For some reason things seem brighter this morning, even though the wind is howling outside and the rain is being dashed against the window. The appointment of Mgr Brown has me in much better form, it is like a streak of light, even if it's faint, in the darkness which is Ireland in these times. But we must pray hard that all will go well. So Catholics of Ireland, and all our friends around the world, please pray for the Church in Ireland.
And what a feast day today: St Catherine of Alexandria! I love this lady - she's a gal with guts, as some of my New Yorker friends would say, and indeed she is. No messing with this Virgin that's for sure. Like St Augustine, Blessed John Henry Newman and St Edith Stein she thought her way into the Church - she was, like them, a philosopher. Like them she had to take the final step in faith, and according to tradition, it was a vision which brought her in.
Like the three above, she did not retire into private life and keep her faith to herself: she proclaimed it, and even entered into a dialogue with her fellow philosophers. They could not confound her arguments and unable to surrender to the true God themselves, they denounced her to the authorities and she was put to death for her faith. Virgin and Martyr, Catherine wears the two crowns in heaven. The legend tells us they tried to kill her in a variety of ways, all of which failed, until they finally beheaded her. You know these Roman ladies were tough women - they do not die easily. As it took several attempts to execute Catherine, so too with St Cecilia and St Philomena.
Speaking of St Philomena, like her, Catherine was dismissed as a legendary figure during the upheaval surrounding Vatican II. She was taken off the calendar with St Christopher and a number of others. However, madness subsided, faulty scholarship was exposed, and Blessed John Paul II restored Catherine to the General Calendar in 2002. Interesting, even in these times Catherine is still falling foul of scholars.
I suppose these scholars were examining the legends, and saw that there was little evidence for most of what was contained in them: fair enough, but because the legend might not be entirely true does not mean the Saint did not exist and that the remains venerated in the tomb are not the relics of the martyr. With some of our martyrs we know very little about them, yet we know they were put to death for their faith and that devotion to them sprung up and their relics were venerated. Oftentimes that is enough for us.
The same can be said for St Philomena who, in terms of Saints, is very much the elephant in the room. While the cult was suppressed, the shrine was not touched and as clear from a letter of Pope Paul VI to a bishop in India, devotion to her may continue as before. It is a very strange situation. Again the controversy here surrounds a side issue - the slab which closed her tomb. Scholars maintain that she never existed because they believe the two parts of the slab were put in the wrong way round.
Yet they ignore the vital evidence: the body of a teenage girl ,who was most obviously beheaded, was found in the tomb. The usual phial of blood was found beside the body - always taken as a symbol of martyrdom and included at the burial of the remains - though scholars say in Philomena's case this cannot be taken as any evidence of martyrdom. They have also ignored the Church's investigation into the case and into the miraculous cure of the Venerable Pauline Jaricot, one of the witnesses to which was Pope Gregory XVI. They also ignored the plethora of miracles attributed to her intercession from all over the world as devotion to her suddenly sprung up in the Church. They maintain the miracles were worked by others. Sometimes it takes more faith to believe the scholar's arguments than to accept the existence and the intercession of St Philomena!
I hope some day, like St Catherine, Philomena will be rehabilitated officially, instead of the present situation which is tacit approval but "say nothing and don't notice what's going on". Yet devotion to her is growing again: there are statues and prayer cards all over the place. The shrine of St Jean-Marie Vianney in Ars promotes her cult through the shrine there and takes an intense interest in her rehabilitation; and though I have not yet been to Mugnano (it's on the list), I believe it is a wonderful place of prayer. Are there any relics of her around, I wonder?
But in the meantime, today is Catherine's day. We'll light the fireworks (Catherine Wheels) and honour the philosopher martyr - her intercession is much needed today.