Parliament

Faith Magazine

July - August 2015

flickr / Rob Unreall
July - August

A Note to Our Catholic Politicians

“As I was going through the lobby, Mr Enoch Powell, the one member of the Shadow Cabinet to vote against the Bill, turned to me and said: ‘Where are the Romans?’ Where indeed!” 

Ever since, legions of Catholics engaged in parliamentary politics have proved complicit in the creation of laws that equally disregard the dignity of the person and thus undermine the common good. 

“Sadly, however, on serious issues, some politicians who profess a Catholic faith remain silent – or even surrender – in the face of grave ethical injustice”, observed the Bishops Conference of Scotland in their pastoral letter marking the recent UK general election. 

Scandalous? Certainly. Incomprehensible? No. The fact is that most Catholics in the United Kingdom – of almost any age – have been failed by erroneous or even non-existent catechesis. Catholic politicians included. They can’t love what they don’t know. They can’t uphold what they don’t understand. 

So what is to be done? Thankfully the Scottish bishops chose not only to curse the political darkness but also to light a candle. 

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Diagnosing the Modern Mindset

Diagnosing the Modern Mindset

“Lord, what fools these mortals be!” According to Robin Goodfellow (Puck), Shakespeare’s fairy narrator, human behaviour appears foolish from the outside looking in. The lovers of A Midsummer Night’s Dream chase after one another, each driven by their own desire, trying to have it align with another’s. As Shakespeare says elsewhere: “Love is blind.” Love of this sort seems self-absorbed, random and uncertain. And, unlike our plays, our lives often don’t end “happily ever after”. On the other hand, who of us can’t relate to this desire? We too are thirsty for connection, affirmation and purpose. 

It’s hard to step back and get a clear picture of life, especially today with the rapid changes in our secular culture. But let’s try! We can ask three questions that will help us diagnose modern man: what motivates man, what is our goal, and how can we get there?

 
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The Harmony of Faith, Reason and Science

The Harmony of Faith, Reason and Science

Dispassionate readers, who have studied the Galileo caricature of a war between science and religion will know that, apart from that sorry, somewhat isolated affair, the Catholic Church and the science lab have long been conjoined twins in the advancement of knowledge.

On Easter Sunday morning this year, as Christians gathered to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, scientists deep underground at Cern were gathering excitedly to switch on the Large Hadron Collider for the first time since it was temporarily shut down in February 2013.

Before giving up the ghost, the collider had already accomplished its mission of discovering what we speak of so easily as the “God particle”. Despite the exhausting efforts of earnest campaigners against it, the desire on all sides to intertwine science and religion is as alive and well as ever.

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Vocations: A Seminarian's Perspective

Vocations: A Seminarian's Perspective

Recent figures show there is an upturn in priestly vocations in several western countries, especially the United States. How does a young man discern the call to priesthood? That was one of the questions Deacon Philip Cunnah attempted to answer in a talk given recently to the Canmore Catholic Society at St Andrews University. 

When we speak of vocation, we usually refer to a “calling” because the verb at the root of the word vocation means “to call”. Today in the typical parish this “calling” is understood as the call to priesthood or religious life. I’m sure many priests will have had similar experiences to myself when people ask us: “When did you receive the call?” This thinking isn’t unwarranted. The Gospels, for example, tell us the disciples were called by Christ on the shore of Galilee. Jesus called out to them: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men” (Mk 1:17). And they answered his call to follow him in a particular way. This thinking can, however, limit our understanding of vocation, and if we look to an earlier text in the Bible we can put Christ’s call into a wider context that opens up our understanding of what it means to be called.

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Reflections Upon the Eve of Ordination

Reflections Upon the Eve of Ordination

At the very beginning of the rite of ordination, easily passed over in preference for some of the more dramatic moments of the ceremony, is a very simple exchange in which my name will be called and I will step forward. Although simple and, in a certain sense, practical, for me this moment is rich in meaning: the Archbishop will call me by name to serve Jesus and the Church in St Andrews and Edinburgh, confirming aloud the calling I heard in my heart many years ago.

He will then go on to explain what following this call will mean: a life of charity, lived out in celibate chastity, in obedience to him and his successors and nourished and strengthened in prayer, focused especially on Our Lord in the Eucharist. As a deacon, my life will be dedicated to ministry at the altar, the proclamation of the Gospel and the service of all people, especially the poor and the sick. Next year, I will return to the Archdiocese to be ordained as a priest and live out the rest of my life in the service of the Church in our part of Scotland. While I have loved my time in seminary here in Rome, this prospect fills me with a great excitement and a sense of urgency to “get to work!”

