Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Fleeing from the wolves

Benedict's "Pray for me, that I will not flee from the wolves" is worth a little pondering  at the end of the year of his resignation: did he flee, did the wolves win, did his papacy end in abject failure?
It is worth asking what was the life work of Joseph Ratzinger, to man who regarded sign and symbol as important, it is worth considering his motto on his coat of arms: Cooperatores Veritatis, Co-workers with the Truth. It is the search for Truth, belief in its ultimate triumph, and the need for man's co-operation with it that has been Benedict's obsession.
When others were trying to deny the child abuse scandals, dismissing it is 'media chatter', he chose to tackle it head on, amongst his first acts as Pope was to instigate an inquiry into the founder of the Legion of Christ, Marcial Maciel Degollado. This was the motif behind his papacy, the search for Truth and the desire to demythologise. This is what lay behind his search for the 'authentic' Vatican II, and interestingly here, he was brave enough to use the SSPX as 'co-workers', recognising in them something authentically Catholic but rejecting the the mythology that had  built up in the rest of the Church over the Council, which after all purported to teach nothing new. With the Ordinariates there was a similar recognition of 'co-workers with the Truth' within the Anglican Communion.
As a young theologian at Vatican II he was instrumental in drafting the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, perhaps the most important document of all. It really is a work of sheer genius, carefully avoiding, the excesses of biblical scholarship without neglecting its verity, it is a synthesis of tradition and modernity, maintaining ancient Truth in the light of what many at the time would have regarded as a denial of that Truth. His subsequent work, the Jesus of Nazareth trilogy, was nothing other than a continuation of Dei Verbum.
For Ratzinger as we saw most clearly in his 2000 document Dominus Jesus, Jesus is Truth and is to be found within the Catholic Church.
Many people have expressed surprise at Pope Francis' restyling of Papacy, and fail to recognise the radical changes Benedict introduced, possibly with more gentleness. He abandoned not only the tri-regno on his coat of arms but also the theologically ambiguous title of 'Patriarch of the West'. His Papacy was a careful balancing of being a bishop with bishops but also being a bishop for bishops, the Papacy had a distinctive Christ given role within the Church. A reader asked me to explain what I meant by the phrase 'new Ultramontanism'. Leading up to Vatican One there were various factions, mainly French and Italian Jesuits, trying to present an almost deified model of the Papacy, the position that Council took was actually a very moderate balanced doctrine, entirely in agreement with ancient doctrines. The leaven however of Ultramontanism was still at work in popular piety, and as reaction to Modernism, and also as a response to modern media radio and film by the time we come to Pius XII we have a maximalist Papacy, which results in a Papam vult attitude to Vatican II, where 20th centuries Popes can make changes to the life of the universal Church which their 19th century predecessors could not even imagine possible. Pius IX, for example, was asked to change the 'perfidious Jews' Good Friday prayer, he seems to have had sympathy for the idea but said he didn't have the authority to change something so so ancient. The liturgy for him was a given, not something even a Pope could change. It seems as if this is the type of vision that Ratzinger had of the Papacy, within not over the Church and carefully defined by tradition. New Ultramontanism is the return to a Papacy where the Pope and his collaborators feel he can impose or do whatever he wants.

The most significant act of demythologising of the Papacy by Benedict was of course resigning, which some might have argued, until he did it, was impossible, as if there were some new indelible mark on the soul given with papal election, which makes the Pope distinct from every other Bishops. For a man of sign and symbol the strange veneration of his predecessor Celestine V, he placed his (old Pierro Marini-style) palium on the reliquary of the Pope, should have given us a clue. He did this in 2009 and returned again to the venerate the relics in the following year, quite sometime before the Vatileaks scandal broke. Therefore it would seem the decision to go was not directly linked to that scandal. or the wolves associated with it. I suspect the 'wolves' therefore are not really individuals but those who would destroy or mangle the Truth Ratzinger stood up for. However one should not underestimate the damage done to his Papacy by his betrayal by his butler, it meant no-one could trust communicating with the Pope by any means other than direct verbal communication, it gave the impression even the phone could be bugged, which for 86 year old becomes a serious strain. Others have intimated that one of the sources of leaks was the present Pope's second secretary Fr Fabiàn Pedacchio Leaniz who apparently kept the runner-up of the 2005 Conclave, Cardinal Bergoglio informed about what was happening in the Congregation for Bishops. Is perhaps legitimate to keep informed the runner up in the previous Conclave? It be would ironic indeed if that dossier prepared by by the three retired Cardinals actually contained a section 'leaks to Cardinal Bergoglio', I must say I can't understand why the box containing the dossier sat on the table between the two of them at their first meeting - another sign and symbol - and why no reference has been made to it subsequently.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle, S. Alfonso Maria de' Liguori

