Thursday, 29 December 2011

A correction

One of the problems with blogs is that, if a post on one blog gets the wrong end of the stick, and other blogs then link to that post and promote it, and a google search also picks up that post, then the wrong end of the stick gets spread and spread and spread..... And that is before we think about Twitter et al.

A correction of one such post can be found here: Society for the Purgation of Unorthodox Catholicism?

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

""If we glorify God, we shall enjoy his peace": Patriarch Twal's Christmas homily

Our faiths – Muslim, Jew and Christian – are as one in saying that the adoration of God is a fundamental duty of love: “Give to the Lord, you sons of God, give to the Lord glory and might; give to the Lord the glory due his name. Bow down before the Lord’s holy splendor!” (Ps 29:1-2)

As I am usually wont to say, it is important to read the whole and not rely on an extract. The homily preached by Patriarch Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, for Christmas Day can be found on the website of the Patriarchate, here.

The homily has some very clear political references. For readers in Europe or the United States, those references are instructive.

At a time when Christians in other countries of the Middle East feel threatened, there is an interesting report on the Patriarchate site of a visit by the King of Jordan to a majority Christian town in order to offer Christmas greetings to the people of the town, and through them, to the whole people of the Kingdom of Jordan, and to Christians in general: The King of Jordan meets Christians at Fuheis. This is the King's first such visit. As Patriarch Twal said on that occasion, the model of life in Jordan is a good example of mutual respect, respect for the rights and freedom of each one. It is also an example that cannot be ignored in the Middle East.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

There is, with faith, an accompanying question: 'What am I to do?': Archbishop Nichols homily for Christmas Midnight Mass

One can get very philosophical about the relation between parts and wholes (Husserl's Third Investigation, for the cognoscenti). As far as the media are concerned, the point is rather simple. Sometimes the part that is covered by the media, or quoted in a news release, does not give a full picture of the whole. I think this is true of Archbishop Nichols' Midnight Mass homily, which has been criticised here.

The full text of the homily can be found on the website of Westminster Diocese (here, though I do not think this will provide a permanent link) and at here. As one can see from reading the whole, the reference to the situation in Bethlehem was an exemplification of a general statement made in the homily, rather than being a major focus of the homily. Whilst it is not unreasonable that this reference should attract comment, it is a shame that it has hidden the rest of the homily from media attention.
....Without Jesus Christ there is no Gospel, no revelation of the immense love of God for each one of us, or of the true meaning of our lives. Yet without our witness to this truth, the Gospel will not be known.

Christ is central to the Gospel and we are essential to its proclamation. In this God, our creator, is dependent on us, his creation. God is waiting for our 'yes', just as he waited for Mary's. God needs our permission for the Gospel to be proclaimed....

There is, with faith, an accompanying question: 'What am I to do?'

Three things.

We are to see clearly the reality of the world around us. As we look at the real circumstances of Christ's birth so too we look with fresh eyes on the anxieties and insecurity which touch many peoples' lives. We are to be freshly attentive to the needs of those who, like Jesus himself, are displaced and in discomfort. We are to see more clearly all those things which disfigure our world, the presence of the sins of greed and arrogance, of self-centred ambition and manipulation of others, of the brutal lack of respect for human life in all its vulnerability. While recognising how complex moral dilemmas can become, we are to name these things for what they are. We too live 'in a land of deep shadow.'....

Then, secondly, we are to look with fresh wonder at those closest to us, seeing again their goodness and their loyalty, their readiness to forgive and their desire to care for us. In offering our 'yes' to the Lord, we are to respond together with kindness and forgiveness, with generosity and compassion to those in need....

St Paul also points to the third aspect of our task. He tells us that hope is the key. We live in a world in which the prospects for the future, in the terms the world can offer, are distinctly shaky. Yet we find an unshakable hope in our Saviour. As we celebrate his birth we remember that he is to come again. And it is this coming that gives us our enduring hope. St Paul tells us that we can only fulfil the duties of faith if we are a people who 'are waiting in hope for the blessings which will come with the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Christ Jesus.'

Monday, 26 December 2011

Christmas 2011

From Queen Elizabeth II's Christmas Broadcast:
The importance of family has, of course, come home to Prince Philip and me personally this year with the marriages of two of our grandchildren, each in their own way a celebration of the God-given love that binds a family together.

For many this Christmas will not be easy. With our armed forces deployed around the world, thousands of service families face Christmas without their loved ones at home. The bereaved and the lonely will find it especially hard. And, as we all know, the world is going through difficult times. All this will affect our celebration of this great Christian festival.

Finding hope in adversity is one of the themes of Christmas. Jesus was born into a world full of fear. The angels came to frightened shepherds with hope in their voices: ‘Fear not’, they urged, ‘we bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.’

Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed. God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general (important though they are) – but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.

Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.

In the last verse of this beautiful carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem, there’s a prayer:

O Holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us we pray
Cast out our sin
And enter in
Be born in us today

It is my prayer that on this Christmas day we might all find room in our lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord.
Whilst these words speak indirectly of events affecting Britain in the course of the last year - the armed forces in action in Libya and in Afghanistan, the financial crisis, the disturbances in some of our cities during the summer - these words of Her Majesty also speak more directly to two current public debates in British society, debates that are not unconnected. These are the debates about the nature of marriage and about the place of Christian faith in the public life of our country. Whilst preserving entirely the courtesy towards our political processes that is a hallmark of the British Monarchy, I did feel as I listened to these words yesterday that the Queen was offering her own testimony about these matters.

There is a certain parallel between some of the Queen's words and these from Pope Benedict's homily at Midnight Mass in St Peter's Basilica:
Today, anyone wishing to enter the Church of Jesus’ Nativity in Bethlehem will find that the doorway five and a half metres high, through which emperors and caliphs used to enter the building, is now largely walled up. Only a low opening of one and a half metres has remained. The intention was probably to provide the church with better protection from attack, but above all to prevent people from entering God’s house on horseback. Anyone wishing to enter the place of Jesus’ birth has to bend down. It seems to me that a deeper truth is revealed here, which should touch our hearts on this holy night: if we want to find the God who appeared as a child, then we must dismount from the high horse of our “enlightened” reason. We must set aside our false certainties, our intellectual pride, which prevents us from recognizing God’s closeness. We must follow the interior path of Saint Francis [of Assisi] – the path leading to that ultimate outward and inward simplicity which enables the heart to see. We must bend down, spiritually we must as it were go on foot, in order to pass through the portal of faith and encounter the God who is so different from our prejudices and opinions – the God who conceals himself in the humility of a newborn baby.
 UPDATE: A post at St Paul's - The Queen's Christmas Message - makes rather more explicit the thoughts that I indicated above:

In her Christmas message Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth highlighted the importance of family. This was taken up by the media, but what they did not choose to highlight was the uncompromising references Her Majesty made to Christmas being a Christian festival and to the Christan faith.

Saturday, 24 December 2011


In his address on the occasion of the exchange of Christmas greetings with those who work in the Roman Curia (see fuller coverage, and the full original text), Pope Benedict XVI said:
I still look back to that unforgettable moment during my visit to the United Kingdom, when tens of thousands of predominantly young people in Hyde Park responded in eloquent silence to the Lord’s sacramental presence, in adoration. The same thing happened again on a smaller scale in Zagreb and then again in Madrid, after the thunderstorm which almost ruined the whole night vigil through the failure of the microphones. God is indeed ever-present. But again, the physical presence of the risen Christ is something different, something new. The risen Lord enters into our midst. And then we can do no other than say, with Saint Thomas: my Lord and my God! Adoration is primarily an act of faith – the act of faith as such. God is not just some possible or impossible hypothesis concerning the origin of all things. He is present. And if he is present, then I bow down before him. Then my intellect and will and heart open up towards him and from him. In the risen Christ, the incarnate God is present, who suffered for us because he loves us. We enter this certainty of God’s tangible love for us with love in our own hearts. This is adoration, and this then determines my life.
If we place this alongside Pope Benedict's account of the act of adoration at Marienfeld, during the World Youth Day in Cologne:
I like to illustrate this new step urged upon us by the Last Supper by drawing out the different nuances of the word "adoration" in Greek and in Latin. The Greek word is proskynesis. It refers to the gesture of submission, the recognition of God as our true measure, supplying the norm that we choose to follow. It means that freedom is not simply about enjoying life in total autonomy, but rather about living by the measure of truth and goodness, so that we ourselves can become true and good. This gesture is necessary even if initially our yearning for freedom makes us inclined to resist it.

