Monday, April 21, 2014

Easter: Station Church 48: San Pietro in Vaticano

Easter Monday

The Easter pilgrims make their way to St Peter's Basilica for the Station today. A resplendent basilica awaits them.  Gathered around the bones of St Peter, our first reading relates his proclaiming his faith in the Risen Jesus. Called by Jesus to strengthen the brethren, this is what Peter is now doing, and he continues to do it both from heaven and in the person of his successor on earth, the Pope. 

Our Gospel relates the encounter of the holy women with Jesus: they believe because they have seen. Others have also seen, but they refuse to believe and prefer to manufacture a falsehood. But that lie will not dominate, in the end the truth about Christ will prevail. It is our task to ensure that the truth prevails in our lives, and by our participation in the Church's mission, prevails in our time.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Greetings

Easter Sunday
Station Church 47: Santa Maria Maggiore

I wish you all a very happy Easter: may the Risen Lord grant you every blessing and grace on this holy day, and throughout the entire Easter season. After the weeks of Lent, the Church begins the great feast - seven weeks of celebrations.  Gathered around the Paschal Lamb, sacrificed, but now raised to glory, we feast in one long Passover - this holy season really is, if I take the Jewish celebration, our Feast of Weeks!

The pilgrimage of Station Churches comes to the Basilica of St Mary Majors again. This connects the birth of the Lord with his Resurrection. In his conception and nativity, born of the Virgin Mary, we see the mystery of the Incarnation. That mystery emerges into the Paschal Mystery where Jesus, God made man, destroys death by his dying and confers new life by rising from the dead.  Our Lady, Mother of God and Mother of the Church is witness to both of these divine actions. And so on this day we come to her Sanctuary to celebrate with her and to learn more from her. She is the first disciple, she can show us how to be good disciples.

Morning light shines through the dome of St Mary Major's 

I am surprised that I actually got through the Station Churches this Lent. I hope they gave you some idea of what the annual pilgrimage is like. I am aware of glaring failures, so I ask your pardon. I will continue the series over Easter Week because while the Lenten Stations end, there is a Roman custom of Easter Station Churches. The posts will be very short and most of them scheduled because I leave for Italy on Easter Tuesday on the Fraternity pilgrimage to the Canonisation of Blessed John Paul II. You will all be remembered in my prayers.

Now, enjoy the day and the season!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Station Church 46: San Giovanni In Laterano

Holy Saturday and Easter Vigil

The last Station Church before Easter is the Basilica of St John Lateran, which we have visited a number of times in this Lenten pilgrimage. Today, in the evening of the Church's day of silence, the pilgrims gather in the cathedral to celebrate the Easter Vigil. 

The movement from darkness to light is central to the opening rites of the Easter Vigil liturgy. That movement begins with the blessing and lighting of the Paschal Candle and the light spreads throughout the congregation, and, to be understood, throughout the whole world.  The Candle represents the Resurrection of the Lord and the truth that he is the Light of the world. His Resurrection is an event which changes the face of human history, lifts us all up from what seemed to be the inevitability of death to the promise of new life: eternal life in the light of God.

This basilica stands at the heart of the universal Church and the light kindled here is to spread out to the whole world. This reminds us of the Church's mission - to proclaim Christ to all peoples in all times, to bring the light of Christ into the darkness of the world. Today we see a darkness beginning to envelope the world again. Just twenty-five years after the darkness of communist oppression was excised, we see another tyranny grow in the West, one which seems to have the allegiance of many, including many in the Church. 

In the name of human rights, a movement is dismantling not just faith, but natural law, the family, human freedom, religious freedom, free speech and many other rights. Governments all over the world are falling like dominoes before this new tyranny. A profession of faith in the new ideology is being demanded of all, and those who fail to make such a profession are beginning to find themselves falling foul of the law and are facing legal difficulties and even persecution. This darkness may well be worse than any other that human beings have had to face.

But it is in a time like this that the Church becomes even more relevant. Her message of freedom in Christ, of the innate dignity of the human person, will need to be heard again. As people fall, once again, under oppression, as fear grows again, as society and governments place more and more restrictions on people to ensure they conform to the new ideology, the Church's resistance through preaching and living the Gospel will become a light shining in the darkness, and if we, clergy, religious and lay faithful work together, we can take that light and begin to spread it throughout the world again. 

Many in the Church may need to wake up and see what is happening around them, and sometimes that may be a more difficult task than raising the dead! But Christ can achieve all things, and if we offer ourselves in service to him and the Church in this mission he will provide what is needed. 

The Light reigns, it will never be put out!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Station Church 45: Santa Croce in Gerusalemme

Relics of Our Lord's Passion at Santa Croce

Good Friday

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Dublin Archdiocese Statement On "Maria Divine Mercy"

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

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

Station Church 44: San Giovanni in Laterano

Altar of Repose in St John Lateran

Holy Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Station Church 43: Santa Maria Maggiore

Spy Wednesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Station Church 42: Santa Prisca

Holy Week: Tuesday

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

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

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

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

St Prisca is baptised by St Peter

Monday, April 14, 2014

Station Church 41: Santa Prassede

Holy Week: Monday

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

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

File:Monti - santa Prassede colonna flagellazione 01396.JPG

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

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

Sunday, April 13, 2014

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

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

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