Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sede Vacante

Eternal Father,
watch over your Church in these days,
as the See of Peter falls vacant.
Guide our Father Cardinals
as they prepare to gather in Conclave
to elect the one chosen to lead your people.
Give us, O Heavenly Father,
a devoted Holy Father who will watch over your flock
with fidelity, strength and love.
Form him according to the Heart of your Son.
And to your servant Benedict,
who has spent himself in the service of your Church,
give him every blessing and grace,
days of rest and peace,
and when you shall come for him
the reward of his labours.
Mary, Mother of the Church,
pray for us.

Grazie Santità!

As Pope Benedict XVI leaves the Apostolic Palace for the Castel Gandolfo as the moment of his abdication approaches, on behalf of the Fraternity of St Genesius, to whom he has been a great friend and supporter, I would like to say:

Thank you, Holy Father!
Thank you for your ministry,
for your teaching,
for your example,
for your dedication to the will of God
and the Church,
for your love.
We will pray for you.
May the Lord grant Your Holiness
every blessing and grace.

What A Wonderful Eight Years!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

An Open Mind

One of the more interesting thinkers in the British Isles today has to be Brendan O'Neill, an Englishman of Irish descent, an "ex-Catholic" who is now an atheist, an atheist in the full and most open meaning of the word.   
While in recent times we have come to associate atheism with anti-faith and for us, anti-Catholic, atheism does not have to mean that.  O'Neill offers us a positive example of one who does not believe in God, but is willing to reflect on religious issues with an open mind.  He has been writing for some time on the Catholic Church and his views are always worth reading because he has some excellent insights.  I attended a lecture he gave in Dublin some months ago and I was mightly impressed. I found myself saying: "If only some of our Catholics were as good as this atheist!"
For one thing he sees that the media's coverage of the Church is not as objective as it ought to be, and I would like to draw your attention to one of his recent articles in the Telegraph on that exact point.  

The Last General Audience

The Pope is due to hold the last audience of his pontificate in front of tens of thousands in St Peter's Square on the eve of his historic resignation.
No doubt many of you watched Pope Benedict's last General Audience.  As a man of the Word and word he rose to the occasion as he always does, and this time he gave us one of his most personal and affectionate talks.  The Catholic Herald has the text.  It was deeply moving, and once again that aggravating question was going through my head: "Why resign, Holy Father?"  Of course I understand and accept it, but I do not want to let go of this holy pastor. But God's will be done.
Benedict has ended as he began.  In his homily at the Mass for the Inauguration of his Pontificate he said that "the Church is alive", and he mentioned it again today at the Audience.  In the midst of all the scandals and difficulties, the Church is still a living body made up of brothers and sisters who love Christ and love the Church.  We should never forget this.  One of the great legacies that Benedict has left us is that even when things are bad and the world seems to be against us, we are still the Church and can still take pride in her - in her teaching, in her history, in her Saints and, most importantly, in her Lord - our Saviour, Jesus Christ who founded the Church and who guides her through the work of the Holy Spirit who will never abandon us.
In his personal reflections he admitted that the Papacy was a burden, and he said that to the Lord on the day of his election.  He spoke about being the boat in the midst of a storm, no doubt holding tight to the Lord who is also in the boat with him.  This is a piece of Scripture that means a great deal to me too, and I pray it often, particularly when I am being attacked for my ministry.   And the Pope seems to recommend this passage to all of us in these times.  As a holy nun once said to me: "Yes, you are in the boat and there is a tremendous storm waging about you.  But never forget, Jesus is in the boat with you."    As Benedict took comfort in that, may we all take comfort in it.  The Church is living in the difficult times, and she has done so before.  In fact for most of her history the Church has had it hard - we have in one way or another been persecuted.  And yes, at times those persecutors were men and women who considered themselves members of the Church.
I was impressed by Benedict's words about his retirement - he is not leaving the foot of the cross - he is staying put.  He is not entering a blissful retirement to travel and do his own thing.  He is aware that he can never renounce the mission he accepted when he was elected to the Petrine Ministry - he will no longer be Pope, but his life is no longer his own.  Benedict, hidden in prayer and suffering, will continue his total gift of self to the Church by that very prayer and suffering.  Indeed the new Pope will have an ally living in the Mater Ecclesia Monastery, the Pope-Emeritus who accompanies the new Supreme Pontiff in his carrying the burden of the Church.   And this may well be God's plan: in these difficult times, as the Church faces persecution in many places in the world, and indeed in the West, the new Pope will not be alone: Benedict in prayer and silence will be offering himself to God for his successor and for us.
There is a mystery here - the mystery of intercession in the heart of the Church, a mystery akin to that of victim soul.  Benedict the teacher continues to teach by his example - we are all reminded that we must live in the heart of the Church as intercessors too.  But I think Benedict the teacher is also Benedict the Mystic, and now he will join all those holy men and women who, hidden away in life, offered themselves for the Church, praying, suffering, loving for the Church's sake. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The "St Malachy" Thing

