Sunday 25 February 2007

The John-Mary Vianney Society

As Fr Richard said, we're off to Ars today for a few days - probably a few blogless days therefore - for a Colloquium (Conference) entitled "Diocesan Priests - what sort of holiness?". It should be an interesting programme. The lead speaker is the well respected theologian Cardinal Vanhoye. We'll no doubt post some blogs on our return to let you know more about the conference.

Ars is of course well known as the parish of the Holy Curé of Ars, St John Mary Vianney. But it is also, today, the site of a renewal in seminary and priestly life. Here is an excerpt which I've lifted from the AD2000 website

Because of St John Vianney, Ars became a major shrine of France, visited by thousands. Among them was the young Polish priest, Fr Karol Wojtyla, who came there on pilgrimage in 1947. He came again in 1986, this time as Pope John Paul II. Before the Pope's visit, a group of French clergy petitioned him not to go to Ars, alleging that John Vianney's concept of the priesthood was wrong, and unfit for the present day. The Pope's response was to proceed according to plan. He gave a three-part meditation and a homily in Ars, and proclaimed in the clearest terms the essential role of the priest as the one who makes the work of salvation present everywhere in the world.

By his visit to Ars and by what he said there, Pope John Paul stressed that John Vianney's life and teaching were as relevant and as necessary for the world's priests and seminarians today as they were when Pope Pius XI made him their patron in 1929. This also underlined the universal importance of Ars as the heartland of the priesthood.

A year after the Pope's visit to Ars, the local diocese of Belley was given a new bishop. Until his appointment, Bishop Guy Bagnard had been rector of a seminary at Paray-le-Monial. His experience in seminary formation had shown him that God is still calling men to the priesthood, and that, given the right circumstances, many are willing to answer that call. However, unlike most clerics of former years, today's seminarians are older, with a great variety of home backgrounds and personal experiences. Many have given up lucrative professions in order to study for the priesthood; they come with high ideals and expect high standards. Therefore, a new approach to formation is needed.

Bishop Bagnard was acutely aware of the loneliness which affects many priests who live alone; as the local bishop he was very conscious of his duty to guard the charism of St John Vianney on behalf of the whole Church. He took care of both concerns by founding the Society of John Mary Vianney, an association of priests who wish to live their priesthood under the patronage and guidance of the Curé of Ars. Grouped in small fraternities, the Society aims to provide the spiritual and human support necessary for the diocesan priest today.

Bishop Bagnard gave an important task to the Society of John Mary Vianney when he asked it to take charge of the seminary which he opened at Ars in 1988. It began with six candidates; today there are one hundred and twenty men preparing for the priesthood there. About eighty are from France; the rest represent various countries and continents.

The formation begins with a year of discernment; during this year the candidates receive a basic spiritual and doctrinal training. Then follows a two-year course in philosophy and three years of theology.

The seminarians live in groups of about fifteen in various houses in Ars. Each house has an oratory, and one or two resident priests. One of the seminarians is responsible for the day-to-day running of the house. The mid-day meal is taken in the seminary, where the lectures, apart from those in theology, are given.

A happy, friendly atmosphere prevails. The seminarians are loud in their praise of the seminary and the formation which they receive. All professors are required by the statutes to "adhere without reserve to the magisterium ... since they teach in the name of the Church." This is a major contributory factor in the success of the seminary.

One seminarian summed it up as follows: "The crisis in so many seminaries today is due to the lack of proper teaching and formation rather than to the lack of vocations."

Thus the flame lit by St John Mary Vianney and fuelled by Pope John Paul Il and Bishop Bagnard is beginning to radiate through France and beyond.

And beyond it certainly goes, for both Fr Richard and myself are, with the permission of our respective bishops, seeking to become members of the John Mary Vianney Society of priests (SJMV), and so become it's first members in England (it has, at present, members in France, Germany and Canada).

The Society is a Clerical Association of Pontifical Right for Diocesan Priests. That means it is not a religious order, or a clerical institute, but an association which is specifically for Diocesan Priests to support them in their ministry. The life of the Association is guided by the Statutes, which list 10 'Exigences Communes' which each member is expected to live:
  1. The daily celebration of Mass
  2. The Liturgy of the Hours celebrated with attention, as praise and intercession in the name of the Church
  3. Daily prayer, above all other things, in that one cannot of one's day without prayer
  4. Confession at least monthly
  5. A regular meeting with a Spiritual Director
  6. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at least one hour per week
  7. Daily Marian prayer
  8. Personal study of theology
  9. An annual retreat
  10. Participation in the life of a local fraternity.
Apart from number 10 these are what one would hope from any diocesan priest. In other words, the principle demands of the SJMV are the same as those of Diocesan Priesthood lived in the way the mind of the Church expresses it. The final element - the meeting in a fraternity - is the way of living out this Diocesan priesthood supported by a community dimension. The ideal of the SJMV is priests actually living in community, but the minimal participation in this community dimension is a monthly meeting of between 3 and 6 priests. The meetings which we already have each month include an overnight stay, Mass celebrated together, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, a time of sharing about our priestly ministry over the past month, a good meal (or two), and joint study.

The whole life of the SJMV is an expression of the particular charism, which is priesthood lived under the inspiration of the Curé. This is a priesthood of kindness and mercy, as well as a personally demanding. The charism of the society seeks to encourage vocations to the priesthood, to see all things in the light of evangelisation, and to serve the poor most especially.

In order to become a member of the SJMV, the first thing is to gain the permission of one's bishop and admission as a probationary member for two years for the purposes of discernment. This is then followed by a temporary engagement of three years, followed by a definitive engagement for life. The probationary period can begin from Ordination to the Diaconate. Most members at the moment come from the Ars seminary - which is the seminary of the Society not of the Diocese - but the SJMV is now beginning to expand further afield. The seminary also houses the priests' residence which many English priests have already experienced - the Foyer Sacerdotal Jean Paul II.

Both Fr Richard and I would like to hear from any Diocesan priests who are interested in finding out more about the SJMV. We would invite priests who would wish to come to one of our meetings, with no pressure or obligation to join, but simply to share in our priestly fraternity. There is also a group of lay associates who join the Society. It is for those lay people who wish to support priests and priestly vocations through prayer and active work. It would be good to hear from interested lay people. In any case, please pray for us as we pursue membership of the Society.

