Thursday 22 April 2010

Imagine there's no heaven... the staggeringly unoriginal title of an article by journalist Johan Hari in the Independent this week. Like most aggressive atheists, Hari does not trouble himself to do research into his subject which might contradict his overall aim. Indeed, in this article he even contradicts himself!
He expresses amazement that people should believe in life after death. Well, fair enough. If you don't believe it I suppose it is hard to understand why other people do. I suppose that it is understandable, in a dog-in-the-manger way, that if you do not have the comfort of any belief then you don't want other people to have it either. Why should they not be as unhappy as you are?
Strangely Hari begins his argument by saying that heaven is only a 'recent' invention anyway - dating it to the 2nd century BC. Later in his article he contradicts himself by saying that heaven is discussed in the ancient epic of Gil Gamesh. It would be strange if the poet had indeed being discussing an idea nobody took seriously anyway. Surely, it is more likely that even if the poet didn't believe it, he knew there were many people who did - rather like Hari himself.
Then (predictably) he starts on the tack that the idea of heaven was invented so as the Church would be able to control people's lives and exercise domination etc. etc. All the tired old calumnies. None of really deserves refuting.
Or course, most societies have had a belief in some sort of life after death. Such a belief was at least partly behind ancestor worship. An ancient Greek might have hoped to come to the Elysian Fields and a Nordic Warrior might have looked forward to the Halls of Asgard. Belief in life seems something that is part of our psyche - perhaps part of our instinct.
No, the thing that is new in many people's idea of heaven today is the one thing Hari doesn't mention. The thing that is really new is that so many people think they will get to heaven without making the slightest effort to do so. This has never happened before. If a society believed that heaven was for those favoured by the Gods, then they might seek to be favoured or become worthy of such favour themselves. In our egalitarian age heaven is seen more and more as a right, along with all the other benefits we might be eligible for, and one which will be offered to us irrespective of our conduct or morals.

Monday 18 January 2010

Stand up for....

There is a meeting scheduled for later this month to mark the launch of an organisation calling itself 'Stand up 4 Vatican 2'. I suppose it is considered to be really trendy and clever to use '4' for 'for' - and it saves two letters which is doubtless good for the environment!
It sounds inoffensive enough, to want to mark this anniversary of the Council and to look at how its ideas have been implemented.

However, the site is in fact very far from being inoffensive. On the very first page we find an item written by the dubious Catholic Nicholas Lash in which he has a dig at the Holy Father, pretending not to be able to understand why the Bishop of Rome does not retire at 75 like other bishops.
Then there is an item regarding fund-raising for Haiti - not a controversial issue you might think. This site makes it so. They begin by suggesting that orthodox and Traditionalist Catholics simply do not care about the plight of people suffering in Haiti. While some of us, they say, are concerned about whether we should worship in Latin, our brothers and sisters are suffering beyond belief.
This is simply an outrageous lie and makes it really unneccesary to read further to discover what sort of people are responsible for this evil site and this evil movement.

It would be good to look at the documents of the council and place them within the context of the Church's tradition (as Matthew Lamb & Matthew Levering attempt to do in the book they have edited on the Council). It would be good to look at them not simply on a high of enthusiasm but in the light of faith and reason and see what we have got right, what we have got wrong and where to go from here.
But those standing up 4 Vatican 2 are so carried away by a conviction of the need to change anything and everything that they are unlikely to undertake this work. Before we can reform the Church we need to LOVE the Church - and that means we must love the traddies, the charismatics, the orthodox, those with much enthusiasm and little understanding - and those with much understanding, but little enthusiasm! If we are simply carried away by a desire for change; if we are carried away by the feeling that we need to be empowered then we are following a false path. Our faith is not about taking control of things. It wasn't for Abraham, it wasn't for Moses, it wasn't for Our Lady or any of the saints, and it wasn't for Our Blessed Lord who came to live an example of humility, obedience, service and sacrifice to the end.
It is by following Him and the teaching of His Church; by loving His teaching and that of His Church that we will be able to begin (by the Grace of the Holy Spirit) to rebuild the tottering house of God.

