Friday, 24 April 2015

Social justice - equality and difference

All human beings are created by God in His image, and all are equally endowed with rational souls, have the same nature and the same origin. So from a Christian point of view, every human being, from the moment of conception unto death has equal dignity which is an intrinsic characteristic - nothing can take this dignity away. So it does not matter what moral status they have, it does not matter what sin they have committed, that person still has intrinsic dignity. This is the foundation for the catholic understanding of equality. It is not first about rights (which can be redefined by human courts) but about how we have been made by our creator. Furthermore Christ sacrificed Himself on the cross to redeem all men, so that all are called to participate in the same divine beatitude. Therefore all human beings enjoy equal dignity.

The problem in a secular world, which does not accept a creator God, is that the definition of what it is to be human can be changed. So it has become acceptable in most western nations for pre-born human beings to be terminated, if the mother wishes this to happen. The humanity of the pre-born child is now regarded to be a matter for a mother to decide, rather than it having, as it does for Catholics, an intrinsic dignity and status. What has also happened in western societies is that the definition of what it is to be human has been added to. So, for example, a prevailing desire of same-sex attraction in a person is regarded as an orientation now, which is regarded as intrinsic. This concept of intrinsic orientation opposes the Judeo-Christian understanding of the unity of soul and body; that the nature of our bodies united with our souls defines our sex, and the 'orientation' that God therefore intends. Redefining intrinsic human characteristics is the ultimate statement of arrogance by a state, and a very definite anti-Christian move.

Discrimination: Flowing from the equal dignity of all, are rights possessed by all. Each person has a right not to be discriminated socially or culturally on the grounds of sex, race, colour, social condition, language or religion. All these forms of discrimination are contrary to God’s design.

The Church calls us to celebrate God-given difference. Man has been made so that he is not equipped with everything he needs for his development in body or spirit. He needs others. This is perhaps expressed most clearly between men and women. They are different but called to live in harmony which is possible by charity. The Sacrament of Marriage is a sign that God calls men and women to not look on each other to see how they can use each other, but rather how they can give themselves sacrificially to each other. This pursuit of harmony through self-giving sees the Holy Trinity as the goal and beatitude of human life, for there is, amongst the divine Persons, both profound equality and profound difference.

In human society there are also differences that appear tied to age, physical abilities, intellectual or moral aptitudes, social status, or material wealth. Life in human community is not about competition, but seeing that differences belong to God’s plan. These differences encourage and oblige generosity, kindness and the sharing of goods; ultimately God is inviting us to sacrificial self-giving.

Sinful inequalities: Excessive economic and social disparity between individuals and peoples is a scandal and is sinful. Such disparity militates against social justice, equity, human dignity, as well as social and international peace.


The principle of solidarity, also articulated in terms of “friendship” or “social charity” is a direct demand of human Christian brotherhood. Solidarity is manifested in the first place by the distribution of goods and remuneration for work.

The virtue of solidarity goes beyond material goods. In spreading the spiritual goods of the faith, the Church promotes, and often opens new paths for, the development of temporal goods as well. In other words mission and development happily go hand in hand.

Seek ye first the Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.  Mt 6:33

This is the last of my blogposts on Catholic teaching on human community. I hope you have found it enlightening and helpful, not least in discerning whom to vote for in the forthcoming elections.

Fr Ian

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Social justice - respect for the human person

What is at stake is the dignity of the human person, whose defence and promotion have been entrusted to us by the Creator, and to whom the men and women at every moment of history are strictly and responsibly in debt. St Pope John Paul ii  CCC 1929

Social justice can only be obtained through respecting the “transcendent dignity of man”. The purpose and ultimate end of society is in the person. The extent to which the dignity of man is not respected is the extent to which society is failing and unjust.

From the dignity intrinsic to the human person flows his rights which similarly must be respected. These rights have priority over society, and are the basis of moral legitimacy of every authority. So by flouting these things, or refusing to recognise them, society undermines its own moral legitimacy. Without this respect authority must rely on force or violence to obtain obedience.

