Saturday, March 30, 2013

No Feet instead an offering for the poor

I used to wash the feet of women because I merely saw it as a sign of service and then the Holy See clarified the theology of it and issued its decree that only the feet of men should be washed, as it was a sign of Christ serving the disciples (really the Apostles). It is a sign about the Church and Christ's service of it, rather than a general sign of charity, it is very much a sign ad intra rather than ad extra. From a Russian friend I understand the Patriarch of Moscow washes the feet of twelve Moscow bishops, which seems entirely appropriate, the Apostles were after all bishops. It was also appropriate that formally the Bishop of Rome should wash the feet of twelve priests of his diocese.
In my mothers homeland, that bit of Northern Italy that became the Yugoslavia, it was the custom of my grandfather, and the heads of most households, to wash the feet of his family and farm workers, the practice I understand continued even under Tito's Communism. In England before the Reformation the monarch used to wash the feet of the poor, and in at least one Benedictine Abbey I know Mother Abbess washes the feet of the whole community in the Chapter house, in the Liturgy the chants are sung but the priest washes no-one's feet. Formerly it seems it was a ritual for those in authority to exercise with their subordinates.
This year I have found bending, even walking rather painful, it is passing now but Wednesday I had to use a stick just to walk into Church, so as it was physical painful and difficult to do, but also because of doubt about the Law raised by the Pope, frankly I just didn't want the hassle I had trying to get people to accept the change in the Law, especially as most of the local brethren do any feet available. So I decided that as it was optional we would opt not to wash feet. I never have a list and just invite men to occupy the 12 seats put out by the servers. It is the first time I haven't done it.
As the choir had prepared the Mandatum, and as I stress the 3 collections of the Triduum, for the poor, the Holy Places and on Easter Day for the clergy, in our diocese it is an important part of the PPs income, so I asked the servers to place the bowl and towel before the sanctuary and invited people to come up and place their offering in the bowl. The money was for the poor, we will give it to the local Coptic Church as a fraternal act, to be used to help the Christian refugees from Egypt, recently 250 families have arrived in Brighton fleeing for fear of their lives.
Afterwards someone said it was a little more "meaningful" seeing a bowl full of notes, a sign of the effective charity from the community for members of our extended community.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday Sermon

Judas and the High Priest agreed that the price of Jesus was thirty silver coins, enough to buy a small field.

Today in our post Christian world we like to put a price on life, many women have abortions because the feel they can't afford a child, or couples defer having a child because of the cost, gay "marriage", where it has been introduced has been a boon to those in the surrogacy business, in some third world countries there is a growing business in renting wombs and selling babies. The Staffordshire and other hospital scandals, again remind us that human life, caring for it and cherishing it, has a cost. Keeping someone alive on expensive has a cost, and as countries become poorer the cost will become more and more important, and it will become part of the debate as more and more people start to advocate euthanasia.

How much a human life?

Judas sold Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.
The message of Christianity is that God pays for us, "to ransom a slave he gave away his Son", How much has God paid for me? For me, he has given away his only begotten Son. He tells me, sinner, rebel, God-hater that I am, that I am worth the Son of God, I am worth the Creator, that is the value he places on us: everything. And the amazing thing for all of us, the beggar, the old man, the victim, the torturer, the unborn child, the newly conceived child, God says all these, just one of these is worthy of a God as a ransom. When Jesus is denied or pushed out of the public sphere we lose sight of our value and the value of everyone.

This is the message of Good Friday; the unimaginable value God places on us. This is the message we have for the world and for every individual in it: God places an infinite value on you. We show it by trying to love the least of all.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Society of Robbers or the Church?

In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis washes the foot of an inmate at the juvenile detention center of Casal del Marmo, Rome, Thursday, March 28, 2013. Francis washed the feet of a dozen inmates at a juvenile detention center in a Holy Thursday ritual that he celebrated for years as archbishop and is continuing now that he is pope. Two of the 12 were young women, an unusual choice given that the rite re-enacts Jesus' washing of the feet of his male disciples. The Mass was held in the Casal del Marmo facility in Rome, where 46 young men and women currently are detained. Many of them are Gypsies or North African migrants, and the Vatican said the 12 selected for the rite weren't necessarily Catholic. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano, ho)

I do not believe it is a big deal for Pope to wash a girl's feet. He can do what he likes and change whatever Law he wishes, indeed it will be seen as a very popular move by the media and the majority of Catholics, who fail to understand this action as a sign of Christ washing his Apostles feet.

