May/June 2017

Seeing in a new light

Michael A. Hayes

A few weeks ago across the country and across the world, people gathered for the great Easter Vigil. The beginning of that celebration was the lucernarium or service of light when the faithful gathered around a new fire that was blessed and then, from the new fire, the great Paschal candle was lit – the candle that is the sign of the Resurrection and stands in churches everywhere, close to the ambo, as a sign of the Risen Lord. A
significant part of the Easter Vigil is the liturgy of the Word when a number of passages are proclaimed from the Old Testament, which recount the story of salvation offered to God’s people. Because the Paschal candle stands there, the readings are proclaimed, literally, in the light of the Resurrection. Scripture scholars help us appreciate just how much of the New Testament writings draw on themes, passages and references from the Hebrew Scriptures, but those passages are all re-interpreted – in the light of the Resurrection. The Resurrection for the first followers of Jesus was not just an event which changed what followed – it re-interpreted what went before also. The passages from Isaiah and the Psalms that make up so much of the Easter liturgy are seen to speak primarily, not of the events of the time of their writing, but of the events of the Paschal Mystery.

The Resurrection of Jesus changed – and changes – everything. At this time of the year the Church offers generous amounts of passages from the book of the Acts of the Apostles, and anyone hearing the account of the early Church that Luke gives will be struck by the extraordinary dynamism, attributed to the Spirit of the Risen Jesus that fuels the apparently irresistible growth of the Christian communities. The change from a small frightened uncomprehending band of Galileans to a driven movement of Jews and Gentiles alike, spreading across the Roman Empire to proclaim the Risen Lord, is startling – the witness of history bears out the extraordinarily rapid development of the growth of the Church – both in terms of numbers, but also in terms of the development of a new understanding of what God had done and was doing.

Our theological tradition tells us that the Incarnation, ministry, Passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus was not some ‘Plan B’ of God to save and retrieve some original design that had somehow gone wrong. The Exsultet – the Easter Proclamation at the Vigil – proclaims the Felix Culpa – the happy fault, the necessary sin of Adam which brought about so great an act of redemption. The eternal God lives outside of time and space and so does not need to respond in time and place to events that are part of the created world. From the earliest times, from the writings of Paul and the early fathers of the Church, Christians have recognised that while the workings of God are Mystery they are not utterly incomprehensible. Yet what has enabled the community of faithful to articulate that faith is not intellectual acumen, a cerebral working out of a great conundrum, but ultimately faith in the Resurrection and the power that is thereby unleashed in the faithful. It was – and is – because of faith in the presence of the Risen Lord that Christians can express the ways in which the Christ event gives an entirely new vision of life.

And that continues to be the reality for the community of faith today. Each year we live this time of Easter, this time of Resurrection, not as a memory of something that happened in the past to someone else, but as the present dynamism which changes everything including ourselves. Just as the early Christians were transformed, just as they were able to read back retrospectively the reality of the Paschal Mystery into the Hebrew Scriptures, so today the community of faith continues to celebrate the Resurrection, not as an event that has gone, but as an abiding presence that changes the way that everything is perceived. The liturgy constantly calls us to appreciate that, and, by participation, to see everything in a new light – which is the light of the Risen Lord. That is why – especially in this season – Christians have an extra spring in their step.    

Is there any difference between ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue?

Kevin McDonald

Kevin McDonald, Archbishop Emeritus of Southwark, offers some reflections on the distinction between ecumenical and inter-religious relations.

When I worked in the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity (1985-93) certain distinctions were seen as axiomatic in a way that is not quite the case today. For example a very clear distinction was made between ecumenical dialogue and inter-religious dialogue. Ecumenical dialogue had as its aim the establishment or restoration of full communion of faith and sacramental life between Christians of different Communions. This quite specific goal was seen as a matter of urgency since Christian disunity is an anomaly which is clearly contrary to the will of Christ for his Church. Inter-religious dialogue, on the other hand, was not seen as having any such specific objective and was talked about in terms of mutual understanding, peace in the world and so on. It was a matter of mild irritation at the Pontifical Council that the American Bishops’ Conference had an office for ‘ecumenical and inter-religious relations’ when we would have preferred them to be kept separate.

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The return of the soul?

Peter Tyler

As psychologists and theologians alike have recently started using ‘soul-language’ again, this article explores some of the implications of this ‘return of the soul’ for our understanding of the human person. Peter Tyler is Professor of Pastoral Theology and Spirituality at St Mary’s University, Twickenham.

One of the most unusual phenomena in the past couple of decades has been the return of discourse about the soul in respectable psychological, and indeed theological, circles. In the 2012 new English translation of the Missal, the soul returned to the penitent communicant before the reception of the Blessed Sacrament when the muttered words, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed’ were replaced with, ‘Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.’ It was the use of the word ‘soul’ that struck some commentators as somewhat old-fashioned and atavistic. Why start using the term ‘soul’ again? Especially after it seemed to have been quietly forgotten for the past thirty years – does it not have connotations of dualism and mind-body splits?

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From Fear of Freedom to Freedom from Fear:Toleration Theology in Dignitatis Humanae (2)

Anthony Towey

Mindful that 2017 is a significant year for ecumenical relationships, in this two-part article, Anthony Towey explains why Vatican II’s Dignitatis Humanae was key to a renewed approach of Catholicism to the views of other Christians and indeed to adherents of all faiths and none. Anthony Towey is the Director of the Aquinas Centre at St Mary’s University, Twickenham.

In the first part of this double article published at the beginning of March, I traced the biblical background to Dignitatis Humanae, the ground breaking document on religious freedom which forms part of the sixteen part ‘canon’ of Vatican II. From scripture, evidence flows in both directions – freedom seems a mixed blessing. Specific covenant belonging is vital, but the argument in favour of controlling anyone, any place or anything by prophetic, political or religious means, is inconclusive. This cross-current is something we will see running through the river of ecclesial history which we will now consider alongside recent papal contributions to the debate. As we shall see, ultimately our Church is seemingly reconciled to a deep conundrum of our human condition. Namely, the right to be right must include the right to be wrong.
Ecclesial perspectives on religious liberty

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Our Lady of Fatima: exploring the message of faith, hope and love

David Fincham

May 2017 marks the centenary of the first of six apparitions of Our Lady to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal. David Fincham, a lecturer in Catholic School Leadership at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, offers a brief history.

I visited the holy shrine of Fatima with two friends in February 2015. When we arrived, entering the wide space of the sanctuary, the cold morning air under clear blue skies pinched the skin on my face, suffusing it with a lambent glow. My astonished eyes were drawn to the focal point of the sanctuary, the Chapel of the Apparitions. This was the spot that marks the supernatural appearances of the Blessed Virgin Mary to three shepherd children a century ago. There I discovered her image, enclosed in a case on a marble pedestal.

Towering over the sanctuary, pure white in the spring sunlight, the spire of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary pointed upwards to the heavens. Towards the basilica, a group of pilgrims walked on their knees or crawled in penitence and obeisance. Whilst a number of visitors and pilgrims wandered with awe and curiosity around the sanctuary, I was struck by the stillness, the silence all around me. It was evident that this was a special place.

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