Words of Wisdom

I had a telephone call this morning from my son. He wanted me to know that he had got back to the UK following his lecture tour in the Australian universities. He is one of our leading romano–british historians. It reminded me of a conversation we had when he was fourteen. He said that I was unlike other fathers. He claimed that most fathers answered their children’s questions whereas I simply asked him questions back. I like to think, though I cannot confirm, that this triggered him into investigating the truth rather than looking for someone else’s answer.

This wasn’t original to me. I was fortunate to have had a Jesuit education. There I learnt that I couldn’t make statements of significance unless I was prepared to support them with logic and evidence. Nor, as far as I was concerned, could my son.

I have little knowledge of the status of regular contributors to this blog. The odd hint gives me clues of course. But I have the impression that many are highly educated, sometimes clerical, and, most often, with views worth reading and thinking about.

So today I am asking whether any of you recall a remark, or an idea, from a parent, or a teacher, or a friend which you took on board and which has continued to influence you since then.

In my case, it was many years back. I was in a high- level business meeting where we were looking at how we could improve the business organisation. We went through a lengthy discussion reviewing all the different aspects, and potential improvements. When we finished, our chief actuary asked: “But, in the end, what are the things which really matter?” In five minutes, we knew the answer.

So, since then, whether it’s family, or business, or my health, or investments, or my plan for the day, I start with the question “What are the things which really matter?” It has been invaluable.

So I ask you to think through your own mind and memory and see if you can remember the principle, or principles you have picked up over the years and are still benefitting in your life.

Posted in Maxims, Quentin queries | 57 Comments

Boule de Suif

We all know the parable of the Good Samaritan. The priest and the Levite ignore the man lying damaged in the road, only the Samaritan (a member of a despised group) stops to help the wounded man. We are being told that the action of love, not an individual’s status, is the measurement of love.

Fewer perhaps know Boule de Suif, a story by Guy de Maupassant – perhaps his most famous. A coach of French bourgeoisie is escaping from the Hun lines. In their number is Boule de Suif — a prostitute. The other passengers deplore her presence, though they are quite happy to share her food. The Huns capture them: their price for escape is the willingness of Boule de Suif to sleep with them. She refuses, she hates the Huns. The passengers all demand that she should pay this price for their liberty. Under enormous pressure she eventually agrees, and they are released. On the rest of the journey they do not share their food with the prostitute and continue to regard her as dross.

We might imagine that, a few miles, further on, a Hun shell hits the coach: everyone is killed. Now, for the next five minutes, you are God. How will you judge the coach load? Do you favour the bourgeoisie – religiously orthodox and given to correct behaviour? Or do you prefer the whore who, even in her good intention, employs an activity which is evil in itself and directly against the Natural Law.

I am talking about love. On several occasions in the New Testament we are reminded that the Law exists because it is the basis for love. The Ten Commandments, and their extension to the whole web of morality, tell us how we must express our love – through positive and negative choices. And we are continually reminded that to breach the law even if the ultimate intention is loving cannot be excused. To take two obvious examples: first, the Allies’ destruction of civilian towns in WWII; second, a homosexual who enters a committed relationship with another homosexual, and believes it to be marriage.

Posted in Bio-ethics, Moral judgment, Quentin queries | 15 Comments

How odd of God!

We all know about Adam and Eve – their role as the ancestors of the human race, their Original Sin which separated us from the Almighty, and the redemption to be offered by God through Christ. Now let us consider how much of that story is true.

Putting a date on Adam and Eve is tricky – it depends of course on the discovery of fossils. But we would be safe if we settled for some 200,000 years ago. Now that is rather a long time for a story to survive. And a new species is unlikely to start from one individual or, in this case, two individuals; the process of evolution tends to work through numerous species rather than solo individuals. I suspect that, like the account of creation over 6 days, we should think of the Adam and Eve story as a fable: the narrative is imaginary but, within it, a deep truth.

We learn that the couple initially have no understanding of good and evil. The tempter uses this as his bribe: he tells Eve that eating the forbidden apple will open their eyes and they will be like gods, knowing good and evil. The moral sense of homo sapiens requires consciousness, the rational ability to distinguish between good and evil and the freedom to choose between the two.

It is significant that, although we are now able to understand the workings of the brain down into the tiny details, science is unable to understand consciousness, reason, and freewill. It cannot even describe what a causal solution would look like. We, on the other hand, recognise these elements as spiritual, and implicit in the story of Adam and Eve.

