Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Enemy Within?

Pope Benedict says something very interesting in his new book concerning some who hold professional positions in the Church - it has been referred to by a few blogs.  Here is what he says:

“The bureaucracy is spent and tired. It is sad that there are what you might call professional Catholics who make a living on their Catholicism, but in whom the spring of faith flows only faintly, in a few scattered drops.”
Some bloggers have been more explicit and ask why those who dissent from Church teaching hold so many important positions in the Church?   Indeed, in some countries they completely hold the reins of power and are engaged in an attempt to remould the Church according to their agenda - we see this notably in western countries. 

This has always baffled me, to be honest.  I saw bishops appointed who should never have been ordained priests at all because they do not believe, and their dioceses are in disarray, often in rebellion.  I see religious who long ago lost their faith at the helm of important Church projects.  I see Catholics who despise the Pope and Church teaching in positions of formation and catechesis.  I know of catechists who do not believe in the devil, among other things, and chide the children they are examining if they do believe in him - so much for the first baptismal vow.  And in their disbelief, these poor saps become putty in the devil's hands.  I know of children formed for First Communion by people do not believe in the Eucharist, and so these children have had no formation in Eucharistic theology - they see it as mere bread - victims of their teachers' disbelief.  

And then there are those who hold important positions who filter what comes from the Pope, reinvent Catholic teaching and feed this to the faithful as "official teaching".  I see women and men, priests and religious in the forefront, publicly denouncing the Pope and Church teaching, branding it as lacking in compassion, and, slaves to the intellectual, social and sexual promiscuity of this Godless age, they make themselves out to be the epitome of compassion, the ones who "really understand" the poor human condition and know how to respond in a "real Christian way".  They lead souls on a merry dance away from Christ and his Church and offer them a frail idol which they themselves have manufactured - made in their own image and likeness.  And what is said to them?  Nothing.  Their dissent is greeted with silence.  Many of them hold positions of power within the Church and not a move is made to get rid of them.  Long ago they lost their faith, now they are in rebellion but they do not have the good grace to leave the Church; and the Church continues to pay their wages and provide them with a living.  And they will stay because they know that if they leave their comfortable lifestyle is gone and no one will listen to them anymore. 

Yes, the Church needs reform alright.

Monday, November 29, 2010

New Beginnings

Things are gathering pace with the foundation of the first Ordinariates for former Anglicans.  Just last week the Bishops of England and Wales, no doubt prompted by the Holy Father's words to them during his recent visit to the UK, announced the first would be established in January.  In the same month five Anglican bishops will be received into full communion, bringing with them, according to reports, fifty Anglican priests and hundreds of laymen and women.  So it is all about to begin.  Who will be appointed Ordinary has yet to be seen.  Will the Ordinary be a bishop?  Again, yet to be seen.   Those ex-Anglican clergy who wish to be ordained Catholic priests can apply to Rome, and those who are accepted will be ordained around Pentecost - they will serve the Ordinariate.  We must accompany them with our prayers.  Our Lady must be filled with great joy to see her children returning to full communion with the Church.  I have no doubt Our Lady of Walsingham has been interceding with her Son for these days.

On this topic, Damian Thompson has drawn my attention to Bishop Andrew Burnham's final homily as an Anglican bishop.  It is a beautiful, poignant piece of writing, revealing his deep faith and his personal struggle.   According to Damian, at the end of the service Bishop Burnham laid his mitre and crozier at the feet of Our Lady.  Touching and impressive, but also symbolic - he has laid aside his position in the Church of England and his living, including his income and security, to enter into full communion with the Church (take note cradle Catholics who take things for granted!).   Instead of just providing a link, I'm posting his homily below.  As one commenter on a blog said, it is a pity more Catholic bishops and priests do not preach as well as this.  Indeed!  As I have said before, I think in Andrew Burnham's entry into full communion and, hopefully, his ordination to the priesthood, we are getting a gem.  
In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? John 14:2
Thank you, all of you, for getting out the snow-chains and coming here today. It was a bit of an after-thought to put on this service: I am supposed to be on Study Leave and I knew, in my heart, that it would turn into Gardening Leave, that I should be resigning rather than returning to the work of a bishop in your midst. But I shall always remember my wife, Cathy, telling the students at St Stephen’s House on the Leavers’ Course, that it is vital to leave properly, to say your goodbyes, and move on. It’s not quite what the Americans call ‘closure’ but it’s something like it. It is what distinguishes a decent departure from a death. In some ways, leaving is uncomfortably like dying. As I sit in my office, I hear about what is going on. Other bishops providing cover: and we are already grateful to Bishop Lindsay Urwin for that. The Council of Priests meeting and talking about what kind of Bishop of Ebbsfleet is needed in future. Stories that suggest that people are not moving off but simply moving on, looking forward to a new bishop and life returning to normal.

Death is often cruelly disruptive, leaving all kinds of unfinished business, and a multitude of ‘if onlys’. A decent departure sorts out some of the things that need to be sorted out, makes proper arrangements. I keep returning to the Passion Narrative and the departure of Jesus. Make no mistake, I have no delusions of grandeur but, as I said in my Pastoral Letter, I have found the Farewell Discourses in St John’s Gospel immensely rich. As I said in that letter:

‘Looking through the Farewell Discourses, there is not only Jesus going ahead to prepare a place but also the promise of a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit (John 14). Jesus is the True Vine and, cut off from him, we can do nothing but wither and be thrown into the fire and burned (John 15).  His new commandment is to love one another. ‘By this shall men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one for another’. The work of the Spirit is to guide us into all the truth (John 16:13) and to glorify the Father and the Son. Thus our sorrow will be turned into joy. We learn of the gift of Peace, which, amidst the tribulation of the world is found only in Christ. Finally Jesus prays for the gift of Unity (John 17). It is that gift of Unity, I believe, which is offered to us, and through us eventually to all separated Christians, in the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. It is because it is a gift of the Holy Spirit, abiding in his Church, that I believe I must accept it and invite others to come with me on the journey.’

“I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you.”  Jesus’ departure was a death, but it was a death that brought about salvation, and, part of the secret of doing that, humanly speaking, was the way he prepared his disciples and what he was then going on to do. Jesus’ death was a departure but in no sense was it a decent departure. There was the cruelty of the Passion, the desolation of Golgotha, the anguish of the Pièta, and the chill of the sepulchre. My point is that it is that departure – that death – explained beforehand and back-announced gloriously in the Resurrection that must inform all our attempts to be disciples of Jesus. And so, a decent departure, explained beforehand and – who knows? – back-announced in what comes later. That isn’t a Messiah complex but an attempt to follow Jesus, as a disciple.

