Sunday, July 19, 2009

Vatican Webpage for the Year for Priests

Somehow I missed the fact that the Congregation for Education has established a special site for the Annus Sacerdotalis. The internet connection from which I'm working is very slow so it is quite difficult to upload any pictures from the site but here's a link to the English page. Do take a look. You can access various bits of news about the year, Papal comments and videos and a number of useful resources.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A text from Dom & Phil this morning as I was vesting reminded me to pray for our intrepid cyclists as I celebrated Holy Mass in honour of Our Lady. Readers of this blog will be aware that these two young lads are cycling from Rome to Walsingham via Medjugorje. This morning's text was to say that they had just landed in Ancora and also to alert me to the fact that they've updated their blog. Do go over to the blog to have a look at what they've been getting up to. Apart from the thrill of the adventure, Dominic and Phil are hoping to raise £2,000 towards the cost of the Youth 2000 retreat for young adults that will take place in Walsingham at the end of August. There's a donate button on the sidebar of their blog and I noticed that they've raised just under £1,500 so far. All money raised goes towards the retreat (they've already paid for the trip out of their own funds) so do please donate something if you can.
I think I'll mention it on Twitter to see if that generates a bit extra for them!

Friday, July 17, 2009

An Important Talk (IV)

In the last part of his talk to the Rectors of the Pontifical Seminaries Mgr Brugues has something to say about the selection of candidates to the priesthood. He notes that there have grwn up two different lines of interpretation of the Second Vatican Council which he characterises as 'composition' (accommodation) and 'contestation'.
By 'composition' the bishop is referring to an adaptation of the Gospel to the interests of the world: "The first leads us to observe that secularisation includes values with a strong Christian influence, like equality, freedom, solidarity, responsibility, and that it should be possible to come to terms with this current and identify areas of co-operation". The danger, however, is that of playing "the card of adaptation and co-operation with secularised society, at the cost of finding themselves forced to take a critical distance from this or that aspect of Catholic doctrine or morality". He says it is not hard to find examples of this and cites Catholic educational establishments as a particular battleground.
According to the bishop this current adaption to the world "emerged mainly during the period following the Council; it provided the ideological framework for the interpretations of Vatican II that were imposed at the end of the 196-'s and the following decade". An alternative emerged however in the 1980's "above all - but not exclusively - under the influence of John Paul II". According to this model of "contestation" there is a greater wariness in our approach to secular society and an awareness of the need to keep one's distance by recognising that, particularly in the ethical field, conflict will arise and become increasingly pronounced. According to this model factors such as the confession of the faith, identity and the importance of evangelisation dominate.
This can create problems for the selection and formation of candidates for the priesthood although in reality they reflect wider tentions within the Church: "The current of 'composition' has aged, but its proponents still hold key positions within the Church. The current of the alternative model has become much stronger but has not yet become dominant. This would explain the tensions at the moment in many of the Churches on our continent". Applying this to priesthood he says: "Candidates of the first tendency have become increasingly rare, to the great displeasure of the priests of the older generations. The candidates of the second tendency have now become more numerous than the others...". And so he poses the crunch question: "How can harmony be fostered between educators, who often belong to the first current, and the young people who identify with the second? Will the educators continue to cling to criteria of admission and selection that date back to their own time, but no longer correspond to the aspirations of the young?"
Frustratingly he doesn't offer an answer. However, by taking the problem out of the usual 'liberal versus conservative' rhetoric and situating it within a wider ecclesial model of the efficacy of the Church's prophetic role within society, he perhaps gives us an indication of how we need to look again at the 'signs of the times' and take seriously the lived experience of the young.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

An Important Talk (III)

