Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Freedom to do or freedom to be?

I can't even remember what sparked this post, but something prompted me to reflect on the very different meanings we can attribute to the notion of freedom.

In contemporary society, people typically think of freedom as meaning the freedom to do something (or even, the freedom to do anything).

The Church, however, has a wholly different notion of freedom: the freedom to become something. And that 'something' is what we are called to be: saints.

The first freedom, the freedom to do whatever we please, leads ultimately to hedonism, sin and misery. Pursuing it results in the restlessness which our hearts experience, the existential angst of the modern age.

The second freedom, the freedom to 'become what we are' leads to ultimate fulfilment (albeit by way of the Cross).

That is one of the reasons that the Church is a sign of contradiction; it is also one of the reasons that we all (and particularly Cardinals and Bishops...) need to maintain a critical distance from the freedoms the world and the worldly clamour for, and not get swept away by them.

Finally, the difference is freedom from any restraint, versus freedom from sin. The second is the primary concern of Christians.

Monday, 20 October 2014

The Postbag

Cardinals are, after all, very busy people. Moreover, sometimes the memory fails a bit. So it is not surprising that not every letter is answered.

Nonetheless, I thought it might be interesting to see the incoming postbag, even though none of these letters have yet been answered.

***

Dear Cardinal

Why was Kieran Conry elevated to the episcopate when everyone knew?

Yours sincerely, 

Worried, of Arundel and Brighton

***

Dear Cardinal

I am so pleased that I can now divorce my wife and shack up with my secretary, and know that within the year I will be OK with the Church again.

Thank you so much,

Amoroso, of Westminster

***

Dear Cardinal

My dad has just left my mum for another man. When she asked him what the hell he thought the future held for them, he answered 'Who knows what's down the road?' 

She blames you.

Can you explain?

With love,

Distressed, of Hemel Hempstead


***

Dear Cardinal

I was considering a career in the priesthood, but was reluctant to commit as I also quite like the ladies. Do I gather that is not an impediment and that I will still be able to claim to have done a good job if ever I am found out by the press, without fear of your contradicting that?

Yours,

Ambitious, of Coventry


***

Dear Cardinal,

I wanted to send my son to the Cardinal Vaughan School, but I can't afford to move into the catchment area.

Thanks for nothing.

A Practicing Catholic Parent, Acton


***

Dear Cardinal

Thank you for your solicitous care for the LGBT? Community. Queering the Church is such an important mission, so we are grateful to you for your support, in face of all the oppression of those who would demonise us.

Love and kisses,

XXXX

***

Dear Cardinal

I was going to write to ask your advice on amnesia, but I can't remember why.

Forgetfully,

Can't remember my name? Nor where I live nor how I voted nor when I knew.

***

Dear Cardinal

Since my husband walked out on me, I have struggled to bring up our four kids on my own. I have worked hard to keep an amorous colleague, whom I really like, at a safe distance, as I don't want to risk any occasion of sin, or of scandal to my kids.

It is hard work and I am very lonely. I thought this was the right  thing to do, and I try to offer my sufferings up.

Am I a mug?

Yours,

Solitaria, North Finchley


***

Dear Cardinal

You be good, and we won't tell. Capisce?

(unsigned)

***

Dear Cardinal,

I have struggled with Same Sex Attraction for many years. 

I have not always managed to avoid falling into temptation, but I continue to try, and by frequent use of the Sacrament of Penance, I am gradually mastering my desires.

This has been a long and painful journey, but I have been encouraged by my parish priest, who has been both understanding of my personal struggles, and clear in expounding the teaching of the Church as found in the Catechism.

However, last Saturday, when I went to Confession and told him that I had nothing serious to confess, he was uncharacteristically upset, and suggested I might as well indulge my every desire. 

I was shocked and upset, after all I have been through, and we exchanged heated words. He referred me to you.

Can you explain?

Yours, 

A Struggling Sinner, Soho

***

Dear Cardinal

My partner and I would like to apply for the jobs of Chief Executive and Head of PR at CAFOD.

We are very committed to Justice and Peace, extremely well-networked, and like some aspects of the Catholic Church's approach.  In fact my partner goes to Church when he visits his mum, as she is a practicing Catholic (he hasn't come out to her yet).

I understand that our (what I believe you call) irregular situation, and the fact that we demur from some of the Church's more demanding teachings are no bar to running a large Catholic organisation - as long as we keep the people in the pews in the dark, which I am sure we can manage between us.

