Monday, 17 March 2014

'Lord it is good for us to be here'

This post is taken from the writing of  Rev. James McNally, who in his book ‘Make Way for Mary’, explores the Gospels of the Sundays of the year, emphasising  the role of Mary in guiding us along the path to her divine Son. 

No joy in life is comparable to the joy of the Catholic who is familiar with the Son of God and His Virgin Mother.  This is neither dream nor fantasy.  Syllogisms are unnecessary for an ascertainment of this truth.  The delight of intimacy with heaven is not pretentious; it demands no glitter, none of the theatric.  It is simply there; and they who have walked in the garden of God can give ample testimony to the exultant heart.

    “Lord, it is good for us to be here.”  So spoke St Peter to Jesus on Mount Thabor, when the Lord was transfigured.  Peter, James, and John had been privileged to see Jesus appear in outward brilliance and splendour.  So beautiful and enthralling was His appearance and so radiant, that the apostles were enraptured.

       'Transfiguration of Christ' (1520) by Gerard David (Flemish)

 “Lord, it is good for us to be here.”  Ever since that day on Thabor centuries ago, many, many hearts have felt that self-same way.  Hearts in the priesthood and religious life that chose the paths to which the world is blind; hearts that disregarded passing fantasies and frivolities; hearts that saw in this world’s glamour only emptiness and want; hearts that thirsted for clear water, crystal streams; hearts that yearned for love, but for a love more true than man can offer; hearts that went near Mary long ago, and felt the strong attracttion of her presence; hearts which found through Mary they could come to God! Yes, many hearts have for a moment felt occasionally that very same way.  There is no pleasure to compare with it, no delight so rare, no sentiment so much above things earthly.

    On Mount Thabor, Jesus was transfigured for a reason.  He wished to strengthen the faith of the apostles, to whom of late He had more clearly revealed astounding things.  Jesus had told them of the suffering and death He was to undergo, as well as of the glory that would be sometime His.  He had told them of His divinity in rather certain terms, and Jesus wished to give them added evidence that He is God, so that their faith would not be shattered when events grew difficult for them.

    The transfiguration was not of long duration. It was over in a little while, but it had served its purpose. Men who had followed Jesus were rewarded with the radiance of God; they had seen a miracle that would not then be shared by others; they had witnessed evidence of divinity in a more comprehensive way, although it stunned them; their faith was increased and renewed.

    And good it was that the apostles were granted this singular and blessed favour. They were yet to face the treachery and storm of Jerusalem; they were to see their Master basely mortified and put to death, themselves, placed in jeopardy.  This glory of the Master was allowed them, so that, when Jesus looked no longer like the Master, they would remember Thabor and remain convinced still of Christ’s divinity.

              Crucifixion of Christ (1491) by Hans Memling(Flemish)

 The same it is today with those who undertake to follow Jesus and His Mother. Life in the priesthood or religion is not easy.There must be fidelity to little things, and constant acceptance of unending problems; the promise of obedience kept all the way through manful, womanly years; continued generosity, even to the insincere, and strong attempts at preaching, teaching; good example always and a desire for the young; kindness towards the aged, the infirm, the dulcet tones when people die.  There must be love, a greater love than ever lovers know; there must be prayer and battling in defence of ten commandments;  there must be the conquering of strong desires, and strife to save one’s soul; there must be loyalty to Jesus, and the spirit of the cavalier toward Mary.

    Because of this endless procession of loyalties, Jesus sometimes affords His chosen men and women for a moment a taste of joy divine, a taste that crowds their sensibilities.  It may be during thanksgiving after Mass; it may be while walking crowded streets at eventide; it may be for a moment in the classroom, or in frightening moments when people pass away. It may be anywhere and anytime; but suddenly they feel the ravishment of Christ Almighty’s presence!  Words can scarce be uttered, but in the soul there is a memory of Thabor: “Lord it is good for us to be here." 

                         'The Angelus' (1857) by Jean Francois Millet  

Somehow we may feel that these privileges are reserved for only those in the priesthood or in religious life.  It is true that for the most part they are found there, and for a logical reason.  But these favours are not excluded from the world of the laity and from people’s hearts. The history of the Catholic Church is studded with the names of heroic men and women, who, choosing the path of Martha, have made Jesus and Mary the attraction of their lives.

    “Lord it is good for us to be here.”  Some among Christ’s faithful may have found this blessed sweetness of Christ. For a moment they were raised above the ordinary sphere of earth, and their soul felt intoxication at Divinity’s touch.  These were the slight moments of heavenly recompense, of encouragement for fidelity to Christ and His Mother. That is what the transfiguration was of Jesus to His apostles, the anticipated reward and the impetus for painful hours they would spend in the not too distant future.

      'The Virgin in Prayer' by Sassoferrato (1609-1685)
 The Blessed Virgin Mary was not present at the transfiguration.  But in a certain sense, what need was there for her to be! Mary knew Divinity even before she knew the cradle. When God the Holy Ghost came upon her on Annunciation Day, within her spotless soul there came the very God of radiance and brilliance. Mary did not need Christ’s manifestations; she possessed Him.

    The joy of the transfiguration, similar, though not in any way so blinding, can come to Catholic men and women, if they act as though they recognised that Jesus is their Master and their God; as though they knew that Christ wants all to come to heaven when they die; that He Himself has laid down rules of conduct for attaining heaven’s goal; that they must keep His law – at all times, even though their senses cry for violation.

    Come then closer to Jesus, as the days of Lent go by. He still has to go through His passion and death, and that is not easy. Do not stand too far away from Him now.  If we are afraid, remember, He told His apostles not to be. Christ would not have told them that, but for a reason.

         'The Holy Family' - fresco by Paolo Veronese (late 16th c)

Go over near Mary, and walk with her. She will never be distant from her Son as He winds His way to Calvary. She will help us all the way through – past the scourging and the crowning with thorns, past the carrying of the cross and the crucifixion, past the vituperation of men and an empty tomb.  Mary will show us that it is always good to be with Jesus anywhere and everywhere.  The Blessed Mother of God will be with us all the way, right up until Resurrection Day, until Easter Sunday.  What is most important, is that Mary will be with us on the day of our own resurrection. That means heaven!

                        Resurrection of Christ (1565) by Tintoretto
Ack. ‘Make Way for Mary’ by Rev James McNally.
Published by Joseph Wagner, New York. 1950. (Imp. Francis Cardinal Spellman).   


 'O Lord, thou art silent about the intense pains which hasten thy death, and dost thou complain of thirst?  Ah! the thirst of Jesus was very different from that which we imagine it to be.  His thirst is the desire of being loved by the souls for whom he dies.'
 ack. 'Thoughts from St Alphonsus'


 'Holy Mary, Mother of God and  Mother of mercy, pray for our Holy Father, Pope Francis, and for us all, and for all the faithful departed'

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

'Go forth, swiftly, Christian Soul, to meet the Crowned Lord' - Caryll Houselander

Last week was a sad time on Stronsay, particularly for the congregation of Our Lady’s chapel, as we mourned the death of John Friel, our respected and much loved longest serving parishioner, at the relatively early age of 63 years.

                                                         John Friel - RIP

John and his wife Marilyn, both originally from the Liverpool area, moved to Stronsay in the 1980’s, when there was no Catholic chapel, and to hear Mass it was necessary to sail to Kirkwall on mainland Orkney, via the ferry, a major undertaking in those days, or for the parish priest from Kirkwall to visit Stronsay, which for various reasons was a rare occurrence.
When the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer (F.SS.R), also known as the Transalpine Redemptorists, moved to Papa Stronsay from the Isle of Sheppey, in the late 1990’s, it was the answer to John’s prayer. He immediately put himself at the service of the monks, and as a skilled joiner and experienced general builder, it was not long before he became the virtual site manager on Papa Stronsay, under the direction of Fr Michael Mary and Fr Anthony Mary. 

                                         Approaching Papa Stronsay by boat

The development of Golgotha Monastery, Papa Stronsay, has progressed from an island  with one main house and various dilapidated outbuildings, to an island with two houses, three chapels, a large library, more than twenty individual monk’s cells with foundations for more, a large separate refectory with modern cooking facilities, a bell-tower equipped with heavy working bells, extensive concrete footways, strengthened and repaired  pier and sea walls, a very large greenhouse in which is grown a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, guest’s accommodation, three purpose built warehouses plus numerous modernised outbuildings for storage of farming equipment, materials, animal feed, etc, and for sheltering the cattle and other animals in the extreme winter months. 

                                         Repairing the sea wall on Papa Stronsay

Not content with immersing himself in the work on Papa Stronsay, John was also involved in the conversion work of Our Lady’s chapel, Stronsay, which when the monks first arrived was an  outbuilding at the end of the quay, used mainly for storage purposes. Today we have a beautiful Chapel in which the Blessed Sacrament is kept, and in which daily Mass is offered.


     Our Lady's Chapel 2012          ---        prior to conversion 2002                        


   Our Lady's Chapel 2012          ---           prior to conversion 2002                                                                                           
  (photos courtesy of Transalpine Redemptorist's website)

John was first diagnosed with cancer about nine months ago and the prognosis was not good – he was given only weeks to live. He underwent chemotherapy and amazingly, some said miraculously, the cancer on his lung disappeared. Sadly his joy was to be short-lived, for the cancer returned, and in spite of treatment, spread throughout his body.

He died last Monday morning at about 1.20 a.m. fortified by the Rites of Holy Church, with his wife Marilyn and Fr Youssef  FSSR at his bedside. John was a devotee of Our Lady and wore the Brown Scapular in her honour, and I truly believe that she was taking special care of John in his last hours. The weather here has been really wild and stormy over several weeks, to such an extent that the monks on Papa Stronsay, which included Fr Michael,  have often found it impossible to bring their small boat across, and have been  stranded sometimes for days, waiting for the weather to improve.

Fr Youssef was scheduled to return from the Mission in New Zealand, at the end of January, and in fact arrived back in Stronsay last week, just two or three days before John died. He stayed in the monastery house (St Magnus) on Stronsay, about 100 yards from John’s home, and was immediately at hand in John’s last hours; truly a great blessing, I’m sure through the intercession of our Blessed Lady.

John’s funeral was held last Friday, 7 February, on Papa Stronsay, with a sung Requiem Mass celebrated by Fr Michael Mary FSSR, with  Marilyn and her two sisters, John’s two brothers, the FSSR community and Stronsay friends in attendance, followed by internment in the monastery cemetery. The weather was unusually and exceptionally kind, another great blessing.

John will be greatly missed by us all, not least by his friends from Our Lady’s chapel. He was a faithful and cheerful Catholic, courageous in his belief and not afraid to say so. He was absolutely loyal to the Magisterium of the Church, and was delighted to give his total and absolute support to Fr Michael when he  pledged his  loyalty and that of the FSSR community to Pope Benedict XVI after Summorum Pontificum (July 2007).  

‘Eternal rest give unto him O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen.’

Please remember John in your prayers, also his wife Marilyn, and his brothers - thank you.

I recently came across this rather lovely poem, written in the early 1940s by Caryll Houselander - Catholic writer, poet, mystic.

                                                                       Caryll Houselander

A Coffin in Church

By the Sanctuary
There is a small coffin,
It is draped with a violet pall,
And round it
Four candles burn,
Four flames of peace.

I cannot guess
The hidden features,
But I think that they are smiling,
Because they have passed
Through the valley
Of the shadow of Death.

And the Blessed,
With extended hands,
The soul that is crystal
Reflecting light
From the purifying fire.

The haloes of the Blessed
Are the lights
Across the water
From the shore,
That shelters
The last harbour
Like the crook
Of a lover’s curved arm,
Holding the Beloved
At rest.

The Angels
With their wings crowding,
Come like flocking birds
To guide a sparrow,
From its rifled nest
To the sun.

And Mary,
God’s Mother
With mild almond eyes
That laugh softly,
Sees but a child in a cradle,
For the morning
To wake it.

I, who am still
In the valley
Of the shadow of Death,
Fondly speed him.

“Go forth, swiftly,
Christian Soul !
To meet the Crowned Lord.
Who is crowned with the thorn
In flower.

“Go forth !
Like Lazarus,
Who was once poor.”

Ack. Caryll Houselander – written early 1940s.


 'Renew each day the resolution that you have taken of advancing in perfection.  Do not lose courage in whatever state of tepidity you may find yourself  '
(Thoughts from St Alphonsus)

Monday, 30 December 2013

'God was Man in Palestine, and lives Today in Bread and Wine'


Birth of Jesus. Medieval Fresco located at Neppendorf, Sibiu, Romania.     Image by Fergal of Claddach.


'Christmas at the Office' – Joy Falkner (1978)

The industrious clerk

meticulous and slow

made out wage packets

for the higher echelons

and his own

meagre but sufficient.

Enough to keep his bicycle

behind the opulent cars

and cycle home

to wash the dishes

change the sheets

and cook a dinner

for the half-crazed woman

querulous invalid

bed-ridden these two years

the fractious faded phantom

of the flower-wife

of 1949.

He packs his books

and leaves his desk immaculate

as drinks go round

the disco signalling

the start of celebrations

“I’m going now Sir”

“Ah - not staying for the party?”

We do not see him cross the room

only the door opening on the dark

and chorus “Merry Christmas Lou”.

                                    Joy Falkner –‘Is anybody there’


'Christmas' - John Betjeman

The bells of waiting Advent ring,

The Tortoise stove is lit again

And lamp-oil light across the night

Has caught the streaks of winter rain

In many a stained -glass window sheen

From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.


The holly in the windy hedge

And round the Manor House the yew

Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,

The altar, font, and arch and pew,

So that the villagers can say

“The church looks nice” on Christmas Day.


Provincial public houses blaze

And Corporation tramcars clang,

On lighted tenements I gaze

Where paper decorations hang,

And bunting in the red Town Hall

Says “Merry Christmas to you all.”


And London shops on Christmas Eve

Are strung with silver bells and flowers,

As hurrying clerks the City leave

To pigeon-haunted classic towers,

And marbled clouds go scudding by

The many-steepled London sky.


And girls in slacks remember Dad,

And oafish louts remember Mum,

And sleepless children’s hearts are glad,

And Christmas -morning bells say “Come!”

Even to shining ones who dwell

Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.


And is it true?  And is it true,

This most tremendous tale of all,

Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,

A Baby in an ox’s stall?

He Maker of the stars and sea

Become a Child on earth for me?


And is it true?  For if it is,

No loving fingers tying strings

Around those tissued fripperies,

The sweet and silly Christmas things,

Bath salts and inexpensive scent

And hideous tie so kindly meant.


No love that in a family dwells,

No carolling in frosty air,

Nor all the steeple-shaking bells,

Can with this single Truth compare ---

That God was Man in Palestine

And lives today in Bread and Wine.

John Betjeman - Collected Poems, ‘A few late chrysanthemums’- 1954


'God, Who is unchangeable, would appear now as a child in a stable, now as a boy in a workshop, now as a criminal on a scaffold, and now as bread upon the altar.  In these various guises Jesus chose to exhibit Himself to us;  but whatever character He assumed, it was always the character of a lover'

Thoughts from St Alphonsus Liguori


       'Wishing one and all a happy and blessed New Year'
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