Monday, June 29, 2015


The solemnity of SS Peter and Paul. On this feast a brief meditation. These men were very different from each other. We know from the Scriptures that they clashed, and Paul had to rebuke Peter when the first pope got it wrong. That said, both had a common mission and, most importantly, a common love, and it was this which united them, saw them reconciled and led them to shed their blood together. That love was for Jesus Christ who changed their lives. 

As Pope Emeritus Benedict reminded us during his pontificate, each generation must discover Jesus Christ for themselves, it is only when a person encounters Christ and falls in love with him that he or she will become a true disciple, one who follows the Master. All our work, our efforts at evangelisation, our catechesis must be aimed at bringing our people to Jesus. Once we embrace him and his teaching (as he actually taught it) then things fall into place, then we understand what the Church is saying.

SS Peter and Paul are our models and teachers in this effort - they preached Christ, and him crucified and risen. From that we see Paul's great theology emerge; from that we see the decision to die rather than renounce the Lord. 

May these Holy Apostles assist us with their prayers, that we may come to know, love and serve Jesus ever more generously.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Another Voice In The Wilderness

I see the Cause of Fr Edward Flanagan, the founder of Boy's Town, is advancing. The Archdiocesan phase in Omaha has been completed and the Postulator has taken possession of the documents to deliver them to the Congregation of the Causes of Saints in Rome. Just recently the diocesan phase of the Cause of Fr Patrick Peyton, the Rosary Priest, also ended and his documents are now deposited in Rome. So two ex-pat Irish priests are on their way to beatification.

You all know the story of Fr Flanagan, so I need not go into it. He was a 20th century Don Bosco who deserves to be honoured at the altars of God for his love and dedication to the most vulnerable of our young people. His life and holiness contrasts sharply with what went on here in Ireland as he was setting up Boy's Town. It seems he was not happy with the system of industrial schools in Ireland and apparently on a visit to Cork he read the riot act and told the Irish that the system the government and Church were putting in place was bad. See an interesting article on this here.

As we have come to expect, the Irish were having none of it and condemned Fr Flanagan for his remarks. The then Minister for Justice, Gerard Boland, using Dail privilege, said he was "not disposed to take any notice of what Monsignor Flanagan said while he was in this country, because his statements were so exaggerated that I did not think people would attach any importance to them". Fr Flanagan was castigated by those who thought they knew better, an attitude of the Irish that transcends all ideologies, and all religious beliefs and none. Fr Flanagan responded by saying, quite correctly, that we needed to be shaken out of our smugness and satisfaction. Well, we have indeed been shaken. The dismal state of the Church in Ireland today is of our own making, the fruit of our refusing to heed the warnings God gave us through his faithful servants because we thought we knew better. And you know, I don't think we have learned anything because listening to some in the Church recently they are going along as if it is business as usual.

Of course it would be simplistic to blame the Church alone for all this - this attitude Fr Flanagan was speaking about is an Irish one, not a Catholic one - indeed a good dose of Christian humility will shake it out of us. This is interesting as we hear reports from the HIA enquiry in Northern Ireland which is currently looking at the Brendan Smyth case. It seems, according to what was revealed (and not widely reported down here in the South), that the Gardai were aware of accusations of child abuse made against Brendan Smyth in 1973, long before the Church was, but seemingly did nothing about it. Why didn't they? We shall see where that will go.

Why don't people listen to the modern John the Baptists God sends us? 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Wisdom From Anglican Bishops

I was reminded today of wise sayings from two Anglican bishops - I do not who they were, but what they said is worth noting.

The first was a letter from an Anglican bishop to a new curate. It seems the young curate took the Gospel seriously and he was preaching it from the pulpit much to the ire of some of his congregation. The bishop started to receive letters of complaint. The bishop needed to take decisive action, so he wrote to the curate. In his letter he told the young man of the nature of the complaints he was getting about him, and he advised the young man to persevere: if they are complaining about you, then you are doing something right - keep it up.

The second is mentioned by N.T Wright in one of his books, a quotation from an Anglican bishop as he is reflecting on St Paul's missionary work. The bishop said: "When Paul preached there were riots, when I preach they give me a cup of tea".

Lesson for all of us: when we preach the Gospel faithfully there will be trouble, so we need to ride the storm and keep going.  Christianity is not for the comfortable, nor is it for the fainthearted.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Choose Christ, Or, Give The People What They Want?

Our feast today, St John Fisher and St Thomas More seems to grow in relevance every year. After our battle for marriage these last few months their stand for the integrity of marriage and fidelity to Christ in the face of the Henry VIII's tyranny certainly resonates and shines out as a beacon of hope and encouragement. 

The feast hits home more forcefully today after an experience I had this morning, one many many young priests have these days, particularly in Ireland. I had a lady on the phone ringing to buy a burial plot, she had rung the wrong parish but when she realised she was talking to me she started to rebuke me for my ministry and preaching.  She believes that I am driving people away because I am preaching a Gospel she does not agree with. She wants the Church to be more like the Protestants, she said: "If the Church was more like the Anglicans and the other Protestants I would be going and so would many other people". Reality and experience show otherwise as many an Anglican minister will tell you. I told her I had to preach what Christ preached and she asked me when I was going to cop myself on and get sense. "You going to stop it, now, do you hear me? You're going to stop it!" (she actually said that).

As her recriminations grew I decided to asked her to answer one question: which was more important: to choose Christ or to give people what they wanted? She said she would go for the people; it was apparent in the conversation that, sadly, the Gospel means nothing to her. As I tried to explain what Our Lord said about that she hung up. Her attitude is not uncommon in Ireland today, particularly among people of her age group, the middle aged to elderly. Whatever has happened that generation! I could try and surmise why this lady and many like her are the way they are, but I have said it before: the Church in Ireland has failed to preach the Gospel for last half century or so, and for many Irish Catholics the faith is nothing more than a social thing, a sentimental relic useful only to make people happy or when they need a little boost. Part of me feels like concluding that it will be almost impossible to bring these people back, they are so far gone and so resistant to change, and indeed many of them, like the lady today, so bitter. But such a conclusion defies hope, and we must always hope.

The martyrs today speak of a different approach to faith. They realized that we must choose Christ, the faith is about him and the redemption he offers and the Gospel he preached. It is not about keeping people happy or giving them what they want, if it was Henry would have been able to marry and divorce at will without any moral teaching to stir his conscience. The faith is not about being popular, it is about truth, mercy and salvation and people coming to embrace all of that. Many in the Church in Ireland today live under the delusion that if we are popular (bishops and priests) we will bring people back in: but Christ's experience teaches us otherwise. In an age which rejects truth and morality, to remain popular we would have to abandon them to keep in with the people, and then we lose faith ourselves; sadly many priests in Ireland do that and they are now doing great damage as we saw with the "media priests" during the referendum.

If only Jesus had been more careful, more pastoral, turned a blind eye, say nice things to keep people in, he would never have been crucified, he would have lived a long life with lots of nice people around him listening to him and having the craic.....and none of us would have been saved.  If only John Fisher had gone with the rest of the bishops of England and assented, he would have lived his last years in comfort and ease. If only Thomas More had consented, he would have had great success and honour in the kingdom, perhaps become an Earl or Marquis or even a Duke! But they didn't; they chose Christ rather than keep Henry happy because they knew what was right and what was wrong, what Christ required, and if that meant they stood alone, were attacked, faced ignominy, then so be it.

Pope Benedict wisely taught us during his pontificate that it is not numbers that matter, but fidelity to Christ. We priests and faithful should not dilute the Word of God to get people in, if we do, in the end, we will have nothing to offer and we lose everything. There may be fewer people going to Mass, but at least they want to be there, they are committed and trying to live Christ-centred lives, and we can begin working with them to reignite a new evangelisation. 

Yes it is hard to see people go, and those attached to the faith may well go to other priests and parishes where the Gospel has been replaced with the doctrine of nice so their comfort is not disturbed. Yes, we may be laughed at, rebuked, told to cop ourselves on, be blamed for the collapse of the Church (it seems it is adherence to the Gospel that has led to the decline of the Church in Ireland, or so I am told). Our brother priests may look at us sadly and say we really don't get it, we are ruining it for everyone. But in the end if we cannot remain true to Christ and what he requires of us, then there is no reason to remain in the ministry we would be better off out of it for ourselves and for the Church. John Fisher and Thomas More understood that, and even though it was not the popular thing they chose Christ because that is what being Christian really means.

Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith has a good article on the two martyrs in the Catholic Herald

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Civil Rights Issue Of Our Time

One of the themes of Pope Francis's encyclical Laudato Si would best be described as the eugenic solution to ecological problem, a solution he not only rejects but condemns. In this he is at one with Blessed Paul VI and what he says in his encyclical Humanae Vitae, perhaps the most prophetic encyclical ever written.  I am reminded of this as I read a report on the continuing investigation of the former president of  Peru, Alberto Fujimori into a sterilization programmed carried out on the poor of his country, allegedly implemented as a eugenic measure, a programme supported and funded by the UN and USAID. Half a million poor Peruvians were forcibly rendered sterile by their government in the 1990s. Dennis Sewell has the story in the Catholic Herald. Sewell also draws our attention to forced sterilization of the poor in India and similar programmes elsewhere including the US.  

Is eugenics on the rise? Well I think we all know the answer to that: yes. Are the poor being targeted because they are poor?  Yes, I think they are. The shades of Margaret Sanger and Marie Stopes still haunt us and their racist, anti-human ideology is alive and well, even if hidden, not just in the organisations they founded. but in many other organisations and departments of government, the UN included. We see today, as in the past, wealthy white middle and upper classes attempting to preserve their privileges and their wealth, eschewing their responsibility to our poorer brothers and sisters, by an ideology dressed up as compassion but is in reality a means to erasing those who have a moral claim to a better life. 

Catholics were given a timely warning by Blessed Pope Paul VI which many did not heed, and still do not heed. Today the West is dying, and resentful of the fecundity and "threat" of the poor, the powerful West uses its resources to curb that threat. That is the civil rights issue of our time - not gay marriage, not "women's reproductive rights", but rather the dehumanisation, deprivation and sterilization of those who are poor. Pope Francis is quite right to draw our attention to this in his ministry and in his latest encyclical. 

A Few Initial Thoughts On The Encyclical Laudato Si

I am making time in a busy schedule to read Laudato Si, of what I have seen so far I am impressed with the Pope's tackling our consumer society reminding us that our "throwaway culture" has consequences for the earth which God has given us and we have a duty to care for. I also agree with his critique of ecologists who are pro-abortion or who peddle the overpopulation myth and present abortion and diminishing the population of those in the Third World as the only solutions to the planet's ecological problems. These are middle class solutions which ultimately shift the blame onto others (usually the poor and vulnerable) so the middle class and wealthy can hang on to their privileges and lifestyles. We cannot use other human beings as pawns in an ideological campaign to "save the planet" - they are part of the solution, not the problem. Sorting the problem includes a greater distribution of the world's wealth with the poor - that is not communism, it is Christian. There is enough for all of us,it is the greedy who say otherwise.

The Pope is correct to remind us that the earth is God's gift, it belongs to him and we have a duty to care for it. We cannot manipulate it to the point that its integrity and flourishing is diminished to meet our short term desires and concerns. The earth's integrity and flourishing are necessary for us. This is our home for the time being and we must ensure it is cared for. The parable of the tenants comes to mind: are we the tenants who usurp and destroy, or are we the heirs who care for our inheritance? 

An interesting and welcome point in the encyclical is the Pope's wresting the ecological question from neo-paganism. It seems that the whole ecological industry has become a springboard to a new pantheism, to a mother earth religion, a pagan faith that has even captured the hearts of our more ecologically minded priests and religious. In speaking of sister earth, a Franciscan term, the Pope reminds us that the earth is a creature of God - yes , it bears his signature, but it is not to be worshipped, it is to be cared for by a higher creature, the one made in the image and likeness of God: man. 

The Pope's emphasis on the need for human beings to change is correct. The Lord Jesus told us that we must change in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. That change cannot be divided into categories - we cannot speak about virtues and holiness but confine it our overtly religious practice: be orthodox in our adherence to dogma but then treat with contempt or ignore other areas of life.  If we seek to be faithful to Christ, we must change every attitude that disrespects him and our neighbour, and that includes the environment. St Francis is the example offered to us in this encyclical as one whose holiness was whole and complete, his obedience to God was also reflected in his love for nature and the other creatures he shared this earth with. For those concerned with the liturgy, proper worship of God must also include respecting that natural liturgy which we find in nature and in the environment, where all creation praises God in accordance with its ability. This was the first liturgy celebrated on earth and it has not ceased. We must ensure that that liturgy continues in all its richness until the Last Day. 

These are but a few initial thoughts and reflections. The encyclical is not perfect, it is an unusual one in that it draws on contemporary science, so we should be careful in considering this dimension as being part of the Magisterium. It is very long, as are all of Francis's writings and it rambles: Francis needs a good editor, as I suppose we all do - certainly me! It is challenging, but Catholics should be careful in critiquing it and certainly not reject it without reading and considering it.

Some useful articles to assist your reading:

A few good quotes:
"When media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously. In this context, the great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of an information overload. Efforts need to be made to help these media become sources of new cultural progress for humanity and not a threat to our deepest riches. True wisdom, as the fruit of self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data which eventually leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution. Real relationships with others, with all the challenges they entail, now tend to be replaced by a type of internet communication which enables us to choose or eliminate relationships at whim, thus giving rise to a new type of contrived emotion which has more to do with devices and displays than with other people and with nature." (47)
"Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate. At times, developing countries face forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of “reproductive health.” Yet “while it is true that an unequal distribution of the population and of available resources creates obstacles to development and a sustainable use of the environment, it must nonetheless be recognized that demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development.” To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues."(50)
"A spirituality which forgets God as all-powerful and Creator is not acceptable. That is how we end up worshipping earthly powers, or ourselves usurping the place of God, even to the point of claiming an unlimited right to trample his creation underfoot. The best way to restore men and women to their rightful place, putting an end to their claim to absolute dominion over the earth, is to speak once more of the figure of a Father who creates and who alone owns the world. Otherwise, human beings will always try to impose their own laws and interests on reality." (75)
"Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties? “If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away." (120)
"It is troubling that, when some ecological movements defend the integrity of the environment, rightly demanding that certain limits be imposed on scientific research, they sometimes fail to apply those same principles to human life. There is a tendency to justify transgressing all boundaries when experimentation is carried out on living human embryos. We forget that the inalienable worth of a human being transcends his or her degree of development. In the same way, when technology disregards the great ethical principles, it ends up considering any practice whatsoever as licit." (136)
And finally, I wholehearted agree with this, the Holy Father hits the nail on the head here:
"We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it. We have had enough of immorality and the mockery of ethics, goodness, faith and honesty. It is time to acknowledge that lighthearted superficiality has done us no good. When the foundations of social life are corroded, what ensues are battles over conflicting interests, new forms of violence and brutality, and obstacles to the growth of a genuine culture of care for the environment." (229)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Laudato Si

The Holy Father has published his second encyclical, Laudato Si on the environment. I haven't had a chance to read it properly, that will take time and will require digestion to take place. However I could not escape the reactions to it, and wow, one would think a bomb hit the earth and wiped out all life and sense. I am not going to comment on them. 

However I would like to refer you to a good piece in First Things which has some interesting things to say about the encyclical, and they might well be surprising. Reading it, and some of the encyclical itself I was reminded of Tolkien and his attitude to what industrialization was doing to the environment. Is this encyclical Tolkienesque?

