Saturday, 27 October 2012

Thoughts on the Catechism 2

AUTHORITY. So what authority does the Catechism have? It is issued in the name of the whole (Catholic) Church, under the authority of the Pope, after long consultation with all the world's bishops, and it claims no originality – but simply to be weaving together "an organic synthesis of the essential and fundamental contents of Catholic doctrine, as regards both faith and morals, in the light of the Second Vatican Council and the whole of the Church's Tradition. Its principal sources are the Sacred Scriptures, the Fathers of the Church, the liturgy, and the Church's Magisterium [authority]. It is intended to serve 'as a point of reference for the catechisms or compendia that are composed in the various countries'" [11].

It is an expression, therefore, of the "ordinary" magisterium of the Church. This is not the same as having the irreformability of a Papal "definition" of a particular dogma, since the text can be revised if better formulations are devised, or to adjust to changing circumstances and avoid ambiguities. In fact there have been several such revisions since the first English edition was published in 1994. Nor

Friday, 26 October 2012

Thoughts on the Catechism 1

In this Year of Faith, it seems a good thing to work through the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and ponder some of the key themes and ideas. Alternatively, one might go through the spin-offs, YouCat, or the Compendium of the Catechism. If your interest is social teaching, there is also the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. I am finding the Magnificat Year of Faith Companion tremendously helpful. It contains daily reading for this year and any year on the nature of faith, profiles of key figures of salvation history, poems, prayers, and meditations on scripture. CTS also have many helpful booklets.

In these very personal notes that follow, I will be dipping in and looking at Faith (below), Authority, God, Creation, Original Sin, and so on, as part of my own spiritual enquiry for the Year of Faith. You are welcome to join me. I don't claim any authority for my statements, which are just one attempt to deepen my appreciation of the Church's teaching and to examine any difficulties that may emerge along the way.

Let's begin with FAITH. I gave some relevant quotes in a previous post, but the idea I want to start from now is a quotation from Pope Benedict in a Litany of quotations selected for the Magnificat Year of Faith Companion: "Faith entails the shift from dependence on the visible and practicable to trust in the invisible." This brings out why exactly it is so seemingly impossible to believe. Trust the invisible?

Thursday, 25 October 2012


There was a striking reading at Mass on 21 October, from the Book of Isaiah (53:10-11). It read:
"The Lord has been pleased to crush his servant with suffering. If he offers his life in atonement, he shall see his heirs, he shall have a long life and through him what the Lord wishes will be done. His soul’s anguish over, he shall see the light and be content. By his sufferings shall my servant justify many, taking their faults on himself."
I have written about "sacrifice" here, here and here, but there is so much more to discover. How do we "offer" something to God – especially suffering? In the case of pain, all one wants to do is to get rid of it, so it is easy to imagine offering it to God to take away. But this is not what is meant.

There is no shame in begging, if it be God's will, for some pain to be taken away. But what if it remains with us? Does it mean that God doesn't care? This is part of the larger question of suffering in the world, including innocent suffering. I would try to answer it in several steps. First, by arguing that there is no suffering greater than the suffering of one man. Second, that Jesus is that one man than whose suffering there is no greater in the world. Third, that the aim of God in becoming incarnate is to incorporate us into his own extended body. Fourth, that he even wants to involve us in the process by which we are incorporated – that is, our own salvation.

The first point was well put by the philosopher Wittgenstein. Suffering does not accumulate. Each of us suffers only what we are given to suffer, and no more. I may sympathize with my neighbour, and that sympathy may add to my own

Sunday, 21 October 2012


A "novena" is a Catholic devotion involving nine consecutive days of prayer or spiritual preparation. I am immensely grateful for all those who prayed a novena recently for my health, at my family's request. That novena was addressed to God on behalf of Louis and Zelie Martin, the parents of St Therese of Lisieux (shown in this icon of the Martin family). Whatever the results in terms of my own health, I know those who prayed for me will be richly blessed for doing so, for God is the beginning and end of prayer, and all prayer brings us closer to him.

But why nine days? It is often said to derive from the nine months that Jesus prepared in the womb of Mary before coming into the world, or the nine days the Apostles prayed in the Upper Room following the instructions of Jesus, before the Holy Spirit descended on them at Pentecost. The Greeks and Romans also had novenas long before the Christians did. In Norse mythology, Odin hung upon the World Tree for nine days and nights before achieving a knowledge of the Mysteries and of the resurrection. All Things Made New and Beauty for Truth's Sake talk about the importance of number symbolism in all religious traditions.

