Thursday, December 17, 2015

New Rite of Matrimony

I see the new translation of the marriage rite is on its way.  OSV has an interesting article on it. There are a few changes (I must check to see if they apply to Ireland also) including the optional use of the lazo during the nuptial blessing - a veil which is held over the heads of the newly married couple. While it has its origins in Hispanic communities, it sounds very Jewish, it reminds me of the wedding canopy which I always thought is a lovely practice. I'm not too keen on the dropping of the Penitential Rite.

One change the US bishops requested has not been included - a change in the entrance procession. I think their suggestion has merit, it reiterates the liturgical nature of the marriage ceremony. Personally I would change the procession at the start, instead of the bride coming up on the arm of her father, I think the couple should meet at the door of the Church and process to the altar together to gather before the Lord for their marriage ceremony. At the moment, I think, the bridal procession puts a little too much emphasis on the bride, hence the now common belief that it is "her day" when in reality it is not - it is about bride, groom and God.

Anyway, most people would not agree with me there I'm sure, but I'm just putting it out there. We shall see what the new rite is like. I hope it will be available online to allow easy access for couples preparing for the marriage ceremony.

Another thing I have noticed recently is the proliferation of alternative texts for readings. I have had a few couples come, quite innocently, with texts which they were told were readings from Scripture but were not. I recently had a case where a native-American blessing was being passed off as an extract from Tobit - one couple apparently used it at their wedding ceremony. The couple I was working with were stunned to discover it wasn't Scripture and had no problem changing it. I have also noticed that reworked pieces of Scripture are also being passed off as the real thing. So couples and priests have to be wary. The new rite will, I hope, get us back on track. Here is a website with some extracts.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


Slim pickings at the moment when it comes to the blog. I have been engaged in a writing project which has been on the back burner for some time, so that took me away from my regular interventions here. There are more projects waiting to be finished also, so it may be slim pickings for a while yet. That and parish work keeps me busy.

I have been keeping up with developments in recent weeks and a lot has happened. In recent days one piece in particular interested me and I would like to share a few reflections with you. It was an article Edward Peters, the canon lawyer, wrote on his blog concerning priests and conscience. In the piece he reminded us all that priests have consciences too, and these consciences must be respected. As I read the piece I was thrilled to see that someone is looking at things from a priest's perspective and defending us. 

To be honest, as a priest I have to say the last number of years have been difficult. We have been on the receiving end of a lot of abuse, mired in controversy, dragged through the media. Pope Benedict tried to ease the stress by the Year of the Priest, a year dedicated to help us renew, but the scandals destroyed that. Pope Francis's tirades against us haven't helped either. Talking with brother priests I see the morale is very very low, in fact I have never seen it as low as it is, and this has me worried. Most priests are hard working men who do their best, but get little support. Some laity and bishops are very good, but there is an attitude in the Church which regards priests as functionaries and we are expected to just get on with it. Dr Peters's article is welcome because it does not treat us as functionaries, but as members of the Church. You can read his piece here, if you haven't already read it.

This is the crucial bit:  "Many clerics, Deo gratias, and other ministers of the Eucharist, recognize the significance of their sacramental office and know—as all Catholics should know—that their actions, too, are carried out before a God who sees all".  In conscience a priest cannot do what is wrong, regardless of who asks him be it divorced and remarried Catholics, bishops, brides looking for the perfect wedding, grieving families organising a funeral. A priest has to be faithful to God, Church teaching and the laws of the liturgy; if he is not, then he sins. 

Too often as a priest I have been asked to break the rules of the Church for people; they ask it as a favour, or to keep the bride happy on her big day, or as a gesture of compassion towards a grieving family. What does a priest do? Do I do what I know in my conscience to be wrong to keep people happy? I have been told other priests do it, but should that be the measure of my moral observance - if others are doing it, then it is okay? Speaking with those who make such demands I gently remind them that such things are not possible: I cannot do it because I know it to be wrong. But they have no concern for the state of my soul; they want it, demand it and I must conform if I am a "Christian". When I tell them I would be committing a sin if I did it, they make little of it; it is not important. My right to follow my conscience must fall to their desires.

I remember in a few cases, for example, explaining to bereaved families why eulogies are not permitted in our diocese - our bishop does not allow them. In each case I have been asked to make an exception for them - so I put it in context for them: "Are you asking me to be disobedient to my bishop?" The answer is usually "Yes" but expressed in that round-about way only the Irish have mastered. Refusal on my part is usually interpreted on their part as a lack of compassion, a betrayal of Christ's values of being nice and conciliatory. 

Priests have consciences too. If a priest does something that he knows is wrong or not permitted by the Church then he sins. Am I as priest expected to bear the burden of such sinning when I, like every other Christian, have enough sin to deal with in my personal life? Am I just a functionary? Some say that if the bishop permits it then it is okay. That is true if the bishop has the competence to dispense. However in some areas, like communion for the divorced and remarried (since it is being discussed now), a bishop cannot dispense from the moral law of God; then no, not even the orders of a bishop can compel a priest to "give in". I know of one case, for example, where a bishop ordered a priest to give communion to a married woman living very publicly in a second relationship. The priest rightly resisted and suffered for it. The bishop thought that the priest's conscience could be set aside with an episcopal decree.

Not so. If I, in conscience, know something is wrong or not permitted, then I must remain true to my conscience regardless of what others think or do. As a Christian I must be permitted to follow my conscience, just because I am priest does not mean that I can put it in a box and forget about it when performing my priestly duties or celebrating the liturgy. Some may say that some of these issues are small things, they do not really register on the radar; however, Christ himself said that he who is faithful in small things can be trusted with great. The small things do matter, even more so than the great because, for most of us, our lives are usually measured in small things. Few of us rarely have to face major moral problems, but we do face the small ones every day, and our conscience is not a faculty given to be taken out for the big events of one's life, it is a constant companion that is meant to keep us on the right road, and on the right side of the road. 

So thanks to Dr Peters for his piece; it is most welcome.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Pope and That Communion Issue

Some coverage is being given to the Pope's response to a Lutheran lady who asked him if she could receive Holy Communion with her Catholic husband. Here is an extract from a Catholic Herald article which sums up what happened:
The Pope was asked whether a Lutheran and Catholic married couple might “finally participate together in Communion”. The questioner referred to “the hurt we’ve felt together due to [our] difference of faith”.
Francis said it was “not my competence” to give permission to do this, and admitted: “I ask myself and don’t know how to respond – what you’re asking me, I ask myself the [same] question.”
The Pope then stressed the role of personal discernment rather than repeating Church teaching that Protestant spouses can only receive Holy Communion if they do not “have recourse for the sacrament” at their own church.
He said: “There are questions that only if one is sincere with oneself and the little theological light one has, must be responded to on one’s own.”
When I read this first I immediately thought of President Barack Obama's response to a question on the abortion issue regarding the status of the unborn child and its rights: it's "above my pay grade".

Now we have to note that the Pope is correct when he says he does not have the competence to give permission to allow her to receive. He is right, as a servant of the Church he cannot change Church teaching on this issue, and the teaching is clear: inter-communion is not permitted. There is a provision for a very rare occasion when a non-Catholic can receive the Eucharist for a special event - a wedding perhaps when a non-Catholic marries a Catholic in a Catholic ceremony, but there are strict conditions which must be fulfilled, including an explicit belief in the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist. This provision was and is not envisioned to be utilized on a regular basis.

However, the Pope's response to the lady has created confusion. He should have told her that she could not receive the Eucharist while sharing her pain at the divisions which exist and prevent Lutherans from being in full communion with the Church. The Pope not only has the competence to do this, he has the duty, but on this occasion the Pope has created confusion among the faithful, and indeed may well have misled many on this issue. This is not a matter of conscience, it is a matter of objective reality, a reality that exists because of serious divisions that exist between the Catholic Church and Protestant communities. 

