Live Q&A between Archbishop Welby and Cardinal Nichols
The first Archbishop of Canterbury, St Augustine, was no coward. Yet when Pope St Gregory the Great sent him to England, Augustine turned back en route. He lost his nerve when travelling to England after he heard tales of Saxons savagery and feared he would fall prey to them.
In earlier years, missionaries had come to Britain. But after the Saxon conquest they had retreated to the margins of society, keeping quiet about their faith.
When Augustine returned to Rome, Pope Gregory encouraged Augustine with the news that Ethelbert, King of Kent, had taken Bertha, a Christian, as his wife. A far-seeing Holy Father, Gregory believed that Ethelbert would give Augustine his blessing and help in evangelising the English. And he was right.
When St Augustine and his band of 40 brothers arrived on the shores of the isle of Thanet, King Ethelbert was there to greet them. Augustine was from a high-born Italian family and Ethelbert was impressed by his good manners and gentility. Giving Augustine free rein to convert as many people as he could, Ethelbert also gave him the church of St Martin of Tours as his base.
Ethelbert himself was baptised in 597, after which many of his subjects were eager to become Christians. On Christmas Day 597, Augustine baptised 10,000 people – this was only months after Augustine’s arrival.
Ethelbert did not compel his subjects to be baptised. To have compelled them might have had the effect of reverse psychology, meaning that those born and raised pagans would have revolted.
If anything, the amazingly successful mission of St Augustine owed a lot to Pope Gregory’s foresight and to the humility and goodness of King Ethelbert, who was not so proud of his pagan roots that he clung to them and resisted the Gospel.
All of us who are Christians in England today have inherited a share of St Augustine’s spiritual bequest. It is auspicious that the live Facebook Q&A with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and Cardinal Vincent Nichols is taking place today, on the feast of St Augustine. Archbishop Welby and Cardinal Nichols will, in effect, be continuing the work of St Augustine.
If St Augustine consecrated pagan temples so they could be used as sites for Christian worship, then Cardinal Nichols and Archbishop Welby are hoping to turn a corner of Facebook into a place that inspires modern people to worship Christ. Facebook is a place where many engage in empty self-worship, and this is exactly where such direct evangelism is needed which invites us to reorientate our lives towards Christ.
I wrote this post for The Catholic Herald, it was my sixth piece for the month of May.
I was having lunch with a Catholic acquaintance who mentioned St Rita of Cascia is popular in the Philippines because the rate of domestic violence is high and battered wives beseech her for graces to cope with bullying husbands. Thoughtlessly, I said I would look into praying to her. The person sitting opposite me raised an eyebrow and asked if I was having “man trouble”. Quickly, I clarified that I wasn’t, but was eager to pray to St Rita for work and money intentions.
It is not surprising that some of my female friends say they become tongue-tied when St Rita comes up. Our being tight-lipped is due to St Rita’s reputation as the saint for heartbroken women, victims of punch-throwing husbands and those in unhappy marriages. Were we to admit praying to her, we fear others may wrongly draw the conclusion we have been or are being abused at the hands of our boyfriends and husbands.
St Rita herself was in an abusive marriage – she had been married off as a child of 12 – even though she wanted to become a nun. It was the late 1300s, and her husband Paolo Mancini was as wretched as any cad drawn from an EastEnders plot. He lashed out at her, beat her and was unfaithful to her.
On that last point, the fact that Rita suffered because her husband cheated on her places her as a saint for those who are victims of adultery. Our thoughts immediately fly to the grown men and women who find out their spouses are carrying on with someone else. But there is another set of victims in mind, who are not grown men and women: the unborn children conceived in adultery who are “evidence” and who risk being destroyed.
During the course of my pro-life work I have met dozens of women who were pregnant as a result of affairs with married men.
One case concerned a man who told a very young woman that he had to put his kids and wife first, and that she would help him by aborting their baby. I remember saying to her, “Congratulations”. She looked at me like I was a loon, and said, “Why would you say ‘Congratulations’?'” I answered quietly, “You’re pregnant and that’s why I say ‘Congratulations’.” When she had had the baby, I found out that this one moment jogged her thinking and made her to view the pregnancy in a new light, the baby was a cause for champagne corks sounding, and did not deserve to be maligned on account of the shame she felt.
