Oxford Presentation at PC

Providence College’s YouTube channel has posted the Father Smith Fellowship presentations online.  My piece on Oxford is second, and starts at about 23:30. Take a look:

http://www.youtube.com/user/providencecollege#p/u/16/e5guPS3r4-I

You can also view some of the other Smith Fellows here, including Michael Wahl’s presentation, who also studied at Oxford:

http://www.youtube.com/user/providencecollege#p/u/15/aiQ_Vk0CyLQ

Terrorism & Secularism in Norway

A friend of mine, Madge, sent me a very interesting article surrounding the recent terrorist attacks in Norway, a predominately secular country.  It’s worth a look:

This posting will not add anything to the information that is blanketing the internet about Anders Breivik’s ideology and motivations, how the tragedy unfolded, who the victims are, how real the threat from the extremist right is. This posting is based on my observations as one with two feet physically planted in Norway but with a spirit that feels far removed from this beautiful country. Watching and listening to a completely secularized country deal with a tragedy of these dimensions brings forth great spiritual sorrow. A convicted Christian’s instinct in the face of such tragedy, I believe, is to drop to one’s knees – not necessarily in urgent prayer, but more from a sense of vulnerability due to the flash-bulb realization of how minuscule we are, how dependent we are on and thankful for something greater than ourselves, something larger and more powerful than our natural responses of confusion, fear and retribution. But in a country that has for more than a century intentionally and systematically purged its state church, its schools and its care-giving institutions of any true spirituality and faith, what is left is an astounding poverty of the spirit and an inability to invest suffering with greater meaning. The prime minister’s initial response to the tragedy on Utøya was that “more openness, more debate, more democracy” is needed to counteract this senseless act. King Harald, the head of the Lutheran State Church, has frequently been quoted saying: “Let us hold tightly to the belief that freedom is greater than fear.” The leader of the opposition stated that: “Now is the time to show that freedom and diversity are fundamental values we will fight for.” Ironically, the only state leader whose religious message made it to the popular media was Barack Obama, assuring the Norwegians that they are in the prayers of the American people.

For the entire article, see:  http://deacongerry.blogspot.com/2011/07/poor-norway-reflection-from-catholic.html

Rhode Island Catholic Conference

Check out a new initiative spearheaded by the Diocese of Providence to raise awareness about the Church’s position on a number of public policy issues:  www.faithfulcitizenri.org

The website is run by the newly-formed Rhode Island Catholic Conference and is a great way for Rhode Island Catholics to learn more about the Church’s social doctrine, its advocacy of fundamental moral truths, and its stance on timely political issues.  Those issues which affect the State of Rhode Island are particularly important to the mission of the Conference.

Faithful Citizenship Rhode Island advocates for the Church’s public policy positions before the Rhode Island General Assembly and other civic officials. It represents the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence and the hundreds of thousands of Catholics who call Rhode Island home.  The effort is staffed by the Diocesan Governmental Liaison, Rev. Bernard Healey under the direction of the The Most Rev. Thomas J. Tobin, Bishop of Providence.  

There are universal truths that are recognized by all people of good will and that are shared across all faiths and cultures. The most basic truth is the dignity of the human person. This truth is of such fundamental importance that it touches almost every aspect of public policy, from laws against murder and racial discrimination, to the right to food and shelter, to access to education and health care. The Church has a legal right and a moral obligation to defend these truths throughout our culture, including in the public policy arena.

Photo monogram taken from faithfulcitizenri.org

“She is about to die; soon her very name will disappear…”

Is the Church going to disappear?

Recent debates over the rise of aggressive secularism in the West and the waning of religious faith in modernized countries has led to a reexamination of the role of the Catholic Church in the modern world, especially given the complexity of today’s “progressive,” and oftentimes athiestic, cultural milieu.   The following two excerpts look at this very question from an “insider’s perspective,” analyzing the Church’s role a decade into the third millenium.  Is the Church really on her way out?  Has religion lost its place in society?  Is secularism now the greatest threat to the Church, or does the Church have something substantial to say to the modern world? 

My bishop, the Most Rev. Thomas J. Tobin, provides an excellent synopsis on why the Church is not on her way out.  Even 1600 years ago, the Church was thought to fall to ruins, to disappear from the very life of society, but managed to exist and grow substantially.  Bishop Tobin writes, “A famous theologian wrote this assessment about the Church: ‘People look upon the Church and say, ‘She is about to die. Soon her very name will disappear. There will be no more Christians; they have had their day.’  Now it’s instructive to note that this rather dour prediction came not from the scribes of the National Catholic Reporter or the New York Times. This description of a dying Church was referenced by St. Augustine, 1600 years ago – a rather compelling reminder, I think, that the Church in every age has known its struggles and failures.”  Clearly, the idea of a “suffering Church” in the midst of a secular society is not new to Christianity.  Bishop Tobin reminds us that good things happen every day in the Church – souls are brought to Christ daily, and many are continuing to hear and believe the Word of God even in distant lands.  It is Lord, after all, who chooses the Church as His spouse, never to part from her. 

The second excerpt is taken from an interesting debate at the Royal Geographical Society in London, in which Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, OP, argues that secularism is a greater threat to Christianity than Islam.  The text of Fr. Radcliffe’s speech raises some interesting questions about secularism and secularity in general.  Fr. Radcliffe is the former Master of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) and currently resides and teaches at Blackfriars Hall, Oxford, where I studied this summer. 

The Sky is Falling!  Really?

Most Reverend Thomas J. Tobin, D.D., Bishop of Providence

For reasons that will become obvious, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the parable of the farmer walking down a rural road who came across a tiny sparrow, lying along side the road on his back, with his little feet up in the air.

“What are you doing?” said the farmer to the sparrow. “I heard that the sky is falling and I want to do my best to hold it up,” responded the little bird. “That’s ridiculous,” declared the farmer. “First of all, the sky isn’t falling . . . And secondly, even if it is, your tiny feet won’t help very much.” “Well,” said the sparrow with determination, “One does what one can.”

I feel a bit like the sparrow these days, bombarded as I am with the daily reports about the decline and fall of the Catholic Church. “The sky is falling,” reports seem to confirm.

“Catholic weddings drop 71 percent in R.I.” announces one local headline, with the story not bothering at all to document a similar decline in weddings in other denominations and across the nation.

A letter from an individual in New York, sent to all the bishops of the United States, proclaims that “No intelligent Catholic can deny that there is a serious crisis in faith and morals in the Church. The lack of faith being shown here is frightening.” To document his argument, the letter writer points to the planned gathering of religious leaders in Assisi in October, “where false gods will be invoked,” and the fact that some priests fail to genuflect during the consecration at the Mass.