We can only fully accept it when we take the second step that the Last Supper proposes to us. The Latin word for adoration is ad-oratio - mouth to mouth contact, a kiss, an embrace, and hence, ultimately love. Submission becomes union, because he to whom we submit is Love. In this way submission acquires a meaning, because it does not impose anything on us from the outside, but liberates us deep within.
and alongside a catechesis shortly after this (I am not able to find it at the moment, but will link to it when I can) in which Pope Benedict described the time of Eucharistic Adoration as a prolonging of the moment of reception of the Eucharist and a moment that leads us back to the moment of such reception, and we have an unfolding catechesis on Adoration. Pope Benedict's most recent words are, of course, very apposite for the feast of Christmas, when Christ comes among us.

Vaclav Havel at Dolphinarium

Red Maria has posted thrice about Vaclav Havel, and I am very happy to link to her posts. These posts shed light on Vaclav Havel's relationship to Catholicism, particularly in his meetings with Pope John Paul II and in the Church-State relationship in which he was a participant as the first president of a free Czechoslovakia and, now, the Czech Republic.

The posts are here, here and here.

The poignancy of the events of Vaclav Havel's death and funeral arise for me because of my familiarity with his writings - even so far as going to see one of his plays in West London many years ago - and the fact that, during our visit to Prague, we visited many of the locations that have been associated with him in recent days.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Christmas crib is embarrassing to secularity

The title of this report at La Croix doesn't really translate successfully into English: La crèche de Noël embarrasse la laïcité. The first paragraph of the report reads:
Malgré les hésitations de la mairie, pour la première fois, une crèche a été installée sur le marché de Noël des Champs-Élysées à Paris. [Despite the opposition of the local authority, for the first time, a crib has been placed in the Christmas Market of the Champs Elysees in Paris.]
According to the detail of the report, this has come about as a result of an initiative by a parishioner, a retired gentleman in his 70s, Dominique de Causans. With the support of his parish priest, he first sought the cooperation of the director of the market, who readily agreed to make one of the chalets of the market available to the parish for the purpose of erecting a crib.
« Nous sommes tombés d’accord pour dire qu’un marché de Noël sans crèche, ce n’est pas un vrai marché de Noël. » ["We agreed completely in saying that having a Christmas market without a crib, that is not a true Christmas market."] 
 The monks of Bethlehem agreed to provide figures, from their workshop.
Mais, la veille de l’ouverture, la mairie de Paris signifie à la paroisse que « la connotation religieuse » du projet risque de « gêner ». Les paroissiens sont déçus, et la presse s’intéresse à l’affaire.

Craignant une polémique, la municipalité finit par autoriser la crèche sous trois conditions : « Que la paroisse n’apparaisse plus comme étant l’organisateur, qu’il n’y ait aucun prosélytisme et aucune présence humaine », résume Dominique de Causans. Accommodement ? « Moi, j’y vois un avantage, car ces critères ont le mérite d’institutionnaliser notre crèche. Peu importe qui est derrière : 15 millions de visiteurs vont passer devant et se laisser émerveiller. C’est cela qui compte. »

[But on the eve of the opening the local authority in Paris told the parish that the "religious connotation" of the project risked "disturbance". The parishioners were disappointed, and the media took an interest in the affair.

Fearing a controversy, the local officials concluded by allowing the crib under three conditions: "That the parish did not appear as being the organiser, that there is no proselytism and no human presence", continued Dominique de Causans. Satisfactory? "Myself, I see an advantage in it, because these criteria have the benefit of institutionalising our crib. Less important is the background: 15 million visitors are going to pass in front (of the crib) and be able to be filled with wonder. It is that which counts".]
The report in La Croix continues to describe similar situations, not all with a favourable outcome from the Christian point of view, occurring in different parts of France. The report observes that the problem here involves a certain malaise on the part of French society. Advent and Christmas are readily seen by many as a celebration of childhood or one's family, but without any reference to its religious or spiritual roots.

We can probably recognise this story in our own local communities. Those places where a crib is set up in a public place, or where a "live" crib is enacting with people and animals playing the parts, represent a real moment of evangelisation of a secularised culture.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Father Christmas

I take the title from this post: Father Christmas. It offers an interesting reflection for the forthcoming feast of Christmas.

The event described here is also quite faithfully portrayed in the film Des hommes et des Dieux.

Monday, 19 December 2011


Several blogs are posting on the "O Antiphons", used at Vespers during the days immediately before Christmas.

The most thorough that I have seen is iBenedictines. The first post of their series - here - explains the antiphons and introduces the first of them. Subsequently, daily posts are addressing each antiphon in turn. These can be accessed from the blogs homepage: iBenedictines.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Vaclav Havel RIP

The BBC obituary of Vaclav Havel can be found here.

John Simpson, the BBC's World Affairs Editor, speaks about his own meeting with and knowledge of Vaclav Havel here. This interview comes much closer to communicating what made Vaclav Havel tick than does the obituary. Lord Owen reflects on his life here.

I have cited Vaclav Havel a number of times in blog posts: go here to find those posts which refer to him, or cite his writings.

As John Simpson says in his interview, I too hope that Vaclav Havel's death will encourage people to go back to his writings in order to discover one of the most significant figures of our times.

UPDATE: See further comment here.

The "soul of Europe" and a Christian country

Recent days have seen two contributions to discussion about the place of religion, and Christianity in particular, to the present day culture of Europe.

The first was the lecture given by the Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, at the Gregorian University in Rome on 12th December.

The second, which referred particularly to the United Kingdom, was Prime Minister David Cameron's speech at a celebration to mark the end of the 400th anniversary year of the King James version of the Bible. The speech was delivered on 16th December.

I would suggest that it is important to read the original texts of these two addresses, and not to rely on media reporting of them.

Each of these contributions has its own distinct character. The Chief Rabbi, in asking "Has Europe lost its soul?", examines the market economy and democratic capitalism of the developed nations in the light of the Jewish (and Christian) faith, and in the context of the financial crisis experienced in recent times. It is, if you like, a presentation of how the Judaeo-Christian religious heritage is relevant to economics today. The Prime Minister asserts the relevance of the King James translation of the Bible, and of the Bible in general, today. He does so on the grounds of its contribution to the language and culture of Britain, on the grounds that the politics of Britain is steeped in the Bible and on the grounds that the Bible has helped to shape the values which define Britain. That having been said, there are some interesting points of commonality (or near but not quite commonality) between the two addresses; and it is very interesting, too, to read them both in the light of the address of Pope Benedict XVI in Westminster Hall, as it addressed the subject of the relationship between religion and political and cultural life. If we quote a part of that address it gives a context for a study of both Lord Sacks and David Cameron's addresses.
The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles. This “corrective” role of religion vis-à-vis reason is not always welcomed, though, partly because distorted forms of religion, such as sectarianism and fundamentalism, can be seen to create serious social problems themselves. And in their turn, these distortions of religion arise when insufficient attention is given to the purifying and structuring role of reason within religion. It is a two-way process. Without the corrective supplied by religion, though, reason too can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person. Such misuse of reason, after all, was what gave rise to the slave trade in the first place and to many other social evils, not least the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century. This is why I would suggest that the world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilization.
I do think that we can see David Cameron's address as an engagement with the agenda set by Pope Benedict's address, even if the passing reference to the abolition of slavery, to which Pope Benedict also referred, was an accidental coincidence. That the Prime Minister of our country should engage with this agenda is very significant, and something that we should not underestimate. I think we can also welcome the wide ranging way in which David Cameron describes the place of the King James Bible, and the Bible in general, in our literary and musical culture (the word "heritage" implies that this occurs only in the past, whereas I think the Prime Minister's address is really trying to say that this is something that still lives in the Britain of today) and in inspiring much social action in our country. This in itself represents a strong assertion against those who would argue that Britain is in some way a "secular country".

