Sunday, 22 November 2015

Education for tomorrow; last day

From Mr McDermott, in Rome this week:At the final session today of the World Catholic education congress...
Posted by Chavagnes International College on Saturday, November 21, 2015

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Two news events that US and UK Catholics haven't noticed

Just briefly, I want to draw the attention of concerned Catholics to two international news events whose timing (last Sunday and Monday, right at the end of the Rome Synod on the Family) is especially poignant.

First, after years of dispute the Italian Council of State decided on Monday to quash court decisions that had allowed left-wing mayors in Italy to keep public registers of so-called "gay marriages". The Council of State, fresh from reading the final Relatio of the Synod, no doubt, announced on Monday that gay marriages are against human rights because they do not take into account the need to treat different groups equally but differently, hence marriage is for men and women but not for homosexuals.

Tuesday's Corriere della Serra seemed relieved and approving about this. They mentioned that 13 countries in the EU have either gay marriage or civil unions, and 9 (including Italy) have no special provision at all. So that, now, is the definitive position of Italy, because the Council of State is the final court of appeal. And in parliamentary politics, the issue is long dead, especially now that the Italians have interpreted the Pope as saying "divoziati si, ommosessuali no!" (Even if that is not exactly what was said at the Synod, but still ...)

Second, in Poland, on Sunday the traditionalist and Eurosceptic Justice and Law Party (PiS) was elected to government with a programme of repealing the law that made IVF legal, probably abolishing abortion completely, and generally reinforcing traditional Catholic and pro-life values. The line taken by the Synod, and by the Polish bishops especially, will give that political programme real wheels.

"In Poland, there is no value system that could realistically compete ... with the teachings of the church," PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said just days before the election in a TV interview.

"If someone fights this system, then regardless of whether they are a believer or not, they favour nihilism," said Kaczynski, twin brother of Poland's late president Lech Walesa and devout Catholic.

The Sunday election result coincided with the Polish bishops' statement (following on from the Synod) that in Poland, at least, there will be no change to Catholic pastoral discipline with regard to the sacraments.

Interestingly, across the border in Poland's historic enemy, Russia, the Russian orthodox church has started to wake up to the problem of abortion, and its bishops are starting to condemn it more and more. And if there is one country where gay marriage will not happen in any of our lifetime's, it is certainly Russia. Poland had long seen its history as a constant struggle between Rome and Byzantium, but remember that it was a Polish pope who first coined the expression about Europe needing to breathe from both its lungs: East and West.

With Putin now positioning himself as a defender of Christians against Islamic oppression, with a massive new tide of anti-abortion sentiment in the US, with these interesting developments in Poland and Italy, and the recent Rome Synod's stance against abortion, gay marriage and the gender theory, the whole geo-political scene is now acquiring a new moral, cultural and even spiritual dimension. In 2004 when the future Benedict XVI talked about the dictatorship of relativism and the threat posed by Islamic fundamentalism, he was something of a lone voice. Now, a decade later, millions of people around the world are beginning to agree with him. As Lech Walesa's brother has it, those who don't agree, "regardless of whether they are a believer or not, favour nihilism". And nihilism, I can promise you, is going nowhere.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

The Pope is inhumanely busy

I have been visiting various people in the Roman curia recently. They seem to have an interesting working week. They start quite early, but finish about 1pm for lunch, then pop in to pick up their coats around 4 or 5, before going home at about 6. The only afternoon they work is a Tuesday.

But there is one man who doesn't follow this Roman rhythm, and that is the Holy Father.

After the exhausting synod, which only finished on Sunday, the Pope had already managed by yesterday night to have held Masses and meetings with the Syrian Chaldeans (to whom he gave support in their time of trial), a conference of Army Chaplains (whom he reminded about the need for peace) and an enormous multitude of thousands of gypsies/travelers, many of them Irish.

I bought today's Avvenire to see what he said to them, and it is very interesting. He told them that of course society needed to fight prejudice against them. But he also said: enough is enough! There have been too many tragedies with your children (mainly to do with violence). Do not stop you children going to school! And also : you are the masters of your present and of your future. Do not give cause to society to think ill of you! He then spoke of the recent rise in vocations from the Romany community, including nuns, priests and one bishop. It was paternal, it was very much in touch with reality, and it was full of love.

