Friday, December 30, 2011

A Prayer For Our Families

On this feast of the Holy Family, we might take a moment to pray for all families, and for Christian families in particular.  This prayer is a consecration prayer from the Sanctuary of Loreto in Italy, where the Holy House of Nazareth, transported by Crusader knights from the Holy Land as the Muslims were invading, is venerated.  You might take a moment to say this prayer with me.
O Holy Family of Nazareth,
model of every family,
we bless and venerate you with joyful hearts
and consecrate ourselves to you
in order that our home be
the dwelling place of the presence of God,
in mutual and generous love.

O Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
who from the Loreto hills irradiate on the world
the light of faith and the power of love,
and guide it day by day
on the path of the Gospel
and of the Beatitudes.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, O Holy Family, bless our families.

On this holy day you might like to check out a few links.  Pope Benedict dedicated his Audience on Wednesday to prayer in the Holy Family, see here for the text of his wonderful talk.  The website for the Sanctuary of Loreto is very good and has the story of the translation of the Holy House and information on the life of the Shrine.  Here is another good website, of a new association founded by one of the members of our Fraternity, to pray for our children.  It is well worth a visit and joining - all you need do is offer one holy hour in the week for our children. 

Happy feast day!

And So This Is Christmas

People are starting to go back to work after the Christmas celebrations.  I believe in the US and other places the Christmas decorations came down on St Stephen's Day (Boxing Day) - what a shame.  Here in Ireland we leave the festive decorations up until the 6th January - traditionally we celebrate the twelve days of Christmas, and the Epiphany is an important feast within those twelve days.  In Ireland Epiphany was known as Oiche Nollaig na mBan (Women's Christmas).

As Catholics it is important for us to celebrate the entire feast of Christmas, from Midnight Mass to the feast of the Baptism of the Lord which brings the Christmas season to an end.  The secular world, devoid of faith and understanding, marks Christmas Day, and then New Year's day as a civil celebration, with the commercial build up and parties that is the sum total of its festivities.  We, however, are only getting into the swing of things when the seculars have dumped the trees into the trash.  Our festivities should be guided by our liturgical calendar, and let's face, the calendar is a real party animal when it comes to the great feasts - seasons and octaves - great stuff!!  These wonderful days of the Octave are the party days, and even after the Octave, we must still keep festivity.  At the end of the day our celebration should be longer and richer!

So now we have the Carol Services, the parties (I had mine on St John's Day) and the feasting.  It is still Christmas, as Stephen Greydanus reminded us a couple of days ago. We keep the crib in place, keep the trees up and the decorations, and, as far as we can, we keep a festive table - no fasting (but no greed either).   And yes, we continue to wish each other a "Happy Christmas" - I notice after Christmas Day people wish each other "Happy New Year" as if Christmas was over.  

Those who criticise our faith tend to regard us as a joyless lot - miserable Catholics.  To be honest, we can be miserable at times, but misery is not Catholic - festivity is - this is what Chesterton reminds us.  St Teresa of Avila tells us that there is a time for fasting and a time for partridge, by which she means feasting.  We must fast well, but also feast well.  So now, we feast. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Thorn In The Side

What a wonderful feast day today - the feast of St Thomas a Becket, the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury - put to death by King Henry II of England as the two clashed in a battle over the freedom of the Church.  It was a battle which would be repeated five centuries later when another Thomas died in defence of the Church, martyred by another King Henry.

St Thomas a Becket was a man with a past - so we can all find comfort in him and in his conversion.  As we look over the mistakes of our lives, we can be sure that all is not lost, God can still ask great things of us and offer us the graces to respond.  Thomas changed when he achieved high office.  He was ambitious, but when he was appointed to the highest ecclesiastical office in England, the Holy Spirit touched him and he became a humble man and a mighty defender of the Church's freedom. 

And Thomas was a mighty defender.  He was not afraid to stand up to his former friend, King Henry, who sought to reduce the Church to a department of state.   In fact, Henry had Thomas appointed Archbishop of Canterbury because he wanted to control him.  Henry exiled Thomas for refusing to be a lackie, but instead of isolating the Archbishop, Henry only increased Thomas's credibility and popularity among the faithful.

There is an important lesson in Thomas's life and example for our prelates.  As secular governments try to control the faith of their people, and seek to haul the Catholic Church under its influence, our present prelates need the courage and tenacity of St Thomas to help them resist. 

In Ireland our government is doing its utmost to undermine the Church and perhaps even nurturing the possibility of the emergence of a "national catholic church", another erastian monster to confuse the faithful.   Indeed one of the big state-Church battles is about to break out: that of Catholic education: we need a Thomas a Becket to rise up to help us face the challenge.  May God send us one.

Today I remember with fondness my visits to Canterbury Cathedral to pray at the spot where St Thomas was martyred.  The Saint's tomb no longer exists: though Canterbury was one of the most important shrines in Europe in the Middle Ages, it was destroyed by King Henry VIII.  St Thomas's body has disappeared.  Various stories tell us that either Henry had it destroyed or the priests of the cathedral buried it in a secret place before Henry's soldiers arrived to desecrate it.  There are a few ex ossibus relics of him though, and I was given one when studying in Rome.  On both visits, I walked around the cathedral and prayed holding the relic in my hand and venerating it at the spot where he died.   It will be brought to the faithful of Rathkenny this morning for veneration.

And so, today, let us offer a prayer to St Thomas for our beloved bishops who, like him, seek to govern, guide, protect, teach and sanctify the flock.  Let us remember in particular those bishops who struggle to fulfill the requirements of their office: may the martyred Archbishop lay his gentle hand upon them and assure them of his loving presence and encourage them to heroism.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Martyr?

Here is a question for you.  Today we celebrate the feast of unlikely martyrs, the Holy Innocents, but I wonder was Mary, Queen of Scots, a martyr?  Part of the reason why Elizabeth I put the Queen to death was because she was a Catholic, a Catholic who threatened her own position as Queen - similar to King Herod's fears with regard to Christ.

The opening of the Vatican Archives exhibition in Rome has left me wondering again about this question - a letter the imprisoned Queen wrote to Pope Sixtus V is included in the exhibition.

I remember speaking with a dear friend of mine about this - the late Canon Francis J. Ripley.  He was an authority on the Reformation martyrs of Great Britain, and he concluded that religion and politics are so intertwined in Mary's life, it would be difficult to unravel them, so a Cause would present many problems.  But I think that doesn't rule out an attempt? 

I think the Church in Scotland should have a look and see if they can open the Cause for Mary.  There is no better man to meet a challenge than Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who has proven himself to be a marvellous defender of faith and life in Scotland, and indeed in the world.  If anyone could meet the challenge it is Cardinal O'Brien.

Mary saw herself as a martyr, going to her death with great serenity dressed in red.  Despite a wild youth, became a holy woman during her years of imprisonment in England.  As Queen of Scots, she was tolerant of other religions, she even tolerated John Knox who was forever attacking her for her "Papist" faith.  To be honest, if she was more like her cousin Elizabeth she would have had Knox's head off: but she didn't, she tried to reach out to him.  However, it was his fanatic extremism which prevented any reconciliation.

Something to think about.  What do our friends in Scotland think? 

They Follow The Lamb

Our feast today, I think, is one of the most poignant in the Church's calendar - the feast of the Holy Innocents.  The liturgy is very beautiful as it honours the little boys who knew nothing of the world, never mind the Lord who created them.  And yet, in this innocence, before some of them could speak, they are murdered - put to death in the place of Christ. 

