Thursday, September 19, 2013

Media Distort Francis....Again!

Pope Francis
Here we go again!  I'm really getting tired of this.  I'm not tired with Francis or what he says, perhaps not crazy about the way he does some things; but I deeply admire his easy approach to the Papacy and his obvious piety.   Of course he challenges, as he should, just as long as he is being challenged himself - the first person a priest must preach to is himself: and it is obvious Francis walks the talk.
No, I am tired with the way this pontificate has fallen prey to the ideologies of the media and dissenting Catholics who are now using a simple and pious Pope to further their old, tired agendas.  And tonight, as I write, the greatest abuse of this Papacy has just taken place - the media have utterly distorted and taken out of context an interview the Holy Father has given.
The headlines are proclaiming that the pope says the Church is obsessed with abortion, gay marriage and contraception - rather than go into detail, I'll just link you to The Irish Times which can always be trusted to distort a Catholic story.  As you see, according to this paper, the pope rejects this "obsession".  So, we are told, Francis is, apparently, distancing himself from the Church's teaching on abortion, contraception and gay marriage.
Now read what he actually said - see the interview here. And this is the statement the secular media are basing their headlines on:
"We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.
I have emphasised the word "only" which puts the quotation in context.  He is not saying that we abandon our pro-life work, but that we be balanced - that our living of the Gospel, our Christian discipleship should be as radical as our counter-cultural work for life in the culture of death.  We do not follow dogmas for the sake of slavish obedience, we live the Christian faith as real disciples, a faith that finds expression in the dogmas.  Pope Benedict often spoke about that: we live with Christ.
No one ever died for a dogma, someone once said, the martyrs died for love.  St Thomas More did not die for the dogma of the primacy of the Pope, he died for love of Christ within which he understood and accepted the primacy of the Pope as Christ's Vicar who is the symbol of the Church's communion.  Subtle difference?  Perhaps.  But a vital one: one the media does not get.  Remember, as one journalist once told me: a lot of journalists are lazy - they go for the headline and, if they get things wrong, or distort the truth it matters little, certainly when dealing with the Church which rarely if ever defends herself and when she does, well, no one listens to her: the story has already poisoned the waters. 
It is in the context of our faith that we Catholics speak about abortion, gay marriage and contraception; and the context of human dignity (which he speaks about in an earlier paragraph in the interview) - these things offend and destroy human dignity as experience show us time and time again. 
Note I also emphasise the line where Francis makes it clear that is a faithful son of the Church - he accepts Church teaching on these issues and he is not going to change it. 
He also speaks about the moral edifice of the Church collapsing because it has lost the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel - that, I'm sure, is a reference to the vision of Pope Innocent III who saw St Francis saving the Church from destruction.  The Pope is correct here too.  The Church's edifice may seem to fall if it is jaded, and that is why God sends reformers and Saints.  But these reformers and Saints live within the communion of the Church, obedient to Christ and his teaching, not seeking to overthrow it and replace it with "mere human teaching", as the "spirit of Vatican II" crowd is trying to do.   St Francis who helped reform the Church in the 13th century was a faithful son of the Church, and if he were around today he would be compassionate, working with the poor and the sick: but he would not be escorting women into abortion clinics as some nuns do, nor publicly denouncing the Magisterium (Church teaching) as some priests do.
And lest our critics think the Church will fall, as some journalists this evening are suggesting: she won't - Christ himself has said that she will not fall. Nor will she stop preaching the Gospel - a good, subjective course on Church history will provide plenty of examples.  She gets lazy and gives into the world, and then something happens, like the collapse of secular society or the emergence of great reformers like Francis, Ignatius, Teresa of Avila, John Paul II, and new renaissance begins, a restoration of faith and a renewal in the context of the Gospel.
But at this stage all this is now academic: the distorted message is going right around the world and the media continue to use Francis to further their own agenda.  It is obvious that for the rest of his pontificate, Francis is going to be used: his statements will be presented out of context, his defence of the faith ignored and his "failure" to change Church teaching presented as his failure to overcome a nasty, entrenched right-wing Curia which scuppered every attempt at "reform".  Should he die suddenly, of a heart attack or something, then he was murdered.
What do we do with all this?  "Endure" comes to mind.  We've had it all before with Blessed John XXIII who, if you listen to some commentators, was almost a free-loving hippy, smashing Church doctrines as he tried to convert us all into Buddhist Unitarians.  Though this view of John is shared by the "spirit of Vatican II" lot and the extreme Traditionalists, it is inaccurate.  Francis Phillips of The Catholic Herald thinks the media will eventually fall out with the Pope (perhaps if he decides to dispense procedure and canonise Pope Pius XII that may well happen). 
Perhaps, but to be honest, I'm not sure.  The pessimist in me thinks we'll just have to sit this one out, do our best to report what the Pope is actually saying, knowing that perhaps we have lost this one.  Certainly the Pope needs to be made aware of how the media distorts what he says, if he doesn't know already, and how this affects the Church and her members.  Sometimes in the way he says things he leaves himself open to be misquoted and distorted.  In the meantime we also need to encourage Catholics to read what the Pope actually says, to remind them that they cannot believe everything they read or hear about in the media, especially when it comes to the Church. 
All that said, great damage has been done to the Church tonight, old myths have been reinforced and the Church's work for the dignity of the unborn has been undermined.  The world now thinks the Pope has rebuked us for holding to the moral law and that may well have consequences for all of us.  I cannot help but wish that the Pope had been a little more prudent in the way he spoke.  I will not be surprised if this evening many Catholics are angry and upset with the Holy Father, and they cannot be blamed for that.
Fr Z has an interesting initial response. I cannot help but agree with him when he says: "As you read the interview, and media coverage of the interview, you will find – and this is consistent with Pope Francis’ style of talking off-the-cuff – some truly quotable quotes, leap-out quotes that sit up and beg to be taken out of context."  Also his suggestion that the creation of a "virtual Francis" is taking place sounds right.  On that issue, Elizabeth Scalia has an interesting piece.  She wonders if the world is making an idol out of Francis; one, perhaps, to push a certain agenda.

