Sunday, August 24, 2014

Who are We?

In a world where mankind seems increasingly lost, I mean on the one hand  people lie Dickie Dawkins suggesting the parents of a foetus with Downs syndrome aborting their child and starting again, as if even for a total secularist it was ever that easy, or the riots in Ferguson in the US, or the fragmentation of society we continually see around, not to mention the threats in Ukraine or the horrors of Boko Haram or the Islamic State, the question Jesus asks his disciples in the Gospel today, "Who do people say I am?" is of great relevance, because ultimately the question is about us: what is mankind.

The impressive clear thinking Provost of the London Oratory, Fr Julian Large, in part answers this question and demonstrates its implications, and indeed raises further questions.
If a Catholic priest or bishop in our age were to preach that there is no Zoroastrianism in Heaven, or Seventh Day Adventism or Hinduism or Anglicanism, I think we can imagine the reaction. The printing presses of the liberal media would probably explode.
But it is true that if we do manage to gain entry to Heaven – and one has to say ‘if’ because salvation is not something that anyone of us can take for granted – we shall not find religious pluralism or any type of denominational division. What we shall find is the One Mystical Body of Christ, with all of the Holy Angels and Saints united in one Body and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ at the Head. We shall find that the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church that we have known on earth has been purified, perfected and glorified – the Church Militant taken up and subsumed for eternity in the Church Triumphant.
We often hear that if religion is to have any place in modern society then we shall all have to acknowledge that all religions are equal. But for a Christian this is something that cannot really be true. It doesn’t wash. The reason for this is that Christianity makes mighty claims that no other religion has ever attempted to match. We don’t just say that our religion has been established by a remarkable and saintly messenger of God, who has come to teach us unattainable truths and to set us a unique example of integrity, self-sacrifice and goodness. Our religion has been established by one Who actually is God, and Who is Truth itself. Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is a Divine Person, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. And it is only because God took on our human flesh and died on the Cross for us that anyone is able to be saved. Our Lord is the one supreme Pontifex Who bridges the infinite chasm between man and God in His own Person.
This is not to say that those who have never had the Gospel preached to them, or never encountered credible witnesses to the Gospel, are beyond the scope of salvation. Certainly not. Yes, Christ has ordained that incorporation in His Mystical Body the Church is to be the means of man’s salvation. But His love and His grace are boundless. And the Church insists that there are reflections of Divine Truth in other religions. In so far as these truths pertain to salvation, however, She claims them as Her own. When a non-Christian dies, he will see with perfect clarity that Christ is God the Son. If he dies in the grace that is a prerequisite for entry into the eternal bliss of Heaven, he will see that Our Lord has been the source of his salvation all along, even if he never encountered a Christian or a Catholic in all of his life.
Hence the seriousness with which the Church has always taken the mission described by Our Lord to Peter after the miraculous catch of fish: “Henceforth you will catch men.” Ever since that commission, the Church that Christ founded on the Apostles has been fishing for souls in every age, and in every part of the globe that She can reach.
If you go to Rome on the feast of Ss Peter and Paul, you will find St Peter’s basilica festooned with fishing nets. That is a reminder that the Pope has a responsibility for souls on a universal scale. He and the bishops have been commissioned to work continuously to bring all souls in to the Barque of Peter. We must pray for them, because the prelude to the account of the miraculous catch of fish in the Gospel, in which Peter and his companions are presented as weary and disheartened after a whole night spent labouring without success, reminds us that on our own we can do nothing, and the human spirit easily grows weary and fails.
We too are called to be fishers of men. But rather than using the great trawling net that has been entrusted to the Successor of Peter, most of us will probably find that fishing with the line is so much more effective. We have to use friendship, kindness and example to draw souls in gently, reeling them in to the Barque of Peter with patience and great charity. And this can be far more effective than we ever imagine. Don’t be taken in by the lie that the world is becoming increasingly secularized. Great parts of the globe are, in fact, embracing Islam. And in the west, more and more people are happy to involve themselves in all sorts of spiritualism and New Age superstitions, even if it is fashionable to pooh-pooh ‘organized religion’.
This shows that there is a great thirst for spirituality, and that people do have a hunger for religion, whether they realize it or not.
Perhaps many of us who are converts to Catholicism were attracted because we were impressed and even amazed by the wonderful intellectual coherence that exists within the Catholic Faith. But we have to bear in mind that rational arguments hold very little sway with many or even most of our contemporaries today. They have been brought up in a culture of sentimentality, in which they have been encouraged to make decisions based on emotions and personal ‘intuition’. They may even feel threatened and repelled by logic. And it has to be admitted that, on their own, rational arguments for the Faith are like winter sunshine: they shed light, but they do not lend much warmth.
But even in this cult of sentimentality, our Faith actually has one distinct and powerful advantage. Christianity is the only religion that makes the extraordinary claim that ‘God IS love.’ And those words of St John open up an awe-inspiring vista into the very life of the Blessed Trinity, which is an eternal and infinite outpouring of self between Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
But it is not enough to talk about love. There is one thing that we can be sure that our contemporaries will demand from us as Catholics, and that is authenticity. We have to show that the reality of God’s love overflows from our hearts, in our conversation and in our actions. To be sure, authenticity is often judged today using the most shallow of criteria. The disciples of the cult of sentiment have an insatiable appetite for novelties, gestures and sound bites. Those of us who had an old fashioned upbringing would prefer when we give alms that our left hand should not know what our right is doing. If we are to have any hope of bringing souls into the Church in this age in which we live, however, then the Church has to be seen to be doing what, in former ages, She has always done in a less self conscious manner – reaching out to the needy, the sick and the abandoned. And if we are to succeed in bringing souls into the Barque of Peter, then we have to involve ourselves in this work of God, and not to be embarrassed to be seen doing good.
There is nothing arrogant in holding the conviction that the Church is true. Today there is a false notion of humility which says that it is meekness to play down our Faith. But our mission to bring souls into the Mystical Body of Christ is truly humble in the best sense, because it is carried out in obedience to our Saviour.
Fr Julian Large.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Dogs and the Eucharist

