Sunday, 21 April 2013

Some good old common sense about same-sex marriage

Sometimes a brave person says it like it is - no "sophisticated" arguments but just an appeal to common sense and, well, the way things are.  Archbishop Cordileone, Archishop of San Francisco, has done just that about same-sex marriage and issued a few matter-of-fact words of encouragement to its opposers as well.  Taken from "The Catholic Illustrated" produced by the marvellous monks on Papa Stronsay - I hope they don't mind!

 "Truth is clear.  Wanting children to be connected to a mother and father discriminates against no one.  Every child has a father and a mother, and either you support the only institution that connects a child with their father and mother or you don't.  Adoption, by a mother and father, mirrors the natural union of a mother and father and provides a balanced, happy alternative for when a child may not be reared by their biological parents... If you use theology, you will play into their hands and they will say you use religion to control people.  Marriage isn't primarily in theology; marriage is in nature.  Theology builds on the natural institution, giving us a deeper mystical and supernatural sense of its meaning... Fighting for marriage is our way of loving God, and the struggle is the particular gift that God has given our generation.  This is our particular trial, and by overcoming it we may achieve spiritual greatness.  It will entail suffering if we are to oppose gay marriage, something which poses such destruction to the understanding of natural marriage, which is a child-oriented institution... Legislating for the right for people of the same sex to marry is like legalising male breastfeeding... All our detractors can do is call us names... Big deal if they shout at us or throw insults!" (From "Catholic Herald")

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Why I accept what the Church teaches about gay marriage

The article below is intended for a future edition of our parish magazine and was written in response to one expressing the view that gay marriage should be allowed.   

This is very much a topic of the moment, although some say that there are many injustices in the world to tackle such as poverty and violence and that we should “live and let love”... I would argue that marriage is in fact a subject that is so intrinsically bound up with our concept of who and what the human being is that we cannot form a true concept of human dignity without having a true understanding of human sexuality.  It is from a true concept of human dignity that all justice and peace issues draw their justification.

Of course the human person is more than his or her sexuality.  “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” as St Paul tells us in Galatians 3:28.  However this essential equality does not diminish the importance of masculinity and femininity, and much of that importance lies precisely in their relationship with each other.  We are made in the image of God, as Genesis 1:27 tells us, “male and female”.  Blessed Pope John Paul II in his writings on The Theology of the Body offers us a striking insight; the human person’s creation as male and female is in itself of foundational importance in the way in which he images God.  “It is not right that the man should be alone” (Gen 2:18); the human being made as a response to this is of the opposite sex to Adam.  In the union of man and woman - expressed consummately via sexual intercourse - they become, in John Paul II’s words, “an icon in some sense of the inner life of the Trinity”.  It is a fruitful union, for just as the love between Father and Son blossoms forth in the form of the Person of the Holy Spirit, the love of man and woman can produce a child. 

We should never reduce human sex and procreation to the level of mere biology. “The soul is the form of the body” (as Aristotle first put it), which means that every aspect of the human person’s physical existence in some way expresses and embodies his spiritual essence. Physical realities point to spiritual truths. That’s why the Church has always been able to see marriage and the sexual complementarity it involves as reflective of the relationship between Christ and His Church.  This isn’t an idea that originated with St Paul but from the Jewish tradition from which he came, as we see from reading the Old Testament. Three millennia of rich theology have emerged from reflection on the complementary union of the sexes; the time is ripe for us to rediscover and re-explore that theology.

Of course marriage is not the only relationship that can express something of the love and fidelity that exists between the three Persons of the Trinity.  Human beings do this in all our friendships and our loves but marriage does so in a particular way.  Love and commitment are wonderful things but sex is not the appropriate way to express every form of them.  

This leads us on to a major reason why the Church teaches that marriage can only exist between a man and a woman.  Sexual intercourse represents a total giving of oneself to another in such a way that binds the two partners together in an exclusive covenant relationship, mirroring the covenant between God and His people made in Christ.  Advocates of gay marriage argue that this can be the case between two men or two women as well - but in arguing thus, they fly in the face of the Church’s constant teaching that you cannot separate the unitive (loving) and procreative aspects of sex.  If you do, it is no longer an act involving the totality of being of each of the partners; something (each partner’s capacity to create life) is held back and sex is no longer expressive of what it is meant to express.  This rules out not only gay sex but also artificially contracepted or sterilised sex.  The special type of spiritual fruitfulness inherent in marriage is intrinsically bound up with its capacity for physical fruitfulness (and this capacity is an attribute of maleness and femaleness, even if a circumstance such as age or natural infertility thwarts it in practice). 

Developments in our scientific knowledge are in one sense irrelevant to the Church’s theology of marriage, although they can of course be of great benefit when it comes to pastoral care. We do not yet have a fully developed understanding of the biological, psychological and social factors that may interact to form an individual’s sexuality. We are all however aware that nature does not always work as it is intended to; this is a result of the Fallen state of our world.  Describing homosexual inclinations as “disordered” does not mean that the Church is denigrating homosexuals as being somehow worse than the rest of us, somehow “abnormal”.  We are all disordered in various ways.  The Catechism is clear about the dignity that gay people share in common with everyone else. “The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible... They must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.  Every unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.  These persons are called to fulfil God’s will in their lives...” (CCC 2358).

We all have the same calling to sanctity and we all have the same chance to achieve it.  In Christ we are indeed all equal and, as St Peter exclaims, “God does not show favouritism” (Acts 10:34). There can be no justification for making anyone feel like an unwelcome outsider in our churches.  At the same time, true love means willing the best for the other and that means speaking the truth to our Christian brothers and sisters. 

Some may object, “All this is just the Church’s point of view and it is out of touch.”  Certainly, on a purely intellectual level there is always a counter-argument to be made.  Pope Francis on the other hand speaks a lot about the “heart”.  The Pope as we know is a Jesuit and in the Jesuit tradition, according to a recent article by Alejandro Bermudez in the National Catholic Register, “the heart is the core of the human person, the place of the soul, where the encounter between God and man takes place”.  It is in this sacred place, the place where we are most intimately ourselves and where we meet God face to face, that we need to find our answers to the issue of gay marriage.  How do we do this?  How will God speak to us through the great cloud of personal emotions and prejudices that we all have and the changeable winds of currently prevailing social attitudes?  

Like many other debates, the issue of gay marriage draws attention to something on which we all, as individual Catholics, need to sort out our position.  What authority do we accord to the Magisterium (the teaching function) of the Catholic Church?  Is it Christ’s voice to us or is it not?  What meaning do we take from the words of the Catechism that “It is this Magisterium’s task to preserve God’s people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error.  Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates.  To fulfil this service, Christ endowed the Church’s shepherds [the successors of the apostles, that is the Bishops in union with the Pope] with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals” (CCC 890).  

We can nit-pick about the conditions for infallibility, or we can simply reflect that the Church in the course of formulating her teachings has pondered for two thousand years on the insights of greater minds than ours.  The ultimate discernment about which of these insights into the Revelation of Christ’s Gospel are true rests with that part of the Church which bears Christ’s authority to formulate and defend His truths.  It is not, in the final analysis, a question of how many people in the pews of our parish or in the wider Church agree with something.  Faith and morals are not a matter of consensus.

Friday, 29 March 2013

So when is a person a person?

When a friend and I went up to take part in the 40 Days for Life prayer vigil recently we ended up having a very interesting conversation with a pro-choice advocate in which we had a short debate about when precisely life began. It's a question that divides many but, from what I have experienced, no two people who maintain that life begins at any moment other than conception can agree on when precisely it starts. Some say it's when all the organs develop, some when there is a heartbeat, some say it's during the third trimester, some when the baby is actually born. And the thing is their understanding, their opinion will change depending upon the circumstances. To the woman considering aborting a child at, say, 20 weeks its "just a clump of cells", to the woman excitedly announcing she's 5 months pregnant its time for congratulations as she's carrying a baby. And now, alas, there is this from Planned Parenthood in the US.