So what am I leaving behind? 75 parishes – not to mention the couple of dozen parishes I lost in Exeter diocese two or three years ago, a loss which I still notice. The mostly wonderful – and otherwise usually loveable – priests who serve those parishes. Fr X who calls a spade an ‘effin’ shovel’. Fr Y whose private generosity to me and support has been extraordinary. Fr Z who gets in touch every few months with yet another tranche of candidates for me to confirm. And then there are those people who must be named: Vicky Hayman and Jackie Ottaway in the office, and former staff, who have kept the whole thing going.  Alan who has driven me around for nearly ten years and has heard me gently snoring through the ten o’clock news as he has driven me home. Fr Bill, my chaplain, who has left my stuff behind in a whole variety of sacristies but who has gone round the bun fights doing most of the Bishop’s pastoral work for him. The team has been fabulous. And there are others too: His Honour Mr Judge Patrick, who used to give me free legal advice and support but who, now he’s a judge is no longer allowed to. The two or three deans who have kept in touch on the phone more or less every week for ten years. Talking of which I should mention my Council of Priests, which became a Council of Friends. The people of the parishes, showing time and time again a commitment to the Lord and to each other which I have found humbling, instructive, and life-enhancing. Various key lay people – on the Lay Council, running Brean, turning up at Parish Evangelism Weekends – serving with devotion and skill.

I’m also leaving behind the hugely maddening Anglo-catholic movement: its frailty and fearlessness, its humour and its holiness. It is a home for some slightly disreputable characters – and the ministry of Jesus specialised in being at table with slightly disreputable characters. Ten years touring round the West and the South West has had its moments. No time for anecdotes, but there was the time when I stopped at a service station and bought two cups of tea, which I promptly dropped all over ‘me privates’. From Burnham-on-Sea (Burnham-on-Crouch?) back to Oxford in a sodden suit. What would people have thought had I been on the way there rather than on the way back?

The Anglo-catholic movement has fought a losing battle for 150 years, trying to convince the Church of England that she would be Catholic if only she conformed herself to the Catholic Faith and fully embraced Catholic Faith and Order. It was a losing battle when I was a little boy of ten, told off for sticking saints’ names into the Confiteor at the Early Communion. It was a losing battle when I was twenty and Fr Hooper was still going strong at Mary Mags, filled to the gunwales despite its extreme churchmanship. It is a losing battle now, as the General Synod presumes to discuss matters of Faith and Order on which classical Anglicanism always claimed to have the same view as the universal Church, the Church of the First Millennium, East and West.

But I love the Church of England – the mainstream bit – and shall miss her. She taught me the psalms and the Revised Standard Version. She taught me about music in the service of God. She taught me about the beauty of holiness. Oh yes, the naughty excitement of the Folies Bergère may be available in Anglo-catholic worship but the dull dignity of cathedral worship, the seemliness and the decency, is something I shall also miss. I have tried to gather some of that up in today’s service. There is nothing more Anglican than Herbert Howells’ Collegium Regale, ‘Let all mortal flesh keep silence’ by Edward Bairstow, one-time organist of York Minster, and the psalm chant by George Thalben-Ball, long-time organist of the Temple Church. There is little more beautiful in literature than the Cranmerian cadences of the traditional language of the Prayer Book, which, rather unusually, we are using today. I shall even miss some of those in the mainstream whom I have known and with whom I have worked.

So, if leaving well is calling to mind what one will miss, then I am learning to leave. If it is about looking forward to what is coming next, then I’m not sure: I have never been less sure of how the future will unfold. But, finally – and I have given up trying to make this address into a proper sermon – I must say, if I am to leave properly, thank you for all you have done for me, for all you have been for me, and for all you are to me, and always will be to me. For many, I hope it will be ‘see you soon’ rather than ‘good-bye’ but, on your journey of discipleship, look not to me but to the Lord whom we serve. He alone can teach us how to be pilgrims on the way that leads to Paradise.

In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

One Year Today

This day next year the new translation of the Missal will come into use in Ireland and other English speaking countries.  It will be interesting to see how it will fare. The translation has its virtues and, yes, we have to be honest and admit it, it has some awkward phrasing in parts - but then the translation we are using now has a number of problems, one of them being accuracy of translation.   I will also be interested to see how the priests take to it.  Certainly the celebration of the Mass will change - the formulation of the prayers will conspire against the rushed Mass and that will be no harm.  The Mass will be more obviously transcendent, and I can see that causing problems for some who are more comfortable with emphasising the community meal aspect of the Eucharist, and that will be no harm either - time to be more balanced in our approach to the Mass.

I hope the new translation will bring and end to the coffee table Masses I and so many of my generation had to endure.  Certainly the language of the new translation will not suit the atmosphere of the priest in ill-fitting, multi-coloured jumper and baggy corduroys waving a piece of sliced pan and glass of wine in the air and proclaiming liberation and self-affirmation.  It's a wonder I have any faith left never mind a vocation!  However being a realist, there will be some reactionaries that will hold out.  These same reactionaries have been doing a lot of grumbling lately, and I have even read that the self-styled progressives are looking for their own indult to allow them stick to the "traditional" translation.  Ironic given that they opposed the various indults given to allow the celebration of Mass in the Extraordinary Form.  I have even heard Summorum Pontificum mentioned by some, they're thinking they might be able to invoke it to hold on to the old translation, or to put it more correctly, to allow them to reject the new, official translation.   Ironies of ironies: how things turn around. 

But back to reality.  Veritas, our bishops' publishing house is preparing to print the new Missals, I only hope they do a good job.  I have that niggling feeling in that regard.  What will the Missal look like?  Will it be a throwback to the seventies with that awful graphic art we see so often in liturgical books, or will they try and produce a work of art.  I know CTS in the UK, and the American Bishops both aim to produce beautiful Missals, can the Irish rise to it?  They can when they want.  We will have to wait and see.  

In the meantime, we begin the last year of this translation.  Someone suggested that as we progress through the current Missal for the last time, we should tear out the pages as we go as a symbol of our moving on.  (Must get the Liturgy office on to design a paraliturgy for that!)  But I could not agree with it - the books deserve respect.  But what shall we do with them?  Will we leave them in the top cupboards of our sacristies, just in case Rome eventually grants an indult?  Recycle - keep the greens happy?  Bury them next time a grave is opened just as our modernist friends buried the relics of saints (sometimes whole bodies) in the graves of deceased parishioners after V II?   Burning them does not seem appropriate or respectful. 

Anyway, more pressing work - we have to prepare our parishioners.  Pray for us priests who have to do this.  In reality we are about to embark on a new, full scale catechesis on the Mass, and that will have its hairy moments.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Winter Wonderland?

Well, the snow and frost have hit Ireland again this year.  Last night the flakes began to fall and we knew we were in trouble.  Every time snow comes to Ireland there is a national emergency - we are not used to it.  Living with a mild climate as we do, heavy winter showers are rare.  Will we have a white Christmas?  Might. Though given the fact that I'll have to traipse to three churches scattered throughout the countryside with steep hills and sharp bends, the novelty and romance has gone out of it.  "We're walking in the air" does not come to mind, but rather,
"We're traipsing through the snow,
we're freezing on the icy breeze,
and everywhere we go,
the car just slips and slides!"   Etc...
Anyway, it's all just part of global warming.  As we sit in our cars crawling at 10 km an hour in Arctic conditions and praying rosaries that the next slide won't land us in the ditch, we'll think of the polar bears sitting on a diminishing iceberg cruising through the Mediterranean.  The tragedy of it!   Wouldn't it be a heroic gesture to change places with that polar bear?  And we all aim to be heroic, heroic in the Mediterranean - can there be anything as Catholic as that?!  

