Saturday, January 31, 2015

A Father Of Saints

Given the year that is in it, I cannot let this feast pass today: the feast of St John Bosco. This year marks the two hundredth anniversary of his birth, and there are great celebrations taking place throughout the year in Turin, including a special exposition of the Shroud of Turin (I'm bringing a group, are you interested in joining us? See here for details).

There are so many wonderful things to reflect on in the life and mission of Don Bosco. At the heart of his life was his service to the young, and surely the sign of this great work are those children, educated by him or his spiritual sons and daughters, who are now numbered among the Saints and Beati of the Church. One of the great legacies Don Bosco has left us is that of promoting sanctity - there are many Salesian Saints, Beati, Venerables and Servants of God. 

The message is clear - when we reach out to help others in this life, we must also seek to help them reach out for that life which is destined for them in God's kingdom. Don Bosco was certainly one to say "all this and heaven too". Social activism, service of the poor, education and all those wonderful and important works of charity must never lose sight of the importance of leading souls to God, most especially those souls that are wounded or lost. Don Bosco's genius lay in the fact that he was able to do both.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Interesting Piece For You

Remember just because everyone is doing it doesn't mean it's right or safe, it just means everyone is doing it, and perhaps, later on, someone else will have to take the trouble to clear up the mess.

An Idea For the Pope Regarding The Homeless

The Vatican is getting into the hairdressing business, it seems, according to recent reports: it will provide a free hair-cutting service for the homeless of Rome. Very good. That will go well with the showers that are being installed near St Peter's Square.  However, I think we can do better than that. 

I was talking with a friend of mine who also studied in Rome and he told me that the Holy See owns a lot of apartments around the city which are standing empty. Meanwhile she has some large buildings in which members of the Curia live - Domus Sancta Martha being one, but I believe there is another one down towards the end of the Via di Conciliazione which is mostly empty. My friend suggested that it might be good idea if the priests in the Curia would be allowed move into the apartments, and then take one of the large buildings and turn it into a house for the homeless? That house would be on Vatican territory, so the Holy See would not be hampered by unwieldy Italian/EU legislation etc. There are plenty of priests and religious in the city who could assist in running it and the Holy Father could pop down now and again to offer Mass there. 

The house could also serve as a drop-in centre for those homeless who prefer to live on the streets. Basic medical care could be provided, as well as the showers and the hair-dressing service. Now I know the Church has countless houses and support agencies for the homeless in Rome and around the world and many dining rooms and drop-in centres, but what a wonderful symbol this house would be - in the heart of the Church, on Vatican territory, and a marvellous legacy from a Pope whose first concern in his Pontificate has been the poor. To be honest, while they are nice gestures, the showers and now the hair cuts seem paltry in comparison with what could be done. 

Just an idea.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Wise Words

In the Church today there are two groups - those who believe the Church is here to preach the Gospel for the salvation of souls, centred on the cross of Jesus Christ; and those who believe the Church is here to preach a Gospel of social activism in order to advance a particular political agenda. 

True. How often have I preached the actual teaching of Jesus at Mass and then, later, being accused by certain parties of being unChristian? I know plenty of priests who have the same experience on a regular basis. Sometimes one is tempted to conclude that for many people in the Church today the most unChristian person who ever lived was Christ.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Meeting At The Well


Our parish reading group, The Interior Life group, are studying St  Therese's Story of a Soul - it is proving very popular and members of the group have many insights to offer. I get great enjoyment out of the group. One of the joys I am experiencing at the moment is the discovery by some that St Therese as she really was/is is very different from what they thought she was/is. The plaster statue of the "little flower" has led people to think of her as sentimental and rosy all the time. The reality, of course, is very different - she was wild, profound, strong, intelligent, direct, a woman of enormous substance. And she was not always the saint she became - she may have been a very different, a less virtuous woman had it not been for the Christmas grace. 

This evening in our reading one event stuck me forcibly (we were discussing chapter five - that which deals with the Christmas grace, her intercession for Pranzini and her attempts to get permission to enter Carmel at fifteen) she came to ask her father for permission to enter Carmel as he was sitting by a well in the garden of Les Buissonnets. Though I have read the book many times, I had not noticed the well ! Wow ! How biblical is that ?!

As you know in Scripture the well was always associated with betrothal and marriage. When Abraham sent a servant to look for a wife for his son Isaac, the servant met the future wife, Rebekah at a well. Jacob met his wife Rachel also at a well - and it was at that same well that Jesus met the Samaritan woman in an encounter resonating with images of betrothal and marriage - the marriage of the soul and the Church to Christ. Moses also met his future wife at a well. So the Jews - and Samaritans, venerated (if I can use that word) the well as an image of espousal.

And so we have Therese, intent on becoming a bride of Christ, desiring to be betrothed to him, coming to her father at the well to seek his permission. The contract was negotiated there, Blessed Louis consented, and the bride-to-be rejoiced. They then went for a walk around the garden where Blessed Louis gave her the little flower, its roots intact, which St Therese took as a sign of her vocation - the little flower being uprooted from this garden to be planted whole in a new garden, the garden of the Lord.

I wonder if Therese ever made the connection?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Another Martin Saint

Wonderful news! The Cause of Leonie Martin, sister of St Therese of Lisieux and daughter of Blesseds Louis and Zelie Martin has been opened in the Diocese of Bayeux-Lisieux. 

Leonie, or Sr Francoise-Therese in religion, had a difficult life but became one of the first disciples of her sister and a major exponent of the Little Way. She was restless for most of her early life, indeed she was a victim of abuse by one of the Martin family servants - the cause of Leonie's difficulties. She tried her vocation a number of times, but could never settle. After Therese's death she went to the Visitation Sisters in Caen and there she found a loving home and peace in her heart - I personally believe St Therese obtained many graces for her sister so she could settle. Leonie went on to live a holy life, and since her death in 1941 her cult has been steadily growing.

I remembering visiting her tomb in the crypt of the Visitation Sisters in Caen, it was a wonderful experience.  Her tomb was covered in letters, notes, flowers, photographs, testaments to the many people who had visited seeking Leonie's prayers.  Let's hope we will see her beatified very soon.

In terms of patronage, I think Leonie would be a powerful patron for the abused and those experiencing physiological and behavioural difficulties. If you are looking a good biography you should get Leonie Martin: A Difficult Life by Marie Baudouin-Croix, a wonderful book and a must for those parents who may have a difficult child.

Leonie's tomb in Caen

Friday, January 23, 2015

Rabbit-Free Zone

I'm saying nothing ! Let's just pray and try to parse what the Holy Father is really saying, even if it is said awkwardly.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Aggie And Vinnie

The last few days has seen the Church celebrate the feasts of three of the martyrs of the Great Persecution - those who were killed under Diocletian. Sebastian, Agnes and Vincent of Saragossa - a Milanese, a Roman and a Spaniard, revealing how widespread that persecution was. Of course they also reveal the variety of people who chose to die rather than renounce Christ, people from various walks of life. Sebastian was a soldier,a man of the world; Agnes was a young girl from a noble and wealthy Roman family, from a generation usually cossetted and taken up with frivolities, Agnes was precocious in her faith and her commitment to Christ. Vincent, a deacon, spending his life, and himself, in the service of the Church. All three lived in the world, would have been happy to live their lives in the midst of the world; but those lives would have been immersed in Christ and the Gospel, and the world, and its secular powers, was threatened by that.  I have been thinking about Agnes and Vincent in the context of where we are now. 

Agnes chose the way of virginity: she is a virgin martyr dying as much for her virginity as her faith - indeed for her the two were so intimately connected they could not be separated. In other times she may have been a consecrated religious, but not necessarily - there are those who are called to live the virginal life in the midst of the world. Agnes refused to marry, her suitors, offended at being turned down, denounced her as a Christian to the authorities, she was arrested and interrogated. If she agreed to give up her virginity, give in to the sexual mores of Roman society, she would have been spared. She refused and she was killed.

Agnes's witness in terms of her virginity is twofold. While she did not demean marriage, she discerned it was not her calling. As a Christian she understood her relationship as being one of total gift to Christ, of virginal consecration. This witness is beautiful but also challenging, it reveals to all of us that our being disciples of Christ will require a commitment which will effect the way we live our lives - to be a real Christian we have to allow the Gospel soak into our flesh as well as our souls, minds and hearts, and that will have consequences for how we live our lives. Our lives, even the intimate aspects of our lives, may well have to change. 

Agnes's witness to virginity also reminds us of something else: sex is not everything. We live in a society that has idolized sex, so much so that there are many people, Christians among them, who cannot understand how anyone can live without having sex, usually on a regular basis. Attacks on priestly celibacy usually emerge from this opinion, not from any concern for individual priests and their lives. There is also a certain Gnosticism attached to sex: having sex regularly, seems in the views of some, to confer a singular wisdom, an insight into reality which is denied to the virginal, the celibate and the chaste. Hence as priests we often hear people tell us we know nothing about real life because we are not married or we are virgins. Even in the context of marriage sex is not everything - the commitment is deeper than that. If a marriage is based on sex alone, or it is the most important aspect of the marriage, that marriage might not last, one of the spouses may well begin to feel that they are nothing more than a slave for the desires of the other.

Agnes, however, teaches us otherwise. She was a confident, free and wise young woman. She was courageous and strong even though she was so young when she was killed. She teaches us that we need to rethink our attitude to sex - it is not the be all and the end all. Of course it is important, it is a gift of God, but must be approached in its proper context (marriage), aware of its proper ends and the powerful passions which attach to it. The desire for sex can become one which can overpower us, and I think we see that clearly in society as morals, laws and the very fabric society is now being dismantled to cater for sexual desire. Lust, if raised to the level of a master and a judge, quickly becomes a tyrant; when given free reign it will never be a servant and will eventually destroy. God gave us reason and virtue to help us control our passions, he gave us the Commandments and the Gospel to assist our reason and help us form our virtues, and we should take account of this. We must also remember that the greatest act of love the world has ever seen was not a physical act of intimacy between lovers but rather the sacrifice of the God-man on the cross. 

St Vincent's example is one of fortitude in the midst of tremendous suffering. Like Agnes he would not conform to the desires of his persecutors who wanted to wipe out his virtuous adherence to the Gospel by renouncing his faith. If only Vincent had conformed he would have had it all, they lamented. They tried persuasion, as they usually do: how happy and fulfilled he would be if he followed their way of life. Yet, they were not happy, they were ensnared in vice and greed. The faithful deacon said no, and so they inflicted pain: he will give in if we keep torturing him - we will wear him down, he will have no choice but to renounce his faith and then our consciences will be eased. But Vincent did not give in: it was not stubbornness, it was the grace and strength of God - Vincent's persecutors forgot that they were not just attacking a man, they were attacking God and he has ways and means to resist that attack. We are told in the account of his martyrdom that Vincent was serene in the midst of his sufferings - the Lord he loved was supporting him. And so he died, falling, not into the pit of his enemies, but into the arms of his Saviour.

In the coming months we in Ireland are going to face something of what Vincent faced. The ungodly fury of those who hate our Christian faith will be unleashed as they try to force us to endorse what we know to be wrong. First they will try to persuade, tell us that to be really Christian and kind we have to go along with them. If we resist that, they will turn on us, attack us, and who knows what after that. Vincent's example should inspire us to remain steadfast and serene. We cannot endorse what is wrong nor should we facilitate others in doing what is wrong. 

