Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Martha In View

It has been a busy few weeks, just those days when little things rise up in succession and need to be taken care of and when there is free time the chapel is a more attractive proposition than the blog, and after the chapel some rest. 

However on the 18th July my beloved aunt and godmother Biddy Hogan died. She was 87 and had a good life. We were very close, she was probably my closest confidante and she had a pretty big part to play in my vocation to the priesthood. She was devout, a holy woman who loved the Mass. So my family are coming to terms with her loss. Please remember her in your prayers.

I was able to conduct the funeral ceremonies myself - even the burial which I did not think I would be able to do, but God gave me the grace. I asked Biddy to intercede for that grace to get me through, and she did. But, as those of you who have had bereavements in the family will know only too well, we are all exhausted and spent. 

At the Requiem Mass I preached on the story of St Martha's confession of faith in the resurrection. Martha seemed an apt model for Biddy - both had a profound and practical faith. Biddy was a worker, but like Mary of Bethany she also made time to sit at the Lord's feet. She also had a great faith in the resurrection. I remember asking her many years ago, as she went off to her room to pray the rosary by herself (like a contemplative!), did she pray the Mysteries of the day? She said she did sometimes, but she usually prayed the Glorious Mysteries - the Mysteries of the fulfilment of God's promises. And signs on it, her faith was such that she rarely worried about anything. Things were in God's hands, she had to do what he wanted her to do and then she trusted. That is faith!

Interestingly, friends and neighbours have been contacting me requesting a memento, one of the medals or pious articles she owned. That says a lot about how people viewed her, a testament to her holiness. Well, may the Lord have mercy on her and take her into his kingdom, and may she pray for all of us in these difficult times. And thank you for your prayers.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The New Aggression, A New Evangelisation

Yesterday members of the pro-life groups of Ireland gathered in Dublin for their annual pro-life rally. Organizers estimate that about 30,000 attended, though Irish media have reported that there were only 10,000 - you can decide for yourself which figure is correct, bearing in mind the Irish media's rather fluid relationship with the truth when it comes to such matters

As expected there was a counter-demonstration by pro-abortion advocates, but this year they were even more aggressive than usual. I have taken part in many pro-life demonstrations and usually the pro-abortion protesters will hold up signs, chant and there would be a few who would be aggressive. However this year there seems to have been a escalation in the aggression, a serious escalation. Civility has gone, and has been replaced by anger, intolerance and verbal violence. All of this found expression not just on the streets with swearing, insults, offensive signs and explicit gestures - all in front of children, but also on Twitter (no surprise there) and with the hacking of pro-life websites. Nor, it seems, is any of this spur of the moment reactions to pro-lifers, it has all the hallmarks of an organised campaign - one centred on the campaign to repeal Constitutional protection for unborn children.

I believe the gay marriage referendum was a watershed in Ireland in terms of protest and demonstration. The ugliness and sheer brutality of a certain quarter has left us with a legacy which we may well find very difficult to exorcise from Irish society. Empowered with their victory it seems social progressives feel that they can do and say anything to their opponents to order to quash them. This does not augur well for the future here, not for the stability of Irish society. It may well be that the Nietzschean "might is right" principle will become the dominant philosophy in our brave new society and that will not be good.

I have often noticed that when a Christian society abandons its faith and Christian culture, it turns bad very quickly. The void produced by the expulsion of faith is filled with a primitive brutality, it loses not only civility but also its very civilisation as its citizens crawl back into the caves puffed up with the delusion that they are making progress. If you need examples of this just look to revolutionary France, or to Russia, Mexico, Germany and Spain in the last century.

When this happens, there is an onus on us Christians to get cracking and do what we can to resist this process and work towards the re-Christianisation of society, to move from the primitive back to civility. For us in these times that will be the work of the New Evangelisation proclaimed by St John Paul II and prepared for by the Second Vatican Council in which the Church sought to renew to meet the challenges ahead. 

I believe a seminal document in this process is St John Paul's Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Inuente in which the saintly Pontiff urged us, the disciples of Jesus Christ, to push out into the deep to proclaim the Gospel. Beginning with our lives and families, we move out into the parishes (many of which need serious renewal), our dioceses, the universal Church and then the secular world. If I may use martial imagery, we are in the middle of a war and we must wake up and prepare for battle. The weapons we use are not those of the world, they are not violence and aggression, but virtue and holiness. However we must not be naive, as many tend to be. We need to be wise, strategic and resourceful - that is what Jesus meant when he told us to be as innocent as doves and as wise as serpents. Piety is good, fasting is necessary, but so is engagement in society.

In this process we aim to make our enemies our friends, either through bringing them to embrace the Gospel or failing that, at least bringing them to mutual respect and the vision of the sanctity of human life and a recognition of what is ultimately good for true human flourishing. We will have an uphill battle but we must remember first of all that God is in charge, it is his work and we must be attentive to him and his will: every effort we make must be immersed in prayer and openness to the Holy Spirit. That said we must also make ourselves useful instruments, we must be informed and trained to have the knowledge and skills so God can use us as his apostles and agents in the war. I believe this is what Vatican II was urging when it spoke of the laity and their role in the Church - it was not empowering them to make the Church a democracy, to decide the doctrine of the Church by means of a vote, but rather empowering them through the faith and history of the Church to make the Church more missionary by sending them out into the world to evangelise. 

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: