Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The 12 Days: Seventh Day

Sylvester I.jpg
How blessed you are, O Holy Infant, God made man. 
You raised up your servant, Sylvester,
to rebuild your Church after persecution;
to be the chief Shepherd
and lead your people in strength and holiness  

Make our hearts like his, O gentle Jesus:
strong, prayerful, trusting,
filled with love for our Eternal Father
and our neighbour.

Today, let us pray for our Holy Father, Pope Francis,
that like his holy predecessor Sylvester
he may lovingly, fearlessly and joyfully
watch over and protect the flock entrusted to his care.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The 12 Days: Sixth Day

How blessed you are, O Holy Infant, God made man. 
You were obedient to Mary and Joseph
and grew in wisdom.
Make our hearts like yours, O gentle Jesus:
obedient, humble, meek,
filled with love for our Eternal Father
and our neighbour. 

Today, let us pray that we may embrace the humility of Christ
so he may come to dwell in us
and confide in us the eternal mysteries.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The 12 Days: Fifth Day

How blessed you are, O Holy Infant, God made man. 
For you blessed the human family
by your divine presence
transforming it into the domestic church,
the place of the Hidden Years.
Take our hearts, O gentle Jesus, and live in them:
as you lived with Mary and Joseph,
fill us with love for our Eternal Father
and our neighbour. 

Today, let us pray that through the Holy Family of Nazareth
all human families may be blessed and safeguarded,
all Christian families may become beacons of light and grace.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The 12 Days: Fourth Day

How blessed you are, O Holy Infant, God made man. 
You crown the little ones, the Holy Innocents, with martyrdom
for dying in your place;
and in your mercy you lay down your life
and confer eternal life on them.

Make our hearts like theirs, O gentle Jesus:
simple and child-like,
filled with love for our Eternal Father
and our neighbour. 

Today let us pray that we may be heartened by the Holy Innocents,
cherishing the precious gift of life given to us,
joyfully living it as a hymn of praise.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The 12 Days: Third Day

St John resting his head on the breast of Christ
How blessed you are, O Holy Infant, God made man. 
You called your Apostle, John, to be the Beloved;
the one who lay his head on your Heart
and saw the visions of your love.

Make our hearts like his, O gentle Jesus:
zealous, faithful, chaste,
filled with love for our Eternal Father
and our neighbour. 

Today, let us pray that we may seek to be like St John
abandoning ourselves to the Lord,
faithful even to the Cross.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The 12 Days: Second Day

How blessed you are, O Holy Infant, God made man. 
You instil in your disciple, Stephen, that faith
which proclaims the Gospel to all people;
that hope which brings the vision of heaven to earth;
that love which inspires the greatest sacrifice
Make our hearts like his, O gentle Jesus:
heroic, loving, pure,
filled with love for our Eternal Father
and our neighbour.
Today, let us pray that we may embrace the faith of St Stephen
so to be the salt of the earth,
the light of the world.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The 12 Days: First Day

How blessed you are, O Holy Infant, God made man. 
You come in all your power to embrace vulnerability:
to walk among us, to teach us, to save us.
Make our hearts like yours: gentle, meek, heroic,
filled with love for our Eternal Father
and our neighbour.
Today, let us pray that we may embrace the virtues of the Christ Child
so to love Him completely
and our neighbour selflessly.

Christmas Greetings

Paintings Reproductions Copley, John Singleton The Nativity, 1776-1777
I wish you all a Blessed and Joyful Christmas.  May the Christ Child, Our Lord and Saviour bless you abundantly.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Another One....

