Thursday, September 30, 2010

The End of An Era

Hollywood is grieving today following the death of Tony Curtis, one of the silver screen's great icons.  We all grew up watching Curtis - his great talent both as a serious actor and as a comedian astonished many.  One of the most popular movies of all times is Some Like It Hot, the best of a particular genre in which the hero (or anti-hero) has to jump into disguise to escape the mob (Sister Act and Nuns On The Run are two rather poor imitations), in which Curtis and Lemmon are hilarious as they camp it up in drag trying to pass themselves off as musicians while eyeing up the lovely Marilyn Monroe.  It has always been a surprise to me that he never won an Oscar. 

Like many in the business, for all his fame and wealth, Curtis had a difficult life.  Six marriages and a problem with addiction his lifestyle took its toll, and all this coupled with the tragic death of his son, Nicholas. I can only hope that he will find peace now.  To all the members of our Fraternity reading this, we must remember those who work in the arts that they face the tragedies of life as we all do, but must do so under the glare of the media and a world looking for stories.  Curtis was Jewish, so we pray that the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, may have mercy upon him, and bring him to lie with his ancestors in peace.

יִתְגַּדַּל וְיִתְקַדַּשׁ שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא
בְּעָלְמָא דְהוּא עָתִיד לְאִתְחַדָּתָא
וּלְאַחֲיָאָה מֵתַיָא
וּלְאַסָּקָא יָתְהוֹן לְחַיֵּי עָלְמָא

יְהֵא שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא מְבָרַךְ
לְעָלַם וּלְעָלְמֵי עָלְמַיָּא

He Made the Ordinary Seem Extraordinary

William Oddie of the Catholic Herald has a lovely article on G.K. Chesterton, suggesting, as it already has from many quarters, that the Cause of this brilliant writer be opened.  The article is well worth reading.  Was Chesterton a saint?  Well his conversion story is remarkable, a bit like Blessed John Henry Newman's.  His writing has been enormously influential and he has made major contributions to the understanding of the Catholic faith: he has proven himself to be one of the greatest apologists in the Church. 

I think his joy is the most compelling evidence of his holiness.  Reading Chesterton is like taking part in a riotous romp through faith.  Those who knew him said his joy and humour were infectious.  That joy must have been a divine gift, expanded through holiness.  Of course the powers that be in the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (CCS) will want evidence of heroic virtue - no better man to produce it than Chesterton - he would probably sit down at his desk in heaven and toss off a treatise and drop it down to them. I think in the search for heroic virtue, his own saying may prove to be the case: "It has been often said, very truly, that religion is the thing that makes the ordinary man feel extraordinary; it is an equally important truth that religion is the thing that makes the extraordinary man feel ordinary." 

A few of my favourite Chesterton quotes to brighten up the day (he is the most quotable author of modern times!):

"If there were no God, there would be no atheists."

"When people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing -- they believe in anything."

"The Bible tells us to love our neighbours, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people."

"The comedy of man survives the tragedy of man."

"Misers get up early in the morning; and burglars, I am informed, get up the night before."

"Artistic temperament is the disease that afflicts amateurs."

And timely for us in Ireland in these times:
"The reformer is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right."

And So It Begins....We Hope!!

It has been announced that the archbishops of Ireland are to travel to Rome next week heralding the beginning of the Apostolic Visitation of the Church in Ireland according to a statement issued by the Catholic Communications Office.  Our prayers and hopes will go with them.   Many of us have been looking for a renewal in the Church in Ireland for a long time, and we hope that this is, at last, the start.  That said, I sense there is also a tinge of pessimism among some.  Having endured mediocrity for years, the hope of a reform in the Church here seems almost like a pipe dream - too good to be true.  I suppose it is no harm to be thinking that way, after all, there is only so much you can expect in any given time.  Not all the problems in the Church in Ireland are going to be solved.  There is also a hint of anxiety: the self-styled progressives will say they are expecting major change, but when the Visitators do not overturn Catholic teaching to suit them, we will have to endure the usual reactionary howling which has become commonplace from that quarter, and I am just fed up of that.  God forgive me!

