Friday, April 18, 2014

Station Church 45: Santa Croce in Gerusalemme

Relics of Our Lord's Passion at Santa Croce

Good Friday

Where else, but the Basilica of Santa Croce for our Station today. Built on soil from Jerusalem, the repository for the relics of the Passion, the Station Pilgrims come to venerate the actual Cross and to be in the presence of those objects used to inflict punishment on Jesus, but through whom we are redeemed. While some may dismiss their authenticity, there is one thing we can take from them: they witness to the fact that the events we mark today are historical, they are real. Jesus of Nazareth, whom we worship as God made man, was crucified for the salvation of the world on a hill outside the city of Jerusalem.  

Death is not pretty, it is the bane of humanity. We deal with it in a variety of ways, including sanitizing it or rendering it neutral as much as we can. But in the end we cannot escape it. As a priest, as with all my brother priests, we meet death very often, sometimes in the most tragic and brutal of circumstances. The holy and peaceful deaths are a blessing and a privilege to witness. However others break our hearts and can be traumatic, though at the time we must be strong and composed: suicides, murders, accidents, the death of children. I truly believe in the grace of the sacrament of Holy Orders for in moments like those the Lord gives his priest a supernatural strength.

Good Friday is also a consolation in such moments, for we remember that as we face death in the eye, we understand that God himself in Jesus Christ succumbed to the bane of humanity: he died, and not a pious, sweet death, but a brutal one, a tragic one.  Jesus was murdered; he endured dreadful agony in his last hours; he was a young man in the prime of his life; a beloved son. when our worship today takes these things into account, we can look at the Crucified Christ in a different way. On his shoulders is the burden of human tragedy as well as human sin. Not only does he kill sin and win for us new life, he also offers us a new way of looking at life and at tragedy - he fills us with hope and offers us peace.

Sin will not have the final say, neither will death no matter how it comes.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Dublin Archdiocese Statement On "Maria Divine Mercy"

The Archdiocese of Dublin has issued a statement with regard to the alleged seer "Maria Divine Mercy". Given that this lady lives in the Archdiocese many had been waiting for a communication from the Archbishop - an investigation had been going on. The statement is straightforward and clear, which is good, so it will not be misunderstood by the lady or her followers, or the faithful who are confused. Here it is:
Requests for clarification have been coming to the Archdiocese of Dublin concerning the authenticity of alleged visions and messages received by a person who calls herself “Maria Divine Mercy” and who may live in the Archdiocese of Dublin.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin wishes to state that these messages and alleged visions have no ecclesiastical approval and many of the texts are in contradiction with Catholic theology.
These messages should not be promoted or made use of within Catholic Church associations.
Spread the news. Given how she has operated in the past, I would expect MDM to have a "revelation" from "Jesus" condemning the Archbishop and the Archdiocese. I would hope her more fervent followers will see the light and stop supporting what has become a major publishing business and very lucrative source of income for this lady.

Thanks to the Archbishop for this necessary clarification. Let us pray for all concerned in this matter.

Station Church 44: San Giovanni in Laterano

Altar of Repose in St John Lateran

Holy Thursday

We return to the cathedral of Rome for the Holy Thursday Station which is the Mass of the Lord's Supper and adoration at the Altar of Repose. The Station is held here today for many reasons, one being that the Mensa, or relic said to be that of the table of the Last Supper is preserved above the Blessed Sacrament Altar. Whether it is authentic or not is open to dispute, but regardless of this, gathering in the Mother Church of all Churches on this sacred night is an act of communion with all the disciples of the Lord to gather to celebrate the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the priesthood and to stay with the Lord in his agony.

Reliquary above the Blessed Sacrament Altar in St John Lateran which contains wood purported to be from the table of the Last Supper

In a sense this night is a Catholic Passover, the events are truly steeped in the Passover celebration of Judaism from which they are derived to such an extent that one almost feels like asking, "Why is this night different from all other nights?" Celebrating the Holy Mass seems more poignant, remembering that it is the anniversary of the first Mass, and though all Masses are equal, this one seems to penetrate more deeply into one's bones and renews you. In a strange way everything seems new again, even though Easter has not yet come. As a priest when I offer the Holy Thursday Mass it feels as if I am saying Mass for the first time again. There is a special grace on this night.