It is however a very big deal for the the Supreme Legislator of the Church to break the Church's law or to set those laws at nought, especially as Supreme Legislator he has the right to change the Law. It does not bode well for a "Reforming" Pope to do it.

I don't want to join the doom and gloom merchants but if the clergy of the Church, as well as the Pope, can choose  do without its Laws then either we have become perfect society or we indeed have society of robbers and internal cohesion of the Church is broken and where that happens it becomes a place where brotherly love turns into mere Relativism and we have returned to the age Borgias.

Then I will be free to marry, or to marry same sex couples, admit those living in adulterous unions or even admit non-Catholics, pagans and pet dogs to Holy Communion, refuse to hear Confessions. I could even if so felt inclined prostrate instead of genuflect after the Consecration, and if I was a bishop ordain women to the diaconate or even the presbyterate or episcopacy, if were a lay person, an abortionist for example, why shouldn't I go to Holy Commion?

Keeping the law is a mark of Communion. Without the Law anything is possible, no-one has protection or rights, the guards are unguarded and no-one can be trusted!

This little scene from A Man for All Seasons is perhaps apposite.

A Jesuit Pope and the Two Standards

"I will destroy the Church."
"But the clergy have been doing that for the last two thousand years, and still they haven't succeeded".
This conversation has been attributed to various people, my personal preference is Napoleon and the great Cardinal Consalvi.

Anyone who wants to reform the Church has to start with the clergy, and with the senior clergy at that. The absence of O'Brien and the presence of Daneels and Mahony, to name but two, must have introduced into the Conclave itself a certain stench of at least one element of the filth that both Benedict and now Francis have spoken about.
In the pre-Conclave intervention which was revealed yesterday, Cardinal Bergoglio said this:
When the Church is self-referential, inadvertently, she believes she has her own light; she ceases to be the mysterium lunae and gives way to that very serious evil, spiritual worldliness (which according to De Lubac, is the worst evil that can befall the Church). It lives to give glory only to one another.
Even Kung in his more orthodox days had said, "When the Church preaches the Church it ceases to be the Church". The worst aspects of the scandals that have hit  the Church are the self serving cover-ups of so many bishops, the Pope has already warned about the dangers of the Church becoming NGO. There is a serious risk that we can become an organisation that is associated with the rich and powerful rather than the poor and powerless.

The reception of Tony Blair with no repudiation of some of his more blatantly anti-Catholic policies scandalised many of us, as did the former Director of the CES. Oona Stannards relationship with Ed Balls and Labours anti-Catholic education policies. In the US the same could be said about the relationship of the chuckly Cardinal Dolan and the Obama government. Both CMOC and Dolan and hundreds of other bishops might well say they are being compassionate. Even the rich and powerful deserve compassion, Here Pope Francis' motto is interesting: “By showing compassion and by choosing”, compassion alone can be dangerous, there is a necissity "to choose".

"Choosing" or discerning seems to have been lacking in the Church and where choices have been made they have often left people confused. At the heart of St Ignatius Spiritual Excerccises is the choice between the Two Standards or Banners, one belongs to Christ, the other to the Prince of this World. Those doing the excercise must make the choice. The Church itself and its leaders, as must all Christians must make the choice which ultimately is Christ or the Devil. Now what was it Francis has said about prayer: Whoever does not pray to God, prays to the devil!
In his meditation of the second week of the Spiritual Exercises Saint Ignatius of Loyola presents to us "On the Two Standards" telling us we are faced with making a choice: "The one of Christ, our Commander-in-chief and Lord; the other Lucifer, mortal enemy of our human nature." Loyola places in front of us the choice of how we are going to live our lives, either for Christ or against Christ, either for good, or for evil. Why sell our soul for money, power and fame when the Lord offers us a life that's attractive and beautiful through the virtues of spiritual --and possibly in actual poverty, contempt for worldly honor and humility against pride? Poverty, whether spiritual and/or actual, obedience and humility are virtues that lead to all other virtue and everlasting life in Jesus Christ.
I am beginning to think of Pope Francis as being rather like an old fashioned Jesuit missioner. Those who knew those two Jesuits Fr Hugh Thwaites and Fr John Edwards, both of whom died in the last few months, who I can't help thinking of as the last of the English Jesuits, might understand from them something of Pope Francis' spirituality.

