Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Text a Toastie

From time to time our lovely Christian Union, fine upstanding kind people, of their kindness, ferry toasties to students in college in return for questions relation to Christianity. Tonight is one such night. Being the debt laden, poverty stricken student that I am, free food is a rarity not to be passed up. Thus I chose at random a paragraph from their "doctrinal basis" and happened by chance to fall upon a particularly heretical tenant of their organisation: imputed righteousness. The paragraph reads
"Those who believe in Christ are pardoned all their sins and accepted in God's sight only because of the righteousness of Christ credited to them; this justification is God's act of undeserved mercy, received solely by trust in him and not by their own efforts."
This, I thought, is too good an opportunity to pass up. I thus fired off my toastie winning question:
"Does the doctrine of imputed righteousness preclude the concept of a just god? Considering that the conventional Christian understanding of forgiveness requires reparation for sins, does it also preclude the possibility of a merciful god? If imputed righteousness is true, why did Jesus bother dying?"
Call it the New Evangelisation. The workers wages being a toastie...

Veniat ad me, fra

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Priestly Celibacy

I wrote this some time ago but forgot to put it up.

Whilst NBC news is reporting that Archbishop Pietro Parolin has said clerical celibacy may be relaxed, the interview transcript is saying quite a different thing. The secretary of state elect actually explained that celibacy is a tradition of the Church, not an irrevocable doctrine. NBC is spinning this as a sign of change in the Vatican but in fact it is the opposite. Pope Benedict XVI made it very clear that this was the case when he established the Ordinariate structures of former Anglicans who have converted to Catholicism in which, if a vicar was married as an Anglican he remains married if he chooses to be ordained a priest. If this had been an irrevocable dogma, Benedict would not have been able to allow this exception, but since it is only a Church tradition the source of canon law, the pope, was able to make his generous exception.

"You mean... I wrote something that twists the truth into something unrecognisable?"
Since the Secretary of State has made it abundantly clear that we are free to disagree with this issue, I think I should give my personal view priestly celibacy.

In the past it has been used by some men as a way of repressing and escaping from their homosexuality. No one would wonder why a man wasn't married if they were wearing a cassock. I suspect that this repression was a contributory factor to much of the child abuse that was perpetrated by priests ordained in the 1940s and 50s. The emotional and psychological support was not available during their time in seminary and so they came out warped.

Now, not only have seminaries changed but society has too. Seminaries take great care over the men they accept, the emotional support available and the human formation they are exposed to. There is also no longer, by and large, the compulsive desire or social requirement for homosexual men to repress their sexual orientation. We have all shades of homosexual identity from Graham Norton to Russell Tovey on telly and almost everyone knows a gay person personally. Society has an increasingly sophisticated grasp on gender and sexuality as concepts. My parents, Monica and Huldrych, not unrepresentative of your average Brits, don't expect to be able to tell if one of my friends is gay and don't care anyway. People trying to hide their sexual identity probably isn't the problem it was and if in an individual there is that desire, it can be dealt with once the mechanisms of seminary pastoral and spiritual care are underway. That there was no more likelihood of a celibate Catholic priest abusing a child than a married Anglican vicar is certainly an interesting statistic and maybe it had more to do with the deep rooted clericalism.

I think therefore that in this day and age that an end to clerical celibacy would have no benefit for child protection.

Many have suggested that we need to abandon priestly celibacy because we lack vocations. I would tend to disagree because we do not need more priests, we need more good priests. We need courageous, generous, mature priests. It takes an awful lot of courage, generosity and maturity for a man to decide to enter the celibate priesthood.

Behind the veil of "Damian" I can write very openly about this:

I am in the process of trying trying to work out what definite service God wants from me and I think it might be to be a priest. We'll see: I've got a bunch of people I trust around me, priests, family and a handful of friends and between us all we'll get to the bottom of it. I've been living a celibate life for some time now and it's got to the point where I'm starting to reap the rewards. I have really close, open and frank relationships with friends because they know that there's no alterior motive behind me being kind to them and so my ear is more available to listen and my shoulder to be cried on: I'm a safe person in their lives and that's what a priest needs to be.