In his reflection for the feast, St Quodvultdeus says that they were taken to be Jesus Christ, and what a grace: there is the programme for our lives: to seek to resemble Jesus Christ, to be taken for him, mistaken for him.  That is why we are called Christians - so we might be Christ.  As St Paul puts it: "I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me".   One of the wonderful images the liturgy offers us today sums it all up beautifully: they follow the lamb.  As little children, they skip along behind him.  I pray we might all be able to do the same.

Today is, of course, a day to remember all the Innocents who have be slaughtered.  Those who have been abused.  But also those who have perished in the culture of death: the aborted, those killed in the procedures like IVF and embryonic stem cell research, those who die unknown thanks to the Morning After Pill. Lives deemed worthless and so discarded.  It is also a day to remember the millions of children who lie frozen in fertility clinics all over the world - suspended, neither allowed to live or die.  What horrors the people of this time have visited upon our children.  Today's Herods wear white coats, speak with gentle voices in counselling rooms, wield pipettes instead of swords, dispense tablets. 

There are many parallels between the slaughter of the Innocents and the culture of death in our day, but there is one I find most intriguing.  Some scholars dispute the event - they say that there is not one shred of evidence outside St Matthew's Gospel that these little boys of Bethlehem were killed, so they deny it happened - it was made up, a mere literary device to get the Infant Jesus to Egypt.  Well, St Matthew saw fit to record it and to attribute a prophecy to foretell it: it must have happened.  Given that Matthew was writing for Jewish audience, the massacre must have had some significance. 

However, this scholarly attitude parallels that of many today who defend abortion, contraception, IVF etc - they deny that they are wrong, they deny the facts, they will not allow them be known: they even deny the humanity of those who are murdered.    They are living in denial, they are easily offended when the facts are made known and they fight back, their most potent weapon being "feeling hurt".

May our dear little Saints, the Holy Innocents, martyrs for Christ, intercede for us, for the pro-life cause, and for an end to the culture of death.  May they watch over us and guide us in our lives so like them, we too may be taken for Christ, and yes, even have the joy of suffering for him. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Feast Of The Beloved

If there is one title which seems most appropriate for St John, it has to be "The Beloved".  He is the son of Zebedee, the brother of James, Apostle and Evangelist, and all of these reveal who he is, what he did.  But "The Beloved" reveals his relationship with Christ, and offers us an example: we too are called into such a relationship with Christ.

That image of John at the Last Supper is, perhaps, also the most appropriate image to sum up his life: the one who was intimate with Christ, who leaned upon the Lord and heard the secrets of the Heart of Jesus. 

Today, as we celebrate his feast day, may he obtain for us the grace to come to the Heart of Jesus, to surrender ourselves to Christ, to lean upon him and to love him, for he loves us. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

New Martyrs

Today is the feast of our first martyr, St Stephen, and as we honour him and his sacrifice, we also remember all of those who have followed in his steps - all the martyrs of the Church.

As we were celebrating yesterday we heard the tragic news of the murder of many Christians in Nigeria by Muslims.   A Catholic Church, St Teresa's, was bombed as Christmas Day Mass was being offered - what an awful thing to do on one of the holiest days of the Christian year.

Our first reaction, being human, is anger.  How could they murder innocent people as they worship their God, these same people who come to Christian countries and demand that we respect their religious views, expect permission for their mosques to be constructed?   As their coreligionists massacre members of our faith on a daily basis, particularly in countries like Pakistan which receives millions of Euro each in aid from Christian agencies, should we not finally react?

Well, the example of St Stephen answers that question: we forgive, we pray for those who persecute us, we extend, even though it may cost us, the hand of friendship and reconciliation.  Of course we recognise that these killers do not represent all Muslims, no more than Christians who have killed, abused or committed serious crimes represent all Christians.  And though this may be politically incorrect, and some of my fellow Christians will disagree with me for saying this, we pray for their conversion: that they, like Saul of Tarsus, may come to recognise Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour and enter into full communion in his Church under the successor of Peter. 

I have no doubt that our new martyrs throughout the world, and those who died for Christ yesterday in Nigeria (may they now share in the vision of God among the martyrs in heaven), are praying for those who killed them, as Stephen prayed for Saul.    Stephen converted Saul, and he became St Paul, holy Apostle and the greatest missionary in the Church.  May the blood of our martyrs win souls for Christ.

On a personal note, these days are special to me as they are my name days - the Saints after whom I am called: St John the Beloved Disciple (I also consider St John the Baptist my name patron also), and St Stephen.   May I ask your prayers? 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Blessed Christmas

A Blessed Christmas to all the members of the Fraternity, and all our friends.  May the grace of the Christ Child, born in Bethlehem, be poured out upon you, your families and friends.

On This Most Holy Night

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Birth-day?

As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, we immerse ourselves in those holy texts which foretell the coming of the Christ, then those who lead up to his conception and birth.  Today in our Gospel we read the Canticle of St Zechariah - a wonderful expression of the hope of the people of Israel, and a hymn of joy as that hope is about to be fulfilled in the birth of the Messiah.

It is also a time for us to look over the many traditions associated with the feast - there are so many, and they are so rich.  One of the traditions, we are told, is the date of Christmas itself.  For the last fifty years or so, perhaps more, we have been told that the 25th December is not the date of Christ's actual birth.  I remember in Scripture class being told that the date was worked out from the supposed date of the Lord's death, which early Christians believed to have been the on 25th March.  In the fashion of the ancient Jews, the early Christians took it that a prophet died on the day he was conceived, hence they took it that Jesus was conceived on the 25th March and born nine months later on the 25th December.  But it was all just pious tradition we were told.  We don't know when he was born; indeed, as some Christian theologians might even tell us - he might not have been born at all! 

The other argument they used for the choice of the 25th December was that Christians were Christianising the Roman feast of the Sun god which fell in mid-winter.

Well, as some of you know, there has been some work done on the question of the Lord's birth and the date, and it seems there is evidence that suggests that the early Christians believed that the 25th December was the actual birthday of the Lord.  I will hand you over to Taylor Marshall who has all the evidence, and it is compelling.  Reading over it I am surprised that modern Scripture scholars can just dismiss all of it to maintain what is in reality nothing more than what I call, constructed doubts.

Thankfully the arguments from constructed doubt are being challenged and exposed for what many of them are: a effort to undermine faith and make the teachings of Christianity relative.   Scholarship must also take account of tradition, and indeed common sense.  And the latter has been missing from a lot of scholarship in recent years.  One of the things totally ignored in recent Scriptural research is human relationships: it seems that no one talked to anyone else, that the Apostles and disciples were not actually interested in the Lord's life, they didn't talk to Our Lady or anyone else, and so the accounts we have are all merely symbolic.  Taylor in that article reminds us that the early Christians would have asked questions of Our Lady and those who knew Jesus. 

Christmas is about the birth of Christ, the wonder of the Incarnation.  As we celebrate it this year, we give thanks for the gift of such wonder, a wonder that will bring us to the truth; a wonder that will not allow us dismiss the traditions, but embrace them.  Yes, we seek the truth, but in a manner which is founded on faith and not on constructed doubt.  Yes, yes, I hear you say, constructed doubt is sophisticated, it gives you credibility in the halls of academe and among the elite.  But to be honest, are we not all called to be children?  After all, Jesus was born a baby in a stable, that's the model for the Christian life.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Teaser...