However, there are nuances contained in David Cameron's words that need to be read very carefully. The references to "equality" alongside the terms "human dignity" and "human rights" suggest an understanding of human dignity that, rather than being based in a Biblical idea of the image of God, is drawn instead from a contemporary ideology. We need to be very careful how we view the appropriate boundaries implicit, but not made explicit, in this statement about the role of politicians, and by implication, legislation with regard to religious institutions:
.... it’s legitimate for political leaders to say something about religious institutions as they see them affecting our society, not least in the vital areas of equality and tolerance.
David Cameron's strictures against "secular neutrality" and in favour of a willingness to identify behaviours as morally right and or morally wrong, also need to be read carefully. In so far as he offers a source of such moral judgement (David Cameron does use this word at one point in his address) it lies in recognising a Christian contribution to many of the "values" that characterise Britain:
The Bible has helped to shape the values which define our country....

Responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, self-sacrifice, love… pride in working for the common good and honouring the social obligations we have to one another, to our families and our communities…these are the values we treasure.

Yes, they are Christian values.  And we should not be afraid to acknowledge that. But they are also values that speak to us all – to people of every faith and none.
This all remains just a little bit aloof from providing a basis for evaluating specific behaviours and, in a Conservative Party context, one can see how it might appeal to a particular political constituency. It seems to me to be consonant with the Prime Minister's self identification as a "committed .. [but]vaguely practising Church of England Christian".

Lord Sacks lecture contained one passage that interested me, as a physics teacher, quite specifically. The argument that it was the matrix in Europe of Christian life and doctrine, particularly the doctrine of creation ex nihilo, that gave rise in the 16th/17th centuries to science as a self-sustaining enterprise with an autonomy from theology, has been made very familiar by the writing of Stanley Jaki. We also see how, today, that self-sustaining science has advocates who use it to attack the religious matrix from which it first arose. Lord Sacks presents a very similar account of the rise of the market economy and democratic capitalism, also in Europe. The Chief Rabbi also suggests how, once independent of its Judaeo-Christian origin, the market economy contains a tendency to erode the moral roots from which it emerged. Contemporay consumerism represents the outcome of this erosion, and Lord Sacks describes it as "sapping our moral strength".

Across the different sections of his lecture, the Chief Rabbi develops a wide ranging Biblical analysis of the strengths and limits of the idea of the market economy, applying that analysis to the present day situation. It is well worth reading, and impossible to summarise in a blog post! He clearly identifies the need for an individual moral conversion (David Cameron also makes reference at one point to lack of a moral code):
[This is] perhaps the most profound truth of the Judeo-Christian ethic. That ethic, based on justice, compassion and respect for human dignity, took moral restraint from “out there”to “in here.” Good conduct was not dependent on governments, laws, police, inspectorates, regulatory bodies, civil courts and legal penalties. It was dependent on the still, small voice of God within the human heart. It became part of character, virtue and an internalised sense of obligation. Jews and Christians devoted immense energies to training the young in the ways of goodness and righteousness. A moral vision, a clear sense of right and wrong, was present in the stories they told, the texts they read, the rituals they performed, the prayers they said and the standards the community expected of its members.
Lord Sacks identifies five features of Judaism, largely shared by Christianity, which protect human living from the unwarranted invasion of the market:
A good society has its own ecology which depends on multiple sources of meaning, each with its own integrity. I want to draw attention briefly to five features of Judaism, largely shared by Christianity, whose role over the centuries has been to preserve a space uninvaded by the market ethic....

So the Sabbath, the family, the educational system, the concept of ownership as trusteeship, and the discipline of religious law, were not constructed on the basis of economic calculation. To the contrary, they were ways in which Judaism in effect said to the market: thus far and no further. There are realms in which you may not intrude.

The concept of the holy is precisely the domain in which the worth of things is not judged by their market price or economic value. This fundamental insight of Judaism and Christianity is all the more striking given their respect for the market. Their strength is that they resisted the temptation to believe that the market governs the totality of our lives, when it fact it governs only a limited part of it, that which concerns goods subject to production and exchange. There are things fundamental to being human that we do not produce; instead we receive from those who came before us and from God Himself.
If you read David Cameron's address alongside Lord Sacks' lecture, you will find a number of points where they come close. These points of proximity are interesting to note, though, as I have suggested, one needs to be aware of the nuances contained in the Prime Minister's address.
It is David Cameron's assertion that Britain is a Christian country, and should not be shy of its Christian heritage, that may be attracting most comment, both supportive and hostile.

My view is that the question is not properly framed as one of whether we should describe Britian in some generic way as a Christian country.  It is rather a question of recognising what it is that gives Christianity entitlement to a particular stake in the life of Britain today. I do not believe that a Christian heritage - and Britain certainly has that - represents a sufficient argument on its own for Christians to claim a particular stake in society today. It is the continued living of that heritage today, by those who are active Christian believers and by those who live received Christian values at the level of culture though perhaps not at the level of faith, that justifies a claim for a particular Christian contribution in public life, in politics and in social action. The second element of this claim to a particular place for Christianity in British life is that, in David Cameron's terminology with its inherent weakness, Christian values have something to offer for the good of the life of every human being in society, whatever their religious beliefs or lack thereof. The stronger, and more effective, expression of this principle can be found in Pope Benedict's assertion of the role of reason in discerning the moral foundations of public action, that a realm of the "natural law" is accessible to both believer and non-believer, and his assertion of the role of religion in purifying that exercise of reason.

Additional comment can be found here:

We should not be afraid to say we are a Christian country, Outraged atheists attack and ridicule PM Cameron’s defence of Christianity and Jews and Catholics should unite to challenge aggressive scientific atheism –Chief Rabbi Sacks

Cameron doing religion (and read the comments to this post)

Saturday, 17 December 2011

A circle of flowers

Two posts on the death of Christopher Hitchens - Christopher Hitchens now knows there is a God, and Pray for Christopher Hitchens - prompted me to recall a story about Madeleine Delbrel. It is related on p.76 of Charles F Mann's biography Madeleine Delbrel: A Life Beyond Boundaries. The story comes from the first days of Madeleine's life in Ivry, a Communist suburb of Paris.
As part of her growing social involvement, Madeleine agreed to care for a cancer patient while his wife was at work. He was close to death, yet still reading l'Humanite, the French Communist newspaper, delivered by his good comrades. Sensing the man's hostility toward her as a Catholic, Madeleine engaged him on a personal level, talking about his favourite jams and jellied fruits. By the end of the afternoon, they had established a warm and jovial rapport.

The next day, Madeleine arrived  with flowers, chicken soup and pear jam. When the man did not respond to her greeting, she thought he was asleep only to discover moments later that he was dead. Recovering from her initial shock, Madeleine sent for the wife and summoned enough courage to prepare the corpse for burial. The wife arrived, her face flushed and her eyes brimming with tears. She was accompanied by a horde of Communist neighbours who became a captive audience when she turned to Madeleine and scolded her for arranging the flowers in the form of a cross on her husband's chest. Realizing her blunder, Madeleine sincerely apologized and carefully rearranged the flowers in a circular fashion.
Now, a Catholic should certainly pray for the repose of the soul of Christopher Hitchens, as they should pray for the repose of the souls of all those who have died. And it is not inappropriate to recall the hostility of Christopher Hitchens towards Catholic figures like Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II. The obituaries and commentaries on his death do to a degree continue the controversy that was Christopher Hitchens'  life, and Catholics are entitled to engage in their side of that controversy.

But, at the same time, I wonder whether or not charity asks for a certain discretion? For a prayer that is said quietly, but said nevertheless, and said in the form of flowers arranged in a circle rather than a cross.

