Sunday 26 August 2012

Poor souls

There is a heart-breaking column in last week’s Tablet.  It was a mother's reflections on her accepting attitude when her 16 year old son declared himself gay.  I started a fisk of the whole thing but it was unutterably depressing.  So much well-intentioned ignorance and error in such a short piece...

But my overwhelming response was simply how silly.

I mean, he's 'around sixteen'. He had apparently 'known' for some time.

I remember being that age. I observe Charlie at around that age. Boys that age are often uncomfortable around girls and very close to their (boy) friends.

To feel that one has to decide on one's sexuality at that age is unutterably sad - and quite possibly tragic.

I am sure that if I had declared myself gay at that age my mother would not have rejected me - but nor would she have accepted it as a fact and rejoiced in it.  She would have counselled me to wait and grow up a bit...

This myth that sexual orientation is innate and unchanging is by no means a scientific consensus.  It seems most likely that there are both genetic and situational/relational factors.  Given that, to accept it as both proven and immutable at the time in a boy's life when he is undergoing the major physical and emotional changes of adolescence seems foolhardy.

There is much more one could say about this article, about the comments made on it, and about the Tablet's role in this - but that must wait for another day...

Scottish Bishops' Letter for Marriage Sunday

A Message for Marriage Sunday
26 August 2012
The Bishops’ Conference of Scotland

In all things, we as Catholics look to Jesus Christ as our model and teacher.   When asked about marriage He gave a profound and rich reply: “Have you not read that the Creator, from the beginning, ‘made them male and female’, and said: ‘This is why a man must leave father and mother and cling to his wife and the two become one body’.”   (Matthew, 19: 4-5)

In the Year of Faith, which begins this October, we wish to place a special emphasis on the role of the family founded on marriage.   The family is the domestic Church, and the first place in which the faith is transmitted.   For that reason it must have a primary focus in our prayerful considerations during this period of grace. 

We write to you having already expressed our deep disappointment that the Scottish Government has decided to redefine marriage and legislate for same-sex marriage. We take this opportunity to thank you for your past support in defense of marriage and hope you will continue to act against efforts to redefine it.   We reaffirm before you all the common wisdom of humanity and the revealed faith of the Church that marriage is a unique life-long union of a man and a woman.

In circumstances when the true nature of marriage is being obscured, we wish to affirm and celebrate the truth and beauty of the Sacrament of Matrimony and family life as Jesus revealed it;  to do something new to support marriage and family life in the Catholic community and in the country;  and to reinforce the vocation of marriage and the pastoral care of families which takes in the everyday life of the Church in dioceses and parishes across the country.

For that reason, in the forthcoming Year of Faith we have decided to establish a new Commission for Marriage and the Family.   This Commission will be led by a bishop and will be composed mostly of lay men and women.   The Commission will be charged with engaging with those young men and women who will be future husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, and with those who already live out their vocation to marriage and parenthood in surroundings which often make it hard to sustain and develop the full Catholic family life we cherish. 

We wish to support too, those who are widowed, separated and divorced and all who need to feel the Church’s maternal care in the circumstances in which they find themselves.   The new Commission will promote the true nature of marriage as both a human institution and a union blessed by Jesus.   The Commission will be asked to develop an online presence so that prayer, reflection, formation and practical information on matters to do with marriage and family life can be quickly accessible to all.   It will also work to produce materials and organise events which will support ordinary Catholic families in their daily lives.   During the course of the coming year we will ask for your support for these initiatives.

Our faith teaches us that marriage is a great and holy mystery.   The Bishops of Scotland will continue to promote and uphold the universally accepted definition of marriage as the union solely of a man and a woman.   At the same time, we wish to work positively for the strengthening of marriage within the Church and within our society.

This is an important initiative for all our people, but especially our young people and children.  We urge you to join us in this endeavour.   Pray for your own family every day, and pray for those families whose lives are made difficult by the problems and cares which they encounter.   Finally, we invite you to pray for our elected leaders, invoking the Holy Spirit on them, that they may be moved to safeguard marriage as it has always been understood, for the good of Scotland and of our society.

H/t Scottish Catholic Media Office

Friday 24 August 2012

Abortion in the case of rape

There has been a lot of noise about abortion and rape recently, generating, as so often, far more heat than light.

In this post I set out to discuss why, from a pro-life and/or Catholic point of view, there can be no question of abortion being the right response to a pregnancy resulting from rape.

As ever, these are the thoughts of an interested layman, not a trained moral theologian and I therefore welcome discussion and correction should I get anything wrong.

First and foremost, it is important to be quite clear that rape is a terrible crime. In Catholic thinking, it is also a sacrilege, the profanation of something sacred (namely human sex).  It is a very grave evil, and victims of rape deserve support, compassion and love.

However, that does not mean that a woman who has been raped has the automatic right to do whatever she wants to make herself feel better.

She does not have the right, for example, to have the rapist kidnapped, incarcerated privately, castrated and killed, or beaten by hired thugs every day for the rest of his life, even though that might make her feel a lot better, and even though there may be many who believe that a rapist deserves nothing less.

Why she does not have that right is because the rapist also has rights, merely by being a human being; albeit one who has committed a terrible and evil crime.  Moreover, society also has interests here: for example, to see justice administered openly, fairly and proportionately, with due legal process.

When we come to the case of a woman pregnant as a result of rape, the stakes are higher.  On the one hand, we can naturally sympathise with the woman’s distress and the terrible predicament in which she finds herself, bearing the child of a man who raped her.

On the other hand, we have to recognise that there are still limits to what she may or may not do in that predicament.

To discover the right response we need to consider all the parties and what is due to them in accordance with charity and justice.

That of course includes the woman, but also the child conceived by the rape; it also includes the medics who will be involved in the pregnancy, and it involves wider society, as we all have an interest in justice and compassion; it also includes, as I implied earlier, the rapist.

Of course, the moment we include the child conceived by the rape in the list of those who need to be taken into account, we exclude the possibility of abortion being a legitimate solution.  If we do anything less, we are not pro-life in any meaningful way.

But Ben, surely you are not saying a raped woman should be forced to give birth!

That is just rhetoric.  The woman is not forced to give birth by legislation prohibiting abortion; it is the natural consequence of a rape resulting in pregnancy, and indeed is one of the reasons rape is such a heinous crime.  No force is used; all that is done is that a morally illegitimate solution (which would be gravely unjust to the unborn child) is made illegal.

In terms of rhetoric, one could as accurately say that allowing for abortion would be forcing the medical staff to carry out the killing of the unborn child.  One can do that with language, but one needs to look a little further beyond the emotional rhetoric.

So who is owed what?

The woman is owed compassion, practical and emotional support, and justice.

The child is owed justice, in particular the protection of the law and appropriate arrangements for upbringing should the woman choose not to keep him or her; also protection of identity from being the ‘child of a rapist’ on the principle that children should not be made to suffer for the crimes of their father.

The medics are owed the opportunity to practice their true vocation: to nurture health; and should be safeguarded from temptations or pressures to violate the right to life of the unborn child.

The rapist is owed justice: punishment for the crime committed and rehabilitation to avoid re-offending if possible.

Society at large is owed the rule of law: and law that is in accordance with the basic goods of human life.  

What all that means, of course, is that if we are to consider ourselves pro-life, we must: fight all abortion, including the hard cases such as rape; and work to ensure that there is a genuine alternative for women who face such terrible situations (rape or others) that drive them to consider abortion; and work to educate others to understand the inherent issues of justice and compassion that underlie our case.

