Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Evangelii Gaudium: "No to spiritual worldliness"

Pope Francis devotes five paragraphs to discussing "spiritual worldliness" as one of the temptations faced by pastoral workers. They can be found in Evangelii Gaudium nn.93-97, and they contain the famous/infamous/incomprehensible reference to "self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism".

At the end of n.93, Pope Francis quotes Henri de Lubac:
..... if [spiritual worldliness] were to seep into the Church, “it would be infinitely more disastrous than any other worldliness which is simply moral”.
The quotation is taken from the very end of de Lubac's book translated into English as The Splendor of the Church. The full passage from which the quotation is taken provides an instructive commentary on this section of Evangelii Gaudium.  It comes at the end of a chapter in which de Lubac has presented the analogy between the figure of Mary and the Church, as de Lubac points out that we who are members of the Church do not show forth the light that is seen in our Lady.
.... the greatest danger we are to the Church, the most subversive temptation, the one that is ever and insidiously reborn when all the rest are overcome, and even strengthened by those victories, is what Abbot Vonier called the temptation to "worldliness of mind ... the practical relinquishing of other-worldliness, so that moral and even spiritual standards should be based, not on the glory of the Lord, but on what is the profit of man; an entirely anthropocentric outlook would be exactly what we mean by worldliness. Even if men were filled with every spiritual perfection, but if such perfection were not referred to God (suppose this hypothesis to be possible) it would be unredeemed worldliness". [De Lubac here references Abbot Vonier's The Spirit and the Bride.]
If this spiritual worldliness were to invade the Church and set to work to corrupt her by attacking her very principle, it would be something infinitely more disastrous than any worldliness of the purely moral order - even worse than the hideous leprosy that at certain moments in history inflicts so cruel a disfigurement on the Bride; when religion seems to set up the scandalous "in the very sanctuary itself ..."
None of us is wholly immune to this sort of evil....
Pope Francis' judgement offered in n.97 is strong:
Those who have fallen into this worldliness look on from above and afar, they reject the prophecy of their brothers and sisters, they discredit those who raise questions, they constantly point out the mistakes of others and they are obsessed by appearances. Their hearts are open only to the limited horizon of their own immanence and interests, and as a consequence they neither learn from their sins nor are they genuinely open to forgiveness. This is a tremendous corruption disguised as a good.

I am still on the hunt for the origins of  that phrase "self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism".

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Dialogue in the Church (or: What should bishops do about ACTA)

According to the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, n.161:
The Church has but one faith, one sacramental life, one apostolic succession, one common hope, and one and the same charity.
This description of the visible dimensions of the unity of the Church provides an inalienable basis for any dialogue that takes place within the Catholic Church, among her own members. It describes succinctly what is held in common by all who describe themselves as being in communion with the Roman Catholic Church. The nature of such dialogue "within" the Church is fundamentally different than the dialogue which the Church might have "without" the Church precisely because of this basic foundation of what is held in common.

Within his diocese, a bishop has a particular responsibility for promoting this unity among those entrusted to his care. (As an aside, reflecting on what I feel will be the particular demand placed on the new bishop of my own diocese, when one is eventually appointed, I have for some time now thought that promoting unity among the clergy of the diocese will be that demand.) This enjoins upon him a duty to enter into dialogue only in a manner that reflects his mission in favour of the authentic unity of the particular Church entrusted to his care.

Taking the components of that unity described in the Compendium, I would suggest that any dialogue on the part of the bishops should be based upon:
acceptance, whole, entire and without equivocation, of the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (cf, for example, the role that the Catechism has as the "rule of faith" for the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham)
the celebration of the Liturgy of the Church in faithfulness to its rubrics and using the juridically approved texts (which do themselves contain a generous pluralism)
a fundamental attitude of communion with the ordained hierarchy, be that local bishop or the Holy See (whilst this does not need an acceptance that every decision of the hierarchy is a good decision, it excludes the adoption of a permanent attitude of contestation directed against bishop or the Holy See - what Hans Urs von Balthasar characterised as an "anti-Roman attitude")
a recognition that the hope shared is that of communion with the life of the Trinity, through the life of the Church here on earth, and, in future, in heaven (thereby excluding a characterisation of hope for the future in terms of structures seen essentially in terms of power)
a charity manifested in a care for all in the diocese, and which does not see an exercise of juridical authority as a sufficient in itself (though there might be points where it can be appropriately exercised)
So how should bishops react to the group A Call to Action?

