Thursday, 19 March 2015

White Rabbit

Yesterday, on the Vigil of the great feast of St Joseph, I went with a group of youth from the parish to see the Leeds performance by Rise Theatre of "White Rabbit". This very impressive production, written by the Rise Theatre, documents the lives of two young people who are confronting the challenges of contemporary living, and who, according to their own lights, are not faring well. However, the person of God, who is present in their lives throughout the drama, is ultimately recognised and welcomed by both characters, whose lives are transformed by the encounter.
"White Rabbit" is the second production of Rise Theatre which I have experienced; the first being "Soldier to Saint" (a play about St Alban), which I saw a year ago. This small Christian, and very Catholic, theatre company represents a tremendous and very welcome intervention in our culture. The four-member cast are very professional, very gifted, and inspirational actors. They are a joy to watch.
The current play "White Rabbit" conveys a very skillful anti-Pelagian message: the self-improvement project of the secular vision is doomed to failure; we were made for grace, we need grace.
I strongly recommend "White Rabbit" to you, and particularly to young people. And I hope that the Rise Theatre Company goes from strength to strength; they deserve much support. Look them up on their website and check out the remaining dates for the current show: www.risetheatre.co.uk

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Emotional singing.

Each week during Lent we have sung, in the Parish, at the end of Eucharistic Exposition, the hymn "Ave Verum Corpus".
This fourteenth century hymn was written to be sung during the Elevation at Holy Mass; its final phrases are indeed quite emotional, with respect of both the words and the way in which the chant soars.
This Eucharistic hymn seems especially fit for Lent; its words, and its music encompass both Christmas and Easter, but focus on the work of Jesus and His utter dedication to the Father's plan. It is such a beautiful hymn to sing during Lent. We will sing it also throughout the Easter season, when its resonance will be transformed.
We finish with the Lenten anthem to the Blessed Mother. These prayers, and the music which lifts them, are a great grace because they are leading us still into the Mystery.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

The Synod. 8.

The basic motif of modern life is social mobility; economic and cultural freedom to move within society and within the culture. This ethos means that values and structures cannot be thought of as a solid or unchanging framework. Within the secular vision, neither marriage nor the family can be thought of as solid or unchanging elements of life. This certainly puts Christian marriage and family in a position, precisely because in the Christian life marriage and the family are an essential human and Christian framework. It is the secular project and its vision (and its media), which has made life difficult today for marriages and families.
The first thing to say is that history shows that the Christian life is strong and grows when it holds fast to the Gospel and to Christian principles. Indeed, the mandate of Catholic Bishops has always been to defend the Tradition.
Secondly, we don't know where the secular project will go. Its future will be neither rational, nor scientific, nor thoughtful. What superstitions and misunderstandings about the Christian life that it will come to embrace is not yet clear. In such a context, the whole Church needs to be very discerning about contemporary culture - don't follow the culture should be the general rule.
We should also point out the following basic principles:
1. The essential ingredient for any pastoral approach is the desire for the Christian life. Without this we can easily put the cart before the horse. Fostering Christian marriages and families happens on the foundation of a desire for the life of Jesus Christ.
2. After evangelisation, the second most important ingredient is the formation of people before and after marriage, awakening their awareness of their mission. It isn't that Catholics should suddenly take a tight grip upon the mission of Christian marriage and the family (which could result in the distortion of that mission), but rather that Catholics become more aware, more conscious of the depth and greatness of the mission of marriage and the family, and its central place in God's plan. 
The Synod is a 'wake up call' for the Church to renew its appreciation of what it has taught about Marriage and the Family during the twentieth century, so that she can take a firm hand on the helm, at this time when Western Civilisation is breaking down. Marriage and the family are our greatest goods.
This post concludes what I want to say about this subject, for the time being.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

The Synod. 7.

