Monday, 29 June 2015

Adrian Pabst at Porta Fidei

The first speaker at the excellent Porta Fidei conference was Adrian Pabst. He set the context for the whole day with a wide ranging survey of the context within which we need to consider Catholic Education in this country.

He started by exploring contemporary society and in particular contemporary liberalism.  He traced an interesting convergence between the new left and the new right, with social liberty and economic liberty converging  to promote a view of freedom that means one can do just as one likes. Equality, he pointed out, has come to mean a new form of sameness: we are all subject to the same societal norms, and these are often the norms of minorities.

Behind the modern liberal individualism, then, lurks social cultural conformism: we are all consumers.  He also mentioned that this is nothing new, citing de Tocqueville’s observation in the US in the 18th century: the most free, yet the most conformist of countries…

Thus we have choices, but the conditions of those choices are never debated. And that is where the new left and the new right are most similar, not least as they ignore inherited ethics and the associated customs of society.

At the heart of this liberal tradition is indifference to notions of truth and goodness; and so ‘rights’ replace the Common Good, and as objective fact is separated from subjective reality, people become mere cogs in the system. All values are seen as subjective as we collectively slide into sophistry, with truth at the service of power, giving rise to artificial constructs like the ‘Social Contract.’

This results in a world view that is contrary to Catholic tradition, being fragmented and atomised; and that is no accident. But this world view flows from decisions, not knowledge; whether it is Rousseau’s decision to be pessimistic about social life, or Hobbes’ to be pessimistic about the individual; or Protestantism’s view that we are depraved by the Fall (rejecting the Catholic notion of the transformative impact of the Incarnation which now operates through the Sacraments and gives us the power to do good works). All those strands of thought lead to the same place, the liberal assumption that both society and individuals need to be saved by their political philosophy – that we need a Social Contract.

He then sketched out some of the implications of this liberal philosophy. In the first place, Liberalism redefines how we understand life; it is no longer a gift but a choice; therefore will and artifice dominate the idea of a telos, a meaning or purpose beyond our own wills.

That in turn leads to a focus on individual rights and on social utility.  Education is not seen merely as a benefit to the individual, but also to the State, pursuing a utilitarian calculus. So education is no longer about truth, character and virtues; the Social and Natural Sciences are all utilitarian, and the arts and humanities have no value (and this is reflected in current policy trends…)

And so we are left with a mass education that doesn’t benefit individuals or society, but is full of half-truths and propaganda, creating fake desires to fuel the hedonism on which our society is increasingly based. If you don’t buy into the popular culture, you are not only seen as weird, but as someone who may need to be constrained.

The emergent ‘multicultural meritocracy’ leads to a self-righteous moralism, in which people imagine they have got whatever they have through merit, and therefore deserve what they get. The natural fruit of this is an elite that is so self-assured that it can justify whatever rewards it can gain for itself.

A Catholic Education, Pabst maintains, should be different. It should seek to link soul, brain and body, to be about truth and goodness, to promote virtue, and to teach how universal truths may be applied in particular ways.

A key question for Catholic Education is How do we form Virtue? A first step is to do away with false dualisms. For example, we should blend the hierarchy of the wise and learned, with equality of participation of the learners (who may, of course, in the fullness of time become the wise and the learned) with the intention of transmitting wisdom.

Likewise the government should not direct education in its minutiae, but nor should it abdicate its responsibility, but rather uphold the common good, by providing guidelines and promoting true subsidiarity.

At tertiary level, the relentless specialisation needs to end, so that scientists study the arts, too; and that we recognise the value of vocational training and education over Micky Mouse degrees that leave students with nothing except a huge debt.

At secondary level, a restrictive and prescriptive curriculum is very problematic; guidelines and local decisions would be a better model. Recruitment, training and employment conditions for teachers all need to be improved. And a key question for Faith Schools is How can we be a model that others will want to follow?

In short,  Liberalism is not oriented to the Common Good: that should be our distinctive contribution.

Inevitably, I have reconstructed the themes of this presentation from my notes and my memory, so apologise now for over-simplifying what was a very rich presentation, and particularly if I have inadvertently misrepresented it in any way.

I understand it may be published in due course and will certainly link to that.

But I did find it a very thoughtful analysis, which provided an excellent context for the rest of the day’s discussions – to which I will return in future posts.

Sts Peter and Paul

Here is the Alleluia for today's Feast:

And here are three contrasting polyphonic versions of Tu Es Petrus.  The first is possibly the most famous, by Palestrina.

The second is by one of my favourite modern composers, Maurice Duruflé.  The third is by James Macmillan, at the Papal Mass in Westminster Cathedral.

Happy Feast Day!




Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram ædificabo ecclesiam meam et portæ inferi non prævalebunt adversus eam. Et tibi dabo claves regni cælorum.

Thou art Peter and upon this rock, I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against her; and I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

Remember to pray for our Holy Father, Pope Francis today - and every day.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Cardinal Kasper pontificates

OK, let's look at this...

Christopher Lamb of The Tablet has written the following, which I thought worthy of comment (my comments interpolated in red).

The Catholic Church has behaved like Pontius Pilate with regards to Catholics who are divorced and remarried, a prominent cardinal has said.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, who has called for remarried divorcees to be admitted to Communion, told the French daily Le Figaro that the Church has sought to “wash its hands of a difficult problem”.

Strangely, the Church has not sought to 'wash its hands' of this problem. That would imply a refusal to offer clear judgement, and passing the decision on to others. The Church, in fact, has clearly and consistently taught on this issue, cf (for example) Familiaris Consortio.

In an interview that was published on the same day as the Vatican released the working document for October’s Synod on the Family, the cardinal said: “if God is merciful, then the Church must be.”

Indeed: and the Church must be merciful in the same way that God is merciful. The Church follows Christ: naming sin for what it is, loving sinners, and calling them to repentance.

Cardinal Kasper explained that a lot of bishops who don’t make “much noise” have told him they are in favour of a shift in church teaching regarding the treatment of civilly remarried Catholics.

'A shift in teaching regarding the treatment of...' Weasel words. Why doesn't he say what really means, which is a shift in teaching regarding the indissolubility of marriage? 

He said the key question for the remarried divorcees receiving Communion was whether there was “grave sin”, and to clarify this, a dialogue with the individual was needed, he said.

He is correct in the first proposition: that is the key question; and the answer is yes. He is incorrect in the second proposition: no amount of dialogue can convert sin into not-sin. He is failing to distinguish between the objective and the subjective.

The cardinal added that the Church had been given the power by Christ to decide whether this was the case.

He is correct again: the Church has been given that power and has decided, in line with Christ's clear teaching. What the Church cannot do is reverse such a decision.

This has echoes with an interview the Archbishop of Accra, Charles Palmer-Buckle, gave earlier this year where he reflected on Matthew 16:19, in which Jesus says to Peter: “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven,” and pronounces: “Whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

“The Church can therefore loose or bind because this lawful power has been given it by Christ,” Kasper said.

And the Church has exercised that power. What Kasper and his followers want is in fact to reverse what the Church, using that power, has already decided and taught for centuries, based on the clear teachings of Christ and St Paul.

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle cited a Protestant friend who interpreted this passage to show that Christ gave them the power to unbind people in some marriages.

When they seek Protestant interpretations of the Bible to inform Catholic teaching in ways contrary to Catholic Tradition, we know they are scraping the barrel.

“I think we are going to look at what ‘the power of the keys’ could mean in this context,” the Ghanaian prelate told the Aletelia news website.

Good luck with that...

Ahead of last year’s synod Cardinal Kasper put forward proposals for admitting the divorced and remarried to Communion, and Pope Francis has praised a book the cardinal has written on mercy.

But reports of the Holy Father's support for Cardinal Kasper's proposals appear to have been greatly exaggerated. I have a feeling that ++Kasper, his fellow travellers and the Tablet will all be disappointed by the outcomes of the Synod.


But don't rely on that; remember SPES: Supplication and Penance for the Episcopal Synod.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Reasons I Oppose the Kasperite Adultery Proposals

There are many reasons I am profoundly opposed to the proposals to allow 'the divorced and civilly remarried' to be invited to receive Holy Communion whilst living in a public state of mortal sin.

Here are a few. I had intended to write a brief paragraph about each of them, but on reflection, I think that they are pretty self explanatory.

Our Lord's word

Constant Tradition of the Church

Bad for them

Bad for abandoned spouse

Bad for abandoned children

Bad for new partner

Bad for children of new relationship

Bad for other Couples

Bad for other Catholics

Bad for non-Catholics

Bad for the Church

Bad for Evangelisation

Bad for Successive Generations

Dishonest Content of Proposals

Dishonest Process

Bad Precedent: Embeds False Ideas in Praxis

Driven by the World, the Flesh and the Devil...


See also: The Mythology of Re-Marriage

and: Underestimating the Love and Compassion of God 

Sunday, 7 June 2015


It was, I suppose, inevitable. I posted some critical comments about the choir at Thursday's Mass. Jonathan and I had already arranged to sing tonight's. You can probably write the rest of the story yourself, in outline.

The detail was that firstly, Jonathan was delayed, so not only did we not have time for the planned final run-through, but also I sang the Asperges on my own. And that was fine.