Finally there is the practical point: if legislation restricts or outlaws abortion except in the case of rape, the rape statistics would go through the roof.  It would simply be a loophole that would leave the unborn as vulnerable as ever; and would also perpetuate a culture in which inadequate genuine support is offered to women pregnant after rape.  It would also weaken the fight against rape, as everyone would know, in their heart of hearts, that many reported rapes were now  simply attempts to get around restrictions on abortion.

Thursday 16 August 2012

A strange coincidence?...

Many years ago, when I was an undergraduate at Oxford, I had occasion to write to the Chaplain, Fr Walter Drumm.

I was less obnoxious then, and wrote him a very gentle note pointing out that it was against the law of the Church for the congregation to join in the doxology at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, quoting the appropriate Vatican document, and noting that he never encouraged the practice, but suggesting that perhaps he should discourage it.

Weeks passed by and nothing happened.  Then, right at the end of term, I got a brief hand-written note from him, saying 'Thank you for your comments, which I have noted.'

I thought that was inadequate at the time, and I still do.  Either I was right, in which case he should, I believe have addressed the issue, or explained why he thought it inappropriate to do so; or alternatively I was wrong, in which case, I believe that he should have explained my error.

But to be honest, I haven't been brooding on this for the intervening thirty years.  I had forgotten about it until this afternoon, when I received an email.

This one was from the Diocese of Brentwood, and it read: Thank you for your email, the contents of which have been noted.

This one was in response to my email asking if it was really appropriate to invite Jon Cruddas to address a Catholic Justice and Peace conference; given that, despite proclaiming himself a Catholic, he consistently, publicly and unrepentantly opposes Catholic teaching on Justice and Peace issues (such as the protection of marriage, the rights of unborn children etc) in both word and deed.

Are these people taught that this is the way to (fail to) answer questions they don't want to answer?  Is there a handbook somewhere for dealing with cheeky proles like me who ask impertinent questions?  I think we should be told (but of course, if I asked, I would be told: Thank you for your question, which I have noted.)

Saturday 11 August 2012

A Short Break

The Trovati are off on holiday today, collecting Bernie en route and then proceeding to the West Country for a week of walking and surfing etc.

Consequently, there will be no Latin Class this week or next, nor any other blogging.

Normal service will (probably) be resumed on our return.

Thursday 9 August 2012

Bernie at the Olympics

Bernie is volunteering at the Olympics this week; not on public duty, but as a cleaner in the Olympic Village.  That is normally paid work, but she has been recruited to a scheme whereby her wages are donated to a charity in Uganda.

She is sleeping in the notorious workers' portakabins - nothing like the hell-holes portrayed by the press, more like youth hostel accommodation: shared, spartan, but fine.  Nonetheless, the news that that was where they were due to stay caused two of her co-volunteers to drop out before even seeing the place.

Two more dropped out after the first morning's work.  It is hard work, endlessly changing the beds, cleaning the rooms, and washing down the bathrooms of the athletes (which are rather more luxurious than her room, as you'd expect).

However, she is having a great time; we receive regular text updates, including that she has cleaned Sir Chris Hoy's room and made his bed; has met a very friendly Madagascan athlete who gave her a Madagascar badge, with which she is delighted, and most dramatically that she pulled the duvet off one bed, only to find a sleeping athlete in it!  Her text  continued: 'Awks! Never been so frightened in my life!'

So I gather she's having a fine time; and as she has her evenings free, is planning to enjoy some of the sights of London, including the Royal Academy summer exhibition.

She is trying to wangle some tickets for at least one Olympic event, so far unsuccessfully, but I'd put money on her getting to something before the week is out.

I'm pleased she's doing it - not least because our kids lead a very privileged life, and I think it is good for them to do some real hard work, and get some clue about how so many people have to work to make a living.  At her age, I used to work as a janitor and kitchen porter etc during my year off and vacations, and have long valued the people I met along the way and the whole experience of manual labour.

And there's also the aspect of having played some part in the London Olympics, as well as supporting a worthwhile charity.