At their heart was the choice that they had made to stand under the standard of Christ. They had a "stripped down" attitude to life summed up in Fr Hugh's battered old car, or Fr John's simple hitting between the eyses preaching. Both were men who were hungry for souls, who could distill the faith into a few short words, both lived it uncomprisingly themselves, both desired it to be contagious, and both were men of profound devotion (and to be honest both were devout but ghastly liturgists, Jesuits, for the most part, don't understand liturgy). But most importantly they expected those they came in contact with to make the choice for Christ, they would encourage, speak about the sweetness and the joy of the Cross. There was nothing flabby or efete about their spirituality, it was the same spirituality that had led Campion and Sherwin to Tyburn and Francis Xavier to the ends of the world. It also led them to be despised by many of their own brethren, and to be regarded as saints by the poor they gave their lives to serve.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Why Have You Forsaken Me?

Salvador Dali's oil painting Crucifixion or Corpus Hypercubicus

"My God, my God why have you forsaken me".
Why does the Lord make this cry from the Cross?
It is a quotation from Psalm 22, it begins with emptiness but actually ends in triumph. Nevertheless the words that Jesus chooses to quote are barren and bleak.

The whole process of crucifixion, and one may suspect Jesus' crucifixion especially, was to turn him into a "man despised and rejected" in the eyes of the population, and in his own eyes to become a "worm and no man". It was not just the physical destruction of Jesus that was desired but his annihilation in every way. The one who claimed equality with God has to be reduced to less than nothingness. It is part of Divine humility that the Son of God should place himself under mankind, not merely taking on death but in a sense placing himself under death itself, hence the dreadfulness of his death.

Some have suggested that this cry is really a loss of faith on Jesus' part, that sees his mission turned to nothingness, that his Father really has deserted him. I am inclined to agree to a point. The humiliation of Jesus is one suspects only partially described in the Gospels. We are left to imagine quite what his torturers actually did in darkness of the Praetorium it can only be seen by the darkness of the human soul, Roman torturers were as professional as their modern brothers and knew how to make a man confess, to break him, or to reduce him to whatever the chose. It presumably wasn't just physical pain but psychological and emotional pain they could inflict. Crucifixion is a terrible death but there are worst deaths, Jesus' death is not merely about the visible suffering and the destruction of his body but the disintegration of his very being.

Jesus in his humanity is a the Man of Faith.
How does he know he is the Son of God? Surely in the same way that we know are by adoption sons (or daughters) of God, it is by Faith, that is how human beings relate to God. To suggest anything else would be to suggest that Jesus was hybrid God-Man, and therefore a denial of the most essential Christological doctrines.

 During his life, like us, he experienced moments of deep contemplative intimacy, perfect union with God, at times like the Transfiguration or Baptism, times when faith gives way to absolute certainty, in human terms, when the veil of human limitation dissolves and there is perfect and intimate knowledge. As Catholics we have to believe that Jesus has before him the Beatific Vision always. It is legitimate to ask, how he had it. The struggle in Gethsemane would suggest that it was by subjecting his human will to the Divine will, this was obviously no painless experience. We humans want to flee death and pain, it is our nature but Jesus' will is to conform his humanity (and ours) to that of the Father, in that sense "he learns obedience through suffering".

I don't think this is heresy but it seems that at the end in Jesus all that existed was faith, all that might have sustained his relationship with the Father is gone, miracles are gone, prophecy is gone, the sense of delight in God has gone, there is no sense of the Presence of God, or even his comfort. Hence Jesus by pure and perfect faith in absolute desolation, cries out, "My God, my God".  This is perfect obedience, what our first parents lost by seeking knowledge, Jesus restores by the absolute pain of the loss of knowledge, the absence of any comprehension of God, in total human misery and alienation.

His faith exists when everything else that leads him to feel or experience God is absent. This is the Divine Dark Night of the Soul when everything dissolves except God, even Jesus' human image and understanding or intuition of God. The immensity of Jesus capacity and yearning for God is drained, empty, dried up, he thirsts, for mankind but infinitely more so for God. There is no vision, only darkness and emptiness and numbness.

Jesus in his perfect humanity stands face to face with God in uncomprehending comprehension abandons himself to God. There is nothing left but Faith, the Union of God and Man and nothing in the desolation of the Cross to support Faith but Faith, itself and in the emptiness of the Faith absolute Divine Love and resignation to the Will of God. There is nothing left but  for Jesus to place himself into the hands of the Father in the darkness of his pain a alienation.

