Wednesday 23 October 2019

The First Commandment

In the light of recent events in the Vatican, and the various reactions to them, I have been pondering the First Commandment.

And the Lord spoke all these words:
I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

Thou shalt not have strange gods before me.
Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth.
Thou shalt not adore them, nor serve them: I am the Lord thy God, mighty, jealous, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me:
And shewing mercy unto thousands to them that love me, and keep my commandments.

Of course, the modern enlightened mind realises that the idea of God being jealous is clearly a nonsense, so we can disregard this passage...

However, I have an old-fashioned, unenlightened mind, so I treat it differently.  Of course, God as jealous is anthropomorphic - a metaphor. So, of course, what I want to understand is what the passage really means; and to inform that, how has the Church, the guardian and interpreter of Sacred Scripture, under the tutelage of the Holy Ghost, understood this.

The Penny Catechism is always helpful (I am a simple, as well as old-fashioned and unenlightened, soul).  It explains the first commandment (in part) thus:

181 The first Commandment does not forbid the making of images, but the making of idols; that is it forbids us to make images to be adored and honoured as gods.

182 The first Commandment forbids all dealing with the Devil, and superstitious practices such as consulting spiritualists and fortune tellers, and trusting to charms, omens, dreams and such-like fooleries.

Which is pretty clear.

And reflecting further on this, I was thinking about the folly of thinking that one can break God's commandment.  In one sense, one can, of course; but at a deeper level, one can only break oneself against the commandment.

If one takes the Law of Gravity as an analogue: one can defy the Law of Gravity by throwing oneself from a high building; but actually, the law takes effect, and one is damaged - or indeed killed - by the subsequent fall.

I think that the Commandments of God are the same; the implicit second half of each commandment is '... or you will bring spiritual death on yourself, (and harm to others).'

And these Commandments apply to all humanity. It is true that the subjective guilt may be less if one is genuinely ignorant, but these are bad things for people to do.  Not bad (only) because they offend a jealous God (to talk in metaphor - as that is the principle way in which we can talk about God) but bad because they are bad for us, in just the same way that jumping off a high building is bad for us - they will damage us (and normally, hurt others, too).

That is why any enculturation that encourages the pagan to persist in pagan practices is wrong; and any enculturation that encourages Catholics to indulge in pagan practices is even more wrong. Not only is it offensive to God, but it is necessarily damaging to the spiritual welfare of all involved.

However much indigenous people may revere Pachamama, we may not do so, nor encourage them to continue to do so, even out of the wish to befriend them.  We may not do evil that good may come of it.

Not to mention the small matter of scandal...

I end with my usual caveat: I am no theologian, merely an old-fashioned, unreconstructed and rather simple Catholic: I am always open to correction by those better informed.

Tuesday 5 March 2019

Our Lady Who Turns Her Face to the Wall

Some years ago, my late mother gave me a small statue of Our Lady of Torreciudad.  She sits on top of the chest of drawers by my bed, in the corner of the room.  And she turns her face to the wall.

Or to be more accurate, perhaps, she turns her whole self to the wall.  She does this gradually, over time, so I don't notice it happening, until suddenly, one day, I see that she's facing the wall (or nearly) and turn her back.

The explanation, of course, is simple and natural; the statue has come free of its base, and every time I shut one of the drawers, it shifts a little on its base, with the net result I have described.

But because I am a very simple soul (or a very profound one - you decide) I see meaning in such things. There's a line in CS Lewis somewhere (That Hideous Strength, I rather fancy) about Our Lord doing all things for all people. 

And so I ask myself, why would Our Lady turn her face to the wall?  And the answer, of course, is sin.  So now I have developed the practice of only turning Our Lady back to face the room when I have been to confession: and when she turns to the wall, I know it's time to go again.

And that works pretty well...

Wednesday 27 February 2019

Guilty or not guilty?

I have followed the story of the trials of Cardinal Pell (as best one can, given the information management strategies in place for much of the time); not least because I have met him, and have walked the pilgrimage to Chartres with his (then) personal secretary, Fr Mark Withoos (now Brother Augustine Mary, OSB). So I am not an impartial observer: I have personal reasons to believe him innocent. But that is not what I want to write about here (and for good accounts of why the verdict against him is suspect, see here and here)

But I am blogging because I have something to say which is from a fairly unusual perspective: I have been on the jury of a rape trial.

I need to proceed with some caution, as it is an offence to talk about anything said in the Jury room, even once a trial is over.

Therefore I will give no clues about the location or date of the trial, nor any indication of any remarks made by any individual juror. Instead I will recount my own impressions, feelings and reactions to the experience, in the hope that they will shed some light.

The first thing to say is that I found the experience harrowing. Listening to the woman in the case describe the years of controlling behaviour (another charge) and multiple counts of rape and sexual abuse that she was accusing the defendant of perpetrating, was terrible. I quickly found myself thinking, imagine if this was one of my daughters - and feeling extremely angry as well as profoundly upset.

But listening to the defendant, conscious of the assumption of innocence as the foundation of our system of justice, I consciously tried to imagine that it was my son in the box, accused of all these foul deeds, so as to listen without the previous anger distorting my judgement.

In the event, the evidence was confused and confusing. Both witnesses had mental health issues; both contradicted themselves, let alone each other. Their lives were chaotic, and they both demonstrably lied on more than one occasion.

That made it extremely difficult to reach a clear view as to what had happened.

But in the Jury room there were two people who had swallowed the 'Believe the victim' narrative so strongly that they found a guilty vote on each charge to be easy. The rest of us were less convinced.  Indeed, it was hard to believe the victim when she gave contradictory accounts of the same event: which version should we believe?

But the amount of pressure I felt to conform to their view was substantial. It was moral cowardice not to convict this evil man, in the eyes of some.

After the trial (and outside the Jury room, so I can mention it) one of the other Jurors thanked me for the role I had taken in reminding people of the standard of proof required by law: beyond reasonable doubt, and for standing up to those trying to exert moral suasion. Without me, she said, she and others might have felt obliged to fall in with their view.

In the event, we could agree no verdict on the rape and abuse charges. 

Given the sustained campaign against the Catholic Church in general, and Cardinal Pell in particular, in Australia, along with public pronouncements from the highest quarters about believing victims, in the run-up to his trial, it seems to me quite likely that the Jury room in that case was a much more pressurised environment.

I believe a serious miscarriage of justice has taken place, and I think I have some insight into at least one of the contributory factors.


I am delighted, of course, that the High Court judges unanimously reached the same conclusion: that a serious miscarriage of justice had taken place, and that the only possible verdict in the case, given the evidence, was Not Guilty.