Tired of all the bad news

While we can't deny the difficulites for so many people at home and overseas, it's important to take account of the positives, and to spread the Good News. I don't know who said this but; "No-one ever injured their eyesight by looking on the bright side." Blessings..

Sunday, 12 May 2019

The Driving Force - Religious Life in the twenty-first century

I sometimes look back to that September 1987 when I joined the Capuchins. Like most young people I loved music then and to this day, I associate some songs with the time I joined the order.  “Where the Streets have No Name,” by U2 would be one for example. Other artists charting that year would have been MAARS, George Michael and Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Mel and Kim, and even actor Bruce Willis had a hit.  I’ve just done a Google search and I note that in the UK, Rick Astley was No.1 in the U.K. charts with “Never gonna give you up” in the week I joined the Order. Around the same time in the U.S. Michael Jackson had released his single “I just can’t stop loving you.”

Now, almost 50, it is almost impossible to get into the head of that 18-year-old Bryan Shortall. I heard the ads on the radio, “Dear 30-year-old me…” And I wonder what I’d say to that lad if I could go back and talk to him.  But he wasn’t for talking to. He was full of it, and full of the habit, and full of the sandals, and the friary, and the sense of community even though he didn’t really know what it meant.  

He was scared and emotional the day he joined. He missed his family, and his friends, and his girlfriends, and his breakdancing, and his dee-jaying. He didn’t miss school though, that was one good thing. He hadn’t a clue. He was going from sharing a room with his two brothers in suburban Dublin, with posters of the Beastie Boys on the wall, to sharing a religious house in the country with other men and pictures of the Pope and the General Minister of the Order.  The question he and the others who joined got asked a lot was “Have you settled in?” He used to hate being asked that question. What does ‘settled in’ feel like? And what’s the time line for settling in? He brought a selection of his LP records and it didn’t feel the same playing them in the sitting room of the Friary. The older lads didn’t wear white socks and they liked Dylan, and Jim Croce, and Neil Young, One of them couldn’t even say L.L. Cool J’s name properly.  Things were never going to be the same. Not bad though, just different.

Over the years, I went back to the books but it wasn’t like school. This time I had a choice in what I learned and I enjoyed this. I began to grow up and learn what it is to be in religious life and I began to learn about the vows I had taken temporarily and would one day take for life. I learned more and more about St. Francis of Assisi and his influence on the world of his time and how his powerful message is still relevant in our world today. So relevant that our present Pope has taken his name.

Most importantly, I found myself growing in my relationship with Jesus Christ. Not in an over-the-top holy-joe way. There were never apparitions or claps of thunder and even though I kind of knew that this vocation was from Jesus Christ at the beginning, it is only as I go on I know it is. I know it deep down – it’s the driving force. Like a couple who fall in love, it’s a vocation. They work on their relationship; they have their highs, and lows, and their joys and sorrows. For a religious, it’s a similar dynamic, but perhaps our way of life is little understood in today’s world I would argue.

How does our society make sense of the vocation to religious life today? What language is there to explain why I still want to be a religious? I believe it is in me, and I can’t walk away. At the beginning and over the years, there weren’t any guns put to my head and I wasn’t forced to join. And I’m not being forced to stay. As the friars used to say to us, the friary is not a prison. The only reason why I’m still here is that I can’t go. I’m trying to find English language to explain it and I struggle, It’s like I had no choice and I still have no choice.

And how do we as religious put language on why we still want to be in this religious life? Or quite frankly how do we make the religious life attractive to people who may be discerning a way of life? I look around at meetings with other religious, and especially where there are younger religious and I don’t need to be convinced they believe, I can see it in their eyes, and the eyes are the mirror of the soul. This advice was attributed to St. Francis of Assisi; “Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words.” we religious will help people to know who we are and witness to Jesus Christ by our example primarily.

Did you ever wonder what it might be like to be a religious brother, a sister, or a priest in a world, and at a time when there are many other choices for people?

Monday, 6 May 2019

Going back in time

After Jesus rose from the dead, different people encountered him along the way. Whether it was at the empty tomb, or when the disciples were gathered together in the upper room, or along the road to Emmaus. The gospel for last Sunday (Third Sunday of Easter, year C) from John 21:1-18, tells us of another encounter of the risen Jesus but this time it is by the Sea of Tiberias. A few of the disciples of Jesus are together and Peter decides he’s going fishing. The others said they would go with him. They went fishing just like they did before they met Jesus. Jesus himself stands on the lake shore but they don’t recognise him.

