Friday 25 June 2010

The Richness of Catholic Prayer and Devotions

It's hard to believe I started this blog one year ago today. Time goes by so quickly!

I have been thinking a good deal about my mother-in-law, who is in her nineties, almost blind and quite frail, though mentally alert. She is not a Catholic. One of her uncles was enthusiastically involved in the local Orange Lodge, which gives a good indication of the religious "flavour" of her family. She herself has never been a church-goer during her adult life, as far as I know.
The only prayer resource she has seems to be the Lord's Prayer; and what could be better that that? But it has struck me, by contrast, what a wealth of prayer, meditation and devotions would be accessible by the averagely devout Catholic of a similar age. What a treasure we have!

So, in addition to my recent postings about the value of teaching the Virtues, here is another rich seam of Catholic life which it would be wonderful for our priests to encourage from the pulpit. Perhaps some members of their congregations might even be persuaded to stay behind occasionally after Mass, while their priests lead them in Benediction or in some of the old, familiar and life-enhancing prayers. Just a thought; no pressure ...

Wednesday 23 June 2010

Good news following the recent health scare.

Thank you so much to my kind readers for the prayers you have said in response to my recent post. We have now seen the consultant, who gave us the good news that he does not consider that the latest test results are an indication of cancer. He is fairly confident that antibiotics followed by various tests will identify and solve the current problem. However, it seems as if it will always be necessary to monitor the situation with periodic blood tests. At least this will alert us to any further concerns, of whatever kind. For the time being, relief all round!

Sunday 20 June 2010

The Holy Father on Clerical Careerism

Here is an interesting article, published today in Paolo Rodari’s Diario Apostolico. The Holy Father is speaking about the contrast between clerical careerism and the true spirit of the priesthood.

Careerism, the seeking after power, present in the Church (above all among the clergy), was - more than so many other things - the evil which Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger denounced in his meditations on the Way of the Cross in 2005, when, a few weeks before succeeding John Paul II, he said: “How much filth there is in the Church, and indeed even among those who, within the priesthood, should belong completely to Him!”

Read it here: Ratzinger’s meditation at the Ninth Station.

Benedict XVI has returned to this theme on other occasions, for example when he said on 3rd February 2010: “One’s career, the exercise of power: are these not a temptation? A temptation from which even those who have a role of activity and governance in the Church are not immune.”

Read it here: the General Audience.

The Pope had spoken about it in a more forceful manner on 12 September 2009, when he listed the characteristics which must not be lacking in the life of the priest. At a certain point he said: “We do not bind men to us; we do not seek power, prestige, esteem for ourselves. We lead men toward Jesus Christ and thus toward the living God. By this we lead them into truth, and into freedom, which has its origin in truth. Faithfulness is altruism, and precisely because of this it is liberating for the minister himself and for those who are entrusted to him. We know how things in civil society and, not infrequently, also in the Church, suffer from the fact that many of those upon whom a responsibility has been conferred, work for themselves and not for the community, for the common good.”

Read it here: the homily for the Episcopal ordination of five new priests.

Today, once again, during the Mass for the priestly ordination of fourteen new priests, a few hours after the news that Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, Archbishop of Naples, an important man in the engine-room of the Wojtyla pontificate, ex-Secretary of the Congregation for Priests, ex-Prefect of Propaganda Fide, has been included in the register of those under scrutiny at Perugia in the public works investigation*, the Pope has reaffirmed the constant idea: “The priesthood can never represent a means of attaining security in life, or of achieving for oneself a position in society. A man who aspires to the priesthood in order to increase his own personal prestige and his own power has radically misunderstood the meaning of this ministry.

“He who wishes above all to fulfil his own ambition, to achieve his own success, will always be a slave to himself and to public opinion. In order to be esteemed, he will have to flatter; he will have to say what pleases people; he will have to adapt himself to the changeability of fashions and opinions, and he will thus deprive himself of the vital relationship with truth, reducing himself to condemning tomorrow what he has praised today. A man who plans out his life like this, a priest who sees his own ministry in these terms, does not truly love God and others, but only himself, and, paradoxically, ends by losing himself. The priesthood – let us always remember – is founded upon the courage to say yes to another Will, in the awareness – which he should nurture so that it grows stronger every day - that in truly conforming ourselves to the Will of God, “immersed” in this Will, not only will our individuality not be rubbed out, but on the contrary, we shall enter ever more deeply into the truth of our being and of our ministry.”

Read the entire homily here.

*An investigation into possible criminality in the letting of public works contracts.

Thursday 17 June 2010

A Surprisingly Comforting Platitude

Here is a platitude, and a surprisingly comforting one, when one has been jolted into appreciating it: it is that this life is only temporary.

There comes a time when health scares of one kind or another become a feature of life, always there in the background, and sometimes flaring up with all the consequent distress. Up to now, there has always been a release of that distress, a relief when tests produce a negative result. Until the next time, when the worry and the uncertainty surface again.

I know how sweet God's comfort is when the tears come, and it seems - quite vividly - as though I am resting my head on His shoulder. God is beautiful, and God is good. He is more than good: He is Goodness. It is a most strengthening thing to experience this.

After the first scare, then the second and third, a certain resilience emerges. We are beginning to seize the day; time is precious. I have started to de-clutter our house. Just in case; one never knows. Please God, may my husband and I have many more years together.

The latest worry may, once again, be no more than that. But the odd prayer, now and then, would be much appreciated.

Thursday 3 June 2010

Natural Family Planning: Some Useful Links

There is always a caveat when finding a reliable source of NFP teaching, because the moral and spiritual foundation of it makes all the difference, and it is very important to seek out a teacher who understands these things. In the 1980s my friends and I started our NFP work from a strongly Catholic motivation. However, the understandable desire to make NFP “respectable” in NHS family planning circles led to the training of a number of NHS family planning nurses, who did not have the religious underpinning which matters so much to a Catholic user.

It is not always possible to find a Catholic teacher of Natural Family Planning in one’s area, but it would be a very good idea to contact your local parish to see if they know of someone who is properly trained. In addition, readers who wish to be sure that they have all the latest information about NFP, and the means to practise it effectively, may find the following links of interest:

The Natural Family Planning Teachers’ Association.

I think this may formerly have been called the National Association of Natural Family Planning Teachers, but I’m open to correction on that.

The Fertility Education Trust.

The Couple to Couple League for Natural Family Planning
(Double A* as far as I am concerned!):

International website

UK website

I was particularly impressed with this organisation when I came across its work. In particular, its founders, John and Sheila Kippley, wrote some excellent books – thoroughly Catholic - which are still available on Amazon. The two I have read are The Art of Natural Family Planning, and Birth Control and the Marriage Covenant, but you can see from the Amazon list that there are other good things too.

The second book in particular draws a most interesting scriptural analogy relating to the illicitness of contraception. Whereas most writers go for the “sin of Onan” text, John Kippley draws on the passage in Acts (Chapter 5, verses 1 to 11) which tells of the fraud of Ananias and his wife Sapphira. They had promised to give the fledgling Church the proceeds of the sale of a property, but agreed secretly to withhold part of it while claiming to the Apostles that they were giving the full amount. John Kippley likens this pretence of total giving while in fact withholding something, to the inherent statement of total self-giving in the sexual act in marriage, that is given the lie by the withholding of one’s power of generating a new life. I was very much struck by this fresh analogy, and I remain convinced of its aptness.

I hope my readers will find this post, and the links, helpful and encouraging.

Tuesday 1 June 2010

The Glory of the Olive

Good old St Malachy! He – or the ones who applied his name to those curious “prophecies” – came up with many intriguing little phrases, which may or may not be applicable to particular popes. Not Holy Writ, and not Holy Tradition. Just great fun. Probably.

However, I received something of a jolt, early one morning in 1978, when I was feeding my baby son, and switched on the Today programme to be greeted by the news that the first Pope John Paul (“De medietate lunae”) had died, after a reign of only 33 days. The cryptic phrase supposedly applicable to him, “Concerning the middle of the moon” had suddenly turned into “The interval of a month”.

And, as most of us probably know, the “prophecies” are running out. Our present Holy Father, supposedly “De gloria olivae” (Concerning the glory of the olive”), is allegedly to be followed by “Petrus Romanus” ……… and then? The destruction of Rome? The end of the world? Or did the compiler of these epithets simply run out of ideas?

It’s interesting to try to find links which seem to make sense of our present Holy Father’s “prophecy”. Some have mentioned the Olivetans, a branch of the Benedictine Order. That seems a bit tortuous. Others wonder if peace will be a strong theme of this pontificate. This is rather vague. In any case, we can only really judge by looking back at the end of a pontificate; and I hope this one continues for many more years. Despite all our travails,“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive…”

But here is another possibility. The Holy Father is taking all the steps he can to reunite Christendom, by which it appears he is thinking both of the Eastern Orthodox and of all those members of the post-Reformation ecclesial bodies who are of Catholic mind and heart. And this he does, undaunted by the ragged edges of the process, or by what the management gurus call the “difficult people” (to put it mildly!) to whom his hand has been held out in friendship at the start of this path of uncertain length.

He is trying to begin the work of re-grafting as many as possible onto the tree which is the source of all truth and life. It would be easy to think of the “tree” as the vine. We often hear Christ’s words: “I am the vine; you are the branches.” But there is another tree: the olive; and this is the tree to which the image of grafting – and, most importantly at present, of re-grafting – is applied in the New Testament.

And I think he has an even greater ambition, stretching beyond his own pontificate.

You may like to read these words of the Holy Father on 15th May 2009, at Ben Gurion Airport, at the end of his visit to Israel. I think his words - very simple and courteous and diplomatic - give an insight into his hopes:

Mr President, you and I planted an olive tree at your residence on the day that I arrived in Israel. The olive tree, as you know, is an image used by Saint Paul to describe the very close relations between Christians and Jews. Paul describes in his Letter to the Romans how the Church of the Gentiles is like a wild olive shoot, grafted onto the cultivated olive tree which is the People of the Covenant (cf. 11:17-24). We are nourished from the same spiritual roots.

And this - with thanks to EWTN - is from Chapter 11 of St Paul’s Letter to the Romans:

15 For if their rejection [that is, Israel’s rejection of the Messiah] means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?
16 If the dough offered as first fruits is holy, so is the whole lump; and if the root is holy, so are the branches.
17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the richness of the olive tree,
18 do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you.
19 You will say, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in."
20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe.
21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.
22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off.
23 And even the others, if they do not persist in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.
24 For if you have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree.

More and more, I feel that this phrase, “The glory of the olive”, applies to our dear Pope Benedict.