I also feel that it suits my temperament and personality. I feel more like me when I'm living celibacy. I'm in a very unusual situation of having fallen in love already by my age and I know that it will happen again. When it does I expect I will still be celibate, and whilst that could be painful I know there are ways of integrating it healthily into my celibate lifestyle. If the pope were to turn around tomorrow and say priests could marry, I wouldn't choose to stop being celibate. If I woke up tomorrow morning to the realisation that I'd wasted my life and God didn't exist, I think I'd stay celibate because I think it's good for me on a human level.

There's a reason clerical celibacy has survived as a tradition of the Church, and that's because it's useful for priests themselves and for their people.

Offer it up

If you've ever wondered just how Oxford students cope with so much work. This is how.

Lots of coffee, cheap meat products and occasionally a helping hand from the boss.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Term begins

It seems fitting that as we start the new year and new term we're celebrating the feast of the man who invented the tutorial system we love and hate today.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Lord Leveson Who?

Two days ago The Independant published a thoughtless piece which realised that the pope is a Catholic.


Being a meddling kid, I felt that this should not go unchallenged, so published a response in the comments box. It was quite a lengthy response because the errors contained in the article were so numerous and profound. In hindsight, I think I should have altered the tone to be less confrontational and more conciliatory, but that's how it goes I suppose.

For me one of the most startling things was that Ms Smurthwaite does not seem to have learnt the lessons of the Leveson enquiry. Simply because a person is in the public eye does not give you free reign to defame their good name. I believe that her last sentance: "He might have been media-unfriendly, hard line, sexist and homophobic, but at least we knew what we were getting with Pope Benedict" does precisely this.

Below is my entire response:
Dear Ms Smurthwaite

This has so many basic misunderstandings in it. I'm amazed that a reputable newspaper felt able to publish it. Please do your research before you write about any Catholic next time.

It is not a hard-line Catholic stance to oppose Gay marriage or abortion. In fact both are fairly secular issues. Marriage is a thing and is therefore not other things. Just as a pencil is a thing and is therefore not a typewriter, though there are similarities between them. It existed before government or Church did so neither have the right to attempt to alter it. Marriage is a lifelong relationship between a man and a woman to bring up children. Matrimony is when that relationship has a theological element, but that is not what is being discussed. "The family, founded upon marriage freely contracted, one and indissoluble, must be regarded as the natural, primary cell of human society." Without a true understanding of marriage (not matrimony), society will suffer. We have seen this with the Divorce Act which has created socially vulnerable single parents and children deprived of equal and free access to both parents. The rights of the parents to the protection of the other parent of their child, and the rights of the children to their parents have violated. Further tampering with marriage will have similar effects. The way in which the Gay Marriage Bill was brought before parliament without a mandate from the electorate is shocking and an affront to the democratic traditions of this country. If this were not enough, as I see it, that it was raised at the time it was, was prompted by nothing more than the petty motive of distracting the headlines while the Tory government snuck some fairly hefty news about just how badly they were managing the economy under the radar.

Abortion is a similarly secular issue and one which I feel is far more important than the gay marriage palaver. You appeal to science and to human rights, the same two concepts which mean that abortion can never be a moral act. If you will permit me to repost a few paragraph's of a blog post (for the rest, please see I published earlier today:

"The necessity for the preservation of human rights is discernable by reason alone. It is true that the preservation of human rights promotes a safe society for the individual. All individuals need safety in order to flourish and their flourishing benefits other individuals and society. Human rights do not work as a protection for society unless all living humans are afforded equal rights. Human rights are not innate or self evident or magically imbued into every person, they are social necessities which society affords to all living humans for its own benefit. These rights operate in a similar way to a jenga set, piled on top of each other with those lower down being more integral to the structure of the edifice that those higher up. You can afford to take a piece from high up without the whole thing collapsing. The right to life is the table upon which the jenga tower rests. Remove that and the whole thing comes tumbling down because one cannot have any rights if one is already dead."

"The right to life must, therefore, be accorded to every living human."

"There is an objective definition of what is alive discernable by science. An organic entity which is capable of moving, respiring, reacting to changes in its environment, growing, reproducing, excreting and taking on nutrients. At the moment of conception a zygote is objectively and undeniable alive. There is also an objective definition of what is human: an entity with human DNA."