Another poignant part of tonight's commemorations is the period of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament in the Altar of Repose. Since I was a young child I remember passing that time enthralled by the realization that the historical events of Holy Thursday had suddenly entered into our time, that now, minute by minute, we were experiencing the events of the Lord's agony, passion and death. This night is one when the concept of anamnesis is most obvious. In Rome there is a custom of visiting many of the various churches to see the Altars of Repose - Romani will spent the whole evening walking between basilicas and churches, and the sacristans and altar societies in each basilica or church will do their utmost to have the best Altar of Repose in the city. A lovely custom, but I have my issues with it.  I sense I would rather stay and watch in one place which has become for those of us who are there the Garden of Gethsemane.

This night is one when the disciples of the Lord should gather around him and fulfill his request to watch with him: it is the evening we open our hearts to console Our Lord who is to go to the cross for us. I do believe, in some way, that we can truly be there with him in the Garden, that through the grace of God, we can, time suspended, console him in his actual agony while his disciples are nodding off. Time means nothing to God and it is possible that Christ in his agony may well have experienced the consolation of the disciples of all the centuries to come. Tonight we should seek to be among them.

The Church falls into silence tonight, it will be Jesus himself who will break that silence on Easter morning when the stone is rolled away from the tomb and he walks out into new life. Tonight, we should allow the silence to envelop us, to be with him, to open our hearts and console him.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Station Church 43: Santa Maria Maggiore

Spy Wednesday

On this the last day of Lent, as the darkness is about to fall and Jesus is about to be betrayed by one of his own and handed over to be tortured and killed, the pilgrims make their way back to the Basilica of St Mary Major for today's Station. Perhaps in these days of distress we naturally turn to our Mother, like little children, upset, fearful, confused, needing the affectionate embrace of our Holy Mother to console us and to reassure us that everything will be alright. That the famous icon, Salus Populi Romani is here may well be the reason why St Mary Major's is our Station Church: for the lost and distressed do find in Our Lady's embrace the help they need.

On this Spy Wednesday in this great Matriarchal basilica, we cannot help but compare Judas with Our Lady and see such glaring differences. Our Lady, who bore the Lord, was devoted to him, nurtured him, loved him, protected him, suffered with him - believed in him, the first Christian disciple; and then Judas, the one who ate the Lord's bread who turned on him, the one chosen to be among the twelve, who witnessed such miracles, and yet could go behind the Lord's back and sell him as if a slave for thirty measly pieces of silver.

Today in the church dedicated to the most Faithful One, we reflect on betrayal. One question that has haunted many for centuries is: why did Judas betray Jesus? Surely he knew who the Lord was?  Yes, he had his problems with money, but could  not even a semblance of a relationship with the Son of God have prevented him selling him out to his enemies?  There are a few presumptions in those questions, and tackling them may help us understand why Judas did what he did.  

First of all, do we know if Judas really believed in Jesus?  Yes, he saw the miracles, but then so did the Pharisees and Scribes and they conspired to kill the Lord. Indeed it was after the most dramatic miracle of all - the raising of Lazarus, that their resolve hardened.  And as we see after the Resurrection, even though they know that Jesus has risen from the dead, they are intent on spreading the lie that the Jesus' disciples stole the body. So Judas may not have believed at all. Perhaps he was a man who wanted a political messiah, and when Jesus failed to be one he turned on him. Perhaps a spiritual Saviour was no good to him. Judas may well have been out to get something, and seeing as he wouldn't get it from Jesus, but discerning a chance of it in betraying Jesus, he made a pragmatic decision.  

If we look inside ourselves we can see how it is possible for Judas to do what he did.  We are men and women of faith, and yet our days are sprinkled with little betrayals, sins, refusals to give in to God, thinking we know better than him at times: if we can do this as believers, then it is easy to understand how Judas, who may well have been a frustrated, angry, ambitious unbeliever, betrayed the Lord.

Secondly, we cannot underestimate Judas's vice - money. There are verses in the Scriptures which reveal Judas's love of money and his dishonesty in this regard. He may well have been possessed by the desire for money, and that would have blinded him to the love and work of Jesus. Vices can distort us, they transform us at the deepest level of humanity and make us less human, inhuman. Possessed by such a vice, Judas may well have remained untouched, intent on pursuing his desire for wealth, prepared to sacrifice anything in order to feed this desire, even other people, even Jesus Christ. And that continues to happen: many today are prepared to give up God, family, friends in order to feed their desires and vices.

Judas's betrayal need not be a surprise. However, when reflect on his betrayal we have to understand that it may well have been twofold.  The first was handing Jesus over into the power of his enemies to be crucified, but there was another: his falling into despair and taking his life. If in the end he refused God's mercy, this too would have a betrayal, a betrayal of the merciful love of God who could still have forgiven his sin and offered him eternal life.  While we know of the first betrayal for definite, we cannot say the second occurred since Judas may well have been saved at the last moment - we hope he was.  But let this be a timely lesson for all of us, to stay faithful and true like Our Lady, and to confront within ourselves, with the help of God's grace, those ambitions and faults which might tempt us down the same road as Judas. Our Lady, our Help and Protector will be our advocate there.

The Holy Father incenses the miraculous image of Our Lady, Salus Populi Romani in St Mary Major's

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Station Church 42: Santa Prisca

Holy Week: Tuesday

The Basilica of St Prisca on the Aventine is our Station Church today. Dedicated to a young Roman martyr, the basilica was probably built in the 4th century, the first record mentioning it comes from the 5th.

According to tradition Prisca was baptised by St Peter, and her home is said to have become a place for Christians to gather. The Aventine was a rather multicultural area of the city in the 1st century, so the Christians may well have been able to live their lives there in relative security. However under the Emperor Claudius she was accused of being a Christian - she is said to have been about 13 years old. Ordered to offer a sacrifice to the gods, she refused; she was beaten and imprisoned. She was eventually released, but continued to live her Christian faith and she was arrested again.  After being tortured and still refusing to recant, she was brought to the amphitheatre and thrown to lions. However, like Daniel in the lions's den, they did her no harm. Enraged, the Romans locked up in a prison cell for three days in the hope of starving her to death; she lived. She was put on the rack and partly mutilated, she lived. They threw her on a fire; she lived. In the end they beheaded her and she went to her God in glory.

Historians and theologians question the veracity of this story, as they usually do, but as Christians we can admire Prisca, a young Christian girl who preferred to die rather than renounce Christ. In these days of Holy Week in these difficult times she is a powerful example for us. One of the tactics of the enemies of the Church is to wear us down with constant, subtle means of persecution. Jesus himself experienced such tactics as he had to endure endless arguments with the Pharisees and Scribes who only wanted to push him into making a heretical or treasonous statement and so have an excuse to denounce him to the Romans. They didn't succeed, and they had to resort to lying witness perjuring themselves at his trial to get a condemnation. Our modern day persecutors are not above such tactics, as we know.

"He who endures to the end will be saved" Jesus tells us, and how true that is. As we walk with the Lord as he endures his passion, we take note of how he did it, and ask him for the grace to emulate his steadfastness and fidelity. Our Lenten observance is meant to make us strong to endure, and more open to the grace of God so he can supply what we need.

St Prisca is baptised by St Peter

Monday, April 14, 2014

Station Church 41: Santa Prassede

Holy Week: Monday

Having visited the basilica dedicated to her sister, St Pudentiana, today we come to the Basilica of St Praxedes, just beside St Mary Major's. The basilica was built to honour Praxedes and to be a resting place for her relics and those of her sister, Pudentiana. Though it is down a little backstreet, this church is a wonder, its mosaics are extraordinary, dazzling. Pope St Paschal I is responsible for much of the work and it seems it was his desire to build and ornament a temple worthy of prayer and praise. Among the artistic treasures are saintly treasures as he brought the bodies of many martyrs from the catacombs to repose in this basilica. It is said that he brought 2,300 of them and laid them to rest here. If so this church certainly is unique in having so many saints buried in it. 

