Month: November 2013

Distraction while saying the rosary

What catches my eye when I’m in the middle of the Glorious  Mysteries.



Succulents on stoep end nov 13


Against cherry-picking

Nightmarish morning of  looking at  the Catholic bloggers just  cherry-picking Evangelii gaudium quotations relevant to America or the UK or their pet hobby horse. It is  so lopsided  when theologically untrained or politically blinkered First World bloggers come to think of themselves as  moral theologians or able to speak with any authority on how to read a document that is primarily and especially concerned with the poor. When I raced through the Apostolic Exhortation yesterday and  highlighted passages that  delighted or  challenged me, it was just a lay reader plunging into a text for the first time. I would cringe to think of anyone feeling I was  singling out those passages as more worthy of note than others or that I was presenting any kind of guide to reading a text emerging from a synod of bishops with (one hopes) detailed and  up-to-date understanding of their own dioceses, parishes and parts of the world and  what might be needed. And  Pope Francis not just synthesising these defined priorities, but making them his own,  emphasising  what is closest to his heart but in am embracing, inclusive and paradoxical manner.


Blogging is always partial, personal, provisional. I  shudder to think of ‘selected’ Catholic bloggers getting embargoed  material beforehand ( as has been suggested) and what these opinionated and ignorant lay bloggers might make of such a privilege. Why shouldn’t crowds of the poor of favelas or  refugee settlements get to hear  the Joy of the Gospel before others? Why not Catholic scholars who have  spent years studying traditions and teachings?


Ugh, ugh, ugh.


The best  commentary for me so far has been by the respected  and thoughtful insider John Allen.

Though he doesn’t lay out a comprehensive blueprint for reform, he goes beyond mere hints to fairly blunt indications of direction:

  • He calls for a “conversion of the papacy,” saying he wants to promote “a sound decentralization” and candidly admitting that in recent years “we have made little progress” on that front.
  • He suggests that bishops’ conferences ought to be given “a juridical status … including genuine doctrinal authority.” In effect, that would amount to a reversal of a 1998 Vatican ruling under John Paul II that only individual bishops in concert with the pope, and not episcopal conferences, have such authority.
  • Francis says the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak,” insisting that “the doors of the sacraments” must not “be closed for simply any reason.” His language could have implications not only for divorced and remarried Catholics, but also calls for refusing the Eucharist to politicians or others who do not uphold church teaching on some matters.
  • He calls for collaborative leadership, saying bishops and pastors must use “the means of participation proposed in the Code of Canon Law and other forms of pastoral dialogue, out of a desire to listen to everyone and not simply to those who would tell him what he would like to hear.”
  • Francis criticizes forces within the church who seem to lust for “veritable witch hunts,” asking rhetorically, “Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?”
  • He cautions against “ostentatious preoccupation” for liturgy and doctrine as opposed to ensuring that the Gospel has “a real impact” on people and engages “the concrete needs of the present time.”

On two specific matters, however, Francis rules out change: the ordination of women to the priesthood, though he calls for “a more incisive female presence” in decision-making roles, and abortion.

Francis says the church’s defense of unborn life “cannot be expected to change” because it’s “closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right.”

The pope’s toughest language comes in a section of the document arguing that solidarity with the poor and the promotion of peace are constituent elements of what it means to be a missionary church.

Francis denounces what he calls a “crude and naïve trust” in the free market, saying that left to its own devices, the market too often fosters a “throw-away culture” in which certain categories of people are seen as disposable. He rejects what he describes as an “invisible and almost virtual” economic “tyranny.”

Specifically, Francis calls on the church to oppose spreading income inequality and unemployment, as well as to advocate for stronger environmental protection and against armed conflict.


A dream to live by.

The Joy of the Gospels

The excitement of reading Evangelii gaudium, the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis in 2013.


I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with him. As John Paul II once said to the Bishops of Oceania: “All renewal in the Church must have mission as its goal if it is not to fall prey to a kind of ecclesial introversion”.


Hearing a voice both familiar and new, unmistakeably that of Francis himself and speaking through the  Chair of Peter, saying what needs to be said and heard.


Let us go forth, then, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ. Here I repeat for the entire Church what I have often said to the priests and laity of Buenos Aires: I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat”

Speaking out against the idolatry sacralised in the First World:

One cause of this situation is found in our relationship with money, since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.

And the  understanding of Africa:

In the prevailing culture, priority is given to the outward, the immediate, the visible, the quick, the superficial and the provisional. What is real gives way to appearances. In many countries globalization has meant a hastened deterioration of their own cultural roots and the invasion of ways of thinking and acting proper to other cultures which are economically advanced but ethically debilitated. This fact has been brought up by bishops from various continents in different Synods. The African bishops, for example, taking up the Encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, pointed out years ago that there have been frequent attempts to make the African countries “parts of a machine, cogs on a gigantic wheel. This is often true also in the field of social communications which, being run by centres mostly in the northern hemisphere, do not always give due consideration to the priorities and problems of such countries or respect their cultural make-up”.[57] By the same token, the bishops of Asia “underlined the external influences being brought to bear on Asian cultures. New patterns of behaviour are emerging as a result of over-exposure to the mass media… As a result, the negative aspects of the media and entertainment industries are threatening traditional values, and in particular the sacredness of marriage and the stability of the family”.


Worldliness of two kinds (how Ignatian!)

This worldliness can be fuelled in two deeply interrelated ways. One is the attraction of gnosticism, a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which ultimately keep one imprisoned in his or her own thoughts and feelings. The other is the self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism of those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying. In neither case is one really concerned about Jesus Christ or others. These are manifestations of an anthropocentric immanentism. It is impossible to think that a genuine evangelizing thrust could emerge from these adulterated forms of Christianity.