So tell me, I'm not an expert on this, but how does plummeting temperatures, snow, ice and hard winters in a once mild country fit into this global warming thing?  Or do we go for the revised version, "climate change"?

A New Saint?

The Irish Christian Brothers and Presentation Brothers are intensifying their work on the Cause of their founder, Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice.   According to their superiors, they are going to begin a campaign of prayer to beg a miracle from God to clear the way for Blessed Edmund's canonisation. 

Great news.  Ireland, once the land of Saints and scholars, has very few modern Saints.  The last Irish canonisation was that of a Dutch Passionist who devoted his life to serving the poor and sick of Dublin, St Charles of Mount Argus.  Unfortunately there was little interest in Ireland at the time of his canonisation which was more than disappointing.  Poor responses are not unique,  I'm afraid. I remember the beatification of our martyrs a number of years ago - again there was very little about it, and at the time some clergy felt like apologising to the Protestants for the Pope's decision to beatify them.  I hope that as we go in the direction of renewal, we will begin to take the process of beatification and canonisation more seriously - too many dismiss it.  Yet a Cause is a sign not only of God's providence and grace in a local Church, it is also a sign that that local Church is healthy.  So I hope the Brothers have much success, I will keep their efforts in my prayers.

After Blessed Edmund, the Venerable Matt Talbot - rumour has it there is already a miracle for him but so far nothing seems to be happening with it.  Then the Venerable Edel Quinn, Frank Duff, Fr John Sullivan.  Personally I would love to see a Cause opened for Ellen Organ (Little Nellie of Holy God), the canonisation of a child could bring great healing to the Church in Ireland.  She was only four when she died, but there is enough evidence to show she reached the age of reason and, it seems to me and many others, she lived a life of heroic virtue.  She was particularly devoted to the Eucharist - a great candidate for patron of First Communion children - badly needed given the poor state of catechesis in many places.  Some one once said to me the day Little Nellie's Cause is opened is the day we know the Church in Ireland is on the way to renewal.  I would agree. 

So now, Little Nellie, pray for Ireland, for renewal, that our land may once again become a land of Saints and scholars.

Ellen Organ ("Little Nellie")

Prayer for the Canonization of Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice
Heavenly Father, through the inspiration of your Holy Spirit and because of your love for your family, you chose Blessed Edmund Rice to be a husband, father, and religious brother; to work with the poor, to comfort the sick, and to establish new families of Religious Brothers in your Church.  Look favorably on his life, we ask you, and if it be for your glory, hear our prayers that he may soon be declared a Saint.  This we ask, as we ask all our prayers, through Christ, Our Lord.  Amen.

Prayer for a special favour

Lord God, who through the Holy Spirit inspired Blessed Edmund Rice to glorify you by the true Christian example of his life, grant through his intercession the petition I now make ( _____ ) and so hasten the day when his name shall be honoured among those of your Saints.  I ask this through Christ, Our Lord.  Amen.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

To all the members of the Fraternity in the US and Canada, and my blog readers there, I wish you a happy Thanksgiving.  In Ireland we have no such holiday or feast, and to be honest we could do with one.  Today we rarely take time to say thanks to the Lord for what we have received.  It is edifying that America, and secular America at that, still holds true to the spirit of this feast.

Last year myself and Fr Owen were over in Alabama just before Thanksgiving and we managed to attend EWTN's Thanksgiving dinner, celebrated a few days before the feast so all the staff could get to it. What a splash!  Everyone brought a dish, and what good cooks the staff of EWTN are!  It was all there - the turkey, the various vegetable dishes and yes, my favourite, pumpkin pie!  We don't get pumpkin pie in Ireland, but I had always wanted to try it.  When spending time in New York as a seminarian, the lovely ladies of Holy Child Parish got wind of my curiosity, and somehow managed to make one.!  Like an angel crying on your tongue, as Fr Owen would say.  Since then I convinced our housekeeper in Drogheda, Anne, to have a go at making a pie, and wow, she made a good one!  She also makes a mean Sacher Torte - better than the original.  Now that I am in Rathkenny though, such delights are gone (for the moment anyway!). Penance, you see, penance!

Of course Thanksgiving is more than pumpkin pie, lest you think I have turned into Homer Simpson; it is about giving to God what is his due.  Now I do not know who American atheists thank on this day, but for us believers we recognise that all good things come to us as gift, as unmerited, generous gift from our Creator, and the greatest gift of all is our redemption - the sacrifice Christ made for us to restore us and offer us salvation.  We give God thanks for that, and the greatest expression of that thanks is cooperation with his grace.

I see there is an American custom where the President of the US reprieves a turkey at Thanksgiving: President Obama was pictured on Irish TV granting pardon to this year's lucky bird - very nice.  But it would be even nicer if he reprieved the millions of American children who will die in abortion clinics during his presidency, and he adopted a pro-life stance.  Today, Thanksgiving day, perhaps pray for him and for all anti-life legislators that they may be converted and the gift of life that has been given to them they will see fit to respect it in others.

St Catherine the Philosopher

Got to love today's feast - for a number of reasons.  The first is the wonderful example St Catherine of Alexandria offers to us as we struggle to live in a difficult age, an age which is no longer convinced by the Gospel.  The image of St Catherine debating with the philosophers and showing them that Christianity is worthy of credibility, and does stand philosophically, is a powerful one for our time which is, perhaps, the greatest age of disbelief.  For her efforts she is the patron saint of philosophers and she wasn't even a philosopher herself - there is a real call to humility there for our friends engaged in that discipline.

Another reason we can celebrate today is because this feast was restored by the Venerable Pope John Paul II after some hasty changes following Vatican II suppressed it with the excuse that she probably never existed.  Now I know there are problems with the Acts of her martyrdom, but that is no reason to turf out a saint who has inspired devotion for centuries and where there is a strong tradition of her existence.   I do believe that during the 1960's, 70's and 80's a certain brand of scholarship got the upper hand and a number of Saints were cast aside. 

We all know of poor St Philomena and St Christopher. Interestingly there has been a reversal of sorts with these two also.  A few years after St Philomena was toppled (even though her sanctuary was never dismantled nor devotion there suppressed) an Indian bishop, whose cathedral was dedicated to Philomena and whose cult was strong among his flock, wrote to Pope Paul VI and asked him what the official word was. Pope Paul wrote back and told him to be at peace and to continue the devotions as before.  So what was going on there? Was it a case that on the one hand the Church suppresses the feast and says she never existed, but on the other the Pope encourages the faithful to continue their devotion to her?  Regarding St Christopher, recent historical research has revealed that he did exist - again the legends may not be true, but there was a martyr called Christopher whom the Church honours as a saint in heaven.