I think the bit that highlights the utter hypocrisy, utter lunacy of this organisation's endorsement of post-birth abortion is when Ms. Snow (Planned Parenthood's representative) is asked;

Representative: "Along the same lines you stated that a baby born on a table as a result of a botched abortion that that decision should be left to the doctor and the family? Is that what you're saying?"

Ms Snow: "That decision should be between the patient and the health care provider."

Representative: "I think that at that point that the patient would be the child struggling on the table. Wouldn't you agree?"

Ms Snow: "That's a very good question, I really don't know how to answer that. ..."

Her response sums up the whole debate on abortion; when is a life a life? When is it 'acceptable' to take a life? At what point is a baby a baby? Under these circumstances a child is not even a child when born alive; his or her heart is beating, he or she is breathing, he or she is probably crying but it's not a baby and it's 'acceptable' for that life to be ended if the woman, the doctor and the family say so.

Life begins at the moment the egg is fertilised; that fertilised ovum will continue to divide and grow, it has human DNA and, all being well, it will continue to grow and thrive and be born. He or she is a person at the second they are born, he or she is a person five minutes before they were born, he or she is a person at every point in the pregnancy. All of us were created equal, all of us have equal dignity. One thing that really hits home writing this post today; Good Friday is that we are powerfully reminded that Christ came to restore this fundamental dignity as children of God. No one can strip us of that. It is never right to take a life.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Watch and pray...

On Friday night a Vigil of Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament was held at our church (St John's RC in Horsham) for pro-life intentions and to mark the ending of the 40 Days for Life prayer campaign.  We began with the usual Friday night Stations of the Cross, using some Stations specifically written with pro-life causes in mind.  This was followed by Mass and then silent prayer before the exposed Sacrament until midnight, when Fr Richard closed the evening most beautifully with solemn Benediction.

It was a privilege to be able to spend this time quietly with Our Lord in the darkened church.  In the background we could hear Friday night revelry going on (our church being in a town centre location) and for a while we were accompanied by a, thankfully muffled, electric guitar soundtrack but none of that could really impinge on the sacred time and place in which we were caught up.  It was a time of kairos, a time when the eternal breaks through into the temporal... and a fitting preparation for the time of prayer before the reposed Blessed Sacrament that many of us will be spending on Holy Thursday night, as we stay with Jesus during His time of agony in the Garden.

There weren't so awfully many of us (though a fair few - an enormous, enormous THANK YOU to you all for coming!) and we were only there for a little time... but I firmly believe that Our Lord deposits each of our prayer offerings, great or small, into the spiritual treasury of His Church, whence they can be drawn upon by others as blessings in their time of need or used to forge weapons for the spiritual battle in which humanity is caught up. We can't know on this side of the grave how many babies may be saved from abortion or post-abortive women healed of their grief and guilt through our prayers, but we can know that prayer is the absolutely vital foundation on which all our pro-life efforts must be based.

A big thank you to Katherine for organising the evening, to Fr Richard and to all who supported us in any way, including the boy and his dad (I'm so sorry I don't know your names) who kindly came back into church at midnight so that the lad could assist at Benediction.

Wishing all readers many blessings and graces during Holy Week.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Praying with 40 Days for Life