This is the supreme act of divine kinosis, Jesus breathing forth his Spirit into the Eternal emptiness and darkness of God and in so doing he fills and enlightens humanity's with His Spirit.

We are Brothers

The two popes: Francis and Benedict XVI

There is nice little piece by Tornielli on what unites the Pope and Pope-Emeritus. I think we should regard them as, "Brothers". Tornielli also puts pay to the rather rude remarks to Mgr Guido Marini, that flashed across certain blogs, which from what we have seen so far seems quite out of character.

I like the idea of Pope Francis "recycling" presents, the icon he gave to Benedict had been given to him a few days earlier by Metropolitan Hilarion.

What are those white boxes about, is it the same box?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Francis might teach us to be good

I have been a little out of touch with things lately, I have only just read the latest in the Cardinal O'Brien saga, I don't know if it is true but it has the smell of truth about it.

I don't know how the Papacy of Francis is going to pan out, 10 days is a bit short to judge. I was rather heartened by the words of one of my parishioners, "Pope Benedict taught us to think, Pope Francis might teach us to be good". I like that, I think we, especially the leaders of the Church have forgotten we must be good.

I think Pope Benedict really did teach us to think, to return to original sources, to the actual words, not just of the Council but of Scripture and the Fathers, but really of the Word Made Flesh, Francis I hope may well teach us how to live out the Gospel.

The dichotomy between the goodness of the Gospel and the sometimes wickedness of Christians is shameful. The secular media are right to pillory us for hypocrisy. The Gospel cannot be an abstract concept, Jesus cannot be vague ideas, the Gospel has to be about the Word being made flesh, Jesus has to be seen in his Church, and made visible in the darkness of the world.

The synoptic Gospels are full of imperatives, "do this", forgive, show mercy, even, "cut off your hand", "pluck out your eye" and the Gospel of John speaks so often of "works", "evidence", "witnesses". Jesus' teaching is backed up by solid examples of his own good works, of miracles, and his own death and resurrection.

The secular media's main complaint, and it should be taken seriously is that we, the Church, are not good, that we are hypocritical. We cannot blame the world if it simply does not see the Gospel lived in the lives of Christians, and as priests and bishops we cannot blame Christians if they do not see the Gospel lived in the lives of their leaders.

The real problem in the Church is our failure to lead effectively, and that isn't about management, it is simply about lack of commitment to the Gospel, the failure to even attempt to put it into practice. It is worth considering that leadership in the Church is ultimately about leading people to Jesus Christ. Pope Francis might well at times be a bit crass, his language might even be a bit more like a fisherman than a prince of the Church at times, he might even make liturgical blunders or even theological errors of judgement. As Archbishop he seems to have won over many and alienated a some but he seems genuinely to have tried to be authentic witness, a believable witness.

As a Church, and as Christians, we have nothing to offer except Jesus Christ, the world recoils from hypocrisy but it still wants to see the face of Christ. For the last 50 years the Church has been concerned about its own self, this has been disastrous both for itself and for the world, its fruit is the people outside of it no longer see Christ in it, and people inside it no longer believe in what Christ teaches. The result is we produce no fruit and as Jesus says. "By their fruits you shall know them". We can talk all we like about faith, but without works it is dead!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Larger than life Popes?

"Woe to you when all men speak well of you for their fathers used to treat the false prophets". Lk 6:26

I can't help being a little uncomfortable with the popular media's perception of Pope Francis, I can't help wondering: how long before the bubble bursts. And I can't help reflecting on the almost visceral hatred of Pope Benedict from the very beginning, and that the media seems to use Francis as stick with which to beat Benedict.

I was shopping today and met one of our Argentinian parishioners from Beunos Aires and thought I would congratulate him on Pope Francis' election. His English isn't very good but he left me in no doubt that his feelings towards the Pope were entirely negative, it seemed to be about his involvement with Junta when he was the Jesuit Superior. He is hardly a raging Liberal so I can't think that even in his youth he was involved in Liberation theology.

I am impressed that the Pope seems at ease with people, rather like an avuncular parish priest. That he speaks readily about Jesus, which one might expect from a Pope but he does it simply like an avuncular parish priest. I am concerned that he is so old, that he has only one lung, that so far he seems to do everything himself. What he seems good at, so far, is handling the media, or at least, as I say, it is sympathetic to him but he seems to have knack of leaving them following a little confused in his wake.