As society submits itself, more and more, to the forces of secularism, and the Christian life is evaluated, more and more, from the perspective of secular opinion, it is important for the whole Church to see Christian spouses as leaders and primary agents of the civilisation of love. The challenge for the Church then, is to proclaim the Gospel to Christian parents and families, and then to honour them by allowing them to be the primary agents of the formation of Christian life and culture in our midst. Thus, all the other agents of Christian life and culture; clergy, schools, catechists etc, must increasingly see themselves as subsidiary to spouses and parents.
In the new evangelisation, Christian spouses have a primary role; the Church is called to nurture and support them, so that their reception of the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ can be at the very heart of the Church.
John Paul II was very earnest in his desire that the genuine forces within the family should be unlocked for the good of the Church and of the world. His pastoral approach, which he modelled for all of us time and time again, is something that we need to learn again and set in relief in the life of the Church today.
The most important people in the world today are Christian spouses, those who are trying to embrace their mission, and priests, those who are trying to embrace their mission to be pastors after the heart of Jesus Christ. Everyone stands in relation to these two missions, but the role of Christian spouses comes first.
This vision is so wonderfully presented by Paul VI in "Humanae Vitae", where the consciences of spouses stand at the very heart of all human affairs.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The Synod. 6.

During this age of media culture, the family has swopped places with the media in terms of being the principal agent of formation and of the handing on of values; what was formerly done by the family is now largely done by the media. This change has been effected by the media itself. 
The mass media presents the family as an impersonal reality. By subjecting the family to the gaze of society, actual families have been made to feel self-conscious and awkward, perhaps even frightened.
The models of family life which are constantly presented by the media have been used to teach values. The family, which is a profoundly human reality, and the very source and foundation of values, is now challenged by this new form of totalitarinism. The media with its steryotypes has become the agent of modelling families and value transmission. Living one's life vicariously through media families is often a substitute for the reality of one's own family life.
The media's presentation of the family even touches upon human freedom. Truth is manipulated and misrepresented, and the family is often presented as an obstacle to personal freedom. In fact, the truth about the family leads people to exercise their freedom.
It is possible to consider the presentation of the family by the media in a genuine and formative way - presenting the family in its own truth, but this is not the place to do that. But what is important to point out is the way that roles have changed in the media age. Human formation and the transmission of values used to take place within the family; society stepped back from this privileged place. Today it is accepted that secular society and its agents are fitting places for human formation and the transmission of values. The family has lost its privileged place and, to a large degree, its unique mission. In this culture it is important for parents to be people of character and to appreciate anew the greatness of their mission. In the light of "Humanae Vitae" and "Familiaris Consortio" parents today can rediscover ad re-evaluate their role and task. The importance of the formation which the Church gives to young people, to those prepring for marriage and to young families cannot be overstated. Spouses and parents hold the first place in society, their role in interpreting the culture and of forming the next generation is the most important one. 
Don't look where the media gazes, but look at the inner truth of the family. And wherever there are parents struggling to embrace their mission, there is the foundation of human civilisation. 

Monday, 23 February 2015

The Synod. 5.

During the twentieth century, and especially with Paul VI and then John Paul II, the Church gave an extraordinary teaching to the family; in a sense, they handed the Family its Gospel, a vision of its own inner life and mission.
But the Church gave this teaching at a time when modern culture, and especially the mass media, was trivialising the family. During my life-time the culture has lost sight of the family, and the media has done immense harm by making the family the subject of its gaze and of its own secular agenda.
Today, forming a community of persons, serving life, participating in the development of society and in the mission of the Church, are hardly reference points at all. Instead, the pursuit of relationships, rather than marriage, the pursuit of life-styles, rather than educating and forming human beings, and as for society, that is down to the welfare State and its organs to provide us with.
Yes, a huge shift took place in the Church's understanding of the family (with Humanae Vitae), but a huge shift also took place within the culture, in which the mass media took hold of the controls.
By projecting soap opera families onto our screens the media has made the family self-conscious and utterly vulnerable to manipulation by the media. The mass media insists on providing models of family living and, in so doing, has indicated the way in which families should see and understand themselves.
What was formerly the preserve of families themselves - handing on the culture - has been taken out of the hands of families, in a significant degree, by the mass media, and more recently by the virtual reality of internet and its own social media.
Never before has the family been so intensively modelled as it is today by the media. The Church has never given models for family living, except of course, the Holy Family, which of its nature, transcends all times and cultures.
In considering the themes which the Synod of Bishops has raised, it seems to me that it is important for the Church to see what the culture has done to the family today, and more importantly, for the Church to look again at its own teaching and vision of marriage and the family, and to make these as available as possible in the simplest and clearest ways, to parishes and to communities, opening them up and receiving them anew. This is the first essential step for the Church today.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

The Synod. 4.

