Children of Light

Homily at the National Convention of Couples for Christ UKfeast of the English Martyrs

Awake! Arise! Fulfil! Live as children of light!

The world around us does not always welcome light. Jesus warned us what would happen to children of light. The rulers of this world, rulers clouded with darkness, will be offended by the light, and will question us. Even religious leaders who don’t share our vision will oppose us. Each age suffers its own kind of darkness.

2000 years ago, Stephen, a child of light, saw Jesus standing at God’s right hand. Jesus is God’s chosen messenger, the Christ! And for that, the Jewish leaders who had rejected Jesus and had him crucified, killed Stephen too.

500 years ago, King Henry VIII was the ruler of England – and a good Catholic, writing in defense of the Church. He wrote so powerfully that the Pope even gave him the title “Defender of the Faith”! If you look at a British coin, you will see the letters FD (Faith Defender) after the name of Queen Elizabeth II – our kings and queens have kept that title for themselves, but it is no longer the Catholic Faith they are defending.

By the 1530s, King Henry had turned against the Catholic Church because the Pope would not allow him to divorce a wife who had failed to bear him a son and heir. The King separated the Church in England from the leadership of the Pope. But in that age the children of light cried out that the Body of Christ must not be broken. Many priests, along with the laity who sheltered them and attended their secret Masses, were executed between 1535 and 1681 – we call them the English Martyrs.

We are the Children of Light God has chosen to live in England, or other parts of Britain, here and now, in 2019. This is a national conference – we are here because whatever our roots, this is the nation where God has called us to shine. How, then, are we to shine our light?

First, we must be clear vessels. If we are not true to our own faith, others will see that we are dirty vessels and hypocrites. So we must put our own lives in order. If you are a couple for Christ, how is your marriage doing? Is there anything stopping you having the honest conversations with your husband or wife needed to keep your marriage in good order? Are you struggling with temptations to use pornography, or looking for comfort from a person outside your marriage when you should be turning to your husband or wife? Are you civilly married but without your marriage blessed by the Catholic Church? Sort your life out! Children of light go to confession! Children of light ask for help from a brother or sister who can keep you accountable! Children of light live within the church!

Now we can prepare to be children of light for the world around us… but what kind of light will we be? There are two temptations we must avoid!

Here is a glow stick. It’s rather fun! We can wave it about and everyone smiles. This represents a lightweight Christian faith, which only does what’s easy and acceptable. We commit ourselves to being good workers wherever we work. We support local charities and ANCOP. We do those good things that everyone will approve, whether they are friends of Jesus or not. All of these things are good, But they are not enough.

Awake! Arise! Fulfil! But a sleeping world will not be woken or roused by inoffensive good works. Just doing these things will not fulfil the mission Jesus has given us. This glow-stick is light with no message.

Here is my laser pointer – it’s part of the remote control for my computer. Look, I can control this powerful beam and it goes where I want it. But this is a fearsome light. Shine it in someone’s eye and it can cause damage. We can take our Catholic faith and present it like a laser beam – you must say these prayers, do those devotions, and follow my rules. It looks like danger and control. This is a light with a bad message.

Awake! Arise! Fulfil! But we can become sleeping Catholics, following certain patterns without asking why we do what we do. That will not fulfil us either!

Here is my mobile phone. It has a light! But it also has a screen! I can receive messages and educate myself. This is what it means to walk as a child of the light. Let’s understand our Catholic faith in its fulness. We are not here to promote a narrow Catholicism where everyone has to do things my way – nor a wishywashy Catholicism which is only about helping people in trouble. We are children of light with a message, the message of Jesus.

In St Stephen’s day, the great question was – is Jesus God’s true messenger?

In the time of the English Martyrs, the great question was – can we be part of a single worldwide church, united around the Pope?

In our age, Britain in 2019, the great question is this – will you respect my religious beliefs about how human beings should live?

I know many of you work in healthcare, and the great religious questions of our time seem to relate to healthcare matters.

We believe that every human life is sacred to God. British law gives some protection to doctors and nurses who don’t want to perform abortions, but they can still be required to supervise abortions by their junior colleagues. Local Councils are beginning to bring in ‘buffer zones’ so that witnesses to life cannot pray peacefully near the entrances to abortion clinics.

Earlier this year, the Royal College of Physicians dropped its opposition to euthanasia and became officially ‘neutral’ even though more of its members opposed assisted dying than those who supported it.

This week, a Catholic journalist was served with a court order banning her from referring to a certain transgender person with the pronoun appropriate to the way that person was born.

These are difficult issues. If we speak about them in the wrong way we will be seen as messengers of hate rather than children of light.