Tuesday 7 August 2012

The Evil One in the Catholic Church

Yet again, I am witnessing someone who is considering joining the Catholic Church being put off by the manifest evil of some members.

Why should she join such an Institution, and align herself with such people?

It is a very good question, and I think a profound one. It has arisen throughout the history of the Church, of course.

From the start, one of the twelve betrayed Christ; and we believe that Christ knew that he would do so.  I believe that one of the reasons Christ allowed that was to teach us, by example, that we will always find evil within the Church; just as He teaches in the Parable of the Tares (Matthew 13: 24-30).

And so we have found: time and again, the Catholic Church is seen to be a Church of great saints and prodigious sinners.

So how do I reconcile myself to believing such a Church is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church? What is so Holy about it?

Before we address that, I would just point out that it is fulfilling Our Lord’s prediction, and also that being a Church of Saints and Sinners is, perhaps, a function of its Catholicity.

But I think we can go further than that. I believe that it is precisely because it is Holy, the Bride of Christ, that we find such depths of sin and depravity there too.

Going right back to the beginning, it is the Angel of light, Lucifer, who falls the furthest, to become Satan.  I think that reflects a profound spiritual truth: that the highest things, when corrupted, become the worst. Thus human love, that great gift by which we can mirror Christ’s love for the Church, and participate in the creative work of God, when corrupted can become a terrible evil (rape and other forms of sexual abuse).

Likewise, those who are Christians and fall severely will fall further than those who are not.  And what is more, the further along the spiritual path people are, the more intense the temptations to which they are subject: the Devil knows the stakes are higher.

So paradoxically, perhaps, the presence of great evil within the Church is another sign of her authenticity.

But we should never allow that perspective to eclipse the great holiness of the Church: holiness that comes from being Christ's mystical body, infused and animated by the Holy Spirit, and manifest in the sacramental worship of the Church and in countless saints, known and unknown who despite their failings have accepted God's saving grace and allowed it to shine through in their lives.

None of which excuses any of the evils committed by those who claim the title Christian, or Catholic.  They have a higher responsibility because they have access to truth and grace in a particular way.  Our exemplar, in many ways, is the Blessed Virgin:one can only imagine the temptations to which she must have been subjected, when the Devil realised that here he had met his match: a human in whom there was no trace of sin.  Yet with God’s grace, and in total submission to God’s will, she remained free from sin - and that is what we are all called to do.

And yet we fall.  As C S Lewis points out, if I, knowing what I know about myself, can still, in some sense consider myself to be a Christian, how do I dare to presume to judge anyone else worthy or unworthy of that title?

And in that respect, our final model is Our Lord Himself.  He did not fall into sin, of course; but on His sorrowful road to Calvary, He fell under the weight of sin: and He showed us what to do: to get up, take up our Cross, and continue on the path the Father has laid out in front of us.

Sunday 5 August 2012

Latin Lesson - Alma Redemptoris Mater

This week we continue with the great Marian antiphons: this time, unseasonably, with the Alma Redemptoris Mater, which is sung from the start of Advent until the feast of the Purification (or Presentation: 2 February. I, of course, prefer the traditional title as it highlights Our Lady’s humility in adhering firmly to her Jewish culture: she the all-pure undergoing ritual purification in accordance with the Law).

So learn this by heart, ready to sing around the Advent wreath in a few months... Teach it to your children and to your children’s children...

Alma Redemptoris Mater

Here are the words, with an over-literal translation underneath, followed by Blessed John Henry Newman’s rather more polished translation.

Alma redemptoris mater, 
Fruitful mother of the Redeemer.

quae pervia caeli porta manes,
thou who remains the open gate of heaven, 

et stella maris succurre cadenti
and the star of the sea, help the fallen

surgere qui curat populo.  
people who strive to rise again.

Tu quae genuisti, 
Thou who gave birth

natura mirante, 
nature wondering,

tuum sanctum Genitorem.  
to thy holy Creator.

