“And Your Own Soul a Sword Shall Pierce…” (Luke 2:35)

Friday Reflection #4

The Friday before Palm Sunday is traditionally dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows, and accordingly I will reflect today Our Lady at the Foot of the Cross, Her Person, Her Mission and Her Role…

N.B. In the light of seeking clarification about the grounding of recent statements from the Vatican on the same issue, my research took a little longer than expected – so sorry I’m posting a ‘Friday reflection’ on Saturday! Anyway, let’s get to it…

In the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke, the echoes of the Magnificat still ringing over the recent memories of joy and glory, Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the Temple in order to fulfil the requirements of the Law. There, they meet Simeon…

And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother: Behold this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed. Luke 2:34-35

I’ve gone with the Douay-Rheims above, but it’s actually interesting if you take a look varied translations to see how they hop about in order to protect Jesus’ status from being threatened by St. Luke’s very careless word placing. Many manage to clarify the Evangelist’s meaning with brackets (punctuation is useful that way in Biblical translation), others just rearrange the Evangelist’s words for him. Some, however, like St. Jerome and those who translated his Latin (as in the translation above) just translate the words directly from the Greek – letting them stand in all their mystery without directing the interpretation…

Who is right? I’m not going to say, but I am going to note that the conflict of opinion seems to definitively argue that the verse is at the very least ambiguous as to the nature of Mary’s suffering with the Lord and its fruits. Linguistically it is harder to argue for the changes than leaving the words as they literally stand – unless one comes with predetermined ideas of what the verse ought to communicate. Simeon does not leave Mary to one side or give her suffering a cursory reference after speaking about Christ’s mystery. She is placed right in the centre of it. And as always with Our Blessed Lady, she neither grasps nor refuses. She simply remains wholly receptive to the blessing spoken over Her, to the Word of God together with all its consequences.

Allowing this verse, then, to point towards an open question, let us explore the theme elsewhere…

Here I’m actually going to begin with a pondering of private revelation. Approved, but private nonetheless. We go to Fatima…

On 13th July 1917, a lot of significant things took place at the apparition. The children saw hell, wars were predicted, Our Lady said she would be making requests that are much discussed and debated… However I am going to focus here on one little detail. In the midst of all her prophecies she assures the children of the following: ‘In the end, My Immaculate Heart will triumph’…

Is there any other heart would dare to claim a victory over evil as its own without sounding quite ridiculous? Why did Our Lady not say that in the end the Sacred Heart of Jesus would triumph? True, their Hearts are so united that His Victory is Hers and vice versa, so one can understand that His Victory is implied by what Mary said. However surely it would be better and more objectively described plainly in terms of His Victory, since He is God and the Saviour, and Her victory is merely participative. Moreover, it would surely be more humble, coming from Our Lady Herself… no?

The thing is, Our Lady alone of all the human beings God created does not need, and never needed, Her humility to be kept in check. She was the first to affirm Herself as being simply the humble handmaid of the Lord. However the fact is that on account of this He raised Her to be Queen of Heaven and Earth and she has received this exalted title no less gracefully than she assumed the former. We can be quite certain that if Mary in all humility said Her Heart would triumph, God’s purpose is in it. And if that is the case, there is something distinct and important about the way in which Her Heart is used by God in the war against evil. Yes it is always grace and always participative in Christ’s ultimate victory, but this is not a passive reality. Rather it is something that she has assented to personally and uniquely in all Her dispositions from the very moment of Her Conception, with a freedom of will unparalleled in any other creature – but that stands as a role, model and witness to all creatures.

Certainly, as a Mother, Mary has a consoling and loving presence in our Christian lives. However Her Maternity should not be reduced to one aspect of its value as if there was nothing more to say. Our Lady’s role as Mother is inseparable from Her role and participation in salvation history because of whose Mother She is. In the first place She is the Mother of Jesus, the Redeemer of all mankind who saved us by taking on our human nature. How did He do this? By asking for Her assent to the Incarnation taking place within Her very Womb. Which assent was given then and never compromised, despite all the suffering that would unfold along the way. Secondly, She Is our Mother, and this was decided by Christ as she stood at the foot of the Cross. Why then? Perhaps because Our Lady never withdrew the Fiat she uttered in Nazareth – and at Golgotha, about thirty-four years later, was when it cost her most.

Other disciples stood at the Cross with Mary, and seeing Jesus suffer must have cost them all greatly. But She alone had added to that agony the clear conscience of a complete lack of participation in man’s sinful nature. She alone contributed nothing to the weight of the Cross, nothing to the voice of the crowd that called for His Crucifixion, nothing to the nails or the shame of the ordeal. Her presence alone at the foot of the Cross was that of a pure gift of love, returned to God as it was given, with nothing stained and nothing held back, nothing demanding Christ’s Blood in atonement. True, Mary was redeemed by Christ’s suffering, but according to the unique and pre-eminent manner in which She was redeemed, She had no participation in the rebellion that made that suffering the path to our salvation. This means that not only is Her role foundational in bringing about the Incarnation in the first place, but also Her suffering-with Jesus is at the same time both exemplary for us as Christians and completely set apart from anything we are capable of offering as sinners.

The role and efficacy of our suffering, united to Christ’s is something well established (and a whole other blogpost) – and Mary is first and foremost amongst those who have thus suffered. This leaves us with a question. Mary’s willing participation in Jesus’ Incarnation was uniquely essential. Mary’s compassionate suffering with Jesus was uniquely perfect. Are we to refrain from believing that God, Who can never be outdone in generosity, would not make Her contribution to the salvation of souls uniquely efficacious? Furthermore, if Her proximity to the Saviour of all grants Her titles of universal significance (eg. Queen of Heaven and Earth, Mother of the of the Church etc.), are we to suppose that this efficacity (whilst being subordinate to Christ, a gift of His Grace and a participation in His Merits) would not also be of universal significance?

There are questions untouched and mysteries whose surface has barely been scratched in what this blog topic has contributed to contemplating this mystery – but the post is already too long, so to conclude I want to gather the observations together, such as they are, and consider a question the Church at present leaves open – should we call Mary Co-Redemptrix?

I’m not going to decide for the Church. But if we are going to definitively refuse Our Lady a title used by popes (such as Leo XIII and Pope St. John Paul II), heroic Marian devotees (such as St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. Pio of Pietrelcina) and doctors of the Church (such as St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Catherine of Siena)… we need to be extremely clear about the reasons for this refusal. We cannot just silence these voices by a mere dismissal of their excessive love for their Spiritual Mother. The fact is that being influenced by the love of great saints for Jesus and Mary is one of the purest, safest and most intelligent ways to moving towards an understanding of the Heart of Christ and Its plan. Far from being a sentimental foolishness, the instinct that uncompromised love gives is directly correlative to the purity of Heart which gives clarity to the vison of faith. Can individual saints be wrong, or may they need their wording adjusted on theological matters? Of course. Is it a good idea to dismiss their united witness as sentimental silliness? This history of the Church’s development of doctrine would indicate that is highly, highly unlikely.

“Never be afraid of loving the Blessed Virgin too much.
You can never love Her more than Jesus did.”
– St. Maximilian Kolbe

W.B.R. – Mary: The Church at the Source by Hans Urs Von Balthasar and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

Wednesday Book Review #4

So this week I thought we’d look at something Marian – given tomorrow is the Feast of the Annunciation and this Friday given to Our Lady of Sorrows.