A letter from a friend in Pittsburgh laments the development of a Church that is peopled by, “a large contingent of secretive, sometimes power-hungry, reactionary cardinals and bishops; and a lower clergy increasingly enamored with its own exalted position who with many in the hierarchy are regressing to a former triumphal, controlling, irrelevant, pietistic, fundamentalist state.”

Another letter writer, this time local, understandably upset over reports of sexual abuse in the Church, insists: “The deluge is waiting to happen. Act, for the love of God. Act, because it is the right thing to do. Act, because you know that you should and you must.”

Jamie Manson, a writer for the “National Catholic Reporter,” a publication that makes its living reporting on, and sometimes actively promoting, the demise of the institutional Church, criticizes the recent appearance of Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York on 60 Minutes. Referring to the Archbishop as a “Shrill Scold,” the author suggests that he should stop laughing so much and “visit more often the world of women called to holy orders, gay couples in loving, committed relationships, laicized men who were forced to choose between love and ministry, and impoverished pregnant women.” [His laughter] “echoes off the walls of a rapidly emptying church,” she wails, sounding a bit like a shrill scold herself.

Now, I don’t think I’m at all naïve about these things. I stay in close contact with the news – international, national, local and ecclesial; I interact regularly with the secular media; I meet frequently with consultative groups in the Diocese who share freely their experiences and expertise; At the office I hear everyday from all sorts of folks who love me or hate me, folks with good and bad news; In the fall I hosted a series of listening sessions with laity from around the Diocese; and I visit with people in our parishes all the time for liturgical and pastoral events. In other words, I think I know what’s going on.

Does the Church have huge challenges and problems? Of course! Have the leaders of the Church, including priests and bishops, too frequently failed to keep their commitments and serve the people well? You bet! And should the Church seek more effective ways of communicating, educating and responding to contemporary issues and the ever-changing needs of our time? Absolutely!

But, is the sky falling and the Catholic Church about to fold? I don’t think so. The vision of the Church I see is far different than that of the letter-writers and authors cited above.

I see a Church in which the vast majority of priests are good and sincere men who work very hard, conscientiously and generously, to serve the Lord Jesus and His people.

I see a Church in which most of our parishes are strong and vibrant; parishes that are filled every Sunday with good and faithful people who assemble to hear the Word of God, to receive the Holy Eucharist, and to thank God for the many gifts and blessings they’ve received.

I see a Church in which thousands of individuals, women and men, young and old, assist the Church either as paid professionals or volunteers in diverse fields such as Catholic education, religious education, youth ministry, Catholic Scouting, parish leadership and liturgical ministries.

I see a Church that has dedicated lay organizations – such as the Knights of Columbus, the Daughters of Isabella, the Saint Vincent de Paul Societies and many others – which invest lots of time, talent and money to do great, but often unseen things, in service to our Church and community.

I see a Church that’s not at all afraid to wade into the turbulent waters of intense public debate and bring the truth of the Gospel to issues such as health-care reform, immigration, abortion and same-sex marriage.

I see a Church that provides outstanding social services – supporting nursing homes and food pantries, helping refugees get settled in their new homes, teaching immigrants to speak English, providing heating assistance for families, and opening shelters for homeless folks during dark, cold winter nights.

I see a Church that’s determined in its defense of human life, with brave and hardy individuals praying in front of abortion clinics on frigid January mornings, generously providing for the needs of single moms, and testifying on behalf of holy matrimony in the halls of the State House.

I see a Church in which scores of remarkable young people spend their vacation time travelling to Jamaica and other Central American countries ministering to impoverished, handicapped children who will never have the material blessings that they themselves have.

You see, in the Catholic Church there are so many good people; so many good things that happen everyday. This is just a snapshot of the Church I see, and no doubt I’ve missed other parts of the beautiful mosaic. To those I haven’t mentioned, I apologize, but thank you too, for your dedication and truly good work.

A famous theologian wrote this assessment about the Church: “People look upon the Church and say, ‘She is about to die. Soon her very name will disappear. There will be no more Christians; they have had their day.’”

Now it’s instructive to note that this rather dour prediction came not from the scribes of the “National Catholic Reporter” or the “New York Times.” This description of a dying Church was referenced by St. Augustine, 1600 years ago – a rather compelling reminder, I think, that the Church in every age has known its struggles and failures.

Does the Catholic Church of today have challenges, problems and failures? You bet. But I love this Church, I’m enormously proud of this Church, and despite my own limitations, imperfections and sins I’m going to work very hard to support its mission and ministry for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. Why? Well simply because “one does what one can.”

This article appeared in the March 31, 2011 edition of the Rhode Island Catholic diocesan newspaper

Secularism is a Greater Threat to Christianity than Islam

Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, O.P.

The last time that I proposed a motion for debate, I was fifteen years old. Afterwards my house mast said ‘Radcliffe. In the future stick to tiddlywinks’.

The word ‘secularism’ is used in a weak and a strong sense. The weak sense is the exclusion of religion from the public sphere, what the French call laicité. This cannot be what we are debating today. First of all, the Spectator would never be interested in anything weak. Secondly, both this and the previous government have actively encouraged the participation of faith communities in the public sphere. Christianity is not threatened by exclusion from the public sphere.

Secularism in the strong and strict sense maintains that the only valid truths are scientific, and are open to empirical verification or falsification. This is how the Council for Secular Humanism defines it: “Nature (the world of everyday physical experience) is all there is, and that reliable knowledge is best obtained when we query nature using the scientific method.”

This is a threat to Christianity and indeed to all civilisation, because it makes a totalitarian claim for one branch of knowledge. It is a scientific fundamentalism. Science can answer scientific questions. But questions about the meaning of human existence, about who we are and what is our happiness, can only be grappled with by poetry, literature, philosophy and religion. In Anna Karenina, Levin tried to be a secularist in this sense. At the end of the novel he realises that it is leads nowhere. He says: ‘Without knowing what I am, and why I am here, it is impossible to live. Yet I cannot know that and therefore I can’t live.1’ Then he discovered faith.

Christians have nothing against the secular. Indeed the concept of the secular is Christian in origin, developed in the thirteenth century by Dominicans such as St Albert the Great and St Thomas Aquinas. Albert in empirically testing scientific hypotheses. He was told that ostriches ate iron, and so he carried around a lump of iron, so as to offer it to an ostrich if he met one, which he never did! But they understood that there are many forms of truth, and your need the right discipline to answer the right questions.

So Secularism makes totalitarian claims, and we saw in the last century what happens when totalitarianism rules. Stalin toasted writers in 1932 saying ‘I raise my glass to you, writers, the engineers of the soul.2’ The engineers of the soul! Secularism, if it is followed rigorously shrivels reason. Christianity is not threatened by science as such – they are never incompatible – but by scientific fundamentalism. Just as science is threatened by religious fundamentalism.

