Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The 12 Days: Seventh Day

Sylvester I.jpg
How blessed you are, O Holy Infant, God made man. 
You raised up your servant, Sylvester,
to rebuild your Church after persecution;
to be the chief Shepherd
and lead your people in strength and holiness  

Make our hearts like his, O gentle Jesus:
strong, prayerful, trusting,
filled with love for our Eternal Father
and our neighbour.

Today, let us pray for our Holy Father, Pope Francis,
that like his holy predecessor Sylvester
he may lovingly, fearlessly and joyfully
watch over and protect the flock entrusted to his care.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The 12 Days: Sixth Day

How blessed you are, O Holy Infant, God made man. 
You were obedient to Mary and Joseph
and grew in wisdom.
Make our hearts like yours, O gentle Jesus:
obedient, humble, meek,
filled with love for our Eternal Father
and our neighbour. 

Today, let us pray that we may embrace the humility of Christ
so he may come to dwell in us
and confide in us the eternal mysteries.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The 12 Days: Fifth Day

How blessed you are, O Holy Infant, God made man. 
For you blessed the human family
by your divine presence
transforming it into the domestic church,
the place of the Hidden Years.
Take our hearts, O gentle Jesus, and live in them:
as you lived with Mary and Joseph,
fill us with love for our Eternal Father
and our neighbour. 

Today, let us pray that through the Holy Family of Nazareth
all human families may be blessed and safeguarded,
all Christian families may become beacons of light and grace.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The 12 Days: Fourth Day

How blessed you are, O Holy Infant, God made man. 
You crown the little ones, the Holy Innocents, with martyrdom
for dying in your place;
and in your mercy you lay down your life
and confer eternal life on them.

Make our hearts like theirs, O gentle Jesus:
simple and child-like,
filled with love for our Eternal Father
and our neighbour. 

Today let us pray that we may be heartened by the Holy Innocents,
cherishing the precious gift of life given to us,
joyfully living it as a hymn of praise.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The 12 Days: Third Day

St John resting his head on the breast of Christ
How blessed you are, O Holy Infant, God made man. 
You called your Apostle, John, to be the Beloved;
the one who lay his head on your Heart
and saw the visions of your love.

Make our hearts like his, O gentle Jesus:
zealous, faithful, chaste,
filled with love for our Eternal Father
and our neighbour. 

Today, let us pray that we may seek to be like St John
abandoning ourselves to the Lord,
faithful even to the Cross.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The 12 Days: Second Day

How blessed you are, O Holy Infant, God made man. 
You instil in your disciple, Stephen, that faith
which proclaims the Gospel to all people;
that hope which brings the vision of heaven to earth;
that love which inspires the greatest sacrifice
Make our hearts like his, O gentle Jesus:
heroic, loving, pure,
filled with love for our Eternal Father
and our neighbour.
Today, let us pray that we may embrace the faith of St Stephen
so to be the salt of the earth,
the light of the world.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The 12 Days: First Day

How blessed you are, O Holy Infant, God made man. 
You come in all your power to embrace vulnerability:
to walk among us, to teach us, to save us.
Make our hearts like yours: gentle, meek, heroic,
filled with love for our Eternal Father
and our neighbour.
Today, let us pray that we may embrace the virtues of the Christ Child
so to love Him completely
and our neighbour selflessly.

Christmas Greetings

Paintings Reproductions Copley, John Singleton The Nativity, 1776-1777
I wish you all a Blessed and Joyful Christmas.  May the Christ Child, Our Lord and Saviour bless you abundantly.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Another One....

The Pope has given another interview.  I got a text from a friend of mine telling me about it and I could hear the remorseless groan wafting through cyberspace or whatever that thing is that sends texts flying around the world.  But  no need to groan, this is a welcome interview conducted by the reliable Andrea Tornelli, and in it the Holy Father clarifies a number of issues - clarifications which are badly needed and may knock down some resistance to him.
But in brief:
The Pope is not a Marxist, and he believes Marxism is wrong.  Note that he does not say that Marxism is misguided or erroneous: he does not offer a brief rebuttal of Marxist theory, he uses a word that not only says it is incorrect, but also makes a moral judgment of the system.  But, as always, he sees the human beings in the midst of it and he makes a distinction between Marxism and those who follow it, and sees that they can be good people.
The Pope is not going to make women cardinals.  That, he said, would be a clericalization of the laity and the clericalization of women.  I hear an echo of Blessed John Paul II's writings on the laity and on women in particular in which he acknowledged the unique and venerable role of the laity: clericalizing the laity is ultimately a denial of the lay state and its place in the mission of the Church.  The way forward is to see how the laity may be incorporated more into the mission of the Church without making them faux-clerics.  Of course I'm not sure if people are aware of this or not, but this will mean a lot more work being put on the shoulders of the laity and that will effect personal and family time.  At the end of the day the mission of the Church is not about power, it is about service, and those who want a greater role in the life of the Church had better get ready to abandon themselves to a greater service: believe me, I know!  And the reality of a life of service is not about self-affirmation and self-fulfilment, it about self-denial and sacrifice - lots of sacrifices.  And perhaps, as the laity take up a greater share of the work it may eventually be seen why God calls certain individuals to a celibate life of total service with no other obligations or responsibilities other than complete availability to service in the Church (with little or no pay!). 
It seems the Pope is not in favour of the German bishops's plans to give Communion to the divorced and civilly remarried.  Or at least that is what I discern from his comments on the issue. Francis says clearly: "The exclusion of divorced people who contract a second marriage from communion is not a sanction": it not a punishment imposed by the Church, rather, as Jimmy Aiken correctly points out: "The exclusion is caused by the fact that people who are civilly remarried are not validly married in the eyes of the Church...As a result, unless they are living as brother and sister, they are committing grave sexual sin and it is the grave sexual sin that creates the barrier to receiving Holy Communion."   As I said before, it is a moral issue and the Pope cannot (cannot not won't) change the moral law.  It does not mean we are not to be compassionate or exclude people in these unions from the life of the Church, no, but there is a problem that excludes them from full sacramental participation and that element of exclusion will remain until the problem is resolved.
Those issues aside, there is some lovely stuff in the interview, including his reflection on Christmas which I think is worth quoting:
For me Christmas is hope and tenderness...
It is the encounter Jesus. God has always sought out his people, led them, looked after them and promised to be always be close to them. The Book of Deuteronomy says that God walks with us; he takes us by the hand like a father does with his child. This is a beautiful thing. Christmas is God’s meeting with his people. It is also a consolation, a mystery of consolation. Many times after the midnight mass I have spent an hour or so alone in the chapel before celebrating the dawn mass. I experienced a profound feeling of consolation and peace. I remember one night of prayer after a mass in the Astalli residence for refugees in Rome, it was Christmas 1974 I think. For me Christmas has always been about this; contemplating the visit of God to his people.
It speaks of tenderness and hope. When God meets us he tells us two things. The first thing he says is: have hope. God always opens doors, he never closes them. He is the father who opens doors for us. The second thing he says is: don’t be afraid of tenderness. When Christians forget about hope and tenderness they become a cold Church, that loses its sense of direction and is held back by ideologies and worldly attitudes, whereas God’s simplicity tells you: go forward, I am a Father who caresses you. I become fearful when Christians lose hope and the ability to embrace and extend a loving caress to others. Maybe this is why, looking towards the future, I often speak about children and the elderly, about the most defenceless that is. Throughout my life as a priest, going to the parish, I have always sought to transmit this tenderness, particularly to children and the elderly. It does me good and it makes me think of the tenderness God has towards us.
Now that is lovely.  I note the scud against ideology and worldly values.  I think Francis wants all of us see ourselves as the salt of the earth and light of the world, a people who are different, a people who challenge the world through holy lives.  That may well be the key to our survival as Western civilisation collapses under the weight of decadence and greed.
And on another issue: Pope Francis is urging greater adherence to the Sacrament of Confession.  He is asking his curial staff to spend time in the confessional in the Church of Santo Spirito in Sassia, the Divine Mercy Church in Rome.  And if he wants more priests hearing confession he certainly wants more Catholics coming to the Sacrament.  I hope all his liberal fans will heed that call.  Let's hope that his admirers in the media will be forming an appropriately repentant queue (with the rest of us!)at the nearest confessional very soon.  I would be more than happy to make myself available to shrive the denizens of RTE and the Irish Times in time for Christmas.  We'll see how the new papalists respond to that invitation!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Prayer For Peter

 'Lawrence of Arabia' star Peter O'Toole dead at 81
With sadness I hear of the death of Peter O'Toole, at the age of 81. He is one of Ireland's great actors, and with the late Richard Harris, formed a dynamic Irish duo at the heart of theatre and film in the 20th century. 
O'Toole continued acting up until lately, and though he seemed very tired in his roles, he still rose to the occasion.  He was famous for his remarkable role in Lawrence of Arabia which took him from obscurity to being one of Hollywood's great stars. Of late, I liked him in portrayal of martyred Fr Christopher in the recent movie about the Cristeros during the persecution of the Church in Mexico, For Greater Glory. 

I pray the Holy Martyrs he honoured in that movie will now join us in praying for his eternal rest.  His personal life had difficulties and though he once described himself as a "retired Christian" he had great regard for the Lord Jesus and once said "No one can take Jesus away from me".  So hopefully  he will find his merciful Saviour and peace.  I'm commending him to the intercession of Blessed Jose Sanchez del Rio with whom he will be, for me, forever associated.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Patient Endurance

The Venerable Marcell of the Virgin of Carmel, OCD
Yesterday the Holy Father signed a number of decrees advancing several Causes.  Among them was one of our Carmelite friars, Fr Marcell of the Virgin of Carmel who was declared Venerable.  Venerable Marcell was Hungarian and suffered under the Communist regime there.  I thought I would share his life story with you.
Fr Marcell was born Morton Boldiszár on the 9th September 1877 in Zalakomar, Hungary. He was educated locally and went on, in 1905 to study Hungarian, Latin and Greek in the University of Budapest and afterwards entered the teaching profession. In 1914 he started working in a school in Zalagerszeg, a position he would hold until 1925. However with the outbreak of the First World War he volunteered and in 1916 was sent to fight. He would later write a book about his experiences in the army and the horrors of war, published in 1922. He was an outstanding teacher and was deeply admired and respected by his students. During these years, despite fervency in his childhood, Morton no longer practiced his faith, but had embraced the atheistic ideologies which were then prevailing in Europe. The war, however, had a profound effect on him and following his return from service a long process of gradual conversion began.

By the early 1920s he was discerning a vocation, and his decision was made in 1925 when he entered the Discalced Carmelite Order in Györ. He was given the name Marcell of the Virgin of Carmel, and following formation, he was ordained priest in 1930. As a friar and priest, Fr Marcell abilities were quickly appreciated. He was a wise confessor and many came to him for advice and spiritual direction. He was a truly contemplative friar who emanated serenity and holiness to those around him. He was inundated with people seeking advice and spiritual guidance and people would wait for hours to speak to him. He was also renowned for his preaching abilities. He continued his writing, publishing works on the Order, the spiritual life as well as poetry. By the 1940s Fr Marcell was a national figure, renowned for his simplicity and holiness. Among his spiritual children was Cardinal Mindszenty who himself would later suffer for his faith. He was known for his particular devotion to Our Lady and he encouraged his spiritual children to entrust themselves to her.

In 1943 he was appointed to the community in Budapest.  In 1950 his peaceful religious life came to an abrupt halt with the invasion of the Russians and the dissolution of the monasteries. Determined to continue living his Carmelite life, Marcell retired to a life of hidden solitude, but given his reputation for holiness and fidelity to his faith and the Church he was constantly watched by the Communists. While his life was hidden, he continued his ministry quietly, helping those who were suffering persecution for their Catholic faith. He was a tower of strength for his spiritual children in particular. In the midst of the persecution, he counselled Catholics to remain true to their faith, to trust in God and to hope. Commending them to Our Lady, he encouraged them to entrust themselves to her maternal intercession and protection.

