Sunday, 21 February 2016

His mercy lasts forever: a Year of Mercy pilgrimage

The psalter for the Sunday of Week 2, as used in the English translation of the Liturgy of the Hours, includes Psalm 17 (118):
Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his love endures for ever.  
Let the sons of Israel say: 'His love endures for ever'.  
Let the sons of Aaron say: 'His love endures for ever'. 
Let those who fear the Lord say: 'His love endures for ever'.
The word "love" here has been translated directly from the Hebrew in the Grail translation used; the Latin of the Liturgia Horarium uses the word "misercordiae", that is, "mercy".  The English translation appears somewhat infelicitous in this Year of Mercy.

According to Pope John Paul II, in his commentary on this psalm given during his sequence of General Audience addresses on the psalms of morning and evening prayer (texts available from the CTS here):
The word "mercy" translates the Hebrew word hesed, that designates the generous fidelity of God towards the covenanted and friendly people. Three categories of people are told to praise this fidelity: all of Israel, the "house of Aaron", namely the priests, and those "who fear the Lord", a way of speaking that includes the faithful and the proselytes, namely the members of other nations who desire to follow the law of the Lord.
Pope Benedict XVI, when he refers to Psalm 135 as he completed Pope John Paul II's sequence of audiences, with its refrain (in the English translation of the psalter) "..for his love endures for ever", makes a similar observation with regard to the origin of that refrain in a translation from the original Hebrew word, hesed.

This is helpful here in Brentwood Diocese because, as we enter the Holy Door at our Cathedral, it is precisely this refrain - with the translation as "mercy" rather than "love" - that is encountered.

If we return to Psalm 117, Pope John Paul II describes it as reflecting a processional rite, through the city to the Temple. This can reflect our Holy Year pilgrimage to enter through the Holy Door. He also points out the reach of this "mercy" - beyond the people of Israel to those of other nations. We can recognise in this something of Pope Francis' wish to reach out to the "peripheries" in this Year of Mercy.

I do think Brentwood Cathedral has been particularly blessed in the Holy Door at its Cathedral.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Pope Francis: what did he really say on the plane?

As I post, a couple of aspects of Pope Francis' remarks to journalists during the flight home from his visit to Mexico are causing comment. An Italian transcription is here and, presumably, an English transcription will be posted in due course.

His "attack" on Donald Trump: the journalist's question explicitly referred to Donald Trump's campaign..... but in his answer, Pope Francis made the general observation that anyone who seeks to build walls between people, rather than to build bridges, is not a Christian, leaving the application to the particular situation of Donald Trump open to the judgement of others
E poi, una persona che pensa soltanto a fare muri, sia dove sia, e non a fare ponti, non è cristiana. Questo non è nel Vangelo. [Now, a person who thinks only of making walls, wherever that might be, and not making bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel.]
Pope Francis' "approval" of the use of contraception to avoid pregnancy during the Zika virus crisis: in effect, there was an affirmation of the principle, already expressed in Humanae Vitae n.10, that for good reason a couple might seek to postpone the conception of children. There was no affirmation of artificial contraception as the means to achieve this. The question of "lesser evil" (a term used by the journalist asking the question, but not fully taken up by Pope Francis in his answer) is applicable in an extremely restricted way -  with regard to the principle of children as a good of marriage being in some way the subject of a counter-witness if conception is deliberately postponed - and the example of Pope Paul VI's dispensation for religious sisters is not applicable at all in the situation of the Zika virus. (I  think Austen Ivereigh's comment for Catholic Voices is seriously misleading in this regard, and, indeed, is not supported by the quotation of Pope Francis' words at the end of his post.) Pope Francis condemnation of abortion could not be stronger. Where abortion is to be seen as an absolute evil, always to be condemned (Pope Francis choice of word):
Invece, evitare la gravidanza non è un male assoluto, e in certi casi, come in quello che ho menzionato del Beato Paolo VI, era chiaro. Inoltre, io esorterei i medici che facciano di tutto per trovare i vaccini contro queste due zanzare che portano questo male: su questo si deve lavorare.. [Instead, avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil, and in some cases, as in that I have mentioned of Blessed Paul VI, that was clear. However, I would encourage doctors to do everything to find vaccines against the two mosquitos that carry this illness: it is necessary to work on this ..]
The press conference is very wide ranging - there is a detailed answer to a question about the Church's response to abuse of minors by priests and the practice of Bishops just moving guilty priests from one parish to another (with a strong tribute to Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI's work on this matter), a discussion of relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Churches (in the context of some criticism of the joint statement with the Patriarch of Moscow) and a discussion of family situations (in the context of the Year of Mercy, and reaffirming the Church's rule with regard to Holy Communion for the re-married).

