Saturday, February 28, 2015

Pushing The Experiment Through

Breda O'Brien has an interesting article this week in the Irish Times concerning the Children and Family Relationships Bill which the government is pushing through with astonishing haste. The legislation has to be in place before the same sex marriage referendum in May so those opposed to same sex marriage cannot bring up the issue of gay adoption and perhaps win a few votes in favour of natural marriage. Breda, as usual, is direct and hits the nail on the head. I would recommend you read what she has to say, and as you do so say a prayer for her, she is subject to much abuse, attack and even death threats.

This bill is yet another step in the social experiment which is taking place in the West, one which plays around with relationships that nature has already defined. This experiment will eventually fail, Lord knows what the consequences will be, but we can be sure that, as always it will be the vulnerable and voiceless who will suffer - children. In the early decades of the 20th century we had the eugenics movement which allied itself with the sexual revolution and fought to have "reproductive rights" for women enshrined in law. For those rights read abortion, and in enshrining these rights, children suffered - in the name of choice innocent children are killed every day in their tens of thousands. Now they are redefining marriage and relationships, and children will also suffer as the one stable institution in society which protects them - marriage and natural parenthood, is dissolved. As always, all of this is to satisfy adults and their desires, but it is wrapped up in the lie that it is to provide a better life for children.

Looking at the legislation in terms of egg and sperm donation I see we are laying the foundation for a very serious problem in the future: the real possibility of brothers and sisters marrying each other. Apart from the issue of incest, there are the difficulties genetics create when siblings procreate. How can we prevent two people from different parents, but siblings, born of gamete donation from the same donor, and possibly ignorant of their genetic relationship, from marrying? We have to have a way of ensuring that two people seeking to marry are not closely related. I was talking with a priest friend about this and we both concluded that the Church in the not too distant future may need to insist on DNA testing for couples preparing for marriage to make sure they are not siblings. Sound strange? Yes, it does, but we will need to address this problem sooner rather than later. What a tangled web our society is weaving, God help us all.

Friday, February 27, 2015

C.S Lewis Recording

Another website has drawn my attention to a recording of C.S Lewis - one of the radio talks he gave on the BBC during the Second World War. The talks brought great comfort to people in the midst of the Blitz. They were eventually published as Mere Christianity, one of his masterpieces. Most of the recordings were lost because the BBC had to recycle tape, but one has survived. Rather than just provide a link, I decided to embed the talk, so if you have time you can listen to this great Christian writer - great Irishman, who led many to Christ. A good Lenten talk for you.

Are You Ready To Die For Christ?

That question in the title of this post may not be one you have ever considered. The idea of martyrdom knocking on your door may seem as far away as the ice of the South Pole, but given the times we are now living in, it may be time for all of us to begin to think about the possibility that we may have to face death for Christ. I was reading an interesting piece by Philip Kosloski in which he considers the possibility of martyrdom for all of us and it has got me thinking.  The question is: are we ready?

Martyrdom is a gift, as Philip points out, not all are called to lay down their lives - physically, for Christ, though we are all called to lay down our lives for him by our adherence to the faith, our call to holiness and our duty to evangelise. However we cannot exclude the possibility that we may have to face the knife, and the decision we make at that moment is one which will be informed by how we lived lives of allegiance to Christ, the Gospel and the Church.

But what are the chances of martyrdom? Most of those being martyred are in the East - in Syria, Iraq, those territories under ISIS. However militant Islam has its adherents all over the world, as we have seen in the attacks in Paris and Denmark, so there is a chance that there are those in our country, perhaps in our own city, who may be intent on making a statement about their Muslim faith through the shedding of blood. In London, for example, in the last couple of years two people were beheaded in what seemed to be jihadist attacks - a soldier and a woman in her own home. These two individuals were no better and no worse than any of us, yet they found themselves victims of radical Islam. There is no reason why any of us might not find ourselves in a similar situation and faced with the decision to either recite the Shahadah or make the supreme sacrifice.

Many believe that will not happen to us here safely ensconced in Ireland or the West, after all the attacks in Paris, Denmark and London were freak attacks, surely? I have personally seen the apathy and complacency of people here in the West - Church-going Catholics, who think all this will go away, it will not effect them, one even laughed in my face when I mentioned the possibility that radical Islamists might strike here in Ireland. I hope such confidence does not prove to be foolhardy, just naive. 

Now I am not trying to frighten people or create a sense of paranoia, but I am asking the question, that given the times we are in, are we ready to die for Christ? Are our lives conformed to Christ and his Gospel to the point that we will be able to renounce this earthly life rather than renounce our faith?  Persecution and the possibility of persecution tend to sharpen our focus on our faith, what it means for our lives - and our death. The daily reports of our brothers and sisters being killed for their Christian faith might also provide us with a wake up call, get us thinking seriously about what it means to be Christian. Lent is a good time for us to take a good look at our lives in that context.

