Friday, August 30, 2013

Carmelite Nuns of Seoul, Continued

Mother Marie-Therese was now facing a difficult decision: would she pack up the sisters in the ten minutes available to them and flee Korea for Japan?  She was never one to run from a fight.  She, Mother Marie-Mechtilde and others had endured harsh sufferings through two wars, could they face another one?  "Would the plane take all the sisters?" she asked.  "No", the bishop responded, "only the European ones."  The Korean nuns could not leave.
Marie-Therese quickly called a meeting of the European nuns to tell them of the offer.  They all had absolute freedom of choice to stay or go. They asked her what she had decided, but she refused to tell them in case it influenced their decision.  They knelt in prayer.  Each made their own decision and they all came to same conclusion: they would not go without their Korean sisters - they were staying.  Mother Marie-Therese went to inform the Bishop.  When he heard it, and that not even the blind Sr Madeleine would leave, he was touched by their courage and loyalty.  When the Korean nuns heard of what happened they wept: their sisters would not abandon them.
As the fighting began the nuns continued their observance, praying in their chapel as the guns were fired outside.  The monastery was in the direct path of the invading army, and so it was decided that the community should leave and find a safer building.  However some feared the monastery would be pillaged, so it was decided that a small number, eight, would remain behind to do what they could to protect it. The chaplain, Fr Gombert would keep an eye on the remaining nuns and should things get too dangerous he would take them out to safety.  All agreed, and the community went to the Sisters of St Paul of Chartres and safety as eight remained.  But things did not turn out as expected.  The convent of the Sisters of St Paul came under direct attack and soon Fr Gombert felt it was too dangerous, and brought the sisters to the safety of his cellar.  There in the cellar with others seeking refuge, Fr Gombert exposed the Blessed Sacrament and led adoration and Benediction.  The vigil of prayer ended with Mass at dawn on the 28th July 1950.  They then went to the Carmelite monastery for safety.
The North Korean army was devastating the city.  The bishop's house had been destroyed and the Sisters of St Paul had been given three days to leave their convent.  For some strange reason the soldiers seemed oblivious to the monastery at first, but it did not last.  Soon "inspections" were ordered, and the soldiers questioned the sisters.  The Koreans were rebuked for their decision to join the Order and deprive Korea of children.   Tensions grew and the visiting soldiers became more aggressive.  On the 14th July the sisters were told that all the Europeans had to gather at the bishop's house.  Mother Marie-Therese sent the Korean postulants back to their families, and the next day, the 15th Mother Marie-Therese, Mother Mechtilde, Sr Henrietta, Sr Madeleine and Sr Bernadette were piled into cars with Fr Gombert and two other priests and brought to a hotel which was now designated a camp.  There the Bishop and a number of others were also interned.  Over the next few days other Bishops, priests and nuns arrived.  On the 19th July the order came for some to leave: they were to go to Pyongyang.
Put on a train the sisters arrived at the North Korean capital on the 21st July.  Bundled into a truck they were brought to open fields and then, ordered out, they had to walk to their destination several miles away: a camp.   They were moved again, in great hardship to Manpo in September, where they stayed for six weeks.  The group of captives was growing, and now included a large number of captured American soldiers.  On the 7th October, as winter was drawing in, they were told they had to depart: the Death March was about to begin.  After what seemed liked aimless wandering for a few weeks, on the 31st October they were handed over to the custody of the Police Department. 
The March began on the 1st November. Amid dreadful hardship, hunger and cold the prisoners walked towards an unknown destination.   The guards cried out "Hurry, hurry!" and people began to fall and die, their bodies hastily buried under piles of stones along the side of the road.  One of their companion Sr Beatrix, a sister of St Paul of Chartres, was the first to go: unable to continue she was left behind with one of the soldiers.  Disease and exhaustion began to claim others, including Fr Gombert. 
On the 16th November 1950, Mother Marie-Mechtilde and another sister, now invalids, were left behind.  After a difficult journey, she was brought to a camp, Hachang Ri, where, surrounded by other prisoners, a priest among she died of her sufferings on the 18th November.  Her body was buried near the camp.
Meanwhile on the 19th November, Mother Marie-Therese complained of a pain in her side.  She had a fever and was suffering from dysentery.  Her appetite was gone, but she tried to eat a little.  Over the coming days the pain increased, and on the 28th she began to have crippling headaches.  Lying on her meagre camp bed, the other sisters gave her their blankets to keep her warm, but she soon fell unconscious.  At 2am on the morning of the 30th November, she died.  Her body was buried in a shallow grave.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

