Thursday, 30 September 2010

Gay 'marriage' - wins and losses

The battle over gay 'marriage' continues in Australia with a loss, but a positive sign. 

Yesterday, Tasmania's Upper House passed legislation to recognize relationships from other jurisdictions.  Now that the Australian dollar is at parity with the loonie, I expect gay tourism to Canada will soar...well perhaps not given the huge population of Tasmania.

But on the positive side, at the Federal level PM Julia Gillard has confirmed that Labor MPs and Senators will not be given a conscience vote on any legislation on this subject from the Greens, but will be required to uphold the party platform of support for marriage as between a man and a woman.  That means any such legislation is not an issue, at least until this Parliament either collapses (courtesy of Mr Abbott) or runs its term...

Feast of St Jerome, Doctor of the Church

Pope Benedict XVI has given two General Audiences on St Jerome, both well worth reading or rereading to mark the feast.  Here is the first, from 7 November 2007:

"Today, we turn our attention to St Jerome, a Church Father who centred his life on the Bible: he translated it into Latin, commented on it in his works, and above all, strove to live it in practice throughout his long earthly life, despite the well-known difficult, hot-tempered character with which nature had endowed him.

Jerome was born into a Christian family in about 347 A.D. in Stridon. He was given a good education and was even sent to Rome to fine-tune his studies. As a young man he was attracted by the worldly life (cf. Ep 22, 7), but his desire for and interest in the Christian religion prevailed.

He received Baptism in about 366 and opted for the ascetic life. He went to Aquileia and joined a group of fervent Christians that had formed around Bishop Valerian and which he described as almost "a choir of blesseds" (Chron. ad ann. 374). He then left for the East and lived as a hermit in the Desert of Chalcis, south of Aleppo (Ep 14, 10), devoting himself assiduously to study. He perfected his knowledge of Greek, began learning Hebrew (cf. Ep 125, 12), and transcribed codices and Patristic writings (cf. Ep 5, 2). Meditation, solitude and contact with the Word of God helped his Christian sensibility to mature. He bitterly regretted the indiscretions of his youth (cf. Ep. 22, 7) and was keenly aware of the contrast between the pagan mentality and the Christian life: a contrast made famous by the dramatic and lively "vision" - of which he has left us an account - in which it seemed to him that he was being scourged before God because he was "Ciceronian rather than Christian" (cf. Ep. 22, 30).

In 382 he moved to Rome: here, acquainted with his fame as an ascetic and his ability as a scholar, Pope Damasus engaged him as secretary and counsellor; the Pope encouraged him, for pastoral and cultural reasons, to embark on a new Latin translation of the Biblical texts. Several members of the Roman aristocracy, especially noblewomen such as Paula, Marcella, Asella, Lea and others, desirous of committing themselves to the way of Christian perfection and of deepening their knowledge of the Word of God, chose him as their spiritual guide and teacher in the methodical approach to the sacred texts. These noblewomen also learned Greek and Hebrew.

After the death of Pope Damasus, Jerome left Rome in 385 and went on pilgrimage, first to the Holy Land, a silent witness of Christ's earthly life, and then to Egypt, the favourite country of numerous monks (cf. Contra Rufinum, 3, 22; Ep. 108, 6-14). In 386 he stopped in Bethlehem, where male and female monasteries were built through the generosity of the noblewoman, Paula, as well as a hospice for pilgrims bound for the Holy Land, "remembering Mary and Joseph who had found no room there" (Ep. 108, 14). He stayed in Bethlehem until he died, continuing to do a prodigious amount of work: he commented on the Word of God; he defended the faith, vigorously opposing various heresies; he urged the monks on to perfection; he taught classical and Christian culture to young students; he welcomed with a pastor's heart pilgrims who were visiting the Holy Land. He died in his cell close to the Grotto of the Nativity on 30 September 419-420.

Jerome's literary studies and vast erudition enabled him to revise and translate many biblical texts: an invaluable undertaking for the Latin Church and for Western culture. On the basis of the original Greek and Hebrew texts, and thanks to the comparison with previous versions, he revised the four Gospels in Latin, then the Psalter and a large part of the Old Testament. Taking into account the original Hebrew and Greek texts of the Septuagint, the classical Greek version of the Old Testament that dates back to pre-Christian times, as well as the earlier Latin versions, Jerome was able, with the assistance later of other collaborators, to produce a better translation: this constitutes the so-called "Vulgate", the "official" text of the Latin Church which was recognized as such by the Council of Trent and which, after the recent revision, continues to be the "official" Latin text of the Church. It is interesting to point out the criteria which the great biblicist abided by in his work as a translator. He himself reveals them when he says that he respects even the order of the words of the Sacred Scriptures, for in them, he says, "the order of the words is also a mystery" (Ep. 57, 5), that is, a revelation. Furthermore, he reaffirms the need to refer to the original texts: "Should an argument on the New Testament arise between Latins because of interpretations of the manuscripts that fail to agree, let us turn to the original, that is, to the Greek text in which the New Testament was written. "Likewise, with regard to the Old Testament, if there are divergences between the Greek and Latin texts we should have recourse to the original Hebrew text; thus, we shall be able to find in the streams all that flows from the source" (Ep. 106, 2). Jerome also commented on many biblical texts. For him the commentaries had to offer multiple opinions "so that the shrewd reader, after reading the different explanations and hearing many opinions - to be accepted or rejected - may judge which is the most reliable, and, like an expert moneychanger, may reject the false coin" (Contra Rufinum 1, 16).

Jerome refuted with energy and liveliness the heretics who contested the tradition and faith of the Church. He also demonstrated the importance and validity of Christian literature, which had by then become a real culture that deserved to be compared with classical literature: he did so by composing his De Viris Illustribus, a work in which Jerome presents the biographies of more than a hundred Christian authors. Further, he wrote biographies of monks, comparing among other things their spiritual itineraries as well as monastic ideal. In addition, he translated various works by Greek authors. Lastly, in the important Epistulae, a masterpiece of Latin literature, Jerome emerges with the profile of a man of culture, an ascetic and a guide of souls.

What can we learn from St Jerome? It seems to me, this above all; to love the Word of God in Sacred Scripture. St Jerome said: "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ". It is therefore important that every Christian live in contact and in personal dialogue with the Word of God given to us in Sacred Scripture. This dialogue with Scripture must always have two dimensions: on the one hand, it must be a truly personal dialogue because God speaks with each one of us through Sacred Scripture and it has a message for each one. We must not read Sacred Scripture as a word of the past but as the Word of God that is also addressed to us, and we must try to understand what it is that the Lord wants to tell us. However, to avoid falling into individualism, we must bear in mind that the Word of God has been given to us precisely in order to build communion and to join forces in the truth on our journey towards God. Thus, although it is always a personal Word, it is also a Word that builds community, that builds the Church. We must therefore read it in communion with the living Church. The privileged place for reading and listening to the Word of God is the liturgy, in which, celebrating the Word and making Christ's Body present in the Sacrament, we actualize the Word in our lives and make it present among us. We must never forget that the Word of God transcends time. Human opinions come and go. What is very modern today will be very antiquated tomorrow. On the other hand, the Word of God is the Word of eternal life, it bears within it eternity and is valid for ever. By carrying the Word of God within us, we therefore carry within us eternity, eternal life.

I thus conclude with a word St Jerome once addressed to St Paulinus of Nola. In it the great exegete expressed this very reality, that is, in the Word of God we receive eternity, eternal life. St Jerome said: "Seek to learn on earth those truths which will remain ever valid in Heaven" (Ep. 53, 10)."

You can read the Pope's second Audience on the saint here.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Anonymity and the blogger

A great debate is going on in Australia at the moment over the vindictive decision of  the Australian to out the identity of blogger 'Grog's Gamut'. 

Grog allegedly deserved his fate, according to the Australian, for having the temerity to criticise coverage of the election campaign by the media, and be listened to by people who matter. 

But the case for outing him is dubious at best.  And he has written a strong response on the issue.

How should we respond to criticism?

