Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Those Hardy Servants

Today's feast should remind us that the Saints are no shrinking violets wafting up in a continual fragrance of mystical surges. In fact they were rather hardy individuals who had to deal with a lot of issues, many of them personal issues, and fight their way through life, certainly with a smile, but most importantly with a good dose of faith, hope, charity and, in most cases, even a sense of humour which also kept them sane. 

St Monica is one of those Saints who speaks to those who are looking at the hard face of life and seem they cannot move anywhere. Those in situations similar to St Monica's may well come to think that there is little hope because they come up against the impenetrable wall of another's will and desires. We all know the story of Monica and her prayer for her son Augustine: yes, she converted him, eventually, but for most of that struggle it seemed as if it would not end as well as it did. That is why Monica is a great example of the virtue of hope. She hoped in God, and she allowed that hope inspire her prayer and her efforts to bring her wayward son to God. I personally believe that the great sanctity of St Augustine is due in a large part to his mother. He is the Doctor of grace, one of the world's greatest Christians with one of the world's greatest minds, and I think his mother had a lot to do with that.

Of course Augustine was not the only one who made life difficult for Monica, long before the eldest son started on his wayward journey Monica had to content with a difficult husband and a gorgon of a mother-in-law. In Ireland we have a saying that two women should never be in the same house: if a man marries let him set up a new home with his wife, bringing her home to live with the mother might not be for the best. Well Monica should have insisted on such a solution because life with Mummy-in-law was hell. For one thing Mummy controlled the son, and she became a real invader in the marriage: as bad as he was, poor Monica could not even have her husband to herself.

However, Monica's response was that of prayer, long-suffering endurance, hope and sacrifice. Rather than resorting to bitterness and becoming difficult herself, she allowed the charity of God to triumph in her and she was able to do what many of us would think impossible: be kind and loving. It was that very kindness and love which changed hearts and she not only tamed her mother-in-law and won her husband, she converted them to Christianity. What an example for all of us. Later Monica realised that her struggle with the two at home was a preparation for an even greater one with her son, no doubt she was able to draw on what she had learned, and the outcome of the first struggle helped her keep hope alive as she engaged in the second.

Monica is not unique among the Saints, they all had to struggle and fight, but they did so knowing that God was their ally, their strength and their counsellor.  They rise to the challenge calling on God to give them grace and they are generous enough to hand themselves over to him so he can guide them on the right path. The Saint is one who surrenders to God not  in desperation but in love, and they reap the rewards of such trust, but not without suffering, and not without hope. 

Another of the great teachers of this reality is St Therese of the Child Jesus. There is a very good article by Joe Sparks on the process of censoring Therese's writings which took place after her death - the editors wanted to show her virtues but in doing so left out a lot which they though might scandalise or frighten readers, but in reality they left out the bits which revealed the reality of Therese's struggle, those sufferings which make her truly great. I would recommend you read it. As you know I love Therese, not just because she is my sister in the Order, but also because she speaks to modern men and women about the reality of living our Christian faith in the midst of difficult times, comfortable Christianity, serious personal issues and human intrigue. Therese, for example, is one who can speak to a world immersed in atheism, where hope is gone because many have decided or felt that there is no God and they must face the harsh winds of life alone. Therese is also the Saint for the broken and the lost. One of her great devotees was Edith Piaf whose life was an utter mess. Therese seems to draw the strays to herself, probably because she has a special gift of touching their hearts and reminding them that they too are children of the Eternal Father.

Life is hard and can be harsh, and even though many may think the Saints were above it standing on their pedestals, in reality there down here with the rest of us battling on. What great teachers they are, what great allies and friends. So let us dump the pious biographies and look for the real story of the Saints: not only will we be impressed but we might also realise that we too are called to become Saints.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Happy Feast Day

On this feast of St Genesius, on behalf of the Council of the Fraternity, I wish you all a very happy feast day. May our Holy Patron watch over you, intercede for your needs and assist you on the path of holiness.

The annual Feast Day Mass will be held tonight in St Mary's Church, James Street, Drogheda, at 7.30pm. All are welcome.

St Genesius Novena Day 9

Meditating on the Lord's Prayer with St Genesius

But deliver us from evil

Evil corrupts, it distorts, destroys. The evil one seeks to recreate humanity, one marked by despair so individuals will lose the light of life and fall into darkness. Evil has built a city, one usurped from God, and the evil one seeks to populate it, create a metropolis of misery so he will not suffer alone, so his loathing will be deepened by the company of those he has unjustly claimed. Being delivered from evil is to be born to hope, to faith, love and joy. It is to embrace the Eternal Father, to believe in him and in his promises. It is to embrace Jesus Christ who died for us; to abandon ourselves to the Holy Spirit who loves us, guides us, vivifies us with grace and joy. Being delivered from evil is to be recreated into the image of Jesus Christ, the New Man who rose from the dead and has opened the gates of the new City of God to us, the Eternal Jerusalem. Evil creeps in the shadows, in the shadows of the human heart; being delivered from evil means that we allow the light of the Risen Christ open up our hearts in their entirety so there are no more crevices or holes for evil to hide. Being delivered from evil means that we know that we have Christ on our side and no one can conquer us, for we belong to him. In his dying St Genesius understood this, and he could say with all his heart, “Jesus Christ is God and we shall have life in his name”. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

