Monday, November 16, 2015

The Pope and That Communion Issue

Some coverage is being given to the Pope's response to a Lutheran lady who asked him if she could receive Holy Communion with her Catholic husband. Here is an extract from a Catholic Herald article which sums up what happened:
The Pope was asked whether a Lutheran and Catholic married couple might “finally participate together in Communion”. The questioner referred to “the hurt we’ve felt together due to [our] difference of faith”.
Francis said it was “not my competence” to give permission to do this, and admitted: “I ask myself and don’t know how to respond – what you’re asking me, I ask myself the [same] question.”
The Pope then stressed the role of personal discernment rather than repeating Church teaching that Protestant spouses can only receive Holy Communion if they do not “have recourse for the sacrament” at their own church.
He said: “There are questions that only if one is sincere with oneself and the little theological light one has, must be responded to on one’s own.”
When I read this first I immediately thought of President Barack Obama's response to a question on the abortion issue regarding the status of the unborn child and its rights: it's "above my pay grade".

Now we have to note that the Pope is correct when he says he does not have the competence to give permission to allow her to receive. He is right, as a servant of the Church he cannot change Church teaching on this issue, and the teaching is clear: inter-communion is not permitted. There is a provision for a very rare occasion when a non-Catholic can receive the Eucharist for a special event - a wedding perhaps when a non-Catholic marries a Catholic in a Catholic ceremony, but there are strict conditions which must be fulfilled, including an explicit belief in the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist. This provision was and is not envisioned to be utilized on a regular basis.

However, the Pope's response to the lady has created confusion. He should have told her that she could not receive the Eucharist while sharing her pain at the divisions which exist and prevent Lutherans from being in full communion with the Church. The Pope not only has the competence to do this, he has the duty, but on this occasion the Pope has created confusion among the faithful, and indeed may well have misled many on this issue. This is not a matter of conscience, it is a matter of objective reality, a reality that exists because of serious divisions that exist between the Catholic Church and Protestant communities. 

However the damage has been done and now the media have jumped on what he said and are running with the line that Lutherans can discern for themselves whether they can come forward for the Catholic Eucharist, relativising the whole issue. Was this intentional on the Pope's part? I cannot say, I cannot read his mind I can only observe what he says and does and drawing on what I observe I know he is no fool, he knows what he is doing and he knows what he is saying. 

I think we need a Paul to have a talk with Peter on this issue, and on a number of others.

Here is Edward Pentin's article on what happenedFr Z has an interesting take on all this.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A Saint For The Family

I was given a beautiful gift today from a friend who is a monk. He has just returned from a pilgrimage to Rome and Italy and in his kindness he brought back a precious relic for me: a first class relic (ex ossibus) of Blessed Elisabetta Renzi, the foundress of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows (the Addolorata Sisters). What a wonderful gift: thank you Dom Benedict!

Blessed Elisabetta is one of our more recent Beati, raised to the altars by St John Paul II in 1989. Her life was truly extraordinary, one with many challenges for her, challenges that provided an opportunity for her to grow in holiness. You can find a brief biography here at her sisters's website, but take note of her attempts to enter religious life. Her first attempt was thwarted by the rise of secularism and the assault of Napoleon on the Church. Sent home she spent years living with the disappointment, driven by a deep desire to live the consecrated life but held back by the intrusion of temporal governments into the internal life of the Church. But God saw the suffering of his servant and he was preparing a great mission for her.

I know people struggling with a vocation, some are looking for somewhere to go, but do not know which direction to take. Others are terrified to take a step and so try to stave off the "remorseful day" by what seems to be an endless process of "discernment". Some are being prevented by parents or family members who do not want to lose a son or daughter to the Church. And then there are those with genuine vocations who are being rejected from seminaries, Orders and congregations because their theological outlook is not in keeping with prevailing fashions - they are not progressive enough. I think Blessed Elisabetta is for all of those struggling with a vocation. I think she says to those putting off the moment to just get up and go; and to those rejected by seminaries or orders to go elsewhere - there are plenty of other congregations and other dioceses more open to orthodox Catholics.

But Elisabetta has something else to say to us today, and this what resonated with me today as I was venerating her relic. She founded a congregation to minister to young women, in her own work she believed that if girls and women became good, holy women, then their families, inspired by the mother, would become good and holy families. Authentically holy parents have the best chance of producing holy children, well adjusted children, as we see in the example of Sts Louis and Zelie Martin. This is not an old hat idea, it is a teaching that is at the heart of the Second Vatican Council which saw the family as the "domestic church" where children are born and reared, formed in Christian and human virtues, and prepared, not only for good and successful lives in the world, but also for heaven. 