So far as I can tell, the present reaction is either one that is non-committal or one that ignores A Call to Action entirely. Whilst this avoids the hazard represented by lack of charity, it creates the hazard that views being expressed by A Call to Action might gain over time and by way of the means of social communication a traction that is undeserved. (Is their stance against the new English translation of the Roman Missal, for example, one that is really representative of ordinary parish life up and down the land? If my own experience is anything to go by, it is highly un-representative.)

I do think that the bishops should take the request for dialogue contained in the published mission statement of A Call to Action at face value. However, in the same way that A Call to Action is publishing its positions in letters and on its website, the bishops should equally publish the basis on which they are able to undertake dialogue "within the Church" - see my points above. This, indeed, would represent the first step in such a dialogue.

In engaging in this dialogue, the bishops will need to be willing to challenge, and not simply accept, everything said to them by A Call to Action. This would represent an exercise of openness on their part, mirroring that desired by A Call to Action. (The assertion, for example, that the new English translation of the Missal was imposed without consultation - still being made on the A Call to Action website - is simply untrue.) That, of course, is of the nature of dialogue, and can be done in a way that is genuinely open. A particular issue the bishops will need to face is that of determining how representative, or otherwise, positions being expressed to them are.

A Call to Action appear to wish to engage in dialogue at the level of individual dioceses, with individual bishops. This does mean that the individual bishops need to ensure that they understand the nature of what is taking place - they will need to do their homework (and have their own media strategy in place, too!).

Friday, 24 January 2014

UPDATED Evangelii Gaudium: "the most precious of the devil's potions"

In the second part of Chapter 2 of Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis addresses the "Temptations Faced by Pastoral Workers". [See below for UPDATE.] In nn78-83, Pope Francis identifies a certain tiredness or torpor that can afflict those who engage in pastoral work on behalf of the Church's mission.

It is first of all worth noting that, in adopting the term "pastoral workers", Pope Francis addresses his words to all the faithful, to bishops, priests and deacons, to religious and to lay people who are engaged in the mission of the Church. In n.78, Pope Francis words appear to be addressed more particularly to those in consecrated life when he identifies "three evils which fuel one another":
...... one can observe in many agents of evangelization, even though they pray, a heightened individualism, a crisis of identity and a cooling of fervour.
But in the next paragraph n.79, he addresses similar words in the context of the media and intellectual climate that affects perhaps the lay person more than the religious:
..... many pastoral workers, although they pray, develop a sort of inferiority complex which leads them to relativize or conceal their Christian identity and convictions. This produces a vicious circle. They end up being unhappy with who they are and what they do; they do not identify with their mission of evangelization and this weakens their commitment.
Pope Francis summarises this consideration of a tiredness in undertaking the evangelising mission of the Church in n.83, citing Joseph Ratzinger and then Georges Bernanos writing in The Diary of a Country Priest:
Disillusioned with reality, with the Church and with themselves, they [pastoral workers] experience a constant temptation to cling to a faint melancholy, lacking in hope, which seizes the heart like “the most precious of the devil’s potions”.
The full passage from which the quotation of Bernanos is taken is, first in French and then in the translation of my English language copy:
Le péché contre l’espérance – le plus mortel de tous, et peut-être le mieux accueilli, le plus caressé. Il faut beaucoup de temps pour le reconnaître, et la tristesse qui l’annonce, le précède, est si douce! C’est le plus riche des élixirs du démon, son ambroise.
The sin against hope - the deadliest sin and perhaps also the most cherished, the most indulged. It takes a long time to become aware of it, and the sadness which precedes and heralds its advent is so delicious! The richest of all the devil's elixirs, his ambrosia.
I suspect that many of us can recognise in this something of our own lives in the Church.


In following up a footnote to Evangelii Gaudium n.93 - which references Henri de Lubac's book Meditation sur l'Eglise, published in English as The Splendor of the Church - I have found a chapter in that book entitled "Our Temptations concerning the Church".  The themes of this section of Evangelii Gaudium are recognisable in de Lubac's chapter, though de Lubac addresses them in a wider historical context that more represents a general reflection on the nature of the life of the Church than a critique of the immediately present experience of the Church. That in itself perhaps gives us an indication as to how we should read Pope Francis' words.