Of course, martyrdom also includes white martyrdom - a persecution, perhaps hidden, where we are gradually forced to abandon our faith or compromise it. That is already happening in the West, we see it at work in Ireland: those who remain faithful to the Christian faith who find themselves having to take a stand being punished or sued, gradually pushed to the peripheries with little or no real political representation.  If the gay marriage referendum is passed here in Ireland, for example, we Christians will undoubtedly find ourselves under an increasingly more intense spotlight and our conformity will be earnestly sought. So martyrdom - white martyrdom is already here. In reality red martyrdom can often be easier, it is the long, drawn-out martyrdom of living in the midst of hostility and persecution which can difficult to endure, so let us pray for the grace to endure.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Disturbing Revelations

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri

An important story concerning the Extraordinary Synod on the Family last October has emerged. The Catholic World Report has it and you can read it here. Fr Z blogged on it yesterday.

According to the story, copies of the Ignatius Press book on marriage, Remaining in the Truth of Christ, were posted through regular mail to the participants in the Synod, however most of them were taken, intercepted (stolen according to Fr Z) allegedly by Cardinal Baldisseri, General Secretary of the Synod, so they would not "interfere with the Synod" (apparently his own words).

If this is true, and it seems it is given the Cardinal's own admissions, it is a disgrace. It is an action that casts another shadow on the workings of the Synod and further reduces people's confidence, not only in the Synod and its aims, but also on those organizing it, and let's face it, many many good people have many legitimate concerns. Many are worried about how things will go at the next Synod in October, this revelation will not help. Committing a crime to prevent members of the Synod having access to an important publication on matters concerning the Synod (and intercepting/stealing another's mail is actually a crime) may well bring the whole Synod process into disrepute.

One wonders how the Holy See will now respond? Will Cardinal Baldisseri be left in place? Will the Holy Father take action? Will Cardinal Kasper, who seems to be the darling of some of those organizing this Synod, continue to be facilitated to air his views without challenge, while those who offer valid and orthodox objections to his proposals are pushed out into the margins? Is the interception of this book an indication as to the plans of some organizing this Synod and a revelation of how far they are prepared to go to get their way?  

I fear poor Fr Lombardi will be wheeled out yet again in an damage limitation exercise in the hope it will all go away and the backroom boys can get on with their work.  This is not good for the Church.

Remaining in the Truth of Christ, co-authored by a number of scholars, five Cardinals among them, is a response to Cardinal Kasper's proposal to allow divorced and civilly remarried Catholics receive Holy Communion. The book is a fine piece of work and in my opinion, a marvellous summary of the various aspects of Church teaching on marriage and sound pastoral practice. It should be on every reading list in every course on marriage and sacraments and in the library of every Catholic institution. As bad as things are, and they are bad, at least good scholars and orthodox pastors are coming out with sound catechetical material which will ultimately help the Church's understanding of marriage and her mission to married couples.

Canon lawyer Ed Peters has an interesting article on this.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Debunking Old Myths

On Saturday last I was debating with a Northern Irish atheist about deliverance and the Church's ministry of exorcism. Very early in the debate the accusation of "medieval" came up, thereby the gentleman dismissed what I was saying. Now quite apart from the fact the Middle Ages were a time of great thought, art, architecture, chivalry and manners, that term when thrown out is meant to evoke barbarism, ignorance and a Church-ridden society which was backward, blind and utterly oppressive. Medieval practices, in this understanding, are base, superstitious and dark. 

Then, after a little more debate my adversary threw in Galileo at which point, I presume, I was to withdraw, head hung in shame having being confronted with the ultimate proof of the oppressive nature of the evil Catholic Church. I did not conform to the expected withdrawal, as do, sadly, many Catholics utterly ignorant of the Galileo case as it actually happened.  

The encounter reinforced a number of things for me, one of them being how we as Catholics do not know our faith and our history well enough to drive off the black legends that have been created by the enemies of the Church. The case of Pius XII is obvious enough, and while the battle is still raging, most of the facts are already in the public domain and those who continue to rehearse the accusations against the Pontiff are now just being stubborn, refusing to look at the evidence. That is why Pope Benedict finally signed the Decree of Heroic Virtue for Pius - there was no longer any reasonable barrier, the questions had been answered. 

The case of Galileo is not as obvious because, first of all, it was so long ago and with so many Catholics ignorant of what actually happened (and probably not bothered to examine the case), those continuing to air the myth tend not to be caught out. Secondly, the myth has been around for so long many may be inclined to accept it as true because it has been popping up for centuries: say it often enough and for long enough and people will begin to think it's true. It's a pity the proclamation of the Gospel did not have the same effect on some!