Every time a conclave comes around the so-called "prophecies of St Malachy" get an airing, and many people get worried as each successive Pontiff seems to fulfil the next prophecy and the feared "Petrus Romanus" gets closer.  Well now we've hit him: according to the prophecies the next pope will be "Peter of Rome" who will heroically lead the Church in a time of bitter persecution and the end of the world will come.

Well, as regards the end of the world, let it come.  As I say to those who speak fearfully about the "three days of darkness", I say, "bring them on!"  We could do with a bit of chastisement.   And if the Lord comes today, let us raise our heads and greet him, for our liberation is at hand; then let us kneel before him, ask mercy, and may he triumph!
Now let's get things right: first of all there is no historical evidence that St Malachy, one of most revered and dynamic saints of our land, ever wrote these prophecies.  Jimmy Aiken has a very good article explaining this - if you're worried read it and then make yourself a nice cup of tea (no bikkies, it's Lent) and relax. 
However, as you all know one of my favourite book series is The Bad Catholic's Guide To..... and I have a rather sick sense of humour.  So in that context I would like to point that there are at least two Cardinals who would accurately fulfill the "Petrus Romanus" figure.  We all know about Cardinal Peter Turkson, and there is Cardinal Peter Erdo of Budapest.  But there is another - Cardinal Bechara al-Rahi, the recently elevated Maronite Cardinal.  He is the Patriarch of Antioch and so is already the successor of St Peter - St Peter was Bishop of Antioch before he was Bishop of Rome.  Also, when Cardinal al-Rahi was elected Bishop of Antioch, by custom he had to add Boutros to his name - Boutros means Petros - Peter.
Scared?  Have another cup of tea.  

Monday, February 25, 2013

Yipee! We're Getting Married In The Morning???