What I fear for him is the macchina romana, I can't help but think that one of the causes of JPI's early  death was simply the deluge of documents from the various dicasteries that piled up on his desk. He of course was the other smiling Pope, with the common touch, who was going to do something about the Curia. Was it factions in the Curia that Benedict referred to as the "wolves"? When the foreign dignitaries and Cardinal Electors have gone home, I imagine the Apostolic is a pretty bleak place.

Francis has hit the trail running but there must be questions about how long he can run for, already he has difficulty with walking and genuflecting, it will not be long before he needs that moving platform to get up the nave of St Peter's.

Some have suggested we have gone back to the early days of JPII. In many days we have. We have a Pope who is an unknown quantity. No-one knows quite what he will do, or say, or in which direction he will take the Church. It really does seem to be modern phenomena that the whole momentum of the Church depends on the suffrage of one man. The ancient checks and balances have disappeared and in their place is a total monarchy dependant only on the good will or personal holiness of an individual.

Pope Benedict with his careful restoration of a rather curtailed set of papal haberdashery, attempted through signs and symbols to underline the continuation of the Papacy, not just its past but more importantly its future. He tried to deliver it from being a feudal fiefdom based on the personal superstar qualities of an individual Pope to something dependant on Tradition. The red shoes laughed off by many and so easily discarded by Francis, are an obvious sign that successive Popes walk in the same bloody footsteps of Christ and his martyrs. None of those signs are important but they are an alternative to sheer personal charisma.

The Office is important not the Office holder. Benedict's vision seemed to be that the Papacy should be able to contain a Celestine V, a Gregory or Leo the Great, or even God forbid a Borgia or Rovera. John Paul by virtue of his extraordinary personality remade the Papacy in his image and likeness and shifted the Church to an Ultramontane extreme, making it almost impossible for someone even his close ally to take his place.

Refashioning the Papacy with every Pope, leaves the Church lurching from one direction to another every ten or so years, it is hardly healthy state for the Church. Before the media age it was the tiara, which was the symbol of Papal power, it was important, not the wearer. Outside of the City even the Pope's name was of  little significance. A new Pope was just a change of feet in the same fisherman's shoes.

Larger than life Popes are indeed a product of the media age, of worldliness, not of good theology. Pius XII watching films of the wartime dictators and then practising his own gestures in a mirror seems to be be the very antithesis of what the Papacy is about. The same with Paul VI intensely emotional knee jerk style; changing the liturgy so dramatically on his own initiative, or falling to the ground to kiss the feet of Patriarch Athanagoras, is as absurd as JPII's globetrotting.turning the role of Pope into type of universal bishop, far beyond the most extreme imaginings of the most extreme of the Fathers of Vatican I.

If I have one prayer for the Papacy of Francis the First is that it has eye for the future, that Francis leaves the papacy fit for a Pope that is quite different to himself. Whether any future Pope wears the tiara or not, I don't care but what I really fear is that we will have a Papacy that is founded entirely on the personality of an individual, rather than the authority Christ has given it. I want a Papacy founded on rock not sand, that has substance in itself and is not dependant on the individual who fulfills the position for a brief few years.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Veiling the Faith

The veils have been up since Sunday, this is a picture from last year: I was going to write something quite different about veils and then a lady came to my door to tell me she has just fled from her home in Cairo and had moved here with her children, so this is quite different than what I had intended.

She had lived in block of flats, on her floor was sheikh and his three wives, he harangued her about not having her face covered, especially when she passed his door. The next day his wives came to visit and told her that she should be veiled and covered, and then finally that she should convert to Islam. She explained that as much as she respected Islam she could not renounce her Christian faith. They told her to think about it, the next day they returned and told her she must convert, if she didn't some of the young men in the block would kidnap her children and they would throw acid in her face, as this had happened to other Christian women.

She fled immediately to another part of Cairo, when she saw the women outside of her children's school she took them out of school. They sent messages through other Christians that would track her down and carry out their threats, as she had insulted Islam simply by rejecting it.

From what I know there has always been a degree of tension between Christians and Moslems in Egypt, the problem is now that it has been ratched up. I asked her if the police would have done anything, she said, "Yes, they would have trumped up some charge against her and given her whereabouts to the people who were threatening her, we Christians no longer have the protection of the law".