One of the issues that the Second Vatican Council had in mind was the formation of the members of the Church - as we are all called to evangelise, we must be capable of that evangelisation. This means that all Catholics have a responsibility to know their faith and its history so they can challenge and debunk the old myths that are fired at us. We are not to leap into the trenches and simple apologise, an attitude which has become the default position in the Church for the last few decades - for fear we offend anyone. Rather we are to be able to engage those who make unsound accusations against us. One of the reasons the Galileo chestnut is still being roasted is because Catholics have not produced the devastating response which is possible. We should be able to argue the facts in such a way that our accusers will take note, abandon the accusation knowing that their unsound position will be quickly exposed as false. That is why, I think, as we need to renew our catechetical programmes, we need to include these cases and myths and respond to them with the facts so the truth is out there, so Catholics of the future will be able to answer and dismiss those peddling old lies.

So, what happened Galileo? Well First Things has a very good summary of the case. The Church was foolish to act in the way she did, St John Paul II acknowledged that, but she did not do what the enemies of the faith accuse her of doing. And Galileo was far from being the poster boy for science. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Lesson From Our Suffering Brethren

Awful news today: ISIS has captured about ninety Christians. The Patriarch of the Syrian Catholic Church has asked our prayers. Let's remember them and pray that they will be safely returned to their families and homes. 

This is truly a time of great martyrdom. The martyrdom of the 20th century has given way to fierce persecutions in this new century. The faith and courage of many Christians is indeed being tested, and many of them are being found to be loyal, preferring death rather than renounce Christ. 

I do not wish such sufferings on our brothers and sisters, but one thing is certain in all of this: they are challenging us Western Christians by their fidelity. As the Church in the West dabbles with infidelity to Christ, ignores the Gospel, makes disloyal presumptions, attempts to overturn the moral law to keep comfortable Christians happy, true servants of Christ are shedding their blood rather than compromise their faith. 

Will Christians in the West get the message? I'm not sure, to be honest, I have personally seen great apathy by Catholics here who think the suffering of the Christians in the East has no bearing on them. I have seen priests who are more concerned with democratizing the Church than preaching the Gospel never mind shedding their blood for it. Our suffering brethren in the East are teaching us in the West an important lesson, I think we had better take heed of it.

UPDATE: A piece by Fr Longenecker on the kidnapping.

Monday, February 23, 2015

A New Doctor Of The Church

Earlier today the Holy Father declared a new Doctor of the Church - St Gregory of Narek, an Armenian. St Gregory, like St Ephraim the Syrian for the Church in the East, is a major figure in Armenia, so his elevation to the ranks of the Doctors reflects the eminence his teaching has enjoyed for many centuries. This elevation is to be welcomed for a number of reasons, one of them being a recognition of the importance of the Eastern and other Rites within the Church. 

St Gregory lived all his life in what is now Armenia. Born in 951 he entered a monastery in Narek and would remain there for the rest of his life. He was ordained priest at the age of 25. He was a contemplative and a mystic and his writings reflect these. He wrote a number of works including a commentary on The Song of Songs, but it is his Lamentations which are the source of his fame. These are a series of prayers which are both beautifully poetic and theologically profound. In this work he reminds me of our other poetic Doctor, St Ephraim. St Gregory died in 1003. His monastery lasted until the 20th century when it was destroyed following the Armenian genocide. 

May our new Doctor pray for us and guide our souls to find refuge in the Lord. May this "watchful angel in human form" be our protector.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

All Aboard The Ark Of Lent

Given our first reading today, what a marvellous image for Lent - Noah's Ark! I preached about this today, sometimes it seems in our Lenten observance that we are on stormy seas cooped up with all sorts of wild beasts. May the Lord guide us on these seas!

Remembering Sophie

Today is the anniversary of the execution of Sophie Scholl, the young German woman who with her brother Hans and other brave souls formed the White Rose group to defy Hitler and Nazism during the Second World War. She was guillotined on the 22nd February 1943 after a mockery of a trial for her treason against the German people, in reality - her refusal to cooperate with the Nazi regime. 

She and the other members of the group simply wrote about what was happening. In letters sent all over Germany they told the people of Germany what Hitler and his minions were doing, what they stood for and why it was wrong. It was a simple resistance, highly organised and effective, but given the dangers, very risky. Sophie and her companions were in no doubt as to the consequences of their actions should they get caught. However, their commitment to the truth outweighed the dangers, they were ready to lay down their lives for the truth.

In recent years it has been revealed that Sophie was hugely influenced by Blessed John Henry Newman and her work for the White Rose was motivated by her devout Christian faith.   It seems she was preparing to be received into the Catholic Church: she had been brought up Lutheran. Apparently as she was awaiting the sentence of death to be carried out she and her brother had requested to see a Catholic priest intending to be received before they were executed. However, she was dissuaded by a Lutheran chaplain who told her that it would destroy her mother, a devout Lutheran: not only had the woman to deal with the death of her children, but knowing that they had left Lutheranism just before their death would have been too much for her. With filial devotion Sophie and Hans didn't take the step. If they had converted there may well have been a chance that Sophie at least might have been beatified by now since her death almost certainly constituted martyrdom given that her work was motivated by her Christian faith. If that had happened today might have been her feast day.

