Saturday, 18 April 2015

The primary importance of Family and State

There are particular societies that correspond more directly to the nature of man principally the family and the state. Both these principal societies are essential to man’s well-being.

The promotion of voluntary associations and institutions are to be encouraged in order encourage the maximum amount of participation by all people. These can be on a national or international scale. The associations are instrumental in developing the qualities of the person, not least initiative, responsibility and the guarantee of rights.

However there are also dangers. Excessive interference and intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. So the Church teaches the principle of subsidiarity:

…a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.  CA 48.4

Leaders of societies: the way God acts in governing the world should be the principle by which all governing by human authorities should be based: God does not reserve to Himself the exercise of all power. God entrusts to every creature its own powers that are proper to it. And so it is that human authorities should delegate power to those competent and gifted to exercise it. Thus human authorities and leaders should be ministers of divine providence.

This principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. There are to be limits to state intervention. It should aim at harmony between individuals and societies, and tend toward order and peace.

Fr Ian

Friday, 17 April 2015

The human person must be the principle, subject and end of all social institutions

Any human society is a group of persons bound together by a principle of unity that goes beyond any individual member. A society is at once both spiritual and visible. It endures through time: it has a history and traditions, and it prepares for the future. One rightly owes loyalty to the communities of which we are a part and respect those in authority who have charge over the common good.

Of course each community has its own purposes and thus its own rules, but the Church teaches that the human person ought to be the principle, the subject and the end of all social institutions. 

So, for example, money should not be the subject of society nor its end. If we hear a politician suggest that wealth creation is the goal of public policy then we should hesitate supporting them. Wealth creation isn’t bad per se, as long as it is a means only to the good of human persons. 

We should also be careful about supporting politicians whose policies seem to suggest that the state is more important than the human person (extreme socialism or communism is a form of this). And a further danger can be seen in promoting an ideology above the good of persons (e.g. some environmentalists promote population strategies which are at the expense of human persons).

So the principle of all human community is the human person, and its subject and its end.

Fr Ian

Does the Church’s Teaching have anything to say about politics and the policies of governments?

Yes it does!

Basic principles

We realise that the Church teaches about morals, about what is right and wrong etc. This is the Moral teaching of the Church which we call Life in Christ. It is one of the four pillars of the Church and therefore one of the four sections in the Catechism (Part 3 – Life in Christ). However what many Catholics either forget or do not realise is that this moral teaching is not just about personal conduct, but also about our life in human community.

The Church’s teaching about human community reflects the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The Holy Trinity is the perfect communion of divine Persons. Without going into the technical theological details, suffice to say, no divine Person (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) of the Trinity lives in isolation from the other Persons. Between each Person there is a constant, everlasting flow of life. And as human beings are made in the image of God, who is Trinity, so we human persons are made for communion.

The fraternity, which all human beings are called to, resembles the relationship of the Three Holy Persons of the Trinity. This is expressed in, amongst other ways, the intimate connection between the commandment to love God and the commandment to love one’s neighbour. Both are necessary and interconnected.

The human person needs to live in society. Society is not an added extra which one can partake of if one cares to; it is a requirement of human nature. Participation in society develops our potential as human beings, through interaction with others, through mutual service and through dialogue. So it is in society the person responds to his vocation.

Next blog: The human person is the principle, subject and end of all social institutions.

Fr Ian

Looking for inspiration regarding voting?

This last week I attended the hustings at the Central Methodist Church of our parliamentary candidates for Sutton and Devonport Ward. Some people there had already decided for whom they would vote and came to support them. But many, like me, attended to in order to make a responsible decision about the person who should represent this part of the world in the decisions of the British Parliament.
Many questions were asked about various issues of policy. Sometimes it can be very confusing and overwhelming to make decisions based on all these diverse subjects. I think I could agree with at least one policy of all the parties represented at the hustings! So how are we to make sense of it?
Well I have no easy answers, but I do think Catholics ought to reflect on the Church’s teaching about human community (found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church). In the following blog posts I propose to outline in my own words what that teaching is, so that you can allow the teaching of the Church to illuminate your own thinking. It may also be of help to those who are politically active, as it can give a theological basis to some aspects of public policy, or give a faith based challenge to other policies.
May Christ the light illuminate the darkness of our minds so that we may have the wisdom to make the right decisions in the forthcoming elections.
Fr Ian

A difficult teaching to accept

The multiplication of loaves is the only miracle (except the Resurrection of course) that is recorded in all four gospels. We can assume therefore that it was extremely important to the early Christians. Perhaps it was more significant to them than it is for us? For us it might simply be a miracle story amongst many others. But should we think of it as being more than this?

