Sunday, March 1, 2015

Towards The Vision Of His Face

This second Sunday of Lent brings us to the vision of the Transfiguration. This year we read St Mark's account, however St Matthew's is my favourite because he alone records the transfigured Face of Jesus (cf Matthew 17:1-8). Writing for a Jewish audience no doubt he wanted to align the event with the longing of Israel, preserved in the Psalms, to see the Lord's face. "It is your Face, O Lord, that I seek: hide not your Face" (Ps 27:8). 

On that mountain the three disciples represent all of us. In the midst of our Lent, we are climbing the mountain towards holiness, towards union with God; this vision is given to us to keep our hearts fixed on what lies ahead. It is a grace, a consolation, an encouragement. The three disciples would never forget what they saw, it was imprinted on their hearts for the rest of their earthly lives. We should allow this vision of the Lord, gifted us through faith, to find a place in our hearts so in our prayer we can delight in it and the promise it represents, but also seek shelter in its light when times are dark.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Pushing The Experiment Through

Breda O'Brien has an interesting article this week in the Irish Times concerning the Children and Family Relationships Bill which the government is pushing through with astonishing haste. The legislation has to be in place before the same sex marriage referendum in May so those opposed to same sex marriage cannot bring up the issue of gay adoption and perhaps win a few votes in favour of natural marriage. Breda, as usual, is direct and hits the nail on the head. I would recommend you read what she has to say, and as you do so say a prayer for her, she is subject to much abuse, attack and even death threats.

This bill is yet another step in the social experiment which is taking place in the West, one which plays around with relationships that nature has already defined. This experiment will eventually fail, Lord knows what the consequences will be, but we can be sure that, as always it will be the vulnerable and voiceless who will suffer - children. In the early decades of the 20th century we had the eugenics movement which allied itself with the sexual revolution and fought to have "reproductive rights" for women enshrined in law. For those rights read abortion, and in enshrining these rights, children suffered - in the name of choice innocent children are killed every day in their tens of thousands. Now they are redefining marriage and relationships, and children will also suffer as the one stable institution in society which protects them - marriage and natural parenthood, is dissolved. As always, all of this is to satisfy adults and their desires, but it is wrapped up in the lie that it is to provide a better life for children.

Looking at the legislation in terms of egg and sperm donation I see we are laying the foundation for a very serious problem in the future: the real possibility of brothers and sisters marrying each other. Apart from the issue of incest, there are the difficulties genetics create when siblings procreate. How can we prevent two people from different parents, but siblings, born of gamete donation from the same donor, and possibly ignorant of their genetic relationship, from marrying? We have to have a way of ensuring that two people seeking to marry are not closely related. I was talking with a priest friend about this and we both concluded that the Church in the not too distant future may need to insist on DNA testing for couples preparing for marriage to make sure they are not siblings. Sound strange? Yes, it does, but we will need to address this problem sooner rather than later. What a tangled web our society is weaving, God help us all.

Friday, February 27, 2015

C.S Lewis Recording

Another website has drawn my attention to a recording of C.S Lewis - one of the radio talks he gave on the BBC during the Second World War. The talks brought great comfort to people in the midst of the Blitz. They were eventually published as Mere Christianity, one of his masterpieces. Most of the recordings were lost because the BBC had to recycle tape, but one has survived. Rather than just provide a link, I decided to embed the talk, so if you have time you can listen to this great Christian writer - great Irishman, who led many to Christ. A good Lenten talk for you.

Are You Ready To Die For Christ?

That question in the title of this post may not be one you have ever considered. The idea of martyrdom knocking on your door may seem as far away as the ice of the South Pole, but given the times we are now living in, it may be time for all of us to begin to think about the possibility that we may have to face death for Christ. I was reading an interesting piece by Philip Kosloski in which he considers the possibility of martyrdom for all of us and it has got me thinking.  The question is: are we ready?

Martyrdom is a gift, as Philip points out, not all are called to lay down their lives - physically, for Christ, though we are all called to lay down our lives for him by our adherence to the faith, our call to holiness and our duty to evangelise. However we cannot exclude the possibility that we may have to face the knife, and the decision we make at that moment is one which will be informed by how we lived lives of allegiance to Christ, the Gospel and the Church.