The Church must remind men of good will, of the dignity of man and the rights that flow from this dignity. And means not shrinking back when it becomes unpopular to do so.

Respect for persons is found in the principle that everyone should look upon his neighbour (without exception) as ‘another self’.

Fear, prejudice, prideful attitudes, and selfishness all obstruct the making of true fraternal societies. However there cannot be legislation against them.

As you did it for one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.  Mt 25:30

There is a duty to making oneself a neighbour to others, actively serving them, but this is much more urgent for those disadvantaged in whatever way that might be.  This extends to those who think or act differently from ourselves. This extends even further to those who are hostile to us, who might be described as our enemies. The Commandment of Love extends to enemies as well. We may hate the evil done but not the person perpetrating that evil.

Fr Ian

Next blog - equality and difference

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

The Black Hermits need help

When I left the Church of England and sought to enter the Catholic Church within the newly erected Ordinariate, it was clear to my wife and I that it would be an act of faith. This we believed was God's will. And to be honest it has been a continual act of faith ever since. One of the wonderful things that happened though was that many people wrote to us to show their support from all over the country, and some very kindly offered donations to help us get by as we made the change from vicarage to presbytery. One of the generous donations we received came from a small group of hermits called the Black Hermits. I had never heard of them, but they evidently had heard of me and my family!

Br Damon

Now the Black Hermits need help. They have got into trouble by promoting the faith and particularly the moral law. Because of this they have fallen out of favour with their bishop who is now evicting them from the presbytery they have been living in. So they need help. As they put it in their own words, it would take a brave bishop to take them on now! These hermits will not compromise on their faith nor on the truth, and they are really concerned about their neighbour's salvation. These are unusual qualities in these secular times.

Why is it such a problem for people to express their opinions today? In this case, if the two witches who filed for harassment decided to leaflet everybody about how good it is to be witches and lesbian etc, there wouldn't be anything like the same reaction.

Oh I am really hoping someone can find them a home, where they can both live their eremitic and semi-eremitic lives and also bear courageous witness to the truth, at a time when so, so many fall away in fear. I would love to give them space in my presbytery but I already have twelve living here!

I will be praying and offering masses for these good and faithful prayer warriors, please join me in supporting them this way. And please could someone courageous who has some land find them some space.

Their website:

Fr Ian

Bishop of Lancaster celebrates Church's diversity of rites

The Bishop of Lancaster has created another parish for the Syro-Malabar rite of the Catholic Church. What a wonderful sign of the legitimate diversity found within the Catholic Church! This diversity does not threaten diocesan life but enhances it. It would be wonderful if dioceses through England thought creatively along these lines, instead of a mentality one so often encounters, that of managing a decline. The sort of thinking one so often finds includes such questions: how can we minimise the number of church buildings we have so it doesn't cost us too much? How can we minimise the number of masses we offer so it is easy to manage? How can we centralise everything so the priests' job is easier? etc. The signal this gives to society in which we live is that the Church is fading away and society doesn't need to take any notice of it. Whereas there is great diversity in worldwide Catholicism, which is rich and growing. And even in this country initiatives like the Ordinariate show that there can be diversity within the one communion of the Church, and that this diversity has the potential to bring new life into the Church.

Fr Ian

Article regarding the Bishop of Lancaster's creation of another Syro-Malabar rite personal parish.

The Common Good

Do not live entirely isolated, having retreated into yourselves, as if you were already justified, but gather instead to seek the common good together.   Epistle of Barnabus, 4.10
The common good is “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily.” CCC 1906
Christianity is a social religion. Christ commands His disciples to not only love God but also love their neighbour, and these two commands are inextricably united. Furthermore we believe that every human being is made in the image of God who is Trinity, a perfect communion of divine Persons, and that in the division of sexes and the diversity of humankind we are called to seek that perfect communion which the Holy Trinity enjoy eternally.

