Friday, 26 February 2016

Dear Donald Trump, don't you mean Enda-Life Kenny?

Donald Trump wrote Eamon Kenny when I think he meant Enda-Life Kenny, the taoiseach / Irish PM who legislated for abortion in 2013.

We can give a gift of joy to Mother Angelica

In December, I wrote a piece asking for prayers for Mother Angelica, this time round I wrote a piece on Mother Angelica's favourite devotion... 

Raymond Arroyo’s riveting biography of Mother Angelica has vivid accounts of Mother’s all-time favourite devotion: praying to the Divine Infant. Her personal room in Alabama is reportedly full of statues of Baby Jesus and models of the Christ Child.
In 2000, when Mother Angelica was gearing up for a Vatican investigation of her cloistered order, she ordered a statue of the Divine Child seated in a chair. The day before the Visitation was to begin, Arroyo’s biography quotes Mother as saying to a statue of the Divine Infant: “You’re going to fix this, aren’t You?”
Mother Angelica put the future of her order into the hands of the Christ Child just as the Vatican investigator Archbishop Gonzalez was about to arrive. His excellency was tasked with investigating the life at the monastery with Mother Angelica as abbess, which included reviewing the liturgy, whether the nuns were properly cloistered and the interplay between the diocesan bishop and the sisters.
Some years before the Visitation, in 1996 Mother Angelica had an encounter with the Christ Child when she was touring South America to promote the Spanish version of EWTN. When in Bogotá, Mother was taken to a shine dedicated to the Divine Infant who had his arms outstretched and wore a pink robe.
As she was praying before the statue of the Christ Child, tears streamed down her face and she recalled later that He turned to her and said: “Build me a temple and I will help those who help you.” There is a much fuller account of Mother’s vision of the Christ Child in Raymond Arroyo’s splendid biography (which I heartily exhort everyone to read).
At first, Mother was a little confused because she didn’t know what a temple was and work had already begun on her new monastery in Hanceville, six months before her Bogotá trip. The message from the Christ Child did motivate her to change her plans for the new monastery, from making it a “simple farm chapel” to deciding it ought be a grand shrine to the Blessed Sacrament, that would give due homage to the majesty of the Divine Infant who had personally given her an instruction to have a temple made in his honour.
The monastery in Hanceville, Alabama, which Mother Angelica built following instructions from the Divine Infant

When Mother Angelica commissioned a statue of the Divine Infant for her monastery in Hanceville, Alabama, Mother was hoping to influence women in crisis pregnancies. The pristine white statue has the Child Jesus cupping his heart in his palm. Mother Angelica was eager that women who were considering abortion would see the Most Precious Divine Infant offering them His heart and it would stir them to the point where they would decide against killing their infant.
Sombre news broke this Monday that Mother Angelica’s health is delicate. According to her order’s website, Mother’s heart was gladdened by the promise of prayers for so many people around the world who hold her in high esteem. Given Mother Angelica’s long history of placing her faith in Baby Jesus, I suggest that it would lift Mother’s spirits if we pray to the Divine Infant for her.
In the interests of giving a gift of joy to Mother Angelica and in winning heavenly intercession for her, why don’t as many of us as possible invoke the intercession of Baby Jesus for her?
Mother Angelica has received miraculous cures before. St Thérèse of Lisieux, often known as the Little Flower, is credited with winning a cure for Mother Angelica when she was a young woman whose crippling health conditions would have kept her from pursuing her vocation. Part of St Thérèse’s full title is “St Thérèse of the Child Jesus”, and had it not been for this French nun’s intercession, we may not have ever known Mother Angelica. 