These years of persecution were also years of increasing ill health and suffering for Fr Marcell. He carried this burden with great serenity and faith. He died on the 29th May 1966 and was buried in the crypt of the Carmelite Church in Györ. Without doubt, Fr Marcell is a providential figure for us Christians in these times as we face gradual persecution under more dominant secular forces. He encourages us to hold true to our faith regardless of what may try to distract us, to find a powerful help in the intercession of our Mother Mary, and to remember that we are called to be witnesses to hope, to be light and salt, in what may well be a dark age. We await a miracle for the Venerable Fr Marcell’s beatification.
The Venerable Clemens Fuhl, OSA
Among the other candidates raised yesterday was Fr Clemens Fuhl, former Superior General of the Augustinian Order.  Fr Clemens was another renowned for his holiness.  A friend of mine spent some time in the Augustinians and he used to tell me about him.  One story which touched me concerned his tender love for the Pope.  He was a busy man when General and often out giving talks, and sometimes he would arrive back very late to Santa Monica, the Augustinian Headquarters, and at times he found the door locked and the friars in bed.  Instead of knocking on the door and getting a friar up from his bed, Fr Clemens would walk across the street to St Peter's Square and looking up at the Papal Apartment he would spent the night in prayer for the Holy Father.  For those of you who have spent time sitting under the colonnades in St Peter's looking up at the Papal window, Fr Clemens is a patron for you.   Fr Clemens was declared Venerable yesterday.
The Venerables Maria Scholastica and Maria Olivia
I also have to mention two others: the now Venerable Maria Scholastica of Divine Providence who assisted Blessed James Alberione of the Paulines in founding the Pious Disciples of the Divine Master.   I know a number of these sisters - they have houses in Ireland, and they will be overjoyed at yesterday's news.  So congratulations to them.  And also the now Venerable Maria Olivia of the Mystical Body, foundress of the Institute of the Daughters of the Church, a wonderful congregation of sisters who kept me out every Saturday night when I was studying in Rome.  No, I was not out on the streets carousing or drinking coffee to the middle hours in the convent: every Saturday evening they hosted Vespers and adoration in their church, Santa Maria in Via Lata, on the Via del Corso.  Their "breezy veils" were always distinctive (and they wear them still).   There for a couple of hours in the evening one could commune with the Lord in the company of the good sisters. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Vision of St Nicholas

The feast of St Nicholas!  In previous years I have reflected on St Nicholas's passionate defence of the divinity of Christ which led to his losing the run of himself and bashing Arius at the Council of Nicea. As you know, Nicholas spent some time cooling off in a gaol cell.
Well interestingly, last year at the Belfast Christmas Market at City Hall, I fell across a lovely icon of St Nicholas (see above), and in the two top corners are the figures of Jesus and Mary portrayed in the way they appeared to him as he was languishing in prison.  Draped over Our Lady's arm is the omophorium, the symbol of a bishop in the Eastern Church.  Nicholas regretting his rash actions prayed for forgiveness, and in response to  his prayer he received this vision and the grace of Our Lady herself returning his episcopal robe to him.  (You can read the whole story here on this site dedicated to the saint).
While we might secretly take delight in the saint's action - it reveals his humanity, and we can reflect on the many stories from his life, but I think this prison vision is the most wonderful event in Nicholas' life.  He made a mistake - he was right in his defence of the faith, but wrong in resorting to violence even if Arius probably deserved a good beating.  He prayed for forgiveness, and he found it revealed in what is a tender vision.  Jesus, revealed in his divinity and humanity, and Mary coming as a loving mother to her child. 
This is most consoling for us.  This event in Nicholas's life can inspire us not to fear God when we have sinned, but rather to return to him and ask forgiveness: if we do so, we will certainly experience his tenderness and love.  If God decided, out of love for us, to become man and to die on the cross for us, then he will certainly be open and welcoming to those who come to him seeking forgiveness.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

New Papal Mosaic To Go Up

Here is the new mosaic of Pope Francis which will soon be placed in the gallery of the popes in the Basilica of St Paul Outside-the-Walls. A RomeReports feature to follow:

Galway University's Affront To Free Speech

UL and NUIG in research alliance with Silicon Valley start-up
In his recent memoir, Race With The Devil, academic and writer Joseph Pearce, in recounting the story of his conversion from militant right wing activist to Catholic, cites one incident as highly influential in his conversion.   Following what he saw as a breach of his human rights he approached the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) the British equivalent of the ACLU, to seek advice.  As an extreme right-wing activist he believed the NCCL was nothing more than a left-wing liberal organisation interested only in pushing its own libertarian agenda, but he was willing to give it a go.  To his surprise the man who agreed to listen to him was Jewish and to Pearce's surprise, he was willing to take the case.  Why a Jewish man would seek to defend a little fascist intrigued Pearce - it seemed the man was really interested in human rights.  However, Pearce's initial view of the NCCL was correct, the man was overruled by the NCCL - they would not take on the case.  To Pearce's astonishment the Jewish man resigned in protest.  Why?  Because, using Voltaire famous words: he did not like what Pearce said, but he was willing to defend to the death his right to say it.
Well, such noble sentiments are rare in the modern, secular world where intolerance and censure has become the norm for those who hold values that challenge the prevailing ideology. And today we have example of this as an Irish University suspends a Catholic organisation because people do not agree with society's defence of purity.  The National University of Ireland at Galway (formerly UCG) has suspended the college branch of the Legion of Mary because the Legion was promoting chastity within the context of homosexuality.  It claims that in doing so it is protecting the liberty and equality of all students. 

