Friday, November 30, 2012

The Storm Rages

Pro-Life Candlelight Vigil outside Dail Eireann on Tuesday 4th December at 4pm.  All who believe in the cause of life, in protecting the rights of children, are invited to come for a peaceful vigil.


These are indeed extraordinary days here in Ireland.   Over the past couple of weeks our country has been transformed as the battle for life is in full swing.  On one side the pro-abortion movement, the media and pro-abortion TDs and senators clamour for the legalisation of induced abortion, on the other the pro-life movement, uniting people of all religions and none, is trying to get its message across in very difficult situations and with a media that is hostile to the cause of life.    I'm trying to keep up with it all, but things change moment by moment.

A few observations.  The Savita Halappanavar case is still being used by the pro-abortion movement, and yet the full facts have yet to be established.  So far we have only heard one side of the argument - the hospital and medical team involved have not yet spoken, nor can they as the investigation is ongoing.  Halappanavar's husband seems to be changing his story every time he is interviewed and that is only contributing to the confusion.  For an excellent analysis of all this pop over to The Thirsty Gargoyle - his great quality in such issues is clarity. He has two good posts I recommend you read: one dealing with the discrepancies in the story of Savita's death, all being ignored; and the other concerns the X-case judgement which is much more restrictive than people think.

One thing the Gargoyle mentions is the level of debate which is going on.  To be honest it is vile.  I know from friends in the pro-life movement that they are getting emails that are sickening and seriously threatening: I would fear for the lives of some prominent members of the pro-life movement.  I hope that pro-lifers are not sending threatening or abusing messages to people in the pro-abortion movement.  I would warn anyone considering it not to do so - we have truth on our side, engaging in a war of abusive comments and violence will only undermine our cause.  This is a difficult time and I know from experience that the pro-abortion movement plays dirty and some of its members are well versed in tactics to taunt and provoke - they must not succeed in this.  Regardless of what they believe, those calling for abortion are human beings too and must be treated with respect even if they do not treat us in the same way.  The greatest sign of the authenticity of our cause is our consistency - we must witness to the dignity of life by respecting all life.

Another reason why we must be calm and dignified concerns media coverage.  With the media a big player on the other side, journalists and television teams will try to paint pro-lifers as violent, anti-woman and extremist: we must not give them fodder for their articles and news items.  They too will try to provoke and be sure that if any pro-lifer slips even just once there will be a camera there to record the moment and it will be shown in the worst possible light.   We have speakers who can deal with the media: David Quinn, Caroline Simons, Patricia Casey, Sen. Ronan Mullen, Breda O'Brien for example - leave the arguing to them and support them with your prayers and with emails and letters of support.  These, and others engaged in the media battle, are having a very tough time we should not be making it any harder for them to defend the pro-life cause: instead we stand behind them and give them every help.

Also, if you have a few quid to spare, and even if not, send something to the pro-life organisations - they will need resources to help them over the next few months as this situation develops.  The pro-abortion groups have huge resources thanks to Chuck Feeney and other supporters overseas; they also have the might of Planned Parenthood and Marie Stopes behind them.

More news.  No doubt you read Caroline Simons's excellent response to the expert group's report, if not you can find it here; she also has a good article, published in The Examiner, on the debate.   Bishop William Murphy of Kerry has pointed out that if abortion is introduced, regardless of limits, it will lead to widespread abortion in the country: experience has shown that this is true.  Regarding the abuse the pro-life movement is getting, I refer you to the Iona Institute's website where some of the emails and comments they are getting have been published; demonic!  I am shocked to see that an RTE producer/presenter has openly sent a hateful comment to David Quinn.  Many of these vile comments have appeared on Twitter - I'm glad I never opened a Twitter account - Lord knows what creatures would be crawling out of the woodwork in response to my posts!    It seems, while there is a positive aspect to Twitter, it has been used to abuse and attack, and it has actually helped accelerate what has become a culture of denigration and abuse.  Another interesting article on the Iona Institute site concerns the expert group's recommendation that the conscientious objection of doctors to abortion must be limited. 

I notice the many of the comments attack our Catholic faith - so much for religious tolerance!  But remember, the issue of abortion is not a religious issue - it is a human issue, and it unites men and women of all religions and none.  In this battle we stand side by side with those with whom we may have very little in common and may well have argued with in the past: but our common humanity unites us in this cause - so let us foster that and let us build a culture of life for all people regardless of race, gender, religion or views. 

I posted a notice about the Pro-Life Vigil on Tuesday at the Dail above: spread the word and get as many people as possible to come.  Bear in mind, extreme calm and patience will be required, I have no doubt the pro-abortion extremists will be there and will provoke and be most vile in their behaviour: they must be ignored, so be prepared. 