Whilst we Catholics have additional beliefs which preclude the possibility of us procuring an abortion such as the sanctifying nature of the incarnation and that the gift of life is from God, these reasons would not be sufficient for us to campaign against non Catholics doing so. For example, we believe that we should go to mass each Sunday, you don't see us campaigning for a law enforcing that view on others because it is purely from a theological perspective that we believe it is important to attend mass.

Clearly if Pope Francis were to attempt to change the Church's doctrine on abortion it would not only be a denial of the Incarnation and of God's generosity in giving us life, it would also be a denial of objective reason. If he were to do so, which, being a Catholic, he would not, it would be a grave problem. Beyond that, I believe that in two or three hundred years our descendants will be horrified to think that we performed 40-50 million abortions a year. I look back at situations in the last 2, 000 years and wonder why the Church didn't do more about them. I hope our descendants do not find the Church lacking in our dealings with the abortion industry. One would hope that the 20th century alone would teach us what happens when the rights of unseen millions are removed.

From this fairly terrifying prospect, you then move onto what you see as yet more terrifying. At once you make it clear that you know that Vatican City constitutes the territory of the Holy See, it is a sovereign state and that the laws apply to that state. You then lament that the Church in the past has not obeyed "long-established secular laws". Pope Francis has not introduced some new law for the worldwide Church, he has introduced legislation for the territory of the Vatican City State, those who live and work there or have Vatican citizenship. At some point your comprehension of these issues got lost... presumably it was not a deliberate conflation...

Clearly this was necessary. Then again, having established that the laws enacted apply to a sovereign entity and those who work there, including in its government, you say that it's shocking that the sovereign head of that state has banned leaking. What provoked this was the theft and publication of state documents which were leaked by Benedict XVI's butler about the machinations of the state's civil service. In the United Kingdom such a security breach would constitute a criminal act. If you think that the current state security provisions are problematic in the United Kingdom, might I refer you to a certain first century Jew of whom I am most fond who said "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."

Finally, let's address the calumny that constitutes your last sentence clause by clause:

"He might have been media-unfriendly". I'm sure you'll forgive him if he had bigger things on his somewhat massive mind than how he came across to journalists of a calibre that anything but the most basic research into what their writing about seems too much effort. If you were to take the time to read some of his work, you'd realise just how subtle and incisive his thinking is. It is probably not the sort of thing that translates well into a couple of quick paragraphs, especially with the lamentable standard of journalism currently predominant, as exemplified in your own article.

"hard line", Since you've already demonstrated your utter lack of comprehension of what constitutes "hard line" for the Catholic Church it seems a bit of a waste of time to go into this further, but never mind. This is the pope who gave practical guidance on the pastoral application of the Church's doctrine on contraception. He basically said that if someone is going to have sex in a situation which it is inappropriate to do so and the consequences of not using contraception would be worse than if they did, that in those situations it's less of a sin to use contraception than not. He used the example of a male prostitute, it would apply just as much to a boy who was adamant that he was going to have sex with his girlfriend. Hard line... sounds it doesn't he...

"sexist": Benedict XVI thought and wrote a great deal about gender theory. He saw in it good and bad. This sort of nuanced thinking may be beyond the possibilities of today's journalism. In 2004 he wrote that "the promotion of women within society must be understood and desired as a humanization ". Oh the wicked old misogynist! How dare he!

"homophobic": Similarly I suspect that Benedict XVI thought much more thoroughly about this issue than you have. The idea that he had anything but love for homosexual people is rubbished by the fact that he said "the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin".

All of these epithets, hard-line, sexist and homophobic, are ways in which you seek to discard Benedict's views without having to address them. This is an unfortunate state of affairs and sums this article up nicely. Not a great deal of thought, but an awful lot of bluster.

"at least we knew what we were getting with Pope Benedict": well, we know that we'll get the same from Francis as we got from Pope Benedict: the truth. Benedict XVI just didn't care what other people thought of what he said because he had justified confidence in his own intellectual prowess. Francis seems to be treating the media as a means of evangelisation in itself, which is certainly a fine way to go about things. The style may have changed, the substance has not changed one iota. Everyone knew that once the media realised that, it would turn against Pope Francis, it's inevitable.