However the damage has been done and now the media have jumped on what he said and are running with the line that Lutherans can discern for themselves whether they can come forward for the Catholic Eucharist, relativising the whole issue. Was this intentional on the Pope's part? I cannot say, I cannot read his mind I can only observe what he says and does and drawing on what I observe I know he is no fool, he knows what he is doing and he knows what he is saying. 

I think we need a Paul to have a talk with Peter on this issue, and on a number of others.

Here is Edward Pentin's article on what happenedFr Z has an interesting take on all this.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A Saint For The Family

I was given a beautiful gift today from a friend who is a monk. He has just returned from a pilgrimage to Rome and Italy and in his kindness he brought back a precious relic for me: a first class relic (ex ossibus) of Blessed Elisabetta Renzi, the foundress of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows (the Addolorata Sisters). What a wonderful gift: thank you Dom Benedict!

Blessed Elisabetta is one of our more recent Beati, raised to the altars by St John Paul II in 1989. Her life was truly extraordinary, one with many challenges for her, challenges that provided an opportunity for her to grow in holiness. You can find a brief biography here at her sisters's website, but take note of her attempts to enter religious life. Her first attempt was thwarted by the rise of secularism and the assault of Napoleon on the Church. Sent home she spent years living with the disappointment, driven by a deep desire to live the consecrated life but held back by the intrusion of temporal governments into the internal life of the Church. But God saw the suffering of his servant and he was preparing a great mission for her.

I know people struggling with a vocation, some are looking for somewhere to go, but do not know which direction to take. Others are terrified to take a step and so try to stave off the "remorseful day" by what seems to be an endless process of "discernment". Some are being prevented by parents or family members who do not want to lose a son or daughter to the Church. And then there are those with genuine vocations who are being rejected from seminaries, Orders and congregations because their theological outlook is not in keeping with prevailing fashions - they are not progressive enough. I think Blessed Elisabetta is for all of those struggling with a vocation. I think she says to those putting off the moment to just get up and go; and to those rejected by seminaries or orders to go elsewhere - there are plenty of other congregations and other dioceses more open to orthodox Catholics.

But Elisabetta has something else to say to us today, and this what resonated with me today as I was venerating her relic. She founded a congregation to minister to young women, in her own work she believed that if girls and women became good, holy women, then their families, inspired by the mother, would become good and holy families. Authentically holy parents have the best chance of producing holy children, well adjusted children, as we see in the example of Sts Louis and Zelie Martin. This is not an old hat idea, it is a teaching that is at the heart of the Second Vatican Council which saw the family as the "domestic church" where children are born and reared, formed in Christian and human virtues, and prepared, not only for good and successful lives in the world, but also for heaven. 

Blessed Elisabetta, then, is one of the great Saints of the family, and I think in these times we could turn to her to help troubled families, and to guide the Church as she seeks to reach out to them. So perhaps you might all say a prayer to her after you read this: pray for our families, particularly those are are facing difficulties; for the Church; for the Pope, our Bishops and priests; for our laity working in the area of family support. The Sisters of her congregation are now looking for a miracle which will lead to her canonisation,so you might say a little prayer for that too.

What Is Authentic Christian Reform?

Cardinal Avery Dulles with Pope St John Paul II

What is authentic Christian reform? In the last few centuries that word, "reform", has bandied about willy-nilly and has become the catch-call of a certain type of revolutionary. It goes without saying that reform is a necessary part of life and most essential in the life of the Church. At the moment in the Church we are hearing a lot about reform and that the Holy Father has been sent to us to spearhead, at last, an authentic reform in the Church, one which will bring the institution into the modern world, make it more compassionate, pastoral and real.

To make the Church of Jesus Christ modern, compassionate, pastoral and real.....?

So what is authentic reform? Well I am indebted to the folks over at Catholicus Nua for a post directing me to the teaching of Cardinal Avery Dulles, one of the greatest modern theologians who, drawing on the work of another great theologian, Yves Congar OP, offers a number of principals which need to be assessed to see if the current programme being proposed by some in the Church is actually authentic Christian reform, or just another attempt to undermine the teaching of the Church, teaching that is grounded in revelation. You can read the Catholicus Nua post here, or you can read Cardinal Dulles's original article in First Things here. But I have copied and pasted, for your convenience, some of the main points:
1) According to Congar, “the great law of a Catholic reformism will be to begin with a return to the principles of Catholicism.” Vatican II, echoing his words, taught that “every renewal of the Church essentially consists in an increase of fidelity to her own calling” (UR 6).
Catholicism derives its principles from God by way of revelation. The most authoritative guidance comes from Holy Scripture understood in the light of apostolic tradition, inasmuch as this is the normative channel whereby revelation is transmitted. In his reform of the liturgy, Pius X issued a call to return to the sources (Revertimini ad fontes). Pius XII declared that speculation becomes sterile if it neglects to return continually to the sacred sources of Scripture and tradition, which contain inexhaustible treasures of truth.
2) Any reform conducted in the Catholic spirit will respect the Church’s styles of worship and pastoral life. It will be content to operate within the Church’s spiritual and devotional heritage, with due regard for her Marian piety, her devotion to the saints, her high regard for the monastic life and the vows of religion, her penitential practices, and her eucharistic worship. A truly Catholic reform will not fanatically insist on the sheer logic of an intellectual system but will take account of concrete possibilities of the situation, seeking to work within the framework of the given.
3) A genuinely Catholic reform will adhere to the fullness of Catholic doctrine, including not only the dogmatic definitions of popes and councils, but doctrines constantly and universally held as matters pertaining to the faith. In this connection cognizance will be taken of the distinction made by Vatican II between the deposit of faith and the formulations of doctrine. Because human thought and language are inevitably affected by cultural and historical factors, it may be necessary from time to time to adjust the language in which the faith has been proclaimed. Repeated in a new situation, the old formulations can often be misleading, as instanced by the examples of Baius and Jansenius in the seventeenth century. These scholars quoted Augustine to the letter but did not take account of the changed meaning of his words.
4) True reform will respect the divinely given structures of the Church, including the differences of states of life and vocations. Not all are equipped by training and office to pronounce on the compatibility of new theories and opinions with the Church’s faith. This function is, in fact, reserved to the hierarchical magisterium, though the advice of theologians and others will normally be sought.
5) A reform that is Catholic in spirit will seek to maintain communion with the whole body of the Church, and will avoid anything savoring of schism or factionalism. St. Paul speaks of anger, dissension, and party spirit as contrary to the Spirit of God (Galatians 5:20). To be Catholic is precisely to see oneself as part of a larger whole, to be inserted in the Church universal.
6) Reformers will have to exercise the virtue of patience, often accepting delays. Congar finds Luther especially lacking in this virtue. But even Luther, stubborn and unyielding though he often was, cautioned his disciple Andreas Karlstadt on the importance of proceeding slowly, so as not to offend simple believers who were unprepared for changes that were objectively warranted. Prudent reformers will recognize that they themselves stand under correction, and that their proposals, even if valid, may be premature. As Newman reminded his readers, there is such a thing as a good idea whose time has not yet come. Depending on the circumstances, Church authorities may wisely delay its acceptance until people’s imaginations become accustomed to the innovation.
7) As a negative criterion, I would suggest that a valid reform must not yield to the tendencies of our fallen nature, but must rather resist them. Under color of reform, we are sometimes tempted to promote what flatters our pride and feeds our self-interest, even though the gospel counsels humility and renunciation. Persons who have prestige, influence, and power usually want to retain and increase these; those who lack them want to acquire them. Both groups must undergo conversion.
8) For similar reasons we must be on guard against purported reforms that are aligned with the prevailing tendencies in secular society. One thinks in this connection of the enormous harm done in early modern times by nationalism in religion, a major factor contributing to the divisions of the Reformation era and to the enfeeblement of the Catholic Church during the Enlightenment. The liturgical and organizational reforms of Joseph II in Austria, the Civil Constitution on the Clergy enacted in France in 1790, the extreme liberalism of Félicité de Lamennais early in the nineteenth century, and the evolutionary religion of the Modernists at the dawn of the twentieth century ” all these movements afford examples of initiatives perfectly attuned to the spirit of their times but antithetical to the true character of Catholic Christianity.
In our day the prevailing climate of agnosticism, relativism, and subjectivism is frequently taken as having the kind of normative value that belongs by right to the word of God. We must energetically oppose reformers who contend that the Church must abandon her claims to absolute truth, must allow dissent from her own doctrines, and must be governed according to the principles of liberal democracy.
False reforms, I conclude, are those that fail to respect the imperatives of the gospel and the divinely given traditions and structures of the Church, or which impair ecclesial communion and tend rather toward schism. Would-be reformers often proclaim themselves to be prophets, but show their true colors by their lack of humility, their impatience, and their disregard for the Sacred Scripture and tradition.
So, can we see any of these in what is being proposed? Can we see any of them in the manner in which certain things are being proposed?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Priests For Life Cleared

You may remember that he and the organisation were in some strive recently and Fr Pavone's bishop and even the Archbishop of New York were none too pleased with him. Accusations of financial mismanagement were being hurled about and demands for independent audits were being made. Fr Pavone rejected the first accusation and answered the second by insisting that independent audits of the association's accounts were made every year and all this information was available. Fr Pavone mused on whether this was an issue of control rather than irregularities in his organisation. He was suspended by his bishop and sent to live with a contemplative community in what many saw as an exile. That exile was suddenly lifted and he was restored to ministry but no light as been shed as to why the decision was reversed.

Well the Holy See has found that Priests for Life are completely above board on the financial issues, they have found that there are no substance to the allegations and that Fr Pavone is directing a work which is of great benefit to the pro-life cause and the Church: a ringing endorsement. Here is the text of the letter from the Holy See:
Dear Father Pavone,
In response to your recent update about your many activities, I wish to encourage you and your team to continue the fruitful work that Priests for Life is doing.
You have every reason to proceed with confidence, because you have welcomed the assistance of the Church to strengthen your ministry as it continues to grow around the world. At the inception of Priests for Life in 1991, when it was given recognition as a Catholic Association of the Faithful, it was a relatively small apostolate focused within the United States on assisting priests to proclaim the Gospel of Life.
Since then it has grown and diversified into an entire family of ministries, and an international apostolate. While continuing to be faithful to your original vision of assisting and training the clergy, you have sought to follow the Spirit’s lead and respond to the needs of the pro-life movement, and therefore have integrated into your ministry the work of Rachel’s Vineyard, Silent No More, the Youth Outreach of Stand True, outreach to Hispanic and African-American communities, and much more.
Of particular note, you have integrated into your family of ministries the international work of Marie Smith and the Parliamentary Network for Critical Issues, assisting lawmakers in many other countries to defend the most vulnerable human lives. You have also become an NGO at the United Nations and continue to assist the Holy See Mission.
As you do all of this, the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy has encouraged you to update your statuses so that they reflect this tremendous growth and development. As the Congregation has indicated, if you eventually want to apply to the Vatican for recognition as an international Association of the Faithful, then those revised statutes can be presented to the competent authority.
In the meantime, however, the value of your apostolate continues to be recognized. As the Visitation Report from the Congregation for the Clergy states:
PFL is present in more than 50 nations, and its work benefits the Church both in the United States and beyond … Without doubt, PFL has offered to the Church a great service in the Pro-Life movement. By all indications, Father Pavone is a truly charismatic leader who has led PFL to significant heights … [The work and finances of PFL are in order … The Association has been well administered financially … [The administrative costs of PFL are in keeping with other groups receiving similar funding in the United States.” (Visitation Report, Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, November 2013).
Moreover, as the Congregation has indicated in a subsequent letter, “there is nothing to prevent ‘Priests for Life, Inc’, together with its numerous affiliated agencies, from continuing to labor on behalf of the pro-life movement,”  with “the many excellent works which Priests for Life continues to do in promoting respect  for the sanctity of human life.” (Letter of His Eminence, Cardinal Beniamino Stella, Prefect, Sacred Congregation for the Clergy to Fr. Pavone , February 6, 2015, Prot. N. 20150367). Please know, then, of my continued support as an ecclesiastical advisor and friend. I encourage all the supporters of Priests for Life to increase that support and work harder than ever to build on the progress you have already made in bringing about a Culture of Life.
Renato R. Card. Martino
Sadly the whole fiasco did a lot of damage to Priests for Life and to the pro-life cause. As to why the accusations were made against Fr Pavone and the organisation is unclear, and I imagine it will remain so. We will see if his bishop or the Archbishop of New York make any statement to clarify things, and perhaps offer an explanation as to why they were so insistent in their accusations and why New York cut off all contact with the organisation. 

Remembering The Fallen

A friend of mine was at a debate recently and among those present was a Church of Ireland minister who was with her in defending Christian schools. She noticed that he was wearing, as expected at this time of year, a small poppy badge, but also the precious feet (pro-life symbol) and, believe it or not, a Pioneer pin (Catholic temperance organisation). We were impressed.

Thinking about this later I had to admire the Vicar, in his badges he harmonised in a Christian way different movements and I wondered would we, in Ireland, have the courage to do the same? The Pioneer pin and the lifestyle which it symbolizes are often mocked today - in a country that cherishes alcohol, and as a result has serious problems with it, abstinence is seen as counter-cultural, judgmental and mean-spirited. Not so in reality, but it is perceived as a negative thing today. The precious feet are like a red rag to a bull in modern Ireland where the establishment is gung ho in its support for abortion and working hard to make Ireland like everywhere else in its embracing the culture of death. 

That said, both of these symbols are, for now, somewhat tolerated even if dismissed by "the great and the good". It is the poppy which is the most controversial of all. An Anglican minister will get away with it in Ireland, but woe betide anyone of the Catholic persuasion, that is taboo, forbidden. Why? Because in the eyes of many Irish it is the symbol of British Imperialism, for a Irish person to wear a poppy is to offend the Republic and the struggle for independence.

That narrative, however, is rather blinkered. I doubt if the French, Belgians, Dutch and other countries involved in the two World Wars who incorporate the poppy into their commemoration wreaths are pawns of British Imperialism. Rather, that little flower, which grew in abundance on fields that were torn apart by insane war, has become the symbol of those who now lie in those fields, resting beneath canopies of that floral tribute. Among those dead are many Irishmen, Catholics and Protestant, laymen and the priests who served them, who lost in their lives in conflict. Where the poppy is worn the aspiration that accompanies it is "We shall remember them". Is it a coincidence, I wonder, that this remembrance occurs during a month dedicated to the Holy Souls?

I am inclined to think that the example this Vicar shows is very much a Catholic one: Catholic temperance and reparation, Catholic defence of the unborn and vulnerable, and in his poppy the very Catholic tradition of praying for and remembering the dead, particularly those who died in conflict and tragic circumstances, perhaps not even prepared for death. So while we in Ireland associate Remembrance and poppies with British Protestants, I dare say it is actually much more Catholic than we think. Given the many thousands of Irish who died in the World Wars, who are now finally being acknowledged by the Irish State, will we see a day when wearing the poppy will be accepted, indeed become the norm, in this Republic, in memory of our dead? 

Prudence, Anyone?

I thought this Pope was elected to sort out the Curia and financial mismanagement? Running up to the Conclave the talk was about electing a strong Pontiff to deal with the corruption and murky practices that were going on in the shadowy corridors of power in the Vatican. Personally I was not in favour of electing a Pope merely to carry out an administrative reorganisation of head office, I tend to think we need to elect a Universal Pastor. 

Anyway, it seems things are as bad as before, perhaps even worse, and what is most disturbing is that the two people Francis appointed to help in the overhaul of the shop have now been arrested and are being investigated themselves. I remember when they were appointed Francis had been warned from various sources, Sandro Magister among them, that this was not a very good idea, but those warnings were ignored. So, here we are now with another mess. Thank God, at least Francis put a good man in a key position when he appointed Cardinal Pell to the new office of financial affairs.

As for the latest interview with Scalfari, at this stage "the lady doth protest too much, methinks". If I were Lombardi I'd quit.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Ireland's "Pope"

St Malachy today. If ever there was an Irish prelate who would have made an excellent pope, it would, in my humble opinion, have been Malachy. He would have been a reforming pope in the style, I think, of Pope St Gregory VII. Certainly in Ireland in the three dioceses he governed he proved himself to be an able and committed reformer, a man who understood the nature of true reform and how to achieve it.  He was a man of intense personal sanctity, of humble and kind charity towards others, of prudent and innovative zeal and he had a heart capable of the deepest loving relationships, as we see in his friendship with St Bernard. 

Malachy was born in what is now the city of Armagh, the son of a schoolteacher. In his youth he became a disciple of Eimar a hermit. Ordained a priest of Armagh his bishop, St Celsus, recognised the young man's potential, appointing him his Vicar General Celsus he initiated the young man into his hopes and efforts at reform of the Church in Ireland. Celsus is one of our great reformers, a man of great sanctity himself, and he apprenticed Malachy in his virtues and ideas. After continuing studies under St Malchus of Lismore, when the Abbot of Bangor died Malachy was appointed to succeed him, and as in Ireland Abbots often headed dioceses, Malachy was appointed and consecrated Bishop of Connor. In the providence of God it was an important step to prepare him to succeed Celsus as Archishop of Armagh and Primate. As Bishop of Connor he was effective in carrying out various reforms. 

On his deathbed, in 1129, Celsus named Malachy as his successor. However, as Malachy was not of the same clan as Celsus, and the seat of Armagh had been in the hands of the Clann Sinaig for some time, there was a dispute. The clan imposed Murtagh, Celsus's cousin, as Archbishop, an illegal action, and so legally the see remained vacant until Malachy was able to claim it. He was enthroned in 1132 but could only enter the see in 1134 when Murtagh died, though there was conflict as he tried to take possession of the cathedral. Indeed one of Murtagh's relations, Niall, St Celsus's brother, fled with the relics, books and St Patrick's crozier in an attempt to invalidate Malachy's taking office. Though some acknowledged Niall as Archbishop because these symbols of the office were in his possession, Malachy took control and eventually regained possession of the symbols and won the hearts of the people.

Malachy's great reforming work continued in earnest. Now as Primate he had the ability to extend his plans for reform all over Ireland. Armagh was at peace, but much of Ireland was in a disastrous state. The Church in Ireland had grown lax in faith, in the observance of the liturgy, in morals and all because certain individuals sought to empower themselves in the Church. A large part of the blame lay with lay-abbots in the ancient monasteries. These lay men had obtained these offices and used them and their revenue to boost their lifestyles and prestige. In reality the Church in Ireland had become nothing more than an institution to bolster these lay people in lives quite contrary to the Gospel. The clergy had acquiesced in this and their own lax morals and slothful practice of the faith was at the very least bordering on scandalous. And this regime had its defenders, not quite a medieval version of the ACP, not too far off it in resistance to authentic reform. 

Malachy struggled to sort out the mess, and he had a great deal of opposition to deal with. The Irish have great virtues, but also great vices, and like the Sicilians we can harbour resentment and nurture revenge for generations, And some of those Malachy tried to reform responded in like manner to his efforts. But he laboured on and his work bore fruit: he restored discipline, encouraged a return to Christian morality - even among clergy, he had the Roman Liturgy adopted, he regularised and promoted marriages, restored the practice of confession (in their laxity the Irish thought they had no need of the sacrament, like today!) and he confirmed thousands who had never received that sacrament. On top of all this, indeed assisting him in his endeavours, he was a miracle worker, a lover of the poor and needy. According to one tradition he planted apple trees all over his diocese to provide food in times of famine.

This is a lifetime's work, but Malachy did it all in three years. Exhausted, he resigned his see in 1137 and retired, taking up the position of Bishop of Down, a smaller and less hectic diocese then. He continued his reforming work there and established religious communities.  In 1138 he traveled to Rome and on the way met St Bernard at Clairvaux and so began one of the most endearing and fruitful friendships in the history of the Church. Malachy was taken with the life at the abbey in Clairvaux and he sought permission to enter, however Pope Innocent II refused it, he had work for Malachy and with this in mind he appointed him Papal Legate in Ireland. Returning to Ireland he consoled himself by bringing Bernard's monks to Ireland, establishing the first Irish Cistercian monastery at Mellifont. He and Bernard corresponded and supported each other in their mutual missions.

In 1148 a synod of bishops in Ireland asked Malachy if he would go to Rome to request the palium for the two metropolitans of Ireland. On the way he stopped off at Clairvaux to spend some time with Bernard, but the time was to be short: while there he fell seriously ill and on the 2nd November he passed away in the arms of his friend. Grief-struck, Bernard still rose to the occasion (as he always did) and preached at the Requiem Mass which was celebrated in Clairvaux, in the sermon he declared that Malachy was a Saint. Rather than send the body home, a difficult proposition then, Bernard buried his friend in the abbey chapel, right in front of the high altar. Less than five years later Bernard himself died and, at his request, he was buried with Malachy.

In any age Malachy would be an extraordinary prelate; we could do with him now. In a way Ireland today is not much different from Ireland in his time, certainly many of the problems he had to face are still with us. He had the courage to face them and thanks to this genius and holiness he dealt with them. There was no compromising the Gospel with him, and he saw sin and laxity for what they were: corrupting forces within the Church and within humanity. He had a huge heart, a gentle demeanor and obvious love for his people, but this true Christian spirit did not lead him to the delusion that the Gospel can be sacrificed as a pastoral strategy to solve pastoral problems or keep people content. He was a Christian realist and understood, as Christ himself did, that the way to true happiness and peace was the way of fidelity to the Gospel even if it required heroic effort at times, an effort that would be enabled and crowned by God's grace. In essence Malachy was a believer and he lived by his belief, by his faith and trust in God.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Trampling On The Image Of Christ

I discovered a new Saint recently, one of our ancient witnesses to the Faith: the martyr St Stephen the Younger. Stephen was born in Constantinople, modern Istanbul, possibly around the 11th August 715 . His father was a craftsman, Gregory, and his mother was Anna, he was the youngest in the family having two older sisters. Baptised on Holy Saturday 716 he was not destined to follow his father's craft, but rather discerned a call to consecrate his life to God and the service of the Church. Respecting his decision his parents allowed him enter a monastery in Bithynia when he turned sixteen. A number of years later his father died, and having come home for the funeral, he returned to the monastery bringing his widowed mother and sister with him so he could care for them. The following year the abbot of the monastery died and Stephen was elected the successor. After twelve years serving his community as abbot, he resigned his office and retired to a remote place to embrace the life of a hermit.

However, the peace of the eremetical life would not last long. In 754 a council at Hieria condemned the use of images in Christianity (Iconoclasm), a position which was contrary to orthodox Christian faith. This council had been called by the emperor Constantine V who had embraced the Iconoclast heresy and he sought to impose it upon the whole Church. The Pope and many of the bishops of East and West rejected the rulings of the council, and though those who participated in it considered it an Ecumenical Council, it was never regarded as anything other than a mock synod. Stephen, like many others, refused to accept the decisions of the council. However while he was left in relative peace for a few years, in 760 he came to the attention of the iconoclasts and they meant to convert him to their position; however Stephen refused: he was not for abandoning the orthodox* position on the veneration of images.

Given his being renowned for holiness, the iconoclasts realised that they had to seriously damage Stephen's reputation to make him crack. So they made allegations of sexual impropriety against him, a sure fire way of undermining his position. He was accused of committing incest with his mother and, then as now, some believed it, others didn't, and many wondered: could there be smoke without fire? He was also accused of transgressing the laws of the emperor by forcing the emperor's favourite, Gregory Synkletos, to be tonsured - admitting him into the clerical state against his will. Though his reputation was now destroyed, Stephen continued to hold firm.

Failing to break him by accusation, Constantine had him arrested and confined to an Iconoclast monastery in Chrysopolis, after interrogations and ill treatment he maintained the orthodox position and so was exiled to the island of Prokonnesos to see if the deprivations there would break him: they didn't. After two years he was brought back to Constantinople to be questioned by the emperor himself. And this was where Stephen shone. 

The emperor demanded that he renounce the orthodox position: Stephen refused. An icon of the Lord was then produced and thrown on the ground - the emperor demanded that Stephen tread on it telling the monk that treading on an image of Christ was not the same thing as treading on Christ. Stephen put his hand on his pocket and took out a coin which bore on one side the image of the emperor. Stephen asked the emperor what would happen if someone were to tread on this image? The emperor was indignant, who could consider such a thing, it would be an insult to the emperor! Well then, likewise, Stephen responded, should not respect be shown to icons of Christ?

The emperor could not argue with this logic and so resorted to violence, as corrupt men and women of power often do. Stephen was sent to be scourged and beaten. Still alive after this ordeal, he was dragged through the streets of the city until he was dead. He is the most prominent martyr under Iconoclasm. 

Constantine and his fellow Iconoclasts did not think there was anything wrong in dishonouring images of Christ, ultimately these images were nothing, insignificant. Yet as St Stephen demonstrated to trample on an image of Christ is to attack him because the image is representative of him. So too in many other ways. We all know that the oppression of peoples is akin to trampling on Christ, since we offend those he has redeemed, those created in the image and likeness of God, the ones who are close to his Heart. 

But then there is also the issue of Christ teachings: what Christ taught reflects him since it is his word; we could say then that the teachings of Christ are his image since they are the means through which we can be ttransfomed into closer images of him.  And what about those who dismiss or undermine these teachings, say that they are no longer relevant or need to be updated, or misinterpret them, are they not also trampling on the image of Christ? If Christ says one thing, but we say another, or live and act in a way that is contrary to what he says, are we not being iconoclastic? And if ministers of the Church embrace and promote measures that are contrary to Christ's teaching but deem their measures more merciful, are they not saying they are more merciful that Christ and so trample on Christ himself as on his image? 

Mosaic of St Stephen the Younger

* When I speak of orthodox here I do not mean the Orthodox Church, but rather the position of "right teaching", adherence to the authentic teachings of Christ and his Church.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

For Joseph

Wednesdays are traditionally dedicated to St Joseph, a day of special prayer to the Foster-Father of the Lord. At our prayer group on Monday evening last, one of our members Ellen, drew my attention to a song about St Joseph, recorded by Tricia Yearwood. It has been around for some time, so forgive me if you know it already, but for those you who don't it's a lovely song which honours the man who raised the Infant Christ as his own. Thanks, Ellen!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

"The Lord Opened His Mouth In The Assembly"

In traditional piety today is St Anthony's day - Tuesday. Like many others I light my candle at the statue of the Saint in the church here and say my prayers, invoking his help and, if I have time, I'll try and dip into his Sermons for some gems to ruminate on throughout the day - and there are always gems. As you know, for me Anthony is the great teacher in the way of the Scriptures - the Evangelical Doctor as Pope Pius XII designated him. 

As a man of the Word of God he was called by the Lord, through his superiors, to preach the Gospels, which he did with great eloquence and learning, drawing on images to keep his congregations engaged and offering practical means of living the Gospel, and so many turned back to God. Given that God used Anthony's preaching to touch the hearts of so many it was seen as appropriate that the Saint's tongue and vocal chords should be discovered to be incorrupt. Today both organs are preserved in reliquaries, and with one, the tongue, an interesting devotion has developed thanks to the piety of St Bonaventure.

When the remains of Anthony were first examined in 1263 St Bonaventure, when he saw the incorrupt tongue declared: "O blessed tongue, you who have always praised the Lord and made others praise Him, now it is clearly evident how much merit you have before the Lord!" It has become a pious invocation offered in honour of Anthony's eloquent preaching of the Word of God. Such invocations remind us of the power of the Gospel and how it should become a living reality in our lives. Anthony's tongue is a symbol of its proclamation in flesh, our lives should be a sign of its effectiveness, we are to become the Gospel in flesh. Like Anthony we should use our tongues in the service of the Gospel - the tongue is the most dangerous weapon known to mankind, it needs careful managing hence the psalm prays "keep watch over my mouth". 

So, for the day that is in it, I offer you some prayers in honour of St Anthony's tongue. There are different novenas and triduums, but this is one I found usually offered over thirteen days. I will post the whole prayer so you can copy it and use it as is convenient. 

Prayers In Honor Of The Blessed Tongue Of St. Anthony

(They can be recited for an exercise of thirteen Tuesdays in his honor, or during thirteen days in succession, or the first nine can be used for a nine day Novena.)

First Day

O Marvelous Saint, whose Blessed Tongue did always bless the Lord and cause others to bless Him! To reward thee God has glorified thy tongue by granting to it upon this earth the favor of incorruptibility which has continued for seven centuries. I bless thy tongue, I venerate it with the same sentiments of faith, devotion and love that animated Saint Bonaventure when he kissed it, praised it, blessed it and venerated it. I thank the Lord Who has sanctified thy tongue, rendering it miraculous and glorious on earth, and I beg Him to grant a true devotion toward thee, that I may merit thy protection during this life, in all my spiritual and corporal needs, and merit also to rise again with all the Saints.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be
St Anthony, pray for us.

Second Day

O Blessed Tongue, which always did bless the Lord, and cause others to bless Him, now does it appear plainly how highly thou were esteemed by God. O marvelous Saint, whose Blessed Tongue did always bless the Lord and cause others to bless, praise, thank and pray to Him, I bless and venerate thee, I thank God Who created thy tongue and sanctified it by His grace, and I implore Him, through thy merits, to purify and sanctify my tongue, that by it I may continually praise, bless and thank the Lord, and never offend Him.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be
St Anthony, pray for us.

Third Day

O Marvelous Saint, whose Blessed Tongue did always bless the Lord, and cause others to bless Him, without ever offending Him, by words or guilty conversations, I bless and venerate thee, and thanking God Who preserved thee from all sins of the tongue implore Him through thy merits, to preserve my tongue from every sinful word and discourse.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be
St Anthony, pray for us.

Fourth Day

O Marvelous Saint, whose Blessed Tongue did always receive Jesus in His Sacrament worthily, I bless and venerate thee, thanking God Who has sanctified thee by His graces and His Most Holy Sacrament, I implore Him to pardon me for having so often profaned by sin my tongue, sanctified and consecrated so many times by contact with the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in my communions. O great Saint, obtain for me the grace to preserve my tongue pure and spotless from sin, that I may henceforth merit to receive Jesus Christ worthily in the Sacrament of His love.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be
St Anthony, pray for us.

Fifth Day

O Marvelous Saint, whose Blessed Tongue did always bless the Lord, praying and singing to Him with devotion and attention, I bless and venerate thee. I thank God for giving thee the spirit of prayer and gift of contemplation, and through thy merits, I implore Him to grant me the grace that all the prayers my tongue shall recite may spring from an attentive and recollected heart.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be
St Anthony, pray for us.

Sixth Day

O Marvelous Saint, whose Blessed Tongue did always bless the Lord, with Whom thou didst hold familiar conversation when He appeared to thee under the form of a graceful Child, I bless and venerate thee, and thanking God for the sweet apparitions and tender conversations with which He favored thee, I implore thee to obtain for me the grace to always converse devoutly and affectionately with Jesus in His Sacrament after Holy Communion.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be
St Anthony, pray for us.

Seventh Day

O Marvelous Saint, whose Blessed Tongue did always bless the Lord, and cause others to bless Him, by teaching men the knowledge of their faith and duties by converting so many sinners, I bless and venerate thee. I thank God Who has given thee so much charity, wisdom and zeal, and I implore you to obtain from Him the same gifts for me, and for all, that we may labor, by our examples and words, to procure the glory of God, and the conversion of sinners.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be
St Anthony, pray for us.

Eighth Day

O Marvelous Saint, whose Blessed Tongue did always bless the Lord, and cause others to bless Him, when in preaching and speaking in one language, thou were, by a miracle, heard, at a distance, and understood by people of every nation and language, I bless and venerate thee, and, thanking God for making of thee such a zealous workman and so admirable in the conversion of sinners, I implore thee, to attract the blessings of divine goodness on my tongue, that it may never do harm, and may always promote the glory of God and my neighbor's welfare.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be
St Anthony, pray for us.

Ninth Day

O Marvelous Saint, whose Blessed Tongue did always bless the Lord, and cause others to bless Him, when they saw the fish themselves obey thee, and raise their heads from the water to listen to thy words, when they saw a common horse prostrate itself to adore Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Sacrament, I bless and venerate thee, I thank God for having worked such prodigies to confirm thy faith, thy sanctity and thy teachings; I implore thee to obtain for me the grace to hear with fruit, the word of God, and to be devout to the Holy Sacrament of the altar.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be
St Anthony, pray for us.

Tenth Day

O Marvelous Saint, whose Blessed Tongue did always bless the Lord, and cause others to bless Him, even to obliging the infernal spirits to obey thee, and to quit the bodies which they possessed, by saying to them, "Behold the cross of the Lord! Fly, ye powers of darkness, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, has conquered. Alleluia." I bless, praise and venerate thee, and, thanking God for giving thee such power over hell, beseech thee to cause me to be delivered and preserved from the snares and temptation of the devil, as well as all those who recite with faith, and carry with confidence the words pronounced by thy tongue.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be
St Anthony, pray for us.

Eleventh Day

O Marvelous Saint, whose Blessed Tongue did always bless the Lord, and cause others to bless Him, by reconciling enemies, converting malefactors and robbers, humbling a tyrant at thy feet, and humiliating hardened heretics, I bless, praise and venerate thee, I thank God for giving such strength and persuasion to thy words, and I implore thee to obtain for me grace and zeal to exercise fraternal correction with prudence and meekness, so as to prevent evil and effect good.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be
St Anthony, pray for us.

Twelfth Day

O Marvelous Saint, whose Blessed Tongue did always bless the Lord, and cause others to bless Him, who has commanded with authority and faith, the unchained elements, disease and death itself, while God has worked through you as an instrument of so many astounding prodigies, prodigies which He still continues from day to day, I bless and venerate thee. I thank God for granting thee the privilege of distributing so many graces and working such wondrous miracles, and I implore thee to use it in my favor, and in favor of all those who have devotion to thee.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be
St Anthony, pray for us.

Thirteenth Day

O Marvelous Saint, whose Blessed Tongue did always bless the Lord, and cause others to bless Him, thanks to all thy prerogatives, thanks to the veneration in which thou hast ever been held, thanks to thy powerful intercession, all can clearly see how great is thy merit before God, Who gives thee such glory in heaven, so much power and veneration on earth, I rejoice with thee, I venerate thee, and, thanking God for all thy virtues, merits and the glory which He gives thee, and will give thee in heaven and on earth, I promise to be truly devout to thee by imitating thy virtues as far as I am able, especially by keeping my tongue from sin, by employing it in praising and thanking God, and praying never more to offend Him. Obtain for me from our Lord, with the pardon of all the faults which my tongue has committed, or made others commit, the grace never more to make use of it to offend Him. For this intention, I will recite every day, or at least every Tuesday, the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory be to the Father, thirteen times, to thank the Most Holy Trinity for the graces, glory and privileges which have been granted to thee, in order to be worthy of thy protection during this life, of thy assistance at the hour of my death, and of thy blessed company in heaven. Amen

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be
St Anthony, pray for us.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Lost Childhood, Lost Children

A few days ago at home with my family for an evening we sat down to watch a movie together; we decided to watch Netflix's first foray into film-making, Beasts of No Nation. We were riveted to the screen. 

For those who have not seen it the movie deals with the issue of child soldiers in African conflicts through the experiences of one little boy. Filmed in Ghana, the movie is set in an unnamed country torn apart by corruption and civil war. The boy, Agu, witnesses the murder of most of his family by government troops as he flees into the jungle to save his life. There he is captured by a rebel group and is trained to fight in the conflict that is developing around him. The movie is harrowing and has a number of disturbing scenes, but it is powerful. The acting is extraordinary and the cinematography is marvellous. 

The movie is a work of art, but it is first and foremost a expose of one of the most serious abuses of children in the world - their direct incorporation into the violence and horror of war as combatants. One critic called the movie "an emotionally and spiritually punishing experience" and it is. Agu (wonderfully played by Abraham Attah) suffers what no child should suffer. We witness the destruction not just of a childhood, but of a child. When it is all over for him Agu can no longer see himself as a human being only as a beast - what he has seen, what he has done, has killed him inside. Agu's trauma is not fiction, it is representative of the experience of thousands of children today.

Too often we hear of conflicts in Africa, Asia, South America, but they seem generic: the media reports from the battle fields, we tut, we say how awful it is, but then move on, Those caught in the middle of it all cannot move on, the horror continues and they suffer, and the ones who suffer the most are the children, as usual. When adults seek to take control, to seize power, to create utopia, it is the children who suffer, be it in the jungles, the city streets, the abortion clinics, dysfunctional families.

A few years ago another movie was released called The Kids Are Alright. It related what could only be called the dysfunctional and selfish relationships between adults and in spite of it all the kids in the middle of it all were fine: well adjusted, mature and accepting. But you see the kids are not alright, even if they appear to cope, they are lost - they look to adults to provide stability and safety, but when the adults are self-obsessed, intent on "self-fulfillment" and pleasure or ideology, there is no stability; there is only the constant needs of those who should be making sacrifices for their children. Beasts of No Nation deals with political conflict, but, like many other situations in the world today it reveals how children become pawns in the concerns of adults, and children suffer, they are traumatized, they lose their childhood, perhaps even lose themselves. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

A Time For Peace

The Synod is over, thank God. At the end of it all the Fathers have endorsed, albeit in obscure language, the teaching of the Church and her pastoral practice as reiterated in St John Paul II's Familiaris Consortio.  Sadly there is enough ambiguity to give those who dissent from Christ's teaching space and ground to continue their campaign and already some religious media networks and the secular media are twisting the truth to fit their agenda. Be warned, this is not over.

These have been traumatic weeks, and it is sad to say it, but there is now a serious division in the Church, a division not seen since 1968 when Blessed Paul VI promulgated Humanae Vitae. Pope Francis has many problems to face, the most pressing now concerning the growing disunity in the Church since he took office. As Pontiff he has to live up to his title and seek to build bridges, a process that must be grounded in the truth and not ideology. This will be an uphill task, however if he is to face it and have any success he has to dispense with denunciations and insults. Sadly his last talk to the Synod with its barbed comments towards the orthodox was not a good start.

All of us need to pray - for the Church in this difficult time, and for the Pope. It is not the time for in-fighting, insults, personal attacks or hatred. We are meant to be disciples of Christ, Children of God: how we deal with disagreements should differ from the way the world deals with them. We do not go to war, we seek reconciliation in truth guided by charity. As the first among us, it falls to Francis to show us the way.  

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Battle Within

St Paul writing his Letters in prison

Our first reading at Mass today is very consoling - St Paul's personal testimony on his struggle with sin and temptation from his Letter to the Romans (Cf. Romans 7:18-25a). If such a great Saint had his struggles, and we can see from what he writes that they were serious struggles, then there is hope for all of us! That, coupled with the feast we celebrate today, that of St John of Capistrano, offers us an important lesson for our daily Christian lives: the need to battle with our own weaknesses as we proceed along the path of holiness.

As many tell us, and we may know for ourselves, life is no picnic, it is not meant to be. In fact, as St John Paul II discovered when he was working as a young man in the quarry outside Krakow, it is in struggling, labour, suffering, we taste the nature of life and we meet it, not on its own terms, but, through faith, in terms set by Christ in which the seeds of victory have already been sown. Hence the need to keep close to Christ. 

It is interesting that it is in those moments we are weakest we may well meet Christ. St Paul in his reflections on his weakness tells us that it was then that he realized how strong Christ was and he put his faith in that strength, so much so that he could say "when I am weak I am strong": in his battle with himself he realized he had to be weak so he could then truly rely on the strength of Christ. St John of Capistrano also discovered this. Life was going great for him: a brilliant lawyer, he was a judge at a very young age and then raised to the office of Governor of Perugia at the age of 29! But then it all fell apart: negotiating a peace deal between warring cities he was captured and thrown into prison: was this how it was going to end? At his lowest, St Francis appeared to him and the Poverello showed him the way forward: Christ. So began the life of the great missionary of Europe.

I wrote a few days ago on St Damien of Moloka'i. Many praised his heroism during his lifetime, we honour his holiness, but we should not forget his weaknesses, and they were all too apparent as he lived on an isolated peninsula surrounded by death and facing a avalanche of needs every day from an outcast people. The consolation of confession did not come often enough for him as the authorities kept a tight rein on who could and could not go to Kalaupapa. His experience was raw on many levels, and certainly so in terms of his struggles with his weaknesses. But he put his trust in God, like St Paul and St John of Capistrano he fought the fight and was victorious, not through his own efforts, but rather through his cooperation with Christ and the grace the Lord gave him.

So we are consoled today. Thank God for the sacrament of confession in which we can bare our souls, seek mercy, find it and receive the grace of God to help us in our weakness. Thank God for the example of the Saints. Never forget that none of us are alone, and certainly not alone when we are in the depths of our struggle, the Saints look on, not as judges, but as our loving brothers and sisters who know how hard it is at times to battle with the self, to forget self and strive to be a better person, a better Christian. They were victorious in their struggle because they stayed close to Jesus and, bit by bit, and they advise us to do the same. They pray for us, they accompany us, and the Lord Jesus encourages them to console us as he comes himself to help us in our weakness.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Year of Mercy Pilgrimage

To mark the Year of Mercy I will be leading a pilgrimage to Poland to celebrate the feast of Divine Mercy at the Divine Mercy Sanctuary in Krakow. The pilgrimage is open to everyone and I am taking this opportunity to invite you to join me on what we are hoping will be a fruitful spiritual experience for the Jubilee Year. 

We will visit the Shrine in Krakow where the remains of St Faustina are preserved, but also places associated with St John Paul II, the great Sanctuary of Our Lady at Czestochowa and Auschwitz Concentration Camp, among other places. The dates: 31st March to 8th April 2016 and the cost is €1069 per person sharing.

If you are interested contact Louise at JWT on 01 241 0800 (or outside Ireland: + 353 1 241 0800) or by email at Pilgrims from outside Ireland can join us, just talk to Louise. Please spread the word.

For The Day That's In It....

A few memories of that momentous day for the Church. When he walked out on the balcony did we ever suspect that the "man from a far country" would achieve so much? His legacy is extraordinary, may it enrich the Church and each one of us.

"Holiness Is Fitting For Your House"

Two Saints: St John Paul II and St Maria de la Purisima meet during the Pontiff's visit to Seville

There are so many things we could reflect on today, the feast of St John Paul II. Given recent events we could launch into his teaching on marriage and the family, his theology of the body, his reflections on the nature of sex and its theological significance. However, there is one thing missing from all the talking at the Synod and it is that theme which was central to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, the reason for the Church, the motivation of the Church and the element which was to inspire the laity, clergy and religious to renew and was the basis of renewal: the universal call to holiness. 

The more I read St John Paul's writings on the nature of man the more I see him pointing in one direction - to sainthood - not as an unreachable ideal but as the ordinary state of a human being: anything less than that is not fully human. A theme the Synod should have looked at is the family as the seed-ground of holiness, the forum in which spouses and children learn authentic heroism. The Christian Marriage is all about heroism, hence Christ's seeing the need to make it a sacrament.

As a Pole John Paul loved his Saints, and I suppose that is another reason why God chose him to be Pope. His philosophy and theology were no mere academic ruminations, but the fruit of prayer, observation, listening and reflection. As he listened to the experiences of married couples he could see their joys and struggles in the context of faith and our human destiny, and he realised that it was all about holiness - the struggle for holiness, rejoicing in holiness, celebrating holiness, propagating holiness through word, example and, yes, sacrifice. It was the Pauline race for the laurels that never fade, it was carrying the disciple's cross to the summit, it was being transformed through vision of Mount Tabor accessed through prayer. 

St John Paul II encouraged us all to strive to be Saints, not to engage in a fantasy, but to finally open our eyes and see what Christ was getting at. "Can you not see?", he said to his disciples time and time again - not that they had to see that we are weak and need to wallow in that weakness and cry mercy as an excuse, but rather we see that we can be strong in faith: we need to get up off our beds, open our eyes, lose the baggage and open ourselves to the grace that transforms. Sadly, so many Christians do not see this. Comfortably wedged into the bare minimum or, worse, respectable Christianity, we have lost the ability to see. 

To celebrate St John Paul's feast well, we need only remember that where he has gone we are called also to follow. As the psalm says "Holiness is fitting for your House, O Lord" and indeed it is: the Church is the House of the Lord and it is to filled with holy people, and if we are not holy yet, then we must strive to be, and support each other on that path. I am beginning to think that the greatest enemies of the Church are actually those within who discourage holiness, who tell people that they just fine as they are because God loves them. They are wrecking Christ's plan of salvation for all of us. Yes, we all fall, but we must get up if we are to have any chance. To be fully human is to be a Saint.

Happy feast day to you all.

St John Paul and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

"A Little Less Than A God"

During one of the recent conclaves, I think it was the last, as the white smoke was rising in plumes from the Sistine Chapel chimney, a journalist was mingling through the gathering crowd seeking opinions on who might be the next Pope. One lady answered him, "I don't know who has been elected, but I know I love him". To love the Pope is part of our spiritual genetics as Catholics, we hold him who occupies the Office of Peter in deep veneration and give added weight to what he says because he is the Successor and Vicar of Peter and the Vicar of Christ, God's representative on earth, the head of the Church on earth. Interestingly, when Catholics lapse or turn to hate the Church, they often reserve a special contempt for the Pope; that's consistent.

However, as we hold the Pope in particular veneration, we must be careful not to make an idol of him. The Pope is a servant of the Church, the servant of the servants of God, and so he too is subject to the doctrine, teachings and traditions of the Church. As Pope Benedict once said in response to a call for him to change certain doctrines: "But I am only the Pope, I can't change them". That was not a expression of humility on Benedict's part, nor an excuse to preserve the status quo, it was a statement of fact. The office of the Papacy is to preserve and protect what Christ has revealed as an act of service not only to God and to the truth, but also to the Faithful. The Pope is the symbol of unity in the Church, hence we speak of being in communion with the Pope, in communion with Peter, and so in communion with Christ who gave the keys to Peter to govern and to strengthen the faith of his brethren.

Sadly, in the history of the Church there have been movements to extend the Pope's office beyond that which is permitted by revelation and tradition, movements to make the Pope, in a sense, an oracle in the Church. These movements are called ultramontane, a term from the Middle Ages it means "beyond the mountain" referring originally to a non-Italian who had been elected Pope and who came to Rome from beyond the mountains, the alps. It has since come to refer to a belief in the Pope's utter supremacy and infallibility in matters not only ecclesiastic and spiritual but even political. One of the most fervent periods of ultramontanism occurred in the 19th century as the dogma of the infallibility of the Pope was being debated. There were some who sought an all-encompassing definition, but there were others, Blessed John Henry Newman among them, who shied away from this, they understood the proper role of the Pope and feared the development of an attitude that raised the Pope to the level of a god, an oracle. When Blessed Pius IX defined the dogma it was within the parameters of the tradition, but there are still some who misinterpret it in high papalist fashion.

Why all this? Well yesterday I read a piece on the issues being discussed in the Synod and it seemed to be the perfect example of ultramontanism. For charity's sake I will not say who the writer is, but the person was arguing for a change in the law regarding Communion for the divorced and remarried. This writer drew on Pope Francis's remarks that the Eucharist is not a prize for the strong but a medicine for the weak. Responding to a critique of this remark that the weak did not mean the unrepentant in mortal sin, this writer came to the conclusion that the unrepentant are the weak and they need the Eucharist to make them strong to repent. The writer is wrong: arguing that in the name of mercy, those who persist in mortal sin can have access to the Eucharist because they are in a persistent state of mortal sin. Not only does this undermine the teaching of the Church and the teaching of Christ himself, it does not make sense. 

There are plenty of arguments out there to answer the position this writer has taken, but the person proposing this has been for many years an orthodox Catholic, a great defender of Pope Benedict XVI during his papacy when many were attacking him, a defender of that Pope's teaching on this issue as laid out quite clearly in Sacramentum Caritatis (Cf. section 29). But why the sea-change so suddenly? The answer, it seems to me concerns devotion to the Pope. This person is a great defender of Pope Francis just as much as Pope Benedict and, rightly, has defended Francis in face of unjust attacks on him. There are those in the Church who do not like him, for various reasons, and so he can do no right. That attitude to the Pope is wrong and unjust. As Pope, the legitimate Pope, Francis deserves our loyalty, our love and our prayers. 

That said it does not mean we become ultramontanist and believe that everything a Pope says and does is right and must be adhered to. Every Pope makes mistakes and there are times when, as loyal children of the Pope, we must correct him. Scripture offers us an example of this in St Paul's challenging St Peter (Galatians 2:11-14). This challenge, however, must be subject to charity and that respect due to the office. If a Pope is wrong, it is not disloyalty to question him or even at times to oppose him. If a Pope proposes a change in teaching or practice which undermines orthodox teaching it is not disloyalty to challenge or oppose him. At times Popes have been wrong in terms of decisions, judgements, personal beliefs, there have even been situations where Popes veered very close to heresy, and it would be wrong prudentially to slavishly follow them at such times. The fact that Popes can be wrong does not undermine that special charism which is given to the Pope to preserve the doctrinal integrity of the Faith. Papal infallibility falls within very narrow parameters that are defined, they do not include off cuff remarks nor casual teachings. The charism does not prevent a Pope going off in the wrong direction and preparing teaching that is erroneous, it merely prevents him promulgating it in a formal magisterial document. For a good illustration of this see the example of Pope Sixtus V (which is very sobering). 

In recent times we have heard defenders of Pope Francis brand as disloyal and unCatholic those who are troubled with some things he says. Even figures within the Vatican are targeting orthodox Catholics, great defenders of the faith known for their good lives and expertise, who are defending Church law in the face of attempts by some to change it. Ironically many of those who are responsible for these accusations were not known for their loyalty to previous Popes. But there are those who were firm defenders of Francis successors, one indeed, a senior Church figure, who told the Pope recently that the Holy Spirit speaks through him and so we must assent and follow everything he says. The Holy Spirit does try to guide the Pope in a special way, but that does not mean every word uttered by a Pope comes from the Spirit. Such panegyrics are expressions of thoughtless ultramontanism, expressions that would make Blessed Pius IX blush, and, I hope, make Pope Francis extremely uncomfortable. But, sadly, at the beginning of the 21st Century, this is where we are again. 

Pope Francis once said, "I am a faithful son of the Church" and that is what he aims to be and should aim to be, as we all should be. He has no power to change Church teaching, and even if in a fit of madness or abandon he tried to turn Church teaching on its head and demand our adherence, the loyal expression of our love to the Office of Peter would be to resist it - for our sakes, for the sake of the Church and for the sake of the Vicar of Christ. Every Pope is a weak man called to the highest office on earth, a most lonely and fearful position, and called to be the symbol of unity of the Church and the defender of the Faith. It is an office that will one day cost him his life, and he is asked to lay that life down in imitation of Christ and in imitation of the one he succeeds - Peter crucified on the very hill on which the Pope now lives. He needs the prayer and support of the faithful, not their presumption that he is an oracle, a superhuman entity infused with divine wisdom. He is a man called to be the Holy Father, the Universal Pastor, not God. 

The Poor In Spirit

While away on holiday I read some books on St Damien of Moloka'i; books I had been meaning to read for some time, together with a biography of St Marianne Cope I had just bought. The more I read about Damien the more I admire him, what an extraordinary man and priest. He lived in the heart of the Church and in his ministry to the lepers of Moloka'i, cast out from the world, he brought them right into the heart of the Church with him. 

During his lifetime few really understood Damien, even his superior and the bishop in Honolulu failed to appreciate him. While the world admired him (safely from a distance) his superiors thought it had all gone to his head as he continued to plead for resources for his "poor lepers".  They thought he was heroic, but proud and committing these opinions to writing they held up his Cause for decades. The Church finally cleared Damien of pride when she discovered it was his superiors who failed to see the wonder of holiness that was unfolding in front of their eyes. Damien was the epitome of the poor in spirit, and one episode from his life gives us a glimpse of it: I would like to share it with you today.

The episode is recounted in the official biography of St Marianne Cope by Sr Mary Laurence Hanley OSF and O.A. Bushnell. It is taken from the account of Mother Marianne's life by one of her sisters, Sr Leopoldina who accompanied her to Moloka'i to run the Bishop Home for Girls. Sr Leopoldina's memoirs are a great first hand account of the sisters's first years on Moloka'i, though her spelling and punctuation are quite unorthodox this rawness actually adds to the vivacity of her story. She relates that one evening she went out into the backyard of the convent to hang out some clothes on the line when she had an encounter with Damien. She writes:
I was startled by a silent black figure kneeling in the bed of fresh dug ground with the face close to the wall...that is the back of the chapel. Poor Father Damien was on his sore swollen knees...adoring our Blessed Lord in the Sacrament of His Love, there was only a thin board wall between him and the alter [sic] and as there was no entrance to the chapel [except] through the house, and he would not do that...It seemed to me there was something so sad and pitiful about it I could not keep the tears back.
The image of poor Damien kneeling like a beggar outside the chapel adoring his Lord through the wall, unable, thanks to his leprosy, to enter the building, is heartbreaking. Leopoldina goes on to tell us that Damien saw the tears in her eyes and asked if she was alright, she couldn't answer, she said to herself he would not have understood. He did not see himself as pitiful, but rather as a poor disciple of Christ adoring his Lord. What love for Jesus, what respect for the Blessed Sacrament: what holiness!

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.