Blessed Elisabetta, then, is one of the great Saints of the family, and I think in these times we could turn to her to help troubled families, and to guide the Church as she seeks to reach out to them. So perhaps you might all say a prayer to her after you read this: pray for our families, particularly those are are facing difficulties; for the Church; for the Pope, our Bishops and priests; for our laity working in the area of family support. The Sisters of her congregation are now looking for a miracle which will lead to her canonisation,so you might say a little prayer for that too.

What Is Authentic Christian Reform?

Cardinal Avery Dulles with Pope St John Paul II

What is authentic Christian reform? In the last few centuries that word, "reform", has bandied about willy-nilly and has become the catch-call of a certain type of revolutionary. It goes without saying that reform is a necessary part of life and most essential in the life of the Church. At the moment in the Church we are hearing a lot about reform and that the Holy Father has been sent to us to spearhead, at last, an authentic reform in the Church, one which will bring the institution into the modern world, make it more compassionate, pastoral and real.

To make the Church of Jesus Christ modern, compassionate, pastoral and real.....?

So what is authentic reform? Well I am indebted to the folks over at Catholicus Nua for a post directing me to the teaching of Cardinal Avery Dulles, one of the greatest modern theologians who, drawing on the work of another great theologian, Yves Congar OP, offers a number of principals which need to be assessed to see if the current programme being proposed by some in the Church is actually authentic Christian reform, or just another attempt to undermine the teaching of the Church, teaching that is grounded in revelation. You can read the Catholicus Nua post here, or you can read Cardinal Dulles's original article in First Things here. But I have copied and pasted, for your convenience, some of the main points:
1) According to Congar, “the great law of a Catholic reformism will be to begin with a return to the principles of Catholicism.” Vatican II, echoing his words, taught that “every renewal of the Church essentially consists in an increase of fidelity to her own calling” (UR 6).
Catholicism derives its principles from God by way of revelation. The most authoritative guidance comes from Holy Scripture understood in the light of apostolic tradition, inasmuch as this is the normative channel whereby revelation is transmitted. In his reform of the liturgy, Pius X issued a call to return to the sources (Revertimini ad fontes). Pius XII declared that speculation becomes sterile if it neglects to return continually to the sacred sources of Scripture and tradition, which contain inexhaustible treasures of truth.
2) Any reform conducted in the Catholic spirit will respect the Church’s styles of worship and pastoral life. It will be content to operate within the Church’s spiritual and devotional heritage, with due regard for her Marian piety, her devotion to the saints, her high regard for the monastic life and the vows of religion, her penitential practices, and her eucharistic worship. A truly Catholic reform will not fanatically insist on the sheer logic of an intellectual system but will take account of concrete possibilities of the situation, seeking to work within the framework of the given.
3) A genuinely Catholic reform will adhere to the fullness of Catholic doctrine, including not only the dogmatic definitions of popes and councils, but doctrines constantly and universally held as matters pertaining to the faith. In this connection cognizance will be taken of the distinction made by Vatican II between the deposit of faith and the formulations of doctrine. Because human thought and language are inevitably affected by cultural and historical factors, it may be necessary from time to time to adjust the language in which the faith has been proclaimed. Repeated in a new situation, the old formulations can often be misleading, as instanced by the examples of Baius and Jansenius in the seventeenth century. These scholars quoted Augustine to the letter but did not take account of the changed meaning of his words.
4) True reform will respect the divinely given structures of the Church, including the differences of states of life and vocations. Not all are equipped by training and office to pronounce on the compatibility of new theories and opinions with the Church’s faith. This function is, in fact, reserved to the hierarchical magisterium, though the advice of theologians and others will normally be sought.
5) A reform that is Catholic in spirit will seek to maintain communion with the whole body of the Church, and will avoid anything savoring of schism or factionalism. St. Paul speaks of anger, dissension, and party spirit as contrary to the Spirit of God (Galatians 5:20). To be Catholic is precisely to see oneself as part of a larger whole, to be inserted in the Church universal.
6) Reformers will have to exercise the virtue of patience, often accepting delays. Congar finds Luther especially lacking in this virtue. But even Luther, stubborn and unyielding though he often was, cautioned his disciple Andreas Karlstadt on the importance of proceeding slowly, so as not to offend simple believers who were unprepared for changes that were objectively warranted. Prudent reformers will recognize that they themselves stand under correction, and that their proposals, even if valid, may be premature. As Newman reminded his readers, there is such a thing as a good idea whose time has not yet come. Depending on the circumstances, Church authorities may wisely delay its acceptance until people’s imaginations become accustomed to the innovation.
7) As a negative criterion, I would suggest that a valid reform must not yield to the tendencies of our fallen nature, but must rather resist them. Under color of reform, we are sometimes tempted to promote what flatters our pride and feeds our self-interest, even though the gospel counsels humility and renunciation. Persons who have prestige, influence, and power usually want to retain and increase these; those who lack them want to acquire them. Both groups must undergo conversion.
8) For similar reasons we must be on guard against purported reforms that are aligned with the prevailing tendencies in secular society. One thinks in this connection of the enormous harm done in early modern times by nationalism in religion, a major factor contributing to the divisions of the Reformation era and to the enfeeblement of the Catholic Church during the Enlightenment. The liturgical and organizational reforms of Joseph II in Austria, the Civil Constitution on the Clergy enacted in France in 1790, the extreme liberalism of Félicité de Lamennais early in the nineteenth century, and the evolutionary religion of the Modernists at the dawn of the twentieth century ” all these movements afford examples of initiatives perfectly attuned to the spirit of their times but antithetical to the true character of Catholic Christianity.
In our day the prevailing climate of agnosticism, relativism, and subjectivism is frequently taken as having the kind of normative value that belongs by right to the word of God. We must energetically oppose reformers who contend that the Church must abandon her claims to absolute truth, must allow dissent from her own doctrines, and must be governed according to the principles of liberal democracy.
False reforms, I conclude, are those that fail to respect the imperatives of the gospel and the divinely given traditions and structures of the Church, or which impair ecclesial communion and tend rather toward schism. Would-be reformers often proclaim themselves to be prophets, but show their true colors by their lack of humility, their impatience, and their disregard for the Sacred Scripture and tradition.
So, can we see any of these in what is being proposed? Can we see any of them in the manner in which certain things are being proposed?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Priests For Life Cleared

