Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Dare we hope that all men be saved?

One might preface any remarks about von Balthasar by indicating that he is a theologian who is Catholic in the deepest and widest sense of the word, so the slighting of his orthodoxy by those of a more traditionalist inclination seems to me to say more about them than it does about von Balthasar.

But having seen once again a "re-tweet" - more or less well informed - of the side swipe at Hans Urs von Balthasar's position on whether or not anyone actually goes to hell, I offer the following.

At the front of Ignatius Press English edition of the relevant work Dare we hope that all men be saved? is the following quotation, from a catechism published by the German Bishops Conference (emphasis in the original):
Neither Holy Scripture nor the Church's Tradition of faith asserts with certainty of any man that he is actually in hell. Hell is always held before our eyes as a real possibility, one connected with the offer of conversion and life.
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church nn.1033 ff, on hell (my italics added):
We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: "He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren. To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called "hell."
The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion ...
God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end.
 From the Catechism of the Catholic Church nn.2090 - 2092, on Hope
When God reveals Himself and calls him, man cannot fully respond to the divine love by his own powers. He must hope that God will give him the capacity to love Him in return and to act in conformity with the commandments of charity. Hope is the confident expectation of divine blessing and the beatific vision of God; it is also the fear of offending God's love and of incurring punishment.
The first commandment is also concerned with sins against hope, namely, despair and presumption:
By despair, man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins. Despair is contrary to God's goodness, to his justice - for the Lord is faithful to his promises - and to his mercy.
There are two kinds of presumption. Either man presumes upon his own capacities, (hoping to be able to save himself without help from on high), or he presumes upon God's almighty power or his mercy (hoping to obtain his forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit).
Hans Urs von Balthasar's position is less one that suggests that no-one will go to hell than one that, in the first instant recognises the real risk on my own part (the call to responsibility and conversion), but then, in terms of my love towards others, insists that I should continue to hope "to the end" in the possibility of their conversion (and therefore ensure my love for my neighbour).

I do wonder how it can be possible to live a bearable Christian life if hell is seen only as a driver for the avoidance of mortal sin, that is, in its negative import, and not also in its positive import as a hope that one's response to the call to conversion will be sufficient, as will be the response of my neighbour.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

All the Cathedrals (1): Oxford...

( .... with apologies to Geoff and Vicki at All the Stations).

For some time now, Zero and I have been making use of a Two Together railcard to visit towns with cathedrals. Our visit to Oxford ignored Christ Church cathedral and instead took in Keble College, and the chapel there. One realises in later life  just how much one should have appreciated something when living next door to it in one's younger days.

An account of the architecture of the chapel at Keble can be found here; and images of the mosaics that decorate the walls of the chapel can be found by following the links from this page.

Together the windows and mosaics are intended to show God's dealings with his people through history. They therefore include Old Testament figures such as Abraham, Moses and Joseph - seen as prefiguring the person of Christ himself. The saving work of Christ is also represented by its prefiguration in the offering of Melchisedech and Abraham's intercession on behalf of Sodom. Christ's own life and death are also represented in the mosaics. In keeping with the spirit of the Oxford Movement, saints and fathers of the Church are also represented. As you leave the chapel, it is the scene of the last judgement that faces you above the door.

The underlying principles of the decoration are profoundly liturgical, and oriented to the celebration of a worship which renewed in the Church of England its catholic sense. The inspiration for the decoration of the Chapel is John Keble's The Christian Year - those more familiar with John Keble than I am will appreciate this link.

The only other place I have seen anything like this is the Benedictine Abbey of St Hildegard, at Eibingen, across the River Rhine from Bingen. The guided tour of the Abbey Church indicates clearly how the decoration of the Church is designed to celebrate the living presence of God with his people through the course of history.

The experience of sitting in the nave at Eibingen, somewhat gobsmacked by the decoration of the Church came strongly to mind as I sat in Keble College chapel. Both churches are well worth a visit.


Sunday, 13 August 2017

St Maximilian Kolbe: an "offering of life"

Some spirited remarks about St Maximilian Kolbe in this morning's homily have reminded me to place alongside each other the text of Pope St John Paul II's homily at the canonisation Mass for the saint (Italian original here, English translation here) and Pope Francis' recent motu proprio Maiorem Hac Dilectionem establishing the offer of life as a cause for beatification.

Speaking of the event of St Maximilian's death, Pope St John Paul II said:
All this happened in the concentration camp at Auschwitz where during the last war some four million people were put to death, including the Servant of God, Edith Stein (the Carmelite Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross), whose cause for beatification is in progress at the competent Congregation. Disobedience to God-the Creator of life who said, "Thou shalt not kill"-caused in that place the immense holocaust of so many innocent persons. And so at the same time, our age has thus been horribly stigmatized by the slaughter of the innocent.
Father Maximilian Kolbe, himself a prisoner of the concentration camp, defended in that place of death an innocent man's right to life. Father Kolbe defended his right to life, declaring that he was ready to go to death in the man's place, because he was the father of a family and his life was necessary for his dear ones. Father Maximilian Maria Kolbe thus reaffirmed the Creator's exclusive right over innocent human life. He bore witness to Christ and to love. For the Apostle John writes: "By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (1 John 3:16).
I have added the italics to try to draw out how John Paul II's words indicate a way of understanding the intention of Pope Francis' idea of an "offer of life". Later in the homily, this becomes clearer still:
Men saw what happened in the camp at Auschwitz. And even if to their eyes it must have seemed that a companion of their torment "dies," even if humanly speaking they could consider "his departure" as "a disaster," nevertheless in their minds this was not simply "death." Maximilian did not die but "gave his life...for his brother." In that death, terrible from the human point of view, there was the whole definitive greatness of the human act and of the human choice. He spontaneously offered himself up to death out of love.
And in this human death of his there was the clear witness borne to Christ: the witness borne in Christ to the dignity of man, to the sanctity of his life, and to the saving power of death in which the power of love is made manifest.  
Pope Francis characterises the offer of life as "a free and voluntary offer of life and heroic acceptance propter caritatem of a certain and untimely death". Pope John Paul II, to an extent foreshadowing Pope Francis' motu proprio, assimilated St Maximilian's offer of his life to martyrdom and proclaimed that St Maximilian was to be recognised, not just as a confessor of the faith, but as a martyr for the faith.

Many years ago now I recall speaking and writing about Archbishop Oscar Romero and Fr Jerzy Popieluszko as "martyrs for the truth about man". I think we can see in both of these great figures examples of the "offering of life" which Pope Francis has now established as a way to beatification.

Monday, 7 August 2017

The Swedish physicist revolutionising fertility awareness

I have slightly altered the headline of the BBC news report. The story first came to my attention through the "Once a physicist" feature in July 2017's Physics World. That story was headed as follows:
Elina Berglund is the chief technology officer and co-founder of Natural Cycles - a fertility app that helps women to prevent, plan and monitor pregnancies. As a physicist, she was part of the team that discovered the Higgs boson at CERN in 2012.
The Physics World feature gives an indication of the particular contribution that Elina Berglund's background in physics has made to the development of her algorithm, and what may constitute a novelty in relation to other natural methods (corrections on this point via the comments box please if necessary). The use of temperature as an indicator of the fertile time in a woman's cycle is itself well known, but it is the improved analysis of the data that may make this app a genuine innovation.
I was in a stable relationship and I did not want to use hormonal contraception anymore. We looked into "natural family planning solutions", but there was nothing out there that was easy and reliable to use. Such a solution is prone to human errors if you analyse the data yourself; while the few devices that were available were outdated, expensive and, most of all, used simplistic algorithms. Using my statistical and programming skills from analysing data in particle physics, I developed an algorithm that analyses a woman's body temperature to detect ovulation and pinpoint fertile and non-fertile days. Although the algorithm was at first only for my own use, I quickly realised that this was something many women wanted and needed. Several of my physics colleagues started measuring their own temperatures as well and sending them to me to run my algorithm and give them a "green" or a "red" day. My husband, also a physicist, suggested we turn the algorithm into an app, so that all women and their partners could benefit from this innovation.
Physics World's feature also suggests that the reason for the temporary revoking of regulatory approval was essentially technical. It had to do with whether their app was classified as a fertility monitor, which required one regulatory classification, or as a contraceptive device, which required a different regulatory classification. It achieved this second regulatory classification in February 2017.