Awake! KNOW about these issues. We must recognise that every person is loved by God and has their own dignity. This includes persons tempted to seek an abortion, to end their own life, to pursue a sexual relationship outside Christian marriage, or to explore their own gender identity. We are called to show sympathy and understanding at all times – otherwise we become like the laser beam, correct but narrow and dangerous.

Arise! DO something about these issues. Understanding on its own is not enough, otherwise we become like the glow stick, soft and comforting but with no greater purpose. British Law defends our right to manifest our religious beliefs. Let’s use that. Let’s take every opportunity to say that this nation supports diversity of religion, and our religion requires respect for human life and for the gift of the body we were born with.

Fulfil! The road to fulfilment is a challenging one. Each one of us can tell a story of being called to follow Jesus, of being tempted to compromise with the values of the world around us, or else live with the simplicity of a child of the light. If we are living a serious Christian life, we will have struggled, at times, to follow Christ’s values rather than our own. But we will also have discovered the kind of fulfilment that only comes when we let go and let God. This phone represents our ability to share wisdom and share light. Let’s share the stories of our own struggles so we can encourage others to persevere!

Brothers and sisters, we believe in a God who challenges us by asking us to be lights in a dark world. Let us follow the example of St Stephen and the English Martyrs, and walk a path which avoids the two great temptations:

Avoid misplaced compassion. We do not roll over when our Catholic values are unpopular. You are not couples for compromise; you are couples for Christ.

Avoid the temptation to be offensive; never lose your love for your enemy. You are not couples for coercion or control; you are couples for Christ.

This weekend, you will be asking how to use the gifts God has given you. Using charisms in your parish or CFC household is one thing; but living as a child of the light is another. These issues are around us – in our workplaces; in our children’s schools; in our own families. Society covers its ears to our viewpoint; our Christian light from above doesn’t fit the message of the age which is ‘follow your own inner light’. Be singles for Christ – couples for Christ – messengers for Christ. Stand on God’s promise that you will be given the words, but be prepared. Whatever you do, do it for Christ, in Christ, illuminated by the light of Christ.

Awake! Arise! Fulfil! Live as children of light!

Guidance for Guiders

Sermon for members of the Catholic Guide Advisory Council at a vigil Mass of Divine Mercy Sunday

Look at them! Aren’t they great! Everyone respects them! I’m not sure I could do what they do, though…

Who am I talking about?

In our age it could be the Salvation Army, or the RNLI Lifeboat crews… maybe even volunteers who work with uniformed groups. The attraction is the evident good fruit. The hesitation is the knowledge that there is a cost to getting involved… a cost which may take a person outside their comfort zone. A cost which requires someone to face a challenge and learn from her experience!

2000 years ago it was the first followers of Jesus. There was something attractive about them – a kindness and compassion which went beyond the tough society in which they lived. It didn’t hurt that miracles of healing took place regularly among them too! But there was also a hesitation – to become one of THEM required a declaration that the troublesome Rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, was God-made-flesh, and that just didn’t fit Jewish or Roman ideas!

Every Guide, and Guiding Volunteer, makes the same promise: “to be true to myself and develop my beliefs”. You who have gathered here today are here because you are true to your own beliefs as Catholics, and you are asking how to be faithful to those beliefs in the world of Guiding today. This is a crucial question!

In Britain today, we claim to champion diversity. But I’m not sure there are many people who hold diversity as their highest value. Perhaps such a person exists… if so, imagine them giving a quick introduction to our culture?

Welcome to Britain. Here we prize diversity above all other things. Some of our people are physically disabled – it’s important to us that we provide reasonable adjustments at no personal expense. Some of our people experience same-sex attraction, and it’s important to us that they be allowed to pursue whatever adult relationships they wish with no harassment or legal restrictions. And some of our people belong to religions which teach the only proper place for a sexual relationship is in a marriage between a man and a woman, and it’s really important to us that parents should be able to pass on those values to their children without schools telling them otherwise!

Do you see the problem?

Deep down, most of us either believe in values which come from inside us, or outside us. Our society is shifting from Christian values to self-defined values. We can’t impose our Christian values on others, but we can ask for a mutual respect where we tolerate other values without being asked to celebrate different values. One of the great challenges for Catholics in our generation is to stand up and require that our British respect for diversity means that traditional moral values must be prized as highly as new liberal values. Doing this in a culture conscious of the need to “be true to myself and develop my beliefs” is even more important.

It’s not enough for us to open our mouths and ask for respect, though. Like the Christians we read about in Acts this evening, we must live our faith in a way which makes others respect us. We should stand out by the way we encourage struggling married couples to stay together and work attentively on their relationship. We should stand out by the way we not only chant pro-life slogans but work to give practical support to children born to reluctant parents of little means. We should stand out by the way we care for elderly relatives rather than rushing to the care home. We should stand out by behaving as generous employers and loyal employees.

