Friday, July 27, 2012
This morning I offered Mass in the little oratory of a small community of elderly nuns. Like many congregations they have few vocations especially in the West. It was for me another reminder of the dire vocations situation in Ireland. In my own community, while I am under fifty, the rest of my brethren are well older than me. The Guardian is over 65. These are good, holy men, prayerful, faithful and now approaching the end of long years of service to the Church and the Order. There are very few of us at my age.
Recently the Archbishop of Dublin urged people to support and encourage their clergy who have been through some very tough times. I echo that call and I acknowledge that in the last twenty years there have been some very dark days indeed when it seemed that the Church would never hear the end of its litany of shame. The Archbishop seems to believe that the Church has turned the corner and beginning a new era. I hope so. Part of that new era will involve helping the victims of abuse (not just clerical abuse), their families and those others who have been hurt and broken back to some sort of wholeness and peace. Another part of that era must be a wholehearted presentation and defence of Catholic teaching and discipline in its totality. That will not be so easy. There are those who will oppose this.
One major problem on the vocations front is that the Irish birthrate is now below replacement level at 2 births per woman of childbearing age when it should be at 2.1. That 2.1 is what is necessary to sustain a society providing there are no major demands for sacrifice e.g. no clerical vocations.
Over at Indexmundi you can find this:
which shows how the birthrate has dropped since the high of the sixties. Many families were big but there were many men and women choosing the religious life etc. Now the birth rate has fallen where is the surplus population to support that choice? When the birth rate (Total Fertility Rate) falls below 2.1 a society has about forty-eight years to correct that course before it goes under. Japan is now going under. Its economy is in decline and at some point in the relatively near future (within fifty years) the country will collapse. They are not alone. Of 222 countries and dependancies listed at indexmundi 104 of them are below replacement rates and most of these are the wealthy, industrialised nations.
This is not some new problem. In 1978 Fianna Fáil legalised the sale of contraceptives in Ireland. I remember back in the mid-80s reading about this problem of falling birthrates across Europe and the world. At that time Ireland and Poland were the only nations in Europe with a birth rate above replacement rate. In the late 80s we slipped below it. Since the most of the young men we seek to recruit to the priesthood and the religious life were born after this time there is an automatic clash between the interests of Irish society and the Church. Both need to preserve themselves but the source is dwindling.
The Church has only herself to blame. The clergy did not oppose contraception with all the vigour that was due. Dissident theologians and theologies were not dealt with but were allowed to prosper and propagate themselves. Now it is our even more difficult task, not as Canute to turn back the tide but as Caesar turning his routing troops to defeat the Gauls, to bring the faithful back to true faithfulness. This does of course require a profound conversion of heart and a steely determination on the part of the bishops to stand by the whole teaching of the Church. It will not be easy. On the other hand unless we act our nation and our society will fall and the Church with it. The path to a renewal in vocations lies only through active fidelity to her teaching on contraception and the sacredness of family life.
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Shane over at Lux Occulta has made this document available. It is a little piece of history, a report on the condition of the National Seminary and some of its professors in Maynooth in the early 70s. It raises valid questions, especially poignant given the scandals of recent years, about the leadership of the Irish Church and where its priorities and allegiances lay.
The great Michael Voris has comments that could just as well apply to the Irish Church as to the American.
While I don't know of any young Irish priest who has suffered for offering the Mass in the traditional form I do know that some such young priests are looked at askance by some of their fellow clergy.
Even in the early 90s when I was in college studying theology in All Hallows College Dublin there were lecturers who questioned Church teaching, in many different areas, but nothing happened to them. The attitude among many there was that the Church would change it was just a matter of time. This is still the situation. A student there has told me how there were practice liturgies for the blessing of gay unions, of lecturers who seem to question key parts of the Church's teaching. At least All Hallows no longer aims to train young men for the priesthood (though that may also be a way to loosen Church oversight or at least avoid attracting interest). Even its website homepage gives little clue that it is a Catholic college albeit linked to DCU (Dublin City University).
There is here a history yet to be written if it ever does get written about how the Irish Church almost got highjacked. I say 'almost' because I think it may be a close-run thing. Some bishops were orthodox, true shepherds but others left a lot to be desired. Priests and faithful, we too have to answer questions about how we have stood up for the faith. I have seen and heard many stories of what had gone on in Ireland. Whatever abuses appear in the US or in Britain they are here too. I remember hearing rumours about Ledwith before I joined the Capuchins in 1988.
Always there are rumours but no apparent action. If there is, as Michael Voris alleges, a gay or lavender mafia in the Church it operates by stealth like freemasonry, by handshake and quiet conversations and not in the open.
The answer I believe is a return to Christ and His Church without condition. It is in a total submission to the Tradition of the Church and a rejection of anything, liberal or conservative, that would narrow of distort that Tradition. It means a root and branch pruning of the Church and it means making some tough decisions and following through on them. The bishops today, not a collectively inspiring lot, have taken a battering largely for the sins of their predecessors but now is the time for them to 'man up' and decide if they will be shepherds or just sheep on a pedestal.
Monday, July 23, 2012
This icon is of the Baptism of the Lord celebrated on the Feast of the Epiphany (Jan. 6th) in both East and West along with the Visit of the Magi and the Miracle at Cana. St. John Chrysostom rightly points out that this is the real Theophany when the divinity of Christ is revealed through the testimony of the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Christ stands in the midst of the Jordan while the Spirit in the form of a dove descends upon Him and from the Father (represented by the square and half-cirlce at the very top) who dwells in inaccessible light. To the right the angels stand in awed reverence while John on the left reaches out to touch the Son, the Incarnate Word and Image of the Father.