This papal election is turning out to be very bizarre.  As we mark the last few days of Pope Benedict's pontificate and we prepare for what will be a tearful farewell, the media circus is running circles around our cardinals with all sorts of stories.   We have allegations flying - the latest claiming the head of Cardinal Keith O'Brien; we have the gay ring blackmailing curia article in  La Repubblica and then the statement from the Holy See condemning unverifiable articles.  One has to wonder what is going on? 
Is is a case that the media are trying to revive the old European monarchies's perceived veto over an election?  Is it trying to kibosh the whole election?  Or is it the Holy Spirit doing a spring clean before the cardinals enter into the Sistine Chapel?   Well, when it comes to conclaves the Holy Spirit tends to muscle in a bit more than usual, so let's pray that whatever is happening, the Lord will guide things.
I am sad to see Cardinal O'Brien resign.  I was very fond of him.  He is the most heroic defender of human life and marriage on these islands, and he certainly earned the red he wore as a Prince of the Church.   I know he had to sign a profession of faith before he was made a cardinal: he had some funny ideas.  However since donning the hat he has proved himself worthy of it. 
In recent days he has expressed his opinion on celibacy, rightly pointing out that it is a discipline not a dogma. He is entitled to his view and it is one that does not rock the foundation of the Church.  Could the Pope change the discipline in the Latin Rite?  Yes he could.  Will he?  Probably not, history and practice reveals that celibacy is best as the norm and married priests as an exception.  There are many reasons for this, but one of the main ones is availability.  
Actually I think that many of those who are calling for married priests now would regret such a change if it happened: they would find that when it came to ministry they would (correctly) come second to the wife and family.  Priests would not be there 24/7 as we are now - and we would need to be paid more than we are now in order to support a family.  Despite what many believe, most of us priests are paid a salary which, given the hours we work, is well below the average industrial wage.  And let's face it, we would need a major wage increase to support the big families we'll have - there will no contraception!  So those who want married priests - dig deeper on Sunday mornings! 
Oh yes, one more point: if the Pope did change the rule it would make no difference to serving priests - the tradition would be implemented, so a man would have to be married before becoming a deacon.  And should Mrs Priest die, Father would then be celibate...for life.  And, correct me if I am wrong, I think that in the tradition (as observed in the Eastern Rites and in the Orthodox Church) if Father dies, Mrs Priest would also be unable to remarry.  And yes, married priests could not become bishops.  So if the Pope does change the discipline, it will not be case of joyful priests running to the Knock Marriage Bureau to find an eligible spinster. 
Regarding the accusations against Cardinal O'Brien, Fr Longenecker has an interesting article on his blog.   

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Forty Days For Life

One of the things I wanted to do this week was to recommend the Forty Days for Life which are taking place during the Lenten Season.  These are forty days of prayer for the Pro-Life Cause - badly needed now in Ireland as the government drafts legislation to bring abortion into Ireland.  For more details see the campaign's website.
My friend, Fr Owen Gorman has composed a prayer for life: please include it in your daily prayers, particularly in these forty days:
Mary, Immaculate Conception, bright dawn of the new millennium, this day we consecrate to your heart our country and all its people.   Intercede for the cause of life that is now so threatened in our land.  Move us to raise our voices for the voiceless and the defenceless.  Soften the hearts of those who oppose life. Give us love for our enemies and healing to all your daughters who in fear and trembling rejected the gift of life within them. May they know the peace and forgiveness of your Son, Jesus. And may all who hold political power in our land be given the grace to see with new eyes the humanity and dignity of the unborn and to have the courage to speak boldly in the defence of life. Amen.


Benedict and Vatican II

One of the most eventful weeks in recent times and my computer decides to give up the ghost!  My poor laptop which has served me faithfully for over five years, resisting the frustrations of Vista and XP, finally said it could go on no longer.  So in the last few days I have been trying to get a replacement and save files from the hard drive.  But all is almost sorted. I have two missing files, but I will be going back to the computer doctor so he can help me find them.
I think we are all still reeling after Pope Benedict's announcement, and what emotional days these have been.  At least, in the midst of the sorrow, the Holy Father can see the love the faithful have for him - he was truly our holy Father and we have the opportunity to let him know.  
Tributes have been pouring in, and they have been fulsome.  The faithful are praising him, many of them understanding why he has decided to step down.  I was impressed with what Cardinal Arinze had to say, if you have not seen the video, I am posting it below. 