A most interesting case is that of St Simon Stock - as a Carmelite this caught my attention.  Doubts were expressed as to whether Simon existed or not.  It was decided that he did not, and so the feast was suppressed.  Once he was gone, there was now a problem with the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel - she did not appear, it was concluded.  When bishops in South America got wind of a possible assault on the feast, they raised the matter with the Pope.  Again he assured them that they could continue to celebrate the feast.  Meanwhile some researchers got to work and eventually compiled enough information to prove that St Simon did indeed exist: this evidence was submitted and the feast was restored.  I wonder if they apologised to St Simon.

Historical research is important, and the Church needs to keep an eye on what is going on.  But she must also be prudent.  A lot of mistakes were made in the crazy years that followed the Second Vatican Council, some have been rectified, and Pope Benedict XVI seems determined to deal with others.  Vatican II was a gift to the Church - it will prepare us for the New Evangelisation, but too many have tried to hijack it and use it to promote their own ends - people inside and outside the Church.  More prudence is needed.

The restoration of St Catherine's feast is a sign that things are changing, that the devotions and traditions of our faith are still relevant in an age when we do embrace new challenges and new expressions of the faith.  We are Catholic, we should never reject what is true and beautiful about our faith be it old or new.  Blessed John Henry Newman is a great model of this.  He was deeply planted in the rich soil of the Church's tradition, and because of that he could veer out on the great adventure of faith, discovering the hidden treasures and the deeper meanings.  His teaching on development of doctrine is based on this.  I'm sure St Catherine would heartily agree.  I wonder - do St Catherine and Blessed John Henry engage in philosophical and theological debates in heaven (with Aquinas as ref)?  If so, who would win - the gentle, sensitive priest and scholar, or the Virgin Martyr?  No contest there - the Virgin Martyrs win hands down every time!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Pope and Condoms 3

Fr Vincent Twomey, theologian and student of the Holy Father, had an excellent letter in the Irish Times this morning explaining what the Pope said.  It is an excellent piece which hits the nail on the head - it is also very clear. Well worth a read.  Fr Twomey is one of voices of faith and common sense in Ireland today, we would do well to listen to him.

To the Editor,
The Irish Times

Dear Madam,

Confusion has been caused by one sentence taken from the Pope's latest, book-length interview with a German journalist. This confusion was caused not by the media but by the incompetence of those entrusted with the translation of the German text into Italian. Contrary to widespread reports in the media based on the Italian translation, the Pope did not say (in the original interview) that using condoms my sometimes be justified to stop the spread of AIDS (The Irish Times, 22 November 2010).

What did he say?

After pointing out that, in the approach to dealing with AIDS, the fixation on the condom implies a trivialization of sex, against which we must fight, the Pope added (in the American translation which is an accurate rendering of the German text): "There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way towards recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can only really lie in a humanization of sexuality." In Italian, the opening phrase was translated as: "Vi possono essere singoli casi giustificati" (certain cases may be justified). The term justified is misleading, since it means that the act (using a condom) thereby takes on a positive moral quality, which it has not got. It is still a gravely sinful act. There is no mention of using the condom to stop the spread of AIDS.  The Pope goes on to affirm explicitly that this is not a real or moral solution to the problem, but in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.

 All the Pope is saying is that, for an individual living a life of sexual abandon (prostitution), the use of a condom might, just might, set off a process of self-reflection in that person which might lead to a more responsible attitude to the use of his sexuality. This is not a case of justifying the use of a condom.

Claims that the Church has changed her teaching are unfounded.

Yours truly,
D. Vincent Twomey SVD

Mark Wahlberg

We all have feet of clay, so we have to be careful when we cover personalities who have had a conversion and now offer a good example for us.  Just a few months ago a footballer was feted for his faith and his devotion to the Rosary, a couple of months later he was found to have transgressed and it left a bad taste in the mouths of many who had come to admire him.   As Christians we have to be aware that there but for the grace of God go any of us, and those who are admired and praised are as human as the rest of us. 

That said, I would like to draw your attention to an article on actor Mark Wahlberg.  Once a rowdy offender he is now a daily Mass-goer and communicant.  His change of heart and the example he sets within the film industry is what our Fraternity longs to see and prays for.  We will keep him and his family in our prayers.

By the way, if I may - are you a member of our Fraternity?  We pray each day for those in the theatrical and cinematic arts and seek to assist the Church in the renewal of culture.  If you are not, you might consider joining us.   Details of membership can be found here on our website, and you can join here

Learning From History

Ireland 2011?

Reading history is a worthwhile and profitable venture, something the men and women of our time should really make part of their lives, especially in these difficult times.  We have often heard the phrase that history repeats itself - not totally true, but history does influence the way we live now, whether we want to believe it or not, and as men and women are susceptible to making the same mistakes over and over again in each generation, history can serve as a wise teacher.  

Well, after listening to some on the radio yesterday, we could all do with a history lesson today.  On an afternoon talk show people were ringing in complaining about the state of the country - nothing new there.  But some of them wanted reform, no problems there either, but the way they wanted it was bordering on the naive.  "Get rid of the Senate" was one of the slogans.  Some even wanted rid of the Dail.  You could dismiss such comments if they were uttered only by a certain constituency in the country, but such ideas are now common parlance.  Now our parliamentary structure is not perfect, but when Eamon DeValera, the one who drafted our Constitution, was trying to come up with a system of government, he tried to share out the State's powers so it would be incredibly difficult for one person to assume total power in Ireland.  The Constitution was written and adopted in 1937 at the height of fascism and communism in Europe.  DeValera saw how Hitler came to power, how Lenin and Stalin rose to control half a continent, and wanted to make sure that no tyrant could do the same in Ireland. 

Now our system needs reform, no doubt about that.  Our Senate does need to be restructured to give it more power, with less dependence on the Dail, so as to be able to throw a spanner in the works when the Dail wants to rush through legislation - at the moment, for the most part it merely rubber stamps Bills.  It needs to be a real and effective check on the government and the lower chamber. We also need to open the franchise for the Senate - at the moment only certain citizens can vote in a Senate election.  But to get rid of the fine balance of power shared between partners in the state seems to me to be opening a Pandora's box.  It was in similiar circumstances - economic chaos and frustration, that Hitler could convince the Germans he had the answers, and they were so desperate for improvement they endorsed his party and handed the state to him and Nazi tyranny took control of German democracy.

History teaches us not to be so silly, and people who are willing to throw out the checks and balances because they are angry or desperate, are silly because there may indeed be another Hitler waiting in the wings to step into the void.  Is what I say stupid, unrealistic?  Well, that is what the Germans would have said in the 1930's.  Things may be difficult, but that does not mean we run around like headless chickens.

The Church has a long memory, she has lived through many such periods of history, and, hopefully, she listens carefully to history.   The state could do well to imitate her in this.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Columbanus For Taoiseach!