May these holy martyrs watch over us in these times, assist us their prayers, and come down from heaven to stand by our sides in the midst of tribulation.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

"Same Sex Marriage" Referendum: The Wording

The government has published the wording of the amendment to the Constitution which will be the subject of May's referendum on "same sex marriage". The wording:
Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.
The government aims to insert it into Article 41.3.1 which speaks of guarding marriage as a means of protecting the family. The article is as follows:
The State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of Marriage, on which the Family is founded, and to protect it against attack.
The amendment will be placed at the end of the article to read as follows:
The State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of Marriage, on which the Family is founded, and to protect it against attack. Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.
As is obvious this referendum will have consequences far beyond what we are being told by the government, the media and the various interest groups pushing it. One of these may well be freedom of religion. If this view of marriage is enshrined in the Constitution can citizens legitimately oppose it, and can Churches defy it, refusing to "marry" same sex couples who come looking for a Church "wedding"? I think the answer to that would be no.  I also think many of those supporting the referendum know that as well - they won't admit it now, but later, when the court cases begin they will try to ensure Churches will forced to comply. And I think some of our esteemed judges will be only to happy to agree with them.

I notice the government will also push through legislation in the Dail - before the referendum, permitting gay couples to adopt children, this is to neutralize the arguments of the proponents of natural marriage concerning children.

We're not in Kansas anymore!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Learning From St Sebastian: Words of Wisdom From St Ambrose

In our Office of Readings today, the feast of St Sebastian, we read from St Ambrose's commentary on Psalm 118 in which he praises the Milanese martyr and draws important lessons from his life, his faith and his heroic witness.  Here is the extract from the Office which, I think, will prove encouraging for us in these difficult times.
To enter the kingdom of God we must endure many tribulations. If there are many persecutions, there are many testings; where there are many crowns of victory, there are many trials of strength.  It is then to your advantage if there are many persecutors; among many persecutions you may more easily find a path to victory.
Take the example of the martyr Sebastian, whose birthday in glory we celebrate today.
He was a native of Milan.  At a time when persecution either had ceased or had not yet begun or was of a milder kind he realized that there was only one slight, if any, opportunity for suffering.  
He set out for Rome, where bitter persecutions were raging because of the fervor of the Christians. There he endured suffering; there he gained his crown. He went to the city as a stranger and there established a home of undying glory.  If there had been only one persecutor, he would not have gained a martyr’s crown.
The persecutors who are visible are not the only ones.  There are also invisible persecutors, much greater in number.  This is more serious.  
Like a king bent on persecution, sending orders to persecute to his many agents, and establishing different persecutors in each city or province, the devil directs his many servants in their work of persecution, whether in public or in the souls of individuals.  
Of this kind of persecution Scripture says: All who wish to live a holy life in Christ Jesus suffer persecution  “All” suffer persecution; there is no exception.  Who can claim exemption when  the Lord himself endured the testing of persecution?  
How many there are today who are secret martyrs for Christ, giving testimony to Jesus as Lord!  The Apostle knew this kind of martyrdom, this faithful witnessing to Christ; he said: This is our boast, the testimony of our conscience.
In times of great darkness, we are called to bring great light, the light of Christ which enlightens our souls. In days when men and women fall back into the barbarity which faith and civilization had pushed back, we are to re-civilize through our prophetic witness.  

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Rose From Therese

Pope Francis holds up a medallion of St Therese of Lisieux after answering questions from the media aboard his flight to Manila (CNS)

I am sure many of you have heard, and perhaps even pray, the novena to St Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face asking her to send a rose as a sign. I have done it many times myself and always got a rose. 

It seems the Holy Father was doing the same novena for the success of his trip to Sri Lanka and The Philippines, and he got his rose - in the form of an image of St Therese given to him by one of the journalists. 

The Holy Father is quoted as saying that he asked Therese for a rose, but got an image instead. I would respectfully disagree, Holy Father, the rose can take many forms, and in this case it seems to be that you got the Little Flower herself, surely a sign of her particular intercession.

May St Therese continue to pray for the Holy Father and for all of us.  For those who never heard of the novena, here is the prayer for you.
O Little Therese of the Child Jesus
Please pick for me a rose
from the heavenly garden
and send it to me
as a message of love.
O Little Flower of Jesus,
ask God to grant the favors
I now place with confidence
in you hands
( mention your special prayer request here )
St. Therese, help me to always believe
as you did, in God's great love for me,
so that I may imitate your "Little Way" each day.

Pope Defends Catholic Teaching, Media Shocked?

Pope Francis has certainly raised a hornet's nest, again. His interview on board the flight back from Manila dealing with, among other things, issues of sexual morality has stunned members of the media. The media and others who share the ideological bent of the left tend to ignore Christian teaching on many other areas, they tend to focus on sex all the time. 

Anyway, Francis revealed, once again, that he supports Blessed Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae which simply reiterates Church teaching on marriage, procreation and life issues, indeed Francis has said that Humanae Vitae is a prophetic document, as indeed it is. The Holy Father's veneration for the work and its author was thoroughly revealed when he beatified Pope Paul last year. The media are not pleased.

The Holy Father's words on so-called "gay marriage", which he has spoken about before, has led to the media here in Ireland going nuts, assuming that this is Francis's (unwelcome) contribution to the debate on the same sex marriage referendum that is due to take place here in May. For all the talk about free speech, here in Ireland we see, and will see with greater intensity, efforts by the usual suspects to prevent reasoned objections to the referendum getting out. As one journalist said recently: the right to free speech does not imply the right to a platform to express it.

Is this the beginning of the end of the liberal media's honeymoon with Francis? Or will they ignore his orthodox teaching and use the ambiguous stuff to push their own agenda. I may be getting cynical in my old age, but I think the latter is more likely. That said, it falls to us, the faithful, to continue to proclaim the Gospel as given. We are at war, people. We didn't start it, but I'm afraid we have to fight it. Our chief weapon is the witness of our lives, then our carefully considered words. And don't forget prayer and fasting, necessary practices when we are facing the evil one and his work.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Thank You

Thanks to all of you who are praying for baby Paul. I have received messages from a number of people assuring me and his parents that they will pray for him. We are deeply grateful. Let us hope that the Lord will grant this prayer through Blessed Paul's intercession. As I said in my initial post, I will offer Mass for all those praying for little Paul, for their intentions and needs. God bless you.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Prayers Please. We're Looking For A Miracle

Dear readers, 

I am asking for your prayers because a miracle is needed. A friend of mine is expecting a baby but recent tests have revealed that the baby, a boy, has serious heart defects. 