Because science cannot begin to cope with the fundamental questions of human existence, then it opens the way for banality, and the vacuous attempts to fill the void with Big Brother, celebrity culture and an absurd obsession with other people’s sexual peccadilloes. It destroys rational and intelligent debate and reduces it to trashing your opponents. It leads to the greatest threat to Christianity, the trivialisation of culture.

Fortunately, there are even fewer genuine secularists around than there are genuine Christians. When I was a chaplain at Imperial College I met lots of people who claimed to be secularists but they did all sorts of things which were inconsistent with their faith. They kissed each other for non-scientific purposes. They fell in love, muttered sweet nothings in the each others’ ears. And when they had babies, it was not just so that their genes could be transmitted.

Secularists are not much of a threat. I doubt whether Richard Dawkins will mount a terrorist attack on Blackfriars. We are much more threatened by fundamentalist Muslims or indeed Christians.  Fundamentalism is the danger. But although there are fundamentalist Christians and Muslims, neither Islam nor Christianity are necessarily so, and have not been so. Whereas Secularism is necessarily reductionist and fundamentalist and so threatening to all civilisation and so Christianity.

1 Trans by Louise and Aylmer Maude; introduction W. Gareth Jones Oxford 1988 p.782

2 Rachel Polonsky ‘Aquedcuts for the imagination’ TLS April 8 2011

Home Sweet Home

It’s hard to believe almost a month has passed since I returned from Oxford in late June.  As always, it’s great to be home, even though I’ll miss Oxford very much – the people I met, the professors and Dominicans I worked with, and the thought of waking up every day to a medieval paradise.  Of course, not having delicious Belgian waffles is the hardest ache for me at this point.

In the fall (I believe in October), I will give a small presentation to the College community on my Fellowship this summer, which you are all invited to attend.  The presentation will be a final reflection on my experiences in Oxford and on the Continent and, hopefully, an opportunity to connect my trip to the mission and life of Providence College.  I look forward to sharing with you more reflections on my experience abroad and hearing some feedback. 

For the time being, I’ve decided to keep going with the blog, jotting down some things that my readers might find interesting.  While I won’t have any new Oxford pictures to showcase, I’d like to keep the major themes rolling even back at home.  Your input is always appreciated.  A special thanks, too, to all those who read my blog and commented throughout – your support remains instrumental. 

God bless, and stay cool during these hot days!

Nathan

There’s no place like home: back to Oxford

My journey to “the Continent” last week was an experience that I will cherish and remember favorably during my time abroad.  Travelling to new places is always exciting, but I am especially grateful to have met so many new people, whether in Strasbourg or Belgium, whose hospitality I am thankful for and whose friendship I hope to maintain when I return to the States.  Our conversations provided interesting discussion points and it was great to see real-life examples of the intersection of faith in public life.

I always find traveling to Europe a different experience every time I visit, but I am usually left with the same impression of admiration.  The religious significance is perennial; the cultural milieu is fascinating; the history is captivating time and time again; and who can deny the richness of the cuisine?  Of course, the throng of uniquely dressed people around every street corner is a sight to behold in itself.  Who doesn’t enjoy seeing the typical pointy European shoe, which eerily seems ubiquitous on the Continent?  Apparently it’s not just the Elves in the North Pole who don such interesting footwear.  I must admit, I felt a little out of place in my Nikes and PC athletic sweatshirt. 

But perhaps what is most unique about these experiences is the fact that I always come as a visitor, with my own traditions and background, to a foreign land—something I often forget when I’m in “the moment” of the trip.  Surely, being a visitor brings with it unique challenges.  Trying to order a Quiche in French – a language completely alien to me – is easier said than done.  You only need to ask the poor woman at the bakery who had to deal with me to realize how ignorant I really am.  This woman must have been a saint, for after 10 minutes of agony,  she lead me to her back room, pointed to the oven with waving hands, and finally got an answer out of me as to whether or not I wanted the Quiche heated.  “No, no, si’l vous plait!” I murmured.    Luckily, I was able to offer a quick, innocent grin, say “pardon Madame, Je suis Americaine,” and received a genuine laugh.   She thanked me for coming to her bakery and wished me an enjoyable holiday in France.  I owe this gracious woman a large Merci, or thank you, because the quiche was delicious. 

Being a visitor to a foreign land also brings with it many benefits – and even a few enlightening “ah-has!” if one gives it enough thought.  For one, I often realize how small I am in this increasingly global world.  Living most of your life in the smallest state in the Union – which, ironically, has the longest name – often brings with it the false impression of thinking you’ve seen just about everything there is to see, since you can travel, in a span of 25 minutes tops, from one end of your state to the next.  The world, however, is far, far bigger than Lil’ Rhody, and it’s nice to see that sometimes. 

I have also realized how interconnected the world is, even traveling to many places abroad.  The connections of people living and working in Europe with ties to the U.S. is incredible, and it often helps me to understand the interconnectedness of humanity – that, in an global world, we are coming to terms with the cross-cultural ties that unite us.  And I don’t mean for this to appear overly cliché.  It really is true that there is something distinct about meeting people of an entirely different place and learning how much you have in common.  Who knows, perhaps we’re not as far away from each other as we think.  It is an awesome realization, one that will hopefully inspire more people to study abroad or travel on vacation.     

So far, I’ve been blessed to have travelled to 9 European countries and 19 European cities over my time at PC, whether through the Liberal Arts Honors Trips (Italy ’09; Austria, Slovakia, and Germany ’10; Greece and Turkey ’11) or during my most recent travels as part of the Fr. Smith Fellowship (England, France and Belgium ‘11).  It’s a whirlwind at times, and the opportunities for new adventures are endless.  I’m especially grateful to my parents and to the alumni of Providence College for helping me to finance these trips, because at the end of the day, it’s their generosity and support which gets me here in the first place, and sustains me throughout.  Indeed, the net-value of these experiences is priceless.

*** 

As the saying goes, there’s still no place like home.  And Oxford has been home for me over these past six weeks.  The community at Blackfriars is unique because of its small size, so it really makes life here at Oxford much more familial than most colleges and halls.  I’ve had the chance to meet some great people while I’ve studied here – Dominican Friars, other Oxford students, members of the Oxford Catholic Chaplaincy and the John Henry Newman Society, and members of the Hall.  I trust that we will remain friends well into the future. 

When I returned to Oxford, I met up with Michael and Emile, since it felt like ages since I saw them last.  Michael had the great opportunity of visiting the University of Fribourg in Switzerland and meeting up with Fr. Dominic Legge, OP, former professor at Providence College. 

