Monday, 20 February 2017

Winter Camouflage

Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Hill: Ukraine is making progress against tough odds. It deserves US support.

The Hill: Ukraine is making progress against tough odds. It deserves US support.

by Alexander Vershbow

"Building a democracy isn’t easy, even in the best of circumstances. As a diplomat for over 40 years, I have seen firsthand how difficult it has been for the countries of Central and Eastern Europe to overcome the legacy of Soviet authoritarianism, root out corruption, and establish free societies and market economies based on the rule of law.

No country in this region has faced more formidable challenges than Ukraine.

In the 25 years after achieving independence in 1991, Ukraine squandered many opportunities for reform, disappointing the aspirations of its people for a European future based on justice, prosperity and accountable leaders and institutions. When former President Viktor Yanukovych, yielding to Russian pressure, suspended Ukraine's negotiations on partnership with the European Union in late 2013, the Ukrainian people made it clear that they had had enough.

Their frustration led to the Revolution of Dignity on Kyiv's Maidan square, Yanukovych's flight to Russia and, a few months later, the election of new, reformist leaders led by current President Petro Poroshenko.

Since that time, however, Ukraine has had to continue the reform process with a gun to its head, both literally and figuratively.

It has not been easy for Ukraine to start a reform process from the ground up, especially while it has been fighting to protect its freedom and independence from Russian aggression.

Russia has worked to undermine Ukraine through its illegal annexation of Crimea and sponsorship of an armed insurgency in Eastern Ukraine, coupled with economic intimidation and misinformation campaigns. Russia's actions are designed to portray Ukraine as a failed state that doesn't deserve support from the larger international community."

The Feast of Blessed Francisco and Blessed Jacinta of Portugal

O Almighty God, who willest to be glorified in thy Saints and didst raise up thy servants Blessed Francisco and Jacinta Marto to shine as lights in the world: Shine, we pray thee, in our hearts, that we also in our generation may shew forth thy praises, who hast called us out of darkness into thy marvellous light; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

O Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore Thee profoundly. I offer Thee the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifferences by which He is offended. By the infinite merits of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary I beg the conversion of poor sinners.

Blessed Francisco and Jacinta, pray for us and for Portugal.

Come, Holy Spirit, by Leonardo Boff

Leonardo Boff, Come, Holy Spirit: Inner Fire, Giver of Life and Comforter of the Poor, 2015 Orbis Books

It is very telling that Boff uses just one sentence to deal with the role of the Holy Spirit in the inspiration of Scripture. This should not be a surprise. He really does not like the idea of a permanent, unchanging absolute revelation. This unchanging revelation might be the work of the Holy Spirit, but Boff presumably hoped that having dealt with that in just one sentence, the reader would forget about it and go with the idea that the Holy Spirit is a sort of renengade who constantly does cool right-on things.

Leonardo Boff attributes a number of things to the work of the Holy Spiri; the Second Vatican Council, the rise of Latin American Liberation Theology and Base Communities, the Charismatic movement (though he worries a bit about their tendency to fundamentalism) and the election of Pope Francis. Basically, the Holy Spirit does all the thing that Boff thinks are cool. Of course, I imagine some less right-on people might attribute Vatican I, the conservatism of John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI's 'Reform of the Reform' to the Holy Spirit.

Boff has been accused of copying and pasting material from dogmatics textbooks and then inserting his left-of-centre insights. True to this, quite a few of the early chapters have a theology textbook feel to them. When he explains the doctrine of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, he does not stray that far from orthodoxy. He does imply early that he takes a Process Theology view of God, that God is in the process of becoming, though he does not go anywhere with this less orthodox idea. He also follows Torrance in seeing the unity of the Trinity in perichoresis. The danger of that approach is tritheism, that the persons are no longer united by a common substance. He seems to imply on page 81 that the Holy Spirit indwells all human beings, but he fails to explain or elaborate on this. This is a habit we see continually in this book; our author makes a point that might be insightful or might be heretical (usually the latter), but does not spend any time elaborating or clarifying his point.

