Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Importance of Good Liturgy

Damien and I have a monk friend, who does a lot of monkery according to the rule of St Benedict, whose teaching on wine he finds most agreeable. His prime focus is the sacred liturgy, and he devotes a lot of his time to helping others with their liturgical formation. He's a wonderful man. A point to which he always returns is the necessity of beauty infiltrating all the senses in order to elevate the mind to a level of transcendent worship of the one God, Living and True. Nothing is more important than this - in the gospel our Lord chastises Martha for worrying about everything, and praises Mary for choosing to spend time with Him. The Catholic Church has in recent times done a fairly poor job where beauty is concerned; translations are increasingly ugly, the mass has been thinned out, and music is all over the place. As a linguist, the translations are the part I find most repugnant. I want to look at the Common Book of Prayer and see how the Anglicans are doing for beauty.

The first thing which strikes one when looking at this little book of heresy is that there is a huge amount of variety. "I confess to Almighty God..." may be nice and convenient, but is there any reason at all why things couldn't be spiced up? Check out these little prayers of confession for Christmas (there are several according to the time of year/occasion):

"The Virgin Mary accepted your call to be the mother of Jesus. Forgive our disobedience to your will. We have sinned: forgive us and heal us."

Or this:

"The wise men followed the star to find Jesus the King. Forgive our reluctance to seek you. We have sinned: forgive us and heal us."

The Roman Missal does of course have season specific prayers, but they absolutely drench the Anglican liturgy, and it is beautiful.

The second thing which strikes one is the antiquity of the language, particularly in the psalter. Anglicans don't seem to think that the common man is so stupid that leaving in traditional second and third person singular verb endings and the second person pronouns would completely confound him. Nor are they afraid to use words whose meanings have changed but remain perfectly clear from the context. These principles create truly beautiful translations, such as this:

"...He sitteth at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty,
He shall come again to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost,
The Holy Catholick Church..."


"...He remembering His mercy,
Hath holpen his servant Israel,
As He promis'ed to Abraham and his seed, forever."

The sense of tradition, the sense that one is pronouncing the same creed as our forefathers since the 16th century, not 2008, is profound and important. It reminds us that we are not saying the creed 2000 years after the death of Christ, but throughout all ages. This is one of the motivations for using Latin, but just because we have translated the missal from Latin doesn't mean we ought to throw away the underlying principles of beauty of language, as indeed we have.

I'm writing this primarily because I love Anglican things, and I don't actually expect the Church to change anything because some anonymous, indignant student writes a blogpost complaining about Her dreadful choices. Nevertheless, I really really hope that someone, somewhere in the Vatican, has common sense enough to stop this awful 'Good News' business where the text should quite clearly read, 'The Gospel'.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Uh Oh

We've heard a rumour that we may be hearing more of the man on the right in the coming days. The man on the right being responsible for the fiasco going on in the very immediate vicinity of Pope Benedict at the time.
Pope Benedict having been dressed up as the Atlantic

Thursday, 26 September 2013

I've worked out why the priest was so distracted, irritated and yelpy the other week. He must have been infested with flees from all the poor people he'd so kindly been looking after.

Not that scary

The Francis Libby created in her own image seems not to bear much resemblance to the real Pope
 When I heard Cardinal Tauron announce the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the papacy, I'd never heard of him. I called up his wikipedia page and saw "SJ" and saw that he was ordained in 1969. Having been born in the 90s, this scared me. Slowly I've become less and less worried about him. He's a Catholic.

I read an article by Libby Purves in The Times this week which seemed to me not really to be representative of Pope Francis. It showed, in part, a pope of whom I would be scared and in part just an ignorance of who and what Pope Francis is. If it was a Pope Francis that existed in real life then I think I might have had good reason to be scared.

The first and obvious fault of hers was to suggest some sort of dichotomy between Benedict XVI and Francis. I don't mean this in a inflicting-one's-own-opinions-upon-Benedict-and-then-onto-Francis kind of Fr Z way, but rather that she seemed to present a picture of Benedict which would have opposed Francis had it actually ever existed in the real world. She described him as "a rigid German", conjuring the media myth of the jackbook wearing rottweiler with an obsession with regulations and imposing it on the cuddly professor from Regensburg and then proceded to make a list of misrepresentations of both. The first on her list was inevitably homosexuality. Francis has yet to say anything about homosexuality. He has spoken about the innate value of people who are homosexual and that's a very different kettle of fish, though he seems to have caught them in the same pond as Benedict who said "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". Then came the role of women in the Church ("It is theologically and anthropologically important for woman to be at the center of Christianity"... said Benedict XVI).

The next bit brought a snort from deep within the walls of Lazarus College. She described Catholicism as "legalistic, literal, authoritarian fundamentalism". My suspicion is that she just thought up some epithets commonly applied to religion without giving too much thought to which ones she used. Some people within the Church are certainly guilty of all three, but the idea that the Church advocates that or that it's common would be tricky to defend. Legalistic in the sense that we have laws which are applied, yes. But they tend to be about things like clergy fiddling the books or the altar boys. As it goes, I'm quite keen to keep those laws. We have laws about clergy not misleading their people too: an australain priest was defrocked and excommunicated by Pope Francis recently for teaching contrary to the Church. This is I suspect what she is getting at, but she needs to remember what the role of a priest is. He is there to pass on faithfully what the Church says. He may have a myriad of personal opinions, but he ought to have the humility to know that his opinions are not what his parisioners need from their priest. They can get whacky notions from reading The Tablet. It takes a fairly extreme situation, like the one in Australia, for the legal mechanisms of the Church to be put into actions. As for the importance of observing Catholic practices, which is the other thing I think she's getting at, maybe asking why they are there would be good before discarding them without a thought. She gives the example of "no-meat Fridays, not joining the Freemasons, Sunday Mass and Holydays of Obligation". These aren't ends in themselves, they're a way of improving and protecting our relationship with God. We don't think for a moment we can understand God with these rules, but they create an environment in which we can start to meet Him.

I remember when Pope Benedict was elected in 2005. He didn't know how to be pope. He'd never wanted to be one and never expected to be so had not prepared for it. The obvious example is that of the Regensburg address when he was just an excited professor who'd found an amazing quotation from a historical source. With Benedict it was easier because he wasn't trying to reform the curia so let them reign him in a bit. Francis needs to get some heads rolling, so can't take the chance of letting any of them control him. It's a tricky situation, I could never do it as well as he seems to be doing it, so I'll keep him in my prayers and take him as an example of Christian living.

Pope Francis is a Jesuit through and through. In one or two respect he even shows what generation of Jesuit he is, but you can tell a lot about a man from his enemies. In the past that's meant other South American Jesuits. Today it means the curia. That speaks volumes.

As an aside, I think we'll see Pope Francis helping greatly with the vocations shortage we're experiencing. I think that it's easy to make sacrifices for a person but that it's hard to make sacrifices for an idea. For so long as we make Catholicism a cerebral exercise, as is so tempting with a religion founded on logic, we create an idea. When we realise that actually it's all about a person and the relationship we have with Him, it suddenly becomes a lot easier. In the situations where the relationship with the Lord draws a person towards His priesthood, then I suspect it will be easier for men to make the sacrifices necessary when the bloke in the white cassock is so obviously not viewing his faith in terms of intellectualism but in terms of that same relationship. We'd be lost without the intellectuals because we need true doctrine, but we'd have no idea where we were at all is we became disconnected from the fundamental reality of our faith which is that God is alive and with us.

By Damian

Our feast

On our feast today, see if you've got time to mention us in your prayers. We could always do with help with our studies, perseverance with the faith and general well being. We'll be praying for the areas Cosmas and Damian worked.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

The Christian foundation of Thatcherism.

In Britain, the 1980s are still today remembered for the titanic political conflict which took place between the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. The two epitomic figures of the blazing ideologies were Tony Benn and Margaret Thatcher (Our Lady of Finchley). Both were profoundly Christian people, and yet their individual crusades for true justice led them to be dichotomously opposed to one another in political terms. Tony Benn branded her "a great ideologue", but declared her underlying philosophical problem to be that, "She measured the price of everything, and the value of nothing." When asked if Thatcherism had left a nation divided, Our Lady said: "[The trade unions] were out to use their power to hold the nation to ransom... to stop power from getting to every house in the country; power, heat, and light, to every housewife, every child, every school every pensioner. You want division? You want conflict? You want hatred? There it was! It was that, which Thatcherism if you call it that, tried to stop." I shall now outline what I, Cosmas, perceive to be the Gospel underpinnings of Thatcherism, and why I think that Liberation Theology, even if it were resurrected in a changed form, would be intellectually flat.

The words of Lord Himself have always seemed a very good place to start when discussing matters of morality, so here indeed I shall start. In Mark's Gospel, the Lord is asked by a rich man what he must do to inherit life eternal. The man tells the Lord he has obeyed the commandments always, and yet the Lord tells him one thing is still lacking; he must sell his possessions and give to the poor. Jesus then declares, "How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God.

Jesus, Creator and Redeemer of the rich man, did not exercise any authoritarian power over him in order to bring about an objective good, and to take down any impediments to the entering of the kingdom of God. We must then ask, why not? A simple answer may be that He knew that the rich man would do as he had requested, so force was not necessary, but this is not a sufficient answer. In Luke's gospel, Christ gives us the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. It was Lazarus's love of wealth which ended up with him being cast into hell, and yet, Our Lord did not take the wealth from him.

The true answer is that the removal of will is an objective evil, and we cannot dilute this principle in any way. It is for this reason that the Lord allowed Eve to eat from the tree. Allowing Eve free will caused an objective evil, but it was truly necessary that this felix culpa was a product of Eve's choice.

The Bible teaches us then, that God would rather suffer an objectively bad situation, than take away a person's act of will. There remains no basis for the Christian to claim therefore, that it is morally acceptable for a government to take from a person beyond the amount necessary for the provision of public goods. It may not happen. Communism is a heresy because it takes this taxation principle to the extreme and says the individual may own nothing. Cardinal Ratzinger talks about how when politics tries to do the work of God it becomes demonic, and this is what he meant by such a seemingly dramatic statement. The fruit of our free choice is made clear to us by the Lord in Matthew 25:34-36: "Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me."

As ever, I think I can prove beyond all reasonable doubt that God is on my side and not Damian's, but, as promised, I shall criticise the intellectual foundations of this left-wing nonsense.

