Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for April, 2013

I heard Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna give a talk in London recently. It was part of a promotional event for the International Theological Institute, an English-speaking centre of theology in Austria. See their website here.

360px-Schoenborn-Altoetting1

He was speaking about the role of the Church in a Western culture that is increasingly secularised. He was somehow pessimistic and optimistic at the same time. I didn’t take detailed notes, so some of this might have my gloss on it.

The pessimism went like this, and he acknowledged that he was simply repeating themes elaborated by Pope-Emeritus Benedict over many years: There is no doubt that the cultural landscape in the West has become more secularised over the past fifty years or so. The Church seems to have less influence as a cultural and political force; and it has lost or is in the process of losing the big moral battles of the last two generations (abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, euthanasia, traditional marriage, etc).

On top of this, the Church itself has in many ways become more secularised. The ethos of many Christians (their attitudes and behaviour) is often not dissimilar from the ethos of the secular world around them. So the Church is both marginalised for being at odds with the culture, and ignored for having nothing significant to offer to the culture; it is both counter-cultural (in a way that is incomprehensible to most people), and yet too influenced by the culture to give a distinctive voice.

The optimism came as a result of the pessimism. Because the Church, in this analysis, has more or less failed in the mighty cultural struggles of the last fifty years, this failure gives it a new freedom to stop worrying about how influential it is on society and concentrate on just being itself and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. Instead of trying to win a political argument, and putting all its energy and anxiety into resisting political and cultural change, it can choose to witness to the truth of Christian values on their own terms.

It’s as if we have been gripping the wheel too tightly, judging our worth by the measure of how effective our campaigns have been in particular ethical issues, of how many people we have managed to convince to change their views. Perhaps this is all misguided. Perhaps we should concentrate on purifying ourselves, and the witness we are giving, and leave the results to God. If the Church becomes less concerned about convincing the secular world, and at the same time less worldly herself, she will actually have more to offer the world in an authentic way.

Cardinal Schönborn quoted St Bernadette of Lourdes, when she was interrogated by the clergy and police after her visions, and one of them said to her, ‘You are not convincing us’. And she replied, ‘My job is not to convince you, but just to tell you’. It’s like Peter and John speaking to the elders of Jerusalem in Acts 4: ‘Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard’.

I’m not 100% sure about all this! Yes, Christians need to have the confidence to witness to their faith, without over-worrying about how this witness is being received. Yes, the Church needs to be purified, converted, and each individual Christian needs to become less worldly and more focussed on Christ and his teaching. Yes, if we fail to convince or even challenge the culture, we shouldn’t give up. This is all true, and makes sense to Catholics who are confident in their faith, and have the support of a strong Christian community.

But there are other concerns too. When the Church loses its influence in society, this effects in a negative way especially the many ordinary Catholics whose faith is perhaps less strong, who don’t yet have the inner spiritual resources to self-identify as a confident and creative minority: those on the edges; the lapsed; those without the energy or time to engage in questions about Catholic identity. When the Church is no longer a strong cultural presence, and when Christian institutions are not nurturing the faith of ordinary people in quiet but significant ways, then the moral and spiritual lives of many people suffer.

And I’m also concerned about this apparent failure to engage constructively with the culture. If we do have something to say, shouldn’t it make sense to at least some people? And if it isn’t making sense, shouldn’t we find better ways of saying what needs saying? It’s about the continuing importance of dialogue and cultural engagement.

To be fair to Cardinal Schönborn, he was not suggesting that we should give up on dialogue and retreat into a self-justifying mode of ‘witness’. Quite the opposite. He explicitly said that the Church should step out more freely to engage with the world, with a new confidence. That was his point. If we worry less about results and influence, if we are less afraid of being a misunderstood minority, we can be more truly ourselves, more faithful to the gospel, more creative, more engaged, and more interesting to those who are genuinely searching for an alternative to the worldliness around then.