So the book itself is a series of addresses and/or essays given by the authors. It is divided into two sections, the first comprising five inputs from Cardinal Ratzinger (i.e. Benedict XVI), the second four from Hans Urs Von Balthasar. Whilst being readable all year round, it actually made a lovely preparation for the feast of the Annunciation!

I’ll do a mini-review in two halves rather than try to bunch the authors together.

The Ratzinger inputs feature his typical capacity to communicate systematically, concisely, profoundly, and in such a way that not infrequently single paragraphs leave you with quite enough to furnish a meditation and not return to the book for quite some time. In that sense my reading was a bit wasted as I had to get through it to write this review! But it makes it worth returning to. His focus tends to be on examining the Scriptural passages and on a Mariology that is both interwoven with Christology and applicable to Christian doctrine, prayer and the spiritual life. Between essays, there is a certain lack of continuity and very occasional and minimal repetition of thematic content – but remarkably little given the fact that they were written independently for their varying purposes and then amalgamated into a collection as a secondary consideration, the book is well put together.

The Von Balthasar selections are more systematically arranged in terms of their themes, I think perhaps (am guessing here) they were more written or adapted for purpose. Nevertheless, each chapter does form a standalone essay here too. His work is less strictly theological at times (especially at the beginnings of chapters) incorporating for illustrations aspects of sociological observation, philosophy and simple anecdotes. Von Balthasar covers a lot of ground, and tends to move a little more quickly and with less explanation from topic to topic. His theological approach also contains much material for reflection, but his tone often takes on a tone that seems to be more apologetic or intentionally aimed at giving conclusions and instructions for the formation of the reader (rather than simply presenting the mystery for contemplation).

Pros

Aside from what is already listed above. The content is good and helpful to give a more contextualised and theologically rounded out understanding of the place of Mary, Marian Devotion and Consecration to Our Lady in the Church’s life. The book successfully ties together aspects that both help understanding and lead to prayer. The essay format means that if reading time is scattered it won’t matter too much if longer breaks are taken between chapters. The use of two complimentary approaches to researching and presenting the mysteries at hand should help to open it up for a wider range of readers.

Cons

The flipside of there being two authors mean there’s a little bit of an adjustment between styles halfway through the book, and because I’m quite a fan of how Benedict XVI writes that took me a few pages. Once settled in though I found either author very readable, Von Balthasar doesn’t reference his assertions very comprehensively, which makes it a little harder to check where certain things are coming from and whether they are his passing opinions or grounded in longstanding Tradition or developed theological thought – and this again can take a bit of adjusting to when one has been quite spoiled in this regard in the opening half of the book.

Audience

Catholic and well enough formed in the faith to benefit from theological reflection, which doesn’t mean you have to think of yourself as really into studying or anything – but if you want to test out whether or not the book’s style may be for you the address from the first chapter can be found free online here. If you like it you can try the book! Could be useful for anyone looking to do follow on reflection from having completed a Marian consecration preparation programme, or who wants to have ideas clarified about issues relating to Mary and how She relates to the Church.

Want to read it?

For a free ebook click here – you might need to make an account with formed.org, but it seems you can download it without a paid subscription. When you click, the top file is EPUB (for Kobo etc) and the one underneath it mobi (for Kindle). Worth checking out the other books on Formed when you’re at it 😉

Otherwise, you can buy at most of the usual places I’m sure.

PS. Part one Chapter 3 is designed to accompany this encyclical – in case you want to have a look at it too!

Rights and Tolerance… So What Would Jesus Do?

Monday Musing #4

Relatively recently the CDF in the Vatican affirmed that it can’t bless homosexual unions. The response to this has been pretty mixed, and the demographics of who thinks what pretty predictable, but anyway – I’m going to pick up the topic of what the demands of love may be in the situation for today’s Monday Musing.

When, a number of years ago, my country had a national referendum regarding the constitutional redefinition of marriage I campaigned for a ‘no’ vote, in my own little way. My own little way means I hit the street with a group of similarly minded people and a bunch of flyers and got into conversations.

Let’s back up a bit regarding my background here. Growing up in a Catholic secondary school where most of my peers were not practising – at least by the time we hit third year – I had quite a number of friends who were either struggling or experimenting with same-sex attractions. Several of those who were embracing those attractions with a greater deal of conviction have gone on to be in long term homosexual relationships. I held then and continue to hold now to what is standard, orthodox Catholic teaching on the matter (id est general moral opposition). There is no animosity or tension regarding our differences of opinion in this regard. The guiding principle of that little group of friends was that everyone could be and do what they wanted – and if for me that was being a Catholic, that was being a Catholic – and that was OK. They knew that that meant that I couldn’t morally ascribe to a lot of the things that went on at parties or weekends – and that was not exclusive to gay or bisexual elements or anything to do with bigotry. It was simply a consequence of the convictions that I was fully entitled to hold, whilst loving my friends dearly.

I carried this history with me onto the streets before that referendum. And I noticed that the people I talked to who were against my stance – and they were many – seemed to fall rather neatly into two categories. There were those who wanted to look at me with disgust, shout me down and call me a bigot. And there were those who were genuinely convinced by society and the media that for holding the stance I did I was full of hatred, and wanted to talk to find out why. This latter group was by some distance the minority, and almost always comprised of people who did themselves have same-sex attractions. You see there’s a big difference in having a certain perception of something that you want to understand and holding tenaciously onto something that a propaganda machine had told you to think – lest you be against the status quo in terms of acceptability. When a society is ruled by the kind of fear that motivates that stance, it is very difficult to reason with…

Let me return to the group of people that were talkable to then. By and large, when people had strong convictions I had a fair idea that probably I was not going to change their mind about how they should vote – and I knew that they would not be changing mine. However I considered a conversation worth having if by its end I could communicate two things. One – that my reason for campaigning had a rational basis (whether or not they accepted it), and two – that whilst holding to my own convictions, I loved them. If my little presence on the street could undermine for even one person the crazy notion that love and tolerance necessitated the dismantling of one’s code of sexual ethics, I considered my being there worthwhile. It’s not that it’s not worth standing and fighting for a such a code itself – but if the very battle is caged in a context that writes reason off as prejudice it is already lost, so the walls need to be broken down before the battle commences. And love is the only way to break down walls in the heart.

So, all those years back, we lost the referendum. And pretty soon I saw evidence that the victory was fuelled much more by a machine that hated my having a point of view than by those open minded people with whom I conversed. Their thoughts and experiences were used much more than they were affirmed by the ‘gay rights’ movement, and gradually, as the mentality of a skewed idea of ‘acceptance’ worked its way into the public mindset, it became harder to find ways to engage with a a difference of opinion.