We are turning to Blessed Paul VI to intercede with the Lord, and we are asking him for a miracle. Could I ask you all to remember this little baby in your prayers and to ask Blessed Paul VI specifically for a miracle so the child will be cured of the defects and born healthy. Could I also ask that you ask your friends to do the same? The mother has decided to call the baby Paul, so let us intercede for Baby Paul.

I will be offering a Mass for Paul and his mother and family, but I will also offer another Mass for the intentions of all those who join us in this campaign of prayer. Who knows, if we get a miracle, we may have what is necessary to see Blessed Paul's canonisation.  

Thank you for your kindness. If you need a prayer, I have included the novena prayer we used in preparation for his beatification.

Novena Prayer
Heavenly Father,
We thank you for the witness of your Servant, Blessed Paul VI, who served you and the Church as Universal Pastor in difficult times.  
As a pilgrim among pilgrims he sought to reveal the beauty and joy of the Gospel to the men and women of his time, choosing the way of gentleness and forbearance.
As Shepherd of the flock he sought to proclaim the truth in a time of great confusion in imitation of his patron the Apostle to the Gentiles.
As Servant he proclaimed the Gospel of Life and in doing so bore the cross of suffering and isolation in union with your Crucified Son becoming a Prophet in the midst of the growing culture of death.
As we beseech you to raise your Servant to be numbered among the Saints, may his example of faith, courage and patient endurance inspire us in our daily living of the Gospel and in our witness to Jesus Christ.
May we too be Prophets of life, respecting, protecting and cherishing the gift of life, most especially in its most vulnerable moments.
May we too be your missionaries at this time, seeking to transform the hearts of all men and women through the joy we find in Christ.
Hear our prayers, most Merciful Father, and grant us through the intercession of Blessed Paul the graces we now ask that you may grant a healing of baby Paul.
Through Christ our Lord.
Our Father.   Hail Mary.   Glory Be. 
Blessed Paul VI, pray for him

Monday, January 12, 2015

Recommended Reading!

A couple of days ago I finished reading John Guy's biography of St Thomas Becket, simply titled Thomas Becket. It got good reviews when it was first published, and the author has written some fine historical studies including one on St Thomas More's daughter Margaret and one on Mary, Queen of Scots. However, one tends to be careful it comes to secular historians writing about Saints: they may well be historically accurate (not always, by the way), but will they "get" the Saint.

I can say, hand on heart, John Guy "gets" Thomas Becket: the biography is the best I have read on St Thomas and I would strongly recommend your reading it. For one thing it is not a pious hagiography, it situates Thomas in his time and takes Thomas as a man of his time, not condescendingly, but in a real attempt to understand the man as he really was. Guy knows his history and he knows the historical figures who surrounded St Thomas, so if you do read the book you are going to be transported back to the 12th century and your experience will be vivid. The book is well researched, Guy does not rely exclusively on previous publications, but goes right back to the original sources and reads them with an objective eye. St  Thomas emerges out of the legends that surround him (both the negative and positive ones) as a man who was extraordinary, a man whose conversion was not dramatic but gradual, a conversion not from a debauched life but from a distracted life to heroism, to standing for the truth and the liberty of the Church, most of the time standing alone.

Apart from being a great read and an accurate account of one of our great Saints, the book is one which can help us come to understand where we are now because though the events it describes took place in the 12th century they have relevance for us today. The continuing relevance of St Thomas's stand was acknowledged by Henry VIII when he, like his predecessor Henry II, sought to bring the Church under his complete control: the Tudor had the shrine at Canterbury destroyed and the Saint's remains burned. Five hundred years later the rebel Christian Thomas is as potent as he was then.

St Thomas stood for the liberty of the Church. Many previous historians saw his struggle as one in which he sought to keep his wealth, his property, his titles, his life of ease. On a superficial level that is an interpretation one might argue could be applied. However one needs to understand the time and Thomas's motivations. There is no doubt Thomas loved the comfortable life - I won't say life of ease because he was a hard worker and usually found himself in difficult situations which he had deal with, which he usually could. During his exile he found himself living a materially deprived life and he adjusted to that, quite well actually. Thomas fought King Henry II to preserve the rights, laws and liberty of the Church so it could be the Church and not a department of state. It was not material things which Thomas was fighting for, but rather the principle that as a free association the Church had the right to her rights, laws, liberty and yes, possessions, in order to guarantee its freedom from interference by secular rulers. 

Henry wanted to control the Church, deprive the Pope of his role within the Church in England and Henry's possessions in France. Basically he wanted to do what Henry VIII did. Thomas resisted that - the Church had to be free and the members of the Church had to be free in the context of their relationship with the Church. Christ was the only King would could exercise authority in the Church, beneath him was the Pope, the successor of Peter, and beneath him the bishops. Pope and bishops had to defend the flock as well as teach the faith. Henry II would go so far as to think he alone had the authority to govern the Church - revealed in one argument when, as Thomas defended the rights of God, Henry was furious and accused Thomas of depriving him of his rights.  Henry wanted his rights to eclipse the rights of God. He would maintain that he was king by divine right but he developed the opinion that in his kingdom (and his influence over others) meant that he should have greater rights than God: God should, in a sense, bow to what Henry wanted. 

If ever there was antecedent of modern men and women we have it in Henry. Many today disregard God and his laws to satisfy their own desires and enthrone their own opinions. Even in the Church we have pastors who put away the direct teaching of Jesus Christ to replace it with their own ideas which they consider to be more pastoral than Christ's word. This is pride; Henry was full of it; St Thomas, humiliated, impoverished, strong-willed, dogged, stood up to it and refused to yield. Henry was incandescent with rage when Thomas refused to budge, as are many today when a follower of Christ refuses to yield. Thomas was killed for his stance - martyred; today the murder is in the sense of condemnations: of accusations of lacking compassion, of being hard, "unChristian". 

