Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Report On The Visitation to US Sisters

The final report of the Apostolic Visitation to the religious sisters of apostolic communities in the US (the LCWR) has been issued. You can read the full text here. I have had a quick read of it, I hope to get time for a more in-depth study later, but at first glance it seems fairly harmless. 

Tolkien And Purgatory

Someone asked me about yesterday's post - that the Lord of the Rings could be used as an evangelical tool. They asked me how. Well, there are many great Christian virtues displayed, and the central theme of the little one being at the heart of it all is Christ's teaching on the least being the greatest (I also see St Therese's Little Way in the adventure of the hobbits).

But there are excellent examples of how Tolkien's work can be used to reveal Catholic teaching and one concerns purgatory. It is the third volume, The Return of the King, Aragorn needs assistance and he turns to the souls of treacherous soldiers who now haunt what is called the "Paths of the Dead". These soldiers had sworn allegiance to the King of Gondor to come to assist it in war, however when the need was greatest these men fled and took refuge in the mountains, safe (or so they thought). They died, but their souls could not rest - they had sinned, they had a debt to repay for their cowardice and treachery and they could not enter into their rest until the debt was paid and atoned for.

And so Aragorn arrives, he is the true King of Gondor and holds them to their oath, they now go to the aid of Gondor and when the city is saved, they are finally released from their oath, they have repaid the debt, atoned for their treachery and they can now enter their rest. That, as you can see, is a wonderful exposition of purgatory, it is the place where we repay the debt our "treachery" (sin) to the King (God) has caused. And so the discussion can begin!

Monday, December 15, 2014

It's All Over

I remember the first few minutes of watching The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring movie. A fan of Tolkien's work, I was interested to see if Peter Jackson could pull it off. In those first few moments I thought to myself: "He might actually be able to do it" and as far as I am concerned, for the most part, he did. Last Friday evening as the credits began to roll on the third Hobbit movie I said to myself, "It's all over". What an adventure it has been.

While the LOTR movies were greeted with acclaim, the same could not be said for three Hobbit movies which even some of the most devoted fans saw as Jackson trying to cash in on his original success. To be honest, I would not be so harsh, I genuinely think that Jackson just wanted to linger a little bit longer in Middle Earth and to include in the movies additional material, much of it taken from the Appendices of the LOTR, which will lay the foundation for what will happen later. And, overall, I think he has done a good job doing that. 

Yes, The Hobbit is a short novel, a tale which is much simpler that the epic which follows, but we must remember that while the tale is focused, there is a lot more going on in Middle Earth as Bilbo and his dwarf friends reclaim the dwarf kingdom under the mountain. I think what Jackson wants to do is to set The Hobbit against the bigger picture; as we will discover when Frodo begins his adventures, Bilbo's story did not take part in isolation. The hobbits for all their hopes, cannot exist apart and untouched by what is happening in the world. That said, one of the major criticism I have of the original trilogy is Jackson's idyllic preservation of the Shire at the end of the wars: Tolkien was at pains to show that even the peaceful Shire fell under the shadow as Saruman and his minions invade it, Jackson falls down there - the Shire cannot, and didn't, exist apart and untouched by what was happening in the world.

The two movie trilogies have opened up Tolkien's world, and values, to a whole new generation and that is a good thing, and I am delighted for that. We live in the age of the image, and many people no longer read, Jackson may well have brought people back to the books and that is a good thing, not only because it encourages people to read, but because it brings them face to face with Tolkien's vision, and it is a very Catholic vision. The LOTR is one of the great works of the Christian imagination and Christian literature and it could well be seen as a great instrument for evangelisation. 

These books are not mere fantasy unlike the genre which has grown up after them; when you compare them with the brutal and immoral world of Game of Thrones, for example, you see an altogether different spirit at work, Other works in the genre deal with good and evil but under the strain of original sin, devoid of grace, but the world and adventures in the LOTR present the bigger picture, the great battle, and there is grace, and it is at work in flawed creatures who are raised up through their struggles. When you read the LOTR you are aware of the presence of great hope even in what seem to be hopeless situations (see Gandalf's talk with Pippin as Minas Tirith seems to be about to fall). It is a work worth reading, studying and discussing.  

So thanks to Peter Jackson for his work, but while the filming is over, the works remain and I hope future generations will be as fascinated with Tolkien's work and teaching as previous generations. And I hope the Church, and her catechists, will realise just how important Tolkien's work is for the work of evangelisation.

UPDATE: The Thirsty Gargoyle has an excellent review of the Hobbit movies, it is well worth reading. His central argument: for all the wonderful stuff, Peter Jackson doesn't get Tolkien. I think he has a point.

Has Heaven Gone To The Dogs?

Well that's a question people have been asking all week as the media have been reporting that Pope Francis said that pets go to heaven.  But, with a few days to let it sink it and some people actually parsing what the Pope said, it seems he didn't say that at all but it was Blessed Paul VI, or did he? It was St Paul, or did he? That's where we are at the moment. The media are gradually waking up to what was not said, or are they? Business as usual it seems.  

So the moral of the lesson: media - check your facts, double check them, as the old hacks used to do in the old days when objectivity and accurate reporting were the aims of the media. Faithful: take everything reported about this pope with a hefty dose of salt and hold fire, and say a prayer for him. 

One interesting response to the story has come from Fr Z: if pets can go to heaven, there is also the chance that they may go to hell too. PETA won't be happy to hear that. Fr Z also reminds us of the teaching of St Thomas Aquinas in this regard: animals do have souls, but they are different to our immortal souls: animals have sentient souls, humans have intellective souls, so when the animal's body dies, so too its soul, they are not subsistent.

There's a great way to start a week: parsing Aquinas.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Bankrolling The Culture Of Death: Resistance!

Spare a thought for the Little Sisters of the Poor in the US who are fighting Barack Obama's HHS Mandate. Like so many other Catholic charitable institutions they are resisting Obama's directive which amounts to nothing less than a direct attack on the religious sensibilities of those opposed to abortion and contraception. This is the pro-abortion lobby and the anti-life wing of the US Democratic Party at its ugliest and most tyrannical. 

These sisters have spent their lives, as have many others in that congregation, imitating the example of their foundress St Jeanne Jugan, reaching out to the elderly poor, providing them with a home, food and loving care in the latter years of their lives. Many destitute old men and women died with dignity and in comfort thanks to the humble service of these sisters. They do not discriminate, but receive all into their homes and care for all equally, the only "ideology" which motivates their work is the command of Jesus Christ to care for the poor, the sick and the dying.

One would imagine that any government would be thrilled to have such a dedicated congregation quietly working in its country, For one thing it takes pressure off governments to provide care for dying citizens. However in the "land of the free", where homelessness, poverty and neglect of the elderly are at a serious level, such generous acts of charity still have to conform to the anti-religious and anti-life ideology of the government. Charitable work will only be accepted as long it pays homage to the culture of death, indeed worships it and pays the tithe for it.  Such an act is repugnant to simple, humble Christian women who seek to respect human life at its most vulnerable stage. 

These daughters of the Church will not pay the tithe to fund abortion, they are resisting and knowing some of the women in their congregation they would prefer to do time or even die rather than betray the Christian faith. Unlike many women's apostolic congregations, the Little Sisters of the Poor have remained faithful to the charism of their foundress, to their simple life, their habit, their community life and their communal prayer. They had their troubles at the beginning of their congregation's life and they learned the hard way that only authentic charity and fidelity to the truth will keep them on the right road. 

Please remember these sisters in your prayers, and with them all the charities resisting Obama's attempt to bankroll the culture of death through his mandate. 

If you would like to support the work of the Little Sisters of the Poor in the US, you can contact them through their website here. If in Ireland and you would like to make a donation to the sisters' worthy work, they can be found at Sacred Heart Residence, 5 Sybil Hill Road, Raheny, Dublin 5.

The Smallest, The Least, The Greatest

What a wonderful Saint we celebrate today: the humble and beautiful St Juan Diego, visionary of Guadalupe. Our Lady, in her visions to him, called him the humblest and littlest of her children, and if so, then following the Lord's teaching on the least, he must be one of the greatest Saints in heaven. 

As she usually does, Our Lady chose the smallest to proclaim her message; she entrusted to him not only the building of a church on Tepeyac, but what was in reality a major evangelical thrust which led to the conversion of millions in Central America. His poor tilma would bear the image of the Mother of God miraculously imprinted and preserved on it, and it was this image which touched the hearts of the people of Mexico and led to their conversion. Juan Diego himself would also touch the hearts of those who came to the new shrine of Our Lady through his humility, his holiness and his simple life. The last seventeen years of his life were spent proclaiming the message of Our Lady and interceding for those who came seeking her help.

As one expects these days, some have questioned whether Juan Diego even existed - this was an attempt to undermine the authenticity of the apparitions - no Juan Diego, no visions. However there is enough evidence of his existence and a long history of devotion to him. There is also an extraordinary miracle worked through his intercession which led to his canonisation (Fr Z has the story of it here). So if you are one of those led to doubt his existence and the wisdom of the Church in promoting devotion to him, be assured and commend yourself to his prayers. 

Let us ask this the humblest son of the Mother of God to pray for us and help us to become the littlest, the smallest, the least, devoted, like him, to God and willing to serve him as Our Lady served him.

St Juan Diego's Tilma with the miraculous image of Our Lady imprinted on it.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Our Newest New Saint (To Be)

Blessed Mary of Jesus Crucified - Mariam

Like the buses in Dublin, canonise a couple of Carmelites and another one comes around the corner. Yesterday we heard, with great joy, that our Palestinian sister, Blessed Mary of Jesus Crucified - or Blessed Mariam as we call her, is to be declared a Saint. The Holy Father has signed a decree approving a miracle through her intercession yesterday, and so she will be enrolled among the Saints next year. 

If you do not know about Blessed Mariam then you are in for a treat, she is one of the most personable of the Beati, a woman whose life was extraordinary in terms of her virtues (humility being foremost among them) and extraordinary in the phenomenon that surrounded her. She was a Discalced Sister who brought the Carmelite nuns back to the Holy Land, founding two monasteries there, one in Bethlehem -, her native town, and one in Nazareth. She was a lay sister, a hard worker and a mystic, possessing many charisms including levitation, prophecy and the stigmata. She was also a poet. Much misunderstood, she was asked to leave the first congregation of sisters she joined - the community of the convent couldn't cope with mystics, and so she arrived at the door of the Carmelites who accepted her: they had no problem with mystics - the more the merrier. 

Her early life was just as extraordinary ; she had the experience of being a martyr in her youth. Now you may think my saying that is strange, to be a martyr you have to be killed. Yes that is true, and in the strict sense she wasn't. But I shall explain. Mariam had a difficult childhood, she was orphaned and put into the care of relatives where she befriended a Muslim man, a servant of her uncle. He was very kind and she would often confide her sadness to him. One day while she was visiting him he suddenly demanded that she convert to Islam. 

Taken aback Mariam declined. Seizing a large knife he threatened her: if she did not convert he would kill her: she refused whereupon he grabbed her and began to behead her. She seemed to die, and even though the job was unfinished, he took her body and threw out into the street. She was not dead, a few days later she awoke to find herself in a cave being cared for by an extraordinary beautiful and luminous lady. She spent some time healing and eventually was able to leave the cave and return to her life. For the rest of her life she concealed the wound. After her death, as her body was being prepared the wound was discovered and a close examination by a doctor revealed that the vertebrae in her neck were so such a state it would have been impossible for her to survive, yet she did and seemingly without pain. The attack has been considered her "martyrdom" her survival miraculous. 

There are some good booklets about her life, you can order them from the Carmelite Book Service in Oxford. She is worth getting to know and praying to. May she intercede for all of us.

Blessed Mariam's tomb in the Carmel of Bethlehem

Thursday, November 27, 2014

"I Forgave And I Forgot"

I came across this recently and thought I might share it with you: it is actual footage of the assassination attempt on Blessed Paul VI during his apostolic journey to the Philippines in 1970. Today is the anniversary of the attempt. 

I note with interest how Blessed Paul responded to it: "I forgave and I forgot". That response would answer a question I am often asked by people struggling with wrongs done to them: "If I forgive, do I have to forget?" Yes, we do, although we also need to be wise and prudent.

The relic presented to the Holy Father during Paul's beatification ceremony was the vest he wore on that day stained with the blood he shed from the assassination attempt.

Catholic Charity For Puritans

Who would have thought it? It was Catholics who fed the Puritans on that first Thanksgiving in America. The Native American Squanto who took the Pilgrims under his wing as they struggled to establish their colony was in fact a Catholic. Taylor Marshall has the details here. Why isn't this more widely known? Wikipedia has it.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

New Carmelite Saints

Today the Discalced Carmelite Order got two new Saints, the founder and a member of two of the Congregations aggregated to the Order and as Third Order.

The new Saints are St Kuriakose Elias Chavara, co-founder of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate and founder of the congregation of the Mother of Carmel of which St Euphrasia Eluvathingal was a member. Both are from Kerala in India and members of the Syro-Malabar Rite, and both reveal the richness of the charism of Teresian Carmel.

Among his many achievements (and sufferings), St Kuriakose worked to retain the unity of the Church in India, while among her achievements, the mystical St Euphrasia offered her prayer and sufferings for the Church and its mission. In these times we need both the prayers and example of these Saints. Like St Teresa they saw themselves as a faithful children of the Church, so let us commend our prayers, needs and concerns to them.