For most of my working life, I’ve had to work most Sundays. As a result, I’ve tended to prefer treating Saturday as the Sabbath and nearly always refuse to do any work at all on this day. However, last Saturday was an exception, as I sat down to undertake the annual search through the New Year Honours for people who might be of interest to readers of The Tablet. These are pretty time-consuming stories to write. If by a miracle I possess a phone number, email or Twitter handle for any of those cited, getting through to them on a holiday and when all their friends, relatives and neighbours are also trying to get through is always a challenge. There is the question of what all the acronyms actually mean, of discerning whether is someone is an officer or a member or something else entirely, of getting the capital letters in the correct order (this year I only turned one MBE into a BEM – thank you Chris Lamb for spotting that). There is making sure not to mix up the Queen’s own particular honours with the New Year Honours, over which particular care had to be taken this year. After that comes deciphering the citations, getting the names and spellings of people, schools, churches and citizens’ organisations precisely correct, and the quiet terror of working out which verb to use – “made”, “awarded” or whatever – without being found guilty of the sin of solecism. Then there is trying to get some kind of “quote” or interesting detail about the person cited, before finally writing it all up. In all this, it is important not to lose sight of the humanity of the people actually being written about. Learning about the work of Sir John Battle in particular was humbling and inspiring. With all that is happening – the pandemic, the worsening situation in Myanmar and elsewhere, the climate of public and political discourse – contemplating such a life, one truly dedicated to service and the common good, really does inspire hope and renew optimism for the future.
Heads up on some of the stories this week:
1. Pope Francis has pleaded for an end to violence against women, saying the church itself is “mother and woman”. At a Mass celebrated on the feast of Mary and World Peace Day, the Pope urged Catholics not to let problems weaken their faith and to place themselves “under the protection of this woman”. By Cindy Wooden. The head of the Archdiocese of Dublin, Archbishop Dermot Farrell said that “radical change” is coming in the church and believes change is already happening in the Church’s structures all over the Western world. By Sarah MacDonald.
2. Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, head of a commission representing the European Union’s Catholic bishops, has called for Covid passports to be required for anyone wishing to access religious services in Europe. Report by Jonathan Luxmoore. The last two years of the Covid emergency have left people “amazed at the level of solidarity in society and frightened by the rising tide of anger and confrontation”, according to Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown. By Sarah Mac Donald.
3. The Catholic former Labour MP for Leeds West, John Battle was knighted in the New Year Honours for “political and public service”. He told Ellen Teague: “The award is primarily for my ‘community’ work.” Sir John was a front bench spokesman on housing, having been the first national coordinator of Church Action on Poverty in the 1980s, and was the Prime Minister’s envoy to faith communities from 2002 to 2010. Others honoured include Raymond Friel, the new chief executive of Csan and Olympic cyclists Laura and Jason Kenny.
4. The brilliant philosopher Edith Stein was baptised into the Catholic Church one hundred years ago. Born into a prosperous German-Jewish family, she was one of the most gifted thinkers of her time. She died in Auschwitz. Peter Tyler writes about her legacy. Clifford Longley writes about the contribution of Betty Maxwell to the field of Holocaust studies. From her, he learnt that the French Huguenots had a remarkable record in protecting Jews.
5. Timothy Radcliffe writes how his recent illness and operation “opened a small window on to the Incarnation” and asks whether religion is boring because we keep God “remote from dangerous intimacy”. It is past time for the main parties to consider the voters who ‘do God’, writes William Gomes. He offers advice on how Labour can win back regular voters and connect with socially conservative Catholics in a blog post, How Labour can win back their lost Catholic voters.
6. When Pope Francis joined the Jesuits in 1958 there were 33,000, now the number is roughly half. Christopher Lamb’s View from Rome reports on the Pope’s recent discussions on the decline in vocations. Chris also has a new episode up of his “radical reform” podcast series, in which he looks at the role of female leadership in the Church, discusses what shape these roles could take, the position of women in early Christianity and why a “synodal” Church is a more inclusive one.
7. Pope Francis today criticised couples who choose not to have children or to have just one child and then go on to compound this by owning pets. Dogs and cats are too often “taking the place” of children, he said. Civilisation is becoming older, and the “richness” of motherhood and fatherhood is being lost. Special thanks to Madoc Cairns for the brilliant headline, Childless society gone to the dogs. See picture above.
8. Myanmar’s Cardinal Charles Bo has said the whole of Myanmar is now a war zone. He was speaking after a brutal attack by the military on Christmas Eve in which 35 civilians, all Catholic, were killed. By Ellen Teague. Lay Catholics in France are calling on the Vatican to involve them in the choice of their next archbishop, amid the French Church’s sexual abuse scandal and search for new leadership in Paris. By Tom Heneghan. Tom also reports on the French presidential hopefuls chasing the “Catholic vote”.
These are some of the men from Dumbarton’s Denny’s shipyard who went to work on contracts for low draught ships in Mayanmar, which was then Burma.
9. The Tablet’s digital archive is available online to subscribers. This is what we published on the Epiphany in January 1926, page 5: “Nowhere in Holy Scripture are the Magi called Kings: but Christians have instinctively regarded them as having been at least rulers and leaders. It is in this fashion that the Three Sages are pictured by the furnishers and arrangers of Cribs in our churches, where we see three lordly men kneeling before the Lord of Lords. And it is here that our normal Epiphany meditation finds a channel ready hewn for it in the Letter of our Holy Father. Only when the kings of the earth cease “standing up together against the Lord and against His Anointed” and begin to resolve that “the kingdom of this world shall become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ ” may we hope for an era of peace and social justice. In this leader, we were referencing an encyclical. Do you know which one?
10. The sublime religious poetry of the opening words of John’s Gospel is appropriate for the beginning of a new year still overshadowed by Covid. Fr Alban McCoy OFM Conv in his sermon for the second Sunday after Christmas, writes: “It’s in living with and loving one another that we most nearly and clearly see and know God.”
(This newsletter was compiled with the help of Stephanie Bennett, editorial administrator of The Pastoral Review.)