It seems the Legion praesidium on campus was merely promoting what the Catholic Church teaches with regard to all people, even those with same-sex attraction: chastity and purity according to one's state in life.  To see this as an option for those with same-sex attraction seems to be interpreted as discrimination.  I note that the phrase which caused most offence to those who made the complaint against the Legion was one which promoted "an interior life of chastity" - that, my friends, is considered to be "homophobic" by the folks over in NUIG. 
I am a graduate of the National University of Ireland (NUIM), and to be honest I am very disappointed with this action by NUIG.  In fact I see it as an assault on liberty and equality.  In reality those who have suspended the Legion are seeking to silence opinions they do not agree with and for that the university deserves condemnation.  Those in the university who have issued this diktat are a disgrace, they have committed an affront to academic freedom and the right to free speech. 
Free speech is not about allowing/permitting/promoting those opinions we agree with, it is about tolerating those we do not agree with, no matter how much those opinions offend us.   Of all places, one would expect an academic institution to understand this.  Sadly, given that our universities are now monolithic with regard to ideology, for the most part, there is little tolerance for other voices.  Universities seemed to have moved from places where independent thinking was encouraged to institutions for the indoctrination of future generations in a particular left-wing libertarian ideology. 
I notice, however, as revealed in another article, the Legion was working in conjunction with Courage Ireland, a noble organisation that works with same-sex attracted people and helps them to live chaste lives in accordance with Christ's teaching and the teaching of the Church.  It has had considerable success in this area, and for this reason it is despised by militant homosexual groups.  Courage in Ireland is doing great work, but it has to operate way below the radar because Irish gay militants have tried to infiltrate and destroy the groups.  It may well be that it was the Legion's promoting Courage that infuriated certain individuals.   The Legion is often ignored by ideologues and regarded by some as a harmless clatter of old fashioned simpletons (anything but!), but perhaps an alliance with an effective pastoral initiative was too much for some over in NUIG.  Perhaps the problem was not discrimination, but rather the real possibility that some people might actually listen to what the Legion and Courage had to say, and in the current ideological climate that is not permissible.
In this action the NUIG is not protecting the liberty and equality of all students, it is cossetting the prejudices of a particular group.  There are those who believe homosexuality is normal and they want to be free to live such a lifestyle, and then there are those who believe otherwise and are willing to meet and work with homosexuals who are disillusioned with the gay life and agenda: if we are supposed to be tolerant and mature, why promote the gay group and persecute the other?  No, the university's decision is not about liberty and equality, it is about silencing people who do not adhere to the new orthodoxy of sexual libertarianism.
If you wish to make your views known to UNIG, you can contact the president: Dr James J Browne, President, National University of Ireland Galway, University Road, Galway, Ireland.  Telephone: 00 353 (0)91 524411.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Germans Say Pope Endorses Their Plans

The Germans are fighting back, it seems.  There are new developments with regard to the German bishop's plans to give Holy Communion to divorced and remarried.  In the latest salvo Church "officials" in Germany are saying that the Pope endorses their plan.  The Catholic Herald has the story.  One spokesman has said that they are acting "in the spirit of Pope Francis". (Yes, I know, I can hear your groaning: here we go again: "spirit of Vatican II" and now the "spirit of Pope Francis")  It seems these comments are based on the "officials'" reading of the Evangelii Gaudium.  
For the record the Holy Father has not endorsed the German bishops's plan: he has called a Synod and raised a question as to how we can minister to those who are in irregular relationships: a pastoral issue that does have to be addressed.  He said nothing about admitting those in such relationships to Holy Communion.  In his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium he does describe the Eucharist as not being a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak, and that is true.  But that does not mean the Pope is changing the Church's law on who can or cannot receive the Eucharist - that law is based on the moral law.  To change the Church's law on this issue is to change the moral law and the teaching of Christ and not even a pope can do that. 
As regards the Church not closing her doors on people: she shouldn't and nowadays she doesn't.  However we had better be very careful not to confuse people's decision to walk away from the Church or to defy Christ's teaching with the Church's closing her doors on them.  If Catholics choose a course of action that is contrary to the teaching of Christ or his Church that has consequences: consequences of a decision they made, not the Church. 
As every act has a consequence we have to be responsible and face up to these consequences, and if one of those consequences is a rupture with the Church or, if objectively gravely sinful, excludes full participation in the sacramental life of the Church, the Church cannot be blamed for what individuals have chosen to do themselves.  Critics of the Church say the Church should change her teachings so those who chose a path that is contrary to the Gospel and the moral law are not excluded.  Well such a demand is a demand for the Church to endorse the sinful actions and decisions of individuals and if she is to remain faithful to her Saviour, she cannot do that. 
Looking to Christ we see love and mercy, compassion to the point of sacrifice, but we never see the endorsement of sin or its justification.  Those often quoted words of the Lord "neither do I condemn you" are often left hanging without the important bit at the end: "go and sin no more".  Christ does not condemn the adulterous woman because he will die for her sins, but he demands conversion - she cannot go on as before, she has to change her life.  The Church, who must be obedient to Christ, cannot endorse or justify sin, not even for "pastoral reasons".  But she should seek to help people embrace the moral law in its fullness - that is the real meaning of pastoral work. 
Let us keep praying.  Let us pray for the Holy Father, and most especially for our brothers and sisters in difficult situations.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Revelations About The "Revelations"

You may remember I wrote a post on the self-proclaimed "prophet" Maria Divine Mercy who has been creating havoc among the faithful.  Well there have been developments since then.   The Mystics of the Church website has details.  
Please note that so far her local bishop has not issued a judgement or statement on MDM or her revelations, so officially her writings and prophecies have not been condemned.  While bishops in other dioceses have issued statements and condemned the writings, the competence lies with MDM's own Ordinary to issue the formal judgement, unless the Holy See deprives him of it.
That said, I reiterate what I wrote in my post last May: many of the "revelations" which this lady is promoting are not in accord with Church teachings, she brands the Holy Father the "anti-pope" and she sets herself up as the only true and authentic messenger of God.  The faithful should stay clear of her, they should not buy her books not even for curiosity's sake: it would be contributing financially to her work.  There may well need to be an investigation into the financial aspect of all of this.
As I mentioned in my last post, many of the faithful have been led astray by this lady and, I am sad to say, even some priests are to be numbered among her chief defenders and supporters.  So please pray for all involved.  And let us hope that her local bishop will issue something soon to guide the faithful: let us pray for him too, it is not a pleasant task.

