Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Testimony Of John

Supping over Ashure, one of Turkey's most delicious puddings I realised how difficult St John Chrysostom must have had it. How could a man of God, used to ascetic living, charm the members of a Byzantine Court that took luxury, intrigue and luscious food for granted? Byzantium is alive and well here in Istanbul and you can taste it in the food: it is beautiful. 

St John was an ascetic, not in the sense that he rejected the beautiful things of the world, but in the sense of not being dominated by those things in order to enjoy them properly. To a court wallowing in excess such subtleties are incomprehensible, but to the Saint they are the difference between the life of virtuous living and the life of gradual degradation. St John of the Cross in his teaching advises us to control our desires, not in the Buddhist sense in order to fall into what Chesterton saw as despair, but rather to appreciate what God has given without allowing it become a barrier to achieving what God has in store for us. Eden was an earthly paradise because man and woman had everything without being lost in it. When we fell and had to come out of Eden we seemed to throw ourselves into the fruits of the earth perhaps in order to forget the One who produced this fruit.

From his pulpit in the Constantinian basilica, St John took the Word of God and applied it to ordinary life and this was where he got into trouble. If he had been a holy man proclaiming lofty, mystical homilies, sermons so far from ordinary Byzantine lives then he would have been left in peace, perhaps even paraded around as the pearl of Constantinople, it's great living Saint. The court would have been left undisturbed because the teaching would have been too high for them. But John was no mystical fool. He took the mystical, the way of the Gospel and translated it down into ordinary life - he showed them how it could be lived and they were caught like rats in an alley. With nowhere to run, being unable to soak themselves in the honey of denial, they had to either convert, turn from their luxury, or silence the one who tormented their consciences. Their desire for the things of this world was too strong, their desire for the things of heaven too weak. Perhaps reassuring themselves that they were God's elect they decided they could dismiss the idealistic ascetic and get on with their supping rose water. 

I believe the fall of Constantinople was the result of their high living, their refusal to heed the warnings of St John and the other Saints sent into their midst. By the time the Muslims arrived, Byzantium was jaded and folded beneath the crushing advance of men with more courage and determination, and perhaps God just stepped to one side to allow it happen. Perhaps, on a controversial note, the awful Sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade saved our ancient Christian relics from being destroyed in the fall two centuries later. Who knows.

St John and his mission in Constantinople has lessons for us in the West. We Christians must take account of the Word of God, not as "nice teaching" but as an instrument of God which cuts more finely than a double edged sword; as a Person who died on the cross for us and now invites us into a deep relationship with him, not as just another relationship among others, but the one on which our very salvation literally depends. We can still enjoy the things this world has to offer, even rose scented Turkish puddings, but not to weaken our desire for God nor prevent us living the radical life of the Gospel. May St John Chrysostom assist us in this, pray for us, guide us and be standing at the gate of heaven calling out to us to keep coming closer for he, and many others, are waiting for us. There may well be Ashure in heaven, if so, it will taste even better. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Mixed Legacy

While away on holidays, I am keeping somewhat in touch with what is going on at home, and I hear that Ian Paisley has died. Well, in Christian charity, let us pray for him and commend his soul to the mercy of God. 

I am aware that many Irish people will respond in different ways to this man's death. He was a divisive figure and many believe that if it was not for him the Troubles in Northern Ireland could well have been over sooner, or not as bad. That view will no doubt be debated by historians for years, but in all honesty, there is an argument to be made that this man did have blood on his hands. His fiery preaching and invective spread hatred, violence and incited many to dastardly deeds, including cold blooded murder, contributing to the spiral of murder and mayhem in Northern Ireland.

While that has to be acknowledged, we also have to acknowledge in all honesty, that Paisley eventually embraced peace and finally spoke to those who were his enemies. This change of heart on his part was one of the major turning points in the quest for peace in Northern Ireland, so much so that it is possible to say now what many would have thought impossible before: that Ian Paisley would die a man of peace.

Paisley's legacy is a mixed one, he was a complicated and complex man, as are most of us. But in his change of heart, whatever the cause, we can see some hope not just for him but for all us. Some will mourn his passing, some will rejoice, but as Christians I hope many Irish will commend him to God and allow the Lord to judge him. In charity it would be the heroic thing for us to accompany his passing with prayers for his soul. During the Troubles in Northern Ireland many Christians of whatever hue forgot that they were supposed to be followers of Christ, at least now let us remember that we are and seek to let his kingdom come into our midst. 

The Holy Name Of Mary

A feast that was suppressed following the liturgical changes of the Second Vatican Council, St John Paul II restored this memoria in honour of the Holy Name of Mary, and thank God he did, for it is an important feast, particularly for us in these times.

