Friday, 30 November 2012

Pope Benedict Was Not Lying - Inwood

On the Pray, Tell blog, Paul Inwood has just announced that he doesn't think the Holy Father was lying, only ignorant, when he said that the EF had not been abrogated.
So the question is: was Benedict lying? Surely not. Was he badly advised? That seems certain. Was what he said the truth? It seems clear that it was not, and that is where this issue keeps rumbling on and on. Benedict himself may well not have realized that what he said was not the truth, because he had received incorrect advice. No one is accusing him of lying, therefore, but perhaps there is the possibility of a lack of good judgement. 
 Because the other possibility, that the Holy Father may have been right and Paul Inwood wrong, is clearly inconceivable.  It's not as though the Holy Father has any particular interest or expertise in Liturgy, unlike Inwood...

Paul Inwood Fan Club

I am thinking of forming the Paul Inwood Fan Club, and would be keen to hear from any potential members.

After all, how can one not admire a man who:
  • Has given1 us the Gathering Mass;
  • Has helped us to understand (with great frequency) that the EF is still prohibited really, except in a very small number of exceptional cases2;  
  • Has written so perceptively about James Macmillan, explaining the correct way to view him and his work.3
  • Has one of the most self-deprecating websites it has ever been my pleasure to read;
  • Has courageously protested against hordes of wicked priests changing their principal Masses to be EF 4.
Here is my thinking on the costs and benefits of membership:

Membership will be by application to me, at a modest cost of 1 Liber Usualis and one copy of the Parish Book of Chant for lifetime membership. The Graduale Triplex will get you Gold Membership.

Members undertake to pray daily for the restoration of the Liturgy, and for Paul himself.

Membership benefits are the right to proclaim oneself a member, and ...  (err, and that's it).

Sounds too good to refuse, doesn't it.  
1 Let nobody be churlish enough to claim that Inwood and friends have a clique with a stranglehold over church music publishing in this country, and by no means give their work away: the labourer is surely worthy of his hire.

2 cf for example, his clarification that The provision is there for members of a parish to petition their pastor for Masses in the extraordinary form if they have previously been used to having it, and feel that their spirituality is lacking without it. It is not a blanket permission,' an interpretation of the situation which one could certainly not arrive at without his expertise to guide us. Poor old Joe Shaw has clearly completely missed the point, by his attending to what Summorum Pontificum and associated documents actually say.

3 For example: Of course MacMillan is a well-respected and talented art composer, like many others writing today. But that doesn’t mean that you’re any good at writing music for a postconciliar liturgy, particularly when your experience of liturgy is limited to your own small ordinary Scottish parish and Westminster Cathedral, which of course is not small and ordinary at all, and when your interaction with other composers working in the field of Roman Catholic liturgy is minimal. (In the US and Europe there have for 40 years been groups of liturgical music composers who support and critique and educate each other.  A lot of formation has taken place as as result. I’m not aware that MacMillan is a member of any such group.)

4 It seems that this did not actually happen, but he was quick to protest, anyway.

H/T variously LMS Chairman, Damian Thompson, the satirical blog: Pray, Tell, and of course, the man himself!

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Old Fashioned Sin

What was it ++Nichols said about all that talk about sin? A misguided attempt to motivate people, wasn't it?  It would seem he thinks we have grown out of that and are now a mature pilgrim people wending our way happily heavenwards.

Someone ought to tell the Holy Father. When he was a mere Cardinal, he wrote In the Beginning, a series of sermons on Genesis, subsequently published as a book. In the fourth sermon, he addresses head-on the problem of sin, and its disappearance from even religious instruction: 'Hardly anyone [...] dares to proclaim the prophetic message: Repent! Hardly anyone dares to make to our age this elementary evangelical appeal, with which the Lord wants to induce us to acknowledge our sinfulness, to do penance, and to become other than what we are.'

Later on he writes: 'Thus sin has become a suppressed subject, but everywhere we can see that, although it is suppressed, it has nonetheless remained real.'

He even insists on Original Sin!  And it is these realities, Original Sin and actual sin that help us to understand our need of redemption. For in the Holy Father's mind, the Old Testament always points to, is explained by, and finds its fulfilment in the New, and specifically in Christ and His saving work.  And so he concludes: May we be touched by the words of Jesus in their entirety: 'The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.'

H/t Catholic Book Reviews for reminding me of this great book.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Happy Birthday To Me!

Today is the 6th birthday of this blog.

I had announced on Twitter that, in order to show how deeply comfortable I am with modernity, and to refute any sense that I have old-fashioned values and attitudes, I would celebrate by re-naming this blog Counter Cultural Parent B.

However, the indomitable Mulier Fortis threatened to remove me from her blog roll if I did so, and I don't dare call her bluff.

So instead, I thought I would mention some of my favourite posts over the years - not those my readers like most (hah, who needs readers anyway!?) but those I remember off the top of my head, without too much effort, as being fun to write or to look back on...

Hubris and treehouses and dens seem to me to capture a lot of our family's feel...