The urge to hit back and seek to destroy those who criticise you through exposure of their identity is perhaps a human one.  No one likes having their public actions scrutinised and found wanting.  But, speaking as a victim of this mentality, the notion that no one is entitled to retain their anonymity, though popular in this age of ever increasing invasion of privacy, should be rejected.

If someone criticises your ideas or actions, respond on the substance of the issue, not by personal attack.  Have a discussion that can be judged on the merits of the case made, not by trading insults.

Because in my view personal attacks reflect the narcissism inherent in our society - a narcissism that we as catholics should reject.

Do we really need to know every detail of  a person's life to judge what they produce?

Once upon a time, anonymity was considered to be a virtue.

It was felt to reflect a desire to serve through substance, not claim fame.

Monks and nuns  - such as the late Dom Calvet of Le Barroux for example, that great exponent of the traditionalist ethic - published as 'a monk of' or a 'nun of' their particular monastery.  Some of the greatest novelists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries wrote under pseudonyms.  The identity of most composers of chant remains unknown to us.

And even if we did in fact know their names, how much would it really tell us?

True, one can these days become a celebrity to the point that people will hang on your every post be it about the actual issues, or your cooking or bird watching activities.  Such information may increase the flow of donations, but does it make what you actually say on substantive issues any more convincing?

True too, that revealing one's identity can be leveraged in real world work - some US and UK bloggers undertake public speaking engagements, go on tv, provide media comment and so forth.  But that should be a personal choice, not a job description for an unpaid blogger.

The secularist exultation of the individual

But we live in an age where everyone believes they have the right to know everything about anyone else - where paparazzi plague the famous, teenagers pour out their every thought and move on facebook, and some twitter their every passing reaction.

An age where, it seems, there is nothing more infuriating to some than not knowing all the trivial details of another person's life and being able to expose them to all the world.

Consequences of breach of privacy

Yet there are real dangers to having one's identity out in the open, as anyone who has been following the media over the last few years will know.  We live in an era where calumniation and detraction are rife, and where, having been immortalised by the internet, are almost impossible to rebut.  Where cyber attacks can take on physical dimensions. 

In Grog's case, it turns out he is a public servant, and though he appears to have observed the proper bounds of his position, his work life will almost certainly be severely compromised by the revelation of his identity. And even if there were truly an issue in relation to the Public Service Code of ethics, is outing him in public the proper way to deal with this issue?  I doubt it.

If the Australian didn't like what Grog was writing, they have a powerful medium at their disposal to rebut it (as indeed potentially do all of us in this age of blogs).  Ideas, actions and arguments in the public domain should be responded to in the public domain on the level of ideas.

Not through personal attacks.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Fr Gresser FSSP update

Many will know that Fr Laurence Gresser FSSP of Sydney was seriously injured recently (and will hopefully have taken note of the request for prayers in the sidebar).  The Sydney website provides this update:

"Our chaplain, Fr Gresser FSSP, had a very serious accident on Saturday, the 18th of September. A gas heater blew up while he was lighting it and burnt over 35% of his body. His left arm, right shoulder, chest and face suffered burns of various degrees. He also suffered fire inhalation injuries.

After being placed on the critical list, he made a remarkable recovery, that after six days he can now walk and talk a little.

Fr Gresser needs our prayers, as do his family. Fr Wong and the other FSSP priests in Sydney, and all those parishioners who are closely associated with the administration of the chaplaincy also need your prayers.

Our Lady Mary, the Blessed Virgin Mother of the Church, pray for him.

St Lawrence, pray for him."

Social Justice Sunday: another politically correct wimp out?

Yesterday was Social Justice Sunday, and the Australian Bishops' Conference released a statement for the occasion entitled 'Violence in Australia A Message of Peace'.

Violence is a real issue, but...

The focus on violence in our community - from road rage, street violence, domestic violence, internet bullying and vilification of groups such as asylum seekers is potentially a helpful one.  Or it would be if it actually tackled the substantive issues head on rather than striving above all for political correctness.

In particular:
  • how can one talk about violence in Australia, focusing particularly on the 'powerless, marginalized and excluded' without mentioning the thousands of unborn children murdered through abortion?
  • instead of congratulating society for finding alternatives to corporal punishment, perhaps it should be asking whether sparing the rod has actually contributed to the lack of self-discipline that gives rise to violence such as road rage? 
  • instead of advocating pacificism in all circumstances (as the document seems to, twisting the interpretation of Scripture and highlighting the efforts of pacifists such as Dorothy Day), perhaps it should be pointing to a broader range of possible responses.  In particular, it is one thing to forgive one's attackers - but does that really mean murderers shouldn't serve jail time or some other suitable punishment as the discussion of the attack on Irish tourist Georoid Walsh on page two of the document seems to suggest?
  • instead of swallowing whole the secularist notion that anything you say that makes me 'feel bad' - even if it is truth - should be avoided as 'verbal aggression' or bullying, we should insist that true peace can only be found through truth.
Social justice in line with the Church's social teaching is an important concept.

But it will continue to have a bad name and fail to engender real support and action on the part of believing Catholics until what is put up under its name actually teaches Catholic values, rather than simply appealing to secularist ones.

You want to live - but your kids and grandkids want to be able to kill you...

A fascinating poll conducted by News Limited came out yesterday.  It claims (on a survey of 1500 people), that 78% of Australians support the legalization of euthanasia, including 80% of 45-65 year olds.

But only 18% of 65 to 74 year olds support legalization of euthanasia.

That's a pretty dramatic difference of opinion.

Well, it's well known that most murders are committed by family members....

PS The Punch has run a couple of excellent articles against euthanasia, do go and read:

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Gillard against legalising euthanasia!

And here's one for all those paranoid about the Emily's listers gaining power: the Prime Minister has come out indicating that she does not support legalising euthanasia:

"Prime Minister Julia Gillard says the technicalities of legalising euthanasia seems "almost impossible", but she is still open to debating the issue. [Under the terms of the deal with the Independents she has to be open to the debate  - a provision of the deal - one that I very much doubt Mr Abbott will choose to renege on, requires private members bills to be given the time of day.]

The Australian Greens is pushing to give terminally-ill people in the Northern Territory or the ACT the right to die as one of its top priorities. [The Greens are black indeed]

Ms Gillard has promised Labor MPs a conscience vote on the issue [as has Mr Abbott], but said on Sunday, she has some in-principle reservations.

"I find it almost impossible to conceptualise how there would be appropriate steps and safeguards," she told Network Ten.

"Intellectually, people should be able to make their own decision, but I find it very hard to conceptualise how we would have the sort of safeguards that we would need if we did say that euthanasia was legal."

Thou shalt not lie, aka 'a man's word is his bond'

In my secularism on Saturday post, I drew attention to Opposition leader Mr Abbott's decision to renege on the deal he signed up to with the Independents to provide a 'pair' to the speaker, and the lack of integrity that this demonstrates.

Despite the Solicitor-General's clear advice that pairing raises no constitutional problems, others claim otherwise.  So herewith the actual advice the S-G provided:

"The question is:

Is there any necessary constitutional impediment to a pairing arrangement between the Speaker of the House of Representatives and another member from an opposing political party if that arrangement has a fixed operation irrespective of any particular vote?

...My answer is:

No, subject to two provisos. The first proviso is that the arrangement could not give to the Speaker a deliberative vote and could not deprive the Speaker of a casting vote. The second proviso is that adherence to the arrangement by the other Member could only be voluntary."
The provisos
The first proviso clearly rules out some of Mr Oakeshott's ambitions.  Clearcut.
The second proviso points out the obvious: all pairing arrangements, past and present, are voluntary.  That's because you couldn't pass a law binding the vote of an MP.
But equally you can't force them to vote. 
One can however enter into a 'politically and morally binding' agreement on the subject.  As everyone thought Mr Abbot had....

The S-G particularly notes that "I do not think it matters for this purpose how formally or informally an agreement or arrangement might be expressed."

 You can read the full text of the opinion here.