What does all this have to do with the recent Vatican document? Well firstly let me tell you my reaction to it as a practising Catholic. The document is just standard Catholic common sense. There’s nothing groundbreaking or surprising about it. Everyone knows (whether or not they accept it) that as Catholics we’re supposed to love everyone and not condone sin. That’s just the basics of Christianity. And to take a blessing and superimpose it on a state of life that the Church has long declared to be outside of God’s plan is inviting everyone into some kind of a farce… There is no rocket science, and there’s not really anything to argue – but to be honest it’s kind of surprising it had to be considered and specifically addressed. As to those from within the Church who have expressed malcontent – including priests who would like to administer such blessings – I’m afraid I find it much easier to have patience with Joe Bloggs on the street who doesn’t claim to know Christ. Cop on. Jesus died to save us from our sins, not to bless our commitment to those same sins. And neither you, nor I, nor the pope nor the CDF, have the right to decide for God what is and isn’t sinful.

I expect more from the Church, and I expect more from society, than this kind of silly bickering. And I was taught to have these expectations not so much by wise and learned holy clergy, but by my peers in school when I was sixteen or seventeen years of age. They grasped instinctively that that accepting me meant not undermining the faith that defined so much of who I was, nor asking me to compromise it in our friendship. They were working through figuring out their own moral codes and stances in a world in which they found very little guidance – but they saw no need to attack mine. And they understood instinctively that what I stood for had to be grasped as a whole. They weren’t trying to force their way in through the doors of the Church to demand as a right what was can only ever be conferred as a gift. They understood that they were not accepting Christ – at least not as the Catholic Church has understood Him for two thousand years – in their lifestyles (please remember here that I am not talking only about homosexuality) , and as such they allowed for the fact that certain things were simply not for them. It was a free choice, and I respected theirs as much as they respected mine. Did I ever agree with it or stop hoping that they would change their mind and discover Jesus and the full message of the Gospel? Of course not. Did they ever demand that I hide or deny that hope in order to affirm their life choices? No.

You see love exists only where both parties are allowed to be who they are in truth. And when it comes to being, God’s is the least negotiable, because He alone, in and of Himself, IS. We are simply held in existence by him. Therefore for any Catholic, love begins with discovering (not recreating) God in and through the Church and all it gives us (Sacraments, Scripture, Tradition). Only from this starting place can we begin to love other people. And we must love them as they are, but never more than we love Jesus as He Is. The second ‘love’ starts to make demands that compromise our commitment to Christ and His Teaching, it ceases to be love. The argument that it is unloving for the Church to refuse to confer the blessing of God on something He has revealed is contrary to His plan is not grounded in any good value – even when it comes from a well meaning Catholic. Rather it is a concession to a lie that both gives a false impression to those ‘blessed’ and compromises the integrity of the one ‘blessing’ – who is called not to be an individual renegade making a statement but a representative and conduit of the grace of God. Love will never ask that.

What does love ask?

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Matthew 22:37-39

If God is first, it means I have to seek His laws and revelation independently of both my own compromised sensibilities and of what my neighbour thinks. That isn’t imbalanced fundamentalism or intolerance, but a simple sensitivity to the objective order of things. And if I am not allowed to maintain an adherence to this order by the status quo, the status quo is guilty of infringing rights and personal freedoms – not me. As regards loving my neighbour as myself – this has two consequences. It does mean that I must desire and seek what is best for my neighbour. But it also means that in order to be capable of truly respecting them as they are, I must first be allowed to be and to love myself – in the light of my love of God. Love dies when the soul has no personal convictions, and it is murdered when it is forced to abandon them to prove itself.

Sometimes, to work out the demands of love in a given situation, the question ‘What would Jesus do?’ needs to be contextualised by two others: ‘What has Jesus done?’ and ‘What is Jesus doing?’. Jesus has died to save us from our sins. He has conferred the Holy Spirit, in the Church and on us personally, not to make us comfortable but to lead us into all truth and allow us to be conquerors over sin and death. And Jesus is calling us to embrace and to lead others into that truth, into His victory on His terms. This means not blessing what He cannot affirm, because grace builds on nature. We don’t play with God’s blessings, rather we submit ourselves to His ways in humility and implore them. And we are obliged to ask the same of all those who would seek to be blessed.

May He grant us the light to dispel all confusion as to how to Love as He loves. And may we respond generously to that light.

Gathered round the Gable Wall…

Friday Reflection #3

So in a bit of a break from Regular Friday Reflection content, today I’m not looking towards this coming Sunday. Today is the feast of St. Joseph, in the year of St. Joseph and TODAY the Pope is making the National Marian Shrine of Knock into an International Eucharistic and Marian Shrine.. So I’m going to reflect a little on Knock!

So a very brief background note for those who are unfamiliar. Knock is the name of a village in Co. Mayo, Ireland in which there was an apparition on 21st August. There appeared a Lamb on an altar, surrounded by angels, and also the Blessed Virgin Mary with St. Joseph on one side and St. John the Evangelist on the other. It was a silent apparition, seen by a group of people.

In preparation for writing this, I looked up the eyewitness accounts of the apparition. There’s a lot you can say about all of the details – but for the reflection today I’m simply going to focus on one aspect of the apparitions – The reality of the life of faith in Ireland in 1879, and in 2021.

The testimonies lend themselves to this particular reflection because they are SO human as to be at times hilarious. Bearing in mind that the witnesses were seeing a vision of immense theological and mystical significance, the honesty and down to earth simplicity with which they relate what they saw is… I’ll give some examples:

“I was passing by the chapel of Knock on the evening of the 21st August, about eight o’clock, and I beheld most clearly and distinctly the figures of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, and that of St. John the Evangelist, standing erect at the gable end of the chapel, towards the south side. I thought that the parish priest had been ornamenting the church, and got some beautiful likenesses removed outside.”

One wonders if Mrs. Hugh Flatley knew this was going down in history with her name on it…

Then somebody tries to ask a little boy for an account:

The child says he saw images, beautiful images, the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph. He could state no more than that he saw the fine images and the light, and heard the people talk of them, and went upon the wall to see the nice things and the lights.” We have another detail from this little Johnny courtesy of the testimony of Patrick Hill: “John Curry, from behind the wall could not see them; but I did; and he asked me to lift him up till he could see the grand babies, as he called the figures

So how did the grown ups respond on the whole to the ‘grand babies’?

Well Mary McLoughlin, housekeeper to the Archdeacon, walks past them, “thinking that possibly the Archdeacon had been supplied with these beautiful figures from Dublin or somewhere else, and that he had said nothing about them; but had left them in the open air; I saw a white light about them; I thought the whole thing strange.” She then proceeds to spend half an hour at Mrs, Byrne’s house, saying nothing about it, until she leaves with that the same Mrs. Byrne’s daughter, who is astounded by them. Mary McLoughlin then takes notice – and sets about sending little Miss Byrne to fetch half the country whilst she stays there and looks on… All by her own account.

I could go on like this but I’ll just make one more comment – the ending of the appartion! Do you know how the figures disappeared? Me either, and apparently neither did any of the witnesses! Here are a couple of accounts:

“I continued looking on for fully an hour, and then I went away to visit Mrs. Campbell, who was in a dying state; When we returned the vision had disappeared.”

“I remained there altogether about an hour, and when I came there first I thought I would never leave it. I would not have gone as soon as I did, but that I considered that the figures and that brightness would continue there always, and that on coming back I would again behold them.”