The Pope has given another interview.  I got a text from a friend of mine telling me about it and I could hear the remorseless groan wafting through cyberspace or whatever that thing is that sends texts flying around the world.  But  no need to groan, this is a welcome interview conducted by the reliable Andrea Tornelli, and in it the Holy Father clarifies a number of issues - clarifications which are badly needed and may knock down some resistance to him.
But in brief:
The Pope is not a Marxist, and he believes Marxism is wrong.  Note that he does not say that Marxism is misguided or erroneous: he does not offer a brief rebuttal of Marxist theory, he uses a word that not only says it is incorrect, but also makes a moral judgment of the system.  But, as always, he sees the human beings in the midst of it and he makes a distinction between Marxism and those who follow it, and sees that they can be good people.
The Pope is not going to make women cardinals.  That, he said, would be a clericalization of the laity and the clericalization of women.  I hear an echo of Blessed John Paul II's writings on the laity and on women in particular in which he acknowledged the unique and venerable role of the laity: clericalizing the laity is ultimately a denial of the lay state and its place in the mission of the Church.  The way forward is to see how the laity may be incorporated more into the mission of the Church without making them faux-clerics.  Of course I'm not sure if people are aware of this or not, but this will mean a lot more work being put on the shoulders of the laity and that will effect personal and family time.  At the end of the day the mission of the Church is not about power, it is about service, and those who want a greater role in the life of the Church had better get ready to abandon themselves to a greater service: believe me, I know!  And the reality of a life of service is not about self-affirmation and self-fulfilment, it about self-denial and sacrifice - lots of sacrifices.  And perhaps, as the laity take up a greater share of the work it may eventually be seen why God calls certain individuals to a celibate life of total service with no other obligations or responsibilities other than complete availability to service in the Church (with little or no pay!). 
It seems the Pope is not in favour of the German bishops's plans to give Communion to the divorced and civilly remarried.  Or at least that is what I discern from his comments on the issue. Francis says clearly: "The exclusion of divorced people who contract a second marriage from communion is not a sanction": it not a punishment imposed by the Church, rather, as Jimmy Aiken correctly points out: "The exclusion is caused by the fact that people who are civilly remarried are not validly married in the eyes of the Church...As a result, unless they are living as brother and sister, they are committing grave sexual sin and it is the grave sexual sin that creates the barrier to receiving Holy Communion."   As I said before, it is a moral issue and the Pope cannot (cannot not won't) change the moral law.  It does not mean we are not to be compassionate or exclude people in these unions from the life of the Church, no, but there is a problem that excludes them from full sacramental participation and that element of exclusion will remain until the problem is resolved.
Those issues aside, there is some lovely stuff in the interview, including his reflection on Christmas which I think is worth quoting:
For me Christmas is hope and tenderness...
It is the encounter Jesus. God has always sought out his people, led them, looked after them and promised to be always be close to them. The Book of Deuteronomy says that God walks with us; he takes us by the hand like a father does with his child. This is a beautiful thing. Christmas is God’s meeting with his people. It is also a consolation, a mystery of consolation. Many times after the midnight mass I have spent an hour or so alone in the chapel before celebrating the dawn mass. I experienced a profound feeling of consolation and peace. I remember one night of prayer after a mass in the Astalli residence for refugees in Rome, it was Christmas 1974 I think. For me Christmas has always been about this; contemplating the visit of God to his people.
It speaks of tenderness and hope. When God meets us he tells us two things. The first thing he says is: have hope. God always opens doors, he never closes them. He is the father who opens doors for us. The second thing he says is: don’t be afraid of tenderness. When Christians forget about hope and tenderness they become a cold Church, that loses its sense of direction and is held back by ideologies and worldly attitudes, whereas God’s simplicity tells you: go forward, I am a Father who caresses you. I become fearful when Christians lose hope and the ability to embrace and extend a loving caress to others. Maybe this is why, looking towards the future, I often speak about children and the elderly, about the most defenceless that is. Throughout my life as a priest, going to the parish, I have always sought to transmit this tenderness, particularly to children and the elderly. It does me good and it makes me think of the tenderness God has towards us.
Now that is lovely.  I note the scud against ideology and worldly values.  I think Francis wants all of us see ourselves as the salt of the earth and light of the world, a people who are different, a people who challenge the world through holy lives.  That may well be the key to our survival as Western civilisation collapses under the weight of decadence and greed.
And on another issue: Pope Francis is urging greater adherence to the Sacrament of Confession.  He is asking his curial staff to spend time in the confessional in the Church of Santo Spirito in Sassia, the Divine Mercy Church in Rome.  And if he wants more priests hearing confession he certainly wants more Catholics coming to the Sacrament.  I hope all his liberal fans will heed that call.  Let's hope that his admirers in the media will be forming an appropriately repentant queue (with the rest of us!)at the nearest confessional very soon.  I would be more than happy to make myself available to shrive the denizens of RTE and the Irish Times in time for Christmas.  We'll see how the new papalists respond to that invitation!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Prayer For Peter

 'Lawrence of Arabia' star Peter O'Toole dead at 81
With sadness I hear of the death of Peter O'Toole, at the age of 81. He is one of Ireland's great actors, and with the late Richard Harris, formed a dynamic Irish duo at the heart of theatre and film in the 20th century. 
O'Toole continued acting up until lately, and though he seemed very tired in his roles, he still rose to the occasion.  He was famous for his remarkable role in Lawrence of Arabia which took him from obscurity to being one of Hollywood's great stars. Of late, I liked him in portrayal of martyred Fr Christopher in the recent movie about the Cristeros during the persecution of the Church in Mexico, For Greater Glory. 

I pray the Holy Martyrs he honoured in that movie will now join us in praying for his eternal rest.  His personal life had difficulties and though he once described himself as a "retired Christian" he had great regard for the Lord Jesus and once said "No one can take Jesus away from me".  So hopefully  he will find his merciful Saviour and peace.  I'm commending him to the intercession of Blessed Jose Sanchez del Rio with whom he will be, for me, forever associated.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Patient Endurance

The Venerable Marcell of the Virgin of Carmel, OCD
Yesterday the Holy Father signed a number of decrees advancing several Causes.  Among them was one of our Carmelite friars, Fr Marcell of the Virgin of Carmel who was declared Venerable.  Venerable Marcell was Hungarian and suffered under the Communist regime there.  I thought I would share his life story with you.
Fr Marcell was born Morton Boldiszár on the 9th September 1877 in Zalakomar, Hungary. He was educated locally and went on, in 1905 to study Hungarian, Latin and Greek in the University of Budapest and afterwards entered the teaching profession. In 1914 he started working in a school in Zalagerszeg, a position he would hold until 1925. However with the outbreak of the First World War he volunteered and in 1916 was sent to fight. He would later write a book about his experiences in the army and the horrors of war, published in 1922. He was an outstanding teacher and was deeply admired and respected by his students. During these years, despite fervency in his childhood, Morton no longer practiced his faith, but had embraced the atheistic ideologies which were then prevailing in Europe. The war, however, had a profound effect on him and following his return from service a long process of gradual conversion began.

By the early 1920s he was discerning a vocation, and his decision was made in 1925 when he entered the Discalced Carmelite Order in Györ. He was given the name Marcell of the Virgin of Carmel, and following formation, he was ordained priest in 1930. As a friar and priest, Fr Marcell abilities were quickly appreciated. He was a wise confessor and many came to him for advice and spiritual direction. He was a truly contemplative friar who emanated serenity and holiness to those around him. He was inundated with people seeking advice and spiritual guidance and people would wait for hours to speak to him. He was also renowned for his preaching abilities. He continued his writing, publishing works on the Order, the spiritual life as well as poetry. By the 1940s Fr Marcell was a national figure, renowned for his simplicity and holiness. Among his spiritual children was Cardinal Mindszenty who himself would later suffer for his faith. He was known for his particular devotion to Our Lady and he encouraged his spiritual children to entrust themselves to her.

In 1943 he was appointed to the community in Budapest.  In 1950 his peaceful religious life came to an abrupt halt with the invasion of the Russians and the dissolution of the monasteries. Determined to continue living his Carmelite life, Marcell retired to a life of hidden solitude, but given his reputation for holiness and fidelity to his faith and the Church he was constantly watched by the Communists. While his life was hidden, he continued his ministry quietly, helping those who were suffering persecution for their Catholic faith. He was a tower of strength for his spiritual children in particular. In the midst of the persecution, he counselled Catholics to remain true to their faith, to trust in God and to hope. Commending them to Our Lady, he encouraged them to entrust themselves to her maternal intercession and protection.

These years of persecution were also years of increasing ill health and suffering for Fr Marcell. He carried this burden with great serenity and faith. He died on the 29th May 1966 and was buried in the crypt of the Carmelite Church in Györ. Without doubt, Fr Marcell is a providential figure for us Christians in these times as we face gradual persecution under more dominant secular forces. He encourages us to hold true to our faith regardless of what may try to distract us, to find a powerful help in the intercession of our Mother Mary, and to remember that we are called to be witnesses to hope, to be light and salt, in what may well be a dark age. We await a miracle for the Venerable Fr Marcell’s beatification.
The Venerable Clemens Fuhl, OSA
Among the other candidates raised yesterday was Fr Clemens Fuhl, former Superior General of the Augustinian Order.  Fr Clemens was another renowned for his holiness.  A friend of mine spent some time in the Augustinians and he used to tell me about him.  One story which touched me concerned his tender love for the Pope.  He was a busy man when General and often out giving talks, and sometimes he would arrive back very late to Santa Monica, the Augustinian Headquarters, and at times he found the door locked and the friars in bed.  Instead of knocking on the door and getting a friar up from his bed, Fr Clemens would walk across the street to St Peter's Square and looking up at the Papal Apartment he would spent the night in prayer for the Holy Father.  For those of you who have spent time sitting under the colonnades in St Peter's looking up at the Papal window, Fr Clemens is a patron for you.   Fr Clemens was declared Venerable yesterday.
The Venerables Maria Scholastica and Maria Olivia
I also have to mention two others: the now Venerable Maria Scholastica of Divine Providence who assisted Blessed James Alberione of the Paulines in founding the Pious Disciples of the Divine Master.   I know a number of these sisters - they have houses in Ireland, and they will be overjoyed at yesterday's news.  So congratulations to them.  And also the now Venerable Maria Olivia of the Mystical Body, foundress of the Institute of the Daughters of the Church, a wonderful congregation of sisters who kept me out every Saturday night when I was studying in Rome.  No, I was not out on the streets carousing or drinking coffee to the middle hours in the convent: every Saturday evening they hosted Vespers and adoration in their church, Santa Maria in Via Lata, on the Via del Corso.  Their "breezy veils" were always distinctive (and they wear them still).   There for a couple of hours in the evening one could commune with the Lord in the company of the good sisters. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Vision of St Nicholas

The feast of St Nicholas!  In previous years I have reflected on St Nicholas's passionate defence of the divinity of Christ which led to his losing the run of himself and bashing Arius at the Council of Nicea. As you know, Nicholas spent some time cooling off in a gaol cell.
Well interestingly, last year at the Belfast Christmas Market at City Hall, I fell across a lovely icon of St Nicholas (see above), and in the two top corners are the figures of Jesus and Mary portrayed in the way they appeared to him as he was languishing in prison.  Draped over Our Lady's arm is the omophorium, the symbol of a bishop in the Eastern Church.  Nicholas regretting his rash actions prayed for forgiveness, and in response to  his prayer he received this vision and the grace of Our Lady herself returning his episcopal robe to him.  (You can read the whole story here on this site dedicated to the saint).
While we might secretly take delight in the saint's action - it reveals his humanity, and we can reflect on the many stories from his life, but I think this prison vision is the most wonderful event in Nicholas' life.  He made a mistake - he was right in his defence of the faith, but wrong in resorting to violence even if Arius probably deserved a good beating.  He prayed for forgiveness, and he found it revealed in what is a tender vision.  Jesus, revealed in his divinity and humanity, and Mary coming as a loving mother to her child. 
This is most consoling for us.  This event in Nicholas's life can inspire us not to fear God when we have sinned, but rather to return to him and ask forgiveness: if we do so, we will certainly experience his tenderness and love.  If God decided, out of love for us, to become man and to die on the cross for us, then he will certainly be open and welcoming to those who come to him seeking forgiveness.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

New Papal Mosaic To Go Up

Here is the new mosaic of Pope Francis which will soon be placed in the gallery of the popes in the Basilica of St Paul Outside-the-Walls. A RomeReports feature to follow:

Galway University's Affront To Free Speech

UL and NUIG in research alliance with Silicon Valley start-up
In his recent memoir, Race With The Devil, academic and writer Joseph Pearce, in recounting the story of his conversion from militant right wing activist to Catholic, cites one incident as highly influential in his conversion.   Following what he saw as a breach of his human rights he approached the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) the British equivalent of the ACLU, to seek advice.  As an extreme right-wing activist he believed the NCCL was nothing more than a left-wing liberal organisation interested only in pushing its own libertarian agenda, but he was willing to give it a go.  To his surprise the man who agreed to listen to him was Jewish and to Pearce's surprise, he was willing to take the case.  Why a Jewish man would seek to defend a little fascist intrigued Pearce - it seemed the man was really interested in human rights.  However, Pearce's initial view of the NCCL was correct, the man was overruled by the NCCL - they would not take on the case.  To Pearce's astonishment the Jewish man resigned in protest.  Why?  Because, using Voltaire famous words: he did not like what Pearce said, but he was willing to defend to the death his right to say it.
Well, such noble sentiments are rare in the modern, secular world where intolerance and censure has become the norm for those who hold values that challenge the prevailing ideology. And today we have example of this as an Irish University suspends a Catholic organisation because people do not agree with society's defence of purity.  The National University of Ireland at Galway (formerly UCG) has suspended the college branch of the Legion of Mary because the Legion was promoting chastity within the context of homosexuality.  It claims that in doing so it is protecting the liberty and equality of all students. 

It seems the Legion praesidium on campus was merely promoting what the Catholic Church teaches with regard to all people, even those with same-sex attraction: chastity and purity according to one's state in life.  To see this as an option for those with same-sex attraction seems to be interpreted as discrimination.  I note that the phrase which caused most offence to those who made the complaint against the Legion was one which promoted "an interior life of chastity" - that, my friends, is considered to be "homophobic" by the folks over in NUIG. 
I am a graduate of the National University of Ireland (NUIM), and to be honest I am very disappointed with this action by NUIG.  In fact I see it as an assault on liberty and equality.  In reality those who have suspended the Legion are seeking to silence opinions they do not agree with and for that the university deserves condemnation.  Those in the university who have issued this diktat are a disgrace, they have committed an affront to academic freedom and the right to free speech. 
Free speech is not about allowing/permitting/promoting those opinions we agree with, it is about tolerating those we do not agree with, no matter how much those opinions offend us.   Of all places, one would expect an academic institution to understand this.  Sadly, given that our universities are now monolithic with regard to ideology, for the most part, there is little tolerance for other voices.  Universities seemed to have moved from places where independent thinking was encouraged to institutions for the indoctrination of future generations in a particular left-wing libertarian ideology. 
I notice, however, as revealed in another article, the Legion was working in conjunction with Courage Ireland, a noble organisation that works with same-sex attracted people and helps them to live chaste lives in accordance with Christ's teaching and the teaching of the Church.  It has had considerable success in this area, and for this reason it is despised by militant homosexual groups.  Courage in Ireland is doing great work, but it has to operate way below the radar because Irish gay militants have tried to infiltrate and destroy the groups.  It may well be that it was the Legion's promoting Courage that infuriated certain individuals.   The Legion is often ignored by ideologues and regarded by some as a harmless clatter of old fashioned simpletons (anything but!), but perhaps an alliance with an effective pastoral initiative was too much for some over in NUIG.  Perhaps the problem was not discrimination, but rather the real possibility that some people might actually listen to what the Legion and Courage had to say, and in the current ideological climate that is not permissible.
In this action the NUIG is not protecting the liberty and equality of all students, it is cossetting the prejudices of a particular group.  There are those who believe homosexuality is normal and they want to be free to live such a lifestyle, and then there are those who believe otherwise and are willing to meet and work with homosexuals who are disillusioned with the gay life and agenda: if we are supposed to be tolerant and mature, why promote the gay group and persecute the other?  No, the university's decision is not about liberty and equality, it is about silencing people who do not adhere to the new orthodoxy of sexual libertarianism.
If you wish to make your views known to UNIG, you can contact the president: Dr James J Browne, President, National University of Ireland Galway, University Road, Galway, Ireland.  Telephone: 00 353 (0)91 524411.