Liturgical Infantilism vs Liturgical Wisdom still seems a good post - and was the one and only post I've written that got a Fr Z Kudos!

I like to think that Methodist 'Ordinations' in a Catholic Cathedral?... contributed to the decision not to proceed with that.

And I still like Our Father's House - a short fable.

And finally, whilst I am normally lazy and shoddy with my research (if any) the one post I spent a lot of time on in a geeky kind of way, was also a lot of fun to write - and I think worthwhile: The Rubrics (?) of the New Translation

The other thing I like is my bio in the side bar - written six years ago (and only the Italian has been changed, as I got it wrong initially!) and it still seems a fair summary.

Of course, there are many other gems in the back catalogue, but I feel this post is already a bit self-congratulatory, even for a birthday celebration, so I shall stop here.


(Oh, just remembered this: as Mr Pooter said, I don't make jokes very often...  Oh yes, and this, too...)

Enough! Ed.

Pushing the Boundaries

The BBC has announced a witty new comedy series, finding the hilarity in euthanasia (or assisted suicide as they euphemistically call it).

Eccles and Blondpidge have said most of what has to be said on this topic.

I would just add that the Greeks knew a thing or two: they saw drama as sacred; not something for everyday, but something of profundity serving a noble purpose.

The need of the modern 24/7 entertainment media to titillate ever more (due to the law of diminishing returns) will inevitably mean that 'edgy' comedy has to 'push the boundaries' further and further back. To the extent that very soon what Eccles prophesies (and worse) will indeed come to pass.

And of course, the BBC has the additional duty of softening us up, as a society, for change in the desired direction.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Still thinking about it...

I am still thinking about Greg Cunningham’s video, about which I blogged yesterday.

Images from it disturbed my sleep and made me aware I should be doing so much more for the unborn.

I am also aware, of course, that Cunningham’s approach is strongly contested by, for example, Life, whose caring and educational work I hold in high regard.  Niall Gooch is their Education and Research Officer for the London region.  

[UPDATE: Niall has pointed out that he tweets in a personal capacity, not as a representative of Life.)

On Twitter, (@niall_gooch) he said: 'Cunningham is one of the worst things to happen to the pro-life movement in Britain in years. He's taking us backwards.’

I asked him for his thoughts behind this comment, and he kindly sent a series of points to explain his reservations about Cunningham’s approach:

In short, my objections to public display of graphic images: (they're a mixture of pragmatic/principled)...

1 Violates the dignity of the dead child 
2 Many of those images are fake/manipulated 
3 We have no idea how the images will be perceived by ppl who've experienced *any* kind of pregnancy loss. 
4 Children will see them
5 It's horrible PR for prolife & I know of no evidence that it helps win minds permanently. 
6 It is unChristlike 
7 It not only appears self-righteous, confrontational & judgmental, but can actually engender those sins in ppl.
8 It poisons other prolife work, eg schools - we at LIFE have lost numerous schools for this reason.

I am still mulling this over.

It seems to me that there are two principal questions.

One is: is the approach taken by Greg intrinsically wrong?  If so, there is nothing more to discuss, for we may not use the ends to justify the means.

If there is nothing intrinsically wrong with Greg’s approach, is it prudent?  That is, will the benefits (if any) outweigh the risks (if any)?

Of the objections raised by Niall, 1, 4, 6 and 7 strike me as ones that suggest the means may be intrinsically wrong, 3, 5 and 8 are more about the tactical aspect.  2 is a separate case: it strikes me as a serious allegation, and I have asked Niall to clarify and await his response.

So I propose to think out loud firstly about 1, 4, 6 and 7, and then (perhaps, in a later post)  3, 5 and 8.  Then, if I have time and anything further to say, I may try to reach some conclusions.

1 Using such images violates the dignity of the dead child.

This is an argument with which I have an immediate and instinctive sympathy.  However, under examination I think it breaks down. Cunningham’s point is that we violate the dignity of the aborted child more by covering up his murder than by using photographs to prove it.  If one considers the case of a born child murdered, where there was photographic evidence that would convict his murderer (or even simply prove that he was a murder victim, not dead by natural causes) I do not think that publicising such a photograph (if it was necessary to do so in the pursuit of justice) would violate the child’s dignity.

4 Children will see them.

Again, this is an argument that resonates strongly with me.  However, does that mean that using such images is inherently wrong? I am not sure.

6 It is unChrist-like

I am not convinced. I am always wary of the ‘what would Christ do?’ line of argument, as He so frequently astonished even those who knew Him best.  He certainly had no qualms about telling unacceptable truths, and confronting evil directly and unapologetically - even ‘offensively.’

7 It not only appears self-righteous, confrontational & judgmental, but can actually engender those sins in people.

Again, I am not convinced. It could engender those sins, but so could many things that are not intrinsically evil.