Now I’m getting to the point. I remember a few years ago a priest asking me why Irish Catholics seemed to be so particularly inclined towards the more spectacular and ‘weird’ things. I’d never heard anyone saying that before, but the question left me thinking. And if that is indeed the case, it doesn’t appear always to have been. There’s something in the mix of these responses – some who cried and stayed over an hour, some who left after ten minutes – that just reflects in a very grounded manner the mix of levels of devotion in those who witnessed the apparition. There don’t seem to have been any big conversion stories at Knock -and yet unlike say Lourdes or Fatima, it wasn’t reserved to be seen by a few children who were in turn observed by others. Rather the vison itself was in the open for anyone passing by to see… or write off as oddly luminous statues. The people seem simply to have brought the faith they already had to the scene, and after pursuing their individual inclinations towards investigation or prayer, taken that same faith off home again.

Sometimes the hype and excessive desire for the ‘extraordinary’ manifestations of the spiritual world are indicative of a lack in the ordinary life of grace. The apparition at Knock happened at the end of the parish priest having celebrated one hundred Masses for the Holy Souls. Kneeling before the Lamb of God on the Altar wasn’t new to the people of that little village. And whereas the figures receded when the people attempted to approach them (or kiss Our Lady’s feet…), at the Holy Sacrifice Jesus came to them, was received, and afterwards resided in the Tabernacle. This was not an alien visitation, but simply a little veil being lifted on the faith that was already part and parcel of the fabric of daily life.

To celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of the Apparition, Pope John Paul II visited Knock. In this, the one hundredth centenary year of his birth (still until May!), it is worth taking a look at a few of the prophetic warnings he gave that very same day in Galway:

Although you still live in an atmosphere where true religious and moral principles are held in honour, you have to realize that your fidelity to these principles will be tested in many ways. The religious and moral traditions of Ireland, the very soul of Ireland, will be challenged by the temptations that spare no society in our age…

The prospect of growing economic progress, and the chance of obtaining a greater share of the goods that modern society has to offer, will appear to you as an opportunity to achieve greater freedom…

The lure of pleasure, to be had whenever and wherever it can be found, will be strong and it may be presented to you as part of progress towards greater autonomy and freedom from rules. The desire to be free from external restraints may manifest itself very strongly in the sexual domain… The moral standards that the Church and society have held up to you for so long a time, will be presented as obsolete… Mass media, entertainment, and literature will present a model for living where all too often it is every man for himself…

You will hear people tell you that your religious practices are hopelessly out of date, that they hamper your style and your future… with everything that social and scientific progress has to offer… Even many religious persons will adopt such attitudes, breathing them in from the surrounding atmosphere, without attending to the practical atheism that is at their origin.

A society that, in this way, has lost its higher religious and moral principles will become an easy prey for manipulation and for domination by the forces which, under the pretext of greater freedom, will enslave it ever more.”

Sound familiar? He was addressing Catholic Ireland. Where has Catholic Ireland gone? And how familiar are all the trains of thought he outlines above that have betrayed it… He goes on to outline the solution:

Something else is needed: something that you will find only in Christ, for he alone is the measure and the scale that you must use to evaluate your own life…

His call is demanding, for he taught us what it means to be truly human. Without heeding the call of Jesus, it will not be possible to realize the fullness of your own humanity…

You come from Catholic families ; you go regularly and meet Christ in Holy Communion on Sundays or even during the week… And yet it can happen that you will be tempted to walk away from Christ… But I wish to insist and to plead that you always heed the call of Christ, for he alone can teach you the true meaning of life and of all temporal realities.”

On 19th March 2021 Knock is becoming an International Eucharistic and Marian Shrine. That silent Apparition pointing towards the Lamb is raised up for the world’s recognition, in a country in which it has been impossible for the greater part of the Catholic faithful to assist at the Holy Sacrifice for three quarters of the past year. In the past decade Ireland has torn apart its constitution by referendum, as if marriage could be redefined or the right to life of innocent children conferred by public opinion. The fabric of that life once so intermingled with faith is discarded, trampled upon and stained with blood. That simple little village of faith which is to be designated as being of International significance has been legally out of reach to Irish people living more than 5km from it for months because worship is apparently ‘not essential’ on the island.

And yet, for all the sorrow of the tale, the answer remains the same as the preventative measure should have been in 1979. Christ. Where to begin with reintroducing Him to such a society, Heaven alone knows. But Heaven does know. And whether or not the veil is lifted, whether or not the door of the Church is open, Heaven descends at every Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that is offered. May Heaven deign to illumine the way forward in darkness, even as the radiant figures of the Knock Apparition lit up an August night. And may we have the perseverance to remain with Christ’s call and to do whatever He tells us.

PS. There is a lot more I would like to say, but I can’t keep you reading forever! The full text of JPII’s address in Galway is here, worth reading if you have time. For a more balanced view of the apparitions you will find PDFs of the original accounts here here.

W.B.R. – Let Us Dream by Pope Francis

Wednesday Book Review #3

OK so let’s be honest. Most people – or most Catholics at least – for better or worse, are going to come to a book by Papa F with preconceptions. Much as I would love to claim an entirely open minded attitude, I definitely do not count myself an exception here. I didn’t particularly expect to like this book, and in that regard I wasn’t particularly surprised. That said, taking it up to read was a very conscious decision for me and I was very willing to be proved wrong. Back in the olden days – maybe 2013-2015 or so – when people used to get excited about things Pope Francis would say in aeroplanes or whatnot, I would look them up in context and find them to be generally quite explicable within orthodox Catholic teaching. I remember quite liking Evangelii Guadium, if not its certain dismissal of the importance of meaningful liturgical customs. So in those days I wasn’t overly worried and I maintained a general attitude that whoever opposed the pope was probably erring a bit – because I’d always felt so safe with his predecessors.

As time went on – well to be honest I got bored and stopped looking these things up. I had enough to read anyway, and I preferred to look to the Vatican for guidance I felt safe with than trying to make judgements about whether or not what it put out was correct. I remember the days when I was studying theology and heresies would come up in class, and the writings of Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II would be such a consolation in the midst of battles with my lecturers. I never felt the need to argue with their writings, they were there to serve me. They built me up in faith, hope and love in such a way that I always felt secure. They defended my faith in such a way that I felt I wasn’t a lone ranger in believing it, but shepherded and held within Tradition. That was my experience of the papacy, that was my expectation from Rome. When I could no longer maintain that expectation, I stopped looking to what was coming out new from the Vatican…

So lately, I took a decision that maybe I needed to reconsider. It’s been a while since I’ve really engaged with what he’s been saying and writing, and the Pope is the Pope (I know people debate this about Pope Francis, but I’m not going to get into that). So I decided to give my attention to this new book, to hear him out and to see if my sense of insecurity with his guidance was misplaced, or perhaps I could still get behind him and the things he wanted, if I just stretched myself a little…

Pros

I really like the colour of the front cover, and I like doves. The end… No, OK it’s nice that he wanted to release a book to encourage people and it’s a good thing that he sees this present situation not as a hopeless mess but as an opportunity to change things for the better. And some things he proposes are genuinely based on good values, even if I hit hurdles in agreeing with the perspective as a whole or aspects of the methodology… It was also interesting to know a little bit more about his personal life and things that he has suffered, it helps to get to know a person. For example maybe his battle with a sickness affecting his lungs as a young man helps explain the fact he thought it was justifiable to close Roman Churches for covid, who knows? And I learned that if someone from another country wins the World Cup when they’re away from home you should make an effort to reach out and share joy with them. Good practical pointer in learning to love those who may be homesick…

Cons

Okie Doke… I’m going to make three specific points here, because if there are things we don’t like it’s good to confine those within parameters so they can be worked through…

One. For a Jesuit pope to be talking about discernment of spirits could be a good thing, but I am not sure about the application in this book. Stripped back, I think at heart the basic issue is the same in many modern misuses of Ignatian spirituality. Ignatius gave rules for the discernment of spirits, and these tend to be focused on. So consolation, desolation, good spirits, bad spirits – all of this, how to tell the difference. The thing is these rules themselves are arbitrary and relative if one doesn’t begin where St. Ignatius begins and view them ALWAYS through the light of the first principle and foundation. This poor sidelined detail I am going to quote about half of here:

Human beings are created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord,
and by means of doing this to save their souls.
The other things on the face of the earth are created for human beings,

to help them in the pursuit of the end for which they are created.
From this it follows that we ought to use these things to the extent that they help us toward our end,
and free ourselves from them to the extent that they hinder us from it.