She might have been a little neurotic, Christians from Egypt that I meet tend to be both neurotic and frightened, they are expected to veil their faith, to take down crosses from their churches, homes and businesses and to hide any signs of their faith and for the women to veil their faces. The veils for me symbolise solidarity with those who have to hide their faith.

Pray for our brothers and sisters in Islamic countries especially in Syria and Egypt, and for the refugees in my parish.

Vatican Wealth in perspective

To begin with, the legendary wealth of the Vatican is to some extent more myth than reality. The Vatican has an annual operating budget of under $300 million, while Harvard University, arguably the Vatican of elite secular opinion, has a budget of $3.7 billion, meaning it's 10 times greater. The Vatican's "patrimony," what other institutions would call an endowment, is around $1 billion. In this case, Harvard's ahead by a robust factor of 30, with an endowment of $30.7 billion.
The Vatican bank controls assets estimated at more than $6 billion, which is nobody's idea of chump change, but most of that isn't the Vatican's money. It belongs to religious orders, dioceses, movements and other Catholic organizations, and is managed by the Institute for the Works of Religion to facilitate moving it around the world.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Inauguration: An Orthodox Reaction

I was busy being a priest this morning and didn't have a chance to see the inauguration Mass of Pope Francis. From what people say it seemed a very elegant Liturgy.
I was interested to see the Pope was joined in the Confessio of St Peter by Byzantine Rite Bishops, I presume as the Patriarch of Constantinople was not there, they were only those in Communion with Rome. It is a nice touch and reminder that the Pope is the head of the Church and not just the Latin or Roman Catholic Church.
I suppose it was this liturgical act that caused the Metropolitan Hillarion to warn against the Pope's support of Ukrainian Church. Argentina is one of its strongholds.
I thought this was a little sour:
“The union is the most painful topic in the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue, in relations between the Orthodox and the Catholics. If the pope will support the union, then, of course, it will bring no good,"
Metropolitan Hilarion noted that the Orthodox often had a suspicious attitude toward the Jesuits.
“It is believed that a Jesuit is someone who on the outside is one person, but inside someone else, says one thing, but means something else. This idea has been confirmed in real life by Jesuits and through our experience with such representatives,” said Metropolitan Hilarion.
He also said that the head of the Catholic Church must take care of the whole church and its relations with other churches, not protect the interests of a particular order or region.
“I hope that the positive momentum that we have had in our relations with the Roman Catholic Church under Pope Benedict XVI will continue under Pope Francis,” summed up the hierarch. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

I used to wash the feet of the poor

I used to wash the feet of the poor on Holy Thursday, I don't do it anymore. In Brighton it is pretty easy to find a dozen homeless people for the foot washing at The Mass of Lord's Supper. They are more than happy to do something on a Thursday evening and to have a part in the drama, and if you also offer a new sleeping bag or better a small amount of cash they are quite delighted. And the good thing is the sign it gives: we are a Church who puts the poor at its heart, and you are a priest who cares for poor.

I have stopped doing it, because it was seriously sinful. I was using the poor, and exploiting their poverty and I was using the liturgy to satisfy my own pride. It rather thrilled me that people would suggest this parish and I were more concerned about the poor than the next door parish. If I was willing to give up my bed or what is more valuable to me, my solitude and silence, even the simplicity of my life it might have been of value. There is a great danger for priests and bishops to use religion as theatre.

True humility is really about going against one's nature and natural inclinations rather than giving into them.
See this post by Fr Zeeeee on those read shoes, I can't help thinking of that old man who was our Pope when he would have preferred the solitude of his study or the simplicity of his apartment on the other side of the Vatican walls rather than the crucifixion of the Papacy as an example of true humility.

An Atheist Explains

This brought a smile to my face Penn Jillette, an atheist, explaing the faith to Piers Morgan a "liberal catholic".
thanks Sancte Pater

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Poverty: what is it?

"Don't forget the poor!" And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi.
This is how the Pope described the choice of his name, he has spoken of "a poorer Church for the poor" but, maybe I am a bit stupid, I am not sure what "poor" means.

I understand it in the context of a poor village built on the side of a rubbish tip with no water, no food, no education or no real weatherproof shelter. Its occupants by my standards are poor.
But what about the man who earns vastly more than his neighbours and yet spends it on some expensive destructive vice, such as drink or drugs or even the opera or an education, which means he cannot feed himself. Is he poor or feckless? I am always troubled by talk about the "deserving poor", we certainly rarely hear about the "deserving rich".