More New Martyrs: Carmelite Nuns of Seoul

Yesterday I gave brief biographies of the seven Columban priests whose Cause for beatification has been introduced as members of the Modern Martyrs of Korea group.  I also mentioned that two of our Discalced Sisters are among the group.  I have been trying to get some information on them, so this is what I have come up with.  The two sisters were Belgian.
Mother Marie-Mechtilde of the Blessed Sacrament was born Godelieve Devriese in Ieper, Belgium in 1888. She entered the Discalced Carmelite Order in Ypres in 1906.  With the outbreak of the First World War, she and the other sisters in the community had to flee. The monastery was destroyed, and so rather than wait for it to be built she joined the community in Aire in 1917. She was, however, destined to become a missionary and was asked in 1919 to go to a struggling monastery in Smyrna in Turkey to help it re-establish.   That monastery too found itself in a battle zone and it was destroyed in 1922 in the hostilities of the Greek-Turkish war.  She returned to Aire and remained there until 1939 when she was asked to be part of a new monastery in Seoul in Korea.  With a keen sense of adventure, no doubt distilled in the many scrapes she had endured so far, she agreed, and was appointed Prioress of the new monastery.  In April 1939 she and another sister left for Korea, arriving at their new monastery in Seoul in May.
Welcomed by the local bishop, Mother Marie-Mechtilde and her companion sought and found a suitable building to found the new community.  At first they had plenty of money to set the place up, however three months after they arrived World War II broke out and their money was swept away and they were left penniless. The Bishop and Sisters of St Paul of Chartres came to their rescue and Mother Marie-Mechtilde managed to get some form of monastery in place.  Meanwhile the other sisters arrived, and among them is our other martyred sister, Sr Marie-Therese of the Child Jesus.
Marie-Therese was born Irene Bastin in Virton, Luxembourg in Belgium in 1901.  When World War I broke out her parents formed part of the resistance against German occupation.  They were eventually arrested, leaving Irene not only to fend for herself  in the midst of war, but she also took up their mantle and joined a resistance movement, La Dame Blanche.  She too was arrested in 1918, but due to lack of evidence she escaped execution and was freed.   After the war she was honoured and decorated by both Belgium and the UK.  Her heart, however, was set on another place: Carmel.  In 1919 she entered the monastery in Virton.  At her clothing, as she took off her wedding dress and took the habit, she placed her decorations at the feet of the statue of the Child of Prague, renouncing them forever. She remained in that monastery until 1940 when she volunteered to join the new monastery in Seoul.
During the war the sisters suffered greatly.  However, they managed to follow the horarium and keep some food in their stomachs.  American troops were very kind to them and gave them food whenever they could.  At the end of the war, the community still intact, they found they needed a larger building, and so  in 1946 the intrepid nuns moved to a new monastery.  And they began to flourish.  Life as easier and young Korean women, having seen the heroism of the nuns, wanted to enter. From that monastery, other Carmels in Korea began to be founded. However, the shadows returned in 1948 with the withdrawal of American troops in 1948: the threat of communism now began to worry many in Korea.
On the 24th June 1950 the sisters hosted a little celebration for two missionary priests, one marking a Golden Jubilee and two newly ordained.  The next day still joyful from their celebrations the sisters heard that war had started.  Sr Marie-Therese had now succeeded Mother Marie-Mechtilde as prioress and it now fell to her to protect the community from the hostilities - she had been well prepared for it. 
The Bishop of Seoul arrived the next day, the 27th to update Mother Marie-Therese and the sisters on the situation.  Seoul was only twenty-five miles from the border with North Korea and the army of South Korea was not good enough to fight off an invasion.  He advised the sisters that the last plane to Tokyo was soon to leave and he wanted the community on it: they had ten minutes to get ready.  Mother Marie-Therese now faced a difficult decision: would they stay or leave?
(More tomorrow)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

