Saturday, September 20, 2014

Family Synod thoughts

Sous le slogan : « Un papa, une maman, on ne ment pas aux enfants », l’association Alliance Vita...I was on the bus today on the seat in front of me was a Muslim women in a headscarf with three young boys and a baby, she was gently telling one of the boys to stop sulking, whilst feeding the baby and chatting and laughing with the  others. On the sideways on row of seats was another mother dressed in western clothes chatting on her phone and  rather noisily telling off her daughter for making a mess with the chocolate she was eating. In fact she was more interested in fixing up a date for this evening a friend. I know I shouldn't have been listening but it was impossible not to. Her shopping seemed to be mainly bottles. The first mother was relaxed with her children and seemed to enjoy them, the other seemed to find her daughter a bit of trial.

I've been thinking about that phrase in the marriage ceremony about 'welcoming children'. It is interesting that so many of the early Fathers speak of hospitality as an important virtue for Bishops, it seems to be one of the virtues our Holy Father wants in bishops and priests, being welcoming.

I went to Bishop Schneider's Mass at Ramsgate some months ago, I was made very welcome by the Parish Priest, as usual and by the other clergy attending and I had several invitations to lunch, which as I had some parishioners with me and lunch was in restaurants I refused because I some couldn't afford it. My last invitation was from Dominic, the director of music, he invited me back to his parents house, I explained I had five parishioners with me, so I couldn't. His reply, "Oh bring them along, I'm taking the choir anyhow, my mother is used to catering for large numbers!" I think there are thirteen in the family, they are one of those large Catholic families that not only welcome the children God gave them but also their children's friends, and anyone else God sends them. They have certainly had a priest or two staying with them for extended periods. What I love about families like that is the sense of abandonment to God's will, which I am convinced is really behind the Church's teaching, not just on marriage and celibacy but on the spiritual life.

Another of my parishioners met a very nice French girl, who was just different, she took him home to meet her family, her parents and ten younger brothers and sisters, immediately he wanted what they had. He been thinking about becoming a Catholic but it was the encounter with her family that seems to have been main reason for his conversion. They had their wedding a few weeks ago in Paray le Monial, celebrated in the Old Rite by an Archbishop a family friend. In fact both these families are attached to the Old Rite. A real Catholic family is a great evangelical sign when it is truly the 'domestic Church'.

The interesting thing is of course that most Catholics have the national average number of children and practically all of the responses to the pre-Synod questionnaire demonstrate that Catholics are really unaffected by Catholic teaching on marriage and sexuality etc, in fact many, including sadly bishops and priests identify, themselves by their opposition tothis very teaching.

Having more than the average, 1.7 or 1.8 children, is often the preserve of the wealthy today, the cost for many is prohibitive, or at least frightening. The choice for children is counter-cultural, a choice against many of the values of what has become mainstream western culture. It needs a stable marriage for a start, it also has serious financial implications, it involves the mother choosing not to work, accepting different roles in the family.

For most Muslims, unlike Catholics, it is not a difficult choice, and yet 'welcoming children' has serious political and economic implications. Not welcoming children has meant the necessity of immigration, simply because we are not replacing our population or producing the number of people we need for industry. In fact we tend to treat poorer nations as a source of trained, educated workers in the same way as we might treat the as a source of other raw materials. Not welcoming children has been the cause of gender confusion, the commodification of sexuality, a trivialisation and narrowing of our understanding of the family, and a cruder and rougher society.

I get the impression children are part of our society on sufferance, that they are seen not as the natural result of the love of two people but 'chosen' and 'planned'. Now we can speak of children 'being wanted', as if there is a possibility in God's plan of a child being anything other than a gift or a result of God's good providence. If in our society children were a natural result of the committed love of a man and women, children themselves mioght grow up with the understanding that they will naturally themselves become parents sooner rather than later. In reality parenthood itself is not now normative, rather than being something which happens in the late teens or early twenties and being the reason for home and family and labour, it is often now the last significant thing that happens before retirement.
Human loving has changed, it is not seen in terms of protecting and nurturing but in terms of personal satisfaction or even personal happiness. Protecting and nurturing is the mark of unselfish adult love. 'Love' in the Gospel is about moving from self to the other, to God and one's neighbour. The family, is or should be the school of loving and a place of human maturing and flourishing.