In addressing the place and mission of marriage and the family, the Church has given remarkable light and encouragement. In the secular vision of human life and activity, marriage and the family have no coherent form or place. "Humanae Vitae" situates the role and mission of spouses at the very centre of all human affairs, and by rejecting artificial contraception, seeks to protect that role and mission from the many forces of secularisation. Artificial contraception admits third-party interests into the marriage union, and by separating sexuality from procreation, seeks to secularise and diminish the dignity and mission of spouses.
Once we see that marriage and the family is the foundation of all human affairs, then we see that every one in the whole world stands in relation to marriage and the family. Yet in the changing culture of the modern world, all the many models of family life fail to convince us. The 1950s model family with the housewife at home, and the husband who comes home from work to find his wife and children well attired and waiting for him to join them at the family table, "The Waltons" (who?), or more recently the roles played out on modern soap operas, are all conditioned by the culture, and whilst being formative of the culture, are unable to reveal the truth about the family.
In the light of "Humanae Vitae" - which newly establishes spouses at the very centre of human affairs, and which sets them as the primary interpreters of culture - John Paul II gave us what can fairly be described as the greatest statement about the family ever made.
"Familiaris Consortio" of 1981 does not look at the family from the outside, but from the interior, and so it speaks of what is the essetial reality of the family; not a kitchen full of 'white goods', or having two or three smartly dressed children, nor the anguish of a teenager who feels 'hemmed in' by his or her parents. Suddenly, when one realises that the family is the centre and ground of civilisation, its mission to 'create a community of persons' is set in relief. So too is its mission to serve life, to participate in the formation of society, and to share in the mission of the Church. With these four missions, John Paul II touches the essence of the family. In a sense, it doesn't matter what a family looks like, or how the culture seeks to present the family, because now we can see what the family is. The mission of the family reveals its identity.
If "Humanae Vitae" establishes spouses in their identity, "Familiaris Consortio" establishes families in theirs. And at the root of this foundation of all human reality we find a bond; the marriage bond between a man and women; a God-given spiritual reality, whether natural marriage or sacramental, upon which the whole edifice of human civilisation rests.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

The Synod. 3.

We can't speak fully about Marriage and the Family without speaking about Paul VI's teaching on this subject.
The claim is made by many who speak about the Encyclical Letter, "Humanae Vitae", that its teaching is a matter of conscience. This is merely wordplay, because they go on the say that Paul VI's teaching here is not secure aand that everyone must decide about the matter on the basis of their own conscience.
"Humanae Vitae" is indeed a matter of conscience, the conscience of spouses, and it is a matter of conscious awareness for everyone.
With "Humanae Vitae" Paul VI enabled a huge shift to take place regarding the way in which marriage and the family are perceived. He took the mission of spouses out of the position that it was in - one of being watched and analysed by others - and placed that mission in the exclusive hands of married spouses. In Humanae Vitae, Paul VI establishes anew the mission of spouses in its greatness and uniqueness; they are the only ones who have the mission to transmit human life. It is their mission and theirs alone.
In the Council Document, "Gaudium et Spes", the Church speaks about marriage and the family as one topic among many. But in "Humanae Vitae", the role and mission of spouses is taken out of the arena and entrusted entirely to them.
It is a stunning piece of teaching, in which the Pope relegates to a poor second place all other interests which weigh in on family life in the modern age: governments, politics, medics, teachers and the media. And he elevates, in front of all these interests, the conscience and awareness of married people to the greatness of their mission.
Marriage and the family had never been spoken of before like this. Humanae Vitae paved the way for the extraordinary teaching document on the family of JPII, "Familiaris Consortio". Without "Humanae Vitae" such a lucid understanding of the family could never have come about. Spouses stand before the whole world, entrusted with the mission to transmit human life. Their consciences, before the world, matter a great deal. And so, Paul VI presents the simple basis by which spouses should evaluate their mission in real life. Importantly, he denies the 'voice' of modern contraception methods, as unworthy of the mission of spouses.
Humanae Vitae is the very basis by which spouses and parents are freed for their role in the world and in society. No one else has any rights here.
To say that "Humanae Vitae" is a matter of conscience and that spouses must make up their own mind whether to use contraception of not, is to undermind the mission of spouses, and in a certain sense, to patronise them, thinking that their consciences are not worthy of the light of truth.

