Sunday 18 December 2016

The Pope at Eighty

As occasionally happens, (see also here), today I host a guest writer on this site. This is to celebrate the Holy Father's 80th birthday, and to offer some insights into his character, from one who knows. And so, without further ado, here's a piece by Ivan Austereigh. (NB for the sake of clarity, brevity and coherence, I have edited it down from the submitted typescript, to about a twelfth of its original length. I assure you that nothing of value or meaning has been lost in the process).

The Pope at Eighty

What a wonderful Holy Father we have. The first in many generations who is a truly humble and pastoral bishop. And today I can cast real light on his greatness, by revealing he is a Sagittarius. Astrology, of course, is founded on the Gospel of St Matthew, in which we read of the prophetic star.

As a Sagittarius, the Holy Father is (along with those born under the signs of Aries and Leo [and what a pontifical name that is!]) part of the Fire Trigon. We can readily detect the Christological aspect of this when we reflect on Luke 12.49: I have come to bring fire... and how I wish it were kindled already. At last, in the fulness of time, we have a pope able and willing to kindle that fire.

But there is more. Sagittarius is, of course, the Centaur who is an archer. That explains so much about Francis. A centaur is both like us and unlike us; with human mind and intellect, yet also animal knowing that transcends mere rigid human thought.  He is a wise healer whose higher intelligence forms a bridge between Earth and Heaven. And as an archer, he is both powerful and purposeful.

The characteristics of a Sagittarius, then, are that he is able to be incredibly violent - or wise, brave -  or mild. Such, then, is the character of our Holy Father, who is the epitome of a Sagittarius. Wise and brave, bringing Heaven and Earth, bringing fire and kindling it, with power and purpose that transcends mere human knowing.

Monday 12 December 2016

Married to the Cross

At the heart of the controversy over Amoris Laetitia, I think, are unclear and probably conflicting understandings of Christian marriage.

So much of the discussion that I have read is about healing the hurt: as though the most important thing that Catholicism has to offer is emotional happiness in this life.

What is not being discussed is the idea of marriage as a vocation. Yet that is surely what it is, in Catholic understanding. It is a call from Our Lord about how we are to spend our lives, and how we are to respond to His grace to seek our own and others' salvation. And as a call from Our Lord, part of that message is: Take up your Cross, and follow me.

For we live in a vale of tears, and our true happiness is not to be found in this world (though we are, nonetheless, to be joyful, but that is something else...). But the modern mind thinks, post-Enlightenment, that the pursuit of happiness is the purpose of life. That of course paves the way for the Deceiver to promise us happiness by way of the flesh or the world.

But the Christian vocation to marriage is a call to suffering; to suffering in union with the Crucified. At the very least, we will suffer because we are uniting ourself, sinful as we are, to another person who is also a sinner; both of us subject to concupiscence, at the very least. We have to mortify our selfishness, and also to regulate our passions, in the service of the vocation we have ben called to follow. We may have to suffer when we see our spouse suffer, when we see our children suffer, when we have to sacrifice careers or advancement in the interests of our family, when we are truly open to life, even though that be at great personal cost, and so on and so on.  We may even be called to suffer when the person whom we love abuses or abandons us.

That is the way of the Cross. But because the Church has failed to teach such hard truths for so long, we have lost our way - we have lost the Way.

And so the requirement that we honour our marriage vows even when that involves suffering is seen as unjust, unmerciful, unthinkable... when in fact, it is precisely where our salvation, and quite possibly that of others, is to be found.


The same principles apply, of course, to the celibate vocation; the priestly and religious vocations, and so on. I am making no special claim for marriage here; in fact I think that marriage has unique joys that are a great blessing and mercy, which others more holy than I are able willingly to sacrifice: celibacy is the higher calling. But in all cases, to be a Christian is to follow Christ, and if He leads us to the Cross, it is not in our interests to turn away - and it is a false mercy for others to support us in doing so.

Sunday 11 December 2016

Victim blaming

When I was small - about 8 years old, I think, I was threatened by a bigger boy at school. He indicated that he would throw a football into my stomach if I did not allow him in front of me in the queue for the drinking fountain. I said: 'You wouldn't dare!' And so, of course, he did.

Clearly, the bullying was wrong; clearly I was the victim in this situation. But would any advice to me on how to react differently have been victim-blaming?

For many years, the link between smoking tobacco and lung cancer was unclear; for many years, the tobacco industry sought to deny it and discredit research. But the researchers continued, and demonstrated the link, resulting in the medical advice with which we are all now familiar: avoid smoking tobacco if you want to reduce the risk of lung cancer. But was such research not victim-blaming, in respect of all of those who had contracted lung cancer so far?

I raise these questions because this weekend, in a discussion about Amoris Laetitia, I mentioned the research (Daly, M. and Wilson, M. (1985) Child abuse and other risks of not living with both parents, Ethology and Sociobiology, 6:196 - 210) that demonstrates (as I mentioned in a previous post)  'exposure to step-parenting is the strongest known predictor of child abuse, and exposure to divorce has measurable detrimental effects on children's outcomes.'

That led to a torrent of accusations of victim-blaming, particularly in respect of people who are abused by their spouse, and leave him or her and 're-marry.'

My point (here) is that the accusation of victim-blaming is often a tactic that results in the cutting short of any consideration of the complexities of real situations. In particular, it consigns some people to victimhood with no respite.  For, by denying any discussion of how they may, however innocently, have contributed to the situation in which they find themselves, we also close the possibility of them learning anything that might help them (or others) to avoid similar situations in the future.