In one tradition that is deeply entangled with our own, nine is one short of ten, the sacred number of the Pythagoreans which is also equivalent to the Tetragrammaton, the Name of God; so that the nine days of prayer can be said to take us to the end of human striving, leaving us open us to the grace we need to compete our journey to heaven. The nine days also represent the nine hierarchies of angels according to St Denys the Areopagite, so that each day brings us one step closer to the Father of Lights. May it be so for all of us.

Thursday, 18 October 2012


Magnificat, the monthly prayer guide and daily Missal, has partly inspired a similar monthly publication for Eastern or Byzantine-rite Catholics, which many Westerners may also be interested to read, called THEOSIS (the Greek word for "divinization"). It has more substantial articles than Magnificat, and is focused less on the daily Mass than on the daily Office, in accordance with the Eastern rite. The doctrine of theosis is expressed by the Catechism of the Catholic Church in para 460, based on patristic teaching: "The Son of God became man so that we might become God."

Saturday, 13 October 2012

What IS faith, anyway?

This is the "Year of Faith" in the Catholic Church. I assembled a number of reflections on faith in the "Christianity" (apologetics) section of our main site. Here are some of them:

"The instinct of faith is an uplifting of the heart and a reaching over and above everything that happens" (Caussade).

"Blessed are those who have believed in the invisible world which compels no belief in itself" (Nicholas Berdyaev).

"Fear (not doubt) is the opposite of faith" (Paul Ostreicher).

Faith cannot arise from a sense of duty: it is not even a settled state of intellectual conviction. Faith is an act of the heart, and only love can really move the heart. Faith therefore cannot be compelled, because love requires freedom. Faith is a free act, and a creative one.

"When I say, ‘God is’, or ‘Man is immortal’, I effect a creative act" (Nicholas Berdyaev).

"True freedom does not consist in manipulating possibilities but in creating them" (Raimundo Panikkar).

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Williams on de Lubac

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, spoke in Rome recently very beautifully about contemplation and evangelization. The full text is here. In the course of a remarkable address, he mentions not just Henri de Lubac and St Edith Stein, but even Jacob Needleman's Lost Christianity. He says, “contemplation is very far from being just one kind of thing that Christians do: it is the key to prayer, liturgy, art and ethics, the key to the essence of a renewed humanity that is capable of seeing the world and other subjects in the world with freedom – freedom from self-oriented, acquisitive habits and the distorted understanding that comes from them. To put it boldly, contemplation is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit. To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly. It is a deeply revolutionary matter.”

Friday, 5 October 2012

Door of Faith

11 October sees the beginning of a Year of Faith in the Catholic Church, announced in the Pope's document Door of Faith (Porta Fidei). I wrote on 8 September about Doorways. Well, faith is the doorway through which we enter the life of the Church, the opening to an experience that leads from death to eternal life. In a very real sense, the symbol and model of this "saving faith" is the Blessed Virgin Mary, as this image painted on the two halves of a door in an Italian church suggests. Mary is, according to one of her titles in the Litany of Loreto, the GATE OF HEAVEN. Here is an image of the Annunciation, the moment when the angel appears to her and she accepts his word in faith that she will be the Mother of God's Son – and thus the cause of our salvation, being the way the fullness of divine grace enters the world. She conceives the Word in her womb by accepting the word in her heart.

Even her name is a doorway. In the Jesus Prayer, and whenever we use the Holy Name of Jesus, our attention is drawn to him who is both God and Man. When we use the Holy Name of Mary, for example in the Hail Mary or the Miraculous Medal prayer, we turn our minds from the world to its central point where the Lord enters in, which is the Virgin herself. In the first half of the Hail Mary, which repeats the words of the angel, we adopt the contemplative attitude of the angel as he gazes at the Seat of Wisdom, and in the second half, which repeats the words of Elizabeth, we invoke the prayers of the Mother of God, so that her prayer in a sense will flow around and into us "now and at the hour of our death". St Louis de Montfort calls the Hail Mary "a heavenly dew which waters the earth of our soul and makes it bear its fruit in due season." It causes the Word of God to take root in our soul as it did in Mary's, because it opens us in faith to receive the divine gift.

There are many wonderful resources for the Year of Faith, to help you live it more intensely. I am particularly looking forward to getting into the Magnificat Year of Faith Companion, which as you might expect if you already know MAGNIFICAT contains an incredible feast of spiritual readings for each day, prayers and devotions, and essays by a range of the very best writers and teachers, old and new (over 400 pocket-sized pages, beautifully bound). The Companion can be read on its own, or used as a supplement to the monthly Magnificat you may already subscribe to or see in church.