Elina Berglund's own experience of using the app is within her own marriage, something that clearly indicates a particular context in which it is going to be more effective. It is also a context that significantly reduces the criticism that using the app does not protect against sexually transmitted infections, as women with single sexual partners are much less exposed to such a risk.. The app is clearly going to be less helpful for a woman whose lifestyle involves multiple sexual partners, both from the point of view of STI protection and from the point of view of the willingness of partners to respect a "red" day.

An interesting aspect of the app is the way in which it responds to the data of an individual woman as more data is entered. It adapts to the individual's cycle, rather than imposing a single algorithm on to the data. The potential of the app to monitor a pregnancy, not fully described in the media coverage, might also have interesting application to the care of women in remote locations in less developed countries .... can a medical professional access the woman's data via the app from a different location?

Natural Cycles website is worth exploring, particularly the reviews from users which, leaving aside the question of whether the app is used primarily to achieve contraception, show an appreciation of a better understanding by women of their own bodies.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Workers of the world unite! (or revolution at Felbrigg Hall) - UPDATED

I have been brought back to Vaclav Havel's text The Power of the Powerless (full text available by following the link from this page) in reflecting on the position of the National Trust in its "Prejudice and Pride" programme, its participation in gay pride events and in the position in which it put some of its volunteers (the more cautious BBC reporting is here). Though, of course, the BBC's Gay Britannia programming equally prompts it.

What exactly are we doing when we ask people to wear that T-shirt, that badge, that lanyard or to walk in Pride marches? What are we asking of them in seeking their reception of that TV and radio programming?

Are we asking people to adhere to an ideology (of gender, of sex) that is unrelated to an authentic understanding of the dignity of the human person and therefore related only to ethical indifference? Are we asking people to adhere to an ideology that should be subject to the level of critique that Vaclav Havel offered to the communist ideology of his times in Czechoslovakia?

I suspect those National Trust volunteers who have preferred not to wear the requested badges and lanyards have exercised an ethical freedom that is becoming less common.

See Wrong rights? for my fuller account of Vaclav Havel's essay:
Ideology is a specious way of relating to the world. It offers human beings the illusion of an identity, of dignity, and of morality while making it easier for them to part with them. As the repository of something suprapersonal and objective, it enables people to deceive their conscience and conceal their true position and their inglorious modus vivendi, both from the world and from themselves.

UPDATE:

The National Trust have now issued a statement reversing their instruction to volunteers:
The National Trust was established “for the benefit of the Nation” and we passionately believe our purpose is to make everyone feel welcome at our places, as our founders would have wanted. 
We are using the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality as an opportunity to tell the stories of the people at some of our places, whose personal lives were outside the social norms of their time. 
We hugely value our volunteers and many across the country have taken the opportunity to get involved in developing our Prejudice and Pride programme, which explores LGBTQ heritage. 
At Felbrigg, many volunteers have enthusiastically supported a new exhibition, which looks at the life of the extraordinarily generous Robert Ketton–Cremer.  His decision to leave the house to the Trust was the result in part of the fact that he had never married and had no heirs. 
We asked all our staff and volunteers at the house to wear rainbow lanyards or badges during the six-week event as welcoming symbol to all our visitors.  We remain absolutely committed to our Pride programme, which will continue as intended, along with the exhibition at Felbrigg. 
However, we are aware that some volunteers had conflicting, personal opinions about wearing the rainbow lanyards and badges. That was never our intention. 
We are therefore making it clear to volunteers that the wearing of the badge is optional and a personal decision.  We will be speaking to all our volunteers at Felbrigg over the coming days about this issue.
The change of policy does not appear to apply to National Trust employees.  The Trust's earlier statement is as follows (I have added emphasis - it would be interesting to know the nature of the "training and support" and the meaning of feeling "confident to take part").
Annabel Smith, Head of Volunteering & Participation Development said:
“All of our staff and volunteers sign up to our founding principles when they join us – we are an organisation that is for ever, for everyone.  We are committed to developing and promoting equality of opportunity and inclusion in all that we do regardless of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.
“Relating specifically to the Prejudice and Pride programme, we do recognise that some volunteers may have conflicting, personal opinions.
“However whilst volunteering for the National Trust we do request and expect individuals to uphold the values of the organisation. We encourage people with any concerns to chat to our teams. As part of Prejudice and Pride we have worked closely with Stonewall and the University of Leicester who have been providing training and support to help as many volunteers as possible feel confident to take part.”
As part of our ‘Prejudice and Pride’ programme our staff and volunteers are wearing rainbow badges and lanyards, as an international symbol of welcome.
Some volunteers at Felbrigg have said they feel uncomfortable wearing these and we have offered them the opportunity to take a break from front facing duties if that’s what they would prefer.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Reflecting on Gay Britannia

The BBC is currently in the middle of broadcasting a wide range of programmes, on both television and radio, under the branding "Gay Britannia". The programming marks the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 "which partially decriminalised gay sex" according to the web page just linked or, as a trailer I heard on Radio 2 yesterday expressed it, "legalised gay sex". The distinction is not trivial, as an observation below will show.

I am struck by the willingness of the BBC's web page to use the terms "gay" and "queer" in their titles/strap lines for programmes. That they have not been more consistent in the use of what, so far as I can tell, is the current more "correct" terminology of LGBT (or LGBTQ+) suggests some recognition of the unusual in the subject matter of their programming.

The strap line for the two Radio 2 programmes Born this Way reads as follows:
Andrew Scott presents the remarkable story of how gay people transformed pop culture.
Which is interesting in its recognition of something implicit in the whole of the Gay Britannia programming: that the movement in favour of LGBTQ+ equality represents a wholesale alteration of our public culture, and not just a movement in favour of equality. This creates a bit of a catch-22 for Catholics who, on the one hand would wish to defend the rights of LGBTQ+ persons precisely as persons (and not because of their LGBTQ+ characteristics) who therefore have the same inalienable human rights as each and every other person, but on the other hand would wish to oppose a transformation of culture that embeds the LGBTQ+ characteristic as normative.

The BBC Gay Britannia programming indicates how much the culture of media and entertainment has been the subject of this cultural transformation. But that transformation now reaches into many other areas of society via an assimilation of a genuine concern for the rights of LGBTQ+ persons to a cultural transformation that, on the part of most people, is quite inadvertent and unrecognised.

It would be naïve to think that this does not have its effect on Catholics, who, in the workplace and elsewhere, will find it difficult to maintain a resistance to a cultural transformation they do not support whilst at the same time acknowledging the rights as persons of those who live according to a lifestyle that is different than their own.

