Wednesday 22 March 2017

On the need for shame

I suspect that, when seen as a written word, Pope Francis' recent remarks about the need for a certain shame in the person who approaches the Sacrament of Confession come across differently than if they had been heard in their originality as a spoken word.

The Holy Father does, as is his wont, use a very vivid turn of phrase; and he also expresses himself in the negative rather than the positive.

But his essential message for those who frequent the Sacrament is: approach the Sacrament with a genuine shame, a genuine sense that you have done something wrong. The first prompt of conscience that draws you to the Sacrament is a good - but try to go further, deeper in responding to that first prompt.
... You have only gone to confession to carry out a banking transaction or an office task. You have not gone to confession ashamed of what you have done. You have seen stains on your conscience and have mistakenly believed that the confessional box is like the dry cleaners that removes those sins. You’re unable to feel shame for your sins.”
The shame being referred to here is of a very particular character. It is a response, by the person themselves, to a recognised wrong that they have done. It is not what might be expressed by the word "stigma" - that is, a shame imposed from outside by others or by society, a shame that has the effect of limiting the freedom of the individual rather than expressing it.

A reflection on what constitutes a healthy sense of shame is important in times when much of our society, lacking an objective sense of right and wrong, would do away with the notion of shame altogether.

Sunday 19 March 2017

Fatima: the apparition of St Joseph

After Our Lady had disappeared into the immense distance of the firmament, we beheld St Joseph with the Child Jesus and Our Lady robed in white with a blue mantle, beside the sun. St Joseph and the Child Jesus appeared to bless the world, for they traced the Sign of the Cross with their hands. When, a little later, this apparition disappeared, I saw Our Lord and Our Lady; it seemed to me that it was Our Lady of Dolours. Our Lord appeared to bless the world in the same manner as St Joseph had done. This apparition also vanished, and I saw Our Lady once more, this time resembling Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
This is the last paragraph of Sr Lucia's account of the final apparition at Fatima on 13th October 1917. The apparition of St Joseph with the Child Jesus in some way appears incidental to the main run of the apparitions. Yet, I cannot help but feel that the presence and action of St Joseph in the apparition has something to tell us that is of permanent value.

Despite having Joseph as my given name, I still find it difficult to place my namesake's mission, at a level more than the simply devotional, in the mystery of salvation and the Church. The Preface for the Mass of the feast day gives some indications (my italics added), but I am not sure that I sense those indications as being complete:
For this just man was given by you as spouse to the Virgin Mother of God and set as wise and faithful servant in charge of your household to watch like a father over your Only Begotten Son, who was conceived by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, our Lord Jesus Christ.
There is a clear reference to an earlier Joseph, who in Egypt had oversight of the economy of that country and who shared its wealth with his brothers when they fled famine in their own country. It is from this that St Joseph is recognised as patron of the Universal Church.

Adrienne von Speyr's partial account of Joseph's mission in her Book of All Saints (a record of her charismatic insights into the prayer of large number of saints) is interesting in this regard:
[Joseph] is of simple heart and perseveres in the openness of a surrender that he will never fully grasp. But he does not need to grasp it, because God did not fashion his mission as one part of a dual mission. His relationship to the Mother of Jesus cannot be compared, for example, to that between Benedict and Scholastica or between Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal; here, by contrast, one mission stands adjacent to the other, and it is Joseph's task to give support to Mary's mission in a very modest way. Just as you could not call them a couple, a married couple, so too you could not call theirs a dual mission. Joseph, the righteous man, is involved in something that at first frightens him; he does not understand it. But then grace brings him a certain understanding, even if it remains incomplete....
... Whenever some aspect of the Son, some aspect of his growing up and his mission, opens up to Joseph, he takes it immediately into prayer, because it belongs together so intimately with his own path that he must keep watch over it, too, in prayer .... He knows none of the disquiet that comes with reckoning. He knows that he has a share in many mysteries, even if it is not his responsibility to explore them. He is without curiosity, a simple and pious man.
Pope Francis devotion to St Joseph is well known. He has introduced St Joseph name into all the Eucharistic Prayers used at Mass and, more recently, has described how he entrusts his troubles in prayer to St Joseph.

