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.