From starry skies descending,
Thou comest, glorious King,
A manger low Thy bed,
In winter's icy sting;
O my dearest Child most holy,
Shudd'ring, trembling in the cold!
Great God, Thou lovest me!
What suff'ring Thou didst bear,
That I near Thee might be!
Thou art the world's Creator,
God's own and true Word,
Yet here no robe, no fire
For Thee, Divine Lord.
Dearest, fairest, sweetest Infant,
Dire this state of poverty.
The more I care for Thee,
Since Thou, o Love Divine,
Will'st now so poor to be.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Bah, Christmas spirit!

We have just been putting up the crib, the weather is ghastly outside, I have just been reading the Gospels -dangerous, don't do it! Someone has just rung the doorbell and told me he arrived a few days ago from abroad for an operation and was told to come back in the New Year. The ATM has just swallowed his card, in Worthing.
I'm not sure I swallow the story but I wouldn't put a dog out on a night like this, so he is staying the night. Pray my suspicious, often disappointed parish priest side is wrong and the guardian angel is right and when I get up in the morning the family silver is still here and there is still a chalice to offer the Christmas mysteries with.
The trouble is the Gospels and the Tradition demands reckless charity... the insurance company probably has different ideas.
Imperfect charity is better than none at all.

Say a prayer ...

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A New Ultramontanism

The uncertainty of the last nine months seems to have affected younger clergy most of all, I mean those who studied for the priesthood under the later papacy of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Some might say much that Benedict built has already been dismantled. The careful beautifully crafted liturgies we saw in St Peter's that spoke eloquently of 'the hermeneutic of reform in continuity'  have disappeared. Even that phrase has gone and so much of the language Pope Francis uses seems to be a dog whistle to the sixties and seventies, to the point where contemporaries of the Pope both clerical and lay are given more comfort than the young.
We seem to have returned to many of the issues most of us had hoped had died on the vine 30/50 years ago, a priest ordained a little after me suggested we were living in 'time warp'. Senior clergy are thrashing about with moral issues, like communion for divorcees, communion for dissidents politicians, (there is a very good article here on politicising the Eucharist) lay groups that strove to overturn settled issues are given fresh fuel, it is almost as if some bishops are deliberately pouring petrol on the smouldering embers that in the last few decades many of us thought had almost burnt themselves out.

The people who seem to be discomforted most are younger priests, it doesn't just seem to be here in England or North America but world wide, I can only speak anecdotally of course but those I know and correspond with who are either young themselves or involved in formation tell me that many young clergy are wondering where the roller-coaster is going to end, or even if it is going to come of the rails and crash.

There is a crucial difference between the formation of older and younger priests, there is a divide which was really the publication of the Catechism. Priests and seminarians of my generation would swallow any old line about what the Church taught. Vatican II, an imminence work, unlike every other Council issued no Canons hence every word got Canonised. With Trent or VI the demand was a negative one, to reject those things condemned, VII demands not just the positive acceptance of the whole caboodle but in a way in which the specialists told us.we had to. The Catechism at least gave us a tool to unlock it and to interpret it.

I can understand the Pope thinking that those issues which people like me assumed were settled have actually not been, maybe today or tomorrow they need to be. Could it be we have just papered over cracks and in reality there are deep fissures? Possibly in places like South America, these issues were not settled, maybe the Church pulsates to a different rhythm elsewhere; military coups, dictatorships and juntas meant the Pope's homeland simply sees things differently but many younger clergy in North America and Europe, at least, I think thought God was beginning to give his Church peace so we might stop the post-Concilliar ad intra controversies and at last begin the work of evangelisation.