Fr Dwight Longenecker has a very thoughtful piece in response to the Pope's interview.  It is worth reading. 

And Brantly Millegan has taken sixteen quotations from the interview for our reflection, revealing in a concise manner what the Pope actually says in the interview rather than what the media wants him to say.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mother Of Sorrows

Though not celebrated today because it is a Sunday, let us mark in some way the memory of Our Lady of Sorrows.  This beautiful title of Our Lady has a wonderful theological dimension which is linked to the theology of Co-Redemption, and spiritually to her being a martyr without dying.
However, there is also another dimension in which we remember that our Holy Mother experienced deep suffering in her life and yet she stayed true to her Son, believing in her heart that the promises made by God would come true.  The pierced Heart of Mary, our Mother, prophesied by Holy Simeon in the Temple, is a place of refuge for all who grieve, suffer and are in pain.  Today let us remember all of those who suffer and are in pain, and commend them to the prayers, care and maternal embrace of Our Lady of Sorrows.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Is That For Real?

Today is the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and I'm sure all over the Church relics of the True Cross are being exposed and venerated.
However, many still doubt that these relics may be genuine, and one of the most frequent accusations aimed at such relics is that there are so many relics of the Cross there is enough wood to build a battleship.  The Dutch writer Erasmus, I believe, was the one who came up with this quip, and the Protestant reformers spread it throughout the world as a means of undermining the cult of relics.
Well, one Frenchman decided to see if this quip was true.  Charles Rohault de Fleury carried out an extensive investigation and published his findings in his Mémoire sur les instruments de la Passion in 1870. He conducted an exhaustive search of all the known relics of the True Cross, cataloguing and carefully measuring them. In his archaeological research he discovered that a typical Roman cross, usually constructed from pine-wood, measured three to four metres in height with a cross beam of about two metres. This would give a weight of approximately seventy-five kilogrammes with a volume of 178,000,000 cubic millimetres. Taking the sum of all the relics in his catalogue, he calculated the volume which amounted to 4,000,000 cubic millimetres, 174,000,000 short of an average Roman cross. 
So, even if de Fleury had overlooked a number of relics, even sizeable ones, it seemed Erasmus’ little quip was untrue.  So if today you come before a relic of the True Cross at Mass or in a reputable church or community, then it is most likely the real thing.  And remember information for your next bout with an evangelical.
Happy feast day!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Advice To Preachers, From St John Chrysostom's Example