When I was small, my dad brought myself and my brother, Kevin, to see Star Wars in the Classic Cinema up from Harold’s Cross when it was released in 1977. I still remember we queued up to get in to the ‘Pictures’ as we called it. In 1985, we queued up for another movie; Back to the Future. This was a story a California high-school student, Marty McFly, who loved his rock music, and his guitar, and his girlfriend, Jennifer. His friend, eccentric scientist Doc Emmet Brown invents a time machine made out of a De Lorean motorcar and with the aid of a ‘Flux Capacitor’, a device powered by Plutonium which is inserted into the car, they are able to travel in time back to 1955.

Where would you go if you were able to travel through time? Would you go to meet one of the major figures of world history? Maybe attend the scenes of history being made? Would you perhaps go and be around for the first gigs of your favourite recording artists? Or would you go back to straighten out a quarrel with someone which has lasted to this day? Since it is possible to travel through time, then we can go forward and see future winning horses in Cheltenham and Aintree and even see the winning Lottery Numbers!

However, it is not possible to travel through time like that. For one, the future doesn’t exist and the only place we all live in is the now. But we can go back in time and through different experiences, it is possible to be instantly taken back to childhood memories or place we’ve been.

I was over with the family the other evening and one of my sisters was up with her two children. The younger one, a baby boy, is four months old. My mother was trying to get him to sleep after a feed and she was walking him up and down as she sang to him. All the while she was saying; “Sshhh…” as the little guy settled. The conversation in the house quietened down. It took me back forty years to when my younger siblings (one who is now the mother of these two) came along and there we were playing quietly while the baby was getting to sleep. The sound of the television was down low, the fire was lighting, the dinner was cooking, and there was steam on the kitchen windows.

I can’t imagine going back to a time in my life and not having met the people I know and love now. How could we manage now if we had not developed the skills or learned all we have over the years? A musician would miss out on having learned the rudiments of the skill they now know and love.

The disciples who gathered on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias that day were lost and confused. By going fishing it was like they were going back in time to a place before they knew Jesus. Was it as if they never knew him? Then Jesus himself stands on the sea shore and calls out to them. Even after the years they spent with him, the things they all experienced, and the times they had together, they didn’t recognise him. They need to be reminded. So, he asks they have they caught anything? No. He invites them to throw their nets out to starboard. Straightaway, they net a huge catch. The penny drops. Immediately John, the beloved disciple, recognises Jesus. Peter reacts quickly and soon; they all begin to remember what it is like being with Jesus. It is Jesus himself, the one who died and rose again at Easter, who reminds us of the difference he makes when we walk with him on our journey through life.

Sunday, 21 April 2019

We do death well here. As Irish people, as Dubliners, and as people of this parish. We do death well. Paddy tells me I’ve said this before. It’s true, I’m like a broken record. And for those of you that don’t know what a record is, or what a broken record sounds like, Google it!

But we do death well. And when we come to funeral Masses, you all turn up and you all sit in the same places. This is because the one who has died is one of your own. You may not be blood relatives, but you are family in a sense.

Jesus died a horrible death. I used to think modern generations didn’t know much about the barbarity of Roman crucifixion. However, we see violence all too often in our society now, and we hear of senseless and evil murders like what is played out close to our communities and like Lyra McKee in Derry the other night.

But Jesus death wasn’t in vain. All through the gospels, Jesus reminded the disciples that the Christ would have to suffer. He called them to faith in him. Death would not be the end. In the gospels he calls Martha to faith when he says “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25) He tells Thomas; “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:5)

Those who witnessed the crucifixion were horrified and traumatised. All the disciples went into hiding. They played the awful scenes over and over in their minds. They talked about it and confused, they thought it was the end. Until the third day.

Early on Sunday morning, the women who were going to anoint the body saw the stone had been rolled back. They went in and they saw that Jesus wasn’t there. They saw a vision of Angels who told then that Jesus is risen. They rushed away to tell the disciples.

