Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Prophet For The Third Millennium

At a prayer group last evening, I gave a talk on one of the Church's new Blesseds - the mystic Blessed Elena Aiello.  What an amazing life!  A contemporary of St Pio of Pietrelcina, her life mirrors his to a great extent, and she was as famous as him in life.  I thought you might like to read something about her, so I'm posting the talk I gave for your information.  She is well worth researching.  Her prophecies are very unsettling.  There is very little on her in English - I hope as her congregation begin to work on furthering her Cause, they will begin to make more material available.  What better way to spend a dark winter's night than pondering over fearful prophecies - always a good spur to getting you to confession!

Blessed Elena Aiello

This evening we reflect on the life and mission of one of the newest Blesseds in the Church, and indeed one of the most remarkable mystics of the 20th century, one who is little known outside of her native Italy.  Blessed Elena Aiello was beatified in Calabria on the 14th September last, the feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross – a very appropriate feast day indeed.  It seems, as we reflect on her life and teachings, that the Beata lived under the shadow of the cross, embraced it wholeheartedly, and indeed found her sanctification in sharing the mystery of suffering with her Divine Master.

Elena Aiello was born in Montalto Uffugo near  Consenza, in the Italian region of Calabria, on the 10th April 1895.  That day was Spy Wednesday, and the great Triduum was about to begin: what a providential sign for a woman who would live her mystical life in the heart of the events of Holy Week.  Her mother, Teresa Aeillo, had prayed for a girl, promising that if her prayer was granted she would call the child after the empress St Helen, and consecrate her to the Holy Cross: her prayer was heard, and so the little girl was baptised Helen, or Elena in Italian.  Both her parents were simple, hardworking and devout people, and Elena learned to follow their example from an early age.  While still a child she prayed a great deal and practiced penances.  There are numerous stories from her childhood which demonstrate this love of penance: she often wore a penitential belt. 

It seemed natural that Elena would gravitate towards a religious vocation.  She had promised Our Lady that she would become a nun if she was healed of a persistent cough and damage to her voice which had resulted from it.  She prayed to the Holy Virgin under her title, Our Lady of Pompei, and in response Our Lady appeared to her and assured the girl that she would be cured: she was, and she remained true to her promise: she would offer her life to God in the religious life.

While she was keen to enter religious life as soon as she could, numerous things stood in her way.  The First World War was raging, and as she intended to enter the convent in 1915, her father asked her to wait until the war was over: she was needed at home.  Accepting this as a sacrifice, she waited, but the wait proved providential.  During those years she found herself helping those affected by the war: refugees, prisoners of war, the sick and the dying.  In her service of these people, charity began to grow stronger in her heart and her love of those in need deepened – it was a love which would be required of her in great measure later in her life. 

One event during these years had an enormous effect on her.  One of the men she was nursing was a freemason.  Concerned for his soul, she tried, gently, to bring him to faith and persuade him to accept the Sacraments.   Not only did the man refuse, but furious at her suggestions, he flung a bottle at her which struck her in the neck inflicting a deep wound.  Trying to stop the copious bleeding with a cloth, Elena did not move: she told the man that she would stay with him until he asked for a priest.  After he got over the shock, he was moved and asked for the priest, but on the condition that she would nurse him.  Again true to a promise, Elena cared for him for three months until he died: he was reconciled with Christ and passed away peacefully.

On 18th August 1920, Elena finally got her wish, as she entered the Sisters of the Precious Blood, the congregation which ran the school she had attended.  God told her, however, that she would not stay in this congregation – he had other plans for her.  Trusting in him, she went forward.  She was soon struck down by illness – intestinal pain and a severe pain in her shoulder where a tumour soon manifested itself.  An operation, performed in March 1921, without anaesthetic, helped in part, but the surgeon mistakenly cut nerves, leaving her with lockjaw.   She continued preparing for her vows, living with intense pain.  A decision was made by her superiors: she would have to leave the congregation. 

After a time the doctor told her her shoulder had become gangrenous, but things got worse: she was no longer able to retain food – she was soon diagnosed as having stomach cancer.   The doctor told her she was dying, but Elena responded: “St Rita will make me well”.  And she was correct: St Rita appeared to her and assured her she would be healed, but asked that devotions to her be held in Montalto as a means of rekindling the faith of the people of the area.  The painful shoulder, however would remain, St Rita said, because God wanted Elena to offer her suffering for the sins of the world.  Elena was true to the promise to St Rita, and she gladly entered into her vocation of suffering.  A retreat with the Passionists led her to a great devotion to the Passion of Christ.  A new era was to begin for her: she began to suffer the passion herself.

On Good Friday 1923, Elena, having a vision of Christ crowned with the Crown of Thorns, placed the crown on her head and conferred on her the stigmata of the crown: blood poured out of her.  The following Friday the same happened again.  Until her death, every Friday, Elena began to suffer the passion, shedding much blood as the wounds appeared on her body.  The wounds of the stigmata appeared over time and remained on her body for the rest of her life.  Various other phenomena manifested themselves, and St Rita continued to appear. Eventually her shoulder was healed.

Another vocation lay in store for her: God was calling her to found a new congregation.  As the great saint of Calabria, Elena had a great devotion to St Francis de Paolo, the founder of the Minim friars – she was destined to follow him and found a new congregation living according to his spirit and teachings.  Meeting a young woman who was searching for a community, and having asked St Therese of Lisieux for help, Elena experience a manifestation of St Therese and was given money help start a foundation.  In 1928 she founded the Sister Minims of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, dedicated to looking after orphans and women in need.  Vocations came, and as she formed and guided her new community, Mother Elena, as she was now known, continued to suffer her passion experiences together with various other mystical phenomena.  People began to find out about her and the curious and pious arrived: sometimes the sisters had to hide their foundress in a locked attic to protect her and keep her from the pious hysteria of some visitors. 

Numerous stories and miraculous occurrences surrounded the rest of Sr Elena’s life.  Divine Providence provided for the needs of the sisters.  She began to receive numerous prophecies, some apocalyptic in nature.  She wrote to Benito Mussolini warning him against a pact with Hitler and going to war: if he ignored her warnings, Italy would be devastated and he himself would be severely punished.  He ignored the warning and what she said came to pass.  We do not have time to go into all the messages and indeed every aspect of her life – there is plenty for us to discover as we explore her life in greater detail in the months and years to come. 

As famous as St Pio of Pietrelcina, with crowds coming to see her, ask her advice and seek her prayers, Mother Elena was deeply venerated.  A faithful daughter of St Francis de Paolo, she grew in humility and holiness, bearing the wounds of Christ and advising people to give their hearts to him.  For as long as she could, she worked side by side with her sisters, caring for the poor and orphaned.  On 19th June 1961 her mission on earth was over, her mission in heaven was about to begin.  Just before dawn broke, Mother Elena died, surrounded by her community and holding in her hand an oil lamp burning brightly, a fitting symbol for one who had sought to shine the light of Christ, through her life and suffering, to every corner of the world.

Further information can be found on this blog.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Virgin Most Powerful

For some reason things seem brighter this morning, even though the wind is howling outside and the rain is being dashed against the window.  The appointment of Mgr Brown has me in much better form, it is like a streak of light, even if it's faint, in the darkness which is Ireland in these times.  But we must pray hard that all will go well.  So Catholics of Ireland, and all our friends around the world, please pray for the Church in Ireland.

And what a feast day today: St Catherine of Alexandria!  I love this lady - she's a gal with guts, as some of my New Yorker friends would say, and indeed she is.  No messing with this Virgin that's for sure.  Like St Augustine, Blessed John Henry Newman and St Edith Stein she thought her way into the Church - she was, like them, a philosopher.  Like them she had to take the final step in faith, and according to tradition, it was a vision which brought her in.

Like the three above, she did not retire into private life and keep her faith to herself: she proclaimed it, and even entered into a dialogue with her fellow philosophers.  They could not confound her arguments and unable to surrender to the true God themselves, they denounced her to the authorities and she was put to death for her faith.  Virgin and Martyr, Catherine wears the two crowns in heaven.  The legend tells us they tried to kill her in a variety of ways, all of which failed, until they finally beheaded her.  You know these Roman ladies were tough women - they do not die easily.  As it took several attempts to execute Catherine, so too with St Cecilia and St Philomena.

Speaking of St Philomena, like her, Catherine was dismissed as a legendary figure during the upheaval surrounding Vatican II.  She was taken off the calendar with St Christopher and a number of others.  However, madness subsided, faulty scholarship was exposed, and Blessed John Paul II restored Catherine to the General Calendar in 2002.  Interesting, even in these times Catherine is still falling foul of scholars. 

I suppose these scholars were examining the legends, and saw that there was little evidence for most of what was contained in them: fair enough, but because the legend might not be entirely true does not mean the Saint did not exist and that the remains venerated in the tomb are not the relics of the martyr.  With some of our martyrs we know very little about them, yet we know they were put to death for their faith and that devotion to them sprung up and their relics were venerated.  Oftentimes that is enough for us.

The same can be said for St Philomena who, in terms of Saints, is very much the elephant in the room.  While the cult was suppressed, the shrine was not touched and as clear from a letter of Pope Paul VI to a bishop in India, devotion to her may continue as before.  It is a very strange situation.  Again the controversy here surrounds a side issue - the slab which closed her tomb.  Scholars maintain that she never existed because they believe the two parts of the slab were put in the wrong way round. 

Yet they ignore the vital evidence: the body of a teenage girl ,who was most obviously beheaded, was found in the tomb.  The usual phial of blood was found beside the body - always taken as a symbol of martyrdom and included at the burial of the remains - though scholars say in Philomena's case this cannot be taken as any evidence of martyrdom.  They have also ignored the Church's investigation into the case and into the miraculous cure of the Venerable Pauline Jaricot, one of the witnesses to which was Pope Gregory XVI.  They also ignored the plethora of miracles attributed to her intercession from all over the world as devotion to her suddenly sprung up in the Church.  They maintain the miracles were worked by others.  Sometimes it takes more faith to believe the scholar's arguments than to accept the existence and the intercession of St Philomena!

I hope some day, like St Catherine, Philomena will be rehabilitated officially, instead of the present situation which is tacit approval but "say nothing and don't notice what's going on".   Yet devotion to her is growing again: there are statues and prayer cards all over the place.  The shrine of St Jean-Marie Vianney in Ars promotes her cult through the shrine there and takes an intense interest in her rehabilitation; and though I have not yet been to Mugnano (it's on the list), I believe it is a wonderful place of prayer.  Are there any relics of her around, I wonder?

But in the meantime, today is Catherine's day.  We'll light the fireworks (Catherine Wheels) and honour the philosopher martyr - her intercession is much needed today.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

New Nuncio To Ireland Appointed

Well, we are getting our own nuncio.  The new nuncio will be Mgr Charles Brown - what a turn up for the books!  When I was in Rome I often heard about "Charlie Brown in CDF" and the news was always favourable.  Who would ever think that he would come to Ireland as nuncio?

That a priest from CDF is coming is unusual, but I think it is a good idea.  He will be well acquainted with the abuse scandals in Ireland as in other countries.  He will also have worked closely with Pope Benedict when he was Prefect of CDF, so there will be an honest and open line of communication.  He is a good and able man, and he is a New Yorker of Irish descent, so with that savvy that comes natural to New Yorkers, he knows how the Irish work and how we speak: these things can only be advantageous. 

I presume he will be ordained a bishop and given the rank of Archbishop, so we will pray for him as he enters the episcopate, and we will pray for him as he comes, representing Peter, to help the Church in this country along the path of reform and renewal.

Catching Up

Back to the Hedge School: the future of Catholic schools in Ireland?

Getting time to blog has been difficult in the last week - various pastoral duties; yesterday was pretty busy.  So time, I think, for a little news round up so Father Director can get on his pony and rant for a bit - we all need a bit of a rant every now and again.  Famous last words which will be regretted, no doubt, as I sit in the rogue's gallery waiting for my turn in confession.   So "Charitas" as St Francis de Paolo would say.

My colleague over at the St Genesius blog has an interesting post on the ongoing discussions over the future of Catholic education in Ireland.  Our American and British readers will know all about this since they have been dealing with the assault on Catholic education for decades.  It seems that the draft proposals for Catholic schools (ie those the government decides to leave with us) are suggesting that religious education, and indeed ethos, be strictly kept to certain times and not permitted to "infiltrate" (my word) the rest of the curriculum.

Well, the Catholic Church's response to this should be brief and unambiguous: "Not on your Nellie!"  Here's where the new appointments to Irish Sees becomes important.  The new Irish bishops will need to be strong and indeed defiant in the face of such suggestions.  If these proposals are to implemented by the government, then the Church should refuse to accept them and refuse to implement them in our schools. 

Lest the fearful among us object - the Constitution of this country is on our side on this one, and we should use it.  I often ask myself, why is the Church in Ireland terrified to use the Constitutional protections we have and actually feel the need to negotiate a compromise when there is no need to do so?  There seems to be a fear of standing up to the government. 

We do not have to hand over schools.  Regardless of what Irish ecclesiastical figure says we should, there is no onus on us at all.  It is up to parents to decide if they want a Catholic education for their children.  If the majority do, then there is a need for lots of Catholic schools.  If secularists want non-denominational schools, they are entitled to them under the Constitution - so they go and set them up and the government must support them.  But why are they whining on about Catholic schools?  Is it the case that they do not want to go to the bother of setting up their own, they want to take the easy way out and take over ours?  Or is it a case they want to get rid of Catholic education altogether? 

Ironically, as has happened in other countries, when all this has been settled, and there are secular schools galore, there will be a clamour to get children into the remaining Catholic schools, and no doubt you'll find plenty of secularists among them. 

As for the suggestion that the display of religious artifacts "be inclusive of all belief systems".  With all due respect, if you pop into a Jewish or Muslim school you will not find a crucifix (which is offensive to Muslims by the way - they do not believe Jesus was crucified), nor a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes.  Nor, in a Catholic school, should we find statues of Hindu gods, Buddha or a mihrab. Nor should we celebrate the festivals of other faiths since many of these are offensive to our Christian faith.  How can we, as followers of Christ and as monotheists have our children, whom we are trying to catechize, celebrate Rama Navami, the feast of the birth of the god Rama?  Yes, we must teach our children respect for other religions, and something about them, but as for putting them on the same level as Christianity by celebrating the feasts and erecting shrines to other gods, that's not on.  Again, the response to this must also be decisive "No".

In other news, RTE is reeling (no pun intended) from the government's decision to hold an enquiry into the defamation of Fr Kevin Reynolds.  As we all know this case was horrific, and to be honest I am delighted things have turned out as they have: we need to expose the shoddy journalism which has become commonplace in a number of media organisations.  Here is one priest who did not sit down and take the accusations, and while I have little time for the ACP's ideological agenda, I think they have done the Church in Ireland a service by pushing Fr Reynold's case.  I know of too many cases where innocent priests and religious were not permitted to challenge accusations.  It was easier to pay the compensation and apologise, and so some superiors took that road rather than risk offending people in the current climate.   

The question is: how will this inquiry turn out?  Will RTE learn?  And will other stories which were not entirely true be investigated also?  Is this a single enquiry into one case, or will the government bite the bullet and conduct a thorough investigation?

The full implementation of the corrected translation of the Missal is upon us. On Saturday evening, with the Vigil Masses, all texts for the Mass must come from the new Missal - the old Missals are no longer to be used.  As you trot across the net you'll find many articles and blog posts on this, and many are not happy. One writer says the implementation of the new Missal is an act of Vatican Vandalism (some say the implementation of the vernacular Missal was another such act - I shall not comment).  What I find most amusing, is that the liberals who are protesting are in the same position as the traditionalists back in the Seventies - they do not want the change, they will resist it; they will cling to the old Missal for dear life.  I wonder if that irony has dawned on them.

My own experience has been positive.  In my parish my people have responded most generously to the new translation.  My daily Mass goers have the new responses off by heart.  Some have wondered why the change, and they have listened to the explanations.  For a number of weeks I devoted the Sunday homilies to the new translation and to a catechesis on the Mass in general and it was well received.  I think when people are introduced to the new translation with openness and enthusiasm, they respond.  A friend of mine, a layman, said that in parishes where the priests are positive and explain the changes and reasons for them, the people will be positive and welcome the translation; in parishes where priests are negative and rebellious, the people will be negative.  There is some truth in that. In the meantime I must pop out to the cemetery and find a nice spot to bury the old Missals - I don't like the idea of burning them.

And to end, today is the feast of the Martyrs of Vietnam: to all our brothers and sisters in that country, we wish you a happy feast day.  May the example of your holy martyrs, who offer the whole Church an outstanding witness to the Catholic faith, sustain you and all of us as we seek to live the Gospel with greater fidelity.

Among these martyrs is St Theophane Venard, a young French priest beheaded in Tomkin in 1861.  St Therese of the Child Jesus was a devotee of his: she had his photograph pinned to the curtain hanging over her bed as she was preparing for death.  She prayed to him often and sought his help in her suffering: I believe he obtained many graces for her.  There is something about Theophane which is very Theresian - a practitioner of the Little Way, I think.  May he watch over all of us in these times.  And to end, a photograph of Theophane, to print out and pin up over your bed just in case the angel of death decides to pop in for a chat.

St Theophane Venard, priest and martyr

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

To All Musicians: Happy Feast Day

It's that time of year again.  Advent is upon us, Christmas is looming, and today is the feast of St Cecilia, the patron of music and musicians.  So there is no better excuse to devote today's post to a little bit of music in honour of the Virgin Martyr.  And while you listen to it, say a prayer for all involved in the music industry.

First, the mandatory homage to the lady of the day:

And a piece from James MacMillan (can't forget him today, with the day that's in it!):

And if you have time, sit back and enjoy: one of my favourite pieces of music, Arvo Part's Beatitudes:

The Tomb of St Cecila in Rome:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

No Smooching Here

Here's an interesting story - the Vatican has taken exception to an image Benetton clothing company was using for its advertising campaign - the photo shows the Holy Father and Muslim Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed El-Tayeb kissing, one of a number of photoshopped images of political leaders in passionate embraces.  Benetton has pulled the photo, thank God.  The Vatican tends to be very tolerate of offensive images, but this was one step too far.

I am delighted that the Vatican has decided to raise its voice - I think it tends to let too many things go, as does the Church in general, so much so that people think they can say what they like and offend Christians in any way possible in the sure knowledge that we will not raise a whimper in protest. 

Sometimes I think those who attack us rationalise their abuse by saying "Christians have to forgive, so if they object, we can throw the accusation of hypocrisy in their faces".  It reminds me of a incident when I was teaching: one of my students had misbehaved badly in class, and when I brought him out to check him, he said with a smirk "You're a priest, you have to forgive me and let me off."  I told him I did forgive him - from the bottom of my heart, but he was still being punished - for his own good".  That wiped the smile off his face: he got extra homework and a "blue card" (a demerit card). 

I am all in favour of forgiveness and putting up with bad behaviour and attacks with patience and prayer, but that tolerance has to be mitigated in each situation by assessing the effect of our tolerance.  Will our silence confirm and reinforce injustice, bad behaviour and indeed sin?   We also have to gauge the reaction to our objection - will we do more harm than good?    Looking at the Holy See's response to Enda Kenny's attack, for example, we see that it was measured, diplomatic but yet firm - the government did not like it and tried to make hay by insinuating that it was another example of now entrenched the Holy See was and unable to admit her mistakes.  But that was an anti-Catholic government's view - the interpretation of other nations was different: they saw the Holy See setting the record straight.  

In the interest of fairness we have to give Benetton their due, when the Vatican raised its objection, it took down the image - perhaps they thought to themselves "If the Catholics are objecting so strongly, the Muslims will be really peeved" - no one dares offend Muslims for fear of the consequences.   But they have apologised for offending the faithful, let's hope others will be as respectful in future.

I note another story this morning - from The Irish Catholic.  According to the paper the four Archbishops of Ireland are resisting attempts by the Vatican to reform the structure of Irish dioceses.  A number of people have suggested that our dioceses need to be reduced in number, a suggestion I agree with.  It appears Rome may well agree also, and so is considering changes which will form new dioceses with a Catholic population of 300,000 on average.  The story in The Irish Catholic says that the Archbishops want dioceses with an average population of 100,000.  

To be honest I do not think that would effect too many changes at all.  If this story is true, then I would advise that we cooperate with the Vatican - the time for resistance is over.  With an anti-Catholic government in place, a group of dissident priests doing everything they can to undermine the faith of the people in the communion of the Church universal, this is not the time for haggling with the Holy Father.   Time for us to die to self and realise that perhaps we may not be the right people to sort out the mess the Church in Ireland is in.  Yes, we can help and cooperate, but perhaps it is time to follow Peter.

UPDATE:   It seems the Vatican is actually going to take legal proceedings against Benetton.  Is this a first?  In another legal story: Irish priest, Fr Kevin Reynolds who sued RTE for their false accusations of his having raped and impregnated a young Kenyan girl has been vindicated in the courts.  RTE reached a settlement with him paying not only his costs and compensation, but being order also to pay aggravated damages - a punitive measure imposed by courts on guilty defendants.  While the amount RTE has to pay will not be revealed, it is reckoned to be at least in seven figures.  Here's RTE news' report on the settlement.  That should teach RTE - but will they learn the lesson??  We will see. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Call To Arms

"The times, they are a-changing", Bob Dylan crooned, and so indeed they are.  Reading an article on the issue of "gay marriage" on the Catholic Herald website, I noticed a very good observation:  that the Church now sees that "we’ve gone beyond the point at which we are simply defending traditional marriage: more and more, this is seen as a question of defending our liberty to do it."  The battle is no longer to try and preserve the moral order, but to have the freedom to believe in a moral order.    That is where we are now, and that's frightening.

Despite all the talk of pluralism and tolerance, which we all know at this stage to be mere cosmetic and blah by the secularists, the Church is increasingly being polarised for her belief that there is an objective moral order.  We all know that attack has been going on for some time, but never before has it felt like we are really on the run.  For the first time in my life I feel like we Catholics are now being chased by the dogs - like the poor Jews in the streets of Nazi Germany.  As they were denied citizenship and indeed basic humanity for their faith and ethnicity, so too Catholics for our adherence to Judeo-Christian morality.

And to be honest, I think we should feel exhilarated by that.  It is in such times that we Christians flourish. The sheep are divided from the goats, and the Church gets her act together, rallying the troops and raising the standard of Jesus Christ.  The times are indeed a-changing, and it is time to let go of the defeatist, soft-core Catholicism which has been the hallmark of too many since Vatican II.   The time has come for hard-core witness and fidelity.  My colleague over at the St Genesius blog reveals how few Irish Catholics objected to our Taoiseach's disgraceful attack on the Pope - surely he must be told in no uncertain terms by faithful Catholics that his unwarranted vitriol was not music to the ears of all Irish Catholics - that many of us are ashamed of him and want to distance ourselves from his inaccurate remarks. 

Time to get the finger out, methinks.  Stop running and turn around to face the aggressors. As Scripture tells us, when we stand up to the devil he runs away from us: if such cowardice is noted of the prince of darkness, then it is even more so of his minions. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Update: Irish Embassy To The Holy See

Donum Vitae blog alerted me to a marvellous homily delivered by Fr Richard Gibbons, curate at Our Lady's Shrine in Knock, on the recent decision to close the embassy.  Follow the link and listen to it.   The Irish Times reported on the homily also. 

Breda O'Brien also had an excellent column on the issue in Saturday's Times.   Her final sentence just sums it all up: "Ireland has few friends. We have been reduced to humbly accepting the stray crumbs from the negotiating table where the important players haggle. It hardly seems the time to burn any more bridges."  One would have thought that the government would have the wit to realise that.  But then is it a case that ideology is confounding common sense? 

All Carmelite Souls

In the two Carmelite Orders today, we commemorate All Carmelite Souls - the members of our Orders who are still in Purgatory, being purified so they may enter into the presence of God.  So we pray for all of them, and for all the faithful departed who are remembered most especially this month.

Monday, November 14, 2011

All Carmelite Saints

Another feast day for us in Carmel!  We love our feast days, that's why we have so many! Our Holy Mother Teresa who reformed Carmel and brought us back to the Primitive Rule of St Albert made sure the Order was penitential at heart, but she also said that there was a time for partridge - well, we need lots of partridges in Carmel because we have a fair few opportunities to nibble on them!

Today is the Order's feast of All Saints - a feast we celebrate in union with our Carmelite brothers and sisters of the Ancient Observance (O. Carms), and as with the Church's official celebration on the 1st November, we remember all the men and women of the two Carmelite Orders, the many congregations affiliated with both Orders and those laity connected to us in various ways, who now share in the beatific vision and are interceding for us who are still on our pilgrim way. 

Most of these Saints are unknown to us, being ordinary men and women, priests, consecrated and lay who now populate the Carmelite corner of heaven.  But we also celebrate the famous ones: SS Berthold and Brocard, our first Priors, and the holy men they governed - those St Teresa calls our holy fathers in the Order.  The holy bishop who gave us our Rule of Life, St Albert of Jerusalem, an eternal honorary Carmelite by virtue of the Rule.  The first Saints of the Order - St Albert of Trapani and St Angelus of Sicily the martyr.  Then the great ones who made an impact - St Simon Stock, the Prior General who helped the transition from the eremetical life to that of contemplative mendicants; Blessed John Soreth who brought women and consecrated laity into the Order to form the Second and Third Orders.  Then the great reformers: St Teresa and St John of the Cross and their companions who worked and suffered to spread the reform around the world - Blessed Anne of St Bartholomew and Blessed Mary of Jesus.

Then there are our mystics!  St Mary Magdalen dei Pazzi, Blessed Mary of Jesus Crucified, a whole host of them.  Our priests like St Raphael Kalinowski, Blessed Francis Palau and Blessed Angelo Paoli who lived the Rule with great fidelity and cared for souls.  Our heroic martyrs: St Edith Stein, Blessed Titus Brandsma, the Martyrs of the French Revoultion - our Blessed Sisters who were guillotined, our Blessed Priests who died on the prison ships.  The Martyrs of the Spanish Civil War from both Orders, among them one of my favourites, Blessed Hermilo of St Eliseo who was shot in Toledo.  The Martyrs under the Nazis, including Blessed Alphonsus Mazurek whom Blessed John Paul II knew and would later beatify.  The Scapular Martyr Blessed Isidore Bakanja, a young African who was beaten to death because he would not take off his Scapular. 

And then the holy sisters who lived prophetic lives - the biggie among them St Therese of the Child Jesus and Holy Face.  Coming up the rear is Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity who may well be canonised very soon - they seem to have a miracle for her (take careful note, Father, trip to Rome!).  Others: St Mary of the Angels, St Teresa of the Andes, Blessed Candida of the Eucharist and the millions of other nuns whose causes keep the Order poor!

Then the affiliates - founders and members of congregations formally affiliated and part of the Teresian family: Blessed Kuriakos Elias Chavara, founder of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate; St Henry de Osso  y Cervello founder of the Company of St Teresa, and one of his sisters, Blessed Maria Mercedes Prat, martyred during the Spanish Civil War. 

We must not forget the Saints of the Third Order - the consecrated laity who are as much part of the Order as the priests or nuns.  We have two Third Orders, the Discalced Secular Order (mine) and the Third Order of the Ancient Observance, both have produced Saints and Blesseds.  In our Secular Order we have Blessed Georg Hafner, a diocesan priest who was martyred in Dachau, Blessed Josefa Naval Girbes, a dedicated laywoman, and two famous Saints not widely known to have been Discalced Secular Order Carmelites: St Vincent Pallotti and Pope St Pius X.  It is also believed that Blessed Pope John Paul II was also a Secular Carmelite, though no concrete evidence can be found - he was certainly one in spirit.

The list goes on. If you are of another Order or congregation, forgive the trumpeting on but such reflections inspire us Carmelites to keep striving for holiness.   If you are not a member of an Order or congregation or Third Order, perhaps you might consider entering the ranks of the Carmelites?  If you are a lay person or a diocesan priest you might consider becoming a Secular Order Carmelite and become a son or daughter of St Teresa and St John, and a brother or sister of St Therese, living their way of life in the world.  A google search will tell you where the nearest Secular Order community is - failing that, drop me a line. 

Now, time for partridge, or in full St Therese mode - chocolate eclairs!  Therese loved her chocolate eclairs - there's sanctity for all!! Happy feast day!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

One With Peter

Pope Benedict XVI sits on his cathedra in his Cathedral, the Basilica of St John Lateran

The Liturgy is always relevant and offers marvellous commentary on our lives and times at any given moment - hence the need to respect the integrity of the liturgy and to ensure that it is celebrated properly.   Today's feast is so timely for us in Ireland - the feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica - that feast which celebrates our unity in the Church and our union with the Pope.  As you know the Basilica is the Pope's cathedral, and it is the Mother and Head of all the churches in the city and the world. 

As our government is trying to dismantle our country's formal links with the Church, we Catholics in Ireland are reminded that, regardless of the nature of the relationship between the civil authorities here and the Holy See, we are still members of the Church, in union with our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, the Vicar of Christ on earth, and that that relationship remains unchanged and as close as ever. 

This may sound like treason, but it is not meant to be, but our first loyalty as Catholics is to Christ, and then to his Vicar on earth.  Earthly states will pass away - none of them can offer us life beyond the grave no matter how great or noble they are.  Earthly distinctions, loyalties and nationalities all pass away when we die - they are no more, and at the end of time nations will pass away. 

When we stand before God we will not be asked if we were good citizens, a good Irishman who obeyed the civil authorities all the time, or a good English woman who honoured the Queen, or a patriotic American who put his hand on his heart at the National Anthem and defended the President.  No, at the end God will examine us on our lives of faith, hope and love, on our allegiance to Christ and our love of neighbour.  As St Peter reminds us we must respect our native land, "honour the emperor", he said, the representative of civil authority, but as St Thomas More said, we may be the king's (the state's) good servants, but ultimately we are God's first.

If ever there should come a clash between the civil authorities and the Church, while we respect the civil authorities, our first loyalty is to the Church.  Now that doesn't mean that we ignore the sins committed by members of the Church, nor cover up as happened in Ireland with the abuse scandal - we take action and cooperate with the civil authorities to bring those who committed such crimes to civil justice, since such evils should have no place in the union of Christ's faithful.   There should be a relationship of cooperation and mutual respect between Church and state.  As citizens straddling both, we do our best to be faithful Catholics and good citizens, and in a real pluralistic democracy it is possible to live as such.  It is when the state tries to usurp the place of the Church that troubles emerge.  When the state wants to be the church, to undermine the loyalty of the faithful to their faith to have it for themselves.  

Personally, I think this is what the Irish government is trying to do now.  In this secularist age, the government is trying to redirect religious devotion and faith from the Church to the state, so that the teachings of the state have their first loyalty.  Breaking with Rome is the means to affecting this. Once the union has been broken, a state church can be established, and then the source of union will be the state, of which the government is the head. 

This is an old tactic which has been employed by civil authorities for centuries - in England twice - under Henry II and Henry VIII and his heirs; in Europe in the various kingdoms which became Protestant at the Reformation, and in Italy time and time again as petty lords sought to control the papacy and the bishops.  As we read Church history we may feel uncomfortable with the image of the Pope on horseback leading his troops into battle and playing the role of a king, but in reality at that time it was the only way of making sure the Church could not be dominated by secular rulers.  That the Papal States had to exist as an indication of how real was the danger of secular interests undermining the teaching of the Church.  The election of the warrior pope, Julius II, was not an accident of history.

And this is why the Church has its own country, the Vatican City State - the Pope is subject to no secular ruler, he is monarch of an independent, sovereign state so he may be free.  It is no wonder then that aggressive secular states do not like the Vatican, and do not like to be reminded that they have to deal with it according to certain established norms. That may sound unchristian and pedantic, but in reality, at the end of the day, it guarantees the freedom of the Church and her members.

Thomas Peters has an interesting post on this today.  He sees that the so-called liberals favour this development, choosing to follow the magisterium of the state in opposition to the Magisterium of the Church.  I am inclined to think he has a point there.  The liberals, you see, are left wing, Marxist, socialist, and the ideology of the left is all about more state control - investing everything in the state. The great Marxist experiment proves the truth of this - the Soviet Union.  While that civic entity has passed away, its supporters are still trying to realise the Marxist dream.  So I suppose their attempts to bring the Church into line under the state and to adopt the state's moral agenda is consistent with their ideology.  Of course the Church resists and takes a stand, and then the state throws a hissy fit, Premiers have tantrums in national parliaments and governments downgrade diplomatic relationships. 

Anyway, today let us remember our Holy Father and pray for each other, the members of the Church: united in Christ and in Peter.  

Now, as we raise a toast to the Holy Father and the Church, I think it is time for a little bit of MacMillan and his rousing antiphon Tu Es Petrus, performed during the Holy Father's visit to Britain.   Turn it up, sit back, knock off the shoes, take out the rosary and say a decade! 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Taoiseach Doth Protest!

An update on what is happening with regard to the Irish government's decision to close the embassy to the Holy See.   People are reacting negatively to the decision, even those who would not be friends of the Church - they are realists, they know the value of a diplomatic presence in the Vatican, something that has not impressed itself on members of the current administration. 

However the government is not taking it lying down.  The Taoiseach has launched a critical attack on those who are claiming that the closure is political and not economic.  The deputy leader of the main opposition party, Eamon O'Cuiv, grandson of one of the founding fathers of the Irish state, has challenged the decision  and the Taoiseach has taken offence.  He has also dismissed the Cardinal's response saying in round about terms that this is a state issue, so it doesn't concern him.    

Well, I'm afraid, Mr Kenny can object all he likes, but I for one do not believe him when he says the closure has nothing to do with his administration's feud with the Holy See, and I am not alone: many people, many Irish Catholics do not believe him.    I remain to be convinced; I am open, but so far I see nothing to change my mind. 

Indeed, reading Fr Gabriel Burke's blog, there are couple of excellent posts in which you get some good insights into needless government expenditure.  Fr Burke reminds me that Kenny is the first Irish Taoiseach to have an official residence paid for by us poor fool taxpayers.  That is an extravagance we can do without!  A friend of mine went online and spent some time doing research on Irish embassies and consulates.  She concluded, correctly in my view, that there is plenty of room for economising without closing any embassies.  So I am afraid the facts offer a different explanation than that offered by Enda Kenny.

Related to this Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith has an excellent article in the Catholic Herald online.

Not A Bull's Notion

We must pray for Cardinal Schoenborn and the bishops of Austria, they have real trouble on their hands.  According to news reports (and I urge caution, journalists can get things wrong) a group of dissenting Catholics are threatening the bishops that if they do not give in to their demands, the laity will begin to celebrate Mass themselves.  They are of the belief that the Bible gives them the right to do so.

Now rebellion aside, you have to wonder who these people are. Are there priests among them?  Because one thing is certain, they haven't got a bull's notion of the Christian faith or the concept of the priesthood.  Even those who demand that women be ordained know at the very least that the ministerial priesthood has to be conferred through ordination, these people in Austria seem not to know that and think that the only thing which is stopping them consecrating the Holy Eucharist is a ban by a "Patriarchal Church".

This reveals that what is really at the heart of much of this dissent is an appalling lack of real catechesis: they actually do not know the teachings of the Christian faith, nor the sacramental system of the Catholic Church.  Many of them could not even be described as Protestant, because most Protestant communities require some form of ordination for its ministers.  That there are priests among these dissidents is very sad and worrying: it is obvious that if they are peddling this nonsense they have had little or no theological formation, or at least a formation that adheres to the teachings of the Church.

Of course we know all this.  We know that since Vatican II there has been a crisis in catechesis in the Church - the wrong people are in charge of these programmes and they have diluted the articles of faith in favour of a more experiential approach which has led to some major lapses in faith formation:  Thomas Groome has become the guru for many in all this.  We know that many of the seminaries are in a bad way theologically - I know from personal experience.  There is little (at best!) differentiation between the ministerial/sacramental priesthood and the common priesthood of the faithful, so new priests go out unaware that they are indeed men set apart with a power, for lack of a better word, which others do not have: the power to consecrate the Eucharist, the power of forgive sins.  It's all very sad.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Quickie Abortions Here

I was visiting a chemist on Saturday, and after I made my purchase I noticed a sign above the dispensary: "Emergency Contraception Available (Morning After Pill)".  I was kicking myself, if I had noticed this I would have gone elsewhere, but as I was dealing with the remorse I realised that every other chemist in Ireland has this so called "Emergency Contraception". 

Musing on all this I realised that I would have to revise one of my recent posts in which I said that abortion was coming to Ireland and that our government is paving the way for it by taking out the chief opponent: the Catholic Church.  However, it is here already: every chemist shop in the country is an abortion clinic as the emergency contraceptive pill actually kills the newly conceived baby. 

I know, members of the pro-life movement will remind me, there was a campaign against the legalisation of the pill at the time.  And at that time, as far as I am aware, and I am open to be corrected on this, there was not a whimper raised at official Church level.  The usual suspects objected, the marvellous David Quinn among them, but there was no campaign, no nation-wide information drive at every church, no sermons.  Pastor Niemoller's poem comes to mind.

I suppose things like these have convinced our anti-Catholic public figures that the Church is useless here in Ireland - it will remain silent when attacked, and so can be taken out at will.  With the scandals, the Church has no credibility, and so can be beaten into submission, with not a whimper of objection. True, the Cardinal objected to the closing of the Irish embassy to the Holy See, but that was all. That can be ignored. 

All of this contrasts with the witness of the Church in Poland, the Philippines, Sudan, East Timor and other places, where, persecuted as it was, and dominated by the stronger forces, she raised her voice and would not be silent.  The Church's role in bringing down the Iron Curtain, while not acknowledged by many historians, was significant.  Is it not now time for the Church here in Ireland to start getting up from the crash position, come out of the trenches and rabbit holes and start to create a place for herself in Irish society again? Yes, she is a pariah, but pariahs still have a voice and can use whatever resources they have to try and re-establish themselves. 

At the moment I am reading a biography of Blessed Anna-Maria Taigi, the great wife, mother and mystic of early 19th century Rome.  The biography is the Tan one and is okay, but I would prefer one in which she is put in her historical context a bit more because she lived in fascinating times.  Rome was a subject city, the Pope, while ruler of the Papal States, had been pushed out by Napoleon and the King of Naples.  Actually she lived at the time the opera Tosca is set (for all you opera lovers?  I love that opera!  My dream, when training as an opera singer, was to sing the role of Scarpia, but it was not to be.  I got as far as Mozart's Figaro, but then the Lord grew impatient!). 

Napoleon had ravaged Rome, extending the French Revolution to the Papal States.  The Pope, Pius VI was arrested and died in prison.  In Vienna a successor was elected, the now Servant of God, Pope Pius VII.  This poor pontiff was also a prisoner of Napoleon, dragged across Europe to satisfy the dictator's demands, he was even forced to preside over Napoleon's coronation.  The Church was at a very low ebb, and yet it was the sight of the Pope, a captive of the Corsican, which turned the hearts of Europeans.  It was when the Church was at her weakest that she was actually strongest (someone said something about that before, I believe).   And in the midst of a city, Papacy and Church in turmoil, a holy woman, a simple wife and mother, was sent as a prophet to console and yes, at times, to warn. 

We are in similar times.  Okay none of our enemies today are like Napoleon, but they are dangerous enough.  They do not wage wars like the Corsican general, nor crown themselves emperors, but under the illusion of democracy, equality and secular righteousness, they form kingdoms for themselves, rule peoples and seek to destroy their enemies.   As always the Catholic Church is seen as the first enemy to be destroyed because she more than other other religion, has always stood up to those who undermine humanity, morality and faith.

Often the Church does so labouring under the wickedness and hypocrisy of some of her members, and even some of her leaders, but yet, while that is fuel for the enemies' attack, these enemies can never bring themselves to dismiss her.  They will say that the Church is irrelevant, but yet act against her in a way which reveals that they know she is not irrelevant, that she is a force to be reckoned it, particularly when they think they have destroyed her.

This is not meant to be a triumphalist post, but rather one to get us thinking and praying.  In many places around the world members of the Church are at all time low - that is true of the Church here in Ireland.  There are people within the Church who are acting like enemies of the Church, and for all intents and purposes, they are.  But now is the time for us to start figuring out: where do we go from here?  In a sense we are at an advantage.  At long last that grotesque union of the Catholic Church in Ireland and secular government has been dissolved.  In that union the Church lost her prophetic voice, she was part of the establishment, cherished respectability, even craved it and at times conferred it.  That is gone, thank God, and now we no longer have respectability, now we are actually freer that any other time in Irish history - free to be prophetic.  Weak, but in Christ's view of things, strong. 

Now we begin again with prayer: that God will guide us.  We pray the Holy Father will appoint bishops, when the time comes, that will no longer want to be part of the establishment, that are happy enough to live out in the wilderness with the faithful remnant and will not be silent: indeed we pray for our present bishops that the Lord will help them adjust.  We do have some very good bishops who only need encouragement and support.  Some may say they are on their last legs - that may be true, but you do not need legs to light a fuse!

Strange musings you may say, having seen a poster advertising quickie abortions, but it is a symbol of how far we have gone.  There are battles ahead, and while we might not win them (ye), we must now begin to stand up and fight: we need the virtue of fortitude.  That brings me to a wonderful scene from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers movie - the siege of Helm's Deep.  Though all seemed lost, Theoden King and his armies take their last stand - they will ride out of the fortress to give the women and children time to escape: foolhardy, perhaps - virtuous, yes - fortitude - to do the right thing though you may not survive.  We need such courage in the Church in Ireland today - a good dose of humility to go with it of course.

"The sun is rising."

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Month Of Saints

November is traditionally the month of the Holy Souls - when we pray for our brothers and sisters in Purgatory.  I can imagine a great cheer going up in that place of purification every 1st November as the souls there remember that people will be praying in earnest for them.  To be honest there should be cheering every day: as Catholics we have a duty to pray for the Holy Souls - the bond of love as members of the Church should urge us to do so.  And let's face it, most of us will have a spell there, so it would be a good idea to make friends with the Holy Souls so when they enter heaven they will repay the debt they owe those who have prayed for them by their own prayers.

But this month is also the month of the Saints.  Apart from All Saints, all the religious orders and congregations celebrate a feast day in honour of their Saints this month.  My order, the Discalced Carmelites, celebrate All Carmelite Saints on the 14th.  In Ireland we celebrate All Saints of Ireland on the 6th. 

Reflecting on my post on the two children being proposed for Sainthood (I have just discovered that a friend of mine knew Carlo Acutis!), I was thinking about the Irish men and women who, if they had lived in another country, would now be Servants of God and on the way to Sainthood.  As I have said many times (forgive me for saying it again), Ireland tends not to like Saints, or at least, is not too keen on opening Causes. 

Well, I have had an idea.   Here's a question for all of you who are reading this blog - Irish and non-Irish: do you know of anyone who seemed to you and to others to have lived a life of heroic virtue?  Do you know anyone who may have been a Saint?  I am particularly interested in hearing if you did - and especially if it was an Irish person.  We need to start identifying these holy people so as the Church in Ireland moves towards reform, we may begin to take our place in the universal Church and participate fully in her life, and that includes the recognition of people among us who have lived heroically saintly lives.  Hopefully in the years to come the opportunity to open Causes will be there.  Perhaps now we need to be doing the groundwork, and that includes, of course, prayer.

Some will say: the Church has more important things to be doing than worrying about Saints.  Well, as Thomas Aquinas would say, I answer that: Saints are a sign of a healthy Church, both local and universal.  If a diocese is not producing Saints, then there is something not quite right there - the local church is failing to sanctify its members.  I would also say that the process of making Saints and the growth of the cult brings many blessings to a diocese: a good bishop can see endless evangelical possibilities in the promotion of a local person to the altars, while establishing a sanctuary of prayer and grace in the diocese centred on the tomb of the Blessed or Saint.  So it is not merely an exercise in putting a title on a holy person - it is putting new heart and joy into the faithful.

I remember during our last Fraternity pilgrimage - to Turin, when we visited the tomb and home of St Gianna Beretta Molla in Mesero outside Milan.  The town was full of images of "their Saint" - there was tremendous pride and devotion.  Her clinic was a site of pilgrimage, and during our visit locals popped over to meet us and tell us their stories of St Gianna.  They loved her and they loved God even more because he had chosen one of their own and glorified her before all the nations.  They prayed to her and learned from her life.  Those who had known her had been touched by her life and goodness.  Those who had not known her were inspired and wanted to come to know her so as to come closer to God, to his mercy and his help. 

How wonderful it would be for local communities here in Ireland to experience that: to have the blessing of God through the holy life, example, and yes, miracles, of one of their own whom God has raised up.  There are many in Ireland who were sanctified, we need only recognise it. So, my dear friends, your homework for today is to identity these holy people and begin to pray.  And then we will see what happens.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Our New Nuncio?

....and the Republic of Ireland

How will the Holy See respond to this new development? At the moment we do not have a nuncio: will the Holy Father appoint a new resident nuncio, or will he give the brief to another nuncio?  If the latter, the most likely choice may be the present nuncio to the Court of St James i.e. to Great Britain, HE Archbishop Antonio Mennini.  If so, it will be remarkable - history will have gone full circle, and all in the space of less than a century.

A brief biography.  Antonio Mennini was born in Rome in 1947.   He was ordained priest in 1974, and after obtaining a doctorate in theology, he joined the Holy See's diplomatic service in 1981.  First posted to Uganda, he was attache in Turkey and then back to the Secretariat of State in the Vatican.  He was ordained Archbishop in 2000, and liaison with Bulgaria until 2002 when he was posted to Russia, and then in 2008 sent to Uzbekistan.  He has played an important role in improving the Holy See's relationship with the Orthodox churches.  In December 2010 he was appointed nuncio to Great Britain, presenting his credentials to Queen Elizabeth on the 2nd March of this year.  He may well be presenting his credentials and change of address for the nunciature to President Higgins in the coming months.

Archbishop Mennini has a distinguished career and has established himself as an impressive figure well able to deal with difficulties.  Orthodox Catholics in Britain hailed his appointment.  Perhaps he may be a good man to cover Ireland and help the renewal here.  An interesting fact from his life: he was the priest who heard the last confession of the murdered Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro.  His brother, Pietro, is a prosecutor in Chieti.  So he has contacts and links which may prove useful.

All that said, this is just speculation.  The Holy Father might appoint a resident, and send a right tough nuncio, built like a wrestler with a black belt in karate and as much humour as Chewbacca to sort out the Church here. 

Ireland Breaking Diplomatic Relations With The Holy See?

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Taoiseach Edna Kenny

Following on my last post, I have been talking to a few people, some in the know, and it seems that the Irish government's action of closing the embassy and then appointing a civil servant in Dublin as the official delegate rather than appointing an ambassador, is as close as you can get to breaking diplomatic relations without actually doing it.  So can we now presume that, for all intents and purposes, leaving aside the purely cosmetic, Ireland no longer has a meaningful diplomatic relationship with the Holy See?  And if so where does that leave the faithful Roman Catholics who live in the territories of this state? 

The structure of that last sentence is deliberate - will we see, albeit in a subtle way, a growing separation in the minds of our public representatives between citizenship of this state and membership of the Catholic Church?  A separation which may cast a doubt on the loyalties of those who are Catholic to the Republic?  It has happened many times before, and given that we have heard public representatives speak about the Church as a foreign institution in the last number of months, we are not too far from this attitude.

According to Reuters, an unnamed Vatican diplomat has said that the Holy See is "stunned" at the government's decision, and suggests that other countries will follow suit.  To be honest I doubt that.  Neither do I accept that this damages the Holy See's prestige in diplomatic circles.  Given recent events, when Ireland made unfounded allegations against the Pope and the Holy See, it is Ireland that has lost prestige in diplomatic circles.  I suspect this decision by the government will be seen as petulance on Ireland's part.  As for Ireland being a "big Catholic country" - I really don't think we are anymore.  I agree that Holy See did at one time, and indeed until recently, see Ireland as an ally and "semper fidelis", but I think, thanks to recent events both civil and ecclesiastical, it knows better now.

In terms of economic benefits.  The embassy to the Holy See was the cheapest embassy in the diplomatic service.  A friend texted me to tell me that the saving is the equivalent of only 3.2% of state funding of political parties in the country.  Interesting; if we really want to save money, then, the state should stop making contributions to political parties!   As a taxpayer (who has just paid his taxes), I resent the fact that my money is going to these political parties, particularly when most of these organisations despise my religious faith and make little of my vocation. 

Here is the Cardinal's official statement:
Statement by Cardinal Séan Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland, in response to the decision to close Ireland’s embassy to the Holy See

An Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Eamon Gilmore TD, phoned me this afternoon to inform me that the Irish Government has decided not to appoint a residential ambassador to the Holy See.  The Tánaiste expressed the view that this was a regrettable but necessary decision in the light of the current economic situation and it is not related to recent exchanges between the Government and the Holy See.

I wish to express my profound disappointment at this decision which means that Ireland will be without a resident ambassador to the Holy See for the first time since diplomatic relations were established and envoys were exchanged between the two States in 1929. I know that many others will share this disappointment.

This decision seems to show little regard for the important role played by the Holy See in international relations and of the historic ties between the Irish people and the Holy See over many centuries.

It is worth recalling that for the new Irish State the opening of diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1929 was a very significant moment.  It was very important in asserting the identity and presence of the Irish Free State internationally in view of the fact that Irish diplomatic representation abroad was then confined to the Legation in Washington, the Office of the High Commissioner in London, the Permanent Delegate to the League of Nations, and the Embassy to the Holy See.

I hope that despite this regrettable step, the close and mutually beneficial co-operation between Ireland and the Holy See in the world of diplomacy can continue – based on shared commitment to justice, peace, international development and concern for the common good.

I look forward to a time when the Government will again appoint a resident ambassador to the Holy See. I hope that today’s decision will be revisited as soon as possible and that it can be addressed at the next meeting of the Church-State structured dialogue.

See also David Quinn's response here. Garry O'Sullivan of The Irish Catholic has some good things to say in this interview on RTE Radio - one important point he makes: Ireland is not the centre of the world, neither the Holy See nor other sovereign states look to Ireland to see how they should behave. 

The Thirsty Gargoyle has an excellent post on this issue, pointing out how Ireland will lose a great deal by this decision.  The Holy See has one of the best informed services in the diplomatic world, able to use the network of bishops, priests and religious throughout the world: it has failed at times (ie Ireland), but when it works it is second to none.  Another disturbing fact which the Gargoyle points out, in some parts of the world the Holy See is better placed to help Irish citizens than Ireland: we will be losing a valuable ally.  This post is well worth reading.

Still Chipping Away...

The Villa Spada, the (soon to be former) Irish embassy to the Holy See

Ireland is to close its embassy to the Holy See. I suppose many of us saw this coming considering what happened during the summer and Enda Kenny's remarks in the Dail.  The Minister for Foreign Affairs has said the decision is purely economic - since the embassy to the Holy See produces no economic benefits, then it is being liquidated: it has nothing to do with the row over the child abuse scandals.   I'm afraid I find that hard to believe, to be honest.  If they are closing down embassies because they are not economically beneficial then there are a few others that need to go, delegations which are not as important or as useful as that to the Holy See. 

First of all there are the three embassies in Brussels - yes people, Ireland has three embassies, three ambassadors with three sets of staff in Brussels.  One embassy to Belgium, one embassy to the EU and a third to NATO - we are not even a member of NATO but we still have a formal delegation to the organisation.  If you want to talk about saving money, close down two of those embassies and get the one ambassador to cover all three: that would save more money than the closing of the embassy to the Holy See.    There are also other embassies and representations that could have been cut back.  After all, do we really need embassies in the countries of the EU?  After all, are we not all one now, so why have embassies?

Some may ask, why bother having an embassy to the Church?  Well actually a posting to the Holy See has always been considered important, and many countries send senior ambassadors to their delegations in the Vatican.  Why?  Because the Holy See is a diplomatic melting pot: if you know how to play the game it is one of the most useful fact-finding postings.  The Holy See is neutral and a place where diplomats can meet and talk in a non-threatening atmosphere - they don't need to be watching their backs.  For this reason, and many others, the Holy See enjoys real respect in diplomatic circles.  It seems the present government, and indeed people in the Department of Foreign Affairs, do not understand that. 

Historically, the embassy to the Holy See was the first embassy the new Irish State established, and with it our country declared itself a free, sovereign nation.  So our representation there was important symbolically.

I am wondering what will happen now.  I notice the government announce this in the aftermath of criticism for their bailing out junior bondholders of Anglo-Irish Bank.   Just a few days ago €750 million was paid to these bondholders by the taxpayers of Ireland, most of these bondholders making a profit of about 70% on their initial investment.  The country is in trouble; the IMF and EU have imposed measures which are crucifying our citizens financially, and the government pays out a profit to speculators.   So, is this move on the embassy another distraction, just as Enda Kenny's speech in the Dail was the means to distracting criticism for his conflicting controversial utterances to the people of Roscommon and the Dail over the issue of Roscommon hospital?  Is it possible that the government, when in trouble, starts to kick the Church in the hope the anti-Catholics will join in on the fun and forget the mess the government has created?

Watch this space. I sense another row brewing.  You see I do not think the Vatican permits ambassadors to Italy double up as ambassadors to the Holy See - it is a mechanism designed to respect the Vatican's sovereignty (I don't think Italy allows the doubling up either). I can see the government complaining that they are not allowed double up and use it as another stick to beat the Church.  Maybe not, but I could see something like that happen.  People in Ireland have such a low opinion of the Church, they are not open to look at things objectively.  The government might see another opportunity to win points, and they need those points; after all the Minister for Education wants the Catholic schools, and the way has to be cleared for the introduction of abortion - any chance of objections from the Church has to be neutralised.  On that last point, the way the Church and bishops are at the moment, there would be little or no opposition to the introduction of abortion.

Another issue is that of constitutional reform - the government is, I think, looking to write a new constitution for Ireland, and so certain matters like freedom of religion may well be limited, again a silent Church with no credibility is required while that is going on. 

Do I sound like a madman?  I hope so.  But at this stage anything is possible.  I think in five years time, when we look back, we will see a very different Ireland.  Perhaps the downgrading of the representation to the Holy See is a symbolic salvo.   For these reasons I think the Holy See had better get its act together.  I think we need a good nuncio, be it here in Dublin or doubled up with London.  We need a nuncio who will be able to resist the charm of the Irish and be intent on sorting out the problems in the Church in Ireland.  We need a man who can play the game well and be tough.  We also need a new sort of bishop in the new appointments as they come up.  We now need men who are able to deal with a hostile government while being on fire with zeal for a new evangelisation.  

By the way, did you notice that the government have also announced that they are closing the embassy to Iran in the same breath as that of the Vatican?  I think we get the message there, a not too subtle insult.  That's where Ireland is now.

We must pray. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

New Causes

Last month four new causes were formally opened, two of them for children - a young boy, Carlo Acutis, and a young girl, Jeanne-Marie Kegelin who is being put forward as a possible martyr - she was not yet ten when she died in defence of her chastity.

Carlo Acutis seems to be the teenage version of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati or Blessed Alberto Marvelli.  He was only fifteen when he died of leukemia.  Carlo was born in London on the 3rd May 1990 of Italian parents.  He grew up in Milan.  He seemed to be an ordinary teenager - loved his friends, did well in school, had a passion for computers, but there was more to him.  He discovered Jesus Christ, and so his spiritual life was profound.  He attended daily Mass, spent time in adoration, had a great love for Our Lady.  He made a deep impression on all he met, and he was always ready to help anyone in need if he could. 

Life was to be short for Carlo: diagnosed with leukemia it became obvious very quickly he would not survive.  He endured the illness with great serenity and heroism - he never lost his joy. As he was dying he offered his suffering and death for Pope Benedict and the Church.  He passed away on the 12th October 2006.  His life and death has taken Italian Catholics by storm.   See here for his website, and more information here.

On the 18th June 2004 little nine year old Jeanne-Marie Kegelin went out to play, taking her bicycle and heading off to the tennis courts where she like to help pick up the tennis balls during play.  On her way she met with Pierre Bodein.  On the 29th June her body was found in a stream: she had been raped and drowned, and her lower body mutilated in an attempt to cover up the assault.  

Jeanne-Marie was born in Strasbourg on the 18th July 1994 to a devout Catholic family, the sixth of seven children.  She was a bit of a tomboy, so she liked climbing trees and playing football.  She was precocious in terms of her own faith, and soon she was praying and trying to live the Gospel in as radical a way as she could.  She loved the Rosary and singing hymns.  Again, a child who seemed to have been formed in grace.  As her mother said, "She was more worthy of heaven than earth" - the Church agrees with her as her Cause is formally opened.

Traditionalists Reject Doctrinal Preamble

It seems the Society of St Pius X have rejected the Holy See's doctrinal preamble, the document offered as the beginning of a reconciliation with the Pope and the Church.  There are, no doubt, many out there today saying "Told you so!"  Who would blame them? 

Pope Benedict has taken enormous risks to reach out to the members of the society.  Lifting the excommunications he was pilloried by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.  It was the right thing to do - a loving father must try and bring his erring children back.  Some may see Summorum Pontificum as a gesture to the SSPX, but I don't think it was: the Pope's liturgical reform is much bigger than pacifying dissenters, but it helped.  The Williamson affair was embarrassing, but Bishop Fellay of the society tried to sort that one out.

However, here we are.  Where do we go now?  Time to ask a few hard questions: Is it time to leave the SSPX to their own devices for now?  Leave the door open for those who want to be reconciled, but give up formal attempts to normalise the group?  It is obvious that they want to come back on their terms only and while they claim to profess obedience to the Pope, they are not willing to accept that they might actually be wrong. 

Some may suggest the excommunications should be reimposed and the group formally declared schismatic - there is an argument for that.  However the Church will have to be careful - if these measures are imposed for extreme traditionalists they will also have to be imposed for liberals/progressives and left wing Catholics who are even more extreme in their rejection of Church teaching.  So far these people have not had the reality of their position formally defined.

Anyway, whatever happens, we must pray.  That we may all be one, under one shepherd, Benedict; that should be our intention in these days.