The French SJMV website is here

Saturday 24 February 2007

New Papal teaching document coming soon

I'm looking forward to the Pope's first Apostolic Exhortation which will be on the Eucharist. It is the document which sums up what was discussed at the last Synod of Bishops in November 2005 - these documents take some writing. The Pope, in promising that it will be out soon, promises that it is "a document for meditation. It will help both the liturgical celebration as well as personal reflection, both the preparation of homilies as well as the celebration of the Eucharist. And it will serve to guide, illuminate and revitalize popular devotion."I think this could be something big in the life of the Church, helping to bring about the much needed reform of the reform in liturgy. I know liturgy is a dodgy subject to blog about...but I'm sure everyone will hope that this document will contribute to the worthy celebration of the Sacred Mysteries.

Young people in the first place

In a Q&A session with priests of the Diocese of Rome, the Pope spoke about priests working with young people. At the moment it's just reported on ZENIT, and the full text isn't available, mainly because the Pope spoke off the cuff and they have to get a transcript sorted out. His main points were:
  • Young people must be a priority for priests, as they live in a world that is so remote from God.
  • Priests need to provide opportunities for young people to find the space to have an encounter with Christ.
  • Many young people see Jesus as merely a great prophet - but they need to be invited to encounter into the Mystery of Christ, and encounter the true God who is full of mercy.
On a more human level the Pope said that although he recognised that, for Christ, prayer at night was a necessary part of his life, for the Pope it is not possible as he likes to sleep at night. I know how he feels.

Friday 23 February 2007

Stations at Birmingham University

It's been great to have public Stations of the Cross for the first time on the Campus today. We took our large plain wooden cross and made the way of the Cross at midday, circling the centre of the campus between the library and the Chancellor's Court. This will be happening every Friday lunchtime in Lent. If you're in the area come and join us. Begins at 12 noon on the dot in front of the main University library. Today we had over 20 students joining in - a great act of witness.

Weekend exercises

This evening sees the start of a Youth 2000 Retreat in Harrogate, Yorkshire, for 16 - 35 year olds. It is taking place at St John Fisher High School, HG2 8PT. If you can come - register on the door. For more info visit I will be taking part in this and look forward to an opportunity to be with Him.

Then on Sunday Fr Julian and myself are going to Ars in France (where St John Vianney was Parish Priest), in order to take part in a Colloquium of diocesan priests from all over. This is basically an opportunity for secular priests to enter into conversation together. What we will be taking about is the kind of holiness that we are trying to embrace. Isn't it great that there is a priestly movement going on in the Church, and that there are loads of priests who are creating this movement in friendship with each other and with Him.

We'll tell you about it when we get back.

Thursday 22 February 2007

More from the Holy Father on Lent

The Holy Father, in his catechesis at the Wednesday audience this week, gave a beautifully straightforward teaching on Lent. He shows how Lent is the season par excellence to have the image of Christ renewed within us, and to be renewed in the friendship with Christ which is offered to us:
As we know, man was created to be a friend of God, but the sin of our first parents broke this relationship of trust and love and, as a consequence, humanity is incapable of fulfilling its original vocation. Thanks, however, to the redeeming sacrifice of Christ, we have been rescued from the power of evil: Christ, in fact, writes the apostle John, has been the victim of expiation of our sins (cf. 1 John 2:2); and St. Peter adds: "Christ also died for sins once for all" (cf. 1 Peter 3:18).

On dying with Christ to sin, the baptized person is also reborn to a new life and is freely re-established in his dignity as son of God. For this reason, in the early Christian community, baptism was considered as the "first resurrection" (cf. Revelation 20:5; Romans 6:1-11; John 5:25-28).
Baptism is the source of our new life, and Lent is the time for the renewal of our lives in baptismal grace. This inner conversion is a task which we have for every day of our lives. Here the Pope speaks of the nature of conversion:
From the beginning, therefore, Lent was lived as the time of immediate preparation for baptism, which is administered solemnly during the paschal vigil. The whole of Lent was a journey toward this great encounter with Christ, toward immersion in Christ and the renewal of life. We are already baptized, but often baptism is not very effective in our daily life. Therefore, Lent is also for us a renewed "catechumenate" in which we again go out to encounter our baptism and rediscover and relive it in depth, to again be really Christians.

Therefore, Lent is an opportunity to "be" Christians "again," through a constant process of interior change and of progress in knowledge and love of Christ. Conversion never takes place once and for all, but is a process, an interior journey of our whole life. Certainly this journey of evangelical conversion cannot be limited to a particular period of the year: It is a journey of every day which must embrace our whole existence, every day of our lives.

From this point of view, for every Christian and for all ecclesial communities, Lent is the appropriate spiritual season to train with greater tenacity in the search for God, opening the heart to Christ.

St. Augustine said on one occasion that our life is the sole exercise of the desire to come close to God, of being able to let God enter into our being. "The whole life of the fervent Christian," he says, "is a holy desire." If this is so, in Lent we are invited even more to uproot "from our desires the roots of vanity" to educate the heart in the desire, that is, in the love of God. "God," says St. Augustine, "is all that we desire" (cf. "Tract. in Iohn," 4). And we hope that we really begin to desire God, and in this way desire true life, love itself and truth.

Particularly appropriate is Jesus' exhortation, recorded by the Evangelist Mark: "Repent and believe in the Gospel" (Mark 1:15). The sincere desire for God leads us to reject evil and to do good. This conversion of the heart is above all a free gift of God, who created us for himself and has redeemed us in Jesus Christ: Our happiness consists in remaining in him (cf. John 15:3). For this reason, he himself anticipates our desire with his grace and supports our efforts of conversion.

But what does conversion really mean? Conversion means to seek God, to walk with God, to follow docilely the teachings of his Son, Jesus Christ; to be converted is not an effort to fulfill oneself, because the human being is not the architect of his own destiny. We have not made ourselves. Therefore, self-fulfillment is a contradiction and is too little for us. We have a higher destiny.

We could say that conversion consists precisely in not considering ourselves "creators" of ourselves, thus discovering the truth, because we are not authors of ourselves. Conversion consists in accepting freely and with love that we depend totally on God, our true Creator, that we depend on love. This is not dependence but liberty.

To be converted means, therefore, not to pursue personal success, which is something that passes but that, abandoning all human security, we follow the Lord with simplicity and trust, so that Jesus will become for each one, as Teresa of Calcutta liked to say, "my all in all." Whoever lets himself be conquered by him is not afraid of losing his own life, because on the cross he loved us and gave himself for us. And, in fact, by losing our life out of love, we find it again.
Having given us the theme "They will look on him whom they have pierced" for Lent, the Pope then turns to the Cross as the demonstration of God's immense love for us:

I wished to underline the immense love God has for us in the message on the occasion of Lent, published a few days ago, so that Christians of the whole community can pause spiritually during the time of Lent, together with Mary and John, the beloved disciple, before him who on the cross consummated for humanity the sacrifice of his life (cf. John 19:25).

Yes, dear brothers and sisters, the cross is also for us, men and women of our time -- who all too often are distracted by earthly and momentary concerns and interests -- the definitive revelation of divine love and mercy. God is love and his love is the secret of our happiness. However, to enter into this mystery of love there is no other way than that of losing ourselves, of giving ourselves to the way of the cross.

"If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Mark 8:34). For this reason, the Lenten liturgy, on inviting us to reflect and pray, stimulates us to value penance and sacrifice more, to reject sin and evil and to conquer egoism and indifference. Prayer, fasting and penance, works of charity toward brothers, become in this way spiritual paths that we must undertake to return to God in response to the repeated calls to conversion that the liturgy makes today (cf. Galatians 2:12-13; Matthew 6:16-18).

Dear brothers and sisters, may the Lenten period that we undertake today, with the austere and significant rite of the imposition of ashes, be for all a renewed experience of the merciful love of Christ, who on the cross shed his blood for us.

Let us listen to him with docility to learn "to regive" his love to our neighbour, especially those who are suffering and experiencing difficulties. This is the mission of every disciple of Christ, but to carry it out it is necessary to listen to his word and to nourish oneself assiduously on his body and blood. May the Lenten journey, which in the early Church was the journey to Christian initiation, to baptism and the Eucharist, be for us, the baptized, a "Eucharistic" time in which we take part with greater fervour in the sacrifice of the Eucharist.

May the Virgin Mary -- who, after having shared the sorrowful passion of her divine Son, experienced the joy of resurrection -- accompany us during this Lent to the mystery of Easter, supreme revelation of the love of God.

Novena Prayer

The UK Sexual Orientations Regulations are to be contested in the House of Commons at the beginning of March. At present these Regulations are aimed at compelling all adoption agencies to accept homosexual couples as potential guardians. In fact the issue at stake here is not to do with homosexuality or homophobia, but is precisely that one group of people is demanding that another group of people (in this case Catholic Adoption Agencies) offer services which they in conscience cannot deliver. It is always very dangerous territory when a government legislates for conscience.

Could I suggest that you to make a Novena to St Thomas More asking for his intercession, that this matter be overturned by grace and by a surge in public opinion. You might like to cut and paste this Litany:


V. Lord, have mercy
R. Lord have mercy
V. Christ, have mercy
R. Christ have mercy
V. Lord, have mercy
R. Lord have mercy
V. Christ hear us
R. Christ, graciously hear us
V. St. Thomas More, Saint and Martyr, R. Pray for us (Repeat after each invocation)
St. Thomas More, Patron of Statesmen, Politicians and Lawyers
St. Thomas More, Patron of Justices, Judges and Magistrates
St. Thomas More, Model of Integrity and Virtue in Public and Private Life
St. Thomas More, Servant of the Word of God and the Body and Blood of Christ
St. Thomas More, Model of Holiness in the Sacrament of Marriage
St. Thomas More, Teacher of his Children in the Catholic Faith
St. Thomas More, Defender of the Weak and the Poor
St. Thomas More, Promoter of Human Life and Dignity
V. Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world
R. Spare us O Lord
V. Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world
R. Graciously hear us O Lord
V. Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world
R. Have mercy on us

Let us pray:
O Glorious St. Thomas More, Patron of Statesmen, Politicians, Judges and Lawyers, your life of prayer and penance and your zeal for justice, integrity and firm principle in public and family life led you to the path of martyrdom and sainthood. Intercede for our Statesmen, Politicians, Judges and Lawyers, that they may be courageous and effective in their defense and promotion of the sanctity of human life — the foundation of all other human rights. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
R. Amen.

Wednesday 21 February 2007

Strong winds

I'm sorry but the Zeppelin encountered very strong winds over north Africa, which meant we could not get a good shot of the dusk. However, as you can see, there will be some golden beaches on the Canary Islands. Gibraltar looks good from up here too.

The Holy Spirit also has been "blowing hard" all day, directing our gaze to Him who "consummated for all manking the sacrifice of His life", and giving us access to "the very dynamic of His self-giving". (B16) Let us welcome the love of Jesus on this first day of Lent and in our evening prayer ask that every man and woman on the face of the earth, may be saved.

Second shot

I hope to post a better picture of Europe this evening ... just setting off.

Tuesday 20 February 2007

Vespers for old Europe

As the sun sets over Europe, the seeds of the new age are already growing. It is for this whole land, and more, that we offer our evening prayer of thanksgiving.

The final word

This is the last of the posts of Fr Fleming's visit, and it is apt that the theme should therefore be end of life, rather than beginning of life. After the John Paul II Evangelium Vitae lecture on Thursday evening, Fr Richard and myself were treated to the second half of the double bill, along with about 20 priests from the Archdiocese of Birmingham, to Fr Fleming's talk on 'End of Life Decision Making: Priestly Pastoral Care and Responsibility' on Friday, at a clergy information day put on by SPUC at the Paragon Hotel in Birmingham.

