April/May/June 2020

‘We shall overcome’

Anthony Towey

In the seasonal liturgies covered by this edition of the Pastoral Review, the Church will not only celebrate Holy Week, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost, but beautiful feast days such as Trinity Sunday, Corpus Christi and the Feast of Peter and Paul. Rich fayre indeed, and adorned still further by the garlanded pieties of May, the month of Mary.
It was Hans Urs von Balthasar who referred to such things as the ‘Petrine’, ‘Pauline’ and ‘Marian’ elements of the Church. In so doing he identified ‘institution’, ‘mission’ and ‘charism’ as respectively capturing elements constitutive of its nature. Along with aspects such as the ‘Johannine’ (contemplative love) and ‘Jacobine’ (tradition), von Balthasar describes an ecclesiology that connects persons with principles and roots theological imagination in the example of lived lives.

So much for theological depth. Skittered by growing up to the music of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger et al., I can never think of the biblical Peter, Paul and Mary without recalling the popular folk trio of the same name. Along with the aforementioned luminaries, they closed the 1963 Newport Folk Festival with an arms-linked rendition of ‘We shall overcome’. Taken at the height of the Civil Rights movement, the activism and optimism of the musicians is captured in iconic photographs of the finale, a collective non-violent defiance.

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Creation, ecology, and a cry for mercy

Celia Deane-Drummond, Director of the Laudato Si’ Research Institute at Campion Hall, Oxford, reflects on the fifth anniversary of Laudato Si’ and its continuing relevance for the Church today.

Witnessing through the TV screen the burning wildfires in Australia at the start of the new decade in 2020, destroying people and their homes along with billions of other creatures, brought one thought into my mind: apocalypse. The traumatic suffering of those creatures unable to escape those ferocious fires in a living holocaust was almost indescribable. This is not simply a natural calamity; scientists have been saying for years that climate change will elevate and exaggerate natural disasters on a scale never experienced before. That time has now come. In the UK, we are most likely to suffer floods and erratic weather patterns, but not wildfires which are only really feasible in large continents. Climate change is not simply about the earth heating up. Different forms of devastation will happen in other parts of the world as weather patterns become more and more unpredictable. It is difficult to absorb the scale of what is going on and still retain a sense of purpose.

In such a context, where giving up in despair would be a natural response, the message of Pope Francis’ papal encyclical Laudato Si’, published in 2015, is more relevant than ever. Just as the evil genocide of the innocents by King Herod at the time of Christ’s birth could not overcome divine purpose in the incarnation, so destructive events on a mass scale need not have the final word. Laudato Si’ begins defiantly with praise for the created world around us, and indeed invites other creatures into that praise. Creation is still to be celebrated, even while we need to be closely attentive to what is happening the world over. His message is one of inclusion rather than exclusion. The earth, our common home ‘is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us’.1

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New Monasticism and the environment

Pastoral Review editor Professor Anthony Towey recently spoke to Richard Barnard, a member of Christian Climate Action, about the ‘Twelve Marks’ of the New Monasticism, and how they shape his Christian beliefs and environmental activism. Here is the transcript of that interview.

Anthony: Richard, just a quick word in terms of your good self and New Monasticism – the different approach to life that people like yourself have adopted during these last years.

Richard: My initial thoughts on New Monasticism are that it’s not all that new. I like the fact that through its ‘Twelve Marks’ it tries to bring old monastic spiritual practices into the contemporary world. I see it as a kind of prophetic call on the Church and Christian folk to a way of living rather than focusing on a set of beliefs and dogmas – if you like ‘creating a new world in the shadow of the old’, as Peter Maurin of the Catholic Worker Movement put it. And I think, crucially, rather than by fleeing from the world and going to live in the desert, it’s actually about locating ourselves in the world, but in ‘the abandoned places of the empire’ and so challenging that empire from within. And the reason why that’s monasticism rather than just another ‘thing’ is because the contemplative element of it is really key, as a challenge to a worldly way of doing things such that even when we’re trying to be good Christian folk, we don’t run around trying to do as many things as possible and take the Protestant work ethic too far. And actually, in order to challenge capitalism and the things that have got us into this mess, we might need a bit more contemplative practice, a bit more looking out of the window at trees rather than writing in a book.

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How far have we come in five years? The legacy of Laudato Si’ in England and Wales

Edward de Quay, Project Manager for the Bishops’ Conference Environmental Advisory Group, looks at how Catholics in England and Wales have responded to Laudato Si’ and how each of us can be part of that response.

To those keenly waiting for the publication of Laudato Si’ (LS) the text was a relief. Led by Scripture and grounded in science, it identified care for creation as key to our faith, recognising that ‘science and religion, with their distinctive approaches to understanding reality, can enter into an intense dialogue fruitful for both’ (LS 62). By accepting the signs of the times and understanding them through the lens of our faith, Pope Francis presented a powerful case to care for our common home.

Equally important was his insight that the ecological crisis we face is a human one; that climate change is a symptom of a problem that cannot be solved without addressing the root cause, which is our way of living and thinking and interacting with the world: ‘The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life’ (LS 2). Drawing on the teaching of Pope St John Paul II, we are asked to embark on the journey of a ‘profound interior conversion’, leading to an ‘ecological conversion’ (LS 217).

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It’s all about love, really! Relationship and Sex Education in Catholic schools

Matthew Dell, Chair of ATCRE (Association of Teachers of Catholic Religious Education) and Senior Lecturer at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, explores how Relationship and Sex Education in Catholic schools can enable young people to develop healthy and life-affirming relationships.

There is a lot of noise at the moment about sex education: the government has made something compulsory for schools that the majority of schools had already been doing.1 Catholic schools, in my experience, have usually been good about taking seriously their responsibility to teach sex education well. When I first started teaching over twenty-five years ago, I remember one particularly daunting experience in my first year: I had to teach some sex education lessons to a ‘challenging’ class of thirteen-year-olds. My teacher training had not prepared me for this encounter; however, armed with a good theology degree I got through it – though on reflection it could have been better. As a teacher trainer, preparing RE teachers through the PGCE at St Mary’s, I am motivated to ensure that those getting ready to go into teaching now have the opportunity to prepare and think about this important aspect of education.

My thesis
I have a straightforward argument to make here. When it comes to sex education, the focus needs to be on relationship education. This is not to belittle the ‘sex’ aspect, but to emphasise that it needs to take place within a wider context of relationship education. This is not a new argument, and it is an orthodox view within Catholic education. Interestingly, our government has slowly come around to this view, as over the years the Department for Education has changed the official name: it was for a long time simply called ‘Sex Education’; then the name was changed in 1999 to ‘Sex and Relationship Education’; now more recently in 2017 to ‘Relationship and Sex Education’ (RSE). Thus, the right ordering of the topic, relationships first, then sex. Too often the focus is on the sex aspects, neglecting the real foundations of it all, relationships.

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