In these final days, Benedict has been enriching our understanding of the faith, continuing his ministry right to the end...and offering us new insights.  His unscripted talk to the priests of the diocese of Rome on Vatican II was revealing.  Here is the text.  As a witness to what was happening in those years, Benedict is well placed to offer reflections on what was happening.  In his talk he speaks of two Councils - the Council of the Church and the council of the media, the one which has triumphed over the last forty years.  While the legitimate Council was taking place in the context of faith - the council of the media was nothing more than politics - a struggle between "conservatives" and "liberals", the baddies and the goodies.  This is the image which has prevaled precisely because faith has been excised from the meaning of the Council. 
Yet, as the Holy Father points out, there was a great sense of joy and hope: great theologians like de Lubac, Congar, Danielou were present (as he was himself - no mean theologian himself), and these great thinkers were drawing on the ancient traditions and teachings of the Church Fathers and saw in them a path for authentic renewal and the impetus for a new evangelical thrust.  All of this has yet to be discovered, but thanks to his Papacy, Benedict has been opening the door to the Council for all of us.  His General Audiences on the Saints, for example, have exposed the ordinary faithful to the lives and teachings of the holy ones who can teach us how to live the Gospel in our time. 
I have to say I feel a great sadness for Ireland - for the Catholics of our country did not get the chance to see Benedict in the flesh and to hear him speak.  For many in the Church here their only exposure is that which our media allowed, and that was deeply distorted and unjust.  I was talking with a good Catholic man today and he opined over the many mistakes Benedict had made, how he ignored child abuse and frustrated the efforts of bishops dealing with it.  This is the Irish media's view of Benedict and it is the exact opposite of the truth. 
In a sense, many in Ireland have been kept in the dark by the media - like mushrooms and fed plenty of manure to make them mistrust the Pope and the Church.  Many have been betrayed by priests - true; but I believe the Irish have been betrayed by the Irish media who destroyed a wonderful papacy and calumnied a holy man because they did not like what he had to say - because he said it so well.  At the end of the day they were afraid of him - if people really listened to him they would not only be charmed by his simple holiness, but would see that what he teaches is true and beautiful: our media masters understood that all too well.
Anyway, I hope people in Ireland will eventually come to know and understand this wonderful Pontiff.   There are many of us younger priests who have tried to share his teaching with them (not withouy much opposition - some have even tried to silence us), but we will continue.  Why?  Because in order to understand Vatican II we need to listen to what Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI has to say - he is one of those who influenced it.  

Monday, February 11, 2013

Papal Abdication

I must say I am still stunned at the news we have all had today.  It is early evening here in Ireland and news of Pope Benedict's intention to abdicate in two weeks time was a shock.   A friend of mine rang me this morning to tell me: now this friend is a constant joker so when he came out with the news I did not believe him - I took some convincing.  What can I say? 

Well, according to Canon Law Popes can abdicate (not "resign" as the media has been reporting), though we have rarely seen it.   Only four Popes have abdicated: Pope Benedict IX in 1045; Pope Gregory VI in 1046; St Peter Celestine, the most famous, in 1294: he could not cope with the Papal office.  Finally, Pope Gregory XII who abdicated in 1415 order to resolve a crisis, namely the schisms when anti-popes were being elected all over the place: the legitimate Pope Gregory abdicated to allow a fresh start. 

There were also two threatened abdications: Pope Pius VII who, as he left Rome to crown Napoleon Emperor of France, left a letter indicating an automatic abdication should he be imprisoned by the emperor.  Napoleon had Pope Pius's predecessor imprisoned and held as a hostage - Pope Pius wanted to avoid that. Also Pope Pius XII did likewise in the face of being kidnapped by the Nazis, ordering the Cardinals to go to Portugal and there elect a successor as soon as possible.  He said that they might kidnap a Pope, but they would end up with a mere Cardinal.

Pope Benedict has explained that he is abdicating because of his failing health.  And to be honest he has failed in the last few months.  Indeed watching the video of his meeting with the Cardinals this morning I got a shock to see him so worn, tired and frail.  So I can understand why he has taken this step - he does not want the Church to live through another Papal decline given the difficulties she is facing in these times - a younger, stronger Pontiff is needed.

That said, it will be difficult to let go of this Pope - at the end of the day we Catholics are united emotionally to the Pope as our Holy Father - he is not an administrator, nor even a mere bishop - we look on him as our Father, so this development is hard to take in.  Talking with people today one said that it was like a bereavement but without the funeral.  There is something to be said for a Pope dying in office, though heartbreaking, a papal death creates room for the next Pope in our hearts.  Of course we will love the new Pope - he will be our Holy Father, but in the back of many minds Pope Benedict will still be around, though he will no longer be Benedict, but Joseph.  People are very confused, and for that reason Papal abdications may not be a good idea in "peacetime", I personally believe they should be rare.