Recent news from Ireland is not good.   In the past few days we have had to accept the IMF bailout, our government have had to face up to the fact that Ireland is facing financial ruin, and yesterday the junior partner in the coalition, the Greens, have said that they are pulling out of government and are "suggesting" that a general election be held in the second part of January.   Many thought the Taoiseach would go to the President last night to request a dissolution of the Dail (our parliament) and call a snap general election.  He didn't - he said that they will stay to see the budget through - due in a couple of weeks and expected to be the harshest since the foundation of our state.   So all not well here on the Emerald Isle, which does not shine with as much vigour as it once did.

But today we celebrate the feast of one of our greatest Saints, St Columbanus. When we Irish are in the doldrums having made a mess of our economy, it might be a good idea to look to those who are the glory of our land and see why they are.   Columbanus is probably the Irish St Paul - this is what I told my parishioners at Mass this morning.  Like Paul he left everything and offered himself to the Lord to preach the Gospel in foreign lands. 

Columbanus was a monk of the monastery of Bangor and its principle teacher at one stage, but he heard another call (the call within the call) - to be a pilgrim for Christ.  So with twelve volunteers he left Ireland and set out for Gaul (France) to assist in the re-evangelisation of Europe.   There, as good Irish Saints always do, he started founding monasteries all over the place - the Irish were great for founding.  These communities lived according to Columbanus' own Rule.  If St Benedict's Rule is known for balance, Columbanus' is a bit on the severe side, and this caused a few problems for the Gauls (les French).  This, and few other Gospel quirks like being faithful to the teachings of Christ, caused offence, and next thing he was being herded out of Gaul and told to go back where he came from. 

Well, Columbanus being Irish he had that stubborn streak that can almost be virtuous, and so he went to Italy to bring Christ back to the Italians - no mean feat.  Again, he got the itch to found and he established a monastery at Bobbio which would become the jewel in his crown.  Bobbio became one of the most important monasteries in Europe, and a great centre of learning and evangelisation.  It was there that Columbanus died in 615 at the age of about 70.  He has left us his Rule and a number of writings which are noted for their zeal and literary beauty - we Irish don't do things by half, as you see from the financial crisis - if we're going to ruin the country, then we'll do it right!

I'm told that a few years ago the Irish bishops made a request to the Pope that St Columbanus be declared the seventh patron of Europe - a marvellous suggestion.  He would be an ideal candidate, although I suspect there may be some who think seven patrons would be enough and the last place should be given to a man, not yet sainted, who had an important role to play in the liberation of Europe in the 20th century - one who who also represent the popes among the patrons.   But no harm to make the suggestion. 

St Columbanus reminds us Irish of what is most important in life, and now that we need to start again and begin a badly needed renewal in all areas of Irish life we would do well to listen to him and to the Christ he devoted his life to serving.  We need a new Columbanus in Ireland today (and in Europe which needs re-evangelisation again), pray that Lord will send us one.  In the meantime, we can but ask our great missionary Saint to help Ireland at this time, and to assist  the Apostolic Visitators in their work for the renewal of the Church in our land.    In fact, perhaps dear Columbanus might do a good job in getting the country back on its feet - we probably a need a tough Abbot to sort us out, a man not used to mincing his words and one well used to austerity!  No better man than Columbanus!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Oprah "Heaven"

After yesterday's controversy, we need a good laugh, and here it is:

Blessed Cecilia, Appear In Visions!

For those involved in music, today's feast day is a great solemnity - St Cecilia's day.  In my pre-priest days, when singing, many times I invoked the holy virgin and martyr of Rome as I went to face the terror of the audience, praying my voice would hold up and that my singing teacher would be filled with divine charity should anything go wrong!  Thankfully, good old Ciss up in the heavenly choir heard the prayer!

We know something about St Cecilia.  She was a Christian of Rome who suffered for the faith around the year 250 or so.  She was married, but remained a virgin while converting her husband, St Valerian, and his brother: they would also be martyred for the faith.  Her persecutors tried a few times to dispatch her, finally trying to behead her, making a bags of the job and leaving her to die: she lingered for a few days.  She was buried in the Catacombs of St Callistus, near the chamber of the popes - so she must have been a notable figure in the Church of Rome.  Her body was translated to a church built over her home after the persecution ended.  In the 1599 her body was exhumed and found incorrupt: the sculptor Stefano Moderno preserved in a marble statue an image of the body as it was found at that time.

Cecilia is often depicted with a musical instrument - a pipe organ, violin, even a double bass!   There is little chance she played a musical instrument, she may even have been tone deaf, but she is the patron of music and musicians because we are told in one of the ancient Acts of her martyrdom, that she was singing a hymn to the Lord in her heart when she was being married to Valerian - a sign that God was the first in her life and she was determined to remain true to him.  She did, her martyrdom is proof enough of that.  So her patronage evolves from an image used to reveal her absolute fidelity to God and her love of him.  That is the lesson for us today.  Our musician friends can also see that, like Cecilia, they are invited to offer a hymn of praise to him through their lives and their work.  So today, we pray for all musicians, may their patroness watch over them, intercede for needs and bring them to the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ.

As you would expect there are many musical works about and dedicated to St Cecilia.  One of my favourites is Benjamin Britten's Hymn to St Cecilia, a setting of a poem by W H Auden.  I used to love Britten, particularly his sacred works, but in the last few years I have chilled towards them: technically interesting, they lack a warmth and devotion which should really distinguish sacred music from other types.  The Hymn to St Cecilia still bears up somewhat, despite being written by Auden, a man not known for faith.  The poem is quite secular and strange, but its chorus is lovely:
Blessed Cecilia appear in visions
to all musicians appear and inspire.
Translated daughter come down and startle
composing mortals with immortal fire.
In honour of our Saint, here is a video of the piece.  Interestingly today is the anniversary of Britten's birth, appropriate for one who would be a composer.

Prayer for the feast of St Cecilia

Blessed Cecilia,
beloved virgin of Christ and martyr,
listen to our prayers and assist us in our needs.
For all musicians obtain from God the grace
to come to know and love him
who has blessed them with such wonderful graces and talents
so in their hearts, their lives and their works
they may praise him, as you did.
Help them, dear Saint,
that through faith, hope and love,
they may they come into his presence,
leading others through their fidelity
and evangelical witness of their music.

Let us pray.

Lord of mercy,
be close to those who call upon you.
With St Cecilia to help us
hear and answer our prayers.
Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Pope and Condoms 2

Dr Janet Smith has an excellent article on the recent controversy in Catholic World Report.   It would be a good idea to read the whole article, but here is the important bit:
We must note that the example that Pope Benedict gives for the use of a condom is a male prostitute; thus, it is reasonable to assume that he is referring to a male prostitute engaged in homosexual acts. The Holy Father is simply observing that for some homosexual prostitutes the use of a condom may indicate an awakening of a moral sense; an awakening that sexual pleasure is not the highest value, but that we must take care that we harm no one with our choices.  He is not speaking to the morality of the use of a condom, but to something that may be true about the psychological state of those who use them.  If such individuals are using condoms to avoid harming another, they may eventually realize that sexual acts between members of the same sex are inherently harmful since they are not in accord with human nature.  The Holy Father does not in any way think the use of condoms is a part of the solution to reducing the risk of AIDs.  As he explicitly states, the true solution involves “humanizing sexuality.”

