July/August/September 2021

An inconvenient truth?

Anthony Towey

We’ve all done it – left the phone somewhere and retrieved it belatedly. I rescued mine from the loft on Bank Holiday Monday 2021 only to find it peppered with missed calls and messages. ‘Scandal’ – ‘a right Carrie-on’ – ‘takes the biscuit’ – ‘a regime sponsorship trick’ – ‘three weddings and 150,000 funerals’. The high-octane communiques concerned Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who had been married with the blessing of the Church in Westminster Cathedral. They were likewise all from utterly committed Catholics, who – for once – were united in their disbelief.

Readers of the Pastoral Review will not need me to rehearse the canonical arguments which sanctioned the ceremony. While Canon Law is sometimes cynically framed as ‘the suppression of the love of God for the good of the Church’, it can be as much a tool of permission as restriction. In canonical terms, the validity of this marriage, this bond, this sacrament is not in doubt, and pastorally, any of us would surely wish all parties well for the future, whatever about their past.

Yet the furore regarding this event surely demands a pause for reflection. In the first instance, we have to accept that for most people, the clear distinctions we maintain between the baptised and unbaptised, the Catholic and the non-Catholic, the status of previous liaisons and valid or invalid forms etc. are at best blurred or simply not on the radar. To boot, the way that canonical validity is tested, for example, when someone is seeking an annulment, involves an almost Orwellian revisiting of circumstances to prove that the marriage didn’t ‘really’ happen in the first place.

In fairness, it is as if we Catholics are caught between our core identity as a communion of saints and our being a community of sinners. Do we struggle to countenance the failure of sacramental marriage because our ambitions for it as a state of grace and place of nurture are so exalted? We can marvel at the liberating images of Jesus engaging with the Samaritan woman and the woman caught in adultery in John (4.5–42 and 8.2–11 respectively), but working out how that should play in an everyday parish context is problematic. Likewise, we can be edified by the ideals of marriage set forth in the Gospels while being genuinely daunted by them just as the disciples themselves were (Mt 19.1–10).

The ‘both and’ nature of the Christian life is both cross and consolation. Long ago, Ways of Imperfection by Simon Tugwell made a convincing case for failure as key to the spiritual path, and more recently Richard Rohr has said much the same thing in Falling Upward. Yet none of this is foreign to the New Testament, which has Peter and Paul as its twin pillars of faith and failure combined.

Love, because it exposes our vulnerability, almost uniquely opens us up to experiences of height and depth. Within this issue of the Pastoral Review, we read on the one hand an article on ministry to those suffering grievously in abusive relationships sanctioned by religious communities (Nikki Dhillon-Keane), on the other an article about how a glimpse of love proved a portal through which Dante was able to experience the very vision of God (Valentin Gerlier). Those engaged in pastoral care have to hold out for the possibility of the latter, while not tolerating cruelty in the name of a sacramental ideal.

Amare et sapere vix deo conceditur – ‘to love wisely is a gift scarcely given to a God’ – for a Church the Pope is asking to be reimagined as a ‘field hospital’, might it be timely to consider whether we need to imitate the Eastern Church and allow the divorced to remarry with God’s blessing? Every marriage, every family, every friendship, every encounter is different. It may be an inconvenient truth which demands magnanimity, but each one can be blessed by God in a unique way. Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est – for where there is love, there is God.

Promoting Catholic social teaching in schools and colleges: The Oscar Romero Award

Mugeni Sumba writes about a new award scheme for schools and colleges promoting Oscar Romero and Catholic social teaching in schools.

According to the Catholic Education Service, the mission of the Catholic schools is to offer an education based on Christian values, especially the value that all life is God’s gift and that ‘all aspects of the Catholic school have the potential to speak of God’s loving care for each person involved in the school’s life’.1

This means that Catholic schools are communities called to communicate God’s love for humanity through everything they do. They become places of ‘integral education of the human person through a clear educational project of which Christ is the foundation’.2 Education in a Catholic school is not just education for the sake of it; rather it is for enabling young people to acquire skills necessary to live life in a certain way. The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education stated in 1977 that the aim of the Catholic school is ‘the transmission of values for living’.3

Socially just education
The Catholic social vision has as its focal point the human person, the clearest reflection of God among us. … Christ challenges us to see his presence in our neighbour, especially those who lack what is essential to human flourishing.4

Login for more...

Fratelli tutti – places and paradigms without borders: Recovering the Franciscan intellectual tradition

Francis Davis focuses on the missing Franciscan potential of Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelli tutti.

In October 2020, Pope Francis made his way to Assisi to launch his new social encyclical Fratelli tutti. After celebrating Mass in the crypt that holds the Saint’s relics, he signed the document into existence with a clarion call for justice, peace and the integrity of creation.

Many of the panegyrics that accompanied this moment were unconditionally effervescing.2 All of them, however, missed the deeper reality, which was that for all that Pope Francis had travelled to the home of St Francis, called upon his ‘mantle’ for legitimacy for the encyclical, and name-checked the significance of becoming ‘brothers and sisters’, he had effectively side-stepped the opportunity to embrace authentic Franciscan theology. More than that, Thomist and other sources throughout the text outstrip by a significant factor his Franciscan ones.

By locating Pope Francis’ Fratelli tutti more fully in a Franciscan context, this article seeks to compensate for the hasty sins of omission committed by gleeful commentators. In doing so, it begins to identify resources upon which those inspired by its words might draw – for building social justice in modern societies needs an attention to detail those more sweeping generalisations of so many concerned for Catholic social thought deny.3

Login for more...

Biblical studies for all believers: Reflections on the eightieth anniversary of the Catholic Biblical Association of Great Britain

Sean Ryan writes about the history and current work of the Catholic Biblical Association of Great Britain.

In the midst of the current pandemic, and the isolation, bereavements and depth of worries that have engulfed so many of us, one of the signs of hope has been the thirst for online study of the Bible. A wealth of remotely delivered talks, study days, presentations and study resources on scriptural topics, organised by parishes, dioceses, bishops’ conferences, retreat centres and religious orders have reached out to the people of God across the continents.1 These online events and resources have sought to knit together the body of Christ, Head and Body, in thoughtful, prayerful study of Scripture. Our own experience, in the Catholic Biblical Association of Great Britain (CBA-GB), which is mirrored by others, has been of an extraordinary interest in the online talks on biblical topics that we have offered, with more than 600 participants at some of these live streams, with hundreds more listening to these recordings later. In this article, we will reflect on ‘the signs of the times’ and this encouraging interest in biblical studies in this country, especially by Catholics, at the present time. We will also reflect on the past and look to the future of the promotion of biblical studies for all believers, focusing in particular on the work of the CBA-GB in the UK, which has sought to encourage all Catholics to engage in more depth with the fruits of biblical scholarship, in an ecumenically open spirit.

The talks that the CBA-GB organised in 2020–21 were, in part, a celebration of the eightieth anniversary of the formation of the Catholic Biblical Association of Great Britain in 1940, emerging out of an earlier era of wartime fear and loss. This anniversary provides an ideal opportunity to reflect upon some of the ways that the CBA-GB has sought to support and enhance the study of the Scriptures by all Catholics over the past 80 years, as well as suggesting ways that this may be continued into the future.

Login for more...