But I would not like that to be a criticism of Pope Benedict - he is a faithful servant of God who put himself and his own desires to one side in order to be of service to the Church, and he is doing this once again.  For the sake of the Church he is stepping down, and this reveals the humility and holiness of the man.  I always saw Pope Benedict as a saintly man, one who would one day be raised to the altars, and this abdication will be strong proof of his selflessness and lifelong desire to decrease so Christ can increase.  We must keep him in our prayers every day until the day God calls him home.  The bond that unites us with this holy man, forged most strongly on the 19th April 2005, should not be broken: he will always be Benedict for us.

The tributes are coming in, and coverage is widespread, although RTE's coverage is disgraceful - they have wheeled out the usual suspects who are picking over his pontificate and calling for the abandonment of the Catholic faith and the imposition of the beliefs and practices which are part of the canon of dissent.  As someone on Twitter said earlier: for people in Ireland, better to follow coverage in the international media rather than the Irish - good advice.

Now we must begin to pray for the Pope's successor.  We must pray for our Cardinals as they pray and discern.  This time we have no idea who will walk out on that balcony - I do not think any one Cardinal stands out.  God knows who will be the next Pope, so we must pray that the Lord will strengthen him for his office.  He will have a difficult task ahead of him.    

Friday, February 8, 2013

Slavery: It Hasn't Gone Away

The feast of St Josephine Bakhita!  And what a wonderful Saint she is.  If you do not know the story of her life Wikipedia offers a good summary.  Pope Benedict speaks of her as a witness to hope in his encyclical Spe Salvi.  His words are worth quoting in full:
Yet at this point a question arises: in what does this hope consist which, as hope, is “redemption”? The essence of the answer is given in the phrase from the Letter to the Ephesians quoted above: the Ephesians, before their encounter with Christ, were without hope because they were “without God in the world”. To come to know God—the true God—means to receive hope. We who have always lived with the Christian concept of God, and have grown accustomed to it, have almost ceased to notice that we possess the hope that ensues from a real encounter with this God. The example of a saint of our time can to some degree help us understand what it means to have a real encounter with this God for the first time. I am thinking of the African Josephine Bakhita, canonized by Pope John Paul II. She was born around 1869—she herself did not know the precise date—in Darfur in Sudan. At the age of nine, she was kidnapped by slave-traders, beaten till she bled, and sold five times in the slave-markets of Sudan. Eventually she found herself working as a slave for the mother and the wife of a general, and there she was flogged every day till she bled; as a result of this she bore 144 scars throughout her life. Finally, in 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant for the Italian consul Callisto Legnani, who returned to Italy as the Mahdists advanced. Here, after the terrifying “masters” who had owned her up to that point, Bakhita came to know a totally different kind of “master”—in Venetian dialect, which she was now learning, she used the name “paron” for the living God, the God of Jesus Christ. Up to that time she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her, or at best considered her a useful slave. Now, however, she heard that there is a “paron” above all masters, the Lord of all lords, and that this Lord is good, goodness in person. She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that he had created her—that he actually loved her. She too was loved, and by none other than the supreme “Paron”, before whom all other masters are themselves no more than lowly servants. She was known and loved and she was awaited. What is more, this master had himself accepted the destiny of being flogged and now he was waiting for her “at the Father's right hand”. Now she had “hope” —no longer simply the modest hope of finding masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope: “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good.” Through the knowledge of this hope she was “redeemed”, no longer a slave, but a free child of God. She understood what Paul meant when he reminded the Ephesians that previously they were without hope and without God in the world—without hope because without God. Hence, when she was about to be taken back to Sudan, Bakhita refused; she did not wish to be separated again from her “Paron”. On 9 January 1890, she was baptized and confirmed and received her first Holy Communion from the hands of the Patriarch of Venice. On 8 December 1896, in Verona, she took her vows in the Congregation of the Canossian Sisters and from that time onwards, besides her work in the sacristy and in the porter's lodge at the convent, she made several journeys round Italy in order to promote the missions: the liberation that she had received through her encounter with the God of Jesus Christ, she felt she had to extend, it had to be handed on to others, to the greatest possible number of people. The hope born in her which had “redeemed” her she could not keep to herself; this hope had to reach many, to reach everybody.
Later this morning at Mass, we will venerate a relic of St Josephine, as we pray for those who today live as slaves - and I am not speaking in a metaphorical sense.  Slavery continues today, and it may come as a surprise that there are people who are enslaved in Ireland. 