Anyone having sex that threatens to transmit HIV needs to grow in moral discernment. This is why Benedict focused on a “first step” in moral growth. The Church is always going to be focused on moving people away from immoral acts towards love of Jesus, virtue, and holiness. We can say that the Holy Father clearly did not want to make a point about condoms, but wants to talk about growth in a moral sense, which should be a growth towards Jesus.

So is the Holy Father saying it is morally good for male prostitutes to use condoms? The Holy Father is not articulating a teaching of the Church about whether or not the use of a condom reduces the amount of evil in a homosexual sexual act that threatens to transmit HIV.  The Church has no formal teaching about how to reduce the evil of intrinsically immoral action.  We must note that what is intrinsically wrong in a homosexual sexual act in which a condom is used is not the moral wrong of contraception but the homosexual act itself.  In the case of homosexual sexual activity, a condom does not act as a contraceptive; it is not possible for homosexuals to contracept since their sexual activity has no procreative power that can be thwarted. But the Holy Father is not making a point about whether the use of a condom is contraceptive or even whether it reduces the evil of a homosexual sexual act; again, he is speaking about the psychological state of some who might use condoms.  The intention behind the use of the condom (the desire not to harm another) may indicate some growth in a sense of moral responsibility. 


Well, the damage has been done.  Listening to RTE radio news this morning on the way to 10am Mass in one of my chapels of ease, I hear from the news reader that Pope Benedict has allowed the use of condoms in certain exceptional circumstances.  That is the message that is being broadcast throughout Ireland today. 

More good online articles:  this time from  Thomas Peters and Matt BowmanFr Finigan laments L'Osservatore Romano's breach of the embrago on the Seewald book.


Damian Thompson is sticking by his guns.  His position: "Like it or not, the Holy Father made it clear that the use of condoms is sometimes permissible to stop the spread of the virus".   Fr Lombardi in an official statement contradicts Damian's view.

The Pope and Condoms

I go away to Belfast for the day, and the whole place falls asunder.  When we got back my colleague over at the St Genesius Blog tells me that the Telegraph had an online article which reported that the Pope was changing the Church's teaching on the use of condoms.  Well, I said to myself, there must be something more subtle going on here.  I get back to my computer and log on and Damian Thompson is reporting it, congratulating the Pope for his charity and common sense.  What's going on?  I ask myself.  I notice Damian uses the word "modify".  

Well, I am taken aback, but I go searching, and found some good, informative articles on The Catholic World Report, the Catholic Herald Online and The Curt Jester which reveal that the Pope is not changing Church teaching at all.  The remarks come in Peter Seewald's new book interview with  Pope Benedict. First thing to remember, he is a theologian, he thinks and sees nuances and possibilities, something the media does not, so if the media are reporting that the Pope has changed Church teaching, they have got the wrong end of the stick.

So what is the Pope saying?  Is it okay in certain circumstances to use condoms?  Is he saying using a condom will help fight AIDS?  With regard to the second question the answer is still "no": he stands by what he said on the flight to Africa.  With regard to the first question, this is what he said:
There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralisation, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanisation of sexuality (emphasis added).
When asked for a clarification by Seewald - is the Church not opposed to the use of condoms in principle, Benedict says:
She, of course, does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.
So the answer is more subtle and in keeping with the Church's teaching on sexuality, as taught by Humanae Vitae, as you seen when you read the comments carefully.  He is saying that in certain cases - male prostitutes, the decision to use a condom, and so the attempt to be more responsible, may be a step towards embracing proper sexual morality - note: "a step towards".  Patrick Archbald over at Creative Minority Report sums it up well, quoting Time Magazine, of all things -interesting article there too.  See also Fr Z, and CNA.  An excellent analysis by my friend Christopher over at Catholicus.

Of course the media are gone off in their usual frenzy, God forbid they find the truth.  But I do think the Church, and the Holy Father, have to be aware of this aspect of the media - subtlety doesn't exist in the world of the sound byte - and so the theologian may need to bear this in mind when speaking.  Few will sit down and read the Pope's actual words, but many will hear the sound byte and what seems like a confirmation from the Pope and then be led into error.  I think those involved in media relations in the Church are going to have to sit down and find a way in which statements like the above are presented in a way that does not give the wrong impression. 

The situation the Pope is referring to reminds me of a question I was once asked: "Is it wrong for a couple who are unmarried to use contraception when having sex?"  The answer to that is simple: we do not even have to address the question of contraception in this case - they are already committing mortal sin in having sex outside marriage.   The solution: Bob Newhart's.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Changes and New Beginnings

Today I am travelling up to Belfast for the monthly meeting of my Carmelite Community.  As you know I am a Secular Discalced Carmelite.  Our community meets on the third Saturday of every month in the Poor Clare Convent on the Cliftonville Road.  It was providence which brought me to this community rather than one in Dublin.  Our community, dedicated to the Holy Cross, has struggled to survive for many years, and now we have the honour to be the oldest Secular Order community in Ireland.  There are no Discalced friars or sisters in Belfast, so the members have not had the joy of their presence in the city.  Each month a friar comes from Derry to join us for the meeting and that is a big commitment which we appreciate.   Our members faced many difficulties and dangers during the years of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, thankfully none of them were killed in the fighting, but relations and friends were lost. 

Today's meeting will be eventful - it is election day.  We will elect a new President and Council who will govern our community for three years.  Also, today is my last day in formation.  Next month, on the 18th December, I will make my final profession, promising to live a life of poverty, chastity and obedience according to the Rule of St Albert and the Constitutions of Secular Discalced Carmel: I will become a member of the Discalced Carmelite Order for life.   So these last weeks will be a time of preparation.  

In case you are wondering, according to Canon Law as a diocesan priest I am allowed to join a Third Order, my promise of obedience is channelled through my bishop, but I am still a member of the Order - I can be buried in the habit!  Not that I want that to happen any time soon.  I have received many graces from my membership of the Order, and the other members have become my family.  Each month I "go home" to them and find great support and love from my Carmelite brothers and sisters.   To my brother diocesan priests I would highly recommend joining a spiritual family, be it a Third Order or any one of the many spiritual associations and secular institutes in the Church - they can be a great blessing for our priesthood and a refuge in times of difficulty.

So changes and new beginnings. 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Most Precious Blood of Jesus

This morning I will be offering a Votive Mass in honour of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus - probably the last time I will do so until after Advent and Christmas.  I often offer this Mass on Fridays of Ordinary Time because it is a devotion which is well worth reviving.  Since Vatican II devotion to the Precious Blood seems to have dropped out of Church's liturgical life.  The suppression of the feast of the Precious Blood, celebrated on the 1st July did not help.  Of course that feast was incorporated into Corpus Christi, but it has been lost, and little is now said about the Precious Blood.  I was most impressed when the Holy Father offered the Votive Mass during his visit to Britian - Westminster Cathedral is dedicated to the Precious Blood, so it was appropriate.  But I hope the Holy Father's choice will help revive the devotion.