St Genesius Novena Day 8

Meditating on the Lord's Prayer with St Genesius

And lead us not into temptation

The world has so much to offer, there are so many wonderful things, many of them can be used not only to improve our lives, but also to bring us closer to God and help us flourish as human beings and as disciples of Christ. But the world is also full of temptations, of things that can lead us away from God, compromise our discipleship and eventually exile us from what God has destined for us in his kingdom. That a demonic intelligence uses the things of this world to lure us away from God and salvation should also make us wary. St Genesius, living the lifestyle of an artist in ancient Rome, knew all about  temptation. The struggle which took place in his soul was one in which the evil one tried desperately to keep him from God and his grace, but grace triumphed. When we pray that we will not be led into temptation we pray for the grace to fight this battle which takes place in our souls; we pray for wisdom and discernment; we pray for courage to stand up to temptation. In humility we are to recognize that God is the warrior, the protector, he is the victor, in him we can resist all the attempts of the devil to ensnare us.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Pesky Volcanoes

Here we go again, or do we? We await with baited breath as another Icelandic Volcano starts erupting. The spring/summer of 2010 is still fresh in our memory, I'm sure, when the pronounceable erupted and created chaos. Let's hope we do not have a repeat of it. While we may lament disruption to travel plans, erupting volcanoes can create ecological problems if the eruption is serious enough, and people living near them can face various dangers. So let us pray for a soothing of the latest volcano. At least I can pronounce this one: Bardarbunga......that sounds familiar.....why do parties come to mind???

Anyway, I draw your attention to the Church's great patrons of volcanic eruptions, the martyrs St Januarius and St Agatha. I wrote a prayer to them for all effected by natural disasters:

Novena to St Januarius and St Agatha
Patrons of Volcanoes

Blessed Martyrs, Januarius and Agatha,
you who offered your lives in witness to Christ,
into your hands we entrust all who are in danger.
Take into your special care those threatened by volcanoes
and the hazards of the natural world,
that the Lord may preserve them,
their homes and their livelihoods.
Guide all who travel and those who seek refuge,
may they find shelter in the Heart of Christ
and in the charity of their brothers and sisters in faith.
O holy Saints Januarius and Agatha,
courageous bishop and devoted virgin and bride of Christ,
commend us to the intercession of the Mother of God
so that we, like her,
may abandon ourselves to the will of the Father,
for the sake of the Son
with the help of the Holy Spirit.

St Genesius Novena Day 7

Meditating on the Lord's Prayer with St Genesius

And forgive us our trespasses 
as we forgive those who trespass against us

God’s love is unconditional, his mercy is not. This is a shocking realisation, and it is revealed in the Lord’s Prayer and in the Parables of Jesus. The Eternal Father is generous with mercy, he forgives, but he demands that we forgive also; if we withhold mercy to those who have offended us, the Father will do the same to us. Here is the most dangerous sentiment in the Our Father, the one which seeks to shake us up, bring us to our senses; there is no room for hard hearts and presumption in the kingdom of heaven. Forgiving others can be difficult, we must strive to do so and this prayer is our appeal to God to help us forgive so we too may obtain forgiveness. Every martyr forgives their persecutors, and this is part of their witness – if any of them had withheld forgiveness they would not have been raised up. Like Jesus on the cross, they are to pray for their persecutors, and we must do the same. In forgiving we not only find reconciliation, but we are also set free.

Friday, August 22, 2014

St Genesius Novena Day 6

Meditating on the Lord's Prayer with St Genesius

Give us this day our daily bread

“Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”, and when we pray that the Lord give us our daily bread it is not just a prayer for physical food, but for more: for his grace, for what we need. It is also a prayer for the Eucharist - his very life within us. We ask for what we need today, just today. Like the manna in the desert we only need today’s portion, tomorrow will take care of itself. We live as well as we can today, we ask for the Father’s help to do so knowing that our whole lives depend on him. We are not greedy, we let him portion out what we need, when we need it, for he knows best: we have handed ourselves over to him. This is poverty of spirit.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Hiding The Baby

There is an excellent piece by Dr Ruth Cullen on the recent abortion issue here in Ireland. I recommend you read it. She hits the nail on the head. Well done Ruth. The inconvenient truth at the heart of the pro-choice/abortion industry is the fact that there is a child's life at stake.

Just a quick look at the comments beneath the article reveals the level of blindness that exists in the pro-abortion lobby. We human beings are God's greatest creation, and what blessed creatures we are, but when we fall, my word, we plummet!

St Genesius Novena Day 5

Meditating on the Lord's Prayer with St Genesius

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven

“I have come not to do my will, but the will of my Father”: with these words the Lord Jesus explained why he had come, revealing that he had come in obedience to the will of the Heavenly Father. “Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did  not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but humbled himself and became like a servant” in obedience to the Father’s will.  Jesus came to bring us life, the fullness of life, and for life to reign obedience to the will of the Eternal Father is necessary: that his will, not ours, be done. The hardest thing for us as human beings to do is to hand ourselves over to the will of another. Fear, pride, insecurity prevents us from doing so. We cherish our free will, indeed we are jealous to preserve it, and we often find ourselves grounding ourselves in an existential stubbornness to ensure that we do not lose control. And yet this is what not Jesus the Messiah did: he abandoned himself to the will of the Father and in doing so he accomplished the great mission of redemption. The lesson is simple: when we abandon ourselves to God, when his will is done in us, his will is being done on earth; and since he desires that we be saved and we flourish, life here will flourish if his will is accomplished “on earth as it is in heaven”. We will not lose anything in living the will of the Father, but we will gain everything, life on earth and heaven too. St Genesius struggled with this, but in the end he surrendered to the will of God, and that is to his glory: it will lead to ours also.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Our Carmelite Pontiff

Although his feast is celebrated tomorrow, today is the 100th anniversary of the death of Pope St Pius X. Dying on the 20th August 1914 after a long struggle defending the faith and the liturgy, his heart was broken as he saw Europe torn apart by what he may have suspected would be a long and bitter war.

St Pius is loved and reviled in equal measure by conflicting groups within the Church. Traditionalists hold him in deep veneration for his identification of Modernism and his work to try and tackle its influence in the Church. Liberals despise him for the same work. That hatred is still there and is as intense as ever: in seminary we had a lecturer who tore into Pius as if he was still reigning and personally tormenting him. I believe Pius was correct in his analysis and work against Modernism, and I believe we still need to take note of what he said.

Of course Pope St Pius's pontificate was noteworthy for many other things. He is a Eucharistic Saint: his deep love for the Eucharist and the celebration of Holy Mass have not only left a lasting impression on the piety of the Church, but also in the practice of our children being able to receive Holy Communion at a younger age. This in turn has nurtured many young Saints and Saints to be: among them the little Blessed Shepherds of Fatima and numerous other Servants of God who died before reaching their teenage years. Pius was also concerned about music in Church and he urged greater use of Gregorian Chant, though he was not so keen on more elaborate settings of Sacred Texts for fear that they would distract from the mystery. While I do like various forms of Sacred Music, I think Pius and I would agree when it comes to some of the stuff we have had to endure in Church for the last forty years. I am one with Scottish composer James MacMillan when it comes to critiquing contemporary Church music.

For us Discalced Carmelites, Pope St Pius occupies a special place in our hearts. It is believed that he may have been a member of our Secular Order of Discalced Carmel. He was a great support to our friars when they were setting up the Curia on the Corso d'Italia in Rome, and in thanksgiving for his kindness and generosity there is a monument dedicated to him in the Curial Basilica of St Teresa, and, of course, now an altar. One of his simars and a sash are also preserved as relics in the Church. So tomorrow will be a day of special remembrance for us in the Order.

And finally, there is another reason why Pius is dear to my heart. One of the first relics I was given was an ex corpore of St Pius given to me by my late singing teacher, Evelyn Dowling. When I began my studies for the priesthood she entrusted it to me and commended me into his care. I have the relic just beside me now as I write. As it is a precious memento of the Saintly Pontiff, it is also a remembrance and connection with her, she was very much like a mother to me: so I will remember her in my Mass tomorrow; perhaps you might also remember her.

Pope St Pius X's simar and sash in the Carmelite Basilica of St Teresa of Avila, 
at our Curia on the Corso d'Italia, Rome

"Pro-Choice" Mask Has Slipped

Angry Wolf Desktop Wallpaper

No doubt many of you are following the latest abortion story in Ireland. For those of you who are not, in summary: a non-national (ie, non Irish person) seeks an abortion in Ireland. She claims she is suicidal and needs a "termination" to prevent her killing herself. A team of psychiatrists examine her and agree with her: a "termination" is necessary, as provided for under the newly passed Abortion Act. However, thankfully, it is decided that the baby is too far advanced and should not be killed, but rather delivered by Cesarean section and given a chance to live: but the pregnancy will still be "terminated". This was done and now the pro-abortion movement in Ireland has erupted in indignation, they are calling for the new abortion bill to be scrapped or amended. They are calling for the Constitutional protection of the unborn child to be repealed. They are looking for heads on plates. Why? Because a baby lived. To put it bluntly: they want the baby dead.

Now we know that is what pro-choice advocates have always wanted. It is not about saving lives, it isn't even about choice. It is about killing unwanted babies. Abortion is just another form of contraception. What is really surprising is that the pro-choice brigade have let the mask slip. As a little baby is struggling for life, they are furious that he or she is alive. The child, in their view, should have been torn apart in its mother's womb and dumped: refused life, refused not just the dignity due to another human being, but the very definition of human being: it is only an inconvenient thing which should be discarded, regardless of how close it is to birth.

Inhuman? Yes, of course. Evil: yes, and I would go so far to say, Satanic. But now they feel confident enough to reveal the naked agenda they have been pursuing for so long, they no longer see the need to hide what they really want. The mask has slipped, it is gone, and perhaps it is gone because they know many people will not even notice now. And that is a commentary on Irish society, and certainly on political life in Ireland. Some of those who are indignant are public representatives, the same people who wanted to force through a flawed Constitutional Amendment on children's rights, the same people who were white hot in fury as they condemned the Catholic Church for its failures in protecting children, yet now they are not happy that a little baby is alive: they want him or her dead. Selective indignation, oh yes. But that's part of the pro-choice game. And part of that game is demonizing those who seek to defend the lives of vulnerable children while caring for their mothers. 