The principle underlying tax and spend economics is that redistribution of income can cause a morally better world. Those who hunger can be given food, those who are sick can be made well. This is true. It assumes however that the redistributors are: capable of identifying want, incredibly fair, not corrupt, etc etc. The list of necessary qualities could be taken much further, and none of them would one be able to connect with Ed Miliband or David Cameron!

The wealth/income redistributors are known to be none of these things by history, hence the development of modern democracy. Surely this is better and nullifies my criticism? Alas, not. The (im)moral principle underlying democracy is that C is morally obliged to carry out the will of A and B simply because the outnumber him. This has led to indefensible outcomes such as the 50p tax rate and government ministers with a few more perks than your average 'servant'. With only two near identical major parties capable of forming a government, an uneven distribution of people per seat, an election once every four years and so on and so forth, there is very little case for even establishing that the British parliamentary system displays so much as the smallest correlation between the will of the majority and the economics which occur.

Bearing in mind all of these issues with any left-wing ideology (I'm counting the modern Conservative Party in there), and our Lord's words in the gospel, is there any room left for some kind of liberation theology in the Catholic Church today? I think the answer's a resounding 'no'.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Liberation Theology's Rehabilitation

Last week I took a strole in the gardens of a seminary with a friend in his second year there, Augustine, who had been in a friendly intellectual tussle with a brother seminarian who had just started his first year. Augustine is known to be higher in his liturgical tastes than, for example, our Holy Father. With this, assumed the first year, came right wing politics. By the end of the tussle he was acused of being a communist.

The entry into the world of the world of Marx's ideology, one which is, in certain respects, very similar to that of Christianity and the practices of the early Church but in others demonstrates a profoundly anti-christian lack of concern for the individual, is a challenging problem for Christians. We do not want others to think that when we are promoting moral society founded on compassion for the disadvantaged that we are promoting an agenda whose logical end, by virtue of the fact it places greater value on one group of people (be they workers or farmers or serfs or whatever group a particular adaptation of marxism adopts) over another, is Yezhovshchin and is thus incompatible with a faith which hangs on the fact that God became a human being and so human beings are themselves sacred. Without wanting to put words into Augustine's mouth, all he is in fact doing with his political beliefs is remaining faithful to the teachings of Christ; that he acknowles that he finds the psychological triggers of external beauty fit well into his spirituality and help him to pray seems to have little bearing on the matter. I am no theologian, but from my layman's perspective (in both senses of "lay"), a comparison of the aims of Liberation theology with the doctrine that Christ taught indicates to me that they fit quite snuggly.

The problem in the Liberation Theology that I have read, as I see it, is the language it employs. It is that of class struggle, a struggle which has no place in Catholicism which teaches that all people are equally children of God no matter what their class. The authors were writing for people in South America who had already come across socialist ideas and so were were speaking in terms appropriate to them. The world has moved on. Marxism is a spent force and an irrelevance to anyone's day to day life.

I see a genuine Liberation Theology at work in the Order of Malta but coming from the other end. Until very late in its history, the OM was comprised exclusively of nobility but the Order grew into a way that the Church could encourage the very wealthy to take on the responsibilities of that wealth in looking after the poor. No one was forced to do anything, but the presence of the Order made it much harder for the rich to ignore their obligations. It continues that work today. The OM group I work with is drawn from a very middle class background due to its links with a University limited in its ability to take people from other backgrounds by the failings of the secondary education system. This coterie of privilege works with the least privileged people in society to make their lives more comfortable and provide a bit of companionship to those who would otherwise be alone.

Politically, I (though not Cosmas) would support a more pragmatic approach than that and would vote for heavier taxes on people like me who have more money than I need, to be spent for the benefit of those who have less than they need in what is fundamentally a distributist model. I don't think that fulfilling responsibilities should be optional and I don't trust people to do so.

The pope has distanced himself from the views of Archbishop Müller who is a keen supporter of Liberation Theology, presumably to distance himself from any suggestion that he might support the marxist tendencies parts of the movement still hold dear.

This is where I think that Liberation Theology got somewhat out of hand. There is nothing marxist about the fundamentals of Liberation Theology, that was baggage it acquired later. A preferential option for the poor is one thing, the neglect of the wealthy is another. That I think the responsibilities of the wealthy should not be optional certainly does not mean that I think they should be impoverished in order to squeeze them through the eye of a needle. I believe in a right to property, but I also realise that I'm already in a position where I have more property than I need. Priests promise to live simply and everything that is required of a priest should be required of the laity. The requirements for a priest may be more specific (eg to pray the breviary rather than to pray daily or to live celibate chastity rather than the chastity which could be within the context of marriage), but they come from the requirements of us all. I think a refined Liberation Theology, stripped of its now irrelevant allusions to class war and embodying the theology of Rerum Novarum, Populorum Progressio, Laborem Exercens and the rest of the extensive corpus of social doctrine, has an enormous amount to give not only to the Church, but to the wider world. I think its potential to save souls is huge.

Above all, I think it's crucial that we stop thinking of it as "Catholic Social Teaching". In once sense of course, that's exactly what it is, but a better way of thinking of it would be as "Christian Doctrine", that is, the declarations of Christ applied to the modern world. They are teachings in the sense that we have to learn from them, but doctrine in that word's implication that we are bound by them. We have a very limited choice in whether to live by them since the consequences for not doing do are encapsulated in the infinity that is outside the circumference of the eye of needle. Liberation theology can fit within the space, but only if it sheds the camel's saddle bag of marxism.
By Damian

Monday, 16 September 2013

Purgatory 2.0

As ever, Cosmas sweeps onto the scene to undo the damage of Damian. I'll be explaining purgatory from my perspective.