Peter Jackson, director of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, has released a teaser trailer for the first part of his new film project - The Hobbit - the prequel to the Trilogy: he has planned two movies.  However, the bad news is: we will have to wait for a year for it: the first of the two movies, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, does not open until the 14th December 2012 - God help us we all could be dead!  I presume, as with the Trilogy, he is shooting both movies back to back, so we may get the second movie in the summer of 2013 (this gets worse!), or he could stretch it out until Christmas 2013. 

I am embedding the trailer for you.  As fans will see very quickly, Jackson is using the same sets and some of the same actors - so it will be familiar to us all.  Martin Freeman is playing the young Bilbo - a good actor, so I think it will pull it off; and Andy Serkis is back in the role of Gollum.  The lovely Cate Blanchette will also be popping back into her role as Galadriel.  And then there's a whole pile of dwarfs, and I presume there will be a dragon in there too (I wonder who will play that - I can think of a few candidates....).

For those of you who do not know The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (very few I'd say), they are very Catholic works.  The author J.R.R. Tolkien was a devout Catholic with a wide and expansive Catholic imagination.   He is a wonderful antidote to an awful almost Puritan seriousness which seems common among some in the faith today.  Tolkien teaches us that to be Catholic, to be truly Catholic, is to have a great sense of humour (a la Chesterton), a great cultural openness, and a child-like imagination where one realises that all sorts of wonderful things are possible. 

The trailer: 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Policy Guidelines For A Safe And Ethical Yuletide Season

A friend of mine sent me this: I think it's good, and humour aside, not totally unbelievable.  A little chuckle for the darkest day of the year.



While shepherds watched their flocks by night
All seated on the ground,
The Angel of the Lord came down,
And Glory shone around.

The Union of Shepherds has complained that it breaches Health & Safety Regulations to insist the shepherds watch their flocks without appropriate seating arrangements being provided. 

Therefore, benches, stools and orthopedic chairs must be available.  Shepherds have also requested that, due to inclement weather they should watch their flocks via CCTV cameras behind centrally heated shepherd observation huts. 

The Angel of the Lord is reminded that before shining his / her Glory all around, the shepherds must be issued with glasses capable of filtering out any harmful effects of UVA, UVB and Glory lighting.


Little donkey, little donkey on the dusty road,
Got to keep on plodding onwards, with your precious load.

The RSPCA has issued strict guidelines with regard to how heavy a load a donkey of small stature is permitted to carry.  Also in the guidelines are permitted feeding breaks, and at least one rest break in a four-hour plodding period. 

Due to the risk of pollution from the dusty road, Mary and Joseph are required to wear facemasks. 

The ‘Little Donkey’ has expressed his discomfort as being labelled ‘Little’ and would prefer to being simply referred to as ‘Mr Donkey’. 

Comments upon his height or otherwise are considered to be a breach of his equine rights.


We three Kings of Orient are,
Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain,
Moor and Mountain,
Following yonder star.

Whilst the gift of Gold is still considered acceptable – as it may be redeemed at a later date through such organisations such as ‘Cash4Gold’ etc., gifts of Frankincense and Myrrh are not appropriate due to the risk of oils and fragrances causing allergic reactions. An acceptable alternative might be a gift voucher. 

It is not recommended that traversing Kings should rely on star navigation, and would advise the use of AA RouteFinder or Sat Nav.  Both can provide the quickest route and advise on fuel consumption. 

As in the case of Mr. Donkey, the three camels require regular rest and food breaks and facemasks for the three Kings are obligatory due to the likelihood of desert dust disturbed by the camel hooves.


Little Jesus sweetly sleep, do not stir,
We will lend a coat of fur,
We will rock you, rock you, rock you,
We will rock you, rock you, rock you,

Fur is no longer appropriate wear for small infants due to the risk of allergy and for ethical reasons.  Therefore, false fur, a cellular blanket or, perhaps, micro-fleece material should be considered alternatives. 

Please note that, only persons who have been subject to a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check and have enhanced clearance will be permitted to rock Baby Jesus. 

Persons must carry their CRB disclosure at all times and be prepared to provide three forms of identification before any rocking commences. 


Dashing through the snow on a one-horse open sleigh,
Over fields we go – laughing all the way.

A Risk Assessment must be submitted before an open sleigh is considered safe for members of the public to ride. 

The Risk Assessment should also consider whether the use on only one horse in appropriate – particularly if passengers are of larger proportions. 

Permission from landowners must be gained before entering any ‘Open Fields’. 

To avoid offending those not participating in the venture, it is required that only ‘moderate’ laughter is used and not at a noise level likely to be of nuisance to others.  


Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, had a very shiny nose,
And if you ever saw it, you would even say it glows,
All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names,
They never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games.

You are advised that, under the Equal Opportunities Policy, it is inappropriate for persons to make comment upon the ruddiness of Mr. R. Reindeer. 

Name-calling contravenes our Anti-Bullying policy, and further to this, the exclusion of Mr. R. Reindeer from any reindeer games will be considered discriminatory and disciplinary action will be taken against anyone found guilty of this offence. 

A full investigation will be implemented, leading to imposing sanctions such as a ban from hanging up stockings or enjoying Christmas dinner.


Away in a manger – no crib for a bed…

Refer to Social Services immediately!

And, in the bleak mid winter......

That was Holst's version, here is Darke's:

The Shroud Is A Fake......

The Shroud of Turin is a fake, some scientists and atheists say.  "We know it's a fake.  Okay all the evidence (scientific, historical, literary, botanical) suggests it may be authentic.  We can't figure out how the image was made - we can't reproduce it correctly with all our technology, but that doesn't mean a medieval artist couldn't do it.  We stick by the carbon dating tests that have now been discredited - we refused to accept that they are discredited.  It is a fake.  Okay, there are more questions than answers and every scientific examination presents even more questions - it is a mystery - but it is not the shroud of Christ."

Such is the response I hear in Tom Chivers's article ("The Turin Shroud is Fake. Get over it.") in the Telegraph.  In terms of our faith, it matters little that it is the Shroud of the Lord - our faith does not depend on it. However, without being credulous, we must also be open to the possibility that God might actually have left us a document of the Resurrection to strengthen our faith.  That may well be the Shroud of Turin.

That said, it seems, given the big picture, with all the evidence before us, the chances are that it is authentic.  The only (and the I mean the ONLY) examination which casts doubt over authenticity is the carbon dating, and a number of scientists have doubts about those results.  If this was a court case and the jury had to take all evidence into account, they would probably go for authenticity, and question the only test over which there is a shadow.  Perhaps scientists that doubt may need a chat with the very uncomfortable archaeologists who have discovered Sodom and Gomorrah.

So, will we revise Chivers headline and suggest: "The Turin Shroud may be authentic, get over it!"?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Boycott Tesco?

Fr Ray Blake has rather disturbing news on his blog: Tesco, it seems, are berating orthodox Christians for our moral beliefs with regard to homosexuality.  He refers us to the Iona Institute website where we are told the Head of Research and Development for Tesco's website, Nick Lansley, called us "evil" for not supporting the gay political agenda. 

It seems Tesco has a history of attacking Christian teaching.  So much for tolerance.  One would imagine that Tesco would stick to retailing rather than promoting political agendas.

I was going to do some of my Christmas shopping in the company's outlet in Drogheda, but I will no longer give them my custom.    If Tesco is so ready to attack the sincerely held beliefs of Christians, then they do not need our business.  So spread the word - don't shop at Tesco, go elsewhere.  If you want to register a complaint, you can contact the Chief Executive at:

Kudos to the Iona Institute for exposing this one: they deserve our support. 


I have just sent an email to Philip Clarke, Chief Executive of Tesco, I am posting it for your information.
Dear Mr Clarke,

My attention has been drawn to comments by your Head of Research and Development, Mr Nick Langsley, in which he referred to Christians as being "evil" for not supporting the redefinition of marriage so as to facilitate homosexual "marriage".

While Mr Langsley is entitled to his opinion, he is not entitled to judge the sincerely held beliefs of others and brand us Christians as evil because we follow the teachings of Christ and his Apostles with regard to moral matters.  Disagree with us if you want, but please respect our beliefs. 

Contrary to what some in the homosexual lobby would have us believe, we Christians do not hate them nor want to deprive them of their rights as human beings.  While we do not support the idea of "gay marriage" and we will refuse to define our understanding of marriage to faciliate it, we seek to treat all people with respect.

Given that many of your customers are Christians, and I was one myself, I suggest that you as Chief Executive deal with this issue and seek to make amends to Christians who are deeply offended by your employee's remark. 

Until such time as a proper response is made, I will no longer be shopping at your retail outlet in Drogheda (Ireland), and as a pastor of a parish I will be encouraging my parishioners not to shop in your stores either.  I will also encourage similiar action through my blog which has a wide readership.

I hope as Christmas draws near and your stores benefit from the celebrations of Christians who buy food and other items from your company for their annual feast, your company may take careful note of the need to respect our sincerely held beliefs and not just take our money and then denigrate us.


Rev. John Hogan

The Lily Of The Mohawks To Be Canonised

Great news yesterday: Pope Benedict has cleared the way for the canonisation of seven new Saints, among them Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the Lily of the Mohawks: she will become the first Native American Saint.  No doubt the Catholics of the US and Canada are rejoicing, particularly the Native Americans among them.

I do not remember her beatification - I was too young, but heard many stories of how Native Americans saved up as much as they could to make it to Rome for the ceremony: many of them could not usually afford the trip, but they were so proud of their Kateri.  The Servant of God, Cardinal Terence Cooke was present, and he spent the day of the beatification with the pilgrims.  His own heroism was clear that day as he posed for photos for hours in the heat dressed in his Cardinal's robes, while the other cardinals and bishops had retreated to cooler surroundings.

Blessed Kateri was born Tekakwitha in New York in 1656, the daughter of a Mohawk chief and a Algonquian woman.  Her mother was a Catholic.  When she was four she contracted smallpox, and this left dreadful scars on her face and led to her rejection by many within her community: her parents and brother succumbed to the disease.  She was adopted by her uncle, and she soon attracted a number of suitors: they were interested in the political alliance marriage with her would bring.   But she would have none of it.  She was, however, becoming interested in Catholicism.  Her mother had tried to pass on the faith, leaving her daughter her own rosary.

Coming into contact with French missionary priests, Tekakwitha sought baptism, and so at the age of twenty, on the 18th April 1676, Easter Sunday, she was baptised, taking the name Catherine, which, translated into her native tongue, became Kateri.   She had been inspired by St Catherine of Siena, and interestingly, her life would mirror that of the great Italian mystic in her heroic endurance of many difficulties.

As a Catholic, Kateri was ostracised by many - her own people who did not embrace the faith saw her as a traitor to their gods; as a Native American, white settlers looked down on her: she was a woman who seemed to fall between the cracks.  But rather than recoil, she embraced life and faith, taking every opportunity to teach the faith, first and foremost through her own example. She practice many penances, and spent a lot of time in prayer.  She was the soul of charity and lost no time to help others in need. 

Forced to leave her native place because of persecution, she settled in Quebec, where she lived a life of prayer and charity.  In 1679 she made a vow of virginity, offering her life in service to Christ for the sake of the Church and his people, particularly the sick.  However, her life was to be short.  On the 17th April 1680, Kateri died: she was twenty-four.  Almost immediately she was recognised as a Saint, and numerous favours and miracles were claimed through her intercession.  She was beatified by Blessed John Paul II on the 22nd June 1980 in Rome, in the presence of many of her native people.  It is said that immediately after her death, the scars of smallpox disappeared to reveal a stunningly beautiful face.  Perhaps that is true, but from her life we can see a stunningly beautiful soul.

Americans have further reason to rejoice as Blessed Marianne Cope, St Damien of Molokai's helper, is also to be canonised: Hawaii now gets its second Saint - so quickly after Damien's own canonisation. 

The other candidates for canonisation are: Blessed Giovanni Battista Piamarta (1841-1913), founder of the Congregation of the Holy Family of Nazareth, and the Congregation of the Humble Sister Servants of the Lord;   Blessed Jacques Berthieu, a French Jesuit priest who was martyred in Madagascar in 1896; Blessed Maria del Carmen Salles (1848-1911), foundress of the Conceptionist Missionary Sisters of Teaching; Blessed Pedro Calungsod, a Filipino teenager and catechist who was martyred in Guam in 1672: and Blessed Anna Schaffer (1882-1925) a German stigmatist and victim soul.  What a wonderful group of men and women from all walks of life: a rich tapestry.

Our new saints in waiting: Blesseds Marianna Cope, Giovanni Battista Piamarta, Jacques Berthieu, Maria del Carmen Salles, Pedro Calungsod and Anna Schaffer

For us Discalced Carmelites there is also great rejoicing: one of our priests, Fr Marie-Eugene of the Child Jesus, has been declared Venerable.  Fr Marie-Eugene was the founder of the secular institute Notre Dame de Vie. He was also the author of a remarkable series of books on the spirituality and teachingr of our Mother foundress, St Teresa, I Am A Daughter Of The Church.  He was also the author of what I think is the best book on St Therese, Under The Torrent Of His Love - well worth reading.  So we celebrate his elevation, pass on our congratulations to his spiritual children in his secular institute, and pray for a miracle so he may be beatified soon.

The Venerable Marie-Eugene of the Child Jesus, OCD

What a year 2012 may turn out to be.  There are indications that Hildegard von Bingen, the great polymath and mystic may herself be declared a Doctor of the Church.  Her cult will have to be confirmed by the Pope - she was never formally canonised, but that can be done quiet easily.  St Albert the Great was in the same position, I believe: his cult had to be confirmed before he was declared a Doctor.  Hildegard will be the second Doctor Pope Benedict will have proclaimed.  Personally I am waiting for two of my favourites to be raised to the ranks of the Doctors: St Veronica Giuliani, who has been so good to me and to whom I owe a debt for many graces received; and St Louis Marie de Montford whose Marian theology has influenced many including the Servant of God, Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary and, of course, Blessed John Paul II whose own Marian teachings are rooted in de Montford's spirituality.

You know, these may be bad times, but look at all the graces and miracles falling from heaven!  Now, as you know, I use any excuse for a bit of music. So, the future Doctor was also a great composer, so we will now listen to one of her compositions as we face back into the work of the day.  Her hymn to Our Lady:

George Weigel Talk

For those of you who could not make George Weigel's talk on renewing the Church at the Iona Institute last week, here is the video just posted on the Institute's website.  Well worth watching.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Holy Vow?

In recent years the perpetual virginity of Mary has, like a number of articles of faith, become a subject of some debate in certain circles.  We often hear it questioned by reference to the phrase "the brothers and sisters" of Jesus, even by Catholics, a phrase easily explained which does not mean Our Lady had other children.  And today I would have to wonder how many Catholics today actually believe (as we are required) that Our Lady was a virgin when she conceived Jesus and remained a virgin throughout her life.

People doubt this doctrine for a number of reasons, one of them being the bewilderment that someone could actually live without having sex regularly.  In much the same way as priestly celibacy is attacked, it is asserted by many today that if someone is not having sex regularly, then there is something wrong with them - it is unhealthy not to have sex.  This ridiculous position is used as the foundation for the widespread belief that celibacy is the main cause of child abuse.  Of course we know that most abuse is committed by non celibate people, parents included.   It is impossible, some may say, for her to have remained a virgin and be healthy and normal.  Anyway according to Jewish custom, it would have been weird, indeed perhaps even sinful, for Mary not to have fulfilled her duty as a wife.     

Another reason for the disbelief here is a negative view of virginity.  Thanks to our contemporary culture, virginity seems to be good only as a state which is to be lost, rather than as a state in itself.  From as early an age as possible our society, and particularly our education systems, are preparing children to lose their virginity as quickly as possible so to become "normal" and to share in life in its fullness.   Such an ideological approach to human sexuality demeans sexuality.

Reflecting on all this, I would like to refer you to a very interesting article on The New Theological Movement website which discusses the belief that Mary had made a vow of virginity - an even more controversial matter.  I remember making the suggestion during a homily on a feast of Our Lady once, and after Mass I got a telling off from a middle-aged lady whom I suspect was a religious sister (she had all the dowdiness of nuns who have thrown off their habits).  The lady was appalled that could make such a suggestion, and when I explained, she dismissed me: she wasn't very open to consider the evidence.

I am no stranger to the argument presented in the article, in fact I have often used it myself and even preached it - I think the Scripture is clear.  The words of Our Lady to St Gabriel are very unusual - if she was to marry Joseph and have a normal sex life, why was it so strange that she should conceive a child? After all the Annunciation is very like the annunciations to Samson's mother, Hannah and Zachariah - it is only when Our Lady asks how it is to happen that she, and we, discover that her child will be conceived by the Holy Spirit.   We can certainly argue that Our Lady had no intention to engaging in sexual relations with Joseph, which leads us to consider that she had made a vow of virginity.

Now our scholars will balk at that, perhaps dismiss it as pious piffle which has no basis in fact. Why?  Because the Jews did not do that - they did not take vows of virginity - it would have been a scandal - they had to marry.  The same argument has been used to prove that St Paul had been married, even though he makes no reference to it and there is not a shred of evidence that he had a wife.  I remember reading a hilarious explanation for why Paul did not mention a wife and children in the autobiographical sections of his epistles.  You see they died in very tragic circumstances and Paul was so distraught he could not speak about them.  That scholarly scrap is offered by renowned Pauline expert, Fr Jerome Murphy O'Connor - when I read it, he plummeted in my estimation and I read him now with a large vat of salt to hand. The argument that all Jews had to marry is even put forward to prove that Jesus would have married, enter stage left Mary Magdalen with massive brood of offspring.................

The Jews prized virginity, and yes, the norm was to marry and to have children - indeed barrenness was a sign of God's disfavour, while fertility was a sign of blessing.  That was the norm, but then there are always exceptions to the norm, exceptions that were inspired by a form of dedication: the Nazirites and Essenes, for example.  St John the Baptist was celibate, and so was Jesus.  Why not Mary too?  Seeing as the new dispensation was about to begin, why couldn't God inspire people to embrace this consecration as a sign of the new way of life - the Christian way.  All the arguments against this celibate way of life do not take into account that God may inspire this way of life for a reason, and that this way of life can be exceedingly fruitful. 

We have to be open to these things.  Contrary to the opinions of some scholars, sometimes the traditions which have been passed on to us are actually true, so we must not dismiss them, but listen with an open and humble ear.  Let's face it, if scholars have to face up to the awful fact that Sodom and Gormorrah were destroyed by a "heat event" (aka as fire and brimstone, and smiting of an extreme kind), then we had better be open to other possibilies too.

Friday, December 16, 2011

In Need Of Prayer

As no doubt you know the writer Christopher Hitchens has died, succumbing to cancer.  It is said he died nobly, passing away writing, which was the joy of his life.

I am deeply saddened by his death. He was a man with great talent and ability, but one who used it to denigrate not only those who believe in God, but even God himself.  I hope and pray that in those milliseconds before his death he encountered God and embraced Him, seeking reconciliation and mercy.

He had a particular hatred for Blessed Teresa of Calcutta: his book Hell's Angel was an attack on her mission and her life of service to the poor.  I think it caused Blessed Teresa some suffering, but I have no doubt that she was moved to pray for him and for his conversion.  I have no doubt that when she entered heaven she was praying for him with great earnestness:  may her prayers produce much fruit.

Ironically, while Christopher was lolling in his atheism, his brother, Peter, had a conversion and is now a great defender of faith in general, and of the Christian faith in particular, of which he is a member - he is a member of the Church of England.  I have no doubt he too was praying for his brother. 

Let us pray for them all: that the Lord will grant mercy to Christopher and consolation to his family.   We commend them to the intercession of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.

A Brief Diversion

This will be a very short post (famous last words, I hear you say); I have a few hours and I have to get my Christmas shopping started - almost nothing done.  My Christmas cards are half done, none posted - so friends, I have not forgotten you.   I had better get out and do some shopping or I will be ostracised for my empty hands (my Therese excuse, "I come with empty hands" tends not to work at Christmas).

Anyway, the subject of my post is Biblical.  Having offered Mass, I was tucking in to my breakfast of bread and coffee just a few moments ago (the world seems so different, so much nicer after coffee!) and I was catching up on the news on the Internet.  Fr Z has drawn my attention to a most interesting article: archaeologists seem to have found the ruins of the Biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Read the post here

The author details a talk given by the archaeologist at a conference, and he was fascinated by what was revealed.  As he listened, one question popped into his head - as indeed pops into many heads: what happened the cities - why were they abandoned, or were they destroyed?  He notes that the academics in the room were very careful about the "elephant in the room".  Well, the question was asked, and the answer, given by an embarrassed archaeologist, was that the cities were destroyed by what seemed to be a "heat event".

You have to love that!  A "heat event", or in other words, fire and brimstone, hail and damnation, falling from heaven to wipe out the cities of sin because they refused to repent!  Ah yes, that will warm the blood this cold morning.   Notice that, so far, all archaeological investigations and excavations have confirmed what Scripture relates.  We need to take note of that.  We all need to take note: the God of love is not as much of a push over as some modern Christians think. 

I wonder if there is any sign of the pillar of salt?  I'm sure the radical feminists would love to see that.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Same Old Same Old

I was listening to George Weigel's interview on the Pat Kenny show this morning, on RTE radio.  While Pat often interviews various figures alone, including controversial ones, it seems George was not to be accorded the same style of interview: he was to be marked by liberal theologian Gina Menzies.  So the interview was not an interview at all, but a debate.  