Fr Fleming started by noting that, at one time, one could take it for granted that doctors and priests had the same objective - to care for the whole person. However, a parting of the ways has happened, in a similar way that there has been a parting of the ways between faith and culture, such that for many doctors care is directed only at the physical self, in an almost mechanical sense. Worse still, for many health service bureaucrats, medicine has become a service, with customers, and has been reduced to an element of the market economy, governed by cost effectiveness. But we are dealing with 'patients' (those who suffer) and not 'customers' (pawns in a consumer society).

The first quality which governs decision making in end of life care is 'beneficence' - that is, the need to do good rather than evil. At its most basic level, this means primum non nocere (not to do the patient any harm), but it should also include acting for the good of the patient, and in its more radical forms, benevolent self-effacement (which includes some personal cost) and even heroic sacrifice (like those doctors who have stayed behind in epidemics to treat the sick and have fallen foul of disease themselves, or Damian the Leper, the priest who cared for lepers in a colony and caught the disease himself). The second quality is compassion. This is the virtue of being willing to act once one realises what is the right thing to do. Very often we are presented with cases in the media of people who want to kill themselves, and we are called to be compassionate to their plight. True compassion can only act in accordance with what is morally right, and never be what is morally wrong dressed up as compassion. Compassion does not release us from moral responsibility, and is not a quick fix.

The first aim of medicine is to cure. In end of life situations, though, medicine is dealing with care not cure. Compassion is the first virtue that is required in this circumstance. It follows that there must be adequate nursing care, the assurance that the person is not going to be abandoned in their pain, and the requirement of competence (being incompetent is effectively not caring). In these ways doctors and priests share in the priestly ministry. They care on the basis of need not right. They are not 'service deliverers'; they are not caring because of a contractual duty, but based upon trust.

The flagship of those who support such things as euthanasia is 'autonomy', the right to free choice and self-determination. We are not, however, free to choose what is morally wrong. Sickness clouds over our own self-image and so reduces the ability to act autonomously. Claims that very sick people are competent to make these life and death decisions has to be questioned simply from the point of view of their own competence to view the matter clearly. The right to life has to be above all autonomy, as it is the fundamental moral principle. Often when a sick person is saying to their relatives 'It would be better if I were to die', they are not looking for a way out but an assurance that their relatives will be there. The worst thing is for the family to stand there and say 'Yes you ought to die'. Studies in Australia reveal that in a hospice a small percentage of those with terminal illness (around 10 per cent) wished to be killed. But once they were assured that they would not be alone, and they would not suffer unnecessary pain, that number dropped to zero. Often the call for euthanasia is based on our inability to watch suffering. It's more a case of "Please put grandma out of my misery."

The major principle for us must be the inherent dignity of human life, no matter how frail, how vulnerable or how damaged. Once we surrender this profound respect for human life in some hard cases, it is just a matter of where you draw the line, and who draws it and why. And on what do we then base those decisions? Where do we draw the line? Do we judge it on cost? On our disgust? On our whim? On our convenience?

Eugenics is nothing new. It was around long before Hitler. He just picked up on what was already there in literature. The so-called archetypal English gentleman, Bertrand Russell, wrote: "Feeble-minded women, as everyone knows, are apt to have enormous numbers of illegitimate children, all, as a rule, wholly worthless to the community. These women would themselves be happier if they were sterilised, since it is not from any philoprogenitive impulse that they become pregnant" (Marriage and Morals, London 1972, p.130). There are others like James Lachs who wrote that "the only way to treat hydrocephalic children 'humanely' is to 'mercifully' put them to death". And Mary Anne Warren advocated "the kind, quick, painless, and direct method of lethal injection." Notice how they use the language of compassion in order to justify direct killing. More insidious still, in pre-Nazi Germany, was the opinion of Karl Binding that "we are spending lots of time, patience and care on the survival of life devoid of value."

In response contemporary secular bioethics is driven by the rejection of suffering as an unredeemable evil. It follows that in order to get rid of the suffering one should get rid of the person. The Church however continues to promote the inherent dignity of the human individual. For the Church, the definitive suffering is the loss of eternal life, being rejected by God - damnation. Of this definitive suffering modern day followers of the Enlightenment project have no account.

Pope John Paul II is the great witness to hope and antidote to the desire to eradicate visible suffering. Nietzsche wrote that "the doctor should give to the sick each day a fresh dose of disgust." Pope John Paul II disgusted many commentators in the secular media by publicly living out his life to the end, not hiding his frailty and disability. Even though his activities were curtailed, he made the most of the life he had until the very end. He practised what he preached in relation to his duty of care of his own life.

When we look at those most cruel forms of euthanasia - the killing of those in a persistent vegetative state - we see the lie of 'mercy killing'. Indeed the very name 'persistent vegetative state' objectivises and dehumanises the person. We should, rather, call them the 'permanently unconscious'. Under the Mental Capacity Act, and indeed taken from the Bland case judgement, it is now legal in this country to kill those who are permanently unconscious by withdrawing feeding after one year of unconsciousness. This is a most cruel thing to do, as it makes the person starve to death and dehydrate. The thing is the media often present such people who are permanently unconscious as near to death anyway. But nothing could be further from the truth. They are far from death. In fact, that is the problem for the health care bureaucrats. They simply WON'T die, unless killed by withdrawing basic care. The law gets around it by stating that feeding is medical care. Certainly the insertion of a feeding tube is a minor medical procedure, but thereafter it is only the administration of food. When we have lunch it is not a medical procedure. It is something necessary for our self-preservation. So when we feed the incapacitated we are feeding - a corporal act of mercy - someone too vulnerable to feed themselves.

The words of Pope John Paul II resonate especially: "I feel the duty to reaffirm strongly that the intrinsic value and personal dignity of every human being do not change, no matter what the concrete circumstances of his or her life. A man, even if seriously ill or disabled in the exercise of his highest functions, is and always will be a man, and he will never become a 'vegetable' or an 'animal'". It is therefore the duty of all who have care of those who are incapacitated to respect this dignity in every way: "Medical doctors and health-care personnel, society and the Church have moral duties toward these persons from which they cannot exempt themselves without lessening the demands both of professional ethics and human and Christian solidarity." This solidarity calls for us to be there for the sick and dying and to act on their behalf when they are robbed of their voice and cannot respond. It follows that "the sick person in a vegetative state, awaiting recovery or a natural end, still has the right to basic health care (nutrition, hydration, cleanliness, warmth, etc), and to the prevention of complications related to his confinement to bed." In other words, a right to basic nursing care. "I should like particularly to underline how the administration of water and food, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act. Its use, furthermore, should be considered, in principle, ordinary and proportionate, and as such morally obligatory, insofar as and until it is seen to have attained its proper finality, which in the present case consists in providing nourishment to the patient and alleviation of his suffering."