In this context, it is worthwhile for Catholics to recall some considerations of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and to measure our current experience against them. The considerations refer to an earlier letter from the Congregation on the pastoral care of homosexual persons. The considerations are limited to considerations of sexual orientation (they were published as long ago as 1992), though they nevertheless do have some application to the wider LGBTQ+ context.
6. “She (the Church) is also aware that the view that homosexual activity is equivalent to or as acceptable as the sexual expression of conjugal love has a direct impact on society's understanding of the nature and rights of the family and puts them in jeopardy” (no. 9).
7. “It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church's pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.
13. Including “homosexual orientation” among the considerations on the basis of which it is illegal to discriminate can easily lead to regarding homosexuality as a positive source of human rights, for example, in respect to so-called affirmative action or preferential treatment in hiring practices. This is all the more deleterious since there is no right to homo-sexuality (cf. no. 10) which therefore should not form the basis for judicial claims. The passage from the recognition of homosexuality as a factor on which basis it is illegal to discriminate can easily lead, if not automatically, to the legislative protection and promotion of homosexuality. A person's homosexuality would be invoked in opposition to alleged discrimination, and thus the exercise of rights would be defended precisely via the affirmation of the homosexual condition instead of in terms of a violation of basic human rights.
14. ...Homosexual persons who assert their homosexuality tend to be precisely those who judge homosexual behavior or lifestyle to be “either completely harmless, if not an entirely good thing” (cf. no. 3), and hence worthy of public approval. It is from this quarter that one is more likely to find those who seek to “manipulate the Church by gaining the often well-intentioned support of her pastors with a view to changing civil statutes and laws” (cf. no. 5), those who use the tactic of protesting that “any and all criticism of or reservations about homosexual people... are simply diverse forms of unjust discrimination” (cf. no. 9). 
[The observation at n.13 is pertinent to the distinction between "partially decriminalising" and "legalising" noted at the top of this post.]

To update these considerations, we should make reference to Pope Francis' repeated condemnations of "gender theory", which he has termed an "ideological colonisation of the family". That we are made as persons who are either male or female in their physiology is a matter of the creative wisdom of God, and to promote the notion that it is we who can decide our own gender and change it if we wish - this Pope Francis identifies as being opposed to God's creative act. It is an ideology because it wishes to alter reality, rather than to recognise and explore reality. The abolition of the word "sex" to refer to male or female persons, and its almost universal replacement by the word "gender", is a sign of just how much, under the label of equality, an ideology of gender has already contributed to an alteration of culture.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Mutual Enrichment

I have been away from home recently, and so missed out on this discussion: Cardinal Sarah's challenge to traditionalists (and also here).

I do think Cardinal Sarah's language of "liturgical reconciliation" is a very useful one. After all, in the original context of Summorum Pontificum, the opening created for those with an attachment to the Extraordinary Form to have a more natural place in the life of the Church was a key strand in Pope Benedict XVI's intention, and I recall Pope Benedict at the time being spoken of as a "Pope of Christian unity". Indeed, it is a language used by Pope Benedict himself.

I also feel that, beginning very shortly after Summorum Pontificum, there has been an intransigence on the part of leadership among the organisations manifesting attachment to the Extraordinary Form towards another key strand in Pope Benedict's intention. Cardinal Sarah has addressed this in his recognition of the need for a genuinely mutual "mutual enrichment", rather than a one-sided movement towards a more traditional liturgy. This is something in which traditionalists have shown little or no interest.

And I think Cardinal Sarah has correctly identified the adoption of a common calendar as an essential step. One cannot speak of "two forms of the same rite" without a common calendar - and traditionalist resistance to this seems to me to represent an opposition to the principle of two forms but the same rite. The process can be genuinely mutual - adoption of the newly canonised saints and the simplification of the liturgical seasons might go alongside a restoration of the Octave of Pentecost and a permission for double collects so that the celebration of a Sunday does not abolish entirely the celebration of a coinciding saint for that year.

It says a lot that, even ten years after Summorum Pontificum, a suggestion by the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship that progress should be made on mutual enrichment causes controversy. It shows just how far we still have to go for an authentic implementation of Summorum Pontificum, an implementation that is for the benefit of the many in the Church and not just for the benefit of a traditionalist few.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

The way ahead for gay Catholics

Read here.

This makes interesting reading. The point that I found thought provoking was the observation about the need for a pastoral/theological approach that can be verified in the experience of those who live from an LGBT background. There is something in this thought that reflects the charism of Communion and Liberation which I might try to explore ...

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Wrong rights?

During the last couple of weeks, I have been prompted a number of times to reflect on the image of the slogan among the fruit and vegetables that appears in an early section of Vaclav Havel's (at one time at least, but now perhaps rather forgotten) well known essay "The Power of the Powerless". Follow the link from this page, and go to section III to see the full context.
THE MANAGER of a fruit-and-vegetable shop places in his window, among the onions and carrots, the slogan: "Workers of the world, unite!" Why does he do it? What is he trying to communicate to the world? Is he genuinely enthusiastic about the idea of unity among the workers of the world? Is his enthusiasm so great that he feels an irrepressible impulse to acquaint the public with his ideals? Has he really given more than a moment's thought to how such a unification might occur and what it would mean? 
I think it can safely be assumed that the overwhelming majority of shopkeepers never think about the slogans they put in their windows, nor do they use them to express their real opinions. That poster was delivered to our greengrocer from the enterprise headquarters along with the onions and carrots. He put them all into the window simply because it has been done that way for years, because everyone does it, and because that is the way it has to be. If he were to refuse, there could be trouble. He could be reproached for not having the proper decoration in his window; someone might even accuse him of disloyalty. He does it because these things must be done if one is to get along in life. It is one of the thousands of details that guarantee him a relatively tranquil life "in harmony with society," as they say.

Aunty points out that, at the time that Vaclav Havel wrote this essay, we probably would not have thought it possible that the sentiments such as those contained in it could apply to our Western societies, adding: 
Defending marriage as the union of one man and one woman,  openly opposing the deliberate abortion of an unborn baby, affirming that sexual activity outside the marriage bond is contrary to the moral law...all these things are essential to a wholesome and humane society. We can have a debate about these things, we can recognise the need to be open and tolerant of different opinions - but we cannot survive unless we are allowed to affirm the truth of male/female marriage and the protection of pre-born children.
And the cruel attempts to silence, undermine and destroy groups and individuals who seek to uphold the moral law do point the way to martyrdom...
And, likewise, Peter Saunders offers a commentary about transgender issues. I quote one paragraph, but do read the whole:
We are starting to see real pressure being put on people to adopt a new ideology, use new language, affirm the beliefs of transgender people and participate in surgical and hormonal gender reassignment. Some lobby groups want these things to be legally enforced.
If he were to refuse, there could be trouble .....

He does it because these things must be done if one is to get along in life .....


Postcript: Vaclav Havel's commentary on the role of ideology, from the same section III of his essay, written for his particular situation but with resonances for Western societies today:
Ideology is a specious way of relating to the world. It offers human beings the illusion of an identity, of dignity, and of morality while making it easier for them to part with them. As the repository of something suprapersonal and objective, it enables people to deceive their conscience and conceal their true position and their inglorious modus vivendi, both from the world and from themselves. It is a very pragmatic but, at the same time, an apparently dignified way of legitimizing what is above, below, and on either side. It is directed toward people and toward God. It is a veil behind which human beings can hide their own fallen existence, their trivialization, and their adaptation to the status quo. It is an excuse that everyone can use, from the greengrocer, who conceals his fear of losing his job behind an alleged interest in the unification of the workers of the world, to the highest functionary, whose interest in staying in power can be cloaked in phrases about service to the working class. The primary excusatory function of ideology, therefore, is to provide people, both as victims and pillars of the post-totalitarian system, with the illusion that the system is in harmony with the human order and the order of the universe

Saturday, 10 June 2017

One tires of the language of .....

