Saturday 27 November 2021

Pope Francis: St Joseph in Salvation History

 As the Year of St Joseph comes to an end, Pope Francis has begun, at his weekly General Audiences, a series of catecheses on the figure of St Joseph. They, and all of the Holy Father's other General Audience addresses, can be accessed at the website of the Holy See: Audiences 2021

Two passages from the most recent catechesis have caught my attention. The first reflects on St Joseph as a hidden protagonist of salvation history (my emphasis added):

The evangelist Matthew helps us to understand that the person of Joseph, although apparently marginal, discreet, and in the background, is in fact a central element in the history of salvation. Joseph lives his role without ever seeking to take over the scene. If we think about it, “Our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people, people often overlooked. People who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines. … How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small ways, and in everyday ways, how to accept and deal with a crisis by adjusting their routines, looking ahead and encouraging the practice of prayer. How many are praying, making sacrifices and interceding for the good of all” (Apostolic Letter Patris corde, 1). Thus, everyone can find in Saint Joseph, the man who goes unnoticed, the man of daily presence, of discreet and hidden presence, an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of difficulty. He reminds us that all those who are seemingly hidden or in the “second row” are unparalleled protagonists in the history of salvation. The world needs these men and women: men and women in the second row, but who support the development of our life, of every one of us, and who with prayer, and by their example, with their teaching, sustain us on the path of life.

I suspect that many of us can think of people we know, in our parishes and communities, who sit in the "second row", and who Pope Francis encourages us to recognise as key protagonists in the work of salvation.

The second passage articulates St Joseph's guardianship of Jesus and Mary in an ecclesial dimension (again, an emphasis of my own added):

In the Gospel of Luke, Joseph appears as the guardian of Jesus and of Mary. And for this reason, he is also “the Guardian of the Church”: but, if he was the guardian of Jesus and Mary, he works, now that he is in heaven, and continues to be a guardian, in this case of the Church, for the Church is the continuation of the Body of Christ in history, even as Mary’s motherhood is reflected in the motherhood of the Church. In his continued protection of the Church – please do not forget this: today, Joseph protects the Church – and by continuing to protect the Church, he continues to protect the child and his mother” (ibid., 5). This aspect of Joseph’s guardianship is the great answer to the story of Genesis. When God asks Cain to account for Abel's life, he replies: “Am I my brother's keeper?” (4: 9). With his life, Joseph seems to want to tell us that we are always called to feel that we are our brothers and sisters’ keepers, the guardians of those who are close to us, of those whom the Lord entrusts to us through many circumstances of life. 

Wednesday 24 November 2021

Last of the Tibhirine monks dies

 Vatican News have reported the death of the last of the two monks who escaped from the monastery at Tibhirine when Islamist extremists seized seven of his fellow monks in 1996. Their report is here.

The story of the monks of Tibhirine is very ably told in John W Kiser's book "The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria", and in the film "Of Gods and Men", which draws significantly on John Kiser's book. My observations on the film can be found by inserting the search "Of Gods and Men" in to the search box of this blog.

After the events in Algeria, the two monks who remained from the community settled in Morocco.

In their new home, they both used to say they considered themselves as a “small remnant” of Tibhirine: “Our presence in the monastery – Frère Jean-Pierre said – is a sign of faithfulness to the Gospel, to the Church and to the Algerian people”. 

He also said he often asked himself why he was allowed to survive the massacre and that in time he realized that God had assigned him the mission to witness the events of Tibhirine and “to make known the experience of communion with our Muslim brothers, which we continue now here in the monastery of Midelt”.

Another significant witness to the experience of dialogue with the Muslim community of Tibhirine, and with Islam in general, is to be found in Christian Salenson's study of the thought of Christian de Cherge, the prior of the Tibhirine community who was among those who died as a result of the events of 1996: "Christian de Cherge: A Theology of Hope". 

Saturday 20 November 2021

"Arise and bear witness": Pope Francis message for World Youth Day 2021

 I had missed the fact that the celebration of World Youth Day 2021 in the universal Church had been transferred to the Solemnity of Christ the King this year - an understandable occurrence in the light of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year.

Pope Francis' message for the celebration of the day, released in September, is on the website of the Holy See. The major part of the message is a meditation on the encounter between St Paul and Jesus on the road to Damascus. At each point in his reflection, Pope Francis makes an application of St Paul's experience to that of young people today. It makes a lovely read for anyone who wishes to be active in the life of the Church.

At the end of his message, Pope Francis makes a series of appeals to young people:

Today Christ speaks to you the same words that he spoke to Paul: Arise! Do not remain downcast or caught up in yourself: a mission awaits you! You too can testify to what Jesus has begun to accomplish in your lives. In Jesus’ name, I ask you: 
- Arise! Testify that you too were blind and encountered the light. You too have seen God’s goodness and beauty in yourself, in others and in the communion of the Church, where all loneliness is overcome. 
- Arise! Testify to the love and respect it is possible to instil in human relationships, in the lives of our families, in the dialogue between parents and children, between the young and the elderly. 
- Arise! Uphold social justice, truth and integrity, human rights. Protect the persecuted, the poor and the vulnerable, those who have no voice in society, immigrants. 
- Arise! Testify to the new way of looking at things that enables you to view creation with eyes brimming with wonder, that makes you see the Earth as our common home, and gives you the courage to promote an integral ecology. 
- Arise! Testify that lives of failure can be rebuilt, that persons spiritually dead can rise anew, that those in bondage can once more be free, that hearts overwhelmed by sorrow can rediscover hope. 
- Arise! Testify joyfully that Christ is alive! Spread his message of love and salvation among your contemporaries, at school and in the university, at work, in the digital world, everywhere. 
The Lord, the Church and the Pope trust you and appoint you to bear witness before all those other young people whom you will encounter on today’s “roads to Damascus”. Never forget that “anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love. Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Evangelii Gaudium, 120).