Firstly, we should understand the biblical basis for purgatory. Some try to place it in Christ's teachings, but this is quite difficult. The main passage is, as always, in Paul:

"For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire."

Yes, I am aware that this is a heretical translation.

One way to think of purgatory then is this: Perfect faith brings forth perfect works, perfect works point to perfect faith. Purgatory is God's mercy compensating for our own failings.

Purgatory is not the remnant of some kind of dodgy works-salvation theology, whereby we have to pay the price of the broken window, as Damian puts it. This is not biblical.

The role of purgatory can also be put into these terms: Sin has three consequences: It separates us from God; we enter a debt to goodness that we cannot pay; and it taints us, preparing us to sin further.

Purgatory is not the paying of the debt to goodness.

The separation from God is healed by his omnibenevolent forgiveness. "Man, your sins are forgiven you." Luke 5:20b.

The debt to the transcendent Good is paid for by the Holy Cross of Christ. "You know that you were ransomed (redeemed/paid for) from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot." 1 Pet 1:18-19

The taint of sin is removed by the obedience of faith, and it is this which, when left incomplete by us, is finished by God's mercy in the fires of purgatory.

Protestants often criticise the doctrine of purgatory for the reason that it seems to promote works salvation. This is not true. When properly understood, it is absolutely biblical.

The Catholic Church requires of believers relatively little regarding what purgatory is like. Drawing from Isaiah 6:5-7. I understand it to be a personal encounter, whereby the soul meets the Lord and is purged by the burning, passionless passion, which is love divine. When we behold him face to face, we become perfect. This links back to my first way to understand purgatory. Perfect faith means that man behold God as he is, and hence brings forth perfection. At the moment of death, faith is abolished and we behold God as he is, and this makes us perfect.

The Joy of Purgatory

My mother, Monica, with whom I am very close, was brought up a Catholic in the 1970s but has somehow maintained her good taste. My dad, Huldrych, is the son of a very holy, very inspiring protestant minister. They're left wing intellectuals and proud. Both have a political outlook informed by their religious convictions and rely on God heavily when times are hard and keep in touch with him pretty well in the mean time. As such, religion is a common topic at the dinner table.

This week we had a good talk about purgatory.

I believe in purgatory for two reasons. The first is that in Heaven the souls are perfect, but at the moment of their death they were not perfect. There must be some process by which the imperfect soul becomes perfect.

The second I found easiest to explain in terms of my own family. I asked my little brother, Quiricus, to imagine that he was in the habit of throwing a tennis ball agaist the back wall of the house. My mother, Monica, warned him not to do so as there are two large windows which he could easily break. Obviously being in my family he ignored his mother (who often reminds us that she is not only all good and merciful but also all just) and continued throwing the ball. As Monica (who also informs me that she is omniscient) knew would happen, Quiricus broke a window. He came running back into the house, avoiding the miriad shards of glass strewn across the floor of the kitchen, in tears of contrition and said how sorry he was. Of course Monica, being all good and all merciful, forgave him at once. However, the window still had to be replaced, so the just thing to do was to dock Quiricus's pocket money till he'd paid for it. That, helps me understand purgatory and I think it made it plainer for Quiricus too.

I, however, do not believe in a purgatory based on temporal punishment. I can see that it can be a useful image to explain that greater sins need greater purification, but it doesn't make any sense to me. I had a latin teacher when I was little (it was that kind of school...) who described purgatory as a bath. A nice image for a nine year old, but I think that maybe Cardinal Ratzinger has greater insight into the issue than even she did.
The transforming "moment" of this encounter cannot be quantified by the measurements of earthly time. It is, indeed, not eternal but a transition, and yet trying to qualify it as of "short" or "long" duration on the basis of temporal measurements derived from physics would be naive and unproductive. The 'temporal measure' of this encounter lies in the unsoundable depths of existence, in a passing-over where we are burned ere we are transformed. To measure such "Existenzzeit", such an 'existential time,' in terms of the time of this world would be to ignore the specificity of the human spirit in its simultaneous relationship with, and differentation from, the world.
This is basically a reference to scholaticist thinking of "aeviternity", as opposed to the "time" we experience here and the "eternity" which is God's. An existential experience of the passage of being. The saints are not eternal because they were begotten and made and so there was a time when they were not existing. This does not negate the necessity of praying with the saints for those having that ultimate experience of enlightenment: I'll need all the help in heaven and earth that I can get if I ever get to see the face of God.

By Damian

Sunday, 15 September 2013

A Short Reflection on God's Forgiveness.

In today's mass readings the gospel was that of the prodigal son. It is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful parables which Our Lord gives us, and one to which all of us can relate too well. In it, the son who has fallen into a life of vice acknowledges the fundamental lack which his sin has led to, as well as the true joy he had before it. He resolves to return home, and as he stands at the gate, his father runs out to greet him, embrace him, and immediately calls for celebrations.