Interestingly, devotion to the Precious Blood might actually help our relations with our Protestant brethern.  A friend of mine told me of a conversation she had with a relation of hers who has embraced evangelical Protestantism.  Her relation was railing against the Catholic Church and her idolotries.  My friend was reminded that we were saved by the Blood of Christ, and Catholics seemed to have forgotten that.  "Well actually", my friend responded with great gusto, "we haven't.  Fr John said the Mass of the Precious Blood this morning!"  

Some may find the devotion strange and off-putting.  I remember reading a critique of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ in which a disgusted (Catholic) critic balked: "It's all about the blood!!"  Yes, it is!  And that is what our salvation is all about - the Blood of Christ in which we were redeemed.  If Gibson has left that image in people's mind good for him, it's good theology.   We are saved by the shedding of Christ's blood.  Our redemption was won by the generous suffering of our Saviour, the Lamb who was slain and whose Blood flowed out to wash away our sins.  This Precious Blood is the fountain of grace in which we are renewed.  Devotion to the Precious Blood reminds us of this, and brings us to a great appreciation and greater gratitude.   It also helps deepen our Eucharistic faith.  When we receive Holy Communion we receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, and in that Communion his Precious Blood flows through us, filling us with his life and his grace.  The devotion is centred on Jesus, on his Sacred Heart and on his saving work; it is Christian, Biblical, theological and intimate.

In this difficult times we could worse than turn to the Precious Blood of the Lord. There are a number of beautiful prayers, but my favourite is the Litany of the Precious Blood.   Perhaps today, Friday, we might take a moment and pray that Litany for the world, for our suffering brothers and sisters, and for any needs which may be occupying our mind and hearts at this time.  As we pray for the renewal of the Church in Ireland, I feel this prayer can bring great comfort and inspire confidence.

Precious Blood of Jesus, save us.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Lamb of God

After the last post something to cheer us all up and inspire us to have faith and pray.  This is a piece by English composer John Tavener, The Lamb, a setting of a poem by William Blake, and the simplest musical structure ever, yet so beautiful.  In these times it is to the Lamb that we turn.  Which reminds me, that is how the Lord appeared in the apparition at Knock - the Lamb upon the altar. 

Is Ireland Going Down The Swanee?

Over the last few days the media has been reporting on the worsening economic situation here in Ireland.  Now the EU and IMF are urging our government to accept a bailout to help sort out the crisis, but our Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and Minister for Finance are resisting it.  Today, we are told, representatives from the EU and the IMF arrive in Dublin for "negotiations" with our government - economists and journalists see the writing on the wall - the IMF is about to take over and our government is in denial.  The British have told us that they are willing and ready to help us out - you imagine how that will be received by the Irish!

I am no economist, and to be honest when I listen to all the information which is being spilled out like blood in a abattoir, I get wheezy.  Are things that bad?   People are now saying that Ireland is about to lose her sovereignty, hard won back in the 1920's - although we have thrown a lot of it away with the various EU treaties we have signed up for.  But the big question is: is Ireland about to collapse?  We are being told that the future of the EU is at stake - we have heard that before too.  Is the Euro about to collapse too?   No harm, we never liked it anyway - Monopoly money which helped hike up the prices here. 

People are in a bad way here - I look around and see unemployment going up and despair rising with it.  Every time I go to Dublin now I see many more sleeping on the streets - not just the Roma who run an organised begging business, but others - ordinary Irish, sleeping in doorways - not dishevelled and dirty, but clean and respectable, now hiding behind cardboard.  Our suicide rate is rising, although there may be other factors there - the loss of faith tends to have a role to play there, but certainly many people feel like there is no way out of their troubles. 

But, you know, we have been travelling to this point for a long time, even when the economic boom made us one of the richest countries in the world.  Some have said that the Irish did not know how to handle wealth - and you know, I agree with that.  When we got wealthy we lost a lot of our humanity, and we lost our faith.  Someone once said to me about five years ago that the Irish had no civility - they had money now and they were bossy and ignorant, unmannerly - our wealth went to our heads and we thought we were "IT".   I have to agree with that.  Many Irish were insufferable.  As a priest I experienced many Irish looking down their noses at me and my faith - the superstitions of peasants, now they were rich they no longer had need for such childish occupations.  Perhaps we have ended up where we deserve to be - the pariah of Europe.  We need to learn humility.  A friend to mine once said that it takes a lot of humiliation to learn a little humility - is this the programme laid out for Ireland's return to faith?

Perhaps I am being too harsh.  There are those who do need to be taken down a peg or two, we leave them to God, but there are also those who are suffering, many of whom did not benefit from the Celtic Tiger in the first place - my heart goes out to them.   Our charities are under tremendous strain - the Society of St Vincent de Paul, which I have worked with for a number of years, is counting the pennies and relying on God's providence.   I can only hope that the Lord will look after them and keep the money rolling in.  Some cases the organisation have to deal with are shocking, crippling debts that cannot be sorted and whatever help the Society can give is a mere drop in the ocean. 

Well, I think now is the time for faith.  We have landed ourselves in pickle - an enormous, acidic pickle jammed in a jar, and I think it is bringing to us to have a good look at ourselves.   It is the old story over again - man messes up, God has to sort it out - such is our fallen humanity.  I pray something good will come out of all this, and I pray that that will be a return to our faith and a healthy distrust of the prestige wealth and status (and sophistication) bring.   I believe things will be sorted, but in the meantime we need to look after our new poor.  Time, perhaps, for new Catholic foundations to reach out to them.  Who knows, maybe all of this will help in the renewal of the Church in Ireland. God alone knows, so we must let him guide us. 


Before I head to bed, I was checking a few things on the net.  My attention was drawn to this article on CNA - the Holy Father has personally appealed to Pakistan not to execute a Christian mother, Asia Bibi, arrested and found guilty of defaming Islam and Muhammad.  Her crime - she defended her Christian faith.  Urgent prayers are needed to save her life.  

We have too many Christians being murdered in Islamic countries because they will not renounce Christ or, when accused of being members of a "false religion" seek to defend their faith, they are denounced and criminalised and even executed.    Asia's condemnation is being appealed, and the Pakistani government is being inundated with letters and emails calling for her release and for religious freedom.  No harm to add our voices to that.  Given that so many Christians, including Christian clergy, sent millions to assist Pakistan in their recent floods, it is hard to believe that they would repay us by killing one of sisters for the very faith which motivates our charity.
Heavenly Father,
hear our prayers for your daughter Asia Bibi,
assist her in her difficulties.
As you sent an angel to free Peter from his chains,
now send your holy messenger to deliver our sister from persecution,
protect and save all your disciples who suffer for the sake of the Gospel.

Mary, our Mother, Queen of Martyrs, pray for her.

