Wednesday, 30 December 2015

The Holy Family: what Pope Francis actually said ..... (and Pope Benedict)

Before putting the homily of Pope Francis for the Feast of the Holy Family alongside Pope Benedict XVI's account of the finding of Jesus in the Temple in his book on the Infancy Narratives, it is worth noting this from the very last section of Pope Benedict's account:
It is also important to note what Luke says about Jesus' growth not only in stature, but also in wisdom. On the one hand, the answer of the twelve-year-old made it clear that he knew the Father - God - intimately ....He lives in his presence. He sees him. As Saint John says, Jesus is the only one who rests in the Father's heart and is therefore able to make him known ...
And yet it is also true that his wisdom grows. As a human being, he does not live in some abstract omniscience, but he is rooted in a concrete history, a place and time, in the different phases of human life, and this is what gives concrete shape to his knowledge. So it emerges clearly that he thought and learned in human fashion.
So, perhaps, even accepting the theological audacity of the suggestion contained in Pope Francis homily, does Jesus learn for us how to seek forgiveness?

If Pope Benedict's account (understandable both because of his previous background and of the context of a published book) is that of the theologian, that of Pope Francis (again understandable because of his previous background as a Bishop) is that of a practically minded pastor.

For Benedict, the pilgrimage of the Holy Family to a meeting with God in the Temple at the three great Jewish feasts represents a faithfulness to the pilgrim community of the whole people of Israel to its encounter with God in the Temple. For Pope Francis, the reference is to the pilgrimages undertaken by whole families to places of popular piety - or to enter through the Holy Door during this Year of Mercy:
Indeed, we could say that family life is a series of pilgrimages, both small and big.
Pope Francis then develops the theme to refer to the pilgrimage of "education in prayer" that was part of the life of the Holy Family and should be a part of the life of every family. He refers, too, to the "pilgrimage of every day life", encouraging parents to bless their children (that is, to entrust them to God so that he might care for them through the day) and to pray a short grace at meal times.

Pope Benedict, on the other hand, identifies a theological import in the dialogue between Mary and Jesus when they meet each other again in the Temple: Mary is corrected, so that God the Father is recognised as Jesus' true Father rather than Joseph; and that Jesus "must" be about his Father's business establishes a link between this event of the finding in the Temple and the "must" that characterises Jesus acceptance of his suffering and death. The apparent disobedience to Mary and Joseph is in fact a manifestation of his filial obedience to the Father. Following Rene Laurentin, Pope Benedict also suggests the experience of three days absence of Jesus is part of an arc connecting the first Passover of Jesus earthly life to his final Passover on Calvary.

Pope Francis makes something much more immediately concrete of Jesus disobedience, suggesting (and the Italian appears to be more suggestive in nature than the English translation which, whilst accurate, communicates a greater degree of certainty than it does of suggestion) that this was something for which Jesus "probably had to beg forgiveness of his parents" (a more literal translation of the Italian might read: for which "probably even Jesus had to ask pardon of his parents"). Pope Francis observes, on this suggestion, that "The Gospel does not say this; but I believe that we can presume it" ("suppose it" might be a more direct translation from the Italian).
Moments like these become part of the pilgrimage of each family; the Lord transforms the moments into opportunities to grow, to ask for and to receive forgiveness, to show love and obedience.
I do not join those who would accuse Pope Francis of being theologically inexact, or even erroneous. On previous occasions when Pope Francis, speaking off the cuff, has himself suggested that his words might lack theological exactness I have usually found the contrary (see here, for example). The thought that Jesus had himself to learn to seek forgiveness is certainly audacious from the theological point of view; but why should that not, at least at the level of a pastorally oriented suggestion that models in the Holy Family the pilgrimage of our earthly families, be part of what is intended by the Scriptural observation that "Jesus grew in stature and in wisdom"?

UPDATE: Go here for an update to this post.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Abortion and the Catholic Church today

It is not easy to write about the subject of abortion. The ready availability of access to abortion in the UK since 1967 means that, in any audience reading a blog post or listening to a speaker, there will be people with their own experience of abortion. And amongst that audience the experiences will differ from one person to another, and inevitably will differ from that of the writer or speaker. A writer needs to take care, therefore, to be non-judgemental of the experiences and decisions of others, whilst at the same time articulating their own view point.

1. There is no one narrative that captures the experience of a woman who makes a decision for abortion (or, perhaps, a decision against abortion). Each and every woman is an individual in their own individual circumstances, with their different pressures which in some way constrain the freedom of their decision making. Sure, some will be able to exercise a "right to choose" in its fullest sense; but even publications from supporters of legalised abortion (I have one such book on my desk as I write this post) demonstrate the wide variety of different circumstances which lead women to have an abortion.

2. The Catholic Church is not immune from the experience of abortion - it would be extremely naïve to think otherwise. Within a typical Catholic parish it would be surprising if there were not women who have had abortions, or families where the phenomenon of abortion has affected family members. If this is just hidden by a silence, and by a rejection of the women involved, parish communities expose themselves to the same kind of risk that in the past led to the social rejection of unmarried mothers. It may not be an easy thing to do, and it certainly needs to be done with sensitivity; but how a parish community responds to those who have experienced abortion should be part of the ordinary pastoral conversation in which all members of the community play a part, ensuring that when the need arises the reaction is one of loving care rather than rejection.

3. A part of the phenomenon of abortion in the UK is the existence of organisations dedicated to the provision of abortion as a service to women. Some time ago, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, one of the UKs leading abortion providers, published research indicating that some two thirds of its clients who had abortions over a three year period had been using a form of contraception when they became pregnant. More recently, they responded to an enquiry to confirm that some of the women undergoing abortions provided by BPAS had, with explicit consent of the women and on a non-profit basis for both BPAS and the women involved, have donated foetal tissue for research purposes. In addition to the experiences of abortion itself, the phenomenon created by the legal availability of abortion includes a quasi-commercial sector which embeds the phenomenon in different aspects of our contemporary culture.

4. The acceptance of ready access to abortion has become widespread in the years since the 1967 Abortion Act. Though not often the subject of open discussion, it is nevertheless now a feature of our culture. The Catholic Church, however, offers a resistance to this cultural acceptance of abortion, and from time to time it is well for the Church to express this resistance, not as a condemnation of those who have experienced abortion, but as a testimony to her own belief as to what is true about the question of abortion and a challenge to the quasi-commercial sector indicated above. The following is taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
2270 Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person - among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life......  
2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law .... Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.  
2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. "A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae," "by the very commission of the offense" and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law. The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.
 5. The Year of Mercy that has just begun provides an opportunity for the Church to reach out to those who have been affected by abortion. The provisions for remission of the penalty of excommunication associated with procurement of abortion already present in Canon Law (a Bishop already has authority to allow that remission and, it would appear, in many Dioceses has delegated that authority to the priests of the Diocese; and at an event such as the World Youth Day in Madrid, that authority was extended to all priests hearing confessions in the context of the World Youth Day) have been given to the priests who will act as "Missionaries of Mercy" during the coming year. In my own diocese, one of the events for the Year of Mercy is to be dedicated to those affected by abortion. In this way, the scope of mercy to which the Catechism refers can be made manifest in a special way.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Christmas - according to Jeremy Corbyn

When one reads Jeremy Corbyn's counterpart to David Cameron's Christmas message, which appeared in the Sunday Mirror on 19th December, one can appreciate a political dimension of Mr Cameron's observations about Britain as a Christian country and his affirmation of the birth of God's only Son. There would appear to be a deliberate establishing of clear water between the atheism, or at best agnosticism, of Labour/Jeremy Corbyn and a Christian faith of Conservative/David Cameron.

And that is an interesting development.
Christmas is also a time for reflection, and it is worth considering the poignancy of the Nativity story. It is about offering shelter to a family in need and to those who find themselves refugees fleeing evil....
.... the Christmas story holds up a mirror to us all. "Do unto others as you would have done unto you" - that is the essence of my socialism, summed up in the word "solidarity". Jesus said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive". It is a similar maxim that inspired our party: "From each according to their means, to each according to their needs". 
 For the Christian believer, however, the Nativity story is not about offering shelter to a family in need or to refugees fleeing evil. That represents an utter and complete derogation from what a Christian celebrates at Christmas: see my post God is with us!  I think we should be generous towards Mr Corbyn's use of the word "story", as we should not expect a non-believer to affirm that which he does not believe. However, I am inclined to be rather less generous towards his mis-representation of the content of Christian belief. And more generous towards Mr Cameron for his countering of it in his own Christmas message.