But what are the chances of martyrdom? Most of those being martyred are in the East - in Syria, Iraq, those territories under ISIS. However militant Islam has its adherents all over the world, as we have seen in the attacks in Paris and Denmark, so there is a chance that there are those in our country, perhaps in our own city, who may be intent on making a statement about their Muslim faith through the shedding of blood. In London, for example, in the last couple of years two people were beheaded in what seemed to be jihadist attacks - a soldier and a woman in her own home. These two individuals were no better and no worse than any of us, yet they found themselves victims of radical Islam. There is no reason why any of us might not find ourselves in a similar situation and faced with the decision to either recite the Shahadah or make the supreme sacrifice.

Many believe that will not happen to us here safely ensconced in Ireland or the West, after all the attacks in Paris, Denmark and London were freak attacks, surely? I have personally seen the apathy and complacency of people here in the West - Church-going Catholics, who think all this will go away, it will not effect them, one even laughed in my face when I mentioned the possibility that radical Islamists might strike here in Ireland. I hope such confidence does not prove to be foolhardy, just naive. 

Now I am not trying to frighten people or create a sense of paranoia, but I am asking the question, that given the times we are in, are we ready to die for Christ? Are our lives conformed to Christ and his Gospel to the point that we will be able to renounce this earthly life rather than renounce our faith?  Persecution and the possibility of persecution tend to sharpen our focus on our faith, what it means for our lives - and our death. The daily reports of our brothers and sisters being killed for their Christian faith might also provide us with a wake up call, get us thinking seriously about what it means to be Christian. Lent is a good time for us to take a good look at our lives in that context.

Of course, martyrdom also includes white martyrdom - a persecution, perhaps hidden, where we are gradually forced to abandon our faith or compromise it. That is already happening in the West, we see it at work in Ireland: those who remain faithful to the Christian faith who find themselves having to take a stand being punished or sued, gradually pushed to the peripheries with little or no real political representation.  If the gay marriage referendum is passed here in Ireland, for example, we Christians will undoubtedly find ourselves under an increasingly more intense spotlight and our conformity will be earnestly sought. So martyrdom - white martyrdom is already here. In reality red martyrdom can often be easier, it is the long, drawn-out martyrdom of living in the midst of hostility and persecution which can difficult to endure, so let us pray for the grace to endure.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Disturbing Revelations

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri

An important story concerning the Extraordinary Synod on the Family last October has emerged. The Catholic World Report has it and you can read it here. Fr Z blogged on it yesterday.

According to the story, copies of the Ignatius Press book on marriage, Remaining in the Truth of Christ, were posted through regular mail to the participants in the Synod, however most of them were taken, intercepted (stolen according to Fr Z) allegedly by Cardinal Baldisseri, General Secretary of the Synod, so they would not "interfere with the Synod" (apparently his own words).

If this is true, and it seems it is given the Cardinal's own admissions, it is a disgrace. It is an action that casts another shadow on the workings of the Synod and further reduces people's confidence, not only in the Synod and its aims, but also on those organizing it, and let's face it, many many good people have many legitimate concerns. Many are worried about how things will go at the next Synod in October, this revelation will not help. Committing a crime to prevent members of the Synod having access to an important publication on matters concerning the Synod (and intercepting/stealing another's mail is actually a crime) may well bring the whole Synod process into disrepute.

One wonders how the Holy See will now respond? Will Cardinal Baldisseri be left in place? Will the Holy Father take action? Will Cardinal Kasper, who seems to be the darling of some of those organizing this Synod, continue to be facilitated to air his views without challenge, while those who offer valid and orthodox objections to his proposals are pushed out into the margins? Is the interception of this book an indication as to the plans of some organizing this Synod and a revelation of how far they are prepared to go to get their way?  

I fear poor Fr Lombardi will be wheeled out yet again in an damage limitation exercise in the hope it will all go away and the backroom boys can get on with their work.  This is not good for the Church.

Remaining in the Truth of Christ, co-authored by a number of scholars, five Cardinals among them, is a response to Cardinal Kasper's proposal to allow divorced and civilly remarried Catholics receive Holy Communion. The book is a fine piece of work and in my opinion, a marvellous summary of the various aspects of Church teaching on marriage and sound pastoral practice. It should be on every reading list in every course on marriage and sacraments and in the library of every Catholic institution. As bad as things are, and they are bad, at least good scholars and orthodox pastors are coming out with sound catechetical material which will ultimately help the Church's understanding of marriage and her mission to married couples.