Only when this understanding permeates one’s discernment is one able to begin to discern whether a motivation is good or bad. To talk about prayer and discernment as a means for finding the way forward in systemic changes without directly referencing eternal salvation as the end of all activity, and engagement in a personal relationship with Jesus as foundational… is not Ignatian.

Two. The tone can be scathing. At times the book made me feel like the pope doesn’t really appreciate the kind of Catholic I am or want me in the Church. And I don’t mean he did his job and outlined Catholic moral teaching that I took offence at. I mean on an entirely subjective level I came away feeling like he probably wouldn’t like me very much if we met. Now disagreements are a normal part of how we move towards truth in a fallen world, and this isn’t an encyclical – there could be room for us to disagree in a healthy manner. However my general sense was that he didn’t want to talk. For example, I believe that he has already decided that decisions I have made regarding resisting government restrictions that have prevented my access to the Sacraments were morally deficient. I feel that having questions regarding these or the moral groundings of any other restrictions is deemed unacceptable. Not because it has been ecclesiastically defined as such but because it annoys him. This is an example, but not an exhaustive list of the differences he asserts. And that already puts me in a box where I can’t help him construct this new future, because I don’t trust what is happening in secular governments. Here I’m not making an objective argument about what the pope said – this is a book review, not a retort. I am simply saying that as a Catholic reader trying my best to follow Jesus, I was left feeling on the outside. And why is this a big deal? Because he’s the pope. Popes have to stand for the kind of things that can make them an enemy of the world at times. They may also have to correct and direct sheep who are trying to be faithful but erring. Accordingly the Pope doesn’t have to be friends with everyone – but he is called to be a father of the universal Church. In my humble opinion, that should mean not creating or exacerbating divisions and confusion within open moral questions or getting wholeheartedly behind the unreasoned subjugation of his flock to questionable secular authorities. Even if it’s not an encyclical. If a Legionary of Mary is always on duty, I expect the same from the Holy Father…

Three. Right so this synod business… I think my main issue here is that I disagree with Pope Francis’ interpretation of the Sensus Fidelium, something he seems to invoke without naming it in his justification for the process. You see in simple terms, my understanding of this is more along the lines of something a priest friend once said in the immediate aftermath of a disastrous abortion referendum in my country: ‘Well when I think about the people who are against abortion, it’s all the people who are doing Adoration, saying their Rosary…’. Obviously I’m oversimplifying here, but I think applying this concept has to take into account whether the people involved are Catholic, generally agreed on Church teaching and trying to grow in holiness – not to be discriminatory but to ensure that the process is about seeking the movement of the Holy Spirit rather than mashing together ideas in confusion… This issue is in essence probably something of a mix of the first two, coming back to the discernment of spirits and the fact that unity is not just about collectivism, nor humility just about deference. Rather we must actively engage, in love, to bring all things under Christ. And bringing all things under Christ doesn’t just happen as a happy side effect of deciding on the best methodology for a human way forward. Christ is the Alpha and the Omega – we must begin with Him and actively seek to end with Him. I’m afraid I don’t see that happening with this book. The very title is justified by referring to a Scripture passage in which the line is not found, and actually provides a concrete example by which I can sum up my commentary of the book. Pope Francis comes up with his title by quoting the first half of Isaiah 1:18 – ‘Come, let us talk this over…’. Then he promptly replaces the second half with ‘Let us dream’, brushing over the fact that it neither comes from nor communicates the sense of the Scripture. That verse actually concludes:

“…if your sins be as scarlet, they shall be made as white as snow:
and if they be red as crimson, they shall be white as wool.”

We don’t move towards union with Christ Jesus by dreaming, either individually or collectively. Embracing mercy requires a good concrete awareness of our actual personal sins and allowing God to encounter us as we are and bring us to where He wills us to be, in the light of His Revelation. If we skip that and ‘dream’ instead, it doesn’t matter how extensive or diverse the pool from which we take our ideas is – we will wind up with problematic utopian ideas rather than the Kingdom of God.

I’ve said I’m making three points and I will leave it at three.

Audience

Maybe best not to ask me on this one. Make your own discernment. Just remember discernment is always about glorifying Jesus and getting to Heaven! 😉

Want to read it?

The audiobook is available on Scribd if you have a free trial or subscription. That’s where I found it. If you want to buy a copy I’m sure it’s in all major retailers and Catholic bookstores, have a google. Or better still a duckduckgo!

Absolutes and Polarity

Monday Musing #3

This line of this film used to really annoy me:

Because, as a Catholic – I do deal in absolutes! We need certain absolutes in order to know how to order our lives. And I don’t appreciate that being systematically underlined. Nevertheless, there is something terribly sad about Anakin on the turn making enemies out of the people who have loved him…

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the problem of how to hold onto absolute values in a confused world – without getting drawn into conflict for the sake of conflict and veering off into extremes. It’s not easy when the world is in a perpetual state of anxiety!!

In confusion and uncertainty we have this tendency to get defensive and run to one extreme or the other in a bid find security and truth. However in reality this may just lead us to become ensnared by ideologies and lies that seem to offer a refuge, whilst in fact real truth and freedom exist in a fallen world only in the midst of a constant endeavour to be open to God’s purification – of our ideas, our hearts, our minds, our person…

I think c19, to a great extent, hasn’t so much created the problems we’re now in the middle of as brought them to the surface for examination. We have been living in a soundbite culture that is unwilling to reason things through – that just wants smart one liners in a tweet – for a very long time. And there are definitely times that a few timely words say all that is necessary – but if we are conditioned to be lazy about the epistemological framework into which we insert those words we are incredibly vulnerable to exploitation. That is to say if we are unwilling to sit and actually examine the foundations of the framework of our ideas about truth and the world around us we are liable to be dictated to by the voice that speaks most loudly and most often. Not only in our external actions, but in the very depths of the conscience by which we determine the way forward.

A soundbite culture is very prone to polarity in the way in which it handles differences and conflicts. Why? Here are three reasons that come to mind:

  1. A worldview that is being constructed piecemeal by inputs with minimal cognitive effort to attain coherence doesn’t lend itself to developing the human person towards reasoned debates.
  2. There is no security in such a worldview, and being insecure in what we believe makes us tend more towards bickering and defensiveness.
  3. People who don’t want to engage actively in making informed decisions about the way things are will be prey to being used to further the agendas of those who take charge of information.