I agree. Catholics sometimes need to be counter-cultural, in a joyful and confident way; as long as we remember that we are part of the culture as well, and we need to use as effectively as possible all the opportunities that we have to influence that culture, opportunities that come to us precisely because we do still belong to it in so many ways. Let’s not use the category of ‘witness’ as an excuse to opt-out or as a defence if our appeal to reason seems incomprehensible. We need to continue in the struggle to make the Christian message comprehensible – which it is.

It was interesting that the very last comment from the floor was about the fall of communism. It wasn’t really a question, just a statement that we should really be more optimistic, because the greatest threat to faith in God and Christian freedom of the last century has actually been overcome: communism. We forget, said the member of the audience, what a terrifying foe this was in Europe and throughout the world, how much harm it did to the Church and to Christian culture, and how much worse things could have become. And yet it did not prevail, in part because of the struggles of Christian men and women.

Cardinal Schönborn agreed, and thanked this person for ending on a note of hope. As if to say: yes, let’s be a creative minority on the ‘outside’ of the secular culture, but let’s not give up on using the influence we still have through our historical Christian presence and trying to transform the culture from within. Which is exactly what Pope-Emeritus Benedict said in his speech at Westminster Hall.

Read Full Post »

This just came in from Ten Ten Theatre, as part of their preparation for the staging of Kolbe’s Gift in London in October.

kolbe-banner

Saturday 20th April, 12.00 pm to 3.30 pm
Notre Dame de France church, off Leicester Square, WC2H 7BX

• Would you like to play a vital part in a unique event during the Year of Faith?
• Do you want to find new ways to communicate matters of faith in a relevant, dynamic way?
• Do you want to engage in the New Evangelisation in a practical way?
• Do you want to meet other young people committed in their faith and passionate about communicating it to others?

You are warmly invited to an exciting, one-off event with the Catholic, professional theatre company, Ten Ten Theatre on the afternoon of Saturday 20th April 2013.

We are delighted to be staging a brand new production of `Kolbe’s Gift’ – a thought-provoking and inspiring play by David Gooderson about the life of St Maximilian Kolbe.  The play will be performed at the Leicester Square Theatre in October 2013.

We need dynamic, outgoing, passionate people who can communicate the vision for this play to others – if you think this is for you, then please get in touch with us about coming along on Saturday 20th April for a training day.  You will then go out to the world and give a two-minute talk about the production in churches, prayer groups and other gatherings throughout London and the South-East.

On the training day on 20 April, you will discover more about Kolbe’s Gift and be trained in giving a short presentation about the play in parishes across the South East between April and July. You will have the chance to meet with other people excited about faith, the arts and evangelisation and have a free lunch!!

In return for speaking at ALL masses in at least one parish, you will be given a free ticket to a performance of `Kolbe’s Gift’ at The Leicester Square Theatre in October.

To register or for more information, contact:
office@tententheatre.co.uk or phone 0845 388 3162

Read Full Post »

It’s good to be ambitious in a film. It takes a lot of courage to deal with sickness, mortality, bereavement, love, friendship, marriage, parenting, creativity, culture, fame, failure – oh, and Beethoven – in under two hours.

An acclaimed New York string quartet have been playing together for twenty-five years. The cellist is diagnosed with Parkinson’s. And with this unexpected crisis everything else starts to unravel – the music, the relationships, even the past.

Most of this works. There are some powerful scenes. But somehow it didn’t quite fit together for me; I didn’t quite believe in the characters. It felt contrived.

Now surely this is an unfair criticism. The whole point of a chamber piece like this is that it is contrived: five characters (there is a daughter too), on stage before us for two hours, everything as carefully constructed as Beethoven’s quartet itself (op. 131).

It made me wonder about what was missing. Why is it that in a classic Woody Allen film (Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and her Sisters, etc), however extraordinary the characters, and however overwrought the plot, you still believe that they have an existence beyond the film, that you are stepping into their life rather than seeing a life momentarily created for your entertainment?

