Tuesday, March 10, 2015

St John Ogilvie: The One Who Remained Faithful

I can't let this day pass without marking an important anniversary: today is the 400th anniversary of the martyrdom of St John Ogilvie, who died in Glasgow on the 10th March 1615. You can read an account of his life here.

St John was an extraordinary man, one noted for his courage,his ability and his devotion to his people. He was adamant in his defence of the faith and he preferred to die rather than renounce his Catholicism and his loyalty to Rome. His last action was to throw his rosary beads into the crowd, a wonderful bequest - one of prayer, tradition and witness to the Holy Mother of God. 

As we mark his anniversary, let us pray for priests. I learned today, sadly, that a priest here in Ireland has declared his support for the same sex marriage referendum - that public declaration causes great scandal since priests, servants of Christ, are meant to publicly uphold Christ's teachings - all of them. 

There is no love, no compassion, no excuse for endorsing what is wrong, regardless of what others think or want - we must stay true even if it means we are in the minority, even if it means we are persecuted or branded intolerant fundamentalists. Betraying Christ's teaching in order to be popular will only bring condemnation in the end. When the shepherds fail Christ, the whole flock suffers. 

St John Ogilvie, however, remained faithful and for this he continues to be remembered. May he pray for all of us.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Taking Life

If you have been following the recent debate about certain Catholic media's call for an end to the death penalty, you'll know things are quite heated. 

I'll put my cards on the table: I do not support the death penalty. I do not see that there is now a need for it since modern incarceration is so good. In principle I have a difficulty in ceding authority to the State to take the lives of its citizens because it can be abused, and it has. That said, I accept the teaching that is in the Catechism (CCC 2267), that there may be cases where, in order to protect human lives, certain offenders may be put to death, although as I write that I am uneasy. I know, having studied psychology, and with an interest in forensic criminal psychology (it comes in handy for Confessions!), there are some individuals, usually serial killers, who pose a very serious risk and may (may) fall under the need for the death penalty.

Anyway, the point of this post is to bring Dr Ed Peter's view on this to your attention. He reflects on the Catechism and St John Paul's teaching in Evangelium Vitae. It is worth reading. Whatever you think about it, this issue will always be controversial and we'll be discussing it for decades if not centuries to come. But, as we discuss it, I pray that such discussions and debates will always be dictated by charity, and decisions regarding the death penalty will be taken with due regard to authentic justice and mercy.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

To See Him As He Really Is

I was listening to a radio programme a couple of days ago in which a recent decision by a Christian company to refuse facilitating a service to a homosexual union was being discussed. One of the contributors, a journalist, was in-between minds as to who was correct, he understood both sides, he said. However, he mused, he said that Christians, if they followed Christ, would ask "What would Jesus do?" and this journalist said that Jesus would not have refused the service. 

Now that opinion reveals that this journalist doesn't know his Scripture or Christ, if he did he would know that Jesus would not act in opposition to his own moral teaching. However the comment, which we often hear, usually when musing on actions and situations contrary to Christian teaching, reveals the penchant modern people have of reinventing Jesus and his teaching to suit their opinions and contemporary mores. It is rooted in the dominant, erroneous view, that Christianity is simply being kind and tolerant about everything, never judging anything and letting people do what they like as long as nobody (or nobody significant) gets hurt.

Our Gospel today challenges this view. Jesus, meek and mild, gentle and permissive, has changed into what some moderns might regard as a ogre: he takes a rope, makes a weapon out of it and turns to violence to hurl contemporary businessmen out of the Temple. Not what one expects, or is it? 

We have to be careful when it comes to Jesus, he cannot be categorised, he defies our attempts to put him in a box: he is who he is. When we approach him we must do so with the hope of coming to know him as he is, to exorcise our preconceived ideas and images. One of the stages of the spiritual life, for example, is one in which we are purified of our image of Christ and God, our imagination is purged, emptied, we think we are abandoned, that the Lord has withdrawn and left us to shrivel up. In reality, God is trying to get the soul to abandon its image of God so He can reveal himself as he really is. This process is painful because it entails a real purgation of our devotional life. 

Jesus is Jesus, the eternal Son of God, he is not to be used to justify our thoughts, words, actions or opinions. It is for us to conform to him and that means we have to change, hence our need for Lent (and much more besides).

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Women Of Grace

A friend of mine told me the story of how she picked her confirmation name: Perpetua. She had heard the story of the great martyr, whose feast we celebrate today, and she wanted to emulate the heroism, but she also thought the name was unique, it stood out, set her apart: so she took it. She was a little embarrassed later. However in a conversation I managed to reassure her that it was a venerable name because it was the name of a venerable woman and she should be proud to call herself Perpetua.

What great women we celebrate today: St Felicity and St Perpetua. No one could accuse them of being shrinking violets, oppressed Christian women: they were strong, holy women: the finest example both of Christianity and womanhood. In them we see what St John Paul called the "feminine genius". 

St Perpetua's last words will certainly resonate with us in these times: "Stand fast in the faith and love one another".

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Martin Saints

It has been announced that the parents of St Therese of Lisieux, Blesseds Louis and Zelie Martin are to be canonised in October during the Synod on the Family. This is great news. A miracle is being examined and it seems it has cleared all the major hurdles, so it will probably be formally approved before the ceremony. 

News reports are saying that they will be the first married couple to be canonised together - I cannot be so sure of that since we have large groups of martyrs already canonised, foremost among them the Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese, and without examining them first I cannot say the Martins are the first. In those persecutions a married couple who had been martyred together may have been canonised. The Martins will be the first married couple whose Cause came under the Heroic Virtue catagory to be canonised together. 

Anyway, this is wonderful. In Carmel we will have two canonisations to celebrate this year, our sister Blessed Mary of Jesus Crucified will be canonised in May. What a wonderful double for this Teresian year. Let us ask the future Ss Louis and Zelie to pray for us all, for married couples and families, and for the Synod.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Pray For The Holy Father

I suppose we expected this: ISIS have threatened the life of the Holy Father. As the world's foremost Christian leader, it should come as no surprise that those martyring Christians would want to take a shot at the Pope. 

Well we can be sure Francis is surrounded by good men who can look after him, just as long as he lets them. He is courageous, no doubt about that, but let's hope he's not foolhardy and eschew the Swiss Guard.  In reality, the protection he receives, and the care that must be taken, is not about Bergoglio, it is about the Pope who belongs to the People of God. For our sake he must be prudent and take care. 

Let us pray for our Holy Father.

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.