UPDATE: An interesting comment by the President of the Pontifical Council for Culture is reported here.


Came across these by accident - or, in all probability, by design. You need to read them in this order:

UPDATE: A comment advises me that the first post you need to read is actually this one. What I need to know now is: Who invited Pope Benedict to visit CERN, just a few days before Higgsy (might have) turned up?

Friday, 16 December 2011

The New Evangelisation ...

... in Soho, described here by Aunty Joanna.

I was particularly struck by the distribution of gift-bags containing a Scripture verse, a medal .... and some sweets.

A few years ago now I was able to take part in one of St Patrick's weekends of evangelisation, and, on another occasion, one of their Eucharistic processions. Central London, busy streets, narrow streets with cafes and shops facing close on to the streets. My memory is of bystanders being quite respectful, though they might not have shared, or had any comprehension, of the faith of those processing.

Aunty's post gives something of the "feel" of these events. They are quite something to be part of, if you have the chance.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

What marriage is (2): in the Church

The locus of the current debate about what is, and is not, marriage is the world at large. The Catholic Church is engaged in that debate in promoting marriage as it is commonly understood, that is:
... marriage exists solely between a man and a woman, who by mutual personal gift, proper and exclusive to themselves, tend toward the communion of their persons. In this way, they mutually perfect each other, in order to cooperate with God in the procreation and upbringing of new human lives.
and in opposing proposals that would allow same sex couples to have a married status (rather than a civil partnership status that is currently possible in the UK) that is legislatively and culturally identical to that of married men and women.

However, the debate is not without its implications for the life of the Church, ad intra. The passage in St Paul's letter to the Ephesians - "Wives, be subject to your husbands ... Husbands, love your wives ..." - does not speak of marriage except in reference to the relationship between Christ and the Church. Indeed, in verse 32 St Paul almost goes as far as to say that, actually, the important point in all of this is that it has to do with Christ and the Church:
This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church (RSV)
So the relationship between man and woman in marriage, for the baptised Christian, represents the relationship between Christ and the Church. Witness by the Church to the nature of the male and female relationship in marriage is, therefore, not just about a witness to a truth of natural law for the correct ordering of human society (this the significance of that witness for the public debate about same sex marriage); it is also a witness to the very nature of the Church herself. What is at one level about the social and political is at another level profoundly a question of theology/ecclesiology. Recognising this intersection of the social and theological in the question of marriage is important for the Church, since it demonstrates that she can do nothing other than oppose the idea of same sex marriage in the spheres of culture and legislation, or she would not be true to her own nature. It would also be helpful if those outside the Catholic Church were to recognise this intersection of the theological and the social, as it would enable them to have a better understanding of the contribution that the Church is making to public debate on the subject.

Hans Urs von Balthasar ends an essay "A meditation on Ephesians 5", an essay first delivered as a contribution to a seminar in 1978 commemorating the 10th anniversary of the publication of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, with the following:
Let us end with this observation. For sexuality as Christians understand it - sexuality that takes as its norm the relationship between Christ and his Church - Christ's words hold true: "Let him grasp it who can". But Christ is saying something more here than that very few men and women will actually grasp his doctrine. He is issuing us a challenge to serious endeavour, the same challenge, essentially, that rings through the whole of the Gospel: Take up your cross every day, sell all you possess, and do not cheat as did Ananias and Sapphira.  Why should the sexual area alone offer no challenge to the Christian? Sexuality, even as Eros, is to be an expression of Agape, and Agape always involves an element of renunciation. And only by renunciation can the limits that we set on our own self-surrender be transcended.
The debate about same sex marriage provides the Catholic Church with an opportunity to renew her own self-understanding, and to evangelise those of her community who have become less and less conscious of the ecclesiological signficance of the Sacrament of Marriage. And, of course, to evangelise those of her members who dissent from the teaching of the Church on this matter.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Of Bishops, a homily and a pastoral letter

It is unfortunate that the "championing" of a Bishop and his homily by one blog is matched by implicit criticisms of that Bishop and his homily on another blog [and by additional comment such as this that magnifies the positions represented by the two first posts out of all proportion]. I think that both of the posts, in their anxiety to be tendentious, make something of Bishop Davies' homily that is not there in the original. Try to read the report, and full text, on Shrewsbury Diocese's own website, without the filters provided by these two blog posts, and I hope you will see what I mean.

Bishop Davies' homily is a very lovely homily, full of references to the theme of Sunday Mass that will be familiar to anyone who has read Pope Benedict XVI's words on the same theme.
Yes, on the wettest, winter morning as the first generation of Christians put it and YouCat records their voices, “we cannot live without Sunday.”...

It isn’t the incidentals of music or style which draws or deters you from finding your way to Him. Those things may help or hinder us but they’re not why we’re ever here. We are here because we know in the words of St. John Vianney that “He is here, the One who loves us so much He is here.” May we find our way to Him where we know He will always be found.
The reference to a generation that has not handed on the fullness of the faith to those who are today the young? It is a glancing reference, not the centre of the homily at all, and we need to be careful not to read more into it than there is there to be read.

Another Bishop in another place has written a lovely pastoral letter. It's theme is not unrelated to that of Bishop Davies' homily, though delivered in a very different circumstance.
Create silence!’ There’s a challenge here. Surely speaking is a good and healthy thing? Yes indeed. Surely there are bad kinds of silence? Yes again. But still Kierkegaard is on to something.

There is a simple truth at stake. There can be no real relationship with God, there can be no real meeting with God, without silence. Silence prepares for that meeting and silence follows it. An early Christian wrote, ‘To someone who has experienced Christ himself, silence is more precious than anything else.’ For us God has the first word, and our silence opens our hearts to hear him. Only then will our own words really be words, echoes of God’s, and not just more litter on the rubbish dump of noise.
And one can detect Bishop Hugh's Benedictine background (with regard to the silence to be observed in the Oratory of the monastery) as he writes:
There is a time and place for speaking and a time and place for silence. In the church itself, so far as possible, silence should prevail. It should be the norm before and after Mass, and at other times as well. When there is a real need to say something, let it be done as quietly as can be. At the very least, such silence is a courtesy towards those who want to pray. It signals our reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. It respects the longing of the Holy Spirit to prepare us to celebrate the sacred mysteries.
In both Bishop Hugh's pastoral letter and Bishop Davies' homily there is a warmth of faith that communicates itself to the reader. And it is perhaps this that should be the subject of comment among Catholic blogs before anything else.

Catholic Churches can not be used for civil partnerships

This post at Catholic Voices argues that regulations that have been proposed to allow religious premises to be used for civil partnerships will have no force with regard to Catholic Churches.

The same post also gives a caution with regard to the possible consequences should same sex marriages be subsequently allowed in law. In that eventuality, it is not at all clear that safeguards for religious communities that do not wish to celebrate civil partnershps will equally apply with regard to same sex marriages.

Monday, 12 December 2011

What marriage is (1): in the world

No ideology can erase from the human spirit the certainty that marriage exists solely between a man and a woman, who by mutual personal gift, proper and exclusive to themselves, tend toward the communion of their persons. In this way, they mutually perfect each other, in order to cooperate with God in the procreation and upbringing of new human lives.

This is how the document of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons defines the nature of marriage in one of its early paragraphs. The paragraph contains a number of interesting points, apart from its very obvious assertion of marriage as being between a man and a woman.

1. The reference to "ideology".

The term "ideology" has, at least so far as I can tell, fallen into disuse in the years since the fall of the Communist bloc. In part, this may be as a result of a disillusionment with (objective) idealism in public life, and the favouring instead of a style of pragmatism that, though it appears to address social needs and inequality, nevertheless lacks an objective content. Post-modernism is a word sometimes used to describe this.