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Raising China's Christian Faith

Raising China's Christian Faith

The dire plight of Christians in the Middle East has regularly hit the headlines in recent months. The often unreported plight of Christians in China, however, is also extremely grave, as Dr John Newton of Aid to the Church in Need now explains.

“The Chinese government has intensified the persecution [of Christians] recently. We have seen demolished churches, crosses taken away from the buildings, so there’s not much we can hope for immediately. The Church is still enslaved to the government.” This was the message Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, the former bishop of Hong Kong, had for Aid to the Church in Need, when he spoke with the Catholic charity last November. The most visible form of persecution over the past 18 months has been the targeting of churches in China’s Zhejiang province and in particular those in its coastal city of Wenzhou.

The story goes that the latest campaign against the Church started when local Communist Party secretary Xia Baolong said Wenzhou City’s skyline had “too many crosses”. Whatever the truth of the story, by November 2014 more than 420 churches in the province had had their crosses pulled down – and numerous churches had been threatened with demolition orders. In a number of cases buildings were wholly or partly destroyed.

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Marriage, Family and Poverty in the US

Marriage, Family and Poverty in the US

Political debate during the recent UK general election often focused on the issue of child poverty. In this article, Leslie Ford of the Heritage Foundation, a think-tank based in Washington DC, draws upon sociological evidence from the United States to suggest that the Catholic Church’s vision of the married family is the best poverty-busting measure available to modern society. 

“I want a Church which is poor and for the poor.” These words, more than any others, have defined the first two years of Pope Francis’s papacy. They have guided his every word and deed, powerfully reminding Catholics and non-Catholics alike that the “preferential option for the poor” is central to Christian teaching. This will undoubtedly be a focus of his addresses to the World Congress of Families in Philadelphia and the United States Congress in Washington DC this September. 

And it is a message American Catholics need to hear. In the US, the poor have experienced a unique form of poverty: a breakdown of the family. Their plight can be largely attributed to what Pope Francis has described as “the worst discrimination which the poor suffer… the lack of spiritual care.” This manifests itself, first and foremost, in an unparalleled breakdown of the family.

 
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On the Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy

On the Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy

I write to you on this Divine Mercy Sunday with the happy news that Pope Francis formally announces today a “Holy Year of Mercy” to begin on 8 December 2015 under the patronage of Mary, the Mother of Mercy. The message of mercy has been central to Pope Francis’s pontificate, as it was to that of Saint John Paul II, who inaugurated this Sunday after Easter as Mercy Sunday and who canonised the Polish visionary of God’s mercy, Saint Faustina Kowalska.

As we prepare for this Holy Year, it is important to remember God’s mercy is his unfailing attitude and actions towards the least deserving, and especially the spiritually poor. Mercy never abandons us in the misery of our sins by pretending sin doesn’t matter. This is not the mercy of God. We may easily give up on each other and believe ourselves incapable of the call to holiness; but God never ceases to call us and to offer us his grace, which is “the free and undeserved help that God gives to those who respond to his call” (CCC 1996). In the Gospel we see how Christ does not give up on Saint Thomas, despite all his refusals to accept Divine mercy (cf Jn 20:19-31). Likewise, Our Lord will never cease to call each of us to rise again from wherever sin has brought us down.

 
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A Farewell to Holyrood Palace

A Farewell to Holyrood Palace

In the middle of 1999 I expected that I would spend much of my time promoting the distinctive areas of the Church’s teaching. Little did I realise that it would so much centre on the understanding of the family and sexuality, and particularly on the legal treatment of homosexuality. It seemed just chance that, in assessing what the new political institutions of Scotland would be focusing on, I stumbled upon one research paper that would give me an immediate insight into what lay ahead. This was a paper based on research conducted in 1998 and published as a Scottish Executive Crime and Criminal Justice Paper (Research Findings No 41) and entitled “The Experience of Violence and Harassment of Gay Men in the City of Edinburgh”. What immediately struck me was the absurdity of the terminology and proposals in the paper – terms such as “heteronormativity” and “heterosexism”, which I’d never encountered before. But most startling was the scale of the ambition of the writers, which included proposing the benefits of “the removal of all legal distinctions between homosexuality and heterosexuality”.

Some research of my own on the issue quickly revealed a well-prepared social and political agenda for bringing those proposals to fruition. The effectiveness of that work is now evident. Not only has it been achieved remarkably quickly, but it has led in the space of a few short years to a situation in which those who hold to the previous understanding of family and sexual relationships risk losing their jobs and reputation should they happen to fall foul of the militant LGBT lobby.