As a child the good thing about having a puppy was that the nastier bits of my mum's cooking could be slipped under the table and be eaten, fat and gristle seem to have been an important part of of our diet. Puppies under the table is perhaps the image we have from last Sunday's OF Gospel. It's is a nice image, but actually of course it is not meant to be nice, it is supposed to shock us.

Jews in the Old Testament often used dogs as an image of apostasy or of idol worshiping Gentiles, it is an image Jesus takes directly from scripture. Dogs are unclean, a source defilement. Jesus wasn't sent to the 'dogs' but to the children of the Israel. The women makes the image even more horrific by speaking of the dogs 'under the table'. It presumably is supposed to summon up images of those vanquished kings who had their fingers and toes cut off who were made to beg for food under or around the table of the victor. The woman in order to gain a favour from Our Lord s willing to abase herself, to admit her absolute dependence on him, she is dog sniffing for favours. The EF Gospel for last Sunday was the Publican in the Temple, who goes home justified because he abases himself  in the Temple, it is the same idea.

The difference of course is the idea of food, of begging for food. I don't know if I am making too much of this, I tend to see all references to food, certainly in the Gospels as pointing to the Holy Eucharist; are we supposed to be like those begging kings made powerless without our toes, or more importantly, fingers, begging at the Lord's table, waiting , for those scraps which elsewhere in the Gospels are collected with great care? Presumably without fingers they either eat from the floor with food thrown down from the dais or lie my dog when I was being particularly kind had food placed in his mouth.

I must admit I am open to the idea that possibly as sign of intimacy Jesus actually placed the Eucharist in the mouths of his disciples. I remember an Indian archbishop who stayed with me briefly and scandalised me and the husbands of  the local Indian community by insisting on placing sweet pastries directly into the mouths of their young and pretty wives, the ugly or older women helped themselves or received them in their hands. It was obviously a gesture of great intimacy, interestingly he wasn't too happy with doing the same during Mass with the Holy Eucharist. The reception of food placed directly into the mouth is in other context than Mass is one of extraordinary intimacy, eating without using our hands is a sign of absolute dependency or trust. Eating whilst kneeling is sign of complete subjugation, this is what the Canaanite does in order to receive a scrap or a crumb of mercy from the Lord.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Italian Opera

I am glad that our beloved Holy Father has been making a stab at using English on his Korean trip, his native Spanish is at least an international language, though not perhaps in Asia. I don't know if he has attempted much in Korean, or what is becoming increasingly important internationally: Mandarin. Perhaps the most important language is kindness, a smile an embrace, a wave, of which the bishop of Rome is a past master.

What I feel is a little strange is using Italian in Korea, who apart from opera fans and some clergy in Korea speaks Italian? As a young South American sister, who spoke both Spanish and Portuguese, said to me recently, "Italian is the curse of the Church". It certainly marks those who are set for a rising career in the Church, who from their earliest days are marked out for a career n the Church, and we all know what the Holy Father thinks about careerists.

I hope I am not being xenophobic but the Italian language brings with it a certain Italian culture were traditionally efficiency is not a factor. Interestingly Cardinal Pell has attempted to removed from the board of the much troubled and apparently formerly corrupt IOR, there are no Italians running the Vatican Bank, at least at the moment. Indeed breaking from Italian culture seems, at least in theory, to be part of the Pope's strategy for reform, I think he is doomed to failure unless the Holy See starts using a global language and opens the Church up to non-Italian government ad expertise and rids itself of nepotism, still a dominant factor in Italy.

Having more or less done away with Latin the Church's working language is now Italian and with it comes a certain Italian imperialism. A friend, a professor of liturgy in an eastern European was arranging the liturgy for a group of European bishops, there were a number of cardinals in attendance, who in order of precedence presided at the liturgy, the non-Italians happily celebrated Mass either in the local language or in Latin, the Italians however insisted n using Italian although hardly anyone, least of all the laity present, spoke Italian.

I recently had to give evidence to one of the Roman congregations, they came to visit, there was a Polish Monsignor who spoke English, he was accompanied by another priest, an Italian who had no English, a non English speaking stenographer, a man dressed in lay clothes who I was told was a judge, who again spoke no English, as the interview was to be conducted in Italian they brought with them an Indian nun to act as translator, she was accompanied by another sister, the delegation consisted of six people. The Polish Monsignor asked questions in Italian, the sister translated, I answered in English, she translated into Italian, with her English or Italian occasionally corrected by the Pole, a couple of times the Italian would ask for not very ad rem clarifications, whilst the stenographer typed on his lap-top, he too, once or twice, asked for clarification of the Pole's Italian. The process took just under an hour but then the stenographer tried to save what had been typed and lost everything and it all had to be written out by hand, fortunately from memory on a prepared form, when this was done, I was given the form to read and sign, my read Italian is much better than my spoken Italian; although my statement was in Italian, the questions on the form were in the Church's official language, Latin.

The thing is that students or anyone coming to work in Rome has to spend a good year learning Italian before he can begin work. Any bishop without Italian is seriously disadvantaged, it would be impossible for a non-Italian speaking cardinal to operate in the Church, not just Rome, even if he had perfect Latin or any or all of the world languages: English, Mandarin, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Portugese whilst it is quite possible to become Pope with only Italian. It is absurd in the modern world!

Not only is it exclusive, it is expensive, of the six person delegation who came to see me, the two sisters were based in England but the four men from Rome had to be flown over here and paid, presumably at a reasonably professional rate, certainly the laymen. Today, what it took six people to ask could actually be done by e-mail or even telephone at a fraction of the cost. The Holy Father speaks of poverty but there is a baroque ostemtatiom im Italian culture which wants to employ everyone in the village. Go into any Italian bank or have anything to do with officialdom, even buying a up of coffee in a bar practically always involves half an Italian family, someone to take the order, someone to give the order to, someone to make the coffee and someone to clear-up afterwards.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Mary: The Fulfillment of God's Will

Mary was taken up into Heaven.
What do we mean by this? In the case of Mary we mean something different than when we say the saints are in Heaven. We have the relics of the saints but Mary was taken up body and soul, there are no fragments of her body here on earth. One day the bodies of the saints will be united to their soul just as one day the souls of those in purgatory will be united  to their bodies and even those now in Hell. But Mary because of her Immaculate Conception, this singular Grace of God, is now in that state of Resurrection that even the greatest of saints must wait for, in that sense she is more like her Son and Lord than any other Saint. Thus we honour God with latria and the saints with dulia but Mary with hyperdulia.