So we call the "common good" the conditions which foster and promote the good of people, as groups and individuals; meaning that they reach their fulfilment that God wills for them. The common good concerns the life of all and calls for prudence from each person, including those vested with authority.

The common good consists of 3 elements:

  1. Respect for persons: this is a presupposition for the common good. So authorities are bound to respect these fundamental and inalienable rights of the human person. Each person should be permitted to fulfil their calling. It includes right to act according to a sound norm of conscience, to safeguard privacy, and rightful freedom in matters of religion.
  2. Social well-being and development of the group: development is a core social duty. Authorities should make accessible to each, that which is needed for a truly human life: food, clothing, health, work, education, and culture, suitable information, the right to establish family etc.
  3. Peace: the stability and security of a just order is a basic requirement of the common good. Only morally acceptable means may be used to ensure the security of the state and its members. This is the basis of the right to legitimate personal and collective defence.

It is the role of the state to defend and promote the common good of civil society, its citizens and intermediate bodies.

International common good: increased human interdependence spreading throughout the world implies an international common good - a unity of the human family.

Avoiding distortions and injustice: The common good is always ordered to persons and not things. Things must always be sub-ordinate to persons. The ordering of the common good is founded on truth, built up in justice, and animated by love.

Participation: It is necessary that each voluntarily and with generosity engage in social interchange according to one’s position and role in promoting the common good. This obligation is inherent in the dignity of the human person. One must assume personal responsibility, take an active part in public life, the call to the conversion of social partners, and promote education and culture.

Fr Ian

Note: The Epistle of Barnabus, was most likely written c.AD 130 (and not by St Barnabus). The text gives us no clue to who wrote it. It was included as extra-Biblical material in an early codex. It is quoted by other Fathers of the Church including St Clement of Alexandria and Origen. It is regarded as one of the writings of the Apostolic Fathers. 

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Participation in Social Life - Authority

St Clement of Rome, Pope, Theologian, Martyr
In discussing the issue of authority in social life let us begin with a prayer. This prayer was written by one of the very early successors of St Peter, and the first one we know anything about. He is called Pope St Clement I (called Clemens Romanus to distinguish him from the Alexandrian) and he is the first of the "Apostolic Fathers". His feast is celebrated on 23 November. He has left one genuine writing, a letter to the Church of Corinth, and many others have been attributed to him. He provides the Church’s most ancient prayer for political authorities:

Grant to them, Lord, health, peace, concord, and stability, so that they may exercise without offence the sovereignty that you have given them. Master, heavenly King of the ages, you give glory, honour, and power over the things of earth to the sons of men.   Direct, Lord, their counsel, following what is pleasing and acceptable in your sight, so that by exercising with devotion and in peace and gentleness the power that you have given to them, they may find favour with you.  St Clement of Rome, Letter to the Corinthians, 61.

Those who exercise authority in social life need our prayer so that they exercise their authority "without offence". It also reminds us that the authority exercised by human beings is an authority which is possessed by our sovereign Lord and is given to human beings to exercise according to their gifts and capacities. For all in authority this is worth constantly remembering, in order that they remain humble.

St Pope John XXIII said, in his encyclical Pacem in Terra,

Human society can be neither well-ordered nor prosperous unless it has some people invested with legitimate authority to preserve its institutions and to devote themselves as far as is necessary to work and care for the good of all. (Para 46)

It is the church's teaching that every human society needs an authority to govern it. This is founded on the nature of human beings. Such authority is necessary for unity of the state, and its role is to ensure as far as possible the common good of the society. Christians must therefore be subject to such authorities.

These quotations from Holy Scripture make it clear:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement.  Romans 13: 1-2

Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God's will that by doing right you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but live as servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the emperor.  1 Peter 2 : 13-17

The authority required by the moral order derives from God. The duty of obedience requires all to give due honour to authority. Those charged with exercising authority are to be given respect, and as far as it is deserved, gratitude and good-will.