Boff's ecclesiology is problematic. He argues that the Church is the body of the risen Christ and therefore is not subject to limitations. We must not therefore, he argues, limit the Church to an institution. Yet we are then left in the dark as to how to identify the Church. There must be limits to what we can define as the Body of Christ. Boff continually attacks the institution of the Catholic Church throughout this book. He urges us to the see the working of the Holy Spirit as something spontaneous and dynamic. One might ask whether the Holy Spirit never works through institutions and formal procedures. It appears that Boff actually does think so. He views the Second Vatican Council as a work of the Holy Spirit. Well, guess what, the Second Vatican Council was a council of lawfully ordained bishops called by the lawfully-ordained Pope and which followed a set of formal procedures. He also views the election of Pope Francis as a work of the Holy Spirit. Funnily enough, Pope Francis was chosen by the cardinals following the same procedure by which previous popes were chosen. So it looks like the Holy Spirit is perfectly happy to operate through the traditional institutional procedures of the Catholic Church. It might have been helpful if Boff had spent a little more time talking about the sacraments, in particular the role of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Rather worryingly, Boff sounds like a Protestant when he identifies Peter's faith as the 'rock' in Matthew 16:16. Amusingly, he sounds like a Dispensationalist when he argues on page 142 that the Church was introduced because of the rejection of Jesus' Kingdom mission. I imagine that he has no idea that many American fundamentalists would agree with him on that point.

Our author loves the idea of dynamic and charismatic movements and dislikes institutions. Yet he offers no concern about the dangers of charismatic power. Often radical movements empowered by charismatic authority tend to produce authoritarian leaders and sometimes abuse of that power. Those of us who have come from the Charismatic Evangelical movement are aware of this. It may be largely forgotten now, but the Nine o'clock services in Anglicanism (1986-1995) are instructive as to these dangers. Many thought the Spirit was moving in the Nine O'cloc services, but in fact conditions were forming in which abuse was allowed to take place. The usual institutional checks that could have prevented this abuse were let down. Boff sees the Charimatic movement as a movement that is complementary to the Base Community movement. However, some have argued that Pentecostal groups have grown in reaction to the Base Communities. The Pentecostal groups have attracted people from the Base Communities because they offer more personal morality, are less politicized and show more concern to the needs and concerns of women.

There is a chapter on the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Virgin Mary, a subject dealt with at greater length in his boo, The Maternal Face of God. Boff has been accused of teaching that Mary is an incarnation of God the Holy Spirit, but this is not exactly what he says. He argues that there was a permanent perichoretic indwelling of the Holy Spirit in Mary, such that they are fundamentally united, while not being an hypostatic union, as the incarnation of our Lord was. In Mary we see the revelation of the Feminine Divine. This is the part of this book that I like best. Boff says of the implications of Mary's Pneumatization:

"The spiritualization/ pneumatization of Mary is not only about her. Mary belongs to the human community, men as well as women. We are all touched by this trinitarian event of infinite tenderness and mercy, revealed through the person of the Holy Spirit. Something in us has become divine, brought into the Kingdom of the Trinity by Mary. Something of our warm, mortal humanity has become eternal."

Boff admits his debt to Jurgen Moltmann in the chapter on cosmology. Here he identifies the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of life, sustaining the universe. Likewise, he also follows Moltmann in seeing the end of the universe in becoming a temple of the Holy Spirit:

"This is how the Bible describes the good end of the universe: the moment when the Spirit will prevail over all the hostile and divergent powers of life, and will bring about a new heaven and a new earth (Joel 2:28-32, Revelation 21:1). We will all be drawn together into the dynamic and loving life of the Trinity."

At times Boff attempts to theologize speculative ideas within Quantum Physics. I am not altogether sure this is helpful and I have my doubts that he completely knows what he is talking about. He probably makes a little too much of the media-spun theory of the "God-particle."

This is an interesting book with some good ideas, plus a lot of rot. The bulk of it is Jurgen Moltmann with a progressive Catholic gloss, plus an unconventional high Mariology.