I had a friend who was Friar, I stayed with him in his friary, it was the only monastery where I have shared a bedroom with two of the community. It was in the poorest block of flats, on the poorest estate, in the poorest city in the country. The furniture was all recycled, the food was incredibly cheap but very good. They had used their skills to make an old car seat into a comfortable chair and rather beautiful chair, they knew where to borrow the tools and they had the imagination to design it, and to make a good food they knew what ingredients to use to feed five for a quarter of the price the part-time prostitute next door spent to  feed her three children. Were these Friars poor? No, their education, their social background, their contacts, their imagination, even their physical and mental health as well as their organising skills marked them out as being almost an alien life form.

I suspect many non-Western cultures are socially heavily stratified, there are the poor who are distinct from the rich. Poverty in this context is about the lack freedom, something not far above slavery. In some Liberation theologies it has, I think, a particular meaning that is connected to class struggle.

As for the Church being poorer, I am not sure what that means either.
Most of our money is in real estate: buildings. Do we sell off the ancient and culturally significant buildings in city centres and the devotional art within them and move to the cheaper suburbs. Certainly we exist as a Church to proclaim Jesus Christ, we not museum keepers. But what about our Catholic schools and hospitals, again we are an NGO supplying education, medical care or any other services, should those be given away to local communities, and the equipment in them, do we just use the cheaper and less advanced, should a Catholic hospital have a highly expensive CATscan or employ expensive staff, where does poverty come here?

As far as education is concerned, do we as Church stop sending students to the better universities in solidarity with poor and less advantaged, or even stop sending the then to university at all. Education is after all the opener to many doors and to influence and power, should we disdain all that?

I have known old Jesuits who kept all they had in a small suit case, ready to move to do the will of their superior at a moments notice. Here poverty was an internal thing, a lack of attachment to created things. Is that what Pope Francis means by a "poorer Church", or is it a Church stripped of its artistic heritage. Is it detachment, or is it a cultural desert?

Again in the West, or should that be the North, society might tend to suggest that those who are poor would include any who are poor by gender, sexual orientation, race, religious or non-religious belief. "Poverty" is obviously the buzz word of this Pontificate, just as "Continuity" was for the last one. It is importantant that we begin to understand it if we are to be loyal sons of the Church.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Mahony Tweets

Triumphalism isn't just a "High Church" phenomena, here are some tweets from that "Los Angeles Pharoah", Cardinal Mahony.
Now what was Pope Francis saying about humility?
thanks Eponymous Flower

Ann Furse RIP


Pray for Ann who died this morning.
She wanted to be with her Lord, and now he has granted her prayer.
She was a tremendous evangelist, she chatted to everyone, especially the poor..

She had increasing difficulty in getting Mass but she still came daily, first of by dragging herself up the hill to the Church, holding on to railings, then on a walking frame, then finally in a buggey.
Her love of Christ and his Church, of the Sacrament and of the Mass was evident to everyone who knew her.

Pope bans Cardinal

There is a report in the Telegraph that  on his visit to St Mary Major, the Pope met and chatted with Cardinal Bernard Law the Archbishop Emeritus of Boston who resigned after accusations of covering up child abuse which upset abuse survivors.

The Italian press however have a different take on the meeting, suggesting either that the Pope had visited Law or he had pushed himself into the visit but that Pope Francis had then either forbidden him from entering the basilica in future or had told him he is to be sent to a monastery to spend his life in prayer and seclusion.

From the little we know about this tough former Jesuit Provincial, our new Pope, the latter seems to be more his style. Separating the Church, or at least Rome and the Holy See from those who have been notorious in their failure seems to be a laudable thing. Although Pope Benedict took vigorous action against abusers, little was done to those bishops who co-operated in their sin by neglect or negligence.

If the Italian story is correct then this is the first indicator of a very welcome clean up in the hierarchy.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Bartholomew is coming to the Inauguration

It has been announced that the Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew II, will attend the Mass of the Inauguration of Pope Francis, the first time this has happened since the Great Schism.
This seems to be an act of appreciation of Benedict XVI's outreach to the Orthodox Church and also a reminder that Catholic/Orthodox dialogue should be important in the Franciscan Pontificate, as should the recovery of our shared heritage, the Church has two lungs not one.

House Built on Rock or Sand?

Fr Z is doing a poll on the initial reactions to Pope Francis, it is probably a little premature but then the Pope himself has been keen on creating "first impressions".