(The referenced citation in Evangelii Gaudium, though, does not come from the chapter "Our Temptations concerning the Church" but from the last pages of a chapter dedicated to "The Church and our Lady". The attention given in this chapter to the maternity of the Church is a favourite theme of Pope Francis.)

There is an onward reference that can be taken from this footnote in Evangelii Gaudium. At the end of his chapter, Henri de Lubac inserted the following footnote:
A more far-reaching examination of some of the problems discussed in this chapter will be found in Fr Karl Rahner's Die Chancen des Christentums heute.
I have not been able to follow up this onward reference as such. I did, however, find on pp.109-111 of Fr Rahner's Opportunities for Faith an account that has clear resonance to the idea of those who, though they pray, do not live out the implications of that for their relationships of charity towards others. To be fair, it should be pointed out that it is not at all obvious that Pope Francis' words in this regard share the "transcendental" philosophical perspective of Fr Rahner's account, intending as it does to recognise an implicitly present grace in an interpersonal encounter.

Henri de Lubac's chapter does make interesting reading for the way in which it might enable us to understand some of Pope Francis' more challenging and, for some at least, obscure analyses of the situation of the Church.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Evangelii Gaudium: "No to the inequality which spawns violence"

In Chapter 2 of Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis considers "briefly the context in which we all have to live and work", as a preliminary to taking up questions more directly related to the work of evangelisation. He does not claim an exhaustive analysis, and indicates a primarily pastoral perspective. Among the challenges that Pope Francis identifies is that of "the inequality which spawns violence", treated in nn.59-60 of Evangelii Gaudium.
...until exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples are reversed, it will be impossible to eliminate violence.
Pope Francis identifies the source of this violence, not just in the reaction that is likely from those who are excluded, but from a structurally unjust situation in which injustice tends to expand its influence for evil.

By way of commentary on the concern sketched out by Pope Francis in these two paragraphs, I turned to an analysis of different types of violence in one of the four pastoral letters of Archbishop Oscar Romero. It forms part of the third pastoral letter, dedicated to the Church and the Popular Political Organisations. The analysis occurs on p.19 ff of the pdf text here. What Pope Francis articulates as "exclusion and inequality" is expressed by Archbishop Romero as "Instituionalised Violence":
It is the result of an unjust situation in which the majority of men, women, and children in our country find themselves deprived of the necessities of life.
This violence finds expression in the structure and daily functioning of a socio-economic and political system that takes it for granted that progress is impossible unless the majority of the people are used as a productive force under the control of a privileged minority.
Archbishop Romero continues to delineate the repressive violence of the state, terrorist violence, spontaneous violence, violence in legitimate self-defence and finally the power of non-violence, before addressing the Church's moral judgements on these different types of violence - p.21ff of the pdf text.

But what is very thought provoking, and provides a vivid commentary to Pope Francis words in Evangelii Gaudium, is the identification by Archbishop Romero of the range of those responsible for the exclusion and inequality/structural violence, for which he cites the teaching of the meeting of Latin American Bishops at Medellin (my italics added):
(They) are those who monopolise economic power instead of sharing it, those "who defend them through violence", and all "those who remain passive for fear of the sacrifice and personal risk implied by any courageous and effective action".
It is that reference to "those who remain passive" that is most challenging and perhaps has widest application!

Friday, 17 January 2014

Evangelii Gaudium: A mission embodied in human limits

The fourth section of Chapter One of Evangelii Gaudium is entitled "A Mission Embodied within Human Limits". There are a couple of paragraphs in this section that contain examples of Pope Francis' beauty in use of language.

In no.42, Pope Francis writes about the nature of faith. My italics, not present in the original text, indicate the phrases which caught my attention :
.... we will never be able to make the Church’s teachings easily understood or readily appreciated by everyone. Faith always remains something of a cross; it retains a certain obscurity which does not detract from the firmness of its assent. Some things are understood and appreciated only from the standpoint of this assent, which is a sister to love, beyond the range of clear reasons and arguments. We need to remember that all religious teaching ultimately has to be reflected in the teacher’s way of life, which awakens the assent of the heart by its nearness, love and witness.
No. 45 is the paragraph which summarises this section, and it is the image of shoes soiled by the mud of the street which caught my eye:
We see then that the task of evangelization operates within the limits of language and of circumstances. It constantly seeks to communicate more effectively the truth of the Gospel in a specific context, without renouncing the truth, the goodness and the light which it can bring whenever perfection is not possible. A missionary heart is aware of these limits and makes itself “weak with the weak... everything for everyone” (1 Cor 9:22). It never closes itself off, never retreats into its own security, never opts for rigidity and defensiveness. It realizes that it has to grow in its own understanding of the Gospel and in discerning the paths of the Spirit, and so it always does what good it can, even if in the process, its shoes get soiled by the mud of the street.
One should note, for those who might read this as a compromise of the call to Christian perfection, that Pope Francis has just indicated in no.44 that the need to" accompany with mercy and patience" those who are being evangelised does not imply "detracting from the evangelical ideal".