[You can see the photos from Switzerland and read more about Michael’s experiences at Oxford on his blog:  http://www.myoxfordmovements.blogspot.com/]

Emile and I ended up having lunch right when I got back at the outdoor market near Glouchester Greene.  Emile and I tried to avoid the flood of pigeons as we ate our lunch outside.  Just a few days afterwards, we met Emile’s good friend from home, Gregoire, who finds the American love of peanut butter fascinating.  He caught me spreading peanut butter on a banana and was intrigued, wondering if all Americans are as crazy as I am.  I told him probably not, but many of us mix peanut butter and chocolate (which is a huge no-no in Switzerland).  Good thing Gregoire and Emile have yet to meet my brother Matthew, who is a peanut-butter fanatic.  Emile and Gregoire brought us some chocolate from Switzerland to taste; and, I must admit, it is heavenly.  Emile and I always joke about which chocolate is better (Belgian or Swiss), but I will give him props and side with Switzerland so long as I don’t have to support them in soccer.

Emile, Gregoire, Michael and I spent some time together the next few days touring around Oxford and going punting, which is the usual tradition here in Oxford.  It was great fun (see Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel, Brideshead Revisited, or the movie for the typical Oxford experience).   I also had my last tutorial on Friday with Kieran Flanagan.  It was a nice end to our conversations.  In his normal, abundantly generous fashion, Kieran took me out to dinner to celebrate the end of our tutorial.  Hopefully I’ll update a post some point soon about some of the final points we ended up discussing. 

Here are some pictures from our adventures back in Oxford.  You’ll notice there is a picture of an Anglican Chapel at Magdalen College following an Evensong service.  The choirs that chant at these services are incredible.  See this link to listen:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhkbBEZcrKM

Trinity College, where Bl. John Henry Newman read as an undergraduate

Trip to the Ashmolean Museam. Here we are in the Renaissance Art room

After an Anglican Evensong Service at Magdalen College

Magdalen College, where C.S. Lewis studied

At Magdalen College

Relaxing on the river

Michael leading us onward through deep water

Only in England would one get four of a kind ... in Queens!

 ***

Also, happy Feast of St. Thomas More (patron of statesmen & lawyers) and St. John Fisher (bishop martyred for the Faith and refusal to take the Oath of Supremacy)

The King’s good servant, but God’s first.  — the last words of St. Thomas More, who shares today’s Feast Day with St. John Fisher, two English martyrs who lost their heads after refusing to take King Henry VIII’s famous Oath of Supremacy, separating the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church during the Reformation Period.  The separation, of course, remains to this day, which is why Oxford is no longer the Roman Catholic medieval instituion it was founded as in the 11th century.  Surely, the relationship between Anglicans and Catholics is stronger now than it ever was due to the ecumenical movement and recent strides by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict, but St. Thomas More’s message reverberates rather well within the timely debate of a so-called “secular modernity” — that is, between Church and State, God and men.  I think St. Thomas More’s message is a fitting way to end this evening’s post, which really echoes the theme of this entire blog.  The words of this “man for all seasons” remind us that faith and politics often meet at a crossroads, where difficult decisions face citizens and believers in both camps.  We must realize that the world will challenge people of religious faith to hold true to their values, or force them to abandon value-judgements altogether.  When grave issues affect the very structure of society, and indeed, the inviolable dignity of the human person, a decision is necessary.  And, at these times, we must choose.  Will it be the King?  Or will it be God?

St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher

Blackfriars 2010-2011

 

It’s hard to believe the term is almost over and I’ll be back across the Pond in just 6 days.  This past Sunday, the Blackfriars students and members of the Hall gathered together to take an end-of-the-year photo and enjoy a light reception provided for by the JCR and the Dominican Friars.

Blackfriars Students and Hall Members 2010-2011 (Click on photo to enlarge)

Reception in the Blackfriars Garden

The table

More of the reception

Much More than Waffles

It’s true that Belgium is known for its waffles – and I made sure to test that acclamation about three times a day – but my journey to the Flemish and French-speaking Kingdom was much more than a week of delighting in such sugary goodness.

I began my trip to Belgium directly after my time spent in Strasbourg.  I took a nice, long train-ride through the French and Belgian countryside and arrived in Brussels in the early afternoon on Thursday.  I must say, I enjoy every minute of a lengthy train-ride through the backroads of Europe.  In a way, the train ride itself is its own vacation – whether listening to music on my IPod or reading a good book, I’m constantly greeted by the beauty of the countryside.  One is bound to see an array of cows, sheep and other livestock grazing on the fields that make up the heartland of the Continent.  Cows and sheep always make a vacation worth while, right? 

After taking the Metro from the station and grabbing a quick bite to eat at the Dominican International Priory, I grabbed a bus to the center of town for my first meeting at the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences to the European Community (COMECE).  I had the opportunity to sit down with Monsignor Piotr Mazurkiewicz, General Secretary of COMECE and Chair of Social and Political Ethics at the Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University in Warsaw, Poland, who works directly with the European institutions in Brussels and Strasbourg.  Msgr. Piotr is an excellent example of Church-State relations and the interplay of faith in public life. 

Msgr. Piotr Mazurkiewicz, Secretary General of the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences to the European Community

Msgr. Piotr directly represents the Bishops of Europe, but he also works alongside political representatives in the European Parliament and Commission, whose day to day activities affect the EU as a whole, as well as the Member States individually.  Msgr. Piotr and I spoke about the Church’s role in public life and the joys and challenges of offering a religious perspective in a predominately secular milieu.  Msgr. Piotr reminded me that the Church is never a lobby-group.  First and foremost, the Church represents herself – not any ulterior material or political motives.  Msgr. Piotr’s job is not to delve explicitly into the political arena to the point of making the Church a political actor per se.  Rather, he works to share the Church’s moral and social teaching to the political community, insofar as legislation and acts of Parliament are in line with fundamental, and thus non-negotiable, human values.  At the end of the day, the Church’s role is to inform the consciences of people.  When a particular circumstance warrants a voice – and in the twenty first century, it often does – the Church is there to present clearly, and even sometimes forcibly, what remains good and just for a community like the European Union, founded on the principles of law, peace, and the common good.

Religious Leaders, including COMECE Bishops, meet with the President of the European Parliament and other EU officials

Msgr. Piotr also explained that he does not always have to present an explicitly Catholic, or even religious perspective to politicians in the EU to convince them that a certain legislative proposal is wrong.  He mentioned recent debates surrounding same-sex marriage in Europe, and whether or not multi-lateral legislation would foster a pan-European liberalization of marriage.  Msgr. Piotr encourages politicians that children have a natural right to call one parent “father” and another “mother,” and that same-sex marriages destroy society, regardless of religious bans outside of the secular sphere.  Natural law, then, provides one basis for dialoguing with a secular community on fundamental moral issues, without providing a religious justification as such.  All in all, it was a great conversation.  I’m thankful that Msgr. Piotr could meet with me given his busy schedule.