Setting such an example will be attractive, but others will not flock to join us immediately. They will have questions about whether Jesus is the one to whom they are to entrust themselves. Is He Alive? Can He be trusted? You can lead people to Jesus, but not overnight.

It struck me as I prepared this sermon that:

  • A scout is someone who finds the way.
  • A guide is someone who shows others the way.
  • Jesus IS the way.

Your task is to develop and be true to your Catholic beliefs, but above all to show Jesus to the people you work with. He is the Way; you are the Guides of Guides. Do this, and you will have the respect of many.

Dementia, Faith, and Friendship with Christ

In a Facebook response to a recent homily, a friend posted:

People with dementia forget the relationships they have with people, eventually even close family members they have known for decades and meet regularly. Presumably a relationship with God is not exempt from this? What does this mean? I know that God will never blame me for something that is not my fault, and dementia isn’t anyone’s fault. How does faith fit into it all?

The short answer is that a person in friendship with Christ before the onset of dementia will not lose that friendship because of dementia, and a person who never knew Christ while they were of sound mind is in a similar category to an infant.

The long answer goes like this:

The importance of living in friendship with Christ, is that it is the key to spending eternity in happiness with God (a.k.a. “Going to Heaven”). We can’t earn heaven (Jesus did that on the Cross) and we can’t even make the first step towards accepting the offer of heaven (this needs God’s grace, though Pelagius didn’t think so). Yet some response on our part is needed when we are prompted. So what do we have to do to accept God’s offer of heaven? Different texts in the Bible point to different answers.

Matthew 25:31-46 (“The Sheep and the Goats”) implies that it all depends on whether or not you helped your neighbour when they were in need.

John 6:53-58 (“The Bread of Life”) suggests that only those who take Holy Communion will attain heaven.

John 3:3-5 (“Be Born Again”) says we must be “born again” of water and the Spirit. Some interpret this to mean baptism, though the Catholic tradition allows for the “baptism of desire” of anyone who had planned to receive water baptism but died before it was possible. Others interpret it as experiencing a personal infilling with the Holy Spirit (a.k.a. Baptism in the Holy Spirit).

Romans 10:9-13 (“Speak and Be Saved”) says that you must believe in your heart and profess with your lips that Jesus is Lord.

It would be wrong to rest everything on one passage alone, for God has given us the whole of the Bible that we may know His message. The Romans passage is key, for if we believe and profess that Jesus is Lord, we will become his disciples, and keep all the commands he has given us. We will seek water baptism, if we are not already baptised. We will receive Holy Communion regularly, because he commanded us to do so in memory of him. We will do our utmost to help our needy neighbours. If we fail to do this things, we will not be professing Jesus as Lord.

But two things are necessary foundations for any of this to take place. One is that the person hears the message of Jesus. The other is that they are of sound mind, at least sound enough to understand and respond.

Concerning those who never heard the message, St Paul says they can be saved by doing good according to their own conscience – “the law in their hearts”. This is why the Catholic Church has never said that all human beings automatically go to heaven (those who knowingly turn away from God’s law or who are of persistent ill-will may not), nor that only baptised Catholics go to heaven.

Concerning those who died before ever attaining the use of reason, the Catholic church is confident that baptised infants go to heaven and cautiously optimistic that all who die in childhood are welcomed by Christ, who affirmed children on earth.

What of those who, having lived an adult life, lose their use of reason? Here I am not aware of any formal doctrinal statements, so I will do my best to extrapolate what the Church does teach to cover this situation.

We understand that a person, of sound mind, cannot repent and choose Christ after bodily death. If a sudden and unexpected death befalls a thinking adult – as could happen to any one of us at any time – we receive a particular judgement based on our earthly decisions up to that point. It seems reasonable to say that we also lose our ability to repent and choose Christ if dementia reaches a severe degree, and this is no more unfair than the consequences of sudden death.

If a practicing Catholic is afflicted with dementia, they are only morally responsible for their personal actions to the extent that they understand what they are doing. Once extreme dementia totally removes personal responsibility, it is no longer possible for that person to sin. And since a practicing Catholic can receive the Sacrament of Anointing even though they have lost the use of reason, those sins can be forgiven. Canon Law also requires the priest to give the benefit of the doubt to an unconscious Catholic, so unless it is fairly certain that Catholic would have refused anointing, they must be given the Sacrament. This sacrament forgives sins. It is not uncommon for a priest to be called to the deathbed of a long-lapsed Catholic, and to confer Anointing, even if the person cannot communicate; the lapsed Catholic therefore receives God’s forgiveness before death. This echoes the paralysed man having his sins forgiven on the strength of the faith of the friends who brought him to Jesus (Mark 2:3-5).

