Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Those Hardy Servants

Today's feast should remind us that the Saints are no shrinking violets wafting up in a continual fragrance of mystical surges. In fact they were rather hardy individuals who had to deal with a lot of issues, many of them personal issues, and fight their way through life, certainly with a smile, but most importantly with a good dose of faith, hope, charity and, in most cases, even a sense of humour which also kept them sane. 

St Monica is one of those Saints who speaks to those who are looking at the hard face of life and seem they cannot move anywhere. Those in situations similar to St Monica's may well come to think that there is little hope because they come up against the impenetrable wall of another's will and desires. We all know the story of Monica and her prayer for her son Augustine: yes, she converted him, eventually, but for most of that struggle it seemed as if it would not end as well as it did. That is why Monica is a great example of the virtue of hope. She hoped in God, and she allowed that hope inspire her prayer and her efforts to bring her wayward son to God. I personally believe that the great sanctity of St Augustine is due in a large part to his mother. He is the Doctor of grace, one of the world's greatest Christians with one of the world's greatest minds, and I think his mother had a lot to do with that.

Of course Augustine was not the only one who made life difficult for Monica, long before the eldest son started on his wayward journey Monica had to content with a difficult husband and a gorgon of a mother-in-law. In Ireland we have a saying that two women should never be in the same house: if a man marries let him set up a new home with his wife, bringing her home to live with the mother might not be for the best. Well Monica should have insisted on such a solution because life with Mummy-in-law was hell. For one thing Mummy controlled the son, and she became a real invader in the marriage: as bad as he was, poor Monica could not even have her husband to herself.

However, Monica's response was that of prayer, long-suffering endurance, hope and sacrifice. Rather than resorting to bitterness and becoming difficult herself, she allowed the charity of God to triumph in her and she was able to do what many of us would think impossible: be kind and loving. It was that very kindness and love which changed hearts and she not only tamed her mother-in-law and won her husband, she converted them to Christianity. What an example for all of us. Later Monica realised that her struggle with the two at home was a preparation for an even greater one with her son, no doubt she was able to draw on what she had learned, and the outcome of the first struggle helped her keep hope alive as she engaged in the second.

Monica is not unique among the Saints, they all had to struggle and fight, but they did so knowing that God was their ally, their strength and their counsellor.  They rise to the challenge calling on God to give them grace and they are generous enough to hand themselves over to him so he can guide them on the right path. The Saint is one who surrenders to God not  in desperation but in love, and they reap the rewards of such trust, but not without suffering, and not without hope. 

Another of the great teachers of this reality is St Therese of the Child Jesus. There is a very good article by Joe Sparks on the process of censoring Therese's writings which took place after her death - the editors wanted to show her virtues but in doing so left out a lot which they though might scandalise or frighten readers, but in reality they left out the bits which revealed the reality of Therese's struggle, those sufferings which make her truly great. I would recommend you read it. As you know I love Therese, not just because she is my sister in the Order, but also because she speaks to modern men and women about the reality of living our Christian faith in the midst of difficult times, comfortable Christianity, serious personal issues and human intrigue. Therese, for example, is one who can speak to a world immersed in atheism, where hope is gone because many have decided or felt that there is no God and they must face the harsh winds of life alone. Therese is also the Saint for the broken and the lost. One of her great devotees was Edith Piaf whose life was an utter mess. Therese seems to draw the strays to herself, probably because she has a special gift of touching their hearts and reminding them that they too are children of the Eternal Father.

Life is hard and can be harsh, and even though many may think the Saints were above it standing on their pedestals, in reality there down here with the rest of us battling on. What great teachers they are, what great allies and friends. So let us dump the pious biographies and look for the real story of the Saints: not only will we be impressed but we might also realise that we too are called to become Saints.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Happy Feast Day

On this feast of St Genesius, on behalf of the Council of the Fraternity, I wish you all a very happy feast day. May our Holy Patron watch over you, intercede for your needs and assist you on the path of holiness.

The annual Feast Day Mass will be held tonight in St Mary's Church, James Street, Drogheda, at 7.30pm. All are welcome.

