for the Papal visit, on slide 2 of the Tablet's reporting. With nearly two thirds of the general population neither opposing nor supporting the Papal visit, one recognises that the vitriol and misrepresentation of such as Protest the Pope coalition is not shared by the people of the UK as a whole. This is encouraging. However, it also suggests that many of those 63% may feel that they do not have what one might call a "stake" in the Papal visit (only 20% or so intend following the visit via the media). From the Catholic point of view, this is less encouraging and might give us cause for thought in the coming two weeks.

PS: School term starts on Monday, but when I was at school one morning this week I had my first conversation with a colleague about the Papal visit. I am sure more conversations will follow.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Lourdes 2: in the footsteps of Bernadette

On the Thursday of our stay in Lourdes, the planned activity was to walk the "Path of Bernadette" from Lourdes to the village of Bartres. The idea had been to walk up, visit Bartres with a picnic, and then return to Lourdes.

As it turned out, that particular day was untypically warm, even for August. The Haut-Pyrenees enjoyed record high temperatures, with the thermometer reaching 39 Celsius. Walking any distance was not recommended!

Plan B involved driving up to Bartres instead, and, after visiting the parish Church of St John the Baptist, spending quite a bit of time under the trees in the sheepfold, reading and eating our picnic.

Later in the week, we visited the other places associated with Bernadette's life in Lourdes. Pages on the website of the shrine about each of these places can be accessed from the interactive map here. We enjoyed a particularly good visit to the Hospice, where Bernadette made her first Communion. Our timing meant that, for each of our visits, we avoided large crowds and so were able to make peaceful visits.

This page summarises the 16 apparitions of the Virgin Mary to St Bernadette. Bernadette responds, in the case of each apparition, to an invitation from the "Lady" to visit her at the grotto. It is, I think, the last of the apparitions that appeals to me most: "I saw only the Blessed Virgin, and she was more beautiful than ever!"