"The evaluation of probabilities, founded on waning hopes for recovery when the vegetative state is prolonged beyond a year, cannot ethically justify the cessation or interruption of minimal care for the patient, including nutrition and hydration. Death by starvation or dehydration is, in fact, the only possible outcome as a result of their withdrawal. In this sense it ends up becoming, if done knowingly and willingly, true and proper euthanasia by omission."

I really have to thank SPUC for bringing Fr Fleming to Birmingham once again, so that we could hear his clear reasoning and be guided by his teaching. If you have the opportunity to hear him speak then take it.

The Dawkins Delusion

I've not read it yet, but I've been recommended a recently published book (recommended by Fr Fleming actually). It rather reminds me of what someone wrote after Jean-Paul Sartre died: "God is Dead - Sartre" - "Sartre is dead, God". In answer to the fundamentalist rant of Dawkins in 'The God Delusion', SPCK have brought out a book by Alister McGrath 'The Dawkins Delusion: Atheist fundamentalism and the denial of the divine'.

Monday 19 February 2007

Forty days...a new blog

At the University of Birmingham Catholic Chaplaincy we have started a blog just for Lent, with the daily readings, plus reflections, prayers, and anything else we think of. Take a look at it here.

Saturday 17 February 2007

Dignity confirmed

Fr John Fleming's lecture on Abortion in International Law hardly moved from the secular frame of reference, giving us a competent analysis for a foundational understanding of the issues which surround this matter.

His lecture gave us a framework for identifying and refencing the important values which are at stake in this issue. We should congratulate Fr John for the great service he has done; for as a Catholic Priest, confining himself to examining human values, he has made this study available to all, whatever their persuasion. Moreover, he has grounded the debate in fundamental principles such that we can recognise anew those essential human values which are so prone to mis-representation by political and media handling.

Allow me to present some of his material here:

1. The basic question - Do United Nations documents protect the rights of the unborn? Yet the issue currently hinges on two opposed positions - those who want a right to abortion and those who say that embryos have rights. In fact United Nations Law is a prima facie case for the protection of the unborn. United Nations Law transcends all philosophical, religious and cultural trends and uses reason to apply universal moral principles. So, once we recognise certain things to be true, we have a duty to respond to them in a morally adequate manner.

2.The nature of Rights. They are inalienable - you can't take them away, and they are inviolable - you can't override them.

3. "Everyone". This means all members of the human family - there can be no distinctions.

4. "Personhood". Equality is referenced to personhood - you can't distinguish between people. Nor is personhood determined by function - rather, "being" defines function. The question of function can't then be used against an embryo.

5. Interchangeable language? No, mixing two kinds of language doesn't help. "Person" is a philosophical term; "embryo" is a scientific term. Yet there is a relationship between these two frames - the basis of personhood is science. Science tells us that there is an embryo and what an embryo is, therefore we know that a person has come into existence.

6. With regard to what is Catholic the same principle applies. Namely, the Church applies a principle to that which science has determined. So we cannot say, a thing is right becuase it is Catholic, but rather, a thing is Catholic because it is right.

Specific cases:

1. Freezing embryos prevents embryo research. De-frosted embryos have serious metabolic disorders which makes them an unreliable source.

2. Rape. It is possible to discover where a woman is in her cycle are provide treatment which will prevent fertilisation. Also, it is not proper to prejudge the response that a woman might make. In cases of rape, there is a whole situation to consider in which people have rights.

3. Could we employ a better term than "person" and for instance, speak of "genetic coding" to distinguish an individual? Broadly speaking yes we could, but we have to remember that science changes and so such scientific terminology could become obsolete.

4. Using vaccines developed from foetal tissues. Actually, there should be moral pressure to develop vaccines that don't come from this source.

5.NaProtechology. Yes, we need to promote this kind of infertility treatment which co-operates with a woman's natural reproductive processes.

I hope that this will give you some idea of the lecture which Fr John presented. A small Google search made on his name will reveal just how extensive is his learning and what a competent guide he is in the whole field of Bioethics. If you hear of any future talks or lectures by Fr John - don't miss the opportunity, he is an excellent speaker.

Opening up the situation to truth

I am so pleased that I made the effort to attend Fr Fleming's lecture on Abortion in International Law at Birmingham University. Fr Fleming exposed the underlying principles of Human Rights and their consequent Laws, and the extensive knowledge that science has given us, which have been somewhat hidden by the rhetoric and polemic of the Abortion debate, but which nonetheless, comprise the extensive ground from which humanity is called to resolve the issue of abortion even in its most difficult cases. Indeed, I would suggest that both pro and anti abortionists have many steps to retrace in order that the abortion question, which confronts humanity at this time, may be resolved by a careful, yes, difficult, but coherent reference to all the issues which are involved and to truth which underpins the whole situation. Yes, we have to look at real life situations, but we are able to address them in the best way possible, if we recognise the truth which is reflected in law and in science.

The fact is that Law recognises the rights of the unborn, and that "personhood", a difficult category for law to handle, is nonetheless confirmed by today's science. Indeed, science shows us how the embryo from the moment of fertilisation activley establishes a relationship with its mother in the womb.

The entire lecture presented us with a call to seek a resolution to the question of abortion precisely because the secular frame of reference, in law and science exists to help us do this. Fr Fleming, in a clear, challenging, and honest way has opened up the abortion debate, in Birmingham University at least, to the foundations of this issue which we have to recognise as the basis for any honest debate. (I'll cover some of the issues Fr Fleming raised in another posting.)

Thanks Fr Julian for organising yet another top event.