And there are a couple of points of humour:
Ma, grazie a Dio che ha detto che io sono politico, perché Aristotele definisce la persona umana come “animal politicus”: almeno sono persona umana! [But, I thank God that he (Donald Trump) has said that I am political, because Aristotle defines the human person as a "political animal": at least I am a human person!].....
Caroline Pigozzi di “Paris Match” 
Sì, Santo Padre, buona sera. Due cose. Volevo sapere cosa Lei ha chiesto poi alla Vergine di Guadalupe, perché è rimasto molto tempo nella chiesa a pregare la Vergine di Guadalupe. Poi, la seconda cosa, se Lei sogna in italiano o in spagnolo? [Yes, Holy Father, good evening. Two things. I wish to know what you asked of the Virgin of Guadelupe, because you remained a long time in the Church to pray to the Virgin of Guadalupe. Then, the second thing, do you dream in Italian or Spanish?] - this last a reference to an earlier reference in the press conference for Pope Francis' "dreams" in a quite different sense.
Papa Francesco
Sì, dirò che sogno in esperanto… Non so come rispondere a questo, davvero. Alcune volte sì, ricordo, qualche sogno in altra lingua, ma sognare in lingue no, con figure, sì. La mia psicologia è così. Con parole sogno poco . [Yes, I will say that I dream in Esperanto ... I do not know how to answer this, really. Sometimes yes, I remember a dream in a different language, but dreaming in languages, no, with images, yes. My psychology is like that. I dream very little with words.]

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

BBC Radio 4: "The Pope's Letters"

I did not see the Panorama programme broadcast on Monday, but I have just listened to the 45 minute Radio 4 broadcast "The Pope's Letters". As I understand it, this programme contained more substantial extracts from the letters themselves - having 15 minutes more than the Panorama broadcast. The comments below relate to the radio programme - I am unable to say how much they might also apply or not apply to the television broadcast.

The programme is available to listen to at the BBC website: here. I do strongly recommend it. It is not clear how long it will be available here, but I would expect a week or a month. Hopefully it will be available as a podcast at some point for download.

I do strongly recommend the programme. It is, as I suggested at the end of my previous post about these letters, a story of a friendship. The extracts from John Paul II's letters chosen in the programme portray this friendship wonderfully and, particularly in connection with Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka's reaction to the shooting in St Peter's Square, very movingly. The programme provides a testimony to a friendship of a profoundly Christian character. Interestingly, both Ed Stourton and Carl Bernstein recognise the friendship as being one that does not fit readily into any category - in Carl Bernstein's phrase it is "sui generis". There is a model of friendship here - and, indeed, of love, in its truest sense - for both Christians and for others.

The suggestion that there was a degree of romantic engagement of Anna-Teresa towards Karol Wojytla is made in the programme by Bill and Jadwiga Smith, the executors of Anna-Teresa's estate. In the programme, and in comparison to the extracts from the letters read in the programme, this comes over as somewhat speculative on their part. Likewise speculative is some of the comment on the attitude of "the Vatican" towards Anna-Teresa's contact with Pope John Paul II. But together, these two elements make up less than two minutes of a 45 minute programme.

It would be fascinating to be able to read the discussion in the correspondence, from both sides, about Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem. This is referred to in the programme, but not cited. Their discussion is reportedly quite extensive.

The programme does full justice to the origin of the friendship between Anna-Teresa and Karol Wojtyla in their shared philosophical interests. The inter-relation of matters of philosophy and of personal life in the correspondence are apparent in the programme. Those familiar with the letters of Edith Stein to Roman Ingarden will recognise this in their correspondence, too. There is a real sense of a community of both ideas and life within the particular phenomenological school to which these writers belong.