And if you can find a bishop to celebrate a service for our anniversary, that would be lovely.

Yours,

Valentine, Eccleston Square


Thursday, 16 October 2014

What's to be done?

I raised the question recently (here, in fact): what are the faithful to do when they no longer trust many of their bishops?

I was thinking of the situation in England and Wales when I wrote that; and I am still thinking of that situation. I don't think we should let the Synod distract us from the +Conry affair and its ramifications.


However, I think the Synod has clearly demonstrated that problems with the episcopacy extend far beyond our home patch, so the question is even more acute.


I still don't know the answer.  I know bits of it: prayer and fasting is always a good starting point, as for any Catholic dilemma. In fact, in cases of difficulty, I always refer back to the first two questions of the Penny Catechism to reorientate myself:


 1: Who made you?

 God made me.

2: Why did God make you?

God made me to know Him, love Him and serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in the next.

So, prayer, fasting and a good sacramental life, overflowing into the spiritual and corporal works of mercy are the sine qua non.


Beyond that, I think we have certain responsibilities: to make known to our pastors our genuine concerns (and yes, I have written to my bishop) and to warn those who may be at risk of dangers: which, I suppose, is the point of blogging about it.


However, the larger question, of what else we should do, and the associated question of how should we do whatever we decide to do, I find difficult to grapple with.


So I turn it about. What does Satan want me to do? If I can discern that, and avoid his temptations - and even do the opposite - that may be a good start.


Satan, it strikes me, would be happy with any of these responses:



  • Despair
  • Hating, denigrating or abusing anyone
  • Colluding with sin, by silence or consent
  • Fostering spiritual pride because I know I am on the right side
  • Focusing on high-level troubles to the detriment of my daily duties to God, family and others
  • Retreating into splendid isolation and ignoring my responsibilities to the Church and others
  • Prompting others to do any of the above
So  putting all that together gives some kind of plan of action, on top of the foundation of prayer and fasting.

Turning once again to the Penny Catechism, I refresh my memory about the Spiritual Works of Mercy:



322. Which are the Seven Spiritual Works of Mercy?
The seven Spiritual Works of Mercy are:
1. To convert the sinner.
2. To instruct the ignorant.
3. To counsel the doubtful.
4. To comfort the sorrowful.
5. To bear wrongs patiently.
6. To forgive injustice.
7. To pray for the living and the dead.
 That is why silence is not an option: we have an obligation to convert the sinner and to instruct the ignorant. In normal times, we may feel that we are members of a Church that is doing that, and as long as we play our role, and bear the silent witness of living a Catholic life (preach at all times, use words when necessary...) that is sufficient.

But these are not normal times: we cannot rely on many in positions of authority in the Church to discharge their obligations. Now may be a time when words are necessary.


So I think that we need to do more. We need to find new and more effective ways to make the truths of the Gospel heard, and in particular those truths which seem out of favour, such as the truth that sin always causes harm, even sin committed in ignorance and (therefore) relative innocence; the truth that the word love does not mean the gratification of physical or emotional desires, and nor is our identity determined by such desires; the truth that the one true Church, uniquely, makes Christ available through the sacraments for those who believe; and the truth that we are all called to repent and believe the Gospel.


But we must do that in ways that are oriented to hope and not to despair; in ways that refrain from hating, denigrating or abusing anyone; with a humble and contrite heart; without neglecting either our immediate or our ecclesial duties; and without tempting or provoking others to sin.


Friday, 10 October 2014

Who took the sin out of the Synod?

Hearing some of the noises emanating from the Synod, I was reminded of when I was first learning my Catechism. 

Back then, we had the wonderful Penny Catechism:



121. What is mortal sin?
Mortal sin is a serious offence against God.
122. Why is it called mortal sin?
It is called mortal sin because it is so serious that it kills the soul and deserves hell.
123. How does mortal sin kill the soul?
Mortal sin kills the soul by depriving it of sanctifying grace, which is the supernatural life of the soul.
124. Is it a great evil to fall into mortal sin?
It is the greatest of all evils to fall into mortal sin.
125. Where will they go who die in mortal sin?
They who die in mortal sin will go to hell for all eternity.
...