St Genesius Novena Day 9

Meditating on the Lord's Prayer with St Genesius

But deliver us from evil

Evil corrupts, it distorts, destroys. The evil one seeks to recreate humanity, one marked by despair so individuals will lose the light of life and fall into darkness. Evil has built a city, one usurped from God, and the evil one seeks to populate it, create a metropolis of misery so he will not suffer alone, so his loathing will be deepened by the company of those he has unjustly claimed. Being delivered from evil is to be born to hope, to faith, love and joy. It is to embrace the Eternal Father, to believe in him and in his promises. It is to embrace Jesus Christ who died for us; to abandon ourselves to the Holy Spirit who loves us, guides us, vivifies us with grace and joy. Being delivered from evil is to be recreated into the image of Jesus Christ, the New Man who rose from the dead and has opened the gates of the new City of God to us, the Eternal Jerusalem. Evil creeps in the shadows, in the shadows of the human heart; being delivered from evil means that we allow the light of the Risen Christ open up our hearts in their entirety so there are no more crevices or holes for evil to hide. Being delivered from evil means that we know that we have Christ on our side and no one can conquer us, for we belong to him. In his dying St Genesius understood this, and he could say with all his heart, “Jesus Christ is God and we shall have life in his name”. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

St Genesius Novena Day 8

Meditating on the Lord's Prayer with St Genesius

And lead us not into temptation

The world has so much to offer, there are so many wonderful things, many of them can be used not only to improve our lives, but also to bring us closer to God and help us flourish as human beings and as disciples of Christ. But the world is also full of temptations, of things that can lead us away from God, compromise our discipleship and eventually exile us from what God has destined for us in his kingdom. That a demonic intelligence uses the things of this world to lure us away from God and salvation should also make us wary. St Genesius, living the lifestyle of an artist in ancient Rome, knew all about  temptation. The struggle which took place in his soul was one in which the evil one tried desperately to keep him from God and his grace, but grace triumphed. When we pray that we will not be led into temptation we pray for the grace to fight this battle which takes place in our souls; we pray for wisdom and discernment; we pray for courage to stand up to temptation. In humility we are to recognize that God is the warrior, the protector, he is the victor, in him we can resist all the attempts of the devil to ensnare us.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Pesky Volcanoes

Here we go again, or do we? We await with baited breath as another Icelandic Volcano starts erupting. The spring/summer of 2010 is still fresh in our memory, I'm sure, when the pronounceable erupted and created chaos. Let's hope we do not have a repeat of it. While we may lament disruption to travel plans, erupting volcanoes can create ecological problems if the eruption is serious enough, and people living near them can face various dangers. So let us pray for a soothing of the latest volcano. At least I can pronounce this one: Bardarbunga......that sounds familiar.....why do parties come to mind???

Anyway, I draw your attention to the Church's great patrons of volcanic eruptions, the martyrs St Januarius and St Agatha. I wrote a prayer to them for all effected by natural disasters:

Novena to St Januarius and St Agatha
Patrons of Volcanoes

Blessed Martyrs, Januarius and Agatha,
you who offered your lives in witness to Christ,
into your hands we entrust all who are in danger.
Take into your special care those threatened by volcanoes
and the hazards of the natural world,
that the Lord may preserve them,
their homes and their livelihoods.
Guide all who travel and those who seek refuge,
may they find shelter in the Heart of Christ
and in the charity of their brothers and sisters in faith.
O holy Saints Januarius and Agatha,
courageous bishop and devoted virgin and bride of Christ,
commend us to the intercession of the Mother of God
so that we, like her,
may abandon ourselves to the will of the Father,
for the sake of the Son
with the help of the Holy Spirit.

St Genesius Novena Day 7

Meditating on the Lord's Prayer with St Genesius

And forgive us our trespasses 
as we forgive those who trespass against us

God’s love is unconditional, his mercy is not. This is a shocking realisation, and it is revealed in the Lord’s Prayer and in the Parables of Jesus. The Eternal Father is generous with mercy, he forgives, but he demands that we forgive also; if we withhold mercy to those who have offended us, the Father will do the same to us. Here is the most dangerous sentiment in the Our Father, the one which seeks to shake us up, bring us to our senses; there is no room for hard hearts and presumption in the kingdom of heaven. Forgiving others can be difficult, we must strive to do so and this prayer is our appeal to God to help us forgive so we too may obtain forgiveness. Every martyr forgives their persecutors, and this is part of their witness – if any of them had withheld forgiveness they would not have been raised up. Like Jesus on the cross, they are to pray for their persecutors, and we must do the same. In forgiving we not only find reconciliation, but we are also set free.