However, today is her dies natalis. Like the Coptic martyrs, we Catholics must also acknowledge the heroic witness of fellow Christians, as did Pope Francis in his speaking about those pious Egyptian men martyred for Christ by ISIS. The Holy Father has spoken of an "ecumenism of blood" uniting us, and that is true. Regardless of their Christian denomination, if a person sincerely lays down their life for Christ, even those not in the fullness of the truth, they are martyrs for having offered the greatest sacrifice of all for Christ. Remember martyrdom wipes out all sin, it surely wipes out all error too. In Christ's eyes, when he sees the soul of one who freely accepted death rather than deny him, he sees the witness of love. 

That said, as I have wondered before, in Sophie's case, if it is possible to prove her intention of entering the Church could we put her forward for beatification: we have martyr Saints (St Genesius among them) who were not baptised but their martyrdom was a baptism in blood, and we also have incidents of baptism by desire: would it be possible to see Sophie in similar terms in regard to her desire and her martyrdom? Just wondering. 

Sophie's stand reminds me of the work of many today. She died because she was telling the truth, she and her companions were informing Germans about what lay behind the regime and how the war was going - badly for Nazi Germany. Today we have men and women who are also telling truth about many things and they too are being persecuted for it. Members of the Iona Institute in Ireland here come to mind. David Quinn and Breda O'Brien are two fine people of faith who seriously reflect on where Ireland is going, and using verifiable, empirical evidence, show that the path we are taking will ultimately be disastrous not just for individuals but for our people as a whole. For this they are attacked, pilloried, they even get death threats on a regular basis. The media treat them aggressively, totally unwilling to listen objectively to what they and their colleagues have to say. Like John the Baptist they are crying in the wilderness and no one wants to listen. They will be proved right because they are drawing on what has happened in other countries, places where our permissive citizens's ideological comrades are now in denial, throwing oil on the fire they have caused thinking it will quench the flames. 

Perhaps today we might pray for those who tell the truth in our midst and suffer for it. Like Sophie they have weighed up the consequences and have decided that service to the truth outweighs the dangers. That is real courage. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A Prayer For The Sick

Today being the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, let us pray for all those who are sick, those carrying the cross, often a heavy one, of suffering. May the Mother of God, the Immaculate One, the Health of the Sick, be their intercessor, their companion and their consolation.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Abortion Campaign Continues

The Irish media is alight with discussions on abortion at the moment. An independent TD, Claire Daly has submitted a private members's bill seeking legislation to permit abortion in the case of foetal abnormality, so this is getting blanket coverage with lots of hard cases being resurrected to convince the public that abortion is the only compassionate and medical answer to such sad cases. While the government will vote the bill down, it usually does so when it comes to private members's bills from opposition TDs, the Minister for Health has indicated that the next Dail should deal with the issue of abortion, ie liberalise the law/ repeal the pro-life amendment to the Constitution.  At the moment in Ireland a woman can have an abortion at any stage in the pregnancy if she can get two psychiatrists to confirm she is suicidal. 

I note with interest that the Minister has suggested the change come after the next election - then, it is being said, the elected government will have a mandate to tackle the issue. Perhaps I am getting too cynical, but it seems to me it is not that at all. With the possibility of an election within the next eighteen months, perhaps sooner if the government falls (there are plenty of contentious issues at the moment that could well pull the rug from under the present administration), I doubt TDs will want to face the pro-life electorate. Indeed there may be a fear that the pro-abortion TDs may well lose their seats should there be a surge in the pro-life vote in response to a more liberal abortion law. Better push it beyond the election and if they get back in liberalise the law and then have four years or so for the electorate to forget. Such is the way of politics in this green and pleasant land.

Perhaps the pro-life electorate had better get their act together now and prepare for the next election. Time, I think, for pro-life people in the various political parties to dump their allegiance to that party and turn to pro-life candidates - not pro-life members of those parties, but a party or group that are pro-life. Remember the whip system in Ireland is draconian, and while individual TDs will profess to be pro-life (how often have I witnessed their piteous confession of faith in life at the doorstep?) but few will defy the whip and will do whatever the Leader requires, regardless of conscience. 

Too many good, pro-life people have stood by party allegiance for too long even as those parties no longer adhere to the moral values of these people. The Civil War is over, so allegiance to a civil war side or the workers's struggle is no longer feasible when there is a new war, a war on life, going on. Mainstream political parties have taken the loyalty of their members for granted for too long knowing that, at the end of the day, regardless of what social policies they push through, when the party faithful stand in the booth they are loath to vote for anyone else, loyalty, history, habit are too ingrained to break: the faces are too familiar. 

It's time for a rethink. As men and women we need to start looking at the real issues and acting accordingly. As St John Paul II reminds us: a nation that kills its own children is a nation without hope, it is a nation that has no future. If we want a future for Ireland, a humane future, then we had better act. This is not the time to retreat to the trenches. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Scratching My Head

I am chaplain to a women's prayer group which meets most Monday evenings. This evening we had an interesting discussion over tea after our devotions. It concerned the forthcoming movie Fifty Shades of Grey based on the novel of the same name. It seems there are an awful lot of women out there excitedly waiting for the movie's opening on St Valentine's Day: "hotly anticipated" according to Time magazine. None of the ladies at the prayer group, I hasten to add, were fans of this book.