I think that is is legitimate to use the term "ideology" to describe the role of LGBT activism in UK society. Much of the public debate is conducted in the language of equality, and it can be very persuasive. But behind it is a campaign against "heterosexist assumptions". This, for example, is a paragraph from a suggested model policy of one of the teacher trade unions:
All areas of the curriculum and resources will be closely monitored to see that they do not rely on heterosexist assumptions and that they contain no homophobic material.
One has no objection to checking that teaching materials do not contain homophobic materials; but removing "heterosexist assumptions" represents a step change from the notion of equality as it would be understood by most people.

Another policy statement from the same union defines heterosexism in this way:
The concept of heterosexism includes a focus on both homophobia and sexism and therefore enables us to account for the underlying cultural prejudice against lesbian, gay and bisexual people. This prejudice is firmly tied to dominant male and female identities that rely on heterosexuality as a norm. Heterosexism includes attitudes, behaviour and practices that constitute heterosexuality as the norm. At the same time, heterosexism reflects and encourages a dislike or feeling of superiority towards girls and women.

[....] believes that we can only successfully tackle sexism and homophobia by seeing them as two integral parts of the wider cultural problem of heterosexism.
One should recognise in the pressure of LGBT activists for same sex marriage an attempt to gain a further recognition in law of an "ideology" which would not be recognised or accepted, I suspect, by a significant majority of UK citizens.  The heterosexual remains the norm; a small minority of our citizens self-identify as LGBT, and the language of human physiology speaks for itself. One could at this point cite any of the severe critiques of "ideology" offered by Vaclav Havel in his essay The Power of the Powerless, but let this one suffice. In the context of this post, one needs to read its reference to "the power structure" as applying to structures of the media and the influence of organisations such as Stonewall rather than its original application to the power structures of Communist regimes, and there is no intention to make any comparison between LGBT ideology and that of Communist totalitarianism.

As the interpretation of reality by the power structure, ideology is always subordinated ultimately to the interests of the structure. Therefore, it has a natural tendency to disengage itself from reality, to create a world of appearances, to become ritual.

 2. The idea of "mutual personal gift".

Now I think one has to draw a careful distinction between the use of the term "mutual personal gift" by the authors of the Sacred Congregation's document and the use of the apparently similar term "commitment" in the context of same sex unions. The idea of a "mutual personal gift" delineates an objective content of what is exchanged in the marriage vows; it does not just refer to a motivation on the part of the couple. There certainly is a motivation on the part of the couple; but the matrimonial consent offers an objective content over and above the motiviation of those involved.

The objective content is, of course, defined in relation to the purposes of marriage discussed below. It cannot be reduced to "commitment", even be that faithful and lifelong. To slightly adapt the recent words of Archbishop Nichols, a "commitment" is not a "marriage".

3. The reference to "the communion of their persons".

The term "communion of persons" can be readily appropriated to the word "love". For the advocates of same sex unions this becomes the question: "If we love each other, why can't we marry?" Once again a distinction needs to be drawn between the objective content of the term "love" or "communion of persons" and what can be the subjective experience indicated by the same term. To "love" is not to have fulfilment of my desire or wish for the other person, be that desire sexual in nature or other than sexual in nature. It is to want, and then to act in favour of, what is for the good of the other person. This might begin with an attraction and a desire, but if it stops there it is not love. The "communion of persons", love, requires the movement from eros to agape of which Pope Benedict writes in Deus Caritas Est.

Now the good of the other demands a respect for the nature of the "mutual personal gift" that is marriage and, not only for same sex couples but for others too, this means that the objective content of what it means to love should take a precedence over the subjective.

4. The idea of "mutual perfection" and the "procreation and upbringing of new human lives" as being the purpose(s) of marriage.

In some ways, this last point is the hinge on which the three previous considerations turn. The ideology of the LGBT activists is directly at odds with this statement of the fundamental purposes of marriage. This expression of the purpose of marriage also defines the objective content that comprises the mutual gift of persons that is the marriage covenant. And, in both its elements and not just in one or other of them on its own, it defines the objective good of the other person that is represented by authentic married love.

I was not sure whether or not to have the "(s)" at the end of the word "purpose". There is a certain history in the Catholic Church of the discussion of primary and secondary purposes of marriage. I think I would prefer to see "mutual perfection" and "the procreation and upbringing of new human lives" as different elements of one purpose of marriage, the compromising of one element have a concomitant compromising of the other.

It is worth recognising, as do the opening sentences of the Sacred Congregation's document quoted above, that:

The Church's teaching on marriage and on the complementarity of the sexes reiterates a truth that is evident to right reason and recognized as such by all the major cultures of the world.

It is not just the Catholic Church, but  a weight of history and culture that recognises this nature of marriage. This defines the meaning of the term "marriage" and, though there might be a change to the law to allow "same sex marriages", those unions cannot have the same meaning to them as marriage understood as it is by the generality of human society.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Archbishop Nichols on Marriage

A clear statement by Archbishop Nichols of his position with regard to marriage and same sex unions can be found at Catholic Voices: Keep Focus on Marriage.

The audio of the press conference at which Archbishop Nichols made his original (controversial) remarks about same sex unions can be found here. There is an answer to a question in the second "Question and Answer" file, as well as remarks by Archbishop Nichols in his presentation in the first audio file.

It is useful to listen to the whole, if you want to get a full idea of what Archbishop Nichols was saying.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Different offices

According to the Code of Canon Law - and I cite it by virtue of it being an expression of ecclesiology in practice ("applied ecclesiology", to use a term I have encountered at Maryvale Institute) rather than out of any sense of legalism - the office of a Bishop is described as follows. The emphasis added is mine.
Can. 375 §1. Bishops, who by divine institution succeed to the place of the Apostles through the Holy Spirit who has been given to them, are constituted pastors in the Church, so that they are teachers of doctrine, priests of sacred worship, and ministers of governance.  
§2. Through episcopal consecration itself, bishops receive with the function of sanctifying also the functions of teaching and governing; by their nature, however, these can only be exercised in hierarchical communion with the head and members of the college.

And the office of the lay faithful is as follows, again with my added emphases:
Can. 225 §1. Since, like all the Christian faithful, lay persons are designated by God for the apostolate through baptism and confirmation, they are bound by the general obligation and possess the right as individuals, or joined in associations, to work so that the divine message of salvation is made known and accepted by all persons everywhere in the world. This obligation is even more compelling in those circumstances in which only through them can people hear the gospel and know Christ. 
§2. According to each one’s own condition, they are also bound by a particular duty to imbue and perfect the order of temporal affairs with the spirit of the gospel and thus to give witness to Christ, especially in carrying out these same affairs and in exercising secular functions....

An appropriate expression of ecclesial communion is achieved when each, the Bishop and the lay faithful, exercise the office that is proper to them. The one should not attempt to exercise the office of the other since by doing so they will thereby cease to exercise properly their own office. I would go further and suggest that, should there be a failure in the exercise of their office by one party, it really is not possible in any case for the other to successfully step in and exercise that office in their stead. An appropriate ecclesial life is therefore utterly dependent on the Bishop and the lay faithful exercising their own proper office conscientiously, since the lay faithful cannot make up for the failing of a Bishop and a Bishop cannot make up for the failing of the lay faithful.

It is useful, I think, to put this consideration alongside the words of Pope Benedict XVI in Westminster Hall, when he spoke of the relationship between religion and public life and, implicitly, of how we might view the relationship between the Catholic Church and public life:
The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles. This “corrective” role of religion vis-à-vis reason is not always welcomed, though, partly because distorted forms of religion, such as sectarianism and fundamentalism, can be seen to create serious social problems themselves. And in their turn, these distortions of religion arise when insufficient attention is given to the purifying and structuring role of reason within religion. It is a two-way process. Without the corrective supplied by religion, though, reason too can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person.
Reading this in the context of the respective offices of the Bishop and the lay faithful, one can perhaps identify the office of the Bishop particularly with the task of purifying and shedding light upon the application of reason to discovering - and teaching - the objective moral principles that might refer to an issue such as civil partnerships/same sex marriage. The task of then devising particular political or legislative solutions that put these principles into practice, and advocating for them in society, can be identified with the office of the lay faithful. The effectiveness of a Catholic engagement with an issue like civil partnerships/same sex marriage depends on the two different offices being correctly fulfilled by their respective parties. The one party is not going to be able to do the tasks appropriate to the other and have it work effectively for the mission of the Church. A thundering episcopal condemnation may sometimes be appropriate, but not always.