As children of Mary the Church encourages us to call upon the Name of our Mother, and what a beautiful name it is. There is that song from Westside Story which celebrates the name Maria - the name of the girl the young man is in love with. If such praise to due to that name because an ordinary girl possesses it, how much greater praise is due to it when it is the name of the Mother of God, the Perfect Disciple of the Lord, our Queen. This feast is important for us because it encourages us to wax lyrical, to sing, to muse and meditate on the Sinless One who possesses it.

Of course the origins of this feast are also important for us today. It was instituted by Pope Innocent IX to celebrate the victory of King Jan Sobieski and the Christian armies over the Turks at the Siege of Vienna in 1683. If it were not for that victory we in Europe would now be Muslim. Invoking the name of Mary the armies went forth to relieve the Siege and save Europe from invasion. It was, in a way, the last stand, the Battle of Britain of the 17th century. Of course in our secular age such victories are forgotten. I have said before that every city in Europe should have a statue of Jan Sobieski. Poland has given us many great men and women, and among them two giants who saved Europe: Jan from the Turks, John Paul from Communism.

In these troubled times, this feast should be an encouragement to us to call upon the name of our Holy Mother as we are once again threatened by violence and invasion. As Christians we cherish the virtue of hope, Our Lady, who intercedes for us, can be seen as a model of hope, Our Lady of Holy Hope, that title our own St Charles of Mount Argus loved. Mary is our mother, the mother of hope, who reaches out to her children who are in danger and in need. May this feast remind us of this and urge us to commend ourselves to her help, her prayers and her mighty protection.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Happy Birthday Mother


Let us all wish our Holy Mother a happy birthday, and give thanks to God for the graces he gave her, making her our Mother, our help and our guide. Today's feast marks the beginning in earnest of God's plans.

I may not be blogging for a few weeks. I am away on holiday, so I might not get the chance to blog, but then you never know. It has been a very busy (and tiring) year and a little R&R would be nice. It begins today! 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Archbishop Sheen: A Medieval Dispute? A Medieval Solution!


We saw this one coming, but I never thought it would result in the suspension of the Cause of the Venerable Fulton Sheen.  As you may have heard, the Cause of the popular Bishop has been suspended due to a dispute over his body

In brief: his home diocese, Peoria, which sponsored the Cause and has done Trojan work over the last twelve years or so, has asked the Archdiocese of New York to allow the remains of the soon to be Blessed to be returned to the diocese so First Class relics can be taken to be prepared for the veneration of the faithful and a shrine established. Over the last number of years there has been a rather tense situation with regard to this request because New York, where the Archbishop is buried - in the crypt of St Patrick's Cathedral, is not so keen to let him go.  As tentative plans are being considered for the beatification ceremony in Peoria (the beatification miracle has yet to be approved by the Congregation of the Causes of Saints and the Holy Father but it seems the miracle will pass through those stages fairly easily) the request was made again, and it seems New York has said no: Fulton ain't moving. So the Bishop of Peoria, in consultation with the Congregation in Rome, and with its advice and support, has suspended the Cause and it is now relegated to the historical archives.

So there we are. What would Fulton say? Well, he would not be impressed and given his passionate sense of reason he would make his views known so no one is left in any doubt. However, without an apparition or sign from heaven (which would then be subject to the Church's discernment process - which would take us into the next century before a judgment is made) we are at an impasse. This is like being back in the Middle Ages when the citizenry of dioceses, cities and towns were fighting over who owned which Saint, and then went about all over the place stealing Saints's bodies. Fulton would not be impressed.

So, who deserves to have the body? Well, both dioceses have a case. The home diocese of Peoria is the sponsoring diocese for the Cause and the Bishop and people there have worked hard to get it to where it is. They financed part of it, but a lot of the finance came from people all over the world who made contributions out of devotion to a man they consider a Saint. Usually the diocese that sponsored the Cause should have the relics, or the greater part of the relics, of the Beatus or Saint. Peoria is his home, and he was a priest of that diocese, so justice might well dictate that Fulton should come home. It is also worth noting that the Holy See expected that the body would be returned to Peoria.

However, New York also has a case. Fulton was Auxiliary of New York, and lived most of his life there. He retired there. Most importantly he ministered there with great success. He filled St Patrick's Cathedral just as Ambrose filled Milan's Cathedral. People came to New York, a city at the centre of the world, to see him and hear him. If the world wants to come to venerate his remains, then the most central place is New York. Fulton was buried in the crypt of St Patrick's as an honour to thank him for his extraordinary ministry in the city and archdiocese.

So, there we have it - both dioceses have a case; there are reasons for and against each diocese: now what should be done? Given that we no longer divide up the bodies of Saints, thankfully - relics are just portions, it will not be a case of Solomon's judgement where half of him heads off to Peoria and the other half stays in the Big Apple. For such a Medieval dispute some might suggest such a Medieval solution. However, there is another Medieval solution which may be the best way to resolve this dispute and allow Fulton's beatification progress: let the Pope decide.