There is a much more positive observation to be made about Mr Corbyn's quotation of the "Golden Rule" of doing unto others what you would want them to do to you. This represents the possibility of dialogue and does, for example, represent a foundational term in the spirituality of unity of the Focolare. Mr Corbyn should, I think, be taken seriously in this regard as a potential partner in dialogue, even with those who would radically disagree with his point of view about Christianity..

Further comment on the two messages: The Cameron and Corbyn Christmas messages – full text and some brief reflections

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Far from divisive: A comment on David Cameron's Christmas message

As a Christian country, we must remember what his birth represents: peace, mercy, goodwill and, above all, hope. I believe that we should also reflect on the fact that it is because of these important religious roots and Christian values that Britain has been such a successful home to people of all faiths and none.
While David Cameron's Christmas Message in his office as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has been attacked by secularist commentators, I think there are two, perhaps contrasting, observations to be made about his words quoted above.

Firstly, as Mr Cameron chooses to describe Britain as a "Christian country" he might mean at least three different things, and possibly a mixture of them. He might be referring to the Church of England, established in the legal and cultural framework of Britain as thereby indicating a "Christian country". And that is fair enough, distinguishing as it does the British constitutional arrangement from that of countries such as France or the United States where a principle of laicite or neutrality before any specific religious confession applies. He might be referring to the history of our lands, in which Christian faith has played a prominent part - the "important religious roots" to which he refers. Or he might be referring to the continued existence of Christian life and practice in our country today, the extent of which some at least would challenge as not justifying the descriptor "Christian" applied to the country as a whole.

My own view is that the claim to a Christian stake in the public life of our country today does not arise from past history, and cannot be based on history. The claim arises from the presence of Christian life among the peoples of our country today - and I would want to suggest that it is a more significant presence than the secularists would like to claim.

The second observation is implied in Mr Cameron's words about how the Christian roots and values of Britain have made it a successful home to people of all faiths and of none. The recognition of an established religion (and in the case of the United Kingdom that means the Church of England) recognises for all citizens, be they adherents of that recognised religion or not, a religious dimension to their existence. It is interesting that, even in those countries where state and religion are constitutionally separate, there are some where a significant religious culture continues to exist (in the case of France, for example, it is still generally recognised as being a Catholic country). There is perhaps a particular genius in British history that the recognition of an established religion has come to be accompanied by a freedom for any other religious practice, too, though, of course, it has not always been so.

Far from being divisive, Mr Cameron's recognition of how the specific values and life experience of Christian faith creates a home for those of other faiths and of none is very welcome. For all citizens it represents a useful statement of a place in both public and private life for the religious dimension of the human person, at the level of individuals, at the level of the relations of individuals to others in local communities, and at the level of the nation as a whole.

It is the radical denial of this religious dimension of the person that leaves people spiritually homeless, that is, lacking in hope. It is its recognition that can engender a shared hope across all communities.

Further comment on Mr Cameron's Christmas message: The Cameron and Corbyn Christmas messages – full text and some brief reflections.

God is with us!

Image credit: Philippine Sowerby
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light.
On them the sun has risen.
At Christmas, the Christian celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, born in a humble stable in Bethlehem, into a poor family. Simple shepherds were the first witnesses to this event. (cf Catechism of the Catholic Church n.525)
This unique and altogether singular event of the Incarnation of the Son of God does not mean that Jesus Christ is part God and part man, nor does it imply that he is the result of a confused mixture of the divine and human. He became truly man while remaining truly God. Jesus Christ is true God and true man. (cf Catechism of the Catholic Church n.464).
This is what is celebrated as we kneel during the profession of faith at the words "... and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man".

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

To the Roman Curia: what Pope Francis actually said ....

On the 21st December, Pope Francis met with the workers of the Roman Curia, for the annual exchange of Christmas greetings. I link to the English translation at the Vatican website, but also to the Italian, which I am presuming was the language in which the address was delivered. There are a couple of points where the Italian communicates a nuance that is not successfully translated into the English.

Pope Francis opened his address as follows:
Vi chiedo scusa di non parlare in piedi, ma da alcuni giorni sono sotto l’influsso dell’influenza e non mi sento molto forte. Con il vostro permesso, vi parlo seduto.
Or, in the English translation:
Forgive me for not standing up as I speak to you, but for some days I’ve been suffering from a cold and not feeling too well. With your permission, I’ll speak to you sitting down. 
The "effects of influenza" in Italian have become "suffering from a cold", and "I do not feel very strong" has become "not feeling too well" in the English.

Pope Francis offered his Christmas greetings to his audience, to their co-workers in the service of the Curia and to their families:
I am pleased to offer heartfelt good wishes for a blessed Christmas and a happy New Year to you and your co-workers, to the Papal Representatives, and in particular to those who in the past year have completed their service and retired. Let us also remember all those who have gone home to God. My thoughts and my gratitude go to you and to the members of your families.
After referring to his two previous meetings with the Curia on the occasion of Christmas, Pope Francis observed (the "diseases" being a reference to his "catalogue of temptations" of last year's address - and do remember that that catalogue was offered as an examination of conscience in preparation for the celebration of Christmas, with a clear sense of self-inclusion on the part of the Holy Father):
.... diseases and even scandals cannot obscure the efficiency of the services rendered to the Pope and to the entire Church by the Roman Curia, with great effort, responsibility, commitment and dedication, and this is a real source of consolation. Saint Ignatius taught that “it is typical of the evil spirit to instil remorse, sadness and difficulties, and to cause needless worry so as to prevent us from going forward; instead, it is typical of the good spirit to instil courage and energy, consolations and tears, inspirations and serenity, and to lessen and remove every difficulty so as to make us advance on the path of goodness.”
It would be a grave injustice not to express heartfelt gratitude and needed encouragement to all those good and honest men and women in the Curia who work with dedication, devotion, fidelity and professionalism, offering to the Church and the Successor of Peter the assurance of their solidarity and obedience, as well as their constant prayers.  
Moreover, cases of resistance, difficulties and failures on the part of individuals and ministers are so many lessons and opportunities for growth, and never for discouragement. They are opportunities for returning to the essentials, which means being ever more conscious of ourselves, of God and our neighbours, of the sensus Ecclesiae and the sensus fidei.
The central part of Pope Francis' address was then dedicated to an acrostic of the Latin word for mercy, Misericordia, using each letter of the word to indicate a virtue or strength that might be emulated by those who work in the Curia. Pope Francis cites Fr Matteo Ricci, the Jesuit missionary to the Far East, as having done the same thing. I have not yet tracked down Fr Ricci's text, but it may be interesting to place it alongside Pope Francis' address.

[It is Pope Francis' fifth section, entitled in Italian as "Razionalità e amabilità" and in English as "Reasonableness and gentleness" where I feel there is some difference in nuance between the Italian original and the English translation, and perhaps some loss of the essential point being made, namely that an equilibrium is needed between rationality and friendliness in our dealings with others.]

Needless to say, those same virtues or strengths might well be addressed to each and every Catholic whatever their state of life or form of work. Though addressed immediately to the Curia, I think we should take them as addressed to the whole Church, perhaps particularly to those who hold some form of ecclesial office, but also to the lay faithful who could emulate these virtues and strengths in their places of work. Do read them all.

I finish, not with the prayer that Pope Francis cited, but with his citation of St Augustine, earlier in the address:
Christmas is truly the feast of God’s infinite mercy, as Saint Augustine of Hippo tells us: “Could there have been any greater mercy shown to us unhappy men than that which led the Creator of the heavens to come down among us, and the Creator of the earth to take on our mortal body? That same mercy led the Lord of the world to assume the nature of a servant, so that, being himself bread, he would suffer hunger; being himself satiety, he would thirst; being himself power, he would know weakness; being himself salvation, he would experience our woundedness, and being himself life, he would die. All this he did to assuage our hunger, alleviate our longing, strengthen our weaknesses, wipe out our sins and enkindle our charity”.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Silence about persecution and weakening of faith in our own country

... in proclaiming clearly the persecution of Christians in other lands we also affirm this faith in our land. To remain silent about this specific persecution is to neglect and weaken the awareness and role of this faith here.
 The paragraph that struck me from the addresses given by the Prince of Wales and Archbishop Nichols at an Advent reception with Christians from persecuted communities is that cited above, from the few words of Archbishop Nichols.