271. In order to receive the Blessed Sacrament worthily what is required?
In order to receive the Blessed Sacrament worthily it is required that we be in a state of grace and keep the prescribed fast: water does not break this fast.
272. What is it to be in a state of grace?
To be in a state of grace is to be free from mortal sin, and pleasing to God.
273. Is it a great sin to receive Holy Communion in mortal sin?
It is a great sin to receive Holy Communion in mortal sin: 'because a person who eats and drinks without recognising the Body, is eating and drinking his own condemnation.' (1 Cor. 11:29)
...


286. Are any conditions for forgiveness required on the part of the penitent?
Three conditions for forgiveness are required on the part of the penitent - Contrition, Confession, and Satisfaction.
287. What is Contrition?
Contrition is a heartfelt sorrow for our sins, because by them we have offended so good a God, together with a firm purpose of amendment.
288. What is a firm purpose of amendment?
A firm purpose of amendment is a resolution to avoid, by the grace of God, not only sin, but also the dangerous occasions of sin.
...


328. When are we answerable for the sins of others?
We are answerable for the sins of others whenever we either cause or share in them, through our own fault.
329. In how many ways may we either cause or share the guilt of another's sin?
We may either cause or share the guilt of another's sin in nine ways:
1. By counsel.
2. By command.
3. By consent.
4. By provocation.
5. By praise or flattery.
6. By concealment.
7. By being a partner in the sin.
8. By silence.
9. By defending the ill done.
...


335. How must we hate sin?
We must hate sin above all other evils, so as to be resolved never to commit a wilful sin, for the love or fear of anything whatsoever.
All of which has a superb clarity.

Now, we are being told that that proposals to re-admit those who have pretended another marriage whilst already married are not a change in doctrine, only in practice.


I have been struggling to get my head around this; how could they possibly think that? But I think I may be beginning to understand it.


For, of course, for a sin to be a mortal sin, certain conditions need to be met (grave matter, consent and knowledge, in brief). So perhaps the bishops saying some of the odder things believe that nobody really understands marriage any more, so sins against it (grave though they may be, and consenting too, come to that) are not mortal sins, subjectively; and therefore those committing them should be free to receive Holy Communion.


There is of course, a problem with that, though. I remember, on first learning of the conditions for mortal sin, asking my late mother whether, in that case, it would not be better simply not to teach the Faith, because then nobody would be able to commit a mortal sin.


She set me straight (of course). On the one hand, the moral law is written in our hearts: we know (for example) that breaking our marriage vows is wrong, without the Church having to tell us. There is no ignorance here.


But more importantly, we are under orders from Christ himself to teach the Faith.  That's the trouble: and §328-9 above are very clear that we cannot keep others in ignorance about their sins without incurring the guilt of them ourselves.


And that is the same, rather inconvenient, Christ who foresaw that this would be a difficult area; that our human compassion might tend to over-rule our heart's discernment and incline us to collude with the person who 're-marries;' the Christ who, therefore, taught us very explicitly that such a case was adultery.


Of course we should be merciful: but mercy tends to the good of the other. And the good of the other is not served by lying to them about the sinfulness of their situation, and failing to call them to repentance; still less by encouraging them to eat and drink condemnation to themselves.


This is indeed, as the apostles noticed at the time, a hard teaching. But even the Pope does not have the authority to change it.


The reality is, I think, that those who propose a pastoral solution do not 'hate sin above all other evils,' nor do they remember that even sin committed in ignorance does damage.


And we only have to look at the damage that divorce and 're-marriage' is wreaking on society to realise that, as we should have recognised all along, Christ was right.



Musing on Trust

In my last blog entry, I suggested that the bishops in England and Wales needed to earn our trust again.

I have blogged about trust and the bishops before, here, prompted by my mistrust of CAFOD and my recognition that the problems went higher up the chain.

It seems to me that at the heart of the bishops' role is to lead, teach and support us in the two key areas of faith and morals: that is, what we are to believe and how we are to behave.

The more I reflect on it, the more uneasy I am; for I am increasingly drawn to the conclusion that there are members of the hierarchy who are not to be trusted in these key areas.

With regard to morals, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that a number of our bishops do not believe in the teaching of Humanae Vitae, nor with the teaching on the objective sinfulness of homosexual and extra-marital sexual relations; even the Church's prophetic witness against abortion seems too much for some. (I should, as ever, make it quite clear that there are honourable exceptions to this).  With regard to faith, it is hard to be clear what they believe, and in particular that there is any understanding of the Church as the One True Faith, of Original Sin and Personal Sin, and the importance of the Sacramental life for the salvation of souls.