Friday, 19 February 2016

Pope Francis did not 'lose his cool' in Mexico

I have a problem with the assertion that Pope Francis ‘lost his temper’ with one of his fans during his trip to Mexico.
There is a piece of footage doing the rounds – showing His Holiness being pulled so violently by someone (we don’t know if it was a man or woman) that he lurched forward and fell onto a child in a wheelchair.
The quick action of aides and security men prevented the Pope from falling to the ground and may have saved him from being injured. Thank God the Vicar of Christ was not dashed to the floor where he may have been badly bruised! The Pope’s Guardian Angel was on active duty.
Saying the Pope ‘lost his cool’ is not fair – His Holiness was in control of the situation. He may have lost his balance but his reaction was balanced, he promptly told the person who was manhandling him, “don’t be selfish”.
Speaking objectively, the person who grabbed him was acting in a self-centred fashion, trying to aggressively drag the Pope towards themselves, showing no concern for the child in the wheelchair. The Pope was left with no alternative but to tell the person off in a way that sent a message to other people who want to greet the Pope in public – if they think that they can yank him – he will call them ‘selfish’.
I think it is an act of deflection to say that the Pope embarrassed the person who caught hold of him and would not let go. The person embarrassed themselves and had they never put their hands on the Pope – the Pope would never have had to assert himself.
Perhaps it seems that I am going to great lengths to defend Pope Francis. My reason for doing so is that I’d like to ask my fellow Catholics and followers of Pope Francis from all religions not to let a moment like this define his papacy. This would be a crying shame. Most of us would have used more colourful language and may have shouted a lot louder.
I think it helps to keep in mind that the saints had bouts of anger. Padre Pio got angry with a woman in public – she was shouting at him – asking him to pray for her because her husband had left her. Losing patience with her public exhibition, Padre Pio told her the cold truth, that it had been her fault that her husband had left her.
This episode shows that even the most saintliest of saints have experienced times of anger and have been driven to tell people off. 
I wrote this piece for the Herald, to see a fuller compilation of my work, see my author archive

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

On the intercession of St Apollonia: a post you can really get your teeth into...

I've seen fellow Catholics dramatically tremble when they hear that St Apollonia had her teeth crushed and torn out. Such is the fear of having one's teeth ripped out that friends of mine say they think they would 'much prefer' the other torments visited upon the martyrs.

St Apollonia is hailed as the patron saint of dentistry.  In 249 AD everyone in the Roman Empire was ordered to perform a sacrifice to the gods. You couldn't fudge and say you had carried out the sacrifice behind closed doors - there was an edict put in force and you had to perform the sacrifice in front of a Roman magistrate. Christians faced defying the authorities or death. 

When she refused to offer the sacrifice to the gods, Apollonia was seized by the mob who shattered her teeth. Then before her eyes they collected faggots and built a tall pyre. They said they would fling her on the flames if she did not deny Christ and worship idols. Knowing she would not lower herself before their fake gods, she leaped into the raging flames. 

I'd like to encourage people who are terrified of the dentist to meditate on the passion of St Apollonia.  In our times no one can say that their trip to the dentist will be as bad as St Apollonia's torture - unless their dentist is a raving psychopath. If any saint understands tooth-ache it is Apollonia.

St Apollonia may also intercede for the dental treatment to go well and for you to keep your teeth against all odds.  She did for Caroline Farrow, the columnist for The Catholic Universe and speaker for Catholic Voice. Caroline Caroline had 5 pregnancies in 5 years and as a result needed to spend a lot of time in the dentist's chair because pregnancy hormones cause gums to soften and teeth to loosen. As Caroline says, 'the old wives tale about have a child, lose a tooth can be apt'. 

Also, when the gums are softer, bacteria can slip in more easily which was a cause in Caroline developing a nasty abscess. The abscess had been brewing for two years and just last winter, Caroline was preparing for her dentist to tackle it. She feared she would lose the tooth and could get no firm assurance that she would keep it, 'they said they would do their best but the tooth could be past saving. It was also extremely painful.' 

A week before her appointment with the dentist, Caroline prayed to St Apollonia and everything went well at the dentist.  The abscess was removed and she kept her tooth!' There were no painful complications, as Caroline says, 'it cleared up beautifully! Definitely think St Apollonia was on the case!' 

Now Caroline prays every night to St Apollonia, 'I always cringe when I think about her having her teeth smashed out and give thanks to her for her witness and courage.'  

There is a long history of seeking Apollonia's intercession. According to TL Olsen's Social History of Medicine, doctors in medieval times gave patients with toothache a popular prayer to St Apollonia and advised them to pray it.

I, however, take issue with the way St Apollonia is depicted in classical art and on prayer cards. She is portrayed holding tongs (or pliers) that clutch a large molar which is wholly appropriate. But my difficulty with such art is that Apollonia has a vacant, wan and almost insipid facial expression. I don't think this captures her feisty spirit: she was a deaconess in a time of great persecution and a defiant rebel. 

I wrote this post for The Catholic Herald in honour of St Apollonia's feast day, February 9th. 

Thanks to our Bruvver Eccles for the title of this post. Our Bruv continues to survive Farver Phil and Farver Jack who blessed Eccles' throat recently...