Though we are urged to look outwards, 'to the perpheries', what seems to be happening is that everyone both in and outside the Church is looking at the Pope, more so than any of his predecessors, he has become the sole 'specialist of the logos'. It appears as if the only indispensable person in the Church at the moment is the Bishop of Rome, he alone can control the velocity of the roller coaster and which particular track it will follow. He alone has the master-plan. What did he mean yesterday by the Curia no longer being  'inspector and inquisitor'? What seems to be happening is that we are dispensing with one one form of Ultramontanisn to more closely another one. Magister had an interesting article in which he spoke of  'the monocratic, centralizing form in which Francis is in fact governing the Church.'

It is not my intention to criticise, just merely to say I am still uncertain where I am being led and to express a degree of concern. The thing is that we have had John Paul II and Benedict XVI, we have had the Catechism, Vatican II has been studied and reflected upon for 50 years, the Church cannot go back to the chaos and anarchy of my youth. The state of flux which clergy of a certain generation look back on with fondness has been superseded. To impose on the Church of today a model of fifty years ago seems folly. The 'modern world' rejoiced over in Gaudium et Spes is the world of our grandparents generation there is new 'modern world' a world of mass and immediate communication, a world that is hostile to the fundamentals of Christian teaching and yet seems to hunger for it.

Since writing this I have read a piece by the good Fr Hunwicke, which in part, says similar things though coming from a different angle. What is particularly worrying is the effect of this new Ultramontanism on ecumenism and ecclesial unity and coherence in general.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Mass Times for Christmas

Midnight Mass: at midnight Sung with Chant and carols, carols from 11.30pm
Dawn Mass: 9am Low Mass - Old Rite 
Day Mass: 10.30am Sung with carols

Mass in Polish: 12.30

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Not a FFI Mass

Another success for Vienna! This actually happening during Mass, Fr Z says it is in St. Stephen’s, the Cathedral of Vienna.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Changes at the Congregation for Bishops

As others have pointed our, most significantly the Erastian Wuerl who defends Communion for dissident, anti-Life politicians is in and Burke is out. Fortunately Cardinal Ouellet is confirmed as Prefect, and interestingly Archbishop Nichols is appointed as a member of the dicastery, presumably to await his red hat in the next consistory. If the rumours of a hold up in the episcopal appointments because of ice between Westminster and the Nunciature are true, then one side has now won and we can expect a few appointments in the not too distant future as the magic circle takes up its slow dance once again.

The list of those appointed and reappointed, seems to follow the pattern of other Franciscan appointments. Professor Ratzinger was tolerant of those who had good minds but might disagree with him, Francis has an entirely different approach, maybe as a way of avoiding factions. It will be significant to see who will replace Cardinal Burke at the Apostolic Signatura, though I suspect a heavy hand on the Church's Law will be a mark of this Pontificate, at least in certain areas, as we have already seen with the FFIs.

Despite a hope for a modicum of pluralism, though we well might see de-centralisation, it will be based on the same old models, so no real change, just a passing impression of one.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Volpi's demand

On the surface it seems that the Friars of the Immaculate are being treated with great harshness. Compare the treatment of the Legionaries of Christ under Pope Benedict, with gentle paternal patience of Cardinal Velasio De Paolis and what is happening with the Friars under Fr Volpi. A loyal son of the Church can only conclude that the Holy Father who speaks continually of 'mercy' is completely unaware of what is happening with the Friars. There appears to be a brutalism Fr Volpi is exhibiting that seems reminiscent of the Inquisition or something from Eco's In the Name of the Rose. His measures are pretty strong.
Their houses of studies have been closed
Diaconal and priestly ordinations have been cancelled for this year.
Chaplains from the order to their nuns have been removed.
Their lay institute - 3rd Order- has been suspended, their publishing house closed down.
Individual members of the Order have been sent 'to gain missionary experience' or sent into what seems to amount to internal exile.

We do not know what crimes or heresies or what plots these secretive; silent Friars are guilty of. Their crimes must be horrendous, certainly they must be more dangerous than those of those American nuns 'who have moved beyond Jesus' or those who the Pope cited whose superior told them to not bother about morning prayer but to 'bathe in the Cosmos'.