But the Prince of Wales did give an address that is worth reading, an address which reflects his own immediate experience of meeting with those who have suffered persecution and his own reflection on the historical context of the present day persecution. The address is a thoughtful and communicates a deeply held conviction on the part of Prince Charles:
For, despite what the brainwashed militants would have people believe, Christianity is not a “foreign” religion. As the atmospheric Chapel of St. Ananias in Damascus and countless other holy sites bear witness, Christianity has been part of the rich tapestry of life in the Middle East for two thousand years. And it was the early Middle Eastern church communities in places such as Antioch, Alexandria, Bosra in Syria, and Mesopotamia which eventually brought Christianity to Asia and the West. To take just one example, the Armenian Apostolic Church – which, of course, is the oldest Established national church in the world – traces its origins to the Apostles Bartholomew and Thaddaeus. And, ladies and gentleman, it is, perhaps, worth remembering that those of us who are members of the Church of England will be only too familiar with the Nicene Creed, whose words were first formulated in the Middle East in the fourth century. Far from Christianity being a “Western” religion, Christianity was born in – and shaped by – the East…!
The original source for the texts is the website of the Catholic Church in England and Wales; they have also been posted here.

Prince Charles ended his address with the following words:
Above all, ladies and gentlemen – and however inadequate they may be – my special prayers are with you and all those in the Middle East and elsewhere who suffer iniquitous atrocities and perfidious persecution for whatever faith they may belong to.

H/T efpastoremeritus2

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Catholics and Jews: what the pontifical commission actually said .....

The nature of the recently published document of the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews "The Gift and the Calling of God are irrevocable" is that of a theological reflection that indicates a certain state of play in the dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community and also represents a contribution to such dialogue. It is, as you will see below, quite nuanced. The headlines that it attracted - "Vatican rejects "institutional mission work directed at the Jews", and its subordinate headline "New statement says God will save Jewish people even if they do not explicitly believe in Christ" or, at the BBC news website "Catholics should not try to convert Jews, Vatican says" - are actually quite inaccurate to the nuance of the text.

It is worth remembering before reading the extracts below that, in speaking of its mission of evangelisation (cf, for example Pope Paul VI's Evangelii Nuntiandi) , the Catholic Church recognises different stages or "moments" in that mission. Among these are presence in charity and the presence of witness of life, in addition to what are more readily understood stages of explicit primary proclamation followed by systematic catechesis and formation in the Catholic community. If we read the extracts below we should notice that, if the new document offers a discouragement of explicit proclamation directed at the Jews, it nevertheless clearly affirms the part to be played by witness of Catholics to their faith in Christ as part of Jewish-Christian dialogue. It is also worth noting how, because of the particular relation of the Chosen People of the Jewish religion to the Christian Church, the commission suggests that there is a distinctive character to the mission of Catholics towards Jews when compared to that of Catholics towards other, non-Jewish religions. The document does not deny that Catholics have a mission of evangelisation towards the Jewish people; it gives to that mission an appropriate form and context.

I have added the emphasis in the extracts below to draw attention to the nuancing of the original texts that has been missed by the headlines.
37. Another focus for Catholics must continue to be the highly complex theological question of how Christian belief in the universal salvific significance of Jesus Christ can be combined in a coherent way with the equally clear statement of faith in the never-revoked covenant of God with Israel. It is the belief of the Church that Christ is the Saviour for all. There cannot be two ways of salvation, therefore, since Christ is also the Redeemer of the Jews in addition to the Gentiles. Here we confront the mystery of God’s work, which is not a matter of missionary efforts to convert Jews, but rather the expectation that the Lord will bring about the hour when we will all be united,"when all peoples will call on God with one voice and ‘serve him shoulder to shoulder’" (Nostra Aetate n.4). .....
40. It is easy to understand that the so–called ‘mission to the Jews’ is a very delicate and sensitive matter for Jews because, in their eyes, it involves the very existence of the Jewish people. This question also proves to be awkward for Christians, because for them the universal salvific significance of Jesus Christ and consequently the universal mission of the Church are of fundamental importance. The Church is therefore obliged to view evangelisation to Jews, who believe in the one God, in a different manner from that to people of other religions and world views. In concrete terms this means that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews. While there is a principled rejection of an institutional Jewish mission, Christians are nonetheless called to bear witness to their faith in Jesus Christ also to Jews, although they should do so in a humble and sensitive manner, acknowledging that Jews are bearers of God’s Word, and particularly in view of the great tragedy of the Shoah.
41. The concept of mission must be presented correctly in dialogue between Jews and Christians. Christian mission has its origin in the sending of Jesus by the Father. He gives his disciples a share in this call in relation to God’s people of Israel (cf. Mt 10:6) and then as the risen Lord with regard to all nations (cf. Mt 28:19). Thus the people of God attains a new dimension through Jesus, who calls his Church from both Jews and Gentiles (cf. Eph 2:11-22) on the basis of faith in Christ and by means of baptism, through which there is incorporation into his Body which is the Church ("Lumen gentium", 14).

Thursday, 3 December 2015

The challenge of dialogue in opposing Daesh

By accident, as the House of Commons was debating (or indeed actually voting on) the motion to extend RAF air strikes to Syria yesterday evening, I re-read Fr Julian Carron's article published in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera after the earlier Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. It bears re-reading. Do read the whole at the website of Communion and Liberation - The challenge of true dialogue after the attacks in Paris - to put the following extracts in context:
We Europeans have what our forebears desired: Europe as a space of freedom where each person can be what she or he wants. The Old Continent has become a crucible of the most varied cultures, religions and visions of the world.
The events of Paris [ie the Charlie Hebdo attacks, though the reference might equally have application to the more recent attacks] document how this space of freedom should not be taken for granted as self-perpetuating: it can be threatened by those who fear freedom and are willing to impose their own vision of things with violence....
....the problem is primarily within Europe and the most important part is played here at home. The true challenge is cultural, its terrain daily life. When those who abandon their homelands arrive here in search of a better life, when their children are born and become adults in the West, what do they see? Can they find something able to attract their humanity, to challenge their reason and their freedom? The same problem exists for our children: do we have something to offer them that speaks to their search for fulfilment and meaning? In many young people who have grown up in the so-called Western world there reigns a great nothingness, a profound void that constitutes the origin of the desperation that ends up in violence. Just think of the Europeans who go to fight in the ranks of terroristic formations, or of the lost and disoriented life of many young people of our cities. This corrosive void, this far-spreading nothingness, requires a response.
It makes interesting reading compared to my earlier post in which I argued that aerial bombardment did not offer a proportionate - ie correctly directed - resistance to the evil of Daesh.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

On Catholic fundamentalism: what Pope Francis said....

