Tuesday, 27 November 2012

WWJD: Where Would Jesus Shop?

WWJD - What Would Jesus Do?

John W. McCarthy wrote an interesting reflection on shopping in the US over Thanksgiving and 'Black Friday'. There had been a series of protests to draw attention to low wages and unaccommodating working conditions in places such as Walmart (Asda in the UK). He suggests we ask the question, "Where would Jesus shop?"

The answer, he begins, is:

"...Not as simple as supporting small businesses over Walmart. Instead, it is a call for all people of faith, especially Catholics, to live-out our long tradition of speaking up for these workers. The people who are working harder and harder for less and less need a community on their side."

He reflects on the effects on the individual and the family of more and more people struggling to make ends meet and consequently having to work all the hours possible to even try to support a family.

It is very clear that:

"Each purchase this holiday season can be a chance to stand with the "least of these" among us, as we work toward policies that promote a shared prosperity among us all."

A very interesting and timely reflection and this time of excess; "Where would Jesus shop?"

Do you think it's important to shop ethically? Do you think individuals can make a difference? Is this a Christian responsibility?

Read the article in full: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-w-mccarthy/where-would-jesus-shop_b_2189775.html

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Pope: You're Getting the Nativity Wrong!

"In the gospels there is no mention of animals" says the Pope. However admits that other parts of the Bible may have inspired Christians to include them and even the Vatican has included them in its nativity scenes in St Peter's Square.

Pope Benedict XVI in the third of his triology of books about the life of Jesus also questions the moment angels descended to tell the shepherds the son of God was lying in a manger nearby.

He points out there was no singing involved, and that the Gospel points out that the angels 'said' their message. However he does go on to point out that the Christian tradition is that angels always give their message in song.

Pope Benedict also reminds Catholics that the Virgin Birth, like the resurrection, is one of the "cornerstones of faith".

"If God does not also have power over matter, then he simply is not God," he writes. "But he does have this power, and through the conception and resurrection of Jesus Christ he has ushered in a new creation."

Take the Nativity Quiz - How much do you know? http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/shortcuts/quiz/2012/nov/21/how-much-know-birth-of-jesus

Read more: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/nov/20/pope-nativity-animals

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

"A Very Grim Day": No Women Bishops in CoE

The next Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby (the current Bishop of Durham), urged a 'yes' vote for the ordination of women bishops at the General Synod yesterday. However the proposed legislation needed to gain two-thirds majority support in each of the synod's three houses - bishops, clergy and laity - but fell short by six votes in the House of Laity. He said, on Twitter, it was a "very grim day".

The democratic process is now to be reviewed with many with the Church of England bitterly disappointed with the outcome. It is very unlike the Catholic Church which is not run democratically with the Pope and the Magisterium (Cardinals/Bishops) making decisions for the Church with inspired guidance from the Holy Spirit.

There is now the divisive situation whereby the bishops and the clergy have made it clear they support the ordination of women bishops but the laity, the everyday church-goers, have said they are not sure.

However had the vote gone through, there would have also been division. The Pope had already put in place an avenue for CoE priests and even whole congregations to join the Catholic Church in a straight forward way, with catechises happening over time.

It is worth noting there are already women bishops in communion with the Church of England (3 in Australia and New Zealand; 5 in Canada; 1 in Cuba; 13 in the USA; and 1 in Swaziland).

Emily Buchanan, of the BBC made it clear:

"Justin Welby will need all his legendary mediation skills to navigate a way forward and to find new legislation which accommodates more traditionalists without then alienating the liberal wing of the Church."

What reasons do you think people give for not allowing women bishops? Why would it be tolerable to have women priests but not bishops? Which is more divisive, allowing women bishops or not? How does this decision reflect in wider society? Do you think the democratic processes of the CoE are a good idea?

Two sides of the debate: http://news.sky.com/story/1013911/women-bishops-the-ordination-debate
Read full article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-20421576
Read more on the women's bishop debate here: http://www.churchofengland.org/our-views/women-bishops.aspx

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Ireland's Abortion Law: Wrong?

Is Ireland's abortion law outdated and responsible for a woman's death?

There has been outrage, emotional, calls for investigation, protests and all kinds of debate in the last few days of the very tragic death of Savita Halappanavar.

The story, according to her husband goes something like this:

On the Tuesday morning, she asked to terminate her pregnancy, given her own worsening health and that the 17-week-old foetus was unviable because she was miscarrying, a fact that her husband Praveen said became clear soon after she arrived at the hospital.

But the request was apparently refused, the couple were told that it was against the abortion laws and that "this is a Catholic country". Guardian

Her mother is quoted as saying: "In an attempt to save a 4-month-old foetus they killed my ... daughter. How is that fair you tell me?"

The real controversy revolves around certain key facts, given Irelands' near total ban on abortion:

The 31-year-old dentist died of blood poisoning on 27 October in University Hospital Galway despite asking repeatedly to terminate her 17-week-long pregnancy. Staff refused to carry out an abortion because her husband said they had detected a foetal heartbeat even though the couple were told the baby would not survive. Guardian

However it seems it was not just the abortion law but also medical negligence that resulted in her death. Despite this, mass protests are being arranged around Ireland and also in London in a call to change their laws.