What seems to be the problem, according to Rorate's reporting of Fr Volpi, is that they are "crypto Lefebvrists" or even if they aren't, he says, they have a tendency towards that kind of thing. I really don't know what that means, one might presume that they intended to ordain their own bishops, without a Papal Mandate or at the very least intended to send their students to Econe or something similar, however no evidence has suggested this. Indeed all that seems to have happened at the most extreme is an attempt to open up some kind of friendly dialogue with the SSPX, something very much in the spirit of Vatican II and Benedict's Pontificate.

Their crime seems to be that they took Summorum Pontificum seriously and used it as basis for their spiritual lives. What really seems to be happening is the beginning of a war on Pope Benedict's liturgical theology, obviously not of Pope Francis' making but at least in this case by one of his over eager lieutenants.

Many others have commented on Fr Volpi's demand that those presently in formation must personally subscribe to a formal acceptance of the Novus Ordo 'as an authentic expression of the liturgical tradition of the Church'.

I know most commentators have suggested there is little problem with this, I am not sure I agree. I have no problem in saying the Novus Ordo, or believing it to be valid, or even that it is now 'the Mass' of the Latin Church but to say it is 'an authentic expression of the liturgical tradition of the Church" is a little more complex. It goes  beyond a simple filial acceptance of something proposed by the Church. In short I do not what the phrase means.

In these day when Pope Francis has indicated a decentralisation or de-Romanisation of the Church, I would go so far as to say that throughout the history of the Church the liturgy has 'developed' by two methods; from below, where Rites developed locally and organically and slowly spread by being handed on to other Churches, a truly organic development. The other method, which always involves rupture, is from above, the Pope decides something and hands it down. It could be argued this was virtually unknown before the invention of moveable type, I am sure that the Tridentine reforms were very necessary but I would have difficulty in saying they were, 'an authentic expression of the liturgical tradition of the Church', though one could argue over the centuries they became so.  Even innovations such as the introduction of Sacral Latin by Pope Damasus or the introduction of the Filioque clause were gradual and organic. I accept what is handed down, as every Catholic priest or lay person does but I, along with Eastern Christians, would question, when pushed, whether this can really be described as 'authentic', in the way in which both East and West would understand it.

As Pope Benedict wrote, before his election, as a private theologian, the Novus Ordo was created ex nihil. This is a personal view but it is precisely such a personal view, coming from the other direction, that Fr Volpi is demanding of the Friars. It seems what he is really asking for is a certain understanding of history and hermeneutics, which I suspect Ratzinger himself and many others would have serious reservations, including of course those Cardinals who have shown themselves supportive of the Friars. It would obviously be wrong to see this as an anti Ratzinger thing. I repeat I have no problem with the Novus Order but in conscience if Volpi's question were put to me in the form of oath, I couldn't take it in good conscience, others might prevaricate, I could not.

I pray this kind of action is not a first demonstration of the future work of other lieutenants.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Alison Davis: Our Lady has taught me ....

Alison Davis' funeral takes place in Dorchester today I can't get to it but I did manage to get to Dorchester yesterday evening just after the reception of her body and in time to con-celebrate a Requiem Mass for her. The celebrant and preacher was the priest who received Alison into the Church.

He spoke of how Alison shortly after she began the process of entry into the Church moved to Dorset and for one reason or another wasn't able to get Mass or receive instruction locally but she used to ring up the priest from time to time and say, "Our Lady has taught me ....", he spoke of 'infused knowledge' because always what Alison had been 'taught' was always profound and always orthodox. In the sacristy after Mass other people told of other occasion when Our Lady 'taught her'. One occasion, she was 'taught' the Salve Regina, Alison had written it down in Latin as she had been given it, though she didn't know what it meant or what it was.

I had never met her, until recently I knew nothing of her I am always sceptical of anything strange, supernatural or mystical but last night people spoke of her transparency and of her great suffering and of her desire for Jesus and her saintliness.
May God grant her her hearts desire.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Have the Arians Won?