The travelers loved it, although I guess the Irish didn't understand a word of it. I saw one traveler girl, her beautiful body trussed up in a tight, bright purple t-shirt and even tighter bright purple ski pants. She had masses of hair which had never been cut, her face dominated by very amateur eye-brow thinning and a what can only be described as a make-up massacre. We were in St Peter's a few days ago and she was coming out of confession, a tear in her eye and en enormous smile on her clumsy face. A day in a beauty parlour would have turned into another Sophia Loren. But I guess it will never happen. I met her again later, having dinner with four older ladies. They all ordered pizza, with lots of extra chips, and plenty of Fanta. The poor girl is not going to keep her figure.

Yesterday, I was strolling along near the Vatican and saw a man holding out a plate of small samples of pizza. Two enormous traveler ladies, just out from the Papal audience, were helping themselves to the whole plate of free samples, with the waiter powerless to stop them. They were Irish. A couple of men, also Irish travelers, sitting on the terrazzo at the same café, shouted out to them several times: "Oi! It's the ones like you that gives us a bad name!" These men, judging from their sharp appearance and the way they were studying the menu, must have been able to read the helpfully provided English translation of the Holy Father's advice at the audience ... but most of them can't in fact read (hence the insistence that they should not stop their children going to school.)

I remember years ago helping our priest teach traveler children for their First Communion. The day before the big day he asked them "who's that now, up on the Cross?". "Is it Joseph, Father?" the sparkiest little boy asked. There was at the same time a beautiful girl being confirmed, aged 18, prior to her wedding day. She could not read a word. Apart from a dogged attachment to her faith she did not seem to be able to enunciate many of its doctrines, and yet she was probably fairly unusual in this day and age in one other respect too: she was a virgin on her wedding day and she will never divorce her husband, whatever happens.

I served a funeral Mass for an Irish Gypsy King once. He lay there, stinking with untreated cancer of the intestine, in an open coffin, a blue silk gown on him and a crown, made of twisted corn. His wife, whom he had beaten many times, who had tried to hang herself on several occasions, and none of whose seven or eight children could read, stood by the coffin. When we tried to put the lid on, she screamed and wailed "My king, my king, my king!!" Nobody except the parish priest and I sang the hymns. A tape-recording of Johnny Cash accompanied the offertory collection, in which many large notes were thrown in the basket. Most did not come to communion. But at the sermon, the special Gypsy chaplain used the occasion (as the Directory for Funerals says you should) to encourage the people to come back to regular Sunday Mass.

Outside, after the Mass, there was a racehorse present (his Late Gypsy Majesty had owned half of it), lots of flowers and a couple of police vans. More ritual wailing ensued, and the police took a couple of lads, in beautiful black suits and ties, back into custody. The were serving life sentences for killing their relations.

I remember that a couple of months before he died the Gypsy King came to Church on Good Friday, with a whole entourage, all desperate to stock up on trinkets from the piety stand. The king knelt for a good half an hour before the Crucifix, after the service, praying alone. The lady who wanted to lock the church was starting to get rather cross. But the king of the Gypsies obviously had his priorities straight: he knew that he only had a short time left before he would meet his Maker.

A couple of lessons, from all this, perhaps:

Yes, there should be no unjust discrimination. But equally, any groups who are victims of discrimination should strive not to exacerbate their plight by becoming parodies of the stereotype. Not just gypsies, but also the new wave of immigrants. (And also, homosexuals ... does the Church really have to doctor its language so as not to upset the poor, sensitive luvvies? Come on guys, just man up!)

The other lesson is that the Pope is a busy and well-meaning leader. But he can sometimes get angry, and -dare i say it? - even nasty (he was never so nasty as when he witheringly accused some of his brother bishops of lack of charity the other day ..) but it is just his way; and then he hasn't the time to stop and think about the irony or oddness of some of his sayings. (Although he makes sure to do so when he is teaching solemnly, thank God). At least he cares enough to get angry. Beyond all this, he is just trying his best to reform everyone and everything, and that can be an exasperating role; even if it can make for an exasperating relationship all round. In a sense, I think he is trying to make up for some of the sins of omission and commission of his own youth, and he has said so himself. So perhaps he over-compensates.

But the man is like a machine. Everyone else in the Curia was taking a breather on Sunday and Monday after the exhausting Synod, but not the Holy Father. He had Chaldeans to console, army chaplains to turn into peace-makers, gypsies to encourage and berate. He needs our prayers, and our love ... I think that he is often frustrated with us, and we with him. It's just that we are not used to seeing that kind of leadership style. I think, in my leadership style as a Headmaster I am similarly frustrated and frustrating.  We just have to bear with each other, that's all.

The Italian papers today seem to signal that it is time to move on ... perhaps they jumped the gun on announcing big changes yesterday, and they admit it. They are now saying that we need to wait for the Pope to digest it all and come up with an apostolic exhortation about the Family, or something similar. And they are starting to read the whole of the Synod document and realizing that there is a lot there that will make a positive contribution to the Church's mission to families in the years to come.

So let's all just slow down, pray for the Pope, and remember that we all (absolutely no exceptions, even Popes and Cardinals, even bloggers) need to stay charitable and prayerful; because unlike the King of the Gypsies, we don't know when our hour will come. It could be tomorrow. So be ready.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

The Synod's Final Word

Just been reading the FINAL document from the Synod on the Family (out this evening), and it seems to be rather interesting and sensible. No revolution on doctrine, just being aware of changing priorities. On the doctrinal front, the teaching of Paul VI and John Paul II is amply referred to. The indissolubility of marriage is mentioned, with quotes from scripture. On homosexuality, the Synod quotes Benedict XVI and especially warns that individual local churches should not give in to government pressure to accept the notion of 'marriage' for those of the same sex. They also underline the scandal of international aid being linked to the adoption of such laws in African countries. It is in Italian and will probably not be translated:…/pubbli…/2015/10/24/0816/01825.html
There is some (perhaps deliberate) obfuscation in the paragraphs about pastoral care of the divorced and remarried ... but the idea of somehow devolving key areas of doctrinal and moral teaching to bishops' conferences has been avoided.
On the other hand there is some serious thought given to preparing couples for marriage and also giving them proper instruction in Catholic teaching. There is also a condemnation of the killing of embryos in IVF treatment, and the general reiteration of respect for life from conception to natural death.
There is also a general feeling that children and families are what the Church is all about. That is good. There is a prayer to the Holy Family at the end.
That's my take on it. Could be a good thing. Too early to say.

Saturday in Rome

My bedroom window (in a cheap little hotel near the main station) overlooks the Baths of Diocletian, the largest bath complex ever built, ranging over 32 acres. Apparently it was restored in the beginning of the 6th century under the pontificate of Pope Symmachus and the reign of King Theoderic.
Pope Symmachus was the last pagan convert to become Pope.

So I went and had a look. It was a Charterhouse full of monks for a few generations. Part of it is now a beautiful, light and airy basilica, designed about 400 years ago. Lots of Roman tombstones, milestones, columns and headless statues from around the city. And an art exhibition of Henry Moore which I wasn't prepared to pay 13 euros for.

Then I strolled up to the Victor Emmanuel monument (the 'wedding cake') and decided to climb all the steps. There is a 'sacrum' as in the ancient legion camps in the Roman army. It houses all the tattered flags of the various regiments of the Italian armed forces in reverential glass cases. Of course, except for a few from the days of the Kingdom of Italy (the House of Savoy), they are all the same: red, white and green. About 300 of them ... not especially interesting.

There is also a tomb of the 'unknown soldier' from World War One. Although the whole monument is rather pagan, the tomb of the warrior is surrounded by images of soldier saints (Sebastian and George) and there is a consecrated marble altar for Masses to be said for his soul. It as all installed by the King in 1921.

One might be forgiven for noticing that on the same hill there is the Basilica of Maria Arca Coeli, which is mainly famous for its ancient Bambino which is held up for veneration every 25th of the month. I popped in and lit a candle. There is some very fine renaissance art there. It seemed somehow more homely and prayerful than some of the other more crowed Roman basilicas.

One has to go down the steps and up again to get to the Capitoline, also called the Campidoglio. Either side of the steps are the gigantic and nonchalantly naked Castor and Pollux, each with horse. The Statues were restored by the renaissance popes, who also had Michaelangelo design a beautiful square at the top of the hill; the buildings now house a museum, filled with roman statuary.