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Pope Francis' "we"

No, I am not suggesting that Pope Francis has a "Wii" - I somehow can't see him playing tennis before his large screen TV in Casa Santa Marta each evening.

Nor am I really suggesting that he has reverted to the use of a "We" as a reference to himself in his exercise of the Papal office.

I have noticed, however, that Pope Francis does use an inclusive "we" in his homilies. See, for example, his homily on the Solemnity of the Epiphany.

What is of interest here is that, if Pope Francis not infrequently appears to be somewhat acidic in his criticism of attitudes unhelpful to Christian living, he does not exclude himself from that criticism. Even when that inclusion is not explicit, I think we should recognise that it is there.

Pope Francis' recent remarks about "smarmy priests" have caused some comment: with a certain historical and analytical background here, and just seeing them plainly as insults among many others being directed at the faithful, here. Like many of the remarks that are being perceived adversely by some commenters, these remarks were made during a homily at morning Mass in the Casa Santa Marta. The text of the Vatican radio report is here.

And if we read that report carefully, through to the end, we can see the Franciscan "we":
We priests have so many limits .....
We can also see something else. The somewhat acidic remarks are presented as a counter-example to Pope Francis positive exhortation to priests that they should build their life on a relationship with Christ (my emphasis added):
A true priest, he said, anointed by God for His people, has a close relationship with Jesus. When that relationship is missing, the priest becomes “smarmy,” [unctuous, It: unctuoso] an idolater, a worshiper of the “god Narcissus.”
This does not reduce the acidity of Pope Francis remarks, but does give them some context. I do think it is also the case that, with a background influenced by Communion and Liberation, Pope Francis has a vocabulary that is particularly unfamiliar to those of a more traditionalist background (cf his remarks about ideology some time ago).

I think, too, that when these kind of remarks are taken out of the context of the morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta they gain a definition and certainty of expression that may be lacking in the intent and original context - the relatively informal spoken word against the concretely defined written word. It is possible to make more of them than is really there to be made of them. I suspect that there is a linguistic issue in play, too. Pope Francis is preaching without script in Italian, which is not his first language; and he does not appear to have the strong language skills of his predecessor. It might well be the case that his use of Italian expressions is not as precise as it might be.

Whether this explains why Pope Francis speaks of "smarmy priests" in a way that clearly suggests that such priests exist, rather than just suggesting the danger of a priests becoming "smarmy".... it is difficult to tell.

If it is any consolation to priests who feel they have been insulted, I read these remarks that appear to have been made particularly about priests and recognised that they might also have application to the lay faithful - just as I thought Pope Francis' remarks to the Curia also had ready application to any lay person in their place of work. But I am not going to take it personally!

Monday, 13 January 2014

Pope Francis: the Cardinalate is not a promotion or an honour

The text of a letter sent by Pope Francis to his newly announced Cardinals has been published on the Vatican website. The translation below is my own. I do think it is a rather lovely letter.
Caro Fratello,
nel giorno in cui si rende pubblica la tua designazione a far parte del Collegio Cardinalizio, desidero farti giungere un cordiale saluto insieme all’assicurazione della mia vicinanza e della mia preghiera. Desidero che, in quanto aggregato alla Chiesa di Roma, rivestito delle virtù e dei sentimenti del Signore Gesù (cfr Rm 13,14), tu possa aiutarmi con fraterna efficacia nel mio servizio alla Chiesa universale.
Il Cardinalato non significa una promozione, né un onore, né una decorazione; semplicemente è un servizio che esige di ampliare lo sguardo e allargare il cuore. E, benché sembri un paradosso, questo poter guardare più lontano e amare più universalmente con maggiore intensità si può acquistare solamente seguendo la stessa via del Signore: la via dell’abbassamento e dell’umiltà, prendendo forma di servitore (cfr Fil 2,5-8). Perciò ti chiedo, per favore, di ricevere questa designazione con un cuore semplice e umile. E, sebbene tu debba farlo con gaudio e con gioia, fa’ in modo che questo sentimento sia lontano da qualsiasi espressione di mondanità, da qualsiasi festeggiamento estraneo allo spirito evangelico di austerità, sobrietà e povertà.
Arrivederci, quindi, al prossimo 20 febbraio, in cui cominceremo i due giorni di riflessione sulla famiglia. Resto a tua disposizione e, per favore, ti chiedo di pregare e far pregare per me.
Gesù ti benedica e la Vergine Santa ti protegga.
Dal Vaticano, 12 gennaio 2014