As readers may have realised by now, this is intended as my contribution to the controversy surrounding Archbishop Nichol's remarks about civil partnerships and same sex marriage. Caroline has links to the original sources in the first paragraph of her post Into the maelstrom. I have a lot of sympathy with the analysis in paragraph 4 onwards of Caroline's post. In my own family, there was at one time an exact analogue of Caroline's "Auntie A" and "Auntie B". I recall at the time of the first talk of civil partnerships contributing to discussions along the lines that legislation with respect to pension rights, inheritance etc could have been framed in terms of economic and social inter-dependence (common life). Married status would very clearly meet the requirements of such legislation, even if it was not specially privileged in the legislation. The test could equally be applied to a same sex couple living together, quite regardless of any questions of sexuality or sexual orientation. And, as Caroline points out, to relatives sharing the same accomodation and a common life, and to carers. I also share Caroline's assessment of Archbishop Nichols' remarks, which might be described as confusing, but do deserve a more careful response than that being offered by some. The comments on Caroline's post are also worth perusing.

There are two, perhaps opposing, questions which appear to me to arise from this controversy, one a question for the lay faithful, the other a question for the Bishops. The first is the danger that those who are critical of Archbishop Nichols' remarks (on this matter as on others) set themselves up, perhaps unconsiously but perhaps deliberately, as a kind of "alternative teaching office" to that proper to the Bishop. There are one or two Catholic blogs that I will not include in my side bar precisely because I feel that this is what they are doing. As I have tried to argue above, it is not for the lay faithful to try to take on the office of the Bishop, and they cannot effectively achieve it in any case, and will undermine the exercise of their own proper office at the same time. I wonder also whether this is a danger to which the "traditionalist" Catholic is more prone than others.

The second question is that of discerning what is the most effective way for a Bishop to exercise his office of teaching in a time dominated by broadcast and electronic news media. Is the press conference really the most effective way of presenting Catholic teaching - the purifying of reason proper to religion in the realm of public debate - about civil partnerships and same sex marriage? Is an episcopal blog a more appropriate way? Whatever the medium of its propagation, I do think that this could come back to two means that have been held in regard in the history of the Church's life. I think of the homily and of the pastoral letter. Should Bishops be willing to preach, and to preach regularly, in fulfilling their teaching office? And should they be willing to write more pastoral letters, letters using the principles of Church doctrine to assess the proposals of public debate? One of my favourite examples of someone who did this is Archbishop Oscar Romero, who wrote four long and  detailed pastoral letters during his time as Archbishop of El Salvador, and the way in which he did that provides a good example that can be followed. The form of the homily and pastoral letter should allow a more complete and careful treatment of Catholic teaching, not prone to the potential confusion of the media interview or Q and A session at a news conference.

As a concluding thought, it might be worth reflecting on exactly what Pope Benedict XVI attempted in his address in Westminster Hall. He could very easily have condemned the legislation that the UK Parliament has passed with regard to abortion and same sex unions. But he didn't. Instead, he spoke about another piece of legislation passed by that Parliament, namely, the abolition of the slave trade. And he spoke about the principles that underpin the engagement of the Catholic Church, and religion in general, in public affairs.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Year of Faith (7): "By faith ..."

I had intended to finish my earlier series of posts about the Year of Faith that Pope Benedict XVI announced with the following excerpt from his motu proprio Porta Fidei. I have added emphases to draw attention to the beauty of this passage, which can be summarised as giving an account of how the Church has experienced its life "by faith":
One thing that will be of decisive importance in this Year is retracing the history of our faith, marked as it is by the unfathomable mystery of the interweaving of holiness and sin....

During this time we will need to keep our gaze fixed upon Jesus Christ, the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2..... In him who died and rose again for our salvation, the examples of faith that have marked these two thousand years of our salvation history are brought into the fullness of light.

By faith, Mary accepted the Angel’s word and believed the message that she was to become the Mother of God in the obedience of her devotion (cf. Lk 1:38). Visiting Elizabeth, she raised her hymn of praise to the Most High for the marvels he worked in those who trust him (cf. Lk 1:46-55). With joy and trepidation she gave birth to her only son, keeping her virginity intact (cf. Lk 2:6-7). Trusting in Joseph, her husband, she took Jesus to Egypt to save him from Herod’s persecution (cf. Mt 2:13-15). With the same faith, she followed the Lord in his preaching and remained with him all the way to Golgotha (cf. Jn 19:25-27). By faith, Mary tasted the fruits of Jesus’ resurrection, and treasuring every memory in her heart (cf. Lk 2:19, 51), she passed them on to the Twelve assembled with her in the Upper Room to receive the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14; 2:1-4).

By faith, the Apostles left everything to follow their Master (cf. Mk 10:28). They believed the words with which he proclaimed the Kingdom of God present and fulfilled in his person (cf. Lk 11:20). They lived in communion of life with Jesus who instructed them with his teaching, leaving them a new rule of life, by which they would be recognized as his disciples after his death (cf. Jn 13:34-35). By faith, they went out to the whole world, following the command to bring the Gospel to all creation (cf. Mk 16:15) and they fearlessly proclaimed to all the joy of the resurrection, of which they were faithful witnesses.

By faith, the disciples formed the first community, gathered around the teaching of the Apostles, in prayer, in celebration of the Eucharist, holding their possessions in common so as to meet the needs of the brethren (cf. Acts 2:42-47).

By faith, the martyrs gave their lives, bearing witness to the truth of the Gospel that had transformed them and made them capable of attaining to the greatest gift of love: the forgiveness of their persecutors.

By faith, men and women have consecrated their lives to Christ, leaving all things behind so as to live obedience, poverty and chastity with Gospel simplicity, concrete signs of waiting for the Lord who comes without delay. By faith, countless Christians have promoted action for justice so as to put into practice the word of the Lord, who came to proclaim deliverance from oppression and a year of favour for all (cf. Lk 4:18-19).

By faith, across the centuries, men and women of all ages, whose names are written in the Book of Life (cf. Rev 7:9, 13:8), have confessed the beauty of following the Lord Jesus wherever they were called to bear witness to the fact that they were Christian: in the family, in the workplace, in public life, in the exercise of the charisms and ministries to which they were called.

By faith, we too live: by the living recognition of the Lord Jesus, present in our lives and in our history.
The different elements of this "by faith" are not just a history that we can read and try to follow. These elements describe the ecclesial constitution of Christian faith, the nature of Christian life as being a participation in the "communion of saints" made visible in a human community. It is an account of an ecclesial and theological reality, as well as being a historical account. So, for example, I would argue that a "Marian character" and the three evangelical counsels form just as much parts of what it means to be the Church as do the Apostolic and missionary characters.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

SSPX and "the preamble"

Regular visitors to this blog will recognise that is author is not a "traditional" Catholic. Well, he is traditional, but he isn't that sort of "traditional", he is the other sort of "traditional".

I therefore look at the discussions taking place between representatives of the Holy See and the Society of St Pius X with a certain detachment. The interest that I do take in those discussions is not so much for their consequences for the Society of St Pius X but for their implications for the Church as a whole. The confidential nature of the "doctrinal preamble", understandable when seen solely in the context of the dicussions between the Holy See and the said Society, is problematical in this latter context. If we all have a stake in the content of the preamble and in the outcome of the discussions based upon it, then surely we should all be allowed to contribute to the discussions in the Church about it, rather than the Society of St Pius X having some kind of exclusive access to the discussion while "non-traditionalists" remain excluded.