You may remember that he and the organisation were in some strive recently and Fr Pavone's bishop and even the Archbishop of New York were none too pleased with him. Accusations of financial mismanagement were being hurled about and demands for independent audits were being made. Fr Pavone rejected the first accusation and answered the second by insisting that independent audits of the association's accounts were made every year and all this information was available. Fr Pavone mused on whether this was an issue of control rather than irregularities in his organisation. He was suspended by his bishop and sent to live with a contemplative community in what many saw as an exile. That exile was suddenly lifted and he was restored to ministry but no light as been shed as to why the decision was reversed.

Well the Holy See has found that Priests for Life are completely above board on the financial issues, they have found that there are no substance to the allegations and that Fr Pavone is directing a work which is of great benefit to the pro-life cause and the Church: a ringing endorsement. Here is the text of the letter from the Holy See:
Dear Father Pavone,
In response to your recent update about your many activities, I wish to encourage you and your team to continue the fruitful work that Priests for Life is doing.
You have every reason to proceed with confidence, because you have welcomed the assistance of the Church to strengthen your ministry as it continues to grow around the world. At the inception of Priests for Life in 1991, when it was given recognition as a Catholic Association of the Faithful, it was a relatively small apostolate focused within the United States on assisting priests to proclaim the Gospel of Life.
Since then it has grown and diversified into an entire family of ministries, and an international apostolate. While continuing to be faithful to your original vision of assisting and training the clergy, you have sought to follow the Spirit’s lead and respond to the needs of the pro-life movement, and therefore have integrated into your ministry the work of Rachel’s Vineyard, Silent No More, the Youth Outreach of Stand True, outreach to Hispanic and African-American communities, and much more.
Of particular note, you have integrated into your family of ministries the international work of Marie Smith and the Parliamentary Network for Critical Issues, assisting lawmakers in many other countries to defend the most vulnerable human lives. You have also become an NGO at the United Nations and continue to assist the Holy See Mission.
As you do all of this, the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy has encouraged you to update your statuses so that they reflect this tremendous growth and development. As the Congregation has indicated, if you eventually want to apply to the Vatican for recognition as an international Association of the Faithful, then those revised statutes can be presented to the competent authority.
In the meantime, however, the value of your apostolate continues to be recognized. As the Visitation Report from the Congregation for the Clergy states:
PFL is present in more than 50 nations, and its work benefits the Church both in the United States and beyond … Without doubt, PFL has offered to the Church a great service in the Pro-Life movement. By all indications, Father Pavone is a truly charismatic leader who has led PFL to significant heights … [The work and finances of PFL are in order … The Association has been well administered financially … [The administrative costs of PFL are in keeping with other groups receiving similar funding in the United States.” (Visitation Report, Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, November 2013).
Moreover, as the Congregation has indicated in a subsequent letter, “there is nothing to prevent ‘Priests for Life, Inc’, together with its numerous affiliated agencies, from continuing to labor on behalf of the pro-life movement,”  with “the many excellent works which Priests for Life continues to do in promoting respect  for the sanctity of human life.” (Letter of His Eminence, Cardinal Beniamino Stella, Prefect, Sacred Congregation for the Clergy to Fr. Pavone , February 6, 2015, Prot. N. 20150367). Please know, then, of my continued support as an ecclesiastical advisor and friend. I encourage all the supporters of Priests for Life to increase that support and work harder than ever to build on the progress you have already made in bringing about a Culture of Life.
Renato R. Card. Martino
Sadly the whole fiasco did a lot of damage to Priests for Life and to the pro-life cause. As to why the accusations were made against Fr Pavone and the organisation is unclear, and I imagine it will remain so. We will see if his bishop or the Archbishop of New York make any statement to clarify things, and perhaps offer an explanation as to why they were so insistent in their accusations and why New York cut off all contact with the organisation. 