Friday, 13 February 2015

The Synod. 2.

Our society has largely accepted the secularisation of marriage and the family, and the voices that call for that acceptance in the Church, are being echoed in the Church. By presenting examples of many difficult situations that some Catholics are in, and by emphasising the complexity of those situations, an implicit argument is being made that the teaching of the Church about marriage and the family should change; that the Church too should be secularised.
However, both the world and the Church are indebted to all those men and women who, down through the ages, and still today, embrace and live the calling to the spousal vocation. Their lives, their witness, and the fruit of their lives, although largely unacknowledged by our contemporary culture, are honoured by the Church. The countless multitude of people who live marriage and family as both a a gift and a task, stand at the forefront of humanity.
Also, a question must be asked: why are some Catholics arguing that the complexity of human life today suggests that the Church's teaching should be re-evaluated, rather than seeking to enlighten those situations from the perspective of truth?
Why, after so much light has been shone on marriage and the family by the Church during the twentieth century, are there voices that contradict, and even seek to overturn, the clarity and beauty of that teaching?
In her teaching about marriage and the family, the Church is guarding the most fundamental patrimony of humanity. 
(To be continued.)

The Synod on Marriage and the Family. 1.

Having let some time pass, my thoughts on this subject have matured and I can make the following series of comments.
The complexity of the human situation today regarding marriage and the Christian life tells us that the secular vision has intruded heavily upon marriage and the family. Homosexual unions, the call for remarriage to be recognised in the sacramental life, and the call for free unions to be re-evaluated, and so many other issues, are being spoken of as legitimate arguments for why the teaching of the Church should be changed. What this represents is the secularisation of marriage and the family, in which scenario the Church is now seen as the one who imposes burdens.
This does indeed look like Satan's strategy; changing things around so that it seems that it is the Church, and not the secular vision, which imposes burdens upon people. And in which what is essential is made to feel marginal or obsolete.
Marriage, like the priesthood, is something which one receives, or enters into, on a particular day. Yet these sacraments are callings which change us, form us, in our whole person, for the whole of life. This is why we speak of them as vocations.
Marriage (like priesthood) is something which one enters into freely, and which then frees one for living one's vocation. It is a vocation which marks the whole of one's life, and lasts for the whole of life. Becoming a spouse is a way in which one's whole being is involved in a particular mission. This mission is to love one's spouse and, in so doing, to stand at the very heart of human society and its flourishing. Out of spousal love flows the family, and out of the family flows society. 
The vocation to marriage is God-given, and is central to all human life and activity. Everything about a spouse is called to be incorporated and fashioned by his or her vocation; heart, mind, body, work, plans and hopes, money, virtues, and the life of grace.
Since everyone of us comes from a marriage and a family, the family is the first and primary focus of our lives. All other interests are secondary to the family.
Yet today, all the other interests, including marginal and ephemeral ones have been given primary focus in the secular vision. So today, lifestyle, career, wealth and self-centeredness have been superimposed on the family, and on marriage. The consequence of this is that we no longer see marriage and the family for what they are, and seek to change them in favour of newly perceived goals in life.
The Church however, does continue to see the essential truth about marriage and the family, yet the secular clamour has entered into the Church today.
(To be continued.)