 It is after all early days but I must admit I am rathered disorientated by Pope Francis' election, and what seems to be a repudiation of the sgns and symbols that Pope Benedict  held as important markers of the "hermeneutic of continuity". I was quite shocked by some of the pictures of liturgical goings on in Buenos Aires, and dissappointed by the lack of support for those marker projects of our previous Pope, like Summorum Pontificum, which had such importance for the whole theology of continuity, the idea that the Church has a continuing sacred history: What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too ... etc., I am saddened by the reported reaction to the Ordinariates too; a great marker of practical ecumenism and pluralism.

That is the down side so far, the upside is precisely what Pope Francis is obviously trying to communicate: simplicity and personal warmth, prayerfulness and humanity. These are obviously good things and appeal to individuals and especially to the media, where the Papacy is projected not an office but a person. This is both its strength but also its weakness, it is why monarchy is in a sense more photogenic than other systems. There is something very Incarnational here, it is about gathering friends rather than disciples.

The great problem for the Church is that it is not our Church but Christ's, we should expect to have our images of Church fractured from time to time, it is all too easy to make it into our own personal golden calf. For us Catholics this is the great problem with the Papacy, each successive Pope brings in his own strengths and weaknesses. He has to be the rock on which the Church is built, there has to be continuity from generation to generation, in that sense it is the office not the man which encapsulates it. Anything that gives the impression of it being built on sand is destructive.

I can imagine that in the various nunciatures through out the world the lists that were put away at the coming of Benedict might well be dusted off, the bishops who were extending the hand of ecumenism to the Orthodox, or other potential Ordinariate groups, might well, instead, be thinking about turning towards protestants instead.

One of the great problems with the Vatican, that has been highlighted is the degree of  what has been termed "corruption". I imagine there is very little actual corruption, which in the Church we call the sin of simony. What seems to be at the very heart of the whole system is the granting of favours in exchange for favours, the winning of personal iufluence - modern nepotism and patronage where personal trusted favourites are appointed to positions of influence, often despite merit. The problem is the whole system itself is based on personal preference which is as fickle as the direction of Mass in the Sistine chapel, all has come to depend on personal whim, or theological preference of whoever is Pontiff, this sand not Rock.

Let us pray for Francis our Pope and all who work in the Curia.
May the Lord deliver us from hasty judgements.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Francis of Rome

I was a bit surprised by our new Pope, in fact I was quite sad last night, the reason I think was beause I hadn't had a period to mourn his predecessor. Pope Francis' appearance on the balcony was a shock, the other shock was he is not Benedict XVI.

I was quite upset by one blog's vicious criticism of him, written by those wolves that tear and rend Christ's flock. It showed a weakness of faith. It is not for loyal Catholics to judge Christ's Vicar on Earth but to thank God for him and to accept the food he gives us, the lambs and sheep of the Lord's flock.

I would have loved Benedict's papacy to go on and on, this was neither his own will or the will of God, God and Benedict are wiser than the vicious wolves who would undermine the trust of the little ones. This is a grave and serious sin against the unity of the Church. True Catholics are docile to the Holy Spirit and see the election of a Pope as being the action of the Holy Spirit.

I was pleased to hear that he turned up at S. Maria Maggiore to pray before the principle Roman image of the Mother God, I was pleased he gave his first blessing to a pregnant woman who happened to be there early in the morning. I like the idea of Bishops turning up just to pray and I like the idea of the Bishop of Rome doing it even more.

I would not have chosen Francis, God has. God rarely gives us what we want but he always gives what we need, we need Pope Francis. And the more we think about it and pray about it the more it will become apparent why God has given his Church this man as a gift.

From my reading over the last few hours one of the chief reasons we have been given his is to connect theology and faith with our actions which is at least as important as connecting faith and theology with liturgy.
Part of the "rupture" that has taken place in the recent history of the Church is the seperation of faith and works, faith and justice, faith and morals, faith and service.

I hope Papa Francis will from time to time be found in the confessionals of Roman churches, appearing without notice in the cities seminaries and monasteries and encourage members of the Curia to be out working with homeless immigrants or trafficked women or teaching children the faith. I have said before that I would love to see the best minds in the Church evangelising and catechising or even just praying in the Churches of Rome. With all those priest, seminarians and religious Rome should be the most Christian, the most Holy city on earth, a model for the Church. I really do believe it could become so with Francis of Rome.

Let us pray for him, that he may not flee from the wolves.