Saturday, October 29, 2011

All Saints

Almighty and ever-living God:
we thank thee for the triumph of thy grace
in the holy men and women of every generation
who set their hearts upon thee
and now surround us as a great cloud of witnesses
- those who fell asleep in peace,
and those who won the martyrs' crown.
With so vast a multitude praying for us,
may we come to grasp the breadth and the length,
the height and the depth of the love of Christ,
who liveth and reigneth with thee
in the unity of the Holy Ghost,
one God, world without end. Amen.

For all the Saints who from their labours rest,
Who thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy name, O Jesu, be for ever blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress, and their Might,
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou in the darkness drear their one true Light.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

For Ever-blessed Mary, - full of grace,
Mother of God, and Queen of all thy Saints, -
With her to thee "Magnificat" we raise.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

For the Apostles' glorious company,
- Who, bearing forth the Cross o'er land and sea,
Shook all the mighty world, - we sing to thee,
Alleluia! Alleluia!

For the Evangelists, - by whose pure word,
Like fourfold stream, the Garden of the Lord
Is fair and fruitful, - be thy Name adored.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

For Martyrs, - who with rapture-kindled eye
Saw the bright crown descending from the sky,
And dying, grasped it, - thee we glorify.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

O may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
Fight as the Saints who nobly fought of old,
And win, with them, the victor's crown of gold.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

O blest communion! fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in thee, for all are thine.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest:
Sweet is the calm of Paradise the blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The Saints triumphant rise in bright array:
The King of glory passes on his way.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Pope Benedict's Assisi Peace Pilgrimage Address

From The Associated Press: Pope Benedict XVI joined Buddhist monks, Islamic scholars, Yoruba leaders and a handful of agnostics in making a communal call for peace Thursday 27th October, insisting that religion must never be used as a pretext for war or terrorism.

Benedict welcomed some 300 leaders representing a rainbow of faiths to the hilltop town of Assisi to commemorate the 25th anniversary of a daylong prayer for peace here called by Pope John Paul II in 1986 amid Cold War conflicts.

While the event lacked the star power of 1986, when the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa and others came together to pray, Thursday's peace meeting included some novelties that the original lacked. Buddhist monks from mainland China were on hand as were four people who profess no faith at all — part of Benedict's efforts to reach out to agnostics and atheists who nevertheless are searching for truth.

Thursday's meeting also included Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and representatives from Greek, Russian, Serbian and Belarusian Orthodox churches as well as Lutheran, Methodist and Baptist leaders. Several rabbis were joined by some 60 Muslims, a half-dozen Hindus and Shinto believers, three Taoists, three Jains and a Zoroastrian.

. . . The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, one of the first speakers at the peace meeting, said the delegates weren't gathered there to come to a "minimum common ground of belief."

Rather, he said, the meeting would show the world that through their distinctiveness, different faiths provide the wisdom to draw upon "in the struggle against the foolishness of a world still obsessed with fear and suspicion, still in love with the idea of a security based on active hostility, and still capable of tolerating or ignoring massive loss of life among the poorest through war and disease."

To read all of The Associated Press report go HERE.

This is Pope Benedict's address:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Distinguished Heads and Representatives of Churches, Ecclesial Communities and World Religions,

Dear Friends,

Twenty-five years have passed since Blessed Pope John Paul II first invited representatives of the world’s religions to Assisi to pray for peace. What has happened in the meantime? What is the state of play with regard to peace today?

At that time the great threat to world peace came from the division of the earth into two mutually opposed blocs. A conspicuous symbol of this division was the Berlin Wall which traced the border between two worlds right through the heart of the city.

In 1989, three years after Assisi, the wall came down, without bloodshed. Suddenly the vast arsenals that stood behind the wall were no longer significant. They had lost their terror. The peoples’ will to freedom was stronger than the arsenals of violence. The question as to the causes of this dramatic change is complex and cannot be answered with simple formulae. But in addition to economic and political factors, the deepest reason for the event is a spiritual one: behind material might there were no longer any spiritual convictions.

The will to freedom was ultimately stronger than the fear of violence, which now lacked any spiritual veneer. For this victory of freedom, which was also, above all, a victory of peace, we give thanks. What is more, this was not merely, nor even primarily, about the freedom to believe, although it did include this. To that extent we may in some way link all this to our prayer for peace.

