Friday, 22 May 2015

Off to Chartres

We leave for Paris today, and tomorrow start the great pilgrimage to Chartres. For more details on this (ie my accounts and reflections from previous years) click on the Chartres tag.

In outline, our timetable is this:

Saturday, Pentecost Eve
4.30 Rise
5.00 Breakfast
7.00 Mass in Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris
thereafter
March 1: 2hrs 45 mins
Rest: 15 mins
March 2: 1hr 30 mins
Lunch: 1 hr
March 3: 2hrs 40 mins
Rest: 15 mins
March 4: 1 hr 10 mins
Rest: 15 mins
March 5: 1 hr 30 mins

Arrive at campsite (c. 8 pm)

Pentecost is similar, but with Pentecost Mass at noon, and 6 marches (but abut the same number of hours walking).

Whit Monday is easier: 3 marches (totalling a mere five and a half hours walking) and Mass in Notre Dame Cathedral, Chartres, at 3.00 pm.

I will pray for all readers of this blog: and ask that they all pray for me.

Notre Dame de Paris: Priez pour nous;
Notre Dame de Chartres: Priez pour nous.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Is Tina Beattie an Apologist for Abortion?

The other day,  in response to someone who accused her of 'advocacy for abortionTina Beattie tweeted: Is this advocacy? You decide. http://www.http://www.reform-magazine.co.uk/2014/12/a-good-question-is-abortion-unchristian/

Ever one to rise to a challenge, I thought I would take a look.

The article in question is one of four in answer to the question 'A good question: Is abortion unchristian?' This appears in Reform, a magazine of the URC.

Professor Beattie is of course a professional theologian, whereas I am just an amateur blogger, so maybe it is presumptuous of me to comment, and possibly I misunderstand the subtlety of her position, but nothing daunted, here I go. (And kindly keep to yourself any jokes about a professional doing for money what an amateur does for love...)

She starts with this assertion:
'I don’t think any single act can be judged as Christian or unchristian – we have to understand the context and intentions. '

That strikes me as very odd. In Catholic theology, we can contrast the objective nature of an act, which may or may not be sinful, with the subjective aspects (eg intentions) which may make the individual more or less guilty of sin.  So strange is her contention, in fact, that I was already thinking 'I bet she doesn't think that about rape, for example' when I read on, and found she seems to contradict it later in this very piece. For she goes on to write: ' I do believe Christianity is incompatible with any intentional act of violence, be it war, execution or abortion.'

Which leaves me puzzling: Is it possible for an act of violence to be incompatible with Christianity (as she asserts) and yet incapable of being judged as unchristian (as she assets)? And if not, what on earth does she mean?

She then goes on to criticise the ethos summarised by 'a woman's right to choose' rightly pointing out that it suggests that 'an unborn child is a commodity to be disposed of in any way its “owner” decides.'

She goes on to point out the link between freedom and responsibility, and concludes, again correctly, that 'Abortion should never be seen as an alternative to contraception.'

However her argument to reach that correct conclusion is not free from problems (and nor, consequently, is the conclusion, as I will explain). For she writes:
With freedom comes responsibility, and a responsible adult woman who is voluntarily sexually active and does not want a child has a responsibility to avoid pregnancy. 
One of the problems with that is that implies that a woman whose responsibility is impaired, or who is young, or who is raped, is an exception - it at least leaves open the door to saying abortion is permissible in such cases, which is clearly not the Catholic position.

We then get the inadmissible act of violence argument, to which I referred earlier, and we seem to be on the right track, with the conclusion that 'Christianity is incompatible... with abortion.'

And then she veers off again, wanting us to reclaim 'the traditional theological distinction between early and late abortion.' That is both a red herring and a Trojan Horse, it seems to me. It is a red herring as no such distinction has been part of Catholic Theology. There was speculation about the time of ensoulment at some time, but throughout that debate, abortion was always recognised as a heinous sin.

And it is a Trojan Horse because of where it allows her to take her argument:
Early abortion should in my view be legal, because the law should not be used to enforce morality, but to protect the common good, and illegal abortion does not save babies, it kills women.
That is a very problematic sentence, not only from a Catholic point of view, but also from a logical one.  Let us take it apart.

First problem: Early abortion should in my view be legal, because the law should not be used to enforce morality; this phrasing prejudices the argument in a particular direction, as can be clearly shown by contrasting it with the following: Early abortion should in my view be legal, because the law should not be used to safeguard human life. You see what I mean...

Second problem: and illegal abortion does not save babies, it kills women. This hides a flow of logic that is very vulnerable: ie the idea that if early abortion were made illegal, there would be no reduction in the number of abortions, but rather, all the women who currently seek legal early abortions would have illegal ones. That is a massive assumption that is almost certainly false.