Why does the willing suspension of disbelief sometimes work and sometimes not? I think this was too actorly, in a self-conscious way; verging on the melodramatic; and simply not as funny as Allen. And without the ragged edges that allow the film in front of you to fade into an imagined reality behind the screen. All of this, somehow, takes away from the authenticity that is the mark of a great film.

So it’s a good film! Go and see it. But with something missing…

Here is the Beethoven:

Read Full Post »

I’ve written a short piece about Pope Francis and the Priesthood for the commemorative edition of Faith Today that has just come out.

FT_Banner_1

I won’t copy the whole article here – you can order the special edition of Faith Today online –  but this is what struck me about Pope Francis’s approach to ethics and life issues (in so far as I could draw any hesitant conclusions from some of his words and actions as Cardinal Bergoglio):

Pope Francis has given witness to ‘a consistent ethic of life’. This phrase was coined by Cardinal Bernardin, Archbishop of Chicago from 1982 to 1996. It can be applied to Pope Francis in his approach to justice and life issues over the last few years.

In Buenos Aires he stood firmly against abortion, euthanasia, human trafficking, and all forms of violence against the human person. He criticised ‘the culture of death’ that influenced so much of society. He said, ‘The right to life is the first among human rights. To abort a child is to kill someone who cannot defend himself’.

At the same time, he fought for social and economic justice, and was always on the side of the poor. He said, ‘The unjust distribution of goods persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries to Heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers’.

His ethical approach was entirely consistent. He believed in the fundamental dignity of every human person, not excluding those who are sick, elderly, poor, oppressed, powerless or unborn.

He did not fit into the categories of secular politics because he was both ‘conservative’ (pro-life, pro-family, against same-sex marriage) and ‘progressive’ (fighting for social justice and for the poor).

Priests are called to have this same passion for life, and this same consistency. Not to be single-issue campaigners, but to speak out courageously whenever human dignity is threatened. Yes, we must be gentle, compassionate and forgiving to everyone we meet. But if we meet injustice in any form, it is our particular vocation to take a stand and be on the side of the poorest and most vulnerable.

This has made me want to go back and look more closely about what Cardinal Bernardin said about this ‘consistent ethic of life’. I know this approach was sometimes criticised, as if it were a way of watering down the core life issues, by suggesting that all social justice issues were equally important. But it seems to me to be a very straightforward point that shouts out from bible, the Christian tradition, and the Catechism: the need to defend human dignity against any and every threat, and to stand on the side of whoever is most vulnerable in society.

Read Full Post »

Every few months we hear about the impending death of television, how everyone has shifted to the internet, to social media, to Web 2.0, to Web 3.0… Yes, there are some shifts, but here in the UK we are watching far, far more TV than just a few years ago.

tv head by ElAlispruz

You can read this recent report from TV Licensing.

Here is the key statistic:

We watch an average of 4 hours 2 minutes of TV a day, up from an average of 3 hours 36 minutes a day in 2006.

Four hours a day! This is an average day in the UK in 2013. Seems like a lot to me.

Here are some of the technological shifts:

  • We have fewer TVs: The average household now has 1.83 TV sets, down from an average of 2.3 sets in 2003.
  • But we’re watching more television on more devices: We watch an average of 4 hours 2 minutes of TV a day, up from an average of 3 hours 36 minutes a day in 2006. A TV Licence covers you to watch on any TV, mobile device or tablet in your home or on the move. In 2012, fewer than one per cent of us watch only time-shifted TV.
  • Premium TV features are on the rise: More than a third of the TV market value in 2012 was from sales of 3D TVs, and sales of jumbo screens (43 inch or more) increased 10 per cent in the past 12 months.
  • Social networks allow us to engage with each other in real-time like never before: 40 per cent of all tweets are about television shows between 6.30pm and 10pm.

So despite there being more devices and platforms, we are still gathering round the ‘hearth’ of a premium TV at the centre of the home. And instead of being completely absorbed in the entertainment experience, we are tweeting about what we are watching in real-time, which is probably no more than an extension of the chatter that would take place round the TV in previous generations.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts

%d bloggers like this: