Thursday, 19 July 2007

Cambodia - missionary work banned

I've just read this from the News Page of the National Association of Catholic Families:
The government of Cambodia has banned missionary work. While 95% of Cambodia's 13 million citizens are Buddhist, the Muslim and Christian minorities have generally been tolerated. But the government's new policy bars efforts to spread other religious beliefs. [CWNews]

Pray for Cambodia, with whom, thanks to the initiative of Bishop Michael, East Anglia has been fortunate enough to establish close friendships.
(above picture of me during a visit to Cambodia which Luke and I were able to make. Also interior of a floating Church which I visited)

Christian Perfection

Allow me to share a bit more with you from the book Christian Perfection by St Alphonsus Rodriguez that I mentioned a few posts ago.

"We read that some of the Fathers in the desert, unable to apply themselves continually to prayer and spiritual reading, yet resolving not to spend any of their time idly, employed all their leisure hours in making baskets of palms, or in some other manual labour. At the end of the year many of them burnt what they had made, having laboured only for the sake of employment, and to avoid idleness. So ought we to make what relates to our spiritual advancement our chief business, and to apply ourselves to all our other affairs...with the same spirit as these holy Fathers did to making their baskets; that is, without weakening, in the slightest degree, our obligation to work out our salvation, and aspire continually to perfection."

I find this such a beautiful image, and one I often return to, these dedicated follwers of Christ who were so given over to the worship of God that nothing of this earth held any value to them.
I think the example of these early Christians can teach us a lot about our priorities in our own lives. Obviously we, who live in the world, have obligations which we have to fulfil, people to care for so we cannot give our time over entirely to prayer and basket making! What we can learn from the Fathers though is that our first priority in life is our spiritual life and everything else leads into and out of that relationship with the Blessed Trinity which we must strive to foster.
Personally, I can find plenty of "good" reasons why, when it comes to a time I could use for prayer, I should do other things some of which might be themselves extremely valuable, such as writing a letter to someone who would appreciate it, do a bit of study or go for a much needed walk. All these things are important but if I don't pray now, when will I pray? If I end up unable to find opportunity to pray today, what about tomorrow, yet more excuses perhaps?
Of course, our spiritual lives do not consist solely of prayer; as I was saying a moment ago everything in our lives should lead into and out of our spiritual life. By serving others, fulfiling our obligations to the best of our abilities, living virtuous lives we are drawn closer to Christ who asks these things of us, and by maintaining a close and intimate relationship with him through prayer and receiving the sacraments we are given strength to serve him in the world. Let's put our relationship with Christ at the centre of our lives, so that we might be saints that Christ wants us to be and the world needs us to be!

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Christian Girl looses battle to wear purity ring at School!

I've been following with interest the story of Lydia Playfoot, the 16-year-old girl whose school threatened to expel her if she would not remove her silver ring. The ring represented a commitment Lydia had made, as a Christian, to stay pure and chaste, and not to enter into sexual relations until marriage. The ring symbolised both her commitment and her Faith.

The wearing of a small, discreet silver ring was deemed by the school to be in breech of the uniform policy, and so she was asked to remove it. Lydia argued that this ring was a legitimate expression of her faith and did not see it appropriate to remove it, so she took the matter to the High Court. The High Court ruled on Monday that the School was well within its rights to prohibit the wearing of the ring, and that no violation of rights had occurred.

What's the issue here? At first glance one might argue that the school had a policy, which Lydia freely agreed to when entering the School. Since she freely chooses to go against this, it would seem perhaps appropriate and reasonable to exclude her,....or would it?

I argue that the issue here is a much deeper one than a simple uniform policy, furthermore the threatening of expulsion to an otherwise well behaved, achieving student is neither appropriate nor reasonable despite what the High Court says!

I propose that the policy could only be legitimately carried out to exclude the wearing of the ring if, and only if the policy was consistently carried out across all people of all backgrounds. The policy, however, makes allowance for Muslims and Sikhs to wear visible signs of their faith it doesn't, however, cater for Christianity. Furthermore, common sense should be employed with the enforcing of any policy in a pastoral situation. Life isn't straightforward, cut and dry, one size fits all, -as we all know! There needs to be policies of course, but the way they are enforced should take into account all the factors and contexts.

The High court ruling suggests that since the ring is not an intrinsic part of the Christian Faith, it was not appropriate for her to wear it in school. This disturbs me, first of I would question then, (in this light) how intrinsic, headscarf’s are to Islam, or other symbols are to other faiths? Furthermore, it suggests that the School and the State for that matter, can judge what is deemed intrinsic to somebody's Faith and what isn't?

I would say that, however they try and dress this up this is yet another example of Christians being suppressed for beliefs in the name of a so-called equality! It's ok to be religious in Britain as long as you’re not Christian!

Monday, 16 July 2007

Mortification in the Spiritual Life

I have recently been reading from a book entitled "Christian Perfection" by St Alphonsus Rodriguez (1530-1617).
I was interested by what I read in the section on mortification in which St Alphonsus says,
"It is true that Christian perfection does not essentially consist in mortification, but in the love of God: and a man is not perfect till he is united to God by the bond of love. But, as a stone which is raised from the ground falls back again to its centre as soon as that is taken away which hinders it from its natural inclination of falling back; so, no sooner is our soul, which is a spiritual substance and created for God, freed from the impediment of its passions, and from all other things that miserably fasten it to the earth, but it presently raises itself unto God as to its end and centre, and by the assistance of his grace unites itself unto him by charity.

It is important for us to remember, as St Alphonsus pointed out, that being holy and becoming a saint does not consist of being as mortified as we can possibly make ourselves. Neither should we forget that close union with God is not possible with our first becoming detached from those things which hinder our union. For example, wasting time, wanting our own way and not giving way to others when this is of no consequence, damaging our health through over eating and drinking. All of creation is good, because God made it so but we must always try and use it in a way that it leads us to God and not so that the things become ends in themselves e.g. food, do we use food in order to lead a healthy lifestyle and be at our best to serve God or do we over-indulge and make food itself into a little god.
Obviously some attachments are greater than others but St John of the Cross said that whether a bird is tied by a rope or by a small cord it is still unable to fly.
By working with God's grace, through prayer and the practice of the virtues let us strive to purify our hearts of all disordered attachments in order to make space for God, who brings us happiness greater than anythings created can offer us.
"You have put into my heart a greater joy than they have from abundance of corn and new wine" (Psalm 4)

Graduation Day

On Friday my year group finally reached graduation for our degrees from Birmingham University. Oscott is affiliated with BU in order that the work we would do anyway in order to fulfil the requirements of the Holy See is recognised by the secular world as amounting to something!

During the ceremony an honourary doctorate was given to an Anglican Bishop who was lauded during the proceedings for being known as a "radical liberal" - makes you squirm just thinking about it doesn't it! However during the Bishop's own acceptance speech he talked about the importance of the subjects of the School of Historical Studies (to which theoogy belongs) because we must not fall into the common modern day trap of thinking we are starting everything from the beginning ourselves, we are all recipitents of a heritage which has given us the opportunities we have today. We must look to the past and understand how we have got to where we are now in order to authentically move forward. I think you could call that a hermeneutic of continuity, but more of that elsewhere!

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Evangelisation of Europe

We have just celebrated the Feast day of St Benedict, one of the patrons of Europe. What great benefits and blessings are ours today thanks to the labours of so many of our forefathers (and foremothers) who strove to spread the News about Jesus throughout Europe and to establish in this continent, cultures and society which had as their foundations true evangelical values, values which encouraged the peoples of the land to follow the Master closely and build up in earthly empires, the Kingdom and Empire of God.

What a tragic difference we see today in the aims and values of so many of Europe's leaders. We all know the reality of the situation we are living in: widespread easy availability of abortion, attempts (sometimes successful) to legalise Euthanasia, sexual promiscuity, the breakdown of family life as well as the privatisation and relativisation of religious beliefs.

Though the situation seem dire, we must not become disillusioned (and certainly not conform to the standards and values offered us by our society). "and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Matthew 28:20).

Christ is with his Church, he always has been and always will be. We must be in no doubt that Christ will give us all the means we need to serve him and spread the Gospel to our society as long as we co-operate with his grace.