Sincerely yours,
A young catholic lay person.

Not a religious issue

125, 000 abortions are carried out each day. That's more than 80 sinkings of the Titanic every single day.

One of the Catholic Church's most public and controversial activities is its ongoing campaign against abortion. Generally the public sideline it as a religious issue because it is a religious community working against it. Damian will argue below that the religious ideas behind the Catholic Church's involvement in the pro life movement should be put on the back burner and the secular ideas be brought to the fore.

March for Life 2010
No one likes to talk about abortion and for good reason.

It's a grim reality that people do chose to "terminate pregnancies". The culture of death we hear so much about is not yet winning in our society against the culture of life in which, by and large, pregnancies are still seen as a cause of rejoicing. Even when those in favour of laws which allow abortions couch them in satitized terms such as "terminations" and "procedures" the phrases send a shudder down our cultural spine which is used to supporting outflung arms of rejoicing when discussing pregnancy and unborn babies. Yet, there are cases where people chose to end these pregnancies and the only way to do so is end the life of the unborn child.

Therefore it's a grim reality that we do have to talk about abortion. People have very strong feelings about the issue. Being pro life and willing to stand up for that belief can cause estrangement from friends. Provoke confusion in other people who cannot relate such an absolute stance with the loving personalities Catholics a required to cultivate or who assume a myriad of other political beliefs with a pro lifer which bear no relation whatever to one's real political persuasions.

It's a grim reality that we need to be pragmatic about putting our message on abortion across. As Catholics it is inescapable that one of our reasons for opposing abortion is because we believe that in the act of becoming incarnate God sanctified humanity. Catholicism is imprinted on our minds, our hearts and our souls. We are made in the image and likeness of God and were given life as a gift by Him. We can't deny that this belief influences how we think.

It is however, not how most people in today's United Kingdom think so we need to engage with people on a shared axiom. The most obvious being a belief in human rights.

The necessity for the preservation of human rights is discernable by reason alone. It is true that the preservation of human rights promotes a safe society for the individual. All individuals need safety in order to flourish and their flourishing benefits other individuals and society. Human rights do not work as a protection for society unless all living humans are afforded equal rights. Human rights are not innate or self evident or magically imbued into every person, they are social necessities which society affords to all living humans for its own benefit. These rights operate in a similar way to a jenga set, piled on top of each other with those lower down being more integral to the structure of the edifice that those higher up. You can afford to take a piece from high up without the whole thing collapsing. The right to life is the table upon which the jenga tower rests. Remove that and the whole thing comes tumbling down because one cannot have any rights if one is already dead.

Jenga set
The right to life must, therefore, be accorded to every living human.

There is an objective definition of what is alive discernable by science. An organic entity which is capable of moving, respiring, reacting to changes in its environment, growing, reproducing, excreting and taking on nutrients. At the moment of conception a zygote is objectively and undeniable alive. There is also an objective definition of what is human: an entity with human DNA.

Those who support laws which allow abortion typically accord the right to life to an embryo at an arbitrary point such as when it gains consciousness, can feel pain or can survive independently outside of the womb. These processes are all just that: processes, whereas with life and humanity, something is either is alive or not and either human or not. Trying to map a living human onto a scale of consciousness, sensitivity to pain, ability to survive outside the womb or whatever the criteria used is would be fine if what were being calculated were also a scale, but something either is alive or it is not. With some jenga blocks you can slide them out part of the way and the tower will remain, but if you move the table from underneath it at all, it will collapse. Being a feminist, I believe in a woman's right to make decisions about her life but I know that that right is less fundamental than the unborn child's right to life.

The other problem with the pro choice practice of assigning human rights to the embryo at these arbitrary points is that humans who have been born map onto these scales lower than other humans and so would less important rights based on these same principles. Are my rights worth less when I've had a drink and so feel pain less acutely, when I'm on a life support machine and so incapable of surviving without assistance or when I'm asleep and so less concious than someone awake?

For the application of the right to life we need a decisive and objective cut off point because life itself is either on or off. The only acceptable point at which to do so it the moment of conception at which the inadequately gened gametes become human and alive.

