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The Vatican’s culture ministry warned on Thursday (Jan. 31) that the Catholic Church risks losing future generations if it doesn’t learn how to understand young people, their language and their culture.
The Pontifical Council for Culture invited sociologists, web experts and theologians to a three-day, closed-door event on Feb. 6-9 aimed at studying “emerging youth cultures.”
According to a working paper released ahead of the meeting, the church risks “offering answers to questions that are not there” if it doesn’t learn “the cultural reality of young people.”
God’s Favourite Colour is Tartan: Reconciling Religious Difference
Reviewed by John Mackrell
Books on religion and spirituality abound. What distinguishes Tim Firth’s book from others, and explains why he had to publish it privately under his own imprint, is the daring way in which he confronts the cosy religion of many with the challenging spirituality of a few. Religion he shows often serves as a refuge from a hostile world, all the more comforting while yielding unthinking obedience to an absolute ecclesiastical authority. That kind of religion pales into insignificance against personal commitment to an unknowable God.
God’s Favourite Colour is Tartan - revered Scottish proverb - demands a daunting transformation both in feeling and thinking by its readers. Most of us, whether aware of it or not, are children of the Enlightenment. We search for truth in a binary way. Either an article of faith, such as ‘transubstantiation’, is true or false: it cannot be both. That is why we have different churches, even if we sometimes refrain from persecuting one another, to impose our beliefs on others. Firth’s answer to our myopia is what he calls ‘Both/And’. With delightful appropriateness Firth chooses his principal models from the Church’s mystics, notably Meister Eckhart, whom the hierarchy reveres, while never daring to follow his advice, so much at variance with its own understanding. Firth cites Meister Eckhart’s words: ‘If the eye of the heart were fully open and we had obtained complete knowledge, we would see that contraries are all contained finally in an all-embracing unity’. As Firth sees it, human minds set in the ‘either/or’ mould are incapable of understanding that opposites when seen from different viewpoints are perfectly compatible. More fundamentally, a mystery in the spiritual sense needs to be grasped by heart and mind acting in unison. The mind acting alone reduces the mysterious to arid propositions, which too often issue in the rules and dogma of de-spiritualised religions. Jesus Christ himself spoke as a mystic, when instead of laying down precise rules, He exhorted His followers to love God and their neighbour as themselves. And again in the less well-known passage, ‘I have come to bring fire upon the earth and how I wish it were blazing already.’ (Luke 12/49)
Religion in the author’s view is a man-made framework to express mankind’s spiritual yearnings. Imbedded in the human psyche, many feel there is an innate urge to reach outwards to something greater than the individual and which gives life meaning. Firth has no difficulty in demonstrating that religion is an expression of man’s culture and that beliefs, while often viewed as immutable by adherents, change frequently to fit new circumstances. In the case of Christianity Firth comments that with the sack of Rome in 410, much of the power of the Roman Emperors passed to the bishops of Rome, to Leo the Great, 440-61, to Gregory the Great, 590-614. When the sixteenth-century Protestant reformers strove for a less showy and more interior religion, Counter-Reformation Catholicism with its Baroque churches adopted a monarchical style, while in the twentieth century there was an abortive attempt to follow much of the secular world into a more democratic style of government. Behind these changes lie what may be called the betrayals of human nature – the control of the Church by power-hungry clerics with the collusion of the laity, who too often prefer unquestioning obedience to authority more congenial than personal commitment to a challenging spirituality.
The recent bleak decline in the practice of spirituality is matched by the author’s optimism about the immediate future. He sees globalisation as likely to lead to a world unity conducive to a shared spirituality. He points to growing concern about third-world poverty and the need for everyone to work together to preserve human life on the planet. Most heartening of all, Firth underlines the continuing growth in mankind’s self-consciousness. In the quoted words of Julian Huxley, ‘human beings are nothing less than evolution becoming conscious of itself.’ That self-consciousness, as Firth has often emphasized, tends to lead to a yearning for spirituality, which gives meaning to life. Support for this view Firth shows in his chapter on the cosmos comes from scientists, who see some power greater than man at work in their field.
An optimist in the heavens, a pessimist about earthly Christianity, is how the author comes through to this reviewer. Yet the author’s mystics and like-minded writers, whom he quotes so often, are already affecting attitudes within the established churches. That is true, particularly within the Catholic Church. Some take their lead from Jesus Christ, himself a rebel against the Jewish orthodoxy of his time. Following his words, ‘I am there, whenever two or three are gathered together in my name’, Eucharists or informal house masses, are often presided over by a lay person, usually but not always a Catholic. Religion is the clergy’s domain: spirituality is for true believers, as stated so often above.
‘God’s Favourite Colour is Tartan’ will provoke much needed heart searching among readers. The amount of material covered is truly staggering. This is a book to which the much less informed reviewer will need to digest at leisure. Re-reading will be a pleasure, not least because of Firth’s many touching stories of his work while a priest. Particularly interesting is his inside view of Cardinal Hume, whom he knew as abbot and with whom he worked closely as a vicar-general. It is good to know, unlike other members of the Church’s hierarchy, Cardinal Hume had the courage to protest against the nauseous stream of denunciations by vigilante Catholics of clergy they branded as unorthodox, including some 400 letters fed to the voracious CDF, the Church’s Stasi, against the blameless Archbishop Worlock.