We should also not become too overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task ahead. For each one of us the only thing we have to concentrate our efforts on is the world with which we have contact. Certainly we can, thanks to modern means of communication, reach communities and projects around the world and assist with these and this is extremely important, but most of our daily life is lived at work, at school or university and at home and it is here that we are called especially to bring Christ's message to humanity. "Each one of us has seriously to ask: What cn I do in my city, in my work place, my university, and any other environment I am in, to help Christ reign more effectively in souls? Consider this question in the presence of God, ask advice and pray. Then, set out with holy determination to win that particular domain for God" (A. del Portillo) through the help and power of his grace.

In the everyday situations in which we find ourselves we can preach Christ to the world. This will not necessarily involve mentioning Christ at all. What is required of us primarily is that we preach Christ through our actions, through always being just and fair, understanding, patient and striving always to radiate the joy of being a follower of the Master. From there we might gain opportunities to speak more explicitly about Christ himself and why we live the way we do. "Preach the Gospel at all times" said St Francis, "use words if necessary".

Of course, none of this will be possible without the grace of God. Our first priority in trying to bring the Gospel to the world around us is to be converted ourselves and allow Christ to reign in us. Christ has given us the means to become the saints he wants us to be, most epecially in the sacraments. Through regular Mass and Confession we grow more and more like Christ whom we meet in these sacraments. In the Eucharist indeed we receive Christ himself who transforms us into his likeness. One of the saints explained that unlike ordinary food which when we consume it we kind of make it part of ourselves, when we receive the Eucharist we become more like what we receive - Christ himself. Apart from these we must also strive to set aside each day time for personal and intimate prayer with the Master, because how can we be like Christ and tell others about him if we are not familiar with him ourselves?

May Christ reign in our own lives, that through us he might reign in the hearts of all. Amen.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Is Doctor Who Catholic?

Series three of the new Doctor Who series concluded yesterday evening. Having been a huge fan of the show since about the age of seven, I was delighted when eventually it returned to our screens back in 2005. Since then Russell T Davies and crew, have delighted fans both old and new, with a spectacular show which is complex enough for the adults and entertaining enough for the children.

This is all well and good you might say, but what, if any is the relevance of this for a Catholic Blog? Well, first of all, I’m a huge fan of the show, in fact I would even say it has been hugely influential….but that’s another story. Anyway I’m a huge fan and, having to remain alone at Seminary for several weeks, in order to fulfil my civic duty of Jury Service, gives one time enough to think and reflect on a number of things, Doctor Who being one of them! Secondly (as if I need a second reason!) I was struck by the excellence of the series finale, and in particular some of the themes which, I’m going to argue, are loaded with Christian Imagery.

In fact I’ve always been impressed with the morality of the Doctor, their was something about this, seemingly celibate, mystical man who would march into a dying situation with his TARDIS, Sonic Screwdriver and unswerving passion to do what is right,- at all costs. From early on in the classic series it was clear that who ever this ‘Doctor’ was he was a moral force, a force for good in a seemingly chaotic Universe.

The Doctor is Pro-life, for all life. The universe of Doctor Who is of course very different to our own, but a consistent theme in classic series which, has been faithfully carried over into the new is the Doctor’s stance on the right to life. Be it alien or human, they all have the right to life. One of the clearest examples of the Doctor’s position is illustrated in the first episode of the second (New) series, ‘New Earth’. In this episode, in the far distant future an Alien Order of Nurse-Cats are on the new planet Earth. They run all the Hospitals and can cure all diseases, but at a cost. The Doctor discovers that the cats have bread a race of people that they keep in suspended animation in huge prison-like arrays. These people are referred to as ‘the meat’. There sole purpose in life is to act as hosts for all the diseases of the other patients. The cats, don’t have a problem with this, the Doctor naturally is appalled; “You want to take this to a higher authority, I am the highest authority, it stops here” The Doctor tells them curing people at the cost of other peoples lives is unacceptable, a perversion of the medical ethic. This perhaps is not without its parallels today? Naturally the Doctor saves the day, freeing and heeling this specially bred ‘human’ race.

This is of course only one example. It is, however, consistent throughout the shows history, the Doctor has fought for the right of all life forms, to life.