Dear Brother,

On the day when your appointment to become part of the College of Cardinals is made public, I wish to offer you a warm greeting along with an assurance of my nearness and of my prayer. I wish that, in your association with the Church of Rome, clothed again with the virtues and with the sentiments of the Lord Jesus, you will be able to help me with brotherly efficacy in my service to the universal Church.

The Cardinalate does not mean a promotion, neither an honour nor a decoration; it is simply a service that demands a widening of outlook and enlargement of heart. And, though it seems a paradox, this ability to look further and love more universally with greater intensity, can only be acquired by following the same way of the Lord: the way of abasement and of humility, taking the form of a servant. Therefore I ask you, please, to receive this appointment with a simple and humble heart. And, though you might do so with joy, do so in such a way that it is far from any expression of worldliness, from any celebration foreign to the Gospel spirit of austerity, sobriety and poverty.

Goodbye, then, until 20 February next, when we will begin two days of reflection on the family. I remain at your disposition and, please, ask you to pray and to offer prayers for me.

Jesus bless you and the Holy Virgin protect you.


Saturday, 11 January 2014

UPDATED: Caitlin Moran: "I assure you that 40 million women a year don't have abortions recklessly"

The title of this post contains the strapline to Caitlin Moran's column in The Times Magazine for today. Caitlin's statistics are taken from a World Health Organisation publication Unsafe Abortion: Global and regional estimates of the incidence of unsafe abortion and associated mortality in 2008. WHO, and Caitlin following WHO, suggest that some 20 million abortions worldwide fall in to the unsafe categorisation.

Two sections of Caitlin Moran's piece caught my attention.
The society we live in is shaped by abortion - how can it not be, with a third of women now having an abortion in their lifetime? That is a gigantic force in the way we live - it informs every aspect of our economy, industry and sexuality - but the merciful, positive, real aspects of it are never seen, or discussed. Squeamish and frightened, we only ever discuss abortion - it only ever makes headlines - when someone seeks to curtail safe, legal access to it.
Caitlin has, bless her, rather overstated just how much abortion informs our economy and industry - it certainly does not inform every aspect of economic and industrial life. But I do think she is right to identify that, though we rarely talk about it, abortion is now a part of the fabric of the life of our country. A factor in this situation is that the law of the land makes it legal for an abortion to take place in certain very-loosely-interpreted circumstances. This legal availability of abortion has a cultural impact, not just on the women and their partners who are most closely involved, but on all of us. Without legal availability, abortion would not be the (albeit largely silent) presence that it is in our culture.

The second part that caught my attention was this:
The simplicity of why women seek an abortion is devastating: they feel they cannot look after a child. Cannot. I assure any anti-abortionist that they may disregard the sneaking feeling that 40 million women a year have abortions recklessly ...
It is a long time now since I last spoke in public on the subject of abortion. I would still preface my remarks in the same way that I did then. Abortion is a very difficult subject to speak on, and particularly for a man. There will be people who read this post who have an experience of abortion, either directly themselves or because people they know have been involved in a decision for or against an abortion. Whilst not agreeing that an abortion is a morally right choice, I would nevertheless insist that I should respect the decisions made by others, and say that what I was saying was not a criticism or attack on the decisions made by others in the particular circumstances of their lives.

Now, whether one is a supporter or an opponent of legal availability of abortion, it does appear strongly to me that there is no one, single "narrative"  into which a decision for abortion fits; and it would not occur to me to characterise any such decision as "reckless". Each woman finds herself in a situation which is to a greater or lesser extent unique; it is their own situation. Caitlin's assertion of "the simplicity of why women seek an abortion" seems to me quite insensitive to the huge variety of different circumstances which can be present in a decision with regard to an abortion, and which are apparent in published materials and in my own experience. Both supporters and opponents of legal abortion can fail to see this, and yet it seems to me an essential part of the conversation about abortion now that experience of abortion in our society is common.