The outcome of our forefathers’ choice is extraordinary. Every human being thereafter would be born separated from God. However, we have one more chance: we may be redeemed through the salvation offered to us by Christ. But there is one condition: the acceptance of Christ through Baptism. The New Testament refers to its imperative again and again.

So what are the numbers? Here’s my best guess. Looking at the proportion of Christians today they number about one third of the world’s population. Take that back through the 200,000 years to Adam and Eve and we would get a huge number. Our Catechism expresses a hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without baptism. There are tiny exceptions for the older people such as “baptism of desire” and “baptism of martyrdom”. But that’s about it.

Now, were I a very brave person (and thankfully I am not). I would be somewhat critical of the Almighty. Yes, Adam and Eve sinned, but why should their punishment apply to every created person? None of us chose to be created. Of course, we all have a get-out through Christ. I, and perhaps all those reading this, will have had the opportunity to be baptised. But how about the others? If, in our communicating world, only a third of humans have been baptised, what proportion of the whole human race – back to Adam – could have had a chance? The remainder, perhaps nine out of ten, are in deep trouble. And not just for a day, or a lifetime but for ever – and ever – and ever.

Do you think God got it wrong?

Posted in Advocatus Diaboli, Quentin queries | Tagged | 53 Comments

I want more women

You will have read recently that Pope Francis has not supported the Amazon Synod’s recommendation to allow married priests in the Amazon. We are talking about a country where some 85 per cent of the villages cannot rely on having Sunday Mass because of the shortage of priests. Since the contributors on this site have recently shown a mixed verdict on Pope Francis, a good discussion here would be valuable.

We know that some priests are married. These are primarily the ex-Anglican priests who have converted. As far as I know, it has worked well. It tells us that current teaching is a rule rather than a doctrine. But it is based on the idea that a priest must commit himself completely rather than adding the responsibility of a wife and probably children.

So that you know my instinctive view. It goes like this: I believe that a good marriage for many parish priests would be a positive improvement. I don’t know how we could establish this, but I know that a long and loving marriage has enabled me to be more mature and a more balanced person. I tended to think intellectually where my wife tended to think emotionally – so we helped each other to grow.

Now I am going to take a big jump – and many of you will not like it. I believe that women should potentially be ordained as priests. The prohibition here is not just a rule but a firm teaching. I do not read it as infallible. Why on earth (or in Heaven) should we exclude women from representing Christ as a priest? We can understand why in earlier times a female representative would have been socially impossible, but do we think, in 2020, that this is still so?

Good, overall info at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-51474009

Posted in Advocatus Diaboli, Pope Francis, Quentin queries | Tagged , | 110 Comments

What is your conception?

No. I am not going to write about artificial contraception in the terms of natural law or the attitude of the Church, as confirmed in Humanae Vitae. I want to look at it as a phenomenon. Throughout the whole history of the human race the possibility of pregnancy has controlled the use of sexual intercourse and led to the confining of its practice to marriage or, at least, to a long-term formal relationship. The strict punishments applied to those who broke the rules were understandably harsh, particularly for the poor. By the 20th century, methods of contraception were being broadly used. They tended to be crude and often unreliable. Most importantly, they were primarily controlled by males. In practice, females had to depend on their partners being responsible, and were often ill served.

Then came the 1960s and the ‘pill’. At last there was a reliable and convenient method, and, importantly, one which was under the control of the female. Given that this was a change in a most fundamental element of homo sapiens, not surprisingly over time society changed. And it is still changing.

While, at the biological level, intercourse may remain the ‘marriage act’, and is so used by married people, the connection is weakened. It can range from casual sexual physicality to compassionate romance. Our young millennials accept without further thought that living together as though they were man and wife, is a natural route to marriage at some later time. Sadly, in too many cases, the lack of formal commitment turns out not to be commitment. I imagine that parents and grandparents, Catholics or not, would hope that the unmarried couples are using proper contraception.

While contraception and abortion are very different things, I wonder whether the assumption that we can, and perhaps, should, control fertility by modern methods, contributes to the acceptance of abortion when everything else has failed. Wikipedia, reporting on Catholic attitudes to abortion, tells us “Although the church hierarchy campaigns against abortion and its legalization in all circumstances, including threats to a woman’s life or health and pregnancy from rape, many Catholics disagree with this position, according to several surveys of Western Catholic views”.
None of this is surprising. When the human race changes the way it does things, and particularly when it occurs as something so fundamental as sex and breeding, we should not be surprised if the mores of society change as a result. And we are only just at the beginning.
How do you see the future?