National Review| Michael Novak: Intellectual Godfather to a Generation of Conservatives

National Review| Michael Novak: Intellectual Godfather to a Generation of Conservatives

by Arthur C Brooks

"Like many thinkers of his generation, Novak intellectually matriculated as a progressive but graduated to conservatism. The first reason was his observation that the Democratic party of the 1970s was softening on Communism; then over social issues such as abortion and the family; and finally over support of the American free-enterprise system. He ultimately defined himself as a neoconservative alongside AEI colleagues such as Irving Kristol. But while Kristol defined a neoconservative as a liberal who has been mugged by reality, Novak preferred the definition “a progressive with three teenage children.”

My own ideological migration from left to right matched Novak’s. Although at the time I had never met the great man, his work was especially helpful to me as a young Catholic. In the 1990s, I was struggling to ascertain how my religion fit with the conviction that capitalism was the superior economic system, at a time when much of the Church hierarchy appeared to be asserting the opposite. Was my ideology at odds with my faith?

Novak answered my question. In the early 1980s, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops developed a pastoral letter, “Economic Justice for All,” that promoted unvarnished liberal economic policies under the banner of Catholic social teaching. Novak led a lay group of Catholic leaders with expertise in economics and business that published an alternative take, “Toward the Future: Catholic Social Thought and the U.S. Economy.” While respectfully confirming the Church’s teaching authority regarding faith and morals, Novak and colleagues confidently asserted lay competence in practical questions of economics and policy. And this expertise, they argued persuasively, showed that free enterprise was integral to achieving the Church’s goals of promoting the dignity of the individual, affirming the social nature of humanity, and asserting the need to solve problems at the lowest possible level of governance. Novak’s words were mother’s milk to me at that pivotal moment in my life."

I am very saddened to hear of the death of Catholic thinker Michael Novak. When I studied Liberation Theology as part of my Theology degree, I was very encouraged by his critique of that movement and his defence of capitalism.

Novak certainly did a splendid job of showing the virtue of the capitalism system in The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism. That book was not, of course, perfect. Novak failed to offer any account of poverty in capitalist system and showed no sign of supporting a welfare state, which is foundational to a fair and just society.

Cardinal Nichols Consecrates England

Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.

Pope Francis on the Fifth Marian Dogma

The National Opinion: What western ‘experts’ get so wrong about the conflict in Syria

The National Opinion: What western ‘experts’ get so wrong about the conflict in Syria

by Loubna Mrie

"Hafez Al Assad, the father of Bashar Al Assad, came into power in 1970 after a military coup. After his death in 2000, Bashar became president.

So, for almost 60 years, Syrians have not known what it is like to vote. My generation, and the past several generations, don’t know what it’s like to have a choice of candidate. Syria was always Syria Al Asaad.

Those who accuse the opposition to Mr Al Asaad of being puppets of the West don’t know what it is like to grow up in a police state where you believe that the walls have ears and anything you say might lead you to jail.

It’s very important to note here that the first chants of the Syrian uprising called for fair elections and reformation of the system.However, the police brutality and the killing of protesters escalated the situation and people started to call for overthrow of the government. Then they started to take up arms to defend themselves and their towns."

HANDS ACROSS THE AISLE: Biology Isn’t Bigotry: Remarks from a Hands Across the Aisle Member

HANDS ACROSS THE AISLE: Biology Isn’t Bigotry: Remarks from a Hands Across the Aisle Member

by Emily Zinos

"Are we the generation of parents who will allow our young and vulnerable children to be fed a false anthropology rather than take the time to tell them they are beautifully and wonderfully made?

Are we the generation of parents who will consent to our children’s sterilization rather than patiently guide them towards an appreciation of their bodies?

Are we the generation of parents who will treat our children’s mental health issues with double mastectomies rather than seeking out a true remedy?