I was once called to the bedside of a woman on a life-support machine and was asked, by her teenage children, to baptise her. They insisted that she had never been baptised but was a Christian, watched religious TV programmes with them, sang along with the hymns, and had had her daughters baptised. Now it looked like she would never regain consciousness before the life-support machine was turned off. Nothing in the Catholic rulebook for baptism explicitly covered this scenario. I could only baptise an adult if they explicitly professed faith, but this woman was now in the state of a disabled person who might permanently lack capacity to profess faith – and if she had been a child, could have been baptised on the say-so of her parents. I decided to go ahead with the baptism, giving strict instructions that were she to recover, religious instruction would be needed on how to live as a Catholic.

Coming back to my friend’s original question, how does faith fit into it all? In the Gospels, healing comes by faith. Often it is the faith of the sick person who approaches Jesus. Sometimes it is the faith of another – the friends of the paralytic, or a parent whose child is dying. Sometimes the Lord himself takes the initiative, raising a dead child or casting out a demon.

During our earthly life, that faith can only be expressed within the limitations of our flesh. Clearly, our immortal soul’s capacity to communicate is limited by being in flesh, and more so when there is some illness or deformity affecting the brain. When we die, our soul will meet Christ without the fetters of this earthly life. We can trust that God will be a just judge and will not expect more of any soul than was possible for its own individual circumstances. And yet in some way we will receive the reward of our faithful actions; there will be a greater kind of happiness for those who walked in obedient friendship with Christ, praying and receiving the sacraments, than for those who simply followed their conscience.

It is possible for God to overcome mental illness and brain damage, and communicate Himself to a soul in any way he chooses. But experience tells us that God will not often do this (at least in a way with external consequences), and so people of faith have the painful experience of seeing their loved one with dementia lose touch with their religious identity.

Ultimately, a key mystery of the Christian faith is that Jesus asks us to make disciples of all nations, scattering our seed on the thorny, stony, and barren soil. Only a few seeds bear fruit in abundance; yet the Lord’s work for us is to sow anyway. God chooses which souls are born in places and times which can hear the Gospel proclaimed. God chooses which souls should receive extraordinary calls to conversion (such as St Paul on the road to Damascus). Even those of sound mind can experience a ‘long dark night of the soul’ when God withdraws a conscious sense of his presence – this happened to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. God’s plan also allows those cases where the good soil loses its fertility through dementia, and personal awareness of God is lost until the soul awakens into eternity. This may seem like a very unsatisfactory state of affairs, but if God is the kind of God proclaimed by the Catholic faith, it is the only one consistent with the reality of the world around us.

Intentional Discipleship and the Indissolubility of Marriage

The Catholic Church recognises two kinds of marriage bond – natural and sacramental. Under certain circumstances, a natural bond can be dissolved. A sacramental bond, however, lasts until the death of one of the partners.

The Church has to acknowledge an indissoluble kind of marriage, because of the words of Our Lord which forbid divorce. (Mt 5:31-32 & 19:7-9, Mk 10:2-12 & Lk 16:18)

The Church also has to acknowledge circumstances where a valid marriage can be set aside, if that marriage is an obstacle to one partner becoming a Christian. (I Cor 7:15)

Over the centuries, the language of “sacramental bond” and “natural bond” developed to express the Catholic Church’s understanding of these two situations. When two baptised Christians pledge themselves as lifelong partners to one another, a sacramental bond is ratified. This bond becomes indissoluble as soon as the relationship is then consummated.

If one of the partners is not baptised, the bond is only a natural bond. But if there is a subsequent conversion, as soon as both partners are baptised their bond becomes sacramental, and the next time it is consummated, it becomes indissoluble.

If at least one of the partners is a Catholic, but they exchange wedding vows without the official involvement of the Catholic Church, no bond is created. However, if the Catholic partner later wishes to reconcile with the Church and the other partner is unwilling to re-make the vows in church, there is a procedure called radical sanation whereby the Church can retrospectively recognise the original vows, thereby bringing a bond into existence; if the other partner is also baptised, this is a sacramental bond, which becomes indissoluble the next time it is consummated.

You will see in the summary above that a great deal depends on the question of whether both partners are baptised. However, in nations such as the UK where a large proportion of the population were raised in a church culture which baptised infants (Church of England/Church in Wales, as well as Catholics and several Protestant traditions), there are many adults who have never willingly made a commitment to Christ, yet whose marriages are sacramental by virtue of their infant baptism.