Friday 16 February 2007

The Rights of the Unborn Child under International Law

What a tremendous couple of days we've had up here in Birmingham! Last night we had the first annual Pope John Paul II Evangelium Vitae lecture, given by Fr John Fleming of Campion College, NSW, Australia, on the theme "The Rights of the Unborn under International Law". The previous evening in the University, a speaker who was doing and Introduction to Marxism attracted a mere 15 people, so I was getting worried having booked a sizeable lecture theatre for our lecture. However, I was pleased by the 100 people - roughly half of them students - who came along, as well as doctors and other people associated with the Catholic Chaplaincy.

After introductions Fr Fleming began his fluent, clear, precise and concise delivery of his presentation on the topic. In about 45 minutes he managed to make a rationale for his two major points: that the Declaration on Human Rights and associated United Nations texts - upon which International Human Rights law is based - recognise the rights of the unborn, and that personhood - which is a philosophical concept informed by science - begins at conception.

In the first half of the lecture, Fr Fleming dealt with the documentation of the United Nations. His reasoning went like this:
1. Human rights are the basis for international law, and all nations are subject to that law without distinction.
2. Human rights are 'inalienable' - this is, cannot be taken away, or even given away by an individual - and 'inviolable' and pertain to 'all members of the human family'.
3. While it is received wisdom that the United Nations declarations do not defend the unborn, it is not so and indeed there is a Declaration of the rights of the unborn doing the rounds of nation state members at the moment.
4. Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.
5. All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.
6. The child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth (Declaration on the Rights of the Child 1959).
7. Parallel legislation regarding capital punishment stipulates that a woman cannot be put to death while pregnant, because it would take the innocent life of the child (some infer that it means that, in order to safeguard the well-being of an unborn child, the woman should not labour under pain of the threat of capital punishment at all.)
8. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance, and that all children, before or after birth or whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the social protection of their family, society and the State without any discrimination.

In the second half of the lecture, Fr Fleming spoke about the beginning of life and personhood based upon the best scientific data available at the moment. His basic thesis was to show that the human embryo, whether brought into being by sexual reproduction or otherwise, and whether inside or outside the womb of the woman, is a separate and distinct, living human individual; will progress through all the stages of development in a continuum, through the embryonic and foetal stages, to birth, unless it dies or is killed; is a distinct and autonomously developing human being, whose right to survival depends upon a protected, hospitable and interpersonal environment that provides life sustenance in the form of nutrition, hydration and oxygen - the basic rights of every human being at all stages of life.
In order to demonstrate this thesis Fr Fleming showed:
1. The newly formed embryo is not some featureless bundle of cells, but that the human body is already shaped at the moment of conception. Indeed the sides of the embryo which will be the back and head are not left to later development but are already distinguishable at conception.
2. The embryo communicates with the mother from conception using chemical substances to signal to the mother's body that it needs to get ready for its implantation.
3. The concept of personhood is a philosophical concept which is based upon scientific understanding. Sometimes scientists will change their understanding of personhood to suit their own ends. Eg Embryo research scientists hold 14 days as the threshold above which they see the embryo as becoming human. But a different level is used for abortions.
4. Denying personhood involves denying rights. The law then becomes arbitrary in apportioning rights (such as in the past slaves had no rights as they were not acknowledged as persons under the law).

Fr Fleming ended the lecture with a reference to the teaching of Domum Vitae stating that "the human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception."

After the lecture the audience raised a number of points. Some were from the stalwart pro-lifers who were present, but it was interesting that a number of students were there who came from different backgrounds - some from law, from philosophy, theology and above all medicine - and with different viewpoints. But what was notable was the openness of everyone to hear Fr Fleming and to dialogue with him. There were no acrimonious interventions at all. This contrasts with my memory of being a student in the 1980s where these life issues really got the adrenalin flowing as well as the rhetoric. I was interested to learn more about something I knew nothing about before, and that is NaProTechnology, which is a new form of dealing with infertility in women, which is very successful, and is totally in accordance with the teaching of the Church, but which is getting very little support in Britain, unlike IVF.

It is certainly very pleasing to have been able to bring life issues into the public forum within the University. It was important that this did not seem to be a minority interest, so I deliberately did not hold it in the Catholic Chaplaincy nor even in the multi-faith Chaplaincy. The lecture was in the large lecture theatre in the University's School of Education. I'm sure this helped people who were coming from outside the chaplaincy to feel that they were not threatened or overawed by their environment. Now all we have to do is plan next year's lecture and try to increase interest throughout the University.

Fr Richard will do his own post tomorrow on the lecture and he'll be able to share some of the photos...

Thursday 15 February 2007

Leading the way

Before Fr John Fleming gives his lecture this evening at Birmingham University, I thought I would draw your attention to the new college of which he is the President: Campion College Sydney.
Imagine having an academy of further education which offered a broad range a secular subjects, each of which was approached from a genuinely Catholic perspective. On its website it desribes itself in these terms:
Campion College Australia is distinctive in both educational and religious terms. Educationally, the College's basic curriculum of the Liberal Arts is a time-proven means of intellectual development and career preparation. It entails systematic study across a broad array of subjects, which cultivates genuine freedom of mind by opening it to the discovery and embrace of truth.
Religiously, it is recognisably Catholic in its affirmation of belief in the teaching authority of the Catholic Church. Students will receive a proper grounding in Catholic belief and thought, and be exposed to the richness of the Church's spiritual, moral, intellectual and cultural traditions. The teaching authority of the Church is of decisive importance in the Campion's life. The Church has a recognised competence in its own sphere of theological enquiry. More broadly, its authority safeguards the search for truth by keeping in balance a range of intellectual freedoms.
Take a look for yourself: and do download the Powerpoint Presentation on the "About Campion" page. What about there being a Catholic college in the UK with this vision?

Wednesday 14 February 2007

Disappeared Blog

How sad that a seminarian putting decent stuff on a blog is forced to take it down because the liberal staff at his seminary can't stomach real Catholicism. No nothing extreme. Just the real thing. I've seen this sort of persecution first hand. It involves other seminarians sneakily going behind the back of the ones who are oppressed for being 'traditionalists', telling tales to staff who are always willing to listen to tittle tattle. Well my experience tells me also that it's those who are sneakily playing politics for their own ends who come to a sticky end, and the oppressed who make very fine priests. I don't need to mention the name of the blog - if you're a blog watcher you'll be able to tell. Suffice it to say, the blog has been taken off our blog roll.