As I say, highly recommended.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Pope John Paul II: The Secret Letters

I suspect that tonight's BBC Panorama programme will be something of a non-story. Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka and Wanda Poltawska (along with her husband, Andrez) were among Karol Wojtyla's closest academic collaborators. The former's English translation of The Acting Person has been criticised for presenting the thought of the original of the second Polish edition in a way that reduces the metaphysical content of the person who is the subject of action in favour of a more strongly phenomenological interpretation. The collaboration also appears to have extended to include Anna-Teresa's husband, who advised Pope John Paull II on economic matters, his area of academic expertise. Wanda Poltawska collaborated in the leadership of an institute for the family in Krakow, and afterwards in consultation with Pope John Paul II in Rome.

At heart, they are professional, academic collaborations. And that offers two points of context. It is not unusual for academics, visiting an overseas country for a conference, to stay as house guests of faculty of the academic institutions who have invited them. And the academic field that was/is phenomenology is characterised by a closeness of friendships arising from these collaborations that is very particular. As I write, I have, for example, just read the text of a letter from Edith Stein to her baptismal sponsor, Hedwig Conrad-Martius, written just after Edith's entry into Cologne Carmel. It was whilst staying at the Conrad-Martius' during a vacation that Edith read St Teresa's Life; but the close personal friendship between them began through their shared academic circle. There is nothing untoward in the thought that they would spend holidays together - Edith and her friends would go out for country walks, somewhat analogous to Karol Wojytla's camping holidays with his friends and collaborators.

To characterise or headline the correspondence as being "secret letters between Pope John Paul II and a married woman" therefore contains a suggestion that is somewhat misleading. As part of the BBC's own website coverage indicates:
Carl Bernstein, the veteran investigative journalist of Watergate fame, was the first writer to get some sense of Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka's importance in John Paul's life. He interviewed her for the book His Holiness in the 1990s.
"We are talking about Saint John Paul. This is an extraordinary relationship," he says. "It's not illicit, nonetheless it's fascinating. It changes our perception of him."
The BBC website coverage ahead of the Panorama programme is here and here. It is interesting to note that Ed Stourton admits that his suggestion that Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka declared that she had fallen in love with Karol Wojtyla/Pope John Paul II is speculation on his part, his reading into the latter's letters what might have been in Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka's side of the correspondence (not seen by the BBC). According to a Guardian report, Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka denied any romantic involvement with John Paul II; and a Vatican source has observed that the forthcoming programme is "more smoke than fire". Ed Stourton is very clear that nothing that he has discovered would have been a barrier to Pope John Paul II's canonisation.

I wonder whether, more than anything else, the letters will offer a model of what constitutes friendship and communion of persons for others to follow. For a generation characterised by the "relationship" that is fluid and without anything of objective permanence, a testimony of permanent friendship (and the nature of the person, and how persons enter into communion with each other, was a key concern of the particular phenomenological circle in which Karol Wojtyla, Edith Stein and the others moved) from this earlier generation might have something to offer. There might well be a PhD for someone in that particular study. The photographs accompanying the BBC coverage are perhaps interesting in this regard, too.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Sts Cyril and Methodius, Patrons of Europe

Whilst the secular world has requisitioned 14th February as Valentine's Day (is the dropping of the "saint" perhaps significant?), the western Church marks the day as the Feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius. These are two of six patron saints of Europe.

At a time when it is some of the countries in the Eastern part of Europe that face a particular challenge from population movement, it might be appropriate on Sunday to keep in prayer these countries that their governments and peoples might adopt just and compassionate responses to the migrants arriving at their borders. That prayer might also extend to the more prosperous countries of northern Europe that they might be generous in their welcome and support of refugees.

At a time when the representatives of the United Kingdom are seeking to renegotiate that country's relationship with the European Union we might also keep in prayer the discussions due to take place at a summit meeting later this week. We should seek positions based on the common good of all the peoples of Europe, and not the political self interest of individuals or movements in political parties that are largely based on perceptions more or less motivated by selfishness.