Remembering The Fallen

A friend of mine was at a debate recently and among those present was a Church of Ireland minister who was with her in defending Christian schools. She noticed that he was wearing, as expected at this time of year, a small poppy badge, but also the precious feet (pro-life symbol) and, believe it or not, a Pioneer pin (Catholic temperance organisation). We were impressed.

Thinking about this later I had to admire the Vicar, in his badges he harmonised in a Christian way different movements and I wondered would we, in Ireland, have the courage to do the same? The Pioneer pin and the lifestyle which it symbolizes are often mocked today - in a country that cherishes alcohol, and as a result has serious problems with it, abstinence is seen as counter-cultural, judgmental and mean-spirited. Not so in reality, but it is perceived as a negative thing today. The precious feet are like a red rag to a bull in modern Ireland where the establishment is gung ho in its support for abortion and working hard to make Ireland like everywhere else in its embracing the culture of death. 

That said, both of these symbols are, for now, somewhat tolerated even if dismissed by "the great and the good". It is the poppy which is the most controversial of all. An Anglican minister will get away with it in Ireland, but woe betide anyone of the Catholic persuasion, that is taboo, forbidden. Why? Because in the eyes of many Irish it is the symbol of British Imperialism, for a Irish person to wear a poppy is to offend the Republic and the struggle for independence.

That narrative, however, is rather blinkered. I doubt if the French, Belgians, Dutch and other countries involved in the two World Wars who incorporate the poppy into their commemoration wreaths are pawns of British Imperialism. Rather, that little flower, which grew in abundance on fields that were torn apart by insane war, has become the symbol of those who now lie in those fields, resting beneath canopies of that floral tribute. Among those dead are many Irishmen, Catholics and Protestant, laymen and the priests who served them, who lost in their lives in conflict. Where the poppy is worn the aspiration that accompanies it is "We shall remember them". Is it a coincidence, I wonder, that this remembrance occurs during a month dedicated to the Holy Souls?

I am inclined to think that the example this Vicar shows is very much a Catholic one: Catholic temperance and reparation, Catholic defence of the unborn and vulnerable, and in his poppy the very Catholic tradition of praying for and remembering the dead, particularly those who died in conflict and tragic circumstances, perhaps not even prepared for death. So while we in Ireland associate Remembrance and poppies with British Protestants, I dare say it is actually much more Catholic than we think. Given the many thousands of Irish who died in the World Wars, who are now finally being acknowledged by the Irish State, will we see a day when wearing the poppy will be accepted, indeed become the norm, in this Republic, in memory of our dead? 

Prudence, Anyone?

I thought this Pope was elected to sort out the Curia and financial mismanagement? Running up to the Conclave the talk was about electing a strong Pontiff to deal with the corruption and murky practices that were going on in the shadowy corridors of power in the Vatican. Personally I was not in favour of electing a Pope merely to carry out an administrative reorganisation of head office, I tend to think we need to elect a Universal Pastor. 

Anyway, it seems things are as bad as before, perhaps even worse, and what is most disturbing is that the two people Francis appointed to help in the overhaul of the shop have now been arrested and are being investigated themselves. I remember when they were appointed Francis had been warned from various sources, Sandro Magister among them, that this was not a very good idea, but those warnings were ignored. So, here we are now with another mess. Thank God, at least Francis put a good man in a key position when he appointed Cardinal Pell to the new office of financial affairs.

As for the latest interview with Scalfari, at this stage "the lady doth protest too much, methinks". If I were Lombardi I'd quit.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Ireland's "Pope"

St Malachy today. If ever there was an Irish prelate who would have made an excellent pope, it would, in my humble opinion, have been Malachy. He would have been a reforming pope in the style, I think, of Pope St Gregory VII. Certainly in Ireland in the three dioceses he governed he proved himself to be an able and committed reformer, a man who understood the nature of true reform and how to achieve it.  He was a man of intense personal sanctity, of humble and kind charity towards others, of prudent and innovative zeal and he had a heart capable of the deepest loving relationships, as we see in his friendship with St Bernard. 

Malachy was born in what is now the city of Armagh, the son of a schoolteacher. In his youth he became a disciple of Eimar a hermit. Ordained a priest of Armagh his bishop, St Celsus, recognised the young man's potential, appointing him his Vicar General Celsus he initiated the young man into his hopes and efforts at reform of the Church in Ireland. Celsus is one of our great reformers, a man of great sanctity himself, and he apprenticed Malachy in his virtues and ideas. After continuing studies under St Malchus of Lismore, when the Abbot of Bangor died Malachy was appointed to succeed him, and as in Ireland Abbots often headed dioceses, Malachy was appointed and consecrated Bishop of Connor. In the providence of God it was an important step to prepare him to succeed Celsus as Archishop of Armagh and Primate. As Bishop of Connor he was effective in carrying out various reforms. 

On his deathbed, in 1129, Celsus named Malachy as his successor. However, as Malachy was not of the same clan as Celsus, and the seat of Armagh had been in the hands of the Clann Sinaig for some time, there was a dispute. The clan imposed Murtagh, Celsus's cousin, as Archbishop, an illegal action, and so legally the see remained vacant until Malachy was able to claim it. He was enthroned in 1132 but could only enter the see in 1134 when Murtagh died, though there was conflict as he tried to take possession of the cathedral. Indeed one of Murtagh's relations, Niall, St Celsus's brother, fled with the relics, books and St Patrick's crozier in an attempt to invalidate Malachy's taking office. Though some acknowledged Niall as Archbishop because these symbols of the office were in his possession, Malachy took control and eventually regained possession of the symbols and won the hearts of the people.

Malachy's great reforming work continued in earnest. Now as Primate he had the ability to extend his plans for reform all over Ireland. Armagh was at peace, but much of Ireland was in a disastrous state. The Church in Ireland had grown lax in faith, in the observance of the liturgy, in morals and all because certain individuals sought to empower themselves in the Church. A large part of the blame lay with lay-abbots in the ancient monasteries. These lay men had obtained these offices and used them and their revenue to boost their lifestyles and prestige. In reality the Church in Ireland had become nothing more than an institution to bolster these lay people in lives quite contrary to the Gospel. The clergy had acquiesced in this and their own lax morals and slothful practice of the faith was at the very least bordering on scandalous. And this regime had its defenders, not quite a medieval version of the ACP, not too far off it in resistance to authentic reform. 

Malachy struggled to sort out the mess, and he had a great deal of opposition to deal with. The Irish have great virtues, but also great vices, and like the Sicilians we can harbour resentment and nurture revenge for generations, And some of those Malachy tried to reform responded in like manner to his efforts. But he laboured on and his work bore fruit: he restored discipline, encouraged a return to Christian morality - even among clergy, he had the Roman Liturgy adopted, he regularised and promoted marriages, restored the practice of confession (in their laxity the Irish thought they had no need of the sacrament, like today!) and he confirmed thousands who had never received that sacrament. On top of all this, indeed assisting him in his endeavours, he was a miracle worker, a lover of the poor and needy. According to one tradition he planted apple trees all over his diocese to provide food in times of famine.

This is a lifetime's work, but Malachy did it all in three years. Exhausted, he resigned his see in 1137 and retired, taking up the position of Bishop of Down, a smaller and less hectic diocese then. He continued his reforming work there and established religious communities.  In 1138 he traveled to Rome and on the way met St Bernard at Clairvaux and so began one of the most endearing and fruitful friendships in the history of the Church. Malachy was taken with the life at the abbey in Clairvaux and he sought permission to enter, however Pope Innocent II refused it, he had work for Malachy and with this in mind he appointed him Papal Legate in Ireland. Returning to Ireland he consoled himself by bringing Bernard's monks to Ireland, establishing the first Irish Cistercian monastery at Mellifont. He and Bernard corresponded and supported each other in their mutual missions.

In 1148 a synod of bishops in Ireland asked Malachy if he would go to Rome to request the palium for the two metropolitans of Ireland. On the way he stopped off at Clairvaux to spend some time with Bernard, but the time was to be short: while there he fell seriously ill and on the 2nd November he passed away in the arms of his friend. Grief-struck, Bernard still rose to the occasion (as he always did) and preached at the Requiem Mass which was celebrated in Clairvaux, in the sermon he declared that Malachy was a Saint. Rather than send the body home, a difficult proposition then, Bernard buried his friend in the abbey chapel, right in front of the high altar. Less than five years later Bernard himself died and, at his request, he was buried with Malachy.