As a pastor, most of the couples who approach me for a church wedding consist of a non-Catholic engaged to a non-practising Catholic. Since the Church position is that Catholics have a (qualified) right to the sacraments (Canons 213 and 843), while I do use the marriage preparation as an opportunity to point the couple towards an active faith in Christ, in most cases I conduct a wedding sensing that the couple are not about to become regular churchgoers. In short, most of the spouses at whose weddings I have officiated are not disciples of Christ – though most would sympathise with his humanitarian teachings.

When Our Lord gave his challenging teaching against divorce, he explained that Moses had allowed divorce because the people were “hard-hearted” (Mt 19:8) – a Biblical expression which indicates being unteachable rather than uncompassionate. The implication – reinforced by the closing words at Mt 19:12 ‘let anyone accept this who can’ – is that Jesus is giving an instruction that those who are serious about following his teaching (intentional disciples!) must not divorce.

The Church’s current teaching on when a marriage is a sacramental bond, is clear. Yet there is an apparent unfairness in the reality that a person can be caught in a sacramental bond because they were baptised in infancy into a faith which they never made a personal commitment to. So perhaps there is room for the Vatican’s theologians to look again at what makes a bond a sacramental bond rather than a natural bond? Allow me to speculate…

Given the importance of ‘teachability’ (the defining quality of a disciple) in Mt 19:8, might we not argue that a sacramental bond requires the one making the vows to be personally committed to following the commands of Jesus? This might be difficult to define, but perhaps no more so than the other qualities which make the marriage vows valid – that a person intended to seal a lifelong and exclusive covenant not deliberately closed to the procreation of new life. Might the Church be able to recognise that the absence of a personal commitment to follow Jesus would result in marriage vows forming only a natural bond?

Alternatively, our sacramental theology already tells us that we do not receive the grace of a sacrament unless we are in a ‘state of grace’. If a young person receives the sacrament of confirmation, although their status in God’s eyes becomes ‘confirmed’ they do not receive the grace promised by the sacrament unless they are living in accord with God’s commandments and have confessed any serious sin. The grace of the sacrament of marriage is similarly suspended if the Catholic partner is, say, non-Massgoing.

Might we not take one further step and ask whether the sacramental bond itself is not established until the couple are in a state of grace? Might we suggest that the bond is only rendered indissoluble when consummated by a couple who have not only consented to marriage, but who are currently in a state of grace? Since a ‘state of grace’ requires a Catholic to be attending Sunday Mass (unless physically or morally impossible) and to have made confession from time to time this reflects a level of religious practice – which hopefully implies at least a rudimentary sense of discipleship.

Let the record show that I do not intend to question the indissolubility of a truly sacramental marriage.

Further, if the Magisterium has already expressed the opinion that neither lack of personal conversion, nor absence of a state of grace, can affect the nature of the bond, then I state my willingness to submit to this position.

But if there is room for a development of doctrine which requires more than merely “baptised status” in order to render a marriage bond sacramental rather than natural, let us begin the conversation!

Legitimate Diversity: Carrying on and stepping aside.

In the Radical Catholic Centre Ground, there is room to handle leadership in more than one way.

There is room for a leader to give the courageous witness of offering every last breath to the ministry entrusted to him. Blessed John Paul II courageously did this and is loved for it.

There is room for a leader to realise that if he chooses to give such a witness, the institution he loves may suffer from a lack of those qualities which only a robustly healthy person can bring to the task. Pope Benedict XVI has decided that this is his current situation, and has chosen to resign. I believe that Benedict XVI will be loved for this courageous act of leadership, too.

In the Radical Catholic Centre Ground, it is possible to welcome Pope Benedict’s decision without implying any desire that he should have set aside his leadership for any reason other than failing capacity. In this sense, I welcome his decision.

May God bless our Pope and grant guidance to those charged with discerning his successor.

Let’s be Catholic: An Invitation to the Radical Centre

My Motivation…

When I look at the Catholic Church within which I live and move, what I see worries me.

I see that many in the current senior generation of working priests place great emphasis on love of neighbour and on building up community, but speak softly of the Great Commandment to love God first and foremost – sometimes failing to acknowledge that love of God demands something more than mere love of neighbour, friend and enemy.

I see that many in the younger generation of priests and of convert lay Catholics have, understandably, reacted by fleeing to the opposite end of the spectrum, embracing the form of liturgy current before Vatican II, and – in many, though by no means all cases – also embracing attitudes inconsistent with the current teaching of the Church concerning religious freedom, ecumenism and fraternal relations among Catholics generally.

The Breadth of Catholicism

The genius of the Catholic Faith is that it has great breadth, yet that breadth has limits. Sometimes doctrine is defined in a way which sets out a belief in a very precise way. But more often the Catholic faith says that you can believe or act according to one of several different shades of meaning.