In case you have not read it, here is an excellent evaluation of the Maria Divine Mercy's "revelations" by mariologist Mark Miravalle, and once again a link to Jimmy Aiken's article which is concise and informative.

UPDATE:  It seems Maria Divine Mercy's website is not online at the moment, has it been taken down? I also notice that the websites of companies allegedly owned by/associated with the woman identified to be Maria Divine Mercy which published and promoted her books, Coma Books and Trumpet Publishing, are also down.

UPDATE 2:  The MDM website is back online, as is Coma Books. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tu Es Petrus! Standing With Francis

Pope Francis holds the relics of the Apostle Peter on the altar during a mass at St. Peter's Square at the Vatican
"Tu es Petrus": Pope Francis holds the relics of St Peter as he recites the Creed at Mass last Sunday.
It seems Pope Francis will soon be facing the first major crisis of his papacy: the effective schism of the Church in Germany.  As noted by commentators over the last few months, the German bishops threatened dissent from Church teaching on Communion for the divorced and remarried may well create a serious crisis in the Church universal.  Latest developments do not bode well for the Church: the Bishop of Stuttgart has indicated that the German hierarchy will go ahead with their plans even if in defiance of Rome, and ultimately in defiance of Church law and the teaching of Jesus Christ.  They have already explicitly rejected Archbishop Mueller of the CDF's warning, what will they do if the Holy Father himself has to come out and warn them explicitly? Rejecting the Pope's warning will be tantamount, I think, to an act of schism, and given that they seem to want to rewrite the Lord's commandment on adultery, they may also be in heresy.
The media, and perhaps even the German bishops themselves, will try and present this as an issue of compassion and inclusion.  It needs to be said that compassion must be shown to those in relationships that are contrary to Christ's law (and it is Christ's law we are talking about here) and they must be included, as far as possible, in the life of the Church commending them to the mercy of God and accompanying them on what may be a journey towards to the truth.  However, true compassion does not reject the truth, true compassion does not lead others into sin nor justifies or legitimises sin as St Paul says very clearly in his Hymn to Love in Corinthians.  Compassion has to lead to truth and virtuous living.
Some bloggers are reacting.  Fr Z reports the developments.  He suggests that there will be a big push for this change at the Synod next year.  It will certainly dominate discussions and we may well see, if we are allowed a peek, a right battle royal in the Synod Hall.   Fr Ray Blake offers some reflections on these developments seeing them as part of a larger dissent on the part of the Church in Germany over the last number of decades.  He is correct in pointing out that the Church in Germany is too wealthy, and the Church tax is not a good idea - it can enslave the Church to the State and public opinion if bishops and priests fear the loss of income should people stop paying the tax in protest at certain Church teachings.  It also reveals an unhealthy relationship between the Church and State: it may incline the local Church to Erastianism.
We shall see how things go.  Remember, we are not dealing with a man-made law here: it is derived from divine law.  The Pope cannot change that, he cannot say that what is sinful by God's decree, is now not sinful.  If the Pope cannot change the moral law, then the German bishops certainly can't.  If the bishops go ahead with their plan they will inflict a serious wound on the Church and the communion of the faithful; they will lead souls astray, lead them into error and perhaps even to damnation; they will also risk damnation themselves.  In this act, if they go ahead with it, these shepherds will be betraying the flock and the Chief Shepherd himself. 
Last Sunday the Holy Father held the relics of St Peter in his hands as he led the Church in the praying of the Creed, as Peter he may now have to assert his authority over an erring local church, and he needs the prayers and support of all the faithful throughout the Church.  The honeymoon may well be over for the Holy Father - no harm there.  As the faithful, we must stand with Peter.

The Philosopher On Screen

Following on yesterday's post, it seems there is a movie about St Catherine of Alexandria due to be released next year.  It will star Peter O'Toole, one of Ireland's great actors who, despite his advanced age, is still in demand and delivering good performances.
This new movie is said to tell the story of St Catherine, but given that we know so little about her, apart from the legends, an accurate historical biopic would be difficult to construct, but then that leaves scope for creativity.

I have posted the official trailer below, see what you think. To be honest I'm not inspired, it seems rather amateurish.  I also detect that the filmmakers have decided that Catherine will be the centre of the revolution against Rome.  Hmmm?   

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Philosopher

Disputation of Saint Catherine Giclee Print
Of all the great philosophers who attained sanctity, in her wisdom, the Church invokes the virgin martyr, Catherine of Alexandria as patron saint of philosophers.  I tend to think it is because, according to tradition, she defended the Christian faith through philosophy and revealed that faith and reason are not opposed to each other, but rather partners in the human quest for knowledge, discovering the meaning of life and discerning the existence of God.  That she was a humble lay woman also speaks volumes: no professor here, but a women who consecrated herself to Christ and sought to live the Gospel in her day to day life.
Thank God Blessed John Paul II rehabilitated her and put her back on the General Calendar: like St Christopher, St Philomena and St Simon Stock, Catherine's existence had been rejected by certain scholars who put too much weight on the legends and, unfortunately the Church, following their line, consigned her to the realm of the legendary.  Blessed John Paul could discern between the Saint who existed and about whom we may know very little and the legends which grew up around their memory, so he restored to the Church her patron of philosophers.  Quite appropriate given that he was a philosopher himself.
St Catherine is an important patron for all us and the laity in particular.  Okay, we are not all called to be philosophers, not in a professional capacity anyway, but we are called to understand our faith and be able to explain it.  No Catholic is exempted from this - the Year of Faith which ended yesterday was to remind us to our responsibility to continue learning about our faith - we are all called to catechise.  As a laywoman, Catherine, I hope, will inspire laypeople to see their role as teachers and evangelisers. 
I suppose that is why I failed to understand why Catherine was debunked by the Church in a period when she should have been becoming more important in the life of the Church: after all, she is a great example of what Vatican II wanted the laity to become: men and women living and defending the faith in the world.  Anyway, no use raking over what was done in the past - mistakes were made but we need to move on and get down to work: we have lost a lot of ground.  I pray St Catherine and all the Saints will inspire and motivate us as we all play our part in the New Evangelisation.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Crowe's Ark