If you, or know people who cannot come: pray and pray hard.  If you or they can, offer a Holy Hour from 4.30-5.30 on Tuesday.   I ask our Bishops and my brother priests to come and stand with the laity in this act of witness to life.  It would be great if our priests and religious offered up their Offices on Tuesday for the Vigil and the cause.  And if priests can offer Masses for the same cause on or near Tuesday it would be great. And all our friends in other countries, I ask you to please pray for us in Ireland in these most difficult times. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Problem of Democracy

The recent troubles in the Church of England are very sad – the communion is being torn asunder by the issue of women bishops.  As you know the C of E synod has just rejected the ordination of women bishops and the fallout has been dreadful.  Some Catholics in recent times have hailed the democratic nature of the Anglican synod and urged our Church to adopt it: only in democracy, we are told, can the Church become relevant and have a future.  However, in the eyes of some it seems the democratic nature of the Anglican synod has failed to produce the goods this time, and there is now talk in some quarters of imposing women bishops.  In the fray following the rejection, some MPs say they are going to sue the Church of England for breaching equality laws. 

To be honest I find it all very strange.  Those who speak about democracy within the C of E are not happy with what seems to be a democratic decision according to the model the Anglican Communion has adopted: surely democrats should accept the decision.  Well, it seems not.  Democracy is a strange animal.  Almost worshipped as the only legitimate form of government, it is sometimes seen as a burden to be overcome in secularist nations.   In the last hundred and fifty years we have seen countries in the developed west trying to encourage less developed countries to adopt the democratic model, but when these countries adopt the model many end up being dominated in various ways by the very countries that urged them to democracy.

In Ireland, for example, our ancestors fought for freedom, for the Irish to rule themselves in a democratic way: as the blurb goes: “the people are sovereign”.  But then how many times in Ireland has the democratic will of the Irish people, expressed in a referendum, been put aside by the ruling government and the people forced back to the polls again and again to produce the “right” answer?  This charade became commonplace in the various referendums on European treaties we have had in recent times, but another example, rarely cited now, is also interesting: divorce. 

Over the years we had a number of referendums on divorce in Ireland until it was passed.  Following a rejection the government returned to issue every few years to see if the view of the people had changed, yet now that we have it no government has decided to see if the people still want divorce.  Should the government not be consistent?  After all, having had the experience of divorce for the last number of years, perhaps the will of the people has changed again.

From such experiences one might be inclined to think that democracy is a one way street, veering in the direction of the most powerful and influential in society.  Certainly, as many of us have found, scratch the surface of some of those who appeal to democracy and the people and you find they are not really interested in democracy at all, but rather want to impose their rule and give the impression that the people want it.  A brief look at history reveals this to be the case in many countries from Communist Russia to modern China and North Korea.   I sometimes wonder if democracy is seen by some as such a wild animal that it needs to be chained, sedated, fed only what the elite will concede and only brought out for a walk now and again to impress the neighbours, but always on the leash.

As regards women bishops in the Church of England: first to say that I accept the Catholic Church’s position on the issue of the ordination of women, as taught by Pope Paul VI, Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict, and I believe that is the will of God for his Church.  If the Anglicans want to ordain women ministers it is their concern, but if they see that that is right for the Church of England, then how can they refuse to ordain them bishops?  If women can be priests for them, then they can be bishops: they cannot refuse since the offices of priest and bishop are intimately connected.  They cannot decide to go half way down the road once they have committed themselves.  That may be hard for the opponents of women priests and bishops to hear, but they will eventually have to face the inevitable.  That said: the doors of the Ordinariate are always open – we would be delighted to welcome them home. We should keep them all in our prayers.  On this issue Francis Philips has an interesting article in the Herald which is well worth reading. 

The big news in the Church here in Ireland is the appointment of the new bishop of Cloyne - the new nuncio's first appointment.  The bishop-elect is Canon William Crean from the Diocese of Kerry and was a most unexpected candidate.  Here is the bishop-elect's acceptance speech.  As bishop, Canon Crean will face many challenges - the difficulties that have arisen in his new See in recent years, and the stirrings of renewal in the Church here.  We must keep him in our prayers, as we must remember all our bishops.

Other news.  John Jalsevac over on LifeSiteNews is beginning a series of articles on internet pornography.  In the first article he writes about his own experience as an addict and offers some shocking statistics.   Brandon Vogt has a very good piece on how Blessed John Henry Newman dealt with anti-Catholic bigotry.  As I was reading it I could not help but think of our contemporary situation: good advice for us all.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

It's Out!