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Avoiding reality.

The British Parliament votes to allow a three-parent IVF baby to come into being. It is quite ghastly living in a country which places ideology in front of reality. It is the exclusive right and privilage of dads and mums to make babies.
Would you like to stand as a Pro-life candidate in the next election? If you would like to stand in the Wakefield Constituency, I would gladly support you. We need to live in reality - I'll always vote for that.

Monday, 2 February 2015

A fraternal schedule.

Last month the members of the English section of the St John Vianney Society met for a few days of fraternity. During that time we ear-marked a date each month, at least until high summer, for our monthly fraternity sessions.
There was something very uplifting about putting these dates in our diaries, since in doing such a simple thing, the reality of our fraternity was set in relief. The SJMV is not a 'talking shop' or a nice idea, but is a real, living fraternity. I remember the Moderator of the Society saying to us, when I joined some years ago, that "when priests come together, the charisms come together." In saying this, he gave me a whole new sense of my priesthood, and in light of his encouragement I am able to invest much more of myself in this Society than I had at first sensed.
My life as a priest is now marked by these monthly fraternity sessions, when we spend 24 hours together, celebrating the Mass, in a hour's Adoration, in Gospel sharing, in life sharing, in praying together and for one another. Our sessions include a lot of relaxation together, since making time for one another is at the heart of the SJMV. 
May God bless the Society and give it increase, and may it do His will.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Another new Pastor.

Congratulations to the new bishop of Digne, France, on his episcopal consecration last Saturday in the Cathedral of Digne.
Mgr Jean-Philippe Nault is a member of the St John Vianney Society based in Ars, to which I also belong. May he have the prayerful support of all in his Diocese; he will certainly have the support of the members of our Fraternity. It is a good sign for the Society, that one of its members - the first - has been chosen as a Bishop. I am myself very grateful to God for the nurturing of the Diocesan priesthood which this Society has undertaken, and especially for the way in which it brings together its members, and forms them through fraternity.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

A new presence in the Church.

Our long wait is over and there is a new presence of Christ in His Church. 
Christmas greetings to all my readers. This Christmas I was joined by the newly ordained deacon, Lewi Barakat, who is now completing his preparation for the Priesthood in Rome. Deacon Lewi, who is training for the Sydney Archdiocese began his seminary formation in Sydney in the same year that I joined the staff there. It has been a great joy and honour to welcome Deacon Lewi to the parish and to the celebration of this great feast.
Warm greetings to all our Australian colleagues and friends - may our fraternity in Christ's mission bear much fruit.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Inspirational staging posts

In speaking about the recent Supreme Court rulling on the Scottish midwives, Bishop Keenan describes them as "inspirational staging posts". These two humble yet courageous women may wonder at this description of themselves.
For my part, I think of this description as similar to John Paul II's words at the World Youth Day Vigil in Toronto 2002, when he called on those young people present to work with God in building, brick by brick, the civilisation of love.
For anyone of us to be called "inspirational staging posts" is today an extraordinary honour. We are called to obey the State, yes. But, if the State is wrong, then we have to tell the State that it is wrong. Today, our society says that our conviction has nothing to do with reality and, to a great extent, we have accepted this judgement of us by society. Society tells us that our view of reality is actually a refuge from reality, and many of us have to some degree probably accepted this trivialisation.
No, Christian faith does not cut us off from reality, but rather it enables us to embrace the reality, dignity and destiny of every person.
Abortion is not a Catholic issue, as our society likes to think of it. Abortion is wrong, not because the Church says that it is wrong, but because abortion corrupts the reality, dignity and destiny of the human person.
There are indeed two visions here, one which is cut off from reality, and the other which refuses to set reality aside. Much of our society has a vision of life which is very far from reality, but there are many in our midst who have not capitulated to this "worn out logic of meanness and fear", and who even now are forerunners for the life and freedom of many.
God bless Connie and Mary.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Reality unveiled.