Professor Beattie concludes her argument:
To say that women should have access to safe, legal abortion in early pregnancy is not to say that abortion is therefore a moral good, any more than to say that people should not be stoned for committing adultery is to say that adultery is morally good…
Again, this is rather a strange conflation of ideas: she is not comparing like with like.  Again, I will offer another putative ending to one of her sentences to show what I believe it may be hiding: To say that women should have access to safe, legal abortion in early pregnancy is not to say that abortion is therefore not killing an unborn child... You see what I mean...

So is this piece an apology for abortion? On the one hand, Professor Beattie says that abortion is (along with any act of violence) incompatible with Christianity. On the other hand, she asserts that no action can be judged unchristian, particularly without taking into account 'context and intentions;' she further introduces a spurious argument about early and late abortions, and she concludes that 'safe legal abortion' should be allowed, never mentioning at this stage that no abortion is safe for its victim: the victim of a violence that she earlier stated was incompatible with Christianity.

I leave it to you to decide...

It's all about the priest...

As I was driving home, I was listening to PM on radio 4. After a rather dreadful piece on vicars learning to tell jokes and use humour in their sermons, there was another item which really caught my attention. It was an interview with a Catholic, whose name I didn't catch, who had decided to go to Mass every day in Lent, at a different Church.

His conclusion, from having attended 46 Masses said by 46 different priests on 46 successive days was: 'It's all about the priest...'

Some priests, he found, really brought the Mass alive for him, by the sermons they preached, or the care with which they said the Mass, or (and this was particularly potent for him) saying 'thank you for coming' at the end.

Just think about that: 'It's all about the priest...'

For me, that did seem a sad reflection on our modern liturgy; a fruit in part of the changes to the Mass following the Second Vatican Council, and not least in the orienting of the priest to face the people; but also a fruit of a poor understanding of the Mass by priest and people alike.

One of the things I love about the traditional Latin Mass is that the person of the priest is almost an irrelevance. We are looking through him to Christ. 'It's all about Christ offering the Sacrifice to the Father.' It is true that some manage to say the New Mass in that way - not least our Pope Emeritus (about whose wise liturgical praxis I have blogged here, in passing); but it is also true that a priest who faces East simply doesn't have the temptation (or feel the necessity) of making the Mass all about him.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Fr Cantalamessa at the Alpha Leadership Conference

Somebody sent me the link to Fr Cantalamessa's address at the Alpha Leadership Conference a couple of weeks ago, and wanted my view.

Fr Cantalamessa is, of course, the preacher to the Holy Father,  an office he has held since 1980, when appointed by Pope John Paul II.  So he is clearly someone to listen to with respect and interest.

And indeed much of this address is very good. I do not agree with all the sentiments he expresses, but that is fair enough. For example he sees a huge movement of the Holy Spirit in all of the pentecostal and charismatic branches of the different denominations that is completely fresh and drawing Christianity back together. I can't say that I have noticed that, but maybe it hasn't reached Cumbria yet...

But there are some parts of his address that do trouble me, too. And I find myself wondering if I am troubled by him in the same way that I am troubled by the Holy Father on occasion (a reaction I explore here.) That is, I wonder if he uses language in a more impressionistic, and less precise, way than (say) the Pope Emeritus.  For occasionally I was brought up short by some of the things he said.  For example: 'Man has not changed: it is God who has changed.'

I thought that God was immutable, unchanging, and that that was Catholic dogma. Likewise, he talks of the 'Churches born of the Reformation.' In Catholic theology, there is One Church. In official documents, the Protestant denominations are referred to by some courteous descriptor that avoids calling them 'churches' for that very reason.

But perhaps I am being over-picky here. 

More troubling still, though, was his saying, to an Albert Hall full of people from various protestant denominations: '‘it is not a matter (…) of changing one’s Church affiliation, of course…’ And he smiles. And he is applauded.  And isn't that lovely. But it is not, it seems to me, the Catholicism that it is his responsibility to preach.

He also says: 'This does not mean ignoring the great theological and spiritual enrichments that  came from the Reformation…’ I would love to know what he thinks they are. Unless he is referring to the Council of Trent, (and I don't think he is), which did indeed offer great theological and spiritual enrichments in response to the heresies of Luther et al, I fear he has strayed from the path of wisdom and truth quite substantially. But it does win a lot of applause.

Indeed, his whole drift in the end of the speech is that it really doesn't matter what denomination we belong to, as long as we all believe in Jesus and proclaim the Good News to the world, which so desperately needs it.

Where I have trouble with that is that the protestant denominations, to a large extent, collude with many of the world's current dangerous errors: with regard to marriage (divorce, contraception, same sex unions), with regard to abortion (which many see as a regrettable option, at most) and so on. 

We have a duty, I think, to work with all Christians where we can; but to minimise the importance of the Catholic Church is an error - not least if we purport to love our fellow Christians. For they are deprived of the whole sacramental economy. It is true that many achieve lives of love and holiness that leave many Catholics looking very mediocre; but think how much more they could achieve with the grace of a full sacramental life.