Herewith the question and answer from the press conference in which Pope Francis made his remarks about fundamentalism within the Catholic Church. My own translation, with my emphasis added in the English translation so that I can refer to it below.
(Philippine De Saint-Pierre, responsabile della televisione cattolica francese KTO)
Santo Padre, buona sera. Lei ha reso omaggio alla piattaforma creata dall’Arcivescovo, dall’Imam e dal Pastore di Bangui, e oggi più che mai sappiamo che il fondamentalismo religioso minaccia il pianeta intero: l’abbiamo visto anche a Parigi. Allora, di fronte a questo pericolo Lei pensa che i dignitari religiosi debbano intervenire di più in campo politico?
(Papa Francesco)
Intervenire in campo politico: se vuol dire “fare politica”, no. Faccia il prete, il pastore, l’imam, il rabbino: questa è la sua vocazione. Ma si fa politica indirettamente predicando valori, valori veri, e uno dei valori più grandi è la fratellanza tra noi. Siamo tutti figli di Dio, abbiamo lo stesso Padre. E in questo senso, si deve fare una politica di unità, di riconciliazione… - e una parola che non mi piace, ma devo usarla - di tolleranza, ma non solo tolleranza, convivenza, amicizia! E’ così. Il fondamentalismo è una malattia che c’è in tutte le religioni. Noi cattolici ne abbiamo alcuni, non alcuni, tanti, che credono di avere la verità assoluta e vanno avanti sporcando gli altri con la calunnia, con la diffamazione, e fanno male, fanno male. E questo lo dico perché è la mia Chiesa, anche noi, tutti! E si deve combattere. Il fondamentalismo religioso non è religioso. Perché? Perché manca Dio. E’ idolatrico, come è idolatrico il denaro. Fare politica nel senso di convincere questa gente che ha questa tendenza, è una politica che dobbiamo fare noi leader religiosi. Ma il fondamentalismo che finisce sempre in una tragedia o in reati, è una cosa cattiva, ma ce n’è un po’ in tutte le religioni.
(Question from Philippine De Saint-Pierre, of the French television station KTO) 
 Holy Father, good evening. You have praised the platform created by the Archibishop, the Imam and the Pastor of Bangui, and today, more than ever, we know that religious fundamentalism threatens the whole planet: we have seen this also in Paris. Well, faced with this danger do you think that religious dignitaries must intervene more in the political field?
(Pope Francis)
Intervene in the political field: if that means "to do politics", no. To be a priest, a pastor, an imam, a rabbi: this is their vocation. But they do politics indirectly preaching values, true values, and one of the greater values is brotherhood between us. We are all children of God, we have the same Father. In this sense, we must carry out a politics of unity and reconciliation - it is a word that does not please me, but I have to use it - of tolerance, but not just tolerance, living together, friendship! It's like this. Fundamentalism is a disease that is present in all the religions. We Catholics have some, not some, many, who believe they have the absolute truth and move ahead sullying others with calumny, with defamation, and doing evil, doing evil. And I say this because it is my Church, we as well, all of us! We must fight this. Religious fundamentalism is not religious. Why? Because it leaves out God. It is idolatrous, like the idolatory of money. To do politics in this sense of persuading these people who have this tendency, is a politics that we religious leaders must do. But the fundamentalism that ends always in a tragedy or in offences, is a bad thing, but there is a little of it in all the religions.
Pope Francis' references to idolatory, and to the idolatory of money, contain a reference back to his answer to an earlier question during the press conference, though seen in isolation from that they appear a bit out of context or exaggerated. We can see that a headline to the effect that "Pope Francis condemns Catholic 'fundamentalism'" misses the context that is there when Pope Francis' answer is read as a whole - namely that it represents a situation of fundamentalism as a challenge in all religions, which includes Catholicism. It is also worth noting Pope Francis' understanding of what constitutes fundamentalism - not the claim to absolute truth, but the movement from that claim to truth to an unyielding deprecation of others (cf my emphasis and note the "and" in Pope Francis' words).

Pope Francis' answer - and the wording of the question - also hint at a much wider discussion that might be had about the engagement of religion in the field of politics and power.

[As an aside, it is also possible to recognise in the reference to a "politics of unity and reconciliation" an inspiration that is found in the Movement for Unity in Politics of the Focolare movement.]

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Bombing Daesh in Syria

Members of Parliament here in the UK are currently being asked/cajoled as to how they might vote on a motion that would extend the participation of British aircraft in attacks on Daesh targets in Syria and Iraq.

At the time of an earlier vote on British involvement in air strikes in Syria, Pope Francis called a vigil of prayer in St Peter's Square, to offer intercession in favour of peace. It occurs to me that we have for some months now been facing a threat to peace at least as significant as on that occasion, and in all probability more so.  I took advantage of the Liturgical option of the Saturday memorial of Our Lady today (last possibility for a little while .... though I might well exercise a certain discretion in this regard during Advent!) to pray a votive office of Our Lady Queen of Peace.

In examining the moral question with regard to the bombing campaign currently being waged against Daesh, it seems to me that there are two questions. That Daesh are an evil that should be resisted is beyond question; and that that resistance requires the force of arms appears equally beyond question. However, to be proportionate (in the sense in which that word is used in Catholic teaching on the just use of arms) that use of arms must be directed to resist the threat as it is actually presented, and not only to the people of the developed nations remote from Syria and Iraq, but also as it is actually presented to the peoples of Iraq and Syria, and indeed the near neighbours of those countries. An aerial campaign to "degrade and destroy" Daesh, to use the language of the Western backed campaign, is not doing this and does not have that as its aim. [Some air strikes in particular tactical situations may be doing this - but that is clearly not the stated aim of the air campaign as a whole.] It leaves the ordinary people of Syria and Iraq the potential victims of collateral damage and fails to resist the threat at the point that the threat exists.

If to attack Daesh from the air alone is not proportionate (in the sense in which that word is used in Catholic teaching), then there is a clear requirement for "boots on the ground" (to use the current phrase). This would meet the threat at its direct point of being a threat. The current political conversation in the UK recognises this - but by insisting on relying on the forces already fighting in Iraq and, in Syria, on the various forces of the opposition groups engaged in the civil war there. But, in effect, by arming and supporting short of actual direct military engagement those forces in the civil war in Syria perceived as being "moderate" (while Middle Eastern nations do likewise for the forces that they consider to be for the good of the causes they espouse, perhaps those of the politics of the Shia/Sunni divide in Islam and Russia does so in favour of the regime of President Assad), are we not engaging in precisely the trade in weapons and warfare that Pope Francis (and his predecessors in the See of St Peter) has  condemned and which can never be at the service of peace or justice?

You might be gathering that the course of action being proposed by the Conservative government is not one that I would support.....

Friday, 27 November 2015

Something the Synod said (3) ....

The final relatio of the Synod, in n.5 addresses, or attempts to address the social-cultural context facing the family today. Using a terminology of an "anthropological-cultural transformation", this paragraph appears to me to give an account on the one hand of an increased sense of individual satisfaction as a purpose to be gained from a marriage whilst on the other trying to maintain that the commitment to the other in the community of marriage is still strong. And I couldn't put my finger on the exact intention of the term "anthropological-cultural transformation". During a train journey a couple of weeks ago I read an essay by Mary Ann Glendon entitled "Family Law in a Time of Turbulence". This essay in part surveys the impact of social changes on families and family law in the late twentieth century. It seems to me to articulate rather more effectively than does the Synod relatio the sense of individualism that is now often present on the part of those entering marriage and of its impact on the institution of marriage.

The final relatio of the Synod, in n.6, addresses the religious context facing the family today. I use below the translation by Bishop Campbell, but with some adaptations of my own from the original Italian:
The Christian faith is strong and alive. In some parts of the world can be seen a marked decline of religious influence in the social ambience which has its effect on the life of the family. This orientation tends to relegate the religious dimension to the private and family sphere, and risks obstructing the witness and mission of Christian families in the present day world. In the social setting of an advanced well being in society, people run the risk of entrusting every hope to the exaggerated search for social success and economic prosperity. In other regions of the world, the negative effects of an unjust world economic order lead to forms of religiosity embracing sectarian and radical extremism. One can mention movements animated by a political-religious fanaticism,  often hostile to Christianity. Creating instability and sowing disorder and violence, they are the cause of great misery and suffering for the life of families. The Church is called to accompany the religiosity lived out in families to direct it to a gospel sense.
 One can see in this paragraph an attempt to speak to the different situations of the developed nations and those where there is a lack of development. Apart from its reference to the impact of secularisation, the paragraph seems to me to fail to address the essentially religious dimensions of the context of Christian families today. Among my work colleagues, for example (and this came to the fore recently when one of my colleagues brought in sweets to celebrate Diwali), are Muslims who fast during Ramadan, a Sikh colleague, at least two Catholics and at least one Hindu. A number of these colleagues are younger people who have recently married. So the religious context against which the Christians live out their married life is one of dialogue with the idea of marriage as manifested by other religions.

One hopes that, if Pope Francis is going to include something of these paragraphs in his Apostolic Exhortation, he draws on more substantial work which I am sure could be available to him through the work of the relevant Pontifical Councils and Academies.

[I expect that I will skip commenting on the rest of this chapter of the relatio, for reasons which might be apparent from the above.]