As I say, I am thinking out loud here: I would welcome others’ views. To my surprise, I am inclining towards Greg Cunningham’s point of view,  (or at least, I am not wholly convinced by the arguments against it made so far)  but I am not yet decided or sure and am very much open to discussion and persuasion.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Thinking about it

I have just finished watching Greg Cunningham's talk on the use of graphic images in the fight against abortion.

Now I am thinking about it.

This is an important video to watch.

An old error...

Time and again, we hear how 'most Catholics reject the Church's teaching on artificial birth control, because the large majority of Catholic married couples use contraception.' (It turned up in an exceptionally stupid* piece in the National Catholic Reporter just now...)

This is stated as though it is a self-evident truth.  However, it is not.

There are two reasons for that.

The first is that in order to say that 'most Catholics reject the Church's teaching on artificial birth control' one would need to establish that they knew and understood the Church's teaching.  Whilst most know the headlines, (though even that knowledge has been muddied by the many false teachers who distort the idea of the primacy of conscience), it is highly doubtful that most know the reasons for the teaching and the depth of theology that underpins them.

There has been both a catastrophic failure of positive teaching, and a diabolical promulgation of deceit on this topic.

The second reason is a simple logical fallacy.  As the statement is presented, I could as well say:  'most Catholics reject the Church's teaching on loving your neighbour, because the large majority of Catholics are sometimes selfish.'

Clearly that is a nonsense.  Sometimes we fail to live up to a standard not because it is something with which we disagree, but because it is difficult!

In the case of the teaching on artificial birth control, these two factors interact in complex ways.  So while it may be true that many Catholics disobey the Church, and many have been persuaded that such disobedience is allowable, and further, many have been persuaded that the Church's teaching is wrong, I suspect that there are very few indeed who could articulate the Church's teaching and then explain why they reject it.

Of those few, one is probably a well-known woman theologian; but her rejection I suspect would lack intellectual coherence, as she recently suggested the Church should pay heed to the views of 'sexually active' Catholics. Does she imagine that those who live by Humanae Vitae, and have the large families to prove it, have had their children without being sexually active?  Think again, Tina.


* Exceptionally stupid: for example it claims that 97% of Catholic Laity use artificial birth control.  Given the number of the laity who are too young or too old for this to be an issue, plus those who are celibate or who observe Humanae Vitae, that is clearly an exceptionally stupid claim. The rest of the article meets the same standard of competence.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Draft Consultation Response

Draft of my response to the Mitochondrial Replacement Consultation.

I post it here for two reasons.

One is to encourage others to respond, and to give an example of how the Anscombe Centre's ecellent guidance notes have been turned into answers by one individual - but please don't copy my answers verbatim, as I think that would minimise the effectiveness of both our responses.

The other is to invite correction: if I have misunderstood anything, or got it wrong.

1. Permissibility of new techniques
Having read the information on this website about the two mitochondria replacement techniques, what are your views on offering (one or both of) these techniques to people at risk of passing on mitochondrial disease to their child? You may wish to address the two techniques separately. 

My views are that both of these techniques are seriously problematic, for a number of reasons, and should not be offered.

The benefits - having some genetic connection between parents and child - do not justify the procedures. There seem to be no other benefits that could not be realised in other ways.

MST is creating a child from three parents: this creates a series of ethical problems.  One is that it denies the child the natural inheritance of two parents which all other human beings heretofore have had.  That risks creating sever problems around identity.  It also creates problems around knowledge: would a child have the right to know all her or his genetic parents? 

PNT, as I understand it, is ethically even more problematic, as it included the deliberate creation and destruction of two human embryos, as a necessary part of the process.  Again, the resultant child may have severe problems around her or his identity and origins, including a sense of sibling loss (or even sibling sacrifice).

A further risk of both is cultivating an assumption in society that children are, in some sense, commodities that can be created to order. I have profound misgivings about the implications of such an assumption becoming widespread.

2. Changing the germ line
Do you think there are social and ethical implications to changing the germ line in the way the techniques do? If so, what are they? 

We are playing here with the very stuff of human life and human identity: of course there are social and ethical implications.  Because we are at the boundaries of existing knowledge and practice, it is not clear precisely what they are, and for that reason alone we should be very wary.  By the nature of it, any change in the germ lines will be passed on from generation to generation: we do not know what we are doing here, or what may result.  Further, once we allow such techniques in principle once, they will doubtless be employed in more and more situations.  There is a real risk of unleashing changes we do not understand, cannot reverse, and which will spread exponentially.

3. Implications for identity
Considering the possible impact of mitochondria replacement on a person's sense of identity, do you think there are social and ethical implications? If so, what are they? 

The attempts to erase the identity of the donor mother in MST strike me as very problematic in terms of the resultant child's identity.  I try to put myself in the shoes of a resultant child and ponder the questions I would have about my origins, parentage and identity, and it is very murky.  Why should we even consider doing this to a child?

Similar considerations arise with regard to PNT: I would see myself as a clone created from the spare parts of two siblings, created and destroyed in order that I might be brought to life. How can we predict what effect that might have on a child?  Why should we do this to someone?