St John Chrysostom preaches to the Empress Eudoxia: she's not taking it too well!
On this feast of St John Chrysostom I wish all preachers very blessing and the courage of this saintly Patriarch. 
St John is, of course, the patron saint of preachers.  Known for his forthright preaching, he even challenged the Imperial Court in Constantinople, well known for its corruption.  He made enemies for himself and he was exiled for his stance.  The Emperor and Empress wanted him out of the way because he chastised them for failing to live up to their Christian faith and doing what was abhorrent in the sight of God.
You all get the message there for our times.
Father Bishops, brother priests, do not be afraid - preach the Gospel in season and out of season.  Be gentle but forthright, and do not be frightened, charmed or neutered by the powerful.  They too have souls to be saved and need to hear the truth, even if they do not want to.  No civic leader takes the place of Christ regardless of how high up they are. All are subject to the authentic Gospel of Christ. And if some should reinterpret that Gospel to suit themselves and their agenda, then correct them even if it makes you unpopular. 
And try not to neuter yourself by realising that you too are a sinner in need of conversion - you preach also to yourself.  Because we priests fail to live up to the Gospel does not devalue it, but rather makes it a judge over us and our behaviour, and spurs us on to do better.  Let our prayer be: "May the converting power of the holy Word of God begin its work in my heart and my life, and then flow out from me to those I serve".
May St John Chrysostom, great preacher in the household of God, intercede for us all: that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

St Frediano's Lodgers

File:Basilica di San Frediano Lucca.jpg
Following on from yesterday's post, I was looking at the Basilica of San Frediano and it seems there are other Saints buried and venerated there too.
St Zita
The first is perhaps the most famous - St Zita.  Her incorrupt body rests in an altar not far from St Frediano's.  Born around 1212 in a village not far from Lucca, she became a servant in a household in Lucca.  She had a pretty difficult time, mistreated by the other servants; however, a woman of faith, she dealt with it patiently and heroically and gradually converted her fellow servants. She carried out her duties faithfully while making time for daily Mass and prayer.  She died in 1272.  Devotion to her grew and she was eventually canonised in 1696.  Her remains were exhumed in 1580 and were found to be incorrupt.
File:Lucca Zita San Frediano.jpg
The incorrupt body of St Zita preserved at San Frediano
The second Saint is St Richard of Wessex, an Englishman.  According to tradition, Richard was king of England (or perhaps that part of England known as Wessex) in the Seventh Century.  He was the father of St Willibald, St Winibald and St Walburga.  He was the brother-in-law of St Boniface, the Apostle of Germany.   It is recorded that in 721 he renounced his throne and estates and with his two sons set off on pilgrimage to Italy, stopping at various shrines along the way.  When in Lucca he fell ill with a fever and died there.  Given his royal status he was buried in the Church of St Frediano where miracles began to occur at this tomb.
Richard the Pilgrim
St Richard of Wessex
Whether he was king of England of Wessex is unsure, probably not - St Bede in his history of England records that Ine was King of Wessex at that time.  Richard may have been a member of the royal family or a noble man - the Luccans may have embellished the story.  Richard is also known as St Richard the Pilgrim, and his tomb is still a place of pilgrimage in the Basilica of San Frediano.
St Richard of Wessex's Tomb
Finally there is a successor of St Frediano, honoured as a Blessed, and buried in the basilica: Blessed Giovanni.  He was bishop from 780 to 801.  A holy man, he is remembered for welcoming the famous statue of the Lord the "Volto Santo" into the city.
Blessed Giovanni, Bishop of Lucca, carries the 'Volto Santo' image of Jesus into the city
Of course if we are talking about Lucca we cannot forget one of the most famous Saints whose tomb is situated in the city, in the Passionist monastery: St Gemma Galgani (1878-1903).  St Gemma, a Third Order Passionist, is famous for her mystical life, her stigmata and her battles with the demons.  She is invoked by exorcists as a powerful ally in their work of liberation.  Gemma's remains lie under the main altar in the Passionist church.
St Gemma Galgani
Tomb of St Gemma Galgani, Passionist Monastery Church of St Gemma in Lucca