But what happened next? Unfortunately, we cannot say that freedom and peace have characterized the situation ever since. Even if there is no threat of a great war hanging over us at present, nevertheless the world is unfortunately full of discord. It is not only that sporadic wars are continually being fought – violence as such is potentially ever present and it is a characteristic feature of our world. Freedom is a great good. But the world of freedom has proved to be largely directionless, and not a few have misinterpreted freedom as somehow including freedom for violence. Discord has taken on new and frightening guises, and the struggle for freedom must engage us all in a new way.

Let us try to identify the new faces of violence and discord more closely. It seems to me that, in broad strokes, we may distinguish two types of the new forms of violence, which are the very antithesis of each other in terms of their motivation and manifest a number of differences in detail.

Firstly there is terrorism, for which in place of a great war there are targeted attacks intended to strike the opponent destructively at key points, with no regard for the lives of innocent human beings, who are cruelly killed or wounded in the process. In the eyes of the perpetrators, the overriding goal of damage to the enemy justifies any form of cruelty. Everything that had been commonly recognized and sanctioned in international law as the limit of violence is overruled. We know that terrorism is often religiously motivated and that the specifically religious character of the attacks is proposed as a justification for the reckless cruelty that considers itself entitled to discard the rules of morality for the sake of the intended "good". In this case, religion does not serve peace, but is used as justification for violence.

The post-Enlightenment critique of religion has repeatedly maintained that religion is a cause of violence and in this way it has fuelled hostility towards religions. The fact that, in the case we are considering here, religion really does motivate violence should be profoundly disturbing to us as religious persons. In a way that is more subtle but no less cruel, we also see religion as the cause of violence when force is used by the defenders of one religion against others. The religious delegates who were assembled in Assisi in 1986 wanted to say, and we now repeat it emphatically and firmly: this is not the true nature of religion. It is the antithesis of religion and contributes to its destruction.

In response, an objection is raised: how do you know what the true nature of religion is? Does your assertion not derive from the fact that your religion has become a spent force? Others in their turn will object: is there such a thing as a common nature of religion that finds expression in all religions and is therefore applicable to them all?

We must ask ourselves these questions, if we wish to argue realistically and credibly against religiously motivated violence. Herein lies a fundamental task for interreligious dialogue – an exercise which is to receive renewed emphasis through this meeting.

As a Christian I want to say at this point: yes, it is true, in the course of history, force has also been used in the name of the Christian faith. We acknowledge it with great shame. But it is utterly clear that this was an abuse of the Christian faith, one that evidently contradicts its true nature. The God in whom we Christians believe is the Creator and Father of all, and from him all people are brothers and sisters and form one single family. For us the Cross of Christ is the sign of the God who put "suffering-with" (compassion) and "loving-with" in place of force. His name is "God of love and peace" (2 Cor 13:11). It is the task of all who bear responsibility for the Christian faith to purify the religion of Christians again and again from its very heart, so that it truly serves as an instrument of God’s peace in the world, despite the fallibility of humans.

If one basic type of violence today is religiously motivated and thus confronts religions with the question as to their true nature and obliges all of us to undergo purification, a second complex type of violence is motivated in precisely the opposite way: as a result of God’s absence, his denial and the loss of humanity which goes hand in hand with it.

The enemies of religion – as we said earlier – see in religion one of the principal sources of violence in the history of humanity and thus they demand that it disappear. But the denial of God has led to much cruelty and to a degree of violence that knows no bounds, which only becomes possible when man no longer recognizes any criterion or any judge above himself, now having only himself to take as a criterion. The horrors of the concentration camps reveal with utter clarity the consequences of God’s absence.

Yet I do not intend to speak further here about state-imposed atheism, but rather about the decline of man, which is accompanied by a change in the spiritual climate that occurs imperceptibly and hence is all the more dangerous. The worship of mammon, possessions and power is proving to be a counter-religion, in which it is no longer man who counts but only personal advantage. The desire for happiness degenerates, for example, into an unbridled, inhuman craving, such as appears in the different forms of drug dependency. There are the powerful who trade in drugs and then the many who are seduced and destroyed by them, physically and spiritually. Force comes to be taken for granted and in parts of the world it threatens to destroy our young people. Because force is taken for granted, peace is destroyed and man destroys himself in this peace vacuum.