We all know of those poor women who have been trafficked and forced to work as prostitutes – sex trafficking is a serious problem in the world today.  But the more “traditional” practice of slavery also continues as men and women are “owned” by people and families and forced to work without pay, hidden away from the general population.  The recent case of the travellers in the UK is one such example, but  there are many other cases, perhaps not very far from us.  “Respectable” people have brought foreign workers into Ireland with promises of work and good conditions; their passports have been taken and they are forced to work for little or no pay while living in dreadful conditions.  This is a side of modern Ireland which rarely gets coverage: it is hidden like a dirty little secret. 

It has been almost two centuries since William Wilberforce and his colleagues finally managed to rid slavery from our country - Ireland and the UK were one State then.   Yet the scandal of this injustice continues.  St Josephine is a worthy patron of those still enslaved, but she also urges us to do what we can to rid the world of this evil, to respect all people, to give them what is due to them, and to ensure that all can live their lives in freedom.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Laundries: Catholicism Or Puritanism?

I was up late last night watching a debate in the Dail.  The government introduced emergency legislation to liquidate IRBC, formerly Anglo-Irish Bank, the bank at the heart of Ireland’s financial collapse.  There was war in the parliament as opposition TDs, appalled at the government’s tactics, vented their rage.  It seems they were only given a short time to read the Bill and then were asked to vote for it for the sake of the country: of course many of them refused to do so.  But the opposition parties have no real whack – the government has a huge majority and the main opposition party endorsed the Bill too, so it was passed.  The President, who is on a state visit to Italy, was flown home in the middle hours of the morning to sign it into law: he has done so and is now back in Italy continuing his visit.   Given the President’s age, it will be a very hard day for him after all that nocturnal activity.

What I find most interesting is that this Bill, it seems, was being secretly prepared for some time, so as to why they left it so late and just sprung it upon the Dail I do not know.  However it has done the government a service: it has pushed the report into the Magdalen Laundries to one side as the media give blanket coverage to the Bill.  The report examined the government’s part in the abuse of women in those dreadful institutions; during a debate in the Dail following its publication, the Taoiseach refused to give a proper apology for the State’s role, saying he needed space to think about it – imagine if a bishop said that when the various reports into child abuse came out.   The media were covering this refusal all day yesterday.  But that’s all forgotten now, although the government is coming in for some criticism for what many see as a fiasco in the Dail last night.    Distraction in place, but has it backfired? 

As regards the Magdalen Laundries, given that the Taoiseach was extremely critical of the Church and the Vatican for its tardiness in dealing with the issue of abuse, one would have thought he would have been consistent himself and make amends instead of pleading for time to think about an apology. 

To be honest I cannot understand how the Church got involved in the Magdalen Laundries.  They were an invention of well meaning Protestants who wanted to raise up fallen women, but as with a lot of these initiatives they lacked not only real Christian faith, but basic humanity.  Now I know that not all the Laundries were as bad as painted, but I think there were fundamental flaws at the heart of them.   For one thing I think their charism was more about Victorian prudery, respectability and punishment than Christianity - among other abuses, they dehumanised the women who lived in them and there is nothing Christian about that.   I sometimes think that Catholicism as it developed in the 19th and 20th centuries in Ireland was influenced more by Victorianism than real Catholicism.  It seems that Irish Catholics adopted that spurious respectability and intolerance that was more Puritan than Catholic.  Real Christian values of compassion, forgiveness, charity, hope and restoration were forgotten and instead respectability and pushing the “sinner” under the carpet was the norm; and that led to huge injustices.