Canon lawyer Ed Peters has an interesting article on this.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Debunking Old Myths

On Saturday last I was debating with a Northern Irish atheist about deliverance and the Church's ministry of exorcism. Very early in the debate the accusation of "medieval" came up, thereby the gentleman dismissed what I was saying. Now quite apart from the fact the Middle Ages were a time of great thought, art, architecture, chivalry and manners, that term when thrown out is meant to evoke barbarism, ignorance and a Church-ridden society which was backward, blind and utterly oppressive. Medieval practices, in this understanding, are base, superstitious and dark. 

Then, after a little more debate my adversary threw in Galileo at which point, I presume, I was to withdraw, head hung in shame having being confronted with the ultimate proof of the oppressive nature of the evil Catholic Church. I did not conform to the expected withdrawal, as do, sadly, many Catholics utterly ignorant of the Galileo case as it actually happened.  

The encounter reinforced a number of things for me, one of them being how we as Catholics do not know our faith and our history well enough to drive off the black legends that have been created by the enemies of the Church. The case of Pius XII is obvious enough, and while the battle is still raging, most of the facts are already in the public domain and those who continue to rehearse the accusations against the Pontiff are now just being stubborn, refusing to look at the evidence. That is why Pope Benedict finally signed the Decree of Heroic Virtue for Pius - there was no longer any reasonable barrier, the questions had been answered. 

The case of Galileo is not as obvious because, first of all, it was so long ago and with so many Catholics ignorant of what actually happened (and probably not bothered to examine the case), those continuing to air the myth tend not to be caught out. Secondly, the myth has been around for so long many may be inclined to accept it as true because it has been popping up for centuries: say it often enough and for long enough and people will begin to think it's true. It's a pity the proclamation of the Gospel did not have the same effect on some!

One of the issues that the Second Vatican Council had in mind was the formation of the members of the Church - as we are all called to evangelise, we must be capable of that evangelisation. This means that all Catholics have a responsibility to know their faith and its history so they can challenge and debunk the old myths that are fired at us. We are not to leap into the trenches and simple apologise, an attitude which has become the default position in the Church for the last few decades - for fear we offend anyone. Rather we are to be able to engage those who make unsound accusations against us. One of the reasons the Galileo chestnut is still being roasted is because Catholics have not produced the devastating response which is possible. We should be able to argue the facts in such a way that our accusers will take note, abandon the accusation knowing that their unsound position will be quickly exposed as false. That is why, I think, as we need to renew our catechetical programmes, we need to include these cases and myths and respond to them with the facts so the truth is out there, so Catholics of the future will be able to answer and dismiss those peddling old lies.

So, what happened Galileo? Well First Things has a very good summary of the case. The Church was foolish to act in the way she did, St John Paul II acknowledged that, but she did not do what the enemies of the faith accuse her of doing. And Galileo was far from being the poster boy for science. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Lesson From Our Suffering Brethren

Awful news today: ISIS has captured about ninety Christians. The Patriarch of the Syrian Catholic Church has asked our prayers. Let's remember them and pray that they will be safely returned to their families and homes. 

This is truly a time of great martyrdom. The martyrdom of the 20th century has given way to fierce persecutions in this new century. The faith and courage of many Christians is indeed being tested, and many of them are being found to be loyal, preferring death rather than renounce Christ. 

I do not wish such sufferings on our brothers and sisters, but one thing is certain in all of this: they are challenging us Western Christians by their fidelity. As the Church in the West dabbles with infidelity to Christ, ignores the Gospel, makes disloyal presumptions, attempts to overturn the moral law to keep comfortable Christians happy, true servants of Christ are shedding their blood rather than compromise their faith. 

Will Christians in the West get the message? I'm not sure, to be honest, I have personally seen great apathy by Catholics here who think the suffering of the Christians in the East has no bearing on them. I have seen priests who are more concerned with democratizing the Church than preaching the Gospel never mind shedding their blood for it. Our suffering brethren in the East are teaching us in the West an important lesson, I think we had better take heed of it.

UPDATE: A piece by Fr Longenecker on the kidnapping.

Monday, February 23, 2015

A New Doctor Of The Church

Earlier today the Holy Father declared a new Doctor of the Church - St Gregory of Narek, an Armenian. St Gregory, like St Ephraim the Syrian for the Church in the East, is a major figure in Armenia, so his elevation to the ranks of the Doctors reflects the eminence his teaching has enjoyed for many centuries. This elevation is to be welcomed for a number of reasons, one of them being a recognition of the importance of the Eastern and other Rites within the Church. 