Sunday 14 November 2021

Christ the King: a mixed reflection

The Solemnity of Christ the King, to be celebrated this coming weekend, prompts each year a mixed reflection. In the dioceses of England and Wales, it is also celebrated as "Youth Sunday", when, as the branding goes, we celebrate and encourage the part that young people play in the Church. In my own diocese, it is an opportunity for the promotion of the diocesan youth service in parishes.

Inevitably, this celebration of young people moves attention from the celebration of the liturgical feast to something else, especially if the only marking of the day is during the celebration of Mass. and this is the first cause of a mixed reflection on my part. But a second cause is that I wonder whether the celebration of youth ministry, as if that is an end in itself in the mission of the Church, is really something we should do in isolation from a wider consideration.

Whilst a universal call to holiness, and to the living and practice of a Christian life, exists from the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, the way in which each individual lives out that call requires a specification, a making more precise for the individual situation, of that universal call. The experience of a particular charism in the Church, perhaps through the life of an ecclesial movement, seems to me an important way of achieving this specification of the universal call to holiness. I am not sure that youth ministry always captures this, and perhaps it is this need for a specification of the call to holiness that might better be the focus for a Youth Sunday.

My own background from student days was FAITH Movement, and the current issue of their magazine offers two articles that respond to my mixed reflections. Fr Nesbitt provides an account of the theological vision of FAITH Movement on pages 22-25, a vision that offers a charism that is able to form a vivid Christian life.  It is also a vision highly relevant to the liturgical celebration of Christ the King. The editorial, published as a separate article on the website, is entitled On to 2022. It is the remarks about teaching of the Catholic faith that caught my attention:

We also need a clear affirmation of the right and obligation of Catholics to teach the Faith in the family, in church, and in Catholic schools. This need not be announced in any angry or polemical spirit, but it must be stated clearly as something positive and as contributing to the common good, confirming the human rights of families as stated in international charters.

Monday 8 November 2021

St Catherine of Genoa on purgatory

 MAGNIFICAT had a "Meditation of the Day" for All Souls Day that I found an interesting read, and to which I have returned in the days since. It was an extract from St Catherine of Genoa, from a treatise on purgatory whose English translation used as the source for the meditation dates back to 1946. (A quick look at Amazon suggests that there are more recently published editions.)

The extract first articulates a teaching that, whilst guilt for sin has been forgiven, there remains a stain or harm caused by sin that is still to be removed (the added italics are mine):

The souls in purgatory have wills accordant in all things with the will of God, who therefore sheds on them his goodness. And they, as far as their will goes, are happy and cleansed of all their sin. As for guilt, these cleansed souls are as they were when God created them, for God forgives their guilt immediately who have passed form this life having confessed all they have committed and having the will to commit no more. Only the rust of sin is left them, and from this they cleanse themselves by pain in fire. Thus cleansed of all guilt and united in will to God, they see him clearly in the degree in which he makes himself known to them, and see too how much it imports to enjoy him and that souls have been created for this end.

There then follows an account of how God and the soul are related in this process of cleansing, first of all from the perspective of God himself:

I perceive there to be so much conformity between God and the soul, that when he sees it in the purity in which his divine majesty created it he gives it a burning love, which draws it to himself, and which causes it to be so transformed in God that it sees itself as though it were none other than God. Unceasingly he draws it to himself and breathes into it, never letting it go until he has let it to the state whence it came forth, that is to the pure cleanliness in which it was created.

And then, secondly, from the point of view of the soul: 

When with its inner sight the soul sees itself drawn by God with such loving fire, then it is melted by the heat of the glowing love for God, its most dear Lord, which it feels overflowing it. And it sees by the divine light that God does not cease from drawing it, nor from leading it lovingly and with much care and unfailing foresight to its full perfection, doing this of his pure love. But the sould, being hindered by sin, cannot go where God draws it; it cannot follow the uniting look with which he would draw it to hismelf. Again the soul perceives the grieviousness of being held back from seeing the divine light; the soul's instinct too, being drawn by that uniting look, craves to be unhindered. I say that it is the sight of these things which begets in the souls the pain they feel in purgatory.

The meditation ends with a reflection that suggests the soul might even look forward to the experience of purgatory (again, the added italics are mine): 

Not that they take account of their pain; most great though it be, they deem it a far less evil than to find themselves going against the will of God, whom they clearly see to be on fire with extreme and pure love for them. Strongly and unceasingly this love draws the soul with that uniting look, as though it had nothing else than this to do.