If I had hoped for balance and openness in this debate, well I was deluding myself.  The debate soon boiled down to an attack on the Catholic Church's position on the ordination of women - again the same old same old.   Before long Pat and Gina teamed up and formed a two against one in good RTE fashion and grilled George on the Church's position.  It is a credit to George's basic decency that he did not turn on them. 

As usual Menzies was peddling misinformation with regard to scholarship - that the Catholic Church had investigated the ordination of women in the Church's history and could not find evidence that proved or disproved the ordination of women.  George put her right by pointing out that the Church had investigated the nature of the diaconate to see if women were ordained deacons, and found that at no point in history had the Church ordained women deacons.  When this fact came out Pat and Gina changed tactics. The "interview" was supposed to be about renewal in the Church, in the end it was a teenage rebellion against Church teaching. 

To be honest, is it worth even posting on this?  Given the anti-Catholic bias that is in RTE (sorry Patsy McGarry I do not accept your argument that there is no bias - there is and it is obvious).   When it comes to Catholic issues and Catholic figures RTE is not interested in understanding, they just what to create controversy and get a bit of bashing in too.  They do not allow the Church to speak on her own terms, but rather must always have someone to criticise and contradict (they call this "being balanced"), and often these are dissident Catholics who no longer hold the orthodox faith and are, for all intents and purposes, no longer in communion with the Church - and yet they are passed off as Catholics.  Until very recently Gina Menzies was trading under the title of "Catholic theologian" until a real Catholic theologian exposed her and forced her to admit that she wasn't. 

Let it be noted: the Catholic Church will not ordain women as priests - ever - not because she won't, but because she CAN'T.  Whether the liberals like it or not, Jesus did not ordain women, and all the arguments in the world will not change that fact.  The Church, then, has no authority to do so.

If people do not like that, if they want to be members of a church that has women clergy then the Catholic Church is not for them: it is time to leave and look somewhere else.  And, taking the cue from Archbishop Martin, I would urge them to leave.  Those ecclesial communities that have ordained women are losing members at a rapid pace, their churches are emptying - I am sure they would be glad of ex-Catholics to fill their pews. 

The Catholic Church is not forcing anyone to stay: she will not force anyone to believe what she teaches, but she does expect people to be true to what they believe, and if people in the Church reject her moral, doctrinal and social teachings, her position on women priests, married priests, gay marriage, contraception and abortion, then the door is open: please go and leave the rest of us in peace!  

But then again, I believe, that is exactly what they do not want to do: they would rather stay and make trouble than actually go and enter full communion with people of similiar beliefs.  There is another force at work here, and it is not human. 

Santa Lucia!

Waking up this morning in the darkness, I was delighted to reflect on our feast today: the feast of St Lucy, Virgin and Martyr, the lady of light.   In the midst of the cold darkness of winter, the festival of St Lucy is welcome indeed as we light candles in her honour and dispell the gloom. 

Just over a year ago, on our last Fraternity pilgrimage, we visited the tomb of St Lucy where we found her body amazingly well preserved.  She died in 304 AD and her remains are still intact.  A silver mask covers her face, but you can see her mummified hands and feet.  Her remains are in Venice; like St Nicholas, devotees "borrowed" her body from Sicily.  So far, they have not brought her home.  Indeed about thirty years ago her body was stolen again, and there was widespread panic and prayers for her return: she was, and thankfully the remains were not damaged.

A priest friend of mine has made a wonderful suggestion.  As St Lucy is the patroness of the eyes and ailments of sight, perhaps we as priests could include a blessing of the eyes in the liturgy for her feast, just as we include a blessing of throats in the feast of St Blaise.  What a wonderful idea!  Many people suffer with their eyes, and given that we need to be reclaiming many of our ancient Catholic traditions, this would be a wonderful devotion to bring back to the people.  People love devotions, Saints and blessings: the blessing of eyes on the feast of St Lucy would be a big hit, I think.

So, how shall it be done.  Candles too?  Why not - she is the saint of light.  So perhaps the blessed candles used on St Blaise's Day could be brought out and with each candle resting lightly on each eye a prayer could be prayed:  "Through the intercession of St Lucy, Virgin and Martyr, may the Lord preserve you from all ailments of the eyes and every other evil, and bring you to see Christ our Light in these days and in eternity.  In the Name + of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit"

There is a suggestion for my brother priests: what do you think?

The sacred remains of St Lucy

Monday, December 12, 2011

Dishing It Out

Fr John conducts his first (and only) General Absolution service

My attention was drawn,  a couple of days ago, to a post on Fr Z's blog - from an Irish person who was enduring the disobedience of their parish priest.  Here's the piece, but in summary, their parish priest is refusing to implement the new translation of the Missal and is now using what is an abrogated text.  This PP is also revving up to impart General Absolution on all and sundry in preparation for Christmas.

As always, Fr Z gives good advice, I would also like to direct you to FrB's blog for another good response. 

I was talking about the situation with a priest friend of mine and we both agreed that such actions on the part of a priest are utterly selfish and disrespectful towards their parishioners.  As members of the Universal Church, of the Body of Christ, these parishioners have the right to participate in the full life of the Church, and that includes the full liturgical life of the Church.  Their pastors have no right to break the Communion which exists, and in refusing to use the official liturgical texts of the Universal Church, these priests are undermining that Communion. 

The fact that some parishioners may be as rebellious and disobedient as their pastors is no excuse: pastors must seek to deepen Communion, not encourage a breach.  In reality these priests are engaged in something more serious than refusing to acknowledge a new translation of the liturgy, they are breaking the solemn oaths of their ordination and leading people into schism. Is that too harsh?  Well, if you see the fruits of the actions of these disobedient priests, the ghettos of rebellion and anger their parishes have become, we see how serious such situations can become.

My priest friend was wondering what these priests are now engaged in?  Given that they refuse to use the now official English language texts of the Mass, but use an abrogated translation, is it the case that their Masses are now valid but illicit?

As for the General Absolution: FrB has very good points to make, but one in particular stands out: regular General Absolution is invalid. And of course people go home, never to darken the doors of a confessional again, genuinely believing that the General Absolution Father dished out was valid, that their sins are forgiven, and they didn't even have to think of what their sins were.   But General Absolution is being given in Ireland, particular in quasi-penitenial services.  It seems this is an issue the new Nuncio will have to deal with, and perhaps a senior cleric may need to be called to Rome again to be reminded again that the problem must be dealt with.

I remember I was asked a few months ago if I would give General Absolution.  I was encouraging my parishioners to go to confession regularly, and someone said to me that it would better that I gave General Absolution because people do not like individual confession anymore - they don't like revealing such intimate details about their lives.   At least if I gave General Absolution then people's sins would be forgiven and, after all, isn't that the most important thing? 

I explained that the forgiveness of sins, and all the sacraments, were not magic; that the actual confession of their sins was important. I then told the person that if they wanted me to give them General Absolution, I would have to lock them all in the Church and set it alight so, in danger of being burned to death, the General Absolution would then be valid. However, I said, if anyone happened to survive, they would still be obliged to confess their mortal sins as soon as possible.  I do not think I will be asked for General Absolution again!