For instance, as a Catholic, you can be a pacifist, or a serving member of the Armed Forces of a democratic state. But you cannot insist that armed resistance is forbidden to all Catholics under all circumstances; neither may you morally take part in an unjust war.

As a member of a religious order, you may be called to a ministry of the head (for instance, the depth of study of the Dominicans), or a ministry of the hands (consider the work of Franciscans among the poor), or the ministry of the heart (the work of spiritual direction, often guided by the deep mysticism of the Carmelites). All of these are organs of the body of Christ; none is the whole body.

The documents of Vatican II set out a wonderful vision of what the Church could and should be. But that vision has not yet been lived in its fullness, so it cannot be realised by imitating the saints or role models of the past. It must be brought into being by courageous Catholics treading a new path from the present to the future.

In this post, I am going to attempt to present a vision of the Catholic Faith according to the teaching of Vatican II. It is a vision not yet lived out in its fullness. It is a vision which can never be exemplified by any one role-model, but only ever by a community containing legitimate plurality, within the limits defined by the Church’s teaching.

What I have written above is merely my own motivation for this project. What appears below is…

The Charter of The Radical Catholic Centre

Revelation and Authority

Our faith is based on God’s revelation. This is found most clearly in the Bible. Modern scholarship legitimately asks what the human authors of scripture were trying to say to the readers and listeners of their own age. Sometimes scholarship rules out traditional and cherished ways of reading certain Bible stories according to its analytical rules. But we do not stop with our analysis of the human author. We believe that the Holy Spirit is behind every word of Holy Scripture, causing it to be written in just the way God intended that it should be. Our cherished readings may now be part of the spiritual, rather than literal, interpretation of the text. We trust the Bible – especially the fullness of revelation found in the New Testament – to teach us authoritatively about spiritual realities and the salvation of human beings, while allowing it to reflect the limited understanding of its own age on questions of history, geography and science. Apart from those relatively few passages for which the Popes, or those authorised by them, have set out a particular nuance of interpretation, we remain free to interpret the Bible within broad limits.

God also speaks through Tradition – practices dating back to the time of Christ and the Apostles – through the Book of Nature, and through the guiding hand of the Magisterium. Here also the Popes claim the ability to speak authoritatively – sometimes even infallibly – on matters of doctrine and morals, but not on history or science. Administrative decisions of the Magisterium are never beyond question. Doctrinal and moral declarations must be analysed and treated according to the implicit or explicit level of obedience which they require. As faithful Catholics we may petition the Magisterium privately to reconsider the expression of any teaching which is not infallible, while teaching and acting publicly on the presumption that the Magisterium is correct and our personal viewpoint will turn out to be flawed.

Where pious Catholics draw attention to private revelations, we are free to heed, or not, any claimed apparition, so long as it has not been ruled “not credible” by the Church; but we always treat the directions of visionaries as exhortations to works of piety over and above the necessities of the Catholic faith taught by the Magisterium. We strongly resist those who seek to impose a private revelation on the community at large, recognising that such revelations are invitations for those who choose to accept them.

The Blessed Trinity

We accept the great truths taught in the ancient Creeds, that God exists as one Nature present in three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We confess that the Son took flesh in the womb of Blessed Mary, lived a life on earth subject to all the limitations of frail humanity, was crucified and died a criminal’s death. We acknowledge diverse viewpoints, present even in the Gospels, about the extent to which Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, had access to divine knowledge during his years of earthly ministry. We confess that Jesus appeared, risen and glorified, to the Apostles and many witnesses before ascending into heaven; on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit filled the Apostles with a new zeal, and the same Spirit continues to bestow gifts upon the Church today.

We acknowledge the Father as Creator, the Son as the one through whom all things were made, and the creative presence of the Holy Spirit as “Lord and Giver of Life”. We allow science its rightful autonomy to enquire about how the world and the cosmos came into being; we can allow more or less problematic readings of Scripture as long as we acknowledge inconsistencies with science as having the dignified status of “issues requiring future resolution”.

The Virgin Mary

We acknowledge that the Holy Mother of God was conceived without Original Sin, remained a virgin throughout her earthly life, and when that life ended, whether or not she was spared the experience of bodily death, she was assumed body and soul into heaven. There she has the power to intercede for all humanity. Unless the Church should choose to define it, we are free to believe that she is in fact mediatrix of all graces, or only of much grace. We acknowledge the excellence of the spiritual path of total entrustment to Jesus through Mary,without requiring that all Catholics should walk this path.