She already enjoys the fullness of what we hope for at the 'consummation of the ages'. Our hope is what we say in our funeral rites, 'In my flesh I shall see God', 'I shall behold him face to face'. Mary uniquely enjoys the fullness of Grace, for she is the 'highest honour of our race'. She reflects as a perfect mirror without any blemish the Grace of God, she reflects and also contains Grace, nothing comes between her and God.

She is the purest, the most perfect, of creatures. Everything else that is created is marred by sin, everything whether it is a stone or bird, a human being or a distant star, every thought, every emotion, is touched by sin but not Mary, she is free of all contamination. On earth, even as the Immaculate, she is frustrated by evil beyond her as God's plan is frustrated by sinfulness. Though sinless, she is limited by the sins of others, like Jesus she inhabits the domain of the Lord of this World and is consequently limited by human culture, by the limits of human knowledge and yes, by the daily assaults of the Devil, the ancient dragon that stalks her, that causes her flee into he desert. In Heaven she is limitless, in heaven she truly experiences 'the fullness of Grace', she shares in God's complete freedom and in His knowledge and understanding, she has become as scripture prophesies and as the angel are 'like unto God'. Thus her motherhood, which on earth was limited, becomes the motherhood of all humanity, in perfect Communion with God she shares in His infinite love and infinite mercy, and infinite compassion. On earth she could intercede for those she knew, and certainly pray that God's will in all things might be done. In heaven she extends her maternal care too all, with motherly intimacy she know us and cares for us.

If we are truly Christian we need to have a Chris-tlike devotion to His Blessed Mother. It needs to be founded not on the saccharine, touchy-feelingness of much modern 'charismatic' devotion but on basic Christian teaching of death, judgement, heaven and hell and on above all a true understanding of what Christ has accomplished for us, especially by His Saving Death and Glorious Resurrection, for what Mary enjoys now is what we are called to enjoy after the Consummation of the Ages, when God's Holy Will is accomplished, for She is our model and our hope, and the fulfillment of God's will.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

What is reality?

Is there a connection between the Transfiguration and the Assumption? The Assumption is of course not the Octave day of  the Transfiguration, but is it an accident the two feasts are so proximate?

The Transfiguration makes us question the nature of reality. The disciples are used to seeing Jesus doing ordinary human things, yes there are miracles but it is easy to see them as a human action, a wonder, rather than a divine revelation. The Transfiguration forces them to question this basic perception, on the holy mountain they experience Jesus as being quite unlike them. What they glimpse is directly linked to Jesus' death, it is supposed to strengthen them for his death, presumably they are supposed to look beyond  the very human aspects of his suffering, death and burial.

They are left to struggle with the question of what is more real, the humiliation of Jesus in his passion or his exaltation and the reconciliation of God and man, what they are called to see is what God sees.
There are earthly and heavenly realities, both these feasts invite us to look beyond the veil.

The ancient way of portraying the the Assumption is the Apostles gathering for the Blessed Virgin's funeral after she appears to die, but like the synagogue officials daughter she appears to be dead but to God she merely sleeps. The disciples are focused on her body, they do not see Christ who also stands behind them who comes to receive her soul with two (some times more) saintly bishops, there are two planes of reality in this icon, what is happening perceived by physical eyes in the city of Jerusalem (or Ephesus) and what is happening under the watchful eye of the seraph, which is perceived by the eyes of faith alone.

The Christian faith calls us to look beyond what appears to the senses to what is revealed by faith, to see with eyes of God.

The Assumption or Dormition invites to see human death with the eyes of faith, just as the Transfiguration invites us to view Jesus suffering from the perspective of Heaven. Death and corruption, pain and suffering melt away in the presence of God's glory. Christians are called to look beyond the veil to the heavenly reality.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Prayers Please

I have just had a lady I married a little while ago come to see me, she is having twins a  boy and girl. She has been told that the girl is fine  but her son has a problem which means his lungs have not developed, he will die shortly after birth.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Osculum Pacis

I am not one of those who hate the sign of peace. I hate it when it it is trivialised, when Mrs Brown offers a lukewarm handshake to Mr Brown, which hardly seems to symbolise they are 'one flesh' in the Lord, or when Mrs Green wonders why Mrs White hasn't run down the aisle to greet her and comes up to Holy Communion full of resentment or at least wondering at the precariosity of their friendship. Then I also hate being given an enthusiastic 'sign of peace' and then being ignored after Mass. The sign is supposed signify what we are, truly a community of brothers and sisters in the Lord, at peace with God and our neighbour and a source of peace for the world.

