Monday, June 27, 2011

Corpus Christi

We celebrated Corpus Christi with most of the English-speaking world last Sunday.  I rather like it being on a Sunday as Corpus Christi is not a Day of Obligation in South Africa.

 We didn't have a Procession of the Blessed Sacrament but Adoration from after the early Sunday Mass followed by Benediction just before the Sung Mass.  I think that processions only really work in Catholic countries where there is a general understanding of what is going on and it is a real celebration.  Traipsing around the near empty streets of central Johannesburg doesn't make any sense to me.  If this was Malta we'd have bands, music and fun in warm weather rather than the freezing cold of a Highveld Winter with weak attempts at singing!

Incidentally it is officially now known as The Solemnity of the Body & Blood of Christ.

The Feast was established by Pope Urban IV in 1264 to be celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday.  It was the very first feast declared to be celebrated throughout the Latin Rite by papal bull.  St Thomas Aquinas was commissioned to compose the liturgy for the day and he produced Pange Lingua for Vespers and Verbum Supernum Prodiens for Lauds.  The last two verses of each of these hymns are sung at Benediction, Tantum Ergo and O Salutaris Hostia.

The great thing about Adoration and Benediction is that they provide a helpful focus for prayer and the increasing popularity of these extra-eucharistic devotions  shows that many people find them helpful.  The idea of "visiting" Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament when passing a church might sound simple and old-fashioned but it isn't a bad idea!  It does establish the importance of the Real Presence of Christ in our churches.
Click on A Catholic Eucharistic Flash Mob!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Muddling through Merton

I went, with considerable hopes, to a talk and discussion on Thomas Merton at St George's Anglican Church, Parktown.  It was entitled "Meeting Merton: Is a deep & transforming spirituality possible in the city?  Is peace possible in the madness?" and was given by the Rev Dr Jeremy Jacobs of the Centre for Christian Spirituality.

What a disappointment! The questions weren't answered at all, they were merely posed again and I felt that the whole point of Thomas Merton's spirituality did not come across well and was submerged by Jacob's subjective opinions on "the youths'" demands and conceptions of Christianity.

Merton was secure in his Catholic Faith and his vocation as a Trappist as interpreted by his religious superiors.  His prayerful understanding and study of mysticism within the Catholic tradition recaptured something that was no longer much thought of at the time and this led him to an understanding of mysticism in other world religions and dialogue with Buddhist religious leaders.  This was unusual at the time but it stemmed from his own security of belief in the Catholic tradition.  Without that Faith such dialogue, based on mutual respect and experience, would not have been possible.

Fortunately Thomas Merton had the ability to write down his understanding of Spirituality and Faith with great clarity.  In the second decade of the 21st century the similarity of searching for a spiritual home and an emphasis on meditation that was symptomatic of the 1960's has brought Merton and his writings back into fashion.  See also the videos in the sidebar.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Feast of the Most Holy Trinity & World Refugee Day

It is the Patronal Festival of Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Braamfontein, Johannesburg.  The Schola Cantorum produced sensitive and beautiful music for the occasion.  The antiphons were sung to plainsong in Latin, the Kyrie in Setswana, the Agnus Dei  in Isizulu and the rest to English plainchant with some good Anglican hymns that were sung with gusto.  You don't need to be part of the Ordinariate to use good Anglican hymns!  I admit that I am very confused by what is meant by an "Anglican Patrimony"!

Everything else, including the readings, are in English as to use an African language would be patronising, to put it mildly, amongst our polyglot congregation who use English everyday.

World Refugee Day
There are lots of refugees in this country, both political and economic, and unfortunately there seems to be a rising tide of violence directed against foreigners, particularly small business owners.  Not for the first time the SA Catholic Bishops' Conference has issued a statement which I can only applaud.  Many of these foreigners are Catholics and their are a number of Catholic agencies here who work amongst refugees, irrespective of their religion.  Many of these people end up in Johannesburg and become indistinguishable from the "homeless" many of our churches feed on a regular basis.  They are all in need of our prayers.

A Pastoral Letter to the Catholic Community on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity on the welcome, acceptance and care of Refugees in our communities.

A perfect Community to emulate.

On Monday June 20 2011, we celebrate the 10th World Refugee Day, (previously known as Africa Refugee day) whose purpose is to show solidarity with refugees and displaced people. It is a day that not only raises awareness of the plight of refugees, highlights the injustices that the human community has done to its members, but also celebrates the positive contributions of refugee and migrant communities.