File:Anthonis van Dyck 005.jpg

I am sure it is not by accident that we have two Saints who fought to defend the divinity of Christ in the first week of Advent. St Nicholas's legend tells us he tore the beards of Arians at the Council of Nicea and Ambrose confronted an Arian Emperor and an Arian court.
Arianism says that the Son is less than the Father, he was not born before time began, that hence the Nicean Creed proclaims
... one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only begotten Son of God,
begotten of his Father before all worlds,
God of God, Light of Light,
very God of very God,
begotten, not made,
being of one substance with the Father;
by whom all things were made;
who for us men and for our salvation
came down from heaven ...
Pope Francis speaks of Pelagianism or neo-Pelagianism but Pelagianism is the fruit of Arianism. If Jesus is less than God then his example rather than his Divine power becomes more important, it is our response to him rather than his Grace that becomes stressed, our response to him becomes more important than he is. His teaching becomes a memory of the Church rather than the dynamic power that remains with the Church until the end of time. He becomes a historic event rather than present Presence.
So have the Arians won? Is Christ now more a moral example rather than a living Presence.
If we believe sacraments are empty of Power that they are tokens of Christ, then we are probably Arians.
If we believe God is distant that our prayers are not heard, that there is a great gulf between us and God, then we are probably Arian.
If we believe that the Word of God is about giving a moral example which only a few can fulfil rather than something which is life changing with ease if we are open to Grace, then we are probably Arian.
If we see the liturgy it terms of giving us comfort, bringing us closer to the memory of Christ rather than the act in which we participate in the life of the Father through the Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit we are probably Arian.
If we see the Church not as a Mystical Communion but as something human we are probably Arian.
If we reduce the Mass to a meal or to community celebration, we are probably Arian.
If Confession is really just prayerful counselling, or therapy, we are probably Arian.
If we think prayer is just being still, we are probably Arian.
If we lack hope, we are probably Arian.
If we lack faith, we are probably Arian.
Above all if we lack charity, we are probably Arian.

Anything which tends to reduce Jesus, is Arian. Part of our fallen human nature is to dethrone God, to trample him in the dust, to crucify him. In the West, especially, we have a tendency to chip away at Christ's divinity, to reduce to our level rather than accepting he takes us to raise us up to his level. to being Sons. As he is by nature we are made by adoption, but because he is God-Man.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Trent: a renewal

In 1543 the Council of Trent met and Wednesday marked the 450th anniversary of its closure. It is worth noting that the background to the Council is quite similar to the condition of the Church today, there where sexual scandals exemplified by the Borgia, there was partisan careerism exemplified by the Rovera pope, the fearsome warrior Julius II, there were financial scandals, the selling of indulgences by the same pope, there was even a 'gay lobby' on the part of many Curial officials - remember half a century before  'the Greek vice' had been a particular target of Savonarola,

To regard the period before Trent as being a time of doctrinal clarity is to demonstrate both an ignorance of history and to underestimate the importance of the great Council. In England Lollardy had existed since the mid-fourteenth century as an undercurrent, the same in Northern Italy and Switzerland with Waldensians, the great European heresiarchs of  the 16th century built on an already established foundation.

Popes, bishops, priests, abbots, monks along with Emperors, kings and other magnates exploited the faith for their own personal and political advantage. Spurious doctrines tinged with superstition were as common as spurious relics. When heresy reared its head as a new intellectual fashion, the clergy, for the most part, either took it up or because of ignorance were ill equipped to combat it. In Northern Europe principality after principality fell away from the true faith leaving the definitions the Catholic belief ragged and the clergy and faithful demoralised.

If one wishes to understand what was wrong before, or where the Church and it teaching was weak and under attack, it is well worth looking at what Trent saw as important. Its major concern seems to have been the reform of the clergy, not just their intellectual development but their spiritual and moral formation, concubinage, simony, empty benefices, lack of pastoral care, the lack of an evangelical example, seem to have been as much a problem as shaky theology. The new technology of movable type meant that for the first time not only could the Church's theology be made widely available but also its Rites could be standardised with greater ease than with costly manuscripts - it is worth noting that pre-Trent Pontificals were more or less rites peculiar to each diocese. Trent spent a great of time on Justification and Grace because the Medieval theology was imprecise, ultimately giving an imprecise image of God, before moving on to re-write the Rites. The development of the 'Tridentine Mass' is interesting, other Rites were permitted providing they had a 200 year pedigree, which presumably would suggest providing that they were free from nascent Protestantism or exaggerated local preference.