The Acton Institute has some good resources on the encyclical, including a piece which reflects on the influence Chesterton may have had on it. It also offers a section by section summary. Fr Z also points out the positive aspects of the encyclical.

This Looks Good

My sister-in-law, Caroline, is a nurse, and a good one at that. She has extraordinary diagnostic skills, as many experienced nurses do, and even though members of her family and friends have suggested she switch careers and become a doctor she has refused: she is called to be a nurse and that is what she is going to do. There is something unique in nursing, and she wants to live that for those under her care. In this she is like many dedicated nurses around the world. And even though nursing is now weighed down with tonnes of administration, women and men in the nursing profession prefer to be with the sick, offering that personal attention and service which is the hallmark of their vocation. 

One of the challenges many of these nurses face is the growing concern for the dignity of human life, be it due to an increasing commercialization of the medical sector, budgetary concerns, fear of litigation, a developing impersonal approach in order to appear professional or indeed the shadow of the culture of death in which compassion is redefined so as to sacrifice the promise "to do no harm". Today many wonderful nurses are now being implicated in the practice of euthanasia, and so instead of caring for human beings at their most vulnerable moments, they may well be killing them. The recent report on the situation in Belgium which I reflected on a few days ago is revealing in this regard.

Well I came across a recently made documentary which seems to be a wonderful exploration of the vocation to nursing, nursing in the cause of life. The American Nurse follows the lives, work and experiences of five nurses in five different areas of work; one of them is a nun, Sr Stephen who works in a nursing home. These five nurses appear to be extraordinary people. Some have chosen not to work in regular nursing, but decided to go out to those who have "fallen through the cracks" of human society in order to bring an attention and care which those people may not otherwise have. (See an article on the movie here)

You might just say a prayer today for all our nurses. They are in the front-line, and if the message of the sacredness of human life is to be heard again, their work has a vital part to play in proclaiming it. Here is the trailer for the documentary:

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Historical Record

Among those events being celebrated this year is that of commemorating Magna Carta, the agreement hammered out by English barons with King John which has become the basis of Common Law around the world. I was watching the news a few days ago and the Church's influence on the document was being explored, however as one listened one could not help but think that the Church being referred to was the Church of England, which wasn't around in 1215: it was the Catholic Church and her ministers that had a role in the formulation of Magna Carta. 

Ed West takes exception to this in  a couple of articles in the Catholic Herald which are well worth reading. In the first he writes on the Church's part in the formation of Magna Carta, and in the second decries the whitewashing of the Catholic Church out of achievements in England. All of this, of course, was part of the revisionism which came after the Protestant Revolution. Thankfully historians are now tackling that revisionism, foremost among them Jack Scarisbrick and Eamon Duffy. 

I suppose given the increasing secularisation of Ireland we can expect a similar revisionism to take place here, indeed it is already happening. A version of the Monty Python speech, "What have the Romans ever done for us?" can now be heard in a Catholic context in some quarters. I suppose that is one reason why the Church must ensure that truth is persevered.

The Apostle

At the St Genesius Film Club in Dublin last night we watched a most amazing movie, perhaps one of the most moving I have ever seen. L'Apotre is a 2014 French film dealing with a young Muslim man's struggle with his gradual conversion to Christianity (Catholicism) and the consequences of that decision for himself, his family and his Muslim community. The film is directed by the young gifted director Cheyenne Carron.

As you can imagine the film is controversial. It deals with its subject matter very sensitively and is certainly not given to stereotypes, reaction in France has been hostile and its release was very limited. Following the Charlie Hebdo killings it has not been shown in France, though it is now availabel on DVD.

The film compares Islam and Christianity, in particular each religion's understanding of charity. The protagonist Akim is a devout Muslim, at the beginning of the movie he is among a group of young men, which includes his brother Youssef, preparing to become Imams. Akim and Youssef's maternal uncle Rachid is the local Imam. By and large there is a positive depiction of Islam here: Rachid is a good teacher, a good man and sensitive towards people of other faiths - we see him correct more hot-headed Muslims. He knows his Quran and explains the various teachings in the suras and verses very well. Akim is certainly taken with this.