If you happen to be a self-seeking sneaky seminarian looking to bring other people down, then please get a life...outside seminary.

On a more serious note...Human Love and the Pope's message for Lent

Yesterday the Holy See published the Holy Father's message for Lent. Lent may immediately bring to mind abstaining from nice things, and doing penitential devotions, but Pope Benedict has pointed out the true nature of Lent: to be perfected in love. The ultimate icon of love is the divine love made human love, that is the heart of Christ which draws us into friendship with himself. This icon reaches its most transparent in the crucifixion. And so the Pope invites us to meditate on this text throughout the course of Lent: "They shall look on Him whom they have pierced".
"'They shall look on Him whom they have pierced' (Jn 19:37). This is the biblical theme that this year guides our Lenten reflection. Lent is a favourable time to learn to stay with Mary and John, the beloved disciple, close to Him who on the Cross, consummated for all mankind the sacrifice of His life (cf. Jn 19:25). With a more fervent participation let us direct our gaze, therefore, in this time of penance and prayer, at Christ crucified who, dying on Calvary, revealed fully for us the love of God."
In speaking of the love of God, the Holy Father comes back to the wonderful mystery of which he spoke in his Encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est, where he dwelt upon the different types of love expressed by the Greek terms agape and eros. Agape is the self-giving love where one is wholly consumed by seeking the good of the other person, whereas eros is a love where the person seeks the love of another in order to feel fulfilled. The love of God is most obviously agape because it is providential, and seeks the good of man, especially in the ultimate will of God which is that all men might be saved and come to live in friendship with Him. But the Scriptures also show us times when God is looking for us to return love to Him. Although God in himself needs nothing from us, for he is perfect being and perfect love, he makes humbles before man so that it can be seen that He longs for our love in return for his. He longs for love which has been given to be returned - just as it is between the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit - for perfect love is reciprocal - a two-way process.
"In the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, I dwelt upon this theme of love, highlighting its two fundamental forms: agape and eros. The term agape, which appears many times in the New Testament, indicates the self-giving love of one who looks exclusively for the good of the other. The word eros, on the other hand, denotes the love of one who desires to possess what he or she lacks and yearns for union with the beloved. The love with which God surrounds us is undoubtedly agape. Indeed, can man give to God some good that He does not already possess? All that the human creature is and has is divine gift. It is the creature then, who is in need of God in everything. But God's love is also eros. In the Old Testament, the Creator of the universe manifests toward the people whom He has chosen as His own a predilection that transcends every human motivation. The prophet Hosea expresses this divine passion with daring images such as the love of a man for an adulterous woman (cf. 3:1-3). For his part, Ezekiel, speaking of God's relationship with the people of Israel, is not afraid to use strong and passionate language (cf. 16:1-22). These biblical texts indicate that eros is part of God's very heart: the Almighty awaits the 'yes' of His creatures as a young bridegroom that of his bride. Unfortunately, from its very origins, mankind, seduced by the lies of the Evil One, rejected God's love in the illusion of a self-sufficiency that is impossible (cf. Gn 3:1-7). Turning in on himself, Adam withdrew from that source of life who is God Himself, and became the first of 'those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage' (Heb 2:15). God, however, did not give up. On the contrary, man's 'no' was the decisive impulse that moved Him to manifest His love in all of its redeeming strength."
The self-giving offering of the love of God is so blatant on the Cross. But as Christ hangs there he says those words "I thirst". He did not just express that he thirsts for physical drink - though that is the external human meaning of the words. He also expresses a deeper thirst - the internal thirst of which his human thirst is a sacramental expression - a thirst for your love. He has shown his love to the extreme. Now he thirsts for your love.
"It is in the mystery of the Cross that the overwhelming power of the heavenly Father's mercy is revealed in all of its fullness. In order to win back the love of His creature, He accepted to pay a very high price: the blood of His only begotten Son. Death, which for the first Adam was an extreme sign of loneliness and powerlessness, was thus transformed in the supreme act of love and freedom of the new Adam. One could very well assert, therefore, together with Saint Maximus the Confessor, that Christ 'died, if one could say so, divinely, because He died freely'. On the Cross, God's eros for us is made manifest. Eros is indeed - as Pseudo-Dionysius expresses it - that force 'that does not allow the lover to remain in himself but moves him to become one with the beloved'. Is there more 'mad eros' (N. Cabasilas) than that which led the Son of God to make Himself one with us even to the point of suffering as His own the consequences of our offences?