After months of waiting, Pope Benedict's third and final installment of his work Jesus of Nazareth, has been published.  The third volume deals with the Lord's infancy, a most fitting work for the time of year.  It will be good Advent/Christmas reading. 

The book is comprised of four chapters, preceded by a foreword and completed with a epilogue. The first chapter looks at the Genealogies, which are actually fascinating reading and a reminder of the mystery of the Incarnation.  We might have issues with members of our families, and those of you who are doing family histories may be appalled at the skeletons in the closet, but all our strange relations fade into insignificance when it comes to some of the creatures in the Lord's human ancestry.  The second chapter looks at the Annunciation. 

The third reflects on the Nativity and the poverty which marked Our Lord's birth.  Some of the news features have homed in on the Pope's point that there were probably no animals in the stable as Jesus was born.  Well that's just common sense.  What woman wants to give birth to her baby with a donkey looking over her shoulder and a half-curious ox chewing the cud?  It looks lovely in the crib, but in reality it would not have been safe or healthy.

The final chapter deals with the Magi.  While the Holy Father reflects on the theological significance of the wise men, he is inclined to believe that they were real people.  I would expect that from a German Catholic given that the shrine of the Magi is in Cologne - and when you have seen the devotion to the Magi there, you are inclined to believe they existed.  I'm with the Pope on that one.

The Epilogue looks at the finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple.

Here is Wikipedia's entry on the book which provides a good, brief summary.  I don't think I'll wait for Santa to bring it.  Advent reading sorted.  The book will be published in the UK on the 4th December, I'm not sure when it will get to Ireland. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Statement From Irish Bishops

The Bishops here have issued a statement on the Savita Halappanavar case.  I am posting it in full:
The death of Mrs Savita Halappanavar and her unborn child in University Hospital Galway on the 28 October last was a devastating personal tragedy for her husband and family. It has stunned our country. We share the anguish and sorrow expressed by so many at the tragic loss of a mother and her baby in these circumstances and we express our sympathy to the family of Mrs Halappanavar and all those affected by these events.

In light of the widespread discussion following the tragic death of Mrs Halappanavar and her unborn baby, we wish to reaffirm some aspects of Catholic moral teaching. These were set out in our recently published Day for Life message on 7 October last, available on :

· The Catholic Church has never taught that the life of a child in the womb should be preferred to that of a mother. By virtue of their common humanity a mother and her unborn baby are both sacred with an equal right to life.

· Where a seriously ill pregnant woman needs medical treatment which may put the life of her baby at risk, such treatments are ethically permissible provided every effort has been made to save the life of both the mother and her baby.

· Whereas abortion is the direct and intentional destruction of an unborn baby and is gravely immoral in all circumstances, this is different from medical treatments which do not directly and intentionally seek to end the life of the unborn baby. Current law and medical guidelines in Ireland allow nurses and doctors in Irish hospitals to apply this vital distinction in practice while upholding the equal right to life of both a mother and her unborn baby.

· Some would claim that the unborn baby is less human or less deserving of life. Advances in genetics and technology make it clear that at fertilisation a new, unique and genetically complete human being comes into existence. From that moment onwards each of us did not grow and develop into a human being, but grew and developed as a human being.

With many other religious and ethical traditions we believe in upholding the equal and inalienable right to life of a mother and her unborn child in our laws and medical practice. This helps to ensure that women and babies receive the highest standard of care and protection during pregnancy. Indeed, international statistics confirm that Ireland, without abortion, remains one of the safest countries in the world in which to be pregnant and to give birth. This is a position that should continue to be cherished and strengthened in the interests of mothers and unborn children in Ireland.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Donkeys In Disguise

The liturgy gets very interesting in these weeks – not that it isn’t interesting all the time: it is a rich fountain.  But in these weeks the Church reflects on the end times and the prophecies of the Lord concerning the end of the world and his Second Coming.  I have to confess I love to see the reactions in the congregations – people who tend to snooze through the liturgy of the Word and the homily are wide awake and shifting uncomfortably in their seats.  Are they eyeing the confessional? I sometimes wonder.  I am certainly more devout in my confessions around this time of year as I am faced with reality of the end – my own death and the end of the world.  I am very conscious of the fact that I am not assured of my salvation, as St Philip Neri often lamented to the Lord: I could turn my back on him at any moment.  But for the grace of God go I. 

The end times always fascinate, even the unbelievers.  Whenever there is talk about the end of the world, the Second Coming, the Tribulation, the Anti-Christ, people sit up and listen.  The Book of Revelation has been a favourite with many a believer and non-believer for centuries, and time and again certain people emerge claiming they have the inside story on the Book and know when these things are going to happen.  We have had a few in Ireland in recent times, and at the moment there is one lady who has called herself a prophet and is claiming revelations about the Second Coming: reading her messages I see that much of what she is saying is incompatible with Scripture and the teaching of the Church; yet, sadly, good and devout people are listening to her.