However everything changes for Akim when he encounters a murder in the locality. A woman is killed by a neighbour's son. Her brother is the local Catholic priest and Akim hears that the priest, though distraught at his sister's death, will not leave the area because he wants his presence to be a consolation and help to the parents of the murderer (this is actually based on a real situation the director herself encountered). Akim is struck by this act of charity, and it is his reflection and investigation of this act and the faith which inspires it which leads to his comparing it with Islam and his eventual conversion.

One of the wonderful things about the movie is its emphasis on the Catholic faith. There is a beautiful baptism scene - Akim is invited to attend by a new-found Catholic friend, and this ceremony is a revelation to him, and to the viewers I'm sure as it is beautifully done. As Akim reads Scripture his pondering the words out loud remind you of the beauty of the Word of God. The director herself seems to be meditating on the Scriptures as much as her protagonist, allowing the viewer to glimpse the heart of the Christian faith. 

As he finally accepts Christianity, Akim tells his mother, she senses he has a secret and she believes that he has fallen in love - he has all the traits of it. He agrees with her, it is obvious at this stage that this is the correct language to describe what he been happening to him. He has fallen in love with Christ and with the Christian faith. For me that sums it all up. That is what being a disciple of Christ is all about: falling in love with Jesus and living that love in his Church.

I cannot recommend this movie highly enough. Apart from anything else, it is a beautiful exposition of what it means to be a Christian and what is expected of a a Christian, and on that alone, it is inspiring.

What is also interesting is that the actor playing Akim, Faycal Safi is himself a Muslim. See an brief interview with him here.

Here is a trailer, without subtitles, but it gives you an idea of what the movie is like.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Transitioning Limits

It seems there is a line that cannot be crossed when it comes to the "Trans" phenomenon. The media has been covering the Bruce Jenner story very positively and he is winning awards for bravery. I have also heard of new phenomenon, Transdisabled - people who are physically healthy who believe inside that they are really disabled, and some of them are mutilating themselves in an attempt to let the "inner self" out. The media is reporting on this sympathetically.

However there appears to be little media sympathy for Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who claims that within she is a black woman and she is going to live as one. She has changed her hair and is using darker make-up to facilitate this change. This has caused deep offence among black people and the media is reflecting that in their claims that she is lying or mentally ill. It seems they are not prepared to accept her transition in the same way as they accept and celebrate Bruce Jenner: they will not cross that line. It seems while gender doesn't matter, the colour of your skin does.

We must keep all these people in our prayers. We live in very strange and disturbing times.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Who Are The Poor?

I was rebuked on Twitter last night for congratulating James MacMillan on his knighthood. An anonymous tweeter called me a celebrity priest who, it seems, has no regard for preaching the Gospel among the poor. I would have been better, it seems, to abandon the celebrities and reach out to the poor and despairing. When I challenged the Tweeter on who were the poor, he responded "I am the poor". After that messianic remark what else could I say?

Now I don't mix with celebrities at all, in fact I haven't met too many of them. But our ministry in the Fraternity of St Genesius includes praying for those who inhabit that particular category of persons. I always advise our members not to seek out those they pray for, we are not a fan club nor spiritual groupies, we simply assist the Church by our prayer in her mission to all men and women, particularly those in the arts.

In that context it is fitting to ask: who are the poor? Blessed Teresa of Calcutta offers an interesting answer to that question when she reminds us that among the poorest in the world today are those whom the world considers great, rich and famous. Their spiritual poverty can be even greater than the material poverty of others. Many celebrities inhabit a fantasy world, and for many in their spiritual poverty that fantasy world is all they have. Their wealth and fame allows them to maintain this fantasy and even influence the real world.  That is one of the reasons the world is fast becoming a wasteland - because many are abandoning faith and true values for the chimera the spiritually poor have invented to feed themselves. 