New Irish Martyrs: Cause Just Opened

Great news today!  I was checking the latest Causes list coming from Rome and I see that the Cause of seven of our Columban priests has been opened - they are among the eighty-one Modern Martyrs of Korea.  Five of the priests are Irish-born, one from my own diocese, and the other two are American born of Irish parents.  The Columbans are a missionary society founded in Ireland for work in the Far East, their Mother House, Dalgan Park is located in Navan, Co. Meath.
Also among the martyrs are two of my Order's sisters, cloistered Discalced nuns.  What a red letter day.  More Saints!
The Columban priests, now Servants of God, are:
Fr Anthony Collier, born in Clogherhead, Co. Louth, on the 20th June 1913. He was educated by the Christian Brothers in Drogheda and St Patrick's College, Armagh.  He joined the Columbans in 1931 and was ordained priest in 1938.  He was sent to Korea the following year.  Fr Anthony was working in a parish in Chunchon city during the Korean War. As the North Korean forces were advancing as American officier told Fr Anthony and two other Columban priests, Mgr Tom Quinlan and Fr Frank Canavan to flee, but they refused - they were staying with their flock.  The North Koreans arrived on the 26th June 1950 and the priests were arrested.  Fr Anthony was interrogated overnight and shot the next day out of hatred for the faith.
Fr James McGinn was born in Bute, Montana, USA, of Irish parents on the 15th November 1911. He returned to Ireland and was educated in St Mary's school, Newcastle, Co. Down and then in St Malachy's College, Belfast.  He joined the Columbans in Dalgan Park in 1929 and was ordained in 1935.  He was sent to Korea in 1936.   At the time of his martyrdom he was pastor of the parish of Samchok.  Following the outbreak of the Korean War his parishioners, fearing for safety urged him to leave, but he refused.  The North Koreans occupied Samchok just one week after the War started, but two days later, on the 4th July 1950 they killed Fr James out of hatred for his Catholic faith and priesthood. 

Fr Patrick Reilly was born in Drumraney, Co. Westmeath, in our diocese of Meath, on the 21st October 1915.   He was educated in the parish primary school and then continued his studies at St Finian's College in Mullingar, the diocesan college.  Discerning a vocation to the priesthood and the missions he sought admittance to the Columbans, and he was accepted in 1934.  He was ordained priest in 1940 and then sent to the UK to serve in the diocese of Clifton for five years, returning in 1946.  He was then sent to Korea in 1947, where he was working in the parish of Mukho. When the War broke out he sought refuge in the home of one of the parish catechists and there tried to continue his ministry quietly.  He was successful for 26 days after which the North Koreans discovered his whereabouts and he was arrested.  He was shot through the chest on the 29th August 1950, and his body was later found on a path in the mountains. 
Mgr Patrick Brennan was born in Chicago on the 13th March 1901 to Irish immigrant parents.  He was educated in St Rita's High School and Quigley's Prep Seminary and Mundelein Seminary.   He was ordained for the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1928.  Having worked in the diocese for a number of years, he joined the Columbans in 1936 and was sent to Korea in 1937.  During the Second World War he was captured by the Japanese but repatriated to the US in 1942.  He then served with great distinction as an Army chaplain in Europe, taking care of troops in Normandy, the Ardennes and Germany, for which he was decorated.  After the war it was his desire to return to Korea, and in 1946 he returned.  In 1947 he was elected to the General Chapter of the Columbans and appointed Director for the China region, making Shanghai his base.  In 1948 he appointed Prefect Apostolic for Kwangju, Korea by the Holy See and he returned to Korea to take up his duties.  On the 24th July 1950 when at the Columban mission in Mokpo he was captured with two Columban priests, Fr Thomas Cusack and Fr John O'Brien by North Korean forces. They were taken to Taejon prison camp and on the 24th September he perished in a massacre carried out by the camp soldiers.
Fr Thomas Cusack was born in Ballycotton, Liscannor, Co. Clare, on the 23rd October 1910. He as educated in Ballycotton National School and then in St Mary's College, Galway.  He entered the Columbans in 1928 and was ordained in 1934. The following year he was sent to Korea and at the time of his death he was serving in Columban mission in Mokpo.  With his colleague, Fr Thomas Cusack and the Prefect Apostolic, Mgr Brennan, he was captured by North Korean troops on the 24th July 1950, and was martyred with them in the massacre at Taejon prison on the 24th September 1950.
Fr John O'Brien, was born in Donamon, Co. Roscommon, on the 1st December 1918.  Educated first at Kilalla National School and then at Ballinrobe National School, he received secondary education at St Nathy's College, Ballaghaderreen, Co. Roscommon.  He entered the Columbans in 1936 and was ordained priest in 1942.  In 1943 he was appointed an army chaplain in the British Army and served in that position until 1948.  He was sent to Korea in 1949 to take up a position in the mission at Mokpo.  On the 24th July 1950, he was captured by North Korean troops and with Mgr Brennan and Fr Cusack, he died in the massacre of Taejon prison camp on the 24th September 1950.
Fr Francis Canavan was born in Headford, Co. Galway, on the 15th February 1915. Educated at Headford Convent School and then Headford National School, he went to St Mary's College, Galway.  Entering the Columbans in 1934, he was ordained priest in 1940.  Initially he was sent to serve in his native diocese of Galway, but in 1949 he was appointed to missionary work in Korea.   working with Fr Anthony Collier in a parish in Chunchon city, when advised by American troops to flee the advancing North Korean army, Fr Francis refused to leave and was captured on the 26th June 1950.  As Fr Collier was shot, Fr Francis was taken by troops on what would become known as the infamous "Death March" to the north.  While many of those on the march died from hardship, Fr Francis managed to survive and was interned in a prison camp.  However, the afflictions of the March were not to be overcome, and he died on the 6th December 1950 as a direct result of the hardship.
Let us pray for the success of their Cause.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Happy Feast Day