It is a response which some find unjustified and sensationalist in response to the particular case:

Dr Gerry Whyte, an associate professor at Trinity College Dublin, claimed that the law as it stands provides for abortions, but only in cases where it is deemed necessary to save the life of a mother. He said: "The legal principle is clear, in other words, if there was a real and substantial risk to the mother's life and where termination of the pregnancy was necessary to avoid that risk, then she would have been entitled to an abortion. Guardian

An anti-abortion spokesperson had this to say:

Niamh Uí Bhriain, of the Life Institute, said: "It is very sad to see abortion campaigners rush to exploit this case to further their own agenda. The tragic loss of Savita Halappanavar's life was not caused by Ireland's ban on abortion. We need to ensure that mothers and babies are best protected; and abortion is not part of best medical practise. It is medieval medicine." Guardian

Have abortion laws played a part in the woman's death? Is it right that there will now be reopened debate in Ireland? What do you think the consequences will be? Are people right to be out protesting? Are Ireland's laws too strict? Are the UK laws better?

Further reading:
Read more: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/nov/14/ireland-abortion-law-woman-death and http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/nov/15/irish-abortion-law-blame-death

More Than Human?

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them. (Genesis 1:27)
But sometimes, animals can appear to be in our image? Photographer Tim Flach has taken animals in to his studio and captured a books-worth of images that seem to show that perhaps humans and animals are more closely related than we give them credit for.
Christians believe that humans poses a soul, and have been given stewardship of the earth. This means we are more than just animals. Are these photos just clever studio constructions, or are we not so special after all? What makes us fundamentally different to animals? Are we not as different as we think?

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

"I'm Not In Pain": Vegetative Patient

BBC reports:
"A Canadian man who was believed to have been in a vegetative state for more than a decade, has been able to tell scientists that he is not in any pain.

It's the first time an uncommunicative, severely brain-injured patient has been able to give answers clinically relevant to their care."

This was the result of a new technology, an fMRI machine, and will mean that doctors and scientists will need to think again when dealing with patients in PVS (Permanent Vegetative State).

Usually after emerging from a coma there are no signs of communication or awareness of surroundings.

However doctors have now said:

"Scott Routley has been able to show he has a conscious, thinking mind. We have scanned him several times and his pattern of brain activity shows he is clearly choosing to answer our questions. We believe he knows who and where he is."

Another patient in PVS who has undergone this groundbreaking technology has shown that he has been able to gain new memories in this state:

"Steven Graham answers yes when asked whether his sister has a daughter. His niece was born after his car accident five years ago."

This raises some interesting questions when debating the topic of euthanasia. Arguing that the patient is uncommunicative or unaware may not be true. Would this knowledge effect a families decision? Does it make it harder to decide what to do?

Read full article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-20268044

Watch: The Mind Reader: Unlocking My Voice - a Panorama Special - will be broadcast on Tuesday 13 November at 22:35 on BBC One. Or catch up later on the BBC iPlayer using the link above.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Follow Jesus on Twitter!

Would Jesus have been a Twitter or Facebook kind of guy? Would he have used Tumblr? How would he have used social networks?

This is a simple video telling the life of Jesus through Twitter, an interesting twist on the Gospel story.

Beer in the Bible?

It is possibly a question that has troubled just a few Biblical scholars, but perhaps many an RE student:  was Jesus a wine-only man, or did he enjoy a beer too?

Dr. James Bowley, professor of the Department of Religious Studies at Millsaps College, spoke to his students recently about how the commonplace of making and drinking of beer in Mesopotamia, Egypt and the entire Fertile Crescent, which includes ancient Israel.

He pointed out in his talk to students that to be Christian and to abstain from alcohol on religious was without founding:

"The idea that religious people should abstain from all alcoholic beverages is a fairly modern one in history, and peculiarly Christian, and is certainly not the case in the ancient world of Israel, or other Mediterranean cultures, or among most early Christians."

“The wise use of these beverages, and the wise use of all of creation in the ancient world and today, is the lesson that sages, both ancient and modern, teach.”

Unfortunately it appears he is not able to answer the question of whether Jesus drank beer as well as wine, but he is confident that beer was a part of the culture of Israel at the time. 

Maybe it's not really that important after all.

Read more here: http://www.clarionledger.com/article/20121027/FEAT04/310270015

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Obama: Splitting Catholics

Jay-Z, Obama and Springsteen

This morning I woke to a mixed Twitter timeline... messages of joy that Barack Obama had been re-elected, mixed with pure rage and hatred. Both came from Catholic Tweeters. Indeed just last week, I made a comment about Obama and was criticised at supporting him as a 'supposed Catholic'.


There several key reasons including those at both federal and state law:

1) His new healthcare law (dubbed 'Obamacare') requires private employers, including most religious private institutions, to provide workers with health insurance that covers contraceptives. There for Catholic employers (hospitals, schools, universities etc) will, by law, be paying for contraceptives.