The Church must feed the poor, the materially poor and the spiritually poor. She must preach the Gospel, offer the hope of salvation and present the vision of reality - the teaching of Jesus Christ and the destiny he has for those who are faithful. If the Church has managed to feed and save the materially poor but has ignored with scorn the celebrities and left them to wallow in a fantasy that devours them, then the Church has failed in  her mission. We do not need to check into the Hotel La La Land to reach out to them, nor worship at the frayed edge of the red carpet, but we do need to see souls and minster to them. They too are children of God.

For more information on our Fraternity, see our website

Sunday, June 14, 2015

When Aspirations Collide With Hard Reality?

This article appeared in the The Independent, today I think, concerning the Irish Bishops's remarks on solemnising marriages in Ireland following the referendum result. The article is interesting and the journalist does have something legitimate to say about the Church's confidence and credibility today. However I do think she is being little unfair, the Bishops have to be prudent and need to wait and see what the Marriage Act will contain before making any decisions. They may well be waiting to see if Church ministers will be given an exemption or will be protected. 

However, and I am open to correction, given the way the amendment to the Constitution is framed any legislation that limits citizens's access to marriage may well be unconstitutional. If the State is to protect marriage, gay marriage included, then it cannot tolerate organisations, religious or otherwise, which dissent from that. We shall see.

The real test will come after the publication of the Marriage Act and any Constitutional challenge which may follow, then the aspirations of the Bishops will face hard reality and decisions will have to made. Courage will be needed then. I hope and pray we may well find the witness and strength of Oliver Plunkett and John Fisher among them then.

That said, even if Catholic priests are protected, Catholics and other Christians who provide wedding services are not. Those who choose to stand with Christ's teaching will face prosecution and civil suits as we see with Ashers in Belfast and Bulah Print in Drogheda. The Church cannot abandon them. It is interesting to note that those two cases above concern evangelicals, Catholics, as far as I can see, have not featured in acts of resistance to the new laws. What does that say about the Church here in Ireland?

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Catholic Composer Honoured

News has come through that Catholic composer James MacMillan has been knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to music. He joins other great musicians who have been so honoured, among them Sir Edward Elgar, also a Catholic composer.

Sir James, as he is now, has made a major contribution not just to music in the UK, but in the Church where he has been a vocal opponent of the way Church music has gone in the last few decades. The rich treasury of Sacred Music, still being added to by sensitive and gifted composers like himself, has been replaced in many places by a less worthy "canon". Indeed a knighthood seems fitting for one who has been fighting in the cause of Sacred Music for many years.

Hearty congratulations to James, may he continue his fine work for God, the Church, the liturgy and his fellow men and women. Earthly honours cannot compare with what God has laid up for those who are faithful, but in the spirit of the Beatitude, Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth, it is nice to see a believer receive recognition. I wonder: has the Church acknowledged James's work yet? Has he been made a Papal Knight yet?

Now, why not have a little listen to one of Sir James's pieces, one of my favourites, his Tu Es Petrus written for Pope Benedict XVI for his visit to the UK. The work was performed at the beginning of Pope Benedict's Mass in Westminster Cathedral. It is a fine piece.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Tea With Winston, Dinner With Gilbert

I am back blogging after a bit of a break. Some friends were wondering why the silence. Well, being a priest in a parish makes many demands and they have kept me busy. I am also using some blogging time to catch up on my reading. I am a bookworm, but of late I have been finding it hard to get some reading in and that is not good for me, nor for any of us. We should all be reading, spiritual books of course, but also others to keep us informed.

At the moment I am reading Roy Jenkins's biography of Winston Churchill. It is a fine book. Churchill, as many of you know is an interesting character. As an Irishman, I suppose there is the expectation to dislike  him, but I cannot conform to that: I do actually like him. Now he was not a perfect man, he had his flaws, many of them as do all of us. One of his friends once said that in first meeting Winston all his flaws are all too apparent, but after that one spends a lifetime getting acquainted with his virtues. For all the flaws and ambition, he was a good man who wanted to do something great for his country (and get the glory!).  And what a writer he was! I have been eyeing up his books in the bookstore, his life of Marlborough looks interesting and his volumes on the two World Wars are all too like a honey trap which would wile away weeks and months.