In the next part of his presentation the Secretary of the Congregation for Education has some interesting observations concerning the recent history of the Church and the sort of young man currently responding to a priestly vocation. Twenty years ago, as a seminarian, I attended a talk given by the Secretary of the Congregation for the Clergy. In the questions afterwards a concern was raised about the growing number of 'conservative' students for the priesthood. Amusingly the Secretary asked for a clarification and then leaning back said simply: "Oh you mean the swing of the pendulum!" Two weeks ago I was at a European vocations conference and was surprised to hear the same concerns being voiced in terms of a fear that we were 'returning to the ghetto'.
Bishop Brugues puts the matter into a different context. For him the key is recognising that the Council took place at a time of great secularisation. The Zeitgeist of secularisation led many within the Church to interpret the 'openness to the world' called for by the Council with a 'conversion to secularisation'. This has led, not so much to the Church suffering under the secularising programme of social or political interest groups, but rather from an internal malaise: "In this way, in fact, we have experienced or even fostered an extremely powerful self-secularisation in most of the Western Churches". As evidence he offers the following examples:
"Believers are ready to exert themselves in the service of peace, justice and humanitarian causes, but do they believe in eternal life? Our Churches have carried out an immense effort to renew catechesis, but does not this catechesis itself tend to overlook the ultimate realities? For the most part, our Churches have embarked on the ethical debates of the moment, at the urging of public opinion, but how much do they talk about sin, grace, and the divinised life? Our Churches have successfully deployed massive resources in order to improve the participation of the faithful in the liturgy, but has not the liturgy for the most part lost the sense of the sacred? Can anyone deny that our generation, possibly without realising it, dreamed of the 'Church of the pure', a faithful purified of any religious manifestation, warning against any manifestation of popular devotion like processions, pilgrimages, etc?"
What is most interesting is the way the bishop sees this to have changed the profile of Church membership today. He says: "We could advance the hypothesis that we have passed from a Church of 'belonging', in which the faith was determined by the community of birth, to a Church of 'conviction' in which the faith is defined as a personal and courageous choice, often in opposition with the group of origin". For him, therefore, it is not a straightforward liberal/conservative dichotomy. Seminarians and young priests of today belong to this "Church of conviction" and have come from a social environment that does support them. As a consequence "they offer better-defined profiles, stronger individuality, and more courageous temperaments. In this regard, they have the right to our full esteem". He sums up succinctly what he wants to say in the concluding paragraph of this section:
"The difficulty to which I would like to draw your attention therefore goes beyond the boundaries of a simple generational conflict. My generation, I insist, has equated openness to the world with conversion to secularisation, and has experienced a certain fascination regarding it. But although the younger men were born in secularisation as their natural environment and drank it together with their mother's milk, they still seek to distance themselves from it, and defend their identity and their differences".
In the final part of his talk the bishop will discuss two different approaches to secularisation. The official English text renders them as 'composition' and 'contestation'. It's always difficult translating from another language and I don't think the best job has been done here. For what it's worth, in my opinion, I think by 'composition' we should read 'accommodation' or 'compromise' and for 'contestation' we should read 'conflict'.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

An Important Talk (II)

