Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Dominic Burbidge: 'Rome hits home'

CV Dominic Burbidge writes at the Church Mouse blog:

Amidst the dizzying tumult of people and whirling show of flags, the Pope struck home with three points. First, faith and reason depend on each other like brothers. Throw away one and you lose the other; no one can be a brother on their own. In this country we are used to defining faith as blind acceptance. But this is an understanding lodged in a stereotype of the enlightenment somehow challenging the fundamentals of religion. The Pope sees faith in terms of the bringing together of different disciplines of reason into a unified whole—scientific certainty is not the only type of certainty. Faith follows the reasoned findings of the pure sciences, philosophy, history, sociology and theology and finds their points of unity. This is the faith that is inspiring, not just for religious but for the public at large.

Secondly, the Pope has joined forces with Newman on the fundamental importance of the respect for conscience. In Westminster Hall, where St Thomas More was sentenced for treason, Pope Benedict affirmed how “the great English scholar and statesman ... is admired by believers and non-believers alike for the integrity with which he followed his conscience, even at the cost of displeasing the sovereign whose ‘good servant’ he was, because he chose to serve God first.”

This was not the Pope highlighting grievance with Henry VIII but a rallying call to Brits throughout the country. Conscience in public life is being shut out. From issues of embryonic stem cell research to euthanasia to homosexual adoption, legislators are convinced: there is no right to stand up against the license of individuals to do as they see fit. Pope Benedict joins voices with Newman and complains: “there are those who argue—paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination—that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience. These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square.” The ability to act in conscience is essential for democracy, essential for the tolerance to other views of which our country is rightly proud.

And this deeper understanding of respect culminates in a third point Benedict and Newman have stressed: friendship. The theme of the papal visit: “heart speaks to heart” calls on Brits to value their personal relationship with each other and their personal relationship with God. In the bedroom chapel of Newman in Birmingham, pictures of his friends lined the wall so that he could turn and pray for them during Mass—his very own facebook. And so amidst the urban jungle of modern life, these two quiet gentlemen, Benedict and Newman, ask this third thing of us: that we may open our hearts to friends and God.