So why was this miracle of multiplication of bread of such importance? The first thing to realise is that this miracle of the feeding of the multitude with bread was pointing towards the Eucharist. This is made very clear in St John’s Gospel for the account comes at the very beginning of the section that forms the basis of Catholic understanding of the Eucharist (John 6, especially vv.22-end). Out of compassion for the multitude that followed Him into the hills, Christ nourishes them with bread and fish. They are fed so that they were able to eat their fill.

The early Christians realised that in the Eucharist Christ Himself, through His priests, feeds the multitude with miraculous food. The risen Lord Himself comes to them in this feeding through the bread becoming His flesh. John’s Gospel makes this very clear by the rest of chapter 6. For our Lord calls Himself the “Bread of life” and says “the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Now it was clearly, at that time, a difficult teaching to accept (as it is still difficult for some Christians to accept today). We are told, in John 6, that many disciples turned away at this teaching; it was too hard to receive. But Jesus insists that “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” and, He says, they “abide in me”.

Another connection that John makes clear is that this multiplication miracle took place at the time of the Passover, and thus we remember that the Last Supper also was at the time of the Passover. For Christians the New Passover is the Eucharist, when Christ’s redemptive sacrifice on the cross is understood as the sacrifice of the eternal Passover lamb. And He is made present in the Mass in His self-offering of Himself in the transubstantiation of the bread and wine taken by the priest. His words at the Last Supper are repeated again, “This is my body”, and “This is my blood.” In many ways it could not be clearer, though it is of course difficult for us to accept without faith.

One detail perhaps should give us pause for thought. In all the miracles that Jesus performed, He always waits for and then accepts an act of faith (consisting of total self-giving) followed by the exercise of divine power. Here it is the trust that people place in Christ and their offering up of the five loaves and two fishes. Let us never forget that in every Mass a miracle occurs through divine power. And yes, we offer bread and wine, but our Lord also waits for us to offer ourselves to Him sacrificially. This total giving of self is what we should all be aiming at in each celebration of Mass and it is the key for the miracle of the Eucharist to be transformative in our lives.

Fr Ian

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Happy birthday Pope Emeritus Benedict!

The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham in the south-west greet our beloved Pope Emeritus on his 88th birthday today, wishing him every grace and blessing in the Lord Jesus.

Faith and faithfulness: two sides of the same coin

The incredibly humble character of John the Baptist (whom Christ called the greatest of men) leads him to contrast his own ministry with our Saviour’s, easily recognising his own poverty in contrast with our Saviour’s greatness. John uses the contrast between heaven and earth. John is from earth, he says, whereas Christ is from heaven. For John the priority is clear; we must have faith in the One whom God has sent from above, namely, our Saviour Jesus Christ. For Christ does not speak earthly words, but the word of God. And John says, the Father has given the Son the Holy Spirit without measure (Is 11:2), and the fullness of the Spirit’s graces (see Jn 1:16).

So John the Baptist establishes that we should be centred on Christ; it is from Him alone that we can receive grace upon grace, which is what we need to be saved. This we call Christocentrism – to be Christ-centred.

We ‘connect’ with Christ not just by listening to Him, but by having faith in Him. Now we need to be clear that from a Catholic point of view this is not merely an assent of the mind. It is not merely being able to say “I believe in Him”, and really feeling a sense of trust, or really thinking Christ has the answer to our problems. From the Catholic point of view saying or feeling that I have given my heart to Jesus is not enough! Faith is exercised when we trust God and entrust ourselves to Him. Faith involves both the assent of the mind and consent of the will. Faith can never be just an intellectual decision that exists independently of our behaviour (see James 2:14-16). Or to put it another way: faith and faithfulness are two sides of the same coin. That is why the prophet John says, “he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests on him.” (v36b)

It can be helpful to think of sinful deeds as effectively professing the opposite of faith: “I do not believe in God.” We can then begin to see the great significance of even the smallest sin, and that we need to battle against these as well as the big sins, for they are all effectively witnessing the same thing: “I do not believe in God.” When we sacrifice ourselves to grow in virtue then we effectively declare, “I truly believe in God.”

The battle against sin, and the promotion of virtue in our lives, is about conforming our will to that which we say we believe. We may say we believe in Jesus Christ our Saviour, but do our lives reflect this? The prophet John is clear we need to have faith and to be faithful in order to come to eternal life.