The absence of God leads to the decline of man and of humanity. But where is God? Do we know him, and can we show him anew to humanity, in order to build true peace? Let us first briefly summarize our considerations thus far. I said that there is a way of understanding and using religion so that it becomes a source of violence, while the rightly lived relationship of man to God is a force for peace. In this context I referred to the need for dialogue and I spoke of the constant need for purification of lived religion. On the other hand I said that the denial of God corrupts man, robs him of his criteria and leads him to violence.

In addition to the two phenomena of religion and anti-religion, a further basic orientation is found in the growing world of agnosticism: people to whom the gift of faith has not been given, but who are nevertheless on the lookout for truth, searching for God.

Such people do not simply assert: "There is no God". They suffer from his absence and yet are inwardly making their way towards him, inasmuch as they seek truth and goodness.

They are "pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace". They ask questions of both sides. They take away from militant atheists the false certainty by which these claim to know that there is no God and they invite them to leave polemics aside and to become seekers who do not give up hope in the existence of truth and in the possibility and necessity of living by it. But they also challenge the followers of religions not to consider God as their own property, as if he belonged to them, in such a way that they feel vindicated in using force against others.

These people are seeking the truth, they are seeking the true God, whose image is frequently concealed in the religions because of the ways in which they are often practised. Their inability to find God is partly the responsibility of believers with a limited or even falsified image of God. So all their struggling and questioning is in part an appeal to believers to purify their faith, so that God, the true God, becomes accessible.

Therefore I have consciously invited delegates of this third group to our meeting in Assisi, which does not simply bring together representatives of religious institutions. Rather it is a case of being together on a journey towards truth, a case of taking a decisive stand for human dignity and a case of common engagement for peace against every form of destructive force.

Finally I would like to assure you that the Catholic Church will not let up in her fight against violence, in her commitment for peace in the world. We are animated by the common desire to be "pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace".

Photographs of the occasion are screen shots from ROMEREPORTS.COM

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Augustine’s nuptial ecclesiology

St Augustine in his study, by Vittore Carpaccio (c.1465-1525/1526)

If it is true (as I believe it to be) that the Holy Spirit is nurturing a renewed biblical, patristic, catholic, evangelical, sacramental and dynamic “nuptial mysticism” as the underlying interpretive construct of Christian theology that will draw together the Christian traditions (there . . . that's nailing my colours to the mast!) then it's a good thing to re-read ALL of our sources and keep an eye out for some of the themes we might not have been looking for first time round.

I was talking about this with a friend who alerted me to an essay by Mary Moorman: Quando Tu and The Nuptial Creation: St. Augustine’s Enduring Influence on Contemporary Ecclesiology. It's a great piece, drawing together a number of ideas and making the connections with Balthasar and de Lubac:

Historians such as David Hunter have proposed that one of Augustine’s favorite popular metaphors for the Church, as we find in his sermons, is that of a virgin bride, contracted in marriage to her husband by the tabulae matrimoniales of ancient Roman jurisprudence. Thus, although various scholars have held that Augustine’s concept of the Church must always be regarded rather tentatively, since his ecclesiology is constituted by a complex and dynamic nexus of interconnected distinctions, historian Peter Brown proposes that Augustine portrays the Church in the commonplace legal imagery of a legitimately contracted bride when it became most necessary to delineate a clear ecclesiology for his parishioners against the separatist movements of his day. Brown urges that “the atmosphere of a courtroom will follow Augustine into Church when he preached against the Donatists… with the same unnerving confidence as Monica (when displaying) her own marriage contract, Augustine would now produce the marriage contract of Christ and His Church.”

Augustine’s “nuptial” ecclesiology may be summarized in three key elements. In the first place, Augustine teaches that the bridal Church was born from Christ’s suffering body:

(Just as) God sent a deep sleep upon Adam, in order to fashion a wife for him from his side…in Christ’s case, a bride was made for him as he slept on the cross, and made from his side. With a lance his side was struck as he hung there, and out flowed the sacraments of the Church.

From various Ennarationes such as in Psalmos 30, Augustine continues that Christ speaks for the members of the ecclesial bridal body to which He has joined Himself, as its Head, because “by a great sacrament (the Incarnation) these two were united in one flesh…out of two people, one single person comes to be, the single person that is Head and body, Bridegroom and Bride.”

Secondly, Augustine also holds that the bride of Christ is not merely born from Christ; she is also contracted to Christ in a mutual exchange of marital vows. In this regard, Augustine describes the bridegroom at the wedding feast of John 2 as a metaphor for Christ the bridegroom . . . Go HERE to keep reading

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Do you know Him?