Peter and John rushed to the tomb and found it empty. They all began to come to faith in the risen Christ. Dark tombs and old walls can’t contain the risen Jesus. The tomb is open, the disciples see the place where Jesus was laid and they remember what Jesus said that the Christ would have to suffer, to be crucified, but on the third day rise again.

Every day I witness your simple but powerful faith here in the parish especially at times of death and bereavement. Most of the time your doors are open. You all have a ministry of welcome and hospitality. Like the stone which was rolled away from the tomb, the front door to your homes is open and you welcome people in. But you also go out to reach out to the friends and neighbours.

This is the way we fight back against the evil and violence we witness in our society and our word. We do it with love and light. We crowd it out by expelling it from the darkness of the tomb out into the light of Christ in the world. We spread the love.

Thanks to all of you who spread that love on Social Media. It is truly good news. This is how Jesus is alive in our families, our parish, our city, our country, and our world.

Lyra’s partner Sara Canning spoke of her legacy living on in the light she’s left behind.

The many Parisians singing the Hail Mary as Notre Dame burned was another example of the light of the resurrection.

And we give thanks to our parents who passed on the light of faith to us. Faith that Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Wear this ring. Happy Mother's Day

It must be very difficult to be Pope today. He is up there alongside the Queen of England, and the President of the United States, in terms of world fame. I would argue that this was probably always the case but it has to be more intense in today’s world since the advent of social media. The American President tweets daily to his almost 60 million followers and in most cases, it provokes wide spread reaction. The Pope also tweets in different languages, although not personally, to around 47 million. When you take in the ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ the U.S. President (on his personal Twitter account mostly) has more interaction. The world watches famous people very closely and all they need to do is make a mistake and smart phones have the ability to share the unflattering picture or video. At the same time, Twitter for example, has afforded many famous names to set the record straight when a tabloid breaks a story the celebrity feels is untrue.

Pope Francis speaks and the world hears what he says. He is often misunderstood and while the sound-bite can make the headlines, the entire piece can get short-circuited. It  was no different for Benedict XVI and indeed John Paul II. Certainly, the internet grew up during the pontificate of John Paul II. His homilies, speeches, and addresses, as well as his papal documents are readily available for download on the Holy See’s website. Thanks to the web, we have access to thousands of photos of popes with the faithful from all over the world. Today, it is popular for people who want to get the elusive ‘selfie’ with Pope Francis if they manage to get close to him. He himself would prefer no selfies if he had his way I imagine.

Recently, footage appeared that was shared on social media of Pope Francis receiving people who wanted to kiss the papal ring. It quickly made the mainstream media and news media. Some channels showed edited parts of the footage and not the whole piece. In it we see the Pope taking his right hand away from people as they lean down to kiss the papal ring. A far cry from the days when people would approach the papal throne and drop to the ground and his kiss the pope’s foot. Francis himself is far more eager to lean to kiss the feet of the sinner, and people who are broken of all faiths and none. This isn’t something he does for the cameras either. He has done this in the past in his time as Archbishop of Buenos Aires.

Since Pope John XXIII, we have seen more user-friendly papacies in terms of how human and approachable the Pope is. Pope John would chat to the gardeners and the workers in the Vatican. On the day he was elected Pope in 1958 (for which he wrote an entry in his diary) when he was dressing in the papal white, he removed his Cardinal’s scarlet skull-cap and placed it on a Monsignor (thus making him a Cardinal!)  When John died in 1962, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, Archbishop of Milan became Pope and took the name Paul VI and he began to dismantle the trappings of the papacy. He wore a more simple, modern ‘triple tiara’ at his inauguration and eventually preferred not to be carried around aloft in the Sedia Gestatoria. In August 1978 when Paul VI died, Cardinal Albino Luciani, Archbishop of Venice, was elected Pope and took the name John Paul. Although he was only Pope for thirty-three days, he refused to wear any triple tiara crown. Cardinal Karol Wojtyla was elected Pope on October 16th 1978 and took the name John Paul II and he was driven around in the now famous Pope Mobile. He wasn’t interested in people kneeling to kiss the papal ring and neither was Benedict XVI in his time (2005 – 2013)

Going back to the papal ring, when Pope St. Pius X (1835 – 1914) was ordained Bishop of Mantua in 1884, he went to see his mother, Margarita, at the family home in Riese where he grew up. As the neighbours called in to the little house to see the new bishop, they knelt to kiss the episcopal ring. His mother is said to have remarked as she showed the wedding ring on her left hand that he wouldn’t be wearing any bishop’s ring had she not first had her wedding ring.

I seem to recall hearing about the ceremony for the Episcopal Ordination in 2015 of Angelo De Donatis as Auxiliary Bishop of the diocese of Rome in the Lateral Basilica. Before the Pope put the ring on the finger of the new bishop and said the prayer, Francis quietly said to him; ‘Don’t forget the wedding rings of your parents and defend the family.’ Pope Francis has got the right idea in that he sees himself in a ministry of service and leads by example time and again. Any trappings of ministry must remind us, especially as we draw closer to Easter, that Jesus Christ came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matt 20:28)

The wedding rings of our parents, the symbols of commitment mean that from day one, they were our first teachers and that they taught us by example. Any one of rank, Pope, Cardinal, King, Queen, President, Prime Minister, etc., had a mother and a father or was brought up by a parent or guardian or a family who came from a family themselves.

Finally, returning to Margarita Sanson, the mother of Pope St. Pius X, and how she reminded her son ‘Bepi’ of her role in his vocation by showing him her wedding ring. Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers and grandmothers and remembering all mothers in heaven.

Friday, 15 February 2019

Padre Pio – A saint for our time

Padre Pio is a saint for our time. He has been recorded on tape, filmed, and photographed by many people. I’ve known and spoken to people who have met him, talked to him, and been to confession to him. I lived with a friar who, while a theology student in Rome, spent the summer months during World War II sitting beside him at table in the friary of San Giovanni Rotondo. He has enormous appeal and while he was alive, over the years, people flocked in their droves to meet him, to be blessed by him, and to listen to what he had to say.

Part of his mystique was the supernatural dimension to his everyday life and these examples are well known. Among them was his ability to be in more than one place at once, his power to read souls, his gift of healing, and of course the stigmata.

The stigmata, the visible wounds of Christ crucified on his body caused him great physical pain and more than that, great emotional pain. It meant that he was an object of curiosity, and ridicule by some. He prayed for the physical marks to leave him but for the pain to remain. Each day friars used to bind the wounds with fresh bandages and cover them with a mitten, a fingerless brown or black glove which he removed for Mass.  The visible wounds appeared on his body in 1918 and for 50 years they were a daily source of pain and embarrassment for him. Medical experts were at a loss as to why the wounds continued to bleed over the years. They began to disappear in the months prior to his death in September 1968.

Today, people find great consolation in the mitten of Padre Pio. We get a lot of calls enquiring about the mitten or relics of Padre Pio and asking for them to be brought to hospitals or to those sick and in need. While the friars do their best despite their other work to help those who ask for the mitten, we need point out there are important protocols for visiting a patient in hospital. I say this from some years’ experience as a hospital chaplain.

Sometimes the only power the sick person has is the desire to be left alone. I remember a patient in hospital say to me; “Nice to see you visit me, but even nicer to see you go.” They were simply too ill for visitors.  Does the patient or their next-of-kin know or have they agreed to be blessed by a relic? Is the ward manager or nurse-in-charge aware that someone from outside is calling to see the patient? Is the visit within the visiting hours of the hospital? Are there other restrictions in the hospital which should prevent visitors like MRSA or norovirus etc.? It may be that the patient is in an isolation ward or restricted for visiting.

The main pastoral outreach in hospitals today is the Chaplains. These are appointed by the diocesan bishop/ church authority to the hospital authority, are trained and police vetted, and thus lawfully provide for the spiritual and the sacramental need of the patient.  Be aware that there will be further protocols in the care of sick children.  It is necessary and courteous for the hospital chaplain on call, day or night, to be asked if it’s okay for an outsider to come on to administer pastoral care to a patient, especially with relics of saints. 

There is no doubt that the power of prayer can add to the healing and recovery of patients at home or in hospital. Though there are many stories of help through the intercession of saints by praying with their relics, it is the Lord alone who heals. God heals the sick through the great skills of the medical doctors, surgeons, nursing, and other care staff.