Virgo prius, ac posterius, 
Virgin before and after

Gabrielis ab ore, 
From Gabriel’s mouth

summens illud ave, 
accepting that Ave,

peccatorum miserere.
Have mercy on sinners.

Mother of the Redeemer, who art ever of heaven
The open gate, and the star of the sea, aid a fallen people, 
Which is trying to rise again; thou who didst give birth, 
While Nature marveled how, to thy Holy Creator, 
Virgin both before and after, from Gabriel's mouth 
Accepting the All hail, be merciful towards sinners.

Thursday 2 August 2012

Fighting Abortion with Truth and Charity

In a previous post, I suggested that the pro-life battle is first of all a spiritual battle, and only incidentally a political and social struggle.

For that reason, I maintain that the weapons we should turn to first, and rely on most fundamentally, are spiritual weapons, not political ones.

I suggested truth and charity as essential, and also prayer and fasting.

In this post I want to explore these ideas a bit further.

I have singled out truth and charity for a specific reason.  If we as Christians claim to be pro-Life, it can only be because we are pro-Christ.  For He said ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’  (John 14:6).  He identifies himself with life -and also with truth. Moreover, He tells us that He is the Way.  So if we are to fight for him as Life, the Way to do that is also Himself, and He is Truth.

This intimate connection of Way, Truth and Life, all expressions of Christ’s own identity, must surely inform and inspire our pro-Life work;  this aspect of Christ’s self-revelation is surpassed only by the ultimate revelation that ‘The Father and I are one.’ (John 10:30).  That, combined with St John’s profound understanding of God that leads him to assert ‘God is Love’ (1 John, 4:8) gives us the foundations of the Christian pro-Life stance.  We are pro-Life because we are pro-Christ; the Way in which we are to be pro-Life is also Christ; and Christ is Truth and Love.

What does that mean in practice?

First of all, it must mean that we are completely truthful in our pro-Life work.  We do not accept abortion up to a certain age, or abortion or euthanasia in certain circumstances, or for certain groups (eg the handicapped) in order to win political advantage.  If our goal is the elimination of abortion and euthanasia, then we must be honest about that goal.

Likewise, we must tell the truth about pro-life issues in season and out of season, not worried that we may be mis-represented or lose political advantage.  Thus we should not give the impression that we share the secular view that finally an individual’s autonomous choice is the right criterion for deciding whether to abort or not.  I have blogged previously about my concerns around non-directive counselling, for that very reason.

However, underpinning that is the law of charity.  We must continually purify our motives and intentions.  Precisely because abortion and euthanasia are so hateful, we must be on our guard against hating people associated with them.  Our concern, if we are to follow Christ, must always be for their well-being and in particular their salvation.  

The worst victims of abortion, from a spiritual point of view, are not the innocents who are killed, but those who, with some degree of guilt, are responsible for that.  Their very souls are in jeopardy. We cannot judge the guilt of any individual, of course.  But we may observe that the likelihood is that at least some of those involved have some culpability (even if only at the level of willful ignorance) and some may have considerable culpability.  They need our prayers and our love, even as we campaign against their actions.

That principle applies even more to women who are seeking abortions. Whilst we know that what they are contemplating is a terrible thing, we must always remember that we owe them love and support.  Indeed, it is almost axiomatic that a lack of love and support is what has led them to the terrible position in which they find themselves.

At the immediate level, that should govern our behaviour towards them and our speech and thinking about them. But at the more profound level, we cannot really claim to be pro-life if we are not actively seeking them out and offering love and support before, during and after whatever crisis drives them towards the dreadful choice of aborting their child.

I mentioned prayer and fasting as the other requirements of the fight - and that is because it is a spiritual battle against the Devil himself, and some kinds can only be cast out with prayer and fasting.  That is not optional for pro-life Christians...

There is much more to say about all of this, but this post feels long enough for now.  I may come back to the topic - and as ever welcome your views in the comms box.