Wednesday, June 27, 2012
I am on a directed retreat at the moment in our friary at Ards peninsula, Co. Donegal. Donegal is about as far north as one can go in Ireland. It's in the north-western corner and Ards is a peninsula (one of a number) on its north-western edge. For a 'Dub' it's miles from anywhere. At the moment it is raining but not as cold as it has been. Unlike my home friary there are very few children nearby, there is little traffic and I can hear the sea, the wind and the birds. The air is clean and fresh and these days comes straight from the Arctic.
I am here with another friar on a private retreat. Last year I made my directed retreat in Dublin, in silence. That was good but not as life-giving as this one. Perhaps it is because last year my Dad was sick and dying or that retreat house had tiny rooms and I get claustrophobic or perhaps it is because I have a big room here, we're not bound to silence and the director is one of our own. Speaking of directors ours can, while giving direction, quote from multiple languages, some of them biblical, sometimes all in the same sentence and even 'redact back' to what the author would've said but decided to leave out. Very funny and very helpful. I am learning to waste time with God, to let God be God and let the silence do the talking.
Friday, June 22, 2012
This is the icon of the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple. Obliged by the Mosaic Law Mary and Joseph go to the temple, the heart of the Jewish religion, to offer up the sacrifice of two doves, the offering of the poor. They have toiled their way up through the city to the Temple and up the long stairs and now God made man is carried into the temple built for His worship. The new Ark of the Covenant, the pure tongs who holds in her arms Christ the burning coal sent to purify man, stands on the temple mount. The true Holy of Holies is in the midst of the people of Israel, the Law-giver comes as a subject of the Law and hardly anyone notices.
The icon shows the moment when the Blessed Virgin handed over her Son to Simeon for circumcision. No mother wants her child to suffer but as a Jewess her heart also must have swelled with joy too, joy that her Son was to become an official member of Israel, the Chosen People. She stands near the altar which is covered by a ciborium, a dome on four pillars. This is a reference to the Mass, the Divine Liturgy, where Christ's Sacrifice on the Cross is offered to the Father and His Body and Blood are made present. She who gave God a body and blood now presents her Son so that He may offer His Body and shed His Blood for us.
Joseph stands at the left. In his hands are the two doves. Here is a man of silence. His words are nowhere recorded but the Father put His Son and the Mother of His Son into his care. There can be no greater tribute. The two doves were offered to 'redeem' the life of the first born. The Redeemer is redeemed with the sacrifice of the poor. He comes humbly and silently in the arms of a maiden.
Simeon bows to receive the Precious Son of God made man. In the Orthodox Liturgy for this feast he is said to tremble. Christ Himself is shown as the man-child, already aware of His Mission. Behind the Blessed Virgin, the Theotokos, stands Anna. In her hand is a scroll whose inscription I cannot decipher but it does not seem to be a quotation of Simeon's words. She is already spreading the word of the extraordinary event.
Thursday, June 21, 2012
This is the second image in the series. It's the Annunciation to the Virgin of the Divine plan. Gabriel's right hand shows only three fingers because it forms the name of Jesus Christ in the manner of the Orthodox priestly blessing. His fingers form the name for he is both pronouncing it and conveying the blessing but it is hidden because as yet the Virgin is the first human to hear it. His left hand holds the staff os his office as a messenger and servant of the Most High. 'Full of grace' he calls her. She who is sinless and devoid of any evil, is also full of merit and virtue. She is as humanity was meant to be and she through her 'yes' opens the way for what humanity will become. The little spool of thread in her hand is a reference both to the garment without seam that she will weave for her son but also to her weaving a body for him from her own flesh.
From the very top of the icon the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove with rays of light flashing forth. He descends at the Virgins and as once He hovered over the waters at the creation of the Earth so He comes to dwell in her who is to be the Mother of God. The Virgin, in traditional inner blue and out purple, stands to receive God's message. The blue denotes her sanctified human nature while the purple refers to the Divine glory that overshadows her. He 'yes' makes our 'yes' possible. Her heart will be pierced by a sword of sorrow because it is utterly open to the will of God. Through her sorrow and that of her Son our joy will be eternal. In this moment the road to Calvary and the empty tomb, the way to heaven and into the very heart of God is opened.
One small note: the lights on Gabriel's robe are sometimes called 'lyric lights' as if the very poetry of his being were shining through his clothes.
I actually posted this a few days ago at my other blog but I think it more appropriate here.
Some years back two of my fellow Capuchins and I made a pilgrimage to Mount Athos, the heart of Orthodoxy. We visited the monasteries of Xenophontos, Gregoriou, Dionysiou, Paulou, and the skete of Agia Anna. It is a place to which we would like to return one day. While there and in Thessaloniki I collected as many prints of icons as I could and among my collection there are packs of postcards featuring icons.