Among the chapels, the one dedicated to St Zeno is the most famous, Pope St Paschal had it built in honour of his mother while she was still alive. She was a lady of Rome, Theodora, renowned for her holiness: she is buried in the basilica. One of the basilica's most famous relics is a marble column believed to be the very column at which Jesus was scourged.  According to tradition St Helen discovered it in Jerusalem and it seems to have remained there for the veneration of pilgrims. In 1223 Cardinal Colonna, one of those who took part in the Sixth Crusade, brought the column back to Rome and it was enshrined in this basilica. It is made of black and white marble and measures 25 inches in height. If it is authentic, it may not be the whole column, just part of it.

File:Monti - santa Prassede colonna flagellazione 01396.JPG

These days are days of silence, of the calm before the storm. Gathering in St Praxedes, just off the busy city streets, a haven of peace, we might imagine that we have been transported into serenity. Perhaps the Lord's disciples thought that as they enjoyed these couple of days. The welcome into the Jerusalem may have heartened them: is it all about to happen, is the kingdom Jesus spoke about coming to pass. He has come in triumph to Jerusalem, will he take the throne, will he set himself up in the Temple and institute a new era? They may well have been thinking these things, the quick reversal of fortune for Jesus stunned them. Of course Jesus knew all the time: one moment adulation, in another condemnation.

As Christians we must always be ready, never sleeping. It may seem things are quiet and peaceful, but a storm may be brewing.  We do not live our lives on the edge, but we should be wakeful: that is the Lord's teaching.  Lent is a time to help us keep awake and remind us to keep our eyes on Christ.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Who Needs Spiderman When You've Got Guido...

The Holy Father has confirmed Mgr Guido Marini as Papal Master of Ceremonies for another term.  As people have commented, it seems that, despite the differences in approach to the liturgy, Pope Francis has a genuine fondness for Mgr Guido.  Indeed the Holy Father is on the record as saying that he has much to learn from the humble priest.  

To mark this confirmation of his office, I thought I'd share this video with you, one of Mgr Guido's glorious moments during Pope Benedict's papacy. Who needs Spiderman when you've got Guido.

Station Church 40: San Giovanni in Laterano

Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion

We begin our Holy Week back at the Cathedral of Rome, the Basilica of St John Lateran. Lent seems almost to fall into insignificance under the shadow of this mighty week. We understand why we have devoted our days to prayer and penance, because only honest hearts can truly enter into the profound events of these days.  Gathered at the Mother Church of all churches around the world, the palms are raised high to acclaim Christ the King in our midst, the Messiah entering into his holy temple, the Lamb being prepared for sacrifice.

The basilica, while called St John Lateran, is actually dedicated in the first place to Christ our Saviour. As the first cathedral in the world, in status, it stands to proclaim Christ as the Redeemer of all mankind.  That is what the people in Jerusalem were doing on that first Palm Sunday. The first day of the week, they gathered around Jesus who entered the Holy City sitting on a donkey, the regal mount, the one who carried the kings of old. Laying their palms before him he was hailed as the One who had come in the Name of the Lord. Yet just a few short days later those same crowds would turn on him and call for his crucifixion.

As we are numbered among the people who welcome Jesus into the city, may we at least remain faithful to him, even if it means others will fall away.  Let what we chant on Palm Sunday remain our profession of faith on Good Friday: as we believe and profess our faith in good times, may we do so even more intently and joyfully in moments of hardship, suffering and persecution. There are too many fair-weather Christians, and too many who compromise the faith for the sake of their pocket, their credibility or their skin. The Lord wants faithful friends: he wants true disciples.  Our Lenten observance is meant to make us strong, strong enough to raise our voices above a parapet, strong enough to live the faith even in times like these.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Station Church 39: San Giovanni a Porta Latina

Fifth Week of Lent: Saturday

This church, the Basilica of St John at the Latin Gate, our Station Church today, is the furthest church in our Lenten pilgrimage (a very early start!). It is a venerable church which marks the spot where the "martyrdom" of St John the Apostle took place.  The basilica was built in the late 5th century by Pope St Gelasius I, and though renovated a number of times, it holds its ancient spirit.  It is a church full of light, and preserves a number of ancient frescos, rediscovered in the early 20th century.