Diversity in political regimes is morally acceptable, provided they serve the legitimate good of the communities that accept them. So regimes whose nature is contrary to natural law, to the public order, and to the fundamental rights of persons cannot achieve the common good of the nations on which they have been imposed.

Finally, here are examples of when authority goes wrong:

Despotism: This is a distortion of authority. Authority doesn’t derive its moral legitimacy from itself. It must act for the common good. Its moral legitimacy should be based on freedom and a sense of responsibility. A despot misuses authority for his own gain and for his own reasons. He forgets about the rights of subjects/citizens for whom in reality all authority is given.

Unjust law: It is a misuse of authority by a legislature to pass unjust laws. St Thomas Aquinas recognised the possibility of unjust human law to the extent it does not accord with right reason, and thus does not derive from divine law. This type of law is a kind of violence to social life.

Illegitimate authority: authority is legitimate only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it uses morally licit means to attain it. Unjust laws or actions by authorities that promote that which is contrary to the moral order are not binding in conscience. This break down in authority results in abuse.

The next blog will be on "The Common Good".

Fr Ian

Monday, 20 April 2015

Conversion and society

Society is not just desirable but essential to the fulfilment of the human vocation. But in order for this human vocation to be fulfilled, respect must be accorded to what the church calls “the just hierarchy of values”. In this hierarchy of values physical/instinctive dimensions are subordinated to interior/spiritual ones. Or in other words we must not muddle the true goals and aims of human life with the things that are needed to achieve them. The most obvious example is when people are treated as objects to achieve another goal. This is what Bl Pope John XXIII said,
Human society must primarily be considered something pertaining to the spiritual. Through it, in the bright light of truth, men should share their knowledge, be able to exercise their rights and fulfil their obligations, be inspired to seek spiritual values; mutually derive genuine pleasure from the beautiful, of whatever order it be; always be readily disposed to pass on to others the best of their own cultural heritage; and eagerly strive to make their own the spiritual achievements of others. These benefits not only influence, but at the same time give aim and scope to all that has bearing on cultural expressions, economic, and social institutions, political movements and forms, laws, and all other structures by which society is outwardly established and constantly developed.     Pacem in Terris, 36 (Peace on Earth)
Problems arise when means and ends are inverted. Giving the value of ultimate end to what is only a means for attaining it results in unjust structures. For example, consider money and people in a society: in a just society money can be a means to achieve the good for people, whereas when money becomes the end and people become the means, unjust businesses will use people to achieve the goal of wealth creation. Even worse is when persons are viewed merely as means to an end. So for example when women's bodies are seen as means to gratifying one's desires, their bodies are objectified and not seen as the outward form of a person; the person has been reduced to a means from being an end. In a society with such inversions it becomes difficult and almost impossible for Christian conduct to keep with the Commandments of the divine Law-giver. We see this inversion in secular societies most clearly. In a secular society, human beings are not necessarily seen as being intrinsically good (because that is derived from divine revelation), it is more common to see human beings for the use they have (we can say that the secular society becomes utilitarian).

One of the most important things for a Christian to do, in such inverted societies, is not to separate inner conversion from finding the appropriate remedies to institutions and living conditions when they induce persons to sin. There is a permanent need for inner conversion but this should motivate one to obtain social change that will really serve. The conversion of the heart will lead one to desire social change for the betterment of all.

Without the help of grace men may lack the discernment to know the way between two opposite but disastrous paths: (1) the cowardice which gives in to evil, and on the other side, (2) the violence which under the illusion of fighting evil only makes it worse. The way between, which may often be narrow, is the way of charity, or we may say, love of God and love of neighbour. So Charity is the greatest social commandment for it respects the dignity of all and respects their rights. Charity requires the practice of justice, and it alone makes us capable of it. Charity inspires a life of self-giving.
Jesus said, “Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it.” Lk 17:33
Fr Ian

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Homily Easter 3B - God's mercy

Homily given at both the University Mass at Christ the King (this recording), and then given again at the Ordinariate's Mass at Buckfast Abbey.

DAY NINE (Eve of Pentecost)