For those of you who do not know about the book and movie, it concerns a BDSM relationship: bondage, domination and sado masochism. The books sold like hotcakes a few years ago, and now the makers of the movie may well be laughing all the way to the bank as the ladies line up to see....what? To see a young woman being abused and brutalised by a man for his pleasure, and it seems the young women gets pleasure in this too. And apparently there are millions of women out there, many of whom are fans of this book, who would like a crack of the same whip (no pun intended). As a result S&M products are, I'm told, in great demand - the "ideal gift for the woman in your life" it seems.

Now I am scratching my head and wondering whatever happened the feminist movement? Since when was abusing women not only tolerated but actually celebrated and greeted with teenage glee? Was Emily Davison's rash act a loss without any lessons? Will the ghost of Emmeline Pankhurst rise from her grave in Brompton and halt outside the Multiplex on the Fulham Road? I hope so, and may she engage in a bit of domination herself as she batters her erring sisters with her placard should they attempt to enter the cinema.

But there is a darker side to this, and this is what occupied the women at the prayer group this evening. In Ireland at the moment a man is on trial accused of the murder of a woman, a woman who was allegedly killed during a BDSM session: allegedly stabbed to death to heighten the man's sexual pleasure. The trial is shocking many here, and rightly so: a life lost in such a shocking and senseless way. And yet, many of those shocked at the details emerging from this trial, media included, are tingling with anticipation at the thought of this movie; already making plans for the "girls's night out" to see it. 

Have we lost the ability to make connections?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Today A Prayer For The Liberation Of Slaves

If today were not a Sunday we would be celebrating the feast of St Josephine Bakhita. we can however remember her life and ask her intercession. We can also pray for those who, as she did, endure the injustice of slavery. As we all know slavery is as much a reality today as it was in the past, although it is hidden today. Even here in Ireland there are men and women enslaved to others - in the sex industry, in family homes working for little or nothing and held captive by their employers. As we pray for those afflicted we should also keep our eyes open, for all we know someone could be enslaved not very far from us.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

More On Romero

Talking with people in the last couple of days I see some are not happy with the decision to declare Archbishop Oscar Romero a martyr. I think many people in the Church are uneasy and have some doubts as to whether Romero should be advanced towards beatification. Some see this as another ideological decision by Pope Francis. We have all become familiar with the belief that Romero supported Liberation Theology and was killed for his leftist position.

Personally I still need to do some more reading on Romero by someone I would trust, but I am sure now that Romero was not what many in the left have been promoting since the day he was killed. The familiar narrative of Pope St John Paul and Pope Benedict blocking the Cause and Pope Francis lifting all restrictions is not actually accurate. First of all the previous two Popes would not have needed to block a Cause, if they harboured the antagonism they are said to have had there would have been no Cause at all: they would not have allowed it be opened. St John Paul defended Romero, and visited the slain Archbishop's tomb during his trip to El Salvador. Pope Benedict, as acknowledged by Romero's postulator a day or two ago, advanced the Cause, "unblocking" it - the "block" being concerns (prudently arising) that accompanied the Cause thanks to Romero's being adopted as the poster boy of Marxists in Central America. Pope Francis just finds himself issuing the decree of martyrdom after the work mostly carried out under his two predecessors has been completed.

Fr Dwight Longenecker has an interesting article dealing with this and the real Romero which I would encourage you to read. After his investigations he has concluded that the Archbishop was orthodox, one who sought to defend the poor from their oppressors, indeed a man who chose an Opus Dei priest as his spiritual director - hardly leftist.  He did not accept the Marxist narrative that informs, to various degrees, aspects of Liberation Theology, nor did he see violence and revolution as the solutions to the problems his people were facing. He was as critical of the left as he was of the far right. He was also a pious man who sought holiness and knew that it could only be found in his relationship with Christ.

For further reading on this, see Filip Mazurzcak's piece in First Things, hardly a liberal publication. I note with confidence a quotation from Romero quoted by Mazurczak concerning Marxism: "Since Marxist materialism destroys the Church’s transcendent meaning, a Marxist church would be not only self-destructive but senseless." Such a belief would be anathema to Liberation Theologians who see Marx as a new Aristotle to advance the Church's social teaching, as noted by Mazurczak.

The left have hijacked him: does that mean the Church has to relinquish him to an ideology the man himself did not support? The answer I heard from one person recently seemed to suggest we do.  if such is the case, then Pope Benedict made a serious mistake in canonising Hildegarde von Bingen and then declaring her a Doctor of the Church. She had been hijacked by radical feminists, new age practitioners and all sorts of heretical thinkers who have published countless books interpreting her visions and writings in a manner far from orthodox Christianity. However Benedict realised that the Church had to reclaim a woman who had nothing to do with the unorthodox notions that have grown up around her and her works. Her visions are complex, strange even, but she lived in the heart of the Church and her works are not only orthodox and beautiful, but such a marvellous expression of the Church's faith and thought that she is formally acknowledged to be among that elite group of teachers who deserve the title Doctor of the Church. 