Most impressive of all is the equestrian stature of Marcus Aurelius, unique, because most bronze works were melted down for the metal.

Then behind is the Forum; still very impressive. I'd visited before, so I skipped that. Instead I found another column, just like Trajan's but with St Paul on top instead of St Peter.

The inscriptions said that Pope Sixtus V who restored this other column, originally erected by Marcus Aurelius, had first removed any signs of impiety from it. But I think that was just to reassure the faithful that they could venerate it as a monument to St Paul without any qualms about sacrilege; he didn't remove much if anything.  He also points out that before he found it the column was in a sadly deteriorated state. The main theme of the column is the Romans crushing the barbarians (mainly the Germans). In another inscription Pope Sixtus reflects that St Paul's preaching of the Crucified Christ conquered not just the barbarians, but also the Romans themselves.

Ended the day with evening Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, with beautiful Marian devotions before and after, in the cosy Salesian style.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Much ado about nothing

This animation from a Chavagnes outdoor production of Much Ado About Nothing seemed strangely appropriate to this week's ecclesiastical events ...

If you are looking for miracles, and other funny things in Rome

Popped into San Lorenzo in Damaso today (on the Corso Vittorio), thinking there was a Mass on. I had got the time wrong so went out again; but as I was leaving, I spotted two intriguing angels above the door with an invitation not to be missed: Si quaeris miracula ... "if you are looking for miracles". So I went back inside and asked for several.

There is, it seems, a 13th century prayer to St Anthony, especially enjoined for those trying to find something lost.

in Latin, it runs:

Si quaeris miracula/Mors, error calamitas/Daemon, lepra fugiunt/Aegri surgunt sani. 

Here is an English translation: 

If, then, thou seekest miracles,
Death, error, all calamities,
The leprosy and demons flee,
The sick, by him made whole, arise.

The sea withdraws and fetters break,
And withered limbs he doth restore,
While treasures lost are found again,
When young or old his help implore.

All dangers vanish from our path,
Our direst needs do quickly flee:
Let those who know repeat the theme:
Let Paduans praise St. Anthony.

The sea withdraws...

Glory be ...

The sea withdraws...

V. Pray for us, O blessed Anthony,
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray:
Let Thy Church, O God, be gladdened by the solemn commemoration of blessed Anthony Thy Confessor: that she may be evermore defended by Thy spiritual assistance and merit to possess everlasting joy. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.


I also had a coffee in a little bar/café whose only sign was a picture of an ice-cream and some large red letters proclaiming "YOGURT, CREEPS"

It turned out to be an advert for frozen yogurt and CREPES.


Then I came across about a dozen cardinals, all in red, hanging around waiting for something to happen in the entrance of the Museo Nazionale di Palazzo di Venezia. They looked very cheerful. There was a colourful Swiss guard too, sitting down, with his legs stretched out, having a rest. I wondered what the guard was doing outside of Vatican territory, in full dress uniform. I guess he was guarding the cardinals; although I've never seen a Swiss guard having a little nap before.

After my diatribe against Italian men yesterday, I am feeling a bit guilty. Perhaps the colourful renaissance heritage of Italians is something the Church really needs. Imagine if the papacy were based in Paris, London or Dublin ...  If we are created in the image and likeness of God, then perhaps there is a kind of moral imperative for us to look nice and smart, and even colourful.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

The italians may be like naughty boys, but their bishops know how to deal with them

Two dashing Italian policemen (with dainty little swords)
share an Ipod, in a break from hunting down the Mafia.
I snapped this when in was in Sicily last time.
Interesting how the Italian bishops come out of this synod as holding the line on Christian morality.

There is a sense in which the Italians know so much about sin that they have no illusions about it.

There are about six different kinds of policemen here (perhaps more), all with different, super-stylish, uniforms. There is even a special police force, with guns, for tax evasion. There is no smoke without fire: Italians obviously need an awful lot of policing ...

The Termini railway station is full of beautiful photos of women in revealing underwear. (Even if the women in the streets are less elegant than their Parisian counterparts, I feel.)