4. The status of the mitochondria donor
a) In your view how does the donation of mitochondria compare to existing types of donation? Please specify what you think this means for the status of a mitochondria donor. 

This is a very murky area. In the case of MST, the donor is donating the spindle, that is nuclear genes, but not the egg itself.  So the spindle donor and the egg donor are both partial mothers - an entirely new category that would be brought into existence by this technology.

Likewise in PNT, the pro-nucleus is transferred into a scond egg - but this is then cloned  and the original embryo destroyed.  What does that make the status of the donor? It is very hard to say, but the most accurate description would be the partial mother of an embryo that was always destined to be destroyed.  I suspect donors are likely to struggle with this concept, if they are able to grasp it at all.

Given current concerns about the potential exploitation of donors already, it seems reckless to introduce these further complications and risks, whose impact on the donors is unpredictable.

b) Thinking about your response to 4a, what information about the mitochondria donor do you think a child should have? (Choose one response only)
  •   The child should get no information
  •   The child should be able to get medical and personal information about the mitochondria donor,
    but never know their identity
  •   The child should be able to get medical and personal information about the mitochondria donor
    and be able to contact them once the child reaches the age of 18
  •   Other
  •   I do not think mitochondria replacement should be permitted in treatment at all Please explain your choice. 

I think that the name mitochondrial replacement is a misnomer: it does not accurately describe either MST or PNT. I also think that neither of them should be allowed, as the risks and ethical concerns they raise far outweigh the benefits, nearly all of which could be realised in other, wholly ethical ways.

However, if MST were to be allowed, I believe it important that any resultant children should have the same rights as any other child conceived using donor eggs and sperm, in terms of knowing all their genetic parentage.

If I have understood it correctly, in PNT there may be as many as four parents involved in the construction of the two IVF embryos, from which a third will be cloned whilst the original two are destroyed. Again, if this labyrinthine process were to be legalised, any resultant children should have the same rights as any other child conceived using donor eggs and sperm, in terms of knowing all their genetic parentage.

I am concerned that this consultation offers a single box to tick, when the issues are so complex: on the one hand, I think (as I have ticked) that neither process should be allowed. But, should they be allowed, I also have views on how some of the impacts should be mitigated: it would have been helpful to have a process that invited such rich responses.  It worries me that such complexity is being reduced to binary thinking.

5. Regulation of mitochondria replacement
If the law changed to allow mitochondria replacement to take place in a specialist clinic regulated by the HFEA, how should decisions be made on who can access this treatment? (Choose one response only)
  •   Clinics and their patients should decide when mitochondria replacement is appropriate in individual cases
  •   The regulator should decide which mitochondrial diseases are serious enough to require mitochondria replacement and, just for these diseases, permit clinics and patients to decide when it is appropriate in individual cases
  •   The regulator should decide which mitochondrial diseases are serious enough to require mitochondria replacement and also decide, just for these diseases, when it is appropriate in individual cases
I do not think mitochondria replacement should be permitted in treatment at all Please explain your choice. 

As noted above, I think that the name mitochondrial replacement is a misnomer: it does not accurately describe either MST or PNT. I also think that neither of them should be allowed, as the risks and ethical concerns they raise far outweigh the benefits, nearly all of which could be realised in other, wholly ethical ways.

I have no confidence in regulatory bodies, as their recent history has been lamentable.  Should such techniques be approved at all, I think their should be a clear set of laws limiting them, saying both what is allowed and what is not,  debated and passed in parliament, with no room for ambiguity, interpretation or other erosion.  The regulator's role should be to enforce the law, not interpret or soften it, or campaign for its creative reinterpretation etc...

As in 4c above, I am concerned that this consultation offers a single box to tick, when the issues are so complex: on the one hand, I think (as I have ticked) that neither process should be allowed. But, should they be allowed, I also have views on how some of the impacts should be mitigated: it woul have been helpful to have a process that invited such rich responses.  It worries me that such complexity is being reduced to binary thinking.

6. Should the law be changed?
In Question 1, we asked for your views on these techniques. Please could you now tell us if you think the law should be changed to allow (one or both of) these techniques to be made available to people who are at risk of passing on mitochondrial disease to their child? You may wish to address the two techniques separately. 

I believe that neither MST nor PNT should be allowed, for all the reasons stated above.

I also believe that of the two techniques, PNT is distinctly the worst, as it invovlves the deliberate creation, for foreseen destruction, of human embryos; therefore even if the government is determined to allow some such technology, it should certainly not allow PNT.

7. Further considerations
Are there any other considerations you think decision makers should take into account when deciding whether or not to permit mitochondria replacement? 

This is the wrong response to the problem.

There are far more humane solutions to the problems facing parents who are at risk of passing on disease to any children, one of which is adoption.  I believe that radical improvement of adoption services could serve offer a de-medicalised path to such parents, and also offer better alternatives to women facing crisis pregnancies, thus reducing the number of medical terminations of pregnancy.  Such humane approaches are where the efforts, energy and resources should be directed, rather than ever complex and ethically worrying technological solutions, exciting though these may be to the scientists and medics involved.