In saying this I am not at all suggesting that the confidentiality of the "doctrinal preamble" should be breached. However, that the Society of St Pius X appear to be not accepting it is something that I learn with a certain sense of relief. I had not gained the impression when it was first proposed to the Society that there was room for re-negotiating its content, though the Society seem to be suggesting that "clarification" may in effect offer opportunity for some re-negotiation. Also very helpful in my view is the publication of the article in L'Osservatore Romano, and carried at EF Pastor Emeritus, by one of the participants from the side of the Holy See in the discussions with the Society of St Pius X. This article addresses the question of assent to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, and I think that we can take it as an "indicator" of the negotiating position of the Holy See in its discussions with the Society of St Pius X. Together, Bishop Fellay's interview and Mgr Ocariz's article can be seen as part of a process that allows the wider Church a stake in the discussions between the two parties. One can speculate on how far Mgr Ocariz's article it is representative of the content of the "doctrinal preamble"; one might also see it as a reply to the remarks of Bishop Fellay of the Society of St Pius X, and a careful comparison of Bishop Fellay's interview with Mgr Ocariz' article shows at least one specific point of rebuttal (with regard to whether or not Vatican II is seen as offering doctrinal teaching).

What I find encouraging in the article by Mgr Ocariz is its clear indication that the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, including that on its "controversial" points, and that of the four pontificates since the Council, is not going to be sacrificed in the discussions with the Society of St Pius X. The boundary to the "space for legitimate theological freedom", from the point of view of the Holy See, appears to be quite tightly defined.

It is my own view that it is the Catechism of the Catholic Church that should provide the practical "rule of faith" required by the unity of the Church. This sufficed for the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham as former members of the Church of England entered into full communion with the Holy See. Why should not the same "rule of faith" apply to the Society of St Pius X?

Friday, 2 December 2011

".. truly the earth's culmination .."

The Meditation of the Day for Thursday of this week in Magnificat is from the writings of Fr Alfred Delp, and opens as follows (my italics added):
That God would become a Mother's son and that a woman could walk upon this earth, her body consecrated as a holy temple and tabernacle for God, is truly the earth's culmination and the fulfilment of its expectation ...

Oh, that this was granted to the earth, to bring forth such fruit! That the world was permitted to enter into the presence of God through the sheltering warmth, as well as the helpful and reliable patronage of her motherly heart!
I added the italics to draw out the closeness of the perspective of this passage to that promoted by FAITH, and exemplified in this article by Fr Nesbitt: The Christ Centred Vision of Creation: The Witness of Scripture and Tradition, and this one by Fr Stephen Boyle: The Centrality of Christ In the Plan of Creation.    

Thursday, 1 December 2011

World AIDS Day - a cause for hope

Media coverage that I have heared - on the radio - over the last couple of days suggests the following two thoughts for World AIDS Day.

The first thought is that a HIV positive status, or the AIDS illness that can follow from it, is now considered to be a treatable illness. It should no longer be seen as a terminal illness or, as it might be expressed in a popular culture, a "death sentence". In developed nations, the condition that attaches to this is that those who are HIV positive receive an early diagnosis, and so there is a call for people to be willing to be tested for their HIV status. The BBC news report here suggests that something like one in five people in the UK decline a HIV test when it is offered.  In under-developed nations, the condition is that of ready access to appropriate retro-viral drugs. At a cultural level, one would hope that this development will help to remove the unnecessary stigma that can attach to a positive HIV status..

The second thought relates to the existence of HIV/AIDS among the gay population. One report I have heard on the radio in the last couple of days made a particular call for gay men to be willing to be tested. According to a report on the BBC news website, based on data from the Health Protection Agency:
The number of people living with HIV in the UK reached an estimated 91,500 in 2010, up from 86,500 the year before, with a quarter of those unaware of their infection.

Some 6,660 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in the UK last year.

Data revealed infections likely acquired within the UK almost doubled in the last decade from 1,950 in 2001 to 3,640 in 2010 and exceed those acquired abroad.

This rise is mostly due to infections acquired among men who have sex with men, who remain the group most at risk of HIV infection in the UK, says the HPA.

In 2010, over 3,000 gay men were diagnosed with HIV - the highest ever annual number. One in 20 gay men is now infected with HIV nationally and in London the figure is one in 11.
Our political and social culture needs to be realistic in its response to this specific aspect of the HIV/AIDS situation, whilst at the same time not putting at risk the potential gains with regard to reduced stigma attaching to a positive HIV status that comes from better treatment and management of those diagnosed as being HIV positive.

Monday, 28 November 2011

The new translation: two implications

One more public, and one more individual.

First, the public one. I was looking forward to the development of a renewed "style" of celebration to accompany the introduction of the new English translation of the texts of the Mass. This could perhaps be summarised by my expecting a greater sense of faithfulness to the given texts, something totally consonant with the principle of greater faithfulness to the Latin typical (ie definitive) texts that is part fo the new translation. I think I have seen something of this in the parishes I attend, perhaps particularly with the introduction to the Our Father and the dismissal at the end of Mass. However, I am perhaps disappointed in not seeing a more sacred "style" in general. I therefore have sympathy with the question being asked by these two posts: New translation: renewed liturgy? and First Mass With The New Missal.

However, I have found rather beautiful in recent days the new translations of the Preface of Corpus Christi (sung at a Mass for the opening of the Forty Hours devotion in a parish not far away), of Eucharistic Prayer III (used at the aforementioned Mass) and of the Preface for Advent.

The more individual one relates to my praying of the Divine Office each morning. The coming of the new translation of the Missal draws attention to the frustrating choice of hymns and translations (or not in some cases) of the intercessions in the Divine Office. So I now use three different books for this.

I use the Latin for the invitatory, hymn and intercessions. My Latin is far from brilliant, and just good enough to cope with this.

I use the English of the Divine Office for the psalms, Scripture reading, responsory and Gospel canticle.  I expect some will not be surprised by the damage to the spine, which is overcome by use of a zip cover.

And I end with the Collect from the new translation of the Missal (I can do this every day now that it is Advent and there is an allocated Collect for each day).

Friday, 25 November 2011

Youtube, a dog in Richmond Park, and the name of the Lord

Youtube is a wonderful phenomenon, but it does seem to have a certain lack of accountability. Like blogging, one can post what one likes - and that leaves it open to the positive aspects of a freedom that empowers ordinary users and to the abuse that can also result from that freedom.

This video clip is an example: Fenton the Dog (Original). This video seems to have been reposted in a number of different versions by different people - so I do not know whether the claim of this version to be the original is true or not. This link will take you to the response page I got to a search on Youtube, and you will be able to see the numbers of views of various re-posts of the video. The BBC report on the incident is here, and, if you compare it to the video clip to which it refers, you will notice the editing.

But what I object to is the three-fold utterance of "Oh, Jesus Christ" - that is, a three-fold taking of the name of the Lord in vain. I think I would have objected to hearing it uttered if I had been there as the incident took place, though I might have had some understanding of the context and circumstances that would have mitigated my degree of offense.

But that a video of the incident is posted to Youtube, that it goes "viral", and no-one sees a problem with viewing and propagating it, removes any sense of mitigation. For those with a Christian conviction, this video is offensive. If the remarks had been racist or homophobic in nature, the outcry at their being posted would be quite deafening. Such remarks would have been clearly seen as discriminatory and, quite possibly, as promoting hatred. So why is this video not seen as offensive?

I think there are three guilty parties here. Firstly, and perhaps primarily, those who have posted (and re-posted) the video clip. They should remove it. Secondly, Youtube. They should not be willing to host a video clip that is offensive in this way, and should remove it. And they do not have a category under their "flag as inappropriate" option that allows for this situation - the nearest is "promotes hatred or violence". The third guilty party are all those who are watching the video and finding it amusing.

Perhaps we should all go over and start hitting the "I dislike" button as a way of making the point!