After my meeting with Msgr. Piotr, I headed back to the Priory for Mass and Dinner.  The Priory is unlike most Dominican priories:  rather than housing Dominicans from the Province (a given geographical area), this Priory is international, so Dominicans come from all over the world (as far away as South Africa) to minister in Brussels, which is becoming more and more of a global community due to the growth of the European institutions and recent migration.  I had a great evening with the Friars and attempted to greet some of them in French (although this was a failed attempt for the most part).  After dinner, Fr. Bob Eccles, OP, an English Dominican working as a prison chaplain in Brussels, took me on a guided evening tour of the city.  He also took me to this great pub in the city-center where they also have puppet shows.  Not only is Belgium known for its waffles and fries – it is also known for its speciality brewed beers, each of which has to be served in a particular glass (some looking like wine glasses) in pubs and restaurants.  It is really unique to the Belgian culture and highlights the dignity they afford to their cuisine.  Fr. Bob and I had a great chat and a nice end to the evening.

Brussels Town Hall

City Center at night

Puppets in the Pub

Freshly Brewed Belgian Beer

Leonidas chocolates

On Friday, I took it upon myself to explore a little around Brussels and get my hands on some fresh Belgian chocolate (which, for those of you who know me as a chocoholic, realize how important this is).  So far, Leonidas is my favorite.  I also saw more of the city center and the inside of the Cathedral of St. Michael. 

Cathedral of St. Michael

During the afternoon, I had a meeting with Fr. Frank Turner, SJ, Director of the Jesuit European Office (OCIPE).  I learned in my meeting that unlike Msgr. Piotr, Fr. Frank does not personally represent the official Church position on behalf of the Bishops.  Rather, Fr. Frank works with policy makers and officials at the EU-level to offer counsel and advice on pieces of legislation, as well as offer a sort of chaplaincy, so to speak, to the EU officials and their families.  According to its mission statement, “OCIPE seeks to accompany the construction of Europe  in serving its personnel in their professional and spiritual discernment, in sustaining critical reflection from the perspective of Christian faith on European values and responsibilities, and in promoting European solidarity internally and with the wider world.”  OCIPE works to foster the continued development of what they call the “European Consciousnes” as well as work for social justice and solidarity.  Fr. Turner tells me that recently the Jesuit office has been working on issues of migration and trans-national relations. 

Fr. Frank Turner, SJ at the European Parliament. Photo courtesy of jesuitvocations.org.uk

Although Fr. Frank offered a different perspective from Msgr. Piotr, the same message seemed to reverberate throughout our discussion:  the Church has a voice in the modern world—so long as it exists, it can never be usurped by any form of secularism—and as history shows, the Church always thrives in times of hardship or in times where membership is abysmally low.  Fr. Frank also keyed me in on the historical situation surrounding the relationship between Church and State in Europe and how modern secularism has played an intriguing role in the debate.  Unlike the pre-Westphalian political system, where the Church had a heighted temporal power in Europe, after the Reformation such a position could no longer stand.  Thus, secularism was envisioned not to discount the Church or ignore her teachings, but to allow for a free environment of discussion among the plurality of religious faiths of the time (most notably, between Protestants and Catholics).  According to Fr. Frank, secularity as a term is not the issue – this, in many ways, is the precondition for a democratic state.  In fact, it was the nineteenth century political philosopher and historian, Alexis de Tocqueville, who saw that the Catholic Church especially thrived in the United States because of the freedom of religion which allowed the Church a lasting and equal voice in the public square.  Contemporary secularism, which is often aggressive, is indeed a problem.  What Pope Benedict XVI has called “aggressive secularism” is really the voice of a contingent that wishes to relegate religion to the private sphere in the name of a so-called pluralism, which, in retrospect, is nothing more than an aggravated form of dogmatism.  The Enlightenment claimed to rid society of religion altogether, prophesying about its eventual devise in the modern world.  Unfortunately for the Enlightenment philosophers, this never happened, and from an empirical point of view, this won’t happen anytime soon, for religion is on the rise in the world.  Even if Europe remains the so-called “secular exception,” compared to the more religious Americas and the East and global South, Fr. Turner assures me that Europe also is moving in the right direction.  For instance, in 2009, Article 17 of the Lisbon Treaty was enacted, which gives Churches a legal right to dialogue within the EU institutions.  A great improvement for sure!

On Saturday, I took a day-trip to Leuven (or Louvain), about 20 minutes north of Brussels, to meet up with Fr. Christopher Mahar, currently the Vice Rector of the American College of the Immaculate Conception in Louvain.  Fr. Mahar is a priest of the Diocese of Providence back home, a graduate of Bishop Hendricken High School (my alma mater) and Providence College (my alma mater in one year), and will begin as Rector of Our Lady of Providence Seminary in the Fall.  In addition to being our new rector, Fr. Mahar will also finish his doctoral dissertation in the field of biomedical ethics and moral theology. 

Leuven was a great place, full of history and quintessential Belgian life.  Fr. Mahar took me to the University Library on the Ladeuzeplein, which was a gift from the American people to the Belgians after its destruction during World War I.  The library is a great testament to the University’s prestige, as well as to the relationship between the Untied States and Belgium.  As you can see from some of the pictures, many American organizations and universities donated to help re-construct the building.  Providence College was one of those universities!

University Library

PROVIDENCE. (Not sure if this refers to PC, but PC does have a block somewhere, so this could be it)

After the library visit, we took a tour of the city center.  We saw the grandiose Town Hall, which is a testament, interestingly, to the link between the sacred and the secular in the Middle Ages, as it was built to imitate a medieval reliquary (where a holy relic would be held), indicating that the temporal building of law and adjudication is a sacred place.  Fr. Mahar explained that many of the statues on the façade of the building represent God’s justice.  We also visited St. Peter’s Church, a large Gothic church in the center market square.  The Church was magnificent, as you can see below.

Leuven Town Hall to the left

Former Residence of Archbishop Fulton Sheen

Inside St. Peter's Church

Most Rev. Russell J. McVinney, Fifth Bishop of Providence

Fr. Mahar then took me to the Catholic University of Leven as well as to the American College, where he served as Vice-Rector for the past three years.  The Diocese of Providence has a special relationship with the American College, dating back to the mid-twentieth century when Fr. Francis Maloney, a Providence alumnus of the College, became Rector.  Bishop Russell McVinney, the fifth Bishop of Providence, was instrumental in the College’s reopening following the Second World War in the early 1950s.  There is a large picture and plaque in the College’s foyer to commemorate the generosity and leadership of Bishop McVinney.  Unfortunately, the College will close its doors this month, but it was a great opportunity to visit a seminary which has educated many priests in Providence, including my pastor at home, Fr. Richard Friedrichs. 

After we toured the American College, Fr. Mahar took me to this great restaurant called the Domus near the city-center.  The restaurant brews its own beer, which filters from the brewery through a pipe to the bar in the restaurant.  I had roasted chicken and mushrooms with a side of famous Flemish frites.  The meal was delicious to say the least.

