Not long ago I came across the following website:- 'These Stone Walls -Musings from Prison of a Priest Falsely Accused' The author, Fr Gordon Macrae, is now serving his 17th year in an American prison having been falsely accused and unjustly convicted of sexual offences against minors.
'Christ before Pilate' - Munkacsy (1844-1900)
To anyone who goes along with the ‘where there’s smoke, there's fire’ theory, I strongly urge you to read just some of Fr Macrae’s posts. I find the whole saga truly shocking, not because of Fr Macrae, but because of the apparent failings in the American judicial system, particularly the impression I have that justice is really only available for those who can afford to pay for it.
Unfortunately there have been many genuine cases of child abuse by priests and religious, but I suspect that there have also been many cases where prejudice and anger, and indeed greed, have combined to distort the truth, resulting in grave injustice.
The peculiarly American practice of ‘the settlement game’ with substantial sums of money paid to ‘victims’ in lieu of court cases, has inevitably guaranteed a huge number of abuse accusations, the majority probably untrue and many going back decades, often with the accused long dead. Certain Church leaders have acquiesced in this injustice, almost certainly through misguided intentions, preferring to keep matters quiet and out of the Courts, and paying out vast sums of money in ‘compensation’ regardless of the truth of the allegation, and apparently mindless of the character assassination of the accused.
Recently a new book has been published highlighting the experiences of six priests falsely accused and convicted of abuse. To quote from Fr Macrae’s latest post:
"A Book Every Priest Needs to Read: Catholic Priests Falsely Accused ‘Catholic Priests Falsely Accused: The Facts, The Fraud, The Stories’ is a new book by David F. Pierre, and a Corporal Work of Mercy for the Church and priesthood. If you’ve been wondering what might make a thoughtful and practical gift for your parish priest this Christmas, consider arming him – and yourself – with the truth. It might seem a strange thing to give the priests you know a book about every priest’s worst nightmare, but doing so – and reading it yourself – could very well be an act of generosity, justice, and mercy.
The book documents the stories of six priests who have suffered under the millstone of false witness over the last decade of scandal in the Catholic Church, and their arduous trek to exoneration. Having lived in this nightmare for close to two decades, I could not put the book down. But David Pierre also included a seventh account that has not – not yet, anyway – had a happy ending, and it made my hands tremble. It’s Chapter 20 in his book, and it’s entitled “Guilty or Falsely Accused? The Disputed Case of Fr. Gordon MacRae, Diocese of Manchester, NH.” I could feel my anxiety rise as the chapter title jumped off the ‘Table of Contents’ at me, and I braced myself. I have seen the words “the case of Fr. Gordon MacRae” abused and manipulated in the mainstream media far too often to expect anything just and fair. What makes the case “disputed” is the fact that I was convicted in a 1994 trial, and, in covering that fact, most in the news media have overlooked the devil in the detail. Not so for David F. Pierre. He presents in this new book a factual analysis of my trial, and what he calls “an alarming opposite side…that has not been widely told.” David Pierre did his homework, and captured well “the Twilight Zone” aura around my trial, exposing how spectral wisps of rumor and innuendo were reshaped by a prosecutor to get a conviction with no evidence at all. David Pierre simply took the story that has been hiding in plain sight, and stated it in plain speech. The result could rival the legal thrillers of John Grisham and Scott Turow. Sometimes real life makes for the most gripping drama." *********************** This book is available through Amazon (£11.84 from Amazon.com. - £21.00 from Amazon.uk) Both these prices include postage, but delivery takes about 1 month from the USA.)
'Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice, for they shallhave their fill' (Sermon on the Mount - Matthew 5:6) *************************
Figure of Justice, Old Bailey, London
Whilst on the subject of Justice, I think it right to express a muted appreciation of Tesco PLC, for their reply to my recent letter criticising their support for the London Gay Pride parade. I think that their reply, reproduced below, speaks for itself:-
'Dear Mr ... Thank you for your letter ........ We took a decision to support World Pride with a small donation of £30,000.00 following a request for help earlier this year from our Out at Tesco network for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender staff. We believe that everyone should be welcome at Tesco, whether as a customer or a member of staff, and decided that agreeing to a small donation to the event would be a tangible way of demonstrating that we respected and supported our colleagues. We do understand that this decision is not supported by everyone, and indeed that it has aroused some strong opposition as well as some support. It is never our intention to upset our customers, and I am very sorry that our decision to support the event has moved you to write to us to express your concern. I do hope that over time, you will be able to see this small donation in the context of our much wider support for many hundreds of charities and local communities. Over the past year we have contributed over £64 million in total to charities and good causes in the UK and across the world. For example, we raised £7.2m for children with cancer last year, helping Clic Sargent fund specialist care at home for children. We are set this year to raise over £5 million for our current Charity of the Year, the Alzheimer’s Society. Once again, I am very sorry that our donation to World Pride has shaken your confidence in us. I hope I can reassure you that we take your views very seriously and that, through all the work we do for good causes as well as through our core retail business, we do indeed strive to be a company in which you can place your trust. Y.S. Tesco PLC. The tenor of this reply suggests that the efforts of all those who contacted Tesco PLC criticising their support for the Gay Pride event, were worthwhile. I must admit to some surprise that their involvement was a modest £30,000, not a large sum by today’s standards, and assuming there are no ‘hidden extras’, hardly suggests major support for the event. Many consider that any support is too much, and I suspect that the significant adverse public reaction it incurred will not have gone unnoticed - ‘Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam’. *************************
Immaculate Conception - Zurbaran 1598-1664
‘No man can choose his mother; but should such a thing ever be granted to anyone, who is there who, if able to choose a queen, would wish for a slave? Or, if able to choose a friend of God, would he wish for his enemy? If, then, the Son of God alone could choose a mother according to His own heart, we must consider, as a matter of course, that He chose one becoming a God. And as it was becoming that a most pure God should have a mother free from all sin, He created her spotless.’ 'Thoughts from St Alphonsus, on the Immaculate Conception of Mary' (Compiled by Rev C McNeiry, C.SS.R)
The global economy is in a mess. The press and media regale us with doom and gloom; world stock markets are down; Governments bail out commercial banks; bankruptcies, unemployment, homelessness, civil unrest; health and social services cut back; astronomical hike in fees for university students; fuel, gas and electricity prices rising, with spin-off effect on food, heating, and travel costs. But hold on, I can hear you say, what's new about this, we've heard it all before ........! Allow me to quote from an interesting and revelatory book – ‘Pope Pius XI and World Peace’, by Lord Clonmore, published in 1938 by ‘The Catholic Book Club’. Although dealing with the relationship of the Catholic Church and State some seventy-five years ago, I have a feeling that the words of Pope Pius XI have as much relevance to our own times as they did then. *************************
Pope Pius XI (1857-1939) (Pope 1922-39). “It is patent that in our days not only wealth is concentrated, but immense power and despotic economic domination are concentrated in the hands of a few, who for the most part are not the owners, but only the trustees and directors of invested funds which they administer at their own good pleasure. This domination is most powerfully exercised by those who, because they hold and control money, also govern credit and determine its allotment, for that reason supplying, so to speak, the life-blood to the entire economic body, and grasping in their hands, as it were, the very soul of production, so that no-one can breathe against their will. The accumulation of power, the characteristic note of the modern economic order, is a natural result of limitless free competition, which permits the survival of those only who are strongest, and this often means those who fight most relentlessly, who pay least heed to the dictates of conscience” (Pope Pius XI) ‘This power, against whose will ‘no-one can breathe’, is what may briefly be called the ‘Money Power’. In the Middle Ages usury was unable on the whole to flourish; plenty of attempts were made, but the discipline of the Church, which hates usury as one of the gravest sins, was almost always too strong for the would-be money lenders. With the break-up of Catholic Europe following the Reformation, the usurers were able to start on their work of enriching the already wealthy at the expense of the poor. In England it was the ‘Money Power’ which brought Charles 1 to the block, and what was known as ‘Dutch Finance’ came over once and for all with William of Orange. One of the conditions necessary for this destructive and parasitic system to flourish is that there should be free competition, which means in fact, cut-throat competition. The present system of cut-throat competition places the borrower at the mercy of the lender. There is no doubt that the State has almost everywhere played into the hands of the money-lenders, to whom it has made over what was once the King’s prerogative, the right to issue money’ (Lord Clonmore - Pope Pius XI and World Peace) “The State, which should be the supreme arbiter, ruling in kingly fashion far above all Party contention, intent only upon justice and the common good, has become instead a slave, bound over to the service of human passion and greed. As regards the relations of people among themselves, a double stream has issued forth from this one fountain-head; on the one hand economic nationalism or even economic imperialism; on the other a no less noxious and detestable internationalism in financial affairs, which holds that where a man’s fortune is, there is his country” (Pope Pius XI)
Cardinal Achille Ratti, Archbishop of Milan, prior to election as Pope Pius XI ‘An example of this capitulation by the State to the ‘Money Powers’, were events in England in 1914 when war was declared. Due to unprecedented money demand, with the Banks running out of money, the Bank Act was suspended and a moratorium was declared. This would have been a very good moment for the King to reclaim his office of issuing money; to bring this about, it would merely have been necessary to issue treasury notes for the national expenses which had to be met in English currency, and to open State credits with producers on agreed terms. Unfortunately the ‘Money Power’ recovered all too soon from its first panic, and was able to prevail on Parliament, by then in a state of alarm, to issue the treasury notes through the banks, and ‘to borrow in order to pay forthe war’. (Lord Clonmore - Pope Pius XI and World Peace) “The King was prevented from exercising his office of issuing money to his people, and was forced to pay the banks and their clients, high rates of interest upon book entries. The King was forced, that is to say, to pledge the products and labour of his people for generations, in exchange for that which belonged properly to himself, and at the moment when the bankers’ inability to pay in gold had just been revealed” (Dr McNair Wilson) “Christianity alone can supply an efficacious remedy for the excessive solicitude for transitory things, which is the origin of all vices. When men are fascinated by and completely absorbed in the things of this world, Christianity alone can draw away their attention and raise it heavenwards. And who will deny that this remedy is now urgently needed by society?” (Pope Pius XI) **********************
Satan tempting Christ
Today, in virtually all walks of life, more and more power is concentrated in the hands of the few. Financial institutions have been taken over by more powerful competitors, which themselves soon suffer the same fate. We know from experience the power and influence they wield, to the extent that in the event of severe fiscal problems, governments are prepared to bail them out with tax-payer’s money, rather than let them fail. They seem to be a law unto themselves, with profitability the acid measure of success. Money equates with power, and in our world in which so many do not know God and do not want to know Him, it is not really surprising that the acquisition of wealth and the power this engenders, will be used to satisfy worldly ambitions usually far removed from the spirit and indeed the letter of God’s laws. Power is an influence for good or evil, and without God’s help our fallen human nature is incapable of resisting the attractions of the world, the flesh, and the devil. There is a saying that ‘power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’, and we only have to look at world history of the 20th century to realise how true this is.
St Michael crushing Satan In the 'media' world, the international interests of the Murdoch organisation, reflect enormous political and social power, not to mention wealth; yet it seems that this is never enough. Commerce is exactly the same with companies amalgamating or being taken over, eventually all becoming absorbed into one giant conglomerate. Tesco’s, now a multi-national company, is in virtually every major town in the UK, posing a permanent threat to local family shops many of whom cannot compete and are forced to close down. ‘Might is right’, is unfortunately the name of the game. Central government and the Civil Service offer real opportunities for attaining positions of power. Elected Members of Parliament, once established in ministerial positions, assume power and authority commensurate with their job. Problems arise when they exceed their remit. An example of this in my opinion, is the recent decision by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, to refuse aid to a certain African nation due to their uncompromising opposition to homosexual practices. This suggests that the life-threatening needs of the starving, sick, homeless, and unemployed, are of no consequence when measured against the 'promotion' of homosexuality, a lifestyle which is totally opposed to the religious beliefs and social traditions of many third-world countries Unfortunately today’s materialistic and secular culture has confused the true meaning of 'charity'. Charity is defined as 'the love of God above all things, and the love of our neighbour for God's sake'. The provision of contraception and abortion facilities, contrary to God's law - which includes the Natural law, is not 'charity', and to force unwilling poor countries to accept this particular condition, under threat of depriving them of essential financial aid, is tantamount to moral blackmail and an abuse of political power.
The Tribute Money (George Hayter 1792-1871) - 'Render to God the things that are God's, and to Caesar the things that are Caesar's' One wonders if there is a hidden agenda shaping the UK ‘Aid’ programme. With ‘population control’ a major platform, is it that the financiers, politicians, commercial and industrial interests, who hold the reins of power in the west, fear expansion in the third-world, as a threat to their monopoly of power. Both the Prime Minister and Andrew Mitchell seem very keen to assure members of the House that ‘the whole of our development budget is spent in Britain’s national interest, and a large chunk of it goes to support our own security and prosperity here at home.’ The tragic and terrible irony in this matter, is that much of UK aid will be used to deliberately kill babies still in the womb; tens or even hundreds of thousands of innocent lives terminated before they see the light of day. Additionally the promotion of contraception, will effectively restrict that population increase so necessary for future development. Truly an example of misuse of power resulting in an enforced culture of death and evil... Alternatively, when aid is used to enhance life, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, providing health and medical services, financing education and creating job opportunities, and other positive ventures, it is truly a power for good, offering real hope for present and future generations... ************************* On this subject, a few quotes from Hansard, 26th October 2011;
Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson (DUP): 'The Prime Minister has warned African countries that unless they improve gay rights, he will cut their aid, yet in many African countries where we pour in millions of pounds of aid, Christians face great persecution and destruction of churches, lives and property. Here in the UK, anyone who displays a Bible verse on the wall of a café faces prosecution. Was Ann Widdecombe right when she said that in the 21st century hedgehogs have more rights than Christians?' The Prime Minister: 'Ann Widdecombe is often right - not always right, but often right. The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The way we judge our aid decisions is to look at human rights across the piece. That means how people are treating Christians and also the appalling behaviour of some African countries towards people who are gay'. ********************
Mr Mitchell - ‘Over the last year there has been an increase in many countries support for development, which is quite right and in accordance with the commitments that they have given. Britain has been in the lead in that regard. All our spending is in our national interest, and large amounts of it support our security, and indeed our future prosperity’ Mr Mitchell: 'The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The whole of our development budget is spent in Britain’s national interest, and a large chunk of it goes to support our own security and prosperity here at home'. *************** Just two questions:- 1. How has the government reacted to those African nations that are murdering and persecuting Christians? 2. In what way is the whole of our development budget spent in Britain’s national interest, and how is it that a large chunk of it goes to support our own security and prosperity here at home? Know the answers, please share them in the 'comment' box. ************ Finally,a reminder of Christ's words to the Apostles regarding wealth and possessions:- "Amen I say to you, with difficulty shall a rich man enterthe kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew.Ch 19 vs 23/24)
The extracts below are taken from ‘The Desert Fathers’ translated from the Latin by Helen Waddell, and published in 1936 by Constable & Co Ltd, London.
Title Page of 'The Desert Fathers', Adapted from 1st Edition(1615)
In the Preface to the book, we learn that ‘the original of these translations is the Latin of the Vitae Patrum, a vast collection of the lives and sayings of the Desert Fathers, edited by the learned Rosweyde, and printed at the Plantin Press in Antwerp by that most exact typographer and his very good friend Balthazar Moret, in 1615. The texts assembled by Rosweyde, were those with which the Middle Ages were most familiar: not the Greek originals, with the translations into Latin made for the most part in the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries. Rufinus and Evagrius were contemporary with the men of whom they wrote: Pelagius and Paschasius a century or so later. Jerome and Cassian write at first hand of the desert, in Latin, not in Greek.The present book contains only a fragment of its vast original, which runs in the 1628 folio to more than a thousand pages in double column.’
‘I first came to the Vitrae Patrum sixteen years ago, not for its own sake, but in a plan I had of reading for myself, with a mind emptied, what the ordinary medieval student would have read, to find the kind of furniture his imagination lived among. It held me then, as now, with its strange timelessness. I began a translation of it, continued at intervals in the years since. This book is not a study of the Desert Fathers, their place in the ascetic tradition, or the authenticity of the sources. That would demand a range of languages and of knowledge far beyond me. A few of the gentlest stories of the Desert Fathers, the kindness between them and the wild creatures they lived among, appeared in Beasts and Saints(1934), and it must be remembered that whilst the Desert has bred fanaticism and frenzy and fear: it has also bred heroic gentleness” (Helen Waddell - 1936)
The Desert Fathers Of the Excellent Way of Life of Divers Holy Men - (John the Sub-Deacon, Book III)
The Abbot Sisois was dwelling alone in the mountain of the Abbot Antony: for his servant tarried in coming to him, and for ten months he saw no man. But as he walked upon the mountain, he found a certain Pharanite herding cattle. And the old man said to him, “Whence comest thou, and how long hast thou been here?” And he said, “Indeed Father, I have had eleven months on this mountain, and I have not seen a man except thee.” And the old man, hearing it, went into his cell and smote himself, saying, “Lo, Sisois, thou didst think thou hadst done somewhat, and thou hadst not done so much as this man who is of the world.”
This same Abbot Sisois sitting in his cell would ever have his door closed. But it was told of him how in the day of his 'sleeping', when the Fathers were sitting round him, his face shone like the sun, and he said to them, “Look, the abbot Antony comes.” And after a little while, he said again to them, “Look, the company of the prophets comes.” And his face shone with a double glory, and lo, he seemed as though he spoke with others. And the old men entreated him, saying, “With whom art thou speaking Father?” And he said to them, “Behold, the angels came to take me, and I asked that I might be left a little while to repent.” The old men said to him, “Thou hast no need of repentance, Father.” But he said to them, “Verily I know not if I have clutched at the very beginning of repentance.” And they all knew that he was made perfect. And again of a sudden his face was as the sun, and they all were in dread. And he said to them, “Look, behold the Lord cometh, saying, ’Bring me my chosen from the desert.’” And straightway he gave up the ghost. And there came as it might be lightning, and all the place was filled with sweetness.
They told of the Abbot Macarius the elder, that he was once walking in the desert, and found the head of a dead man lying on the ground: and when he stirred it with the staff of palm that he had in his hand, the head spoke to him. The old man said to it, “Who art thou?” And that head answered the old man, “I was a priest of the heathen that used to dwell in this place, but thou art the Abbot Macarius, who hast the Holy Spirit of God. Wherefore in whatever hour thou hast had pity on them that are in torment and hast prayed for them, then are they a little consoled.” The old man said to him, “What is this consolation?” That head made answer, “As far as the sky is distant from the earth, so deep is the fire beneath our feet and above our head. And standing in the midst of the fire, there is not one of us can see his neighbour face to face. But when thou dost pray for us, we look one upon the other, and this doth pass with us for consolation” Then said the old man, weeping, “Woe to the day in which man was born, if this be the consolation of his pain.”
'An old man was asked by a certain soldier if God received a penitent man. And after heartening him with many words, he said to him at the last, “Tell me, beloved, if thy cloak were torn, wouldst throw it away?” He said, “Nay, but I would patch it and wear it.” The old man said to him, “If thou wouldst spare thy garment, shall not God have mercy on His own image?”' (‘Divers Sayings’ – John the Sub-Deacon,Book IV)
St Kevin and the Blackbird(Beasts and Saints 1934)
‘At one Lenten Season, St Kevin, as was his way, fled from the company of men to a certain solitude, and in a little hut that did but keep out the sun and the rain, gave himself earnestly to reading and to prayer, and his leisure to contemplation alone. And as he knelt in his accustomed fashion, with his hand outstretched through the window and lifted up to heaven, a blackbird settled on it, and busying herself as in her nest, laid in it an egg. And so moved was the saint that in all patience and gentleness he remained, neither closing nor withdrawing his hand: but until the young ones were fully hatched he held it out unwearied, shaping it for the purpose.’
For a sign of perpetual remembrance, many images of St. Kevin throughout Ireland show a blackbird in his out-stretched hand.
*************** All you holy Saints and Hermits, pray for our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, and forthe Church.
'The eldest child of working class parents, with two brothers and one sister, Albino Luciani was born on October 17, 1912, in the town of Forno di Canale, in the Dolomite Alps of north-eastern Italy.
He attended seminary in the town of Feltre and graduated in philosophy and theology at the seminary of Belluno, a city in the Dolomite foothills, and the home town of nineteenth century Pope Gregory XVI. He was ordained priest in 1935, and returned to his home region to work as a parish assistant, a teacher of religion in a 'mining technician's' school, and a teacher of dogmatic and moral theology at the Gregorian Seminary in Belluno.
In 1948, he was appointed by the Bishop of Belluno to oversee catechetics - the teaching of the faith - in the provincial diocese, later recounting his thoughts and experiences in a book, ‘Catechism in Crumbs’.
In 1958 Pope John XXIII appointed him Bishop of Vittorio Veneto, a local diocese at the foot of the Alps, and subject to Venice. Pope Paul VI promoted him Patriarch of Venice in 1969 and named him a cardinal in 1973.
He was elected the 263rd Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church on August 26th, 1978, in one of the shortest conclaves in Church history.
The sixty-five year old Luciani adopted the name John Paul I. Thirty-three days later he died unexpectedly in his sleep.'
He once said of himself: “I am only a poor man, accustomed to small things and silence.”
Whilst Patriarch of Venice, he wrote a number of open letters to illustrious writers, fictional characters, and historical figures of the past. These were then published in book form in Italy in 1976, under the title ‘Illustrissimi’.
Cardinal Luciani was first and foremost a pastor of souls, and these letters were written to convey the truths of the Faith, but written in a light and sympathetic manner, reflecting both the writer's compassion for the weakness of men, and his joyful faith and trust in the love and mercy of God
Reproduced below is his letter to Trilussa, (pseudonym of Carlo Alberto Salustri), a Roman poet (1871 –1950), whose satire, often light-hearted and good-natured, at times became bitingly sarcastic about what he saw as the hypocrisy, malice, and egoism of the contemporary world. His best known works are 'Fables' (1922) and 'Jove and the Animals'(1932)
I have re-read that melancholy and autobiographical poem in which you tell of being lost, at night, in the middle of the woods, when you met an old blind woman, who said: "If you don’t know the road, I’ll come with you, because I know it!"
You were surprised: "I find it strange that someone who cannot see, can guide me". But the little old woman took your hand, and said firmly: "Come along".
This is faith. I agree with you to some extent: faith is truly a good guide, a dear and wise old woman who says; 'Set your foot here, take that path up there.' But all this happens when faith has already established itself in our minds, and become a firm conviction, and from there directs and guides the actions of life.
The conviction however, must first be formed and planted in the mind. And here, my dear Trilussa, is our present difficulty. The journey of faith today is not a mere walk along a woodland path, but a journey at times difficult, often dramatic, and always mysterious.
It is difficult in the first place to have faith in others, accepting what they say just because they say it. The student hears the teacher say that the earth is 148 million kilometres from the sun. He would like to check this but how can he? He summons his courage and with a deliberate act of faith, accepts: 'Our teacher is honest and well informed, I'll trust him.'
A mother tells her son about earlier years, of sacrifices
made to protect him and care for him. "Do you believe me ?" she says. "Will you remember how much I've done for love of you?"
“How can I fail to believe you ?” the son answers, “I'll do all I can to be worthy of your love."
This son must feel tenderness and love towards his mother as well as trust in her; only thus will he know the impulse to self surrender, the commitment to life.
Faith in God is something similar. It is a filial 'yes' to God, who tells us something about His own intimate life: it says 'yes’ to the things narrated and to Him who narrates them. The man who says 'yes' must have not merely trust, but also tenderness and love, and must feel like a small child.
'I'm not the type who knows everything, who has the last word on everything, who checks everything. Perhaps I am used to arriving at scientific certitude with the most rigorous laboratory controls; here, on the contrary, I must be satisfied with a certitude which is not physical, not mathematical, but depends on good sense, on common sense. And more than that, by trusting in God, I know and accept that God may come into my life, and direct and change it.'
In his ‘Confessions’, my dear Trilussa, Augustine is far more impassioned than you are in describing his journey towards faith. Before saying his total ‘yes’ to God, his soul shudders and writhes in painful conflicts. On one side there is God, inviting him; on the other, his old habits - his former 'friends', who 'tug gently at his clothing of flesh', whispering, 'Dost thou cast us off? Remember the moment we leave you, that certain things will no longer be allowed you - forever!’
God urged him to hurry, and Augustine pleaded, ’Not at once, just another moment’, and he goes on for weeks in a state of indecision and inner turmoil, until assisted by a powerful thrust from God, he summoned his courage and made up his mind.
As you see, Trilussa, in the human drama of faith there is a
mysterious element; the intervention of God. Paul of Tarsus experienced it on the road to Damascus and describes it in this way: ‘That day, Lord, you seized me: through your grace I am what I am.'
Here we are in the heart of the mystery. What, in fact, is this grace of God, and how does it operate? It is so difficult to say!
Conversion of Paul on the Road to Damascus (Caravaggio)
Imagine that the unbeliever is asleep; God wakens him and says, ‘Get out of bed!’
Imagine that he is sick; God puts some medicine in his hands, and says, ‘Take this!’
The fact is that a non-believer, all of a sudden, without having thought of it, finds himself reflecting at a certain point on problems of the soul and of religion, and is potentially open to faith.
After this intervention, which happens ‘without us’, God does other things, but ‘with us’, that is to say with our free collaboration. Waking us from our sleep is done by Him alone, getting out of bed is up to us, even if we need His help in the first place.
The grace of God, in fact, has force, but does not mean to force us; it has a holy violence, but intended to make us fall in love with the truth, not to have our freedom violated. It can happen that once wakened, invited to rise, taken by the arm, some may instead roll over on the other side, saying ‘let me sleep’.
In the Gospel we find cases of these sort. “Come follow Me,” Christ says, and Matthew rises from his work and follows Him; another however, though invited, answers; “Lord, let me go first and bury my father,” and never shows up again.
These are people, Christ reflects sadly, who put their hands to the plough, then turn back. This explains how there is a whole range in belief, going from those who have never had faith, to those with too little faith, those who are lukewarm and feeble in their faith, and finally those who have a faith that is fervent and productive.
But this explains only up to a point, my dear Trilussa. Why do some of us not believe? Because God did not give us His grace. But why did He not give us His grace? Because we did not correspond to His inspirations. And why did we not correspond to them? Because being free, we abused our freedom. And why did we abuse our freedom? This is the hard part, dear Trilussa; and something I don't understand. I prefer to think of the future rather than the past and follow Paul's invitation: “We exhort you not to receive in vain the grace of God”
Dear Trilussa! Manzoni describes as a ‘glad marvel and a banquetof grace’ the return of the Unnamed to the faith. Manzoni knew what he was writing about; he also had ‘returned’.
Alessandro Manzoni (1785-1873) - Italian Poet/Novelist
The banquet table is always laid, available to us all. As for me, I try to profit from it every day, propping up the life of faith that the previous day's sins have toppled. I wonder if Christians who, like me, feel themselves sometimes good, sometimes sinners, will 'agree to be good dinner-guests with me'.
Ack. 'Illustrissimi' - Letters from Pope John Paul I -Albino Luciani. Collins, London. 1978.
We live on Stronsay in Orkney, and our small but growing congregation, centred on ‘Our Lady’s Chapel’, is served by the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer (F.SS.R) from Golgotha Monastery, Papa Stronsay. We are blessed with daily Mass in the ‘extraordinary form’, with weekly Benediction, Confessions, etc. On certain major feast-days and special occasions, eg. Holy Week, Christmas, clothing of novices, vows, centenary celebrations, etc. we are invited to Papa Stronsay, being conveyed by the monks in their sturdy little boat to and from the island, and always treated with great hospitality, essentially as part of the family. These joint experiences, the physical crossing of the sea, short though it may be, followed by participation in the most devout traditional liturgical ceremonies of the Church, sometimes lasting two or three hours and often into the night, frequently followed by hospitable fare, combine over time, to create a rather special spiritual and experiential bond between the monastic community and parishioners. We do not lose sight of the fact that everything done is for the glory of God, and the salvation of souls, and this is why we thank God for the presence of our monks here, and pray that their faith and holy perseverance will soon be rewarded by their full canonical erection in the Diocese.
I confess to having a considerable interest in the history of monastic life. I emphasise that this is purely an aesthetic interest, as in the event of waking up one morning to find that mysteriously I had become a monk overnight, I fear that I wouldn’t even last the day! We all recognise the admirable qualities that it takes to become a religious, and of course the final invitation is from God. I console myself by remembering that in God’s house there are many kingdoms, and that I would be more than happy to be the least of all the royal servants in the most insignificant of those kingdoms.
I am currently reading, for the second or third time, a book entitled ‘Borderland’ by Anna Reid, described by the author as ‘A journey through the history of Ukraine’; a paperback published in 1998 by Phoenix. I have no intention of reviewing this book except to say that it is a fascinating read, beautifully written, and I thoroughly recommend it. However whilst in monastic mind, I would like to quote a short passage from the book, relating to the year 1650 or thereabouts, in which the author recounts the experiences of an Orthodox cleric, who with his Superior, visited certain monasteries in Moscow and the Ukraine. The author is writing about Kiev in the Ukraine:-
‘Seven hundred years of provincialism had its advantages. Third city of the empire, Kiev never felt the grip of government in quite the same way as Moscow and St Petersburg. An early traveller to say so was Paul of Aleppo, an Orthodox cleric who accompanied his father Macarius, Patriarch of Antioch, on a fund-raising mission to the Tsar in the 1650s. Landing at the mouth of the Dnieper, this smooth Mediterranean pair were initially not much taken with Ukraine. The mosquitoes bit, the food was dreadful, and the services went on for ever. ‘We never left church,’ Paul confided to his diary, ‘but tottering on our legs after so much standing’. Moscow, though, was far worse. ‘Anyone wishing to shorten his life by five or ten years,’ Paul wrote, ‘should go to Muscovy.’ In the monasteries ‘mirth and laughter and jokes’ were forbidden, and spies watched through cracks in the doors to see ‘whether the inmates practise devotional humility, fasting and prayer; or whether they get drunk and amuse themselves’. Drinkers, he was told, were sent to Siberia; smokers were liable for execution – news which put him ‘in great fear’ on his own account. After all this, as he wrote on his journey home, Ukraine seemed like paradise: ‘For during those two years spent in Muscovy , a padlock had been set on our hearts, and we were in the extremity of narrowness and compressure of our minds; for in that country no person can feel anything of freedom or cheerfulness.......... The country of the Kosacks (Ukrainian Cossacks), on the contrary, was like our own country to us, and its inhabitants were to us boon companions and fellows like ourselves’. The battered pair were even happier to reach Moldova, where they ‘entered the bath, after twenty-seven months, during the whole of which time we had neither entered a bath nor washed ourselves with water’. ****************
Having read this, I imagine that vocations to the religious life in the Russian Orthodox Church in the 17th century, must have been few and far between! Probably even worse than today in our Church, with some notable exceptions - ‘Deo Gratias’! By the way I haven’t heard of any of the F.SS.R community being banished to Siberia, and I haven’t heard of any executions – yet! Only joking, of course, says he nervously, watching three formidable figures in black walking slowly and deliberately towards him, each carrying a black, rectangular object in their hand. Phew, it’s Saturday morning and time for choir practice for sung Mass tomorrow! It’s Brothers Magdala, Martin, and Peter, each carrying their ‘Liber Usualis’ ! Now where did I put my copy? ***************
Some really good and encouraging news for nurses (and the unborn) Neil Addison, a Liverpool barrister, reports on his Religion Law Blog that he has 'recently successfully represented two Roman Catholic Nurses who were told that they could not refuse to work at a weekly Abortion Clinic run by their Hospital.'
This is truly good news for all pro-life nurses and ultimately for the unborn. Congratulations to Neil Addison for his dedicated and professional services. It is refreshing and encouraging to find the law on the side of individual conscience in moral matters of such importance. Spread the good news, especially to all those in the nursing profession.
‘Holy Mary, Queen Assumed into Heaven – pray for our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, and for our Country'
From Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, Head of the Archdiocese of Denver, Colorado:-
"Take up your cross and follow me."
"The world urgently needs a re-awakening of the Church in our actions and in our public and private witness...We need really to believe what we say we believe. Then we need to prove it by the witness of our lives. We need to be so convinced of the truths of the Creed that we are on fire to live by these truths, to love by these truths, and to defend these truths, even to the point of our own discomforts and suffering. We are ambassadors of the living God to a world that is on the verge of forgetting him. Our work is to make God real; to be the face of his love; to propose once more to the men and women of our day, the dialogue of salvation...The form of the Church, and the form of every Christian life, is the form of the cross. Our lives must become a liturgy, a self offering that embodies the love of God and the renewal of the world... Let us preach Jesus Christ with all the energy of our lives. And let us support each other -whatever the cost- so that when we make our accounting to the Lord, we will be numbered among the faithful and courageous, and not the cowardly or the evasive, or those who compromised until there was nothing left of their convictions; or those who were silent when they should have spoken the right word at the right time."
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, Head of the Archdiocese of Denver, Colorado
Yesterday was the diocesan feast day of Our Lady of Aberdeen, in which diocese Stronsay is situated.
'Our Lady of Aberdeen, please pray for our Holy Father, our Bishop, the Transalpine Redemptorist community, all priests and religious, and the laity of our diocese'.
Prayer for the beatification of Bishop Richard Challoner, Bishop of Debra, Vicar Apostolic of the London District 1758-1781. O God, who didst make thy servant Richard a true and faithful pastor of thy little flock in England, deign to place him among the Blessed in Thy Church, so that we who profit by his word and example, may beg his help in heaven for the return of this land to the ancient faith, and to the fold of the one true Shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Slightly frayed around the edges and still trying to pretend that I'm not really as old as that! I thank God for all my blessings, particularly my Catholic faith; my wife a 'pearl of great price'; my children and grandchildren; my friends; our dog Dartmoor; and our good neighbours and spiritual mentors, the F.SS.R community from Papa Stronsay.