And I stand by my original position: there is more to 'manliness' than participating in ironman competitions; and Catholic politicians, just like everyone else, must demonstrate integrity in their dealings.

Why women are unhappy....

There is an interesting article in the Weekend Australian  from Cardinal Pell drawing some attention to research (from the journal First Things) on the effects of contraception on sex, marriage and divorce, and ultimately the happiness (or more particularly the lack thereof) of women.

Men just won't marry...

There is considerable social research in Australia (and elsewhere) to show that the tendency of women to marry later and thus have fewer children reflects not their own preferences (such as a desire to pursue a career), but rather the reluctance of men to commit.   Yet at the same time, it is women who initiate most divorces.

The reasons for this according to economist Timothy Reichert, reports Cardinal Pell, go to straightforward economics.  In particular:

"...the pill has divided what was once a single mating market into two markets.

This first is a market for sexual relationships, which most young men and women frequent early in their adult life. The second is a market for marital or partnership relationships, where most participate later on.

Because the pill means that participation in the sex market need not result in pregnancy, the costs of having premarital and extra-marital sex have been lowered.

The old single mating market was populated by roughly the same number of men and women, but this is no longer the case in the two new markets.

Because most women want to have children, they enter the marriage market earlier than men, often by their early 30s. Men are under no such constraints.

Evolutionary biology dictates that there will always be more men than women in the sex market. Their natural roles are different. Women take nine months to make a baby, while it takes a man 10 minutes. St Augustine claimed that the sacrament of marriage was developed to constrain men to take an interest in their children.

Men leave the sex market at a higher average age than women to enter the marriage market.

This means that women have a higher bargaining power in the sex market while they remain there (because of the larger number of men there) but face much stiffer competition for marriageable men (because of the lower supply) than earlier generations.

In other words, men take more of "the gains from trade" that marriage produces today."

And why women are more likely to initiate divorces...

"Reichert also claims that this market division produces several self-reinforcing consequences, including more infidelity.

From a Christian viewpoint it is incongruous and inappropriate to consider baby-free infidelity as an advantage for women or men.

But younger women are likelier to link up with older, successful men than older women with young men, as any number of married women can attest after rearing children, only to find their husband has left for a younger woman.

Another consequence is a greater likelihood of divorce. Because of their lower bargaining power, more women strike "bad deals" in marriage and later feel compelled to escape. This is easier today because the social stigma of divorce has declined and because of no-fault divorce laws...."

The Church on contraception

The Cardinal goes on to discuss Humane Vitae and the Church's continuing official stance rejecting the contraceptive mentality, even while acknowledging that the majority of churchgoers do not actually accept this teaching.

But the reasons for this rejection arguably go deeper than 60s revolution in the Church.  Sandro Magister has recently published a series of posts pointing to a continuing failure on the part of the Church to teach on this subject, going back to the first half of the twentieth century.  Magister has pointed out that even as official statements to the Magisterium became tougher, their enforcement became slacker.  Even the latest guidelines for confessors take a much softer position than HV he points out.

Turning around the contraceptive mentality, even (or indeed especially) among those who actually attend mass regularly requires a concerted effort to convert first priests to orthodoxy, then persuade them to preach and advise persuasively on the subject, and for young men and women to reject the secular cost benefit analysis alluded to in the Cardinal's article in favour of the spiritual benefits.

Don't hold your breath.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Blessed Mary McKillop excommunicated for exposing child abuse?

There are stories on the ABC and Fairfax websites today claiming that Blessed Mary McKillop's excommunication in 1871 was an act of revenge for exposure of a paedophile priest.  The priest concerned was sent back to Ireland (without canonical action being taken against him), triggering a desire for revenge from one of his fellow Adelaidian priests. 

The full story will run on ABC's Compass Program a week before the canonisation ceremony in October.

Not completely implausible I suppose (though the more accepted explanation of power issues and the other serious issues around the bishop who excommunicated her were equally so).  But if it is true, why has it only come out now?

All very strange.

Secularism on Saturday...

  • WA's Euthanasia Bill has been convincingly defeated - but several more battles in this war yet to be fought;
  • the Forty Days for Life campaign has started in Adelaide, Melbourne and many international locations.  To help support the local campaign, take a look here.
  • Bishop Julian Porteous has written a rebuttal of some of the key threads in Geoffrey Robertson's book attacking the Pope;
  • for a classic piece of secularist behaviour from someone claiming to be catholic - reneging on signed agreements (on totally spurious grounds) is apparently fine when it comes to politics, as is working not to support peace order and good government, but to destroy it.   No Mr Abbott, destruction is not the role of an Opposition.  The role of an Opposition is to provide an alternative, to hold the Government to account, to seek to improve Government - not to seek to systematically undermine it.  I recommend watching Clark and Dawe on the subject;
  • but I doubt if anyone is worrying about any of this today, instead no doubt preoccupied with one of Australia's most popular and elaborate secular rituals, viz...the Australian Rules Football Grand Final....

Friday, 24 September 2010

What we can learn from Islam

In two other pieces today, I've highlighted reasons for concern about Islam.  But I don't want to be entirely negative, because I do think Islam can serve as a salutary reminder of some aspects of the Catholic patrimony that have been neglected in our time.

Many Islamic practices are very similar to traditional Christian ones.  That's not surprising - in its origins St John Damacene thought Islam was best thought of a Christian heresy rather than a totally new religion.

There will always be major theological differences: the Christian emphasis on the mysteries of the faith is at direct odds with the clear cut nature of much Islamic beliefs.

But there is at least some common ground that may be able to be found in the fight against the pernicious influence of secularism.

And at the level of practice, there are things we can learn from.  For example, the value of fasting at the appropriate season.  As Cardinal Pell has pointed out in relation to the recently ended Ramadan: "The discomfort of hunger and thirst helps develop self-control and conquer anger and reminds participants of the sufferings of the poor and the starving.  Worship and prayer accompany the fasting so encouraging both contemplation and community spirit."

Why Sharia law is a real threat....

An interesting new US think tank report was released this week explaining just why we should be worried about the prospect of sharia law infiltrating the West.   It is not just terrorists we should be concerned about, they argue, but those who are using stealthier means to advance their agenda.

What is sharia law?

Sharia is a body of customary law derived from the sayings, practices, and teachings of Mohammed that guides all aspects of Muslim life including daily routines, familial and religious obligations, and financial dealings. There are different schools of Islamic thought encapsulated in the Sunni, Shi'ite and other sects that impact on the way sharia law is applied in different Islamic countries. 

Sharia law has two main divisions for practical purposes: marriage, divorce, inheritance and custody laws; and criminal law, made infamous for its harsh punishments.  Even where Islamic states decline to use 'hadd' punishments, vigilante justice in the form of honour killings and so forth to effect it are a worldwide problem.

Two schools of thought among Muslims in the West to the introduction of sharia law

The biggest push in the West relates to giving official sanction to marriage, divorce, inheritance and custody laws.  The problem is that Muslim laws are gender biased, so that in the UK, for example, where sharia law is already legally enforceable in these areas, women who 'voluntarily' accept the jurisdiction of sharia courts can end up considerably worse off financially than they would under secular courts.

But there is a bigger issue at stake here as well.  The US Center for Security Policy report suggests that there is a broad distinction between Muslims who embrace Shariah law as the comprehensive model for governing all human society and those who view it as a reference point for personal behavior but not for the conduct of government and the state:

"On this side of the divide, shariah is a reference point for a Muslim’s personal conduct, not a corpus to be imposed on the life of a pluralistic society.  By contrast, the other side of the divide is dominated by Muslim supremacists, often called Islamists. Like erstwhile proponents of Communism and Nazism, these supremacists--some terrorists, others employing stealthier means--seek to impose a totalitarian regime: a global totalitarian system cloaked as an Islamic state and called a caliphate.

On that side of the divide, which is the focus of the present study, shariah is an immutable, compulsory system that Muslims are obliged to install and the world required to adopt, the failure to do so being deemed a damnable offence against Allah. For these ideologues, shariah is not a private matter. Adherents see the West as an obstacle to be overcome, not a culture and civilization to be embraced, or at least tolerated. It is impossible, they maintain, for alternative legal systems and forms of governments peacefully to coexist with the end-state they seek.