As all this happens, as it is considered acceptable and good and it is defended tooth and nail, I can only wonder where our society is going? Do the weak and vulnerable have a future here, or will they be thrown to the wolves, considered unworthy of life because somebody has made a choice not to accept them? 

St Genesius Novena Day 4

Meditating on the Lord's Prayer with St Genesius

Thy Kingdom come

Who is the Lord? St Genesius had to answer that question as his heart pondered over the teachings of Christ he had heard. And where is his kingdom? Is it confined to heaven? Or is it also here on earth? Living in the age we do we are told that the world is secular: religion and faith have no place here, they may exist within the private realm of individuals but only to remain there. Yet in his teachings Jesus intends us to begin to make the kingdom of God present here on earth, not that this will be the kingdom – this world will pass away, but to make this world a place of preparation for the world to come. In praying that the kingdom may come we recognise that the world belongs to God and his children, we pray that his kingdom may be present in this world, in his children who live as citizens of that kingdom here and now in anticipation of, and preparing for, the eternal kingdom in the next life. The kingdom of God cannot be excluded from this life though men and women oppose it. It is the mission of the Church to make the kingdom of God present here, and as members of the Church that is our mission. How do we do so? Through prayer, yes. But first through our own lives conformed to the values of the kingdom of God, and then in our apostolic work winning souls for Christ, citizens of the kingdom who in turn join us in our mission.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

St Genesius Novena Day 3

Meditating on the Lord's Prayer with St Genesius

Hallowed be thy Name

The Name of God is holy. After he revealed it to Moses, the Jewish people venerated it so much they would not utter it for fear that they would become too familiar with it. They praised God’s name, cherished it and sought to proclaim it through their lives. They sought to offer everything in order that that holy name would be glorified and honoured. St Ignatius of Loyola had the same desire when he chose for the motto of the Society of Jesus: “For the greater glory of God”. Our lives are meant to glorify God, and in giving such glory to God’s name we are blessed and glorified in turn. May his name be held holy, may it be glorified and praised: such should be the prayer of the Christian; and so too the prayer of the artist. Gifted by God with tremendous creative talents, indeed sharing in the creative work of God the Father, the supreme Artist, human artists should seek to honour him with their work, inspire others to honour him and so win glory for themselves, for they will be immersing themselves in the work of the divine in doing so. St Genesius tried to do this. On stage following his conversion he sought to raise the work of drama into a work of praise and he won eternal glory for his efforts.

Monday, August 18, 2014

St Genesius Novena Day 2

Meditating on the Lord's Prayer with St Genesius

Who art in Heaven

Our true home is in heaven where God is: as children of the Eternal Father, as brothers and sisters of Christ, the house of God is our house, life there is our eternal destiny. Too often we can get caught up so much in the affairs of the world, building our home here, that we can forget that we must also be engaged in preparing for our home in heaven. Indeed we forget that what we do here, all that we do here, should be oriented towards our eternal home, also oriented towards helping our brothers and sisters set their sights on God’s house. God is in heaven, and he calls us to himself. He assists us to live lives that are full, meaningful and heroic, so we may enter into his kingdom as heirs, as his children, as citizens. St Genesius understood this. Though he may have been a slave of Rome, in faith he knew he was free-born in heaven through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Whatever may ail us here in life, whatever our cross, whatever the world has done to us or thinks of us, our true home is in heaven where God is, and as we seek to be citizens of that kingdom, we may begin living that citizenship here on earth.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

St Genesius Novena Day 1

Meditating on the Lord's Prayer with St Genesius

Our Father

The greatest revelation is not merely realising that God exists, but that he is our Father. It is easier to accept that a being greater than us may well exist than to accept that this being has a relationship with us, one more intimate than just being our Creator. To know that we are children of God, adopted through redemption and called to share eternal life in the House of our Divine Father, this is wondrous indeed. This was a revelation to St Genesius, it changed his life. The gods of Rome used humans as pawns in their intrigues against each other, in reality God sent his Son to earth as one of us and to offer his life as a sacrifice in atonement for our sins, to heal a breach between the human and the divine. This led Genesius to proclaim Christ and to lay down his own life for this truth rather than renounce the relationship he now had with God. May all remember that we are children of God; may we call the Eternal Father our Father, live our lives in the context of our relationship with him.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Francis In Korea

The Holy Father has arrived in Korea. His arrival was marked with missiles fired by North Korea in defiance. Thankfully they landed in the sea and not on the papal plane. But the gesture was merely symbolic, one of those crazy shows of strength the North Korean leader feels he has to make to remind the world that he is still the centre of the universe. The gesture, however, reveals the nature of relationships on the Korean peninsula, and the Holy Father, in his opening speech, referred to the continuing tensions between the two Korean countries. Officially a state of war still exists. In his talk Pope Francis called for peace, and in our prayers we must support that call.

The visit is highly symbolic, the Pope visits a divided people, and during that visit he will beatify a large group of martyrs from the 18th and 19th centuries, all Korean natives. Some Irish news media outlets have been reporting that the Irish Columban martyrs are among this group, they are not, their Cause is that of the Modern Korean Martyrs of the 20th Century and it has just opened. Given that the current regime in North Korea was responsible for the martyrdom of a number of those modern martyrs we can expect more than a few rockets flying in defiance when their beatification is to be celebrated.  That the Pope should be beatifying Catholics massacred for their Christian faith is poignant at the present time when Catholics in Iraq are also being massacred for their faith.  One day we may well see the beatification of many of those now being beheaded, crucified and shot, but as we reflect on the Koreans we must be emboldened to stand up to do what we can to save innocent lives today.

Let us pray for the Holy Father in this most important trip. Many believe the future of Catholicism is in the East, and it may well be. Certainly the Catholics of Korea have not only given us a wonderful example of fidelity to the faith, but in their endurance and continued testimony to the Gospel they have furrowed a field rich and ready for planting. 

Mass Of Solidarity: Spread the Word

There will be a Mass of Solidarity with the persecuted Christians of Iraq in St Teresa's Carmelite Church, Clarendon Street, Dublin, on Monday 18th August at 5.30pm. All are welcome. Spread the word.

A statement from the Iona Institute:

A Mass of Solidarity with the persecuted Christians and other religious minorities of Iraq will take place at 5.30pm this coming Monday (August 18) in St Teresa’s on Clarendon Street, Dublin 2.

What is currently unfolding in northern Iraq is one of the worst examples of religious persecution in many years. The Islamic State has driven tens of thousands of Christians and Yazidis from their homes. Many have been killed.

Christianity has existed in Iraq since before it arrived in Ireland. The Christians of Iraq are the descendants of the Assyrians, the pre-Arabic people of the region.

The persecution of Christians is now worse and more widespread than at any point in the history of Christianity. Christians and other religious minorities are being subjected to varying degrees of persecution in almost half of Africa and most of Asia.

The Mass on Monday will be an opportunity to show of solidarity with the Yazidis and with our suffering fellow Christian believers in Iraq.

Please spread the word so as many people will attend as possible.

There may be a collection for Aid to the Church in Need after Mass. 

A Just War?

There are many today who question the concept of the Just War, and some who dismiss it altogether. In theology circles sometimes the subject will come up and people will wonder if it is possible to have a Just War now given the advances we have made in technology and international relations. And then there are pacifists who say war is never just and never right and should never be contemplated. I often wonder what the solution to situations like Nazi invasions is then: do we just sit back and allow ourselves be invaded and killed? Do we allow innocent people be killed?  I have never heard a pacifist give a convincing answer to those questions, some of them seem very idealistic and think every problem can be solved by dialogue and cooperation and the elimination of social equality. 

Lest I seem anti-pacifist, I'm not, the above solution is the actually best in many if not most situations. Jumping on the tank all guns blazing should never be the first response to a crisis, nor any response. However there are times when the good and moral have no choice but to engage in conflict for the greater good. Making such a decision is agonizing (or at least it should be) and must be the fruit of much deliberation, discernment and prayer, and must be subject to law, reason, prudence and proportionality.

We are now in a situation where we may well need to consider if it is time for a Just War. This is the issue the editorial team at The Catholic Herald is considering today, and it has come to the conclusion that humanitarian aid and the US's limited airstrikes are not enough. The IS group is still making inroads in Iraq and Syria and its members are literally butchering the defenceless people they meet as they wage their campaign to establish a new empire for Islam. Perhaps many are not aware of what is actually happening on the ground. The media has concentrated on the plight of the Yazidis and mostly ignored the massacre of Christians. Initially claiming that tens of thousands of Yazidis were running in fear of their lives, they have now realised, as indicated at the start, there are about 4,000-5,000 Yazidis. There are, however, tens of thousands of Christians who are also running in fear of their lives, and a large number, perhaps well over a couple of thousand if not more, have already been executed by IS for refusing to convert to Islam - children among them. How do we respond to this? Or do we respond at all?

"Am I my brother's keeper", Cain asked God after he had killed his brother Abel and hid the body. Do we have a responsibility for our fellow men and women?  As we know we have the right, indeed the duty, to defend ourselves, do we also have the duty to defend others, particularly those who cannot defend themselves? And do we have the duty to defend the defenceless even if it means we may well end up losing our own lives? President Barack Obama has stated that he will not send US troops into Iraq - not one American soldier will die in this conflict.  Fair enough, he wants to protect his citizens, but how far do you go to do that? Does one close ones borders and let hell reign over the earth and let the innocent be massacred while all are tucked up safe in bed at home? Are we our brothers and sisters' keepers? I think today's feast may have the answer to that: St Maximilian went to the defence of a defenceless man knowing that it would cost him his life. The Jews have a saying from their writings: "To save one life is to save the world entire", and Jesus our Saviour says, "There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for a friend".

So what do we do now? The US has said it will do no more; the EU has its head stuck in the sand; the Arab League will not fight against its own. The UN might pass a resolution or two in the safety of New York or Geneva. Is there a case for a Just War, and if so, who goes? What are the dangers? Will action end up in a global war were militant Muslims perceive an attack against Islam and rally the troops all over the world to fight? Such questions need to be considered. Some fearing such a conflict may well prefer to allow the Christians of the Middle East, and other non-Muslim minorities, perish rather than continence what could be World War III. After all, they are over there, why bring it over here if we can keep it there? But can we be so sure that it will stay there?  And can we stand by and let innocent men, women and children be slaughtered? Hard questions have to be asked, action is necessary, but when is the "international community" (if it still exists) going to do something?