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

An Irishman Abroad

San Frediano
In a recent meeting with a priest friend of mine I was introduced to a new Irish saint - one I had never heard of, though perhaps many of you will already be aware of him.  My friend was telling me of his visit to Lucca and there discovering that in one of the Churches was the tomb of an Irishman honoured as a Saint in the city.  He and his companions eventually tracked the Saint down - to the Basilica of San Frediano - and the Irishman is Frediano (or Fridianus or Frigidianus): he was bishop of Lucca.   Knocking on the door of the Basilica, my friend was admitted when he told the custodian that he was an Irish priest seeking out the Irish Saint.  With great pride the custodian led the little group to the High Altar of the Basilica and removing a frieze in front of the altar revealed the remains of the Saint dressed in episcopal vestments, mire and crozier. 
So who is St Frediano?  Apparently he was a prince, the son of an Ulster ruler,  one account says he was the son of King Ultonius.  Having discerned that he was called to serve God he entered the monastic life, studying  under St Enda and St Colman, after which he was ordained to the priesthood.  Sometime after this he went on pilgrimage to Rome. Once in Italy he decided to become a hermit, in good Irish fashion, and he settled on Mount Pisano near Lucca.  The holiness was such that he came to attention of Pope John III who then appointed him the Bishop of Lucca in 556, an office he carried out with great determination and pastoral skill.  He often went back up to his hermitage to spent time in prayer and solitude.
Frediano was a miracle worker, and a number of miracles are recorded, among them his famous redirecting of a local river saving the city from floods ad irrigating the fields.  During his time in office the city was frequently attacked and pillaged by Lombards.  During one of these raids his cathedral was burnt down, and so rebuilt it.  According to the Roman Martyrology, he converted these Lombards.  He is also credited with founding an order of eremitical canon priests.  He died in the year 588 and was soon afterwards declared a Saint. 

St Gregory the Great speaks of St Frediano in his Dialogues (Book 3 Chapter 9).  Here is what he says about him:
But I must not forget to tell you what I heard of the reverent man Venantius, Bishop of Luna, some two days ago: who said that there was, nigh unto him, a man of rare virtue called Frigidianus, Bishop of Lucca, who wrought a strange miracle, which, as he saith, all the inhabitants of that place do speak of, and it was this. Hard by the walls of the city, there runneth a river called Anser, which divers times doth so swell and overflow the banks, that it drowneth many acres of ground, and spoileth much corn and fruit. The inhabitants, enforced by necessity, seeing that this did often happen, went about by all means possible to turn the stream another way: but when they had bestowed much labour, yet could they not cause it to leave the old channel. Whereupon the man of God, Frigidianus, made a little rake, and came to the river, where all alone he bestowed some time in prayer; and then he commanded the river to follow him, and going before, he drew his rake over such places as he thought good, and the whole river, forsaking the old channel, did follow him, and kept possession of that which the holy man by that sign of his rake had appointed: and so never afterward did it hurt any more either corn or other things planted for the maintenance of men.

Note that the Dialogues were written at a tempestuous time for the Church to remind the faithful that God was still working and raising up holy men and women to inspire us.  St Frediano, one commentator has said, is offered to the Church as one who did not collapse under attack, but was faithful in the midst of the storms that swept the Church in the Sixth Century.  So he is in fact a Saint for our times.  Perhaps we need to take heed of St Frediano's rake and see that God is still fixing the course of the Church despite the attacks of our enemies.  And our enemies may well think they can destroy the Church, burn it down: but God will always raise up holy men and women to rebuild.
Well, I think Lucca should be on the itinerary for Irish pilgrimages to Italy: we should really get to know our own St Frediano and be inspired by his life and example.

The High Altar of the Basilica of San Frediano, Lucca.  The Saint's tomb is lit up under the altar.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Sign Of Christian Authenticity?