Bishop John Keenan of Paisley has spoken about the High Court ruling over the two Scottish midwives, who were seeking the protection of law from being involved indirectly with abortions in the hospitals they worked in. The High Court has ruled against them. However, Bishop Keenan's words, the text of which I include in its entirity below, distinguishes with clarity the two cultures which today stand side by side, one is a culture, the other, an anti-culture - he says: "We should be in no doubt that this was a battle between competing proposals of the kind of country we want: a project propping up a culture of death by means of oppressing any legitimate opposition to it or a vision promoting respect for the life and freedom of all peoples." His tremendous words here unveil, as it were, what is real and true in the midst of an inauthentic version of human life which we all daily jostle with. And, in so doing he points to true human culture as the only viable course for us. Indeed, he says, it "is surely only a matter of time" before the anti-culture in which we live will be overturned - as has been the case with every single ideologically led civilisation. Enjoy digesting Bishop Keenan's words.

I read with disappointment and concern the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court judgement against two Scottish midwives, Connie Wood and Mary Doogan, who have today been denied their basic human right to freedom of belief in the course of their employment in the NHS. In short they have lost their jobs because they were pro-life. At the same time the courageous and convincing witness of these two women, ready to take on the might of the establishment no matter what the personal cost, makes me and many others more certain than ever that the final victory of a free and pro-life generation is surely only a matter of time.
Years ago Connie and Mary went into the midwifery profession following a call of the heart to be there for mums giving birth to their children. They devoted themselves to this work faithfully until the NHS management decided to move an abortion provision into their unit and demanded that they made up the abortion rosters. When Connie and Mary made a request to be exempted because of their beliefs they were refused, with the ultimatum that they would be sacked if they did not comply. The NHS management pursued the case all the way to the highest court in the land at the cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money. Mary and Connie had to fund their own legal costs. Today the Supreme Court backed their NHS managers and Connie and Mary lose their jobs even though it would have meant the most minor of adjustments by NHS managers to get other nurses to see to the rosters. So let us be clear right away that this case was not about depriving women of abortion services. It was about forcing nurses who had trained to deliver babies to become involved in medically killing them. We should be in no doubt that this was a battle between competing proposals of the kind of country we want: a project propping up a culture of death by means of oppressing any legitimate opposition to it or a vision promoting respect for the life and freedom of all peoples.
When Pope Francis addressed the European Parliament last month he spoke of a once great Europe that used to have confidence in humanity not so much as citizens but as men and women whom it respected as persons endowed with transcendent dignity. This same Europe, he said, had somehow become old and haggard, less an innovator of a better world and now increasingly aloof, mistrusted and even suspect. He added, ‘What kind of dignity is there without the possibility of freely expressing your thought or professing your religious faith? What dignity can there be without laws to limit the rule of force’ over the freedoms of others.
The decision handed down today, the collaboration of supreme judges and NHS managers, is that of an old and tired establishment that has run out of ideas and vision as to how to bring about a brighter and better future for our people. Having committed itself to supporting a culture of death in the past generation it now sees that to preserve this culture into the next generation it has to become an oppressor of the basic human freedoms of ever increasing numbers of its citizens and all, with ultimate irony, in the name of being pro-choice. It has ended up in an intellectual bankruptcy plain for all to see.
Out of all of this, however, two of the most genuinely unlikely of heroes have emerged. Today Connie and Mary have lost their jobs, their livelihoods and their legal arguments but will have won the respect, good will and admiration of thousands upon thousands of their fellow citizens up and down the land who work and hope for a better world tomorrow, for a society that celebrates heroes who refuse to be silenced as a voice for the voiceless and who will stand up for human life and freedom, whatever it takes, against any reactionary forces peddling their worn out logic of meanness and fear.
As Pope Francis said; “In many quarters we encounter a general impression of weariness and aging, of a Europe no longer fertile and vibrant. . . which once inspired but seems to have lost its attraction, having been replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of its institutions. Such an establishment has lost its right to inspire the young.’
Connie and Mary, on the other hand, will, without doubt, some day be seen as pioneers of a fresh start, as inspirational staging posts for a new generation determined that it does not have to be this way.