What Trent does with great force is to introduce Thomism into the centre of Catholicism as a unifying force rather than as a possible option, a school of theology amongst other schools. At the most obvious level Trent makes Thomas' definition of Transubstantiation de fidei because previous teaching on the Real Presence was imprecise and open to misreading.

I see liberalism and confusion as being the 'spirit' of Vatican II, Ultramontanism as the 'spirit' of Vatican I. The 'spirit' of Trent is perhaps seeing too harsh a break between the theologies that united East and West before the Great Schism. Trent in many ways marks a Westernisation of Catholicism, as the decline and fall of Constantinople a century before mark the Orientalisation of Orthodoxy. For Catholicism the fruit of the Reformation, because of the Fathers of Trent, was the Glorious Counter-Reformation.

Stephen Beale has a very worthwhile article: Lessons from the Council of Trent:

The achievements of the Counter-Reformation are breathtaking: It gave rise to great religious orders like the Discalced Carmelites, the Capuchins, and the Jesuits, who, in turn launched the great missions to South America, Africa, China and Japan. It gave birth to great saints like St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Philip Neri, and St. Francis de Sales and inspired a new era of devotional fervor, as exemplified in books written by many of those saints, like The Spiritual Exercises and An Introduction to the Devout Life. And it created the form of Catholicism that withstood centuries of social strife and political turmoil, from the French Revolution to the emergence of communism...

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Obituary: Alison Davis

Alison Davis
I tend not to lift entire pieces from other people publications, I make an exception here, it is the Catholic Herald's obituary by Francis Phillips for Alison Davis:

Alison Davis was born with spina bifida. She later developed conditions including osteoporosis, arthritis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Coping with these permanently disabling and painful conditions dominated but did not define her life. Indeed, they led her to champion the rights of the vulnerable, the disabled and the unborn, first as an atheist and then as a Catholic.
Her early adult life was marked by a determination to live as normal a life as possible, despite having to use a wheelchair. She studied sociology at university, where she stopped believing in God. Writing about this period of her life in a paper she delivered to a New Zealand Family Life International Conference in 2009 she was honest: “It was largely because I wanted to live a lifestyle I knew was incompatible with the Christian faith.” She married young, in 1975, but after ten years in which she “tried very hard to find happiness without God”, the marriage failed.
At university Alison had strongly supported a woman’s right to choose abortion but her attitude changed after she read of the case of a baby girl, Louise, born in 1979 with the same disabilities as hers, who had been deliberately starved and dehydrated to death by Dr Donald Garrow of the High Wycombe Hospital. The case, which received wide publicity at the time, shocked her to the core.
In 1981 the Guardian published a letter in which she criticised the killing of newborn disabled babies. The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) contacted her and argued that killing the newborn disabled was a consequence of killing the unborn. Alison was reluctant to give weight to SPUC’s arguments but within a couple of years she accepted them and became pro-life. From 1983 Alison worked full-time for SPUC’s newly developed Handicap Division (its name was later changed to No Less Human), for disabled people as well as their families and carers, and became a major commentator on anti-life policies which discriminated against disabled people.
John Smeaton, chief executive of SPUC, writes that “In spite of serious illness [Alison] continued to write, publish and broadcast on the eugenic nature of the Abortion Act and on healthcare and government policies, including major interviews on BBC’s Newsnight, the World Service’s Heart and Soul: Choosing Life series and leading letters in the national newspapers.”
In 1985 her marriage ended and in the following years a number of serious personal difficulties resulted in her making several suicide attempts. Yet paradoxically, she also started to search for religious belief. Having studied other world faiths, she turned to the Bible. “I began to think it could just be true,” she wrote. In 1986 she went to Scotland to stay with the prominent pro-life priest, Fr James Morrow of Humanae Vitae House in Braemar. He taught her to say the Rosary and she attended Mass in his chapel.
Yet the road to the Church was not easy and Alison still struggled to find meaning in life. Joining a pilgrimage to Lourdes she began to understand that she and the other sick people there were very much loved by God in their suffering. In 1987 she met Colin Harte who was working for SPUC. From 1989 he was her devoted companion and carer for the rest of her life; indeed, it was Alison’s conviction that pro-lifers should not compromise and exclude disabled babies in attempts to lower the abortion upper limit (as happened with David Alton’s 1987-88 Bill) that led Harte to question the whole basis of incremental legislation and to write his own book on the subject, Changing Unjust Laws Justly; Pro-Life Solidarity with the Last and the Least (2005).
During a second pilgrimage to Lourdes Alison learned for the first time that suffering need not be wasted; it can be offered up to God on behalf of others. She became increasingly drawn to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Finally, on Easter Sunday, 31 March 1991, she was received into the Church.
Although Alison knew she had “come home”, being a Catholic brought its own difficulties. She discovered some churches couldn’t accommodate wheelchair users and she sometimes experienced an acute sense of rejection. She learnt that her Faith would not remove the sorrows of life but that it does provide the grace and strength necessary to live with them. A visit to Calcutta over Christmas in 1991, and witnessing the love a pavement-dwelling family had for their tiny baby, brought home to her the infinite value of each human being created by God.
In 1995, with Colin’s help, she set up a charity for disabled children in South India. It gave her a sense of purpose in life that radically transformed the ensuing years. This changed perspective taught her the danger of euthanasia, which encourages people to make ultimate choices at a low point in their lives, on the assumption that it will never change for the better.
As someone who lived a life of considerable suffering, Alison often spoke of the opportunity to share in the sufferings of Christ, not merely as a privilege but as “the greatest privilege in the world.” Shortly before her death Colin Harte wrote, “Alison frequently heard it said after someone had died, ‘At least his (or her) suffering is now over.’ She asked me several times not to let anyone say that after she died, because she felt it diminished the particular gift she had to offer God. The Church provides a beautiful and profound teaching on suffering, but for many Catholics there is little understanding or appreciation of it. Alison’s life of intense suffering – physical, social, emotional, mental and spiritual – is an exceptional witness to the privilege and dignity of suffering in union with Christ.”
May she rest in peace