The Eternal Destiny of the Human Person

We acknowledge that humans are made in God’s image and that those who attain moral maturity will be judged by God according to their actions. A moral action is only virtuous if both the act itself and the motive are morally good, though we allow that a foreseen, undesirable consequence does not invalidate the goodness of an act. Different texts in Scripture present morality, or faith in Jesus Christ, as criteria which will determine a person’s fate when judged by God.

We believe that some souls will go to Heaven even though they never professed Christ during their lifetime: those who followed the conscience the unknown God had planted in them, and – we hope can but cannot definitively affirm – the souls of unbaptised infants. But we also recognise that Jesus spoke of the very real possibility of those hearing and rejecting his message entering eternal damnation. We know that God’s fundamental desire is that all souls should be saved, yet God has entrusted us with the duty of spreading the Gospel. Faith only takes root where God Himself has granted the grace of believing, yet the work of proclaiming the message is ours. We might hope that all souls will be saved, but recognise that this is not clearly guaranteed by God’s Word, while the duty to proclaim the Gospel is unambiguous.

When a person dies, our working assumption is that the person is in God’s hands, on the way to Heaven, but in need of our prayers to ease the passage through Purgatory. Only when the church canonises a Servant of God can we freely declare that the soul has reached Heaven; and it is not the church’s practice to proclaim that notorious souls are possibly in Hell, even though such persons might be denied a church funeral.

We accept that in the fullness of time, this earthly life as we know it will pass away, and Purgatory will also come to an end; the souls of all who have lived will be raised into everlasting bodies, and enter the new life which awaits us – together with, or cut off from, the presence of God.

Religious Freedom, Ecumenism and Dialogue

We are under a general obligation to make Christ known. We are to evangelise people of no religion and of any non-Christian religion. But we do so with respect for the right of other people to reconsider their religious beliefs without undue pressure or harassment; and we acknowledge that in certain circumstances, we may set aside the motive of converting others for the sake of creating a forum where we and members of other faiths can listen to each other’s beliefs with mutual respect, to foster mutual understanding.

We are under a solemn duty to work with other Christians for the sake of the Gospel. We do not deny that in the Catholic faith is the fullness of the means of grace; we rejoice if another Christian enters the full communion of the Catholic faith. But we also recognize that what we hold in common with every baptized Christian is greater than that which divides us, and that Catholics must spearhead ecumenical co-operation whenever other Christians are not already taking an initiative.

We stand firmly on our belief that the Catholic faith is true, and that part of that truth can only be known through a gift of revelation from God. We support religious freedom not because we believe that other religious viewpoints are of equal validity – far from it – but because we acknowledge that all human beings have a right to be wrong and to come to faith at their own pace. We believe that democratic societies must allow Catholics and other religious believers enough space to live out their beliefs in all ways which do not intrinsically compromise the freedom of other citizens, and we consider it praiseworthy when states require religious beliefs to be accommodated within work situations where believers would otherwise be forced to compromise or quit.

Human Dignity and Sexuality

The Human Person has a fundamental dignity which attracts certain rights. A human life should always be conceived within the loving embrace of a married couple, without technology interfering in the moment of conception. The unborn child may not be wilfully harmed. The disabled person must be supported by society, through both personal and governmental initiatives. The quality of life of the lonely must be supported by Christians who freely give of their time to love the unloved. The one who is terminally ill must be granted the dignity of food and water, and may be offered analgesia, whatever its foreseeable side-effects, but not wilfully terminated. The organs of one who has died may not be taken for transplant except by express wish of the donor given during their lifetime.

The Church’s sexual teaching is challenging but clear: the only appropriate context for seeking sexual arousal and consummating intercourse is between a man and a woman who have vowed to be with each other in a lifelong and exclusive relationship, in which childbearing will not be deliberately prevented by the couple’s actions. Within marriage, each spouse must be selfless in their concern for loving their partner rather than seeking self-gratification. A couple who might enter such a marriage may, while dating, express physical and emotional affection in ways intended to communicate exclusive intimacy rather than sexual arousal. All other human relationships must refrain from these levels of expression – this is called chastity. Some Catholics will be called to make a deliberate and public declaration that they will never seek marriage, devoting their energies instead to the worship and work of God: celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Human Society and the Global Environment

The fundamental commandment for Christians in society is to love your neighbour and forgive your enemy. The neighbour is first and foremost the one your daily duties bring you into contact with, but in an unbalanced global economy, we must also have a special concern for the poorest of the poor. Further, a willingness to forgive others is a basic Christian orientation, one which the Lord’s Prayer makes a condition of our own forgiveness being received from God. There is also a special duty on members of a local Christian community to care for one another’s spiritual, emotional and practical needs which makes real the spiritual truth that we are members of one family under God.