The basilica is Rome's Johannine centre, in a sense, given its association with the Beloved Apostle. St Jerome records this event, drawing from a Roman tradition. According to it in the year 95 AD St John was arrested in Ephesus brought to Rome, the reign of the Emperor Domitian. At this stage John was an old man and the only surviving Apostle.  While Rome is not usually associated with John, other places in city have a tradition of being there, the Basilica of Santa Maria in Via Lata, for example, built on the house he is said to have lived in while he was in Rome. Refusing to renounce his faith, John was condemned to death by being boiled alive in a pot of oil near the Latin Gate of the city.  Miraculously St John survived it and would die a natural death, but this suffering is often regarded as his "martyrdom".  Seeing the miracle, but unaffected by it, the emperor, or his lackies, had John exiled to Patmos where he remained until he was allowed return to Ephesus.

Historically it would be very hard to prove the truth of this event, to be honest scholars have been debating St John and who he is for decades if not centuries. But leaving that aside, today, in our Station Church, we look to the person of St John, the Apostle, the Beloved Disciple, the Evangelist, the adopted child of Our Lady, the witness to the passion and death of Our Lord, the first to believe in the Resurrection though he had not yet seen. St John is the model for all disciples. He remained when others ran away overcome by fear. He sought a deep personal relationship with the Lord and experienced intimacy with the divine. John's testimony will dominate our Holy Week and Easter reflections, and as we are just about to begin Passiontide, it would be a good example to seek out the company and intercession of St John. If our Lenten observance has opened our hearts wide enough to become like him, then our prayer, penances and sacrifices have reaped a rich reward.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Station Church 38: San Stefano Rotondo

Fifth Week of Lent: Friday

The Basilica of St Stephen Rotondo on the Caelian Hill is one of the more unusual of the Station Churches. As its name suggests, it is a round church, built in the late 5th century. The basilica's shape is not rare, not when it comes to ancient Roman architecture.  For centuries emperors built round temples to celebrate a victory in battle, an architectural crown of bravery, a laurel.  The Christians adopted this imagery and built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in the round to celebrate the victory of Christ over death. In Rome the Christians decided to build their first round church celebrating the victory of the Church's first martyr, St Stephen. For a time, the relics of St Stephen were preserved in this church until they were translated to St Lawrence Outside-the-Walls.

The succeeding centuries were not kind to the basilica.  Barbarian invasions took their toll, as did a long period of neglect. In the 6th century it was restored and the relics of the martyrs Ss Primus and Felician were translated here.  However, the church would again be neglected, requiring another major renovation in the 12th century, and yet another in the 15th century which actually saved the whole edifice from collapse. Despite all these renovations, the basilica maintains its ancient plan and much of its original stone.

Visiting the basilica is always an interesting experience, it is in reality an architectural chronicle of martyrdom, for the walls are decorated with a cycle of twenty-four large frescos, images of martyrdom. Now these images are not for the faint-hearted, they reveal the reality of martyrdom - the brutal reality of Christians being put to death for their faith.  Starting with the death of Our Lord and the martyrdom of Stephen, the frescos depict scenes from the killings under various Roman emperors. 

While we may admire the heroism of the martyrs and even romanticize their deaths, the reality was altogether very different.  Martyrdom is hard, often brutal, an experience in which the martyr may well feel abandoned and lost - it is their faith in Christ that sustains them. Of course we should honour them, but we must never lose sight of how hard it is to die for one's faith, it is ultimately an act of renunciation, an abandonment into the hands of God through the hands of one's enemies who are intend on bringing your life to a painful end. Only the grace of God helps them through, but they need courage to wait on this grace. That is why we must pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters, pray that should they be required to make the ultimate sacrifice for Christ, they will have the strength they need to embrace it with serenity and trust. 

For us Irish, San Stefano's is important as the son of one of greatest High Kings, Brian Boru, is buried there. Donnchad MacBriain died in Rome in 1064 while on pilgrimage.