Monday, 23 November 2015

Proselytism and education

To you, who represent the Church in Latin America, today I symbolically entrust my Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, in which I sought to point out to everyone the essence of the Christian message. The Church considers herself the disciple and missionary of this Love: missionary only insofar as she is a disciple, capable of being attracted constantly and with renewed wonder by the God who has loved us and who loves us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:10). The Church does not engage in proselytism. Instead, she grows by “attraction”: just as Christ “draws all to himself” by the power of his love, culminating in the sacrifice of the Cross, so the Church fulfils her mission to the extent that, in union with Christ, she accomplishes every one of her works in spiritual and practical imitation of the love of her Lord.
[Source: here]

And Pope Francis, answering a question about what we should do if an educational institution is to be truly Catholic in the widely differing circumstances of today:
..... E mi viene in mente quello che ha detto un grande pensatore: “Educare è introdurre nella totalità della verità”. Non si può parlare di educazione cattolica senza parlare di umanità, perché precisamente l’identità cattolica è Dio che si è fatto uomo. Andare avanti negli atteggiamenti, nei valori umani, pieni, apre la porta al seme cristiano. Poi viene la fede. Educare cristianamente non è soltanto fare una catechesi: questa è una parte. Non è soltanto fare proselitismo – non fate mai proselitismo nelle scuole! Mai! – Educare cristianamente è portare avanti i giovani, i bambini nei valori umani in tutta la realtà, e una di queste realtà è la trascendenza. Oggi c’è la tendenza ad un neopositivismo, cioè educare nelle cose immanenti, al valore delle cose immanenti, e questo sia nei Paesi di tradizione cristiana sia nei Paesi di tradizione pagana. E questo non è introdurre i ragazzi, i bambini nella realtà totale: manca la trascendenza. Per me, la crisi più grande dell’educazione, nella prospettiva cristiana, è questa chiusura alla trascendenza. Siamo chiusi alla trascendenza. Occorre preparare i cuori perché il Signore si manifesti, ma nella totalità; cioè, nella totalità dell’umanità che ha anche questa dimensione di trascendenza. Educare umanamente ma con orizzonti aperti. Ogni sorta di chiusura non serve per l’educazione.
[Source: here - not RC]

My (rough) translation:
It comes to my mind what a great thinker said: "To educate is to introduce into the totality of the truth".  It is not possible to speak of catholic education without speaking of humanity, because precisely Catholic identity is God who was made man. Moving ahead in attainments, in human values, opens the door to the seeds of Christianity. Then comes faith. To educate in a Christian way is not only to make a catechesis: this is a part. It is not only to proselytise - never proselytise in schools! Never! - To educate in a Christian way is to move young people, children, forward, in human values in all their reality, and one of these realities is transcendence. Today there is a tendency towards a neo-positivism, that is to educate in material things, to the values of material things, and this both in countries with a Christian tradition and countries with a pagan tradition.  And this does not introduce youth, children to total reality: it lacks transcendence. For me, the greatest crisis of education, from the Christian perspective, is this closure towards transcendence. We are closed to the transcendent. We should prepare hearts so that the Lord is shown forth, but in the totality: that is, in the totality of humanity that has also this dimension of transcendence. To educate humanly but with open horizons. Every type of closure does not work for education.
What Pope Francis actually said...

Fr Luigi Giussani, whose movement Communion and Liberation is very familiar to Pope Francis, from p.105 of my English translation of his The Risk of Education (Pope Francis, in answering a later question, refers to the risk that is necessary in education):
As we said forty years ago, and we still haven't been able to come up with a better definition, to educate means to help the human soul enter into the totality of the real".
And, for both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis, the word "proselytism" refers, not to the perfectly legitimate missionary activity of the Church, but to those actions that take advantage of a person's situation of trust or vulnerability to abuse their freedom in seeking to draw them to Christ - such as that of a pupil in a school.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

The anti-Francis attitude: it isn't Catholic ....

The persistence of some in taking every opportunity their imagination suggests to broadcast across the aether their projections (or to re-broadcast uncritically the projections of others) of what Pope Francis has said and what they think he should have said instead ..... it has quite honestly become tiresome beyond belief. Do give over, and get a life ...

It isn't Catholic to operate with a category of "faithful Catholics" and the presumably unfaithful others .... as if one can allocate oneself uncritically to the wheat without recognising that you might actually be among the tares .... both of which the Lord allows to grow side by side in his field and which, for most of us, grow alongside each other in our hearts and souls. And to then characterise Pope Francis as if he were running a campaign against you .....

Neither is it Catholic to work with categories of "Traditionalist", "Liberal" and "Conservative" - the last of which is all too readily used by the adherents of the first to pigeon hole those they think lack the intelligence of faith to see what they think is the obvious heresy before their eyes (but which, in reality, is largely the recycled gossip of the imagination of a few who, for some reason I cannot fathom, gain a credibility that unfortunately doesn't justify the bits and bytes strewn across the electronic media).

And the real underlying point: almost without exception, what is projected on to Pope Francis words, what he is interpreted as saying, is not justified from what he actually said. Put simply, the anti-Francis rant isn't true .... but it is put about with a persistence and a lack of critical faculty that makes the saying of it enough for it to believed. All that "confusion" caused by Pope Francis ... isn't most of it the result, not of Pope Francis' words, but of the commentary that the great and the good of a sector of the Catholic electronic world propagate?  If you have difficulty understanding him .... aren't you the one who is the source of confusion if you broadcast your own non-understanding to the world at large?

Let's take Pope Francis' observation, some time ago now, about the risk of living the Christian life as a kind of ideology, rather than as a living encounter with Jesus Christ, and so with the life of the Trinity. All that anxiety about a comment aimed at criticising the "faithful" or "Traditional" Catholic .... when, if you read Luigi Giussani's The Religious Sense you find a discussion of ideology in a context of the possibility of religious faith. It wasn't a targeted arrow at all, but a reflection of a conversation in an ecclesial movement with which Pope Francis is very familiar. And more recently I have been able to readily find on my bookshelves texts that place Pope Francis remarks about the risks of gnosticism and a certain pelagianism in similar contexts. And so on. If you think he is just nagging and criticising you .... take the trouble to read around a bit and place his remarks in the context of the ecclesial conversation ...

And the most recent occasion of shock - horror ..... is a complete non-story. Read properly what Pope Francis said in reply to the question from the wife of a Lutheran, recalling that he speaks of discernment of conscience in the sense intended by the Spiritual Exercises and not in a liberal sense .... and the confusion is being sown by the all too ready commentary. It simply isn't true to give the impression that Pope Francis said to the lady that she should make her own decision on the matter.

And the Year of Mercy .... in which, in case you missed it, the Sacrament of Penance (confession) is clearly going to have a central role. And which is absolutely in line with the teaching of both John Paul II and Benedict XVI on divine mercy. There is no justification in trying to rubbish the Year itself, or Pope Francis' understanding of mercy.

The anti-Francis attitude is not Catholic in two further ways. Read the blogs .... and doesn't it form a kind of alternative Magisterium? .... A Magisterium that, if you challenge it, you find yourself being told that you are ignorant of the Catholic faith?.... with its authorities who are above reproach and who are lauded to the high heavens as "defenders of the faith"? And doesn't it involve a "pick-n-mix" approach to Pope Francis himself? Take the bits you don't like and slate them across the networks .... ignore the bits that you should like. Cafeteria Catholicism .... but taking and leaving different parts of the menu than those normally associated with this phrase .... "hermeneutic of continuity" when it suits, but not when it doesn't .... big up Pope Benedict, do down Pope Francis (I am personally convinced that those who play off Benedict against Francis didn't really get Benedict either ...).

It is's not Catholic's not true ....... and we can all do without it.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Something the Synod said (2) ......

Continuing my reading of the relatio from the recent Synod on the family, from the Italian text and aided by Bishop Campbell's working English translation.

From n.4 of the relatio, which introduces the part in which the Synod Fathers discuss the situation of the family in the world of today (Bishop Campbell's translation, with some adjustments, added emphasis mine):
.... The family founded on the marriage of a man and woman is the splendid and irreplaceable place of the personal love which transmits life. Love is not reduced to an illusion of the moment, love is not an end in itself, love seeks the trustworthiness of a personal “you”. In the mutual promise of love, in good times and in bad, love desires continuity of life, right until death. The fundamental desire to form networks of love, sound and inter-generational within the family presents itself in a constant and significant way, over and above cultural and religious limits and social changes. In the liberty of the free “yes” exchanged life-long between a man and a woman, the love of God is both present and experienced. For the Catholic faith marriage is a sacred sign in which the love of God for his Church becomes effective. The Christian family is consequently a lived part of the Church: a “domestic Church”.
The couple and life in marriage are not abstract realities, they remain imperfect and vulnerable. For this reason the will to conversion is ever necessary, to forgive and to begin again. In our responsibility as Pastors, we are concerned for the life of families. We wish to listen to the reality of their life and their challenges, and to accompany them with the look of love which comes from the Gospel....
Can you notice the clear assertion of marriage as being between a man and a woman; and that this marriage is the foundation for the family? And that it is asserted as a life-long "yes", even until death?