Wednesday 15 March 2017

Love the Church, love the Pope

I have previously written on this blog of my conviction that the Church has been gifted in recent times, not only with holders of the Papal Office of high ability, but also with precisely those holders of that office that corresponded to the needs of the Church at their time. I refer particularly to Popes Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI (and, in passing, to John Paul I, whose homilies/addresses during his short pontificate are a very striking foretaste of those of the Pope Emeritus during the early months of his pontificate); and, yes, to Pope Francis. John XXIII I know less well, but I have no doubt that my conviction would extend to include him.

Each brought to the Office of the Successor Peter their own particular "style" or gift: Paul VI's docility to the prompting of the Spirit, manifested in the declaration of Mary as Mother of the Church and in Humanae Vitae, both offered when many in the Church would not have wished for them; that of the philosopher in John Paul II, with his particular contribution in terms of the dignity of the person at Vatican II and in his subsequent apostolate; that of the theologian with Benedict XVI; and, finally, that of the pastor with Pope Francis.

In this context, I do find two things increasingly distasteful - and certainly, despite the claims of their authors to be "Catholic", profoundly un-Catholic. The first is a persistent denigration of Pope Francis words and actions by way of misrepresentation. To exemplify this, we can look at LifesiteNews report on the new statutes of the Pontifical Academy for Life:
Another drastic change for the PAV is the removal of the requirement for members to sign a “Declaration of the Servants of Life,” an avowal geared to members who are physicians and medical researchers, which makes explicit the members’ willingness to follow Church teaching on the sacredness of human life and an obligation to not perform “destructive research on the embryo or fetus, elective abortion, or euthanasia.”
The removal of such a statement can hardly be seen as removing something superfluous. The very founding of the PAV aimed to counteract cultural trends of the “culture of death,” as St. Pope John Paul II has called secularized modern culture.
What their report fails to say is that there are provisions in the new statutes that give effect to what would previously have been intended by the signing of the Declaration:
Article 5 n.5 (b) New Academicians commit themselves to promoting and defending the principles regarding the value of life and the dignity of the human person, interpreted in a way consonant with the Church’s Magisterium. ..... 
n.5 (e) Status as an Academician can be revoked pursuant to the Academy’s own Regulations in the event of a public and deliberate action or statement by a Member clearly contrary to the principles stated in paragraph (b) above, or seriously offensive to the dignity and prestige of the Catholic Church or of the Academy itself. ......
The second thing I find distasteful are some of the evaluations of Pope Francis being offered to mark the fourth anniversary of his election to the See of St Peter. Two examples, rather different in style, are here and here (with their publicity offered to a particular coterie of commenters). Both are, frankly, nothing more than gossip, more or less recycled, with an effect that is certainly malicious. I do think a serious examination of conscience on the part of these authors is called for.

As suggested at the start of this post, I stand with Pope Francis, and want to learn from him how I can be a better Christian. This is what appears to me an authentic Catholic attitude.

Tuesday 14 March 2017

Melanie peut le faire

Occasionally one comes across an absolutely lovely story: Melanie peut le faire. I think it's a story Jerome Lejeune will have enjoyed from his place in heaven.

And here, even on "take two", the children still managed to steal the show!

Saturday 11 March 2017

Fatima: sacrifices for souls

The Collects at Mass during these early days of Lent remind us very much of the character of self-denial that is a feature of this season. The recently adopted English translations appear to me to bring this out with a clarity that represents a strength of those translations.

The Collect for the Friday of the first week of Lent reads:
Grant that your faithful, O Lord, we pray, may be so conformed to the paschal observances, that the bodily discipline now solemnly begun may bear fruit in the souls of all.
In the course of the events at Fatima, a key message of the Angel whose apparitions presaged those of the Virgin Mary herself was that of offering sacrifices. At the first apparition, in Sr Lucia's account, the Angel invited the children to pray:
My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love You! I ask pardon of You for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love You!".
At the second apparition, the Angel urged the children to offer prayers and sacrifices to the Most High:
"Make of everything you can a sacrifice, and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which he is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners."
In her memories of Jacinta, Sr Lucia repeatedly tells stories of how Jacinta made little sacrifices within her daily life, and encouraged the other children in doing likewise, in the spirit of the Angel's request. So, for example, during a day in the fields with the sheep, they might have given their lunch to those they met who were poorer than themselves.