There is another lesson worth taking from the life of St Thomas (there are many): in his struggle Thomas stood alone most of the time. Not even the Pope stood by him in crucial moments. Pope Alexander III was mired in politics, trying to deal with the threats the schismatic Emperor Frederick Barbarossa posed in his campaign throughout Europe. While the pope encouraged Thomas to protect the liberty of the Church, he also urged him to reconcile with Henry as soon and as completely as possible. Thomas knew that could not be done: the only reconciliation Henry would accept was the absolute surrender of the Church to his will, and that could not happen. Pope Alexander would blow hot and cold, at times depriving Thomas of his rights and powers so not to alienate or aggravate Henry, and Thomas bore with this patiently. Part of Thomas's sanctification was that lonely stance when even a pope could not be trusted to hold the line because that pontiff had fears and issues of his own.  As many found to their chagrin (eventually!) Henry could not be trusted, he had no integrity, he was a tyrant and the only way to deal with a tyrant, as Thomas well understood, was to say "No" regardless of the consequences. While many cowered before Henry, churchmen among them, Thomas refused to do so.

In the end, some might say, all ended well. Henry came penitent to Thomas's tomb and apologised in the spirit of their original friendship. Well, things are not as simple as that. First of all Henry and Thomas were not friends, not in the way the legend presents. Thomas may have believed there was a friendship, but he was soon dispossessed of that notion: Henry was king, he had no equals and he used people to get what he wanted - there was no room for genuine friendship in his life. Thomas was a servant, and as long as he was useful Henry was happy to keep him sweet. However, there were things Henry did, mean and awful things, to remind Thomas who was in charge and to keep him in his place.

As regards penitence, Guy is convinced, as I am myself, that there was little or no regret in Henry for Thomas's murder: Henry was brutal and had little regard for justice, mercy or equity - the death of one who refused to yield to him was not to be lamented regardless of how it happened.  Henry's shock over Thomas's murder was, I believe, firmly grounded in the political damage it might cause for him, and he was right to be concerned: even many of Thomas's enemies were won over when they heard of his murder, and Henry was ultimately seen to be responsible for it. The theatrical visit to the tomb in Canterbury in 1174 was purely political, an act of damage limitation - Henry was not a penitent, it was not in his nature. At that stage he had had his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, locked up (she would be imprisoned from July 1173 until Henry's death in July 1189 because she had stood up to him), his sons were in revolt and he was facing a long war with King Louis of France. At this stage St Thomas was venerated throughout Europe not only as a martyr and Saint, but as a hero who defended the rights of the poor and dispossessed. Henry was shamed and now he needed good PR. 

However, I wonder if Henry really believed that St Thomas might turn and become an intercessor for his murderer, a tyrant who was intent on getting things back under his absolute control? I have no doubt Thomas was praying for him, but not for his earthly success, for his eternal salvation which, at the end of the day, is the most important thing. We should keep that in mind: we must live and act in a way which will help our salvation, and that gives us an insight into Thomas Becket. A man of the world, in his long-suffering he understood what was most important, and rather than jettison the Word of God to keep an earthly ruler happy, he stood for what was right regardless of the consequences: in the end he had to save his soul and guard the souls of those in his care. That is a good lesson for all of us.

St Thomas Becket, pray for us!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Paris Murders

Recent events in Paris have been traumatic and dreadful. We must remember all those who died in our prayers, as we pray for their families, for the Jewish people and for the people of France.  Many are marching in Paris today to remember those who died, the press will probably give it a lot of coverage.

That said, we must remember that Charlie Hebdo was a vile publication. It abused the right to free speech to ridicule and attack those who did not agree with them, particularly men and women of faith - the Muslim faith and the Christian faith. It is no example of the right to free speech since it sought to silence those it did not agree with through deeply offensive cartoons.

I believe in the right to free speech, for all, but it must exist within the suite of all other rights, and among those rights is the right to believe in God and to have that right respected, together with the right to our good name - the right to be a believer without being demonised for it.  However, as we listen to the usual suspects speak about free speech, and Voltaire's famous quip is being bandied about: "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it", I realise that many of those who are quoting it do not really believe it. If they did they would not censor conservative, pro-life, Christian, pro-natural marriage supporters. And that censorship is certainly in place. 

Again we must pray for all who were killed, some of them will probably need those prayers badly, if they made it. Violence is never the answer to being offended: prayer, forgiveness and determination to do what we can to build a more just and respectful society are the answers to that.  We must also recognise that Europe is facing serious threats, and so far she has been in denial. She needs to take a good hard look at what has happened in the last number of years. This is not merely a question of immigration, it is a question of values and of faith. 

Young people are being radicalised - why? There is a spiritual crisis and they are looking for something to believe in, something to live for, and, yes, even something to die for (as strange and extreme as that sounds). Liberal, permissive, jaded secularism is not filling the gap - the drug-induced, orgasm-fueled dream of the Sixties is not doing it for the youth of today - they've had that ideology pushed in their faces all their lives and now they are rebelling. If the bloodshed is to be stopped, and even greater bloodshed prevented, a different response is needed, and for that Europe may have to go back to discover the true nature of her soul.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

A Politician In Heaven?

I remember when I was in college, a friend of mine was doing an essay on whether a Christian could be a politician. Weighing up what was required of a Christian and what practicalities are involved in modern politics, my friend found herself veering towards a No. Interesting, I thought. And yet, among the Saints, there are men and women who were politicians in one way or another. Indeed one of the greatest of them was St Thomas More, but he did eventually fall foul of the prevailing political climate. We have a few modern politicians among those being investigated for sainthood, we shall see how those Causes go.

Well today is the feast of another politician, St Peter Orseolo, a Doge of Venice. If ever there was a political position that could vex a Christian it was that of the Doge. Remember the Republic of Venice was mercantile through and through. While they venerated the remains of St Mark (which they robbed, as they did the remains of St Lucy), and they had many churches, money was the thing, and they committed many foul deeds to help keep their coffers overflowing, the Sack of Constantinople among them (although that event is much more complicated than usually presented with an Byzantine emperor refusing to pay his debts slap bang in the middle of it). 