Tim Firth, God’s Favourite Colour is Tartan: Reconciling Religious Difference, 2012, 343pp, £12.50 + £2.80 p&p, obtainable from www.godscolouristartan.co.uk Or Box 256, 33 Queen’s St, Horsham, West Sussex, RH13 5AA
By Terry Swales
“Obedience to God comes before obedience to men”, was the response of Peter and the apostles to the High Priest after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Perhaps Pope Francis had this comment in mind when in one of his Easter sermons he reminded people that Christ is the centre of the Church and not Peter’s successors. Jesus made it abundantly clear that his kingdom was not of this world. If the Church’s role is not a spiritual one of leading people to God what is the point of membership?
Francis immediately before the Conclave opened had made caustic comments about the Church’s reliance on internal self- referencing combined with a narcissistic theology. When elected he knew the kind of changes required could not be effected without reconstruction of the medieval court he had inherited, namely the Roman Curia, a kind of court with hangers- on and a quasi-civil service of mainly promoted clerics. At his service he has a Secretary of State and other high ranking Secretariats, each headed by a Cardinal Prefect. These bodies have expected local hierarchies to do their bidding, and bishops throughout the world have compounded the problem by their deference. Worse, why have ordinary Catholics been asked by these same bishops to pray, do penance and purify themselves?
When writers use the terms Holy See, Vatican, Rome, Holy Father and even Curia interchangeably one must remember that the Pope also is a Head of State and Absolute Monarch. Before the success of Garibaldi leading later to the unification of Italy in 1870 the Papal States stretched over some 500 square miles of Italy. In 1929 under the Lateran Treaty Mussolini, for services rendered, awarded the Vatican just over one square mile of territory. A cardinal from one of the Offices of State is the top administrator of Vatican City. The current appointee was drafted into to the job to sort out some serious problems mentioned in the final paragraph of this article.
The Catholic Church is the only religion to have Religious / State recognition almost throughout the world (170 countries approx.). The Church of England could hardly compare even with its internal privileges where all bishops have seats in the House of Lords and wider spiritual leadership beyond English shores. The Holy See sends nuncios, receives ambassadors and has greater influence than its simple observer status with the United Nations would indicate. Despite its perverse attitude to population control and related issues it is hugely admired because of the vast amount of missionaries/charity workers involved in areas of health, education and social projects throughout the developing world. Will this aspect of the Church’s work remain unchanged?
So far the College of Cardinals has not been mentioned. This is the large number of his peers, with a title that outranks all others, that elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Their function is to assist/advise the Pontiff on the government the Church, according to the Catholic Directory of England and Wales. Unlike his predecessors, the new Pope appears instinctively to know this. Thus he has chosen a representative from each continent to examine the Roman Curia with “all its works and pomp”.
Without doubt this is the same stable that Pope John Paul I was determined to clean out and the Masons / Mafia with it before his premature death more than three decades ago. Well into the second month of the new papacy it seems amazing that no one has highlighted the similarity between the two men. Both shun pomp and ceremony, favour “a poor Church for the poor” and want to reform the Curia especially the corrupt and more temporal aspects. Albino Luciani was known for his liberal anthropology. It was thought he would revoke Humanae Vitae which Pope Paul had specified was not an infallible document. At the moment we know that Pope Francis, unlike some contemporaries in South America, is not a liberation theologian. What is the import of his use of the term narcissistic in relation to the Church’s conservative stance? Does the complaint about Church’s self –referencing indicate some modification of canon law is in the offing?
The Vatican Bank, known as the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR) has a long history of corrupt practices, the perfidious business dealing of its Directors and close association with the Banco Ambrosiano. Pope John Paul II was seen by some as their protector even if by his inaction, none more so than of his protégé, Archbishop Paul Marcinkus. The Masonic- Mafia link realised it was business as usual when the Pope’s predecessor was no longer a threat. An Italian journalist named Carmine Pecorelli just before he was murdered had taken the precaution of sending the Archbishop of Venice a list of the Roman Hierarchy who were members of P2 the all-powerful Masonic Lodge. Ironically this is the organisation that some writers hold responsible for the assassination of Albino Luciani, Pope John Paul I.
The most renowned convicted criminal banker/ fraudster in the group with links to the IOR was the Grand Master, Licio Gelli belatedly prosecuted (but not convicted) for the murder of Roberto Calvi (of Blackfriars Bridge fame). What a coincidence that Gelli had strong links with members of the Argentine Junta? He is credited with brokering the deal that saw French Exocet missiles used in the Falklands War!
More recently Pope Francis together with vast numbers of pilgrims to the eternal city will recall problems caused by insistence on cash payments only. Was it just before the VatiLeaks scandal that the Deputy Governor of Vatican City, Archbishop Vigano’, blew the whistle on corruption in the Administration and in the Bank? He was due for a Red Hat but for his courage was immediately posted to the United States. The world awaits the disclosure of the research (now locked in a Vatican safe) commissioned from three Cardinals just before Pope Benedict’s resignation. The road ahead looks to be a long one.
Vatican City, 10 April 2013 (VIS) – The Holy Father dedicated his catechesis of this Wednesday's general audience to the salvific importance of Jesus' resurrection. After traversing St. Peter's Square in the open-top car, greeting the thousands of persons applauding his appearance, the Pope explained that the Christian faith “is based upon Christ's death and resurrection just like a house is built on its foundations. If those give way, the whole house topples. On the cross, Jesus offers himself, taking our sins upon himself and descending into the abyss of death, defeating it by his resurrection, eliminating it and opening the way to be reborn to new life.”