...."abortion rights". Neither UK law nor any international human rights instrument in any way recognise access to abortion as being a "right". UK law protects from prosecution when an abortion is carried out meeting certain conditions .... it does not recognise a "right" to an abortion. And it is, of course, arguable as to whether or not an abortion genuinely constitutes health care.

So those who are mis-representing the DUP as holding an "extremist stance" on abortion are utterly wrong on two counts - their mis-representation of the DUP and their attempt to speak of "abortion rights".

It is perfectly reasonable to hold a view that abortion - in the meaning of a directly intended choice to bring to an end the life of a child in the womb - should not be lawful. And it is perfectly reasonable to make use of the political process to support that end. As a candidate for the ProLife Alliance in the 1997 General Election I did precisely that.

Indeed, I would argue that the vilification of those who oppose legalised abortion is a significant breach of their right to their good name - a right promoted by the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 12:
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Politics, morality and civility

The "Meditation of the Day" in last Friday's MAGNIFICAT was an extract from the book Generating Traces in the History of the World: New Traces of the Christian Experience by  Liugi Giussani (page 94 in my English translation). The quotation from Alasdair MacIntyre is from the end of the penultimate chapter of After Virtue. In the context of the current General Election campaigns, it struck me as having a striking relevance, and I have added the emphases in bold, not present in the original text or in MAGNIFICAT, to draw this out.
The Christian's responsibility is that of being what have known, what has become art of their mind and heart. So we are responsible for being what we are, what we have been called to by Jesus in baptism and in the encounter that made it blossom. Our responsibility is that of being friends according to the encounter we have had. And this friendship cannot fail to have its effect on the relationships that are formed in the family, at work, and in social and political life. So we see the present-day relevance of what Alasdair MacIntyre said of the situation in Europe in the late Roman Empire:
"A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead - often not recognising fully what they were doing - was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness"
The friendship of those called by Jesus in baptism is the beginning of the community Macintyre speaks of, the beginning of a new culture, a new understanding of society and state, and of the world. In this way new human communities were born, which, to sue the words of John Paul II, are the only possible means for overcoming the desolation of much of modern society.
The MANIFICAT meditation stopped there, but the original text continued to include the words of Pope John Paul II being referred to:
"The re-awakening of the Christian people to a greater awareness of the Church, building living communities in which the following of Christ becomes concrete, affects the relationships of which the day is made and embraces the dimensions of life: this is the only adequate answer to the secularising culture that threatens Christian principles and the moral values of society".
There is a resonance to Pope Benedict XVI's remarks on the relationship between religion and politics when he spoke in Westminster Hall:
The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles.
 As I have read through, albeit rather quickly, the manifestos of major political parties as they were launched earlier this week, I have wondered about this task of purifying and shedding light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles. What might such a purification make of:
The Liberal Democrats proposal to legalise prostitution, which seems to assume that sex is an industry just like any other, and doesn't even seem to work at a pragmatic level : "(we will) Decriminalise the sale and purchase of sex, and the management of sex work – reducing harm, defending sex workers’ human rights, and focusing police time and resources on those groomed, forced, or trafficked into the sex industry. We would provide additional support for those wishing to leave sex work."
The Liberal Democrats proposal to allow cohabiting couples the same rights as married couples and couples in a civil partnership: "(we will) Strengthen legal rights and obligations for couples by introducing mixed sex civil partnerships and extending rights to cohabiting couples".
The Labour Party's proposals for significant nationalisation of industries  such as water supply, electricity supply and the railways (and a comparable proposal for the railways in the Green Party Guarantee). From an ethical perspective, the principle of subsidiarity would indicate that provision should be made at the lowest level in society at which it can be successfully made to achieve the good of persons in society. Only where collaboration between partners, or a degree of regulation is required, to achieve the common good of persons is there a role for organisations in society and of government, and, ultimately, for the state ownership  of enterprises. The manifesto reflects a degree of subsidiarity in proposing regional publically owned companies, and it states: "Public ownership will benefit consumers, ensuring that their interests are put first and that there is democratic accountability for the service." But if what we are being told is in reality left wing ideology and not considered subsidiarity .... the story is rather different, and the warnings of the command economies of the past have relevance.
The Labour Party's proposals on equality:  "... we will ensure that the new guidance for relationships and sex education is LGBT inclusive." Or: " Labour will continue to ensure a woman’s right to choose a safe, legal abortion – and we will work with the Assembly to extend that right to women in Northern Ireland." [Fact check: UK law does not recognise that a woman has a right to choose an abortion - it allows abortion on the mainland under certain circumstances and if two doctors in good faith indicate that those circumstances apply. A right to choose it is not!]
I do find interesting, though, that aspect of the proposals with regard to a National Education Service that would make education, at all levels, free at the point of delivery. This has some basis in, for example, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights article 26. My hesitation, though, is with regard to its possible implication of single state control of the content of the educational enterprise.

If we return to the meditation that has prompted this post. Where does the lack of ethical reference in the electoral proposals before us leave a Catholic in exercising their vote? How can we set about creating places of community in the larger political society that allow the living of a life that still has even the idea of an objective morality at its heart?

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Hail Holy Queen, Blessed Virgin of Fatima - UPDATED

Hail Holy Queen, Blessed Virgin of Fatima, Lady of Immaculate Heart, our refuge and our way to God!  
As a pilgrim of the Light that comes to us from your hands, I give thanks to God the Father, who in every time and place is at work in human history; As a pilgrim of the Peace that, in this place, you proclaim, I give praise to Christ, our peace, and I implore for the world concord among all peoples; As a pilgrim of the Hope that the Spirit awakens, I come as a prophet and messenger to wash the feet of all, at the same table that unites us.....
In union with my brothers and sisters, in faith, in hope and in love, I entrust myself to you. In union with my brothers and sisters, through you, I consecrate myself to God, O Virgin of the Rosary of Fatima.  
And at last, enveloped in the Light that comes from your hands, I will give glory to the Lord for ever and ever. Amen.
Pope Francis' prayer to the Virgin of Fatima: Prayer of His Holiness Pope Francis, Chapel of the Apparitions, Fatima, Friday 12 May 2017.

h/t Abbey Roads, here.