Should we not seek to do the same with Archbishop Romero? Present the man as he was and "rehabilitate" him in the minds of those who are suspicious of him? As we do so we have to remind ourselves that it is not just left-wing regimes that are oppressive, right-wing regimes can be just as terrible and godless, and Romero saw that every day in El Salvador. In the Church there should not be left or right, just right or wrong, what is orthodox and true and what is not. In times of great confusion and conflict people can get lost, and I think with the struggle in El Salvador after his martyrdom the real Oscar Romero, the faithful son of the Church, was lost in the haze ideology can produce.  He became for those who wanted to right wrongs by revolution, reinterpreting the Gospel to support their Marxist faith, a handy vehicle to promote their cause and attract more followers. 

Now there has to be clarity. The theologians in the Congregation for the Causes of Saints have spent thirty years investigating this Cause and they have concluded that the poster boy was no Marxist lackey, but a follower of Christ, an orthodox Catholic, a devoted pastor who sought to do what Christ tells us to do: to look after the poor and speak up for those who have no voice, the little ones who are suffering. He was killed because, in the name of Jesus Christ, in persona Christi, he stood up for these little ones: killed in odium fidei - that is martyrdom.

By the way when I speak of reclaiming Archbishop Romero I do not mean that we render his ministry and sacrifice meaningless, neutralise him, make him "safe" so we can swallow him and put his image on a pedestal to catch dust. He is a prophetic figure in the Church, one who challenges us - that is what the Saints are supposed to do; so we are to listen to his voice and learn from his example. In a sense we should always be at least a little uneasy when we encounter the Saints, if we are not then we may well have become complacent and miss the point of their lives and their heroic virtue.

The Venerable Oscar has a message for us today, tomorrow, until the day the Lord comes again. We would do well to take heed of it. May he intercede for all of us and obtain from the Lord the graces we need to live upright and holy lives, serving God and our brothers and sisters, most especially those are most in need. That may require a martyrdom within our hearts: if so, may it happen.

For your reading the CDF's Instruction on Certain Aspects of the Theology of Liberation, written by the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and approved by Pope St John Paul II. Note that Ratzinger points out that "theologies of liberation" would be more correct since there are a number of them, some which are orthodox expressions of the Church's ministry to the poor and others which are not, but rather an expression of Marxist ideology.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Rest In Peace

News has come through that the eminent historian Sir Martin Gilbert has died. A sad loss indeed. Sir Martin was one of the foremost historians of the Holocaust, if not the foremost historian. His works are definitive. He has been of great assistance to those defending the Venerable Pope Pius XII and his record protecting the Jews during the war. Sir Martin was not one of those who fell for the myths invented by Hochhuth. Among other notable historical works, he is also known for his multi-volumed biography of Winston Churchill and a major history of Israel. 

Gilbert was a practicing Jew, so let us commend him to the mercy of the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that through the blood of Jesus Christ, he may be gathered in peace to his ancestors.

Baby Paul In Rome

Thanks again to all of you who are praying for Baby Paul: let us continue to ask the Lord for a miracle through the intercession of Blessed Paul VI (see margin left for a prayer of intercession).

This morning Paul is being brought to Rome: his parents are making a pilgrimage to the tomb of Blessed Paul VI over the next few days asking him to obtain the miracle needed so Paul will be born healthy and sound. Please remember him and them most especially over these few days, and let us keep them company, in spirit, in their vigil at the tomb of the holy Pontiff. They will be remembering all of us also in their prayers.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

He Is A Martyr

It has been announced that the Holy Father has signed a Decree of Martyrdom recognizing that Archbishop Oscar Romero's murder was in odium fidei, in hatred of the faith, thus clearing the way for his beatification. As you know Archbishop Romero's Cause has been a source of controversy for many years given the difficulties in separating religion from politics not only in the motivation for his killing, but also in his ministry. He has been connected with Liberation Theology, a particular form of social justice which has, in part, dabbled in Marxism and even Pelagianism, and has been a thorn in the side of the Church for many years. 

Oscar Romero's concern for the poor, emerging from his Christian faith, cannot be doubt, the problem was to discern whether he embraced the radical forms of Liberation Theology and if he was killed for his politics rather than for his Catholic faith manifested in his defence of the poor and vulnerable. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints and the Holy Father, after many years of study, have concluded that he was killed out of hatred for his Catholic faith and the position of the Catholic Church, which he emulated, to protect and work for the poor. He has become a poster boy for Liberation Theology, including those elements which have more in common with Marx than Christ, but the Archbishop cannot be blamed for that - the investigation into his life had to look at the man and his killers, not those who seek to use him to promote their political agenda.