There have always been divisions, there have always been disputes and difficulties, I’m not saying we’ve invented these things in the 21st Century. However I do believe we are in the midst of an epoch that is particularly defenseless when faced with challenges…

I hold it to be self evident that there is a lot going on our world that is agenda-driven, demonically influenced and hugely problematic in its trajectory. Defending that hypothesis is not my purpose here, I’ve given a few links in a previous blog and sometime I may do so more comprehensively – but the fact is that finding the information online is not difficult if one tries. However what do we do with it?

The only concrete resolution I see to the issue, in the long run, is to step back from the fray and refuse to engage according to the weapons of the enemy. That is, when fear is induced, to turn to God and decide to trust. Note that doesn’t mean to give up and disengage – but actively to believe He is greater. When things are sped up to inhibit one’s time to think, to step back and to take stock. Note that is a deliberate resistance to being coerced as to how one thinks – not an evasion of thinking altogether. When noise is held to be the voice of power to insist upon cleaving to silence and not try to shout down the lies. Note that is a firm decision to hold only to to the truth and not engage competitively with volume – it isn’t a justification for pretending that what is wrong isn’t.

These weapons can seem counterproductive when one is overwhelmed. But in their humble simplicity they allow for one to cleave to the absolute without getting pulled into polarisation and division. There will be a divisions that intrinsically arise from cleaving to the truth, Our Lord came not to bring peace but a sword (Mt 10:24). Nevertheless, to be truly set aside in Him we have to refuse to allow for admixture of passions, of frustration, anger, selfishness or fear – to the extent that is possible. When we attend carefully and consistently to our motives, we need have little fear of taking a stand against evil. When the time comes to take a stand there isn’t likely to be much left to attract us to it except a love that knows the meaning of sacrifice…

After all I’ve said, I’m sitting here trying to think up a soundbite to finish with!

Maybe we’ll just leave this one as it is.

Mixed Blessings of Anticipation

Friday Reflection #2

It’s a pity really more parishes don’t have a set of rose-coloured vestments tucked away in a cupboard to pull out twice a year. There’s something really beautiful and profoundly human about the recognition a ray of light shining through the violet, lightening its aspect and giving a glimmer of joy on account of that which we wait in hope for…

The mix of joy and longing that goes into a time of preparation is in many ways a distinctive feature of Christian life in general. Because it is always hope that gives us joy, and hope is always in that which is unseen (c.f. Hebrews 11:1). No matter how much we may see or know of God’s Love in this life, there will always be trials in a fallen world and we will always be approaching Him from beyond the veil that only our stepping into Heaven will tear away.

I also think it’s beautiful that Laetare and Gaudete Sundays come in the season of preparation when we are past the halfway point – but not yet quite at the end! There will always be another ‘Purple’ Sunday following before we come to the season being anticipated. Very often moments of grace in the Christian journey are like that. Rays of hope that keep us moving towards the goal, but that do not take away what is still to be endured on the path towards it. Rather they infuse that endurance with perspective and the hope of a promise.

It’s very different, really, from how the world moves towards hope. Worldly hope is based on the empirical, and grounded in that which human beings can control and manipulate. When we try to establish and lean upon it we feel the need to know and measure up as much as possible, to be able to direct as many of the proceedings as possible, and for something that amounts in so far as is possible to a guarantee of success. Worldly progress tries to evaluate the cost of suffering and sacrifice along the lines of utilitarian principles aimed at a greater good – rather than trying to find God’s design in the mystery. Worldly values are always capped at the relative and subjectively asserted because without an authority that is beyond man’s reach and grounded in something greater than himself, there is no chance of ultimately saying whose opinion or values is better than anyone else’s.

Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t engage on some level with prudence and the reason God gave us in natural and societal realms. I am simply saying that faith in Him so fundamentally changes the approach to doing this that it makes it necessary on every level to distinguish between Christian prudence with that of the world. If Heaven really exists, and it is really forever, then life on this earth is not something to be grasped at and preserved even at the cost of one’s humanity. It is a gift from God to be returned to Him in love, displayed concretely in our engagement with our neighbour. Only when it is valued within this context is its true worth really grasped. And only when Heaven grants perspective can one walk on earth with true freedom.

When our hope comes from faith rather than self-assurance, we don’t need to depend on measuring, controlling and predicting our world and the things around us. Life is carried out in surrender and trust in the Father’s Promises.

This Sunday, the readings (again I’m sticking with Year B despite the option) invite us to encounter God’s gift. His gifts come in many ways, and it is our job to come alongside His purposes – not to try to change them. Whether He is allowing us to be crushed and plundered to heal our infidelity or raising up a leader to restore us to what we should be – our calling remains the same. To seek to grow in love, faithfulness and holiness and await His coming. This isn’t acceptance of things that are wrong in the world, it’s just acknowledgement that only in and with Him can we do anything worthwhile.

And so, even with everything maybe caving in around us, we are called to live in hope in God’s promise. In the free gift He gives us in Jesus. Not so that we can be passive spectators of good and evil, but so that we may live the good life He had meant us to from the beginning – in Christ Jesus.

When you look at the lives of the saints, there’s nothing in their faith and trust in Jesus that dismisses their sense of responsibility. Rather this faith permeates that sense and grants it greater intensity. God loves the world so much that He sent His only Son, so that anyone who believes in Him may not perish but have Eternal Life… Then surely, for those who do so believe, this short time we have left on earth must become an act of thanksgiving. And not in an abstract sense of feeling grateful, but in a concrete response of love that seeks to bring all that we are and all that we encounter into line with the reality of His Love. And time is short.

Laetare Sunday, as I’ve said, means we’re past the halfway point in Lent. How is yours going? Mine’s been a bit all over the place due to circumstances but I know there are things God’s used and things I could definitely have done better. The fact is, the weeks that are gone are past and all I can do now is look forwards. Easter is coming whether or not I had made a good Lent, but a good preparation will help me to enter into the mystery more fully.

So it is with the four last things. Life on earth, like Lent, might seem at times like a long journey with many burdens. The fact is it is drawing to a close faster than we realise, and death, judgement – and eternity one place or another – await us whether or not we prepare. But preparing will help us to enter more fully into the Divine Mystery for all eternity…

I wish you a happy pink Sunday, and pray that the Holy Spirit will guide your soul as well as mine fruitfully through the tension that the colour represents. May the promise of the joy that lies before us keep us always looking onwards and upwards, and the awareness of the practical demands of following Jesus keep our feet firmly grounded in faith, hope and love as we journey towards our end.

With love and prayers, MÍ

W.B.R. – The Anti-Mary Exposed: Rescuing the Culture from Toxic Femininity by Carrie Gress

Wednesday Book Review #2

I was given a copy of this book by a friend who had accidentally purchased two copies when she needed one. I took it gratefully, but to be honest expected a lot less from it than I found. I did, from a cursory look at the cover, expect to agree broadly with what the book might contain and maybe be affirmed in certain ideas or a bit more informed. I didn’t expect to find a whole lot new in terms of information, I didn’t expect to be particularly impressed by the way in which the book was put together. I didn’t expect, at any point, to be reduced to tears.

