Saturday, December 19, 2009



Catholic Culture has a report that Popes John Paul II and Pius XII are to be declared venerable which is a step on the path to beatification and hopefully, one day, canonization. Also included in the list are two Spanish Capuchins:

Father José Tous y Soler (1811-71), a Capuchin Franciscan.

Brother Leopoldo de Alpandeire (1866-1956), a Capuchin Franciscan.

As soon as I have some information on their lives I will blog it. At the moment it's all in Spanish.

Friday, December 18, 2009


I decided to give my Fifth year students a class on Christmas. It was in part an act of desperation and in part a felt need to do something on the coming festival before we break for the holidays. That done I opened by pointing out that among all the posters decorating the school advertising Christmas not one has an image of the Crib, of the Christ Child or anything religious. No angels, no Star, no shepherds, nothing. Perhaps they were told not to put them in. What we have are images of snowmen (in Dublin, Ireland were snow is almost as rare as hen’s teeth), fir trees, presents and penguins (I don’t know so don’t ask me).

It points to at least a drift or even a push towards the total secularization of society and its religious feasts. In a national hospital staff have been told that there is not to be a ‘Christmas party’ but an ‘end of year party’. Irish minds of course being rebellious and peculiarly common-sensed are outraged and will probably ignore such nonsense but it’s the tip of the iceberg.

So I took my students through a short catechesis on the Christmas festival and it may be of use to you dear reader:

Although Christ was probably born around April Christmas is celebrated at this time of year because it provided our ancient forbears in the faith an ideal time to feast without attracting attention from their sometimes hostile pagan fellow citizens. By starting their feast near the solstice they could seem to be celebrating that event while actually celebrating the birth of the true sun, Jesus. The birth of Christ itself marks only the beginning of the festival for it extends to the Epiphany and beyond, a long celebration of the Light entering the world and history at the darkest time, taking human flesh from the womb of the Virgin Mary. Thus the birth of Christ is the root of our Christmas but not the whole of it. The festival climaxes with the celebration of His manifestation to the three wise men, to His revelation of Himself by turning water into wine and the Father’s affirmation of Him at the Jordan.

There’s more: our decorations point to the beauty of heaven and the graces He brings to us. Our gifts are echoes not just of these gifts but of Him who is the GIFT from the GIVER OF ALL GOOD GIFTS: the Father. The tree represents both the Cross and the trees of paradise that bear fruit for the healing of the nations (Ezek. 47:12).

There is an old Irish prayer:

“O King of the Friday
Whose arms were stretched on the Cross.
O Lord who did suffer
The bruises, the wounds, the loss.
We stretch ourselves beneath the shield of thy Might.
May some fruit of the Tree of Thy Passion
Fall on us this night.”

The Christmas tree like the wood of the crib points to the Cross and its baubles are symbols of the graces Christ has won for us.

Even pagan symbols such as the wreath have been taken up and given Christian meaning. The wreath becomes a symbol of the undying victory of Christ and His power to protect and save. The festal meal becomes a symbol of the Eucharistic Feast, the true ‘table where no one grows old’ and therefore also an anticipation of the wedding feast of heaven.

The birth of the Christ is the beginning of the journey that leads to Calvary and beyond. In celebrating His birth we celebrate the One who came to reveal the Father’s unconditional love and mercy and His utter worthiness to all love and glory and who reveals it above all in His Passion and death on the Cross. One feast points to the other, the Child that is born is born to die so that all of us who are dead might live forever.

Forget the snowmen focus on the Child.


David Quinn has an interesting article in the Irish Independent. He is relieved that Bishop Murray is to go but rightly wonders how if the decision was made on December 1 did it take 16 days for it to become public? Why the wait and the anguish for the Church and the victims? Rightly too does he call for the resignation of those bishops who have not been investigated but did not handle accusations as they should, who let the wolves continue to savage the lambs. He finishes with this thought:

Pope Benedict XVI has said he will clearly indicate the initiatives that are to be taken in response to the abuse scandals in a pastoral letter to be written especially for Ireland.

The two best initiatives he can undertake would be to force the resignations of all those bishops who acted as Donal Murray did, and then to replace them with as many strong, fearless and capable bishops as he can. That would help to re-energise the Irish Church very quickly indeed, restore morale, and allow Christianity to be properly proclaimed in Ireland once again.

The problem though is do we have in Ireland this kind of man in sufficient numbers? Let us hope and pray that there are enough "strong, fearless and capable" but also orthodox priests who are willing to become bishops.

Perhaps as rumour has it Rome will take the opportunity to cut the Irish Church down in size and reduce the number of dioceses to around 12 - perhaps three to a province. This would make it easier to find candidates since fewer would be needed but it might also make it easier for the clerical cliques to influence the choice.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


As the temperatures continue to fall here in Ireland and there are predictions of snow (Yes, SNOW!) for Christmas or at least this weekend (this is Dublin, Ireland we rarely see snow and almost never at Christmas) so the social temperature is falling for both Church and State.

I'll the State and the Government to their own devices but the Church is after all my true home on Earth. It has become obvious that one of the effects of the scandals is the undermining of any faith or trust in the bishops. The ordinary priest has the trust and faith of the people he works with but the bishop - the bishop is now rapidly losing his authority. If once a bishop's displeasure was something to be feared those days are long, long gone but further he is a figure to be ignored and despised. With his loss of authority the Church too loses her authority. The clergy are left without cover or protection and the people of God suffer. It is a bleak, wintry picture. Perhaps Rome's intervention will bring a new Spring and a warmer time but I'm not taking off my winter woolies yet.