Today a friend and fellow pro-life group member and I travelled up to London to take part of the 40 Days for Life vigil outside of the BPAS centre in Bedford Square. For those of you who don't know or have never been 40 Days for Life is a peaceful campaign of prayer outside of abortion clinics and centres, like BPAS, that refer women for abortions which takes place in various locations across the country as well as all over the world. One thing that I have found is that people assume that this sort of pro-life outreach is very aggressive, lots of shouting and banner waving and generally trying to force their view upon others but this couldn't be further from the truth. The vigil is peaceful and prayerful, those volunteers who come along do so out of a love for those who are going through a crisis pregnancy as well as their unborn children (as well as those who have previously had abortions) and do not want to cause them any additional distress. What we have discovered as a group from talking to people who have had abortions is that they, more often not, felt as though they had no choice; their partner/boyfriend/husband was pressuring them to do it, their parents were ashamed and wanted them to abort, they were faced with difficulties at work which pushed them to do it. They had no one listen to what they wanted (sometimes they weren't even asked!) and even though they know that things like adoption exist, in that time of stress and panic they chose what felt as though it was the only way out, a decision they now regret. What the campaign aims to do is to show women that there are other options; if they don't want the baby they can choose adoption, if they feel that they can't financially support a child there are many, many ways to do this now, if they are facing abusive situations they can be helped to get out of them, if they are alone then there are lots of people who can help support them and if they have had an abortion in the past or have been affected by one they can be put in touch with a counsellor to help them to deal with this loss. The volunteers don't approach people as they enter but stand quietly over the road, praying the rosary and similar prayers. If someone comes up and speaks to us we do, of course, speak to them but we don't try to stop people entering the centres. We pray for them amongst ourselves. There are the odd hecklers (there were three when I was up there on Friday) but mostly people look but pass on by.

I feel I now have to blog about something that happened later on which is not part of the campaign but does worth mentioning. I apologise for my poor retelling of this but I hope you can see why I wanted to relate it. After our hour there my friend and I had lunch and after we'd warmed up we started back for the train station. To do so we walked past the vigil again and we saw that the local pro-choice group had set up their table behind them and one young woman had sellotaped a banner to the ground a short distance in front of them that read "These people tell LIES about abortion." I slowed my pace and we both read it as we walked by and the woman herself then said that the pro-lifers spread lies about abortion. I told her I didn't agree, she said that was my opinion, I then pointed to her slogan said and that this was simply hers. To my shame I was going to carry on walking but my very courageous friend stopped and we had what then became a very interesting and worthwhile conversation. I owe my friend a great big thank you! What was so good about this conversation was that we each took the time (albeit briefly as we did, alas, have a train to catch) to listen to each other's point of views (one of the other pro-choice group came over to talk to us too) and discuss them. Had we had more time we could all have had a coffee together and had a very fascinating discussion I'm sure!! My friend spoke about her own abortion, the pro-choice lady had had one too, and she said how she deeply regretted it as she knew that that action had ended another life. The pro-choice lady (sorry, I don't want to use names or descriptions of people without permission) said she felt the pro-lifers were intimidating, we responded to that by saying we want to highlight there are other options; both my friend and other people we both know have, as I previously said, felt pushed into it, no other options were given in any of the stories we told her which she agreed was wrong. She also said she felt that, on both sides of the argument, it was male-dominated; men telling women to abort or not abort and she thought too that the pro-life movement was mainly men; we told our group is all women and we are not anti-woman in any way. My friend said she'd become involved in this peaceful movement due to her own abortion and I told her that I had because I did not believe that anyone, under any circumstances had the right to take the life of another which is why I would also never support euthanasia or the death penalty (if there were ever a push for it to be legalised once more). What we both found quite interesting is that she agreed with me totally in this view, we were coming from the same starting place but she didn't consider an unborn baby a baby. I wish we'd had longer to talk about this as we did start talking about when life begins and it really was good to discuss it. What we all agreed before my friend and I dashed off for the train was that the two sides should talk more as we'd all got something out of our brief and polite exchange.

After we left I did feel very bad that I would have just carried on walking and I have no excuse as to why. Perhaps I let my own fear or misguided bias of what the other side might have to say but what I discovered is that we actually do have a lot of common ground but differ on some very key and essential points (I didn't see the common ground side of it before) and we should really engage with each other more often. Even if ultimately we agree to disagree we can't expect to make a difference, to change minds and hearts without properly listening to one another, hearing what we each have to say and explaining our points of view. And how can we properly witness to the truth if we don't take up the opportunities to do so?! Thank you so much, again, to my fellow pro-life as she did a great thing today and I won't just walk on next time!!

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

News from St John's Pro-Life Group

As ever it's been quite a task to coordinate our diaries - mainly because most of the members of our Group are taken up with "pro-life in action", i.e. family life with all its often last-minute demands!  Praise God for it.  However on Monday of this week four of the Group - Katherine, Chris, Niki and Anneli - did manage to meet up for a somewhat overdue St John's Pro Life Group meeting in the church hall, with apologies from other members.  Here follows a brief rundown of our plans and discussions.