Well, I didn't see this one coming.  Russell Crowe will be appearing on the big screen next year playing Noah, him of the Biblical ark fame.  It seems Hollywood is still interested in Biblical subjects, and looking at the cast list it's obvious they are certainly taking this one seriously: Russell, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Connolly, Emma Watson.  It looks interesting and seems to present the Bible story in a realistic way.  It is due to be released in March. 
I notice the caption on the poster "The end of the just the beginning". Is this movie another in the style of 2012 or the various zombie apocalypse offerings?  Culture, or popular culture at least, seems fascinated with apocalypse disasters, is this a sign that some have realised that our civilisation has reached an end point and they are trying to work out what will happen?  Now that the Millennium has passed, one wonders why such millenarianism should be part of the zeitgeist?
As a Christian, observing the nature of the changes taking place in western civilisation and culture I can see this civilisation cannot continue indefinitely, too many of its foundations: moral, cultural and spiritual have been hacked away by ideologues: our civilisation is no longer stable.  The redefinition of marriage and the family could probably be the last straw and may well be the ticking time bomb which in a generation or two brings down the edifice of western civilisation again.  I say "again" because it has happened before, and back then only the Catholic Church was left standing; she played an important part in the reconstruction of the west morally, culturally and spiritually. Perhaps this is what Blessed John Paul II saw when he initiated the New Evangelisation and spoke of a new springtime for the Gospel: is this what the Holy Spirit is preparing the Church for?  Or, perhaps the end is near after all.  
If it is, well then: "Maranatha: Come Lord Jesus".  In the meantime, here is the trailer.  I think I will go to see this, if we're still around....

Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering Today


I couldn't let the day pass without remembering two anniversaries that occur. The first is the 100th anniversary of the birth of the British composer, Benjamin Britten, he was born on the 22nd November 1913, appropriately the feast of St Cecilia for a future composer. 
Britten is, now, very much part of the British establishment, although his personal life, and many of the themes of his music would have proved difficult for many in Britain during his lifetime.  There are also some issues concerning his personal life that have not really been clarified and at this stage pushed under the carpet. 
I used to be a great fan of Britten's work.  I was particularly attracted to his choral work and to this day some of his pieces I find to be most beautiful and iconic: his Hymn to St Cecilia, based on a text of W. H. Auden; his Rejoice in the Lamb, based on some verses from Christopher Smart's interesting poetic work Jubilate Agno; his beautiful Ceremony of Carols which includes poems by St Robert Southwell.  I am still very fond of his Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, and his greatest work, I think, is his majestic War RequiemSince the days of my youthful musical career my interest has waned as other composers seemed more accomplished and profound in comparison.  That said, the above works are worth listening to and you can access them online.  By far one of my favourites is his poignant Hymn to the Virgin and I think we will listen to this as we might say a prayer for Britten's soul. 

Today is also the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. Another figure surrounded in mystery in some ways.   Growing up in an Irish home I became accustomed to what could only be described as a veneration of this man. I think every house in Ireland had a picture of Kennedy in the sitting room or kitchen.  In my grandmother's house it was a bust, almost life-size.  I was never really impressed with it, to be honest, and when the less savoury aspects of his life began to emerge, and his ultimate undermining of the faith , I was even less impressed.  The bust was eventually replaced by an image of St Therese of the Child Jesus.
While I do not share the adulation many Irish people have for Kennedy, I see his death as a dreadful tragedy and historically important, one of those which revealed the real tension at the heart of the Cold War.  I do not subscribe to the conspiracy theories, it was possible for Oswald to assassinate the poor man from the window of the Book Depository, and Oswald as a communist and supporter of the USSR did not need any other motivation than his ideology to want to kill the President.  It was an awful event and my heart always went out to his wife who witnessed his violent killing first hand.  Regardless of what we think of JFK, Jackie or the Kennedys, no one should have to endure or witness events such as these.
There is a interesting story which I have heard, though not confirmed, regarding Kennedy's last night.  If any of you readers can confirm it I would be grateful.  Apparently the night before the assassination, a priest came to hear Jackie's confession, and when Jack heard about it he asked the priest to hear his also.  If this is true, it could only be providence and God's mercy.  Given what we has been revealed about Kennedy's private life, it was comforting to hear that he went to confession before his tragic and untimely death.  Again, as with Britten, as we remember Kennedy, let us offer a prayer for his soul.

La Beata!

Ah, Blessed Cecilia!  I love this feast day.  My mind and heart go to the Church in Trastevere, just south of the Vatican, where the sacred remains of the Virgin Martyr lie in peace beneath Moderno's magnificent statue.  There her sarcophagus lies with that of her husband and his brother, all witnesses to Christ through the shedding of their blood.
In the Fraternity of St Genesius, St Cecilia is invoked as one of the Holy Intercessors - Saints and Blesseds who are patrons of the various arts. Cecilia is patron of music, not because she was musician but because of a line in the story of her life and martyrdom that during her marriage ceremony she sang a song of love to God.  An interesting way of becoming patron, but one which reminds us that artistic activity is, and should be, ultimately, an act of praising God.  Cecilia will certainly assist us in that regard.
But Cecilia is also one of the great women of the early Church who preferred to die rather than renounce her faith in Christ.  As a strong woman of faith who embraced a life of virginity and consecration even though she was forced into marriage.  Instead of abandoning that promise to Christ she won her new husband over to her way of thinking and then over to her faith.  She remained a virgin even though married: in this she is certainly a challenging figure for us in a time which cannot understand chastity, much less perpetual virginity.
So today we might say a prayer to St Cecilia for all our musicians, but perhaps more for those struggling with chastity: in this present age they need strong examples to encourage them.
The tomb of St Cecilia: in the Basilica, the famous statue by Moderno lies over it.  Below, in the crypt, her sarcophagus is to be seen just above the altar, behind the grille:

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Imaginations Running Wild

One of the stories of the last day or so was that of the newly restored frescos in the Catacombs of Priscilla.  It seems, according to a group seeking the ordination of women, these frescos depict women priests and so the Pope must ordain women
Well, the Vatican has responded by calling the group's claims "fairy tales", and to be honest I think that was too kind.  For a good examination of the frescos and what they really depict, I refer you to Fr Z who has written most eloquently what I would express quite poorly.
Let us not forget that when it comes to certain groups looking for unorthodox change, anything will do to push the cause regardless of whether it is true, rational or sane. 

Reforming the Curia

A couple of days ago there was a report on changes in the Curia in Rome in which many of the priests who currently work there are being returned to their home dioceses.  This is all part of the reform of the Curia which Pope Francis was elected to carry out. 
Now you will forgive me for saying that I personally believe that the reform of the Curia will not be overwhelming and what the present Holy Father does may well be seen as a failure after his death.  It is not that I doubt the abilities of the Pope, far from it he is a very able man, but so far in the long history of the Church no Pope has been able to reform the Curia, be he a Saint, a warrior, a bureaucrat, a tyrant, hard worker or manipulative schemer and we have had them all and worse!  Why?  I personally think it is because human nature is fallen and that reflects on all the systems we humans invent, and also because, perhaps, there is a hint of God saying to the Church: "You last not because you are efficient and effective, but because of my grace".  The fact the Church has survived for two thousand years despite some of the characters we have had is nothing short of a miracle, and I expect that miracle will continue accompanied by all the trappings of the Curia.
That said, I do think the Holy Father can do a lot to make things better, and I do believe having a second look at personnel is no bad thing.  For one I think we need a lot more lay people working in the various dicasteries and offices.  I also think the Pope and his Cardinals should cast an eye on how many American dioceses run their Curial offices - yes some would accuse them of being too bureaucratic, but there is a basic good model there to help in reorganising the Curia in Rome. 
Someone suggested that as the priests go their places should be filled by Italians.  I could not agree with that.  One of the problems we have in the Curia at the moment is that it is too Italian, Italian work hours and mentality being supreme.  The Church is universal, so the Curia should reflect that.  This may mean other changes, including looking again at the day to day working language of the organisation.  There are plenty of committed lay Catholics with expertise in many areas who would prove a blessing to the Church in her central government.  It might be possible that these experts could be persuaded to give a term of so many years in service to the Pope and the Holy See. 
Now of course this brings us to an important issue, one which may explain why so many priests and nuns work in the Curia: salaries.  The Vatican/Holy See could hardly be described as a generous employer.  Having lived in Rome for a short time and having friends who work in the Vatican I am aware that their salaries are pretty low.  Vatican employees, be they clergy, religious or lay, manage to survive because they avail of subsidised shopping in Vatican City State and they have healthcare provided in the Gemelli Clinic.  Perhaps the reason why we have had so many priests and nuns in the Curia is because their work can be seen as part of their vocation and so the Pope can get away with paying them peanuts.  This, however, has led to problems with backhanders and brown envelopes as we all know. 
If the Pope and Cardinals are serious about reform of the Curia they will have to be prepared to give a just wage for a just day's work.  I fear from what I have seen so far, however, that might not happen.  Pope Francis's decision, following his election, not to pay his workers the customary bonus following the Sedes Vacante and Conclave was, in my view, an unfair action towards employees who had a mountain of extra duties heaped on them at an important moment in the Church's life.  This bonus supplemented their wages and was a sign of appreciation from the Pontiff.   In the private sector what the Vatican called a bonus, would be called "overtime". While this bonus, or some of it, was given to the poor, I do not think it laudatory to support charities with what is due, in charity and justice, to others. 
Talk of poverty is all very well if we speak of living it ourselves, but we cannot impose it on others, and if the Holy See wants a better run Curia then it has to be prepared to pay for it.  The privilege of poverty in the service of the Pope might seem virtuous to some, but real life dictates that families have to be fed, children have to be educated and money is necessary to live.  Celibate priests and nuns can subsist in the current Vatican pay system, but if the priests are going then they have to be replaced by laity if the work is to be done and they have to be paid a wage that reflects the work they do, the hours they put in and the basic reality of their lives.  Not replacing the priests, as some have also suggested, and having a smaller Curia is just going to increase the work load and slow down the whole organisation, and let's face it the Curia is already one of the slowest bureaucracies in the world.  
Some have suggested that bishops and local dioceses be given more competence to deal with issues and so reduce the Curia's work load: yes, perhaps.  However, just look at how some bishops run their dioceses and their attitude to the Holy See and we might realise that such radical decentralisation might not be a good thing in every case. 
These are just a few thoughts I'm sharing with you.  Just another page to add to the reams already written on this subject.  Pope Francis is well placed and able to do something to make things better in the Curia, so we must pray for him.  But let's not heap unrealistic expectations on his shoulders - he already has the Cross of Christ to carry.  If I may adapt a saying of the Lord's: "Where two or three are gathered, there's politics": the Curia, like all human systems is flawed because we human beings are flawed.  We will not construct a perfect Curia, there is no such thing as a perfect human organisation (that was the ideological flaw at the heart of Marxism and Nazism and all other ideologies).  We have to cope with imperfection while striving for perfection.  As the Church carries out her mission she may well have to carry an imperfect, perhaps even at times a dysfunctional Curia carrying out the administrative work, but all the more reason for the Church and her faithful to say, perhaps even in astonishment: "Wow, we're still here and going strong despite that mess: God is indeed in charge!"