This is the birth of the Virgin. It is the first in a set known as the Dodekaorton. The virgin appears as a baby in the bottom left as she is prepared for her bath and in her crib at the feet of her mother, St. Anne. At the bottom right a young girl is weaving. St. Anne is the chief character of this icon robed in red and contemplating the extraordinary events that have accompanied the birth of her daughter. Behind her she embrace Joachim her husband ad reference to the conception of the Virgin. To the upper left Joachim is in prayer while at the top right the angel comes to tell him of God's favourable answer. Facing St. Anne the ladies approach with spools of thread and food near a table with seems set for a meal. The spool like the distaff in the hands of the girl at the lower right is a symbol of Anne's having 'woven' the flesh of Mary in her womb (Ps. 139).
This icon celebrates the faith and courage of those who prepared the way for our Saviour. These are the grandparents of Christ and their struggles made the conception and birth of the Virgin possible which in turn led to the Incarnation of the Word. Christ was not born in vacuum but into the history of a family and a people, into the history of the world. He does not often announce His plans in advance and even then they are often beyond our wildest imaginings. He asks us only to be faithful and to do His will. He does the rest. He does not stay apart and aloof but approaches us with utter gentlest, humility and compassion. God does not stand aloof; you will always find Him in the lowest place.
Monday, June 18, 2012
Fr. Mark, over at Vultus Christi, has both a commentary and the text of the Holy Father's message.
Sunday, June 17, 2012
Many years ago while I was still studying for ordination one of our friars who was on a course here in Dublin came home with a story to tell. At the Mass that day a well known Irish priest had laid his stole on the floor to symbolise the 'priesthood of all believers' and encouraged all the people at the Mass (who were also doing the course) to join him in praying the Eucharistic Prayer except for the consecration which he said on his own. There was some horror around the table at this. On reflection it occurred to me that this could be an example not of some new, liberal theology but of an old theology poorly digested. By keeping the consecration to himself the celebrant was still operating out of traditional Catholic theology that when the priest recites the words of consecration, while intending to do what the Church does at Mass, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. It could be argued from such a position that the rest of the Eucharistic Prayer is just icing on the cake so to speak. Whenever the priest permits the laity to join in or when he alters the text is implicitly asserting such a position. Of course that is not what the Church teaches. Yes the words of consecration 'this is my body' and 'this is the chalice of my blood' are the form to the matter of the bread and wine but that does not mean the rest of the Eucharistic Prayer is pointless. The whole prayer is either leading up to or going on from the consecration but it is directed to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. The whole prayer is like a great symphony of which the consecration is the heart, the climax but not the whole work.
The action of that priest could also be seen as an example of clericalism. Clericalism like laicism is the attempt to exceed the boundaries of one's authority and role; it is a violation of the principle of subsidiarity. Subsidiarity requires that no one should do for a 'lesser' (or 'higher') power what it can do for itself. Clericalism occurs whenever the priest does what it is not his role to do; whether it's altering the texts of the Mass, distorting the teaching of the Church, or ignoring the advice of his accountant or sacristan. You could say that clericalism is often at the root of heresy.
One of our friars told me that while at the Eucharistic Congress he was thanked by a lady for being courteous! She did so because so many clergy had been anything but. We went on from there to share other stories that we had heard. That rudeness towards others, especially the laity and even more so when the reputation of the Irish Church is in the gutter, is a form of clericalism. Clericalism is not a manifestation of conservatism or of liberalism. Each is prone to it. There is in the present Irish Church at least a confusion between orthodoxy and conservatism even as liberalism begins to retreat. Conservatism and liberalism are imports from the political and social dimensions of the world. They are not native to the Church. They can be used to describe general tendencies; conservatives wish to uphold stability and preserve what is good while liberals wish to uphold the freedom of the individual to grow and flourish. Liberalism appealed to a sizeable number of clergy from the fifties onwards because it offered them a sense of freedom in what they experienced as a stifling environment. It promised growth and success and greater, easier authenticity. Now that that project is revealed as a mirage conservatism is on the way back promising stability, truth and respect. If the liberalism of the past few decades pushed clericalism out of relationships into liturgy and theology the re-emergence of conservatism threatens to push it back into relationships. (Un)fortunately the laity now have a taste for involvement in the Church and a higher standard of education.
Like liberalism conservatism is easy. Conservatism has easily delineated positions that, within the Church, are usually orthodox. Orthodoxy, the concern to have the right, the true teaching of the Church and give the right glory to God, is not so easy. It is like the difference between someone who likes classical music because that is what he is expected to like and someone who likes classical music because he has learnt to appreciate such music, he recognises the range and complexity of the genre and can discern what is and is not part of it. Not everyone has an ear for great music nor has everyone the sense for what is part of tradition, for what is orthodox and not just conservative. The conservative clergy man can be deluded that if he wears his collar (even better a soutane), does the red and says the black, and makes his authority felt then is being orthodox in some way. I have no problem with soutanes and commend the 'red and black bit' but we are servants not masters and when we exceed our role, when we are rude and arrogant we serve not Christ but His enemies.
Orthodoxy is rooted in charity, that charity which is nourished by the wound in Christ's side. Orthodoxy is found in the lives of the saints. Orthodoxy is visible in humility, compassion and gentle holding to the truth in love.