I found all of the above, as it happened. The book is very well researched and it’s informative. I consider myself to be speaking as a relatively well formed Catholic woman when I say I found a lot in it I didn’t know – particularly in the opening two parts. The book is divided in four, each of the four parts having three chapters. giving the first two sections to the harmful aspects and manifestations of the feminist movement, and the second two to Our Lady as being the antidote to all of this. That in itself is an interesting approach, in that it argues in a particular way for the necessity of recovering the true Marian spirit before it is presented. It is quite hard hitting as an approach, something I believe was a conscious decision of the author in the present day circumstances.

So the first two parts are full on in their exploration of the roots and fruits as it were of the anti-Marian culture. The combination of forethought destruction and the use of the brokenness of hurt human beings in forwarding its purposes are heartbreaking, and argue a very clearly definted case against its claims. It was however, the passages on the power of the Rosary in the closing chapters that brought me to tears! Gress writes about Our Lady and advocates the power of Her maternal intercession very beautifully, and the quotes she includes are well chosen and well used.

Pros

To be fair most of these are already above… And most of what is above I regard as positive. It’s also a good balance of accessibility and respecting the intelligence of the reader, and it’s well written.

Cons

OK since evidently I like this book – I need to balance out my review a little here. Firstly, it’s probably not an immediately recommended read for everyone – see ‘Audience’ section below. Some parts could come across as too belligerent to modern sensibilities, depending on perspective. Also towards the end of the book there is a short, personal addendum to the Marian devotion section that verges on being testimonial in nature. I didn’t notice any lack of this earlier in the book – but when it came up it did leave me thinking more personal input throughout might have been nice, as she does it well. Otherwise, I’m happy out =)

Audience

OK in terms of content I think most anyone could benefit from this book, but I’m going to say don’t just hand it to a confused teenager or your feminist next door neighbour who things she’s doing a good thing by helping women get abortions… If you reading this are a relatively orthodox Catholic I’d say read it yourself and then make an informed decision as to whether you pass it on or use what you’ve learned in conversation. To anyone who’s read this far in the book review with an open mind, I would say go ahead, pick it up, whatever your views. Just be aware that it’s hard hitting at times.

Want to read it?

You can get a signed copy (with options for personalisation) if you buy by clicking here, or it’s available on Amazon. Shop around – Amazon may work out a bit cheaper, especially if you are shipping outside America, however if you are buying several copies postage and packing doesn’t increase on the first link – so might be as well to go for those signatures! At present Amazon UK seems only to offer elctronic (Kindle/Audible) versions. On Scribd you can find both the ebook and the audiobook (to be read or listened to in a browser or in their app with a free trial or subscription).

Till We Have Faces

Monday Musing #2

There’s something wonderful about the smiles of children. I don’t think I really understood why adults would smile so much at me as a child until I grew up and realised there’s something special about the freedom and innocence of a child’s smile, that effortlessly calls forth what is best in the human person…

So this musing was born out of the smile of a girl, maybe about three years old, who was mid-conversation with her mother when I passed. As I passed, I smiled rather aimlessly and she reflexively beamed back at me before continuing to talk to her mother. I was so struck by this that it took me a few seconds to actually realise why. Most of the times I have smiled at children in the past few months, one or both of the two of us has had the bottom half of our face covered up, and the communication has been broken. As it happened, neither of us were wearing masks that day.

Now I’m not a proper anti-masker really. I don’t like them, but for the most part I toe a line and if it makes the old lady sitting five metres away from me at Mass (that is back in the days when old Irish ladies and I were allowed to go to Mass together) I’ll wear one, even if it annoys me. Do I believe they’re making a huge difference to our safety or that there’s evidence it’s scientifically worthwhile? Nope, not really – but by and large I prefer to be obedient and avoid unnecessary statements so it’s one of the things I tend to let go of.

Nevertheless, that little girl’s smile got me thinking about a lot of things.

For a long time in the Western world our culture has become increasingly detached and dissociated from each other. I remember a number of years ago coming back from a 6-week trip to India and being struck by how empty the streets of Dublin were and how afraid we were of each other. I had deliberately chosen to go to a poorer city in India and whilst away, I had found myself immersed in a society in which people lived very close together and interpersonal engagement was highly intuitive and practical. Where back home one would think through several layers of trying to second guess who might be offended if I did such-and-such, there one simply saw an need and responded to it. It was less cushioned in some ways, but I found it more authentic.

I missed that, in many ways, when I came back. Life is meant to be more simple than the protective layers we put on makes it. And maybe there are advantages to space and independence – but at what cost do they come?

Now without trying to say I get to decide what’s more important – I want to make a few observations on ‘side effects’ of the social distancing, mask-wearing culture.

One, there is something about the daily reminder of wearing and seeing masks that keeps people in a state of tension, even when there is no actual threat present. Whatever the intent of the person wearing them, they are a reminder that the world is not what it was about a year ago and that there is a risk of getting sick.

Two, they are, intrinsically, a statement of one of the following three things:
a) I believe you are a threat to my health
b) I believe I am a threat to your health
c) I am subjecting my judgement regarding what is best for me to an authority I don’t really agree with…
N.B. Regarding point (c) – this may be for whatever reason. If one does not believe (a) or (b) and wears a mask, it must be because of (c) – whether the authority in question is the government or simply the feelings and opinions of those one passes in the street.
Now walking down a street, or round a shop, or whatever, where everyone is wearing a mask, is to be constantly bombarded with the fact that everyone one passes is in one of these three categories. And each one of the three, when you take and analyse it, boils down to this – we are not in communion. Our love is not perfect, fear is not cast out, and the world is not safe. Either I am blocked in loving you or I fear that you will perceive me as a threat. Is it better to make a public statement that this is wrong in a fallen world where in reality we are not all in perfect communion and viruses do exist and can transmit interpersonally? Not for me to say – I just want to point out that intrinsically, for better or worse, masks reinforce these messages.

Three, one’s capacity to communicate is severely limited by having half of one’s face covered up. This goes back to the smiling thing. This makes everything more difficult in terms of real interpersonal communication with the outside world. It makes it easier to be misunderstood, it makes it harder to understand another person and pick up social cues, it makes it more of an effort to try to make conversation. And communication having this block has the effect of pushing people back into their immediate circles, their families, their ‘bubble’. Which isolates them further from the outside world. It increases our society’s tendency to be insular, to lack real in-person contact with the world outside.

OK one could continue but instead let’s leave the list at three and summarise the knock-on consequences of these things. People are more tense, openly declaring their separation, and less capable of communicating on a meaningful level with the world around them. And it’s not a case of this just being something temporary. Six weeks of experiencing India was enough to change my view of the world so profoundly that I would always see my own country differently. One year and counting of submitting to these things with profound psychological and interpersonal knock on effects will have long term effects on a nation. And it’s not enough to open horizons via technology – that field in itself is not human and subject to tremendous manipulation. Dependence on it has its own problems that are beyond the scope of this post.

It just seems to me that until we are prepared to take the risk of smiling at one another – visibly, of seeing one another as we are – literally, of encountering in a manner that is fully human, we run the risk of losing something that is profoundly fundamental in our humanity.