The most prominent feature of this parable is the joy of the father, as he who was lost is found. There can be no greater comfort as we prepare for the Sacrament of Penance, than that the God from whom we have by our acts of will wandered is running more than halfway to meet us. Receiving the Lord's forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation can be one of the hardest aspects of the spiritual life; the stains we would rather leave in the dark all called out into the light by Goodness himself. It is to be highly recommended therefore, that before the examination of conscience and the entering of the confessional, the Christian rereads or at least recalls the message of this parable.

Fr Pacelli is less than pleased to see Damian again

The second reading I wish to discuss is taken from the first epistle of St Paul to Timothy. In it Paul writes, "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, and who judged me faithful enough to call me into his service even though I used to be a blasphemer and did all I could to injure and discredit the faith." He continues, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. I am the greatest of them; and if mercy has been shown to me, it is because Jesus Christ meant to make me the greatest evidence of his inexhaustible patience..."

Now, this gives me great hope for my vocation, whatever it may be. If the apostle to the gentiles who almost single-handedly managed to spread Christianity throughout the Roman Empire after an intimate encounter with the Risen Lord can confidently assert that God's mercy is inexhaustible, I no longer need to worry! Not to mention that we all know what a rotter Paul was before he became a Christian - I still haven't killed anyone! Though Damian is a potential candidate for stoning.

Conversion of Fr Roncilla on the M1 North

Finally, I wish to mention briefly the Old Testament reading taken from the book of Exodus. Moses is interceding with the Lord on behalf of the Israelites, and he says, "Why should your wrath blaze out against this people of yours whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with arm outstretched...?" There are only two things I wish to say; firstly, Moses' role for the Israelites wandering in the desert prefigures "...the one mediator between God and mankind, the man Jesus Christ" who intercedes before God for Christians, who, like the Jews, find themselves in a foreign place which is not their home. Again, this should be a great source of hope for us.

More significantly however, Moses' words point forward to the event underpinning that reality. "...With arm outstretched..." As the Lord says in the psalm, "I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint...", again prefiguring His Crucifixion. The last thing I wish to say about the Lord's forgiveness then is that this wonderful free gift I have described above was given to humanity at a very large price, for the debt we entered into when we committed our first mortal sins was far greater than we could ever pay. Receiving this ineffable love inevitably sets us on fire, so we pass on this living flame, as we learn to love all men. That is the ultimate catechesis for heaven.

A Grump

This morning, I unexpectedly found myself in central London and so went to a very large Church which I know well for their lunchtime mass.

I was saddened by what happened there. The mass was obviously a just chore for the priest I should probably still call the celebrant despite the apparent lack of any Christian joy whatever. For all the beauty of the architecture, the vestments and the 2010 ICEL translation, even Cosas would have approved of the externals, the liturgy lacked the prayerfulness that it could so easily have had.

It was offered for the peace and justice in the Middle East and the triumph of the true faith, particularly in Syria. All well and good, but Father seemed to have as much insight into why we were praying for Syria as Obama has into how to sort the situation there out. He told us that this was the mass intention at the beginning and at the notices, but apart from that, neglected to mention it at all. I'm not saying that every mass intention should be discussed in detail in the homily, but it seems appropriate that given that the conflict is largely the fault of Bashar al-Assad building himself into an idol it might have been raised.

I remember several excellent homilies on today's readings. Fr Peter Burrows, particularly sticks in my mind as having insightful things to say. I remember him miming looking at himself in the mirror and proclaiming "Oh my God!": a warning I've often had occasion to remind myself of since and had to reflect on before confession.

Whilst I admit that Fr Burrows is an unusually good preacher, there was not even an adequate level of thought from this highly educated priest. It seemed as if he had rushed the preparation since it didn't really say anything at all, it was fragmented and he seemed to get lost at one point. He slipped from giving examples of the idols into listing sins, had a mind blank and blurted out that people who desire to engage in homosexual activity are seeking after something that is fundamentally wrong. The manner of his saying so lacked the pastoral edge which was more than alluded to in the Gospel with all that talk about going after lost sheep. His comments provoked shaken heads from quite a few people in the congregation whose orthodoxy on the issue is well known including one mother several rows in front of me who tutted loudly enough to draw looks from the people around me.

However, this was not the problem with the homily. My main issue with it was that he heightened its already fragmented line of thought by stopping no fewer than three times to berate people from the pulpit for moving around the church. I was sitting about a third of the way down the behind transverse aisle through which they were walking. Of the three people he publicly humiliated, one was going to see if there was a priest in a confessional and two were on their way to pray in front of the lady altar. They were far less distracting than father's interruptions. The idea that his words were so important that everyone should sit in the seats for it was laughable considering how lacking they were in content.

After that grump, I'll leave you with a nicer story. In the sermon at the Church for whose matins I was present this morning, the vicar, David Reindorp, told of how a friend of his had been preaching to a large prison congregation about how they were like the prison governor's sheep because it was his job to care for them and protect them while keeping them all in the same place. He went on to talk about how amazing it was that a shepherd would go after just one sheep when he had 99 left. From the back of the congregation came a voice. "Farver" it said "if one of the guvnor's sheep went missing he'd probably go after 'em too".
by Damian

Friday, 13 September 2013

Fr Blake

Fr Blake was recently grossly misrepresented by his local paper, The Argus. I struggle to believe that a person who writes for a living could misunderstand Fr Blake's blogpost encouraging the rest of us to work more closely with the homeless quite as dramatically as one would have to in order to write an article quite like his. I suspect that the misrepresentation was deliberate and malicious and intended to damage not only a fine, diligent worker in the vineyard of the Lord, but also to damage the Catholic Church. We hope very much that Fr Blake ends up with some financial compensation for this defamation and is able to use it for a holiday or something like that. If the journalist in question was not in fact being malicious, perhaps he might consider a profession better suited to his reading ability.