The good news is that millions of Muslims around the world--including many in America--do not follow the directives of Shariah, let alone engage in jihad. The bad news is that this reality reflects the fact that the imposition of strict shariah doctrine is at different stages across Muslim-majority and -minority countries."

The non-violent threat

The think tank report argues that non-violent Islamists supporting the imposition of sharia law are particularly dangerous because their tactics make them harder to detect and oppose:

“Far less recognizable, however, is the menace posed by jihadist enemies who operate by deceit and stealth from inside the gates,” the experts said. “The latter threat is, arguably, a far more serious one to open, tolerant societies like ours.  Their aim, claims the report is 'civilization jihad', or the destruction of Western society as we know it.

One could add that this group are dangerous for another reason, and that is in their intimidation of moderate Muslims into conformity.  Across the world manifestations of a stricter approach to Islamic practice are growing in strength, not diminishing.  For example, women in countries where not even headscarves, let alone the burqa are customary, are being intimidated into wearing them. 

You can read the full report here.

Friday prayers...watching Islam in Australia

  • The Defence Department confirmed last week that locals turned on Australian soldiers in Afghanistan after rumours spread that they were burning the Koran regularly. One person (not an Australian soldier) was killed;
  • Take a look at this effort - courtesy of the Australian Curriculum Studies Association and Melbourne University's Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies - to have provide resources for teachers so that “every Australian school student would be taught positive aspects about Islam and Muslims — and that Australia is a racist country". The leaflet explains that the school curriculum often contains references to things - such as Christian religious and celebrations including birthday parties - that cause concern to Muslim parents. Teachers have a responsiblity, they argue to adapt the curriculum if necessary to address these concerns...It even suggests teaching children a poem called Allah, which starts "I tried to find Him on the Christian cross, but He was not there..."
  • The burqa debate in NSW is off and running. A pro-burqa rally, complete with denunciations of Western values, received front page coverage in the SMH on Monday.  Elizabeth Farrelly has a useful piece in the SMH on just why the burqa does raise real concerns;
  • Muslims have warned the Labor Party not to take them for granted - and pointed out that Muslim voters now make up 17% of electors in the seat of Blaxland, Paul Keating's old seat.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Responding to the threat from within: Aidan Nichols OP on modern heresies

I must be feeling particularly apocalyptically inclined this week, because I find myself contemplating the three major threats the Church faces: secularism, Islam and heresy and subversion from within. 

One can debate which is the biggest threat.  Secularism alas, is always with us these days, and therefore a popular choice.  Personally, as I've said before, I worry as much about Islam, for reasons I'll talk more about tomorrow.  But today a little return to the internal challenges to the Church in the form of an appreciation of a recently published book, Fr Aidan Nichols OP's Criticising the Critics Catholic Apologias for Today.

Nichols on heresies and other subversions

Nichols is, I think once of those (relatively few) contemporary theologians a traditionalist can safely read knowing that what he writes is entirely orthodox, and that (unlike many American writers) he will give weight to the tradition.  He himself advocates reading traditionalist writers and taking their arguments on board 'up to a point': fortunately, applying that instruction in reverse, the points on which a traditionalist view might differ to those of Nichols are clearly delineated in the text. 

Criticising the Critics is actually a much needed attempt to put together a response to the most dangerous outright heresies, and some of the more problematic directions in the modern Church.  In particular he tackles modernism in its contemporary manifestations, including the deformation of catechetics; the excesses of ecumenism and interreligous dialogue under the heading of neo-Gnosticism; the problems of academic scriptural exegesis; the idea that God is not 'Father' under feminism; congregationalism, under a chapter 'For Liberal protestants: How Christ is Priest'; life issues; the sexualisation of our culture; and the idea of Christendom.

The primary value of this book is not, I think, in the originality of the material, but in its concise analysis of problematic trends in the Church, and of marshalling and explaining the magisterial and best theological responses to them.

The volume is fairly slim (one hundred and seventy three pages including notes) so it is necessarily only a starting point on this task. So while the chapter on the sexualisation of our culture contains a very useful exposition largely based on the Dictionnaire de théologique catholique, for example, it doesn’t take up the expositions on the subject offered by the current Pope. And there several other topics one would have liked to see covered in the book.

But works that systematically respond to contemporary errors and misdirections in a helpful way are relatively hard to come by, and this one is both entertaining and informative.

The diminution of Scripture

One of the particular joys of Nichols' approach is that he doesn't limit himself to outright heresies, but also tackles some of the problematic directions that have led to the predominance of what one might call "Catholic-lite".

Most modern Catholics, for example, when confronted with Scripture whether in the form of praying the psalms in the Office, or just reading the Bible, struggle.  And buying one a contemporary commentaries won't, in my view, help much.

The problem is that Catholics are no longer taught to understand Scripture in the way it has always been understood by the Church. 

In part that's an unintended side-effect of the liturgical reforms in my view.  Whereas in the traditional Mass, the propers (mostly psalm verses) and Gospel of the day generally connect up and teach a particular message, reinforced by repetition, the continuous nature of the new lectionary and de facto stripping out of the propers drowns out that contextualisation of key texts of Scripture. 

In part the problem comes about because of the loss of connection to the interpretations of the Church Fathers.   Blessed Cardinal Newman, for example, advocated every family having a copy of the Catena Aurea of St Thomas Aquinas (a compilation of patristic texts linked to each Gospel verse) in their home, and translated it into English to that end.  It is telling that the most comprehensive contemporary patristics project, the Ancient Christian Commentaries on the Scripture series, is actually an ecumenical effort.

But in very large part, the reason Catholics most avoid Scripture, or approach it only in a faux-lectio divina "how do I feel emotionally about it" mode, comes down to the disconnection of academic exegesis from theology, and it is this that Nichols tackles.

Nichols on the historico-critical method

His chapter directed at academic exegetes usefully draws together some key points of the emerging critique of the historical-critical method.

First Nichols points to the rationalism and historicism inherent in the method that have essentially rendered academic exegesis “existentially irrelevant”.

Then he draws on recent critiques that seek a return to the idea that one must read scripture ‘not in splendid isolation but as a disciple in the company of saints’.

Certainly anyone who has suffered through academic Scriptural studies with its tedious preoccupation with questions of authorship, dating, the path of development of the text, and other philological questions will enjoy his citation of Bockmuehl’s view that the reductionism inherent in this method is akin to ‘restricting the study of a Stradavari to the alpine softwood industry of Trentino’.

Nichols' book seeks to contribute to a project of restoring a sense of ‘serene confidence’ to Catholic Christianity after a period of doubt and turmoil. It is an objective we should all support.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

The Pope on evangelizing our fellow Christians...

One of the things I thought particularly interesting, as I've pointed out in earlier posts, in the Pope's UK remarks was the overt nature of some of his jabs at Anglicanism, and (continuing) attempts to persuade all that the best kind of ecumenism is conversion to Catholicism.

Now Fr Z has highlighted another symbolic gesture that supports my analysis: when the Pope went to (Anglican) Westminster Abbey for an ecumenical service, he wore a stole of Pope Leo XIII.  Pope Leo XIII was the Pope who declared Anglican orders to be invalid....

Yo, Papa B, you've gotta love him!

Ember Days in September

This week the traditional liturgy features the September Ember Days on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Ember Days broadly mark the changing of the seasons, and are traditionally days of fast and abstinence "to thank God for the gifts of nature, to teach men to make use of them in moderation, and to assist the needy".

The masses for these days are more elaborate than the usual, especially on Saturday, where there are several readings.

The Golden Legend instructs us on the reasons for Ember Days:

"The fasting of the Quatretemps, called in English Ember days, the Pope Calixtus ordained them. And this fast is kept four times in the year, and for divers reasons.