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Messy Church

Is there a new Franciscan Ecclesiology? It seems as if orthodoxy is now no longer a requirement in the Catholic Church that we should recognise 'what is' rather than insist on 'what should be'. Pastoral realism seems to be what Pope Francis is insisting on. Every bishop, every priest, every informed lay person knows that there is great gulf between 'what is' and 'what should be'.

The Pope talks about not refusing baptism to the children of those who are not married or divorced and remarried, this might be an issue in Argentina but I know of no priest in England and Wales who would refuse baptism on that issue. The vast majority of those I marry are living together before marriage, some chastely but most, I assume, not. Contraception, or even early stage 'contraceptive' abortion are as normal amongst Catholics as non-Catholics according to various surveys. Those in 'irregular unions' or 'same sex unions' seem not to understand the Church's teaching, or have rejected it. Many priests who might want to adopt a position on these issues know that they would not be backed up by their bishop and that their brother priests are happy to turn a blind eye, it is  difficult to be the odd one out, and effectively put people in 'bad faith' or in a state of simple confusion if most bishops and priests are 'pastoral'. The Church is after all about Communion, we are not Presbyterians, where individual priests do their own thing without reference to the head of the local Church. We are 'in Communion' with Christ and his Church because of our Communion with our Bishop, every Mass is an act of Communion with the local Bishop.

Sandro Magister speaks of 'a Federal Church' and draws on two issues raised by Francis' Exhortation, a) Synodalism and local bishops meeting in their Episcopal Conferences and exercising doctrinal autonomy, b) Enculturation and the de-Westernisation or de-Helenisation of Catholicism, both of which were opposed by rigorously by Benedict XVI.

Benedict represents the tidy centralised Church, Francis the messy decentralised Church, 'Go back to your dioceses and make a mess'. The great problem is that the we Catholics have no experience of a decentralised Church, like David Cameron's 'equal marriage' it is an untried experiment. Already, as Magister points out, priests are being sent home from the Roman dicasteries, heads of certain formerly powerful dicasteries have not been appointed. The CDW is one example, in a decentralised Church, presumably the local bishops will decide on how liturgy is celebrated in their local Churches, and dare I suggest, following the principle of lex credendi lex orandi, what doctrines are celebrated.