In the spirit of my earlier post marking the Fatima anniversary, my literary investigation of this theme took me next to the life of St Edith Stein. Identifying with Queen Esther, Edith made a particular offering of her life for the Jewish people, as witnessed in a letter of 31st October 1938 ....
And [I also trust] in the Lord's having accepted my life for all of them [ie here own family]. I keep having to think of Queen Esther who was taken from among her own people precisely that she might represent them before the king. I am a very poor and powerless little Esther, but the King who chose me is infinitely great and merciful. That is such a great comfort.
... and by the words that she was heard to say to her sister Rosa as they were both arrested by the Germans at the convent in Echt:
Come, Rosa, we are going for our people. 
My third step was to the story of Cassie Bernall, who died during the Columbine School shootings of 20th April 1999. Though some news reports suggest that Cassie's reported exchange with the student who shot her has in fact been mistaken for the dialogue with another student (who survived), nevertheless a key witness has remained certain of his attribution of the exchange to Cassie. Asked if she believed in God, Cassie is reported to have replied "Yes" before being shot. Cassie's mother has written the story of her daughter - a fraught and challenging teenager, who experienced a conversion to Christ - in a book She said Yes: the unlikely martyrdom of Cassie Bernall. In the book, Misty Bernall reports the words of a pastor who knew Cassie during the two years immediately before her death:
Cassie struggled like everyone struggles, but she knew what she had to do to let Christ live in her. It's called dying to yourself, and it has to be done daily. It means learning to break out of the selfish life ....It's not a negative thing, but a way of freeing yourself to live life more fully.
The world looks to Cassie's "yes" of April 20, but we need to look at the daily "yes" she said day after day, month after month, before giving that final answer....
It's not a question of doing great deeds, but of being selfless in small things. Cassie used to come with us to a ministry for crack addicts downtown. We'd eat with the guys, and play basketball, or just hang out with them. That's what it's all about..... Reaching out, being willing to make sacrifices for something bigger than your own happiness and comfort.

Wednesday 8 March 2017


I can't help but feel sad that, to mark International Womens Day, the women of Ireland were asked to dress in black and protest in favour of making abortion freely available in their country.

Surely the freedom of women to participate in the life of their nations and communities is not dependent on their being able to abort their unborn children ....

.... and the celebration of International Womens Day could have reflected that wider participation.

However, I did rather like the idea that Easyjet and Lufthansa adopted - flying all women crews on some of their flights today.

Sunday 5 March 2017

The Devil ...

..... wears Prada is real. The "Day by Day" meditation in MAGNIFICAT for today reminded me of something I recall striking me strongly during the early days of Pope Francis' pontificate. That was Pope Francis' readiness to talk about the reality of the existence of the devil, as an ordinary part of  Christian experience.

MAGNIFICAT reproduced a large part of this report of a homily by Pope Francis in April 2014. It is worth reading the report in full to capture Pope Francis sense of conviction about the reality of the devil, and of the three characteristics of his temptations: growth, spread and then self justification.
“Of course one of you will say: but Father, you are so old fashioned, speaking about the devil in the 21st century!”. To this Pope Francis replied: “watch out, the devil exists! The devil exists even in the 21st century. And we must not be naive. We must learn from the Gospel how to battle against him”.
The same contrast that we see between Christ and Satan in the Gospel of the first Sunday of Lent, and in Pope Francis' homily, is portrayed vividly in the "Meditation on Two Standards" of the fourth day of the second week of St Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises. Firstly the Standard of Satan:
Consider the address he makes to them, how he goads them on to lay snares for men and bind them with chains. First they are to tempt them to covet riches (as Satan himself is accustomed to do in most cases) that they may the more easily attain the empty honors of this world, and then come to overweening pride.
The first step, then, will be riches, the second honor, the third pride. From these three steps the evil one leads to all other vices.
And secondly, the Standard of Christ:
Consider the address which Christ our Lord makes to all His servants and friends whom He sends on this enterprise, recommending to them to seek to help all, first by attracting them to the highest spiritual poverty, and should it please the Divine Majesty, and should He deign to choose them for it, even to actual poverty. Secondly, they should lead them to a desire for insults and contempt, for from these springs humility.
Hence, there will be three steps: the first, poverty as opposed to riches; the second, insults or contempt as opposed to the honor of this world; the third, humility as opposed to pride. From these three steps, let them lead men to all other virtues.