The Archbishop will be beatified now without the need for a miracle. However, for his canonisation, a miracle would be required and I believe, for the sake of prudence and to ease the anxieties of some, the Holy Father, or his successor, should allow the process to proceed normally: God should be allowed speak. Until he is beatified the Archbishop now holds the title "Venerable".

The body of the Venerable Archbishop Romero moments after this martyrdom

The Venerable Oscar's Cause is not the first to be immersed in politics, many others had to go through a process of careful sifting and intensive study. Though an easier case to examine, the Cause of Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko was one - was he killed out of hatred for the faith or because of his work with Solidarity? After careful study, like Romero, it was because of his Catholic faith and his defence of the rights of men and women which is central to the Church's social teaching. But there are others who Causes should be examined, among them two women who suffered during the Reformation in England - one killed, the other dying in virtual imprisonment after many years of long suffering. I am of course speaking of Mary, Queen of Scots and Katherine of Aragon.

Mary, Queen of Scots: a possible martyr too? 

Mary, Queen of Scots's life is mired in politics, but she was imprisoned by Elizabeth I, not really because she was the Tutor Queen's next heir and caused a problem for her, but rather because Mary was a Catholic and had become a rallying call for suffering Catholics in England. In the end Elizabeth had to have her killed so she could no longer be a threat to her throne. If Mary had been a Protestant she would not have been such a serious threat to the Protestant Queen. I think the Bishops of Scotland should examine the possibility of opening a Cause of martyrdom for Mary. She herself was convince she was dying for her faith, she came to her execution on the 24th July 1567, she wore a red pettycoat as a symbol - those responsible for her death got the message and were none too pleased. Some may cite some irresponsible acts earlier in her life as too serious a barrier to considering a Cause - if that is the case then we had better take St Augustine off the calendar, and whole host of other Saints and martyrs, prominent among them St Andrew Wouters.  

Similarly Katherine of Aragon's Cause should also be considered: her piety cannot be dismissed nor the patience and heroic virtue she seemed have demonstrated in her years of long-suffering at the hands of her unfaithful husband, Henry VIII. As she died she forgave her husband and prayed for him, revealing true, heroic charity. In a sense Oscar Romero's case may well give us the nudge to examine cases we may have put aside because they seemed too complicated to tackle.

Line Up!

Let's hope we all get out alive this year! No one choked to death because the priest is intense and fervent and unaware, or because he lit the candles (yes, that happened to a priest once!). 

And for your information, the blessing of St Blaise is not confined to his feast day, you can get it any time of year. Note to priests: keep the candles in an accessible place should members of the faithful seek the blessing at other times in the year.

And now some interesting contraptions and variations on the traditional crossed candles with ribbon:

She's not amused, is she?

Any volunteers?

Yum! Lent is coming.....

Monday, February 2, 2015

Squaring The Triangle?

Further to my post earlier today, here is another example of historical revisionism concerning another Cromwell - Oliver Cromwell. This time Drogheda historian Tom Reilly's belief that Cromwell was not as bad as we Irish had painted him and Oliver is now due an apology from the Irish. 

Having served in Drogheda for seven years, I regard it now as my second home, I was aware of Mr Reilly's thesis for some years, the Catholic Herald is considering it now. Not too many Droghedians see things as Reilly does, and the Catholics there, and relations of the priests Cromwell martyred, tend not to have too much patience with the view either.

Anyway, it's out there, at least Mr Reilly is doing his research and arguing from the sources unlike others. He has not won too many to his point of view, and I am not inclined to accept his opinion myself. Every time I pass the Houses of Parliament in London and see the statue of the Scourge himself, mingled feelings of anger and impatience have to be combated with a prayer and an intentional distraction.

"Just keep walking, Father...Hold it in now!"

Dismantling The Virtuous

Two English bishops have reacted to the depiction of St Thomas More in BBC's series Wolf Hall, an adaption of author Hilary Mantel's novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, both of which have won the Booker Prize. [See article here] Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury and Bishop Mark O'Toole of Plymouth have severely criticized Mantel and the BBC's depiction of More as a scheming villain, an unenlightened, humourless and severe man: a characterization very much in opposition to contemporary accounts where even his enemies recognized a singular good and learned man.  He is even being portrayed, Bishop O'Toole points out, as anti-woman when in reality he was far advanced in his attitude towards women for this time, making the education of his daughters as much a priority as for his son.

Given that Mantel's books, and the BBC's adaption are centred on Thomas Cromwell and really represent a panegyric for Henry VIII's most loyal and faithful servant in the dissolution of the monasteries and the establishing of his new church, it is probably to be expected that one of the foremost men who stood in the way should be demonized. As you read Mantel's books and watch the series you have to bear in mind that we are not dealing with objective or good history, we are dealing with a particular view which is profoundly anti-Catholic and every event and every character is to be seen in the light of that prejudice, most especially the sainted men and women who could not consent to Henry's schemes. 