My hope for the Synod is that it is really about is welcoming children, as important as other issues are, fundamental to everything is children. The fact they they have not figured greatly so far in pre-Synod discussions indicates how the Church has itself become as contracepting as the average Catholic family or the rest of society.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Malta isn't that bad

 Knights of Malta 900 years
A few subsequent thoughts on Cardinal Burke going to the Knights of Malta.
They wouldn't let me into the Knights of Malta, not that I would want join, my mum had quarterings by the score being of a foreign disposition, my father unfortunately was quarterless, not a a single one, totally without an arm to his name. In order to join the English Maltese Knights I think the requirement is to be armigerous for four generations, I don't know how they work it in the US.

Mgr Gilby described the Knights as, "doing the least good with the greates amount of fuss", and yet the few knights I know are as individuals rather splendid people, well educated, invariably well connected, often, if not wealthy, at least comfortably off, but more importantly committed to the faith. True they are of trad stripe but they are landowners, on the continent old European aristocracy, in this country they are lawyers, bankers, writers, accademics, army officers, invariably very well connected, what we might call members of the Catholic Establishment.

We talk a great deal about going out to the peripheries to evangelise but in doing that we the risk of turning the Church into a doughnut, all sides but no centre. The spreading of the faith in Brighton is interesting, the first church St John the Baptist, was built in 1835 by the aristocracy led by the Prince Regent's valid but illicit Catholic wife Maria Fitzherbert, it originally had a bar in it seperating the subscribers, who were wealthy from their staff and the masses who knelt behind them, In 1864 our church was built, according to one historian 'to get away from the smelley poor'. 1887 saw the opening of our daughter Church, the Sacred Heart, Hove, it was part of the movement of wealth along the coast as Brighton grew and spread. It illustrates an alternative to the model of  Evangelisation of Evangelium Gaudium.

In the past following Jesus' example of reaching to people like Nicodemus and Simon the Pharisee, the Church has always done good to the poor but tried to evangelise first the upper echelons of society, preferrably the King or the Court, with the expectation they would pass on the faith to their subjects. Jesus after all sends us out ad gentes, to the nations and we were successful at. We used our schools and colleges to form the minds and the very culture, the laws and mores of society. The Jesuits of course were leaders in this.

Since the 1960s everything has changed, now we all do aq great deal of good but with very little effect. Now wouldn't it be exciting if the there was a Cardinal who was young, clear thinking, deeply spiritual, possibly with a bit of American 'get up go', rooted within the Tradition but with a bit of imagination, who had no other duty but to write and teach but mainly to care for and develope an international group of Establishment types. I think that Cardinal Burke could re-invigorate the Knights of Malta and give them a new direction. He could certainly use their influence, their wealth and resources for a very positive effect in the Church. We still need to form the leaders of society. The Knights I know in this country seem to be somewhat disheartened, certainly directionless, possibly more into rubber chicke lunches than serious work for the faith. They lost control of their hospital by a bit of clever sleight of hand, which somehow I doubt would happen if someone like Cardinal Burke was in their corner. They could with the right kind of moral and spiritual leadership and with some enthusiasm become a potent force within the Church and the world, if only someone could give them a vision of what it means to be Catholic today and could cause them to be what they once were the bulwark against the Church's enemies. In the past their Cardinal Patron was given the role as an extra honour, now Burke be could be involved full time, he could bring the back to life.