I should add that I have only watched this video once, and that with various interruptions. If others watch it and see it differently, I would be very interested to hear of that. But for me, it seems that Fr Cantalamessa has drunk too deeply from the heady wine of good fellowship with our separated brethren, to the extent that he seems to think Sts Thomas More and John Fisher were misguided victims of a trivial misunderstanding. I cannot follow him there.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Not 'because religion'

I directed someone on Twitter who was asking why I was opposed to Same Sex Marriage, to my blog, as I did not want to simplify the argument to 140 characters. 

He or she responded 'Had a quick peek. The general argument is "because religion". Not the most satisfactory argument.' The joys of Twitter...

In fairness I hadn't pointed to a particular post, and the most recent post on the blog at the time was either the one about the Chartres Pilgrimage, or the one about the Ascension, so that may have been the reason for that response. I should have pointed to (and eventually did point to) my posts In Praise of Equal Marriage and The Destruction of Marriage.

Because actually, 'because religion' is only a small part of the argument.

One could as well say 'because educated.' For if we look at this matter through the eyes of any reasonable education, it leads to the same conclusion. I will use the three faculties of a typical university as a structure for this part of the discussion: Science, Medicine and the Humanities.

Let us start with Science: biology is the most relevant one here, and if one considers sex from a biological point of view, it is clear that its purpose is procreation, its modus operandi is one male and one female; pleasure is associated with it in order to promote procreation, and to form pair bonds in order to provide the best environment for the protection and raising of the children.

If we move on to Medicine, we can quickly discern that there are healthy and unhealthy sexual behaviours. Healthy sexual behaviour is adult, heterosexual and monogamous, and avoids incest. All other variants include varying degrees of risk to health.

And that brings us to the humanities... History is an interesting place to start. What we find is both that homosexuality as a state of being is a new invention, and also that wherever sexual licence takes over a civilisation, that civilisation collapses shortly thereafter.

But actually, where I really want to go is Philosophy. Because if you want to reduce my intellectual stance to 'because...' one true answer would be 'because philosophy.'

That is true, of course, of either side of the debate. The pro-SSM stance is based on philosophical assumptions, whether the proponents are aware of that fact or not. Any appeal to evidence is based on a philosophy; for it is a philosophy that dictates that such evidence is the way to inform decisions, and it is also a philosophy that determines how evidence is interpreted. It is also a philosophical issue to determine how we decide what is good (or fair, or just, or whatever other evaluative criterion one chooses to use...)

In my case, the philosophy is a classical Christian understanding of man's purpose, happiness and so forth. So 'because religion' if you like - but recognise that the opposing argument is equally 'because philosophy,' or, if you prefer, either 'because religion' or 'because irreligion.'

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Getting Ready for Chartres

If this blog has been a little quiet of late, it is because all my spare hours have been dedicated to translating. I was sent the thirteen meditations for this year's Chartres pilgrimage in French, and asked to translate them into English. They take between three and four hours each...

So now that they are done, I can turn my mind to the rest of the preparations.  I have dug out a tent, and a few sleeping bags; oiled my boots and cleaned my walking sandals (which are my preferred footwear for the pilgrimage). I have checked tickets and passports (for the significance of this, see here) and I have looked at the weather forecast for Paris for next weekend (possibly wet on Saturday, sunny on Sunday and Monday).

But actually, the translating of the meditations is the better preparation. The pilgrimage is primarily a spiritual journey; the practical preparations are essential, but it is the spiritual ones that really make the trip worth while.

And this year I am lucky enough to be taking three of the four junior Trovati (Ant has, of course, changed her name when she married - but she is still Trovata to me). Bernie is most upset that she can't join us, as we have never had all four of the children walking to Chartres at the same time. But as she is currently in Zambia, working with the Holy Spirit sisters, looking after AIDS orphans, she can't be with us.

So if you have a moment, say a prayer for us all; that we may endure the physical hardships with good humour, negotiate the practical issues with panache and finesse, and above all, gain the spiritual benefits which Our Blessed Mother has in mind for us, as we walk in her honour from her Cathedral in Paris to her Cathedral in Chartres.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Ascension Day

Ascendit Deus in iubilatione, et Dominus in voce tubae, Alleluia, alleluia!

Here in England and Wales, the celebration of the feast, and the attendant obligation to attend Mass, have been transferred to Sunday.

I think that is an unwise decision, pastorally. It erodes our Catholic Identity, and the sense of a special feast. Also at a psychological level, I think that lessening the demands our Faith makes on us weakens our Faith.


The Ascension is one of the more complex events to understand. But one aspect worthy of our attention is the fact that it visibly expresses the Father's acceptance of the Son's sacrifice, thus completing it.

This is clearly in line with the pattern in the Old Testament; and also, as Fr Hunwicke has pointed out, with the theology of the Roman Canon (in contrast with the new Eucharistic Prayers composed in the 1960s ff).

Here is an Ascension Day treat: