Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Last Saint Of The Year

As we count down the hours to the end of the year and the beginning of 2015, we commemorate the memory of Pope St Sylvester. He is not one of those popes who jumps suddenly to mind and yet his pontificate was important because it was he who guided the Church from a state of persecution to being a Church of the Roman Empire, Reigning from 314 to 335 he saw the implementation of the Edict of Milan and the Council of Nicea, the decrees of which he approved. So he is an interesting Saint to commemorate at a time of transition.

Little is known of his life, we know he was a Roman by birth. During his pontificate he had to deal with the Emperor Constantine, an ambitious and proud man who would gradually seek to gain more power and control over the Church. Sylvester, it seems, was wise in his dealings with the emperor. He was responsible for building the Basilica of St John Lateran, making it his cathedral, among other building works around the city. He was also the pope who had to deal with the most serious of the Christological heresies, Arianism. That battle would not be won for centuries, and it still continues to raise its head today. 

There are many legends concerning Sylvester, most are probably not even founded in fact. One of my favourite concerns his battle with a dragon. According to the story the dragon lived in a pit near Rome and was known to kill men with his breath. Constantine fearing the creature sought the help of the pope who went out to the pit and going down sealed the dragon's mouth closed with thread. The pope had been followed by two enchanters who wanted to see how Sylvester would deal with the creature. They were converted on the spot. We are then told that the pope raised from the dead those who had been killed by the dragon's breath.

The legend is delightful, certainly untrue in its literal sense, but true in its allegorical sense, for it can be seen as a celebration of the end of persecution and the blessing Christianity would bring to Rome, bringing life to souls quashed by paganism and the evil one.  This allegory can prove useful to us too in these times. We are called to faith, to trust God: evil has been overcome. That is a message of hope for us at the turning of the year. So let us celebrate this feast, and the night that comes, the "notte di San Silvestro" as it is known in some places. With this saintly Pontiff let us look forward, as he did, faithful to Christ, zealous to proclaim his Gospel and step forward in hope to the New Year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Pope On Euthanasia

The Holy Father has issued his message for World Day of the Sick, you can read it here

He has wonderful words of encouragement for those who serve the sick, usually a hidden and difficult ministry which often requires untold sacrifices. He also has a word to say about those who speak about the "quality of life".

World Day of the Sick is celebrated annually on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, 11th February.

The Ongoing Saga

Damien Thompson's most recent article in The Spectator has received some coverage in the last few hours. Both the guys over at Creative Minority Report and Fr Z devote posts to it. Thompson is writing on the German Bishops' attempts to force a change in Church teaching with regard to the Eucharist for the divorced and remarried.

There is enough being said there and Thompson's article is comprehensive. So just for the record, for those poor souls who might be confused.  
The Church's position emerges from divine law, uttered by Jesus Christ himself and laid out most explicitly in the Gospels. If Christians are not happy with that law they have to take it up with God and argue with him. 
If the Church were to change her law she would be committing an act of infidelity to Christ and would no longer be the Church, the bride of Christ. Scripture uses other quite explicit images for the people of God who break covenant with him, see the Prophet Hosea for an example.
Compassion is grounded in truth. There is no compassion in leading people into sin and perdition.
All the so-called progress in worldly terms will never negate a teaching of Christ: his teachings do not need updating, they are uttered by the Eternal God. We must change, not God nor his teachings.  God is God, he does not change his mind, what he uttered in and through his Word is eternal teaching.
All the money in the world cannot be used to justify defying the law of God. Those who try to use their wealth and power to force people to abandon the true faith and the commandments laid down by God are guilt of serious sin and, as Jesus himself said, it would have been better that they had never been born rather than lead any of the little ones astray. A millstone will be put around their neck and they will be thrown into the sea.
Bishops are entrusted with preaching the truth, if they fail in that they will be judged severely at their personal judgment and it will effect their personal salvation.  
And for those anxious about the Church:
We must trust in God: the gates of hell will not prevail. Have faith. 
If others are unfaithful, even bishops, you must be faithful.
Pray for the bishops of the Church, especially those in Germany.
Pray for the Pope, do not rebel, he is the Vicar of Christ and the Holy Spirit will ensure he will not betray the Gospel. If the Holy Father's children abandon him, he is left alone. This is the time to gather around the Pope and encourage him to stand firm against those who are trying to force him to do what is contrary to the Lord's teaching.
Enough said for now. Let us be vigilant in prayer, faithful in our observance, prudent in judgment, and above all, charitable. And may God forgive us all for the times we have failed in these.

"Withering" Heights

I recently went to see a dramatic adaption of Wuthering Heights at the Gate Theatre in Dublin with some friends. It wasn't a great performance, surprisingly for the Gate. However it did get us talking about the Brontes and their works. My friends are not fans of the Brontes and the play didn't do much to endear the scribbling ladies to them either. A couple of weeks later I joined these friends for a meal and I brought a movie adaption of Wuthering Heights for us to watch and compare. No joy there either, it wasn't the play that put them off, it was the story. And to be honest, it is a rough story.

I think most of you will probably have read Wuthering Heights, it was all the rage when I was growing up, many teenage girls loved the novel and lamented over the lost love between Heathcliff and Cathy. I didn't really fall under its charm, and when I went to University to study literature our lecturer in Nineteenth Century Fiction was no fan either and directed us away from the Brontes to George Eliot and her masterpiece Middlemarch which is, in my opinion, a far superior literary work, though I do think Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre is also an extraordinary piece of writing. That said I do think Emily Bronte is on to something as she explores the characters of Heathcliff and Cathy and plots their obsessive and destructive love affair. I think Emily's reflection provides us with some useful insights into human obsession, sin and passion.

To start with Heathcliff and Cathy are not, in my opinion, heroes in the normal sense of the word, more like anti-heroes, they are not to be regarded for their virtues but rather their moral failures, or more correctly how their moral failures lead not only to their own destruction, but also to the destruction of all those around them.  Their unbridled passion, lust, obsession, call it what you will, mingled with hatred, vengeance and jealously, tears their lives apart and the lives of those around them, with the exception of three people: Nellie the maid, who endures; and their children Cathy junior and Hareton who finally escape but do so with deep wounds. Far from swooning at them, I think Heathcliff and Cathy are unlikable figures, repulsive even, not by nature but by the choices they make. So obsessed with themselves and each other, they are distorted, perhaps even grotesque. Given the distorted view many have of love today, I suppose it is no surprise that Heathcliff and Cathy are regarded as romantic figures: there is nothing better, some would say, than the love that is doomed and chosen even though it destroys.

This pair provide us with a warning, a even starker one than that provided by Francesca da Rimini and her lover Paolo; the storm which surrounds Bronte's couple seems even wilder and hellish than that in the second circle of hell. Unbridled passion is dangerous, it can destroy the soul, and not just one, but many. It is like a tornado, it careers through the landscape of humanity wrecking whatever it passes. Passion without reason and virtue is dangerous. 

There can be a virtuous passion, a passion that leads not to destruction but to creativity, beauty, holiness. We see this in the Saints we have just celebrated, notable among them St John the Apostle. Indeed we find passion enshrined in the Scriptures in the Song of Songs and in the writings of the Saints, chief among them for me, St Teresa of Avila, St Therese of the Child Jesus, St John of the Cross and St Catherine of Siena. There can be no denial that passion is a human experience, an extraordinary emotion, but it must be graced, redeemed, oriented in the right direction so as to be fruitful. 

The passion of Heathcliff and Cathy was not fruitful, like the physical landscape that surrounds them, it is barren, it produces ghosts and unrest. Cathy's ghost at the window and Bronte's noting at the end of the book, that Heathcliff's ghost also walks is no suggestion, in my view, that love lives forever, rather that their souls may well be cursed to wander aimlessly, restless, eternally unsatisfied, lost. I sometimes wonder if Emily Bronte has, in the end, put her untamed couple in hell? 

Is Emily telling us to be careful, or is she only lamenting the lost love of Heathcliff and Cathy unaware of a deeper movement underneath it all? Perhaps. But that warning is one of the things I take from this novel. My friends are unconvinced, one remarked that if this was Bronte's intention she did not have to do so in such a negative and destructive way, in a way that might inspire unwitting fans to take the same road. Well, that means has been employed in art for some time. Milton in Paradise Lost did the same with his character of Satan, as did Burgess in A Clockwork Orange with his bunch of miscreants. Shakespeare does the same in his tragedies, notably Macbeth, though in that case it was an exploration of how a noble figure is destroyed by his failings and the corruption is all too clear so to provide a warning rather an example to be imitated. Modern literature loves the anti-hero, Emily Bronte is just an early exponent of that trend.

Anyway, these are just a few thoughts. If you have any ideas yourself you can share them in the comments box. No fighting now!

Monday, December 29, 2014


This is one of my favourite feasts of the Christmas season - I love them all, but this one, St Thomas a Becket, just seems to have a special resonance for me for some reason. 

I remember visiting Canterbury Cathedral on this day a number of years ago and spending some time in prayer at the spot where St Thomas was martyred. The cathedral is no longer Catholic, it is divested of its ornaments and the offerings of grateful pilgrims and it is more a museum than a shrine now. A lonely candle marks the spot where the tomb of St Thomas stood, the goal of men and women who walked from all over Europe for centuries. St Thomas's body is missing: some accounts say the monks managed to hide it before Henry VIII's iconoclasts arrived, some suggest the body was burned as were the sacred remains of many Saints in England during the religious revolution.

Some fragments of his relics remain, on the day of my visit I carried a relic of the martyred Archbishop in my hand, a precious gift which I cherish. Other relics are preserved in churches around the world, including the Catholic parish church in Canterbury, now the shrine of the Saint.

St Thomas was an extraordinary man. He was for most of his life a man of the world, an ambitious man who courted royal favour. His efforts succeeded in both temporal and ecclesiastical terms: he was appointed Lord Chancellor of England - the highest office in the kingdom, and then Archbishop of Canterbury, the then Catholic primate of England. He was a friend and companion of King Henry II who conferred offices and favours on Thomas for friendship sake, though Thomas proved to be an able administrator.

When Henry had him appointed Archbishop he did so in order to have more control over the Church in England. As we know it has often been the desire of secular rulers and governments to control the Church, even today. However this move would backfire on the King, he had forgotten about God and Thomas's faith - though that faith had been hidden away and long neglected.  His ordination as priest and bishop and the realisation of what was being put into his care led to a conversion experience for Thomas and he was forever changed. Now he was no longer the pawn of an ambitious and controlling King, he began to defend the rights and freedom of the Church. He turned to prayer, grew in virtue and practiced mortifications, wearing a hair-shirt under his clothes. We all know what happened: conflict with Henry, exile and eventual martyrdom at the foot of the altar in Canterbury Cathedral on this day in 1170. 

Thomas is a figure of hope for us, one who reassures us that God's grace is at work in us and in all, even in our enemies, calling us all to conversion, fidelity of life and witness to the Gospel. At the end of the day God is in charge, and even if his ministers fail to live up to the Lord's will and commands, God will not fail, he will deliver his people. Wasn't that the message of the Prophets? Wasn't that the teaching of Christ? Our Lord offered his life on the cross so we could be free to live according to the Gospel: his  blood was not shed in vain. At times the blood of his faithful ones will be mingled with his, and that commingling yields great fruitfulness and we are confirmed in our faith, strengthened and encouraged to bear witness ourselves, regardless of the cost.

May St Thomas a Becket, servant of God and his Church, watch over us in these times. Like him may we all be converted to the Lord and bear faithful witness to the Word.

A candle marks the spot of St Thomas's tomb in Canterbury Cathedral

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Let Us Never Forget

Though today is the feast of the Holy Family (and let us pray for all families, that they may imitate the Holy Family of Nazareth and find in the intercession of Jesus, Mary and Joseph every grace and help they need) if today were not Sunday it would be the feast of the Holy Innocents. 

These little boys, about a dozen all under two years of age, were killed by King Herod as he sought to kill the Christ.  Apart from the horror of their death and their veneration in the Church as martyrs, they have also become patrons for the pro-life movement representing in many ways those other innocents who are killed in their infancy: the victims of abortion.

These little boys and girls, denied their right to life, now number millions, are also denied a voice and even denied their very humanity so their killers can cover over their crimes. But their murder is a crime, and though the world and its governments and its powerful women and men choose to ignore, to forget, let us never forget. Let us commemorate these little ones sacrificed in the name of so-called "choice". May their blood shed in the clinics, hospitals and abortion facilities of the world, intercede with God for justice and an end to this holocaust.

May the Holy Innocents stand at the gates of heaven and welcome the victims of the culture of death, and may God give them what has been denied them here: life, respect, love and a recognition of their existence and their humanity.

In memory of these little ones, we might listen to the Coventry Carol, usually sung at Christmas it is in reality a hymn about the massacre of the Innocents, a lament in the form of a lullaby.

Saturday, December 27, 2014


The feast of the Beloved Disciple. 

Of all the apostles, John understood Jesus the best, hence he became the Beloved. At the Last Supper he leaned on the breast of the Lord, such was the intimacy between Jesus and John, and while we may be jealous of such a closeness, as was Peter, we must remember that all of us are called to such intimacy with the Lord. 

It is Jesus' intention that we all become beloved disciples, and John himself encourages us in this. As we read his Gospel and his Epistles we see John unveiling what he found in the Heart of Christ and inviting us in beyond the veil to go into the sanctuary, into the Heart of Jesus himself. 

If only we realised that, if only we knew what God was offering, what Jesus is saying to us! May St John the Beloved help us to listen, to respond and to open our hearts to Christ.

Friday, December 26, 2014


The honour of the first feast after Christmas Day is given to the Church's first martyr, the Deacon Stephen. St Luke is at pains to record the sermon and witness of St Stephen in the Acts of the Apostles fully aware, no doubt, that here the Church sees the fulfillment of the Lord's prophecy regarding martyrdom and offering for our veneration the man who became for all the disciples the example of how to die for Christ.

Stephen's homily is a remarkable profession of faith, a catechesis aimed at helping the Jews to understand that Jesus, whom they have crucified, is their Messiah. On his feast day I think it is worth reading and reflecting on:

The Sermon of St Stephen
(Acts 7: 2-53)
'My brothers, my fathers, listen to what I have to say. The God of glory appeared to our ancestor Abraham, while he was in Mesopotamia before settling in Haran, and said to him, "Leave your country, your kindred and your father's house for this country which I shall show you."  
So he left Chaldaea and settled in Haran; and after his father died God made him leave that place and come to this land where you are living today. God did not give him any property in this land or even a foothold, yet he promised to give it to him and after him to his descendants, childless though he was.
The actual words God used when he spoke to him are that his descendants would be exiles in a land not their own, where they would be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years. "But I will bring judgement on the nation that enslaves them," God said, "and after this they will leave, and worship me in this place."
Then he made the covenant of circumcision with him: and so when his son Isaac was born Abraham circumcised him on the eighth day; similarly Isaac circumcised Jacob, and Jacob the twelve patriarchs.
The patriarchs were jealous of Joseph and sold him into slavery in Egypt. But God was with him, and rescued him from all his miseries by making him so wise that he won the favour of Pharaoh king of Egypt, who made him governor of Egypt and put him in charge of his household. Then a famine set in that caused much suffering throughout Egypt and Canaan, and our ancestors could find nothing to eat. When Jacob heard that there were supplies in Egypt, he sent our ancestors there on a first visit; and on the second Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Pharaoh came to know his origin. Joseph then sent for his father Jacob and his whole family, a total of seventy-five people.
Jacob went down into Egypt and after he and our ancestors had died there, their bodies were brought back to Shechem and buried in the tomb that Abraham had bought for money from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem.
As the time drew near for God to fulfil the promise he had solemnly made to Abraham, our nation in Egypt became very powerful and numerous, there came to power in Egypt a new king who had never heard of Joseph. He took precautions and wore down our race, forcing our ancestors to expose their babies rather than letting them live. It was at this time that Moses was born, a fine child before God. He was looked after for three months in his father's house, and after he had been exposed, Pharaoh's daughter adopted him and brought him up like a son. So Moses was taught all the wisdom of the Egyptians and became a man with power both in his speech and in his actions.
At the age of forty he decided to visit his kinsmen, the Israelites. When he saw one of them being ill-treated he went to his defence and rescued the man by killing the Egyptian. He thought his brothers would realise that through him God would liberate them, but they did not. The next day, when he came across some of them fighting, he tried to reconcile them, and said, "Friends, you are brothers; why are you hurting each other?" But the man who was attacking his kinsman pushed him aside, saying, "And who appointed you to be prince over us and judge? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?" Moses fled when he heard this and he went to dwell in the land of Midian, where he fathered two sons.
When forty years were fulfilled, in the desert near Mount Sinai, an angel appeared to him in a flame blazing from a bush that was on fire. Moses was amazed by what he saw. As he went nearer to look at it, the voice of the Lord was heard, "I am the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." Moses trembled and was afraid to look. The Lord said to him, "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt, I have heard them crying for help, and I have come down to rescue them. So come here; I am sending you into Egypt."
It was the same Moses that they had disowned when they said, "Who appointed you to be our leader and judge?" whom God sent to be both leader and redeemer through the angel who had appeared to him in the bush. It was this man who led them out, after performing miracles and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the desert for forty years. It was this Moses who told the sons of Israel, "From among your own brothers God will raise up a prophet like me." When they held the assembly in the desert it was he who was with our ancestors and the angel who had spoken to him on Mount Sinai; it was he who was entrusted with words of life to hand on to us. This is the man that our ancestors refused to listen to; they pushed him aside, went back to Egypt in their thoughts, and said to Aaron, "Make us a god to go at our head; for that Moses, the man who brought us here from Egypt, we do not know what has become of him." It was then that they made the statue of a calf and offered sacrifice to the idol. They were perfectly happy with something they had made for themselves. God turned away from them and abandoned them to the worship of the army of heaven, as scripture says in the book of the prophets: Did you bring me sacrifices and oblations those forty years in the desert, House of Israel? No, you carried the tent of Moloch on your shoulders and the star of the god Rephan, the idols you made for yourselves to adore, and so now I am about to drive you into captivity beyond Babylon.
'While they were in the desert our ancestors possessed the Tent of Testimony that had been constructed according to the instructions God gave Moses, telling him to work to the design he had been shown. It was handed down from one ancestor of ours to another until Joshua brought it into the country that had belonged to the nations which were driven out by God before us. Here it stayed until the time of David. He won God's favour and asked permission to find a dwelling for the House of Jacob, though it was Solomon who actually built a house for God. Even so the Most High does not live in a house that human hands have built: for as the prophet says: With heaven my throne and earth my footstool, what house could you build me, says the Lord, what place for me to rest, when all these things were made by me?
You stubborn people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears. You are always resisting the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Can you name a single prophet your ancestors never persecuted? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Upright One, and now you have become his betrayers, his murderers. In spite of being given the Law through angels, you have not kept it.'

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Blessed Christmas To You All!

I wish you all a happy and peaceful Christmas. Let us remember each other in our prayers. 

The Burning Babe
by St Robert Southwell
As I in hoary winter’s night stood shivering in the snow,
Surpris’d I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow;
And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,
A pretty Babe all burning bright did in the air appear;
Who, scorch├Ęd with excessive heat, such floods of tears did shed
As though his floods should quench his flames which with his tears were fed.
“Alas!” quoth he, “but newly born, in fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but I!
My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns,
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes shame and scorns;
The fuel Justice layeth on, and Mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought are men’s defiled souls,
For which, as now on fire I am to work them to their good,
      So will I melt into a bath to wash them in my blood.”
      With this he vanish’d out of sight and swiftly shrunk away,
      And straight I called unto mind that it was Christmas day.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Pope Attacks Curia

The Pope's criticisms of the Curia have made headlines all over the world, as one would expect I suppose. As you know the Holy Father delivered his stinging critique during the annual meeting at which the Pontiff traditionally imparts his Christmas greetings to the priests, religious and laity that serve the Holy See. 

I am not going to comment on what the Holy Father said, at this stage there are enough people jumping on it making hay. I will only say that if an employer in any area of business, industry or service spoke to his employees in a similar manner he or she would have not only lost goodwill and trust, but would probably have a major strike to deal with, and perhaps even rightly so.

It needs to be said that most of those who work in the Curia are hardworking, devoted men and women who serve the Pope and the Church with an enormous amount of goodwill and generosity. Are there bad eggs, careerists there?  Yes, of course, as in every organisation and group, just as there are among priests, religious, bishops and even the college of Cardinals, and there have been bad eggs and heartless careerists among the Popes too if you look over the Church's history. And lest the secularists be preening themselves there are bad eggs in secular organisations too and, yes, surprisingly, there are bad eggs among those who have made a career of criticizing and attacking the Church. We can thank original sin and human sinfulness for all this.

It seems the Curia has become the scapegoat for all that is wrong in the Church, and to be honest that attitude is not just wrong and uncharitable, it is lazy, it is a refusal to see that there are bigger problems in the Church than the Pope's civil service. Yes, there were scandals and the sources of those scandals need to be sorted, but to do so requires a larger reform of the Curia than some have been suggesting. 

And what should this reform consist of? Sacking bad eggs? If you can find them, yes. Outlawing careerism? Well that will be a harder nut to crack simply because the Holy See in a way depends on careerism to keep the Curia going. How so, you might ask? Well not because of entrepreneurial ambition where good results get you promotions. No, because the pay is so bad in the Curia the carrot to keep the priests happy and dedicated, or at least working, has often been the possibility of becoming a monsignor and perhaps even a bishop.

Life in Curia is not easy, that is why most priests dread the thought of being sent there. Priests who spend their working lives in parishes and other ministries, with the freedom to serve the people of God, form friendships and be part of people's lives shutter at the thought of going into a system which is run like a junior seminary, where loneliness is the most common disease and being overworked is ignored; and then having to navigate their way through intrigue, disillusionment and cynicism. Some priests in the Curia try to nurture a pastoral ministry in the city or suburbs to keep them sane as well as sharpen pastoral skills which can be blunted in Papal service. 

The lifeline for many good curialists is prayer. But, sadly, some turn to other distractions, chief among them alcohol, the scourge of many a burnt-out worker. Often these priests do not have their family or loving parishioners around them to see the warning signs and come to their help.  And as I have seen on a couple of occasions, when Curial priests fall to this they are retired out and left to their own devices, and that can be disastrous. Indeed I know of some bishops who try and resist requests by the Holy See to second their priests to the Curia, not only because they do not want to lose manpower in the diocese, but out of concern for their priests.

The Curia is not perfect, and I will not defend all that is wrong in it: it is typical of all human organisations. The fact that the Church has not fallen because of human failings and sin is proof that God is in charge. However, we do have to recognise that there are good people who work hard with little in the way of remuneration for the Holy See and the Church. Popes do actually rely on the goodwill of their Curial officers who give vastly more than they receive from any Pope or the Church. Reform must take place, but it must also include charity and justice: working conditions do have to be improved within the service; as any employer will tell you - treat your workers right and they will work hard, be loyal and you will diminish intrigue, ill will and frustration. 

Some might say to me: "Well, they are doing it for God and they should be happy to do so, to give all" - I do not disagree, but we must also remember that Jesus made a point of reminding us that the labourer deserves his just wage, and the Church has taken that so seriously that she has included among the sins that cry to heaven for vengeance acts of injustice towards workers and their pay. The Church should be a leader in world industrial relations and labour rights - did Pope Leo XIII write his encyclicals in vain? As with charity, justice must also begin at home. Get that right and the Church will have gone a long way to beginning a reform of the Curia. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Abortion On Demand: Phase Two Begins

Irish Health Minister Leo Varadkar (left) who believes Ireland's abortion laws are too restrictive, behind him former Health Minister James Reilly who was responsible for introducing Ireland's abortion law.

As expected the pro-abortion lobby has begun its second phase to have abortion on demand legalised in Ireland. Constantly chipping away at public opinion, the lobby has launched another attack on Ireland's constitutional protection of the unborn - the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. The second phase seems to have begun with TD Clare Daly's Private Member's Motion seeking a liberalisation of the current abortion law. It was defeated in a vote (not for pro-life reasons, most Private Members's Motions and Bills from opposition TDs tend to be defeated as a matter of course), but the Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar, has agreed with her that the law is too restrictive. The Taoiseach has reacted quickly in what might be seen as damage limitation.

The media have also started reporting hard cases again, this time the story of a lady said to be clinically dead being kept alive in order to allow her unborn child live. Expect more stories to emerge.

Of course the pro-life movement is not surprised at this, we expected it, indeed it was predicted. When the government said the current legislation would not lead to abortion on demand we did not believe them, indeed we would have been fools to do so. When abortion on demand is in full swing in Ireland - perhaps not explicitly permitted in law but not practically prevented, our elected representatives will continue to assure us the intention was not to legalise the practice. It has happened in every other country, the tactics of the pro-abortion lobby are well known, their efforts here are neither unique nor hidden, they are all too obvious for those who are savvy enough to notice.

Now is the time for prayer and action, but in acting pro-life groups must be very very careful. As we know from many other cases the pro-abortion lobby will do what they can to crush all opposition and will use any situation, any protest by pro-life groups to further their own aims. They will use the law, even set up situations to entrap pro-life advocates, so we all need to be very careful so as not to fall into their traps. They have the media on their side, they have plenty of money and influence, they are part of the establishment.

We can only do our best to try and prevent the further legalisation of abortion in Ireland. As we peacefully campaign for life - as a united movement I hope, we must also take careful note of those who are working to legalise the killing of unborn children: let us pray for their conversion. They are involved in horrible crimes against humanity, their crimes cry to heaven for vengeance, let us pray that they will not have to pay the price naked justice demands for it would be a heavy price, indeed perhaps even a eternal price - damnation. Let us pray they will renounce their evil work and throw themselves on God's mercy.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Report On The Visitation to US Sisters

The final report of the Apostolic Visitation to the religious sisters of apostolic communities in the US (the LCWR) has been issued. You can read the full text here. I have had a quick read of it, I hope to get time for a more in-depth study later, but at first glance it seems fairly harmless. 

Tolkien And Purgatory

Someone asked me about yesterday's post - that the Lord of the Rings could be used as an evangelical tool. They asked me how. Well, there are many great Christian virtues displayed, and the central theme of the little one being at the heart of it all is Christ's teaching on the least being the greatest (I also see St Therese's Little Way in the adventure of the hobbits).

But there are excellent examples of how Tolkien's work can be used to reveal Catholic teaching and one concerns purgatory. It is the third volume, The Return of the King, Aragorn needs assistance and he turns to the souls of treacherous soldiers who now haunt what is called the "Paths of the Dead". These soldiers had sworn allegiance to the King of Gondor to come to assist it in war, however when the need was greatest these men fled and took refuge in the mountains, safe (or so they thought). They died, but their souls could not rest - they had sinned, they had a debt to repay for their cowardice and treachery and they could not enter into their rest until the debt was paid and atoned for.

And so Aragorn arrives, he is the true King of Gondor and holds them to their oath, they now go to the aid of Gondor and when the city is saved, they are finally released from their oath, they have repaid the debt, atoned for their treachery and they can now enter their rest. That, as you can see, is a wonderful exposition of purgatory, it is the place where we repay the debt our "treachery" (sin) to the King (God) has caused. And so the discussion can begin!

Monday, December 15, 2014

It's All Over

I remember the first few minutes of watching The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring movie. A fan of Tolkien's work, I was interested to see if Peter Jackson could pull it off. In those first few moments I thought to myself: "He might actually be able to do it" and as far as I am concerned, for the most part, he did. Last Friday evening as the credits began to roll on the third Hobbit movie I said to myself, "It's all over". What an adventure it has been.

While the LOTR movies were greeted with acclaim, the same could not be said for three Hobbit movies which even some of the most devoted fans saw as Jackson trying to cash in on his original success. To be honest, I would not be so harsh, I genuinely think that Jackson just wanted to linger a little bit longer in Middle Earth and to include in the movies additional material, much of it taken from the Appendices of the LOTR, which will lay the foundation for what will happen later. And, overall, I think he has done a good job doing that. 

Yes, The Hobbit is a short novel, a tale which is much simpler that the epic which follows, but we must remember that while the tale is focused, there is a lot more going on in Middle Earth as Bilbo and his dwarf friends reclaim the dwarf kingdom under the mountain. I think what Jackson wants to do is to set The Hobbit against the bigger picture; as we will discover when Frodo begins his adventures, Bilbo's story did not take part in isolation. The hobbits for all their hopes, cannot exist apart and untouched by what is happening in the world. That said, one of the major criticism I have of the original trilogy is Jackson's idyllic preservation of the Shire at the end of the wars: Tolkien was at pains to show that even the peaceful Shire fell under the shadow as Saruman and his minions invade it, Jackson falls down there - the Shire cannot, and didn't, exist apart and untouched by what was happening in the world.

The two movie trilogies have opened up Tolkien's world, and values, to a whole new generation and that is a good thing, and I am delighted for that. We live in the age of the image, and many people no longer read, Jackson may well have brought people back to the books and that is a good thing, not only because it encourages people to read, but because it brings them face to face with Tolkien's vision, and it is a very Catholic vision. The LOTR is one of the great works of the Christian imagination and Christian literature and it could well be seen as a great instrument for evangelisation. 

These books are not mere fantasy unlike the genre which has grown up after them; when you compare them with the brutal and immoral world of Game of Thrones, for example, you see an altogether different spirit at work, Other works in the genre deal with good and evil but under the strain of original sin, devoid of grace, but the world and adventures in the LOTR present the bigger picture, the great battle, and there is grace, and it is at work in flawed creatures who are raised up through their struggles. When you read the LOTR you are aware of the presence of great hope even in what seem to be hopeless situations (see Gandalf's talk with Pippin as Minas Tirith seems to be about to fall). It is a work worth reading, studying and discussing.  

So thanks to Peter Jackson for his work, but while the filming is over, the works remain and I hope future generations will be as fascinated with Tolkien's work and teaching as previous generations. And I hope the Church, and her catechists, will realise just how important Tolkien's work is for the work of evangelisation.

UPDATE: The Thirsty Gargoyle has an excellent review of the Hobbit movies, it is well worth reading. His central argument: for all the wonderful stuff, Peter Jackson doesn't get Tolkien. I think he has a point.

Has Heaven Gone To The Dogs?

Well that's a question people have been asking all week as the media have been reporting that Pope Francis said that pets go to heaven.  But, with a few days to let it sink it and some people actually parsing what the Pope said, it seems he didn't say that at all but it was Blessed Paul VI, or did he? It was St Paul, or did he? That's where we are at the moment. The media are gradually waking up to what was not said, or are they? Business as usual it seems.  

So the moral of the lesson: media - check your facts, double check them, as the old hacks used to do in the old days when objectivity and accurate reporting were the aims of the media. Faithful: take everything reported about this pope with a hefty dose of salt and hold fire, and say a prayer for him. 

One interesting response to the story has come from Fr Z: if pets can go to heaven, there is also the chance that they may go to hell too. PETA won't be happy to hear that. Fr Z also reminds us of the teaching of St Thomas Aquinas in this regard: animals do have souls, but they are different to our immortal souls: animals have sentient souls, humans have intellective souls, so when the animal's body dies, so too its soul, they are not subsistent.

There's a great way to start a week: parsing Aquinas.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Bankrolling The Culture Of Death: Resistance!

Spare a thought for the Little Sisters of the Poor in the US who are fighting Barack Obama's HHS Mandate. Like so many other Catholic charitable institutions they are resisting Obama's directive which amounts to nothing less than a direct attack on the religious sensibilities of those opposed to abortion and contraception. This is the pro-abortion lobby and the anti-life wing of the US Democratic Party at its ugliest and most tyrannical. 

These sisters have spent their lives, as have many others in that congregation, imitating the example of their foundress St Jeanne Jugan, reaching out to the elderly poor, providing them with a home, food and loving care in the latter years of their lives. Many destitute old men and women died with dignity and in comfort thanks to the humble service of these sisters. They do not discriminate, but receive all into their homes and care for all equally, the only "ideology" which motivates their work is the command of Jesus Christ to care for the poor, the sick and the dying.

One would imagine that any government would be thrilled to have such a dedicated congregation quietly working in its country, For one thing it takes pressure off governments to provide care for dying citizens. However in the "land of the free", where homelessness, poverty and neglect of the elderly are at a serious level, such generous acts of charity still have to conform to the anti-religious and anti-life ideology of the government. Charitable work will only be accepted as long it pays homage to the culture of death, indeed worships it and pays the tithe for it.  Such an act is repugnant to simple, humble Christian women who seek to respect human life at its most vulnerable stage. 

These daughters of the Church will not pay the tithe to fund abortion, they are resisting and knowing some of the women in their congregation they would prefer to do time or even die rather than betray the Christian faith. Unlike many women's apostolic congregations, the Little Sisters of the Poor have remained faithful to the charism of their foundress, to their simple life, their habit, their community life and their communal prayer. They had their troubles at the beginning of their congregation's life and they learned the hard way that only authentic charity and fidelity to the truth will keep them on the right road. 

Please remember these sisters in your prayers, and with them all the charities resisting Obama's attempt to bankroll the culture of death through his mandate. 

If you would like to support the work of the Little Sisters of the Poor in the US, you can contact them through their website here. If in Ireland and you would like to make a donation to the sisters' worthy work, they can be found at Sacred Heart Residence, 5 Sybil Hill Road, Raheny, Dublin 5.

The Smallest, The Least, The Greatest

What a wonderful Saint we celebrate today: the humble and beautiful St Juan Diego, visionary of Guadalupe. Our Lady, in her visions to him, called him the humblest and littlest of her children, and if so, then following the Lord's teaching on the least, he must be one of the greatest Saints in heaven. 

As she usually does, Our Lady chose the smallest to proclaim her message; she entrusted to him not only the building of a church on Tepeyac, but what was in reality a major evangelical thrust which led to the conversion of millions in Central America. His poor tilma would bear the image of the Mother of God miraculously imprinted and preserved on it, and it was this image which touched the hearts of the people of Mexico and led to their conversion. Juan Diego himself would also touch the hearts of those who came to the new shrine of Our Lady through his humility, his holiness and his simple life. The last seventeen years of his life were spent proclaiming the message of Our Lady and interceding for those who came seeking her help.

As one expects these days, some have questioned whether Juan Diego even existed - this was an attempt to undermine the authenticity of the apparitions - no Juan Diego, no visions. However there is enough evidence of his existence and a long history of devotion to him. There is also an extraordinary miracle worked through his intercession which led to his canonisation (Fr Z has the story of it here). So if you are one of those led to doubt his existence and the wisdom of the Church in promoting devotion to him, be assured and commend yourself to his prayers. 

Let us ask this the humblest son of the Mother of God to pray for us and help us to become the littlest, the smallest, the least, devoted, like him, to God and willing to serve him as Our Lady served him.

St Juan Diego's Tilma with the miraculous image of Our Lady imprinted on it.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Our Newest New Saint (To Be)

Blessed Mary of Jesus Crucified - Mariam

Like the buses in Dublin, canonise a couple of Carmelites and another one comes around the corner. Yesterday we heard, with great joy, that our Palestinian sister, Blessed Mary of Jesus Crucified - or Blessed Mariam as we call her, is to be declared a Saint. The Holy Father has signed a decree approving a miracle through her intercession yesterday, and so she will be enrolled among the Saints next year. 

If you do not know about Blessed Mariam then you are in for a treat, she is one of the most personable of the Beati, a woman whose life was extraordinary in terms of her virtues (humility being foremost among them) and extraordinary in the phenomenon that surrounded her. She was a Discalced Sister who brought the Carmelite nuns back to the Holy Land, founding two monasteries there, one in Bethlehem -, her native town, and one in Nazareth. She was a lay sister, a hard worker and a mystic, possessing many charisms including levitation, prophecy and the stigmata. She was also a poet. Much misunderstood, she was asked to leave the first congregation of sisters she joined - the community of the convent couldn't cope with mystics, and so she arrived at the door of the Carmelites who accepted her: they had no problem with mystics - the more the merrier. 

Her early life was just as extraordinary ; she had the experience of being a martyr in her youth. Now you may think my saying that is strange, to be a martyr you have to be killed. Yes that is true, and in the strict sense she wasn't. But I shall explain. Mariam had a difficult childhood, she was orphaned and put into the care of relatives where she befriended a Muslim man, a servant of her uncle. He was very kind and she would often confide her sadness to him. One day while she was visiting him he suddenly demanded that she convert to Islam. 

Taken aback Mariam declined. Seizing a large knife he threatened her: if she did not convert he would kill her: she refused whereupon he grabbed her and began to behead her. She seemed to die, and even though the job was unfinished, he took her body and threw out into the street. She was not dead, a few days later she awoke to find herself in a cave being cared for by an extraordinary beautiful and luminous lady. She spent some time healing and eventually was able to leave the cave and return to her life. For the rest of her life she concealed the wound. After her death, as her body was being prepared the wound was discovered and a close examination by a doctor revealed that the vertebrae in her neck were so such a state it would have been impossible for her to survive, yet she did and seemingly without pain. The attack has been considered her "martyrdom" her survival miraculous. 

There are some good booklets about her life, you can order them from the Carmelite Book Service in Oxford. She is worth getting to know and praying to. May she intercede for all of us.

Blessed Mariam's tomb in the Carmel of Bethlehem