Saturday, June 16, 2012
It's either a feast or a famine...
I thought I might share my sermon (on Mark 4:26-34) for tomorrow with you.
Faith, once sown, grows and gives birth to virtue and even to perfect charity if we cooperate even if it means not just struggle but sacrifice.
Players who don't give their all in a match cannot be surprised if they don't make it to the world cup.
Mark has already told the story of the Sower. So this passage can be read as referring to the good seed. This is the seed sown in good soil; it ought to bring forth fruit in plenty. The farmer is Christ who sows liberally and trusts in the good soil of man to respond. The day is the good times in our lives and that of the Church while the night is the time of trial, temptation and persecution.
While the farmer doesn't need to know how his seed grows Christ Himself knows very well how His grace is active in our lives. He respects our freedom and our autonomy and leaves us free to choose whether or not we grow, how fast we grow and whether and when we bring forth the fruit that He rightly expects.
The blade is the fear of God and of loss of heaven and the possibility of damnation. Through fear of God we learn obedience to His word, and His will and to the rightful authority in the Church. The ear can mean resistance to evil, and avoidance of sin through which we learn prudence, the capacity to know what is the right thing to do, what is the will of God and how to follow it effectively. Finally the full grain can mean perfect charity through which we learn to truly love God and our neighbour for their own sake. Perfect charity is salvation.
Not satisfied with this part the Church further presents us with Christ's teaching that the Kingdom (meaning both the Church and our interior life) is like a mustard seed. It begins small and in fear and trembling but once grown it is mighty, sheltering the poor and needy with charity, mercy and compassion while feeding and nourishing all mankind with the truth of Christ.
Why does Jesus then not say all this plainly? Why does He teach by parables? Our Lord is forming gardeners of His garden, His vineyard and He keeps the true meaning of His teaching, mission, identity, future passion, death and resurrection to His disciples so that they can teach the people after these events, when they can accept it, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Our lives and the life of the Church have good and bad times. Sometimes life is good and it is easy to believe. Other times there are many crosses and temptations and faith is demanding and difficult. These times can be the very times, when, if properly used, we can make swift growth in virtue. Likewise for the Church there are difficult times when we must struggle and defend the Faith but these are the times when the Church grows stronger. Our Lord has entrusted to the Apostles and their successors the bishops united to the Pope the task of nourishing our faith and sowing the seed in each generation. Sometimes this mission is carried out in the daylight of welcome and sometimes in the night of persecution.
Our Government is preparing laws that will introduce abortion into Ireland, try to force the clergy to break the seal of the confessional, and is also trying to get religion and chaplains out of our schools. The hospitals, the prisons, and the army will follow until they have entirely secularised Irish society. That’s only part of the story.
If you want a priest to hear your confession and anoint you in hospital when you are dying you had better fight for him while you are alive and kicking.
Now is the time to let our political leaders know that you won't take this lying down.
The Holy Father recently called for the reclaiming of the term 'Ecclesia Militans' or the 'Church Militant' - the Church fighting, the Church struggling for Christ and His kingdom. If you like the Church in Jihad!
Players who don't give their all in a match cannot be surprised if they don't make it to the world cup. If you want the crown of glory you must struggle and fight for it both in your private life and in public. Christ gives you the chance to grow in virtue and charity by struggling for the faith now, today. He is asking you to stand up for your faith. He is asking you to stand against those who would rob you and your children and your children's children of their Catholic heritage, of eternal life! He is asking you to nurture within you the seed of faith and conversion, to produce not just fear, not just virtue, but perfect charity.
He may even be asking if you are willing to die for Him. What will your answer be?
Sometimes one just has to stand up and fight back and that time may just have arrived in Ireland. According to reports the Government plans to go ahead with the introduction of legislation that would oblige clergy (and who else? is anyone excluded?) to report to the police anyone who confesses to abusing children or rather to prosecute any priest who does not do so. I have already written on this matter. I wonder though was the Government deliberately trying to be insulting when it chose to announce this during the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin. Recently the Minister for Health announced his plans to legislate for abortion. I was told by one of the speakers that they were all invited to a dinner with the Taoiseach last night. I hope they had the decency to tell him to keep his invitation. This is a Government that is quietly declaring war on the Church and the Catholic Faith. I hope we have the courage to give as good as we get. That said I wasn't overly excited by the Eucharistic Conference. I don't like big events with big crowds and I like them less as I move towards a crotchety 50. On friday I accompanied a fellow friar to hear another friar speak on the Eucharist and Meditation. As usual it was both orthodox and informative. What a shame they had to put him near the drumming group and then take his microphone away half way through his talk. Not impressive. I was surprised by the number of young people there (I saw two I know from the school). There was great energy and joy around despite the poor weather. I only got to see a small part of the stalls but at least I got to have a quick chat with the guy from Four Courts Press. If you must buy a book please make it an Irish book! Sadly somehow my Order failed to set up its own stall, a glaring omission that was noted by a number of persons. The biggest gathering of Catholics in Ireland since at least the visit of John Paul II and we were not there promoting our way of life. OOPS!