UPDATE: The following exchange reported from the in-flight press conference during the return flight from Fatima to Rome explains the origin of the reference to the "bishop dressed in white" in Pope Francis' prayer, and rather puts paid to those commentators who are criticising Pope Francis for it. First the journalist's question, and then Pope Francis' answer:
Allora, Santità, a Fatima Lei si è presentato come “il Vescovo vestito di bianco”. Fino ad adesso, questa espressione si applicava piuttosto alla visione della terza parte del segreto, a san Giovanni Paolo II e ai martiri del XX secolo. Cosa significa adesso la sua identificazione con questa espressione? [Well, Your Holiness, at Fatima you were presented as "the Bishop dressed in white". Up to now, this expression has been applied rather to the vision of the third part of the secret, to St John Paul II and the martyrs of the 20th Century.  What is the meaning now of your identification with this expression?]
Papa Francesco:
Sì, nella preghiera. Quella non l’ho fatta io, l’ha fatta il Santuario. Ma anch’io mi sono chiesto, perché hanno detto questo? E c’è un collegamento, sul bianco: il Vescovo vestito di bianco, la Madonna vestita di bianco, l’albore bianco dell’innocenza dei bambini dopo il battesimo… C’è un collegamento, in quella preghiera, sul colore bianco. Credo – perché non l’ho fatta io – credo che letterariamente hanno cercato di esprimere con il bianco quel desiderio di innocenza, di pace: innocenza, non fare male all’altro, non fare Guerra… [Yes, in the prayer. That was not prepared by me, it was prepared by the Sanctuary. But I also asked myself why they had said this? And it is a link, (on the theme of) white: the Bishop dressed in white, the Madonna dressed in white, the white clothing of innocence of children after baptism ... it is a linking in this prayer, on the colour white. I believe - because I did not prepare it - I believe that, in a literary way, they tried to express with white the desire for innocence, for peace: innocence, not doing evil to the other, not making war ...]

Friday, 12 May 2017

The Catholic Education Service: an essay in error

As usual, Caroline has offered a reasoned and extensive commentary: The Catholic Education Service: an essay in error. I have added italics to her concluding paragraph, as I do think the CES/St Mary's document has completely misunderstood the need that Catholic school leaders have, and may have expressed. The guidance they needed was not with respect to managing homophobic bullying - one might hope that school leaders are already up to speed as far as responding to bullying of all types in their schools is concerned. What was needed was guidance as to how they can present and live Catholic teaching on the disordered nature of LGBT sexual activity without falling foul of equalities legislation, and this both in terms of curriculum and pastoral systems, and in terms of how they might manage situations should LGBT activism have a presence in their school. I feel sure that this is entirely possible, and reflects that second aspect of Catholic teaching on this question, namely that people who identify as LGBT should not be subject in any way to unjust discrimination. But it does require an acute intelligence and considerable care.

This need does not seem to me merely incidental to the mission of a Catholic school, particularly at secondary level. That mission is characterised by the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education as promoting two connected syntheses, those between "faith and culture" and between "faith and life" on the part of the members of the school community.
Homophobic bullying in our schools should be identified a source of shame, but so too are all other forms of bullying which undermine the dignity of the person. What Catholic schools really need is guidance and support in terms of how to remain faithful to Church teaching at a time when it is in opposition to the current zeitgeist. Sadly, this document is not that and has proved to be a wasted opportunity as well as a potential source of scandal and confusion. Very serious questions remain about the content, authorship and funding for distribution of this document and whether or not the CES may actually have overstepped it’s remit, which is after all, to serve the cause of Catholic education and educators rather than override and undermine the basic truths of Christ.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Pope Francis Apostolic Journey to Egypt

I was not able to follow Pope Francis' visit to Egypt as it happened, but have this morning read through the texts of some of his addresses. They can be linked from the website of the Holy See: Apostolic Journey of His Holiness Pope Francis to Egypt.

There are some quite robust passages in Pope Francis' addresses. This is from his meeting with government authorities and the diplomatic corps:
In the fragile and complex situation of today’s world, which I have described as “a world war being fought piecemeal”, it needs to be clearly stated that no civilized society can be built without repudiating every ideology of evil, violence and extremism that presumes to suppress others and to annihilate diversity by manipulating and profaning the Sacred Name of God. Mr President, you have spoken of this often and on various occasions, with a clarity that merits attention and appreciation.
All of us have the duty to teach coming generations that God, the Creator of heaven and earth, does not need to be protected by men; indeed, it is he who protects them. He never desires the death of his children, but rather their life and happiness. He can neither demand nor justify violence; indeed, he detests and rejects violence (“God… hates the lover of violence”: Ps 11:5). The true God calls to unconditional love, gratuitous pardon, mercy, absolute respect for every life, and fraternity among his children, believers and nonbelievers alike.
It is our duty to proclaim together that history does not forgive those who preach justice, but then practice injustice. History does not forgive those who talk about equality, but then discard those who are different. It is our duty to unmask the peddlers of illusions about the afterlife, those who preach hatred in order to rob the simple of their present life and their right to live with dignity, and who exploit others by taking away their ability to choose freely and to believe responsibly. Mr President, you said to me a few minutes ago that God is the God of freedom, and this is true. It is our duty to dismantle deadly ideas and extremist ideologies, while upholding the incompatibility of true faith and violence, of God and acts of murder.
And I was particularly struck by Pope Francis' account of education and dialogue in his address to an international peace conference ( the suggestion that wisdom places the past in dialogue with the present has an echo of the address that Pope Benedict XVI was unable to deliver at La Sapienza; and the use of the terms "civility" and "uncivility" has a certain elegance):
Education indeed becomes wisdom for life if it is capable of “drawing out” of men and women the very best of themselves, in contact with the One who transcends them and with the world around them, fostering a sense of identity that is open and not self-enclosed. Wisdom seeks the other, overcoming temptations to rigidity and closed-mindedness; it is open and in motion, at once humble and inquisitive; it is able to value the past and set it in dialogue with the present, while employing a suitable hermeneutics. Wisdom prepares a future in which people do not attempt to push their own agenda but rather to include others as an integral part of themselves. Wisdom tirelessly seeks, even now, to identify opportunities for encounter and sharing; from the past, it learns that evil only gives rise to more evil, and violence to more violence, in a spiral that ends by imprisoning everyone. Wisdom, in rejecting the dishonesty and the abuse of power, is centred on human dignity, a dignity which is precious in God’s eyes, and on an ethics worthy of man, one that is unafraid of others and fearlessly employs those means of knowledge bestowed on us by the Creator.
Precisely in the field of dialogue, particularly interreligious dialogue, we are constantly called to walk together, in the conviction that the future also depends on the encounter of religions and cultures. In this regard, the work of the Mixed Committee for Dialogue between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Committee of Al-Azhar for Dialogue offers us a concrete and encouraging example. Three basic areas, if properly linked to one another, can assist in this dialogue: the duty to respect one’s own identity and that of others, the courage to accept differences, and sincerity of intentions.
The duty to respect one’s own identity and that of others, because true dialogue cannot be built on ambiguity or a willingness to sacrifice some good for the sake of pleasing others. The courage to accept differences, because those who are different, either culturally or religiously, should not be seen or treated as enemies, but rather welcomed as fellow-travellers, in the genuine conviction that the good of each resides in the good of all. Sincerity of intentions, because dialogue, as an authentic expression of our humanity, is not a strategy for achieving specific goals, but rather a path to truth, one that deserves to be undertaken patiently, in order to transform competition into cooperation.
An education in respectful openness and sincere dialogue with others, recognizing their rights and basic freedoms, particularly religious freedom, represents the best way to build the future together, to be builders of civility. For the only alternative to the civility of encounter is the incivility of conflict; there is no other way. To counter effectively the barbarity of those who foment hatred and violence, we need to accompany young people, helping them on the path to maturity and teaching them to respond to the incendiary logic of evil by patiently working for the growth of goodness. In this way, young people, like well-planted trees, can be firmly rooted in the soil of history, and, growing heavenward in one another’s company, can daily turn the polluted air of hatred into the oxygen of fraternity.  
There is also a passage in this address on the relationship between religion and public life that has a recognisable reference to the speech of Benedict XVI in Westminster Hall:
This is a timely reminder in the face of a dangerous paradox of the present moment. On the one hand, religion tends to be relegated to the private sphere, as if it were not an essential dimension of the human person and society. At the same time, the religious and political spheres are confused and not properly distinguished. Religion risks being absorbed into the administration of temporal affairs and tempted by the allure of worldly powers that in fact exploit it. Our world has seen the globalization of many useful technical instruments, but also a globalization of indifference and negligence, and it moves at a frenetic pace that is difficult to sustain. As a result, there is renewed interest in the great questions about the meaning of life. These are the questions that the religions bring to the fore, reminding us of our origins and ultimate calling. We are not meant to spend all our energies on the uncertain and shifting affairs of this world, but to journey towards the Absolute that is our goal. For all these reasons, especially today, religion is not a problem but a part of the solution: against the temptation to settle into a banal and uninspired life, where everything begins and ends here below, religion reminds us of the need to lift our hearts to the Most High in order to learn how to build the city of man.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Tim Farron: well done for standing up to continued attack!

