Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Thinking With Dominic

St Dominic strikes out with zeal to win souls back for Christ

At the moment I am preparing the Pilgrim guide for our pilgrimage to Turin and Tuscany - it is taking up a lot of time, hence the few posts over the last couple of weeks. It also sees me up very late at night as I try to get the work done. We're off on the 21st of next month, so I have to get the guide to the printers. The guide will consist of biographies of the Saints we will be meeting, extracts from their writings, prayers, a little on the various places we are visiting and then a section on the Shroud giving the history of the relic and offering some meditations and prayers for our pilgrims for the time they spend before the Shroud.

One of the places we are visiting is Bologna, we have Mass at the tomb of St Dominic and, I hope, we might even have time to visit St Catherine of Bologna. Writing St Dominic's bio for the guide I am struck by similarities between his time and ours, and I found myself wishing he could come back again and perhaps spend a few years preaching in Ireland. As you all know, and as any Dominican will tell you, he was an extraordinary man. Such fire and zeal - and courage.

Dominic was a canon, a diocesan priest, and it was when he was travelling with his bishop to make arrangements for a marriage treaty between the King of Castile and the King of Denmark, that he passed through the south of France and saw the damage the Albigensians were causing through their heresy. Many of them were sincere people, but misguided. Few knew the Scriptures and had little philosophical knowledge to help them shift through the arguments the Albigensian preachers were making. All of them wanted to live good lives and sought reform in the Church and society as much as in their own lives. In one encounter Dominic spent a night with an Albigensian "deacon" who, he realised, had very little knowledge of the faith. By morning Dominic had converted him, but he realised that there was a need for a serious re-evangelisation to meet the heresy head on. After a few years discernment Dominic realised that he could do very little, if anything, as a diocesan priest, he needed to be free to go out and carry out this mission, and so the Dominican Order was born.

All of this gets you thinking about the Church's response to the ideologies that are out there today and leading so many of the faithful astray. Many of those who adhere to these ideologies are good people who want to live good lives, but ignorant of the Gospel and Church teaching (though many of them will have spent years in Catholic schools or catechism class) they embrace a secularist understanding of Christianity and they cross the house. So far, if I can be honest, the Church in the industrialized west has failed to win these souls back or even offer a serious challenge to the rise of these ideologies. Indeed sometimes I think some of the leaders of the Church have retreated to the trenches, raised the white flag and they are hoping they won't be noticed, just left alone and unharmed to quietly and unobtrusively live some form of inoffensive Christianity.

I think this is what Pope Francis is attacking when he speaks. He once told the bishops to make a mess in their dioceses - many commentators interpret this as creating unorthodox chaos, but perhaps it means something else - perhaps he is telling safe and comfortable pastors to get out there and preach the Gospel even if it stirs up a hornet's nest - even if people are offended! The Church in the west is often crippled because it is afraid to preach the truth lest someone is offended and the media jump on it to bash the Church. Francis is direct in what he says - not always prudent I believe, but he is certainly putting it up to the timid pastors and their flocks to say it as it is...just as Dominic did.

"Faint heart never won fair lady", nor do cowardly shepherds and cautious apostles ever win souls. Dominic's great virtue was zeal - he was on fire - his mother's dream-vision was indeed prophetic, we could do with some of that fiery zeal today. These thoughts will, no doubt, occupy me as I offer Mass at Dominic's tomb on the 28th April, and I will ask him to help us all in these times, most especially our pastors. 

Today I was talking about this with the venerable Prior of Silverstream and he asked me: "Why didn't you become a Dominican - I can see you as a Dominican". They wouldn't have me! And St Teresa long ago claimed me for her own. But zeal is not confined to Dominicans, it is meant to be in all of us. Let us pray for each other, dear brothers and sisters, that we will be open to this fire, and have the courage to stand up and face the challenges of these times. We need to stick together, we need to talk and plan. We have yet to strike out in a real evangelical push to win souls for Christ and his Church, not apologetically, but with the conviction that the Church is the sacrament of salvation in the world and she is missionary for a reason. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

A Few Facts

A printing company in Drogheda, run by devout Christians refused to print invitations to a gay wedding - they politely declined. They are being torn apart in the media and the gay couple, I believe, is considering legal action for discrimination.

A bakery in Belfast, also run by devout Christians, refused to bake a cake to be used to promote same-sex marriage. They are being sued in the courts.

Now I hear of a Piazza company, also run by devout Christians, in Indiana, which was targeted by journalists to see where they would stand if a gay couple sought their catering services for their wedding. They are being torn apart all over the US, "more Christian bigots". There was no gay couple involved, just a newspaper making news and creating a situation to expose Christians.