The women of Hands Across the Aisle answer with a resolute NO to each and every one of these questions. As a practicing Catholic and mother of seven, I certainly disagree with my radical feminist sisters in this coalition on many issues, believe me. But I’m honored to join forces with them for the sake of protecting vulnerable children and I thank them for their intelligent and insightful criticisms of gender identity as a threat to women in law and culture.

At Hands Across the Aisle, we hope to start conversations that will get people thinking critically about gender identity and we hope to embolden women to speak up for the hard-earned rights they will lose if gender identity is allowed to eclipse sex. I hope you will join me in saying NO to the ideology of gender wherever you see it, but most especially in schools where it strikes at the very heart of what it means to educate."

Saturday, 18 February 2017

BBC News: US 'unwavering' in support for Nato allies, says Pence

BBC News: US 'unwavering' in support for Nato allies, says Pence

The US will be "unwavering" in its support for Nato, vice-president Mike Pence told European leaders at the Munich Security Conference.

In the first major foreign policy address for the Trump administration, Mr Pence said the US would "stand with Europe today and every day".

But he told the gathered leaders that European countries were "failing to pay their fair share" on defence.

That failure "erodes the foundation of our alliance", he said.

The vice-president pointed out that apart from the US, only four Nato countries had met a 2014 commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence.

"The time has come to do more," he said.

Eastern Ukraine Situation Report 18th February

This is war. This is Europe. This is happening today.

Thomas Merton: A Book of Hours

Kathleen Deignan (editor), Thomas Merton: A Book of Hours, 2007 Sorin Books, Notre Dame, IN

I had never even heard of Thomas Merton when I was a Protestant. So far I have yet to read any of his books, though I am looking forward to having a look when I can get around to it. As I am a sucker for prayer books, especially those containing a daily office, I bought this.

This is not quite what I expected. I was expected that it would follow the tradition of a Medieval Book of Hours, with Psalms and Scripture readings, interspersed with meditations from the writings of Thomas Merton. However, while it follows the structure of a daily office, with Psalms, canticles, readings and collects, the material is entirely taken from Thomas Merton's writings. Given that Merton was a monk who prayed the Psalms daily, I have my doubts that he would have approved the replacement of inspired Scripture with his own words.

Some of Merton's words are very beautiful and inspiring. However, a lot of the time his profound thoughts leave me scratching my head, confused as to what he is actually saying. There is a time for reading opaque and challenging spiritual writings, but I do not think morning and evening prayer is that time. A daily office is all about routine, consistency and simplicity. When one has just cleaned one's teeth and needs to set off for work in twenty minutes one is better off reading the Psalms. There are people of a poetical and mystical temperament who will relish this book. This may be the book they want; but it is not necessarily the book they need.

One thing I did really appreciate was the emphasis on Sophia, divine wisdom in the Saturday office. This fits nicely with the tradition of Marian devotion on Saturday. When one has time on one's hands, it may be worth using this book of hours for a few days.

Friday, 17 February 2017

No-Show Rate

Reflections of an Anglican Theologian: On being un-Anglican and un-Catholic

Reflections of an Anglican Theologian: On being un-Anglican and un-Catholic

"The problem with this argument is that you cannot detach the Church’s existing law and teaching with regard to marriage from its teaching about sexual relationships. They go together. This can be seen if we go back to what is said in Canon B.30. This Canon forms part of the Church of England’s law, but in terms of its form it is a statement of the Church of England’s teaching about the nature marriage. The Canon declares:

‘The Church of England affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching, that marriage is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong, for better for worse, till death them do part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, for the procreation and nurture of children, for the hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affections, and for the mutual society, help and comfort which the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.’

These words declare not only what marriage is, but what it is for. Following a tradition going back to St. Augustine they affirm that there are three causes why marriage exists, and that the second of these is ‘the hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affections.’ The ‘natural instincts and affections’ referred to here are the desire for sexual relationships that human beings possess and what the Canon says is that this desire needs to be hallowed, that is to say, to be expressed in a way that is consistent with living a holy life. Marriage between one man and one woman is the way that this takes place. Sexual desire finds a holy expression when it takes place in this context.