Not surprised...

Why am I not surprised at the story emerging from Denmark that a young woman, 19-year old Carina Melchior, deemed to be dying and whose family were asked to agree to having her organs transplanted, was not in fact dying.

In fact, she is lucky to be alive, as her respirator was turned off by the doctors, once they had the family's consent to use her vital organs. 'Those bandits in white coats gave up too quickly because they wanted an organ donor,' her enraged father protested - and one can sympathise with his outrage.

However she did survive; as has happened before, the doctors' diagnosis of imminent death, whilst convenient for their desire to harvest her organs, was in fact incorrect.

The problem lies in the fact that for transplants of vital organs (eg the heart) there is a desperate urgency, which drives calamitous decision-making.  In fact, as I have blogged before, doctors cannot afford to wait until somebody is dead to remove their heart.  Once the heart stops beating, it deteriorates too quickly to be available for transplant.

That is why the diagnosis  of 'brain-dead' has been invented: to legitimise the removal of organs from 'heart-beating donors'.  Of course, in order to do that, you frequently have to anaesthetise the 'dead' person too, or they wince when they are cut open, which is distressing for the medical staff...  One who was not anaesthetised  put his arm around a nurse, just before they were about to remove his heart.  That saved his life, but had he been anaesthetised, of course, the outcome would have been very different.

Curiously, after the documentary about the Danish girl, many Danish people tore up their donor cards.

But my bet is that most donor-card carriers in this country are completely unaware that they may be sedated and have their hearts removed while their hearts are still beating, their flesh is warm - but someone has decided (and not infallibly, as so many cases prove) that they are dead.


Thursday, 22 November 2012

Three parent embryos: the time to respond is now!

The government's consultation period about mitochondrial donation (by which three-parent embryos may be created) ends soon, so don't forget to let your views be known.  The home page for the consultation has some useful information about the techniques involved, and the consultation itself is here.

I don't suppose it will make much difference (cf the consultation on redefining marriage) but nonetheless I believe we have an obligation to speak out. 

The science is clever, of course, which is why the scientists and doctors are keen to do this, but the implications are worrying.

Essentially, there are two different techniques under consideration (Maternal Spindle Transfer [MST] and Pro-Nuclear Transfer [PNT]), but neither are acceptable ethically, and both risk causing severe problems of identity for any resulting children, who will have three genetic parents.

The excellent Anscombe Centre have published guidance on the issues at stake, including a question-by-question guide to the consultation and the things to bear in mind whilst answering it.

Their last line is particularly telling, it seems to me: 

The aim of MST and PNT is to satisfy the wish for a genetically related child, and this wish does not justify cloning, embryo destruction, genetically modifying the child or altering the germline.

This is the root of the problem: people believing that they may  - indeed should - do anything to gratify a wish for a genetically related child.  The child becomes an object of choice (a philosophy closely related to the abortion industry, of course) rather than intrinsically worthy of love, which might lead more to consider adoption (and reject abortion).

We live in a deeply damaged society, but if we do not at least strive to limit the damage, we are co-responsible for that.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

More on Prayer and Time

I have been reflecting further, and even praying, about prayer and time.

I still think what I wrote here has some truth, but I am also conscious of a few risks and caveats I would like to discuss.

They are mainly around the focus of our attention, and issues like guilt and worry.

We are not to worry about the past (or the future, come to that) : it is (I think) one of the Devil's favourite strategies to distract us from attending to what we should be doing in the present moment.

So by all means, we may pray about the past; prayers of supplication, as I say, seem right to me, but perhaps we should think more particularly of thanksgiving.  However, I think we should take care not to spend too long focussing on the past: for while there is no doubt that God can do something about it, we cannot (other than pray).

I think it no coincidence that the Pater Noster focuses on today:  Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie Give us this day our daily bread; and likewise that the Ave Maria asks for Our Lady's prayers nunc et in hora mortis nostrae Now and the hour of our death.

These great prayers seem to me to teach us that it is now that we should be mainly focused on in our prayer (though ever mindful of the hour of our death... which might just be now, of course).

By way of digression (though not really) I remember praying the rosary with my mother when she was dying of cancer.  She was weak, but trying hard to vocalise the prayers.  However her voice faded at the end of each Hail Mary, so it sounded as though she were simply praying: pray for us sinners now...  As it was the hour of her death, that was profoundly moving; and I have every confidence that our Blessed Mother was indeed praying with and for her at that hour.

Guilt, of course, is different again.  The purpose of guilt in the moral realm is just like pain in the physical: to let us know that something is wrong.  The correct response is an act of contrition, and sacramental confession.  Once we have confessed and been absolved, we should not indulge any further guilt: to do so is (to say the least) an ungracious response to the love of God the Father, who had His Son hang on a cross precisely to merit forgiveness for us, and continues to pour out His Holy Spirit upon us to sanctify us.  

So if our prayers about the past are prompted by feelings of guilt for confessed sin, perhaps we should strive (and pray for the grace) to transform them into prayers of thanks for the grace of repentance and forgiveness (always assuming we have been to confession: if not, that is the urgent priority!)

So we may, I think, pray for the past (and likewise for the future, though again, worry about it seems to me a distraction) but perhaps our primary focus of attention should be on the present: what is God saying to me here and now - and what is my response?

As ever, I am interested in others' reflections on this: I thought the comments on Mark's blog which he linked to in the comms box of the previous post, were very thought-provoking.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Praying about the past...

Yesterday morning, on Twitter, Stuart James (@eChurchBlog) asked for prayers.  I didn't see the request until later in the day, when he was thanking people for their prayers and reporting a positive outcome.

So I tweeted: I didn't see this earlier, but will offer today's rosary for you. In my theology, that still works, even if the moment is past.

One of the great things about Stuart (and one of the reasons his blog is such compulsive reading) is his insatiable curiosity.

So he wouldn’t let that go by without asking what on earth I meant.

So I dashed off a series of tweets:

I don't know where I picked it up, but my understanding is that whilst we operate in time, because God is outside time - which is of course part of Creation - our actions are not necessarily bound by temporal constraints. One sees this for example in the understanding that Christ suffered for my sins. Every additional sin I commit now adds to His suffering then - in the past! So why should not our prayers also be efficacious in the past? For God, outside of time, can see them coming, as it were (in present, to Him) so why would He not choose to answer them for temporal reasons? #makesense?

That appealed to Stuart, and made intuitive sense to him. It does to me, too.  But is it right?  

Does anyone out there know if I’m barking up the wrong tree?  Or simply barking?...

But my other thought on this is that authentic prayer isn’t necessarily an attempt to change God’s mind.  Indeed at the heart of Christian prayer is ‘fiat voluntas tua,’ ‘Thy will be done.’

Likewise, we do not pray for God’s benefit, but for ours: it is good for us to pray, not good for God.

Therefore, I conclude, a large part of the benefit of prayer is conforming ourselves to God’s will; and if that is the case, then praying about the past makes perfect sense. For when I pray, I am changed; and praying about both good and bad things in the past may not change them, but can and does change me.

Nonetheless, I wonder if that is ducking the issue. When we pray for a specific intention, whether it is the end of violence in the Middle East, or the health of a sick friend, it is at least in part because we believe that God can intervene and may choose to do so as a result of our prayer.  Can that also apply to the past?  My instinct is still to say that it can: that if we choose to pray about the past, that will be as efficacious as if we had prayed for the same intention at a prior point in time.  We will not change the past; but rather what happened in the past will already have been affected by our prayer: for God, who is outside time, will have heard that prayer and answered it as He sees best.

But I would be very interested in others’ views (and particularly any authoritative or patristic writings) on this.

An Effortless Conversion

From the archives:

I was brought up in the Church of England and, until I was in my early twenties, all the people I knew, whether friends or relations, were also Anglicans, if they were Christians at all. As far as I was concerned, "Christianity" and "the Church of England" were simply two ways of describing the same thing. When I came across a reference to "the Church" in the Bible, I mentally added "of England", without even realising that I was doing it. I knew that there were chapels around, labelled Baptist or Methodist, or whatever, but nobody I knew went to them: presumably some people had been brought up that way and couldn't help it, poor things. I knew that Irish, or French or Italian people were apt to be Roman Catholics, but they were foreigners and couldn't help it, poor things. Real people were Church of England.

I went to a Church of England school and in my history lessons was taught, among many other things, that over the centuries the Church had grown more and more corrupt, and farther and farther from its original purity, until a wonderful man called Martin Luther was inspired to see what was wrong and to put it right. Henry VIII was not a very admirable character, but he did one magnificent thing in bringing the Reformation to England and freeing it from the despotic tyranny of the Pope. His cruel daughter Mary tried to turn the clock back and burned hundreds of Protestant martyrs at the stake, but Good Queen Bess soon put that right, to everyone's great joy and relief. I read about Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley, but never so much as heard the names of Edmund Campion, Cuthbert Mayne or Margaret Clitheroe. In this state of unconscious arrogance and ignorance I came up to Oxford, where I continued to be a devout and sincere Anglican.

In my second year there, I met a young man called X and his great friend Y. X came from Manchester and his parents used to go to the local Methodist chapel, but at the age of seventeen or thereabouts, he decided that religion was simply a matter of social convention and respectability, with no real meaning behind it, and abandoned it. He was a bit surprised, when he came up to Oxford, to find that the person in his college whom he liked the most - Y - was a convinced Christian, but he put it down to the influence of upbringing, and was prepared to overlook it, because Y was otherwise so intelligent, one of the best and nicest people he had ever met and so very, very funny.

The three of us began spending much of our free time together and Y eventually became engaged to X's sister. X (I can say it without too much conceit after fifty-five years!) thought me an intelligent and attractive young woman, and yet I was as committed a Christian as Y. He began to wonder if there was more in Christianity than he had supposed when he "saw through it'. X was the sort of person who is totally incapable of being superficial about anything important, so he decided that the best way of finding out about this "Christianity thing" would be to take a post-graduate degree in Theology, at the same college for the training of Congregational ministers to which Y was going. In the meantime I had taken my degree and been "directed" (this was during World War II) into the Ministry of Supply in London.

X and I had had a series of tiffs, and I had decided that I never wanted to see him again, although I remained on the friendliest terms with his sister Z and with Y. So I had no idea that in the course of his studies he had had to read some of the writings of St Thomas Aquinas, and had been completely bowled over by them. It seemed to him that St Thomas made complete sense and that nothing else which he had read could be compared to him for accuracy and persuasiveness. He read very deeply in his works and began to study other medieval Catholic philosophers and theologians, as well as going back to the early Fathers of the Church and re-reading their works as St Thomas expounded them, rather than as his Protestant professors did. As he read and studied and prayed, he became more and more convinced that Christ had founded a Church, that it was to exist until the end of time, and that it was to be found today in the Roman Catholic Church. He did not know a single Catholic.

He came up to London to work in a settlement which his college ran in the heavily-bombed docks area to help the homeless and bereaved people there, and went on using his spare time to read and study Catholicism. There were just a few complicated points of doctrine where he was not quite certain that the Catholic Church had got the right answer, and he felt that he needed to consult a Catholic priest about them. He'd heard of a Catholic church at Farm Street in central London, so on his free afternoon he set off, found it, rang the presbytery bell and asked to see a priest. A very old priest, with the auspicious name of Father Luck, came to meet him, and when X had explained his position and begun to raise his abstruse theological points, Father Luck said, "I think we'd better begin with this", and pulled the "Penny Catechism" out of his pocket.

Who made me? God made me.

Why did God make me? To know Him, love Him and serve Him in this life, and to be happy with Him for ever in the next,

and so on. By the time, four months later, that they had gone through the whole catechism, X was ready to be received into the Church.

About a couple of months before this happened, I received an invitation to Z's wedding to Y, with a note from her, saying that although she would love to have me there, she would quite understand if I didn't want to come. My reaction was, "I'm not going to stay away from Z's wedding just because she's got a horrid brother!" But once we had met again, I soon discovered that he was not so horrid after all, and shortly afterwards we were going out together as often as we could. One of these occasions was to be a Saturday spent in Richmond Park, and on the previous day I had a note from X saying: "Yesterday (this was Corpus Christi, although I didn't know it) I was received into the Catholic Church." We had talked about everything else under the sun but not about religion, and I have to admit that my immediate reaction was, "Oh X! First he's a Non-Conformist and now he's a Roman Catholic! Why can't he be Church of England like everybody else?!"

But on that day at Richmond, we had such a lovely time together that when I got home that night I said to myself, "If X asks me to marry him, I shall say yes." And I went on to myself, "That will mean I shall have to become a Roman Catholic, because if we get married we shall have children, and it would be terribly muddling for them to have their parents going to different churches." And I finished (I blush hotly to recall), "After all, they are Christians"(!)

Of course X didn't know what my thought-processes were, and I didn't know that his were: "She is a pious, happy, contented Anglican and can't be expected to change, so I shall have to be very patient, and try to give good example and pray a lot, and then perhaps one day…” So when, as soon as the proposal of marriage had been made and accepted, I said, "And now, what do I do about becoming a Catholic?" for the first and last time in my life I saw X totally taken aback - eyes popping, jaw dropping.

Having recovered, he was, of course, delighted to take me to see his aged Jesuit Father Luck, who passed me on to an even older Tyburn nun called Mother St Paul. She took one look at me and produced a children's book. Its story-line would seem very dated now, but it incorporated a quite splendid exposition of Catholic doctrine, and I lapped it up like a cat with a saucer of cream. As she continued with my instruction I found that where the Church of England said, "You may believe that if you want to, or find it beautiful or helpful," the Catholic Church said, "You've got to believe that, because it's TRUE" - things like the efficacy of prayer to Our Lady and the Saints, or the necessity of Confession, or the existence of Purgatory. As I wanted my religion to be as true as the multiplication table, this suited me down to the ground. I went on lapping up all that I was told and read with ever-increasing enthusiasm and happiness. This was the period of flying bombs and V2 rockets, so they were letting people into the Church fairly quickly and, having started my instruction at the beginning of July, I was received halfway through October.

I could never read the words of Our Lord: "Others have laboured and you have entered into their labour" without applying them to X and me. I know that all conversions are simply the result of the grace of God, but mine seems to me to have been quite exceptionally free from any merit, effort or intention on my part, so little, indeed, that the remembrance fills me with some shame - but with far, far more gratitude!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

On Women Priests (the impossibility thereof)

The other day on Twitter (that source of wisdom and truth: vox populi and all that...) someone (Stephen Martin, ‏@stevemukuk ) tweeted:
A female ordained in exactly the same way as a male has a valid and equal ordained ministry. Only threat I see is to a male priests manhood.
I responded, somewhat unkindly, 
Yes, and if you unscrew your belly-button your bottom falls off. #wellknonwnfacts
We tweeted backwards and forwards and my interlocutor said:
 to be honest I don't understand anyone who denies a woman ministry theologically.
ok bit never heard an arguement against that tallies. Gods will be done. Prayer required for all.
He seems a decent and honest chap, so I can only assume he is telling the truth.