Fr Ian

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Is God cruel to allow a person to perish?

Church of the Mother of God of Kazan, Talyatti

It is not a lack of love, compassion or mercy on God’s part that a person effectively condemns them self so that they are deprived of eternal life. It seems like there are many people today who find it difficult to accept this. For some it seems that God must be cruel to allow anyone to perish. This affects, of course, their understanding of divine mercy, and their understanding of the gift of free will.

In many ways the gift of free will is a terrible gift! Well it is both terrible and amazing rolled into one! Made in the image and likeness of God, human beings are given the gift of free will. Even when their minds are darkened by ignorance and attachment to sin, they still possess free will (although it can be diminished greatly once we form vices or addictions). It is a divine gift for us to have the freedom to do the good thing, to do the right thing, to do the sacrificial thing – in other words to be able to love as God loves. Love cannot be coerced. Deeds of love cannot be compelled. Freedom is the freedom to do the divine will, the right thing. But freedom also enables us to fall, otherwise it would not be a freedom of will. This freedom is what makes us culpable for our actions done in freedom. And the choices we make shape our character. Repeated good acts encourage a virtuous character; repeated sinful acts encourages vice.

So in freedom we are capable of actions that can result in the end to a deprivation of eternal life, as our Lord says in the gospel today (Jn 3:18). Divine mercy is the offering to human beings of a way out, a way to turn their lives in a different direction. Divine mercy resulted in our redemption, so that now by choosing to receive and cooperate with the grace of God, we can repent, be forgiven, grow in virtue, find true happiness and by grace, come to eternal life.

But our Lord is not lacking in mercy by saying that judgement results from the acceptance or rejection of the divine light – which is Jesus Christ. If we prefer the dark because we want to hide our sins, then we reject the light and thus the judgement is deprivation of eternal life. This is merciful justice because we have had the chance to choose another path but rejected it.

(See also the Catechism: CCC 219, 444, 454, 458.)

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

United heart and soul

“The whole group of believers was united, heart and soul…” One of the striking descriptions of the early Church in the Acts of the Apostles was its unity. Such was this unity that they even shared all their possessions. Such was the effect of the Resurrection and descent of the Holy Spirit that those early disciples looked to the things above and saw the things of the earth in true perspective. We are told that none of the believers was in want, each had what they needed.

Of course this would be too hard to continue to organise within the Church as it began to expand so quickly through the gentile world. Nevertheless this outward sign of the priority of the things above would continue to be present through the ages in the communities of monks and nuns, and then later in the mendicant orders (e.g. Franciscans).

This unity of the believing community remains a firm characteristic of the Church. The unity of the Church is not something that believers give to the Church. Unity is not a goal but is in fact something the Church possesses as being intrinsic to her very nature. She is one because Christ is one. Christ is one because He is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

One of the problems with the Reformation is that in a way Protestants legitimated to themselves disunity. They reduced the criteria of unity to suite their situation. Unity became essentially an invisible thing, and it didn’t really matter that there were lots of separate groups of Protestants believing different things, because there was this invisible unity.

The Catholic Church refutes this understanding of unity. Unity is a characteristic of the Church which is the Body of Christ. Just as the Head and Body cannot be separated, so parts of the Body cannot be visibly separated either.

St Bede, in his homilies on the gospels, says, “The Spirit also comes of his own accord, because just as he is equal to the Father and the Son, so he has the same will in common with the Father and the Son.” St Bede was reflecting on the Spirit being likened to the wind which goes where it wills. What St Bede is reminding us is that this does not mean the Spirit is operating independently from the other two Persons of the Trinity. All three divine Persons are united. It is just that we, from our perspective, cannot fathom the mystery of the workings of the Holy Spirit.

So also in the Church there cannot be different versions of Christianity teaching different things as being true. There can be different cultural expressions of the truth but they must all be expressing the same deposit of faith. In the Catholic Church there is diversity of expression but one faith, because there is one teaching authority (the Magisterium). This teaching authority is Christ Himself teaching through those whom He gave authority to guide the Church in the truth (the Apostles with Peter as their head).

Of course it is possible for people to dissent from this teaching of the Church, but in doing so they are dissenting from the teaching of Christ. So let us pray for the unity of the Church, that all disciples of Christ may accept the authority of the Church to teach the truth which the Holy Spirit imparts through the Bishops in communion with the Successor of St Peter. United in faith the Church will then be able to be much more effective in its mission, just as the early Church was so effective.

Fr Ian