In the end times such deception will play an important part in persecution of the Church as many will be led astray.   In my homily yesterday I mentioned C.S. Lewis’s book The Last Battle, the last book in the Chronicles of Narnia series – it is a good work to help us reflect on the end times.  In that book an Anti-Christ figure, an ape called Shift, deceives a donkey, Puzzle, and makes him dress up in a lion skin and pretend he is Aslan, the Christ figure.  What is most interesting is that some of the creatures in Narnia are actually fooled – it is obvious that here is a donkey dressed up as a lion, but the truth is so compromised, deception so insidious, they cannot see the reality.  It’s like what has been happening here in Ireland with regard to the Savita Halappanavar case – pro-abortion groups and some within the media are trying to deceive people as to what caused the tragedy in order to push their agenda. 

Only adherence to Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and Life, will help us see through such deception.  The teachings of the Lord are clear, sometimes too clear and too direct, and yet remaining faithful to them will clarify our vision not only of the faith, but also of the world and our humanity.  As we read the apocalyptic Scriptures in these weeks, we are called to come closer to Christ who is our King, and in a relationship with him we will not be afraid, but rather, when the end comes, we will lift up our heads in joy and see that our liberation is at hand.   Reflection on the Last Things is very important, however, we must be careful not to lose the run of ourselves, or to think we have been given a special insight.  When it comes such mysteries the teaching of the Church, which is guided by the Holy Spirit, could be our guide. 

In his Angelus talk yesterday the Holy Father warns us against idle speculation:
"Jesus says: “The sky and the earth will pass away but my words will not pass away” (13:31). In fact, we know that in the Bible the word of God is at the origin of creation: all creatures, starting with the cosmic elements – sun, moon, sky – obey God’s Word, they exist insofar as they are “called” by it. This creative power of the divine Word (“Parola”) is concentrated in Jesus Christ, the Word (“Verbo”) made flesh, and also passes through his human words, which are the true “sky” that orients the thought and path of man on earth. For this reason Jesus does not describe the end of the world and when he uses apocalyptic images he does not conduct himself like a “visionary.” On the contrary, he wants to take away the curiosity of his disciples in every age about dates and predictions and wishes instead to give them a key to a deep, essential reading, and above all to indicate the right path to take, today and tomorrow, to enter into eternal life. Everything passes – the Lord tells us – but God’s Word does not change, and before this Word each of us is responsible for his conduct. It is on this basis that we will be judged."
In other news: former atheist blogger Leah Lebresco was received into the Church yesterday.  As we welcome her into the family, we pray the Lord will grant her many blessings and graces.  Leah, like St Edith Stein, Blessed John Henry Newman and many others, thought her way into the Church.   

Surfing the net to catch up on news, I found this excellent article on Fr Hans Kung - it is a review of the history of dissident theologian and his current status in the Church.  Despite what Fr Kung and his allies say, the popes have been very patient with him.    

The fall-out from the death of Savita Halappanavar is continuing.  The government of India is involved and the government here is keeping it informed.  Interesting facts: one woman dies in Ireland from septicaemia while she is miscarrying and there is outrage; in India every year 20,000 women die from abortions and every year 11 million Indian children are killed in abortion clinics: these are official Indian figures, and it is "choice".  I do not think Ireland should really be listening to India when it comes to looking at care of pregnant women in Irish hospitals.   Hilary White has a very interesting article on LifeSiteNews.  The group to investigate the woman's death has been set up: we await its findings.    The Thirsty Gargoyle has another excellent article on the issue, this time on the media's part in the saga.

More and more questions are being raised about this case and the hysteria which has been built up around it.   Speaking with some nurses and doctors in the last few days, they are at a loss as to how this case becomes a trophy for those who want to open the doors of abortion clinics here.  More information on the pro-abortion groups's campaign is emerging: I have been informed that the head of Planned Parenthood International visited Dublin on the Monday of last week, three days before the story hit the headlines.  Coincidence? 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Getting Our Act Together

Well, time to start lobbying the government in earnest in order to keep abortion out of Ireland.  One thing to remember when doing so: be calm and rational - crazy, frenzied rants end up in the rubbish bin.  It is the ordered, planned and strong lobbying that works - as we see with the pro-abortion groups.