But then there are Italian men. La bella figura runs deep here. A good portion of Italian men must lose ten hours out of their working week on looking after their appearance; Rome is full of posters, on every street corner, listing the reasons to oppose gay marriage and adoption (they are the single most common poster in Rome this week), and yet when I went to buy shoe polish today, I noticed they were promoting a special nourishing make-up product for men's pectoral and abdominal muscles. For whose benefit, one wonders? Is this to please their wives?

Me, with a proper Italian bishop.

Married businessmen quite often have a 'little friend'; if, that is, they don't have a mistress, or so I am told. All the men have handbags ... and the policemen just look too swish to actually chase criminals.

Walking back from the Vatican today I saw, for the first time in my life, an amazing machine, lit up like a Christmas tree, with a dozen - yes a dozen - different condom varieties on offer. This was on the Roman equivalent of Oxford street or the Champs Elysés.

Italians are sensual people. Which means the food is great. But the sex can be morally problematic. And they probably only fiddle their tax to pay for better wine and dinners or prettier mistresses. But it also means they have enough experience of the joys and sorrow of the human condition to be good arbiters about what we really ought to be doing.

That's why they have so many policemen, and so many very conservative bishops.

In Rome, on business ...

The Synod is ending here in Rome. Spoke to some African synod fathers today. Atmosphere upbeat, I feel; but that may be because it has stopped raining and the bishops are tired and just want to go to home.

Popped into the Libreria Editrice Vaticana today. I see that the Pontifical Council for the Family brought out a whole list of very large books on the family, in Italian, in time for the synod. You can't get them in English. They include a 3546-page Enchiridion of magisterial teaching on family and life issues from 1439 to the Present Day.…/enchiridion-della-…

Which explains why the Italian bishops have been so incredibly well-informed during the Synod (it came out on the first day and I guess they have been able to skim through it during coffee breaks). It's all good stuff; good of the Pontifical Council for the Family to do all that work. One wonders how many copies have sold though ...

Romans 1:26-32 anyone? Come to mind especially as the Cardinal from Mumbai made a very surprising intervention about the perceived need to adopt a less negative language about homosexuality...Very stern penalties are envisaged by St Paul for those who promote immorality... I wonder if the German bishops have been reading St Paul's Epistle to the Romans. It was (for other reasons) Luther's favourite ...

Glad I am not a theologian.

Monday, 12 October 2015

When we know what we've got to do ...

I prayed, and understanding was given me;
I entreated, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me.
I esteemed her more than sceptres and thrones;
compared with her, I held riches as nothing.

That was the first reading at Mass yesterday morning, and the Fathers at the Synod in Rome must have been moved by it. Just like the previous Sunday, when the Gospel contained Jesus' clear condemnation of adultery, this week's readings will certainly speak to the heart, but in a different way.

The Gospel yesterday, from St Mark, tells the tale of the devout young Jewish man who wants to know how to gain eternal life in Heaven. Jesus' answer is about respect for the moral law: the ten commandments. And then when the young man says that he follows them all, but still desires to serve God better, Jesus asks him to go a step further and give away all his wealth.

St John Paul II used the same story, but in the version from St Matthew's Gospel, in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor. He uses the story to show how the Lord calls us to be morally good; but that also this desire to  serve God flows from a place deep in our hearts. Deep in our being, we know the truth of the moral law, and we may even already have an idea of our particular vocation.

In the story, the young man knows that God is asking him to do more even than to follow the commandments, and yet when he hears what that vocation is, he turns away sadly because he cannot bring himself to answer that call.

The bishops at the Synod are like that young man; the Lord looks on them and loves them, as he did with the devout young Jew. And yet those bishops, like rest of us, have a good idea of what God is aksing them to do. We cannot hide from God; we cannot deceive ourselves for long as to his commandments. As St Paul writes to the Hebrews, in yesterday's epistle:

"The word of God is something alive and active: it cuts like any double-edged sword but more finely: it can slip through the place where the soul is divided from the spirit, or joints from the marrow; it can judge the secret emotions and thoughts. No created thing can hide from him; everything is uncovered and open to the eyes of the one to whom we must give account of ourselves."
Let's pray that those good men will search the Scriptures, and that the clear and beautiful teachings of Christ will be allowed to speak to the world. Just imagine a young man going to Christ today and asking what he needed to do to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. wouldn't Christ address him "where he was at" but lead him to a better place? Christ should be a the starting point of the reflections at the Synod.