For the first time, which is in March, is hot and moist. The second, in summer, is hot and dry. The third, in harvest, is cold and dry. The fourth in winter is cold and moist. Then let us fast in March which is printemps for to repress the heat of the flesh boiling, and to quench luxury or to temper it. In summer we ought to fast to the end that we chastise the burning and ardour of avarice. In harvest for to repress the drought of pride, and in winter for to chastise the coldness of untruth and of malice.

The second reason why we fast four times; for these fastings here begin in March in the first week of the Lent, to the end that vices wax dry in us, for they may not all be quenched; or because that we cast them away, and the boughs and herbs of virtues may grow in us. And in summer also, in the Whitsun week, for then cometh the Holy Ghost, and therefore we ought to be fervent and esprised in the love of the Holy Ghost. They be fasted also in September tofore Michaelmas, and these be the third fastings, because that in this time the fruits be gathered and we should render to God the fruits of good works. In December they be also, and they be the fourth fastings, and in this time the herbs die, and we ought to be mortified to the world.

The third reason is for to ensue the Jews. For the Jews fasted four times in the year, that is to wit, tofore Easter, tofore Whitsunside, tofore the setting of the tabernacle in the temple in September, and tofore the dedication of the temple in December.

The fourth reason is because the man is composed of four elements touching the body, and of three virtues or powers in his soul: that is to wit, the understanding, the will, and the mind. To this then that this fasting may attemper in us four times in the year, at each time we fast three days, to the end that the number of four may be reported to the body, and the number of three to the soul. These be the reasons of Master Beleth.

The fifth reason, as saith John Damascenus: in March and in printemps the blood groweth and augmenteth, and in summer coler, in September melancholy, and in winter phlegm. Then we fast in March for to attemper and depress the blood of concupiscence disordinate, for sanguine of his nature is full of fleshly concupiscence. In summer we fast because that coler should be lessened and refrained, of which cometh wrath. And then is he full naturally of ire. In harvest we fast for to refrain melancholy. The melancholious man naturally is cold, covetous and heavy. In winter we fast for to daunt and to make feeble the phlegm of lightness and forgetting, for such is he that is phlegmatic.

The sixth reason is for the printemps is likened to the air, the summer to fire, harvest to the earth, and the winter to water. Then we fast in March to the end that the air of pride be attempered to us. In summer the fire of concupiscence and of avarice. In September the earth of coldness and of the darkness of ignorance. In winter the water of lightness and inconstancy.

The seventh reason is because that March is reported to infancy, summer to youth, September to steadfast age and virtuous, and winter to ancienty or old age. We fast then in March that we may be in the infancy of innocency. In summer for to be young by virtue and constancy. In harvest that we may be ripe by attemperance. In winter that we may be ancient and old by prudence and honest life, or at least that we may be satisfied to God of that which in these four seasons we have offended him.

The eighth reason is of Master William of Auxerre. We fast, saith he, in these four times of the year to the end that we make amends for all that we have failed in all these four times, and they be done in three days each time, to the end that we satisfy in one day that which we have failed in a month; and that which is the fourth day, that is Wednesday, is the day in which our Lord was betrayed of Judas; and the Friday because our Lord was crucified; and the Saturday because he lay in the sepulchre, and the apostles were sore of heart and in great sorrow."

There is an interesting article on the odd change in the calculation of the dates for the September Ember Days in the 1960 rubrics over at New Liturgical Movement.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Feast of St Matthew

From Pope Benedict XVI's August 30 2006 General Audience:

"...let us reflect today on Matthew. To tell the truth, it is almost impossible to paint a complete picture of him because the information we have of him is scarce and fragmentary. What we can do, however, is to outline not so much his biography as, rather, the profile of him that the Gospel conveys.

In the meantime, he always appears in the lists of the Twelve chosen by Jesus (cf. Mt 10: 3; Mk 3: 18; Lk 6: 15; Acts 1: 13).

His name in Hebrew means "gift of God". The first canonical Gospel, which goes under his name, presents him to us in the list of the Twelve, labelled very precisely: "the tax collector" (Mt 10: 3).

Thus, Matthew is identified with the man sitting at the tax office whom Jesus calls to follow him: "As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, "Follow me'. And he rose and followed him" (Mt 9: 9). Mark (cf. 2: 13-17) and Luke (cf. 5: 27-30), also tell of the calling of the man sitting at the tax office, but they call him "Levi".

To imagine the scene described in Mt 9: 9, it suffices to recall Caravaggio's magnificent canvas, kept here in Rome at the Church of St Louis of the French.

A further biographical detail emerges from the Gospels: in the passage that immediately precedes the account of the call, a miracle that Jesus worked at Capernaum is mentioned (cf. Mt 9: 1-8; Mk 2: 1-12) and the proximity to the Sea of Galilee, that is, the Lake of Tiberias (cf. Mk 2: 13-14).

It is possible to deduce from this that Matthew exercised the function of tax collector at Capernaum, which was exactly located "by the sea" (Mt 4: 13), where Jesus was a permanent guest at Peter's house.

On the basis of these simple observations that result from the Gospel, we can advance a pair of thoughts.

The first is that Jesus welcomes into the group of his close friends a man who, according to the concepts in vogue in Israel at that time, was regarded as a public sinner.

Matthew, in fact, not only handled money deemed impure because of its provenance from people foreign to the People of God, but he also collaborated with an alien and despicably greedy authority whose tributes moreover, could be arbitrarily determined.

This is why the Gospels several times link "tax collectors and sinners" (Mt 9: 10; Lk 15: 1), as well as "tax collectors and prostitutes" (Mt 21: 31).

Furthermore, they see publicans as an example of miserliness (cf. Mt 5: 46: they only like those who like them), and mention one of them, Zacchaeus, as "a chief tax collector, and rich" (Lk 19: 2), whereas popular opinion associated them with "extortioners, the unjust, adulterers" (Lk 18: 11).

A first fact strikes one based on these references: Jesus does not exclude anyone from his friendship. Indeed, precisely while he is at table in the home of Matthew-Levi, in response to those who expressed shock at the fact that he associated with people who had so little to recommend them, he made the important statement: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mk 2: 17).

The good news of the Gospel consists precisely in this: offering God's grace to the sinner!

Elsewhere, with the famous words of the Pharisee and the publican who went up to the Temple to pray, Jesus actually indicates an anonymous tax collector as an appreciated example of humble trust in divine mercy: while the Pharisee is boasting of his own moral perfection, the "tax collector... would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, "God, be merciful to me a sinner!'".

And Jesus comments: "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Lk 18: 13-14).

Thus, in the figure of Matthew, the Gospels present to us a true and proper paradox: those who seem to be the farthest from holiness can even become a model of the acceptance of God's mercy and offer a glimpse of its marvellous effects in their own lives.

St John Chrysostom makes an important point in this regard: he notes that only in the account of certain calls is the work of those concerned mentioned. Peter, Andrew, James and John are called while they are fishing, while Matthew, while he is collecting tithes.

These are unimportant jobs, Chrysostom comments, "because there is nothing more despicable than the tax collector, and nothing more common than fishing" (In Matth. Hom.: PL 57, 363). Jesus' call, therefore, also reaches people of a low social class while they go about their ordinary work.

Another reflection prompted by the Gospel narrative is that Matthew responds instantly to Jesus' call: "he rose and followed him". The brevity of the sentence clearly highlights Matthew's readiness in responding to the call. For him it meant leaving everything, especially what guaranteed him a reliable source of income, even if it was often unfair and dishonourable. Evidently, Matthew understood that familiarity with Jesus did not permit him to pursue activities of which God disapproved.

The application to the present day is easy to see: it is not permissible today either to be attached to things that are incompatible with the following of Jesus, as is the case with riches dishonestly achieved.

Jesus once said, mincing no words: "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me" (Mt 19: 21).

This is exactly what Matthew did: he rose and followed him! In this "he rose", it is legitimate to read detachment from a sinful situation and at the same time, a conscious attachment to a new, upright life in communion with Jesus.

Lastly, let us remember that the tradition of the ancient Church agrees in attributing to Matthew the paternity of the First Gospel. This had already begun with Bishop Papias of Hierapolis in Frisia, in about the year 130.