The BBC report deserves some credit for not reproducing the language that gives offense to those of Christian conviction. But it is interesting that the "story" for their report is the risk presented to the deer by dogs that might chase them in the park and not the civil rights of Christian believers!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Brian Sewell (4); the "gay scene" in the frame

The extract from Brian Sewell's autobiography published in the London Evening Standard (here), and on which I have already commented (Catholicism in the frame, Abandoning moral constraint and Pleasures of the flesh), also puts the "gay scene" in the frame for some questioning. Let me present this by responding to the following comment made on one of the earlier posts in this series:
The story of Brian Sewell's sexual exploits after he gave up the practice of religion is indeed depressing. He glories in the emptiness of as many as five casual partners in a single evening. Yet, there is too a question for Catholics. Now that we know that some people can only truthfully have sexual relationships with the same sex, if the proper standards of faithfulness and constancy apply, should we really deny them the sort of permanent, creative, relationship of, say, Benjamin Brittan and Peter Pears? The ugliness of Sewell's story is the grimness of promiscuity, not of the homosexuality with which he was born.
Is it possible, as this comment suggests, to entirely separate the aspect of promiscuity in Brian Sewell's account from the homosexual nature of his acts, thereby taking the "gay community" out of the frame?

"Now that we know that some people can only truthfully have sexual relationships with the same sex..." There is an implicit assumption here that would apply to heterosexual activity just as much as to homosexual activity. That assumption might be stated something like "as I am so inclined, so I have to act"; or, as the assumption that a physical sexual activity is a necessary and essential part of a person's life. It is important to ask whether or not this is really the case. Is sexual activity, of any type, really as necessary a condition for human well being as we are led to believe? If one were to agree (and I don't happen to) that "some people can only truthfully have sexual relationships with the same sex" the option of not having sexual relationships at all is still an option, and an option that respects entirely the sense of the inclination involved. It is possible to truthfully not have sexual relations.

If we challenge the assumption - that sexual inclination has to be converted into sexual activity, a principle that applies equally to heterosexual as to homosexual activity - then a clear step is seen to exist between the inclination towards same-sex behaviour and the actual undertaking of that behaviour. This leads us to recognise that there is an ethical step that is taken in moving from inclination to activity. This does apply to heterosexual activity as well, but, in our present context, it recognises the choice that is taken to engage in homosexual activity subsequent to an experience of inclination. In not distinguishing clearly between how we consider inclination and how we consider activity, the point of view represented by my commenter tries to take the "gay scene" out of the frame being set by the London Evening Standard extract. The ethical step in this context - or, to use the language of one of my earlier posts in this series, the breaking through of a moral restraint - is there for both heterosexual and homosexual behaviours. But it has a certain additionality in the case of homosexual behaviour because it involves stepping over the moral restraint represented by the physiological disposition of the male body towards the female body and vice versa. The scenario of the gay couple who are in a faithful relationship does not have the breach of the moral constraint with regard to promiscuity that characterises Brian Sewell's story; but it retains this latter element of overcoming a moral constraint.

So in what respects does the London Evening Standard extract put the "gay scene" within the frame for questioning? At a simple level, those who are in leadership in the gay community need to tell us honestly whether or not it is a community characterised by the promiscuity that Brian Sewell's story portrays, and I say that recognising that promiscuity is going to be a feature in opposite sex relations too. At a deeper level, the implications of the turning away from moral constraints that previously held in society - and this is something with regard homosexual acts that is promoted by the gay community - presents a question to be answered. Is this really in the interests of the common good of society as a whole, particularly when the removing of "internal barriers" is one of the themes in understanding the behaviour of sex offenders? (This is not to suggest that gay people are any more likely to be offenders than others, but only to suggest that a culture that maintains moral constraints will better discourage offending by those likely to offend.) The discussion in these series of posts also challenges the gay community to be willing to talk in the language of behaviours, which represent ethical choices, rather than using the language of "orientation" to reduce the element of ethical choice involved. Along with this is the question of external moral constraints to behaviour such as those that might be provided by religious belief; or the question of the part that can be played by religions in being a moral reference point that calls wider society to a purification of its reason (cf Pope Benedict XVI speaking in Westminster Hall).

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Brian Sewell (3): Catholicism in the frame

The extract from Brian Sewell's autobiography published in the London Evening Standard - Sex life of Brian Sewell: Story of my 1000 lovers - gains its prurience from the catalogue of promiscuous gay encounters that form the last two-thirds or so of the extract. A certain piquancy is added by the inclusion of reference to Roman Catholicism in the first two paragraphs, with the effect of placing Catholicism in the frame of the reader's perception alongside a promiscuous homosexuality.

Now, it should be clear from any reading of the London Evening Standard extract that Brian Sewell had abandoned entirely his practise of Catholicism in his turn towards promiscuity. In that sense, there is a lot of very clear water - a wide ocean of it, in fact - between Roman Catholicism and the lifestyle that Brian Sewell describes in the latter part of the extract.
...I had found chastity of the imagination impossible to achieve, and that this, now more turbulent than ever, was separating me from the Church. ... I returned to Phillimore Place with no further thought of Mass and have not since been a communicant.
But the first two paragraphs of the London Evening Standard extract give rise to the question as to how realistic is the possibility that Brian Sewell, had he not taken a turn towards promiscuity, might have been ordained as a Catholic priest. The first part of this question is about how realistic Brian Sewell's own intention was. The published extract does not allow us to answer this part of the question - we need to wait until we can read the earlier parts of the book, and perhaps bear in mind that we should be a little wary of relying on Brian Sewell's own perception. The other part of the question is one about whether or not a diocese or religious order would have accepted Brian Sewell for training had be put himself forward. Today, this latter would be covered by the provisions of the Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders of the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, which expect an affective maturity in accordance with Catholic teaching of candidates for the ordination: 
... this Dicastery, in accord with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, believes it necessary to state clearly that the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called "gay culture".
Independently of his homosexual tendencies, but not without some connection to them, Brian Sewell would in all probability not meet the requirement of affective maturity.

There is a final manner in which the London Evening Standard extract puts Catholicism in the frame of public perception, though the extract does not enable a conclusion to be drawn. As already noted above, Brian Sewell rejected Catholicism in turning towards homosexual promiscuity. But how far was his previous experience of Catholic life - on his own admission a dry and unconvinced experience - a part of Brian Sewell's disposition towards homosexual activity?

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Brian Sewell (2): the abandoning of moral constraint

There was in 1959 a change in my life - a change essential for my sanity.
These are the opening words of the extract from Brian Sewell's autobiography published recently in the London Evening Standard and available on their website under the title The sex life of Brian Sewell: Story of my 1000 lovers. I have already posted on one aspect of this piece - the pleasures of the flesh. That post will, I think, indicate to you that the style of life adopted by Brian Sewell after the change of 1959 is not one to which I would apply the descriptor "sanity".

In the first two paragraphs of the published extract, Brian Sewell describes turning away from a practise of Roman Catholicism that was "a dry discipline scarcely spiritual", a practise that had been "much troubled by my sexuality" (ie homosexuality). Now what Brian Sewell would have us believe is that this turning away from Catholicism was necessary for his sanity because it then liberated him to practise his homosexuality, removing the tension in his life that otherwise existed between Catholicism and his homosexuality.

However, if we consider the utter licentiousness in which Brian Sewell describes himself as engaging after this change in his life, then we can perhaps recognise that even his rather dry relationship to Catholicism was actually exercising an important influence in his life before he abandoned it. It was exercising a moral constraint. It is possible to read the first two paragraphs of the London Evening Standard extract and see that, though Brian Sewell admits to finding what he terms "chastity of the imagination" impossible, he had nevertheless sustained a physical chastity in so far as involvement of other people was concerned. Brian Sewell uses the word "turbulent" to describe the pressure on him, though one might also see this as an experience of the necessary effort to try and overcome a temptation to a behaviour that is recognised as morally wrong. It was the experience of a moral constraint, the maintaining of a boundary to human behaviour against a strong desire to cross that boundary. One suspects, from the subsequent events that Brian Sewell describes in this extract, that it was a moral constraint that he was willing to abandon with a certain readiness.

So the question being asked in this post is the following. Was the change in Brian Sewell's style of life a change "essential for my sanity", as he wishes to present it, or the abandoning of a legitimate moral constraint, of value both to Brian himself and to society as a whole, and the abandonment of which led Brian to a life of promiscuity?