Consider, for example:
  • The failure to preach about Humanae Vitae, anywhere, ever, by almost anyone;
  • The continued promotion of The Tablet, as though it were a Catholic journal, despite its dissent from Humanae Vitae;
  • The Filochowski/Pendergast scandal, when +Crowley was prepared to celebrate a Mass in honour of the 25 year anniversary of a homosexual relationship - a Mass eventually celebrated by the then-Rector of Ushaw Seminary, and attended by the bishop;
  • The failure of the Conference to back up +Egan’s important statement that politicians who voted against Catholic teaching should repent before presenting themselves for Holy Communion; 
  • The way in which  ++Nichols supports the 'Queering The Church'-led LGBT Masses; and the fact that his only clear statement on the subject was to tell those who questioned this policy to 'hold their tongues;'
  • ++Nichols' saying that talking about sin was a misguided attempt to motivate people;
  • The failure of  CES to hold anything approaching a Catholic line, and the appointment to it of a man who as an MP had voted consistently in ways that are diametrically opposed to Catholic teaching on, for example, abortion, contraception, 'gay' relationships etc.;
  • The Conference’s stance in favour of Civil Partnerships, which, it seems to me, paved the way for the disaster of Same Sex ‘Marriage;’
  • Catholic Marriage Care offering relationship support to homosexual couples;
  • The failure to correct the public statements of people like Professor Beattie, when she opines that Catholics may, in good conscience, ignore the teaching of the Church on matters of sexual morality;
  • The episcopal silence as Cafod has drifted away from Catholic principles (eg redefining abstinence in ways that are far from Catholic, and promoting condoms);
  • Personal conversations I have had with various bishops; for example one bishop (now retired, when I lived in another diocese) who told me that the Catholic Schools couldn’t teach the Faith, because many parents didn’t follow it, and their children might think they were doing something wrong.
  • The hostility shown toward +O'Donoghue for his 'Fit for Mission' project: praised by the Vatican, he was disappointed by the response of his brother bishops;
  • The welcome extended to the dissenting group ACTA and the contrasting hostility displayed to those who seek to defend the traditional Faith;
  • The promotion of educational programmes that are at best deficient and at worst heretical for use in our schools;
  • The silence around the whole +Conry affair;
  • The silence when +Conry was denigrating Confession (and his many other misrepresentations of the Catholic Faith);
  • The fact that +Conry's deliberate failure to teach on sexual morality was not noticed - because he was not the only bishop to be refraining from such teaching;
  • The '+Conry shrug' (exemplified in the link in my last post, but also practiced by ++Nichols when asked whether the Church would eventually bless homosexual unions);
  • The equivocation we hear from so many bishops whenever we might expect a clear explanation of any difficult aspect of the Faith.
Of course, I may be joining the dots in the wrong way when tempted to doubt some of our bishops with regard to their adherence to the Church's teaching; as I noted in my previous post, another explanation could be that some are actually under the power of someone else, who has the dirt on them. 

In either case, I would be dishonest if I did not say that my trust in many of  them is seriously undermined, and I do not believe I am alone in that.

As I suggested in my earlier post on trust, I think that in order for someone to trust someone else, they must believe in his good intentions, his competence to deliver them, and his integrity. When it comes to many of our bishops, somewhere in that mix something is missing.

When seeking to re-build trust, open and honest communication are essential. So I would suggest that the hierarchy needs to be open and honest at this time.

For myself, I would particularly welcome a few assurances:
  • That each member of the hierarchy accepts without reservation the teaching of the Church, especially and explicitly including the teachings on human sexuality and on original and personal sin, the unique role of the Catholic Church as the one true Church, the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, and the need for sacramental confession;
  • That each member of the hierarchy swears that he teaches and acts free from any duress or blackmail;
  • That each member of the hierarchy states what he has learned from the +Conry affair, and what he personally will undertake to do to avoid the risk of any recurrence.

That is what I would welcome: however I have no reason to expect it will come to pass.

Which raises the question: what are the faithful to do when they no longer trust many of their bishops?



Monday, 6 October 2014

More on Ignorance, and other, darker, matters

I have been brooding more on ignorance, and particularly what one might call 'tactical ignorance.' (I do like finding ever-more evocative adjectives to place in front of 'ignorance').

Remember this?