According to the report on the ITV news website, Tim Farron has again this morning resisted the pressure to express a view in favour of gay sex.

According to that report and its headline, two other well known MPs labelled him as "pretty offensive" for this, and expected that it will anger a lot of people.

Two thoughts:

Firstly, whilst I am not a defender of the giving of gratuitous offence, a reasoned expression of a diverse point of view that offends others who disagree with it is something quite different. That some might be offended by Tim Farron's way of responding to the challenges that he has faced on this issue seems to me to be a case where one can rightly say that there is no human right not to be offended - it is simply that they do not agree with what they think that Mr Farron might believe on the matter (and Tim Farron has been, so far as I can tell, and like Rocco Buttiglione before him, quite careful in not saying in the political forum what he might or might not believe on the matter). As Mr Farron is reported to have said, perhaps we should be talking about what genuinely might affect the election.

Secondly, Mr Gove's reported remarks display a quite considerable indifference to the notion that there might be an ethical question to be discussed with regard to the nature of the sexual expression of the love between persons (and his views of whether or not gay sex is a sin really do not have any relevance to political discussion - he has shown himself to be somewhat superficial in his political acumen compared to Mr Farron). I compare Mr Gove's words to those of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, adding italics to highlight their contrast:
Mr Gove added: "I agree with Liz. It'd have been perfectly possible for him to say 'Of course it's not a sin, it's how people love each other'.
"I'm a churchgoer too. I don't have any problem in saying that I think gay sex is absolutely not a sin."
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
It is not simply a question of "how people love each other". It is a question of what are ethically correct ways in which persons express their love for each other. Whilst the religious beliefs of a particular protagonist are not of relevance to the political arena - it is the question of non-discrimination that is of priority there - neither is indifference to the ethical question an appropriate stance.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Christians, politics and the LGBT agenda - UPDATED

Peter Williams, at the Catholic Herald, has a very able commentary on the recent experience of Tim Farron with regard to his perceived views about homosexuality: The outrage at Tim Farron could have serious consequences for Christians in politics.

A number of years ago, Rocco Buttiglione found himself in a not dissimilar situation when he was proposed as an EU commissioner by his own country, Italy. I cited his subsequent account of that episode in a post in 2015:
As you know, I was recently a candidate to be a European Commissioner. And as you also know, I was rejected for the position for expressing my Catholic beliefs on sexuality and marriage at the hearing (before the appointment). One may think: If we cannot express our principles in public we will seem to be ashamed of them. ….
I was not ashamed; but I was not provocative. I was prudent. I don't know if God would give me the courage to offer my head for my faith, like St. Thomas More... But a seat on the EU commission – yes, that I can offer. …  
They introduced the category of sin into the political discourse, and I said "No, in politics we may not speak of sin. We should speak of non-discrimination, and I am solidly opposed to discrimination against homosexuals, or any type of discrimination." I did not say that homosexuality is a sin, as many newspapers reported. I said, "I may think." It is possible that I think this, but I did not tell them whether I think it or not. What I think about this has no impact whatsoever on politics, because in politics the problem is the principle concerning discrimination and I accept that principle.  
That was not enough. They wanted me to say that I see nothing objectionable about homosexuality. This I cannot do because it is not what I think. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church it is written that, from a moral point of view, homosexuality is not a sin but rather an objectively disordered condition. Homosexuality can become a sin if one adds the subjective element, which is to say, full knowledge that this is wrong and also freedom of the will which accepts this wrong position. I was not allowed to say that and for this reason I was deemed not worthy to be a European commissioner.  
Catholics have the right to hold positions in the European Union. Is it conceivable that Catholics can be prohibited from exercising public office because of their Catholicism? Because they take the Church's position? Some say that the Catholic position on sexuality is aberrant, and this view should be grounds for discrimination at the EU, or in regard to holding public office. I do not want this to become accepted practice. They have established that a Catholic who says that perhaps it is possible that homosexuality would be a sin can be discriminated against. I found myself in a position in which I clearly had to decide with respect to whether I would keep my position, between my faith (or if not my faith at least the doctrine of my faith) or to accept being discriminated against. For my faith I was able to sacrifice a seat in the EU, which is not such an important thing. Ultimately, this is what happened.
I think Rocco Buttiglione's idea that the category of sin is not the correct category for political discourse makes a useful addition to Peter Williams' article.  It finds an echo, too, in Pope Benedict XVI's account of the right relationship between politics and religion, as expressed in his address in Westminster Hall in September 2010 (my italics added):
The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles. This “corrective” role of religion vis-à-vis reason is not always welcomed, though, partly because distorted forms of religion, such as sectarianism and fundamentalism, can be seen to create serious social problems themselves. And in their turn, these distortions of religion arise when insufficient attention is given to the purifying and structuring role of reason within religion. It is a two-way process. Without the corrective supplied by religion, though, reason too can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person. Such misuse of reason, after all, was what gave rise to the slave trade in the first place and to many other social evils, not least the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century. This is why I would suggest that the world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilization
What strikes me about the pressure exerted on both Tim Farron and Rocco Buttiglione is the way in which it demonstrates a deep seated unwillingness to engage in a political discussion at anything other than an ideological level. Any sense of objective moral principles in the field of sexual conduct is drowned out by the intimidating shouts of those promoting a complete societal normalisation of LGBT lifestyles; reasoning as to whether or not this is a morally right approach appears to be absent.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

A Quiet Passion: film reveiw

Zero and I went to see the film A Quiet Passion yesterday. It is well worth seeing, though it seems to be only reaching the more art house cinema venues. Cynthia Nixon and Jennifer Ehle are outstanding in their roles. Trailers here, here; and go here for Cynthia Nixon talking about Emily Dickinson and what it was like to play her in the film.

I found the camera work stunning, with a very real sense of composition in just about every single shot. Much of the film was shot in a studio replica of Emily Dickinson's home, which allowed striking use of windows and doors in scenes that indicated Emily's withdrawal into a highly individual seclusion. In particular, there are two striking scenes where the camera, placed in the centre of the room, pans round through a full 360 degrees to illustrate the life of the Dickinson home. The lighting of indoor scenes also fascinates.

I was also struck by the use of Emily's poetry in the film, this being done in an exceptionally effective way. For poetry that is very mysterious, it brought the texts to life. Emily, for example, is shown cradling her infant niece and reciting the poem "I'm nobody. Who are you?". Those who know Emily Dickinson's poetry better than I do (not difficult) will find this aspect of the film of interest, in part at least because of what it shows of the director's interpretation of the poems.