In the Eastern rites both the Feast of Epiphany and its Forefeast are days for the Great Blessing of the Waters. First the water for baptism is blessed and then the waters of the world around us. Here are references to the Salvation won for us by Christ and made active in us through Baptism and to the sanctification not only of all water but of all creation by the Incarnation.
In this icon we see the Invisible God made visible descend into the water, the immaterial fire of His Divine Being unquenched, to be baptised by John the one He had created and called to be a prophet. This is He Who created water, from Whom the water and blood will flow, from Whom the ever-flowing and life-giving stream of the Spirit flows in to the world and He is engulfed in the Jordan. It is anticipation of His descent into the dark waters of death, into the unknown beyond the world of the living and His re-emergence in the Resurrection. At the back, behind John, Jesus and two disciples turn to speak to a smaller version of the Forerunner of God. Jesus raises His hand in blessing.
Also on the left an axe is laid by a tree a reference to Luke 3:9 (see Matt. 3:10) "For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be cut down and cast into the fire" as well as to Isaiah 10:15 "Shall the axe boast itself against him that cutteth with it? or shall the saw exalt itself against him by whom it is drawn? as if a rod should lift itself up against him that lifteth it up, and a staff exalt itself, which is but wood." (Douay Rheims) Christ the Son, the Incarnate Word comes to Israel seeking the fruit of righteousness. Before He worked through John but now He works directly, pruning and clearing out His vineyard.
In His humility He seeks to set Himself ever lower. When He tells us to seek the lowest and least honourable place it is because He is inviting us to draw close to Him.
Thursday, July 5, 2012
Above is an image of Francis Lavalin Nugent (1569-1635) the first Irish Capuchin. He joined the friars on the Continent, became a provincial of one of the French Provinces and pestered the Pope to let him form a mission to Ireland. From the friary at Charleville, on the river Meuse in the Champagne region, France and not far from present day Belgium and Luxembourg. If you want to know more of him you can read Fr. F.X. Martin's book on him.
I am posting this because yesterday fifteen of our friars attended a celebration of the life of Br. Stephen Daly (1574-1619) the first Irish Capuchin friar-priest to work in Ireland. It is not easy for us to imagine the courage that returning to Ireland took. Being a Catholic was tantamount to treason, worse if you were a priest. On top of that he was a friar. It is equivalent to a priest seeking to work in the underground Church in China or Saudi Arabia. There were none of the supports we take for granted today. He relied on contacts and trusted in family connections. All this sacrifice was made to sustain the Catholic faith and the Irish people in a time of great suffering. He was here for four years until his death and his memory is still kept in Ferbane, Co Offaly. Of course it was his home turf (literally as the place is all bog) but he is remembered because he still answers prayers four hundred years later. A plaque has been erected on the wall near his grave.
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Monday, July 2, 2012
As I have just enquired of Fr. Z over at What Does the Prayer Really Say? for advise on library matters I though I might extend that enquiry to my passing readership: Any suggestions for solid orthodox theological textbooks to build up a library. Ours is pretty good but has been neglected. We have a good scripture section, a full set of pre and ante-Nicene fathers, and a very good spirituality section. But there are holes and some stuff is out-dated and some stuff is just plain heretical (Kung, Schillebeekcx, etc).
So any suggestions appreciated!
So any suggestions appreciated!
Interesting video though I did form the impression that we Latins were being told that somehow we had strayed from ancient traditions such as how to make the sign of the cross. Interestingly the account of the development of the sign of the Cross seems to come from Andreas Andreopoulos' (The Sign of the Cross: the Gesture, the Mystery, the History, Paraclete Press, Massachusetts, 2006) and in citing Pope Innocent III they fail to note that he mentions the present Latin practise without censure.
Otherwise an interesting video.
Sunday, July 1, 2012
So now I am back in harness. I am back to my own room(s) and my own community. What did I learn on retreat? The value of silence, of being quiet in the Presence of the Lord, above all in the Blessed Sacrament. I learnt the value of 'wasting time' with God. The task is to keep it up.
Today we had the Gospel of Jairus with the option of reading the longer text with the woman with a haemorrhage. This Gospel text is really a duet. Jairus, desperate for the life of his daughter, comes to Jesus to do his 'magic' by laying his hand on the girl. In the middle of the crowd the woman, desperate for healing, reaches out to Jesus and through her touch declares her faith in Him. This is dangerous for her. Her bleeding renders her unclean and she consequently defiles those she touches. Jesus, though, knows those who reach out and touch with Him faith and those who merely touch. In response to her testimony He confirms her healing.
This is a lesson for Jairus and for us. Touching Jesus and being touched by Him is no small thing. For Jews the closest one got to God was at Jerusalem, in the Temple. Even then only the High Priest, once a year, got to approach and enter the Holy of Holies. Here is He who makes holy. He is surrounded, jostled and unrecognised, unacknowledged. Here He is, open to faith but not just to desperation and He works a miracle in response to Jairus' growing faith.
We too get to approach and touch Jesus. Through Baptism and Confirmation we are the Body of Christ, His presence in the world. We get to receive Him at Mass in the Blessed Sacrament. How have we used our hands, our tongues in the last twenty-four hours? Do we approach Him in faith or in desperation or worse with indifference, obeying the impulse of habit or duty?
We receive Him and He expects us to carry Him to those who do not. He expects us to reach out and touch those in our society who are hurting or lost and bring His healing to them. We are to be His hands, His touch, His voice in the world. We are to say to those who are broken, "Arise!" "Arise, O sleeper, arise from the dead and Christ our light will shine on you!"