The trickiest section perhaps? On women

The Church acknowledges the indispensable contribution which women make to society through the sensitivity, intuition and other distinctive skill sets which they, more than men, tend to possess. I think, for example, of the special concern which women show to others, which finds a particular, even if not exclusive, expression in motherhood. I readily acknowledge that many women share pastoral responsibilities with priests, helping to guide people, families and groups and offering new contributions to theological reflection. But we need to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church. Because “the feminine genius is needed in all expressions in the life of society, the presence of women must also be guaranteed in the workplace”[72] and in the various other settings where important decisions are made, both in the Church and in social structures.


104. Demands that the legitimate rights of women be respected, based on the firm conviction that men and women are equal in dignity, present the Church with profound and challenging questions which cannot be lightly evaded. The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion, but it can prove especially divisive if sacramental power is too closely identified with power in general. It must be remembered that when we speak of sacramental power “we are in the realm of function, not that of dignity or holiness”.[73] The ministerial priesthood is one means employed by Jesus for the service of his people, yet our great dignity derives from baptism, which is accessible to all. The configuration of the priest to Christ the head – namely, as the principal source of grace – does not imply an exaltation which would set him above others. In the Church, functions “do not favour the superiority of some vis-à-vis the others”.[74] Indeed, a woman, Mary, is more important than the bishops. Even when the function of ministerial priesthood is considered “hierarchical”, it must be remembered that “it is totally ordered to the holiness of Christ’s members”.[75] Its key and axis is not power understood as domination, but the power to administer the sacrament of the Eucharist; this is the origin of its authority, which is always a service to God’s people. This presents a great challenge for pastors and theologians, who are in a position to recognize more fully what this entails with regard to the possible role of women in decision-making in different areas of the Church’s life.


Words which set hearts on fire

Dialogue is much more than the communication of a truth. It arises from the enjoyment of speaking and it enriches those who express their love for one another through the medium of words. This is an enrichment which does not consist in objects but in persons who share themselves in dialogue. A preaching which would be purely moralistic or doctrinaire, or one which turns into a lecture on biblical exegesis, detracts from this heart-to-heart communication which takes place in the homily and possesses a quasi-sacramental character: “Faith come from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ” (Rom 10:17). In the homily, truth goes hand in hand with beauty and goodness. Far from dealing with abstract truths or cold syllogisms, it communicates the beauty of the images used by the Lord to encourage the practise of good. The memory of the faithful, like that of Mary, should overflow with the wondrous things done by God. Their hearts, growing in hope from the joyful and practical exercise of the love which they have received, will sense that each word of Scripture is a gift before it is a demand.

50 years since…

Enough on Kennedy. It is 50 years since CS Lewis died.


Michael Gerson’s appreciation of Lewis ion the Washington Post:

What if all of the ancient, recurring myths of the human race, all the yearnings of prophets and sages for the touch of God, for a visit from God, were not just the lies of poets but the hints and rumors of another world? In this account, our deepest, unsatisfied desires for joy, meaning and homecoming are not cruel jokes of nature. They are meant for fulfillment. What we desire most, said Lewis, are “the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”


Alister McGrath on Lewis the convert and apologist:

Lewis himself was an atheist as a younger man, convinced of the fundamental irrationality of faith and its incapacity to accommodate the brutality and senselessness of the Great War, in which he fought from 1917-18. Yet Lewis’s decision to limit himself to a rationalist worldview proved to be imaginatively sterile and uninteresting, leaving him existentially dissatisfied. It became clear to Lewis that pure reason offered him a bleak intellectual landscape that he could not bear to inhabit. Yet this, his reason insisted, was all that there was. To believe otherwise was pure fantasy. Lewis’s imagination taught him that there had to be more. “Nearly all that I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real I thought grim and meaningless.”

Lewis’s study of English literature, especially the poetry of George Herbert, left him with gnawing doubts about his atheism. Herbert and others seemed able to connect up with a world that Lewis was tempted to dismiss as illusory, yet which haunted his imagination. “On the one side, a many-islanded sea of poetry and myth; on the other, a glib and shallow rationalism.” Might, Lewis wondered, the deepest intuitions of his imagination challenge the shallow truths of his reason? And even triumph over it?


CS Lewis himself:

CS Lewis

Remembering John Tavener

Such piercing beauty: John Tavener’s The Lamb, a choral setting from William Blake.




The British composer John Tavener  died in early November and there are s everal  tributes to him online.


From Tom Service in the Guardian:

Tavener’s is an essentially spiritual music, but in a much more intellectuallyfearless way than his detractors think. He wanted his music to tap into a region beyond conventional understanding – “I wanted to produce music that was the sound of God. That’s what I have always tried to do” – but increasingly, his music offered doubt and darkness in its evocation of that unknowable vastness instead of a comforting musical palliative.

In 2007, Tavener suffered a heart attack in Switzerland that almost killed him. When he recovered, he was living in a new world of constant pain and shortness of breath. He found himself responding instinctively to music of terse difficulty that had previously not attracted him – late Beethoven, Karlheinz Stockhausen – and rediscovering the music that had inspired him to become a composer as a child, Stravinsky and Mozart.

When I last saw him, Tavener spoke of his recent music, such as his version of Tolstoy’s nihilistic The Death of Ivan Ilyich, which was premiered at this year’s Manchester Festival, as epiphanies of pain transfigured into music.