In Ireland a constitutional amendment is being proposed to permit same sex marriage. Here is the article in question as it would appear should the referendum be passed: 
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.
What does "guard with special care" mean, and how will it apply to same-sex marriage? Will it mean that the state has a duty to deal with elements within Irish society which reject the idea of gay marriage? Will the government have a constitutional duty to ensure that all citizens and institutions within the state not discriminate against same-sex marriages either in practice or in policy or doctrine? Does it mean that if a same-sex couple arrive at the door of a parochial house demanding a Catholic ceremony the government must ensure that the Church complies?

Interesting questions.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Another Mafia Martyr

The list of new Causes has been released by the Congregation for Causes of Saints, this month five new Causes have been introduced and now await the Nihil Obstat. Many the five candidates is an Italian priest, Don Giuseppe Diana, affectionately known as Don Peppino. He was murdered in 1994 by the Camorra, the Neapolitan version of the mafia. You will remember that Don Pino Puglisi was beatified a couple of years ago, he had been martyred by the mafia out of hatred for his faith. 

Don Peppino was parish priest of Casal di Principe, about 25 kilometres from Naples. He was working with immigrants, trying to prevent them becoming fodder for the Camorra. He spoke out against the mafia a number of times - he went as far as to refuse them the sacraments and marry them. For his stance and public denunciations they killed him on the 19th March 1994 as he was preparing to offer Mass for the Solemnity of his patron, St Joseph.

Heroic priests like Don Peppino are a marvellous example for us in these times, particularly for our priests. He proclaimed the truth even when his enemies populated the corridors of power. Like Jesus he paid with his life, but his voice is stronger now that ever. May he pray for us and let's hope his Cause will reach a successful conclusion soon.

Happy Birthday, Madre!

She's 500 years old today, and doesn't she look good! Today is the day we in Carmel celebrate our Mother Foundress's quin-centenary, the heart of our Teresian year. Today is a day of prayer for us - being Lent we have to hold back on the celebrations, but there is always October for the feasting. Today, we give thanks for Teresa's example, teaching and maternal care.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

And Mary Said "Your Will Be Done"

The Word was made flesh - these profound words from St John sum up what we celebrate in this great Solemnity of the Annunciation. God became man in the womb of the Virgin Mary, but he could only do so because of her consent - the Lord did not force her - it was her generous openness to the will of God, her humble love and her desire to follow him in all things which led to her decision. 

In saying yes, Our Lady unraveled the sin of Eve which was one of self-obsessed disobedience. Though she did not see all the consequences of her Fiat, nor all the fruits, Mary trusted in God and in faith surrendered to his will. That is one of the reasons we, the Church, hold Mary in such veneration, why we love her, and why, I hope, we strive to imitate her. 

As the Second Vatican Council reminds us, Mary is a type of the Church, and so the Church, if she is to be the Church and carry out the mission entrusted to her, must also say yes to God's will though she does not know all the consequences or the fruits - she walks in faith with the Word of God as her guide, her light in the darkness. It is incumbent on the whole Church to walk in this light be it the Church in the Vatican City State, or the US or Ireland, or Germany - like Mary she must surrender to the will of God generously.

May the Holy Virgin Mary pray for us all that we may fulfill the role we have to play in the Church, imitating her in her fidelity and generosity; and let us pray for our leaders, that they do will do the same.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Sun Was Darkened

The solar eclipse in Donaghadee Co.Down around 09.15ish Pic. Linden Mack

There was a time, long long ago, when a solar eclipse terrified people and led them to think that the world was coming to an end, or the gods were angry - or appeased as we see in Mel Gibson's movie Apocalypto (not for the faint hearted). We had a solar eclipse up here in Ireland today, though from where I was little happened - too cloudy. A few of us went out to see it after Mass but were disappointed - as one person said: "Well Father, that's that: nothin!'" so we went home for breakfast. But it was interesting to follow the reporting from around the world. 

There is something apocalyptic about eclipses, the sun darkening and all that. There is nothing to be afraid of, it is natural, but perhaps also a timely reminder that the time will come when the sun will darken, when the world will fall into darkness - and what light will there be then? The light of Christ and his disciples. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Prayer To St Joseph

Holy father, St Joseph,
watch over the Church in these days.
As you cared for the Christ Child,
so now surround us with your protecting hand.
Teach us the humble virtues
which will make us truly men and women of the Beatitudes.
Be our advocate with our Lord Jesus
whom you called son on earth.
Keep us in your heart, dear beloved father,
so we, like you, may become devoted disciples of Christ.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Mother Aikenhead Declared Venerable

Great news today, a new Irish Venerable. Mary Aikenhead, foundress of the Irish Sisters of Charity has been declared Venerable by Pope Francis. She was asked by Archbishop Daniel Murray to found a congregation inspired by St Vincent de Paul.  These sisters were dedicated to the care of the poor and the sick. 