Whatever our particular tradition as Christians, it is so easy to reduce the Faith to a philosophy, a theology, a morality or a vague "spirituality." That's why we need evangelists; thats why we need "renewal."

No one understood this better than Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997). During Holy Week 1993 (on Lady Day, 25th March) Mother Teresa wrote to all the family of the Missionaries of Charity from Varanasi “Such a personal letter,” she said at the beginning, “that I wished to write it by hand.” In it, she says:

“I worry some of you still have not really met Jesus - one to one - you and Jesus alone. We may spend time in chapel - but have you seen with the eyes of your soul how He looks at you with love? Do you really know the living Jesus - not from books but from being with Him in your heart? Have you heard the loving words He speaks to you? . . . Never give up this every day intimate contact with Jesus as a real living person - not just as an idea.” [Read the whole letter HERE]

Later on, Mother Teresa wrote:

“Who is Jesus for me?
Jesus is the word to be spoken,
the Life to be lived,
the Love to be loved,
the Joy to be shared,
the Sacrifice to be offered,
the Peace to be given,
the Bread of life to be eaten”


St Paul said: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

Philippians 3:8

In 2004, Cardinal Ratzinger made the same point:

“Many people perceive Christianity as something institutional rather than as an encounter with Christ, which explains why they don’t see it as a source of joy. If we stay with this impression, we do not live the essence of Christianity, which is an ever new encounter, an event thanks to which we can encounter the God who speaks to us, who approaches us, who befriends us. It is critical to come to this fundamental point of a personal encounter with God, who also today makes himself present, and who is contemporary. If one finds this essential centre, one also understands all the other things. But if this encounter is not realized, which touches the heart, all the rest remains like a weight, almost like something absurd. We need to understand Christianity in a personal way, from the point of view of an encounterwith Christ.”

And this is the testimony of Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh (1914-2003):

I met Christ as a Person at a moment when I needed him in order to live, and at a moment when I was not in search of him. I was found; I did not find him. I was a teenager then. Life had been difficult in the early years and now it had of a sudden become easier. All the years when life had been hard I had found it natural, if not easy, to fight; but when life became easy and happy I was faced quite unexpectedly with a problem: I could not accept aimless happiness. Hardships and suffering had to be overcome, there was something beyond them. Happiness seemed to be stale if it had no further meaning. As it often happens when you are young and when you act with passion, bent to possess either everything or nothing, I decided that I would give myself a year to see whether life had a meaning, and if I discovered it had none I would not live beyond the year.

Months passed and no meaning appeared on the horizon. One day, it was during Lent, and I was then a member of one of the Russian youth organizations in Paris, one of our leaders came up to me and said, 'We have invited a priest to talk to you, come'. I answered with violent indignation that I would not. I had no use for Church. I did not believe in God. I did not want to waste any of my time. Then my leader explained to me that everyone who belonged to my group had reacted in exactly the same way, and if no one came we would all be put to shame because the priest had come and we would be disgraced if no one attended his talk. My leader was a wise man. He did not try to convince me that I should listen attentively to his words so that I might perhaps find truth in them: 'Don't listen,' he said. 'I don't care, but sit and be a physical presence'. That much loyalty I was prepared to give to my youth organization and that much indifference I was prepared to offer to God and to his minister. So I sat through the lecture, but it was with increasing indignation and distaste. The man who spoke to us, as I discovered later, was a great man, but I was then not capable of perceiving his greatness. I saw only a vision of Christ and of Christianity that was profoundly repulsive to me. When the lecture was over I hurried home in order to check the truth of what he had been saying. I asked my mother whether she had a book of the Gospel, because I wanted to know whether the Gospel would support the monstrous impression I had derived from this talk. I expected nothing good from my reading, so I counted the chapters of the four Gospels to be sure that I read the shortest, not to waste time unnecessarily. And thus it was the Gospel according to St Mark which I began to read.

I do not know how to tell you of what happened. I will put it quite simply and those of you who have gone through a similar experience will know what came to pass. While I was reading the beginning of St Mark's gospel, before I reached the third chapter, I became aware of a presence. I saw nothing. I heard nothing. It was no hallucination. It was a simple certainty that the Lord was standing there and that I was in the presence of him whose life I had begun to read with such revulsion and such ill-will,

This was my basic and essential meeting with the Lord. From then I knew that Christ did exist. I knew that he was thou, in other words that he was the Risen Christ. [Read MORE]

Charles Wesley (1707-1788), in one of his best loved hymns puts it like this:

Jesus! the Name high over all,
In hell or earth or sky;
Angels and men before it fall,
And devils fear and fly.

Jesus! the Name to sinners dear,
The Name to sinners given;
It scatters all their guilty fear,
It turns their hell to heaven.

Jesus! the prisoner’s fetters breaks,
And bruises Satan’s head;
Power into strengthless souls it speaks,
And life into the dead.

O that the world might taste and see
The riches of his grace!
The arms of love that compass me
Would all the world embrace.

His only righteousness I show,
His saving grace proclaim;
’Tis all my business here below
To cry “Behold the Lamb!”

Happy, if with my latest breath
I may but gasp his Name,
Preach him to all and cry in death,
“Behold, behold the Lamb!”

If you are just starting out on your faith journey and don't have anyone you can speak to about it, send me an email, and I will make a few suggestions to help you along the way.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Forward in Faith (UK) 2011 National Assembly

Go HERE for the audio of
Bishop Jonathan's inspiring address.

Go HERE for recordings of other highlights
of the National Assembly.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware - wise words

Click HERE to listen to the lecture.


Let me begin this evening with words, neither from an Orthodox Christian nor from an Evangelical Christian but from a Roman Catholic—Cardinal Suenens. He has said, “In order to unite, we must first love one another. In order to love one another, we must first get to know one another.” That sums up in a nutshell the purpose of our Orthodox-Evangelical dialogue. As with every Inter-Christian and indeed Inter-faith dialogue, we are seeking to get to know one another better, so that we may come to love another more fully and so may be enabled by God’s grace and mercy to fulfill the prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ for his disciples “that they all may be one”. (John 17:21).

Nowadays, we often hear the word dialogue, used . . . CONTINUE READING

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Touch of the Master's Hand

'Twas battered and scarred and the auctioneer
Thought it scarcely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin,
But he held it up with a smile.

"What am I bid, good folk?" he cried.
"Who'll start the bidding for me?
A dollar, a dollar . . . now two . . . only two . . .
Two dollars, and who'll make it three?

"Three dollars once, three dollars twice,
Going for three" . . . but no!
From the room far back a gray-haired man
Came forward and picked up the bow.

Then wiping the dust from the old violin
And tightening up the strings,
He played a melody pure and sweet,
As sweet as an angel sings.

The music ceased, and the auctioneer,
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said, "What am I bid for the old violin?"
As he held it up with the bow.

"A thousand dollars . . . and who'll make it two?
Two...two thousand, and who'll make it three?
Three thousand once and three thousand twice . . .
Three thousand and gone!" said he.

The people cheered, but some exclaimed
"We do not quite understand . . .
What changed it's worth?" and the answer came:
" 'Twas the touch of the master's hand."

And many a man with soul out of tune
And battered and scarred by sin
Is auctioned cheap by the thoughtless crowd
Just like the old violin.

A "mess 'o pottage"
A glass of wine
A game and he travels on.
He's "going" once
And "going" twice
And "going" . . . and almost "gone"

Then along comes the Master, and the foolish crowd
Never can quite understand
The worth of a soul or the change that's wrought
By the touch of the Master's Hand.

Myra 'Brooks' Welch (1877 - 1959)

Friday, October 7, 2011

Our Lady of the Rosary

So many Christians have found the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary to be a great blessing. If you would like to learn how to pray the Rosary - especially if you are an absolute beginner - click HERE and download a little teaching I have compiled just for you!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

St Francis of Assisi

This article by Fr Richard Roemer of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal is from Good News Magazine, May/June 2002. Go HERE to their website.

Pope Leo XIII amazingly stated that "St Francis was called to reform the Church not in the way other saints had done, nor just for his own time, but for all time to come.. Whenever society strays from the right path, no other remedy is needed but to revitalise the spirit of the orders St Francis founded."

It is difficult to think of another saint who can match the popular appeal of St Francis (except perhaps the great finder of lost items, St Anthony, who was an early Franciscan anyway!) It is easy to see why St Francis appeals to so many people in every age. I recently met a fallen-away Catholic who is coming back to faith because he started reading about St Francis and discovered in him "someone without hypocrisy."

Giovanni, son of the wealthy merchant Peter Bernadone, was born in 1182 and given the name Francis "Frenchy") as a nickname. Growing up as a lad in Assisi, he displayed the passion one might expect from "the most saintly of the Italians and most Italian of the saints". He was party loving, generous, spontaneous, and chivalrous. He used these same qualities after his conversion ("sublimated" them we would say today) in his service to Christ. It was probably his passionate, whole-hearted character that made the communist leader Lenin remark that with 10 people like St Francis he could change the entire world. In fact, by the grace of God, St Francis notably impacted the world in his brief 20 years of converted life. He died at the age of 45, blind from weeping so many tears of love, soaring in perfect joy and praise of God, and transformed into an icon of Christ.

The highlights of his conversion helped to define his saintly character and his lasting impact upon the Christian world. When the Lord asked him in a dream if it would be better to serve the Master or the servant, the chivalrous Francis began to see his role as the "herald of the great King", not to be enslaved any longer by a superficial and petty society. The freedom that St Francis found in Christ at first made people think he was crazy, but soon attracted people of all backgrounds to him. His standard of judgement was totally centred in Christ, so unlike the "enlightened" Christian of today who tends to readily accept secular judgements upon the faith. St Francis often told his friars, "What a man is before God, that he is, and nothing else."

Jesus spoke from the cross in the Church of San Damiano and told him to "Go and rebuild my Church, which you see is falling into ruins." In his simplicity he first took these words literally and began fixing up little churches around Assisi. Later this truly Catholic and Apostolic man realised it was the universal Church the Lord was speaking of, and he carried out this rebuilding in a most humble and reverent manner.

In the church called the Portiuncula, when he was asking the Lord for further direction, he was given three Gospel verses relating to poverty. They were Mark 10.21 "sell everything and give it to the poor"); Matthew 16.24 ("deny yourself and take up your cross") and Luke 9.3 ("take nothing for the journey"). Known as "il poverello", the little poor man, it was this love for poverty in the imitation of Christ that particularly became his trademark and that of his followers, and a special gift for the Church. He made poverty attractive to men and women by showing how much God is attracted to poverty. He didn't see poverty as end in itself, but as a way to identify more closely with the poverty of Jesus. St Francis gave us the first Christmas creche because of his enthrallment with the poverty of the Word becoming flesh. He was also the first to receive the stigmata (not counting perhaps St Paul), because he was so conformed in his heart to the crucified Saviour. I've met many "card-carrying" materialists in our own day who continue to be intrigued and attracted to Franciscan poverty when it bears fruit in genuine joy, peace and love of others. I've personally found poverty to be a great help for growing in interior freedom.

St Francis' deeper conversion in love of neighbour occurred when he met a leper on the road. He was totally disgusted at the sight and smell of lepers until that day when he was given the grace to overcome himself, to get off his horse, give the leper a coin and a kiss. At that point, he tells us in his Testament, "what was bitter was changed to sweetness" and this reverent service to lepers and other outcasts marked the rest of his life, for he truly saw Christ in them. In our own day we continue to learn from his example not to serve others with a condescending attitude but with a sense of smallness and brotherhood in Christ.

Although he is still popular today, this "birdbath saint" has often been misrepresented and misunderstood. The best way to understand St Francis' heart ( and he was definitely more of a "heart" man than a "head" man) is to read his own writings. One might be surprised for example, that the greatest concern manifested in his letters to laity, friars, clergy and even government rulers is reverence for the Eucharist. He always speaks concretely of the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of the Lord.

In reading his prayers, one would definitely class him as a 13th century charismatic. He was not afraid to be passionate and emotive about God (something natural to Italians). His "Praises of God" would leave any champion charismatic breathless! He told friars in our Rule to "seek above all else the Spirit of the Lord and His holy operation in your life." His preaching and decision making were usually spontaneous and Spirit-led. He didn't plan so much as listen to God in the present moment, something we often need to be reminded of. He seemed inspired in some of the simple prayers he would often repeat, such as "My God and my all!" or "Who art Thou O Lord and what am I?" which are helpful prayer starters when we get distracted.

The essential elements of St Francis' life that are a "remedy whenever society strays" include poverty, charity to outcasts, love of the Eucharist and the Church, prophetic faith, passionate prayer and penance. In our own day, his gift for reconciling enemies and for revering God's work in the "Book of Creation" are also timely issues. No doubt, his whole-hearted, non-compromising Gospel life is a tough act to follow. A holy Capuchin Franciscan, Blessed, Bernard of Corleone, remarked that he wasn't afraid to face Christ on judgement day, but he was afraid to face St Francis! In St Francis' words, "May we begin to do good, for up to now we have done very little!"