How did we get here? I propose to you that one influence has been the rise of what might be called 'pastoralism'. Check that in a dictionary and you will find it means that part of agriculture that concentrates on the care of livestock and that's not a bad description of this theological approach. It has always been with us - the concern for the welfare of all the people of the Church but especially the laity. It is, after all, what a shepherd does - look after his sheep. I propose to you that it can and has become distorted. Perhaps it was the influence of so many missionaries whose pastoral efforts are so much more central to their identity. Perhaps it was a desire to refute the inroads of atheist criticism by being more practically involved in the issues of concern to the layperson. Perhaps it came from a weakening faith in the reality of spiritual experience and a corresponding flight into praxis.

Whatever the source 'pastoralism' and its kindred ideology Liberation theology put forward the idea that as long as the needs of the people were met then that was what was important. On the Liturgical/Sacramental level this means that as long as the people receive communion then almost anything else is tolerated. As long as sins are absolved then that's all that matters (some go further and get rid of the sins so no absolution is necessary). So the Liturgy is shortened, Canon Law is ignored or violated, and as long as one can come up with a 'pastoral reason' (or excuse) then no one does anything about it. The people, or rather a clique within the people, are the final court of appeal. If its OK with them then its OK.

In the end we have mediocre Liturgy and a muddled, middlebrow and mediocre Church. There are few saints if any and we have scandals instead.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


To my knowledge no decision has yet been made on the future of those bishops mentioned and criticised by the Murphy report. It's not my place to say what they should do but I do know that many of my confreres believe they should go. Indeed there's also a feeling that the Eucharistic Congress should go elsewhere too and that Rome should take it from Dublin as a sign of its disapproval of all that has happened here.

It is good news that Rome is set to act and that at the very least we will get a pastoral letter on the matter. It is to be hoped that the Holy Father will take actions that will bring a new healthy, direction for the Church.

I am trying to keep my own anger in check though, anger not just at the abuse, the negligence, the incompetence, and the cover-ups, but also at our government and its ham-fisted, partisan, and unjust handling of the budget. Again the poor and the workers (public and civil servants in this case) are asked to foot the bill for the incompetence of the bankers and the government. I know that this is an opportunity for me to face my own passions and to learn how to keep peace in the midst of turmoil.

One area where my eyes are opening is in regard to the Irish Church. Everyone says its 'conservative' but I don't think so. Now 'conservative' and 'liberal' are of course imports from the secular, political world and open to a broad variety of interpretations. I merely wish to point out that there are different kinds of liberal and conservative in the Church: doctrinal, moral, pastoral etc. The Irish Church is doctrinally conservative. There are no major wide-spread denials of the central doctrines of the faith, especially among the practising faithful. But morally and pastorally, like much of the Church in the Western world, it is liberal at least behind closed doors. After all how much flak did +Willie Walsh get for his recent statements? I have seen too many dodgy liturgies and watched liturgical abuses, heard whacky lectures, and put up with so many unorthodox opinions that I can no longer accept this Church can really be described as 'conservative'. It is certainly not in a healthy state. Over recent weeks I have heard, from practising Catholics, opinions in favour of homosexuality and abortion (don't mention contraception!). I have been challenged for asserting that the clergy are called to a higher degree of holiness than the laity (and that the laity should expect us to be that holy) because after all didn't Vatican II say we were all equal? The arrogance of earlier clergy and the negligent teaching of more recent times has done much damage. No wonder people scramble to look at the Sun at Knock or to see the pseudo-visionary at Achill.

Somewhere along the line between 1850 and 1950 the Irish Church lost its way. It went from an oppressed to a dominant majority, from poverty to riches, from hedgerow to the centre stage. In that time the nation went from subjection to the British to an independent, if dirt poor, Republic. As a nation and a Church we came to believe our own propaganda - that we were once again to be a nation of saints and scholars (and republicans). This Church sent huge numbers of missionaries throughout the world just as the country sent out emigrants. Yet the seeds of our present trouble were planted and took root in those years. Jansenism and liberalism (encased in Republicanism) came here from France in the beginning and they have been around since. If the former dominated in the beginning the latter has bloomed since,if secretly. Where the moral corruption began is hard to say, probably it was always and will always be with us. Yet how did it get into the clergy and thrive there? Why wasn't it dealt with? There's even the suggestion that a clerical paedophile ring operated, and not just in Dublin, and that it may have had its origins in seminaries like Maynooth and Clonliffe. A cancer took root and now part of it is exposed. Might I suggest that the secret liberalism of the Irish Church lacked the moral courage, conviction and self-belief to confront this evil as it grew. It could not conceive of the inhumanity involved in child abuse and when confronted with it simply tried to bury it (and save its precious reputation in the process).

Today over lunch a colleague at school told me that the Catholic Church does nothing for him, has no relevance to him. I was lost for words. At the time all I could say was that for me it is about Christ first. It is also about truth and whether it can be known and experienced. Christ is Truth made flesh and He established His Church. It belongs to Him not us (as I recently had to point out to a fellow priest and friar). It all belongs to Him. It's not about us, it's about Him and one day each of us must give an account of ourselves to Him. Who'd want to be an Irish bishop on that day?

Monday, December 7, 2009


In honour of the Solemnity tomorrow I offer this hymn to the Theotokos I found at Byzantine Ramblings. It was written by St. Nektarios of Aegina and tradition has that he wrote the words but the angels composed the air.

In Greek:

In English:

Rejoice, Bride unwedded, Immaculate spouse of God and His Most Holy Mother. O Virgin made Church pray for us!


Related Posts with Thumbnails