As Catholics we believe that no Bishop even the Bishop of Rome can change doctrine but any Bishop can choose to ignore certain doctrines or simply downplay them.

I am not sure what is going on in the tussle between Mueller and Zollitsch both sides claim to have the Pope on their side, perhaps both do, perhaps the Pope just wants them to sort things out between themselves. It is interesting that no pressure, as far as we know, has been put on the German Bishops to change their permission to issue abortiofacients in German Catholic hospitals. Our experience over the last 50 years is that what starts in Germany spreads to the rest of the Church.

I am anxious about the phrase 'genuine doctrinal authority' Pope Francis hasn't explained it. Could it mean that German bishops might decide to establish a rite for the ordering (rather than ordaining) of deaconesses on their 'genuine doctrinal authority', can it be kept in Germany? What will stop them from allowing inter-communion with Lutherans, or for that matter Concelebration with them, which already happens in some places in Germany, why should it not spread to other national Churches?

The problem is that doctrinally in many parts of the world doctrinally the Church is in a mess, unlike the Orthodox Church we Catholics do not have a strong sense of being part of an ancient Tradition or even much sense of Unity, indeed our 'Tradition' has been to throw out babies with bath water.

Alison Davis - pray for her

At the the meeting of the Guild of the Blessed Titus Brandsma on Saturday I asked for prayers for Alison Davis, the leader of No Less Human, this morning Alison died. Pray for her.

Those who cared for her and knew her in recent years believe her be great saint, in that she wished conform her life to Cross of Christ, embracing it, loving it, finding meaning and hope in it - pray for her and for those who loved her, especially Colin Harte who is the picture with her on her last visit to her beloved Lourdes.
See John Smeaton

Monday, December 02, 2013

Pope says, Jesus 'pretends'


 or pertaining to Jesuits o
r Jesuitism.
often lowercase 
practicing casuistry or equivocation; using subtle or oversubtle reasoning; crafty; sly; intriguing.
Or as the say you can take the Jesuit out of the Jesuits but not the Jesuit out of the Jesuit.

On Saturday Radio Vatican said, Pope Francis had said,
“In the Gospel, Jesus does not become angry, but pretends to when the disciples do not understand him,”
The ancient Fathers would baulk at such a suggestion, I can't think of one who would be be comfortable with the idea that the Gospels did not reveal the plain meaning of what Jesus said and did, it is only the Jesuits of the 17th century who would begin to suggest otherwise.
There is no suggestion in the Gospels that Jesus feigns, or pretends anything, on the contrary he is the 'Truth', he says, "Let you 'yes' mean 'yes' and you 'no' mean 'no'". His Kingdom stands in contradistinction to that of the kingdom of the Father of Lies.
If Jesus really does 'pretend' to be angry but isn't really what else does he pretend? Is he really just 'acting' in other emotional responses, when he sighs, when he weeps, when he rails against the Pharisees. Is he really grinning broadly when he calls Simon Peter, 'Satan'?
I do not agree with Pope Francis on this, we do not need smiley or angry face marks to interpret the Gospels.
Perhaps this says more about the Pope than it does about Jesus. Rather than Jesus pretending, is Pope Francis 'pretending'? After all if one believes the Son of God can and does 'pretend', why shouldn't the Pope? and if the Pope can 'pretend', why not the Church?
I really do think this is a very big issue, the ramifications run very deep, the implication is that the plain meaning of scripture is not readily available to the ordinary reader or hearer, it also means that for ordinary Catholics it is alright to 'pretend' for affect or for some other reason. If Jesus did it, why is shouldn't the Vatican Bank in its accounts or a Bishop defending his diocese against accusation of sexual abuse of minors, or why not a divorced and remarried Catholic 'pretend' and receive Communion anyhow. If 'pretending' is alright, why not hypocrisy, or downright lying?

The Lord’s descent into the underworld

At Matins/the Office of Readings on Holy Saturday the Church gives us this 'ancient homily', I find it incredibly moving, it is abou...