In any age Malachy would be an extraordinary prelate; we could do with him now. In a way Ireland today is not much different from Ireland in his time, certainly many of the problems he had to face are still with us. He had the courage to face them and thanks to this genius and holiness he dealt with them. There was no compromising the Gospel with him, and he saw sin and laxity for what they were: corrupting forces within the Church and within humanity. He had a huge heart, a gentle demeanor and obvious love for his people, but this true Christian spirit did not lead him to the delusion that the Gospel can be sacrificed as a pastoral strategy to solve pastoral problems or keep people content. He was a Christian realist and understood, as Christ himself did, that the way to true happiness and peace was the way of fidelity to the Gospel even if it required heroic effort at times, an effort that would be enabled and crowned by God's grace. In essence Malachy was a believer and he lived by his belief, by his faith and trust in God.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Trampling On The Image Of Christ

I discovered a new Saint recently, one of our ancient witnesses to the Faith: the martyr St Stephen the Younger. Stephen was born in Constantinople, modern Istanbul, possibly around the 11th August 715 . His father was a craftsman, Gregory, and his mother was Anna, he was the youngest in the family having two older sisters. Baptised on Holy Saturday 716 he was not destined to follow his father's craft, but rather discerned a call to consecrate his life to God and the service of the Church. Respecting his decision his parents allowed him enter a monastery in Bithynia when he turned sixteen. A number of years later his father died, and having come home for the funeral, he returned to the monastery bringing his widowed mother and sister with him so he could care for them. The following year the abbot of the monastery died and Stephen was elected the successor. After twelve years serving his community as abbot, he resigned his office and retired to a remote place to embrace the life of a hermit.

However, the peace of the eremetical life would not last long. In 754 a council at Hieria condemned the use of images in Christianity (Iconoclasm), a position which was contrary to orthodox Christian faith. This council had been called by the emperor Constantine V who had embraced the Iconoclast heresy and he sought to impose it upon the whole Church. The Pope and many of the bishops of East and West rejected the rulings of the council, and though those who participated in it considered it an Ecumenical Council, it was never regarded as anything other than a mock synod. Stephen, like many others, refused to accept the decisions of the council. However while he was left in relative peace for a few years, in 760 he came to the attention of the iconoclasts and they meant to convert him to their position; however Stephen refused: he was not for abandoning the orthodox* position on the veneration of images.

Given his being renowned for holiness, the iconoclasts realised that they had to seriously damage Stephen's reputation to make him crack. So they made allegations of sexual impropriety against him, a sure fire way of undermining his position. He was accused of committing incest with his mother and, then as now, some believed it, others didn't, and many wondered: could there be smoke without fire? He was also accused of transgressing the laws of the emperor by forcing the emperor's favourite, Gregory Synkletos, to be tonsured - admitting him into the clerical state against his will. Though his reputation was now destroyed, Stephen continued to hold firm.

Failing to break him by accusation, Constantine had him arrested and confined to an Iconoclast monastery in Chrysopolis, after interrogations and ill treatment he maintained the orthodox position and so was exiled to the island of Prokonnesos to see if the deprivations there would break him: they didn't. After two years he was brought back to Constantinople to be questioned by the emperor himself. And this was where Stephen shone. 

The emperor demanded that he renounce the orthodox position: Stephen refused. An icon of the Lord was then produced and thrown on the ground - the emperor demanded that Stephen tread on it telling the monk that treading on an image of Christ was not the same thing as treading on Christ. Stephen put his hand on his pocket and took out a coin which bore on one side the image of the emperor. Stephen asked the emperor what would happen if someone were to tread on this image? The emperor was indignant, who could consider such a thing, it would be an insult to the emperor! Well then, likewise, Stephen responded, should not respect be shown to icons of Christ?

The emperor could not argue with this logic and so resorted to violence, as corrupt men and women of power often do. Stephen was sent to be scourged and beaten. Still alive after this ordeal, he was dragged through the streets of the city until he was dead. He is the most prominent martyr under Iconoclasm. 

Constantine and his fellow Iconoclasts did not think there was anything wrong in dishonouring images of Christ, ultimately these images were nothing, insignificant. Yet as St Stephen demonstrated to trample on an image of Christ is to attack him because the image is representative of him. So too in many other ways. We all know that the oppression of peoples is akin to trampling on Christ, since we offend those he has redeemed, those created in the image and likeness of God, the ones who are close to his Heart. 

But then there is also the issue of Christ teachings: what Christ taught reflects him since it is his word; we could say then that the teachings of Christ are his image since they are the means through which we can be ttransfomed into closer images of him.  And what about those who dismiss or undermine these teachings, say that they are no longer relevant or need to be updated, or misinterpret them, are they not also trampling on the image of Christ? If Christ says one thing, but we say another, or live and act in a way that is contrary to what he says, are we not being iconoclastic? And if ministers of the Church embrace and promote measures that are contrary to Christ's teaching but deem their measures more merciful, are they not saying they are more merciful that Christ and so trample on Christ himself as on his image? 