And this introducing the part of the relatio that looks at the situation of the family today.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Pope Francis: the features of the new humanism, in Jesus Christ

Pope Francis' address to the Italian Ecclesial Congress in Florence today does, I think, deserve careful attention and study. It is not a superficial text. I have yet to read it fully, but have been challenged by what I have been able to read so far.

As another blogger has commented... if some do not like the things that Pope Francis is saying in an address like this, perhaps they need to listen more closely and attentively to what he is actually saying rather than being seduced by what editors and journalists of Catholic news sources (and blogs) are extrapolating and projecting on to the Pope's allocutions.

There are extensive extracts in English translation at the site of the Vatican Information Service.

The full Italian text is at the Vatican website.

At my first reading, I chuckled to read the following passage:
La Chiesa italiana ha grandi santi il cui esempio possono aiutarla a vivere la fede con umiltà, disinteresse e letizia, da Francesco d’Assisi a Filippo Neri. Ma pensiamo anche alla semplicità di personaggi inventati come don Camillo che fa coppia con Peppone. Mi colpisce come nelle storie di Guareschi la preghiera di un buon parroco si unisca alla evidente vicinanza con la gente. Di sé don Camillo diceva: «Sono un povero prete di campagna che conosce i suoi parrocchiani uno per uno, li ama, che ne sa i dolori e le gioie, che soffre e sa ridere con loro».
The Italian Church has great saints whose example can help it live the faith with humility, generosity and joy, from St. Francis of Assisi to St. Philip Neri. But let us also think of the simplicity of  invented characters like Don Camillo who is paired with Peppone. I am struck by how, in the stories of Guareschi, the prayer of a good parish priest unites with evident closeness to the people. Don Camillo could say of himself: "I am a poor country priest who knows his parishioners one by one, loves them, who knows their sorrows and joys, who suffers and laughs with them".
For those who don't know the stories of Don Camillo, the Wikipedia page provides a good introduction.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Something the Synod said (1)....

I have been waiting patiently for an English translation to appear on the Vatican website of the final relatio of the recent Synod of Bishops dedicated to the family. Alas, patience has not yet been rewarded, so I am having to start a systematic reading of the Italian (though that appears to be courtesy of the L'Osservatore Romano).  UPDATE: Just after posting, I have found a "working English translation" at the website of Lancaster Diocese, courtesy of Bishop Campbell, and have substituted his translation for mine.

In the very first paragraph - a preamble - we find the Synod Fathers saying (Bishop Campbell's translation, and my own emphasis added):
We thank the Lord for the generous fidelity with which so many Christian families respond to their vocation and mission, even in the face of obstacles, misunderstandings and sufferings. To these families go the encouragement of the whole Church, which united to its Lord and guided by the action of the Spirit, knows that it has a word of truth and of hope to offer to all people. Pope Francis recalled this in the celebration which opened the last stage of this synodal journey dedicated to the family: “God has not created human beings to live in sadness or solitude, but to share their journey with another person to complement them…..It is the same plan which Jesus..…sums up in these words:”From the beginning of creation (God) made them male and female; for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife and the two will become a single flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh” (Mk.10;6-8; CF. Gen. 1:27; 2:24)” God “unites the hearts of a man and a woman who are in love, bonding them in unity and indissolubility. This means that the object of married life is not only to live together for ever, but to love each other for ever! Jesus therefore re-establishes the original and originating order (…..) only in the light of the folly of the gratuitousness of the paschal love of Jesus does the folly of the gratuitousness of a single married life until death make sense” (homily of the opening Mass of the Synod, 4th October 2015).
 A bit by accident, I noticed something else. It is easy to pick up the idea of "accompaniment" for those who are suffering breakdown in their marriages and have perhaps entered into new relationships and see this as in some way a derogation from the integrity of marriage. This is particularly true when our own ecclesial experience does not include knowledge of ministries of accompaniment that already exist in different parts of the Church. But there are such ministries already active in different countries and movements. If we are familiar with these ministries, the words of the Synod Fathers about "accompaniment" take on a different light.

Friday, 30 October 2015

A listening Church ... but listening to what?

It is nearly eleven years since I had the opportunity to hear Fr Raniero Cantalamessa speak at a Eucharistic Congress held in Birmingham. At the end of this talk, the audience showed their appreciation by applauding. Father turned towards the image of the Face of Christ that formed the backdrop to the stage and joined in the applause, re-directing it towards the person of Christ and, for the more reflective in the audience, through Christ to the Father in the Holy Spirit.

I recall Father's action from time to time as being a representation of what happens when a Christian offers a "testimony", a witness to the action of God in their life. In Catholic life, the range of movements in the Church which invite participants to offer such testimonies is more extensive than one might imagine. Some examples I am aware of: a session at the end of a "fundamental retreat" of the Foyers of Charity, at the end of a Youth 2000 retreat, in the magazine and on the website of the Focolare, the Charismatic Renewal. I am sure, in different ways, there are many others.

In all of these circumstances what we listen to may first and foremost be a person who shares their testimony. But most fundamentally, as Father Cantalamessa's action of turning towards the Face of Christ indicates, we seek to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking through the life and witness of the one who offers their testimony. This does make a significant demand on the person who offers the testimony, a demand that they be transparent to the Spirit and do not project themselves, that they recognise the mix of grace and failing in their story (the tares and the wheat of the Gospel story). But it also asks of the listener a certain discernment in order to hear what in that testimony is "of the Spirit". It isn't just anything that we listen to.

It is worth recalling that Pope Francis is very familiar with the Charismatic Renewal, so that, when he speaks of a "listening Church", we might expect the experience of testimonies to be at least a part of what he refers to.
A synodal Church is a Church which listens, which realizes that listening “is more than simply hearing”. It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. The faithful people, the college of bishops, the Bishop of Rome: all listening to each other, and all listening to the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of truth” (Jn 14:17), in order to know what he “says to the Churches” (Rev 2:7).
I have my doubts as to whether listening exercises undertaken by questionnaire and survey response, or in the form of "consultations", actually deliver this ecclesial form of listening. I suspect that they produce a rather indiscriminate listening that gives equal weight to everything that is said, without that element of discernment necessary in order to genuinely hear what the Spirit is saying to the local and to the universal Church.

What Pope Francis calls us to recognise, though, is the real possibility that testimonies offered among the faithful of the local Churches and ecclesial movements can illuminate the Christian mystery in a way that has a universal significance. Testimonies can be an expression of the sensus fidei, in its properly understood sense, an expression deserving of our attention in order to hear the voice of the Spirit. This is true listening.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Nostra Aetate: 50 Years

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Vatican II's Declaration Nostra Aetate on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions. The anniversary has been marked in the Vatican by a General Audience with a particular inter-religious character. Pope Francis' address at that audience is here.

One of the things I find fascinating about Nostra Aetate is that, looking at the life of the Church since the Council, there are points where its teaching has been very vividly lived out, where its teaching has been transferred from the page, so to speak, into life on the part of the faithful. That teaching has itself been developed by the work of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, perhaps particularly its Dialogue and Proclamation published to mark the 25th anniversary of Nostra Aetate.
The nature of inter-religious dialogue, drawing on Dialogue and Proclamation, is very ably presented by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran in this lecture: Interreligious Dialogue - a risk or an opportunity? One of the very prophetic aspects of Nostra Aetate is its opening towards Islam, the significance of which could not have been foreseen in 1965.

It is important to read these texts, and to read them carefully, so that we gain a full understanding of the Church's teaching on inter-religious dialogue. It is a complex reality, and not to be dismissed in a glib or superficial way.

One locus where inter-religious dialogue has been lived out is in the charism of the Focolare Movement. The dialogue with believers of other religions is one of the series of dialogues of the movement, rooted in its spirituality of unity. And, in some of the most critical situations, it is a Focolare community or house which opens itself to receive refugees of all communities - as I write I recall accounts of a Focolare community in Lebanon which welcomed guests during the war between Israel and Hezbollah, which drove residents of the border areas between Lebanon and Israel to seek refuge further north.