When Paul VI and John Paul II made moral pronouncements about the way Catholics should live, everyone knew about them. We need a clear list of marching orders for the modern world, in the areas where ordinary Catholics can easily get it wrong. A priest friend of mine recently told me that members of his parish had undergone IVF and produced a series of test-tube babies, one of which was implanted in the mother's womb and subsequently presented for baptism, while the others were left in the freezer in the hospital, for a rainy day ... the priest discovered that the family had no idea that IVF presents a whole list of moral problems and is not permitted by the Church. I have had boys attend my school who were test tube babies, and their Catholic parents were similarly unaware of the issues. One acquaintance, outside the school, is going forward for the permanent diaconate, and I am not sure if he is properly aware of the moral issues surrounding his own children born by IVF, and indeed the ones who still remain in cold storage ...

Another priest-friend recently preached to his congregation about the Synod and told the people that the Church was not going to change her position on access to the sacraments for remarried divorcees. Two men who were in this situation and were regular Mass-goers came to see my friend and asked him if that meant they should not themselves have been receiving Communion for the last few years. When they heard the answer they were a little saddened, but have continued to attend Mass, but not to receive Communion. It is a fair bet than a great many Catholics have somehow not understood or heard about the teaching of the Church, or have a vague idea that the Church no longer has any teaching about such matters.
There is also an incredible blindness about the internet. Many people spend more time on the internet than they do relating to those around them. Internet creates new communities, so that Facebook, for example, threatens the position of the family as the main pillar of society. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Perhaps we need guidance from the Pope.

Then, internet pornography not only destroys the intimacy of marriage, but also makes it increasingly difficult for the next generation of married couples, who are already psychologically and spiritually compromised before marriage. Over time, it does tend to pervert its users who are in search of newer and different thrills; so that even quite young people can become hooked and perverted (not just turned into sex addicts, but also into homosexuals, paedophiles or men who feel the need to be violent and abusive to women in order to gain sexual pleasure). Over the years I have noticed that it also makes people irritable, unreliable, impatient ... It is one of the greatest threats to the family in our modern world. And yet, it could easily be stopped by governments. If governments refuse, then at least the Church should be helping families deal with the problem.

There is also the problem of families who are divided for economic reasons. Social injustices often lead to situations where fathers work away from home for months on end in order to support the families they love. And yet such situations can lead to terrible strain on marriages, and to family break-up. The Church needs to come to the rescue of these people.

Strangely, just about the time when intellectuals of all religions and none are beginning to see and appreciate the prophetic nature of Paul VI's letter Humanae Vitae, some senior churchmen seem to want to sweep it under the carpet. And with the suggestion that homosexual couples should be given unfettered access to the sacraments, there is the suggestion that the magic wand of individual conscience can somehow make the sex lives of such people 'ok' (specifically the mainstays of gay sex: sodomy, mutual and individual masturbation, regular use of hard pornography, etc, etc, quite literally ad nauseam). Where does that leave everyone else? So does that mean it's ok for mothers and fathers, and kids at school too? If so, what's wrong with contraception? Or indeed, with adultery ... Once the taboos come down, can we really hold out against paedophilia? Shouldn't we follow the example of several countries where the age of legal sexual activity just keeps going down and down (12 or 13 in some countries.) Again, all of this is a huge threat to the family.
The Church needs to speak, and act.

There was a time when many good priests wondered if it might not do more harm than good to speak about sexuality. But now, we can see that many good people are being led to this sea of filth and are drowning in it. Clear teaching, lovingly expressed, and resolute pastoral action would be a lifeline from holy Mother Church. The odd thing is that the progressives are not really interested in 'teaching the truth with love' as St Francis de Sales did, but instead in changing the teaching to suit the depraved modern world. This is because they have perhaps forgotten what love really is: something that involves giving and sacrifice, and not just taking.

A saddening truth is not so much the underlying problems have changed. Men have always been tempted to impurity. The devil knows that our creative faculty is one that is tied up in a special way with our relationship to God, so of course he wants to knock it off course. What has changed, as it does in every age, is perhaps the forms that the temptations take; and also the lack of confidence on the part of the Church at providing guidance and support, because of false notions of individual liberty (the freedom to hang oneself is not freedom ...)