In the case of victims of abuse, that is particularly tragic, as it seems that such people often leave one abusive relationship only to enmesh themselves in another. There are many and varied theories as to why that is the case, ranging from Eric Berne's idea that some people have a life-script in which their only payoff is to be found in being a victim (see his brilliant analysis, Games People Play - though I disagree with him) through to Darwinian evolutionists (such as Nettle) who see it as the particular way in which their inherited genetic personality plays out (again, his Personality is a fascinating read, but as he freely states, only explains, at best, half of personality).

But to deny the possibility of even discussing such things; to dismiss the statistical evidence as less important than one's own experience... that is the path to the post-truth world in which we find ourselves, where political expedience determines what we must think and how we may express our thoughts.

(Note to self, there is a post to be written about how the liberal consensus in the humanities and social sciences in academia (and its intolerance of any other views) contributed to both Brexit and Trump).

Gaudete Sunday

One of the joys of  tradition is that it confronts the need for endless novelty (and therefore ephemera) head on.  Therefore, unashamedly, I can re-post this from a couple of years ago... (and note that it had been previously posted two years before that!)

Today is Gaudete Sunday,  named after the first word of the Introit in the EF (and retained somewhat simplified in the OF).

As in Lent, with Laetare Sunday, one Sunday in Advent has a slightly less penitential tone. The Purple vestments may be replaced with Rose and the tone of the Mass is more joyful.

Here is the Introit:

Gaudéte in Dómino semper: íterum dico, gaudéte. Modéstia vestra nota sit ómnibus homínibus: Dóminus enim prope est. Nihil sollíciti sitis: sed in omni oratióne petitiónes vestræ innotéscant apud Deum.

Benedixísti, Dómine, terram tuam: avertísti captivitátem Jacob.

Glória Patri...

Rejoice in the Lord always: again I say, rejoice. Let your modesty be known to all men: for the Lord is nigh. Be nothing solicitous: but in every thing by prayer let your petitions be made known to God.

Lord, Thou hast blessed Thy land: Thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob.

Glory be...

Saturday 10 December 2016

Adultery is not a victimless sin...

In a lot of the discussion about admitting the soi-disant 're-married' (as opposed to people who are truly re-married, after the death of a previous spouse) to Holy Communion, one gets the impression that those keen on 'mercy' see the adultery of the new relationship as some kind of technical problem; something only those who are pedantic and legalistic would worry about.

But that is not the case. The problem the Holy Father, Kasper and the rest face is that Our Lord makes it quite clear, both in the Gospel and in the continuous teaching of the Church under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, that adultery is a serious sin; and also that serious sins have serious consequences.

That is quite apart from the culpability of the sinner; even a sin where the subjective culpability is minimal causes harm and is evil.  And adultery is by no means a victimless sin. 

The immediate victims, of course, are the spouses and also any children involved. And I do not just mean the moral danger to which the children are exposed. Academic research shows that 'exposure to step-parenting is the strongest known predictor of child abuse, and exposure to divorce has measurable detrimental effects on children's outcomes.'

But the damage is not limited to those immediately affected. We know both from theory (open systems theory) and from experience (see, for example, the very limited societal approvals given first to contraception and then abortion) that any small relaxation in the moral censure for evil actions in the realm of human sexuality inevitably leads to widespread abuse and an attitudinal shift.

So even a perceived softening of the Church's teaching against divorce will, quite inexorably, contribute further to the already catastrophic rates of divorce and separation we now witness, with all the tragic consequences, both for individuals and for civic society, which that entails.

And then, there is the further harm that is done, by making it ever harder for young people to contract valid marriages; if the last bastion of truth undermines that truth, how are they to believe what it is required that they believe?

These are precisely why the ancient maxim that hard cases make bad law is so important. Of course, there are some people who are in terribly distressing situations, possibly with little subjective fault of their own. But an attempt to be 'merciful' to them, by pretending that adultery is OK in their specific situation, is profoundly misguided - and further imperils their souls too, if they no longer feel the need to address their situation through repentance and amendment.

Finally, there cannot be an irreconcilable conflict between truth and mercy; if we seek to offer mercy at the cost of truth taught us by Christ Himself, we have abandoned both truth and mercy.

Saturday 3 December 2016

Can't teach? Won't teach!

Despite the protestations of Austen Ivereigh, we do not know what the Holy Father is teaching the Church about the admission of 're-married' divorcees to communion.

We may have a good idea what His Holiness's personal view is, and even his personal desire (though I would argue that even that is less clear than many think - intellectual clarity and consistency not being his long suit, and some of his comments indicating a more, and others a less, 'liberal' approach to these and related issues). But the thinking and even wishes of the individual who sits on the throne of Peter are not the same as the teaching of the Pope.  This was something that the Holy Father Emeritus  (whose intellectual clarity and consistency I, for one, miss sadly) always made very clear, and rightly so.

Therefore although we may have clues - strong clues, perhaps - from the Synod, from the footnotes, from a private letter... none of these amount to the exercise of the magisterium. Indeed, I would agree with the estimable Fr Hunwicke that what we are witnessing is the suspense of the magisterium.  That is, the Holy Father, in declining to answer the dubia, is choosing not to exercise his teaching office.  

Perhaps it is ill-advised to speculate as to why that might be the case. But I like to think of myself as a fool (in the Shakespearian tradition, you understand), and therefore will rush in where the angelic might, rightly, fear to tread. So for what it's worth, my guess (or is it just my hope?) is that the Holy Father has realised that he cannot teach what he would like to teach. And my fear is the corollary, that he won't teach what he could and should.

Howsoever that may be, one thing that is clear is that orthodox Catholics have a very definite duty in such difficult times: to love and pray for the Holy Father.