As we are pondering all this, breaking news: IS has released its projections for the next five years.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Christian Holocaust

Are they coming to a town near you? Or are they already there?

The last few weeks have been awful for Christians the world over as we look helplessly on what is happening to our brothers and sisters in the faith in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The self-styled "Islamic State" group have been slashing their way through Christian villages, homes and churches, forcing people to flee for their lives, stealing their belongings and presenting the ultimate ultimatum to those unable to get away from them: convert or die.  This is a Christian holocaust. And it has been happening for the last number of months.

There has been a response from the west, the US has sent the air-force in to hamper IS's progress towards Kurdish territory and some supplies are being dropped to thousands of refugees, the UK air-force is assisting in this. While supplies are needed, these military actions will not stop IS: the Patriarch of the Chaldean Church has expressed his disappointment with the anemic response from the west.  When you listen to the news, certainly here in Ireland, the emphasis is on the unfortunate Yazidis and the humanitarian crisis facing them, the massacre of Christians for the last number of months is hardly referred to, so much so that many do not even know Christians are being obliterated. 

But of course those who see the reality of the problem know that we are now facing the most serious problem with militant Islam in recent times.  With the west's head firmly stuck in the sand, and with such a late and paltry response, one which may well convince these militants that the west is fast asleep, there is a danger that this radical group's progress will not be hampered. One of the problems the west may not have thought about is the real possibility that radicalized Muslims around the world, seeing the effectiveness of this group, may well rally to IS's cause. IS has already proclaimed a Caliphate, the dream of so many radical Muslims, particularly young disillusioned ones, and though it may sound silly and anachronistic to us, it may not to young men ambitious to turn the world into the realm of Islam.  So far, I have been told, IS controls an area as large as Great Britain.

And lest we think this progress is confined to the Middle East, we have to remember that IS has its sights set on Europe and eventually the US. They have to reestablish Istanbul as their city - members of the group have already said they are planning a campaign to take Istanbul, and after that undo the defeat at Vienna. If they were to seek to invade in the usual way they may not achieve those aims - people have said that the west's military ability will be well able to stop them. But how will the west stop members of IS already present in Europe and the Americas who wage a guerrilla war as the first stage of an invasion campaign? Lest we fool ourselves it is sobering to remember that IS flags have been seen at pro-Palestinian marches in recent weeks.

That said, the appalling truth is that the west, the US, EU, UN, have stood by as thousands of Christians in Iraq have been forced out of their land, many of them executed in a most brutal way. It seems from this lack of response that when Christians are being killed it is of no interest to the secular governments of the "free world", however, when a group like the Yazidis are in danger, then it is okay to come to their rescue, that is acceptable. And I am sad to say leadership in the Catholic Church has been no better: pious words, calls for peace and an envoy will not achieve much; they will not stop IS terrorists hacking the head off another Christian child.

The Yazidi are getting the help they need, thank God for that. On Mount Sinjar supplies are being distributed and journalists are crawling around like ants. But in the refugee camps outside Ibril where Christians are taking refuge, people are starting to die. As one person working there tweeted to me a couple of days ago, they need so much and are getting so little, no one seems interested.

I note with some chagrin that our government here in Ireland has said next to nothing. The Americans may complain about their President off playing golf on his holidays, at least he sent the air-force in and yes, more needs to be done. But our lot here are doing nothing. Our Senate was recalled a few weeks ago to give Senators an opportunity to condemn Israel in the conflict with Gaza. No sign of any of them being recalled to propose and consider what to do to assist Christian men, women and children in Iraq who are facing annihilation. Alas they will not, there are no votes in it, and after all, what are martyred Christians in comparison with an American Country singer?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Rambling With Saints

A few years ago we organised a family holiday - the first in many years. We chose the week after Easter and decided we would go to Turkey - for those who liked the sun they had it, for those of us who liked history, we had it too. I was looking forward to a day trip to Ephesus. However, unrest broke out and my father took the decision we were not going to Turkey. So we opted for Sicily, again sun and history, everybody happy. The fact that Sicily was experiencing its worst weather in years did not make itself apparent until we arrived, and the sun people were disappointed. We were glad we booked a rental car. So the joys of Sicily lay ahead.

One of the trips we made was to Trapani, the birthplace of the Saint we celebrate in Carmel today - St Albert of Trapani. Albert was the first Carmelite to be formally recognised as a Saint by the Church, though the mysterious Berthold and Brocard, leaders of he first hermits are also honoured.  We all piled into the car and left our hotel in Palermo (if you can drive in Palermo you'll drive anywhere!) and headed across the island. Of course I was thrilled and looked forward to spending some time at tomb of our first Saint. 

Albert was born in Trapani around the year 1250. The Carmelites had a house in Trapani and Albert was attracted to their way of life, entering the Order as soon as he was old enough, and was ordained a priest. He was transferred to the community in Messina where he fulfilled the office of preacher, working among the sailors who frequented the port there. He is credited with lifting the Siege of Messina in 1301 by offering Mass following which supply shops were able to get through the bockade. He had a reputation for holiness and people flocked to him seeking healing for their ailments. He was also successful in making converts to the faith. He held offices within the Order, including Provincial Superior in which capacity he attended a General Chapter in Bruges in 1297. He died in 1307.

