Monday, September 22, 2014

Catholic Deprived Of Catholic Funeral

The body of Sir Thomas More has been found! In an archeological dig beneath the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, a skeleton, minus a head, has definitively been identified as that of Thomas More. It has been decided that he will receive a proper funeral and be buried in Chelsea Old Church, his local Church of England parish church. The Archbishop of Canterbury will preside over the burial and an ecumenical team will pray the Burial Service according to the Book of Common Prayer over the remains. A Catholic bishop has issued a statement: "The body of St Thomas More has been found and is to be buried in Chelsea Parish Church. He was an important historical figure, and it is right that the Church in England should honour him in this way and bury him in his local parish church. We will pray for all who have died."

As a Catholic how do you feel about that? Do you say to yourself: "Ah well, it's all history, it has no real importance, it doesn't matter".  Or are you saying to yourself: "Well, actually, I don't think that's a good idea. Apart from the fact that he is a Saint, he was a Catholic who died for the Catholic faith and he should be given a Catholic re burial, and certainly not according to a rite he rejected and preferred to die rather than embrace".

Well, my position is that of the latter. Apart from anything else it would be pastorally insensitive and wrong to deprive a Catholic in good standing of a Catholic funeral, and most insensitive to bury him according to the rites of a religion he disavowed and refused to embrace. And Catholic bishops should stand up and demand that this Catholic figure be buried according to the rites of his professed faith in a place where that faith is practiced: i.e. a Catholic Church.

Well, I'm afraid the body of St Thomas More has not been found: his bones lie mingled with those of other "traitors" to the monarchy of England in the Tower of London, it would now be almost impossible to identify him. I use the example above to highlight the fact that a prominent English Catholic is to be buried according to the Protestant rite and the bishops of England have really done nothing to try and ensure that this Catholic be buried according to his Catholic faith. I speak of King Richard III who will be interred in a Protestant church with a Protestant rite prayed over him, the rite of a religion founded by his great enemy's son as he broke communion with the Church, a religion Richard certainly would not have embraced.

We all know that the Catholic Church would bury anybody. Few and far between are the Church's refusals to give a Requiem and interment to someone. We take seriously that work of mercy which requires we bury the dead and show respect for the remains and memory of the deceased. But not only that, Catholics in good standing have a right to a Catholic funeral, a right that can only be transgressed in the case of serious scandal or excommunication, and even then Masses are offered and remains interred quietly with prayers for mercy prayed over them. This is right, proper and good. Knowing that, I think it is a scandal that a Catholic is now being deprived of a Catholic funeral, regardless of how long ago he lived, and that the Church in England has not done everything in its power to ensure this Catholic of his rights.

Some would say this is not important, it's all history, there are more important things to deal with. Yes, the Church has many important issues to deal with, but she also has a responsibility to ensure the faithful's rights are respected - that's one of the reasons we have canon law (like history often ignored to our cost, as we saw in the case of recent scandals). In the debate over King Richard's remains the Church may not have got anywhere, but she would have highlighted something very important: the importance of respecting an individual's faith, and that is one of the crucial issues facing contemporary secular society: should society respect our faith, allow us live that faith and, yes, be buried according to the rites of the faith we lived? In remaining silent on the issue of King Richard's burial, has the Catholic Church in England conceded that the government can make such decisions without due regard to a person's religious beliefs? I would suggest that perhaps that has happened. We might disregard this as a historical oddity, an individual case, but such oddities and cases move law and rights back or forward, and tremendous ground can be lost because we thought ceding an inch or two would make no difference. Inches add up.

So Catholic Richard will be buried according to the rites of his enemy who broke with Rome and persecuted the Church. Pastorally insensitive? Yes. Dishonour to the memory of the man? I would also say yes since Richard was believed to have taken his Catholic faith seriously and regularly attended Mass. More should have been done to ensure that his wishes would be respected, indeed his rights as a Catholic upheld. A man or woman should be buried according to their religious beliefs and conscience, what is being done to King Richard breaches that principle and while two cities fought over his remains, his Church did nothing to ensure this child of God could rest in peace after the Catholic Mass was prayed over him and his broken body reverently laid in consecrated ground with the prayers for the salvation of his soul as laid down in the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church prayed by a Catholic Bishop, priest, friar or deacon.

So, if a Churchman in England should hear strange noises at night, the sound of iron shoes on the stair, chain-mail rattling against the bannister, the blade of a broadsword tapping against the wood of the bedroom door, it may well be the soul of Richard III coming to find out why his pastors were silent, or perhaps he may becoming to reiterate his rights. Perhaps like the widow in the Gospel he may return night after night until the injustice done him is resolved and amended, and quite rightly too.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Keep Calm And Trust The Holy Spirit

Over the last few days there has been a lot of speculation over the Pope's reaction to a new book about to be published by Ignatius Press. The book consists of a series of essays, a number by Cardinals, which defend Church teaching on divorce, remarriage and access to the Eucharist. Rumours circulating around Rome, and now around the world, cite that the Pope is infuriated with the book's publication particularly given the proximity of the Synod on marriage and the family.

Now these are only rumours, so we need to be careful, and as we know since Francis took office a great division has emerged in the Church and all sides in that divide have their own view of Francis and those views colour how those in those camps perceive what the Pope does and what he says. So, as one of my mentors always says: prudence!

Now, is the Pope furious with the publication of this book? I don't know. If he isn't, no worries there, it's just the Roman grape vine stretching itself. If he is, no worries either, he'll get over it if he has any sense. As I would advise any of my spiritual children: deal with it, bring it to prayer, there are more important things to be doing.  I haven't seen the book so I cannot comment on its contents, but if the advance publicity is faithful to the content, and Ignatius Press are excellent anyway, the book should be a welcome addition to our understanding of the sacrament of marriage and the issues which surround it.

And the Synod? Is the Pope's anger an indication that he wants to change Church teaching and he is attempting to quash all opposition to the plans he has hatched with Cardinal Kasper? I don't know. Is it likely? Perhaps, perhaps not. In the history of the Papacy we have had some right rogues who conspired with other rogues to get their own way. However I would be careful in applying this caricature to Pope Francis: he has revealed himself to be a man of principal and of faith, and even if people feel uncomfortable with his style, I don't think we can doubt his sincerity and his goodwill.

I would also be careful of what Cardinal Kasper has said about him - in a recent interview the Cardinal claims that he and the Pope had discussed his views, that the Pope agreed with them all and his presentation at that infamous consistory was planned by both. The Cardinal is an old man, he has strange views, now he is in the limelight again and he is enjoying it. He may be not entirely objective or correct in his assessment of how Francis is reacting to his views. 

All that said: should we fear for the Synod? There are times when I get anxious and wonder where the Church is going, and I see the shadows of 1968 appear again. And perhaps history is going to repeat itself. I have already said that it may a message from God that Pope Paul VI is being beatified at this very moment - not the so called "canonisation of Vatican II" but an example, a helper and patron for the orthodox in a time of crisis. We shall see.

But in faith I have to say: don't worry, God is in charge, whatever happens, in the end all will be well. We may have to suffer, we may to fight (metaphorically speaking), but good will come out of all this. For one thing we have the guarantee of Papal infallibility, the Pope will be guided by the Holy Spirit and will not formally teach error. This gift to the Church is not one to raise the Pontiff to the heights, it is given to protect the Church and in a sense warn a Pope. The Holy Spirit will use many ways to guide the Pope, including surrounding him with solid, orthodox people to advise him, perhaps even have books published at a time that may seem awkward to him or others. And yes, the Holy Spirit had to do the unthinkable once in Pope Sixtus V's case.

So trust. Keep calm and trust in the Holy Spirit. And pray for the Pope.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Testimony Of John

Supping over Ashure, one of Turkey's most delicious puddings I realised how difficult St John Chrysostom must have had it. How could a man of God, used to ascetic living, charm the members of a Byzantine Court that took luxury, intrigue and luscious food for granted? Byzantium is alive and well here in Istanbul and you can taste it in the food: it is beautiful. 

St John was an ascetic, not in the sense that he rejected the beautiful things of the world, but in the sense of not being dominated by those things in order to enjoy them properly. To a court wallowing in excess such subtleties are incomprehensible, but to the Saint they are the difference between the life of virtuous living and the life of gradual degradation. St John of the Cross in his teaching advises us to control our desires, not in the Buddhist sense in order to fall into what Chesterton saw as despair, but rather to appreciate what God has given without allowing it become a barrier to achieving what God has in store for us. Eden was an earthly paradise because man and woman had everything without being lost in it. When we fell and had to come out of Eden we seemed to throw ourselves into the fruits of the earth perhaps in order to forget the One who produced this fruit.

From his pulpit in the Constantinian basilica, St John took the Word of God and applied it to ordinary life and this was where he got into trouble. If he had been a holy man proclaiming lofty, mystical homilies, sermons so far from ordinary Byzantine lives then he would have been left in peace, perhaps even paraded around as the pearl of Constantinople, it's great living Saint. The court would have been left undisturbed because the teaching would have been too high for them. But John was no mystical fool. He took the mystical, the way of the Gospel and translated it down into ordinary life - he showed them how it could be lived and they were caught like rats in an alley. With nowhere to run, being unable to soak themselves in the honey of denial, they had to either convert, turn from their luxury, or silence the one who tormented their consciences. Their desire for the things of this world was too strong, their desire for the things of heaven too weak. Perhaps reassuring themselves that they were God's elect they decided they could dismiss the idealistic ascetic and get on with their supping rose water. 

I believe the fall of Constantinople was the result of their high living, their refusal to heed the warnings of St John and the other Saints sent into their midst. By the time the Muslims arrived, Byzantium was jaded and folded beneath the crushing advance of men with more courage and determination, and perhaps God just stepped to one side to allow it happen. Perhaps, on a controversial note, the awful Sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade saved our ancient Christian relics from being destroyed in the fall two centuries later. Who knows.

St John and his mission in Constantinople has lessons for us in the West. We Christians must take account of the Word of God, not as "nice teaching" but as an instrument of God which cuts more finely than a double edged sword; as a Person who died on the cross for us and now invites us into a deep relationship with him, not as just another relationship among others, but the one on which our very salvation literally depends. We can still enjoy the things this world has to offer, even rose scented Turkish puddings, but not to weaken our desire for God nor prevent us living the radical life of the Gospel. May St John Chrysostom assist us in this, pray for us, guide us and be standing at the gate of heaven calling out to us to keep coming closer for he, and many others, are waiting for us. There may well be Ashure in heaven, if so, it will taste even better. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Mixed Legacy

While away on holidays, I am keeping somewhat in touch with what is going on at home, and I hear that Ian Paisley has died. Well, in Christian charity, let us pray for him and commend his soul to the mercy of God. 

I am aware that many Irish people will respond in different ways to this man's death. He was a divisive figure and many believe that if it was not for him the Troubles in Northern Ireland could well have been over sooner, or not as bad. That view will no doubt be debated by historians for years, but in all honesty, there is an argument to be made that this man did have blood on his hands. His fiery preaching and invective spread hatred, violence and incited many to dastardly deeds, including cold blooded murder, contributing to the spiral of murder and mayhem in Northern Ireland.

While that has to be acknowledged, we also have to acknowledge in all honesty, that Paisley eventually embraced peace and finally spoke to those who were his enemies. This change of heart on his part was one of the major turning points in the quest for peace in Northern Ireland, so much so that it is possible to say now what many would have thought impossible before: that Ian Paisley would die a man of peace.

Paisley's legacy is a mixed one, he was a complicated and complex man, as are most of us. But in his change of heart, whatever the cause, we can see some hope not just for him but for all us. Some will mourn his passing, some will rejoice, but as Christians I hope many Irish will commend him to God and allow the Lord to judge him. In charity it would be the heroic thing for us to accompany his passing with prayers for his soul. During the Troubles in Northern Ireland many Christians of whatever hue forgot that they were supposed to be followers of Christ, at least now let us remember that we are and seek to let his kingdom come into our midst. 

The Holy Name Of Mary

A feast that was suppressed following the liturgical changes of the Second Vatican Council, St John Paul II restored this memoria in honour of the Holy Name of Mary, and thank God he did, for it is an important feast, particularly for us in these times.

As children of Mary the Church encourages us to call upon the Name of our Mother, and what a beautiful name it is. There is that song from Westside Story which celebrates the name Maria - the name of the girl the young man is in love with. If such praise to due to that name because an ordinary girl possesses it, how much greater praise is due to it when it is the name of the Mother of God, the Perfect Disciple of the Lord, our Queen. This feast is important for us because it encourages us to wax lyrical, to sing, to muse and meditate on the Sinless One who possesses it.

Of course the origins of this feast are also important for us today. It was instituted by Pope Innocent IX to celebrate the victory of King Jan Sobieski and the Christian armies over the Turks at the Siege of Vienna in 1683. If it were not for that victory we in Europe would now be Muslim. Invoking the name of Mary the armies went forth to relieve the Siege and save Europe from invasion. It was, in a way, the last stand, the Battle of Britain of the 17th century. Of course in our secular age such victories are forgotten. I have said before that every city in Europe should have a statue of Jan Sobieski. Poland has given us many great men and women, and among them two giants who saved Europe: Jan from the Turks, John Paul from Communism.

In these troubled times, this feast should be an encouragement to us to call upon the name of our Holy Mother as we are once again threatened by violence and invasion. As Christians we cherish the virtue of hope, Our Lady, who intercedes for us, can be seen as a model of hope, Our Lady of Holy Hope, that title our own St Charles of Mount Argus loved. Mary is our mother, the mother of hope, who reaches out to her children who are in danger and in need. May this feast remind us of this and urge us to commend ourselves to her help, her prayers and her mighty protection.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Happy Birthday Mother

Let us all wish our Holy Mother a happy birthday, and give thanks to God for the graces he gave her, making her our Mother, our help and our guide. Today's feast marks the beginning in earnest of God's plans.

I may not be blogging for a few weeks. I am away on holiday, so I might not get the chance to blog, but then you never know. It has been a very busy (and tiring) year and a little R&R would be nice. It begins today! 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Archbishop Sheen: A Medieval Dispute? A Medieval Solution!

We saw this one coming, but I never thought it would result in the suspension of the Cause of the Venerable Fulton Sheen.  As you may have heard, the Cause of the popular Bishop has been suspended due to a dispute over his body

In brief: his home diocese, Peoria, which sponsored the Cause and has done Trojan work over the last twelve years or so, has asked the Archdiocese of New York to allow the remains of the soon to be Blessed to be returned to the diocese so First Class relics can be taken to be prepared for the veneration of the faithful and a shrine established. Over the last number of years there has been a rather tense situation with regard to this request because New York, where the Archbishop is buried - in the crypt of St Patrick's Cathedral, is not so keen to let him go.  As tentative plans are being considered for the beatification ceremony in Peoria (the beatification miracle has yet to be approved by the Congregation of the Causes of Saints and the Holy Father but it seems the miracle will pass through those stages fairly easily) the request was made again, and it seems New York has said no: Fulton ain't moving. So the Bishop of Peoria, in consultation with the Congregation in Rome, and with its advice and support, has suspended the Cause and it is now relegated to the historical archives.

So there we are. What would Fulton say? Well, he would not be impressed and given his passionate sense of reason he would make his views known so no one is left in any doubt. However, without an apparition or sign from heaven (which would then be subject to the Church's discernment process - which would take us into the next century before a judgment is made) we are at an impasse. This is like being back in the Middle Ages when the citizenry of dioceses, cities and towns were fighting over who owned which Saint, and then went about all over the place stealing Saints's bodies. Fulton would not be impressed.

So, who deserves to have the body? Well, both dioceses have a case. The home diocese of Peoria is the sponsoring diocese for the Cause and the Bishop and people there have worked hard to get it to where it is. They financed part of it, but a lot of the finance came from people all over the world who made contributions out of devotion to a man they consider a Saint. Usually the diocese that sponsored the Cause should have the relics, or the greater part of the relics, of the Beatus or Saint. Peoria is his home, and he was a priest of that diocese, so justice might well dictate that Fulton should come home. It is also worth noting that the Holy See expected that the body would be returned to Peoria.

However, New York also has a case. Fulton was Auxiliary of New York, and lived most of his life there. He retired there. Most importantly he ministered there with great success. He filled St Patrick's Cathedral just as Ambrose filled Milan's Cathedral. People came to New York, a city at the centre of the world, to see him and hear him. If the world wants to come to venerate his remains, then the most central place is New York. Fulton was buried in the crypt of St Patrick's as an honour to thank him for his extraordinary ministry in the city and archdiocese.

So, there we have it - both dioceses have a case; there are reasons for and against each diocese: now what should be done? Given that we no longer divide up the bodies of Saints, thankfully - relics are just portions, it will not be a case of Solomon's judgement where half of him heads off to Peoria and the other half stays in the Big Apple. For such a Medieval dispute some might suggest such a Medieval solution. However, there is another Medieval solution which may be the best way to resolve this dispute and allow Fulton's beatification progress: let the Pope decide.

The Pope is not just the head of the Church on earth and symbol of unity within the Church, he is also the one who settles disputes. From time immemorial conflicting bishops, kings, nobles and others appealed to the Pope to settle disputes and his judgement was binding since he was the Vicar of Christ and his word was the word of God on the matter. That faculty still exists, and it is exercised in many ways, one being the right of every Catholic to appeal to the Holy Father in issues of canon law etc. In annulment cases, for example, if a person or couple is not happy with the decision of a tribunal, they have the right to appeal to the Pope. 

Let Pope Francis decide where Fulton is to rest, and both dioceses accept that decision even if it goes against them.  The only snag is that Francis might decide to send him to the cathedral in Rochester where he was Ordinary - smell of the sheep and all that. Would Fulton like to return to the place which caused him so much grief?  Well, sending him there might itself start another row...

There is no doubt that people are shocked, confused, saddened, and I would even dare say, scandalized, by the suspension of the Cause and the dispute which led to it. With all that is going on in the world, the systematic martyrdom of our brothers and sisters in the Middle East being one issue the Church needs to engage with, a fight over the body of a Saint is unnecessary, unseemly and a distraction. The Bishop of Peoria has asked for prayers and that is a good request, so let us all pray that common sense and Christian charity will prevail. We are living in dark times, we need hope and we need models of joy and faith to inspire us - the Ven. Fulton is one of these. Let's get this out of the way so the Church can celebrate the life, holiness and teachings of one of her most faithful sons and give us all a boost in these challenging times.

PS: Just reflecting on it, I  think Fulton is probably laughing in heaven: two dioceses fighting over his body, both want him. He surely remembers the years when no one wanted him as he preached the truth in a time when not even Bishops and priests wanted to hear it.