On the eve of this important day for our brothers and sisters who have been forcibly displaced, the Catholic Community celebrates the solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, a good place to reflect on our attitudes as communities to Refugees.

We celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity today as a community of Christians. It is a celebration of God¡¦s self revelation and of God¡¦s eternal and infinite love for us. Celebrated not long after Easter and immediately after Pentecost, today¡¦s solemnity remembers the perfect Community of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit: One God.
We are shown God¡¦s eternal and forgiving love for us in the events of Jesus¡¦ suffering, death, resurrection and ascension, including the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.
As Christians we believe that Jesus revealed God to us, making us know the Father (John 14: 7) who is in Heaven, and giving us the Holy Spirit (John 20: 22). In the Trinity, we have a perfect Community of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in loving relationships with one another and working together to share their love with the world. It is a Community of relationships which all human communities and their relationships should imitate.

As our own community as human beings created in the image of God, we ask ourselves the following questions:

 How is our relationship with one another and with refugees imitating the perfect Community of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit?

 How does this community of human beings on earth reveal God¡¦s eternal love to its members?

 Are we challenged as communities to follow the example of the Holy Trinity as a community existing in love and unity for one another and pouring out that love for everyone to experience it?
As a community of Christians, of human beings called to love and serve God and our neighbour, how have we faired? Since the Son came down from heaven to live amongst us, revealing God¡¦s love for us and giving us the Holy Spirit, we as a community of believers ¡V the Church which is Christ¡¦s Body ¡V are called to continue revealing God¡¦s love for human beings.

As refugees and other displaced people continue to experience lack of love and suffer injustices, we implore you to create communities that imitate the Most Holy Trinity, reciprocating love and compassion. The Lord Jesus, who was himself once a refugee, commanded us: "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself". "And who is my neighbour?" (Luke 10: 27-30). As Christians we are called to show our love to one another including strangers.

The story of the Good Samaritan is a good example of how we should be treating refugees. Remember that whoever claims to love God whom (s)he cannot see and yet does not love his/her neighbour whom (s)he can see, is a liar (1 John 4: 20).

As the world commemorates World Refugee Day on Monday, 20 June, we your Bishops urge you to support refugees. We urge you as followers of Christ, to oppose the evil of xenophobia threatening to divide the community of human beings. Each person should do whatever he or she can to unite against this wickedness of xenophobia and endeavour to build communities of love.
May we not be found wanting when the Son of Man says these words to us: "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me" (Matthew 25:35).

In Christ,
Bishop Frank Nubuasah SVD
Bishop of the Vicariate of Francistown, Botswana.

Liaison Bishop for the Migrant and Refugee Working Group of the SACBC. 

The political situation in Swaziland is also of concern to the Church.  Cardinal Napier (Durban), Archbishop Tlhagale(Johannesburg, President of the SACBC) Bishops Sandri (Witbank/Emalehleni) and Woods (Durban) recently visited Swaziland's only Catholic Bishop, Bishop Louis S Ndlovu of Manzini and issued the following statement:

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier
Archbishop Buti Tlhagale

A delegation of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, comprising of Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, Archbishop Buti Tlhagale, Bishops Barry Wood and Giuseppe Sandri, recently returned from Swaziland where they had paid a solidarity visit to Bishop Louis S. Ndlovu of Manzini, Swaziland.

The following statement is a result of their visit.

Swaziland is a country in turmoil; a country tearing itself apart from the inside by the actions of an uncaring head of state and a regime that is getting more brutal by the day.

Swaziland is currently under a state of emergency that was imposed on 12th April 1973 when King Sobhuza II usurped all legislative, administrative and judicial powers by royal decree.

By that decree supreme authority was vested solely in the institution of the monarchy and in the person of the king. All political parties and indeed political activities were banned.

It is evident that these powers need to be curtailed since their abuse by those in authority is the primary cause of the current crisis, in which dissenting views meet with brutality of the highest order. Pro-democracy and human rights activists have their home arbitrarily raided; they themselves are arrested, detained and beaten up by security forces, presumably under orders of the king who is the Commander-in-Chief.

Despite having a Constitution that "supposedly" guarantees the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the current constitution simply enshrines the King's 1973 Decree, which has "claw-back" clauses, which in fact deprive citizens of their basic rights - to expression, assembly and association. This makes Swaziland a police state in which political parties remain banned.