I am glad the Holy See has issued a new document on it and decided not to move too, to before the offertory, as in the Ambrosian Rite, after all the 'sign of peace' is intimately connected to Holy Communion. It is simple, if we are not in Communion with our neighbour, then we can't possibly be in Communion with the Lord. It is I think the offering of ourselves at Holy Communion that is more important than our offering of cash at the offertory, it is then that we should be leaving our offering (of ourselves) at the altar in order that we might be reconciled to our neighbour. The procession to communion is about us coming to receive Christ in communion but it also about Him receiving us, bot individually but also collectively as the Church, pure and free from sin. The sign of peace should be a significant pre-Communion rite, therefore it should be solemn and holy, not lightly undertaken. One reason for it remaining where it is is the assertion by liturgical scholars that in ancient times the Pater Noster ended by a kiss of peace.

Joe at Catholic Commentary suggests the sign of peace is meaningless and more about social inclusion than anything else. In the past a paxbrede was often used to take 'the peace' from the celebrant to at least significant members of the congregation. The paxbrede was often a silver or even wax plaque or an icon or a relic or a crucifix. The veneration of the Cross on Good Friday could be sign as a 'Peace' rite, the crucifix, or as our forefathers might have used the relic of the True Cross, being offered to the faithful only at the end of a rigorous Lent during which they were expected to have been reconciled to God and man.

The problem with the 'sign of peace', is like many of our rites, even Holy Communion, that it is trivialsed and without meaning. Amongst our servers, here, the sign of peace is offered in the traditional way, the Agnus Dei starts as soon as I  have offered it to the senior server or MC. In the Johannine Missal it always began with the celebrant who in a sense took it from Christ on the altar and it was passed on from to others on the sanctuary and those in choro, in large monasteries it could of course include several hundred people from the abbot down to the newest postulant. In the Pauline Missal it is supposed to bubble up from the community and presumably disappear as quickly as it appeared. What we do is wrong, apparently, though it eliminates on the sanctuary the hug-fest often seen and because it is hierarchical it gives a good indication that the proper for the priest just before Holy Communion is at the altar with the Body and Blood of Christ.

As I say, I think the sign of peace is important, but I can understand the frustration of those who see it as plain silly, the longer it goes on, the sillier it often becomes, we urgently need to find an alternative to the very secular handshake, which in the UK is often associated with dodgie car salesmen.  Perhaps the reason why it is often an uninspiring rite is related to the trivialising of Holy Communion itself.

Perhaps it ought to be restricted only to those going to Holy Communion, only to those truly at peace with God and their neighbour. Before the Reformation at York during Christmastide a bough of mistletoe was raised before the rood, it was a sign for reconciliation of enemies, the release of captives and slaves, the forgiveness of debts, the end of conflicts. Under it the estranged would kiss and be reconciled, this is presumably  what the sign of peace should be about, a truly sacred rite.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Save Us, O Lord

Syria, Iraq, Jordan,  Iran, Lebanon, Egypt, Libya, Nigeria, Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Somalia; there the body of Christ is torn apart. I really cannot bear to look at the bodies of children and the suffering of so many. This video was sent to me with the request I post it by the Coptic Orthodox wife of a reader; no bodies, just the anguished plea of a mother for her abducted daughter.

Can we still continue to dialogue with Islam, when so much suffering, so much blood is being spilt?
We have heard of the Pope's distress at this suffering, he as asked for prayers for those who suffer but hasn't himself addressed the suffering of our brothers and sisters. Can we really continue with the dialogue set up in the last century, it is no longer 1960 or 1970?

"Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
Murderers continue to murder whilst the effete swap smooth words.

And what is Eccleston Square doing?