Same-sex "marriage"

For obvious reasons this has been high on our Group agenda lately.  Before the Commons vote some members of the parish had attended a very informative meeting held at our church hall by SPUC with the aim of equipping priests and lay people to campaign effectively against the same-sex marriage bill (see previous post here). It was a great day and we got loads of useful material.  Just one quibble though: understandably the meetings (held by SPUC at various locations through the country) were arranged rather hastily, but communication from SPUC HQ was a tad random, with for example Stella getting a personal 'phone call in advance of the day and Katherine (our group Chair) only finding out via a last-minute letter meaning she didn't have time to make the necessary arrangements to attend.  Hmm... The pro-same-sex marriage campaigners are very well-organised in their publicity and lobbying efforts.  We need to be, too.  But in any case, many many thanks to SPUC for an extremely helpful and heartening meeting.

Our discussions on Monday night ranged from the fact that, whilst carried and without as many abstentions as we might have hoped, the Bill was by no means a landslide victory with a significant vocal minority in the House ready to defend traditional marriage (we await the Lords debate with interest) to our MP's dismissive reply to a letter sent by Anneli and Edek on the topic recently (most of our points were simply ignored) and the widespread vitriol and vituperation exhibited by supporters of same-sex marriage to those opposing it.  If it is not permissible (and it certainly isn't) to bully gay people, why is it acceptable to send death threats to those who advocate keeping the meaning of marriage as it is or to bully their children in the playground? Does freedom of conscience only apply to the "in crowd"?

But I rant, exactly the behaviour I'm complaining about!  Pausing only to reflect, as we did on Monday, that the vehemence displayed by some supporters of same-sex marriage may be indicative of a superficial view of "individual rights" resulting from a lack of cognisance of the wider issues involved - and that doubtless some supporters of traditional marriage haven't been minding their manners either - we'll move on!

40 Days for Life

Katherine and Chris supported this campaign last time round and plan to go up again on Sunday 3 March where we have booked a slot to pray quietly and peacefully in front of the BPAS centre.  They will be joined by Anneli and any other St John's parishioners who would like to come.  Meet us at the 9am Mass at St John's or at Horsham Station where we will be catching the 10.30am London train.  If you aren't able to make it, please consider saying a daily Memorare for the Campaign during Lent:

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help or sought thy intercession was left unaided.  Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O virgin of virgins, my mother.  To thee I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful.  O mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petition, but in thy mercy hear and answer me.  Amen.

Pro-Life Mass and All Night Vigil

Some of the most beautiful events held in our parish have been pro-life Masses followed by all night vigils before the Blessed Sacrament.  With our parish priest's permission we are hoping it will be possible to celebrate another in March. We've done this now (two? three?) times with the inclusion of all the mysteries of the Rosary, said for pro-life intentions, during the night.  The idea is that people sign up in advance for an hour's prayer slot, with two people at the minimum being required during each slot for the practical purposes of safety - but we've always managed at least that!

Sometimes it does seem that there's so little we can do.  The prevailing ethics of modern society can feel like a huge black Goliath of a supertank growing ever bigger as it guns and speeds onwards, with pro-lifers a small, small band of Davids standing knock-kneed before it clutching our slings and stones.  (Possibly I have been spending too much time watching my offspring play X Box games.)  There's something bigger and more powerful than the Goliath supertank though and that's prayer.  Every time we gather quietly to bring pro-life intentions before our Saviour, we raise up new strength and inspiration for ourselves and new power for the spiritual battle.  That all sounds rather "violent" but in fact we are fighting for hearts - the heart of our society, the hearts of humankind, the beating hearts of the unborn, vulnerable and elderly.