At the end of the day, renewal is a long process simply because, being human, bishops, priests and people have to change.  Renewal, you see, is not about changing structures and dogmas, but about changing hearts: ultimately renewal is achieved in union with personal conversion - that daily conversion which the Lord requires of all of us.  The mistake many of our "liberals" make is exactly the same as that of Marxism and other political ideologies: they think that by changing the structures we can change the Church for the better (we won't mention the fact that many of the changes they want to make are contrary to the teachings of Christ).  I think the Soviet Union stands as a good example of how false this belief actually is.  It is people who need to change.  Speaking in terms of  faith, if our Church is going to be a better Church, then the members of that Church need to be more like the founder of our Church, Jesus Christ: they need to be holy.  When people are holy, then virtue ensures that the structures are just, right and good.  The reform of the Church in Ireland begins with me.

Many dismiss this as unrealisable and idealistic, but history and experience show us that that way is the only successful way of reform.  History is a great teacher.  Numerous "reform" movements ended as tyrannies because they tried to force structural change: the French Revolution, Marxism, Nazism, to name a few, had the dream of a perfect society and a perfect people.  When people could not rise to the standard, they had to be eliminated so as not to drag the rest down.  Funny that people never learn from the mistakes of history.  I still find it ironic that after the Berlin Wall fell to cries of "Freedom!", radical atheist socialism is still flourishing in Western society, and that the media which toasted the fall of the Iron Curtain are as left-wing as those who built it. 

Anyway, pray for Ireland.  For some reason the hobbits from The Lord of the Rings come to mind.  Four simple creatures heading off on an unknown journey, one which would ultimately change the course of history for Middle Earth, for the good.  On the journey there was a lot of suffering, lessons to be learned and, for some of them, humiliation.  But there was also great nobility and determination, and it was through their efforts that the ring of power was destroyed.  Not a bad example for our Archbishops as they begin a journey which may prove difficult, but, we hope and pray, it will be one which will bring great blessings and renewal to the Church in our land.  Let us also pray for the Visitators, may the wisdom of the Holy Spirit help them get to the truth and see through those who might be trying to hide it - now there's another story!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Scientology - Religion or Cult?

There was an interesting documentary on BBC One's Panorama last night.  Reporter John Sweeney followed up his 2007 exposé on Scientology by speaking with former members.  We are all aware of the stories which are circulating about this group which is regularly described as a cult.  Numbered among its members are many actors and actresses who use their influence to gain converts.   Its critics point out that Scientologists tend to target people in the arts seeing them as a means to gaining respectability and, the critics maintain, hefty donations.  When I was a student studying English Litt, many of my friends warned me to avoid the Dianetics centre in Dublin, a missionary outpost for Scientology in Ireland, which tried to entice University students to take personality tests - the first step in formation in the Scientology system.  A few years ago the Irish media did a series of programmes investigating the group's beliefs, recruitment methods and treatment of members.

There is no doubt that Scientology raises a number of serious questions.  As a Catholic priest I personally believe the group is best avoided and does indeed have more in common with cults than mainstream religions.  As the Father Director of an association seeking to pray for, help and support people in theatre, cinema and the arts, I am concerned about the influence and tactics the group has used to bring vulnerable young men and women under their mantle.  I am aware of various Christian groups who make it their business to pray for these young people and try to keep them out of Scientology's reach, while interceding for those who are members of the group, and I think that is an important apostolate for those in the arts and media.  

That said, I  believe in religious freedom, and if someone wants to believe the ideas of L. Ron Hubbard as the basis of a faith let them off, but I would defend their right to hold that faith.  I am also aware that secularists will try to undermine religious freedom by starting with the cult-like religious groups and if victory is won there, move on to mainstream religions.  With the Scientologists it is their tactics that worry me.  One strange tactic is their seeming to home in on Catholics.  Perhaps, with little by way of catechetical formation in these times, Catholics are easy prey for such strange ideas.  But looking at the line up of prominent Scientologists, many of them were Catholics: Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and John Travolta for example.  We must pray - this is one for St Genesius, not only the patron of actors, theatre and cinema, but also a patron of converts.  Having read this post you might just say a prayer to him for those enticed away from Christ and his Gospel. 

Prayer to St Genesius

Holy St Genesius,
martyr for Christ,
by the grace of the Holy Spirit
through your acting
you came to discover
the truth of the Christian faith.
In your first profession of that faith
you were baptized through the shedding
of your blood,
offering your life for the praise and glory
of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Pray for those who dedicate their lives
to the theatrical and cinematic arts.
Like you may they find the presence
of the Lord in their work
and generously open their hearts
to his teaching,
living it in the midst of the challenges
and demands of their calling.

In this novena, I remember most especially…., commending him/her to your care.

Let us pray:Eternal Father, in your love you call all men and women to come to know you and to share in your divine life. Through the intercession of your martyr, Genesius, who responded so generously to the grace of conversion, grant that the same grace may be given to those who as yet do not know you, and may be renewed in those who do.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Defend Us in the Hour of Conflict

It is now an accepted fact that when the Church gets rid of something, the secular world adopts it and adapts it to its own needs.  Gregorian chant is a great example.  When the ancient music of the liturgy was dropped to be replaced by folk songs and romantic ballads, chant suddenly became popular and even made its way into pop music.  So too with the holy angels. As many in the Church today try and convince us that angels do not exist, the New Age movement is suddenly gushing with angelic messengers and offering us all sorts of treatments, products and experiences with these beings, adapted, of course, to suit the occult.  As many have found to their cost these "angels" are not what they seem, and so are best avoided in favour of the figures revealed and venerated by Christianity and Judaism.  So if you have angel cards or any of the paraphernalia of that kind consign them to the flames from which they have originally come.  As people have found, the angels this "spirituality" invokes are not the heavenly kind.

Today's feast of the Holy Archangels provides us with an opportunity to get to know the real mccoy personally.   Traditionally this feast day belonged to St Michael alone, SS Gabriel and Raphael had their own celebrations, but with the change in the liturgical calendar they are grouped together.  I can understand the wisdom of that, but to be honest I think separate feast days would be best because it would give us more time and space to reflect on each Archangel, his work for the Lord and his intervention in human affairs. 

Of the three, St Michael is the most invoked, I think.  I remember the first time I came across him when I was a child and I was impressed: a fierce warrior brandishing a sword and clobbering the living daylights out of the devil - no mean feat, I said to myself.  Since that time I have been praying to him and looking for his protection - and there have been times when I certainly needed it - and got it!   My late singing teacher, Evelyn Dowling, had a tremendous devotion to St Michael, and I tell you as like attracts like she could be fiercesome herself at times, especially when you arrived unprepared for a lesson.  With that angelic smile of hers she would put you through the vocal exercises relentlessly and without mercy until your diaphragm and vocal chords were stretched to oblivion and nimble enough to dash off a coloratura aria.  In agonising moments like those prayer was the only refuge..."St Michael the Archangel, defend us in the hour of conflict...." Of course, as I quickly discovered, he was always on her side!

Michael is the great defender: he protects us against the work of the devil, and so the Church sees in him a powerful ally who symbolises the protection of God.   When we look to St Michael we are led to understand that the victory is already won, the devil is defeated, so we can take to heart the message of victory, as Jesus tells us in the Gospel, "Do not be afraid".   St Gabriel is the messenger par excellence.  He was chosen to announce the Incarnation.  An ancient tradition relates that he was also Our Lady's own Guardian Angel - she was so important she merited such an exalted angel.  Imagine Gabriel's delight when the assignment was handed out: "Brilliant", he might have said, "little trouble there!"  And then there is St Raphael.  He features in the Book of Tobit and as his name means "healing of God", he is sent to bring healing - physical, emotional and spiritual, to various people in the book.   He is invoked as an intercessor for the sick.  Tobit is a beautiful read, if you have time today dip into it; or better still, sit down and read it.  If ever you are lonely or facing difficult moments that book reminds you that, even though you may not sense it, God is very close.  And that is what we celebrate today: God's loving and enduring presence, healing and protection as revealed in the companionship and ministry of his angels.  Happy feast day!!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I Vow To Thee...

I spent this afternoon with the good sisters in the Visitation Monastery in Stamullen, Co. Meath.  One of my friends is a member of the community and she is making her Solemn Profession on the 16th October.  As I have a role in the ceremony, I was taking part in a practice in preparation for the big day.   Sr Cora Marie is getting excited and looking forward to what is the fulfilment of her dreams.  Please remember her in your prayers.  During the ceremony, Sr Cora Marie will profess the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience for life and receive the symbol of her life-long consecration - the Visitation cross which contains relics of the founders of the order.

St Francis de Sales and St Jane de Chantal

The monastery is the only contemplative community in our diocese and the only Visitation monastery in Ireland.   The order was founded in Annecy in France by St Francis de Sales and St Jane de Chantal in 1610.  The founders intended that the order be apostolic in nature and open to all women, even those who, through ill health or age, would not have been able for the rigors of other communities.  The community, however, became contemplative, and the sisters' main work is prayer for the Church and the world.  Foremost among the members was St Margaret Mary Alcoque, the visionary of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and today the sisters of the order promote the spirituality and messages of the visions St Margaret Mary received.  Drawing on the teachings of their founder, St Francis de Sales, the spirituality is one of gentleness and trust in the Lord.  Named after the Visitation of Our Lady to St Elizabeth, the sisters seek to imitate the maternal Heart of Mary. 

In our diocese we are very proud of our sisters - a contemplative community is a gift, and no doubt our diocese has received many graces thanks to the intercession of the sisters.  The community, however, is small and getting older, and new vocations are needed.  As the community prepares for Sr Cora Marie's profession they are offering a novena for new vocations, you might say a prayer that their prayers will be heard.  Better still if you are a woman considering a vocation you might think about the Visitation sisters in Stamullen.  They are working on a new website here, which contains information on the life, history and spirituality of the order, together with contact details.  In the meantime, keep Sr Cora Marie in your prayers. 

Sibling Rivalry

The British media are having a field day with the possible rivalry between the Labour Party's Miliband brothers following Ed's election as party leader.  Whatever rivalry emerges, it will fade into insignificance when compared to the rivalry between today's Saint and his brother.  That rivalry was biblical in proportions as Boleslaus killed his brother, Wenceslaus, to take his throne and stop the growth of the Christian faith in Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic).   What is most shocking is that the boys' mother assisted the murderer in his fratricide.  Prior to this the mother-son hit squad had knocked off the granny for her Christian faith.  

St Wenceslaus, as the martyred brother is now known, is the one and the same as that invoked in the Christmas carol, Good King Wenceslaus.  He was not a king, but rather the Duke of Bohemia, and he was renowned for a virtuous and holy life, and as a just and kind ruler.  He was brought up in the Christian faith by his grandmother, St Ludmilla - the one murdered by Boleslaus and the mother.   Wenceslaus sought to promote the Christian faith in his dominions and this irked Mammy, or the Dowager Duchess Drahomira, to give her her official title.  She had converted to Christianity on the day she married Wenceslaus's father, Wratislaus I (whose family had been converted to the faith by SS Cyril and Methodius), but it seems she had no intention of actually living as a Christian, as became obvious later.  She nurtured her animosity towards the faith in her younger son, and together they plotted the downfall of Wenceslaus and triumph of paganism in Bohemia.   On the 28th September 935 they carried out the deed, murdering the young Duke in the doorway of his chapel. 

Boleslaus siezed the throne and ruled until his death in 972.  History knows him as Boleslaus the Cruel, although it is said that he later came to regret killing his brother and in atonement sent a son to the priesthood, as you do, and encouraged his daughter when she wanted to enter a convent.  It was Boleslaus who established the bishopric of Prague, so perhaps the prayers of his brother brought about his change of heart. 

Posterity acclaimed his martyred brother.  Widespread devotion and numerous miracles at his tomb assured his canonisation, and today he is the patron saint of Prague, Bohemia and the Czech Republic - and we might throw sibling rivalry into the pot too.   That should come in handy next time we come to blows with the brother or sister, and perhaps remind mothers and grannies to keep their distance.

Good St Wenceslaus

"Not to Us, Lord, Not to Us..."

The Sleeman affair, if I may call the recent foray on the part of progressives to remould the Church into their own image and likeness, made it on to the news last night.  RTE (the Irish media service) tried to do its usual Church bashing.  It seems that the failure of people not to turn out in droves doesn't make any difference and is no indicator that people do not support the campaign.  As you would expect from RTE, one of the aging dissidents was wheeled out for an interview.  This time it was an elderly priest, appropriately attired in an open necked red shirt, representing the new Priests' Association - it seems RTE will now be turning to them for "acceptable" commentary on Church affairs (that might put a few priests's noses out of joint).  He opined about women's place in the Church and how the Church has to change - unfortunately nothing new or enlightening there.

So I see this new association is not to be a forum for priestly support and prayer, but then none of us young priests expected it to be one.  The editor of The Catholic Voice newspaper had attended the association's meeting in Portlaoise a week or so ago, and his account of proceedings, printed in the latest issue of the journal, was very different from the official media reports.  In the newspaper's editorial we are told that the meeting consisted of a group of about 170 mostly aging clerics and not the 300 RTE had reported - so this group could hardly be considered to  represent a significant number of priests in Ireland much less the majority.   Topics under discussion concerned the usual canon of dissent.

There is no doubt that we priests need fraternal support within the priesthood and a forum in which to associate with other priests. We need a community of  brothers in which each of us may continue to grow as servants of Christ and his Church, learn virtue, discuss problems and be ministered to ourselves: a school of holiness more than anything else.  We also need a forum in which we can continue to learn not only about the pastoral ministry, but also continue our theological and liturgical studies.   Sitting around in an indaba plotting the downfall of orthodoxy is no way to support the priesthood or help those within it.  At the end of the day, as priests we serve Jesus Christ through his people, and with him we need to be able to say to the Father with all our hearts the words of the psalm, "Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name be the glory" (Ps 115)

An Example of Consistent Christianity

In his Angelus address last Sunday in Castel Gandolfo, the Holy Father had some beautiful things to say about Blessed Chiara Badano:
Dear friends, Love alone with the capital "L" gives true happiness! This is shown by another witness, a young woman, who was beatified yesterday in Rome. I speak of Chiara Badano, an Italian girl born in 1971, whom a disease led to death when she was less than 19 years old, but she was a ray of light for everyone, such as its nickname: "Chiara Luce" (Chiara Light). Her parish, the diocese of Acqui Terme and the Focolare Movement, to which she belonged, are celebrating today - and it is a festive day for all young people who can find in her an example of consistent Christianity. Her last words, of complete adherence to the will of God, were: "Goodbye Mama. Be happy because I am." We praise God because his love is stronger than evil and death, and we thank the Virgin Mary, who guides the young, even through the difficulties and suffering, to fall in love with Jesus and discover the beauty of life.
Her feast day is the 29th October, her birthday.  

Pope Benedict meets the parents of Blessed Chiara

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Purity of Friendship

I was out having lunch with some friends today, Michael and Anne, and as we munched our way through a delicious apple crumble, the conversation turned to this new blog.  Always a fantastic support, they are great for the advice.  Anne commented on the name of my new blog, and, in her enthusiasm, had logged on to do a Google search to find out if anyone else was using the title Ex Umbris Et Imaginibus.  To her surprise who popped up only Mr Peter Tatchell, Britain's leading campaigner for gay rights.  Bemused, after lunch we went in search of the gentleman's website and found, not to our surprise, an essay in which he maintained that Blessed John Henry Newman was gay and in love with the priest in whose grave he was buried, Fr Ambrose St John.

This particular opinion has been doing the rounds for the last few years, and even though Mr Tatchell says Newman's letters support the hypothesis, in reality there is no evidence of any homosexual activities or inclinations in Blessed John Henry's life, never mind a full blown relationship with a brother Oratorian.  I do not need to roll out the evidence, but suffice to say that the two men were friends: indeed their relationship was like that of two brothers.  The fact that the two were buried in the same grave is not unusual and is common practice in the burial plots of religious orders.   Go looking for Gerard Manley Hopkins's grave in Glasnevin Cemetery and you will find numerous priests and brothers buried together, side by side, one on top of another - it saves space (please take note, dear environmentalists!).  Tatchell will point out, correctly, that Newman wanted to be buried with Fr Ambrose, but that does not imply that they were "spouses", but rather reveals he wanted to be laid to rest beside his best friend - no scandal there: it's called fraternity.

Tatchell's opinion, and those who share it, is particularly offensive because they seem to be implying that if two people of the same sex have a close relationship, then there must be a sexual element, that they are gay and they are "involved".  Not so.  As basic human experience shows, it is possible for two people of the same sex to have very deep, close and pure relationships not based on sexual attraction, but in common interests, or just the joy of being with the other person.  History is full of such relationships, as is the history of the Church.  Indeed the Church recognises the benefits of such friendships, and sees that they can sanctify the friends.  One of the tragedies of recent times is that these relationships are now being recast to support a particular agenda.  In fact some of our Saints are being dragged into the fray - the martyrs SS Perpetua and Felicity, and SS Serge and Bacchus - all friends who died for their faith are now presented as icons of the gay lifestyle with no evidence to back it up.  Even the great theologian of friendship, St Aelred, does not escape suspicion.  It is time for us Christians to reclaim these Saints, and to reclaim the whole idea of friendship.  I suggest we start with reading C S Lewis's masterpiece, The Four Loves

Now, back to the apple crumble.  I see Michael is cranking up the espresso machine: a nice cup of the black nectar will revive us all quite nicely!

Apple Crumble and Coffee

Of Goddesses, Ivory Towers and the Golden Calf

It seems Mrs Jennifer Sleeman's call for Catholics to boycott Mass on Sunday fell mostly on deaf ears.  As late as Saturday Mrs Sleeman was convinced that huge numbers would heed her call and empty the churches in protest at the Church's refusal to ordain women, allow priests marry, bless contraception, abortion etc - the usual canon of dissent.   First of all it is sad to see people using the Holy Mass as a political weapon in their battles.   Interestingly it seems numbers were up at Mass.  I know here in Rathkenny the Masses were well attended and it seemed that there were more people than last week: according to the  Irish media, definitely no friend of the Christian faith, this was the experience of many priests around the country.

I won't try to interpret this rise, it could just be the usual seasonal change rather than a determined effort on the part of Mass-goers to ensure Mrs Sleeman and her supporters did not win the day.   I feel sorry for the woman, and I think we should pray for her.  She is deeply hurt, as are all of us, by the betrayal of some of our priests and religious.  She is also convinced that the agenda for progress drawn up in the wake of the sexual revolution of the sixties is the way forward.   Anyone with a bit of common sense and the ability to look around and see the fruit of this secular liberalism will discern that the last thing any religion needs is to redraft its fundamental beliefs to suit the fashions and whims of an age.  Those denominations which conformed to this agenda are now in crisis and many are either gone or in the process of falling apart.   What is fashionable today will not be fashionable tomorrow, and what some will say is relevant for society today will be irrelevant for humanity tomorrow.  Those denominations which replace eternal truths with the fallible opinions of an elite tend to die with the members of that elite.  Those still caught up in the euphoria of free love seem not to have noticed this.

Interestingly I was reading some of the ancient classical myths today, and that of Pygmalion jumped out at me.   Pygmalion was a sculptor who, disgusted with the behaviour of the women around him, decided to carve the perfect woman in ivory.  As he carved the statue he began to fall in love with it, and wished it could be changed into a real woman.  The goddess Venus heard his prayer and granted it, and Pygmalion got the woman of his dreams: the one he had created for himself.  This may serve as an interesting insight into the dissent we see around us in the Church today. Some Catholics, most of them of a certain generation, disgusted with the traditional teachings and liturgy of the Catholic faith, have carved for themselves a new, more perfect Church, one more suited to their tastes, and now, like the mythical sculptor, they are trying to bring it to life.  Of course there is no pagan goddess to do the necessary, and so we must endure endless, tedious battles as every effort is made to replace the Church of Christ with a human construction.   Reminds one of the tower of Babel; indeed, of ivory towers built on sand, if I may mix my metaphors.

The story of Pygmalion reminds me of another story, a Scriptural one, which also may shed light on the present difficulties in the Church: the golden calf.

Father of the Poor

Today is the feast of St Vincent de Paul, the great servant of the poor, and patron of Catholic charities.  Numerous priests and sisters continue his work in the Church today, so you might remember them in your prayers today.  One of the founding Councillors of our Fraternity is in fact a Daughter of Charity of St Vincent de Paul, Sr Carmel Casey.  Sr Carmel recently retired from the Council having given us great advice and assistance in establishing the Fraternity.  So to Sr Carmel and her Vincentian brothers and sisters, not forgetting the lay Vincentians in the Society of St Vincent de Paul, a happy feast day. 

Shadows and Images into Truth

The last few weeks have been most interesting and historical for the Church.  The most significant event was the Holy Father's visit to Britain and the beatification of Blessed John Henry Newman.  When I was racking my brains for a name for the blog, Blessed John Henry's epitaph came to mind, "Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem": "Out of shadows and images into truth", so I have "christened" the blog in honour of him and ask his intercession for its success. Of course the epitaph also sums up our work as Christians in these times, and indeed the work of the Fraternity of St Genesius: in proclaiming the Gospel we seek to be led ourselves, and to lead others, out of the shadows and images of this world to the Truth who is Jesus Christ.

Blessed John Henry was an interesting man and you probably know alot about him already. Being Irish we have a certain regard for him because he sought to establish a Catholic University here.  Unfortunately he had a very difficult time, and was hampered in much of his work thanks to certain figures in the Church in Ireland who were afraid of losing power and control. Some would say all his efforts ended in failure. Despite that Blessed John Henry nurtured a great regard for the ordinary people of Ireland and encouraged them in the practice of their Catholic faith - something we need to hear in these difficult times.   Newman House in Dublin is associated with him.  And thanks to him Dublin has one of the most beautful Byzantine style churches in the west, University Church in St Stephen's Green.  Blessed John Henry designed the church himself and it remains as a serene testament to his faith and his good taste!

Church of Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom (Newman's University Church), Dublin

Newman was also the one who brought the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins into the Church.  Hopkins had been deeply influenced by the Oxford Movement when he was in University, and it was the holiness of Blessed John Henry that helped the young poet make the move into the Catholic Church.  Newman also brought Hopkins to work in Ireland: at this stage Hopkins was a Jesuit priest and he was appointed by Newman as Professor of Greek Literature at the new University.  Unfortunately, he did not get on too well here either, part of this may have been due to some mental health issues.  Hopkins died in Dublin and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.

I am hoping that the Irish Bishops will petition Rome to allow us celebrate Blessed John Henry's feast here in Ireland.  According to the norms the feast of a Beatus is celebrated only in their local diocese, country or order, but other dioceses can petition Rome for permission to have the feast extended there if there is a good reason to do so.  The Irish Church has a strong case for Blessed John Henry, and at the end of the day it only takes a decision at a meeting of the Episcopal Conference and a letter being sent to the Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments.   I know a few priests who could draft that letter in their sleep and I would even cover the cost postage.  Registered mail, of course!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Father Abraham

By the way, a note to all of you involved in apologetics.  You know the way fundamentalist Protestants point out how unscriptural we Catholics are for calling our priests "Father", citing Matthew 23:9.   Notice in the Gospel parable today (Lk 16:19-31), Jesus refers to Abraham as father three times: is he contradicting his own teaching?  Not a bad point to bring up next time you are engaged in debate.

Treasures of the Church

Thinking about the treasures of the Church in the last post, the quip of St Laurence the martyr to the Roman emperor comes to mind: that it is the poor who are the treasures of the Church.  It provides us with an interesting way in which to look at the Gospel for today, that of Dives and Lazarus.  You would have to wonder about it as you see poor Lazarus starving outside the mansion of a rich man with the dogs getting ready to devour him.  Of course Lazarus does get his reward in the bosom of Abraham, but his life on earth was hard and unjust.  Perhaps we could say that the rich man, for all his wealth, in his blindness also failed to see the real treasure in his life - the poor man who should have been cherished and fed, loved and cared for, because in that poor man God himself was present and reaching out to him.  In feeding Lazarus, in clothing him and caring for him, the rich man would have been serving God himself.  So I suppose St Laurence can teach us to see in the poor around us as pearls of great price, real treasures, and that in serving them we become truly rich.

"She Is For You"

What better way to begin a new project than by looking at some of the new treasures which the Church in these times has the joy of uncovering.  Today we have a new Blessed, a young Italian teenager who died at the age of eighteen who, in the presence of her parents, was raised to the altars yesterday at a ceremony at the Shrine of Divine Love outside Rome.  As many of you will know she is Blessed Chiara Badano, affectionately called Chiara "Luce", the nickname the foundress of Focolare, Chiara Lubich, gave her.  Blessed Chiara was a member of Focolare and is the first member to be beatified.

I was watching EWTN's coverage of the concert in the Paul VI Audience Hall in the Vatican following the beatification.  Her parents were brought onto the podium to share their testimony with the huge crowd which filled the chamber.  I was impressed with their simplicity and generosity.  They were people of beautiful faith who saw God working in their daughter's life and knew that this had to be shared with the world.  Maria Teresa, Blessed Chiara's mother said to the crowds that Chiara offered herself for them: "She is for you" she said.  I was touched by this.  First of all we know that the Saints are raised up for all of us as examples of the Christian life, as encouragement and as intercessors.   But for close relatives of those Saints there is a personal cost: Chiara no longer belongs to her parents and family, she belongs to the whole Church.  Now there are no memories which are private: her whole life is to be an open book for the world to read and find nourishment and hope.  That can be difficult for the Saint's nearest and dearest who may wish to hold on to certain memories.

Blessed Chiara is indeed for all of us, but, as her mother pointed out - she is for the young in particular.  I was talking to a elderly parishoner after Mass this evening and he was worrying about the future of the Church, about the young.  He wondered if the Faith would survive seeing as so many young people seem to have no interest in God or the Church.  As he was speaking I thought of Blessed Chiara - she was the answer to his question, the sign that there is a bright future for the Church; that the young will find their way to God and become the seed of the Church of the future.  

When you think about it she is a sign from God.  Born in 1971 she is contemporary with many of us today - with many of the so-called "Lost Generation", and she has been raised up so quickly.  Blessed Chiara is a prophet for our times and one called to speak and minister to the young.   It is early days yet, but I think we should watch her Cause closely - a second miracle may come quickly and before we know it she will be canonised; that will extend her cult to the whole Church, and no doubt her influence.  We should pray for that day.  In the meantime, I think we should make her better known and make our young people aware of her. 

Out Into The Deep

In response to the Holy Father's urging to use the internet and the blogosphere as a means of evangelisation, and given that I am Father Director of an organisation dedicated to evangelisation through the arts and media, I thought I might launch out into the deep with this attempt at a blog.  I do not know if I have the time necessary for this, or even the ability, but I will give it a go.  The Fraternity webmaster, Caroline McCamley already has a wonderful blog going, so I'm sure I will not be able to keep up with her, but I shall do my best. 

Reflecting on the project, I think I may use this forum to muse on the topics of the day and the life of our Christian faith.  It may be of interest or not, but if any of you who happen to fall across these efforts have any suggestions just let me know.  In the meantime, here goes........."Duc in altum".