"Dear brothers and sisters, let us look at Christ pierced in the Cross! He is the unsurpassing revelation of God's love, a love in which eros and agape, far from being opposed, enlighten each other. On the Cross, it is God Himself who begs the love of His creature: He is thirsty for the love of every one of us. The Apostle Thomas recognized Jesus as 'Lord and God' when he put his hand into the wound of His side. Not surprisingly, many of the saints found in the Heart of Jesus the deepest expression of this mystery of love. One could rightly say that the revelation of God's eros toward man is, in reality, the supreme expression of His agape. In all truth, only the love that unites the free gift of oneself with the impassioned desire for reciprocity instills a joy, which eases the heaviest of burdens. Jesus said: 'When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself' (Jn 12:32). The response the Lord ardently desires of us is above all that we welcome His love and allow ourselves to be drawn to Him. Accepting His love, however, is not enough. We need to respond to such love and devote ourselves to communicating it to others. Christ 'draws me to Himself' in order to unite Himself to me, so that I learn to love the brothers with His own love."
There you see how the Holy Father refers to the Heart of Christ drawing us to Himself. This friendship with Christ, the true living relationship with Him, is what he so desires in his Heart. It draws us closer into the mystery of who He is. We become completely one with Him. We don't just receive a condescending shower of love from above. He comes to be completely one with us. This oneness with Him means we also become that love for others. It is not that we sort of condescend to love others because God has condescended to love us. We love because we are loved. We are loved deeply in a vulnerable way by God Himself, who thirsts for our love. We should love others in the same way, opening ourselves in vulnerability to others, offering them our lives. This means we need a real victimhood with Christ, in order to offer our lives to the world in union with Him, so that others may be drawn in to the mystery of this love of Christ. How do we draw deeper into life with Christ? The ultimate way of experiencing this grace is through the sacraments. The sacramental life of the Church was itself born from the side of Christ, so we draw closer to that Heart of Christ when we receive sacramental grace.
"'They shall look on Him whom they have pierced.' Let us look with trust at the pierced side of Jesus from which flow 'blood and water' (Jn 19:34)! The Fathers of the Church considered these elements as symbols of the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. Through the water of Baptism, thanks to the action of the Holy Spirit, we are given access to the intimacy of Trinitarian love. In the Lenten journey, memorial of our Baptism, we are exhorted to come out of ourselves in order to open ourselves, in trustful abandonment, to the merciful embrace of the Father. Blood, symbol of the love of the Good Shepherd, flows into us especially in the Eucharistic mystery: "The Eucharist draws us into Jesus' act of self-oblation; we enter into the very dynamic of His self-giving" (Deus Caritas Est, 13). Let us live Lent then, as a 'Eucharistic' time in which, welcoming the love of Jesus, we learn to spread it around us with every word and deed. Contemplating 'Him whom they have pierced' moves us in this way to open our hearts to others, recognizing the wounds inflicted upon the dignity of the human person; it moves us, in particular, to fight every form of contempt for life and human exploitation and to alleviate the tragedies of loneliness and abandonment of so many people. May Lent be for every Christian a renewed experience of God's love given to us in Christ, a love that each day we, in turn, must 'regive' to our neighbour, especially to the one who suffers most and is in need. Only in this way will we be able to participate fully in the joy of Easter.

"May Mary, Mother of Beautiful Love, guide us in this Lenten journey, a journey of authentic conversion to the love of Christ. I wish you, dear brothers and sisters, a fruitful Lenten journey, imparting with affection to all of you, a special Apostolic Blessing."

St Valentine part 2 - on a lighter note

On a lighter note indeed. Writing about St Valentine has brought to my mind - with a little chuckle - what happened last year, and I thought I would share it with you. It shows how St Valentine's day does rather get forgotten when you're a priest. Our good friend Fr Stephen Langridge was up at Maryvale convent giving a retreat to the good sisters of the Bridgettine Order. He called me and asked if we might meet up for a little dinner one evening. So I suggested the Tuesday of that week as it was quite free in my diary. So we met for an early dinner and decided to go for a simple steak at La Reserve in Sutton park, near to the convent. We arrived, thinking there would be no problem getting a table on a Tuesday evening at 6pm. We were quite surprised when we were asked to wait while they saw if there were a table free. We thought the steak must be good here if it's booked out on a Tuesday. It was only when we were shown to the table - having been asked that we be out within an hour and a half as there was another booking due in - that we realised why it was so fully booked. Imagine the scene if you will, two priests in clerical attire, one more portly than the other, sitting under inflated pink love hearts hastily eating a 10oz rib eye. It still makes me cringe/laugh. It must have been an interesting sight for the other 'couples' around the restaurant.

Happy St Valentine's Day!

You can hardly miss the fact that today is St Valentine's Day (though the St part of that often gets dropped). Although dropped from the Roman calendar in favour of Ss Cyril and Methodius, the Slavic co-patrons of Europe, St Valentine's day is well and truly established on the calendar of the commercial/secular calendar.

What do we know about St Valentine? Well, virtually nothing for sure. Pope Gelasius I, who was a bit of an authority on early saints, simply lists him as one of "those whose names are reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God." It is not even very clear which St Valentine is the one being celebrated, as the name Valentine is attributed to three different martyrs of the third century; one a priest in Rome, one a Bishop from Terni in Italy, and one a north African martyr. And yet, in medieval England, the saint had a great following, and it is through the legends invented in the fourteenth century that this saint became connected with romantic love. There is an ancient basilica in Rome dedicated to the saint, and interestingly, relics which were exhumed from the Catacomb of St Hippolytus were identified as those of St Valentine, and they were donated to the Whitefriar St Carmelite Church in Dublin, which has a shrine to the saint.

One of the connections is that this day was - in the pagan Roman calendar - a feast of Juno, the Queen Goddess. She was goddess of women and of marriage. After this day began the feast of Lupercalia. At this feast, boys and girls drew lots to pair them up, and they would be paired up for the duration of the feast. As with most pagan feasts, they were christianised. There are those who object to our celebrations of feasts - most notably Christmas - because they say they are pagan feasts. But, just as Jesus Christ was God who assumed our sinful human condition, so the Church took pagan feasts and transformed them into celebrations of the Christian mysteries. This even included using some of the symbolisms of paganism but purifying them, and transforming them into Christian symbols. This is part of our 'incarnational' approach to culture and faith. Part of the problem in contemporary western society is that we have seen the divorce of culture (way of life) and faith (way of believing), such that culture - and this feast is an example - has returned to being pagan, and faith is separated out as a specialist interest of the few, characterised often in the media as the loony few. Notice how the media treat religious conviction as dangerous, and as a source of conflict in our safe rational world.

One legend of St Valentine relates to his subversion of the Emperor Claudius' decree forbidding marriage, as it was discouraging soldiers from going to war. Valentine arranged secret marriages for Christian couples, and helped the martyrs, and thus found himself on the wrong side of the law. He was thus martyred for his support of Christian marriage and freedom. So today is a good time to ask his intercession - whichever St Valentine it is we are asking - for the defence of Christian marriage and the freedom to defend it in our neo-pagan society.

Tuesday 13 February 2007

Pro-Life Lecture

The lecture with Fr John Fleming is almost upon us at Birmingham University. Please do come along if you are able, so that it can be seen that this is something we care about. If you need any details please do get in contact

Monday 12 February 2007

More on relationships

I have added a section to the Community of Grace website for young people who are looking to start a relationship. Some of this stuff was inspired by Dave Sloan's, and by the many young people I meet who wish to discuss with me the whole world of relationships. You can find this material by visiting and then click on "Relationships". I would be interested to hear your thoughts.