St Gregory lived all his life in what is now Armenia. Born in 951 he entered a monastery in Narek and would remain there for the rest of his life. He was ordained priest at the age of 25. He was a contemplative and a mystic and his writings reflect these. He wrote a number of works including a commentary on The Song of Songs, but it is his Lamentations which are the source of his fame. These are a series of prayers which are both beautifully poetic and theologically profound. In this work he reminds me of our other poetic Doctor, St Ephraim. St Gregory died in 1003. His monastery lasted until the 20th century when it was destroyed following the Armenian genocide. 

May our new Doctor pray for us and guide our souls to find refuge in the Lord. May this "watchful angel in human form" be our protector.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

All Aboard The Ark Of Lent

Given our first reading today, what a marvellous image for Lent - Noah's Ark! I preached about this today, sometimes it seems in our Lenten observance that we are on stormy seas cooped up with all sorts of wild beasts. May the Lord guide us on these seas!

Remembering Sophie

Today is the anniversary of the execution of Sophie Scholl, the young German woman who with her brother Hans and other brave souls formed the White Rose group to defy Hitler and Nazism during the Second World War. She was guillotined on the 22nd February 1943 after a mockery of a trial for her treason against the German people, in reality - her refusal to cooperate with the Nazi regime. 

She and the other members of the group simply wrote about what was happening. In letters sent all over Germany they told the people of Germany what Hitler and his minions were doing, what they stood for and why it was wrong. It was a simple resistance, highly organised and effective, but given the dangers, very risky. Sophie and her companions were in no doubt as to the consequences of their actions should they get caught. However, their commitment to the truth outweighed the dangers, they were ready to lay down their lives for the truth.

In recent years it has been revealed that Sophie was hugely influenced by Blessed John Henry Newman and her work for the White Rose was motivated by her devout Christian faith.   It seems she was preparing to be received into the Catholic Church: she had been brought up Lutheran. Apparently as she was awaiting the sentence of death to be carried out she and her brother had requested to see a Catholic priest intending to be received before they were executed. However, she was dissuaded by a Lutheran chaplain who told her that it would destroy her mother, a devout Lutheran: not only had the woman to deal with the death of her children, but knowing that they had left Lutheranism just before their death would have been too much for her. With filial devotion Sophie and Hans didn't take the step. If they had converted there may well have been a chance that Sophie at least might have been beatified by now since her death almost certainly constituted martyrdom given that her work was motivated by her Christian faith. If that had happened today might have been her feast day.

However, today is her dies natalis. Like the Coptic martyrs, we Catholics must also acknowledge the heroic witness of fellow Christians, as did Pope Francis in his speaking about those pious Egyptian men martyred for Christ by ISIS. The Holy Father has spoken of an "ecumenism of blood" uniting us, and that is true. Regardless of their Christian denomination, if a person sincerely lays down their life for Christ, even those not in the fullness of the truth, they are martyrs for having offered the greatest sacrifice of all for Christ. Remember martyrdom wipes out all sin, it surely wipes out all error too. In Christ's eyes, when he sees the soul of one who freely accepted death rather than deny him, he sees the witness of love. 

That said, as I have wondered before, in Sophie's case, if it is possible to prove her intention of entering the Church could we put her forward for beatification: we have martyr Saints (St Genesius among them) who were not baptised but their martyrdom was a baptism in blood, and we also have incidents of baptism by desire: would it be possible to see Sophie in similar terms in regard to her desire and her martyrdom? Just wondering. 

Sophie's stand reminds me of the work of many today. She died because she was telling the truth, she and her companions were informing Germans about what lay behind the regime and how the war was going - badly for Nazi Germany. Today we have men and women who are also telling truth about many things and they too are being persecuted for it. Members of the Iona Institute in Ireland here come to mind. David Quinn and Breda O'Brien are two fine people of faith who seriously reflect on where Ireland is going, and using verifiable, empirical evidence, show that the path we are taking will ultimately be disastrous not just for individuals but for our people as a whole. For this they are attacked, pilloried, they even get death threats on a regular basis. The media treat them aggressively, totally unwilling to listen objectively to what they and their colleagues have to say. Like John the Baptist they are crying in the wilderness and no one wants to listen. They will be proved right because they are drawing on what has happened in other countries, places where our permissive citizens's ideological comrades are now in denial, throwing oil on the fire they have caused thinking it will quench the flames. 

Perhaps today we might pray for those who tell the truth in our midst and suffer for it. Like Sophie they have weighed up the consequences and have decided that service to the truth outweighs the dangers. That is real courage.