Lest you think I am a groupie of Fr. Alexander Lucie-Smith, I promise you I'm not, and I feel I have to say that as I draw your attention to another of his articles in the Catholic Herald.  I just find that he writes an awful lot of sense.
Fr. Lucie-Smith's most recent offering is his reaction to a piece in The Guardian in which Pope Francis is praised at the expense of Pope Benedict.   Nothing new there, I hear you say.  A certain group of people have been bashing Pope Benedict since the election of Pope Francis and using the new Pontiff and his personal way of adapting the Papacy to his own lifestyle as a means to expose Benedict as some sort of Renaissance Prince incarnate.  Well The Guardian fuels this view in its article, and Fr. Lucie-Smith takes exception to it.
Here is the offending paragraph: "Not that his (Francis's) position on abortion, or homosexuality, or women priests, differs substantially from Benedict XVI. He remains socially conservative. But the mood music is altogether different and not just because of his personal charm and the decision to eschew all the fancy ecclesiastical haberdashery and grand palaces. Pope Francis has regularly excoriated economic injustice and the global inequalities created by unrestrained capitalism. And his message on Syria has been unusually direct in opposing the prospect of US intervention. On Saturday he told a congregation praying for peace in the Middle East: "Violence and war lead only to death, they speak of death! Violence and war are the language of death!""
Fr. Lucie-Smith takes exception to the remarks concerning the Pope's vestments and the Pope's being socially conservative which he calls "two basic errors of misunderstanding", errors that are widespread both inside and outside the Church.  The first is typical.  People seem to equate dressing in vestments as somehow not being humble, simple or even authentically Christian.  Dress tidily as a priest or bishop and you're told you're distancing yourself from "the people".   It seems for a priest or bishop that the only way of being authentically Christian, in the eyes of some, is to dress in dirty clothes and wear only a dirty, unironed alb with a rainbow stole hanging off you to  one side.  Scruffiness is not a sign of authenticity - indeed it can be a sign of other things.  Wearing the clothes of one's office does not offend humility, simplicity or Christianity.  As Fr. Lucie-Smith points out, Jesus wore good clothes - his seamless garment was an expensive piece of apparel for the time, so much so the soldiers had to gamble to see who got it.
The second error is that which brands Christian moral teaching as somehow regressive and secular trends as progressive. As Fr. Lucie-Smith correctly points out it is the secular morality which is regressive, dragging sentient and rational human beings back into an unthinking and primitive approach to life, sexuality and society.  The ancient Spartans used to dump their new-born children if they thought they were not healthy or fit enough for Spartan society - the living baby was thrown down into a cavern.  Other ancient societies left their disabled children out for wild animals to kill and eat.  Modern secularists have a procedure where such children are not even born but are torn apart in the womb and then the remains are dumped.  And this procedure is defended by denying basic scientific and medical facts about the existence of a individual human being in the womb. Nothing progressive about that.  Nor is there progress in the idea that we can be sexually irresponsible and do what we like as long as it is between consent adults (and what is consent anyway?).  The current epidemic of STDs and HIV/AIDS is a good indication that perhaps that approach to sexuality is not healthy, rational or "safe".
Modern men and women may not like to hear this: but we are not progressive.  We have wandered back to the Stone Age when it comes to morality and life.  Just because we are technologically advanced does not mean that we are morally advanced, we are not.  We have just thrown off responsibility, respect for life and reason and now pride ourselves as being beyond it.  We had better read a little history - for other civilisations did that too and they came to a bad end.  Our modern society could be heading for one too.  Human society cannot exist in a moral vacuum for too long .
And as regards the Pope's humility: a few months ago Pope Francis was praised for eschewing the Papal cars and deciding to use a Ford Focus, it was a sign of his humility.  A friend of mine who worked in Vatican for a few years during Benedict's pontificate commented on this by pointing out that Benedict didn't even know the make of the car he was in - he was just told to get into it and he did.  That's humility too.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

On The Naming of Monuments

There were 85 names officially nominated for the new bridge
It seems the new bridge across the River Liffey in Dublin City is to be called after Rosie Hackett.  "Rosie who?" I hear you say.  Yes, that was my reaction too at first - I never heard of her.  It seems she was a trade unionist and took part in the lockout in 1913.  As I know nothing about her I cannot comment on the decision, but I am sure my initial reaction will be shared by others - she is not known by many Irish people today. 
I think it is a good idea to name the bridge after an Irish woman, as pointed out in one article there are only two bridges in Dublin named after women: Sarah's Bridge at Islandbridge and the Anna Livia Bridge at Lucan.  Anna Livia is the name given to the "goddess" of the river.  We have plenty of heroic Irish women who need to be honoured: where is the monument to Countess Markievicz?  Or the statue of Queen Medb - the British have a rather interesting statue of Boadicea in London, why can't we draw our citizens' attention to our ancient heroes.  I think a nice statue of Queen Medb with a big bull would be nice outside and facing Leinster House.  The sharp horns of the animal might be a sobering image for our public representatives as they go about their daily business.
Dare I mention our great Christian heroes?  Matt Talbot has a bridge and statue down at the Customs House, but a few more nods to our great Christian past (and present!) would be nice.  One of those suggested for the new bridge was Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary, I doubt in the present climate that nomination was seriously considered, even though Frank was quite vocal in the defence of children and women in institutions.
One last thing, I was not too keen on naming the last bridge over the Liffey after Samuel Beckett.  I think Beckett was a great literary figure and he should be honoured, but when I look at the bridge (which I think is a most beautiful piece of work) I think it should have been named after our great composer and harpist O'Carolan.  He was blind, so it could have been a monument to an great Irish musician, to Irish musicians in general and to the wonderful achievements of our disabled citizens.  Here is a photo of the bridge, what do you think?  Does that not look like a harp?
Pictures of Ireland: Samuel Beckett Bridge
And finally, of all the statues and monuments in Dublin, one of my favourites has to be that which honours the ordinary women and mothers of Ireland:



Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith of the Catholic Herald always has something interesting to say on his online blog at the paper.  I would like to draw your attention to his most recent offering.
Responding to an article by the former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, Jonathan Sacks in which he discusses the persecution of Christians, Fr Lucie-Smith asks a simple question: What can we do to help our persecuted brothers and sisters?  To be honest it seems no one cares about them: certainly not governments nor even the UN, and yet every day Christians are being killed, driven out of their homes and lands, treated as second-class citizens.
Fr Lucie Smith offers a few suggestions.  First of all for us Christians to boycott those countries which persecute our brothers and sisters in terms of our vacation.  We should decide not to visit those countries - he mentions China, Egypt and the Maldives, the latter being considered an island paradise which is in reality a hell for its native Christian.  That is a good point - why should we spent our hard-earned money to prop up a persecuting regime.  I note that many Irish used to visit Middle Eastern kingdoms for shopping expeditions.  I'm not sure if they have the money for that now, but certainly a rethink there would be a good idea. 
Secondly, it is suggested that we put pressure on our governments to protest the treatment of Christians.  Citing the pressure Evangelical Christians put on the American government with regards to Sudan, Fr Lucie-Smith says we can urge our governments to break off cultural and sporting links with these countries.  A good idea too.  That may be difficult here in Ireland at the moment, our current government prefers to break links with the Holy See and is actually courting China: they follow the money.  I suppose given that one of the partners in government is socialist and members have had links with communist countries in the past, we can hardly expect a move there.   But pressure can still be applied.
And finally, Fr Lucie-Smith suggests that Christians join the ranks of those who protest whenever leaders from those countries visit our country: embarrass them and our government during these unacceptable cosy encounters.
A few good ideas. I would also add that we must make others aware of the persecution.  One of the problems we have in Ireland is an anti-Christian media, so most people here are not aware that our fellow Christians are being persecuted because the media is not reporting it: it goes against their agenda.   Priests should speak of this persecution in their sermons, we should include regular intercessions in the Prayers of the Faithful.  And of course we must pray for them and support them as much as we can, financially in so far as we can.  Time for solidarity.
If you have any other ideas, please let us know.