Bishop Conry is asked whether the Church might quietly change its mind in a hundred years' time (on the impossibility of ordaining women to the priesthood). He replies: 'Well, according to Pope John Paul the Second this was a definitive statement, wasn't it. But, um, I couldn't possibly comment.' (chuckle). It is the knowing chuckle that gets me every time. He is joined in it by the interviewer and the other interviewee, one Professor Beattie...


It reminded me of another profession of ignorance: 


Stephen Sackur: Some of their (ie CofE) vicars are also prepared to sanction gay unions. That church is showing flexibility. Is the Catholic church not going to have to do the same eventually?


+Nichols: I don't know. Who knows what's down the road?

It seems to me that in both cases, a profession of ignorance was used tactically, to avoid giving a straight answer. 

And again I was reminded of the incident in St Luke, Chapter 20, to which I referred yesterday.

Could it really be that our bishops (on ex- and one now a cardinal) both used this tactic to avoid saying (or even teaching) the truth? And if so, was that for fear of what the people might say if they told the truth?  Or, for fear of revealing that they really don't believe aspects of the Faith it is their vocation and duty to uphold?

These are worrying questions.

Unfortunately they are not the full extent of my current worries.

I have also been reflecting on the start of my brother's illustrious career in Her Majesty's Armed Forces. Many years ago, when he was undertaking his initial officer training, he was asked if there were anything in his background which might be an embarrassment (or worse) to him, should it come to light later.

The MOD made it clear than anything confessed now, unless a serious criminal issue, would not stand in his way; but that it was essential that he did confess anything of that nature. As he explained it to me, it was to ensure that he could never be the subject of moral duress or blackmail. So he owned up to having been a regular at a pub where plenty of dope was smoked, and to having smoked some himself.

He was reminded that he should not do so any more, and that was that. And, as I say, he subsequently had an illustrious career, and, I am sure, was never compromised in his duty to his Queen or Country by any shadow from the past.

And so we return to the subject of the hierarchy in this country. We know from his own admission, that +Conry allowed his illicit affairs to affect his  behaviour in office: he refrained from preaching on sexual morality. We also know that ++O'Brien was only 'outed' when he offended his former lovers by preaching in a way they didn't like.

We also know that many other odd things are said, done, glossed over or permitted by other members of the hierarchy. We know that reports of +Conry's misbehaviour were submitted to the highest levels: and yet we hear of the 'shock' of the news of his resignation and the reasons for it.  

All of which raises the question, how are we to trust our bishops?

How can we be confident that when ++Nichols (to take an example at random, you understand) refuses to teach clearly that the Church can never sanction gay unions, or permits the scandalous dissident LGBT Masses, that he is doing so in good conscience? Is it not at least conceivable that he is under duress? That someone, somewhere has something on him?

When our letters are unanswered, is it because the poor bishop has so many letters from so many nutters, that he simply can't get through them all? Or is it because we have asked questions to which he really does not wish to give an answer?

We really should not have to think like that about our hierarchy: but that seems to me (and not only to me) to be, as the unlovely phrase has it, the situation in which we find ourselves.

Of course, there are those amongst the hierarchy who do not excite such suspicions: I do not want to tar all of them with this very sticky brush. There are some who teach and preach the Faith without equivocation, and whom nobody has any reason to suspect knew anything of these murky affairs. And then there are the others. 

We must pray for all our bishops, of course. Naturally enough, the Devil will always seek to attack the Holy Father and the bishops as a priority: I am quite sure that they are subject to spiritual assault far beyond anything I can imagine. Nonetheless, in this instance prayer is not enough. We need to make clear to CBCEW what we expect: and that includes apologies, explanations, and reform. We need to know that they have learned from these terrible debacles, and they need to earn our trust again.

EF Mass Times in Lancs: October

Once again I forgot to post this at the start of the month...


UPDATED:


Please note, there will no longer be a First Sunday Mass at Christ the King, Harraby, Carlisle.

Saturday October 11th at 10.00 am Motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Our Lady & St Wilfrid, Warwick Bridge, Carlisle


Sunday October 12th at 6.00 pm (Sung Mass) Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Our Lady & St Joseph, Carlisle


Sunday October 19th at 3.00 pm Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost St Peter's Cathedral, Lancaster


Shrine Church of St Walburge, Preston Saturdays & Sundays: 10.30 am Sung Mass; Mondays – Friday: 12 noon Low Mass


Mass is also celebrated every Sunday at 8.30 am at St Mary Magdalene, Leyland Road, Penwortham and 11.30 am at St Catherine Labouré, Stanifield Lane, Leyland.