But for some reason, I then launched confidently into the Gradual, rather than the Introit. I have never done such a thing before, and hope never to do so again. Jonathan was understandably puzzled, but sang along until I realised my mistake, when we stopped and sang the Introit.

Then I managed to play the intonation for the Gloria so badly that Father was thrown, got off to a false start, stopped, and then waited for me to give him the intonation again... (in fairness, playing the keyboard on an iPad is never that comfortable).

Then when we got to the Gradual in its proper place, I managed to wander all over the place in the verse (which I had learned well and practiced assiduously).  Providentially, I managed to get back towards something of a stable key and recognisable melody in time to cue Jonathan's entry at the end, but it was not my finest hour.

The Alleluia went all right, and after that we settled down a bit and the rest of the Mass was sung without further major mishap.

Nonetheless, it did feel like a severe dose of Murphy's Law... 

More Chartres Reflections

One of the many great things about the Chartres pilgrimage is that three days away from ordinary life, with none of the usual distractions, provides a great opportunity to reflect.

Given the nature of the pilgrimage, which is arduous by most modern standards, it is perhaps not surprising that one reflects on the link between discomfort and the spiritual life.

Why is it good to make oneself uncomfortable? I am sure that I say more recollected rosaries in a warm church, or at home, than I do during the ninth hour of a ten hour march.  I am sure that I am more attentive at many Masses than at the final Mass in Chartres Cathedral, when exhaustion catches up with me.

And yet, both theory and experience teach us that mortification of the senses is essential to the spiritual life.

In the first instance, of course, it is simply a matter of the Imitation of Christ. Particularly walking through the countryside, and sleeping in a field (albeit under canvas) is immediately reminiscent of Our Lord's journeyings and nights spent (for example) in the Garden of Olives.

But there is something else, too. It so easy, when comfortable, to accommodate oneself, bit by bit, to the world; to feel at home there. The world, the flesh... the devil...

The rigours and discomforts of a pilgrimage scrape away that veneer of comfort, so that afterwards:

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods. 

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Is Our Liturgy Focused on God or Man?

On Corpus Christi (the Holy Father's version, not ++Nichols') there was the second of the Faith on Tap series of meetings in Carlisle.

This one featured the Dominican, Fr Lawrence Lew, talking on Is Our Liturgy Focused on God or Man?

I was unavoidably late (due to attending the Corpus Christi Mass down the road), and missed the first 15 minutes or so of his address.  Nonetheless, what I did hear was excellent.

Some of the snippets I remember are his talking about a Marian approach to liturgy: contemplative, pondering in our heart, humility to accept what the Church gives us; and recognising the power of liturgy to overcome the poisoned air of the world, like the nard, which was almost a type of Our Lord: filling the atmosphere with sweetness.

He also quoted Cardinal Sarah, on the fact that it is not up to us to change the liturgy to suit ourselves. And then he asked why Cardinal Sarah even had to say that, given that Vatican 2 says it, and every subsequent pope (with the exception of John Paul I for the obvious reason) had repeated the same idea. 

He also discussed the place of beauty in the liturgy: not mere decoration, but essential as communicative of the truth that God is beauty. He cited St Francis of Assisi, who told his friars to dress themselves in rags, but never Christ; and the Oxford movement, who recognised that the poor need beauty too.  He went on to distinguish that from the kind of aestheticism that Dietrich von Hildebrand warned against - which might be typified by the person who looks at the music list at various Churches every week, before deciding which one to favour with his presence...

In fact, he pointed out, the liturgy requires not aestheticism, but asceticism: we must die to ourselves.

He also cited Pope Francis, who sees Idolatry as the opposite of Faith, and reminds us that we must conform ourselves to Christ, not vice versa. Fr Lew even said that in choosing hymns, rather than singing the proper Introit, Offertory and Communion texts given us by the Church is somewhat self-indulgent. A Marian dimension, he suggested, means that we must ponder in our hearts the given text (and music) not impose our own preferences. To celebrate the liturgy properly is to make ourselves open to what God wants to teach us, not to select what we want to sing...

He also touched on Orientation, and reminded us that the current Missal assumes that the priest faces East - which, of course, is not because God is 'over there' but for our benefit: to remind us that we all face East in the expectation of Christ's Second Coming.

He recalled his childhood: raised in the Plymouth Brethren, and later attending Pentecostal services: where spontaneity (at least on the part of those in charge) was the order of the day. And he highlighted how foreign that was to Christ's experience and the formation of the Jewish people - and the early Christians, as we can see from the writings of St Justin Martyr, and, of course, St Paul.

So all in all, an excellent evening, and kudos to Fr Michael Docherty for organinsing it.

The next in this excellent series is on 2nd July, when Dr Caroline Hull, of Aid to the Church in Need, will talk on: Christianity in the Middle East: How long will it last?