The nature of a film like this is that it will, in places, represent the character of its subject rather than being completely true to her life. Since I know little of the life of Emily Dickinson, I am not able to comment on how far this occurs in the film. A browse of he Emily Dickinson Museum website before or after seeing the film can shed some light on this - Emily, for example, did not allow the doctor into her room to examine her, so the diagnosis of Bright's Disease that appears on her death certificate and is portrayed in the film may not be considered accurate by everyone. And she apparently never met in person  the lady with whom her married brother was having an affair (and who, after Emily's death, co-edited the first published edition of her poetry).

Though Emily Dickinson does not appear to have held a conventional religious belief (she is shown exercising a certain rebellion against a style of Calvinist predestination in the opening scene of the film and later declines to go to Church on Sunday to the disappointment of her father), she is nevertheless fascinated by the relationship between this present life and eternity. The film also shows Emily and her sister Lavinia referring to the state of their souls. The question of the religious destiny of the person is therefore a theme that threads through the film though, reflecting Emily Dickinson herself, it does not receive an affirmative answer. Again, those who know Emily Dickinson better than I do are likely to find this aspect of the film of great interest.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Pope Francis' Easter addresses

During the celebration of Holy Week, the news has been full of tragic events, of unjust violence and of acts of war: the attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt, attacks in Syria directed against military targets but too often against civilians, tensions in the Korean peninsula, a huge bombing in Afghanistan.

Against this background, Pope Francis' litany prayed at the end of the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum on Good Friday, with an echo of the Reproaches of the Liturgy, struck me as being very appropriate:
O Christ! Our only Saviour, we return to you this year with eyes lowered in shame and hearts filled with hope:
Shame for all the images of devastation, destruction and wreckage that have become a normal part of our lives;
Shame for the innocent blood shed daily by women, children, migrants and people persecuted because of the colour of their skin or their ethnic and social diversity or because of their faith in You;
Shame for the too many times that, like Judas and Peter, we have sold you and betrayed you and left you alone to die for our sins, fleeing like cowards from our responsibilities;
Shame for our silence before injustices; for our hands that have been lazy in giving and greedy in grabbing and conquering; for the shrill voices we use to defend our own interests and the timid ones we use to speak out for other's; for our feet that are quick to follow the path of evil and paralyzed when it comes to following the path of good;
Shame for all the times that we Bishops, priests, consecrated men and women have caused scandal and pain to your body, the Church; for having forgotten our first love, our initial enthusiasm and total availability, leaving our hearts and our consecration to rust.
So much shame Lord, but our hearts also feel nostalgia for the confident hope that you will not treat us according to our merits but solely according to the abundance of Your mercy; that our betrayals do not diminish the immensity of your love; your maternal and paternal heart does not forget us because of the hardness of our own;
The certain hope that our names are etched in your heart and that we are reflected in the pupils of your eyes; the hope that your Cross may transform our hardened hearts into hearts of flesh that are able to dream, to forgive and to love; that it may transform this dark night of your cross into the brilliant dawn of your Resurrection;
The hope that your faithfulness is not based on our own;
The hope that the many men and women who are faithful to your Cross may continue to live in fidelity like yeast that gives flavour and like light that reveals new horizons in the body of our wounded humanity;
The hope that your Church will try to be the voice that cries in the wilderness for humanity, preparing the way for your triumphant return, when you will come to judge the living and the dead;
The hope that good will be victorious despite its apparent defeat!
O Lord Jesus! Son of God, innocent victim of our ransom, before your royal banner, before the mystery of your death and glory, before your scaffold, we kneel in shame and with hope and we ask that you bathe us in the blood and water that flowed from your lacerated heart; to forgive our sins and our guilt;
We ask you to remember our brethren destroyed by violence, indifference and war;
We ask you to break the chains that keep us imprisoned in our selfishness, our wilful blindness and in the vanity of our worldly calculations.
O Christ! We ask you to teach us never to be ashamed of your Cross, not to exploit it but to honour and worship it, because with it You have shown us the horror of our sins, the greatness of your love, the injustice of our decisions and the power of your mercy. Amen.
The same sadness - and yet hope - ran through Pope Francis' Urbi et Orbi address, with its reference to situations of suffering throughout the world:
Dear brothers and sisters, this year Christians of every confession celebrate Easter together. With one voice, in every part of the world, we proclaim the great message: “The Lord is truly risen, as he said!” May Jesus, who vanquished the darkness of sin and death, grant peace to our days.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

On the need for shame

I suspect that, when seen as a written word, Pope Francis' recent remarks about the need for a certain shame in the person who approaches the Sacrament of Confession come across differently than if they had been heard in their originality as a spoken word.

The Holy Father does, as is his wont, use a very vivid turn of phrase; and he also expresses himself in the negative rather than the positive.

But his essential message for those who frequent the Sacrament is: approach the Sacrament with a genuine shame, a genuine sense that you have done something wrong. The first prompt of conscience that draws you to the Sacrament is a good - but try to go further, deeper in responding to that first prompt.
... You have only gone to confession to carry out a banking transaction or an office task. You have not gone to confession ashamed of what you have done. You have seen stains on your conscience and have mistakenly believed that the confessional box is like the dry cleaners that removes those sins. You’re unable to feel shame for your sins.”
The shame being referred to here is of a very particular character. It is a response, by the person themselves, to a recognised wrong that they have done. It is not what might be expressed by the word "stigma" - that is, a shame imposed from outside by others or by society, a shame that has the effect of limiting the freedom of the individual rather than expressing it.

A reflection on what constitutes a healthy sense of shame is important in times when much of our society, lacking an objective sense of right and wrong, would do away with the notion of shame altogether.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Fatima: the apparition of St Joseph

After Our Lady had disappeared into the immense distance of the firmament, we beheld St Joseph with the Child Jesus and Our Lady robed in white with a blue mantle, beside the sun. St Joseph and the Child Jesus appeared to bless the world, for they traced the Sign of the Cross with their hands. When, a little later, this apparition disappeared, I saw Our Lord and Our Lady; it seemed to me that it was Our Lady of Dolours. Our Lord appeared to bless the world in the same manner as St Joseph had done. This apparition also vanished, and I saw Our Lady once more, this time resembling Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
This is the last paragraph of Sr Lucia's account of the final apparition at Fatima on 13th October 1917. The apparition of St Joseph with the Child Jesus in some way appears incidental to the main run of the apparitions. Yet, I cannot help but feel that the presence and action of St Joseph in the apparition has something to tell us that is of permanent value.

Despite having Joseph as my given name, I still find it difficult to place my namesake's mission, at a level more than the simply devotional, in the mystery of salvation and the Church. The Preface for the Mass of the feast day gives some indications (my italics added), but I am not sure that I sense those indications as being complete:
For this just man was given by you as spouse to the Virgin Mother of God and set as wise and faithful servant in charge of your household to watch like a father over your Only Begotten Son, who was conceived by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, our Lord Jesus Christ.
There is a clear reference to an earlier Joseph, who in Egypt had oversight of the economy of that country and who shared its wealth with his brothers when they fled famine in their own country. It is from this that St Joseph is recognised as patron of the Universal Church.