Mosaic of St Stephen the Younger

* When I speak of orthodox here I do not mean the Orthodox Church, but rather the position of "right teaching", adherence to the authentic teachings of Christ and his Church.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

For Joseph

Wednesdays are traditionally dedicated to St Joseph, a day of special prayer to the Foster-Father of the Lord. At our prayer group on Monday evening last, one of our members Ellen, drew my attention to a song about St Joseph, recorded by Tricia Yearwood. It has been around for some time, so forgive me if you know it already, but for those you who don't it's a lovely song which honours the man who raised the Infant Christ as his own. Thanks, Ellen!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

"The Lord Opened His Mouth In The Assembly"

In traditional piety today is St Anthony's day - Tuesday. Like many others I light my candle at the statue of the Saint in the church here and say my prayers, invoking his help and, if I have time, I'll try and dip into his Sermons for some gems to ruminate on throughout the day - and there are always gems. As you know, for me Anthony is the great teacher in the way of the Scriptures - the Evangelical Doctor as Pope Pius XII designated him. 

As a man of the Word of God he was called by the Lord, through his superiors, to preach the Gospels, which he did with great eloquence and learning, drawing on images to keep his congregations engaged and offering practical means of living the Gospel, and so many turned back to God. Given that God used Anthony's preaching to touch the hearts of so many it was seen as appropriate that the Saint's tongue and vocal chords should be discovered to be incorrupt. Today both organs are preserved in reliquaries, and with one, the tongue, an interesting devotion has developed thanks to the piety of St Bonaventure.

When the remains of Anthony were first examined in 1263 St Bonaventure, when he saw the incorrupt tongue declared: "O blessed tongue, you who have always praised the Lord and made others praise Him, now it is clearly evident how much merit you have before the Lord!" It has become a pious invocation offered in honour of Anthony's eloquent preaching of the Word of God. Such invocations remind us of the power of the Gospel and how it should become a living reality in our lives. Anthony's tongue is a symbol of its proclamation in flesh, our lives should be a sign of its effectiveness, we are to become the Gospel in flesh. Like Anthony we should use our tongues in the service of the Gospel - the tongue is the most dangerous weapon known to mankind, it needs careful managing hence the psalm prays "keep watch over my mouth". 

So, for the day that is in it, I offer you some prayers in honour of St Anthony's tongue. There are different novenas and triduums, but this is one I found usually offered over thirteen days. I will post the whole prayer so you can copy it and use it as is convenient. 

Prayers In Honor Of The Blessed Tongue Of St. Anthony

(They can be recited for an exercise of thirteen Tuesdays in his honor, or during thirteen days in succession, or the first nine can be used for a nine day Novena.)

First Day

O Marvelous Saint, whose Blessed Tongue did always bless the Lord and cause others to bless Him! To reward thee God has glorified thy tongue by granting to it upon this earth the favor of incorruptibility which has continued for seven centuries. I bless thy tongue, I venerate it with the same sentiments of faith, devotion and love that animated Saint Bonaventure when he kissed it, praised it, blessed it and venerated it. I thank the Lord Who has sanctified thy tongue, rendering it miraculous and glorious on earth, and I beg Him to grant a true devotion toward thee, that I may merit thy protection during this life, in all my spiritual and corporal needs, and merit also to rise again with all the Saints.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be
St Anthony, pray for us.

Second Day

O Blessed Tongue, which always did bless the Lord, and cause others to bless Him, now does it appear plainly how highly thou were esteemed by God. O marvelous Saint, whose Blessed Tongue did always bless the Lord and cause others to bless, praise, thank and pray to Him, I bless and venerate thee, I thank God Who created thy tongue and sanctified it by His grace, and I implore Him, through thy merits, to purify and sanctify my tongue, that by it I may continually praise, bless and thank the Lord, and never offend Him.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be
St Anthony, pray for us.

Third Day

O Marvelous Saint, whose Blessed Tongue did always bless the Lord, and cause others to bless Him, without ever offending Him, by words or guilty conversations, I bless and venerate thee, and thanking God Who preserved thee from all sins of the tongue implore Him through thy merits, to preserve my tongue from every sinful word and discourse.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be
St Anthony, pray for us.

Fourth Day

O Marvelous Saint, whose Blessed Tongue did always receive Jesus in His Sacrament worthily, I bless and venerate thee, thanking God Who has sanctified thee by His graces and His Most Holy Sacrament, I implore Him to pardon me for having so often profaned by sin my tongue, sanctified and consecrated so many times by contact with the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in my communions. O great Saint, obtain for me the grace to preserve my tongue pure and spotless from sin, that I may henceforth merit to receive Jesus Christ worthily in the Sacrament of His love.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be
St Anthony, pray for us.

Fifth Day

O Marvelous Saint, whose Blessed Tongue did always bless the Lord, praying and singing to Him with devotion and attention, I bless and venerate thee. I thank God for giving thee the spirit of prayer and gift of contemplation, and through thy merits, I implore Him to grant me the grace that all the prayers my tongue shall recite may spring from an attentive and recollected heart.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be
St Anthony, pray for us.