Most strikingly, however, it is those Catholics, who at risk to themselves, remain to live among Muslim neighbours who live out this teaching on dialogue. The Martyrs of Tibhirine are indeed martyrs, that is witnesses, to this dialogue.

Perhaps we need to take rather more note of those circumstances where the teaching of the Council on inter-religious dialogue, as developed subsequently by the Pontifical Council, have been lived out in the Church, even to the point of martyrdom. And to take less note of those who would contest that teaching.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Pope Francis' address at the conclusion of the Synod on the Family

The full English text of Pope Francis' address is at the Vatican website: Conclusion of the Synod of Bishops: Address of His Holiness Pope Francis. Do read the whole so that you get the full picture of what Pope Francis has said, rather than just a partial perspective.

Pope Francis has not, for example, criticised "conservative bishops" - his remark that is being interpreted that way is part of my extract below. Read properly, it isn't an attack on any particular party (note that balance of the reference to the "Church's teachings" by the reference to "good intentions") but an account of an experience of the Synod. An experience from which those commenting on the Synod, and on Pope Francis' pontificate in general, might learn something.

I have provided the Italian of the second paragraph below as my translation does not entirely follow the English at the Vatican website; that translation does not seem to me to capture the sense of the Italian verb spogliare, (to strip away, undress), used here in a very particular way in what I am assuming is the original, Italian text.

The elegance of the imagery and Scriptural reference in the first paragraph below makes it my favourite in the whole address. Think about it after you have read it.
[The Synod] was about bearing witness to everyone that, for the Church, the Gospel continues to be a vital source of eternal newness, against all those who would “indoctrinate” it in dead stones to be hurled at others.
It was also about shedding closed hearts which often hide themselves even behind the Church’s teachings, or behind good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families.
[Significa anche aver spogliato i cuori chiusi che spesso si nascondono perfino dietro gli insegnamenti della Chiesa, o dietro le buone intenzioni, per sedersi sulla cattedra di Mosè e giudicare, qualche volta con superiorità e superficialità, i casi difficili e le famiglie ferrite.] 
It was about making clear that the Church is a Church of the poor in spirit and of sinners seeking forgiveness, not simply of the righteous and the holy, but rather of those who are righteous and holy precisely when they feel themselves poor sinners.
And I love the way in which, towards the end of his address, Pope Francis successively quotes Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI on the theme of divine mercy!

Saturday, 24 October 2015


Extracts from a piece by George Weigel at the Catholic Herald. [I know, I wasn't going to read the "media synod", but I read this by accident...]
...too much of the mainstream media – and, increasingly, the blogosphere media – believes in its unlimited infallibility with a tenaciousness that makes Pius IX’s grip on his quite limited infallibility seem tenuous by contrast....
And if anyone challenges the infallibility of the traditionalist blogosphere .... woe betide!
Eight months after Pope Francis was elected, I wrote in the Wall Street Journal that he had become a global Rorschach blot, on to which Catholics and non-Catholics alike were projecting their hopes and fears, often without paying serious attention to what the Pope actually said or did. The Rorschaching of the Pope has not abated since then; it’s intensified, and it’s the primary distorting filter through which a lot of bad reporting and commentary on Synod-2015 has been run.
This Rorschaching knows no ideological bounds: the conservative and traditionalist Catholic blogosphere has been just as sunk in it, albeit with an obviously different analysis of What It All Means, than the usual suspects on the port side, like the National Catholic Reporter and the New York Times. But to cite an old friend previously quoted in these Letters – Sergeant Joe Friday of the 1950s detective series, Dragnet – any serious analysis of Pope Francis and Synod-2015 should begin with “Just the facts, Ma’am.” ..
Yes. Look at the original texts Some of those infallible sources definitely need to be triangulated with other sources before you can trust what they are saying and repeat it to the aether. (Is Pope Francis really proposing decentralisation of doctrinal teaching?...)
Pope Francis is, admittedly, a complex man. But why do Catholic traditionalists miss his defence of orthodoxy as badly as the two Times, that of New York and that of London? It’s not a great mystery why the Times people miss, or wilfully ignore, the Pope’s commitment to the truths the Church holds; it ill serves the cultural, social, and political purposes into which they’d like to recruit Pope Francis as a trophy chaplain. But serious Catholics ought to know better.  

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Pope Francis affirms fidelity in marriage: "Fidelity to the promise, a work of art"

Vatican Information Service have entitled their report of Pope Francis' General Audience address yesterday: Fidelity to the promise, a work of art. It continues the Holy Father's series of addresses dedicated to the family. The full text of the address, in Italian, is at the Vatican website here.

I think Pope Francis speaks very much to a contemporary situation - he highlights how many today approach a marriage, or other relationship, on the basis of its fulfilment of their own satisfaction and how this can be exalted as a principle above all others. From there Pope Francis goes on to discuss the freedom that arises from fidelity to the promises made in marriage, promises that are made to a spouse, to openness to children and to the older or weaker members of a family. Fidelity generates a bond that does not deny freedom.
Possiamo aggiungere che, a ben guardare, l’intera realtà famigliare è fondata sulla promessa - pensare bene questo: l’identità famigliare è fondata sulla promessa -: si può dire che la famiglia vive della promessa d’amore e di fedeltà che l’uomo e la donna si fanno l’un l’altra.
[... the whole family reality is built on a promise - recall this well: the family identity is founded on a promise - : one can say that the family lives from the promise of love and faithfulness that a man and a woman make one to the other.]
And an excerpt from the VIS report:
“Being faithful to promises is a true work of art by humanity”, added Pope Francis. “No relationship of love – no friendship, no form of caring for another person, no joy of the common good – reaches the height of our desire and our hope, if it does not arrive at the point of inhabiting this miracle of the soul. And I use the word 'miracle', because the strength and persuasiveness of fidelity, in spite of everything, can only enchant and surprise us. …  
[The word used in the Italian original is "capolavoro", or "masterpiece", translated in the VIS report as "true work of art"]

The way in which Pope Francis extends his reflection on fidelity in marriage to any form of friendship suggests a theme for consideration in marriage preparation. Should not young people who are dating, or engaged couples, use their friendships as a school of growth in this practice of fidelity?

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Synodality: Pope Francis on "healthy decentralisation"

A full English translation of Pope Francis' address to mark the 50th anniversary of the establishing of the Synod of Bishops by Pope Paul VI is not yet available. There is an Italian text at the Vatican website (here) , and what is described as a "working English translation" here.

My first immediate observation is that it is necessary to read the whole, and read each of its elements in the framework of the whole, and not to take out just this section or that section for one-sided approbation or equally one-sided derision. The text is a whole, and the vision it presents of a "synodal Church" is a whole. If it urges a "listening Church" it does so in a framework of hierarchical communion, with and under the bishop in the diocese, and, at the level of the universal Synod of Bishops, with and under Peter's successor. This requirement of communion does not give permission to that dissent that Pope Benedict memorably observed should be recognised for what it is. To suggest such would be to do Pope Francis a great disservice. The urge to "listen" is also about a style of action, not an idea that anything and everything that is said has value.

The section of the recent motu proprio reforming the sections of the Code of Canon Law relating to annulment of marriages (I link to the Italian text at the Vatican website, where there is, as yet, no English translation) that struck me most was the preamble. I was struck firstly by how it presented the office of the bishop towards the people of his diocese as being one with a juridical character. But I was then struck by the indication of an intention for the provisions that came later in the motu proprio to be provisions that empowered a bishop in this regard. So the bishop is discouraged from seeing the operation of his diocesan tribunal as a delegation of his office; it is rather a necessary collaboration of others that enables him to fulfil his office (cf his responsibility for appointing a judge). The part to be played by the episcopal conference is not one that should intrude on the bishops closeness to the people of his own diocese, but rather must respect the juridical office of the bishop in his own diocese.