She joins a whole host of Irish Venerables, let's hope she doesn't stay there for too long: we need a miracle to see her beatified. We need to clear these Venerables and get them beatified! 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Will Patrick Be Going To War?

On this feast of our national Apostle, we can only pray for Ireland - she's in a bad place at the moment. I do not think Patrick would be impressed with the state of the country, or with the state of the Church - not quite the evangelical community he wanted it to be. Nor, I think, would he be too happy with the shenanigans that are carried out in his name on this day each year.

That said, he would be happy, I'm sure, with the small shoots of faith emerging from the rocky ground. Good young priests and seminarians emerging to help rebuild the Church here, dedicated young lay people joining older faithful, and often long suffering Catholics who feel like strangers in this land. 

There is hope for the future, and we must nurture these young shoots, feed them with sound doctrine and encourage them to centre their lives on Christ. Many of them are attracted to the Tradition, that is good, but they must also foster a real evangelical spirit which may at times create tension with the Tradition. Interestingly now we need men and women like Patrick, not to go abroad to preach the Gospel, to do so here, to face what is really now a pagan culture, to relight the fire on the hill and defiantly stand by it. And let's be realistic, we cannot rule out persecution.

But we have Patrick as our advocate. We can look to him for an example and an intercessor. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

St John Ogilvie: The One Who Remained Faithful

I can't let this day pass without marking an important anniversary: today is the 400th anniversary of the martyrdom of St John Ogilvie, who died in Glasgow on the 10th March 1615. You can read an account of his life here.

St John was an extraordinary man, one noted for his courage,his ability and his devotion to his people. He was adamant in his defence of the faith and he preferred to die rather than renounce his Catholicism and his loyalty to Rome. His last action was to throw his rosary beads into the crowd, a wonderful bequest - one of prayer, tradition and witness to the Holy Mother of God. 

As we mark his anniversary, let us pray for priests. I learned today, sadly, that a priest here in Ireland has declared his support for the same sex marriage referendum - that public declaration causes great scandal since priests, servants of Christ, are meant to publicly uphold Christ's teachings - all of them. 

There is no love, no compassion, no excuse for endorsing what is wrong, regardless of what others think or want - we must stay true even if it means we are in the minority, even if it means we are persecuted or branded intolerant fundamentalists. Betraying Christ's teaching in order to be popular will only bring condemnation in the end. When the shepherds fail Christ, the whole flock suffers. 

St John Ogilvie, however, remained faithful and for this he continues to be remembered. May he pray for all of us.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Taking Life

If you have been following the recent debate about certain Catholic media's call for an end to the death penalty, you'll know things are quite heated. 

I'll put my cards on the table: I do not support the death penalty. I do not see that there is now a need for it since modern incarceration is so good. In principle I have a difficulty in ceding authority to the State to take the lives of its citizens because it can be abused, and it has. That said, I accept the teaching that is in the Catechism (CCC 2267), that there may be cases where, in order to protect human lives, certain offenders may be put to death, although as I write that I am uneasy. I know, having studied psychology, and with an interest in forensic criminal psychology (it comes in handy for Confessions!), there are some individuals, usually serial killers, who pose a very serious risk and may (may) fall under the need for the death penalty.

Anyway, the point of this post is to bring Dr Ed Peter's view on this to your attention. He reflects on the Catechism and St John Paul's teaching in Evangelium Vitae. It is worth reading. Whatever you think about it, this issue will always be controversial and we'll be discussing it for decades if not centuries to come. But, as we discuss it, I pray that such discussions and debates will always be dictated by charity, and decisions regarding the death penalty will be taken with due regard to authentic justice and mercy.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

To See Him As He Really Is

I was listening to a radio programme a couple of days ago in which a recent decision by a Christian company to refuse facilitating a service to a homosexual union was being discussed. One of the contributors, a journalist, was in-between minds as to who was correct, he understood both sides, he said. However, he mused, he said that Christians, if they followed Christ, would ask "What would Jesus do?" and this journalist said that Jesus would not have refused the service. 

Now that opinion reveals that this journalist doesn't know his Scripture or Christ, if he did he would know that Jesus would not act in opposition to his own moral teaching. However the comment, which we often hear, usually when musing on actions and situations contrary to Christian teaching, reveals the penchant modern people have of reinventing Jesus and his teaching to suit their opinions and contemporary mores. It is rooted in the dominant, erroneous view, that Christianity is simply being kind and tolerant about everything, never judging anything and letting people do what they like as long as nobody (or nobody significant) gets hurt.

Our Gospel today challenges this view. Jesus, meek and mild, gentle and permissive, has changed into what some moderns might regard as a ogre: he takes a rope, makes a weapon out of it and turns to violence to hurl contemporary businessmen out of the Temple. Not what one expects, or is it? 

We have to be careful when it comes to Jesus, he cannot be categorised, he defies our attempts to put him in a box: he is who he is. When we approach him we must do so with the hope of coming to know him as he is, to exorcise our preconceived ideas and images. One of the stages of the spiritual life, for example, is one in which we are purified of our image of Christ and God, our imagination is purged, emptied, we think we are abandoned, that the Lord has withdrawn and left us to shrivel up. In reality, God is trying to get the soul to abandon its image of God so He can reveal himself as he really is. This process is painful because it entails a real purgation of our devotional life. 

Jesus is Jesus, the eternal Son of God, he is not to be used to justify our thoughts, words, actions or opinions. It is for us to conform to him and that means we have to change, hence our need for Lent (and much more besides).

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Women Of Grace

A friend of mine told me the story of how she picked her confirmation name: Perpetua. She had heard the story of the great martyr, whose feast we celebrate today, and she wanted to emulate the heroism, but she also thought the name was unique, it stood out, set her apart: so she took it. She was a little embarrassed later. However in a conversation I managed to reassure her that it was a venerable name because it was the name of a venerable woman and she should be proud to call herself Perpetua.

What great women we celebrate today: St Felicity and St Perpetua. No one could accuse them of being shrinking violets, oppressed Christian women: they were strong, holy women: the finest example both of Christianity and womanhood. In them we see what St John Paul called the "feminine genius". 

St Perpetua's last words will certainly resonate with us in these times: "Stand fast in the faith and love one another".

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Martin Saints

It has been announced that the parents of St Therese of Lisieux, Blesseds Louis and Zelie Martin are to be canonised in October during the Synod on the Family. This is great news. A miracle is being examined and it seems it has cleared all the major hurdles, so it will probably be formally approved before the ceremony. 

News reports are saying that they will be the first married couple to be canonised together - I cannot be so sure of that since we have large groups of martyrs already canonised, foremost among them the Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese, and without examining them first I cannot say the Martins are the first. In those persecutions a married couple who had been martyred together may have been canonised. The Martins will be the first married couple whose Cause came under the Heroic Virtue catagory to be canonised together. 

Anyway, this is wonderful. In Carmel we will have two canonisations to celebrate this year, our sister Blessed Mary of Jesus Crucified will be canonised in May. What a wonderful double for this Teresian year. Let us ask the future Ss Louis and Zelie to pray for us all, for married couples and families, and for the Synod.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Pray For The Holy Father

I suppose we expected this: ISIS have threatened the life of the Holy Father. As the world's foremost Christian leader, it should come as no surprise that those martyring Christians would want to take a shot at the Pope. 

Well we can be sure Francis is surrounded by good men who can look after him, just as long as he lets them. He is courageous, no doubt about that, but let's hope he's not foolhardy and eschew the Swiss Guard.  In reality, the protection he receives, and the care that must be taken, is not about Bergoglio, it is about the Pope who belongs to the People of God. For our sake he must be prudent and take care. 

Let us pray for our Holy Father.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Towards The Vision Of His Face

This second Sunday of Lent brings us to the vision of the Transfiguration. This year we read St Mark's account, however St Matthew's is my favourite because he alone records the transfigured Face of Jesus (cf Matthew 17:1-8). Writing for a Jewish audience no doubt he wanted to align the event with the longing of Israel, preserved in the Psalms, to see the Lord's face. "It is your Face, O Lord, that I seek: hide not your Face" (Ps 27:8). 

On that mountain the three disciples represent all of us. In the midst of our Lent, we are climbing the mountain towards holiness, towards union with God; this vision is given to us to keep our hearts fixed on what lies ahead. It is a grace, a consolation, an encouragement. The three disciples would never forget what they saw, it was imprinted on their hearts for the rest of their earthly lives. We should allow this vision of the Lord, gifted us through faith, to find a place in our hearts so in our prayer we can delight in it and the promise it represents, but also seek shelter in its light when times are dark.