Thursday, November 27, 2014

"I Forgave And I Forgot"

I came across this recently and thought I might share it with you: it is actual footage of the assassination attempt on Blessed Paul VI during his apostolic journey to the Philippines in 1970. Today is the anniversary of the attempt. 

I note with interest how Blessed Paul responded to it: "I forgave and I forgot". That response would answer a question I am often asked by people struggling with wrongs done to them: "If I forgive, do I have to forget?" Yes, we do, although we also need to be wise and prudent.

The relic presented to the Holy Father during Paul's beatification ceremony was the vest he wore on that day stained with the blood he shed from the assassination attempt.

Catholic Charity For Puritans

Who would have thought it? It was Catholics who fed the Puritans on that first Thanksgiving in America. The Native American Squanto who took the Pilgrims under his wing as they struggled to establish their colony was in fact a Catholic. Taylor Marshall has the details here. Why isn't this more widely known? Wikipedia has it.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

New Carmelite Saints

Today the Discalced Carmelite Order got two new Saints, the founder and a member of two of the Congregations aggregated to the Order and as Third Order.

The new Saints are St Kuriakose Elias Chavara, co-founder of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate and founder of the congregation of the Mother of Carmel of which St Euphrasia Eluvathingal was a member. Both are from Kerala in India and members of the Syro-Malabar Rite, and both reveal the richness of the charism of Teresian Carmel.

Among his many achievements (and sufferings), St Kuriakose worked to retain the unity of the Church in India, while among her achievements, the mystical St Euphrasia offered her prayer and sufferings for the Church and its mission. In these times we need both the prayers and example of these Saints. Like St Teresa they saw themselves as a faithful children of the Church, so let us commend our prayers, needs and concerns to them. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Chesterton's Iceberg Floats Along

I know I have written a lot on Chesterton the last few days, but the debate presently going on about him is interesting: it provides us with an opportunity to explore the idea of virtue, what it means, how we live it and the part it plays in our sanctification. For one thing we might actually realize that virtue is not as rarefied as we may think it is and how it is actually meant to be a part of our basic human experience. In God's plan we were meant to be naturally virtuous, sin was to be an alien thing, sadly that was undone by the Fall, but our lives here on earth are meant to be a reversing of the unnatural dynamic and God gives us grace to help us in that process.

Anyway, a quick post to bring another article to your attention. Dale Ahlquist, that great Chestertonian, has written a response to Steven Drummel's piece on Chesterton's lack of temperance. It is a spirited defence of the man, well argued and informative. It is worth reading. I hope the priest conducting the preliminary investigations include this one in his file and takes note of what Ahlquist has to say.

Some interesting points of information in it. I didn't realise that St Pius X liked snuff, and I doubt Blessed Pier Giorgio was impressed when some Vatican official airbrushed his pipe out of the beatification picture. I heard somewhere that the Ven. Pius XII stopped a Cause when he heard the candidate liked to smoke - anyone hear that? If true that is ironic given that it is said that Pius like a cigarette himself. Other saints with habits: St John Paul II liked the odd cigar and he had a very sweet tooth which he liked to satisfy with very sweet Polish desserts. St John Kemble, the English martyr, was puffing his pipe when news of his execution arrived, he decided to have another pipe before preparing for his end. And in case you haven't heard St Therese of Lisieux asked for an eclair as she was dying and ate it and enjoyed it! Chesterton would approve. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Chesterton, Babette And The Chocolate Eclair

I have been thinking about one of the subjects of my last post, G.K Chesterton's weight and his alleged lack of temperance. I've done a little reading around it and discover that we have here the tip of an iceberg which has been floating between two camps for years: those who like Chesterton and those who are uneasy with him, with others clinging in between on common ground between the two, and the issue of his weight/temperance/gluttony has been a subject of one of their heated debates. I'm not going to wade into the row, but I just hope that the priest conducting the initial investigation will find enough evidence to allow a Cause be opened.

However I have been thinking about Chesterton's love of food and drink and if we can jump what appears to be a hurdle, he will make an important contribution to the Church and our understanding of the Saints in the sense of their appreciating God's gifts. 

It is an established tradition that we venerate the ascetic in the Saints, and quite rightly. Hagiographies praise Saints for fasting and penance, and correctly so. We are astonished by the Saint who fasts for forty days, taking nothing but water, or who abstains from certain foodstuffs, like meat for example, and their practice is held up as a virtue, and indeed it is, if they do not go to extremes. However we have to careful when we praise such practices in these great men and women, that we do not fall into an Albigensian frame of mind and end up seeing food as bad and a barrier to growth in virtue - the virtue is temperance and too much denial can be intemperate. 

St Benedict in his Rule speaks of moderation and also generous hospitality. Our own Rule, that of St Albert, lays down that Carmelites should abstain from meat, but still requires hospitality to be shown to visitors by the Prior. True virtue, I think, lies in moderation, in abstaining when necessary but also enjoying food and drink as a gift from God. I am a real son of St Teresa in this regard as she tells us that there is a time for fasting and a time for partridge. I see St John Marie Vianney's regrets in later life as an indication of this: as an old man, with the wisdom age and sanctity brought, he regretted the extreme fasting of his youth as youthful indiscretions - he was not the only Saint with such regrets. I also see in one of St Therese's last requests another confirmation of this: as she was dying she fancied a chocolate eclair and asked for one - she was given it and she enjoyed it. It seems dying in an odor of sanctity does not necessarily exclude a treat.

Faith and food is one of the themes of that great Danish movie Babette's Feast. In the movie we have a great Parisian chef, now working as a cook in the household of extreme Puritans, who inherits a sum of money and who wants to spend it on a fine feast for her employers and their friends. It is an extraordinary feast of a movie and an exploration of the difference between Catholicism and Puritanism, As Babette praises God through her art of fine cooking, sharing her gifts and dishes most generously with her employers, they are in a tizzy as to how to respond - such sumptuousness goes against everything they believe and live. It is Babette who has chosen the better part here, food is God's gift and we must celebrate that.

Chesterton would be a real life Babette, a man who eschewed slim austerity in favour, I hope, of a more moderate and generous approach. His friend George Bernard Shaw, an unbeliever, was a vegetarian and a secular ascetic, as Chesterton sought to bring him to faith (he failed there, sadly), he also tried to bring to him to a different view of food (he failed there too).  Asceticism for the sake of asceticism is not good, it must be a vehicle to a greater good - to self-control, greater virtue and the ability to put things in their proper context in terms of our relationship with God. It is this latter end which urges us to see food and drink as wonderful gifts of the Lord to be appreciated and enjoyed. If sanctity consisted in complete abstinence from food or its enjoyment, then Jesus would not have eaten, yet if there is one thing that is clear from the Gospel Jesus loved a good meal and never refused an invitation to be fed. This led to his being accused of gluttony and drunkenness (cf. Luke 7:34). True virtue is to be found in the imitation of Christ, if we deny what Christ confirmed then we had better think again.

I hope the investigator into Chesterton's Cause will find enough evidence to recommend its initiation. He may find a man who struggled with food and drink, but that would not necessarily prevent a Cause, we would have to see how he dealt with it and it may provide the Church with a patron for those who themselves struggle with eating disorders. Anyway, we shall see. I will keep praying and hoping, and reading Gilbert. Today is a fast day, the Church's penitential day, so I observe that, as should we all, and Sunday is a feast day and we should all observe that. (Note to self: I wonder if I can pick up an eclair tomorrow for Sunday? Like Therese, I am partial to eclairs!)

Words of wisdom from G. K. Chesterton

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Saints, Miracles And The Question Of Gilbert's Weight

The only known photograph of the Ven. Matt Talbot

It is not uncommon when waiting for a bus in Dublin that, after what seemed like an eternity standing at the bus stop (usually in the rain), more than one bus arrives at the same time. It is a phenomenon which may well be common in other cities too, but in Dublin it leads one to conclude that the city is so dangerous even the buses go around in packs. Anyway it seems this phenomenon may well be happening with regard to our candidates for Sainthood. Last week Fr John Sullivan was declared Venerable and work begins on getting a miracle approved for him, and now it seems there may well be a miracle for the Venerable Matt Talbot in the US (details here). Let's hope we see both Irishmen raised to the altars soon; we could do with some good news.  

Among the other Irish causes is that of the Forty-Two Martyrs, the Servant of God Richard Creagh and Companions, Ultimately martyr causes should be easy enough, do the work and submit it to the Congregation, no miracle is required for beatification just the decision that the candidates are genuine martyrs. I am told that as soon as these martyrs are beatified, they will be joined to the other Blessed Irish Martyrs and submitted as a single cause for canonisation. However, I sense the will is lacking in all of this and these Servants of God may well remain in limbo. 

I don't mean to be negative, but as you know I think Saints are important for the faithful and local Saints and Beati can help a local Church in a myriad of ways. I usually hear talk  of "priorities" in the "Irish Church" and these causes can be dealt with when other more important issues are dealt with (in that case they will never be dealt with because, it seems, there are always other, more pressing matters). We have plenty of ability and talent in the Church here in Ireland, most of it untapped, processing these causes need not interrupt Irish Church officials from dealing with other matters deemed to be more important. Anyway, I'll get off the soapbox, rant over.  

Regarding causes I note an article on G. K. Chesterton's cause and the difficulties it may face: in a nutshell - his weight. Steven Drummel at Catholic Household reflects on this and sees trouble ahead, the question of the virtue of temperance may well block the Cause, or at least that is what is being considered.  Jennifer Pierce over at Crisis Magazine is also considering the question and she situates the issue on whether or not Gilbert was a glutton. There will be a hot debate over this. Drummel cites the examples of two fat saints, Thomas Aquinas and John XXIII. He says that Aquinas was not as corpulent as images show him to be, one would wonder then why he was depicted as such and why the table had to be adapted for him in one of the priories (Note to self: consult Dominican friend on this). John XXIII is also excused, it seems, he ate very little Drummel tells us. I have heard that John XXIII liked his ice cream a lot, and even considered it a martyrdom to eat it - he found it difficult to give it up.

Anyway we shall see where it all goes. Saints are human, they have foibles and that makes them endearing and somehow more human to us. Such foibles can also offer a contrast in which we see the person's sanctity even clearer. I will continue to pray for Chesterton's cause and I would encourage you to do the same if you can. And read him!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Money, Money, Money

I would like to draw your attention to an excellent article by Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith on the Catholic Herald website. It concerns the German Church tax, an issue I addressed in an earlier post. I personally believe the tax should be scrapped, for the very reasons Fr Xander cites.  

As I mentioned before, those who refuse to pay the tax are forced to leave the Catholic Church and are refused the sacraments. That is not only problematic and disturbing, it is, in my view, a scandal. People must be free to contribute what they wish to the Church, of course they have a responsibility to help the Church financially, but enforcing a state tax to do so and excommunicating those who don't play ball is immoral - it may well be a sin. 

The Voice of Clarity

I love this cartoon, and I'm sure Pope St Leo the Great would probably like it too. 

St Leo is of course one of our most extraordinary popes, hence the rare title of "the Great" was given to him. Renowned for his strong and wise pontificate, he was an insightful and brilliant theologian - hence his being numbered among the Doctors of the Church. His famous "Tome" written for, and read at, the Council of Chalcedon sought to settle the Christological question of his time, that of Jesus' divinity and humanity. Leo taught with the authority of the successor of St Peter and as Vicar of Christ that the Lord was fully divine and fully human. The response from the Council Fathers was simple: "Peter has spoken". For this we can honour Leo as "the voice of clarity" in the midst of confusion, and in this we can see one of the responsibilities of the popes.

Whenever I think of Leo my mind always turns to Pope Benedict XVI whose theology and teaching was clear, insightful and beautiful. So we must thank God that we had the joy of, perhaps, experiencing in some way what the people in Leo's time experienced. 

May Pope St Leo watch over the Pope and the Pope Emeritus, intercede for them and help them fulfill the call of God.

Tomb of Pope St Leo the Great in St Peter's Basilica (in the altar) 
above it a marble relief depicting Leo with Attila the Hun

Saturday, November 8, 2014

New Venerable For Ireland

The Servant of God, Fr John Sullivan has been declared Venerable. Yesterday Pope Francis signed a decree declaring that the Jesuit priest lived a life of heroic virtue.  A convert from the Church of Ireland (Anglican), John joined the Jesuits and was ordained on the same day as Fr Willie Doyle. He was renowned for his holiness even in his lifetime.  For a brief biography see here. Other sites: the official Fr John Sullivan website, and the website of the church where his tomb is preserved with additional information and links.  

Let's hope we get a miracle soon so he can be beatified. But that's where the snag comes for us in Ireland. We have a number of Venerables for whom we are awaiting miracles: the Venerable Matt Talbot (rumour has it that there is a miracle but no word on an investigation, whatever is happening there); Venerable Edel Quinn (some in the Legion of Mary say she is waiting for the founder Frank Duff to be beatified first - if true it would be typical of humble Edel!); also the Venerable Catherine McAuley and the Venerable Nano Nagle, foundresses of female religious congregations. Why no miracles? Well perhaps because there may not be enough prayer, or God is holding back for a reason.

Marthe Robin has also been declared Venerable. I know many who will welcome that. A great modern mystic, again, may the Lord grant a miracle so she may be raised to the altars.

UPDATE: I have been reliably informed by a friend of mine that there are a number of miracles for Venerable John Sullivan, so he expects beatification to follow fairly soon. Wonderful! Let's look forward to that.

Venerable John lived a very ascetic life, he was big into mortification, so his beatification may help us in Ireland to review the role of penance in our lives. One of the reasons why there is some opposition to the Cause of the Venerable Matt Talbot is his practice of penance. Given recent scandals here in Ireland I hope we realise there is a need for penance and mortification in our lives, not only for the sake of reparation for past sins and scandals, but also for the growth of our souls. Venerable John Sullivan offers us a living testimony of this. May he pray for us, for Ireland and for the Church in these times.

Pray also that a Cause will be opened for the other great Irish Jesuit, Fr Willie Doyle.

Burke To Malta

Well, it's official: Cardinal Burke has been relieved of his position at the Apostolic Signatura and retired out to the Knights of Malta. I say retired out because, since its inception, not that long ago (1961), the position of Cardinalis Patronus has been one given to Cardinals as they retired from other appointments.  The Cardinal's successor at the Signatura is a diplomat, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti.

The Holy Father is entitled to appoint anyone or release anyone - he is Supreme Pontiff, and as he does so we can only hope that he does so for the good of the Church and the promotion of the faith. We also hope that a pope can put personal animosity to one side for the sake of the good of the Church. That does not always happen, and the Church can suffer when a pope uses his office to settle personal scores - it is also scandalous for a pontiff to do so. 

Cardinal Burke's series of demotions have been publicly humiliating for him and many are speculating that Francis is settling scores against the American Cardinal. I do not know what is going on inside the Pope's head, or what his plans are - he is a most ambiguous man, but I hope that what seems to be is not, in reality, what it seems to be.

Fr Z's comments are interesting.  Rumours abound - next on the list: Cardinal Muller. I hope not.

The Journey To Him


Today in Carmel we celebrate the feast of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, a young French Carmelite sister who died in 1906 in Dijon. Elizabeth is famous for her prayers to the Holy Trinity and the wonderful insights she offers in them which can help us understand the mystery of the Godhead and nurture our devotion to Him.  

There are many things we take away from a reading of her prayers, and one of them is the realization that the spiritual life is a journey within to God. God dwells within the soul (if we are baptised and in a state of grace) and as we progress along the path of holiness we enter in a deeper way into the mystery of the Holy Trinity, our God. While God dwells within, and the journey is within (as St Teresa of Avila also teaches, particularly in her work The Interior Castle) it is a journey to the "Other" and not to the self. In other words progress in the spiritual life about moving from ourselves to God in context of the Lord's teaching that he who loses his life finds it: in finding God as the ultimate other we also find ourselves and understand ourselves, but the movement is to God.

Now that may seem obvious to many of us, but in reality as modern man and woman's understanding of spirituality has changed, we often find that many see the spiritual journey as a journey to the self, a glorification of the self, an understanding of the self where the self is seen, somehow, to be at the centre of all things. This is one of the reasons, perhaps why many turn to Eastern philosophies and spirituality so they can find themselves, although ironically they tend to westernize this spirituality to the point to making it the very opposite of what it is: Eastern spirituality is ultimately about absorption into a greater energy, a loss of self. 

Blessed Elizabeth's theology of the Trinity is an important corrective to that modern mentality: we are not at the centre of the universe, we are not "it". Progress in the spiritual life is not a journey into me to find me, whoever me is. Rather it is the journey into the deeper parts of us to find Him who is totally other and from whom we receive life and gifts. God who dwells within by virtue of our baptism calls us out of ourselves into Him and there, in that act of abandonment, we find ourselves in Him. And vital to that progress is living the Gospel and the practice of virtue: the journey within also concerns external actions.

That is what our faith is all about, this is the journey to God, to holiness, to happiness. This is something we need to remember as we look to the life and renewal of the Church. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

In The Name Of Tolerance

Please excuse my silence for the last couple of weeks. When I got back from Rome I hit the ground running and there has been little time to blog. Whenever I did have some spare moments I was either too tired to sit at the computer or decided to get some reading done.  So much has happened, particularly in the Church and there was so much one could say, but given the times we are now in great prudence and charity are needed and these come after the passion has passed, reason has had its say and ideas and feelings have percolated. 

Outside the Church there have also been a number of events which deserve reflection. Here in Ireland there is war over water charges. For my readers outside Ireland who are used to paying for your water it seem sound strange that the Irish should have an issue with it, but with the exception of businesses and farmers, few Irish citizens have had to pay for water, there being so much of it here. This is another tax on the backs of people who are already broken financially. There are arguments on both sides which I will not go into here, but suffice to say the government has handled it badly.

One of the more interesting developments in the water tax row is the resignation or threatened resignation of members of Fine Gael, the main government party, over the charge. The cynical are saying these guys are concerned for their seats in parliament and are deserting the ship before it sinks at the next election, hoping they'll get to keep their deckchairs. What I find interesting is that they resign over these water charges, but last year when their government was passing legislation to kill children in the womb these same public representatives had nothing to say, they went along with it, no problems at all, no resignations just excuses. I can only conclude that for them money is more important than human life.

Another issue which is featuring in the media is that of Ashers Bakery in Belfast. As you may know the owners of the Bakery are devout Christians and they refused an order for a cake which was to celebrate same sex marriage and the gay agenda. Those who ordered the cake complained to the Equality Commission and now the Bakery has been told they have to pay compensation or face legal action. Regardless of one's political or religious position, I think this situation is intolerable. For all the talk of tolerance, none is being shown to these Christians who genuinely believed that to make this cake would violate their consciences. 

Some have said that if they have a business, then they cannot refuse someone looking for their services. If that is the case then retail outlets and other businesses cannot put up signs saying they reserve the right to refuse admittance, these signs are pretty common yet no one complains about them. Given such arguments being put forward against Ashers, I wonder, then, would a gay magazine run an advertisement for homosexual conversion therapy? Would an atheist owner of a bookshop be happy to sell bibles and pious Christian books in his store? Would avid Republicans like Sinn Fein stock hagiographical biographies of British monarchs in their shops? By choice none of these would, and they don't: but should they be forced to?  Well, if we are to be consistent then yes they should and the Equality Commission, if it is to be fair, must ensure that they do or take legal action against them. If Ashers are not allowed to remain true to what they believe, then no one should, and that includes advocates of same sex marriage and the gay agenda. 

Our tolerance is measured on how much respect we give to those who disagree with us. It is obvious in this situation that tolerance is one way street and that is no tolerance at all. So up to Belfast everyone and pop into Ashers for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake, time to stand in solidarity with them.