We had a lovely afternoon in Trapani, we visited St Albert's house and the Carmelite Church. There is a beautiful silver statue of the Saint which contains his skull. When I asked where his tomb was I was informed: "Ah, he is in Messina!" - the other side of the island! That was that.  

However the day did not end without another adventure. Just finished my Holy Hour in Trapani Cathedral I got talking with the Administrator - he invited us to come to a Mass in the one of the city churches, and before we knew it we were sitting among gusty Italians beginning the Novena to St Francis di Paola! We came to find Albert, we ended up rambling with Francis. We were knackered when we got back to Palermo. And yes, the sun came out, as we were driving to the airport!

Silver Reliquary Statue of St Albert at his shrine in Trapani, 
his skull is enshrined in the head

Trapani celebrates St Francis di Paola

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Vision Which Sustains

Grant us, O Lord, the vision of your Face.
May we see you with the eyes of our souls
nourished with faith
and sustained with your grace.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

"Crucified Again"

Here in Ireland not a day passes without someone in the media attacking the Catholic Church or Christian teaching. When I used to get The Irish Times I could always be sure that there would be at least one letter most days in the letters page denouncing the Catholic faith.  Things have got to the stage now where the media and our critics do not even bother to pretend to be objective or fair, they just pander their prejudices as if they were normal, good and true. As one Catholic involved in media told me during the weekend, now programme makers no longer call on orthodox Christians to balance out their discussions, they regard them as bigots and deem it right to exclude them from public discourse. Strangely in the last decade those of us who seek to remain Christian and practice our faith have got used to being the pariah in Irish society.

This antipathy against Christianity has grown in a climate where most Christians on this island have become apathetic about the faith. There are many reasons for this, and one of them has to be the failure of the Church in Ireland to catechize properly; the withdrawal of Church leaders to the trenches and the surrendering to fear of preaching the Gospel as Christ taught it lest it offend: such actions leading people to think that perhaps the professional Christians do not believe the very Gospel they are supposed to be teaching, so why should anyone? 

Why this reflection - you have heard it from me before? Well, it comes to mind as I reflect on what is happening to our brothers and sisters in the faith in the Middle East. Fr Z wrote a most disturbing piece yesterday revealing the true horror being brought down on the heads of Catholics and other Christians by Muslims in Iraq, Syria and now Lebanon. I would recommend you read it, but be prepared. When you see what other Christians are enduring for the sake of Jesus Christ and the faith it makes you ashamed to see how casual our approach to our faith is. 

In the face of what we have done to Christianity, our failures to stand up for it, live it, indeed in the face of our rebellion against its teachings, Christian men, women and children are being crucified in the streets. They are being beheaded, mutilated, shot because they will not renounce Christ. 

I find more Christianity in their refusal to dialogue, in their profession of the Gospel in the shedding of their blood than I do in all the pastoral talk which dominates Church life in this country and in the west. There are no trenches for the Christians living under the sword of Islam. What would they make of our public embarrassment of Christian teaching? What would they think of Catholics who regularly attack the faith, belittle its faithful pastors and religious, or shrug their shoulders when called to embrace Christ because we are all going to heaven anyway? Well, we have forgotten that heaven is hard won: the Christians of the Middle East are winning it by their agonizing deaths, we cannot expect to get it with our presumption, our fear or our apathy.

And in the face of this suffering we remain silent. Most of those in the upper echelons of the Church remain silent. There is something rotten in the Church today, something wrong. I think the only ones who are getting it right are those who today hang from their crosses on the streets of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. God help us should we ever face them in eternity. What has happened to St John Paul's New Evangelisation? Where is the courage he displayed in the face of fear and persecution? Is it really the case, as someone said to me, that we now need to face a persecution to force us to realize what really matters, to blow us out of our apathy? I hope not. 

Christ is being crucified again. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

It Started

I feel I have to mark this moment: 11pm on the 4th August 1914, when Britain declared war on Germany and the First World War began for us. Thousands of Irish men fought in the British army, which was at that time our army and our country, and many of them died defending not just King and country, but for the cause of freedom. My great-grandfather was among them, thankfully he survived, but he bore the scars of battle for the rest of his life.

Their noble gesture was made in the light of the crazy refusal of powerful men to talk to each other, to find a peaceful way of resolving their differences, a great refusal which led to the deaths of millions. Pope Benedict XV pleaded with the warring factions, they ignored him. When Blessed Charles of Austria became Emperor of Austria he sought to make peace, to end the war, they ignored him too. Peace was rendered mute.

There are many lessons to be learned, we haven't learned them yet. But let us remember in prayer all those souls who died in this bitter conflict. Among them heroic priests like Fr Willie Doyle who offered his life for those he served in the trenches, dying a martyr of charity. And we must not forget that nobility and courage was to be found among those the allies were fighting, we remember them too.

Sir Edward, later Lord, Grey, Foreign Secretary, famously said that with the outbreak of this war "The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime". Tonight people are extinguishing lamps and candles to mark the beginning of the war. I'm not so sure about that. Perhaps we should be lighting them again - why withdraw into darkness as we remember the horrors of war? Rather should we not come out into the light, and spread that light throughout the world so peace can speak in the light rather than be muffled in the darkness?

Let us pray for all those who died: 

Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, 
and let perpetual light shine upon them, 
may they rest in peace. Amen.