In recent years some historians have been looking again at More, and in their revised histories the renaissance man of letters and virtue disappears to be replaced by a bigot who took pleasure in burning heretics. Such an approach to history takes modern attitudes and developments and apply them to the past rather than seeks to study and understand individual figures as they actually were in their own time. When this hermeneutic is adopted you do not discover history or historical figures as was, but rather events and figures distorted by modern prejudice. This hermeneutic does not shed light on past events or people, but rather lionizes the idiosyncrasies of the present. 

As explained in the article, St  Thomas, as Lord Chancellor, did some things we would not have done, or at least we think we would not have done them. One of his duties was to protect the integrity of the state, and according to the law of the time heresy was seen as an action against that integrity (it was not seen then as simply a religious matter) - in the eyes of civil law it created dangerous divisions and corrupted the subjects of the king. It had to be dealt with, and the punishment for those convicted of heresy was a mandatory death sentence. 

The death sentence remains on the statute books of many countries today and, agree with it or not, it is still carried out for crimes considered heinous enough to deserve it. There are good people opposed to it and there are good people who see it as necessary for certain crimes. The Catechism tells us that the state still has the competence to use the death penalty for serious crimes, but given developments in security and incarceration etc, it is probably no longer necessary, but it still leaves the option there. That is what we have come to understand, St Thomas More, as a man of his time, lived in another age with a different understanding.  He did not take pleasure in the execution of heretics - at one point he did say that the state and the people were safer now that a particular individual was gone. And lest we feel we can judge him let us not forget that we live in an age where we are told the mutilation and killing in utero of innocent human beings is not only permitted, but should be a right protected by international and state law: we cannot be throwing stones at anyone in another age. In the sixteenth century a few heretics were burned, today we wade through the blood of tens of millions of children. That is an awful reality many of our contemporaries are quite happy to ignore while trying to silence those who are working to stop it.

There was a time, not that long ago, when people respected others regardless of their point of view. In that age Thomas More was regarded by most people as a man of integrity and conscience and he was respected for it, even by those who disagreed with him. Indeed there are many in Anglicanism who admire him even though he was deeply opposed to the founding of their church because it constituted a break with the Church founded by Christ to facilitate a king who wanted rid of his wife to marry his mistress. Agree or disagree with him on that, he was admired for his commitment to what he believed. Today, however, such a man of integrity is no longer admired. Relativism and secularism have rendered those who stand by their sincerely held faith and views as dangerous, as bigots: integrity is no longer admired because it usually stands in the way of progress.

Thomas Cromwell is now the model, a man who shaped his views and opinions to facilitate the prevailing opinion, he could see when the winds were changing and from where they were blowing at any given time, so he changed too. In that Cromwell may well be a fairly modern figure, but a model? A man to be admired? No. However we can learn one lesson from the life of the real Cromwell - you may twist and turn to keep up with the fickle winds, but one day you will not be quick enough to change and before you have time to squirm the axe will have fallen. St Thomas stood his ground, lost his head but preserved his integrity and, we believe, won the crown of martyrdom and eternal life. Cromwell just lost his head.

The Light To Enlighten The Gentiles

The old priest Simeon holds the Infant in his arms and recognises him.  Overflowing with joy he sings the Nunc Dimittis, for now God has fulfilled his promise and the Light has come into the world. 

We mark this feast with the blessing and lighting of candles, to remind ourselves that Christ is the light of the world, that he casts out the darkness, and now we his disciples are called to take that same light and carry it to every corner of the world.

It is interesting to note that the Paschal Candle is lit over us twice in our lives - at our baptism when we come into the Church, it is burning beside the baptismal font and after we come out of the waters our own baptismal candle is lit from it. The second time is at our funeral, when our lifeless bodies lie before the altar as the Requiem Mass is offered for us. Between these two occasions the light of that Paschal Candle is supposed to burn within us as we live our Christian lives. The candles we carry in procession at today's Mass symbolise then, not just Christ who enlightens us and the world, but that same light burning within us, lit by God, which urges out into the world as witnesses and evangelisers.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

A Prayer To The Spiritual Mother Of Ireland

Today is a Sunday, so in Ireland we can't celebrate the feast of our secondary patron St Brigid. However, we can pray to her and ask her to watch over this little country in which she lived, served God and found holiness.

What would she make of Ireland now? I do not know, but I do not think she would be pleased. Pope Benedict XVI in his Letter to the Irish encouraged us to look to our Irish Saints, to follow their example and ask them to intercede for us. Given what lies ahead later this year we need our countrymen and women in heaven to pray hard for us, foremost among them the patrons of this land. 

Let us ask St Brigid, our spiritual mother, to help us in the months ahead, that as our leaders are desperately trying to tear apart the Christian fabric of our society, we will have the strength to resist and the courage and initiative to rebuild a more just and Christian Ireland for the future. May the holy souls of our Saints come walk among us once more, manifest themselves to rouse the consciences of our people and pastors, and lead us in this difficult times. 

Let us not forget that Ireland belongs to God and his Saints - it was bought with the blood of the Lamb; may Brigid cast her cloak over the whole of this country and reclaim it for Christ.