Why did this happen?  I think it was the fruit of too close an alliance with the prevailing social attitudes of the day.  It is well known that when the Church renounces her prophetic nature and conforms to the fashions and morality of any given age she suffers – and so too those we are suppose to be helping.   Christians adopting the puritanical respectability of Victorianism undermine real Christianity where respectability has no place – in Christianity we are to act in response to the love of Christ and to share that love with those who need to experience it.  Jesus eschewed respectability – he chose to die in the most shameful way possible in order to redeem us.  We Catholics were rarely respectable, too often down the centuries polite society was appalled at us, at our beliefs and our practices.  Many of our Saints were considered crazy because they did not conform to the narrow norms of society, but took the Gospel as their rule rather than public opinion: just look at St Francis.

The holy founders of charitable institutes in the Church offer us powerful examples of the right response to social problems at any given time.  When we reflect on what they did we see that they did not seek to create harsh, penitential environments, but rather homes where women and men who had fallen could again find their human dignity and be helped to start new lives.  There was no judgment: yes there was urging to repent of sin but with the realisation that we are all sinners.  I think of the Servant of God Frank Duff who, with his first Legionaries, sought to help prostitutes.  He set up a house for them, not a laundry, where they could live and from where they could begin to make a new life for themselves, get jobs and as soon as they could set up new homes for themselves.

We have other great founders who did likewise, but whose spiritual sons and daughters drifted away from their ideas.  Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice was the Don Bosco of his day.  In founding the Christian and Presentation Brothers he wanted to form a community of brothers united in love and in service of the young.  They were to teach with love, there was to be no physical punishment, but correction had to be made on the basis of love and respect for the child – Don Bosco’s Preventative system in embryo.  That his congregations should be at the heart of the abuse crisis is not only tragic but ironic – Blessed Edmund sought and did the exact opposite in his life.   

All of this should be a timely warning to us today.  Once again we are being told that the Church must “update” herself, conform to the fashions and thinking of the age – to abandon her prophetic stance to conform to temporal and temporary ideologies.  If she does so she will be cooperating with dreadful practices and condoning a godless relativism that ultimately undermines the dignity of the human person and is centred on pleasure and selfish self-fulfilment.  This is the opposite of Victorian Puritanism and respectability, but just as poisonous and dangerous to the Church and her mission.  Whether we like it or not, as Christians we live in the world and should help the world, but we are not of the world, our home lies elsewhere.  We profess universal truths and seek to witness to true love, we must not allow narrow societal ideologies and attitudes distract us.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Eight Hundred And Two New Saints On The Way!

Pope Benedict is calling a consistory to vote on the Causes of eight hundred and two Beati which will see the way clear for their canonisation later this year.  Two of the Beati are nuns, but for once the holy nuns are outnumbered with the advancing of the Cause of Blessed Antonio Primaldo and his 799 companions, the Martyrs of Otranto.  

Blessed Antonio was a tailor, a man advanced in years we are told, when the city was invaded by Muslims in 1480.   The men of the city were promised their lives if they converted to Islam, but encouraged by Blessed Antonio, they remained firm.  After the fall of the city following a brutal siege, they barricaded themselves into the cathedral and prepared for martyrdom.  The siege and this further inconvenience for the Muslims actually helped save Italy as news of the invasion had time to get out and armies could prepare for battle as the Turks tried to ferret out the men.  In the end, the cathedral was breached, and the men taken to the Hill of Minerva where they were all beheaded.  According to one account a Catholic priest helped the Turks and tried to persuade the men to abandon their Christian faith. 