Examples of this are the following:

1. The recent quashing of the protest marches in Manzini scheduled for 12th April 2011 in Manzini is a typical example of the high-handedness of the regime. That event led to the most stringent security clampdown in the history of the country.

2. The Human Rights Commission set up (with members appointed by the king) to fulfil the provisions of the Constitution, has since its creation not once attended to any complaints about gross violations of human rights by the state.

3. Two activists, Mathousand Ngubane and Sipho Jele have "mysteriously" died in custody. Inquests were set up in both instances, but the report on Ngubane's death has never been made public. The report on Jele's death raises more questions than answers concerning the circumstances surrounding his arrest and leading to his death.

4. Even the Suppression of Terrorism Act pushed through Parliament in 2008 supposedly as the Swaziland's contribution to the global fight against terrorism has since been used by the government to silence its critics.

Swaziland is currently in the throes of an unprecedented crisis. It has

* the highest HIV AIDS infection rate in the world (26%);

* the lowest life expectancy in the world (32 years);

* an unemployment rate of 40% and rising;

* an extreme poverty rate with 70% of its population living below the poverty line, which is set at under 6 dollars a day.

The "Tinkhundla" system of governance is a breeding place for corruption and greed. Monies intended for alleviating the people's suffering are diverted to support the lavish lifestyle of the monarchy and its cohorts, namely the King, his 13 wives, 30 children, other members of the royal family and hangers-on.

Finally it is not the people who elect the government. Members of Parliament are elected on individual basis so that they owe allegiance to the King, who also appoints the judiciary.

For these reasons urgent actions in needed to redeem Swaziland from this deadly crisis. Therefore the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference proposes that SADC and the AU examine critically and honestly:

a) whether the constitution of Swaziland meets with the requirements of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;

b) whether the election process conforms to the SADC Protocol on elections;

We propose further

* that the king lift the State of Emergency by repealing the 1973 Decree;

* that the Constitution be amended to reinstate the full range of human rights;

* that King Mswati III enter into meaningful dialogue with his people in order to facilitate movement towards true democracy his country.

Accordingly we call on all Catholics and people of goodwill in Southern Africa to joins us in praying for meaningful change in Swaziland as the most effective way of expressing solidarity with the People of Swaziland

Issued by:
Cardinal Wilfrid Napier OFM
Archbishop of Durban
Spokesman of SACBC

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Plea for Tolerance...and love...amongst Catholics.

Sickness and the Rotary Conference in Botswana has temporarily halted the posting.  Now I'm back to normal, as we used to say  "in the Octave of Pentecost".

In some ways I am a bit naive in the ways of Catholics and since I have been exploring the Catholic Blogosphere I have been horrified by the insults and vituperative comments by many against their fellow Catholics.  The extreme Catholic right seem to be the worst of all as they not only know that they are the only ones in step but effectively consign to perdition anyone who disagrees with them from the Catholic Hierarchy who they brand as being weak minded, heretical and undermining the "True Faith" as they see it, to anyone who shows any compassion to those who feel marginalised such as gay people or women who have had abortions.

The extreme left is more intellectual and thus less insulting though it is certainly not more tolerant of those who disagree with the "party Line" and will attack the Hierarchy because of the lack of debate on the ordination of women, for example.  Who would be a bishop!

I struggle along in the middle with a love of good liturgy and music but with no interest in putting the clock back.  I wouldn't seek out a Latin Mass but wouldn't be phased if I ended up at one.  I enjoy singing in Latin because the music is usually better so I enjoy the Gloria etc if they are in Latin..even the Pater Noster..but I couldn't be bothered with the Extraordinary Form as it seems like a step backwards and I am put off by all the tawdry lace, birettas and maniples.  Probably what puts me off most are the religious opinions and the unpleasant attitude of many people who espouse these things.  I said in an earlier post that the spin off effect of the "traditional" Catholic movement has been an improvement in the liturgy but when you listen to some of the opinions!  I sat through a Mass, ostensibly focusing on young people, when the priest in his sermon stated that artificial forms of contraception were a worse sin than abortion because an aborted foetus goes straight to heaven where as "prevention" denies the beatific vision to something that doesn't exist!

I am sure there are nice people in the Latin Mass Society who have a genuine love of Latin, in fact the Chairman's Blog shows that Joseph Shaw, the Chairman, is one but I only see the camp followers who think that Benedict XVI is a bit dodgy theologically and consider their own bishop to be a heretic.