There’s a scripture verse that comes to me a lot in the midst of all this. In the immediate wake of predicting persecution, destruction, false prophets and all the apocalyptic catastrophes that make everyone anxious and worked up, Our Lord gives one little line that tends to falls so gently that we miss it. The things that touch on our own conscience can be like that, in a world motivated by fear and uncertainty – where projecting evils and becoming defensive becomes a survival mechanism.

“Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.” Matthew 24:12

Has my love grown cold? Remembering that Christian love cannot exist just within my ‘bubble’, because even the pagans love those who are in their bubbles… And if it hasn’t, how am I proving that? Because faith without works is as dead now as when St. James was writing 2,000 years ago.

I don’t know that there’s an easy answer, but if it just seems to me we need to find a way to be less afraid and more human… and that it’s very difficult to be fully human till we have faces.

PS. Yes I know it’s Tuesday, but I’m not renaming the series – will endeavour to be more punctual henceforth!!

PPS. Sorry if you have read to the end waiting for a Lewis reference, the title was just perfect for my purposes here. Maybe I’ll review it some Wednesday… 😉

Hold on a Second – Who Invited YOU to This Parish?

Friday Reflection #1

Do you ever just wonder what would happen if… Right on second thoughts maybe I need to pull back a little and contextualise this reflection, if this Friday series is intended to be not just my random thoughts but a looking forward to the Sunday Gospel… My main leading thought here is though, to what degree to we really accept Jesus as He Is? To what degree to I personally do that? As far as I can see all the (Year B, there is an option…) readings on Sunday this week ask us to do that…

The first reading sets out the basic standards of the first full moral code God gave to His people. We know that Jesus built upon this in the Sermon on the Mount and applied its principles not only to the external commandments but to the heart. We need not only not to kill – but not to hate. We need not only not to commit adultery – but not to lust. Jesus’ teachings are well and good in the abstract until we take an area where they apply to us. Then we get defensive when a question is raised – and very often the more subtle the application is the more offended we get…

This is the first challenge laid down in terms of accepting Jesus as He Is. Giving Him permission, through prayer and through the admonitions of other people, to call us out and call us on in faith, hope and love. Accepting its demands helps us to answer with Peter in the words of the response to the pslam, ‘You, Lord have the message of Eternal life’. It gives Him permission to speak, and is a promise not to be offended at what He says, however it may challenge us.

The second reading is a different challenge. Jesus comes to us as a Crucified Christ and we are asked to accept the ‘folly’ of the Cross. As an idea, we reckon we accept this. As a reality… well there are many things to ask ourselves! We accept the ‘idea’ of the cross because its religious and historical significance is more deeply affirmed to our mindset than the reality of what its degradation and suffering was to ancient Jews are Greeks. To the Jews it an obstacle because was the sign of a curse, of failure, not of the victory they wanted in their Messiah. To the Greeks it was madness because the idea defies human wisdom and earthly aspirations. We say we accept the Cross, but do we accept that Jesus may ask of us things that are entirely outside our comfort zones? Do we accept that He can ask us to leave behind all earthly security and follow Him without the luxury of knowing what comes next? Do we agree to be made a sign of contradiction in the face of opposition to our fundamental beliefs? Do we reject an earthly prudence that refuses to act in faith – or do we cling to it like a crutch?

What are we trying to control? A crucified Christ does not choose the way of control. He chose the way of faithfulness, and followed that through right to His final surrender into the Hands of the Father. To what degree do we accept to follow, rather than try to tell God what we are doing, and what He needs to?

Finally the Gospel Jesus goes into the Temple and… well He annoys everyone! He tips over tables, throws money all over the place, makes himself a whip and drives them all out. This is easy enough for us to read. You know, He was God, He could do what he wanted… Imagine being a disciple. Going to the Temple where all your people go and suddenly your leader, whom you’ve left everything to follow, is acting like a bit of a mad man and making a scene in front of all the religious people. Imagine being an established religious authority who has given your life to the study of Scriptures and seeing this Man who has been drawing so much attention to Himself lately undermining the entire spirit of everything that you’re used to in your Temple.

OK, if all this is still a little abstract – let’s imagine Jesus comes to Mass this week.

Where there are no congregations He blows up all the webcams and breaks down all the doors, because what’s the rest of that Scripture verse he was roaring about in the Temple…?

“Even those I will bring to My holy mountain, And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; For My house will be called a house of prayer FOR ALL THE PEOPLES.” Isaish 56:7

Whoopsie daisies!

He preaches like you’ve never heard anyone preach before. Actually quite a lot of people storm off, those who would like to but can’t afford to lose face that way begin to mentally prepare the next pastoral council meeting in which this kind of intrusion will be prevented in the future. However not everyone responds like that. Your heart is on fire when you listen to Him and you can sense that you’re not the only one.

At the Consecration you find yourself transported to Calvary. And you kneel there and look at what He did for you. Everything you’ve ever refused Him pierces your heart as you look at all He is prepared to give for your sake and you regret every sin that nailed Him to that Cross with everything that you are and only wish you were capable of a deeper repentance.

By now everything else has disappeared. The petty arguments you had before leaving the house this morning are insignificant except as being a missed chance to love Him. The debates about Church teaching are ridiculous. You can’t be before Love like that in plain sight and want anything other than to emulate His purity and holiness, and nothing that comes in the way of that looks like a liberty to anyone any more. And you feel no need to debate the points with anyone because you know if they just knew Him… they’d be the same as you are now, on your knees.

But all of this is surpassed when it comes time to receive Holy Communion. He stands before you and looks into your eyes and you know two things. He knows you. And He loves you. He knows you like no one has ever known you before – all the desires, all the dreams, all the aspirations you have – and those long since abandoned. He knows all the disappointments. He knows every sin by which you nailed Him to that Cross and He knows everything you chose over loving Him, over taking the time get to know Him and over making the effort to lead others to Him. He knows your compromises and why you make them. He knows your shames and all the things you hide and He knows what you don’t know at this moment in time – what you can still be if you give Him everything. He loves you so much it makes you more happy and more afraid than you’ve ever been before in your whole life.

When Jesus holds up that Host, you don’t know if it’s more appropriate to look at It or at His Face. But you know that you need to make a decision. If you say Amen, and receive that Host everything changes. You can’t look at the Blessed Sacrament without seeing the hole in the Hand that holds It. That reminds you everything changes. You need to decide to forget about compromises, and let the Love that stands before you live within you. Here at this moment, the right decision is obvious. You will never find the love or the acceptance that you perceive in Him anywhere else. If you refuse, you will regret this moment not only for the rest of your life, but for all eternity. If you accept, you will face a battle for the rest of your life, and you know that to say ‘Amen’ is to promise not to compromise. Not to judge because He loved you first. Not to get petulant when you suffer because you deserve so much more suffering than you will face. Not to hold grudges because you have been forgiven everything. Not to seek comfort in things of this world but only from Him – and to give His comfort to others. You know it won’t be easy and you know He won’t always be standing before you like this… But you know He will be with you.

Your choice. Fight for everything your heart desires. Or walk away. Are you going to say Amen?

It’s something to think about on a Sunday, anyway. You know if I didn’t know better I’d say you should invite Jesus to come to Mass with you this week…

But I do know better, and I can’t say that because it’s too late.

Jesus has already invited you.

God bless!