The success of the social revolutionaries is an excellent study in how to bring about social change, albeit in this case change that has destabilised the very future of our society. What has been interesting is that our political classes are, by and large, indifferent to the importance of family life for the well-being of society. They have shown unthinkable negligence in failing to weigh up objectively arguments that might challenge the new orthodoxy – one which, seemingly overnight, has been imposed on our society. 

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Pope Francis and the Family: The Next Step

Pope Francis and the Family: The Next Step

“Those who believed that Pope Francis’s pastoral revolution presaged a doctrinal change in terms of marriage and family heaved a sigh of relief upon hearing his latest words.” 

Pope Francis and the family – it’s time for clarification. Wednesday 15 April was the deadline given to dioceses to return the questionnaire to the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops in preparation for the coming synod. Then, beginning on the same day, Pope Francis dedicated his address in two consecutive general audiences to the complementarity between man and woman. In his speeches, Pope Francis defended the traditional family, and attacked gender ideology, emphasising that “difference is the solution: it is not the problem”.

 
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Spirituality and Religion in a Post-Secular Age

Spirituality and Religion in a Post-Secular Age

All the research shows that the spiritual is innate in human beings. It is not “caught” from others like an infection and it is not an epidemic virus invading and multiplying at the same time. Professor David Hay and Kate Hunt have shown how people who do not go to church have a lively spirituality and even a spiritual vocabulary. Similarly, David Hay, with another collaborator, Rebecca Nye, has established that children are naturally spiritual – even if this can be neutralised in them by unsympathetic adults! Before this, the Alister Hardy Institute in Oxford had attempted to find a scientific basis for the spiritual being “hard wired” into people.

All of this has implications for the rising tide of aggressive secularism and the “new” atheism. There is, at the moment, a highly organised attempt to drive religion out of the public sphere altogether. Anything and everything can be turned to its advantage by this campaign. So the consultation about schools, in the wake of the “Trojan Horse” events in Birmingham, led to a report focused on “fundamentalism” in Christian schools – as if that was the most important ideological danger facing the nation! Church schools are regularly accused of being socially selective if they have any religious criteria for admission, even if they also have criteria for serving the wider community in which they are set.

 
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Book Reviews

Book Reviews

The opening chapters deal with the continuing debate about Newman’s theological position, pre- and post‑1845. Ker argues that Newman was hard to pigeon-hole in either the liberal or the conservative camp. This goes a long way to explain the volume of misunderstanding and opposition which arose then and still pervades his views. He was anti-rationalist and anti-latitudinarian, but that didn’t mean he was in any way obscurantist prior to his conversion. He valued both the pastoral commitment of vicars and, on the other hand, evangelical goodness. When he became a Catholic, he was neither liberal nor ultramontane – to the infuriation of many. In fact he represented the via media in both scenarios: he was neither Geneva nor Rome before his conversion, and was on the side of neither Döllinger nor Ward after. 

Ker then turns to the question of the development of doctrine: the hermeneutic of change in continuity. For my money, this makes the book worth buying. There is a continuing debate that really Newman advocated a changing Church, quoting his famous phrase that “to live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often”. Ker puts the phrase into context and demonstrates that Newman spent years honing his thoughts on the subject, even from the time he was writing Arians in 1832. Christianity changes in order to remain the same, as it absorbs and differentiates by virtue of its inner dynamism: “Certain it is that the true faith never could come into contact with the heathen philosophies without exercising its right to arbitrate between them.” The seven tests which Newman supplies allows one to distinguish between true growth and corruption: the tests must be taken as a whole not piecemeal. For those who have trouble dealing with these, Ker analyses each test with reference to the stages in Newman’s own life.

 
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Hazel McCann (1933-2015)

Hazel McCann (1933-2015)

Many in Faith knew Hazel McCann, who died in March. A committed supporter of the movement for many years, she helped run the Folkestone youth group and was sacristan at Faith summer sessions.

Born on the 27 October 1933 in London, Hazel was the only child of her devoted parents, Nata (Julie) and Ronald Curtis. Remarkably, in view of her later ministry at Our Lady Help of Christians Church, Folkestone, they had married on 24 May, the Feast of Our Lady Help of Christians. Although not particularly religious, her parents had her baptised in 1934, on 22 July, the feast of St Mary Magdalen. 