Reading the biography I find myself wondering what he would make of the world today. He was a member of the liberals, and when a Conservative he was a member of the liberal wing: liberalism then was very different to what passes as liberalism today. For one thing he believed in the monarchy and one of his great, failed (and unwise) campaigns was to keep India in the empire, for reasons that were conservative to the core. He also opposed Irish independence for much the same reasons, though the pragmatist in him saw him relent and become a supporter of the Free State during the Civil War here. It is interesting to note that he befriended Michael Collins whose guerrilla warfare did much to drive the British to the negotiating table. Churchill was wise enough to see what Hitler was up to as many in the British government at the time nurtured fantasies of appeasement in the hope of peace. I wonder what Winston would say about IS? Would be dismiss them or see a growing threat?

So I think afternoon tea with Winston might have been an interesting experience. Not dinner: you couldn't afford to feed Churchill - he was not the most abstemious of people. Champagne with every dinner? No, no, no. I would have dinner with Chesterton, he would eat enough but as long as it was common fare and he had a few ales he would be as happy as Larry. Besides, Chesterton's conversation would be much more stimulating. You have to listen to Churchill and be fascinated and entertained, but Gilbert would draw you into conversation, perhaps debate, certainly entertain you, edify you, make you laugh, and then end it all with a prayer before he put on the coat and sauntered out to figure out how to get home.

Another literary figure I am spending a little time with (when time allows!) is Flannery O'Connor. She is a fascinating figure, a little like Chesterton, but darker - like Dante in that respect. As those of you who have read her will know she is concerned with grace: as one critic said, she explores the work of grace in a world governed by the devil. That reason alone means she is necessary reading for us today. I also think, like Chesterton, she was a saint, not a plaster one, but a real flesh and blood woman whose faith transformed her life and her suffering while deeply informing her writing. I would love to see her and Gilbert canonised one day; forget Oscar Romero and Co - Flannery and Gilbert are the real revolutionaries. And what companions for us today: their writings can inform and challenge us, their lives inspire us, and, I hope, their intercession can assist us. 

Heaven is going to be great. We will have the vision of God, the embrace of the Blessed Mother, but then the company of so many wonderful people. We must work hard for heaven! 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Culture Of Nihilism Sells Its Wares

Following the same sex marriage referendum here, the media and various lobby groups have turned their attention to the next couple of campaigns: erasing the Constitution's protection for unborn children to facilitate legislation for a more liberal abortion regime here, and also the introduction of euthanasia which they refer to as "assisted dying". These campaigns are already underway and no doubt well funded. The media's softening of the electorate on these issues started years ago, but they are going up a notch or two now.

Regarding the second of these crusades, I refer you to an interesting article on the situation in Belgium, a country not unlike our own and one, I think Ireland will come to resemble in spiritual, ecclesial and moral terms. It seems voluntary euthanasia has become involuntary - one in sixty "helped to die" did not request euthanasia, were not even told about it, and half of these were over eighty. It is not medical teams who are doing the job, but local GPs who take the matter in hand with a lethal injection. As quoted in the above article, one doctor has said: "The decision as to which life is no longer worth living is not in the hands of the patient but in the hands of the doctor". I note with interest that phrase "life longer worth living", we have heard that before.

This is evidence of what pro-life groups and spokespersons have been saying for years: voluntary euthanasia will become involuntary euthanasia, the so-called "right" to die will yield to a duty to die. As Mary Berry, the British baker, recently said on Desert Island Discs regarding her own situation: if she was alive at 90 she would want assisted suicide to avoid burdening her children. The message is getting through it seems.

This is the culture of death, the culture of nihilism, no longer hiding in the shadows but openly selling its wares to a gullible and silly generation.