We need to be utterly convincing on this issue because our responsibility as the Church is to draw people to God. In the context of abortion, we need either to convince people not to have one or to embrace forgiveness when they have chosen to have one. The pastoral response of love for the woman who has had an abortion (whether they were free to chose to or not) is paramount. Therefore it is these terms in which we need to present our argument because it is these terms, human rights and love, which we share with the people to whom we are talking. Bluster about the incarnation and imago Dei is meaningless to most people, but human rights is a language we all understand.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Turning our backs on death and facing the Life of Christ

This is bound to get a bit earnest, but give me a chance.

I want to share a truly moving post from Protect the Pope about a former abortion practitioner who gave the abandoned instruments of abortion to the Holy Father who prayed over them that evening. I was particularly struck by the doctor's words:
“The instruments of death were abandoned at the foot of the successor of Peter in the world, as death is put at the feet of Jesus in favor of life.”
I wish I had the courage to give up my will to sin like he has, to say like he does "never more death until death".

I can intellectualise and have all the external signs of faith, but unless I actually find the courage to live out my convictions, as the doctor has done, it is nothing more than a mind game. I am not naturally a desparing person, I see the goodness of God before noticing the evil committed by those he loves, but I can't say that this Christian life is easy. I was struck by something in the talk I heard today from the local ordinary. He was asked to take the title of "Can I really be a Catholic?" and he said very plainly "no". I can't really be a Catholic, but in the context of the Church, with the support of the community of faith, we can.

What I took away from that is that it's not only that the Church dispenses the sacraments and so I couldn't be a Catholic without it, or that it speaks with authority on faith and morals and so I couldn't be a Catholic without it or even that it provides a structure into which I fit and so could not be Catholic without it. These are important and I cherish them, but above all of these, I find great comfort in the other Catholics in my life, in other members of the Church. We all know just how hard trying to live the Christian life is: we have that shared experience of struggle and failure and of renewal and rebirth. I never wish so ardently that I could deny the existence of God as when I am cut off from other Catholics for extended periods of time. I find myself just wishing I could ask Him to go away. I know that if I did so he would respect my free will and do so, but then I would be nothing. No man is an island and certainly no Catholic.

Parental Strictures

My dad, Huldrych, has asked me to come along to a talk a local bishop is giving this evening but only on condition that I'm not nasty to him.

Moi? Nasty? Never...

Also! I can't believe that our frankly hilarious Legend of St Abihu of the Wine isn't being better received! That took us ages!

Obamacare. A step too far

I am a left leaning softie liberal when it comes to politics and thus I naturally gravitate towards President Obama on that basis that he's better than the vile republicans whose draft budget that cries out to heaven for vengance.

I also naturally supported the idea of affordable health care, something aking to our own beloved NHS (may God bless her and all who serve Him in her and may He defend her mightily against the ravages of ungodly tories) I thought. 50 million Americans live without healthcare insurance and that number is rising. Clearly this needs to be addressed. The profit motive is a dangerous principle to adopt within healthcare because it ends up with a company putting a price on a God given life. The Republicans haven't got an acceptable solution. Obama's offered Obamacare. Fine then.

Alas and alack.

It seems that I was naïve and that in fact Mr Obama was being somewhat scurrilous.

The US national debt is currently at an astonishing level. Beyond the comprehension of the people organising the attempt to pay it off. Obamacare would add an enormous sum onto the already mountainous total. The simple truth is, however brilliant Obamacare might have been, the US simply could not have afforded to implement it. Just not a possibility. To buy things you need money or the ability to borrow money. The US have no money and no longer have the ability to borrow money.

To manage to get the Bill to the stage it's at, Obama had to be devious in his winning over its opposition. Basically, he let them off it. Be they supreme court judges or Nanci Pelosi's electorate. It reminded me very much of the ancienne regime in pre revolutionary France whereby the third estate the bulk of the tax and the clergy and nobility paid very little. For all the excpetions he's willing to give, he's not willing to let the Catholic Church have one on paying for contraception and even abortions, which bizarely he considers to be part of healthcare.

Obama presented the Bill for discussion with a day's notice. It is a very large document and almost none of the senators have had time to digest it. Is it any wonder that the Republicans find this unacceptable. That said, I suspect if they got no pay for the time during which the government is shut down and they're not doing anything, the situation would not have arisen.