And what about purity as a virtue, rather than as an imposition? What about the truth that it is the pure of heart who can, according to the Lord Jesus, see God best? Isn' t this something great to aspire to, and to live out in our individual vocations, whatever they may be? What about the age-old teachings we used to hear from confessors that lack of purity leads to selfishness, to lack of charity, to hardness of heart, even to defective reasoning because of the inability to look up from one's own situation ... ? 

What about the fate of the elderly? Isn't that one of the first things that comes to mind when Jesus says: "It is not good for man to be alone." In fact, friendship, comradeship and kindness are what make it relatively easy to lead a pure life. Loneliness and isolation are what make it difficult. In the past, old people were respected, listened to, loved ... Recently when I was having a heated debate with our local newsagent about the sale of pornographic magazines in his shop, he told me that his main customers were elderly people, and that boys were more interested in football and car magazines.

But how is it possible that there should be Christians who are lonely? What does the Church have to say to those who are? We cannot say simply: "Sorry, you can just remain lonely and isolated, but you must also be pure." Lonely people need to be helped to wholeness. This is true of all those in difficult situations (the divorced; those with a homosexual orientation; the elderly, especially widows and widowers). Legal fixes will not help them. The solutions come from one heart to another: they need to be loved.

Doesn't it strike anyone as odd that the same Church that knows that it is custodian of the sacraments is now being cast in a new light as "the custodian of sex", poised to hand out this healing balm to all those desperate for it? We are hearing the message that easier "guilt-free" access to sex, especially for Catholics struggling with homosexuality, will solve all man's problems. It is a false Gospel, and was already denounced as one by St Paul, addressing the Corinthians.

So, what about a new HUMANAE VITAE, that sets out the Church's teaching on all these subjects in a new and compelling way (as the Catechism of the Catholic Church did so well) but also proposes radical pastoral action to reach out the lonely, the broken, the struggling and also to Catholic families who want to bring up the children in a wholesome and holy way, but need more support to do so?

The central part of such a document could be the family as the school of Christian love; and how, in keeping with biblical traditions on the family, the Catholic family can and must have a transforming effect on society. For a true Catholic family is a wonder to behold, with the wife like a fruitful vine in the heart of the home, the children like shoots of the olive, around the table; fine sons like a sheaf of arrows, and a beautiful wife who reaches her hand out to the poor ...
We know what we've got to do. The bishops know what we need to do. We just need to do it. And God, and the world, are waiting ...

Friday, 9 October 2015

Cautious optimism called for: Common ground and common sense at the synod.

Having just read the reports of all the different languages groups for Day 5 of the Synod, this is my overall impression of what all the bishops are saying. It is good stuff, and, for a change, is not pointing the finger at the world; rather, encouraging the Church to do what is necessary in order to preach the authentic mesage of Christ.

1. There should be less Eurocentrism. One can see that the bishops from outside Europe are staggered at the European bishops' myopic vision.
2. We need more teaching on the centrality of the family; and the Italian bishops underline that this should explicitly mention that it is about a MAN and a WOMAN.
3. A "clear magisterial intervention" is needed to clear up the confusion which has been cause by the synodal process. Although Cardinal Tagle has explained there will not necessarily be a post-synodal exhortation, it seeems that most bishops think one is necessary.
4. The Chuch needs to do more to support families who are doing well, thank God, living the Christian life, against a multitude of a challenges; in fact, the number of good Catholic marriages may well be increasing worldwide.
5. Avoid an overly negative view which seems blind to all the wonderful, faithful Catholic families, and all the signs of renewal.
6. There is a call for a condemnation of the modern THEORY OF GENDER.
7. The Church needs to speak in simple, direct and evangelical language; using the style of the Lord Jesus and St Paul.

The German language group was surprisingly restrained, but most other groups were not afraid to be critical of the poor quality of the Instrumentum Laboris.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Could this be the storm before the calm?

"We can talk a lot about God, and in the end, do so without faith", said Cardinal Mueller a couple of weeks before last year’s Synod on the Family in Rome.  And now, a year later, and another Synod about to happen, I am thinking it is the most sensible observation I've noted out of all the soundbites over the last twelve months on those subjects of divorce and homosexual relationships.