He writes: "Matthew set down the words (of the Lord) in the Hebrew tongue and everyone interpreted them as best he could" (in Eusebius of Cesarea, Hist. Eccl. III, 39, 16).

Eusebius, the historian, adds this piece of information: "When Matthew, who had first preached among the Jews, decided also to reach out to other peoples, he wrote down the Gospel he preached in his mother tongue; thus, he sought to put in writing, for those whom he was leaving, what they would be losing with his departure" (ibid., III, 24, 6).

The Gospel of Matthew written in Hebrew or Aramaic is no longer extant, but in the Greek Gospel that we possess we still continue to hear, in a certain way, the persuasive voice of the publican Matthew, who, having become an Apostle, continues to proclaim God's saving mercy to us. And let us listen to St Matthew's message, meditating upon it ever anew also to learn to stand up and follow Jesus with determination."

Monday, 20 September 2010

The Greens bring you death....

I've been preoccupied with the Pope's UK trip of late, but meanwhile back in Australia, the Greens are flexing their muscles, promising to bring in a private member's bill to overturn bans on euthanasia in the Territories. 

There is a terrible irony in the idea that the first thing a supposedly 'Green' Party wants to do is legislate for death. 

But of course it proves the point made by Cardinal Pell in the election campaign about the fundamentally anti-Christian nature of the Green Death Party.

Territories vs States

States in our system can legislate on subjects like euthanasia and abortion without the Federal Government being able to interfere.  Indeed, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania, all have euthanasia bills before their parliaments at the moment.

Territory legislation however can be overruled by the Federal Parliament, and this proposed legislation would allow the ACT and NT to pass their own legislation to permit euthanasia.

The first conscience vote of the new Parliament?

Back when the subject last came up, in 1997, bans passed narrowly on a conscience vote.  And it looks like being a conscience vote for both major parties again based on their leaders' respective comments so far.

Cleverly chosen issue too, since some parliamentarians (such as Senator Humphries of the ACT) who might otherwise oppose a bill on such a subject have, in the past voted for morally represensible legislation on the grounds of  "Territory rights" and the free operation of democracy.

So start lobbying Senator Humphries and any others who might take this view now:  if you have a power, and Federal parliament does, then one has a duty to exercize it for the common good.  If you believe that Territory laws should not be able to overruled by the Federal Parliament, support a referendum to change the Constitution; until then, don't waste the vote we have given you or some of us who might have reluctantly voted for you will be very upset indeed...

The substantive arguments

But the substantive arguments also need to be put out there.  And this is a case where the likely actual outcomes of such legislation (viz involuntary euthanasia at the whim of doctors or others), backed up by studies of real experience in the UK and elsewhere, may be more compelling to the public mind than the straight defence of life ones. 

On the plus side...

The positive I can see in this is the prospect that the Green's skewed priorities will turn off those voters who voted Green this time around in order to punish Labor (since it is clearly Labor voters who defected to the Greens).  If you thought you were voting for the Greens to send a message about the need for some action on climate change for example, and instead get a party pursuing an entirely different agenda....Well, one can hope things change at the next election I suppose.

We live in sad times.  Blessed John Henry Newman pray for us!

Blessed John Henry Newman

The Pope's UK trip has now ended, following the Beatification mass for Cardinal John Henry Newman.

In his sermon at the Beatification Mass, after another mention of England's resistance of the Nazis, the Pope once more stressed the continuity of the British catholic tradition:

"England has a long tradition of martyr saints, whose courageous witness has sustained and inspired the Catholic community here for centuries. Yet it is right and fitting that we should recognize today the holiness of a confessor, a son of this nation who, while not called to shed his blood for the Lord, nevertheless bore eloquent witness to him in the course of a long life devoted to the priestly ministry, and especially to preaching, teaching, and writing. He is worthy to take his place in a long line of saints and scholars from these islands, Saint Bede, Saint Hilda, Saint Aelred, Blessed Duns Scotus, to name but a few. In Blessed John Henry, that tradition of gentle scholarship, deep human wisdom and profound love for the Lord has borne rich fruit, as a sign of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit deep within the heart of God’s people, bringing forth abundant gifts of holiness.

Cardinal Newman’s motto, Cor ad cor loquitur, or “Heart speaks unto heart”, gives us an insight into his understanding of the Christian life as a call to holiness, experienced as the profound desire of the human heart to enter into intimate communion with the Heart of God. He reminds us that faithfulness to prayer gradually transforms us into the divine likeness. As he wrote in one of his many fine sermons, “a habit of prayer, the practice of turning to God and the unseen world in every season, in every place, in every emergency – prayer, I say, has what may be called a natural effect in spiritualizing and elevating the soul. A man is no longer what he was before; gradually … he has imbibed a new set of ideas, and become imbued with fresh principles” (Parochial and Plain Sermons, iv, 230-231). Today’s Gospel tells us that no one can be the servant of two masters (cf. Lk 16:13), and Blessed John Henry’s teaching on prayer explains how the faithful Christian is definitively taken into the service of the one true Master, who alone has a claim to our unconditional devotion (cf. Mt 23:10). Newman helps us to understand what this means for our daily lives: he tells us that our divine Master has assigned a specific task to each one of us, a “definite service”, committed uniquely to every single person: “I have my mission”, he wrote, “I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do his work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place … if I do but keep his commandments and serve him in my calling” (Meditations and Devotions, 301-2).

The definite service to which Blessed John Henry was called involved applying his keen intellect and his prolific pen to many of the most pressing “subjects of the day”. His insights into the relationship between faith and reason, into the vital place of revealed religion in civilized society, and into the need for a broadly-based and wide-ranging approach to education were not only of profound importance for Victorian England, but continue today to inspire and enlighten many all over the world. I would like to pay particular tribute to his vision for education, which has done so much to shape the ethos that is the driving force behind Catholic schools and colleges today. [Interesting that the Pope should stress this, since Newman's views on education were a major source of conflict with the bishops of his day.  And English bloggers have similarly been raising issues about the approach of the Catholic hierarchy and ecclesial bureaucracy today.] Firmly opposed to any reductive or utilitarian approach, he sought to achieve an educational environment in which intellectual training, moral discipline and religious commitment would come together. The project to found a Catholic University in Ireland provided him with an opportunity to develop his ideas on the subject, and the collection of discourses that he published as The Idea of a University holds up an ideal from which all those engaged in academic formation can continue to learn. And indeed, what better goal could teachers of religion set themselves than Blessed John Henry’s famous appeal for an intelligent, well-instructed laity: “I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it” (The Present Position of Catholics in England, ix, 390). On this day when the author of those words is raised to the altars, I pray that, through his intercession and example, all who are engaged in the task of teaching and catechesis will be inspired to greater effort by the vision he so clearly sets before us.

While it is John Henry Newman’s intellectual legacy that has understandably received most attention in the vast literature devoted to his life and work, I prefer on this occasion to conclude with a brief reflection on his life as a priest, a pastor of souls. The warmth and humanity underlying his appreciation of the pastoral ministry is beautifully expressed in another of his famous sermons: “Had Angels been your priests, my brethren, they could not have condoled with you, sympathized with you, have had compassion on you, felt tenderly for you, and made allowances for you, as we can; they could not have been your patterns and guides, and have led you on from your old selves into a new life, as they can who come from the midst of you” (“Men, not Angels: the Priests of the Gospel”, Discourses to Mixed Congregations, 3). He lived out that profoundly human vision of priestly ministry in his devoted care for the people of Birmingham during the years that he spent at the Oratory he founded, visiting the sick and the poor, comforting the bereaved, caring for those in prison. No wonder that on his death so many thousands of people lined the local streets as his body was taken to its place of burial not half a mile from here. One hundred and twenty years later, great crowds have assembled once again to rejoice in the Church’s solemn recognition of the outstanding holiness of this much-loved father of souls. What better way to express the joy of this moment than by turning to our heavenly Father in heartfelt thanksgiving, praying in the words that Blessed John Henry Newman placed on the lips of the choirs of angels in heaven:

Praise to the Holiest in the height
And in the depth be praise;
In all his words most wonderful,
Most sure in all his ways!
(The Dream of Gerontius).