When he was alive, St. Padre Pio spearheaded the building of the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza (Home for the Relief of Suffering) in San Giovanni Rotondo. Today, it is one of the finest hospitals in South Eastern Italy. He knew the hardships of the sick and also what their families go through. Padre Pio would say that while he will always pray for the sick, he would offer every support to the great work of those whose skills are put at the service of patients.

Padre Pio as a Capuchin Friar.

Padre Pio was asked once who are you? He replied; ‘I’m just a poor friar who prays.’ I’ve no doubt that he would prefer to be remembered for this rather than all his supernatural gifts. Many years ago, one of our Irish Capuchins who ran the Padre Pio Prayer Group in Church Street often said of Padre Pio that he will not be canonized because of the stigmata, or the bi-location, or the ability to read souls, or the supernatural gifts he had. Padre Pio will be canonized because of how he lived the Franciscan life.

We know that Padre Pio was born Francesco Forgione into a farming family in 1887 in Pietrelcina in south eastern Italy. Interestingly, this man who would become a Capuchin Franciscan and eventually bear the stigmata was given the same name as the great saint of Italy, Francis of Assisi who also bore the stigmata in his time. While Francesco Forgione didn’t have great health as a boy and as a young man, he did like to play the odd game of football with his friends in the locality. Religion and the Church had a big part to play in everyone’s life then and Francesco was no exception. It was felt by many people who knew the Forgione’s that Francesco would probably end up as a priest and as a religious. He was drawn to the Capuchins because he was inspired by a talk he heard from a young Capuchin brother who was questing in the area. Capuchin Friars often travelled between friaries preaching and promoting vocations and questing – or begging for alms for the friary and the poor.

When he joined the Capuchins in his late teens in Morcone, 20 kilometres to the north of Pietrelcina at the turn of the 20th century, as a novice friar he was given the name Br. Pio. In those days the Capuchin Friars were more identified by the place they came from rather than their surname. (Padre Pio of Pietrelcina rather than Padre Pio Forgione) As a student friar in simple (or temporary) vows he was in studies for the priesthood. He was perpetually professed, and then ordained to the priesthood in the Cathedral of Benevento on 10th August 1910 at the age of 23. Four days later he offered his first Mass. Interestingly, for six years he was permitted to remain with his family living at home as a Capuchin due to continued bad health. It was after this, on September 4th 1916, that he was sent by his superiors to be stationed in the friary of Our Lady of Graces, San Giovanni Rotondo, in the province of Foggia. Apart from a period of military service in the Medical Corps in Naples in 1915, Padre Pio was to remain in San Giovanni Rotondo until his death in 1968.

All Capuchin Franciscans take the vows of obedience, poverty and chastity. We take them for a probationary period of time first. Later after discernment by the student friar, those responsible for formation, and the Holy Spirit, we take that life-long commitment. In the first chapter of the rule of St. Francis of Assisi which he wrote and which was approved by the Holy See in 1223 we read; “This is the rule and life of the Friars Minor, namely to observe the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ, living in obedience, without anything of one’s own, and in chastity. Brother Francis promises obedience and reverence to our lord Pope Honorius and all his successors canonically elected, and to the Roman Church. And all the friars are bound to obey Brother Francis and his successors.” Here we see the beginning of the rule of life that Brother (later Fr.Pio) professed and he did so living in community with the other brothers.

Day in and day out, and sometimes rising at midnight, Padre Pio lived the rule of the friars. They had meditation in common and prayed the liturgical hours during the day. The friar’s day is interspersed with prayer, work, and meals and recreation. There are five Franciscan charisms which we try to live by; the first is Fraternity. Fraternity means we live as a family, as a brotherhood, and all the other things stem from this. The second is Prayer and Contemplation. Day and night, alone and in common we pray as brothers. The third is Poverty and Minority. We are Friars Minor, we try to seek the lowest place after the example of the ‘Poverello,’ St Francis of Assisi. Again, when Padre Pio was asked who he was he often said; “I’m just a poor friar who prays.” The fourth charism is Ministry and Apostolate; We are engaged in many different ministries at the service of the Jesus Christ and the Church and especially the poor. And the fifth charism is Justice, Peace, and Respect for the Integrity of Creation. This was something that was very dear to the heart of Francis of Assisi. To love all the environment, the plants, the animals, and humankind as being created by God.