Chicken and frites at the Domus

After the meal, we took an afternoon walk through more of the city, visiting the shopping center, sports center, and university parks.  I also had what will go down in history as the BEST waffle ever.  I could never explain over a blogpost the luxury I received in tasting this most glorious, sugary, soft and gooey piece of paradise, but I will tell you that it far surpasses any “Belgian waffle” back home.  Sugar is actually baked into the dough of the waffle, which is softer than back home, and when they are warm, the sugar practically melts outside the dough.  This waffle is traditionally called the Liege waffle (or Suikerwaffle), distinct from the Brussels waffle, which is a little firmer in texture and less sweet. 
 

The one and only

After eating our glorious waffles, Fr. Mahar and I visited the tomb of St. Damien of Molokai, who spent the majority of his life ministering to the lepers in Hawaii in the late 1800s.  The church and tomb were testaments to St. Damien’s life of service to some of the most vulnerable members of society.  This man’s life was extraordinary, and bears reading more into. 

Tomb of St. Damien of Molokai

We then visited the Grand Beguinage, founded in the 13th century to house religious lay women who did not enter religious orders, but lived in community outside of the hustle and bustle of everyday life in the city.  Many beguniages in Flanders have been listed as world heritage sights by the United Nations.      

Grand Beguinage

Many thanks to Fr. Mahar for showing me around Leuven.  We had a great day, and I was able to see a handful of interesting sights throughout the city.  After I said my final goodbyes to Father at the American College, I made sure to get another waffle and then headed back to Brussels by train.

My journeys around Belgium did not end with Leuven.  I took a personal “adventure” to the famous Belgian city of Bruges on Sunday, which is known for the up-keep of its medieval atmosphere and for the canals which run through town.  It is often called the “Venice of the North” due to all the waterways surrounding it.  This was a great day to walk around and enjoy every bit of Flemish architecture, culture, and food that I could.

I began the day with Pentecost Mass at the Basilica of the Holy Blood in the center of Bruges.  The basilica was built in the 12th century as the chapel for the personal residence of the Count of Flanders.  The church contains a venerated relic of the Holy Blood collected by Joseph of Arimathea and brought from the Holy Land to Bruges by Thierry of Alsace, Count of Flanders.  The church was built between 1134 and 1157 and eventually became a minor basilica, through appointment by Rome, in 1923.  Cardinal Karol Wojtyla (who would later become Pope John Paul II) processed with the relic of the Precious Blood throughout Bruges in their annual procession on a visit to Belgium. 

Shrine of the Relic of the Holy Blood

Basilica of the Holy Blood

Karol Cardinal Wojtyla in Bruges (future Bl. Pope John Paul II)

After Mass at the Basilica, I roamed around Bruges, looking for chocolate, more waffles, and the famous frites.  I saw some great sights along the way.  As you can tell from the pictures, Bruges still feels like a quintessentially medieval town.  Whether taking a canal ride or hopping onto a horse-drawn carriage, you’re constantly greeted by the medieval architecture and narrow passageways that make Bruges so distinct and a favorite visiting spot for many tourists.  After visiting the famous Beginauge of Bruges, I snuck into a little café and had a traditional Belgian meal – mussels and frites, along with beer-braised beef and a vanilla ice cream. 

Bruges City CenterCanal and bridge

Canal and bridge

(At this point, I had hoped to provide you with an array of photos from Bruges and Antwerp.  Unfortunately, WordPress is giving me a handful of difficulties in terms of uploading photos, so I’ll try and post them at some point soon).

After Bruges, I made my way back to Brussels to check in with the friars again.  I had a nice conversation with Fr. Alain, chaplain to the artists in Brussels, and Fr. Mark, who is the Bishops Secretary on Migration in Brussels.  Fr. Mark told me that the recent influx of migrants in Brussels is beginning to have a big impact on the predominately secular culture, since many immigrants come from religious backgrounds.  The Dominican Fathers were great to talk to, as always.  We also talked about some of the Dominicans the Fathers knew back home in Providence.  There are connections everywhere!

On Tuesday I met up with Dr. Richard Steenvoorde in Antwerp (the home of famous artist Peter Paul Rubens).  Richard is currently a Fellow at the Las Casas Institute here at Blackfriars Hall and is currently the legal adviser to the Bishops of Holland.  Richard wrote his dissertation (which, to my surprise, he gave to me) on economics in international law.  We had some very interesting discussions on secular trends in Europe and spoke about the differences between American and European jurisprudence.  We also spoke about the Church’s role in the modern world, and how the Church can attract youth movements.  Richard is another great example of how law and politics can work in harmony with religious principles; the two do not have to be completely separated. 

Richard took me to a little café in the city center and then we toured the Cathedral, where the works of Peter Paul Rubens are currently on display.

After Antwerp, I headed back to Brussels to buy a few more waffles, chocolate, and frites, and tour a little more of the City.  I also took a run in the park and met up with Fr. Bob for a final drink and goodbye-meal.  I am immensely grateful to the Dominicans for letting me stay in their Priory and for the great opportunities I had while in Belgium.  It was an experience which will very much affect the focus of my study, helping to bring real-life encounters to the more abstract concepts I’ve been attempting to come to terms with during my tutorials. 

***

Soon I’ll be updating about more events going around here at Oxford and some of the fun we’ve been having exploring the City – punting for the second time, exploring the covered market, and going to a final lecture or two.  I’ll also update you on my final tutorial meeting with Kieran and a Conference I’ll be attending on Poverty and Asylumn Seekers in Birmingham.  I’ll also be picking up my pal Robert Bucci (Iona College ’12) from the bus station, who is visiting Michael and I in Oxford from his study-abroad program in Rome.

As always, stay tuned.

From the Continent

I began my journey to continental Europe on Monday, June 6 on a train to Strasbourg, France, chiefly to visit the seat of the European Parliament there, but also to catch a glimpse of French life and culture.  Thanks to the hospitality of the Dominican Friars, I was able to stay at their Priory during my visit.

For me, this visit was of particular significance.  On the one hand, this was my first trip outside of England by myself, so I had to learn very quickly how to navigate in a foreign country where the primary language is not English – and where most people, at least where I was, did not even speak English.  It was certainly an interesting learning experience (even trying to order a Quiche took me a few tries).  Secondly, this was my first chance to see the institution which I learned so much about in a recent European Politics course last semester, but never actually “experienced”—namely, the European Union.  Having an interest in American politics, I figured I knew what was coming:  a prestigious building – presumably in some Roman architectural form – with a good number of legislative aides roaming around, but most legislators themselves camped out in their offices or in some private meeting.  What I found was entirely different. 

