Notes From Across the Atlantic
David Mills FAITH MAGAZINE March-April 2013
David Mills is Executive Officer of First Things
Justice, Peace and the Martyrs
Thousands and possibly tens of thousands of Christians die for the faith every year, notes Daniel Philpott, writing in the Jesuit magazine America. They have died in India, Vietnam, Iraq, Colombia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Mexico, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Sri Lanka, China and Indonesia, most killed by Muslims. More Christians were martyred in the last century than in all of Church history before 1900.
Their deaths, Christians know, bear much fruit. Writing in America, Dan, who teaches at Notre Dame and wrote "Peace After Genocide" (June/July 2012), offers four ways in which the modern martyrs advance the Church's work of justice and reconciliation.
First, their deaths testify "to the justice that is violated in their very murder: that of religious freedom."
Second, their deaths "afford church communities the chance to recognise in each other what all Christians regard as the truest devotion to Christ - following him in his death on the cross." Third, and similarly, "martyrdom witnesses to friendship not only among Christian churches but also between religions," because "members of different faiths recognise holiness in martyrdom."
Finally, martyrdom invites forgiveness, which for the Christian not only cancels the debt but invites others to conversion and reconciliation.
Martyrdom, Dan concludes, is an act of remembrance, like the Eucharist, in which "we make the past present", and is an act we should perform often, and with gratitude. We would add that the highest form of gratitude is imitation.
Anglicans and Ecumenism
After centuries of "good and truly brotherly relations" things have got rough - there are "tangible difficulties", in the diplomatic language of church statements - between the Russian Orthodox Church and the churches of the Anglican Communion, and the Orthodox insist it's the Anglicans' fault. So writes Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the Russian Church's ecumenical officer, to the newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.
He brings up women priests and bishops, the blessing of same-sex "unions" and "marriages" (he uses the quotation marks), and the ordination of homosexuals.
These "deviations from the tradition of the Early Church ...increasingly estrange Anglicanism from the Orthodox Church and contribute to a further division of Christendom as a whole". He hopes the Anglicans will listen and that "good fraternal relationships between us will revive".
We presume he's not holding his breath.
The distinguished Catholic historian Eamon Duffy is "a theologically liberal ultramontanist" in his fellow Catholic historian William Tighe's striking phrase, used in a short review we published in November. Bill tells us that he heard one TLU insist that before breakfast the Pope could declare that women could be ordained and then after breakfast ordain as many of them as he liked.
This liberal ultramontanism helps explain the hatred some dissenting Catholics (not Duffy) have for the Pope, writes an English priest, Fr Ray Blake, on his weblog.
"They seem to have the idea that anything they object to is the personal responsibility of the Pope, that he alone is the brake, holding back their own vision of the Church. This is the terrifying Spirit of Vatican I that really sees the Church as the Pope's personal fiefdom and him as its master rather than its servant."
"Imagine There's no Heaven"
Look at suicide bombers, the guy at the other table was saying. They show what happens when you believe in heaven. The other guys at the table nodded or grunted in agreement.
Everyone knows that. It's the Time/ l/an/fyFa/r/Slate.com line. Religion lets people do horrific things to other people "in the name of God". Belief in heaven makes people reckless. The world would be safer without it. Of course, speaking with all due respect, this is stupid. Recklessness goes both ways. If you believe in heaven, you'll also sacrifice pleasures in this world, and maybe even your life, for the good of others. All those Catholic hospitals didn't get built by people like the guy at the other table.
It's a matter of drawing out the timeline far enough. If you think, and really believe, that your life lasts through eternity, the cost of giving up even life itself shrinks to nothing.
Look at it this way. You're 20 years old and someone tells you that if for just one day you work like a dog with a psychopath for a boss, being alternately baked in the Sahara and frozen in Siberia, and being eaten by mosquitoes and horseflies the whole time, you can cruise through the rest of your life without a care in the world. You'd take the deal.
At the crassest level, the level the theological expert at the next table should understand, belief in heaven makes saints as well as suicide bombers. We'd just point out that it's produced a lot more saints.
In an article on English women becoming Muslims that we quoted a couple of issues ago, the author
mentions a Vatican statement on interfaith marriages. The one paragraph that mentions the subject appears in a 2004 statement titled "The Love of Christ Towards Migrants".
Since you're probably as ignorant of the thing as we were, It says that marriages between Catholics and non-Christians "should be discouraged, though to a varying degree, depending on the religion of each partner, with exceptions in special cases in accordance with the norms of the CIC and CCEO [in other words canon law]."
It closes with a quote from John Paul II: "In families where both parents are Catholic, it is easier for them to share their common faith with their children. While acknowledging with gratitude interfaith marriages which succeeded in nourishing the faith of both spouses and children, the Synod encourages pastoral efforts to promote marriages between people of the same faith."