Today the life of a Capuchin friar is not as difficult as it was a long time ago. The daily life of the friars as I pointed out was taken up with prayer, Mass, work, recreation, and meals. On Fridays to this day, the friars renew their vows together in the refectory. In the past, there were also certain penances the friars practiced in the choir and in the refectory on Fridays and days of penance. In the friary of San Giovanni Rotondo, Padre Pio would have participated in meditation and prayer in common, and in the common penances, and in the partaking of meals in common with the other friars. He would have shared in the housework, and in the refectory and around the house when his health permitted and he would have been at the disposal of the guardian (superior) of the friary and of the Provincial Minister.

Naturally, there were times in his life when he was asked not to say Mass in public and hear confessions while these spiritual phenomena associated with him were being investigated by the Order and by Church authorities. This was very hard on him but he accepted it all as a penance and in obedience to the Order and to the Church he loved. He was seldom alone in that over the day, he was with the friars at Mass, at prayer, at meals, and at work and recreation. He had some friars who were close by to assist him and especially when his health was bad and when he suffered. All his life, he was regularly called upon to meet people for confessions and prayers.

I mentioned that the friars used to rise at midnight for the Midnight Office. Padre Pio was often awake during the early hours anticipating his early morning Mass which he offered before an increasing amount of people over the years. Eventually because of the crowds, the friars had to build a bigger church such was the size of the pilgrims coming to his Mass. He heard men’s confessions in the sacristy after his thanksgiving after Mass, and later in the morning he would hear women’s confessions in the public church. As the years went on, people had to book a ticket to go to confession to Padre Pio. Here, he would enter the realm of the supernatural as he heard each confession. His compassion for those who were suffering because of a physical or a moral problem would come through. There were also moments when someone went to confession to Padre Pio for the wrong reasons or just out of curiosity. On these occasions he would have very little patience and would have even refused absolution knowing that then was not the right time.

In the refectory, Padre Pio would join other friars for the midday meal. The dining room in the friary is set up differently in many places these days but in Padre Pio’s time the superiors would sit at the top of the refectory and the other members of the community would sit at tables on each side of the refectory in order of seniority. Padre Pio was never guardian in the friary but was sometimes elected one of the house counsellors. On days of penance meals would be taken in silence and they would often be frugal and without meat. On these days of penance, like in Lent for example, a friar would read a passage of scripture, or a chapter from the life of St. Francis of Assisi, or a part of the constitutions of the Capuchin Order. On other days and feast days, the friars would be allowed to talk and take a little wine with their meal.

One of our Irish Capuchin Friars, the late Fr. Peter Dempsey studied during the war years in Rome. While all the students were unable to travel home that time, they were sent to different friaries in Italy. Fr. Peter found himself in the friary of San Giovanni Rotondo and often sat beside Padre Pio for the main meal and he regularly spoke to Padre Pio in Italian. Fr. Peter told me that he found him very interesting to talk to and one didn’t get the impression of someone who had all these spiritual gifts from God. While he always noticed he wore the brown fingerless mittens, he came across as an ordinary friar among the community. Padre Pio told Fr. Peter he prayed very much for the church in Ireland and for the Irish Capuchin missionaries.

There’s a short movie that has surfaced in the last few years; ‘Padre Pio – Rare Footage’ and its available on YouTube. I believe it was filmed on Cine Camera in black and white and it’s from around the middle of the 1950’s. In it you can see what looks like an excellent account of a day in the life of the friars in San Giovanni Rotondo and how Padre Pio is simply a friar among them. There are also some scenes of people queueing to meet Padre Pio and also queueing to go to confession to him. There is a scene from Padre Pio saying Mass and at the altar. There are also scenes of him interacting with the other friars, even in humour and in good form as he swishes his cord as if to say with a quip ‘get that camera away from me!’ You can see himself and the friars entering the refectory for the midday meal and how they all kneel down and some kissing the floor before they take their seats. Padre Pio makes his way in and kneels too before he takes his seat as the guardian who is not in shot says the grace before meals. We then see the friars tucking in to bowls of spaghetti and the wine bottles on the table in front of them.  (https://youtu.be/sQRxYCepS3Q )

Padre Pio was an ordinary friar who did extraordinary things. He seamlessly connected from our world to the next world in prayer and while he suffered greatly, he offered it all up and believed that his sufferings were not a waste of time and could perhaps do some good. He spent many years helping to build the ‘Home for the Relief of the Suffering’ the great hospital in San Giovanni Rotondo which stands today as his legacy of care for those who suffer. All in all, he continued to live his life, day and night, as a ‘poor friar who prays.’