Evacuated from London as soon as war broke out in 1939, Hazel had various homes as an evacuee. The turning point in her life came when she was sent to school at St Gilda’s convent in Chard, Somerset, run by the Sisters of Christian Instruction (the St Gilda’s sisters). Here she discovered Jesus Christ and his Church. She could see the tabernacle lamp burning in the church from her dorm; her lifelong love of Jesus in the Eucharist had begun. After some negotiations with her parents she was received into the church as a teenager and there began a life of dedication to Our Lord.

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  • A Note to Our Catholic Politicians

    On 22 July 1966 the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons with a massive vote of 223 votes for with only 29 against. The sponsors of the new legislation were astonished by their overwhelming success. Even among Catholic parliamentarians only a handful voted against the bill, as the pro-life Norman St John-Stevas MP noted at the time: 

    “As I was going through the lobby, Mr Enoch Powell, the one member of the Shadow Cabinet to vote against the Bill, turned to me and said: ‘Where are the Romans?’ Where indeed!” 

    Ever since, legions of Catholics engaged in parliamentary politics have proved complicit in the creation of laws that equally disregard the dignity of the person and thus undermine the common good. 

    “Sadly, however, on serious issues, some politicians who profess a Catholic faith remain silent – or even surrender – in the face of grave ethical injustice”, observed the Bishops Conference of Scotland in their pastoral letter marking the recent UK general election. 

    Scandalous? Certainly. Incomprehensible? No. The fact is that most Catholics in the United Kingdom – of almost any age – have been failed by erroneous or even non-existent catechesis. Catholic politicians included. They can’t love what they don’t know. They can’t uphold what they don’t understand. 

    So what is to be done? Thankfully the Scottish bishops chose not only to curse the political darkness but also to light a candle. 

    “The time has come for a new generation of Catholics to join political parties and to dedicate ourselves to political service in a way that remains faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, laying the foundations for a new Civilisation of Love that serves the common good of all, especially the most vulnerable in our society”. 

    For this to happen, however, several things have to be achieved. Intellectually, it requires a public re-presentation of the Catholic faith – one that shows it to be harmonious with reason – as called for by Pope Benedict XVI in Westminster Hall in 2010. 

    “I would suggest that the world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilisation,” Benedict said. 

    The encouraging evidence from around the United Kingdom – witness this month’s article by Bishop John Keenan – is that the call of Pope Benedict is finally being heeded. 

    Politically, we need to provide much better formation for those young Catholics who would aspire to a life of public service; we also need to enhance our support – including spiritual support – for those already embarked upon this noble vocation. The next generation of Catholic politicians will require a well-developed and clear-sighted vision of the common good, coupled with the virtues of courage and prudence to pursue it. 

    The result will be a new type of Catholic politician who is capable of campaigning with clarity, compassion and flair on key ethical issues. Merely voting the right way when legislative push comes to shove is laudable but it’s not sufficient, as a glance across the Atlantic to Washington, DC, will show. 

    There on Capitol Hill you will find Congressman Chris Smith and Congressman Dan Lipinski. The former is a short, stocky Republican from New Jersey. The latter is a tall, thin Democrat from Illinois. Both are practising Catholics. Together they chair the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, a grouping of politicians who pursue their cause with intelligence, creativity and fearlessness. 

    “The passage of time hasn’t changed the fact that abortion is a serious, lethal violation of fundamental human rights,” Congressman Smith told more than 600,000 people gathered in Washington DC for the 2014 March for Life. 

    “[Nor the fact] that women and children deserve better. And that the demands of justice, generosity and compassion require that the right to life be guaranteed to everyone”.

    The fact that the majority of Americans – especially the young – now consider themselves pro-life is, in part, due to the unstinting efforts of Catholic politicians like Smith and Lipinski. They should be applauded.

    While role models closer to home are fewer in number, they can be found. For nearly five decades, Lord David Alton has consistently spoken up when others remained silent. His wide range of political passions bear the hallmark of a Catholic faith that seeks to uphold human dignity wherever it is threatened. There are many who disagree with Lord Alton. There are few who disrespect him.

    Then there is the pole star – and patron saint – for all Catholics involved in political life: Sir Thomas More. The heroic virtue he displayed in death was the result of a life rooted in deep personal prayer and ascetic discipline. 

    The one-time Lord Chancellor is a stark reminder that saints are not born but made. Catholics returning to Westminster – or even entering for the first time – should take note. 

    The campaign is over. The government is formed. The work of parliament continues. Business as usual? We pray not.