It saddens me that consistent response of the blogosphere to support Fr Blake in what must be a trying time was not replicated so quickly or absolutely in other areas of the Church.
By Damian

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Francis on Atheists

As mentioned previously, Damian is not a theology student, nor is he an italian student, but here is his translation of a letter that Pope Francis wrote to Eugenio Scalfari, one of the founders of the Italian daily La Repubblica which he edited from 1976-1996. He was a founder memer of the Italian Radical Party which persued policies of anti-clericalism and social liberalism. He was an independant member of the Chamber of Deputies during which time he was associated with the Socialist party. He is, as you may have guessed, also an atheist.


4th September 2013
Dear Mr Scalfari

It is with an attitutude of profound respect that I wanted to answer, even if only in broad terms, the letter which you addressed to me dated the 7thJuly in The Republica and which you later embellished in the same paper on the 7th August, by drawing on some of personal reflections.

Thank you, first of all, for the attention with which you read the encyclical letter Lumen fidei .  Indeed, the intention of my beloved predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who conceived and drafted most of it, and from whom, with gratitude, I inherited it, is directed not only to confirm the faith of those who already believe in Jesus Christ but also to provoke a sincere and rigorous dialogue with those who, like the letter’s author, call themselves “a non-believer for many years concerned and fascinated by the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth”. I therefore feel it is only positive to pause to talk about something as important as faith, not only for us individually but also for the society in which we live, which draws on the preaching and figure of Jesus.

I think that there are two factors in particular which mean it is our duty to engage in this valued dialogue. Besides, as is well known, this dialogue was one of the main goals of the Second Vatican Council, called by Pope John XXIII, and the ministry of the popes who, each with their own concerns and contributions, since then until today have followed the way laid out by the Council.

The first factor - as the first pages of the encyclical recall - stems from the fact that, across recent centuries, there has been a paradox: the Christian faith, whose novelty and impact on human life from the beginning have been expressed precisely through the symbol of light, has often been branded as the darkness of superstition which is opposed to the light of reason. So the Church, caught between and the culture of Christian inspiration on the one hand, and of the modern culture of the Enlightenment on the other, has become uncommunicative. Now the time has come [to resolve this problem], and Vatican II has infact opened this period with an open minded and unbiased reopening of the doors for a serious and fruitful meeting.

The second circumstance, for those seeking to be faithful to the gift of following Jesus in the light of faith, comes from the fact that this dialogue is not an accessory of secondary importance to the believer, it is instead an intimate and indispensable expression of faith. Allow me to quote from the encyiclical on this very important matter, since the truth to which the faith testifies is that of love, "clearly faith is not intransigent, but grows in respectful coexistence with others. One who believes may not be presumptuous; on the contrary, truth leads to humility, since believers know that, rather than ourselves possessing truth, it is truth which embraces and possesses us. Far from making us inflexible, the security of faith sets us on a journey; it enables witness and dialogue with all. ". It is this spirit that animates the words that I write to you.

My faith was born from a personal encounter with Jesus, who has touched my heart and gave a purpose and a new meaning to my existence. But at the same time this meeting was made possible by the community of faith in which I lived and through which I gained access to the intelligence of Sacred Scripture, the new life that flows like water gushing from Jesus through the sacraments, the fraternity with all people in the service of the poor, the true image of the Lord. Whilst I am aware that the immense gift which is faith is preserved in the fragile clay pots of our humanity, believe me when I say that without the Church, I would not have been able to encounter Jesus.

It was precisely from this position, from this personal experience of faith lived within the Church, that I am comfortable in listening to your questions and to seek, alongside you, the paths along which we can perhaps begin to make a little progress together.

Forgive me if I do not recount step by step the arguments you proposed in the editorial of July 7. It seems to me more fruitful - or at least is more congenial to me - to get to the heart of his considerations. I will not go into an explanation of the methods behind the encyclical, in which you see a lack of a section on the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth.

To begin with, I note that such analysis is not unimportant. The logic that guides the unfolding of the encyclical is in fact intended to focus attention on the meaning of what Jesus said and did, and so, ultimately, of what Jesus was and is for us. The letters of St Paul and the Gospel of John, to which particular reference is made in the Encyclical, are in fact built on the solid foundation of the messianic ministry of Jesus of Nazareth: culminating in its completion in his sacrificial death and resurection.

So we need to be faced with Jesus, I would say, in the reality and harshness of his story, as recounted particularly by the oldest gospel, that of Mark. Thus, we note that the "scandal" that the words and the practices of Jesus caused around him stem from his extraordinary “authority”, a word taken from the Gospel of Mark which is not easily translated into Italian. The Greek word is "exousia", which literally refers to what "comes from being". Thus, this is not something external or forced, but something that emanates from within rather than imposing itself. Actually, Jesus strikes and breaks with what went before him, takes us by surprise with his innovations, starting - as he himself says - with his relationship with God, whom he familiarly called Abba, which gives him this "authority" so that he may be sacrificed for the good of man.