So, I draw your attention to Christopher McCamley's blog and the advice he gives today on how to lobby the government: it is sound advice.  At the heart of his post is advice from a pro-choice campaigner which is actually very good and effective - hence their great success.  I am quoting it full here now:
1. Don’t bother lobbying non-government TDs. In this country, the government decides what legislation gets through the Oireachtas, so only government TDs have influence. I keep being amazed at some people who can’t seem to grasp that Fianna Fáil are no longer in government and so are now pointless at being angry at, at least, over this issue. It’s true, if the government decides to have a free vote on abortion legislation then every vote counts but the priority now is getting that legislation into the house with the support of a majority of govt TDs.

2. Identify your TD. Ideally go for the government TD who scraped into the last seat. You can see which one did from RTE’s election site here.

3. Write, don’t email. TDs are almost superstitious about voters who bother to write letters to them. The theory is that if you went to the trouble of writing a letter, buying stamps and posting it, you will probably go to the trouble of voting. They are afraid of people who definitely vote. Ever wonder why they don’t give a toss about student marches but get sweaty when a group of pensioners start mouthing off?

4. Assuming you do actually vote, tell them, and tell them to check the "marked register" (a list of people who actually vote that TDs have access to. People seem surprised, sometimes even outraged that such a thing exists. I don’t know why, as it makes TDs take actual voters seriously.) to see that you actually vote. Then remind them that this issue will not only affect how you vote, but that you will specifically transfer against govt TDs who do not deliver on this issue. Our voting system is almost unique in that it allows you, by denying a preference to a specific candidate, and transferring to every other candidate, to actually vote against someone. They get REALLY nervous when voters realise that.
Time to get writing.  As the great Ireland footballer manager Jack Charlton used to say: "Put them under pressure". 

And don't forget to pray and fast!  If you a Catholic, Christian or member of another faith, I would suggest that we all pray and fast for this cause.   We are not just dealing with human power here, there is great evil at work and that evil is powerful so sacrifice and intense prayer are required to overcome it.   We give it all into the hands of God, may the victory be his. 

And for Catholics: pray to St Gianna Beretta Molla and to the Holy Innocents - the little children martyred by the power of a corrupt state.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

More Information: A Planned Campaign?

More information on the Savita Halappanavar tragedy is coming to light, or to be exact on the pro-abortion lobby's campaign. 

According to LifeSiteNews, a leaked email from a pro-abortion campaign organisation dated Sunday 11th November, the Irish Choice Network, reveals that the organisation was given advance knowledge of the tragedy and so began to plan a campaign to exploit the woman's death to further their agenda.  The email was a call to members to assemble for a meeting to discuss what they were going to do in response to "a major news story in relation to abortion access".  That would explain how protests and vigils could be organised so quickly - they may well have been organised during week before the story broke.

Questions are being asked: who tipped off the INC?  Was it the media or someone else?  If this email is authentic, then it is sure evidence that the pro-abortion brigade in Ireland have planned this frenzy and are fueling it with the help of, and possibly at the instigation of, elements within the media. 

Exploiting A Tragedy?

No doubt you are all following recent events here in Ireland – the tragic death of an Indian woman in an Irish hospital as a result of a miscarriage.  It is an awful situation and we must remember her husband and family at this time. 

As if the death of a young woman was not bad enough, the pro-abortion lobby are now exploiting her untimely death to push the government into legislating for abortion.  And it seems the government may well use this case to do so.   A lot has been written about the case in the last twenty-four hours.  There is a lot of anger and some protests, all by those who want to legalise the killing of the unborn.  However, as always when it comes to abortion and politics, truth tends to be the first casualty, and as people shout and protest, the truth is being conveniently pushed to one side. As doctors and pro-life groups are attempting to point out the real medical situation, pro-abortion politicians and groups and the media are trying to drown them out.   Seeing as the expert group’s report has just landed on the Minister for Health’s desk and is due to be published in a week or so, it all seems to be (eerily) perfectly timed for the anti-life brigade.

The simple matter of fact here is that Savita Halappanavar did not die because she was refused an abortion.  The procdures necessary to save her life (abortion not being one of them) are already permissible under current medical guidelines and under Catholic ethical guidelines, and are performed in Irish hospitals whenever such cases present themselves.  Why they were not preformed is now the subject of an investigation, and rightly so.   But thanks to the muddied waters being stirred up this basic fact is being ignored and quickly shoved out of sight. 

I would refer you to David Quinn’s excellent article in the The Irish Independent today.  He also points out that the media, who are now giving wall to wall coverage of this poor woman’s death, tends to fall silent when it comes to reporting on the deaths of women during and after abortions.  Eilis Mulroy’s article in the same paper is also important reading.  There is also a very good, detailed reflection on the case by the Thirsty Gargoyle.  William Oddie of the Catholic Herald also offers us some opinions which are worth considering.