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Prayers Please

Could I ask your prayers, please?  On Saturday at our Community meeting in Belfast I was elected president of my Carmelite Community.  In the Secular Order the president is the equivalent of the Prior/Prioress.
I was not expecting it, nor to be honest was I keen to accept it - while I am all for Diocesan priests becoming members of the Secular Order, I was not so keen on a priest being the president since it is for the most part the lay branch of Discalced Carmel.  However I was put right by my brothers and sisters in the Community - to exclude a member of the Order from becoming president on the basis of being a priest would not be fair.  So I accepted. 
Since then I have had to endure certain members of the Community humming "Hail to the Chief" behind my back.  It will be a long three years!  Please pray for me so I will be able to fulfil my obligations of service to my brothers and sisters in the Community.
If you are interested in finding out more about the Discalced Carmelite Secular Order pop over here. For more information on our Community click here - we are always happy to welcome new members, so if you are a layperson or a Diocesan priest, you might consider becoming a Carmelite.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

All Carmelite Saints

In Carmel today we celebrate the feast of all our Carmelite Saints.  Another day of celebration - time for eating partridge, if we can catch it, otherwise it will be chicken or beef, if we're lucky.  With no housekeeper it may well be a rushed beans on toast!

More importantly it is a day to be nourished by the example of our Saints - a feast of holiness. Among those we celebrate are hermits and friars, nuns and sisters, priests and brothers of the two Orders and the various affiliated congregations, and of course lay men and women, the seculars and associates, and of course Diocesan priests who in life were also members of the Order and now are numbered among the Carmelites in God's kingdom.  Under the mantle of our Holy Mother, Our Lady of Mount Carmel we rejoice in God's triumph in the souls of these faithful Carmelites.  May they pray for all of us.

 Happy feast day.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Still The Age of Martyrs

An interesting statistic for you: it emerges from Cardinal Timothy Dolan's last speech as President of the USCCB (here is a link to a story dealing with it, albeit with a different emphasis).  The Cardinal pointed out that in the thirteen years of the 21st Century already about 1 million Christians have been martyred for their faith.  That is on average about 76,923 every year.  It seems the modern Age of Martyrs continues.  So far the 20th century, the "most enlightened", holds the record of the number of Christians put to death for their faith. Will this new century surpass its predecessor's bloody legacy?  Christianity is the world's most persecuted religion, a fact much denied or ignored by our secularists and the media. 
As the Age of martyrs continues one wonders who will become the new persecutors?  Will current developments in Western society and recent legislation eventually lead to persecution as Christians in conscience cannot accept laws and situations that are immoral?  In some issues here there is already a form of persecution, but will it turn to a more traditional, less subtle form? 

The Protecting Veil

One of my favourite pieces of music is the late John Tavener's The Protecting Veil for cello and orchestra.  I love the cello - it is the one instrument I would have loved to have learned - my first exposure to it was Elgar's Cello Concerto and as a teenager that work spoke to me.  Tavener's piece really utilises the otherworldly possibilities of the cello and uses it to explore the life of Our Lady in a truly mystical way.
The concerto is based on an apparition of Our Lady - that of the Protecting Veil, celebrated in Orthodoxy as a feast.  In the tenth century St Andrew of Constantinople and one of his disciples had a vision of Our Lady in which she appeared over the city of  Blachernae when it was threatened with invasion by barbarians and spread her mantle over the city as a sign of protection.  It is a vision that reminds all of us that the Holy Mother of God wraps us in the mantle of her motherly protection.  We Carmelites see the Scapular as the protecting veil of Our Lady, one in which we are clothed not only for her protection, but also to inspire us to imitate her virtues and her humble service of her Divine Son. 
Tavener's piece begins with a musical invocation of this Veil being drawn over the city and over all of us, he then goes on to explore Our Lady's life.  One of the most stunning parts is that which represents the Resurrection, a bright and brilliant invocation after the solitary lament of Holy Saturday. My own great admiration for Tavener emerged from gratitude - this piece allowed me meditate in a deeper way on Our Lady and her life, and even today the work is as fresh as it was when I first heard it and it still inspires me to pray. 

Don't forget to say a prayer for the repose of John Tavener's soul.  Having written such a beautiful piece for and about Our Lady, I have no doubt she is interceding for him. 
If you have time to listen to it, here is the piece from YouTube.  But best to go out and buy it so you can listen to it whenever you want.   

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Great Loss

Image of John Tavener
I have just heard the news that the English composer, Sir John Tavener has died: may the Lord have mercy on his soul.   What a great loss to music!  He was 69, but was ill for a time and had suffered from various illnesses throughout his life, in particular Marfan Syndrome.   
Tavener, originally a Presbyterian, converted to Russian Orthodoxy in 1977 and since then his music was influenced by the great Eastern Orthodox tradition.  One of his most famous, and finest works is The Protecting Veil, a cello concerto written in honour of Our Lady.  My own introduction to Tavener was his motet The Lamb, a setting of William Blake's poem which is devastatingly simple and beautiful. 
Taverner was one of the "holy minimalists" with Henryk Gorecki and Arvo Part, and he has helped the revitalisation of Christian music and culture in a secular world.  He will be remembered, I believe, as one of Britain's greatest composers.  Please say a prayer for him this evening.
Christ our eternal King and God, You have destroyed death and the devil by Your Cross and have restored man to life by Your Resurrection; give rest, Lord, to the soul of Your servant John who has fallen asleep, in Your Kingdom, where there is no pain, sorrow or suffering. In Your goodness and love for all men, pardon all the sins he has committed in thought word or deed, for there is no man or woman who lives and sins not, You only are without sin. 
For You are the Resurrection, the Life, and Repose of Your servant John, departed this life, O Christ our God; and to You do we send up glory with Your Eternal Father and Your All-holy, Good and Life-creating Spirit; both now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Russian Orthodox Prayer for the Dead
In his memory:  The Lamb