More could happen with this appointment than some might expect.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Moving Beyond

So according to rumours Cardinal Burke is off to become Cardinal-Patron of the Order of Malta. It is hardly surprising considering his opposition to the new orthodoxies. If anyone has presented himself as the 'loyal opposition' it is Burke. Magister points out that he unlike many other Curial Cardinals has maintained his integrity and that is what I have heard from Rome. He is a Nathanael, 'an Israelite without guile'. Others might jockey for position, like renaissance princes, playing the Machiavellian games that are as much part of the Roman scene today as they were five hundred or a thousand years ago.

Ratzinger might well have appointed his enemies to key positions, so long as they could hold an intellectual position together but things are different now, broken corpses are now on display in the city squares. It is not necessary for the Prince to say anything, or even to know his policies, it is actions that are important and being part of his party. It is not the law but the style of interpreting it that matters. The signs of the times are more important than spoken words, the nuance than what is actually said. The straight bat of Burke was hardly going to survive for long in that environment.
Machiavelli, some clerics bedside reading, calls for examples to made, for occasional acts of cruelty, for signs of the Princes ruthless power.

What seems to be being said is that the age of dogma and doctrine is dead, everything is pastoral, focus groups replace creeds, there is more concern with how we are conceived by public opinion than any teaching. Contemporary theologians, Kung or Martini are obvious examples, have like those American religious 'moved beyond' Jesus, the Church, archaic formulas, archaic documents, statements or examples of dead men. What we are now concerned with is the 'lived experience'. In the New Pentecost, the age of the Spirit, that has superseded the age of the articulated Incarnate Word, it is the experience of women and men. The pneumatic, blow where it will Spirit is all that matters. Traddies might understand the 'Spirit of Vatican II' as wild and irrational, 'do what you like' but it is far from that. In is about synchreticisn, dialogue, moderation, compromise, ambiguity, recognition of ignorance, the preference for the via negativa, the rejection of the via positiva. Christ and the Apostles might be unambiguous about judgement, heaven and hell, about Him being the only Way, Truth and Life, about the necessity of Baptism and the Eucharist, about objective realities but in fact 'we have moved beyond' all of that. That is no longer the default position of the Catholic Church.

In that sense Burke and I suppose Ratzinger are the unwelcome voices of the past, increasingly it appears there is no place for them or the followers. Like the old Pope in isolation they await their demise!

Friday, September 05, 2014

Something old, something new

I've had a lovely day, two of my favourite people had a splendid wedding, very good and simple but you could feel their love. These are good people, I met their families for the first time, they were too were good and kind and loving. It is wonderful how goodness flows in families. Keep them in your prayers.

I 'acquired' some new members of the household too, this rather splendid icon of  S George. It is quite big, two foot high, it is obviously a 'Church' icon rather than a domestic one, possibly from the upper register of an iconastasis. It was probably sent to the west in the thirties from some despoiled church to buy grain It would have been stripped of its precious metal oklad and the halo, there are nails and minute traces of gilding, the beige areas would have been gilded but the gilding would have been damaged during this stripping, and it was fashionable in the west during that period to have icons which revealed the gesso ground. The little patch on the side is typical of better icons restored in the soviet workshops, it shows the un-restored state. It was offered for sale as 19/20th century but the craquelure and the discolouration of the un-restored portion as well as the limited palette of earth colours and viridian would indicate an earlier date, perhaps a century or more earlier.

I love the composition: the harmony of the rocks with the figure of S George, the sinuous form of the dragon, which could be inspired by an oriental vase, contrasts with the city; the balancing of shapes, the hand of God blessing from the quadrant of Heaven over S George, the darker portion of the world under the princesses feet and the city walls enclosing even the cathedral dome, all except the upper portion of the cross. What is so beautiful is the ethereal sketchy fluidity of the mounted saint and dragon contrasted with the heaviness of the painting of the city.

I am sure the painter wanted the viewer to compare and contrast the dynamic nature of the spiritual life and the heroic struggle against the dragon and the life of those enclosed in the niches and balconies of the coffin-like city fearing the dragon. It is visual theology: fear versus the freedom of the Sons of God.

(And all for less than a pilgrimage to Lourdes!)

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...