Other stuff

We aim to produce a pro-life newsletter approximately quarterly which is distributed to all parishioners at Mass and hopefully we will be able to release another one to coincide with the Vigil, trying to explain why we are opposing the same-sex marriage Bill and reporting on our trip to London.  We also aim to have another post-Mass Cake Sale (big respect to our Cake Team of Amanda, Demelza and Chris who know how to hold a cake stall like no-one else does) - I suppose we'll have to wait until after Lent for that one though!  After the Sale we will be making a donation to a local charity, as yet TBD.  We passed a resolution some time back that we would aim to support a different local charity each year through fundraising; last year Aila's Fund was grateful to benefit.

We're happy to report that all is well with the Memorial to the Unborn Child in Hill's Farm Cemetery, so lovingly restored and planted by Stella and her daughter Bekah, and would like to thank the staff at the cemetery for the kindly eye they are keeping on it so that it remains safe and beautiful.

That just about concluded proceedings, though in a rare burst of efficiency we managed to put a date in the diary for our next meeting in April!  A  big vote of thanks to our amazing Chair, Katherine, who manages to keep the Group alive and active despite having a thousand other calls on her time.  If anyone reading this would like to get involved, please do contact her via this blog.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Thank you, Papa B!

 My reaction to the news today of Pope Benedict XVI's resignation was, I expect, fairly typical - shock and sadness.  I love "Papa B" - as our Pope, but also for his particular qualities... his theological wisdom, the way he has re-established a place in the Church for centuries-old traditions such as the Extraordinary Form Mass so that they can take their place alongside and complementary to newer developments, his sincere engagement with modern secular culture, his love for souls and evangelical zeal... and, above all perhaps, his devotion to those two soulmates who can never survive when separated: Love and Truth.

I know the rest of St John's Pro-Life Group as well as countless others will join me in praying for a happy and blessed retirement for "Papa B" and in thanksgiving for the countless blessings he has brought to the Church.  This is a pro-life blog and so I would especially like to thank Pope Benedict for his tireless defence of the sanctity of human life and his steadfast witness to the truth of human nature.  Over the years he's written and said many things on the subject; in grateful commemoration of this aspect of his ministry, I quote here from his message for this year's World Day of Peace on 1 January (courtesy of the Priests for Life website).

Peacemakers are those who love, defend and promote life in its fullness
The path to the attainment of the common good and to peace is above all that of respect for human life in all its many aspects, beginning with its conception, through its development and up to its natural end. True peacemakers, then, are those who love, defend and promote human life in all its dimensions, personal, communitarian and transcendent. Life in its fullness is the height of peace. Anyone who loves peace cannot tolerate attacks and crimes against life.

Those who insufficiently value human life and, in consequence, support among other things the liberalization of abortion, perhaps do not realize that in this way they are proposing the pursuit of a false peace. The flight from responsibility, which degrades human persons, and even more so the killing of a defenceless and innocent being, will never be able to produce happiness or peace. Indeed how could one claim to bring about peace, the integral development of peoples or even the protection of the environment without defending the life of those who are weakest, beginning with the unborn. Every offence against life, especially at its beginning, inevitably causes irreparable damage to development, peace and the environment. Neither is it just to introduce surreptitiously into legislation false rights or freedoms which, on the basis of a reductive and relativistic view of human beings and the clever use of ambiguous expressions aimed at promoting a supposed right to abortion and euthanasia, pose a threat to the fundamental right to life.

There is also a need to acknowledge and promote the natural structure of marriage as the union of a man and a woman in the face of attempts to make it juridically equivalent to radically different types of union; such attempts actually harm and help to destabilize marriage, obscuring its specific nature and its indispensable role in society.

These principles are not truths of faith, nor are they simply a corollary of the right to religious freedom. They are inscribed in human nature itself, accessible to reason and thus common to all humanity. The Church’s efforts to promote them are not therefore confessional in character, but addressed to all people, whatever their religious affiliation. Efforts of this kind are all the more necessary the more these principles are denied or misunderstood, since this constitutes an offence against the truth of the human person, with serious harm to justice and peace.

Today is the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes.  Let's ask her to pray for our Pope in his retirement, for the Barque of St Peter as it awaits the next Captain to steer it through often choppy waters and especially for the conclave who must elect that Captain.  May God's Will be done!