So Jesus preached "as one who had authority": healed, called his disciples to follow him, forgave... In the Old Testament all of these things belong to God, and to God alone. The question that Mark’s Gospel repeats - "Who is this that?" - comes about because the identity of Jesus is born from the finding of an authority different from that of the world, an authority that is not intended to exert power over others, but to serve, to give others freedom and fullness of life and to do this to the point that people are willing to stake their own lives, to the point of the experience of misunderstanding, of betrayal, of rejection, the point of condemnation to death, up to be sealed in the state of abandonment on the cross. But Jesus remained faithful to God to the end. 

And it is precisely then in Mark’s Gospel, as the Roman centurion exclaims at the foot of the cross, that Jesus is shown, paradoxically, as the Son of God! Son of a God who is love and who wants with all his heart, for man, every man, to discover and live as his true son as well. This, according to Christian belief, is certified by the fact that Jesus rose: not in order to triumph over those who rejected him, but to bear witness that God's love is stronger than death, God's forgiveness is stronger than all sin, and for that message, it is worth spending one's life, to the end, as a witness to this great gift.

The Christian faith believes this: that Jesus is the Son of God who came to give his life in order to open way of love to all. It is for this reason that you are right, dear Mr. Scalfari, that the Incarnation of the Son of God is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Tertullian wrote, "the flesh [of Christ] is the hinge of salvation". The incarnation, that is the fact that the Son of God has taken on our flesh and has shared our joys and sorrows, the victories and defeats of our existence, even to the cries of the cross, experiencing everything in love and fidelity to Abba, testifies to the incredible love that God has for every man, in whom he recognizes inestimable value. Each of us, therefore, is called to turn our gaze on the choice of the love of Jesus, to make it his way of being, thinking and acting. This is the faith which I described with all the expressions in my recent encyclical.

In the editorial of July 7, you ask me also how to understand the originality of the Christian faith as it hinges precisely on the incarnation of the Son of God , as compared to other faiths that revolve instead around the absolute transcendence of God. The originality, I would say, lies in the fact that faith gives us a share in Jesus, in the relationship he has with God who is Abba and, in this light, the relationship that he has with all other men, including enemies, in sign of love. In other words, the sonship of Jesus, as presented in the Christian faith, is not intended to be an insurmountable obstacle to mark a separation between Jesus and everyone else, but to tell us that, in Him, all are called to be children of the Father and brothers amongst ourselves. The uniqueness of Jesus is for communication, not for exclusion.

Of course, - and this is not a small thing - the distinction between the religious sphere and the political sphere that is enshrined in Jesus’s affirmation that we are to "give to God what is God's and to Caesar what is Caesar's” upon which the history of the West was laboriously built following from this. The Church, in fact, is called to sow the yeast and the salt of the Gospel, the love and mercy of God that reach all men, pointing to the afterlife and the final destination of our own destiny, whereas civil society and politics approaches the daunting task of articulating and embodying justice and solidarity, in law and in peace, making life more humane. For those who live the Christian faith, that does not mean escaping from the world or research of any hegemony, but it does mean service to mankind  to the whole of mankind and to all men, starting from the periphery of history and keeping awake the sense of hope that drives us to do good in spite of everything and to always look further ahead.

At the conclusion of his first article, you also ask me what to say to our Jewish brothers about the promise made to them by God: has it come to nothing? It is - believe me - a question that challenges us radically, as Christians, because, with the help of God and especially taking the lead from the Second Vatican Council, we have discovered that the Jewish people is still, the root from which Our Lord was germinated. During the course of the friendship that I have cultivated along all these years in Argentina with our Jewish brothers, many times I questioned God in prayer, especially when reflecting on the memory of the terrible Shoah. What I can say, with the Apostle Paul, is that never has God's faithfulness to his covenant with Israel failed, and, through the terrible trials of these centuries, the Jews have preserved their faith in God. For this, we as a church but also as the human race, can never be sufficiently grateful to them. It is precisely by preserving the faith of the God of the Covenant, that they roused all, along with us Christians to the fact that we are always waiting, like the pilgrims, for the Lord's return, and that we must therefore always be open to Him and never hide behind what we have already achieved.

And so I come to the three questions that you put to me in the article of August 7. It seems to me that, in the first two, what is in your heart is to understand the Church's attitude toward those who do not share the faith of Jesus. First of all , you asked if the Christian God forgives those who do not believe and those who do not seek to do so. Given that - and this is the key thing - God's mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart, the solution for those who do not believe in God is to obey their consciences. Sin happens when one goes against one’s conscience, even for those who have no faith. To listen to it and to obey it means, in fact, is to make a choice when faced with what one perceives as good or as bad. And on this decision rides the goodness or evil of our actions.

Second, you asked me if the belief that there is no absolute at all and therefore no absolute truth, but only a series of truths relative and subjective, is an error or a sin. To begin with, I would not speak, not even to those who believe, of “absolute” truth in the sense that absolutism is what is untied , what is lacking in any relationship. Now, the truth, according to Christian belief, is the love of God for us in Jesus Christ. So, the truth is a relationship! So much so that each of us takes the truth, and expresses it from within ourselves, from our history and culture, from the situation in which we lives and so on. This does not mean that truth is subjective and variable, far from it, but it does mean that it is always given to us but only as a way and a life. Did not Jesus himself say "I ​​am the way, the truth and the life"? In other words, the truth is ultimately being one with love, it requires humility and an openness in order to be sought, welcomed and expressed. Therefore, we must understand each other according to these terms and, perhaps, leave the confines of antagonism, of absolutism to post the question again in depth. I think that there is currently a compelling need to engage in the peaceful and constructive dialogue for which I hoped at the beginning of my response.