Blessed Charles of Austria, pray for us
Fr Willie Doyle, pray for us

The Ebola Sisters

The Servants of God, Srs Floralba Rondi, Clarangela Ghilardi, Danielangela Sorti, Dinarosa Belleri, Annelvira Ossoli, Vitarosa Zorza

The outbreak of the Ebola virus in west Africa is causing concern in Europe. The British parliament discussed it last week and the Prime Minister had to reassure the British that they should be okay. Of course the poor people of west Africa are not so fortunate. The virus is spreading faster than medical agencies can control it. We must remember the victims in our prayers, and perhaps sending a few quid to some of the charities that are dealing with it might be a good idea. Of course prudence should dictate as to who should be supported since some of these agencies are also promoting abortion in the Third World.

In the midst of this suffering heroic men and women are working in to save lives or help people die with dignity and in peace. We should also remember them. When I think of such selfless people I remember the heroic service of the six Palazzolo sisters who sacrifice their lives in the service of the sick and dying during the Ebola outbreak in the Congo in 1995. Their Cause for beatification has been opened.

The six sisters, Srs Floralba Rondi, Clarangela Ghilardi, Danielangela Sorti, Dinarosa Belleri, Annelvira Ossoli, Vitarosa Zorza were working in Kikwit in the Congo, when the virus broke out. Faced with the horrors of the epidemic, each of the sisters had to make a personal decision. Drawing on the example and charism of their founder Blessed Luigi Palazzolo, they reiterated their dedication to the poor and the sick, for whom they were founded, and accepted their inevitable death in order to care for the sick and dying. Being highly contagious, each of the sisters contracted it and died agonizing deaths between the 25th April and 28th May 1995. Their Cause is being promoted as a martyrdom, martyrs of charity.

May they intercede for all those suffering from the virus, and all who serve them.

Pray For Priests

The feast of St Jean-Marie Vianney, patron of all priests. What a life! What a priest! In this holy man God has offered us priests a marvelous example of how to be a priest. St Jean-Marie helps us realise that priesthood is not a function, but rather a way of life. 

Theology speaks of an ontological change in the soul of a man ordained to the priesthood - a change at the deepest level of his existence, by this we understand that priest is not a mere functionary, he is not ordained to do things, but rather to be someone - a priest. He is not the same as others, he is not a man like other men. Priesthood is not a job, but a vocation, but also a transformation and a conforming - conforming to Christ the High Priest. 

When we speak of a priest being altus Christus, another Christ, we are not talking about his work, his being good or nice, its not about his following the example of Jesus, but it is deeper, it is a conforming to Christ at the deepest level of his soul, of his being. And that happens at this level regardless of the man's attitude, abilities or intentions. The living of priesthood is one in which priests must come to understand this change which has already taken place and orientating his life in accordance with it. This is what St Jean-Marie did. May he help us priests to do the same. 

Please pray for us priests, that we will be made worthy of this astonishing vocation God has given us.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Arrivederci Carlo

I haven't had much time to blog recently, hence the silence. Since last logging on I see one of my musical heroes has passed away - the Italian tenor, Carlo Bergonzi.  He died on the 25th July last at the age of 90. 

Bergonzi was perhaps one of the best tenors in the last hundred years, and in my opinion, a greater singer than Pavarotti or Carreras. He trained in the bel canto tradition and had a most magnificent voice, one which was so satisfying to listen to, technically brilliant and pure, and also full of passion and life.  He could hit the high notes with ease, his technique so subtle he just seem to flow into the music (I know that just probably sounds strange but it makes sense to me).  He was a fine interpreter of Verdi, reviving some of that composer's lesser works, but also a great interpreter of  verismo. His Puccini recordings are excellent, and for me he will always be Cavaradossi and Rodolfo, no one has yet surpassed his interpretation of those roles. Now Bergonzi was never a great actor, some said he couldn't act to save his life, but he could sing! He brought the role to life through his voice.

Bergonzi, like many singers had an interesting life, he was not from a privileged background. He saw his first opera when he was six and he was transfixed. He left school at eleven to take up work to support his family, working in a cheese factory. He had started singing in the Church choir, and he continued to do so. When he was 16 he got the opportunity to begin vocal studies, and he began, interestingly, as a baritone. In 1948 he made his professional debut singing Figaro in The Barber of Seville, a baritone role, and more work followed. However he soon discovered that tenor roles were more suited to his voice and so he made the transition (not always an easy, nor advisable one). He made his debut as a tenor singing in the role of Andrea Chenier in the opera of the same name in 1951, and he never looked back.

Bergonzi was singing up to the year 2000, and thereafter took masterclasses. He outlasted his rivals, though his last performance was a bit of a disaster, and this made him realise the end had come: however he was 75 and signing the title role in a concert performance of Otello. Despite a busy career, he married in 1950 and remained married until his death: he and his wife Adele had two sons.

May the Lord have mercy on him and grant him eternal life. I cannot say whether his vocal ability will outshine that of the angels, but his voice will be a most welcome addition to the heavenly choirs.

And to remember him, his version of Puccini's E Lucevan le stelle from Tosca.

And of course, we have to have something from his beloved Verdi. We'll go for Aida, and let's be obvious - None Shall Sleep Tonight! Nessun Dorma.

And to end, something from verismo, the wonderful Pagliacci, Canio's famous aria, Vesti la giubba.