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Pope's UK Visit Day 3

On Day 3 of his UK trip (photo above, Edwad Pentin), the Pope has continued with his key themes, including the challenges presented by protestantism and secularism, with tactfully worded, but forceful challenges and messages on what should be our proper response to them (Photo below: AP).

On Protestantism:

At Westminster Cathedral:

"The reality of the Eucharistic sacrifice has always been at the heart of Catholic faith; called into question in the sixteenth century, it was solemnly reaffirmed at the Council of Trent against the backdrop of our justification in Christ. Here in England, as we know, there were many who staunchly defended the Mass, often at great cost, giving rise to that devotion to the Most Holy Eucharist which has been a hallmark of Catholicism in these lands....We see this aspect of the mystery of Christ’s precious blood represented, most eloquently, by the martyrs of every age, who drank from the cup which Christ himself drank, and whose own blood, shed in union with his sacrifice, gives new life to the Church. It is also reflected in our brothers and sisters throughout the world who even now are suffering discrimination and persecution for their Christian faith."

At the Hyde Park Vigil:

 "Let me begin by recalling that Newman, by his own account, traced the course of his whole life back to a powerful experience of conversion which he had as a young man. It was an immediate experience of the truth of God’s word, of the objective reality of Christian revelation as handed down in the Church. This experience, at once religious and intellectual, would inspire his vocation to be a minister of the Gospel, his discernment of the source of authoritative teaching in the Church of God, and his zeal for the renewal of ecclesial life in fidelity to the apostolic tradition.

....Newman’s life also teaches us that passion for the truth, intellectual honesty and genuine conversion are costly. The truth that sets us free cannot be kept to ourselves; it calls for testimony, it begs to be heard, and in the end its convincing power comes from itself and not from the human eloquence or arguments in which it may be couched. Not far from here, at Tyburn, great numbers of our brothers and sisters died for the faith; the witness of their fidelity to the end was ever more powerful than the inspired words that so many of them spoke before surrendering everything to the Lord. In our own time, the price to be paid for fidelity to the Gospel is no longer being hanged, drawn and quartered but it often involves being dismissed out of hand, ridiculed or parodied. And yet, the Church cannot withdraw from the task of proclaiming Christ and his Gospel as saving truth, the source of our ultimate happiness as individuals and as the foundation of a just and humane society."

On secularism

At the Hyde Park Vigil (Photo: AP):

"At the end of his life, Newman would describe his life’s work as a struggle against the growing tendency to view religion as a purely private and subjective matter, a question of personal opinion. Here is the first lesson we can learn from his life: in our day, when an intellectual and moral relativism threatens to sap the very foundations of our society, Newman reminds us that, as men and women made in the image and likeness of God, we were created to know the truth, to find in that truth our ultimate freedom and the fulfilment of our deepest human aspirations. In a word, we are meant to know Christ, who is himself “the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6)."

Our response to the challenges facing the Church - the role of the laity and of priests

At Westminster Cathedral:

"The Second Vatican Council spoke eloquently of the indispensable role of the laity in carrying forward the Church’s mission through their efforts to serve as a leaven of the Gospel in society and to work for the advancement of God’s Kingdom in the world (cf. Lumen Gentium, 31; Apostolicam Actuositatem, 7). The Council’s appeal to the lay faithful to take up their baptismal sharing in Christ’s mission echoed the insights and teachings of John Henry Newman. May the profound ideas of this great Englishman continue to inspire all Christ’s followers in this land to conform their every thought, word and action to Christ, and to work strenuously to defend those unchanging moral truths which, taken up, illuminated and confirmed by the Gospel, stand at the foundation of a truly humane, just and free society."

At the Hyde Park Vigil:

"...Newman teaches us that if we have accepted the truth of Christ and committed our lives to him, there can be no separation between what we believe and the way we live our lives. Our every thought, word and action must be directed to the glory of God and the spread of his Kingdom. Newman understood this, and was the great champion of the prophetic office of the Christian laity. He saw clearly that we do not so much accept the truth in a purely intellectual act as embrace it in a spiritual dynamic that penetrates to the core of our being. Truth is passed on not merely by formal teaching, important as that is, but also by the witness of lives lived in integrity, fidelity and holiness; those who live in and by the truth instinctively recognize what is false and, precisely as false, inimical to the beauty and goodness which accompany the splendour of truth, veritatis splendor.

...No one who looks realistically at our world today could think that Christians can afford to go on with business as usual, ignoring the profound crisis of faith which has overtaken our society, or simply trusting that the patrimony of values handed down by the Christian centuries will continue to inspire and shape the future of our society. We know that in times of crisis and upheaval God has raised up great saints and prophets for the renewal of the Church and Christian society; we trust in his providence and we pray for his continued guidance. But each of us, in accordance with his or her state of life, is called to work for the advancement of God’s Kingdom by imbuing temporal life with the values of the Gospel. Each of us has a mission, each of us is called to change the world, to work for a culture of life, a culture forged by love and respect for the dignity of each human person. As our Lord tells us in the Gospel we have just heard, our light must shine in the sight of all, so that, seeing our good works, they may give praise to our heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:16)."

On the importance of priests

At Westminster Cathedral:

"And may this increase of apostolic zeal be accompanied by an outpouring of prayer for vocations to the ordained priesthood. For the more the lay apostolate grows, the more urgently the need for priests is felt; and the more the laity’s own sense of vocation is deepened, the more what is proper to the priest stands out. May many young men in this land find the strength to answer the Master’s call to the ministerial priesthood, devoting their lives, their energy and their talents to God, thus building up his people in unity and fidelity to the Gospel, especially through the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice."

Photo of anti-pope demonstration: Getty Images.

Reporting on Muslims: the double standard

Why do Muslims see the Pope as a threat?  Muslim demonstrators against the Pope's visit in the UK:

Perhaps it is because the Pope had this to say about true religion in his meeting with representatives of other religions in the UK:

"So it is that genuine religious belief points us beyond present utility towards the transcendent. It reminds us of the possibility and the imperative of moral conversion, of the duty to live peaceably with our neighbour, of the importance of living a life of integrity. Properly understood, it brings enlightenment, it purifies our hearts and it inspires noble and generous action, to the benefit of the entire human family. It motivates us to cultivate the practice of virtue and to reach out towards one another in love, with the greatest respect for religious traditions different from our own.

Ever since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church has placed special emphasis on the importance of dialogue and cooperation with the followers of other religions. In order to be fruitful, this requires reciprocity on the part of all partners in dialogue and the followers of other religions. I am thinking in particular of situations in some parts of the world, where cooperation and dialogue between religions calls for mutual respect, the freedom to practise one’s religion and to engage in acts of public worship, and the freedom to follow one’s conscience without suffering ostracism or persecution, even after conversion from one religion to another. Once such a respect and openness has been established, peoples of all religions will work together effectively for peace and mutual understanding, and so give a convincing witness before the world."

Reporting the terrorist threat against the Pope

In the United Kingdom, six Muslim men have been arrested in a suspected assassination plot against the Pope.

Yet many of the reports, particularly in those emanating from Associated Press, actually fail  to mention the word 'Islam' or 'Muslim'  - instead they describe the men as 'London street cleaners' or 'Algerians'.

Imagine if reports on paedophile priests entirely omitted the word 'catholic priest' and instead described the culprits as 'middle aged men', or perhaps a 'religious worker'.  Yeah, never going to happen.  Yet the Catholic priest who sexually abuses a child is acting in direct contravention of his religion, and in breach of his promise of celibacy.  The Muslim jihadist by contrast, is acting in a way expressly authorized and envisaged by his.