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Archbishop Martin criticises one of his young priests

There is always a dark-side to the The Tablet, so maybe this report about Archbishop Martin of Dublin criticising one of his very few younger priests should be taken with a small pinch of salt but His Grace does have form  of being critical and unsympathetic towards his younger priests. That of course could explain why he has so few of them, and possibly why his diocese is so unattractive to young men who might have a vocation. It is obviously indicative of a poor management style and could well be a reason why the few young priests he does have might well be considering looking for bishops elsewhere in the world.

His comments made in Australia (what was it His Holiness said about 'airport bishops'?) seem indicative of a management style in the Church that would be unacceptable elsewhere and I would expect was one reason the abuse scandals were not addressed in Ireland. As there are so few young priests in the Archdiocese of Dublin it is not too difficult to identify who this individual actually is. Priests should certainly not be breaking confidences, the onus on a bishop not to do so is even greater, everything that has been said over the last 50 years about the father/son relationship of a priest to his bishop seems to be negated by the Archbishop's remarks. If a son of his is fearful or disconcerted about the actions of the Pope, and many are, it is a bishop's responsibility to give him the support he requires. Pope Francis has often spoken about the evils of gossip, especially clerical gossip, it seems that this young priest has been betrayed by both his Parish Priest and his Bishop, who see a problem rather than seeking to understand and help.

Many young priests are indeed disconcerted by this sudden lurch back to the 1970s, the rise of the personality cult of Francis, with the implications of a new-Ultramonatism, or at least a Church where the Pope is the sole arbiter of  everything, is indeed alien territory for many younger priests. It is not the faith they have been taught in the seminary, or in the catechism, or in the ordinary magisterium of St John Paul II or Benedict XVI, the fact that an Archbishop seems to greet this with incomprehension bodes ill indeed for the future of his Church, especially when so many Prelates, even those who are designated 'the Pope's theologian' seem to be teaching something contrary to the Lord himself.

Recently the Pope said if a priest has a problem with his bishop he should go and sort it out, even it means a shouting match. Well it is even more incumbent on a bishop to sort problems out with his priests, rather than do as Archbishop  Martin has in the case of this young priest, both his age and status demand this of him.
What is not acceptable for any bishop is gossiping or complaining, either to other priests, which is bad, or as appears here, to a group of laity, who then report his words in the press. No wonder Dublin has such a poor reputation for the pastora care of it priests.

Pope's 10 Ways


Monday, August 04, 2014

Credible Witnesses

My friend Fr Z writes about neo-martyrs crucified by ISIS. Since the Vatican Council it is easy to think that apart from one or two internal problems the Church lives in vibrant sunshine but of course the Church lives constantly with the blood of its children, thatThe great crisis of  Church is one of faith, fat sleek bishops, comfortable middle-class priests, nuns who embrace a secular agenda are hardly credible witnesses but is why the Pope has since the mid fourth century worn blood red shoes, and the Roman Pontiff's correct dress isn't the white cassock but blood red ornaments that are worn over it. The Church walks in blood, her clothes are spattered with blood. If there is no blood flowing in streams from her children, then the Church is a dead thing. It is the blood of Christ and his saints that gives her life and is a sign of her being alive. 

Without martyrdom there is no Church. The Way of Christ is the Way of the Cross and Christians are called to embrace it. As a priest the faithful have every right to ask me, "Father, would you be willing to die for our faith?" Fortunately no one has recently, and to be honest I don't know what my answer would be, I know what it should be, 

We are all called to be martyrs, the Greek word 'witness' is martyr. It strikes me that in the West we no longer have credible witnesses. Down the ages the number of children, of ordinary men and women, has far exceeded the number of  bishops and priests. The great crisis of  Church is one of faith, fat sleek bishops, comfortable middle-class priests, nuns who embrace a secular agenda hardly give the sign of being credible witnesses.

Perhaps the question, 'Would you be willing to die for our faith?' should be one we all ask ourselves and one another, especially our leaders and professional Catholics, for not only should we be willing to die for our faith but live for it too.

The Lord’s descent into the underworld

At Matins/the Office of Readings on Holy Saturday the Church gives us this 'ancient homily', I find it incredibly moving, it is abou...