A contemporary document reports what happened, singling Blessed Antonio out for his heroism.  Here is an extract:
And turning to the Christians, Primaldo spoke these words: ‘My brothers, until today we have fought in defence of our homeland, to save our lives, and for our earthly governors; now it is time for us to fight to save our souls for our Lord. And since he died on the cross for us, it is fitting that we should die for him, remaining firm and constant in the faith, and with this earthly death we will earn eternal life and the glory of martyrdom.’ At these words, all began to shout with one voice and with great fervour that they wanted to die a thousand times, by any sort of death, rather than renounce Christ.
Antonio, for his obstinacy was the first to die, but accounts say his headless body refused to fall to the ground and remained standing until the last person had been martyred despite attempts by Muslim soldiers to pull it to the ground.  As another account relates:
All of them repeated their profession of the faith and the generous response they had given at first, so the tyrant commanded that the decapitation should proceed, and, before the others, the head of the elderly Primaldo should be cut off. Primaldo was hateful to him, because he never stopped acting as an apostle toward his fellows. And before placing his head upon the stone, he told his companions that he saw heaven opened and the comforting angels; that they should be strong in the faith and look to heaven, already open to receive them. He bowed his head and it was cut off, but his corpse stood back up on its feet, and despite the efforts of the butchers, it remained erect and unmoving, until all were decapitated. The marvelous and astonishing event would have been a lesson of salvation for those infidels, if they had not been rebels against the light that enlightens every man who lives in the world. Only one of the butchers, named Berlabei, believed courageously in the miracle and, declaring himself a Christian in a loud voice, was condemned to be impaled.
The relics of the 800 martyrs are enshrined in the cathedral in Ortanto.  We do not know the names of the other martyrs so the cult will probably be centred on Antonio as the main representative of the group.   I see Wikipedia offers names for a few others: Archbishop Stefano Agricoli who was the Archbishop of Otranto, Bishop Stefano Pendinelli, and Count Francesco Zurlo who was the commander of the garrison.

During his visit to Otranto, as he honoured the martyrs on the site of their deaths, now renamed the “Hill of Martyrs”, Blessed John Paul II, reflecting on their sacrifice, remarked: “Let us not forget the martyrs of our times. Let us not behave as if they did not exist.”

In news today.  I am constantly amazed at coincidences when it comes to the government and controversial legislation.  In the past few years the various reports on child abuse have an uncanny knack of being released at inopportune moments for the Church. Take the release of the report on the infamous Magdalen Laundries –which is due to be released tomorrow, and you’ll never guess what is also happening tomorrow – according to the Irish Independent, the proposed changes to the abortion laws goes before the Cabinet!  Isn’t that just amazing?  Now I would never presume to think that all this is planned, after all those who govern our country are paradigms of virtue and integrity, they keep their promises and there is not an opportunistic bone in any other their bodies.  As they would no doubt confirm, this is all just one big coincidence. 

Interesting news from the UK: the bones found beneath a car park in Leicester are indeed the remains of King Richard III.  His physical handicap, denied by some historians, has been confirmed.  One question has been solved: Where was his grave?  However others remain unanswered – did he kill the princes in the tower?  Was he as bad as he is painted? 

Some are also asking: will he be given a funeral according to his faith?  Richard was a Roman Catholic, but he will be buried in an Anglican cathedral probably with an Anglican service: is this appropriate?  Some think not – they believe he should be given a Catholic Requiem Mass and burial according to Catholic Rites. I would be inclined to agree with them.  We cannot alter history – just as we could not give Martin Luther a Catholic reburial, since he was a Lutheran at this death, Catholic Richard should not be given a Protestant reburial.   No offence intended to the Church of England, but it would be best to respect the beliefs of the deceased.  

Finally, it seems David Cameron’s days may well be numbered.  The forthcoming vote on gay marriage may well see the majority of his party (180 MPs including four members of his cabinet) vote against it, and perhaps may lead to another vote on his leadership.  William Oddie has an interesting article on this issue here.   We should commend the courage of the members of the Conservative Party for their steadfast position on marriage.  It would be great if members of the Fine Gael party here, both elected representatives and grassroots members, took such a stand against Enda Kenny as he seeks to legalise the killing of the unborn.  We can but pray and hope.