European Parliament, Strasbourg (FR)

First of all, the building is massive and architecturally modern (and this is only one small part of the European Union—the other Parliament building is in Brussels, along with the European Council and European Commission, which is even larger than both combined).  Secondly, there were people everywhere – literally, running around and conversing on every floor.  Security was also extremely heightened.  I had to wear a badge, show a valid form of ID, and get my picture taken before even entering the building itself.  I also had to be accompanied by a legislative staff-member during my stay.  And it was not only legislative aides that were running around.  According to Gabor Torok, my guide for the day, we ran into a few “big players” (e.g., party leaders, notable MEPs, etc.) as we were walking down common corridors.  There was a different feel from the political atmosphere I was used to learning about back home as well.  Europe is a continent with many languages, not a country with one single language or culture, so in every meeting or press conference we attended, there were a handful of translators constantly working to transcribe speeches via audio so everyone could understand.  There is also an interesting synergy between an MEPs “home identity” (for example, Italy or France) and his “European identity,” which is supposed to trasnform the former — although this doesn’t always happen.  It was a unique experience for sure.

From the courtyard of the EP

Massive "foot ball" donated by Poland

As I mentioned, Gabor Torok was my guide for the day (two days actually).  Gabor was a previous youth scholar at the Las Casas International Young Leaders Institute, organized by Blackfriars Hall, Oxford.  He is currently an assistant of the Intercultural Dialogue Secretariat of the European People’s Party (EPP), the largest Party in the European Union, and the most familiar party to the Christian Democrats in a few countries (e.g., Germany).  Gabor and I had two extensive conversations on the role of faith in political life, as well as secularization in Europe post-1945.  Gabor, whose background is as extensive as his current responsibilities, was a key person to speak with in regard to this fundamental inquiry I’ve been researching throughout my trip.  Gabor has degrees in Theology, History, and Diplomacy from the Universities of London and Bologna, as well as the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. 

Statue of Robert Schuman (Brussels)

During our talks, Gabor outlined – to my surprise – that the foundation of the European Union has its roots in explicitly Christian values.  Robert Schuman, Alcide de Gaspari, and Konrad Adenauer – the founding fathers of the EU – envisioned a new European Community with a deeply philosophical grounding, steeped in Christian moral virtues and in the universal values of peace and the promotion of the common good.  For Schuman, especially, ideas of a “Christian democracy” are not inimical to the political process, but constituative of it as such.  Much to the chagrin of secular humanists, whose idea of Europe has everything to do with secularism and nothing to do with God, the foundation of “Europe” is a predominately-Christian one.  Like the twentieth century Thomist and political philosopher, Jacques Maritain, the idea of Europe, and the world for that matter, is one which could never be divorced from Christian values, lest it loses its capacity to be truly democratic. 

"An American interested in Europe... but why???"

Gabor and I also spoke of the accession of Turkey to the European Union, which I always assumed was a positive step for Europe.  Gabor disagrees that Turkey should be a member of the EU, seeing that accession would make Turkey the second largest actor in Europe (next to Germany)  and, in 10 years time, the greatest actor in Europe.  He argues that the consequences of this could be devastating for the EU.  His point of view really got me thinking about my previous position on Turkey; and, if anything, it made me realize how I little I understand about the accession process in general.  It was a good learning experience for sure.

During my visit to the European Parliament, I also met with the top intercultural and religious dialogue adviser to the European People’s Party, Gyorgy Holvenyi.  Mr. Holvenyi is also the Secretary General of the Robert Schuman Foundation.  He told me that while the EPP members differ in opinion, as any political party might find its members, it nonetheless holds certain things in common—and ongoing dialogue with religious communities is one of those common interests.  Mr. Holvenyi spoke about various events and programs the EPP has worked on recently to dialogue with religious institutions and the Churches in Europe.  Recent symposiums held in Brussels and elsewhere in Europe have brought political and religious leaders together to discuss serious issues—like the persecution of Christians throughout the world, especially in Egypt, and even in Europe, for instance.  After I met with Mr. Holvenyi, I then met with Isabella, a chief assistant to Mr. Mario Mauro, MEP from Italy.  After I spoke with Isabella about our common Italian heritage, we spoke about Mr. Mauro’s role in the EPP as one of the leaders in terms of political-religious dialogue.  Mr. Mauro was chiefly responsible for working towards protecting Christians in Egypt during the recent violence there.  He even visited Egypt to speak with the religious and political officials there on behalf of the party. 

During my visit, Gabor also took me to a press conference and working meeting of the EPP.  Here is a picture I was able to snap quickly:

EPP meeting

Overall, my visit was a great experience and I learned quite a bit from the conversations with Gabor, Mr. Holvenyi, and Isabella, each providing a unique perspective. 

After my day at the European Parliament, I took a walk around the City of Strasbourg, which, as part of the Alsace-Lorraine region, has both German and French influences.  As you can see from the photos, there is a good bit of Germanic architecture.  I also had a delicious pizza and pastry in a street café.  Basically, whenever I go to a new place, I pick a spot and just start walking.  Eventually, I end up seeing some pretty cool places (and of course, having some tasty food), even if I’m exhausted by the end of the walk.  All of this sounds easy enough, right?  Walking around, ordering food, enjoying French culture, etc…  But, of course, it would help if I knew French, which I don’t.  So not only was this an enjoyable visit — it was also a lesson of survival.  If all you know is “Vous parlez anglais?” (do you speak English?), you’ll probably want to take a crash course before coming to France!

Alright, enough talking, here are some of the pictures from my mini-adventure around Strasbourg:

Homes and cafes along the river

St. Paul's Church

Cathedral of Our Lady

Inside the Cathedral

Cafe in town

Germanic architecture along the river

Strasbourg in the evening

Castle-like building in the distance

It took me about 5 tries to order this correctly, but it was well worth it

The most interesting looking gelato I've ever had

Stay tuned for a post about Brussels, the priory where I am staying, the people I’ve met here, and the medieval towns I’ve visited while in Belgium.  You might also be interested to see some pictures of the best of Belgium cuisine:  frites (special Belgian fries with a side of mayonaise), mussels, waffles, chocolate, and Belgian beer.

Cor ad cor loquitur

Cor ad cor loquitur – heart speaks unto heart – was the cardinatial motto of Blessed John Henry Newman, whose corpus of theological writings are as impressive as the remarkable witness he bore to the Faith.  Raised and educated under the Anglican tradition, Newman studied at Oxford in his earlier years and eventually became an Anglican clergyman in 1825.  After ordination, Newman served in a variety of posts, including acting as fellow and tutor at Oriel College, as well as serving in a number of parochial vicariates.  He was also instrumental in leading the Oxford Movement, which sought to bring the Church of England back to the traditional ritualistic expression and sacramental life of the Church universal, of which the Catholic Church maintained throughout her history.  On the 9 October 1845, Newman had a radically life-changing experience:  he became a Roman Catholic, and was received into the Church by Bl. Dominic Barberi, an Italian Passionist priest, at the College of Littlemore. 

Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman

The meaning of Newman’s life can never be expressed entirely from a purely academic standpoint.  Surely, Newman was an intellectual – one of the finest Christian writers of the Victorian era and in the history of the Church – but he was not solely an intellectual.  His life was motivated by a much deeper call to holiness, founded and personified in the love of Christ.  One of Newman’s theological patrons, St. Augustine, said it so well when he wrote in his Confessions, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O Lord.”  Indeed, it was precisely that restlessness which confronted Newman daily in a world of religious and political confrontation.  How could one remain true to the Faith in such a hostile culture?  Where was the truth found in its most basic form?  Yet it was not a logical dialectic which brought him to his life-changing conversion to Catholicism; rather, it was an interior development, stirred by a “harmony of the heart,” as he called it.  Newman was eventually ordained a priest in Rome in 1846, and joined the Oratorians of St. Philip Neri, with residence at their Oratory in Birmingham.

Newman’s conversion remained fairly polemical in the predominately anti-Catholic environment of England, causing Newman significant personal criticism.  So controversial was his “new life,” in fact, that Newman was convicted of libel in the famous Achilli trial in 1852 and forced to pay a pretty penny in retribution. 

On May 12, 1879, Pope Leo XIII elevated Newman to the rank of Cardinal, naming him Cardinal-Deacon of San Giorgio al Velabro in Rome; and on August 11, 1890, Newman died of pneumonia.

The life of Cardinal Newman has left an imprint on the United Kingdom and on the world, for it was this man’s life, among many others in the history of the Church, that bore great witness to the truths of the Faith in a precarious culture.  Newman inspired many in both the Church of England and the Catholic Church following his death, apparently even fostering a good number of future conversions.   Pope Benedict XVI beatified Newman this past September on a visit to the United Kingdom – the only beatification outside Rome that the Holy Father has himself presided over, echoing the deep esteem he has for this beloved servant of the Church and personal theological patron.

Newman’s image almost appears omnipresent in Oxford, woven into the “fabric,” so to speak, of the Catholic community here.  Already, I’ve been to many events either named in his honor or started under his patronage.  There are also many places in Oxford which show where Newman lived, preached, and acted as tutor and fellow. 

Oriel College, where Newman acted as Tutor

 

Library at Littlemore

"Newman preached here," St. Mary's, Oxford

Newman Society, Oxford Catholic Chaplaincy

Chancellor of Oxford University, The Rt. Hon. Lord Patten of Barnes (Chris Patten) thanks His Emincence, Peter Cardinal Turkson, for his lecture

Recently, I attended the annual John Henry Newman lecture at St. John’s College, Oxford.  His Eminence, Peter Cardinal Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, delivered a lecture on the role of faith and reason in public life (exactly what I’ve been trying to study here!).  His Eminence was clear that reason and faith are complementary, although distinct.  What is known by faith cannot be contradicted by reason, but the limits of reason do not exclude the far-reaching horizons of faith.  There needs to be a dialogue, he noted, between the scientific and religious communities, one which recognizes the dignity of each sphere of knowledge but also places them in their proper positions.  In reference to political life, the Cardinal referenced Tony Blair, whose work as Prime Minister of Great Britain highlighted the role of religious faith in the public square.  Churches and religious communities cannot be estranged or silenced in public debates –they have every right, especially in a so-called “pluralistic” society – to contribute to the well being of a given polity.  And it is that religious voice, the Cardinal referenced, which often affects positive change in public life, not simply in the private lives of believers. 

[Interestingly, Blair claims it was an Australian priest who “reintroduced him to the Faith” during his time as an undergraduate at Oxford University.] 

We met up with the Cardinal after the lecture:

Kate, Brogan, me, Michael, and the Cardinal

 ***

Update on Tutes

My tutorials with Dr. Kieran Flanagan have been going very well.  We’ve been having some interesting discussions about secularization and the role of faith in the public sphere, with a particular focus on the so-called “European exception.”  What is most interesting is that secularization as a term is largely moot in contemporary sociological circles.  No longer do we live ina fully secular modernity according to most sociologists.  Post-modernity has brought with it post-secularity, which, ironcally, has brought the revival of religious faith in the East and West, especially with the rise of Islam in the Middle East and evangelical Christianity in North America.  The Catholic Church has also expereinced growth in the Second and Third Worlds.  What remains, however, is Europe — what will this major player, this cultural and religious reliquary, become?   And where does the future of Europe lie, both politically (as a newly forming polity, supragovernmental in scope) and culturally (Christian Europe; secular Europe; Islamic Europe)?  These issues remain pertinent to contemporary discussions, and my hope is to keep asking more questions in the hope of finding a few — but certainly not all — answers.

This week, I am reading the following:  Dialectics of Secularization (Dialogue between Josef Ratzinger and Jurgen Habermas); Values in a Time of Upheaval (Ratzinger); Ratzinger’s Faith (Tracy Rowland); “Faith in an Independent World” (Tony Blair); “Notes on a Post-Secular Society” (Jurgen Habermas); and “Pierre Bourdieu and the Sociology of Religion” (Erwin Diantelli).  I hope to also look at T.S. Elliot’s “Essay on Culture” and pieces of St. Augustine’s City of God

Mr. Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of Great Britain and Founder of TonyBlairFaithFoundation

My main question for the week, which will be the foundation for my essays, focuses on culture in a post-secular society, with a particular reference to how Pope Benedict XVI understands culture in his work as a theologian and how secular humanists might support or contradict his thesis.  The present “crisis of secularism” is really a European exception, seeing as how both the “far West” (America) and “far East” (Middle East in particular) are experiencing religious revivals, even in the midst of a secular society.  Faith is continuing to play a deeper role in public life.  This is a fact.

 ***

Looking ahead:  posts from “the Continent”

In the next couple of posts, I’ll update you on a variety of meetings I’ve had here on the Continent (where I am currently writing from Belgium).  This week, I was in Strasbourg to meet with political advisers to the MEPs at the European Parliament, as well as the Secretariat of the European People’s Party (EPP).  I met with Gabor Torok, a former ILYN scholar at Oxford, who is currently working for the EPP, as well as the political adviser to Mr. Mario Mauro, MEP from Italy.  I had a great discussion with Gryorgy Holvenyi one of the top advisers of the EPP who advises the MEPs on religious matters and Church-State relations.  He is also the Director of the Shumann Foundation.  I then came to Brussels to meet with Msgr. Piotr, the Secretary General of the European Bishops’ Conference to the European Community (COMECE), as well as  Fr. Frank Turner, the Director of the Jesuit European Office (OPICE), to understand the Church’s role in political life here in Europe.  I have a couple more meetings here in Brussels, and then I will return to Oxford next Wednesday. 

 

Seat of the European Parliament in Strasbourg (France)

 

I also plan to update you on all the neat things I’ve been seeing around France and Belgium, with pictures of the cuisine of course.  I had the most delicious Belgian waffle today in Leuven, and some great fries and, of course, chocolate.  Until next time, au revoir!

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