Which seemed odd to me, as I am in precisely the opposite place: I don’t understand anyone who does claim ministry for a woman theologically, and have never heard an argument for it which adds up to much.

So I thought I would think out loud about all this here...

The case for Women Priests

As far as I can understand it, the case for Women Priests in Christianity rests on the following:

1 Men and women are equal in God’s creation.
2 An exclusively male priesthood clearly excludes women
3 Such exclusion relegates them to second-class, in denial of #1 above
4 Such exclusion also denies the faithful access to their gifts as pastors
5 Further to #4, many ordained women do the job at least as well as, and in many cases better than, some of their male counterparts
6 The reasons for the exclusion of women in the past are largely an accident of history the result of unjust patriarchal structures and attitudes.
7 There is no theological reason for the exclusion of women
8 The time is right for this historic injustice to be corrected.

The case against

The case against the ordination of Women, as I see it, is as follows:

A As Christians we are bound to follow Christ: he ordained only men
B As Christians, we believe Christ to be God Incarnate, and therefore to have known what He was doing and to have done wisely and justly
C The likelihood of Christ being constrained by the customs of his time is less than the likelihood of our being misled by the sensibilities of our time
D Further to #C, the customs of his time were no accident, but the result of the formation of the Jewish People over the whole period of the Old Testament
E The Church is led by the Holy Spirit, and is (to say the least) unlikely to have been guilty of so grave an error for 20 centuries
F The witness of Christendom endures: the vast majority of Christendom (Roman Catholic and Orthodox) still adhere to the tradition received from the Apostles
G There are strong arguments from authority (both the teaching magisterium of the Church, for those who believe in that) and the teaching authority of Scripture (which I would hope we all believe in) in favour of the traditional understanding
H The job of theology is to seek ever-greater understanding: it is secondary, not primary
I The decision to ordain women has clearly further fragmented Christian denominations and rendered final reconciliation far harder to envisage.

I may well have missed or misunderstood things on either (or both) sides of the debate, and welcome correction.

However, it is interesting to me that the types of argument, the grounds of the discussion as it were, seem different for each side.

As I have had occasion to remark before, I do not know why ordination is reserved to men: there are various theories advanced by different theologians, some of which seem to me to be more plausible than others.  But that does not weaken my belief in the proposition: as I say, theology is secondary.

I can also see many flaws in the arguments for Women’s ordination.  I would refute many of the assumptions behind the propositions listed above, such as 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8...

Finally, for me it comes down to a matter of trust: in whom am I to place my trust?  The example of Our Lord, the Apostles, the Fathers of the Church, the centuries of tradition (including many notable female saints who never claimed a vocation to the priesthood), on the one hand?  Or a fairly small band of people who, genuinely inspired by a zeal for justice, live in a small window of time that happens to coincide with my own life?


I realised that I had not made it clear that this difference in understanding has a very profound implication. From a traditional point of view, the example of Christ and subsequent witness of the Church means not that we should not ordain women, but that we cannot do so.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Not such a vegetable

The very term 'vegetative state' (let alone 'persistent' and 'permanent vegetative state') has always struck me as rhetoric that is designed to influence our response as much as to describe a person suffering from a medical condition.

If I recall correctly, the Tony Bland Case, [in which a victim of the Hillsborough disaster (who was deemed to be in a hopeless 'permanent vegetative state') was euthanised, by the withdrawal of foods and fluids] was used as a test case to redefine the provision of food and fluids as medical intervention.

Now it has been proven that Scott Routley, who has been in a so-called vegetative state for more than a decade, is demonstrably able to understand and respond to questions from his medical team.  So not such a vegetable, after all...

Let us hope and pray that this new medical evidence has some impact on the campaign to euthanise the sick, and helps medical staff to remain aware of the humanity of their patients, rather than mentally writing them off as vegetables...

Friday, 9 November 2012

Pro-Life Prayer Vigil in Stratford, London

I have been asked to help publicise this pro-life prayer vigil and am happy to do so.


The next vigil at the BPAS abortion centre, 32-36 Romford Road, Stratford, E15 4BZ, will be held



Directions: Maryland Rail Stn. National Rail (Richmond/Clapham Junction and Willesden Junction/ Gospel Oak). Stratford Stn. - Underground served by Central & Jubilee Lines: Docklands Light Railway: Buses 25; 69; 86; 158; 241; 257.



P.O. BOX 26601, 
N14 7WH 
Telephone: 020 8252 3109


If, like me, you are unable to join the vigil in Stratford, join them in prayer.