Mr Obama will call it a tax when it suits him (like when he wants to have the Supreme Court hold it as constitutional) and an optional purchase when it doesn't. Even if not purchasing it provokes a fine.

I fear that much of the blame for the current shutdown must be left at the door of Mr Obama. The republicans haven't got a better solution to the problem, but Mr Obama has gone about this very badly. If he had been more honest, I imagine that the Republicans would have kicked up a fuss because that's what they do. Even so, I imagine he would have managed to get it through. The fact that not a signle Republican voted for the Bill says to me something is out of joint and I suspect that being up front is that joint.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Initium Legenda Sancti Abihu Vini

In diebus illi erat monkus* nomine Abihu. Dignus fuerat magna laude pro pietatis suis ad Dominus Noster et pro pietatas suis ad dono suum de vinum roseum atque haec distributio de estis donum maximum Dei, plurimos ad fidem Christi conversi. Quotidie vinum offerebat populo suo dicens: "Ecce! Certe Deus existit! Sine quo non potest esse vinum!" et omnes crediderunt.

In eisdem diebus, rumore per totam orbem terrarum perambulaverabat que episcopum quemdam centralis Italian dioecesim voluit consulens novum. Hoc consiliarius dicerent ad hoc centralis Italici Episcopi, qui incensi Domino facibus placuit maximum. Hoc centralis Italici Episcopi respexit per orbem ut invenirent intelligi hominem prae subtilitate de favorite Domini incensum.

Tandem invenit homo, cui nomen Piero. Piero in his rebus sapientissimus erat ipse credidit et nuntiavit centralis Italici Episcopi: "Ego sum valde sapiens. incensum scio quod Deus vult propter Ego enim valde sapiens sum." Et centralis Italici Episcopi credidit Piero propter vestimenta suis erat coloratus, et possederat vehiculo qui non marcum bonum in MOTum suum obtenebat. Humiliatem Pieri erat mirabile de quo saepe locutus.

Deinde, Abiu audito rumore estis et obstupefacta. Sciebat Piero bureaucratus erat qui transverberabitur alios clericos a tergo ut positionus meloire obtinere ut portabat plurimos vestimentes de colore sui favorito: purpureo. Ira justum de Abihu surrexit. Episcopum italica centralis no habuit gustus bonum. Eheu! Centralis Italici Episcopi requiritur bonum Consiliario!

Cum Piero eius consiliario sint, ut esset possibulum de repeatere calamitatem quae acciderant ad centralis Italici Episcopi emeriti, quo vestes caerulei coloris portabat. Sunt valde deformis et nemo  poterat vadere centralis Italici Episcopi emeriti de periculo de subito mortem. Piero hominem perniciosum erat.

Ultimo centralis Italici Episcopi portaverat vestimentis caerulei coloris deformisque 
Ergo, Abihu congregata omnia de coragio suo et omnia de vinum roseum ejus et pellegrinabat ad  dioecesim centralis italiani pro pugnare cum consilare malum, Piero.

Post multa quaerentes, invenit Piero in coquina de Banco Vaticano ubi aliis clericis monitoriabat cum magno diligentia dum preparabant cena magna pro ipsiis. Ingregientus principale de cena illis erat libris coctis.

Abihu elevabat digitos illis ad Piero dicens: "Malum virum! Male scripsisti et non scribe cum mentibus tuis! verba tua ridiculum sunt! Repente de stupiditate tuae propter non volo te occidere."

Sed Piero non repente. Ergo abihu illi occidebat cum thuribalis suis et mundus totus laete erat. Abihu consiliabat centralis Italici Episcopi usare optimum incensum et surplus indutu dum episcoporum alium institutione. Centralis Italici Episcopi, qui sancti viri erat, accepit consilium de Abihu et mundo securi erat de vestibus deformis et caerulei colori.

Speramus aliquid viri purpurae togatam studui pro officio habent in aevi quod magisterium eorum de lingua ecclesiae attenuatus est ut efflueret cum hoc legenda ludicra de S. Abiu Vini, pro cujus précibus reciprocata grata sumus.


From an idea by Augustine

*We know the word's "monachus", but that doesn't work so well in pig latin.