Another woman who was pregnant from an affair, kept making appointments at abortion clinics, but could not make herself go through with it. I found out that the pregnant mother’s own mother had conceived her during an affair but had decided not to abort her, so she kept the baby becasue she had been conceived in the same circumstances as her baby.
It is unthinkable for many people to ask a saint like St Rita to intercede for pregnant women who have carried on with married men and for their unborn children. They, however, need our prayers to St Rita so that they may avoid abortion and so the innocent party can live.
I wrote this post for The Catholic Herald. Today, May 22nd is St Rita of Cascia's feast day, happy feast!
"Mary, why wouldn’t you become a deacon? It seems like the only logical next step for a woman like yourself who spends so much time availing yourself of the sacraments, why not help out in administering the sacraments?” Long ago, I got used to hearing such suggestions and at times I feel undermined by people who think the less of me for maintaining it is not my place to be a deacon.
The same people who push other women to be female deacons often – not always but very often – seem to imply that one can only have a vocation if one is in ordained ministry, conveniently overlooking lay vocations and vocations to religious life as consecrated Brides of Christ who can do wonders for the lives and souls of others.
Whenever these people talk about the lack of female religious and that some orders of sisters and nuns are not getting new postulants and are having to close convents, I can’t help but think this is also a fruit of undermining the vocation to be a Bride of Christ because women are told this profound vocation is somehow ‘not good enough’ and that women religious are taking second-best by not clamouring to be in ordained ministry.
In my early teenage years I had a negative encounter with a nun who had problems. She made inappropriate remarks about peoples’ weight and was given to prolonged ranting. But later on I had a good experience with nuns at a convent school in Bandon, West Cork, and had it not been for their kindness, I do not think I would be a practising Catholic today. So it is perhaps thanks to them and the noble pursuit of their time-honoured religious vocation that I am writing this piece.
The push for female deacons is sadly becoming a tool of manipulation whereby there is pressure being put on Holy Mother Church to ‘prove’ that She is ‘doing something’ for the advancement of women by agreeing to ordain women deacons. Given the unfortunate level of ignorance surrounding Church history and tradition on this question, and the potential manipulation of what data and reasoning remains from the historical record, there is good reason for Pope Francis to launch a study into the role of female deacons in the early Church, and why that practice, if it occurred as some contend, did not continue.
Women, like myself, who are not called to be Brides of Christ are told that we ‘could be so much more’ were the Church to allow us to be ordained female deacons. This is specious, again implying that we are somehow ‘not good enough’ even if we are striving to live our challenging discipleship as true Christians (each of us has something that is very hard; in my case I find forgiving others for slights quite difficult).
Given the need for more nuns and sisters, and the difficulty of persisting in holiness in the lay state, I respectfully decline to support that women be ordained deacons, but instead prefer that we deepen and recommit to the various states of life entrusted to us by the continuity of long tradition, which is challenge enough for me.
If you ever want proof that I’m in the Densa category, reference this fact: it has taken me the past 10 days to figure out ways to develop my love for Our Lady during this month of May which is dedicated to her.
My normal routine is to offer the Rosary every day of every month as Our Lady asked us to do at Fatima, and to write pieces that spread devotion to the Holy Rosary.
Yet when I started preparing to write this exact piece, I felt self-doubt, asking myself if I’m like a broken record, constantly repeating that Our Lady asked us to offer the Rosary each day, without putting the spotlight on spiritual classics concerning Our Lady that open our minds to appreciate why devotion to Our Lady is so incredibly important. Even the mere words “incredibly important” seem inadequate, but they are the best words at my disposal.