This point is expanded slightly in the 1999 House of Bishops teaching document Marriage. This document sees marriage as a relationship ‘in which a man and a woman may learn love together over the course of their lives’ and further states:

‘Sexual intercourse, as an expression of faithful intimacy, properly belongs within marriage exclusively. The three blessings that belong to marriage are traditionally described as the procreation and nurture of children, the hallowing of natural instincts and affections, and the mutual society, help and comfort which each affords the prosperity and adversity.’

This statement makes explicit the point which is implicit in the Canon, which is that because it is in marriage that the expression of sexual desire is hallowed it follows that sexual intercourse belong solely within marriage. All sexual intercourse outside marriage is not hallowed and is therefore illegitimate.

Canon B.30 further declares that the Church of England’s teaching about marriage can also be found in the Book of Common Prayer.

‘The teaching of our Lord affirmed by the Church of England is affirmed and maintained in the Form and Solemnisation of Matrimony contained in the Book of Common Prayer.’

If we turn to the Book of Common Prayer we find that it too sees marriage as something that takes place between a man and a woman and that it too lists three causes for marriage. The second of these causes is that marriage was

‘… was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.’

The point that is being made here, building on the teaching of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 6 and 7, is that sex outside marriage is the sin known as fornication and that therefore those who have not been given by God the ability to restrain themselves from giving physical expression to their sexual desires should, if they are able to do so, enter into marriage in order they may channel their desires in a godly and disciplined way so that they can keep ourselves ‘undefiled members of Christ’s body.’

The homily ‘Of the State of Matrimony’ in the Second Book of Homilies, which is another key authorised Church of England statement about marriage, expands the point made in the Book of Common Prayer about marriage being a ‘remedy for sin.’ It says ‘The word of Almighty God doth testify and declare ‘ that marriage:

‘…. is instituted of God, to the intent that man and woman should live lawfully in a perpetual friendly fellowship, to bring forth fruit, and to avoid fornication: by which means, a good conscience might be preserved on both parties in bridling the corrupt inclinations of the flesh, within the limits of honesty; for God hath straitly forbidden all whoredom and uncleanness, and hath from time to time taken grievous punishments of this inordinate lust, as all stories and ages hath declared.’

What these four documents show is that it is simply not possible to separate the Church of England’s teaching about sexual relationships from its teaching about marriage. This is because according to the Church of England a central part of the purpose of marriage is to provide a context within which people may engage in sexual relationships in a way that negatively avoids sin and positively accords with the demands of holiness."

We can be thankful there are plenty of Anglicans who will defend Christian teaching on sexuality.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Coptic Catholic Bishops call for Peace and Unity with their Muslim Neighbours

Crux: What Egypt’s Catholic bishops said to Pope Francis

Terrorism is another concern for the Church in Egypt.

“Egyptians are very attentive, as they know that terrorism aims at undermining the unity of our country as well as our shared life with Muslim brothers,” Bishay said.

Despite incidents in which many churches were burned by extremists, “no reaction against the Muslim community came from the Catholic Church,” the bishop reported.

The government of Egypt understands the issue and helps restore the destroyed churches. Christmas 2014 also marked a new outreach from President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who visited a Coptic Orthodox cathedral.

“For the first time ever a president of the Republic of Egypt spent the Christmas night at Mass,” Bishay said.

Egyptian society was also profoundly shocked by the beheading in Libya of 20 Orthodox Coptic faithful and a companion by Islamic State militants in February 2015.

“On one hand, this wound does not only affect the Egyptian society, but the whole world. What has happened is part of a war that is fed by the instrumentalization of religions,” the bishop said, denouncing efforts to kill in the name of God.

On the other hand, he continued, “the example of the Coptic martyrs gave strength and courage to all of us. Instead of creating divisions within the country, the message of the martyrs bore more unity. So much that people do not speak about the shedding of Christian blood, but about the shedding of Egyptian blood.”

American Support for NATO Allies