I have always tended to be on the theological left because of my sojourn at King's, London in the 60's.  Relatively recently I have moved more to the centre simply because I felt that I was revelling in demythologising and taking exegesis to extremes and rather losing sight of what the Faith is all about.  I was  becoming almost as dogmatic as the extreme right and happily dismissing slabs of Scripture as "later interpolations" or anything reductive.  I'm not saying I have revised my opinion of how Scripture is put together but rather of how I need to read it.

We are all on some sort of a spiritual journey and we stumble along towards the light.  If pushed I would say that I was of the theological school of muddling through and all I ask of others is that they recognise that and are tolerant of my opinions and ideas.  I will always assume that a fellow Catholic is stumbling along just as I am though his or her route may be different.  All I ask is that they allow me the same latitude that I allow them.  Unfortunately is isn't always the case.  GK Chesterton sums it up well in "Orthodoxy":

If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment.

 He is not hampered by a sense of humour or by charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical for losing certain sane affections. Indeed, the common phrase for insanity is in this respect a misleading one. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason…. 

Now, speaking quite externally and empirically, we may say that the strongest and most unmistakable mark of madness is this combination between a logical completeness and a spiritual contraction. 

The lunatic’s theory explains a large number of things, but it does not explain them in a large way. I mean that if you or I were dealing with a mind that was growing morbid, we should be chiefly concerned not so much to give it arguments as to give it air, to convince it that there was something cleaner and cooler outside the suffocation of a single argument.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Sign of Peace?

The Socially Awkward Person's Guide to the Sign of Peace

 Friday, June 03, 2011 6:27 AM Comments (59)
The first time I went to a Catholic Mass, there were a lot of things that seemed crazy to me. The kneeling, the incense, the parts with everyone saying the same prayers at the same time—most of it was baffling. But none of it startled me more than when the priest suddenly said, “Let us offer one another a sign of peace.” With no warning other than that simple phrase, there was eye contact! And hand-shaking! And verbal interaction! People I didn’t even know were looking at me and addressing me!
For those of us who are both extremely introverted and socially awkward, this sort of rampant interaction with other human beings isn’t the sort of thing you just rush into. It requires practice, preparation, and analysis on a scale not entirely dissimilar to that of a moon landing. For my fellow people who share the psychological profile of SHBDH (Should Have Been a Desert Hermit), I offer this handy guide to the strange extrovert ritual known as the sign of peace:
  • The sign of peace occurs shortly after the Our Father. You want to be able to focus on the Lord’s Prayer, so if you plan to do any warm-up exercises, stretching, or visualization techniques to prepare yourself for the hand shaking and interaction, try to do it after the Liturgy of the Word when they pass the collection plates.
  • When the time comes, you engage in the sign of peace by shaking the hands of the people around you and saying, “Peace be with you.” Each handshake preferably includes a smile and at least one full second of eye contact.
  • It is acceptable to say only “peace be with you” and move on to the next person. “Peace of Christ” and the abbreviated “peace” are acceptable alternatives. If so inclined, you may feel free to include spontaneous salutations such as “hi” or “good morning,” but the Church does not require that you do so.
  • Some websites claim that it is acceptable to offer the Latin form of the greeting, Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum (“The peace of the Lord be with you always”), but I don’t recommend it. A non-socially-awkward person might be able to pull it off, but people like us would just end up making everyone nervous.
  • Offer the sign of peace to all persons within a four-foot radius of where you are seated. This includes people in front of and behind you.
  • If you are seated next to a group of people, it is customary to offer the sign of peace to everyone within the group, up to a maximum of ten people. (It is acceptable though not preferable to pretend like you are not able to lean over far enough to shake all of their hands, and alternatively offer a small wave and lip-sync the greeting of peace. Some parishioners may choose in this case to spice things up by pantomiming an “air handshake” in lieu of a wave, though this is not required.)
  • Offer to shake the hand of anyone over the age of two. You do not need to shake the hands of very young children and babies, though you are required to acknowledge them and comment on their cuteness.
  • In the event that there is nobody seated within a four foot radius of you, you must offer the sign of peace to the following people:
    • Anyone seated in your same pew, even if outside the four-foot radius, provided that there are fewer than five people total in the pew.
    • Anyone seated anywhere in the pews in front of or behind you, even if outside the four foot radius, provided that there are fewer than five people total in either of said pews.
  • If there is nobody in your pew, the pew in front of you or the pew behind you, you are not required to offer the sign of peace to people more than one pew away, though the wave and lip-synch method (see above) is recommended for all people within a three-pew radius of your seat.
  • You may safely ignore anyone seated more than three pews in front of or behind you, provided that you do not make eye contact with them. In the event of eye contact, however, you are obliged to acknowledge that person with either a wave or an air handshake.
  • If you are seated on an aisle, you are not required to offer the sign of peace to those seated across the aisle from you, though it is fine to do so. The wave and lip-synch method is also acceptable in this circumstance.
  • It is not acceptable to pretend to forget about the people seated directly to the rear of you. This is known as the “Fulwiler Dodge” and is frowned upon by the Church.
  • It is not acceptable to avoid the sign of peace by pretending to choke, taking five minutes to tie your shoe, or dropping an important item that needs to be recovered. This is another form of the Fulwiler Dodge and is strongly discouraged.
  • Resist the temptation to immediately wipe your hands with antibacterial lotion or towelettes. It is customary to wait at least a full thirty seconds.
You’re all set! Simply review this guide before each Mass, and you’ll be able to blend in with even your most extroverted fellow parishioners during the sign of peace.