It seems, however, St Peter did a good job navigating the intrigues of state and the ambitions of Venetians to achieve sanctity - a saint among sinners, as the saying goes.  That said he did not remain in office for life, as was usual, but abdicated after two years and went off to a monastery for the rest of his life. He did not even inform his wife that he was hightailing it off to the monks (maybe she had something to do with the decision too, who knows?).

Anyway, you read more about his life here. In the meantime, let us pray for our politicians.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Black Nazarene

Today in the Philippines is the feast of the Black Nazarene, a statue of the Lord carrying his cross which is preserved in Manila. Today the statue will be taken out in procession and many thousands of the faithful will attend the ceremonies. The story of the statue can be found here. Devotion to the Black Nazarene has deepened people's understanding of the passion and death of the Lord, and what he gained for us in his suffering. I am sure many attending the processions have also been encouraged in their trials, strengthened to carry their own cross remembering that the Lord himself knew the bitter taste of suffering.

I wish all my Filipino readers a happy feast day, and may I ask them to remember us all to the Lord on this special day. It is appropriate that the feast should fall on a Friday this year.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Problem Of Slavery

It's amazing how, despite the many many changes which have take place in the world in the last thousand years, how very little things actually change. Yes, we are technologically more advanced, and yes, we have lost many skills, particularly artistic skills; and yet the structure of society has changed in many places. Yet human nature has not changed very much, and neither have many human problems.

Reflecting on yesterday's post - on St Raymond's work among the slaves and his assisting St Peter Nolasco to found the Mercedarians,  I see that slavery is as big a problem today as it was in their's. No longer officially approved by society, and hidden away, slavery continues to be a scourge around the world, even in the technologically advanced democracies of the west. This means that the Church must continue to include in her pastoral ministry those being trafficked and oppressed in a slave trade which is as insidious as ever, but perhaps more advanced in nature. The work of our two Orders founded to help and free slaves - the Mercedarians and the Trinitarians, is still vital in the life of the Church, carrying out the original intentions and plans of their founders. 

Today you might say a prayer for all those who are enslaved, remembering that you may well have met someone who is a slave and not too far from you. Let us also remember the members of the two Orders who continue to work in this area, and all who are dedicating their lives to liberating those enslaved today.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

No Rest For The Consecrated

The Dominicans pride themselves on many things, and quite rightly so. Among their shining lights are two long-lived friars who have distinguished their orders by holiness and longevity.  One of these friars must surely hold the record for consecrated life. Blessed John Licci was, I believe, almost a century in vows, dying at the age of 111 - that beats St Antony the Abbot who only lived 105 years, although he doesn't quite beat St Paul the hermit who died at the age of 115.  St Paul was 22 when he went into the desert, so he lived the consecrated life for 93 years or so. St Antony was 18 when he left all for the life of solitude, so his religious life lasted 87 years. Blessed John Licci, however, was 96 years in religious life, entering the Order of Preachers at the age of 15; so he beats the two great patriarchs of the desert. That took some stamina!

Today the Church celebrates the feast of the other long-lived Dominican, St Raymond of Penafort. he was late starter when it came to religious life, leaving his career as a lawyer to enter the Dominicans at the age of 47, however he lived until he was 100, so he clocked up many years of faithful service.  In those years he was called upon by the Church to serve not only as a priest, preacher and legal expert, but also as Archbishop of Tarragona a post he declined. However he was elected Master General of the Dominicans and as such did a huge amount of work for the Order, including directing St Thomas Aquinas to write the Summa contra gentiles. When he finished his period of office he was even busier in the pastoral ministry (no rest for the consecrated!) converting moors, founding priories and educational work. It is believed he was a friend of St Peter Nolasco and helped in the foundation of the Mercedarians. When he breathed his last he was buried in Barcelona Cathedral, though his Cause took some time, he was not canonised until 1601, 326 years after his death.

St Raymond is invoked by lawyers as their patron, particularly canon lawyers. And there are more than a few of them today who recognise that their patron's intercession and wise counsel is badly needed in these times. One of Raymond's great works was organising the Church's legal code at the request of the pope. Far from dismissing canon law, as many do today, he saw it as a necessary ordering of Church life, translating the Gospel into a format which will deal with the practical issues which arise daily within the life of the universal community.

Rather than seeing canon law as a shackle around the necks of Christians, St Raymond saw it as a means of protecting the freedom of the disciples of Christ and encouraging them in their observance of the Gospel. Remember this is a Saint who spent a large part of his life ministering to slaves, doing all he could to set them free and assisting the foundation of an Order which would dedicate itself to that work - the Mercedarians. The law of Church does uphold a standard - the standard of the Gospel and does so with grace-filled optimism, knowing that that standard is not an unreachable tease, but a real goal which, with God's grace, is within our reach - though it will require stretching on our part. That is usually referred to as the spiritual life.

I do think many in Church today now need to develop a more mature approach to canon law, and indeed to the high standards the Gospel sets.  For too long we have had to endure an adolescent rebellion against both, a rebellion which has led many to discard canon law and its processes and in doing so contributed to one of the worst scandals in the Church's history. Jettisoning the law, and as a consequence authentic justice, in the name of compassion and questionable charity, can lead to disaster. The law  may not be perfect (it must be supplemented with genuine Christian charity) but at times it is all that stands between us and chaos, between us and the savage beasts human beings can become if they are governed only by their passions and desires.

Perhaps St Raymond may well need to intercede for the Church in these times so she does not lose the run of herself. Fluffy talk about love, mercy and compassion may not be the wisest counsel when you live in fallen world.  Remember, virtue is not spun with candy floss, and authentic human flourishing does not emerge from a diet of sugar and ease - rotten teeth and flab are children of such a lifestyle.  We need love, mercy and compassion, but these must be grounded in the truth and the standards of the Gospel - the real Gospel, not the abridged version so often quoted.