Saturday, October 1, 2011

St. Thérèse of Lisieux

Today in the Church's calendar is when we thank the Lord for St. Thérèse of Lisieux, a French Carmelite sister who died at the age of 24 in 1897 after years of illness and spiritual struggle. Often referred to as St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, and "the Little Flower", Thérèse understood the entire Christian life - with all its ups and downs, its joys and sorrows - as a response to God’s love. It’s what she called her “little way.”

Nourished by the Scriptures and the Sacraments, her relationship with the Lord Jesus was one of such love that even when her suffering and pain was at its height, her inner struggle was most intense and she lacked any “spiritual feelings”, she had the strength to write letters of support and encouragement to Maurice Bellière, a stumbling young man preparing to be a missionary priest.

He’d experienced a moral failure, and couldn’t quiet his conscience. There was a fair amount of gloom and guilt in the religion of the day - both Catholic and Protestant - and Maurice needed to hear what Thérèse told him. Do you know what she said? She said it is not God’s will that our relationship with him be based on an obsessive fear of punishment. Neither, she said, does God want us to try and bargain for salvation by promising to do good works.

With all who have begun to grasp the meaning of the grace-filled Gospel down through the Christian centuries, Thérèse knew that no amount of “good works” could buy God’s love. She knew that in our better moments we would always wonder if we had done enough. In fact she even said to Maurice that the best of our “good works” are blemished, anyway, and they make us displeasing to God if we rely on them!

Thérèse knew that Jesus bore our sins on the Cross to make us free. She reminded Maurice of St Augustine and St Mary Magdalene, both of whose sins “which were many” were forgiven. She wrote to him, “I love them. I love their repentance, and especially their loving boldness.”

She relied only on God’s love. In her “Act of Oblation” in Story of a Soul, Thérèse wrote these words she had said to the Lord:

“After earth’s exile, I hope to go and enjoy you in the fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for your love alone …. In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is blemished in your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love the eternal possession of yourself.”

Thérèse knew that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). Indeed, she said, “How can I fear a God who is nothing but Mercy and Love?” “Confidence, nothing but confidence” in God’s love was what she stressed.

To some in the catholic tradition this might sound like spiritual presumption. But it echoes the teaching of Hebrews 10:19-22:

“Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”

No wonder Thérèse is the most quoted woman saint in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. No wonder Pope John Paul II proclaimed her a “Doctor of the Universal Church” in 1997, pointing out that she is the youngest Doctor of the Church and the one closest to our time. He said:

“in every age, so also for her, in her spiritual experience Christ is the centre and fullness of Revelation. Thérèse knew Jesus, loved him and made him loved with the passion of a bride. She penetrated the mysteries of his infancy, the words of his Gospel, the passion of the suffering Servant engraved on his holy Face, in the splendour of his glorious life, in his Eucharistic presence. She sang of all the expressions of Christ’s divine love, as they are presented in the Gospel.”

Icon of St Thérèse in the Lady Chapel
of All Saints' Wickham Terrace, Brisbane, Australia,
written by iconographer William Lawrence

St Thérèse is shown as a young Carmelite nun. In her right hand she holds a cross, not the usual crucifix, but the Slav cross of the Eastern Church. The cross is a three bar cross, recalling her roles as Patron of the Russian College (Russicum) in Rome and her patronage of missions. The cross is red, symbolic of martyrdom.

The slavonic letters on the cross are abbreviations and read:

Gospodi = Lord (top),
Tsar Slavi = King of Glory (first bar),
IC XC = Jesus Christ (cross beam),
NIKA in Slovonic transcription = victory (foot pace).

Thus the first inscription, Lord, King of Glory is a reference to Thérèse’s frequent references to Jesus as her Lord and King; the second inscription (IC XC) and third inscription NIKA allude to the Paschal troparion “Christ is risen from the dead trampling death by death.”

In her left hand Thérèse holds the book of her autobiography. Written in French on the book is her personal motto “Love can only be repaid by love”. With her index finger Thérèse subtly points to the cross.

In her arm Thérèse holds some roses as is traditional in her iconography. We can see one bud already falling to the earth.