Read more:

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Ascension Part 2

The Ascension is one of the Great Feasts that we tend to ignore.

When I was studying theology in the 1960's the fashionable theologians were Tillich, Bultmann & Bonhoeffer and there was a tremendous emphasis on exegesis and demythologising.  It was the Jesus Seminar in the States in the 1990's that took this approach to ultimate lengths and considered the Ascension to be a post-apostolic fabrication to bring to an end "appearances" of the Lord to individuals and groups.

I used to find a great deal of intellectual entertainment in testing many of these theories and following the arguments of the Jesus Seminar but, like St Thomas Aquinas, I've realised that it doesn't help me very much in my own personal spiritual struggle.  In many ways it is a red herring that draws me away from focussing on what Christianity is all about.

And the Ascension?  I've moved on from that impression of Jesus being taken up to Heaven in some sort of cosmic lift to 70 floors above haberdashery, ladies underwear and the Roof Garden Tea Room.  It seems to me that the movement is towards mankind, rather than away from it.  Somehow the Apostles saw Jesus enter into the Glory of His Majesty, prefigured at the Transfiguration, with the promise that they, and we too, would be able to share in it in the future.  In the meantime the Spirit would come to help us make that possible.  The Ascension, then, is the culmination of the Incarnation.  God became man and, at the Ascension, Christ's manhood is taken up to God.

The Ascension also underlines that unique claim of Christianity, that created things are ultimately good and that  body and soul are indefinably connected.  Jesus is taken up into Heaven materially.  How, we don't know, and Luke does his best to describe it in Acts but he is limited by his own time.  What actually happened doesn't matter but Heaven touched Earth at a moment in time.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Hail the Day that sees Him Rise! Alleluia!

At least it hasn't been moved to a Sunday in South Africa.  I don't think that the argument for moving some of these Feasts to Sunday holds much water because if you want to celebrate them you will anyway and if it's just a Sunday Mass you won't really notice that it is any different.

Epiphany has been moved to a Sunday here and it makes a real nonsense of the 12 Days of Christmas.  I hope the Bishops have the sense to move it back as they seem to be in England and Wales.  I do like having Corpus Christi on a Sunday, though.

I went to Holy Trinity Braamfontein for Solemn Mass at 7,00pm.  It is preceded by Solemn Vespers and that has become quite a tradition there.  The Introit was sung in Latin by the Schola Cantorum, the Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei to English Plainchant and the Pater Noster in Latin to Gregorian Chant.  We sung Wesley's 'Hail the Day that sees Him Rise' with great gusto and finished with the Organ Voluntary as the ministers left the altar, Handel's Concerto in F, Allegro.
Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Braamfontein

We were all "asperged" as the Schola sang Vidi Aquam and it was nice to have the smell of incense again.  I don't understand why so few churches seem to use it every Sunday and reserve it for specific occasions when no-one is quite sure what to do!

I haven't been to Holy Trinity for quite a few weeks and it was relief to allow the music just to wash over you.  Sensibly the music for the services is printed on a little A5 sheet for each service so you don't need a book or to see things flashed on a screen.

The main Sunday Solemn Mass is usually completely full, but not tonight, only about 200 there.  Admittedly the lunchtime Mass would have been quite a busy one but still, disappointing for a Day of Obligation.  On the other hand  Holy Trinity is an inner city church and that may be the reason.