Perhaps the miracle of St Raymond on the sea might inspire us. The saint accompanied the King of Aragon on a trip to the island Majorca where Raymond found an opportunity to rebuke the king for his public scandal. The king was not impressed and so took no notice of the saint's warnings. Raymond decided to leave the island in disgust, but the king prevented him, using force to do so: the Dominican was not going anyway for fear he would disgrace the king. However St Raymond could not be stopped. He took his mantle, threw it into the sea, set up his staff as a mast on it and jumping on this makeshift boat, he escaped from the king and the island, sailing across the hundred miles to the Spanish mainland. Those in standing at the quays in Barcelona witnessed the miracle and later testified to its authenticity.

May St Raymond navigate us all across the wild waters which surge over us in these times.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

20 + C + M + B + 15

Don't forget to get your blessed chalk and mark the lintels of your homes! If your priest doesn't bless chalk at Mass or at another time, you might just get the text online and pop over to him with some chalk and ask him to bless it. Give him a little stipend for doing so, wish him a happy Epiphany and thank him for his service. Morale is low among priests, a little sign of appreciation can really do a lot. 

Happy Epiphany!

For Christmas Day I shared with you my favourite Christmas poem, so for Epiphany (Little Christmas/Eastern Christmas) I would like to share with you my favourite Epiphany poem: T.S. Eliot's "Journey of the Magi". 

It is a wonderful piece revealing the hardship of the magi's journey, the challenges they faced from those who did not understand and their realisation that everything has changed: the old way is gone, it is dead - the birth of the Christ is the death of the old world.  That has personal implications for all of us. Discovering Christ, embracing him, means that we too must die, our old life must die, as Jesus tells us in the Gospel. But it is death that brings a new life - Eliot alludes to the death and resurrection of Jesus here. 

Please find the text below, but I have also included a recording of Eliot reciting the poem - it is marvellous, it opens up the poem, so you might want to listen to the recording first.

Happy feast day. And remember, it is still Christmas until next Sunday! Keep celebrating.

The Journey Of The Magi
'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kiking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Monday, January 5, 2015

A Modest Proposal For Priests

Today is the feast of St Charles of Mount Argus, Ireland's most recent Saint (and only the fifth Irish Saint to be canonised, and only the second since the Council of Trent - I call him Irish, even though he was Dutch because he became "more Irish than the Irish themselves"). I have blogged on St Charles before, so I am not going to give a biography. However I would like to reflect for a moment on a possibility, what I might call, after Swift, a modest proposal.

I believe that St Charles might well be an ideal candidate for Patron Saint of the Irish Clergy. Why do I say that? Surely, you might ask, priests already have a patron in St Jean-Marie Vianney. Yes, we do, the holy Cure of Ars is the universal patron of all priests. However, following the example of our English brothers, we could also have a national patron. St Thomas a Becket is the patron saint of the English clergy, his heroism in defence of the Church and the faith is offered to the priests of England as a model for their priesthood.

In a similar way St Charles could be offered to us as our patron. His ministry was one of humble service to the people of Dublin and beyond. Living his priestly vocation in simplicity and selflessness he was renowned for his offering of Holy Mass which was nothing short of mystical - he celebrated Mass like St Pio of Pietrelcina. He spent hours in the confessional, gently guiding souls, and he spent most of his day blessing the sick and the poor who came to him. Prayer was at the heart of his life and he nurtured a life of loving fraternity with the members of his community. Devoted to the Passion of the Lord he carried his crosses with courage and patience, and his deep devotion to Our Lady gave him an ever more loving heart and tender disposition. Such virtues are worth venerating and living in the priesthood.

But why, some might ask, should Charles of Mount Argus, a Dutchman and a religious be offered as a patron for Irish priests? Surely an Irishman would be better and most importantly a secular priest. Why not St Oliver Plunkett? And why not? St Oliver was a priest of my diocese, one who, like St Thomas a Becket was martyred for the faith and his fidelity to the See of Peter. However, I see providence in the canonisation of St Charles: he was raised up at the very time the priesthood in Ireland was torn apart, demoralised and disgraced after the dreadful revelations of child abuse. This is one of the reasons, I think, his glorification went unnoticed by many - we were all so caught up in the awful events that were unfolding that other Church events did not seem to register. Yet, as I noted at the time, St Charles was raised up in our midst. Perhaps this was a kairos moment, a sign from God to the priests to our land at a moment of profound suffering for many.

Another reason is that St Charles is the most modern of our priestly Saints and his ministry was carried out in very much the same way as many of us minister today. His priestly life, which we know in detail, was ordinary - there were no great dramatic events as in the life of St Oliver. He lived out his priestly ministry quietly enough, his heroism emerging from his daily generosity to God and the people in his care. This is like so many of our priests in Ireland: hardworking, simple men who get up early in the morning, work throughout the day, most of it hidden work, unknown even by many of their parishioners, and then falling into bed often very late. It is a life that can wear a man down if he is not careful, if he does not set time aside for prayer, meals and recreation. St Charles's ordered life of prayer, meals, recreation and work can remind us secular priests that order and balance are vital for the priestly life. 

But why a religious? Well first of all a priest is a priest, and priestly life lived well, heroically well, is a model for priests regardless of the habit or cassock he wears. Besides, his spirituality of the Passion of the Lord, part of the charism of the Passionist Congregation, is one we priests need to nurture in our spiritual lives, after all we are reminded in the rite of ordination that we are to model our lives on the mystery of the Lord's cross. We need to remember that every day, especially when things get on top of us. We need to learn how to embrace the cross, become the Cyrenian, and find freedom rather than languish in chains. St Charles is a good teacher in this regard.

And why a foreigner? Well, God saw fit to send this holy Dutchman to our land to minister in our midst as he once sent a Roman Briton. There is providence in that, I think.

I suppose this may well be just another post, read by some and forgotten. If so, so be it. I am just sharing a few thoughts I've been reflecting on since St Charles was canonised in 2007. It would be nice if some took heed of it and went with the idea. But it would be great if people took note of it and got to know St Charles better and prayed to him. It would be brilliant if priests, Irish priests (and bishops, let us not forget our bishops), took note, get to know Charles and find in him a friend, teacher and intercessor.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

A Life Of Great Innocence

Today in Carmel we celebrate the feast of Kuriakos Chavara, this year, for the first time, as a Saint: he was canonised last November. 