And now a Monsignor from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has just planted a kind of philosophical bomb in the Synod Hall by calling a press conference to tell the world that he has a live-in boyfriend, and that all priests would if they could ...

It is precisely the kind of happening that could discourage us all into a kind of paralysis or even indifference, at least towards any news or pronouncements from Rome. We know our Faith. Wouldn’t it be much easier if we just ignored the news from the Vatican?

In a sense, this is a salutary truth. We do know our Faith. And we should just get on with the important, difficult but rewarding task of living it, and following our Saviour.

But like every heresy, it is a truth mixed with error. And that is just what the devil wants. Another possible, and I think more likely outcome, is that the bishops who have been speaking in a reckless and unguarded way about faith and morals will now be a little scared and confused. Free exchanges in a closed theological debate amongst theological experts are all very well. It is even part of our tradition, but “careless talk costs lives” and many people (not just immaculately coiffed Monsignori in the Vatican) are jumping the gun. Luther lived to regret his injunction “Pecca fortiter : go, sin boldly!”... We now have a kind of parallel. Cardinal Kasper has opened a bit of a Pandora’s box that the Synod fathers are now almost to certain to close, with a sigh of relief. If and when that happens we will all be left saying something like this: these issues needed a public airing, despite all the fallout. Now we know where we stand, and where God would have us stand.

How can these two men (Kasper and Mueller) come up with such different opinions when faced with the same pastoral realities in Germany? Could it be something to do with the fact that Mueller has actually spent a lot more time with ordinary Catholics and so knows something about the real challenges of Christian life for ordinary people?

Mueller has 8 or 9 years experience in parishes, 16 as a theology professor and then ten as diocesan bishop, all after the Second Vatican Council. He was also a pupil of Gustavo Gutiérrez,  one of the few liberation theologians to stay spiritually close to the poor and to their traditional popular piety and to maintain a traditional sacramental, ecclesial and eschatological view. Gutiérrez is a theologian who has stayed in touch with the people's faith in a way that many other left wing theologians have not. He and Mueller are still friends, which will no doubt surprise people who think of Mueller as a crusty, heartless bigot.

As far as I can make out, Kasper spent just one year as a priest in a parish from 1958-59, then the next 31 years as an academic, before becoming Archbishop of Munich in 1989. He is a man of committees and conferences. Kasper experienced the whole Vatican II phenomenon of the 60s and 70s from inside an academic bubble, probably peopled with a higher than usual percentage of vociferous intellectual Catholics in 'irregular' situations. One supposes that his circle of intimates is composed mainly of liberal theologians and progressive bureaucrats inside the Church.  Like Mueller, he is the protégé of a famous theologian: he was formerly assistant to Hans Kung, the famous progressive theologian who disputes many key Catholic spiritual and ethical teachings and who a year ago announced his intention to commit suicide (perhaps he is losing his nerve ... One hopes so). Kung, unlike Gutiérrez, is a theologian who has completely lost touch with the religion of the poor, if indeed he ever encountered it. His is a religion for cultured middle-class intellectuals. And they are a dying breed.

A final thought: when I was a conservative-minded university student, over twenty years ago, in a Catholic chaplaincy awash with progressive ideas I went to a talk given by Fr Gustavo Guttiérez OP. When it came to the question-time I asked him more questions than all the other questioners put together.

I remember asking him, in a superior tone, “but Father don’t you believe in eternal life?” His answer was yes, but hasn’t eternal life already begun? Isn’t the Kingdom of God already present among us?

The effect of his humble, thoughtful, respectful and wise responses was to give me two very strong impressions: here was a priest, a true priest. And also that here, somehow, in the midst of all sorts of theological questions which I was asking myself, I was in the presence of a saint. I knelt down afterwards and asked him to give me his blessing. And in a fatherly, priestly and kindly way, that is what he did.

Guttiérez and Pope Francis are coming from a similar place. Perhaps Cardinal Mueller and the Holy Father, both men of the people, are closer than one might think. Whatever befall, The LORD is my light and my salvation-- whom shall I fear? Pray, hope and don’t worry, as a good man once said.

As I write this I am listening to the Beatles:

“We can work it out and get it straight. Life is very short and there is no time for fussing and fighting, my friend. ...Try to see it my way. Only time will tell if I am right or wrong.”

Good night, from France.

Thursday, 19 February 2015