As we are in the midst of May, I have been studying St Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. I recommend this book with every fibre of my being, if like me you are seeking ways to grow in understanding for Our Lady’s role, but most especially for people who believe in God but feel indifferent towards praying to Our Lady, or who sadly feel it is futile. St Louis de Montfort extols us to “pour into the bosom and heart of Mary all your precious possessions, all your graces and virtues. She is a spiritual vessel, a vessel of honour, a singular vessel of devotion. Ever since God personally hid Himself with all His perfections in this vessel, it has become completely spiritual and the spiritual abode of all spiritual souls.”
If we undermine Our Lady and think we are too good to pray to her, we are cultivating a very deadly, sinful pride that separates us from God by way of looking down on the very “vessel” in which God Himself was carried into this world. St Louis’s True Devotion is a challenging work, it makes us question ourselves as to times when we have not given Our Lady her due respect, but it is the perfect read for May.
Even in the glorious month of May it can feel lonely when one is trying so hard to honour Our Lady. I’ve been called a freak, and experiencing the very real disdain that some have for Our Lady can be almost nausea-inducing. I have, however, discovered an amazing writer, one Melissa Presser, a Jewish lawyer in the US who has become Catholic and blogs at God is in your typewriter. Reading her supremely sincere posts is like a tonic for the soul – I have found it healing to read her accounts of doing her utmost to love Our Lord and Our Lady more – even when she is in times of great personal stress. Melissa has a very genuine love for Jesus and Mary and writes in a self-giving way that is designed to invite the reader to love them, too. In reading about Melissa’s journey into the Catholic Church, you can’t help but know interiorly that Melissa wants you to have the same the gift and privilege of faith that she has.
These May days I am offering The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Personally, I have found that I barely have the patience to pray it (I keep thinking of how much I’d like to watch Netflix instead which is a poor indictment of my loyalty) but I keep in mind various friends and loved ones and offer it for their intentions and then find it can be good for my motivation to tell them, because they might ask me to offer the Little Office for them again.
The Pope’s video for May is a series of prayer intentions which asks us to pray for the betterment of women the world over. Pope Francis’ prayer that, “in all countries of the world women may be honoured, respected, valued for their essential contribution to society” got me thinking.
I felt twinges of guilt because it is a prayer intention that I wasn’t aware I was neglecting. The reason for my oversight is that I don’t agree with liberal feminism, and have wrongly labelled praying for women as supporting feminism, which is an incorrect and illogical thought process. I realise that you don’t have to be a feminist to pray for other women.
Padre Pio's favourite painting of Our Lady
Womanhood is cherished by God; it was a woman who was mother to His Son. So praying for the good of other women, even those we do not know is something for every Christian to take to heart and to pray very earnestly for.
How precisely do we pray for such an intention?
One way is to pray specifically for the particular intentions of our female friends around us – and one excellent way is to offer the Rosary.
When meditating on the Visitation, we contemplate that when Our Lady was pregnant she prioritised visiting Elizabeth so she could help her elderly relative who was pregnant with John the Baptist.
Benedict XVI wrote in Spe Salve that Our Lady was the first missionary because she carried Our Lord in her womb as she travelled to Elizabeth.
Praying the Visitation may call to our minds the intentions of pregnant women and even women who are having exceptionally difficult pregnancies, thus each time we offer these intentions it can be a pro-life work.
A lot of attention focuses on how the Church as an institution can do more to value women.
When I was taking my university degree, it was thought by feminist academics that women would only be honoured by the Catholic Church if women were ordained alongside men. When I would proffer an alternative view, I was shut down and increasingly excluded from ‘the debate’, I was one woman they did not recognise because I held differing views.
Much less discussion is given to how Catholic women can do good by their fellow women on an everyday basis. There are those of us, and I accuse myself of this, who are hypocrites in this regard.
I have cheered and cooed at dinner parties that Hermine Speier was the first woman to be employed by the Vatican in 1934. But I can’t remember the last time I had enough generosity of spirit to find and congratulate a female Catholic near me in London who has broken the glass ceiling for women in her area of work.
Now that I am praying in tandem with Pope Francis that women be ‘honoured’, I will be more conscious of honouring other Catholic women, not just for their achievements, but also if they seek to do good to others and who make the Church proud of her female members.