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Pain and suffering may not be God punishing someone - just look at the life of St Bernadette of Lourdes

'Her painful cancer was God’s way of punishing her because she went against the Church’s teachings and didn’t pray enough!’ wrote one angry young woman in a group email that was forwarded to my email inbox. Judging by the dozens of times the email was passed on and and by the enthusiastic encouragement (‘you are right – suffering like that is God’s way of showing people He is not happy with them’) there was agreement among a group of young people who enjoyed good health as to the mind of God: why He allowed some of their less prayerful friends and acquaintances to get horrible diseases.
The reason the email was sent to me was because many years ago I had been having tests in hospital (it turned out I didn’t have anything) and the sender of the email was ‘concerned’ that God didn’t like me much. Well, He may not. But I think it is arrogant and wrong to presume God’s intentions for a person and pronounce that the reason they have illnesses, poor health or even a disability is because God is chastising them.
A very cursory look at the life of St Bernadette of Lourdes tells us this may not be the case. Bernadette was someone who was highly favoured by God and yet simultaneously she had a life of extreme suffering and pain.
Bernadette was a sickly child, and at the age of 6 she had nasty asthmatic-like symptoms. Her condition was not helped by the fact that by the time she was a teenager her parents were forced to move to a damp single-room hovel. It had been a former jail and this cramped, musty place was known by the locals as ‘the Dungeon’. From a very poor family, in frail health and even though she was a simple girl who people looked down their noses on – Bernadette was still honoured by visits from Our Lady.
February 1858 was bitingly cold and Bernadette was 14. Her mother asked her to collect fuel to be burnt to keep the Soubirous family warm, which meant Bernadette went to the river-side and picked up bits of drift-wood and stray branches from trees. On returning home, she heard a rustle like a sudden gust of wind. Bernadette’s eyes traveled upwards and she saw a golden cloud – from which came an extraordinarily beautiful woman who rested in a small niche in the rock formation.
The Lady was dressed in a white robe and had golden roses adorning her feet – she smiled lovingly at Bernadette and beckoned her to come closer. Bernadette knelt before her and took out her rosary beads. The Lady also had a rosary and to use Bernadette’s own words, ‘the Lady let me pray alone, she passed the beads of the rosary between her fingers, but said nothing, only at the end of each decade did she say the Gloria with me.’ When they had finished offering the Rosary, the Lady vanished.
The following month on March 25 Bernadette was blessed with ‘the Lady’ revealing her true identity to little Bernadette. From her spot in the grotto, she said, ‘I am the Immaculate Conception’. The Mother of God divulged to a peasant girl with bad health that she had been ‘immaculately conceived’: her soul had always been immaculately clean and never had the stain of original sin.
Perhaps when we talk of little Bernadette being ‘highly favoured’ it does not go far enough. The Mother of God appeared to her and effectively told her she had an exemption from original sin so that she would be fit to be the Mother of God.
As I wrote last year, Bernadette had a special vocation in offering prayer and sufferings for sinners.
It might, just might be the case that God gives sufferings to others as He did to Bernadette so that they may offer it up for others. In any case, I think that instead of being quick to rant as to why God may give someone an illness, t’would be better to pray for someone in dire pain.
Were we to start the novena to Our Lady of Lourdes today, we would finish on February 11th, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.
PS - February 11th is also the World Day of the Sick, which Pope Francis has said will bind together people of different religions. History has shown that  St Bernadette attracts followers from non-Christian faiths. It was a Jewish author, Franz Victor Werfel who penned the best-selling novel, The Song of Bernadette which was later made into one of the best-loved Catholic movies of all time.  
I wrote this post for The Catholic Herald. To see a full selection of my articles, please see my author archive

Monday, 1 February 2016

"I would rather he died than become a priest"

A friend of mine was in touch with a true account (which I found chilling) from the life of St John Bosco. They were prompted to tell me this because of my post on St John Bosco and the meaning of dreams

St John Bosco was known in the Italy of his day as Don Bosco. A well-heeled society lady asked him to visit and enquired of him as to the future of her four sons. Don Bosco said that the eldest tree would be extremely successful in their chosen fields.  Then he looked at the youngest boy, only 9 years old, and said, "this one will become a priest."

So shocked and disappointed was the wealthy lady on hearing this that she exclaimed, “I would rather he died than become a priest!”  This seems an inordinately rude thing for the boy's mother to say - after all she had invited Don Bosco who was a controversial priest - into her home so that he might tell her what would become of her sons. 

Don Bosco gave her a deathly serious look and walked out. A few days later he was called to the deathbed of the 9 year old boy - who had been perfectly healthy when his mother introduced him to Don Bosco. The boy said to his mother, “I am dying because of what you said to Don Bosco.” The mum implored Don Bosco to pray that her son might be saved from imminent death. Don Bosco was frank with her, “God is not mocked. He has taken you at your word...”

Pope Francis visiting the tomb of St John Bosco in Turin

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