Pakistani embassies and High Commissions:

Embassy of Pakistan,
Ailesbury Villa, 1-B,
Ailesbury Road,
Dublin 4.
Tel: 01 2613032-33 

High Commission for Pakistan,
34 – 36 Lowndes Square,
London SW1X 9JN
Tel: 020 7664 9227

Embassy of Pakistan,
3517 International Court NW,
Washington, DC 20008
Tel: 202-243-6500

High Commission for Pakistan
10 Range Road
Ontario K1N 8J3
Tel:(613) 238-7881-2

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Church Art 2

Reflecting on my earlier post today, I was considering the state of Church art today.  Now if there is a minefield in the Church today, art is it.  Traditionalists fight with Modernists, contemporary conceptualists with figurative realists, Bauhaus with gothic, etc..etc..etc. 

I remember visiting a hospital in Dublin a few years ago - I went into the chapel to say hello to the Lord.  After finishing my prayers I was confronted with an amorphous mass,  a lump of misshapen wood which was described as the Virgin and Child.  Now if I was the sculptor I would pray for a long life, because I do not think the Holy Mother would have been impressed with the attempt to depict her.  It was dreadful, an ugly piece of work which, in my opinion, would have been better employed keeping a poor family warm on a cold winter's night!   But this is where art is now.

While many would disagree with me, I do think that many of the churches and commissioned pieces used to decorate them, are unworthy and inappropriate.  Do not get me wrong, I love modern art, but there is a line which, when crossed, turns art into rubbish - but then when you go to some museums some artists have turned piles of rubbish into art.  I'm not going near that argument today, but I am saying that there now needs to be a major revolution in the Church's approach to art in her places of worship. Since Vatican II there has been a real poverty of creativity and taste when it comes to our churches and images. 

I know that the Church is not always to blame.  They employ architects and artists who happen to be going through a particular phase, and so design churches and make images according to that phase - but they move on and our poor communities have to set up with the momentary fashion of an "evolving genius": quite!  Many go for a kind of naked minimalism.  Now minimalism is not bad - in music the late Henryk Gorecki was a minimalist, but he still knew how to craft his music so it would reach for the transcendent.  Alot of the minimalism in art and architecture today remains rooted in man, on earth - it seems to glorify the nihilistic: it is bare, empty, almost despairing and it appears to say: there is nothing, life is meaningless.  Space, instead of being lofty and pointing to the divine, hangs with a gloomy darkness, void in a vacuum.

We were told after Vatican II that this minimalism will help us concentrate on the Eucharist and the Divine Mysteries, but the evidence shows that the opposite has been the case.  Our modern churches are empty, our old, traditional churches are warm and full.  Some who employ these techniques see the liturgy as merely a community gathering, so all they need is a hall to meet - but churches are places of prayer, of catechesis, a place where the mind, heart and soul are to be lifted up to God, be inspired and catch a glimpse of heaven.  Beauty helps achieve this, not the bunker effect.

I have to say one of the most beautiful modern churches has to be Antoni Gaudi's Basilica of the Holy Family in Barcelona.  Now I know he was a genius like Michelangelo, but he can teach the artists and architects of our age how to design and build churches.  There are many great modern artists out there who understand what religious art is all about - many of them, interestingly are in Italy.   In Ireland, there are very few.  Many of those who study art in Ireland fall under the Bauhaus and relativist schools which scorn figurative and classical methods - they may even despise talent.  But there are a few.  One Irish sculptor worth noting is Dony MacManus.  He is truly a gifted artist.  Looking at his work, and the works of those like him, I see that there is hope for the future of religious art.  That revolution I hope for may indeed happen. 

Sculptor Dony MacManus

Church Art: Sell It or Keep It?

Last night at our film club in Dublin we watched The Agony and the Ecstasy, while reflecting on the relationship between the Church and art.  It is a wonderful movie with two great actors, Charlton Heston and Rex Harrison who spent most of the time pulling the hair out of each other, metaphorically speaking.  It was an opportunity to get reacquainted with the work of the great Florentine artist, sculptor, architect and poet, Michelangelo. 

One criticism that tends to made against the Church is her patronage of the arts and her preservation of artistic works.  Critics tell us that the Church should sell all her art and treasures and give the money to the poor.  I remember a story from the life of Archbishop Fulton Sheen.  Once, in conversation with a priest, the priest complained to Sheen that the Church should sell all her riches and property and give the money to the needy. Sheen looked him straight in the eye and asked him, "How much did you steal?"  The priest was shocked, but apparently he did steal - he had been taking funds out of his parish for his own use.  Sheen maintained that those who zealously propose this argument are hiding something themselves. 

That said, we can ask the question, why doesn't the Church sell all her art and treasures?  Having lived in Rome and had the opportunity to get inside the Vatican I can assure you that the riches of the Vatican are concentrated in the basilicas and chapels - for the glory of God, the museums, for the preservation of culture and to share with the world, and in some state rooms to dignify audiences.    The rest of the Vatican is quite simple and austere.  The pope's bedroom is said to be very simple, certainly video evidence shows that his apartment is very understated.    The various Vatican offices are anything but grandiose. 

So why so many treasures?  What about the Church's mission to the poor?  Well most of the treasures and art are either in the churches or museums.  First they beautify the house of God - while many modernists will complain about that, not even Jesus objected to it - he did not condemn the woman who poured expensive perfume over his feet - when Judas (remember - it was Judas the betrayer and thief who first raised the question!) objected the Lord did not agree with him.  Our churches are meant to be beautiful places - they are to be worthy of the worship of God.  Now of course, art in a church is not the great beauty of the Church - the holiness of her members is, but art is the fruit of man's creative work and his engagement with the beautiful: that too must be offered to God and used to worship him, and so the Church commissions art and decorates her churches with it.  I notice when various movements in the Church objected and denuded the churches of art, this art ended up in private homes - they take from God to keep for themselves.  Such was the way with the Protestant Reformation.  

Secondly, the Church preserves art to make it available to the world, and this is the role the Vatican museums play.  These pieces, if sold, would for the most part end up in private collections, and so be taken away from the world.  As the fruit of God's inspiration and man's labour, these pieces belong to the world. 

But there is another reason why the Church keeps them - to raise money.  Yes, she has to be practical.  The Vatican does not run on fresh air - and the donations of the faithful may not be enough to cover the cost of a world-wide mission - the entry fee to the museums helps finance that mission.  When speaking with those who say the Church should sell the art, I always ask them if they would be prepared to make up the loss of income - they always say "Absolutely not!" - relying on such charity, then, it is no wonder the Church has to have a reliable source of income. 

And what about the poor?  The Church is THE biggest charity in the world - her charitable works are part of her world wide mission, and so the monies earned from her various incomes goes to assist the poor in numerous projects around the world.  If she sold all her art, yes, a huge amount of money would go to the poor and then, when that was gone, it's gone.  As it is, with the world coming to see these treasures and paying admission, the Church can continue to finance her many charities year after year. 

So when you're next facing interrogation about the Church and art, remind the critics of these arguments, and then ask them if they are prepared to personally finance the Church's mission.  You'll find they'll not be too keen to do so, in fact with many of them they are not really interested in the Church's mission, may even be opposed to it, perhaps not even understand it.  Remind them, then, that Judas was the first to raise this question.  That should bring the conversation to an immediate end!