I want to focus, however, on the last three episodes of the season three. (Last of which aired 30th June BBC1) There are consistent themes that always run throughout the show, there is the Pro-life theme of course, but also themes of sacrifice, forgiveness, love, hope, and vocation to name but a few. Space and time will not allow me to expound all of these and this is not the forum. These themes, however, all seemed to culminate in Saturday’s Finale.

In Saturday’s episode, ‘The Last of the Timelords’ The Doctor finds himself on board the Master’s (The Doctors Nemesis, rival Timelord, completely Evil and a little unhinged!) ship hovering in the clouds above the earth. The Master/ Mr Saxon has become prime minister of Great Britain by hypnotising the population through something called the ‘Archangel network’ (15 Satellites orbiting the Earth, gently beaming suggestions into people’s heads). The Master has control of the whole planet and has freely decimated whole continents in order to build huge rocket silos to wage war on the rest of the Universe.

The Master has also used a device on the Doctor that has accelerated his age almost to the point of death. The Doctor is reduced to a pathetic Golom-like creature that is locked in a cage for the Master’s amusement. Martha Jones, the Doctor’s companion managed to Tele-port to Earth, seemingly to escape. Unknown to the Master the Doctor, however, had managed to give Martha instructions before escaping. Martha, for the next year would travel the Globe, telling people about the Doctor, about how he had saved the Planet many times before, without any of them knowing, more importantly she instructed them all at a certain time to concentrate on one word, a name, The Doctor. The Doctor being a Timelord, and over the period of a year, (whilst being imprisoned by the Master) managed to tap in to the telepathic frequency of the Archangel network. When at the same point in time millions of people all concentrated on The Doctor, he was able to tap into that energy and use it to free himself, reverse the aging process and stop the Masters plans. As the Master himself said, he was thwarted by “the power of prayer”!

There are then, a number of themes in this episode worthy of attention. Of course it goes without saying that this is a science fiction programme, not a Christian production. I’m sure that many who work in the production of Doctor Who wouldn’t see things the way I do, yet even so I argue these themes/images are present.

Martha then, travels the world bringing hope to a desperate situation by proclaiming news that will free these people who are in physical and mental bondage. Her role is not dissimilar to an Apostle. As a result Martha changes, she matures as a person, but more than that she seems to find herself, afterwards things are clearer. At the end of the episode she leaves the TARDIS crew. Her love for The Doctor is unrequited, and she is ok with this. She realises that she has responsibilities on Earth, she finds her vocation.

There is of course this obvious reference to prayer. Although this is not so much supernatural as natural, there is an image here of how when people speak out in Faith and in once voice, things change the world can be saved, there is hope.

Probably the most moving part of the episode comes at the end. The Doctor has defeated the Master, the Master runs into the corner of the room trying to get away from the Doctor; the audience is left wondering what the Doctor will do…. “You know what happens now don’t you” he says, “no” The Master interjects, The Doctor faces him, (Master cowering in the corner) “I forgive you” The Doctor comforts the Master both are crying, The Doctor out of pity and love, the Master because he cannot deal with The Doctor’s forgiveness.

So, there are a few quasi-religious themes and images in a TV Show what’s the point?

Well it all depends on how you look at it. First of all this is what people are watching, this is where people are at. The over night figures for last nights episode was eight million viewers. If we are to bring the Good News of Christ to this world, this culture that we are in. It is of use, I believe, to see where there are elements of the Gospel or images that we can use in order to present Christ to such a world. I believe that despite all the negative areas of our technological, media-centred multi-cultural world, The Holy Spirit is at work, even in the media, gently preparing the mission field for us, if only we be attentive.

It’s not limited to Doctor Who of course, (although we have to be critical, not every image or metaphor would necessarily be appropriate) yet as a fan, and as Seminarian I argue that in this programme in particular, there are lots of images that we can use to help convey salvific truths and mysteries of faith. Quite often with School children I use the image of the TARDIS to help explain how at the Sacrifice of the Mass, we are at the Last Supper, at Calvery and in the Presence of the Angels and the Saints.

So, to return to the title of this post, Is Doctor Who Catholic? The answer, probably not in the strictest sense. Is Doctor Who useful to us? I would say so!

God Bless (LG)