The Pope is not just the head of the Church on earth and symbol of unity within the Church, he is also the one who settles disputes. From time immemorial conflicting bishops, kings, nobles and others appealed to the Pope to settle disputes and his judgement was binding since he was the Vicar of Christ and his word was the word of God on the matter. That faculty still exists, and it is exercised in many ways, one being the right of every Catholic to appeal to the Holy Father in issues of canon law etc. In annulment cases, for example, if a person or couple is not happy with the decision of a tribunal, they have the right to appeal to the Pope. 

Let Pope Francis decide where Fulton is to rest, and both dioceses accept that decision even if it goes against them.  The only snag is that Francis might decide to send him to the cathedral in Rochester where he was Ordinary - smell of the sheep and all that. Would Fulton like to return to the place which caused him so much grief?  Well, sending him there might itself start another row...

There is no doubt that people are shocked, confused, saddened, and I would even dare say, scandalized, by the suspension of the Cause and the dispute which led to it. With all that is going on in the world, the systematic martyrdom of our brothers and sisters in the Middle East being one issue the Church needs to engage with, a fight over the body of a Saint is unnecessary, unseemly and a distraction. The Bishop of Peoria has asked for prayers and that is a good request, so let us all pray that common sense and Christian charity will prevail. We are living in dark times, we need hope and we need models of joy and faith to inspire us - the Ven. Fulton is one of these. Let's get this out of the way so the Church can celebrate the life, holiness and teachings of one of her most faithful sons and give us all a boost in these challenging times.

PS: Just reflecting on it, I  think Fulton is probably laughing in heaven: two dioceses fighting over his body, both want him. He surely remembers the years when no one wanted him as he preached the truth in a time when not even Bishops and priests wanted to hear it. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Those Hardy Servants


Today's feast should remind us that the Saints are no shrinking violets wafting up in a continual fragrance of mystical surges. In fact they were rather hardy individuals who had to deal with a lot of issues, many of them personal issues, and fight their way through life, certainly with a smile, but most importantly with a good dose of faith, hope, charity and, in most cases, even a sense of humour which also kept them sane. 

St Monica is one of those Saints who speaks to those who are looking at the hard face of life and seem they cannot move anywhere. Those in situations similar to St Monica's may well come to think that there is little hope because they come up against the impenetrable wall of another's will and desires. We all know the story of Monica and her prayer for her son Augustine: yes, she converted him, eventually, but for most of that struggle it seemed as if it would not end as well as it did. That is why Monica is a great example of the virtue of hope. She hoped in God, and she allowed that hope inspire her prayer and her efforts to bring her wayward son to God. I personally believe that the great sanctity of St Augustine is due in a large part to his mother. He is the Doctor of grace, one of the world's greatest Christians with one of the world's greatest minds, and I think his mother had a lot to do with that.

Of course Augustine was not the only one who made life difficult for Monica, long before the eldest son started on his wayward journey Monica had to content with a difficult husband and a gorgon of a mother-in-law. In Ireland we have a saying that two women should never be in the same house: if a man marries let him set up a new home with his wife, bringing her home to live with the mother might not be for the best. Well Monica should have insisted on such a solution because life with Mummy-in-law was hell. For one thing Mummy controlled the son, and she became a real invader in the marriage: as bad as he was, poor Monica could not even have her husband to herself.

However, Monica's response was that of prayer, long-suffering endurance, hope and sacrifice. Rather than resorting to bitterness and becoming difficult herself, she allowed the charity of God to triumph in her and she was able to do what many of us would think impossible: be kind and loving. It was that very kindness and love which changed hearts and she not only tamed her mother-in-law and won her husband, she converted them to Christianity. What an example for all of us. Later Monica realised that her struggle with the two at home was a preparation for an even greater one with her son, no doubt she was able to draw on what she had learned, and the outcome of the first struggle helped her keep hope alive as she engaged in the second.

Monica is not unique among the Saints, they all had to struggle and fight, but they did so knowing that God was their ally, their strength and their counsellor.  They rise to the challenge calling on God to give them grace and they are generous enough to hand themselves over to him so he can guide them on the right path. The Saint is one who surrenders to God not  in desperation but in love, and they reap the rewards of such trust, but not without suffering, and not without hope. 