By all means one can make the case against abortion in public debate (and in evangelisation and catechesis if one is working in an ecclesial context). But if that case is made simply in the form of dogmatic proclamation, insensitive to the unique situation of the individual facing a decision about abortion, it will fail both in persuading and in the order of charity.

I do not agree with the sense of Caitlin's observation at the end of her piece that women will always have abortions, the question being one of whether or not they can access those abortions legally (which is the equivalent, for Caitlin, of safely). Where abortion is legal, a cultural openness to a decision in favour of an abortion merges over time into a cultural preference in favour of abortion, and this becomes part of the different narratives that women experience as they make decisions for or against an abortion. Inevitably, for some women, the legal availability of abortion means that they can experience a range of pressures in favour of such a choice that would not be there if abortion was not legal.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Freedom of Religion in the Public and Private Sphere

I have been intending to post on Baroness Warsi's Pope Benedict XVI lecture on "Freedom of Religion in the Public and Private Sphere" for some time. A full text and recording of the lecture can be downloaded from the website of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales: here. Do read the full text, or listen to the full recording, before continuing to read my comments that follow.

The motif of Baroness Warsi's lecture was the term "inter-faith imperative" - in other words, the vital importance that those of different religious beliefs should act in concert in responding to the three issues she chose to address in her lecture. In speaking of the persecution of religious minorities overseas, Baroness Warsi said:
....this requires not only Christians speaking up for Christians, Muslims for Muslims, or any faith for its co-religionists.
It requires everyone to speak out against intolerance and injustice.
To speak out and stand up for those who come under attack.
Because, if our response is sectarian then that actually reinforces the divisions.
Listening to these words I was strongly reminded of the Charter 77 movement that emerged in Czechoslovakia (as it then was) during the Communist regime. A feature of this movement was the way in which people of widely different backgrounds - ranging from former/reform Communists to Catholic intellectuals - came together in defence of the human rights of all. The original charter states:
CHARTER 77 is a free, informal and open association of people of different convictions, different faiths and different professions, who are linked by the desire, individually or jointly, to insist on the respecting of civil and human rights in our country and throughout the world, rights recognised for men both by the enacted international pacts, the Final Act of the Helsinki Conference and many other international documents against wars, violence and social and spiritual oppression and which are expressed as a whole in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
Also as I listened I pondered on what might be a clear application of this principle of non-sectarianism in responding to the persecution of minorities, particularly minorities in other countries. It would certainly seem to me appropriate for Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians to condemn violence against gay rights activists, and against LGBT communities, in Russia, and to condemn the failure of authorities to protect those individuals. See, for example, this CBS News report.

Baroness Warsi continued to apply the principle of the "inter-faith imperative" to responding to intolerance in our own country and to harnessing the energy of faith communities, working together, to build a better society.

Amongst the questions asked at the end of the lecture was one about making the provision of aid by the British Government to other countries conditional on those countries having a good record as far as the persecution of religious minorities, perhaps particularly Christians, was concerned. Baroness Warsi's suggestion, in response, was that not adopting such a stance allowed British representatives to "mainstream" the question of religious freedom in their contacts with other governments - and so when they were raised, they were raised with key people in those governments rather than with more junior officials.

The question I might have liked to ask was, in effect, how the consideration of religious freedom might apply for a person in our own country who did not feel able to apply for a job as a registrar, say, because they would not feel able to officiate at a same-sex wedding. In the past a religious test of adherence to the Church of England was applied for some jobs or universities; nowadays are we instead apply a (religious) test of adherence to a certain secular orthodoxy instead?

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

What are Monsignori for?

The announcement of the New Year's Honours a week or so ago prompted me, for the first time I recall, to ask myself: what is an honour really for? It was the media reports of an award being made to a lady "for services to bell-ringing" that prompted me to ask myself what other areas an award might be made for. The question has recurred in the last two days with media reports of an award "for services to hairdressing", which appears to the slightly cynical to be at least something to do with the recipients work to cover the Prime Minister's balding crown.

Pope Francis has at the same time set about reforming ecclesiastical honours, with the (kind of) abolition of appointments of "Monsignori". According to Vatican Radio:
By circular letter sent to the world’s Nunciatures, the Secretariat of State has informed Bishops’ conferences that, in the world’s Dioceses, the only ecclesiastical title henceforth to be conferred shall be “Chaplain of His Holiness”, to which the appellation, “Monsignor”, shall correspond. The title shall be conferred only upon priests who have reached the age of 65.