The Church endorses neither state-controlled communism nor unbridled capitalism. The Catholic “Third Way” is one where those who possess wealth freely choose to give generously of what they have, for the sake of those who have not. To some extent this may be administered through taxation, in which case the Catholic has a civic duty to pay tax; but more must be given, according to one’s means, to support the Church and the poor.

The dignity of the human person absolutely rules out any legitimate use of weapons of mass destruction or deliberate genocide. The Church has principles which sometimes allow that war might be conducted in the name of justice, but respects also the conscience of those who would choose the path of non-violence even in extreme circumstances. Capital punishment is theoretically permissible, but not to be carried out in practice in today’s global society when humane alternatives always exist.

Humanity has been entrusted with the role of stewardship of the planet on which we live. As Catholics, we are not commanded explicitly to preserve biodiversity or to avoid genetic engineering of non-human species; but the duty to love our neighbour requires us to use our best judgment about ecological and economical consequences for the human race and especially the poorest of the poor. Such considerations should also affect our daily decisions as consumers.

Worship, Liturgy and Charisms

We believe that Baptism makes Christians children of God in a way which is not true of other human beings. Only baptised Christians have the right to stand before God in prayer, addressing Him as Father. As baptised Christians we are profoundly united to Christ, who prays constantly at the right hand of the Father in heaven. We acknowledge that there is a common pattern of growth in the spiritual life, from awareness of sin, to knowledge of God, ultimately reaching a lived experience of union with God, though not all souls complete the journey in a human lifetime; this journey is punctuated by dark nights – episodes of the apparent absence of God. We rejoice in the rich heritage of different kinds of prayer in the Catholic tradition, though no prayer other than Sunday Mass is mandatory for any member of the Church.

We believe that as Catholics we are called to worship God by taking part in the formal liturgy of the church and in personal prayer. We acknowledge that ordained clergy are icons of Christ among us and are set apart to preside at worship; and because of the God-given symbol of Christ as bridegroom of the Church, the sacramental sign requires that the ordained minister be male. We accept the official position that the Catholic Church has no authority (because it is not entrusted to the Church by God) to ordain women. On the other hand we acknowledge that rules about whether or not married persons may serve as clergy have changed over time, and there is room for legitimate debate about the circumstances under which married men might be admitted to priesthood.

We acknowledge the presence of seven sacraments and acknowledge the duty of Catholics to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days whenever they are able to do so. We recognise a legitimate diversity of liturgical rites: contemporary, extraordinary form, Anglican Usage and Eastern Rite; we do not proclaim that any of these is intrinsically more excellent than any other, though personal taste or past experience may draw worshippers in one direction or another. We acknowledge the principle that the Latin language ought to be used widely wherever the Latin (Western) Rite is used, but also the practical reality that using anything other than the vernacular is difficult once fluency in Latin has been lost. We observe the Lord’s Day as a day for worship, and for resting from whatever laborious work can reasonably be left until another day. We observe the days of fasting and of abstinence from meat as prescribed by the Church, whether or not we view this discipline as helpful to the spiritual growth of ourself or of others.

We acknowledge legitimate diversity of sacramental practice: confession at least once a year for those conscious of serious sin, but often monthly by the devout; holy communion not more than twice a day, but at least once a week at Sunday Mass for those in a state of grace. We acknowledge the freedom of the communicant to partake of, or refrain from, communion in the hand and communion from the chalice, where these options are offered. We recognise the Church’s rule that lay ministers must only assist with the distribution of communion at Mass when this is truly necessary, while allowing that there are vastly different interpretations of when such assistance is unnecessary. We acknowledge that liturgical rubrics often allow great latitude for interpretation, while agreeing that clergy are not to innovate in any matter liturgical for which the rubrics provide clear norms. We note that we are free to celebrate paraliturgies, which are relatively unconstrained compared to formal liturgy.

We recognise that God offers charismatic gifts to members of the Church. All are called to acknowledge them. Some are called to receive them. Those who do receive them have a right and duty to exercise them for the benefit of the wider church, which in return is duty-bound to welcome these charisms and to affirm those members of the Church touched by them, with appropriate pastoral care. Mindful of Vatican norms, healing services relying on charismatic gifts are not to be integrated with Mass or the Anointing of the Sick.

Some members of the Church will be called to embrace poverty, chastity and obedience within religious orders. Others may be called to lay movements which enrich the church. Every authentic call of God should be welcomed, and lay movements should be presumed to be a gift to the church and offered appropriate pastoral care. It may be historically true that lay movements cause tension between their members and non-members in the parish, but new movements should not be judged in the light of old difficulties.

What now?

If you feel that your spiritual home is in the Radical Catholic Centre described above, you are invited to be part of an ongoing conversation on Facebook.