Another of the great teachers of this reality is St Therese of the Child Jesus. There is a very good article by Joe Sparks on the process of censoring Therese's writings which took place after her death - the editors wanted to show her virtues but in doing so left out a lot which they though might scandalise or frighten readers, but in reality they left out the bits which revealed the reality of Therese's struggle, those sufferings which make her truly great. I would recommend you read it. As you know I love Therese, not just because she is my sister in the Order, but also because she speaks to modern men and women about the reality of living our Christian faith in the midst of difficult times, comfortable Christianity, serious personal issues and human intrigue. Therese, for example, is one who can speak to a world immersed in atheism, where hope is gone because many have decided or felt that there is no God and they must face the harsh winds of life alone. Therese is also the Saint for the broken and the lost. One of her great devotees was Edith Piaf whose life was an utter mess. Therese seems to draw the strays to herself, probably because she has a special gift of touching their hearts and reminding them that they too are children of the Eternal Father.

Life is hard and can be harsh, and even though many may think the Saints were above it standing on their pedestals, in reality there down here with the rest of us battling on. What great teachers they are, what great allies and friends. So let us dump the pious biographies and look for the real story of the Saints: not only will we be impressed but we might also realise that we too are called to become Saints.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Happy Feast Day


On this feast of St Genesius, on behalf of the Council of the Fraternity, I wish you all a very happy feast day. May our Holy Patron watch over you, intercede for your needs and assist you on the path of holiness.

The annual Feast Day Mass will be held tonight in St Mary's Church, James Street, Drogheda, at 7.30pm. All are welcome.

St Genesius Novena Day 9



Meditating on the Lord's Prayer with St Genesius

But deliver us from evil

Evil corrupts, it distorts, destroys. The evil one seeks to recreate humanity, one marked by despair so individuals will lose the light of life and fall into darkness. Evil has built a city, one usurped from God, and the evil one seeks to populate it, create a metropolis of misery so he will not suffer alone, so his loathing will be deepened by the company of those he has unjustly claimed. Being delivered from evil is to be born to hope, to faith, love and joy. It is to embrace the Eternal Father, to believe in him and in his promises. It is to embrace Jesus Christ who died for us; to abandon ourselves to the Holy Spirit who loves us, guides us, vivifies us with grace and joy. Being delivered from evil is to be recreated into the image of Jesus Christ, the New Man who rose from the dead and has opened the gates of the new City of God to us, the Eternal Jerusalem. Evil creeps in the shadows, in the shadows of the human heart; being delivered from evil means that we allow the light of the Risen Christ open up our hearts in their entirety so there are no more crevices or holes for evil to hide. Being delivered from evil means that we know that we have Christ on our side and no one can conquer us, for we belong to him. In his dying St Genesius understood this, and he could say with all his heart, “Jesus Christ is God and we shall have life in his name”. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

St Genesius Novena Day 8


Meditating on the Lord's Prayer with St Genesius

And lead us not into temptation

The world has so much to offer, there are so many wonderful things, many of them can be used not only to improve our lives, but also to bring us closer to God and help us flourish as human beings and as disciples of Christ. But the world is also full of temptations, of things that can lead us away from God, compromise our discipleship and eventually exile us from what God has destined for us in his kingdom. That a demonic intelligence uses the things of this world to lure us away from God and salvation should also make us wary. St Genesius, living the lifestyle of an artist in ancient Rome, knew all about  temptation. The struggle which took place in his soul was one in which the evil one tried desperately to keep him from God and his grace, but grace triumphed. When we pray that we will not be led into temptation we pray for the grace to fight this battle which takes place in our souls; we pray for wisdom and discernment; we pray for courage to stand up to temptation. In humility we are to recognize that God is the warrior, the protector, he is the victor, in him we can resist all the attempts of the devil to ensnare us.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Pesky Volcanoes


Here we go again, or do we? We await with baited breath as another Icelandic Volcano starts erupting. The spring/summer of 2010 is still fresh in our memory, I'm sure, when the pronounceable erupted and created chaos. Let's hope we do not have a repeat of it. While we may lament disruption to travel plans, erupting volcanoes can create ecological problems if the eruption is serious enough, and people living near them can face various dangers. So let us pray for a soothing of the latest volcano. At least I can pronounce this one: Bardarbunga......that sounds familiar.....why do parties come to mind???

Anyway, I draw your attention to the Church's great patrons of volcanic eruptions, the martyrs St Januarius and St Agatha. I wrote a prayer to them for all effected by natural disasters:

Novena to St Januarius and St Agatha
Patrons of Volcanoes

Blessed Martyrs, Januarius and Agatha,
you who offered your lives in witness to Christ,
into your hands we entrust all who are in danger.
Take into your special care those threatened by volcanoes
and the hazards of the natural world,
that the Lord may preserve them,
their homes and their livelihoods.
Guide all who travel and those who seek refuge,
may they find shelter in the Heart of Christ
and in the charity of their brothers and sisters in faith.
O holy Saints Januarius and Agatha,
courageous bishop and devoted virgin and bride of Christ,
commend us to the intercession of the Mother of God
so that we, like her,
may abandon ourselves to the will of the Father,
for the sake of the Son
with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Amen