Interestingly, today in the Diocese of Meath we celebrate the feast of our Patron Saint, St Finnian of Clonard.  Known as the "Tutor of the Saints of Ireland", he founded the monastery and school city of Clonard, famous throughout Ireland and Europe as a place of learning and holiness.  Many Irish Saints studied at Clonard and were formed in holiness by St Finnian, among then St Colmcille (Columba), patron of Ireland, and St Brendan.   According to tradition he was ordained Bishop of Clonard, one of the ancient dioceses which now form the present Diocese of Meath.

Finnian was a faithful Irish priest, not content with getting by, or doing the minimum, but seeking to live as virtuous a life as possible, and to teach others to do the same.  In being called the "Tutor of the Saints of Ireland", it was not a honour to praise his academic skills, but more radically, his holiness which was pedalogical and evangelical in nature.  In this, Finnian is a potent example of all priests; that we must be teachers in holiness, not merely in words, but first of all by example.  We must also be faithful to Mother Church, as was Finnian.  I think St Finnian would be a good patron of the reform the Church in Ireland now needs: after all, the best reformers are teachers in holiness.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Humblest Of Her Children

After yesterday's fiesta, today we celebrate the feast of one who was described by Our Lady herself as one of her humblest children: St Juan Diego.  His feast is on the General Calender thanks to Blessed John Paul II, who canonised him.  We all know him as the visionary of Guadalupe, the story of the apparitions is well known, and the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is coming up next week.

St Juan suffered the same attack from scholarship as did St Catherine of Alexandria, St Philomena and St Simon Stock.  As his Cause was progressing it was said by some that he never existed - that there was not one shred of evidence to support a claim that he ever lived. Now we all know how rigorously the Congregation of the Causes of Saints carries out its work - nothing gets past them.  If there is even an inkling of a doubt the shutters come down: that is as true of the search for heroic virtue as it is for a miracle.  So I cannot see the Congregation ticking all the boxes for what is said to be a figment of Blessed John Paul II's imagination.  Ultimately, I think, this was just another opportunity self-styled progressives took to try and undermine John Paul's papacy, and in particular, his teaching on morality.

There was a joke that was circulating among such progressives during John Paul II's pontificate. "Did you hear about the saints JP II canonised: the saint who was never born, the saint who never died, and the saint who had no virtue?   And who are these? Juan Diego - no evidence he ever lived; Edith Stein - no evidence she ever died; Josemaria Escriva - no evidence of any virtue."  We were all supposed to laugh then.  According to the critics, it is said Curial officials in Rome were living in dread of an old woman turning up during the St Edith's canonisation ceremony claiming to be her.   The inclusion of St Josemaria is obviously a jibe at Opus Dei - progressives tend not to be appreciative of the great work Opus Dei does and the holiness which is fruit of the way of life St Josemaria inspired.

And why do I mention all of that?  Well I suppose to remind us that we need the humility of St Juan Diego to keep us from the cynicism and lack of faith demonstrated by the above example.  He teaches us that there is no shame in being the littlest children of the Holy Mother.  He was very much a man after Our Lady's heart: he was docile to the will of God, overcoming his fears to do what she asked him to do.  Though some may dismiss it, there is a heroism in the way he carried out his task.  Some may say it was simple: just ask the bishop to build a church: while that may be easy for some, it is not easy for all, and not for those who seem, by nature to be timid.  The great movement of holiness in the visionary of Guadalupe was that which transformed human timidity and weakness into the meekness which Jesus praises in the Beatitudes.  St Juan, then, brings us back to that Little Way which St Therese teaches us: he is a perfect exponent: I wonder if Therese knew about him?  Without a doubt, she would have loved him.

As we celebrate this feast of a visionary, we might also remember in our prayers the soul of another visionary who died during the week.  Mariette Beco, the visionary of Banneux, who died in Belgium at the age of 90 (Story here).  She received eight apparitions of Our Lady between the 15th January and the 2nd March 1933.  The visions were judged authentic by the Church in 1949.   

The Visionary of Banneux, Mariette Beco

Like St Juan Diego, Mariette lived a simple, hidden life.  When asked about the apparitions she said that she was simply the "postman", the messenger.   In the apparitions Our Lady called herself the Virgin of the Poor.  With the apparitions of Beauraing (in which Our Lady called herself the Virgin of the Golden Heart) which occurred immediately before those of Banneux, Our Lady seems to have been preparing the world for the onslaught of the Second World War: a recognition that her requests in Fatima were not heeded, and so a greater war that the First World War was about to break out.  I note these apparitions occur around the time of Hitler's rise to power to Germany. 

What wonderful stories!  We should read more about these apparitions, particularly in difficult times: they will put new heart into us and remind us that God never abandons us: that our Holy Mother is always watching over us.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

All In The Words

The great Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception!  A marvellous feast day.  In Ireland, traditionally, it is the country people's shopping day, when they travel up to Dublin to do their Christmas shopping.  While that may sound awful to those who realise the importance of a day of rest - this day was, traditionally the only day the country people could get off.  Farmers work six days a week, Sunday was the day of rest: the Solemnity was the day they did not work even when it fell on a week day, and so they availed of the opportunity to get some of the presents bought for Christmas.  In Dublin some saw it as "Culchie Day" - culchie being the term for country people.  In America you would say "Rednecks". I'll stop there lest this post turn into a dictionary of abusive terms for non-city people, i.e. those who live in "the sticks", etc. (Ahem..)

Moving on quickly.....This wonderful feast day of the Immaculate Conception should be one which unites Christians around the world: it should not just be Catholics who celebrate it, after all the event which we mark is revealed in Sacred Scripture.  Here we come to one of my bugbears - translation!  As we read the Gospel today the Scriptural basis for this feast is, I feel, undermined by the translation.

In Luke 1:28 the Angel Gabriel greets Mary as "kecharitomene" which is translated in the Gospel today as "highly favoured one".  Now while that translation "will do", it is not wholly accurate for the term.  The better translation of the word is "full of grace", and even that lacks the depth of the word which is even more fulsome.  The word means that Mary is now already filled with God's grace in preparation for the role she is to play in human salvation, and that of course points to the Immaculate Conception.   I think we need a better translation for this Gospel.

Today may also be the day when St Bernard and St Thomas Aquinas hang their heads at the celestial banquet and sip their wine in silence, as Blessed John Duns Scotus takes the toast with the Holy Mother.  Blessed John defended the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception when St Bernard and St Thomas had their issues.  Indeed Bernard was up in arms when some churches of the West were celebrating the feast.  No doubt all are friends now, and I'm sure Blessed Pius IX will pop over for a little ribbing at the two Doctors and tell them they took their eyes off the ball.  The lesson: humility.

Indeed that is one of the messages of this feast day: she who was most humble, the handmaid of the Lord, has been raised to great heights and all generations call her blessed, for her dedication to the will of God.  

Happy feast day!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Endless Possibilities

Ireland's new resident ambassador to the Holy See?

Here's a story for you (you can't make these things up!).  A Vatican university - the Urbaniana, is hosting a conference on tattoos - I kid you not!  Story here.  They have teamed up with the Israeli ambassador to the Holy See who, it seems, is an expert on inking oneself.  Entitled "Into The Skin: Identity, Symbols and History of Permanent Body Marks", the conference is examining tattoos in various cultures and pondering over their significance. Interesting.  You see, being Catholic is not as boring as one would think.  And as for that ambassador, it sounds like he would be great company for a dinner party.

You know, if the Irish government had any imagination at all, instead of closing the embassy to the Holy See they could appoint an interesting character who could engage in such cultural activities with the Vatican and show the world that the Irish are not as miserable as we are made out to be in these difficult times: that we can smile through a crisis, after all we have had plenty of practice!