The circular further clarifies that the use of the title, Monsignor, in connection with certain major offices – where this is a cultural practice – (eg . Bishop , the Vicar General of the Diocese, inter alia) remains unchanged. With regard to the Roman Curia, no change has been made either in the titles or in the use of the appellation, Monsignor, these being connected to the offices entrusted, and to the service performed.
If I am reading this correctly, it suggests that either Monsignori will be so called because of their holding a particular office or carrying out a particular service in the Church to which the title is customarily attached; or because of their reaching a certain age, when the title will be used as a recognition of a past life of service in the Church.

I do have some understanding of a particular title or form of address attaching to a particular office in the life of a local Church, or the life of the universal Church. I suspect that the best amongst the clergy might be quite happy to forego the use of such title, or at the very least, experience the sting of conscience that Pope Francis' announcement causes should they still wish to continue with its use.

I do find it much more difficult to see a value of the title Monsignor used as an honour, in the sense of the system of honours that we have here in the UK. The practice of the Legion of Mary in this regard seems to me very sensible. The making of presentations to members is explicitly forbidden, and the formation of praesidia that are formed exclusively from a particular group in society is equally forbidden. Instead, a spiritual bouquet provides an alternative way of recognising the contribution of a member. This practice also avoids the potential scandal, seen too frequently of late, where someone honoured by the Church has proven not to have lived up to that honour. Given that we all share in the mix of good and evil that is the drama of Christian life, it also seems a much more practical thing to do.

Perhaps Pope Francis will continue to reform the use of other ecclesiastical honours, too.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Sunshine Award

A little while ago, Jackie nominated me for the above award (apologies for delay in acknowledging this). I did appreciate that Jackie's list of ten nominees included blogs that I would recognise as being more thoughtful in nature - and it was pleasing to be in their company. I am not going to nominate my ten further nominees, beyond this observation.

I will do the other part of the deal: herewith ten things about myself.

1. I am not anonymous - Joe is my real name.
2. I am a Siamese twin [if you recognise the acronym SEATO, and use a bit of imagination, you will be able to work that one out! There is a family story of my father once saying this when we visited a GP for innoculations - he will have said it with a face and expression totally deadpan - and causing great excitement in the surgery].
3. I was recently thanked for bringing the light back into a friend's life [= I can still replace the fuse wire in a blown cartridge fuse].
4. The years are apparently treating me very well [= I met someone recently I had not seen for about 30 years, and he observed that my hair was lasting rather better than his own; I am usually disappointed if people don't take at least 10 years off my actual age].
5. Perhaps the highlight of my ecclesial experience was reading the first reading at the Statio Orbis celebration at the conclusion of the 2008 International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec.
6. I can usually come up with an unusual place to visit during a holiday [eg here and here during a visit to Prague].
7. My favourite saint is Edith Stein - I have visited the Church where she was baptised and seen the font in which she was baptised; her room at the Dominican Convent in Speyer (more than once); the Cathedral in Speyer where she went to Mass (and the bridge linking the Cathedral and the Convent, on which there is a statue of Edith); the Carmel in Cologne (the convent Edith knew was destroyed in an air raid); and, more recently, walked along the railway platform at Birkenau where she spent the last moments of her life (my companion at the time very kindly left me alone and went on ahead so I could walk with Edith by myself). I would like to visit Echt, and Wroclaw, to complete my pilgrimage to places associated with her. Perhaps the second highlight of my ecclesial experience was being in St Peter's Square for Edith's canonisation.
8. My day job is divided between teaching Physics  in a school in East London and a role as a Branch Secretary for one of the teaching unions.
9. I was once a parish MC - and have since suffered from the chronic disease that former MC's have (Liturgical fussiness).
10. The blogpost I have been most pleased with is probably this one: If you knew SUSY. Because if you scroll quite a way down this interview transcript (with the author who wrote the Physics World article I was commenting on).... you will find a blogger being referred to who can't really be anyone else but me. The visits to my post from the University of Maryland over the years suggest that it did prompt a discussion there.
And his implication is that indeed this is something for theologians to contemplate. You know, that was, again, for me a stunning assertion and it still has yet to be fully studied. But it probably will not be studied by physicists (laugh).
H/T to William Ockham, who pointed out the connection to me.