I think this background gives an insight into the notion of "synodality" as exercised in the local diocese. Firstly, we have to read the reference to "healthy decentralisation" in the context from which it is cited, a passage in Evangelii Gaudium n.16:
Countless issues involving evangelization today might be discussed here, but I have chosen not to explore these many questions which call for further reflection and study. Nor do I believe that the papal magisterium should be expected to offer a definitive or complete word on every question which affects the Church and the world. It is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory. In this sense, I am conscious of the need to promote a sound “decentralization”.
We are looking at the discernment of the situation of a local diocese and of activity in that diocese, not at putting Catholic teaching up for debate. If we also read carefully the reference in Pope Francis' address to the notion of "hierarchical communion", the exercise of synodality in the diocese depends upon the exercise by the bishop of his office in favour of communion, both within his own diocese and with the universal Church. The diocesan synod, and the activity of the other organs of communion in the diocese, will be truly synodal in nature in so far as the bishop fulfils his proper office towards them as the guardian of communion. In what he says about the way in which bishops should exercise their office, he clearly takes up the idea of closeness and proximity to the people that is apparent in the preamble to the motu proprio. I think, too, in talking about the way in which the organs of communion are called to operate in a diocese, Pope Francis does not envisage them as a kind of bureaucracy but as an immediate closeness to the real lives of the people. [And, as an aside, I wonder whether "listening" is really about surveys and responses to surveys .... a pastor who is close to his sheep, be he bishop or parish priest, "listens" as he exercises his office.]

Pope Francis' reference to episcopal conferences as being among "mediate instances" of the exercise of collegiality in the same sentence that he refers to an "integration and renewal of some of the aspects of the ancient ecclesiastical order" (which, if the motu proprio and Pope Francis' text itself gives any indication, possibly refers to the situation of metropolitan sees?) I find particularly interesting.

The idea of "synodality", particularly at a diocesan level and particularly in reference to the participation of the lay faithful, prompts another thought. Just as Pope Francis is suggesting that it is not for the Pope to take over the office of the bishop of the particular diocese but rather to respect the bishop's proper office with regard to his diocese; likewise the bishop or his priest co-worker cannot replace the office of the lay person in the Church, or vice versa. However badly the one is at fulfilling his calling, the other cannot step in and undo it. Rather, the call is that both should take on and fulfil their office in accordance with its demands. This respect for the different offices in the Church is, I suspect, a dimension of the notion of "synodality".

I haven't time to translate it, but below is the section of the address in which Pope Francis summarises the different levels of synodality in a Church that is "entirely synodal". One should not underestimate the reference to a "dynamism of communion" in the first sentence - "communion" here referring to an ecclesial reality which has been increasingly recognised in the teaching of Vatican II by those of the Communio school and others.
In una Chiesa sinodale, il Sinodo dei Vescovi è solo la più evidente manifestazione di un dinamismo di comunione che ispira tutte le decisioni ecclesiali.
Il primo livello di esercizio della sinodalità si realizza nelle Chiese particolari. Dopo aver richiamato la nobile istituzione del Sinodo diocesano, nel quale Presbiteri e Laici sono chiamati a collaborare con il Vescovo per il bene di tutta la comunità ecclesiale[22], il Codice di diritto canonico dedica ampio spazio a quelli che si è soliti chiamare gli "organismi di comunione" della Chiesa particolare: il Consiglio presbiterale, il Collegio dei Consultori, il Capitolo dei Canonici e il Consiglio pastorale[23]. Soltanto nella misura in cui questi organismi rimangono connessi col "basso" e partono dalla gente, dai problemi di ogni giorno, può incominciare a prendere forma una Chiesa sinodale: tali strumenti, che qualche volta procedono con stanchezza, devono essere valorizzati come occasione di ascolto e condivisione.
Il secondo livello è quello delle Province e delle Regioni Ecclesiastiche, dei Concili Particolari e in modo speciale delle Conferenze Episcopali[24]. Dobbiamo riflettere per realizzare ancor più, attraverso questi organismi, le istanze intermedie della collegialità, magari integrando e aggiornando alcuni aspetti dell'antico ordinamento ecclesiastico. L'auspicio del Concilio che tali organismi possano contribuire ad accrescere lo spirito della collegialità episcopale non si è ancora pienamente realizzato. Siamo a metà cammino, a parte del cammino. In una Chiesa sinodale, come ho già affermato, «non è opportuno che il Papa sostituisca gli Episcopati locali nel discernimento di tutte le problematiche che si prospettano nei loro territori. In questo senso, avverto la necessità di procedere in una salutare "decentralizzazione"»[25].
L'ultimo livello è quello della Chiesa universale. Qui il Sinodo dei Vescovi, rappresentando l'episcopato cattolico, diventa espressione della collegialità episcopale all'interno di una Chiesa tutta sinodale[26]. Due parole diverse: “collegialità episcopale” e “Chiesa tutta sinodale”. Esso manifesta la collegialitas affectiva, la quale può pure divenire in alcune circostanze "effettiva", che con­giunge i Vescovi fra loro e con il Papa nella sollecitudine per il Popolo di Dio[27].

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Gogglebox ...

.... the programme where everyone has their place somewhere on the dysfunctional spectrum.

["What do Britain's most opinionated telly fanatics really think of the country's biggest TV programmes" is the official line ....]

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Holy Havoc

Tigerish Waters is one of those bloggers who belong in the "more thoughtful" category, and to whom I am always pleased to link. Must be something about physicists .....

The quote from Prigogine at the end of this post made me chuckle, as perhaps only a physicist would: Holy Havoc.

Friday, 9 October 2015

General Audience 7th October: "family spirit" constitutional of the Church

Pope Francis' address at the General Audience this week: The family spirit.
An attentive look at the everyday life of today’s men and women immediately shows the omnipresent need for a healthy injection of “family spirit”. Indeed, the form of the relationship — civil, economic, juridical, professional, civic — seems quite rational, formal, organized, but also very “dehydrated”, arid, anonymous. At times it becomes unbearable. While seeking to be inclusive in its forms, in reality it abandons more and more people to loneliness and discards them.
This is why, for the whole of society, the family opens a much more human prospect:....

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Pope Francis at the start of the Synod

English texts of Pope Francis' address at the Vigil of prayer in St Peter's Square in preparation for the Synod on the Family, and his homily at the opening Mass for the Synod, are not yet at the Vatican website. I expect they will be posted there in due course: with links respectively from this page and this page.

I link to texts published at the website of the Catholic Herald - I'd rather not, given their indulgence in a "Synod of the media" (see here), and suspect they may be publishing the texts with a certain mischief, but at the moment I can't find the English texts elsewhere.  [UPDATE: links now to texts at the Vatican website].

Pope Francis’ address at family synod prayer vigil: full text

A snippet:
In the “Galilee of the nations” of our own time, we will rediscover the richness and strength of a Church which is a mother, ever capable of giving and nourishing life, accompanying it with devotion, tenderness, and moral strength. For unless we can unite compassion with justice, we will end up being needlessly severe and deeply unjust.
A Church which is family is also able to show the closeness and love of a father, a responsible guardian who protects without confining, who corrects without demeaning, who trains by example and patience, sometimes simply by a silence which bespeaks prayerful and trusting expectation.
Above all, a Church of children who see themselves as brothers and sisters, will never end up considering anyone simply as a burden, a problem, an expense, a concern or a risk.  Other persons are essentially a gift, and always remain so, even when they walk different paths.
Pope Francis’ homily at the family synod’s opening Mass: full text

Another snippet:
....the Church is called to carry out her mission in fidelity, truth and love. To carry out her mission in fidelity to her Master as a voice crying out in the desert, in defending faithful love and encouraging the many families which live married life as an experience which reveals of God’s love; in defending the sacredness of life, of every life; in defending the unity and indissolubility of the conjugal bond as a sign of God’s grace and of the human person’s ability to love seriously.
To carry out her mission in truth, which is not changed by passing fads or popular opinions. The truth which protects individuals and humanity as a whole from the temptation of self-centredness and from turning fruitful love into sterile selfishness, faithful union into temporary bonds. “Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love” (BENEDICT XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 3).
To carry out her mission in charity, not pointing a finger in judgment of others, but – faithful to her nature as a mother – conscious of her duty to seek out and care for hurting couples with the balm of acceptance and mercy; to be a “field hospital” with doors wide open to whoever knocks in search of help and support; to reach out to others with true love, to walk with our fellow men and women who suffer, to include them and guide them to the wellspring of salvation.
I do think Pope Francis has understood very well the challenge to which the Synod is intended to respond.