Here is some of the testimony left by his spiritual director, Fr Leopold Beccaro, OCD, we use this as the second reading of our Office of Readings today.
"Today, Tuesday, January, 3, 1871, at 7:15 in the morning, Fr. Cyriac (Kuriakos) Elias of the Holy Family, the first Prior, died after a life of great innocence. He could declare before his death he had never lost his baptismal innocence. He was exercising himself in the practice of virtues, especially in simplicity of heart, living faith, tender obedience, and devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament, to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to St. Joseph. He has undergone immense hardships for the good of the Christians of Malabar, especially during the time of the schism of Rochos, when he, having been appointed vicar general of the Syrians, showed his extraordinary devotion to the Holy See. He fought day and night to arrest the spread of schism from which he would save no less than forty parishes. On this account the Holy Father Pope Pius IX sent him a letter expressing his great satisfaction. He was the founder and the first Prior of the Carmelites of Malabar. He founded also the convent of nuns after undergoing many hardships. On account of his endearing virtues, learning and profound knowledge of the Syriac language he enjoyed great influence on the Syrians of Malabar. He was always greatly loved by the Vicars Apostolic of Malabar, and even more by the people of Malabar, the gentiles and Nestorians not excluded. He endured his last illness for two years in a spirit of great resignation, nay with joy. He was detached from all disorderly affections for earthly things, which was all the more true in the last days of his life. Having received the last sacraments with extraordinary piety and devotion, in a heavenly joy, and amidst the tears of all who knew him, especially my own, who knew him even as myself, he breathed his last at the age of sixty-five and was buried in the church of St. Philomena at Koonammavu. O holy and beautiful soul, pray for me."
St Kuriakos, pray for us all. Greetings to all my Carmelite brothers and sisters in India!

St Kuriakos's tomb.

Friday, January 2, 2015

A New Party?

It has just been announced that the former Fine Gael TD, Lucinda Creighton, is going to found a new a political party in Ireland: it will be launched in eight weeks time. Creighton had been expelled from Fine Gael because of her opposition to the abortion bill. The party whip system in Ireland is very strict, and so when Taoiseach Enda Kenny imposed the whip on his party members as the bill passed through parliament, members were not allowed to have a conscientious objection to it and had to vote for it.  Creighton couldn't accept this, she voted against the bill and so lost her junior ministerial position and her membership of the party.

In announcing the new party, Creighton has reiterated that conscience would be respected and the strict whip employed in Irish political parties up to now will not be imposed, but employed in a more liberal manner as we see in other European states and most western democracies. That is good. We have to see what other policies she will have, so we have to wait.

Already the media has started the attack, as expected. Top of the agenda for journalists in interviews with her was gay marriage and abortion, the usual elements of social revolution which are pushed as reform. I can see the media, fearful that this new party might actually find significant support among the middle ground in Ireland, will have to demonise it; business as usual for some the media, I suppose.

We shall have to see what this new party will stand for, its policies and its members. But its foundation is a hopeful, a chance we can get away from what we have now. As it stands, as citizen of this republic I have no one to vote for. The established political parties have embraced a social agenda which is anti-life and becoming more and more oppressive. Many of the independents are extreme left-wing and seek the same social revolution as the parties. Some independents are good, but the problem with independents is that there is little chance of stable government if a parliament's majority consists of individuals each pushing their own individual agenda, so we need a new party. Let's see how things turn out.

The Feast Of Friendship

Almost immediately into the New Year and the Church keeps the feast of two of her mighty Saints, the Bishops, Theologians and Doctors of the Church, Sts Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen. Doctors of the Church have their own feast day, they are not usually gathered into pairs or groups, but the Church has made an exception here for a reason. These two men, great teachers in the Church, great defenders of the truth about Christ, are also great examples of Christian friendship, and so as the holiness of their lives, the depth of their wisdom, their fidelity in suffering are offered to us, so the nature of their relationship is presented to us for mediation and imitation. Today is, then, as far as I see it: the feast of friendship, though the Church has yet to officially designate it as such.

We all need friends, good friends, who can not only offer us company in life, but who can help us live our Christian lives. This was what Basil and Gregory did for each other. Their relationship was firmly planted in their faith, so it was not merely human friendship, but also a divine one since it placed God at the heart of the relationship. They were very close, as St Gregory revealed in the Oration he preached at St Basil's funeral. Close friendship among men was not unusual, the Greek world, in which they lived, celebrated such friendships, however like everything else in the world it was flawed. Basil and Gregory's friendship was graced and could rise above what the Greeks cherished. The intimacy enjoyed by these Christian men was one centred on Christ, it was pure, generous, charitable and sanctifying. Their friendship was not devoid of difficulties, there was even a serious breach at one point, but they triumphed over it in charity.

It has to be said, but in recent times there have been some who, to push a particular agenda, have tried to change the nature of Basil and Gregory's friendship, as they try to change the nature of the friendship enjoyed by King David and Jonathan and the teaching and friendships of St Aelred: these relationships are now being looked at as being homosexual relationships. Quite apart from the ideological slant which is being imposed on these relationships, there is not one shred of evidence to support the claim that all these men were "gay lovers". 

Such misunderstanding must surely convince us of the importance of the feast we celebrate today: a feast of two men who loved each other deeply as friends, whose relationship was rooted and immersed in the Gospel and in the person of Christ, and who, with God's blessing, assisted each other on the path to holiness. 

Today we must remember our friends, pray for them, and thank God for those wholesome people who accompany and guide us in life. We should also strive to be the best friends we can to our friends, and the way to do that is to conform our lives more and more to the Gospel. That is what Basil and Gregory did, if we do also our friendships will become an important element on the process of our sanctification and the sanctification of those we love.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year

Every blessing and good wish to you all for the New Year.

Let us entrust 2015 to the care of the Mother of God. May she watch over us, protect the Church and teach us to be ever more faithful to her Son, Christ our Lord.