"Abortion", writes the political director of the Huffington Post UK, "is one of those rare political issues on which left and right seem to have swapped ideologies: right-wingers talk of equality, human rights and 'defending the innocent', while left-wingers fetishise 'choice', selfishness and unbridled individualism."
We think that's much less of a surprise than he does, but to his credit Mehdi Hasan rejects the cultural left's "my body, my life, my choice" line. Writing in the New Statesman he says: "Such rhetoric has always left me perplexed. Isn't socialism about protecting the weak and vulnerable, giving a voice to the voiceless? Who is weaker or more vulnerable than the unborn child? Which member of our society needs a voice more than the mute baby in the womb?"
"I consider abortion to be wrong because of, not in spite of, my progressive principles," he concludes. "That I am pro-life does not make me any less of a lefty."
Readers may know that the Society of St Pius X, the group that sort of left the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council (the theology of communion and schism is a subtle one), has ejected one of its four bishops.
Already infamous for his Holocaust denial, Richard Williamson led the opposition to the reconciliation with the Church offered by Pope Benedict. He apparently refused to obey the group's superior general
and his council and wrote an open letter demanding that the superior general resign.
The SSPX, headquartered in Econe, Switzerland, has insisted that the current pope is the pope but that the Church he runs is somehow deeply defective and "modernist". The society's members are, they say, true Roman Catholics, faithful to the Church as she really is, without the deformations brought by the Second Vatican Council (all of whose documents their founder signed). Theirs is "the Rome of the ages", as they like to put it.
The group's announcement said that "this painful decision has become necessary by concern for the common good of the Society of Saint Pius X and its good government, according to what Archbishop Lefebvre denounced: This is the destruction of authority. How can authority be exercised if it needs to ask all members to participate in the exercise of authority?'"
The SSPX demands more obedience to its leader than it is (at the moment) willing to give the pope it acknowledges as the pope. But perhaps Williamson could say that despite all appearances he really and truly still belongs to the SSPX because, though he disobeys "Modernist Econe," he is faithful to the "Econe of the Ages".
The New Translation
As we write, the Catholic Church in the English-speaking world is finishing the
first year using the new translation of the Novus Ordo, and everyone seems happy. No one complains, anyway, and everyone we hear around us at Mass seems to have learned the new responses. There's not an "And also with you" to be heard. OK, there was this one elderly man sitting behind us one Sunday who bellowed out all the old responses, and he certainly looked angry, but just one man on one Sunday.
Not what some people expected. Back before the American bishops finally approved the new translation, the bishop of Erie, former head of the bishops' liturgical committee, warned that it might lead to a "pastoral disaster". In a major public lecture, Donald Trautman declared that "as a text for public proclamation, in many instances it borders on failure... As it stands, the New Missal is not pastorally sensitive to our people... Our liturgy needs not a 'sacred language' but a pastoral language".
The bishop smuggles in a lot of dubious ideas in that distinction between "sacred" and "pastoral," and his understanding of "vernacular" is more than a little biased. He overlooks the problems with the previous version, which is a little like ignoring the approaching white light when you're standing on a railroad track.
But we agree with him in calling for a translation, faithful to the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, "that is accurate, inspiring, reverent, proclaimable, understandable, pastoral in every sense - a text that raises our minds and hearts to God". We just think that's what we've got now.
The Public Order Act
Last month, we published English barrister Paul Diamond's report on official bigotry against Christianity in England, which uses the Public Order Act and its outlawing of speech that is "threatening, abusive, or insulting" as an excuse. As it happens, a recent issue of The Spectator includes more evidence.
Starting with the absurd. A man in the north of England was arrested and convicted under the act for... even the Anglophobes among you won't believe this ... growling at some labrador retrievers. Oh yes, and saying "Woof." The conviction was later overturned. It only cost the English £8,000.
More worrisome, writes Melanie McDonagh, the respected writer Matthew Parris, a Tory, reported listening to a pro-life Member of Parliament and, noticing the man's name, checked his religion. Finding out that the MP was a Catholic, he dismissed his argument because "he presumably believes that... almost any termination after conception is not just a sin but a mortal sin."
McDonagh also mentions the criticism that a professor of psychiatry at University College Dublin received for not declaring her Catholicism when writing on abortion for the British Journal of Psychiatry.
No one called for a pro-choice foundation to admit its bias in a recent paper on the same subject. "It's religious belief that appears to undermine the validity of your research and your academic integrity," she notes. "Secular prejudice doesn't count."
Finally, James Delingpole mentions that his niece told him that whenever students at her state school mention Muhammad, they are required to add "Peace Be Upon Him," though they're allowed to say "PBUH" instead.
"You can imagine the fuss," he writes, "if at every mention of the name Jesus Christ all children of whatever creed were forced to raise their arms in the air and add 'Our Lord and Saviour, He is risen, Alleluia.'"
The Public Order Act, argues Rod Liddle, source of the first story, "is used ... to criminalise people who express inconvenient political views". And als