2) Obama has voiced his opinion that women's rights should allow abortion within legal limits. Legalised abortion will not end in the US under Obama;s presidency.

2) In Alabama, state law has been passed that prevent Catholics from serving undocumented immigrants, even with basics like food, shelter, and medical services. Gospel values emphasise the commitment to the poor.

3) In Connecticut, legislators have proposed a bill that would force the Catholic Church to change how it is structured and governed—allowing the State to remake the Church in its own image.

Indeed the Bishops Conference of the US have set up a website addressing these issues: www.firstamericanfreedom.com

There are also concerns about the increasingly legalisation of same-sex marriage and discrimination against Catholic adoption agencies.

In his speech on being re-elected he said:

“Despite all our differences, most of us share certain hopes for America's future,”

“We want our children to live in an America not burdened by debt, weakened by inequality...that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet. We want to pass on a country that's safe, and respected, and admired around the world.”

A country “built on the promise of freedom and dignity for every human being,” the president added. “We believe in generous, compassionate, tolerant America.”

It seems that despite the vocal opposition by pro-life groups and high profile campaigning by the US Bishops, Catholics were still voting for Obama. However a number of bishops seemed to be relenting and admitting that Obama may still be the better overall choice as they encouraged Catholics to, "vote with informed Catholic consciences."

The Catholic vote was divided, much as was the rest of the nation's voters, leaning slightly in favour of Obama. A final Gallup poll, reflecting tracking from Nov. 1 to 4, showed Catholics favouring Obama by 52 to 45 percent.

Do you think that Catholics should be influenced by Obama's pro-choice stance? Is this enough of a reason to not vote Democrat? Are Republicans really more Christian despite being pro-life?

Read more: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/americans-share-same-hopes-for-future-president-obama-says/

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

What does it mean to be a Catholic priest?

Many people think they know what it means to be a Catholic priest. It certainly is a 'job' that is above and beyond most others. It is also a calling that increasingly brings with it difficulty and struggle in our contemporary society.  

Fr Stephen Wang is a Catholic priest in the Diocese of Westminster, London. He is the Dean of Studies at Allen Hall seminary, where he teaches philosophy and theology. He was recently asked to summarise the meaning of being a Catholic priest in 1100 words. 

He begins: "The Catholic priesthood is an extraordinary vocation. Every Christian is called to bring the love of Christ to others. The ministerial priest, through the sacrament of ordination, is called to show that love in a special way."

"His vocation is to preach the Gospel and teach the Catholic faith; to lead God’s people in love, as a shepherd, as a spiritual father; and to celebrate the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, ‘for the glory of God and the sanctification of Christ’s people’ (Rite of Ordination). His whole being is transformed, so that he can be an icon of Christ for others, filled with the Holy Spirit, and a minister of grace."

"Catholic priests are ordinary men who never lose their humanity. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. They have different backgrounds and personalities, different strengths and weaknesses. Yet they have all been called like the first disciples: ‘Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men’ (Mt 4)."

"This is not just an ‘external’ call to do something for Jesus, but an invitation to draw closer to him and share his life more intimately; just as the Apostles, before they were sent out to preach and heal, spent time with the Lord in friendship."

After detailing some of the differences between priests in religious congregations, he goes on to detail further, the roles and responsibilities of the parish priest:

"Parish ministry is incredibly varied. In a single day a priest might visit children in the school, bring Holy Communion to the sick, support a bereaved family, help a couple prepare for their wedding, hear someone’s confession, prepare sandwiches for the homeless, and lead a sacramental programme in the evening. And so much of priesthood is simply being with others – sitting, listening, talking, praying."

"The heart of each day is the celebration of Mass, when all these concerns are offered to the Father in the Holy Sacrifice, and the priest leads his people in worship, repentance, thanksgiving and intercession."

"Some diocesan priests work full-time in more specialised ministries, for example, as chaplains in prisons, hospitals, universities or the armed forces. Some even work abroad as missionaries – a reminder that every priest is called to evangelise."

Fr Wang goes one to detail the vows that priests take and what these mean before continuing:

"The priesthood brings incredible joys, especially in seeing God’s grace transform people’s lives, and in the special bonds that are formed with laypeople and brother priests."

"There are also real difficulties and challenges. These can be in the spiritual life, in ministry, or in the ordinary human struggles that afflict everyone at different moments: tiredness, loneliness, stress, failure, sin. Like every Christian, the priest tries to live through his difficulties with faith and hope, staying close to the Lord, trusting in him."

He concludes with advice for young men considering the priesthood in forming their vocation. 

His reflections concisely explain something of what it means to be a Catholic priest, and some of the roles and responsibilities that a parish priest carries out. It is a careful reflection explaining some of Fr Wang's personal views on the role of the parish priest.

Is this what you expected a Catholic priest to say about his vocation? What surprised you about this account? What jobs didn't you realise a priest carries out? Could you sum up the meaning of Catholic priesthood in a few words?

Read it in full here: http://bridgesandtangents.wordpress.com/2012/11/05/the-meaning-of-the-catholic-priesthood/
Buy copies of the leaflet he has written here: http://www.cts-online.org.uk/acatalog/info_LF67.html