When Pope John Paul II declared Sts Cyril and Methodius to be co-patrons of Europe in 1980, he wrote:
Questa proclamazione vuole in pari tempo essere una testimonianza, per gli uomini del nostro tempo, della preminenza dell'annuncio del Vangelo, affidato da Gesù Cristo alle Chiese, per il quale hanno faticato i due fratelli apostoli degli slavi. Tale annuncio è stato via e strumento di reciproca conoscenza e di unione fra i diversi popoli dell'Europa nascente, ed ha assicurato all'Europa di oggi un comune patrimonio spirituale e culturale.
[This proclamation intends at the same time to be a witness, for the people of our time, of the pre-eminence of the preaching of the Gospel, entrusted by Jesus Christ to the Churches, for which the two brothers, apostles of the Slavs, worked strenuously. This preaching became the way and instrument of the reciprocal understanding and union among the different peoples of nascent Europe, and has assured for Europe today a common spiritual and cultural heritage.]
The collect for the celebration of the Feast in European dioceses is, which we might pray to particularly seek their intercession for Europe today that its nations and peoples might respond to the present challenges in a way that respects its common spiritual and cultural heritage rather than selfish interests:
O God, who enlightened the Slavic peoples through the brothers Saints Cyril and Methodius, grant that our hearts may grasp the words of your teaching, and perfect us as a people of one accord in true faith and right confession.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Presentation or Purification?

2nd February sees the celebration of the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord (Ordinary Form) and the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Extraordinary Form). The name of Candlemass also applies, because of the blessing and procession of candles associated with the celebration of this feast.

So far as I can tell, the Liturgical texts, at least for the celebration of Mass and the procession of candles, are similar in both the Extraordinary and Ordinary Forms. The Old Testament reading is from Malachi 3:1-4 and the Gospel is the account of the Presentation. I think the Collect is the same in both forms, too. This suggests a greater affinity to the title of the Feast in the Ordinary Form, which indicates it as being a Feast of the Lord rather than a Feast of the Virgin Mary.

However, in the Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary there is a Mass entitled "The Blessed Virgin Mary and the Presentation of the Lord". According to the introduction to this Mass given in the Sacramentary for this Collection:
In this mystery of  salvation, Our Lady:
- in accordance with the Law of Moses (see Leviticus 12:1-8) submitted to the ritual of purification after childbirth, although as the "purest of virgins" from her "chaste womb" she had "brought forth in purity the Son of the Eternal Father" (Entrance Antiphon);
-faithfully carried out the law of the firstborn (see Exodus 13:1-2), redeeming with the offering of the poor (see Luke 2:24; Prayer over the offerings) her Son, "the author of the New Law" (Collect), "the Redeemer of us all" (Prayer over the offerings), "the glory of" the "people Israel and the light of all nations" (Preface; see Luke 2:32), the "Lord, the Saviour of the world" (Communion Antiphon);
- as "the handmaid of (God's) plan of salvation" (Preface) saw in her Son "the spotless Lamb, to be sacrificed on the altar of the Cross for our salvation (Preface) and offered him to the Father.
The texts of the Mass also recognise the Virgin Mary as the "virgin daughter of Zion", and the exemplar of the faith and life of the Church, described in the Collect as the "chaste Bride of Christ". The Collection does not give any indication of the origin of the Liturgical texts used.

However, what the texts and introduction for the Mass in the Collection drew to my attention was that, whichever title is used for the Feast celebrated on 2nd February, and consequently whether it is seen as being primarily a Feast of the Lord or a Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the content of what is being celebrated is essentially the same. In particular, in adopting the title "The Presentation of the Lord" the Liturgy of the Ordinary Form has not turned aside from the elements of the celebration which would be expressed by the title "The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary".

Some quick thoughts that follow:

1. Is there an opportunity for "mutual enrichment", or of assimilation of this celebration in the two forms of the Roman Rite?
2. Theologically, what does this celebration offer in the discussion of the relation of Christian faith to Judaism?
3. Liturgically, what does this celebration teach about the origins of Christian Liturgy in the practices of the Jewish religion?