One of the complaints we often hear from seminarians is that the seminary timetable can be so packed they have little time for personal reflection or study. Like any complaint, of course, it has to be treated cautiously - it is important to learn how to manage one's time and not waste it. However, a packed timetable can certainly lead to a certain unhealthy dissipation and in his talk the Secretary for the Congregation for Education refers to the danger of packing too much into a student's initial formation.
His second point is that the formation programmes in the pontifical seminaries should be reviewed and he calls for 'a comprehensive, organic theological formation that is focused on the essential'. He goes on to explain what he means:
"This implies, on the part of those responsible for instruction and formation, the discontinuation of an initial formation marked by a critical spirit - as was the case for my generation, for which the discovery of the Bible and doctrine was contaminated by a systematic spirit of criticism - and of the temptation of premature specialisation: precisely because these young men lack the necessary cultural background".
There are a few observations I'd like to make here. First of all I think the basic point is well made. When I was an undergraduate reading theology in Oxford I had a number of Catholic and non-Catholic friends who had chosen the same subject because they wanted to know what to believe. Rather than their starting point being a fides quaerens intellectum it would be more accurate to describe it as an intellectus quarens fidem. Sadly what generally happened was that the disection of the Bible according to the historical-critical method meant that most neverfound the faith they sought and were left with an unhealthy cynicism towards Christianity. As Goswin Habets, one of our professors at the Gregorianum later put it: "One only dissects a dead body, never a living one". Another Greg prof, Fr Becker, also put it well when he asked us to put down our pens one day and reminded us that the Scriptures "are also the revealed Word of God". I always felt that themes such as revelation and the inspiration of Scripture should precede an introduction to the historical-critical method. I am particularly pleased that these days the writings of Benedict XVI, Scott Hahn and others have enabled a new generation to thrill to the revealed of God in a way that wasn't possible even twenty or thirty years ago.
There is something slightly puzzling, however, about the Bishop's comments. He is addressing the Rectors of the Pontifical Seminaries and calling for a change in the approach to studies. But all their students would study at one of the Pontifical faculties. One must conclude that either he is talking with a wider audience in mind or he is referring to the content of an introductory year that he wishes them to establish.
He goes on to 'share a few questions' that occur to him:
"It is absolutely reasonable to want to give future priests a complete, top-level formation. Like an attentive mother, the Church wants the best for future priests. For this reason the number of courses has been multiplied, but to the point of weighing down programmes in a way that is, in my view exaggerated. You have probably perceived the risk of discouragement in many of your seminarians. I ask: is an encyclopedic perspective appropriate for these young men who have received no basic Christian formation? Has this perspective not, perhaps, provoked a fragmentation of formation, an accumulation of courses and an excessively historicising outlook? Is it truly necessary, to give young men who have never learned the catechism an in-depth formation in the human sciences, or in the techniques of communication?
I would adivse choosing depth over breadth, synthesis over dispersion in details, architecture over decoration. Similar reasons lead me to believe that learning metaphysics, as demanding as this is, represents the absolutely indispensable preliminary phase for the study of theology. Those who come to us have often received a solid scientific and technical formation - which is a good thing - but their lack of general culture does not permit them to undertake theology confidently".
Again, there is a lot packed in here. The old Roman system was that seminarians went to the faculty in the morning for lectures in Latin. In the afternoon they would go over their notes with repetitores to ensure that they fully understood what had been taught and that they began to assimilate the subject. That's no longer the case. For some individuals the afternoon period is a time for personal study. In my time for many it was a time to visit the City. While in some Roman seminaries it has been filled with extra in-house courses. The bishop seems to be calling for an emphasis on depth and assimilation of the basic studies rather than a superficial knowledge of lots of subjects. Some seminaries I know have reserved the academic term for the basic studies and introduced other more pastoral subjects during intensive study weeks before and after the relatively short academic terms.
Again, however, it should be noted that that the Bishop is not trying to criticise the seminaries. He seems rather to be stressing the importance of an introductory year to make up for the 'lack of general culture' which would prevent students from benefiting as much as they can from their theological studies. It is this 'lack of general culture' that he comment on in the next part of his talk.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

An Important Talk

I'm currently at the country house of the Real Colegio de los Ingleses (English College) in Valladolid. Yesterday the rector gave me a copy of a speech by the Secretary of the Congregation for Education, Mgr Jean-Louis Brugues. It was addressed to seminary rectors and published by L'Osservatore Romano on June 3rd. In his speech Bishop Brugues is addressing issues concerning seminary formation in a secularised world. He makes a number of very interesting observations and, since I've got little to write about here, I thought it might be worthwhile commenting on some of them. I'll do this over a few days, quoting the Bishop's words and then adding my own reflections.

"Regardless of the form it has taken, secularisation has provoked a collapse of Christian culture in our countries. The young men who come to our seminaries know little or nothing about Catholic doctrine, about the history and customs of the Church. This generalised lack of education forces us to carry out important revisions in the practice followed until now. I will mention two of these.

First of all, it seems indispensable to me to provide these young men with a period - a year or more - of initial formation, of 'recovery', catechetical and cultural at the same time. These programs can be designed in various ways, based on the specific needs of each country. Personally, I am thinking of an entire year dedicated to assimilating the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which presents itself as a very complete compendium".