The last question asks me if, with the disappearance of man on earth, the ability to think of God would also disappear. Man's greatness certainly lies in being able to think about God in order to live in a conscious and responsible relationship with Him, but the relationship is in between two realities. God - this is my thought and my experience of this, but how many, yesterday and today, share it! - is not an idea, however high, or the result of man's thought. God is Reality with the 'R' capitalized. Jesus reveals it, as does living in a relationship with Him as the Father of infinite goodness and mercy. God does not depend, therefore, on our thoughts. Moreover, even with the end of human life on earth - and for the Christian faith, in any case, this world as we know it is destined to fail - humanity will not cease existing and will not end, and also, in a manner we do not understand, even the created universe will persist alongside him. The scriptures speak of "new heavens and a new earth" and states that, in the end, in the where and the when which is beyond us, but which we approach in faith, with desire and expectation, God will be "all in all".

Thus, Dear Mr. Scalfari , I conclude my reflections, stirred by what you wanted to tell me and to ask me. Welcome them as the tentative and provisional answer, but a sincere and trusting one, to the invitation to take a walk together. The Church, believe me, despite all the delays, infidelities, mistakes and sins she may have committed and can still commit in those who compose it, has no other meaning and purpose than to live and bear witness to Jesus: He who is was sent from Abba "to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord".
With fraternal closeness,


My first response is that it's what Benedict XVI would have said but in soundbytes. 

You could see his influence very heavily in the bit about the historical Jesus. It was Ratzinger's exegesis which comprehensively united the Christ of the gospels with the historical Jesus. The talk of scandal is a reminder that today Catholics have to stand up and say unpopular things because we have no choice but to defend Jesus like we would any other brother of ours. His talk about suffering is intensely human and must touch every person who reads it, even in my clunky translation.

As with everything he says, there is nothing new in it, he is faithful to Christ who is unchanging, but the way he says it is decisively new and fresh. Whilst he discusses this explicitly later, it is most clearly demonstrated by his words on Judaism. The idea that our Christian faith benefits from the experience of being in contact with Jews faithful to the Old Covenant is a new paradigm as far as I'm aware and one that I look forward to thinking about further. There's a great American nun, Rosalind Moss, who converted from Judaism who says that the most Jewish thing a Jew can do is become a Catholic. Maybe a closer reexamining of this relationship will teach us more about our Catholic faith and identity. Dom Abihu is fond of saying that we live in a post-Christian Christian society, but maybe in fact we live in a post-Christian Judeo-Christian society and need to relate to it more in terms of judaism than of Christianity to get our universally applicable messages on social justice, abortion, gay marriage, poverty and so forth. I recently found out that we don't use the name of the God liturgically and should not do so in speech out of respect for our jewish brothers, but maybe we could internalise the practice as our own to get a sense of respect for the Holy Name. The Catholic priests actions are echoes of those of the priests in the temple, maybe remembering that would give a fuller understanding of the mass as the sacrifice of Calvary and what that sacrifice means. Maybe a clearer understanding of why we need to do good deeds can come from their concept of "Mitzvah" and thus refute sola fideism.

His emphasis on dialogue as an essential part of our faith reminds me of something Fr Timothy Radcliffe said during a talk that Cosmas and I went to last year. He said that when Jesus is presented with a quandary in the Gospels he pauses and talks to people about it. Obviously he is all knowing so why did he bother to do that? So that we could learn from his doing it that when we don't know what to do we need to engage in dialogue to work it out. This is not something first called for by Vatican II, it was Jesus Himself who did so.

I particularly liked his response to the third question from the August editorial in which humans had ceased to be. He makes it clear that the second coming might happen some time after the extinction of our species and illustrated nicely that we depend on God, not vice versa. The answer to the second question which touched on the nature of truth made me think of one of the antiphons at the Office of Readings for Trinity Sunday which runs "the Father speaks the Truth, the Son is the Truth he speaks and the Holy Spirit is Truth; O blessed Trinity. He also made an important about the nature of truth. I for one certainly believe there to be an absolute truth, but know that I do not have the mind to comprehend it. Since all things in existence and experience are interconnected, it would require an infinitely large mind to do so and there is only one of those in existence. The first of the August questions also outlined a subtle theological point in very approachable terms: that it is possible for there to be objective evil without the perpetrator of that sinning.

His responses to the questions posed in the July article were just as interesting and much more detailed. He makes it clear that we cannot compromise our beliefs when we encounter people of opposing views, but that this should not stand in the way of the fraternity that should come from the common bond of humanity if not from the fact (whether the other person agrees or not) that we are brothers and sisters in Christ because we share a Father. I find it very easy to relate to the birth of his faith, it's certainly where I've found mine.

His discussion of authority was genuinely though provoking and I haven't come to the end of the thought processes it's sparked yet. It is a deeply attractive Catholicism and of course that's as it should be. It is proactive and in the world and on the streets and doing good. 


Cosmas, instead of giving his response to Francis, will respond to Mr Scalfari's question regarding the historicity of the gospels, in a post coming soon.