The Ground Zero Mosque debate

Yet this kind of skewed positive reporting of Islam is not new.  The media consistently play down Islamic connections to terrorism.  And consistently vilify those who draw conclusions from the ongoing series of terrorist threats, as US journalist Debra Saunders has pointed out:

"Last week, Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent said he had found "clear evidence that there's a direct link between public anti-Islam sentiment and public opposition" to the ground zero mosque. A Washington Post poll reported that 49 percent of Americans have generally unfavorable views of Islam and 66 percent oppose the Islamic center. His smoking gun: Two-thirds of those 66 percent have generally unfavorable views of Islam.

Funny. In 2002, after the priest-child sex abuse scandal erupted, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 52 percent of Americans - including three in 10 Catholics - expressed an unfavorable opinion of the Roman Catholic Church. Now I don't recall pundits referring to the majority of Americans as anti-Catholic bigots who are too stupid to know that most priests are not pedophiles. They likely figured, negative stories yield negative poll numbers.

Consider Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who shot to death 12 soldiers and one civilian in 2009. Ditto Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, the Nigerian arrested for trying to blow up a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas. Add the attempted Times Square and New York subway bombings. Islamic extremism was the common thread in those stories - which makes it amazing that Islam polls better today than the Catholic Church in 2002."

And in Australia by those who should know better....

Of course, concerns about the rise of Islamic terrorism; the persecution of Christians in Islamic countries; the failure to allow the free exercize of the Christian religion in Indonesia, Malaysia and other Islamic countries; and the consistent serious threats against anyone who criticises Islam, are not the only reason to be concerned about its rise. 

The reality is that although there are commonalities between Islam and Christianity, the cultural and values differences are immense. 

Yes Muslims promote modesty for example - but quite frankly the version of modesty or segregation of the sexes in particular that several Imans have vocally called on Australian women to adopt go a lot further than any version of modesty that I as a traditionally inclined Catholic could ever support (though no doubt has its supporters among the pseudo-Amish faction of traditionalists). 

And already the push in this direction has started, with a Municipal Swimming Pool in Dandenong obtaining an exemption from the Equal Opportunities Act in order to impose modesty standards at a public event in order to make Muslims feel more comfortable.

Yet even raising these concerns will see one labelled as a neo-nazi over at Sentire Cum Ecclesia.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

The Pope in the UK day 2: On secularism, multiculturalism and protestantism

Pope Benedict seems to have three key themes for this UK trip: the challenges presented by secularism, multiculturalism, and protestantism.

On secularism

The Pope launched his first broadside against secularism on his arrival in his speech of reply to the Queen when he pointed to the effects of  the exclusion of God from society taken to its logical extreme, drawing the analogy with Nazism:

"Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a “reductive vision of the person and his destiny” (Caritas in Veritate, 29)."

 At Westminster Hall (photo  AP), he took this theme up again, saying that:

"In this light, I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalization of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance. There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere. There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none. And there are those who argue – paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination – that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience. These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square. I would invite all of you, therefore, within your respective spheres of influence, to seek ways of promoting and encouraging dialogue between faith and reason at every level of national life.

On multiculturalism

It is no secret that the Pope opposes multiculturalism, considering it a political and cultural impossibility.  Britain, however, as he acknowledged, "strives to be a modern and multicultural society" - no wonder then he described this as a "challenging enterprise" (ie in the yes Minister sense of the term) in his remarks in reply to the Queen.   The surrounding culture, he pointed out, "is growing ever more distant from its Christian roots, despite a deep and widespread hunger for spiritual nourishment".

His approach then has been to repeatedly stress the value and continuing importance of Great Britain's Christian, and indeed Catholic, roots, going back to those Benedictine missionaries dispatched by Pope St Gregory the Great, and to stress the need for the 'evangelization of the culture'.

He makes the point that the exploration of other religious traditions, whatever its potential benefits, must not be subordinated to the promotion of the Christian message:

"At the same time, we Christians must never hesitate to proclaim our faith in the uniqueness of the salvation won for us by Christ, and to explore together a deeper understanding of the means he has placed at our disposal for attaining that salvation. God “wants all to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4), and that truth is nothing other than Jesus Christ, eternal Son of the Father, who has reconciled all things in himself by the power of his Cross. In fidelity to the Lord’s will, as expressed in that passage from Saint Paul’s First Letter to Timothy, we recognize that the Church is called to be inclusive, yet never at the expense of Christian truth."

Oh and on which threat is the more dangerous?  While the secularists threatened (without any possibility of effecting it) to arrest the Pope, UK police have arrested six suspected Islamic terrorists in what seems to have been a credible threat to assassinate the Pope.

On protestantism

There were protests (photo from AP):

And it is no secret that ecumenism viz-a-viz the Anglicans is not going well, as the Pope pointed out at his talk at Westminster Abbey:

"Dear friends, we are all aware of the challenges, the blessings, the disappointments and the signs of hope which have marked our ecumenical journey. Tonight we entrust all of these to the Lord, confident in his providence and the power of his grace. We know that the friendships we have forged, the dialogue which we have begun and the hope which guides us will provide strength and direction as we persevere on our common journey. At the same time, with evangelical realism, we must also recognize the challenges which confront us, not only along the path of Christian unity, but also in our task of proclaiming Christ in our day. Fidelity to the word of God, precisely because it is a true word, demands of us an obedience which leads us together to a deeper understanding of the Lord’s will, an obedience which must be free of intellectual conformism or facile accommodation to the spirit of the age. This is the word of encouragement which I wish to leave with you this evening, and I do so in fidelity to my ministry as the Bishop of Rome and the Successor of Saint Peter, charged with a particular care for the unity of Christ’s flock."

The Pope in Westminster Abbey as he actually was:

The Pope in Westminster Abbey as we might have liked to have seen him (courtesy of Vincenzo's photoshopping efforts of Reuter's original):

Still, it was a wonderful step forward, and great symbolism, to see the Pope in the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey, and talking about the witness to Christ of St Thomas More, that premier rebel against protestantism, to politicians and others in Westminster Hall.  No doubt there will be more on Anglicanism in the context of the canonization of Cardinal Newman...

Friday, 17 September 2010

The Pope in Britain!

The Pope has started his UK visit with a meet and greet with the Queen (see below) and a Mass in Glasgow. 

The Pope's sermon at Glasgow had some important messages on the proper focus of the laity:

"Let me encourage you to continue to pray and work with them in building a brighter future for Scotland based upon our common Christian heritage...Among the differing gifts which Saint Paul lists for the building up of the Church is that of teaching (cf. Rom 12:7). The preaching of the Gospel has always been accompanied by concern for the word: the inspired word of God and the culture in which that word takes root and flourishes. Here in Scotland, I think of the three medieval universities founded here by the popes, including that of Saint Andrews which is beginning to mark the 600th anniversary of its foundation. In the last 30 years and with the assistance of civil authorities, Scottish Catholic schools have taken up the challenge of providing an integral education to greater numbers of students, and this has helped young people not only along the path of spiritual and human growth, but also in entering the professions and public life. This is a sign of great hope for the Church, and I encourage the Catholic professionals, politicians and teachers of Scotland never to lose sight of their calling to use their talents and experience in the service of the faith, engaging contemporary Scottish culture at every level.

The evangelization of culture is all the more important in our times, when a “dictatorship of relativism” threatens to obscure the unchanging truth about man’s nature, his destiny and his ultimate good. There are some who now seek to exclude religious belief from public discourse, to privatize it or even to paint it as a threat to equality and liberty. Yet religion is in fact a guarantee of authentic liberty and respect, leading us to look upon every person as a brother or sister. For this reason I appeal in particular to you, the lay faithful, in accordance with your baptismal calling and mission, not only to be examples of faith in public, but also to put the case for the promotion of faith’s wisdom and vision in the public forum. Society today needs clear voices which propose our right to live, not in a jungle of self-destructive and arbitrary freedoms, but in a society which works for the true welfare of its citizens and offers them guidance and protection in the face of their weakness and fragility. Do not be afraid to take up this service to your brothers and sisters, and to the future of your beloved nation."

The Pope also reminded the bishops of their important role in pastoral leadership, and urged prayer for vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

And of course there was lots of the ceremonial that the UK does so well (for a third world country!)...