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Swiss Minarets/European Crucifixes

The story continues predictably enough. Some protest that the prohibition on minaret construction prevents Muslims from worshipping - well, not really. Just as Christians can worship if neccesary without towers and church bells, so can Muslims without minarets.
Governments and opposition are all falling over themselves to distance themselves from the democratic decision of the Swiss people - our political masters do not trust us with democracy.
Most puzzlingly of all we find that Switzerland is regarded in some quarters as having lost its credibility as a secular state because of this decision. Puzzlingly, because the recent court judgement prohibiting crucifixes in public places was hailed as a sign that Europe was organised on secular principles.
It is interesting to note what the European Convention has to say on the subject. Article Nine proclaims the absolute right of freedom of thought, conscience and religion. It is essential that one should be free to manifest one's religion - though this 'right' interestingly enough, may be limited by law. Any such limitation must be shown as 'neccesary in a democratic socity.'
This no doubt provides employment for lawyers and helps them put food on the table for their children - but does it really mean anything at all? It is not clear that the removal of crucifixes is 'neccesary in a democratic society.' Meanwhile the Swiss go their democratic way and the world reviles them for it.

Monday 30 November 2009

Christian Skylines

No - not a new air travel company.
Today's news reports the Swiss referendum to prohibit (they say 'ban') the building of minarets in Switzerland. Predictably we hear the chorus of outrage. It's Islamophobic! It's a breach of people's human rights! etc. etc. etc. Amnesty International laments the infringements of the human rights of Muslims to practicetheir religion. Of course the prohibition of the building of minarets in no way restricts their right to practice their religion, but matters of fact are of little interest to organisations with an axe to grind. Interestingly enough, when you go to Amnesty's website and look for the search by topic, there is no category of religion listed at all, so perhaps they can't think it that important.

No doubt some of those who voted in favour of the prohibition are racist. No doubt some of them simply do not like Muslims. But had I been Swiss, I would have voted for the prohibition. There is no human right that lets us build whatever we want wherever we want it. The skylines of the cities of Europe have traditionally been dominated by our churches. Surely we have the right to ask ourselves, do we want this to change? Openness to other cultures and other faiths, and a welcoming attitude towards them, does not mean that we have to simply say yes to everything they may want to do.

And let's face it, many Muslims do not themselves believe in this kind of freedom. A while back there was a proposal for building a Mosque in Sweden, and the Swedish authorities said that it could be done provided a church could be built in Saudi-Arabia. The Mosque was not built. None of this is a denial of human rights. Nowhere in the west would deny the rights of the Muslims or anyone else to build places for worship and to practise their faith there. But like the rest of us, they must keep within local planning restrictions - and that, really, is what this storm in a teacup is all about.

Wednesday 18 November 2009

An Irish Tragedy

I read in the Irish Independent of a priest in Derry, Fr Sean McKenna, who apparently told his congregation at the end of the Sunday Mass that he would no longer be their parish priest because he was going to go off with a married woman, separated from her husband. The people variously wept and applauded and gave him a standing ovation.

Do people really think at all about what they are doing? In effect, what the priest was saying was: I'm no longer going to respond to God through my vocation because I think I will enjoy life with this woman more. So instead of looking after you, I'm off to live in sin. Is that something to applaud? Far from showing any remorse at the situation he was leaving behind him, the priest simply spoke of how he was embarking on a 'loving, beautiful and life-giving relationship.'

How can a congregation applaud their priest when he announces his intention of living in sin? Some of the parishioners are reported as saying what a good priest he has always been, and how he has helped so many people. He may well be a good man in many ways, but a good priest? The reaction of his people perhaps shows how he had failed to teach them anything about sin, about real love, about sacrifice, about repentance.
The unfortunate Fr McKenna is the latest to fall victim to the modern idea that what matters in life is 'self-fulfilment' understood in terms of 'what feels good.' Augustine and many other sinners have discovered the emptiness of that!

But even more disturbing is the reaction of other Irish priests. The Passionist priest, Fr Brian D'Arcy, is reported as saying that this is a case of the Church losing good men through an 'outdated' celibacy rule. With respect to Fr D'Arcy, this argument is garbage. Are they men who would make good priests, if they insist upon priesthood on their own terms? Is this the example Christ gave us? His example was one of sacrifice, whereas so many today seem unwilling to make the sacrifice. Fr D'Arcy - not wishing to visibly rubbish the value of celibacy - says that it 'may have been suitable for a particular time but that time has now gone.'
What utter rubbish! Cases such as this show us the need for clerical celibacy and self discipline.
In a world where sexual activity is bizarrely seen as a human right (for most people), it is a celibate clergy who can convey the love of God to those who have to remain single because their marriages have failed, to those whose sexual orientation means that they are called to a life of sexual abstinence. Clerical celibacy is a proclamation before a sex-obsessed world that it is indeed possible to live a life which is both happy and fulfilled without sexual activity.

The same article quotes a Mayo priest as saying that in 30 years there will be almost no priests in Ireland. Indeed there won't if that is how the priests themselves are talking. We need to pray urgently for the priests of Ireland, that God may affirm them in their vocation, and that their hearts may be open to his love calling them to service, not to self-indulgence. It is in this way that the Church in Ireland will know a rebirth.
It has suffered so much in recent decades from the sexual scandals of priests who do not exercise a proper discipline but seek self-fulfilment in worldly and physical terms. Let us pray that its priests may show a return to the values of the Church.

Fr D'Arcy says that St Peter was married and that therefore priests should be married. We might use his own 'logic' against him and say that while there may have been a time where it was good to have married clergy, that time has now gone. Or we might simply point out that St Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, pointed out that celibacy was a better way, and that has been the path theChurch has sought, despite the failings of so many, to follow.

Wednesday 4 November 2009

The Trouble with Europe

I have long been very keen on the idea of Europe - closer co-operation between our countries reducing the tensions that lead to warfare and conflict, and a modern version of the Pax Romana; the ability to travel and do business freely etc etc etc - all good things.
The trouble is, that's not the reality of Europe. In this morning's paper I read that the European Court of Human Rights has said that crucifixes should not be displayed in publicly financed schools.
No doubt Italians, being generally sensible people, will take no notice of this but more worrying is what it shows us about Europe. Because it is bureaucracy with no constituency and no power, it will allow any loony to come along with totally off the wall opinions, and will then make decisions about what the rest of us should be doing.
Particularly bearing in mind that the status quo is the situation where crucifixes have always been there in schools exactly whose rights are being infringed? The appeal was mad eto the court by a woman claiming that her two children were disturbed by the presence of the crucifix. Any sensible court would have responded by saying 'Don't be silly.' However, it seems that these days we live in an age of tyranny by minorities and the court ordered the Italian government to pay the woman £4500. Hopefully the government will ignore this outrageous command.
It is bad enough coping with our own government in its campaign against Christianity without having another, even more insane level of unaccountable bureaucracy. But this is the reality of Europe at present, and we must reject it.
And it's not only Christians who should be worried by this kind of thing. We need to defend each others freedoms. If only certain groups have freedom to make their voices heard, then there is really no freedom at all. If victory is won against the Crucifix today, who will be the target of the same insanity tomorrow?

Monday 20 July 2009

Back in Place

I hear that Bishop John d'Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend has issued an edict for his diocese about the placing of the tabernacles in churches. 'The presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is at the center [sic] of our faith and of the devotional life of the Catholic people.'

The divine Presence is not only in our churches during Mass. Perhaps the fact that so many of our churches are kept locked outside times of services prevents people from seeing things in this way. Bishop d'Arcy believes that the predominant role of the Sacrament in our lives should be reflected in our churches. Not unreasonable, you may think. He realizes what most Catholics have always known - that people have always desired the tabernacle to be central and visible in our churches. Whatever certain liturgists may say, where confusion arises is where the tabernacle is not in such a position.

Bishop d'Arcy's new norms state that the tabernacle be 'permanently located in the sanctuary of the church, along the central axis behind the main altar - at an elevated open location...or in anothe rplace in the sanctuary that is equally conspicuous.' Note that the Bishop is not being totally and uncompromisingly dogmatic here (he is not a liberal) - he is recognising that in some (especially some modern) churches the directly behind the altar location may not be the best.

Now how about bringing some of this common sense approach across the Atlantic......