The bishop goes on to explain what he means by a collapse of Christian culture and how in some ways people within the Church contributed to it in the post-Conciliar years. Whatever its contributory factors, those of us in vocations work will certainly have experienced its effects. It's not just that we are approached by men who are married or living in an irregular relationship. Many of the young people we meet have grown up within the refectories of the 'culture of death' and have come to Christ because they found the meat it offers to be at best unsatisfying, at worst poisonous carrion. They experience faith as a trust in Christ but its features have yet to be mapped out by the teachings of the Church. They can also lack a human formation - having never acquired the discipline of virtue, they can find themselves dragged down again and again by the pull of the 'old man'. They can experience this as profoundly disheartening.
The bishop's response is to propose as 'indispensable' a year (at least) of initial formation with both catechetical and cultural dimensions. In so many ways this is what the 'propaedeutic year' at the English College in Spain provides. Other European countries have developed different models. The seminary of Madrid, for example, requires an 'introductory year' - a year in which candidates for formation continue their study or work during the week but attend a special formation programme at the seminary every weekend. Whatever model we take, the object is the same: the prepare the young men to be able to receive and benefit fully from the formation on offer once they start their time at major seminary.
The propaedeutic year in Spain, of course, offers at lot more than remedial classes for those whose assimilation of Christian faith and life may be lacking in some aspects. In addition to a complete course in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the students are introduced to the Scriptures, Church history, liturgy and the other disciplines they will later study in more depth. It begins the important work of spiritual formation outside of the potential stresses occasioned by the round of exams and assessment at seminary. It offers and introduction to community life where people of all backgrounds and experiences can learn from one another and grow in the exercise of charity.
The bishop's second 'revision' concerns the formation programmes on offer in seminaries. Since he has some important comments to make, I'll reserve these for the next post.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Dom and Phil's Bike Trip

This week two of the pilgrims from the Quo Vadis trip to Rome flew back to the Eternal City for a pretty daunting venture. Dom and Phil spent the night with a family I know in the north of the city before heading off yesterday afternoon for the start of their mammoth sponsored cycle ride from Rome to Walsingham via Medjugorje. If all goes well we will be able to greet them in Walsingham on Thursday 27th August at the start of the Youth 2000 retreat. The retreat, which takes place over the Bank Holiday weekend promises to be particularly busy this year with a large contingent of young people coming from Germany to join those who will gather in Walsingham under Our Lady's patronage from all parts of England, Wales and Ireland.

Dom and Phil have already worked and scraped together to raise the £2,000 to pay for their trip. (Dom has been working for me in the parish for the best part of this year and the parishioners are missing him!). They hope to raise at least another £2,000 in sponsorship all of which will go towards the Waslingham retreat. As Dom says, it would be nice to think that they raise more than the trip costs otherwise they will feel they could simply have donated the money themselves!

The Youth 2000 Retreat at Walsingham attracts over a thousand young people and costs over £80,000 to stage. Participants are only asked to make a donation and very few can afford to pay the real cost of £80 per person. That's why it is so important to organise fund-raising events and to rely on the generosity of benefactors who believe in the importance of rock-face evangelisation!

Could you make a donation? It doesn't matter whether you can spare £10, £100, or £1000. The fact remains that every penny counts. To sponsor Dom & Phil go over to this link where you will also have the possibility of Gift Aiding your donation.

The two cyclists have a Blog but I doubt they will have much opportunity to post much over the next two months - so on their behalf let me thank you for any donations you send in.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Quo Vadis Rome 09

It'll take a little while to get some posts up about Rome because I'm trying to catch up on a mountain of parish work. Here, in the meantime, is a little video for your delectation and delight although for some reason the sound track only kicks in one minute from the end...

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Another Welcome Link

Going through the emails I was delighted to find another link to a vocations video. This time it is for the Dominican sisters - an order for which I have great affection. Enjoy this insight into the Nashville Dominicans:

Back from Rome

Sorry! I've been in Rome for the last ten days and had no access to the internet so I wasn't able to post anything. It was a great time and very busy so there wasn't even an opportunity to go hunting for an internet cafe.
There's a lot to post about and it will take me some time to get everything up. In the meantime, thanks for your prayers. Here's a French vocations video that was waiting in my inbox when I got back.