I think we were all waiting for something like this to happen.  We knew that as the report was due to come out the pro-abortion brigade would find something to push their case.  I just find it despicable that they are exploiting this woman’s death.  But then as a friend said to me yesterday evening: “If they think it is okay to kill a baby, then there are no moral barriers they’ll respect”.  Anyway we need to pray and do what we can. 

Other news.  George Weigel has a most interesting article on Church/civil marriage: he is actually arguing the point I made some time ago – it may be time for the Catholic Church to withdraw from cooperation with the civil authorities in conducting marriage ceremonies.   Canonist Ed Peters disagrees and offers a thought provoking response.  He sees it in a different light – the Church does not conduct civil weddings, but rather the state accords civil recognition to those marriages, so the onus is on the state to stop recognising them rather than on the Church.  This is a useful point to make.  Anyway, I think we should be talking about it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Bishop Of Killala Defends Life

Bishop John Fleming of Killala has a good article in The Irish Times, it is well worth reading.  In the piece the Bishop reminds us that abortion is never a humane solution to problems, it is in reality the killing of another, innocent human being.

Though it is a gentle defence of life, the Bishop also points out that for Catholics taking the life of an unborn child is never an option and the Church in Ireland will oppose any attempts to introduce abortion into our country.

I find it most ironic that after having a Constitutional referendum claiming to protect the rights of children shoved down our necks, now the same government may well be planning to deprive Irish children of the right to life.  Where is the consistency?

Well done to the Bishop, and to the Bishops of Ireland.   As I said before we need to pray for and support our Bishops in the forthcoming battle for life.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Relics: A Human Thing?

Pope Benedict venerates relics "ex sanguine" of Blessed John Paul II during his beatification ceremony

Last Thursday the Fraternity in London held a Mass in honour of Blessed John Paul II, in accordance with the Indult granted by Rome.  The relic of the Blessed Pontiff was present, and I had the privilege of offering the Mass. We had a great crowd, and a beautiful choir provided the music – the Happy Day Gospel Choir.   Members of our monthly prayer group were joined by other devotees of Blessed John Paul, and people from the arts and film industry. 

As noted by my colleague, Caroline McCamley, we were covered by the Catholic Herald.  In fact I was in the airport when I got the call from the journalist: the article was quite good, so I hope it will help bring more attention to the London group who meet faithfully every month.

Some of the comments at the end of the article were interesting.  The Catholic Herald has its regular trolls who denigrate various articles and the doctrines and teaching of the Catholic faith, and it seems some of the trolls popped up over the bridge in response to our article.  This time it was the cult of relics.

I suppose for some non-Catholics and even for some in the Church the veneration of relics may seem odd and perhaps ghastly – I think one commenter (troll?) called us “ghouls” for venerating the relic of Blessed John Paul: curious.   The veneration of relics is an ancient practice and not confined to Catholicism.  Buddhism, much beloved of many critics of the Catholic faith, cherishes relics of Buddha, not only items associated with him, but also his ashes and other bodily remains which are enshrined in stupas and attract numerous pilgrims. The relic of Buddha’s tooth, saved from cremation, is venerated in Sri Lanka, for example.   The tooth is regarded as a symbolic representation of the living Buddha, and so various rituals and ceremonies have grown up around the relic. 

Buddha's tooth, venerated as a relic by Buddhists

Muslims also venerate relics of Mohammed and other holy people in their faith – Muslims could hardly be accused of idolatry by critics of the cult of relics.  Mohammed’s tomb is a place of pilgrimage, and among his relics cherished by his followers is a lock of his hair and his cloak. 

Relics of Mohammed venerated by Muslims

Indeed, while we are at it, we’ll push the boat out and remind our critics that even atheists cherish relics: the veneration shown to the bodies of Lenin and, for a time, Stalin, reveals that even those who do not believe in God, still feel the need for some form of the cult of relics, recognising by their “devotion” that there is something positive and distinctly human in this practice. 

Lenin's body venerated by his devotees

In terms of Christianity, relics have been part of the devotional life of the faithful from the beginning.  During St Paul’s lifetime, for example, people obtained relics of him – handkerchiefs which had touched him, and these were instrumental in the healing of the sick (Acts 19:11-12).  The devotional life of the Church since then has included relics, most potently those of the martyrs which were venerated in memory of the sacrifice they had made for Christ.   God has worked through this devotion to relics, working miracles, but most importantly bringing people closer to himself through his Saints. 

That said, there have been abuses, and these must not be encouraged.  The Church is quite strict when it comes to these and reminds the faithful that relics are a means to faith, not faith itself.  Relics are also the remains of human beings and so they must also be respected and cared for.  In the past, in the quest for relics, some grisly things were done to the remains of the Saints – such things must not be repeated: the bodies of the Saints must now be respected and preserved – when relics are taken it must be done with respect for the integrity of the body.  No one “owns” a relic, they are merely custodians, and relics must be protected and safely passed on for future generations.  Relics can never be sold, that is a sin.  If money changes hands it must only be to cover the costs of the preparation of the relics.

Relics are venerated rather than worshiped – they are not the object of faith, but a help to faith.  In venerating a relic we venerate the Saint or Blessed who is to bring us closer to God.  They are like keep-sakes, but more sacred since they are the blessed remains of the holy ones.  When used correctly, relics can bring great joy and assistance to the faithful.  I had one such experience of this recently. 

Fraternity Relic of Blessed John Paul II.

A few days after the Fraternity received the relic of Blessed John Paul I got a call from a friend who told me of a lady who was dying and who had a great devotion to Blessed John Paul: she asked me if I could give her a blessing with the relic.   I called into the hospital to see the woman.  She was a good woman who had dedicated her life to the sick and dying herself, and she was suffering greatly.  As soon as she received the relic her face was transformed with joy – she said that John Paul had come to visit her as she was preparing to die.  As she told people later, peace flooded her soul and all fear passed away.  She lived for another couple of weeks, but her family say that from that day she was joyful and serene and died a peaceful, holy death.  Through his relic, Blessed John Paul came to her and assured her of his presence and prayers. 

I have no doubt that God, Our Lady and Pope John Paul were already with the lady, but the Lord used the relic of the Pontiff as a tangible sign to remind her that they were there with her and she need not be afraid.   God can used relics to bring comfort and hope, and to assure the Church on earth of the prayers and loving care of the Church in heaven.  The pilgrimage of the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux around the world is one such blessing: millions, many facing difficulties in their lives, have been lifted up by the visit of the relics of the Little Flower to their country.

So abuses aside, when properly understood, the veneration of relics can bring many blessings and increase our faith.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Questions Being Raised

The Children’s Rights Referendum is occupying the media’s attention these days.  It was passed by a fairly tight margin, but it is shrouded in controversy, particularly following our Supreme Court’s decision that the government’s supposedly neutral information leaflets were not neutral at all, but rather heavily biased in favour of a “Yes” vote, thereby contravening the McKenna judgement, a judgement by the Supreme Court which requires balance and fairness on the government's part in referendums. 

One interesting pattern which seems to be emerging from this referendum is the gulf between liberal/middle class voters and the working class/unemployed/poor.  According to emerging information in those areas populated by the liberal middle class there was a high “Yes” vote for the changes to the Constitution, in those areas populated by the poor, unemployed and working class there was a high “No”vote, perhaps reflecting the fear that the new laws ushered in by this referendum will affect them the most.  They, more than anyone else, are in danger of having their children taken away because of financial difficulties.   One commentator has also reminded us that these voters have more contact with social workers, and so their high “No” vote is hardly a ringing endorsement for that profession.

It will be interesting to see how things pan out here.  While the government is celebrating and showing a brave face, reports are emerging that inside government there is a lot of concern – they were not expecting such a high “No” vote and it is obvious that despite their efforts to paint “No” campaigners as loony, fundamentalist, extreme right-wing Catholic bigots, they were in reality expressing the doubts and fears of almost half the voters in the referendum.    What is also very interesting is that despite the little coverage given to the “No” side, and a case could be made that that coverage was biased, the “No” vote was still quite large. 

A number of questions are now being raised: Has the government lost touch with half of the citizens?  Has the government alienated the poor?   Are there now two Irelands: the liberal left-wing middle class who rule and the fearful poor and working class who now seem to have little confidence in their political masters?   I wonder what Marx would say about that.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Suffering Pontiff

News from Rome seems to confirm that Pope Paul VI may well be beatified next year: the Congregation for the Causes of Saints is examining a possible miracle.  He has yet to be declared Venerable, but once that decree is signed and the miracle accepted, beatification can quickly follow.  If Pope John Paul I's cause is as advanced, Pope Benedict may well make history by beatifying his three immediate predecessors - Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II.    

Pope Paul's beatification may well prove to be controversial - I imagine there are many of a certain generation who will be appalled.  And perhaps some of our more Traditionalist Catholics will not be impressed either.   

Paul's legacy is a mixed one and he was a complex man.   He was a holy man, I think few would doubt his personal holiness.  But for all of that his pontificate is controversial and perhaps even seen to be divisive. Some maintain he was a weak man unable to control the fall out from Vatican II, others see him as a liberal intent on changing the Church radically.  And of course there are those who reject his teaching on artificial contraception and see him as a man who, in the end, turned against the "spirit of Vatican II".   This last view may well be the thing to raise the ire of some in the Church should he be beatified. 