Today in the Fraternity we celebrate the feast of St Genesius, transferred from yesterday, the actual day, because it was a Sunday.  Interestingly according to some martyrologies, today, the 26th is designated the feast day, so we're covered!
The feast day Mass will be celebrated in St Mary's Church, James Street, Drogheda, at 7.30pm, and all are welcome to attend.  The Mass will be offered for all our members, their intentions, the intentions of those who made the novena, and of course for our Fraternity's mission.
For your meditation today, the prayer of St Genesius from the Acts:
There is no king other than He whom I saw;
I adore and worship Him;
and even if I am slain a thousand times for worshiping Him,
I will belong to Him, as I have now begun to be.
he torments will not be able to take Christ from my mouth,
nor to take Him from my heart.
For I greatly repent of having sinned,
since formerly I shuddered at the holy name in use among holy men,
and, proud soldier that I was,
I have come rather late to adore the true King.’

Happy feast day to you all!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Day 9: Using The Present Moment

One of the Cure of Ars' most ardent desires was to enter a monastery.  A few times during his years as parish priest, St John Vianney expressed the desire to go and live a life of prayer in solitude and weep for his sins.  This holy man was all too aware of his sins and as he reflected on them there was always a tone of regret in his musings.
We find this regret also in Genesius.  As he is tortured, knowing he is to die he says: "I have come rather late to adore the true King".  We all know that regret - why did I leave it so late?  why did I do that?  People who mature in faith in the later years of their lives lament the wasted years when they could have done so much.  A priest I know regrets the Holy Hours he never made in the early years of his priesthood, but with confidence he says: "But now, some days I do two to make up for the ones I missed".
It is good to express such regret - it is part of conversion and repentance.  However, that regret must be balanced by faith and hope, knowing that the merciful God forgives and can still accomplish his work in us.  Like the workmen hired at the eleventh hour, the Lord will find work for the latecomers and they too can make a difference.  While we must not leave off conversion until we are older - we must follow now, those who come late must never despair, but rather make good use of the time they have.
And this is what Genesius did.  After his conversion, his task was to witness, to endure and to offer his life for Christ, and he did so wholeheartedly.  We may not be asked to do this, but what we have to do for Christ, let us do with the love, generosity and joy of a martyr.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Day 8: Seeing Christ

One of the arguments Christian apologists use to defend the existence of Christ and the reality of the  resurrection is the martyrdom of the Apostles and other witnesses to the Lord's rising.  Surely, we are told, these people would not have died for a lie: they gave their lives in testimony to the fact that they saw the Risen Lord with their own eyes.
There is a similar claim made by St Genesius in his trial.  He says: "There is no other King other than he whom I saw; I adore and worship him".  This seems almost a Pauline moment - like St Paul, Genesius has seen the Lord and that has led him to believe and now he will die for that Lord. 
Central to our Christian faith is the person of Jesus Christ and to be a Christian is to be in a relationship with Christ, to be his disciples.  He is our King and our Lord to whom we owe ultimate allegiance in love.  Pope Benedict XVI once said that each successive generation must discover Christ for themselves and encounter him in a personal way: "see him", as St Genesius suggests.  In that "vision" we will come to know him, love him and be prepared to offer even our very lives for him.
Of course most of us will never have an actual vision of the Lord, but it is in a life of prayer, nourished by the Gospels and the Sacraments that we will come to "see" Christ, encounter him, and sense his presence.  This is why it is important for those who call themselves Christian to actually live the Gospel and foster an authentic spiritual life, one grounded in Christ and the Church.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Day 7: The Father's Merciful Hand

In an event which was mysterious, there is one in the conversion of St Genesius which stands out.  He describes it here himself:
But when the water touched my naked body, and when I replied to the question that I believed, I saw a hand coming over me from heaven, and radiant angels standing above me who read from a book all the sins which I had committed from my infancy; but then they washed them in the very water in which I was bathed in your sight, and afterwards showed it to me whiter than snow.

Is he describing a vision?  There is an element of the Book of Revelation here particularly in his describing what seems to be the book of his own life.  In this vision he sees the effects of Baptism - our sins washed away in the waters of life and the soul made pure.  But it is the hand coming from heaven which is most intriguing and constitutes our meditation for this "moment".
Here I believe is the merciful hand of God the Father, the "Father of mercies", who in his love reaches out to his children to impart forgiveness and grace, and to hold our hands and lead us into his kingdom.  All of us live under the merciful hand of God.  Some may fear it, but in reality we must rejoice in it for it is the tender hand of a loving Father who wishes to caress and heal.  St Therese of the Child Jesus explores this vision of the Father's hand and sees that it lifts her up to heaven, up into his lap.
To realise that we are the children of God is the greatest insight.  To take hold of his merciful hand and walk with him is the best way to live. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Day 6: Proclaiming Faith

In his Letter, St Peter advises us to be ready to give a reason for our hope (1 Peter 3:15) - to be prepared to explain our faith and why it makes a difference in our lives.  Scripted into his play, Genesius has such a moment.  The author tells us: "When they had completed the sacramental mysteries, and when he had put on white garments, the play seemed to continue with his being taken off by soldiers, and brought before the Emperor to be interrogated about being Christian".  Though pagans, Genesius and his troupe understood that being a Christian was no mere private opinion or state, it is public, and even in time of persecution Christians take their place in the public square and proclaim their faith.
This is an insight many Christians seem to have forgotten.  Living in such a secularised world, and an aggressive one at that, we may be tempted to keep our faith to ourselves be out of fear or a misplaced sense of being tolerant or indeed a genuine desire not to offend anyone. But we must not fall for that temptation.  For one thing secularism, like other movements opposed to Christianity, will soon tire of certain citizens holding personal opinions opposed to the accepted view.  The experience of St Thomas More and Catholics under Elizabeth I of England is a case in point: though told the monarch would not intrude into their conscience, they soon found that that monarch would and did.  The concept of "thought crime" is not new.
We are called to proclaim the faith without fear, and to explain what we believe and why we believe it.  In the world there are many who are tired of a purely materialist and consumerist view of existence, they are looking for meaning.  It is for their sake that we proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ even if it means offending those who are opposed to us.  Our example in this is the Lord Jesus himself, and we should reflect on how he continued to preach in the face of the anger of those who wanted to silence him: he will inspire us and guide us.  Of course we do so in charity, but also with zeal and with joy.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Day 5: Embracing A Graced Life

‘I desire to receive the grace of Christ, through which I may be reborn and freed from the ruin of my iniquities.’  These words are some of the most famous from the Acts of St Genesius, and they invite much prayer and meditation.  At this point in his drama at first reading we may not be sure if this is his acting or an actual expression of Genesius's desire: has the Holy Spirit already struck?  Have those lessons in the catechism class where he was doing his "research" produced unexpected fruit?  The author of the Acts is sure the conversion has occurred for he writes: "Genesius replied, no longer pretending or making it up, but from a pure heart".
These words of Genesius bring us to reflect in the sacrament of Baptism - the most life changing event in our lives when we become the children of God, incorporated into Christ and into his Church.  Genesius offers us some insights into the sacrament.  It is, first of all, an encounter within which we receive the grace of Christ.  Too often we lament how hard it is to be Christian - to live the moral teaching of the Church.  We are all too familiar with Christians and even Christian ministers telling us that we cannot live to such high ideals: we have to compromise, we have to lower the bar, we are told.  Such an attitude serves as a practical denial, in part, of grace: of that supernatural help which God gives us through the sacraments in general and Baptism in particular.  Grace is offered to help us not only reach these standards and live these ideal; we need only accept it.
It is in this context - the context of grace, that we are reborn and freed from "the ruin of [our] iniquities".  Baptism is an act of rebirth, born to a new life, a stronger life, a graced life, a Christian life in which God confers on us the help we need to overcome Original Sin and human weakness.  Conquering it will take time, and it may be a struggle, but we have a mighty hero to help us - Christ, and powerful weapons to defend us - grace.  We need only realise this, embrace grace and live.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Day 4: Lightening The Load

"Ah, my friends, I feel heavy, I want to become light".  According to the Acts, it is with these words that Genesius, acting, expressed his desire to be baptised.  Reading the Acts at this point there is a interesting ambiguity- is Genesius acting or, in his acting, is he expressing a deeper desire?  Actors will tell you that they draw on their own experiences to help them interpret a role and in doing this not only is the distinction between actor and character a little blurred, but in the context of art reflecting life/ imitating life, there is a poignant authenticity.
In expressing "heaviness" Genesius the actor reveals a burden which many people experience in life.  On a basic existentialist level we do find at times that there is a weight upon us, and life can certainly add to that weight.  How many of us experience the desire to be free, just to throw everything off and run away?  And some have a real reason to ponder such an action as various situations and circumstances impose suffering and many other difficulties. 
In requesting baptism, though he may not have known it at the time, Genesius is pointing to the One who can help us with the heaviness, the load, the suffering.  The Lord Jesus became man and offered his life for us in order to lift the existentialist burden we carry - that imposed by Original Sin.  In him, in the salvation he offers, we find the freedom we desire.  The cross may not be taken away from us, but with Christ we learn how to carry it and we see its significance, and that in itself can lighten the load.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Day 3: Building Communion

There is a well known saying that we can all identify with: "You can choose your friends, but you cannot choose your relations".  That is meant to console us in the midst of familial difficulties.  We might also hang on to the suggestion that we are called to love our neighbour not necessarily like them for other problematic relationships.  And yet is not the greatest scandal among Christians their lack of unity, not just in terms of denominational relationships, but even within the communion of the Church?
One of the more intriguing tit-bits of information gleaned from the Acts of St Genesius is that which reveals he had a difficult relationship with his parents.  That is not unique.  But Genesius's estrangement was based on faith: his parents had become Christians and this led to his rejecting them.  Again this is not unusual - Our Lord tells us in the Gospel that he came to bring division - division between those who believe and those who do not, and that division would even enter into families.
Some of the interesting questions which emerge in relation to this are: was Genesius reconciled with his believing parents when he became a believer himself?  When he was in the catechism class, under false pretences, was there a "reconciliation"?  When he revealed his true colours was there another estrangement?  And when he finally accepted faith and proclaimed himself a disciple of Christ knowing he would suffer for it, was there a final reunion?
We will only know the answers to these questions in heaven, but we do know that those who truly embrace Christ and seek to live his way faithfully open the door to reconciliation and communion.  When brothers and sisters live in the unity of faith, as the psalm tells us, then there is communion and joy. 
In these difficult times one of our priorities as orthodox Christians is to nurture and strengthen our communion with each other.  Ultimately we are one family and we must learn to love each other.  There may be difficulties - we all have faults and bad habits: in one way or another we are all difficult to live with.  But at the end of the day our communion with each other must transcend our human failings and frustrations with each other. In the end we must always remember and act upon the love we should have for each other.  It may seem difficult, we may well have to swallow our pride, but if we remember God gives us his grace to keep us united to each other, then we can let go and be reconciled with our brothers and sisters.
Remember, it is said that blood is thicker than water, but for us baptised, the waters of baptism is thicker than blood!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Day 2: The Seed On The Ground

The Lord's parable of the sower going out to sow seed is interesting.  The parable is clear, yet its application may not be as clear as we may think.  Instead of only describing categories of people in their response to the Word of God, it is perhaps even more accurate to describe the varying responses to the Word of God in each one of us.
In the Acts of St Genesius we are told that the actor Genesius inveigled his way into the Christian community and her catechetical programme.  There he was instructed in the teaching of Christ, we would say the Word of God was poured over him.  He was there only to do research - was he theatre's first "method actor"?   And if we dare put him in the parable we might be tempted to think he was the path where the seed fell and had no hope to germinate.
Yet we see later that that is not so.  A seed was indeed planted and it was beginning to grow and it would eventually produce a great harvest of faith and sanctity as we see as he lays down his life for Christ.  Even Genesius was, no doubt, surprised at that as he struggled with faith, trying to resist it. 
The lesson is clear: the Word of God has a way of finding its way into the human heart, and so we should never despair of those who struggle with faith or even reject it.  Like St Monica and so many other Saints, we keep the flame of hope alive, we pray and we open our hearts to God's initiative so to help Him bring others to Himself.   It is probably because of this that St Genesius is honoured as one of the patrons of conversion. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Day 1: The Way Of Earthly Success

St. Genesius Holy Card (734-447) - Pack of 25
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta once wrote: "God has not called me to be successful; He has called me to be faithful".  So much today is orientated towards "success" in a worldly sense, and even Christians and the Church herself at times, tends to think in terms of worldly success: of numbers and projects, of progress and image.  Yet when we look at the life of Jesus it might best be understood as a failure in worldly terms.
In the Acts of St Genesius we see a man who was obsessed with worldly success.  A renowned actor and comedian, his success rather than satisfying his desires only intensified them and in order to do better, to become more famous, to have more money, he was prepared to mock and use a persecuted people, and yet he was still not happy.  There is nothing sinful in success, it may well come, but if it is what we crave above all then we will not be satisfied, not in the depths of our being.    
As Christians we must seek to be faithful to Christ.  In this secular age that may well mean we are not a worldly success, but we will be precious in the eyes of God and that is more important that all the riches and honour the world can confer.  After all, the world is already passing away, only God and the eternal things remain forever. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Novena 2013: Nine Moments