Posted in Bio-ethics, Moral judgment, Quentin queries | Tagged | 31 Comments

The Jesuit and the Benedictine

Have you heard the story of the Jesuit and the Benedictine? It seems that they were both heavy smokers. Chatting about this one day they agreed to ask their superiors to give them permission to smoke while reading their Daily Office. When they next met, they compared the outcomes. The Benedictine was crestfallen. He asked his Abbot if he could smoke while he was saying his prayers – and got thoroughly told off for his impiety. The Jesuit had no trouble. He asked if he could pray while he was smoking. He was congratulated for his virtue.

We can all see what happened, but it raises an important point. They were both asking for the same thing, and the only difference was the order of the request. It reminds us that our brains are often illogical in their work – sometimes for the good and sometimes for the bad.

A very common illogicality is the danger of first impressions. For example, at a job interview, the decision tends to be made in the first few minutes. The first impression colours the later information. I suspect that many university acceptances are influenced by the candidate’s accent. This tendency of first impressions appears to be genetic. Many thousands of years ago our ancestors survived to breed because they immediately avoided situations of possible danger.

We have a built-in tendency to look out for evidence to support our views, and to dismiss evidence which may show otherwise. Take for instance, global warming or choice of political party. How often do we sit down, try to blank out our minds, and start again from scratch?

Here’s a job lot: tall men are more likely to get senior positions; bespectacled people are judged to be more intelligent; women’s eye pupils dilate when they are aroused; successful shops know every trick in their displays and advertisements.

Another genetic outcome is the influence of the groups to which we belong. In primitive times, belonging to your group made for safety, and to disagree with your group made you an outsider. For instance, if I took to slagging off Our Lady on this Blog I doubt if it would last very long.

You may well be aware of many such influences. But just knowing the possibilities is not enough. We must from time to time explore our views and check their truths. It’s a tough task but very worthwhile. And, what better occasion than the New Year?

Posted in Bio-ethics, evolution, Quentin queries | 25 Comments

What would you do?

Our discussion on Pope Francis’ New Year’s resolutions was excellent. I was somewhat surprised at some of the views. But then I am one of his fans. So, I thought that, being the holidays, it might be useful to look at a real life moral problem in between the brandy butter and the Angel on the tree.

I take you back to the ‘60s when I was a marriage counsellor in the local parishes. The story is true – although I have made a few minor changes for the sake of security.

A couple was sent to me. They had a problem. They had three children, but the wife had developed a condition often called “white leg of pregnancy.” She had been told that another pregnancy was likely to be mortal.

In those days, you will remember, artificial contraception was not so reliable as it is today. But even if the Church had allowed it, it was far too dangerous. As for the ‘safe period’, the doctor fell about laughing. So it would appear that the couple were obliged to give up the sexual element in the marriage.

The last possibility was sterilisation. It was clearly strongly forbidden by the Church on the ground that since the organs involved were themselves in good order, it could not be justified. (Catechism. 2297). The couple decided that it should be the wife (fallopian tubes) – because she could never have children in practice while the husband might do so (vas deferens) in a second marriage. The couple argued that the sexual expression of the marriage was fundamental to the relationship.

As a ‘good’ marriage counsellor, I did not instruct them either way. But I helped them through asking questions, and providing relevant information, including the Church’s views of such matters. Some years later I would have reminded them that the teaching of Humanae Vitae led several bishops to remind their flock that conscience must be followed, even if it leads to a decision which is counter to the Church’s teaching.

Now I ask you what decision you would take if you were in such a quandary as my couple?

I tell you this story because our discussion on Pope Francis seems to focus between a concern for weakening the Church’s long held moral laws, and a view that these are not necessarily the final answer but need to be seen in context. The first view is convenient to maintain: we all know where we are. Our sterilised couple will go to Hell if they do not repent. We are not allowed to do something forbidden whatever benefit may result. The second view is often known as Proportionalism: here, you examine all the plusses and minuses of an issue and follow the best and most loving path you can discern. JPII was strongly against Proportionalism (See his encyclical, Veritatis Splendor.) But Francis appears to favour it – without, as far as I know, using the name.