Whatever position people may take, I think Paul's stance on the issue of artificial contraception may well have been the work for which he was called to be Pope.  Despite the urgings of the committee Blessed John XXIII set up, and the attempts of various Church figures to influence him, Paul saw he could not change the moral teaching of the Church, but rather had to reiterate it even though it meant becoming a pariah.  It was surely a case of Paulus contra mundum: doing what he saw was the right thing though the world and many Catholics, now gripped in revolution, could neither accept nor understand.  With the promulgation of Humanae Vitae, Paul's via crucis began in earnest and he became what I believe to be "the suffering Pontiff".

My view of the last few popes is simple.  I believe the Ven. Pius XII prepared the Church through his own engagement with the world and fight against tyranny, for a great reform.  Blessed John XXIII was called to initiate that reform with the calling of the Council.  Pope Paul VI was to suffer in the turbulence of the post-conciliar period for the reform.  John Paul I was sent to reveal, after years of trouble and division, the gentleness and humanity of Christ - the "smiling pope" was just to be there, though only for a short time, to bring a certain peace.  Then John Paul II, the great charismatic one, brought the Council back on track: he stabilised, taught, drew people back in and went out to the world to proclaim Christ and promulgate the New Evangelisation which is the fruit of Vatican II when that Council is properly understood.  And then there is Benedict the Teacher who, in his gentle way, teaches those John Paul II brought back and prepares the members of the Church to go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News.  He teaches, consolidates, puts us back in touch with the tradition (the ressourcement of the Council): reminds us that we already have a solid foundation on which to build our new missionary effort.  And the next Pope?  A missionary?  A defender of the faith in a secular world where civilisation is crumbling?  I do not know, nor will I speculate - the Holy Spirit is in charge there.

Is that all too simplistic?  Perhaps, but I do see a plan, a divine plan, where each of our recent popes were called to fulfill a certain role in these times.  Paul was the one called to suffer - they all suffered of course, but Paul's own suffering seemed to mirror the confusion and craziness of the times.  His suffering was inflicted by the disobedience of Catholics who rebelled against the Church's teaching because they thought they had a deeper insight into their humanity and into how things should be. 

Did Paul make mistakes?  Yes, I believe he did: for example he should have upheld the suspension of the Washington priests who rejected Humanae Vitae.  In reinstating them he sent a dangerous message to all those who dissented: rebel and nothing will be done to you.  But Paul wanted to bring them around, and while in hindsight we see that did not work, hindsight is a wonderful thing.  Paul was not a disciplinarian, he wanted to persuade, to encourage people to see the truth and accept it: he had pure intentions, I believe.

In related news I see that a Cause has been opened for Aldo Moro, the former Prime Minister of Italy and personal friend of Pope Paul, who was murdered by radical socialists in 1978.  Moro was a noble man who, with Paul's help, saw his role as a politician in terms of a call from God to serve his people.  His faith was important to him and he may well have been a saint - time and the process will tell.  His murder left Paul devastated and most likely hastened the Pontiff's death: Paul died a few months later.  One of the saddest images of Paul is from the funeral of Aldo Moro in St John Lateran's.  Paul, broken and burdened with grief and suffering is carried into the basilica to preside over the funeral Mass.  In his homily, Paul asks God why this good man had been so brutally torn from his family and friends and killed in such an inhuman way.  That homily is one of the most extraordinary ever delivered by a Pope: indeed, it is one in which the Pontiff seems to rebuke God:
And who can listen to our lament, if not you, O God of life and death? You did not hearken to our supplication for the safety of Aldo Moro, this good, meek, wise, innocent and friendly man; but you, O Lord, have not abandoned his immortal spirit, sealed by faith in Christ, who is the resurrection and the life.
Blessed John Paul deeply admired Pope Paul: they were friends, and Paul turned to the then Archbishop of Krakow as he was writing Humanae Vitae.  In one of his speeches about Pope Paul, Blessed John Paul praised his legacy and his courage:
A strong and humble apostle...Paul VI wanted the ecclesial community to open up to the world without giving in to the spirit of the world. With prudent wisdom, he knew how to resist the temptation of ‘conforming’ to the modern mentality, sustaining difficulties and misunderstandings, and sometimes even hostility, with evangelical strength. Even in the most difficult moments he did not cease to bring God's illuminating word to his people.
Paul's beatification will, I think, bring us to focus on his legacy, his teaching and his courage.  It will also be an opportunity for the Church to explain what Paul actually teaches in Humanae Vitae, this time with evidence.  Paul was a prophet - what he said might happen should we abandon the moral law of God, has happened: it may well be time that the world woke up and saw reality for what it is.