Friday, August 22, 2014

St Genesius Novena Day 6

Meditating on the Lord's Prayer with St Genesius

Give us this day our daily bread

“Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”, and when we pray that the Lord give us our daily bread it is not just a prayer for physical food, but for more: for his grace, for what we need. It is also a prayer for the Eucharist - his very life within us. We ask for what we need today, just today. Like the manna in the desert we only need today’s portion, tomorrow will take care of itself. We live as well as we can today, we ask for the Father’s help to do so knowing that our whole lives depend on him. We are not greedy, we let him portion out what we need, when we need it, for he knows best: we have handed ourselves over to him. This is poverty of spirit.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Hiding The Baby

There is an excellent piece by Dr Ruth Cullen on the recent abortion issue here in Ireland. I recommend you read it. She hits the nail on the head. Well done Ruth. The inconvenient truth at the heart of the pro-choice/abortion industry is the fact that there is a child's life at stake.

Just a quick look at the comments beneath the article reveals the level of blindness that exists in the pro-abortion lobby. We human beings are God's greatest creation, and what blessed creatures we are, but when we fall, my word, we plummet!

St Genesius Novena Day 5

Meditating on the Lord's Prayer with St Genesius

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven

“I have come not to do my will, but the will of my Father”: with these words the Lord Jesus explained why he had come, revealing that he had come in obedience to the will of the Heavenly Father. “Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did  not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but humbled himself and became like a servant” in obedience to the Father’s will.  Jesus came to bring us life, the fullness of life, and for life to reign obedience to the will of the Eternal Father is necessary: that his will, not ours, be done. The hardest thing for us as human beings to do is to hand ourselves over to the will of another. Fear, pride, insecurity prevents us from doing so. We cherish our free will, indeed we are jealous to preserve it, and we often find ourselves grounding ourselves in an existential stubbornness to ensure that we do not lose control. And yet this is what not Jesus the Messiah did: he abandoned himself to the will of the Father and in doing so he accomplished the great mission of redemption. The lesson is simple: when we abandon ourselves to God, when his will is done in us, his will is being done on earth; and since he desires that we be saved and we flourish, life here will flourish if his will is accomplished “on earth as it is in heaven”. We will not lose anything in living the will of the Father, but we will gain everything, life on earth and heaven too. St Genesius struggled with this, but in the end he surrendered to the will of God, and that is to his glory: it will lead to ours also.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Our Carmelite Pontiff

Although his feast is celebrated tomorrow, today is the 100th anniversary of the death of Pope St Pius X. Dying on the 20th August 1914 after a long struggle defending the faith and the liturgy, his heart was broken as he saw Europe torn apart by what he may have suspected would be a long and bitter war.

St Pius is loved and reviled in equal measure by conflicting groups within the Church. Traditionalists hold him in deep veneration for his identification of Modernism and his work to try and tackle its influence in the Church. Liberals despise him for the same work. That hatred is still there and is as intense as ever: in seminary we had a lecturer who tore into Pius as if he was still reigning and personally tormenting him. I believe Pius was correct in his analysis and work against Modernism, and I believe we still need to take note of what he said.

Of course Pope St Pius's pontificate was noteworthy for many other things. He is a Eucharistic Saint: his deep love for the Eucharist and the celebration of Holy Mass have not only left a lasting impression on the piety of the Church, but also in the practice of our children being able to receive Holy Communion at a younger age. This in turn has nurtured many young Saints and Saints to be: among them the little Blessed Shepherds of Fatima and numerous other Servants of God who died before reaching their teenage years. Pius was also concerned about music in Church and he urged greater use of Gregorian Chant, though he was not so keen on more elaborate settings of Sacred Texts for fear that they would distract from the mystery. While I do like various forms of Sacred Music, I think Pius and I would agree when it comes to some of the stuff we have had to endure in Church for the last forty years. I am one with Scottish composer James MacMillan when it comes to critiquing contemporary Church music.

For us Discalced Carmelites, Pope St Pius occupies a special place in our hearts. It is believed that he may have been a member of our Secular Order of Discalced Carmel. He was a great support to our friars when they were setting up the Curia on the Corso d'Italia in Rome, and in thanksgiving for his kindness and generosity there is a monument dedicated to him in the Curial Basilica of St Teresa, and, of course, now an altar. One of his simars and a sash are also preserved as relics in the Church. So tomorrow will be a day of special remembrance for us in the Order.

And finally, there is another reason why Pius is dear to my heart. One of the first relics I was given was an ex corpore of St Pius given to me by my late singing teacher, Evelyn Dowling. When I began my studies for the priesthood she entrusted it to me and commended me into his care. I have the relic just beside me now as I write. As it is a precious memento of the Saintly Pontiff, it is also a remembrance and connection with her, she was very much like a mother to me: so I will remember her in my Mass tomorrow; perhaps you might also remember her.

Pope St Pius X's simar and sash in the Carmelite Basilica of St Teresa of Avila, 
at our Curia on the Corso d'Italia, Rome