Our annual on-line Novena to St Genesius begins tomorrow, to bring us to the feast of the saint which this year we celebrate on Monday 26th August, transferred from the 25th which is a Sunday.
This year's theme is "Nine Moments" in which nine moments are taken from the Acts of St Genesius for our meditation.   We would like to invite you to log on each day to my blog where for each day a short reflection will be offered, and then we can pray the novena prayers together.  We will offer the novena for the intentions of all participating, and on the feast itself Holy Mass will be offered for those intentions.
Please note the feast day Mass will take place in St Mary's Church, James Street, Drogheda on Monday 26th August at 7.30pm.  If you can make it, you are most welcome.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

To Your Heart, Holy Mother, Queen Of Ireland

Picture of the Altar Scupture in the Apparition Chapel at Knock courtesy of Wikipedia

Today, the Solemnity of the Assumption of Our Lady, the Bishops of Ireland will consecrate Ireland to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, at the National Shrine in Knock.   It is an important spiritual event for us here, and hopefully the consecration will yield fruit for us in our struggle for religious freedom and in the struggle for life. 

That said I cannot help but think of it being a little too late, like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.  But at least it is being done now.  
Here is the prayer which will be used for the consecration: it will be prayed at the Apparition Gable, where Our Lady appeared with St Joseph, St John with the Lamb of God, in 1879.
Prayer for the Act of Consecration
Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Refuge of Sinners, we entrust and consecrate ourselves, our family, our home and our Dioceses to Jesus through your Immaculate Heart. As your children, we promise to follow your example in our lives by doing at all times the will of God.
O Mary, Spouse of the Holy Spirit, we renew today the promises of our Baptism and Confirmation. Intercede for us with the Holy Spirit that we may be always faithful to your Divine Son, to his Mystical Body, the Catholic Church, and to the teachings of his Vicar on earth, our Holy Father the Pope.
Immaculate Heart of Mary, our Queen and our Mother, we promise to uphold the sanctity of marriage and the welfare of the family. Watch over our minds and hearts and preserve our youth from dangers to the faith and the many temptations that threaten them in the world today.
We ask you, Mary our Advocate to intercede with your divine Son. Obtain for our country the grace to uphold the uniqueness of every human life, from the first moment of conception to natural death.
O Blessed Mother, Our Life, our Sweetness and Our Hope, we wish that this Consecration be for the great glory of God and that it lead us safely to Jesus your Son.
A Naomh-Mhuire, a Mháthair Dé, guigh orainn na peacaigh, anois agus ar uair ár mbáis.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Bounding Into The Communion Of Saints

I know this is probably old news for many of you now, but the developments concerning a possible Cause for G.K. Chesterton are very positive and I hope they will eventually come to completion beneath the balcony of St Peter's in the not too distant future.  For those who may not have heard: the Bishop of Northampton is appointing a priest to begin an initial investigation into the life and virtues of Chesterton with the view to possibly opening the Cause for his beatification and canonisation. 
A Cause for Chesterton would be significant as it once again calls our attention to the fact that the once "traditional" "pious" view of Saints is not an accurate one, reminding us that holiness is an altogether stranger thing than comfortable piety - it is dynamic and variant and raises up the most unusual of people. 
Chesterton is certainly proof of this.  Large as life, keen for a debate, even wacky in ways, Chesterton was unique and certainly left an impression.  A keen intellectual, he wore his genius easily in a way which could only be pure Christian humility.  Child-like he was as sophisticated as any gentleman and yet there was nothing false or affected about him: what you saw was what you got.  He could beat any speaker in a contentious debate and be beaten by any child in a game of draughts all conducted in the same spirit of gracious joy and engagement.  In debate and controversy he was the epitome of charity - indeed I personally think he was more charitable in dealing with his opponents in controversy than Blessed John Henry Newman was.   He counted all sorts of characters among his friends, and his two closest were Hilaire Belloc and George Bernard Shaw - now there are two extremes!  Some of the funniest stories about Chesterton concerns his refereeing these two in controversy. 
And that brings me to what I think is the greatest element of Chesterton's sanctity - his joy manifested through his incorrigible sense of humour.  Chesterton is one of God's great comedians.  If you read any of Chesterton's books you will find yourself laughing even when he is arguing serious points.  Joy and humour permeated his life and work.  He was a believer, as I am myself, that despite even the greatest tragedies that ultimately life is a comedy, a black comedy at times, but a comedy nonetheless.  Why so?  Because, as Chesterton would teach us: God exists, he has a plan and redemption has been offered to us through the death of Jesus Christ.  In Christ everything can be changed, and even death, the greatest tragedy, must yield to life.   Julian of Norwich piously phrased it as "All will be well, all manner of things will be well", Chesterton phrased with his boisterous joy.  This is perhaps the greatest argument for Chesterton's heroic faith and hope.  And as for heroic love - well he had that in abundance for God and for his fellow man.  If ever there was a model of one who loved his enemy it was Chesterton.
I pray this initial investigation will indeed lead to beatification.  Some might not think this is important.  As some would say, with all the problems in the world the last thing we should be concerned with is making Saints.  Well Chesterton would say that it is because of all the problems in the world that we should be concerned with making Saints, because if we do not have models and inspirations for us in the midst of these problems then we'll lose hope and get bogged down in negativity and eventually lose our faith.  When the Church loses interest in the Saints, then she has problems, and we can see that particularly in Ireland: as candidates for Sainthood in Ireland languish through neglect and apathy we see the Church here has problems, one of them being an inability to see how important holiness is in the life of a disciple of Christ.  As I have said before, and firmly believe, successful Saint-making is a sign of the health of a diocese or local church.
So hearty thanks to the Bishop of Northampton and I encourage all of Chesterton's fans to get working: Chesterton's glorification will be a gift to the Church and another sign of hope.  And it will encourage all of us to strive for holiness.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Old Chestnut, Again

No doubt you may have already heard that our Bishop here in Meath has been under attack for the last few days due to a recent issuing of directives with regard to Catholic funerals in our diocese.  First of all, some of these attacks have been purely personal against Bishop Smith, and that is unacceptable although predictable.  It seems now in our "tolerant" age when people of faith defend the orthodox teaching and practice of the faith they often come under personal attack.  But, as those involved in respectful debate understand, if you need to attack the person rather than the argument, then you seem to have no defence for your position.
With regard to the directives (here is a link to the Bishop's letter on the Diocesan website), they are not new nor the personal initiative of Bishop Smith, they are simply the normal practice expected of priests and Catholic faithful during a Catholic funeral liturgy, practices which were the norm and accepted by most up until about ten or fifteen years ago.   That these practices have now become unacceptable is very revealing with regard to the level of faith and fidelity among many today.  Indeed one commenter on a blog wrote that the eulogy was the best part of a funeral, all the rest was boring.  So the Holy Scriptures, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the intercessions for the salvation of the deceased are all boring, and I presume, unnecessary in a funeral liturgy?  This is certainly a revelation.
Of course this represents a major shift in the understanding of what a Catholic funeral actually is.  Today many think a Catholic funeral is in fact a Protestant one, wherein the life of the deceased is celebrated and there is no need to pray for the person's soul since they are already in eternal glory in heaven, regardless of how they lived their lives.  But that is not the theology of the Catholic faith - it never has been.  A Catholic funeral is primarily a ritual in which the Church official joins the bereaved in offering prayer and intercession for the salvation of a person's soul, not presuming that they have gone straight to heaven, but offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that they may be delivered from Purgatory and come to share in the resurrection of the Lord.   Agree or disagree with this, that is what the Church understands and has always understood the Requiem Mass to be.  All texts are to be from Scripture or the official prayers of the Church, ie the liturgy.  In this context the mortal remains are buried in the hope of the resurrection. 
That is a Catholic funeral and the integrity of that has been lost over the years.  While that is the official liturgy, it does exclude personal expressions of grief and remembrance, but these take place, traditionally, outside the liturgy in other places.  In Ireland the tradition has been to eulogise either at the wake in the person's home, or at the graveside - the Oration.  Some have been implying that the eulogy is traditionally delivered in the church - there is no such tradition, that has only emerged in the last ten, fifteen, twenty years in Ireland.
With regard to this recent controversy, it might need to be pointed out that eulogies and funeral liturgies have been a bone of contention for a number of years, and every so often, usually during periods when news is scarce, the media whip up a storm over the issue and the Church is attacked yet again.  This time they are responding to Bishop Smith's directives, but in fact this is not the first time he has issued them - this is a reminder - the Church in Meath has been adhering to liturgical norms for many years and we priests have been trying to explain them to the faithful.
This debate is now generating more heat than light, and while people are offering opinions, few if any are prepared, it seems to me, to try and understand what a Catholic funeral actually is.  It seems in this radically secular age even sacred liturgy must now incorporate the secular even when the values of secularism radically contradict the faith of the Church, and it seems the ministers of the Church who are to be guardians of the Church's liturgy are not permitted to prevent this intrusion.  This is not only a sad development, but a dangerous one: it means that secularism must dominate even faith and the sacred.  Ultimately this is what this controversy is all about: the re-forming of the sacred according to the ideals of the secular.