Now here's an idea for Minister Gilmore and his allies over at Foreign Affairs: pop over to Temple Bar (that's the bohemian quarter of Dublin for those who do not know) and find an expert on piercing.  Send him or her over to Marks & Spencer to buy a suit, stick him/her on an Ryanair flight with a few tins of beans, and set him/her up in a tent in front of the Villa Spada.  Bingo!  A resident ambassador on the cheap!  And then let him/her organise a conference with the Urbaniana on piercing and its cultural significance, with, perhaps, a few practical workshops thrown in for the laugh.

I tell you, our government's tensions with the Holy See would evaporate overnight!  Indeed, all things are possible to those who try.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Good Old St Nick: The Real One

O to be in Galway today!  Why Galway I hear you ask?  Well in the city of Galway the feast of St Nicholas is celebrated as a solemnity, since he is the patron of the city.  He is one of the few non-Irish Saints who has the patronage of an Irish town, region or diocese. 

Today's feast is a wonderful one.  The real St Nicholas of Myra (or of Bari if you are an Italian) is so much better than the pale imitation the commercial world has created.  Last year I recounted the story of his striking the heretic Arius at the Council of Nicea - from this we may discern that the Bishop Nicholas was a man's man, a passionate figure who at times transcended the complexities of theological debate for a more sturdy, earthy form of dialogue.  Indeed!  He was quite forceful in putting his point across.

Many are the legends and the stories of St Nicholas concerning his boundless charity, and many testimonies assure us of his continued assistance for people after his death.  He worked numerous miracles for sailors, hence his patronage of sailors and of Galway City which is a port city.   That patronage may also be enhanced by the tale of the "translation" of his relics from his bishopric in Myra to the Italian seaport of Bari in 1087.  That "translation" might also be known by another word: stealing.  Italian sailors nicked St Nicholas (forgive the pun) in order to establish a shrine in their city.  Ah, the simple days when you wanted to draw in tourists you just robbed the neighbour's Saint. 

A little known fact about the Saint: his relics exude a liquid which has the fragrance of rosewater.  This phenomenon was recording when the body was in Myra, and it continues right up to today.  Each year on the feast day - today, the liquid is collected and bottled and distributed to the faithful and is said to have been responsible for numerous favours.   This phenomenon is not unique, it is known to exude from the relics of a number of Saints, and the liquid is called the "manna of the Saints".  So if you ever get over to Bari, pop into the shrine of St Nicholas and see if you can get a bottle of the manna: you might just think of this poor priest here and pick up one for him too: God bless you if you do!

A sad story from Pakistan as a young Catholic girl has been put to death for her faith.  Amariah Masih, 18, was shot dead as she resisted a Muslim man who tried to abduct her and rape her.  The story is here.  It seems there may be more to it than a simple attempt to abuse her: it seems this guy had tried to convert her to Islam and make her his wife and she refused.   At her funeral her parish priest has referred to her as a martyr.  Another Catholic, perhaps, to join Shahbaz Bhatti among the martyrs of Pakistan: there are enough of them to form a group of companions for the introduction of a Cause for all of them.  We pray for Amariah's family.  For her fidelity to her faith and her virginity, may she now find a place among St Maria Goretti, St Lucy and all the Virgin Martyrs.

The whinging about the new translation of the Mass is still going on: I was going to link to a few articles on it, but my computer froze during downloading, so I'll take that as a sign from God - let them at it and just get on with it.  The image of the goblins or dwarves in the last book of the Narnia series comes to mind (The Last Battle): when the battle is over, this lot just sit around in a huddled circle and try to ignore everyone and everthing.   

Finally, on this joyful feast: as we prepare for Christmas, perhaps the words of carols are running through our minds.  That lovely carol sung by Nat King Cole, "Chestnuts roasting on a open fire" comes to mind as I read this story of an enterprising crematorium owner who is seeking to harness the energy from cremations (I kid you not, people!). Up in Durham, England, turbines are being installed in the crematorium to generate electricity.  It seems one corpse can power 1,500 televisions for an hour.  What a tribute!    

A few notices:

There will be a demonstration against the government's decision to close the Irish embassy to the Holy See outside Leinster House, on the 8th December, from 2pm to 4pm.

The London Prayer Group will meet at 8pm on Thursday evening in Corpus Christi Church, Maiden Lane - an hour later than usual due to a Mass at 6.30pm.

The Drogheda Prayer Group will meet on Monday next at 8pm in St Mary's Church, a week earlier than usual due to various ceremonies in the church next week. 

Another date for you diary:  Tuesday, December 20th, Dublin Film Club, at Ely House, Ely Place, at 7pm. This month's movie, the comedy Nativity starring Martin Freeman.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Sitting Ducks

The Fr Reynolds case is still foremost in the minds of many.  There is a very good article by John Allen on the false accusations made against Fr Reynolds.  A number of points are worth noting.  First, Fr Reynolds was able to use science to prove that he was not an abuser - the vast majority of innocent priests who are accused have no recourse to such proof and so will forever live under suspicion even when acquitted by a court. 

Allen also notes that no senior figure in the Church went to the priest's defence - it was down to the ACP to help him prove himself innocent.  It has been said by some that priests are abandoned by their bishops once an accusation is made. I know of one priest who was given a few hours to "get out" of his home, take off his clerical garb and was not allowed know the nature of the accusations against him for a number of weeks.   All of these offend natural justice, never mind the law of charity imposed on Christians by our Saviour.  We understand bishops around the world are doing their best in trying to deal with this crisis, but I think they may need to do more for priests to ensure the above accusation against them does not prove to be true.

I understand, and fully accept, proper procedures must be followed, but perhaps we need to look at those procedures and see if they allow the accused their basic rights.  Perhaps we have swung too far in the opposite direction.  And if we have, why have we?  Is it to ensure children are protected, or to be seen to be taking accusations seriously?   After all, even the greatest murderers and serial killers in history were allowed their rights under the law and a fair trial.  Why not priests?  To ask such a question seems unacceptable in these times, and indeed portayed by some as offensive to victims, as if the appeal to truth and justice was in some way an attempt to deny what has happened.  It is not, but justice, truth and charity are for all.

Reading the comments beneath Allen's article, I was struck by one:
"I am an old priest, and every priest I talk to awaits the day when there is some accusation and his life as a priest is over. A colleague was accused, denies the accusation, and was informed by a canon lawyer that "in this climate" he is as good as dead."
What Father here says is true.  The same sentiments are expressed by a Donegal priest in his homily yesterday, as reported by The Irish Times.  Every single one of us know we are sitting ducks.  Antagonise a parishioner, even preach a part of the Gospel that some do not want to hear, and you could be accused to punish you or get you out of the way.  It makes little difference if the accusation is obviously false, you are destroyed, and the false accuser knows that they will never be punished even if they are found out: for them it is a win-win situation.

As John Allen rightly points out, destroying innocent priests does not do justice to genuine victims, and taking the easy way out by accepting unquestioningly that all accusations are true does not help them either.  These things only contribute to a climate which allows media to make allegations with little proof and leads whole populations to believe the myth that all priests are abusers.  
Time, I think, for all of us to watch or read Arthur Miller's The Crucible: it has a lot of wisdom to offer us in this crisis.  Justice, truth, charity and prudence.