Adrienne von Speyr's partial account of Joseph's mission in her Book of All Saints (a record of her charismatic insights into the prayer of large number of saints) is interesting in this regard:
[Joseph] is of simple heart and perseveres in the openness of a surrender that he will never fully grasp. But he does not need to grasp it, because God did not fashion his mission as one part of a dual mission. His relationship to the Mother of Jesus cannot be compared, for example, to that between Benedict and Scholastica or between Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal; here, by contrast, one mission stands adjacent to the other, and it is Joseph's task to give support to Mary's mission in a very modest way. Just as you could not call them a couple, a married couple, so too you could not call theirs a dual mission. Joseph, the righteous man, is involved in something that at first frightens him; he does not understand it. But then grace brings him a certain understanding, even if it remains incomplete....
... Whenever some aspect of the Son, some aspect of his growing up and his mission, opens up to Joseph, he takes it immediately into prayer, because it belongs together so intimately with his own path that he must keep watch over it, too, in prayer .... He knows none of the disquiet that comes with reckoning. He knows that he has a share in many mysteries, even if it is not his responsibility to explore them. He is without curiosity, a simple and pious man.
Pope Francis devotion to St Joseph is well known. He has introduced St Joseph name into all the Eucharistic Prayers used at Mass and, more recently, has described how he entrusts his troubles in prayer to St Joseph.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Love the Church, love the Pope

I have previously written on this blog of my conviction that the Church has been gifted in recent times, not only with holders of the Papal Office of high ability, but also with precisely those holders of that office that corresponded to the needs of the Church at their time. I refer particularly to Popes Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI (and, in passing, to John Paul I, whose homilies/addresses during his short pontificate are a very striking foretaste of those of the Pope Emeritus during the early months of his pontificate); and, yes, to Pope Francis. John XXIII I know less well, but I have no doubt that my conviction would extend to include him.

Each brought to the Office of the Successor Peter their own particular "style" or gift: Paul VI's docility to the prompting of the Spirit, manifested in the declaration of Mary as Mother of the Church and in Humanae Vitae, both offered when many in the Church would not have wished for them; that of the philosopher in John Paul II, with his particular contribution in terms of the dignity of the person at Vatican II and in his subsequent apostolate; that of the theologian with Benedict XVI; and, finally, that of the pastor with Pope Francis.

In this context, I do find two things increasingly distasteful - and certainly, despite the claims of their authors to be "Catholic", profoundly un-Catholic. The first is a persistent denigration of Pope Francis words and actions by way of misrepresentation. To exemplify this, we can look at LifesiteNews report on the new statutes of the Pontifical Academy for Life:
Another drastic change for the PAV is the removal of the requirement for members to sign a “Declaration of the Servants of Life,” an avowal geared to members who are physicians and medical researchers, which makes explicit the members’ willingness to follow Church teaching on the sacredness of human life and an obligation to not perform “destructive research on the embryo or fetus, elective abortion, or euthanasia.”
The removal of such a statement can hardly be seen as removing something superfluous. The very founding of the PAV aimed to counteract cultural trends of the “culture of death,” as St. Pope John Paul II has called secularized modern culture.
What their report fails to say is that there are provisions in the new statutes that give effect to what would previously have been intended by the signing of the Declaration:
Article 5 n.5 (b) New Academicians commit themselves to promoting and defending the principles regarding the value of life and the dignity of the human person, interpreted in a way consonant with the Church’s Magisterium. ..... 
n.5 (e) Status as an Academician can be revoked pursuant to the Academy’s own Regulations in the event of a public and deliberate action or statement by a Member clearly contrary to the principles stated in paragraph (b) above, or seriously offensive to the dignity and prestige of the Catholic Church or of the Academy itself. ......
The second thing I find distasteful are some of the evaluations of Pope Francis being offered to mark the fourth anniversary of his election to the See of St Peter. Two examples, rather different in style, are here and here (with their publicity offered to a particular coterie of commenters). Both are, frankly, nothing more than gossip, more or less recycled, with an effect that is certainly malicious. I do think a serious examination of conscience on the part of these authors is called for.

As suggested at the start of this post, I stand with Pope Francis, and want to learn from him how I can be a better Christian. This is what appears to me an authentic Catholic attitude.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Melanie peut le faire

Occasionally one comes across an absolutely lovely story: Melanie peut le faire. I think it's a story Jerome Lejeune will have enjoyed from his place in heaven.

And here, even on "take two", the children still managed to steal the show!

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Fatima: sacrifices for souls

The Collects at Mass during these early days of Lent remind us very much of the character of self-denial that is a feature of this season. The recently adopted English translations appear to me to bring this out with a clarity that represents a strength of those translations.

The Collect for the Friday of the first week of Lent reads:
Grant that your faithful, O Lord, we pray, may be so conformed to the paschal observances, that the bodily discipline now solemnly begun may bear fruit in the souls of all.
In the course of the events at Fatima, a key message of the Angel whose apparitions presaged those of the Virgin Mary herself was that of offering sacrifices. At the first apparition, in Sr Lucia's account, the Angel invited the children to pray:
My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love You! I ask pardon of You for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love You!".
At the second apparition, the Angel urged the children to offer prayers and sacrifices to the Most High:
"Make of everything you can a sacrifice, and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which he is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners."
In her memories of Jacinta, Sr Lucia repeatedly tells stories of how Jacinta made little sacrifices within her daily life, and encouraged the other children in doing likewise, in the spirit of the Angel's request. So, for example, during a day in the fields with the sheep, they might have given their lunch to those they met who were poorer than themselves.

In the spirit of my earlier post marking the Fatima anniversary, my literary investigation of this theme took me next to the life of St Edith Stein. Identifying with Queen Esther, Edith made a particular offering of her life for the Jewish people, as witnessed in a letter of 31st October 1938 ....
And [I also trust] in the Lord's having accepted my life for all of them [ie here own family]. I keep having to think of Queen Esther who was taken from among her own people precisely that she might represent them before the king. I am a very poor and powerless little Esther, but the King who chose me is infinitely great and merciful. That is such a great comfort.
... and by the words that she was heard to say to her sister Rosa as they were both arrested by the Germans at the convent in Echt:
Come, Rosa, we are going for our people. 
My third step was to the story of Cassie Bernall, who died during the Columbine School shootings of 20th April 1999. Though some news reports suggest that Cassie's reported exchange with the student who shot her has in fact been mistaken for the dialogue with another student (who survived), nevertheless a key witness has remained certain of his attribution of the exchange to Cassie. Asked if she believed in God, Cassie is reported to have replied "Yes" before being shot. Cassie's mother has written the story of her daughter - a fraught and challenging teenager, who experienced a conversion to Christ - in a book She said Yes: the unlikely martyrdom of Cassie Bernall. In the book, Misty Bernall reports the words of a pastor who knew Cassie during the two years immediately before her death:
Cassie struggled like everyone struggles, but she knew what she had to do to let Christ live in her. It's called dying to yourself, and it has to be done daily. It means learning to break out of the selfish life ....It's not a negative thing, but a way of freeing yourself to live life more fully.
The world looks to Cassie's "yes" of April 20, but we need to look at the daily "yes" she said day after day, month after month, before giving that final answer....
It's not a question of doing great deeds, but of being selfless in small things. Cassie used to come with us to a ministry for crack addicts downtown. We'd eat with the guys, and play basketball, or just hang out with them. That's what it's all about..... Reaching out, being willing to make sacrifices for something bigger than your own happiness and comfort.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Sadness

I can't help but feel sad that, to mark International Womens Day, the women of Ireland were asked to dress in black and protest in favour of making abortion freely available in their country.

Surely the freedom of women to participate in the life of their nations and communities is not dependent on their being able to abort their unborn children ....

.... and the celebration of International Womens Day could have reflected that wider participation.

However, I did rather like the idea that Easyjet and Lufthansa adopted - flying all women crews on some of their flights today.