Sixth Day

O Marvelous Saint, whose Blessed Tongue did always bless the Lord, with Whom thou didst hold familiar conversation when He appeared to thee under the form of a graceful Child, I bless and venerate thee, and thanking God for the sweet apparitions and tender conversations with which He favored thee, I implore thee to obtain for me the grace to always converse devoutly and affectionately with Jesus in His Sacrament after Holy Communion.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be
St Anthony, pray for us.

Seventh Day

O Marvelous Saint, whose Blessed Tongue did always bless the Lord, and cause others to bless Him, by teaching men the knowledge of their faith and duties by converting so many sinners, I bless and venerate thee. I thank God Who has given thee so much charity, wisdom and zeal, and I implore you to obtain from Him the same gifts for me, and for all, that we may labor, by our examples and words, to procure the glory of God, and the conversion of sinners.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be
St Anthony, pray for us.

Eighth Day

O Marvelous Saint, whose Blessed Tongue did always bless the Lord, and cause others to bless Him, when in preaching and speaking in one language, thou were, by a miracle, heard, at a distance, and understood by people of every nation and language, I bless and venerate thee, and, thanking God for making of thee such a zealous workman and so admirable in the conversion of sinners, I implore thee, to attract the blessings of divine goodness on my tongue, that it may never do harm, and may always promote the glory of God and my neighbor's welfare.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be
St Anthony, pray for us.

Ninth Day

O Marvelous Saint, whose Blessed Tongue did always bless the Lord, and cause others to bless Him, when they saw the fish themselves obey thee, and raise their heads from the water to listen to thy words, when they saw a common horse prostrate itself to adore Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Sacrament, I bless and venerate thee, I thank God for having worked such prodigies to confirm thy faith, thy sanctity and thy teachings; I implore thee to obtain for me the grace to hear with fruit, the word of God, and to be devout to the Holy Sacrament of the altar.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be
St Anthony, pray for us.

Tenth Day

O Marvelous Saint, whose Blessed Tongue did always bless the Lord, and cause others to bless Him, even to obliging the infernal spirits to obey thee, and to quit the bodies which they possessed, by saying to them, "Behold the cross of the Lord! Fly, ye powers of darkness, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, has conquered. Alleluia." I bless, praise and venerate thee, and, thanking God for giving thee such power over hell, beseech thee to cause me to be delivered and preserved from the snares and temptation of the devil, as well as all those who recite with faith, and carry with confidence the words pronounced by thy tongue.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be
St Anthony, pray for us.

Eleventh Day

O Marvelous Saint, whose Blessed Tongue did always bless the Lord, and cause others to bless Him, by reconciling enemies, converting malefactors and robbers, humbling a tyrant at thy feet, and humiliating hardened heretics, I bless, praise and venerate thee, I thank God for giving such strength and persuasion to thy words, and I implore thee to obtain for me grace and zeal to exercise fraternal correction with prudence and meekness, so as to prevent evil and effect good.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be
St Anthony, pray for us.

Twelfth Day

O Marvelous Saint, whose Blessed Tongue did always bless the Lord, and cause others to bless Him, who has commanded with authority and faith, the unchained elements, disease and death itself, while God has worked through you as an instrument of so many astounding prodigies, prodigies which He still continues from day to day, I bless and venerate thee. I thank God for granting thee the privilege of distributing so many graces and working such wondrous miracles, and I implore thee to use it in my favor, and in favor of all those who have devotion to thee.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be
St Anthony, pray for us.

Thirteenth Day

O Marvelous Saint, whose Blessed Tongue did always bless the Lord, and cause others to bless Him, thanks to all thy prerogatives, thanks to the veneration in which thou hast ever been held, thanks to thy powerful intercession, all can clearly see how great is thy merit before God, Who gives thee such glory in heaven, so much power and veneration on earth, I rejoice with thee, I venerate thee, and, thanking God for all thy virtues, merits and the glory which He gives thee, and will give thee in heaven and on earth, I promise to be truly devout to thee by imitating thy virtues as far as I am able, especially by keeping my tongue from sin, by employing it in praising and thanking God, and praying never more to offend Him. Obtain for me from our Lord, with the pardon of all the faults which my tongue has committed, or made others commit, the grace never more to make use of it to offend Him. For this intention, I will recite every day, or at least every Tuesday, the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory be to the Father, thirteen times, to thank the Most Holy Trinity for the graces, glory and privileges which have been granted to thee, in order to be worthy of thy protection during this life, of thy assistance at the hour of my death, and of thy blessed company in heaven. Amen

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be
St Anthony, pray for us.