Posted in Advocatus Diaboli, Moral judgment, Pope Francis, Quentin queries | 39 Comments

Francis in the New Year

Now that we are safely in December the time has come to start thinking about New Year’s resolutions for 2020 and we should be considering what they might be. But I am not asking you to do that here – I am going to ask you what you think Pope Francis’ resolutions should be. Some of them could be completed within the year but others might be started in the year but will take longer to complete.

We are aware that at the senior levels of the Church there is a strong tension about Francis’ whole approach. He appears to be altogether too flexible — particularly on moral matters. His focus does not appear to be altogether based on the long, impermeable, tradition of the Church’s teaching on moral matters. For instance, he stands back from condemning homosexuals, and he actually suggests the possibility of allowing adultery in second marriages.

Another area of importance is the rôle of women in the Church. There is the question of women deacons. What would be their rôle? Would they have the same activities and powers as male deacons or be restricted to those best suited to the ‘second’ sex? And, despite, recent, firm contrary teaching, does he sometimes wonder about the possibility of women priests? (I do)

He may well feel that the relationships within the Church do not conform with St Paul’s description of the Mystical Body (1 Corinthians 12). Is the sharing of the Spirit between all of us fully shown in the relationships between authority and the laity? Might the Church learn from successful secular organisations the importance of every member contributing to the task? What could he do about this?

That’s just a sample which spring into my mind. You may disagree. You may have better ideas. This is a Blog which enjoys disagreement.

Among the large number of comments to this item there are some serious accusations concerning Pope Francis, with inadeqate evidence to support them. I would emphasise that such comments do not reflect the views of Secondsight Blog. They are the responsibity of the contributor.   




Posted in Catholic Voices, Church and Society, Quentin queries | Tagged | 101 Comments

A threat to our planet

Last Monday I watched a program on BBC1: “Meat: a threat to our planet?” It interested me because my millennial grandchildren are somewhat critical of my positive approach to meat. Indeed, at table I am often the only person eating it.
So I thought this program would give me a broader picture. I might even demonstrate my, temporary, breadth of knowledge. And I would impress the young.

Liz Bonnin, who leads the program, presented herself as someone who had a general belief in the dangers of climate warming, but who wanted to nail down the facts.
She started in Texas – where she found the huge industry required to satisfy the American determination to eat meat: it was gross and almost deliberately wasteful. The outcome was a huge contribution to climate change. The work being currently done to provide non-meat food but which tastes like meat would not have impressed them. The global livestock industry around the world is the source responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the running of all the world’s transport combined. It’s polluting air, land, and water.

Of course although we may argue about the details and the consequences of different factors which lead towards climate change (think of 50,000 Texan cows belching out methane or huge quantities of polluting manure from pig farms), and then add to that the great number of factors which contribute to the threat to many aspects of our lives.

But then, just as I pause writing this post and glance at the Daily Telegraph (28 November), I notice a story headed “Meat free world would devastate the environment, say scientists” Among other points, it refers to the needs of children who apparently require the benefits of meat for their cognitive and physical development. So nothing, of course, is simple.

In fact, I have reduced my meat eating in recent months – but it is still part of my diet. I can of course sit pretty – after all I will have snuffed it long before the worst has arrived. But last week I had a visit from a three years old great granddaughter. Apart from the fact that her beauty makes my eyes water, she showed a surprising temperament: she thought, she decided, and then she went into action. She is the future – but what sort of future will we leave her?

Posted in Bio-ethics, Climate Change, Quentin queries | 77 Comments

The evil of abortion

This week I want to consider an unsavoury subject: there has been much public discussion about the legalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland. It has frequently been extolled as an extension of human rights. And the converse is that those who disapprove are the enemies of human rights. And I am confused.

For some time, in my writing elsewhere, I have given up the technical terms of embryo or foetus because in lay discussion such terms carry their own overtones. I stick with the simple words by describing the entity in question as an “individual human being”. That is a definition no one can deny: “Individual” because it describes the continuation of identity from conception to death. “Human” because that is its species. “Being” because it exists and is alive. It is strange to me that we can increase the rights of one set of individual human beings by removing the rights of another set. But it wouldn’t be the first time – look, for instance, how the Nazis ratified their treatment of the Jews.

Nor, indeed, can we safely discuss the topic. I run a fortnightly meeting with a group of philosophers. And I have learnt that I must prohibit abortion as a topic because we never agree, and people become upset. However, I leave no doubts about my own view.

On this site you can respond – in any form you wish to express. If so, you might care to visit https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-19856314. It is a brief notation by BBC News of recent law on abortion.


Posted in Moral judgment | Tagged | 66 Comments