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

A Christmas Carol

Growing up, my dad took myself and my brother to the Library over in Dolphin’s Barn. I borrowed books there by Enid Blyton (the Famous Five) and I read some of Charles Dickens books. My mother was and still is an avid reader and she has always a novel or two on the go. I enjoyed some of Dickens books as a kid but now that I’m a bit older, I see the genius he was and how well he described the times he lived in. In many of his books for example like David Copperfield, Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, and Hard Times, Dickens describes a bleak, dark, and harsh world of the mid-Victorian era. His more famous book Oliver Twist is very descriptive of the huge deprivation and the difference between the rich and the poor.

At this time of year, we become familiar with one of Charles Dickens best known characters; Ebenezer Scrooge. Everyone knows who Scrooge is and his name is synonymous with meanness and grumpiness. He is the original grinch.

Scrooge is the main character in Dicken’s book; A Christmas Carol. We meet him on a cold and miserable Christmas eve in London, seven years after the death of Scrooge’s business partner Jacob Marley. Scrooge, an aging miser hates Christmas and doesn’t see any point in it. He refuses an invitation to dinner by his nephew Fred, who seems to succeed in seeing the good in everyone. His clerk, Bob Cratchit manages to get the day off from Scrooge to celebrate Christmas with his family. Scrooge thinks its all ‘Humbug.’

That night, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley who in his misery entwined in heavy chains and money boxes, who tells him to expect a visit from three other spirits.

The first ghost, the Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge on a visit to his lonely boyhood at boarding school where we also see how much he missed his beloved sister, Fan. Later we see how he walks away from his relationship with his fiancée Belle because he loves money more than her. He sees her happy with her new family which upsets him

The second spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge to encounters with happy people buying the makings of Christmas dinner at the market. He also sees his nephew Fred’s happy family Christmas party where he is absent. He then sees Bob Cratchit and his family eating their frugal Christmas dinner and we are introduced to Tiny Tim, Cratchit’s youngest son, who is happy even though he is dangerously ill. The Ghost informs Scrooge that Tim will die unless the course of events changes.

The third Ghost, the Ghost of Christmas yet to come shows Scrooge a Christmas Day in the future. It describes the death of a disliked business man whose funeral is attended by people so long as dinner is laid on. His charwoman, the laundress, and the local undertaker, steal his possessions to sell to a fence, a robber. It seems no one likes him except a couple who are grateful he is dead so as to put their finances in order.  Is there any tenderness connected with death? The spirit then shows Scrooge the Cratchit family mourning the death of Tiny Tim. The ghost then allows Scrooge to see a neglected grave, and the tombstone bearing Scrooge’s name. Scrooge promises to change his ways.

Eventually, we see Scrooge wake up on Christmas morning a new man. He makes a large cash donation to a charity he snubbed the day before. He sends the biggest turkey in the butcher’s shop to the Cratchit family and goes to dinner and ends up dancing with his nephew Fred’s family. He gives Bob Cratchit an increase in pay and becomes a father figure to Tiny Tim. In the end Tim utters the immortal words; “God bless us, everyone!”

At the end of Dicken’s novel; A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge embodies the spirit of Christmas and as a changed man, he enjoys the freedom that kindness and charity brings and it is the beginning of a new and happy life. He was locked into misery with every pound and shilling he counted and thus locked out everyone in the process. He was in a prison of his own making.

Christmas time is all about generosity and reaching out and most people make great efforts to make a difference to the lives of their friends and families. It begins earlier each year and perhaps that means that earlier people think of what they might begin to get for a loved one. Can we not but be constantly inspired by the goodness of others all year round but especially at this time of year when we hear of the amount of people, especially people wanting to help others? The local conference of the SVP were delighted with the response to their church collections in December. I the Capuchin Day Centre have been once again inundated with generous gifts and support there means the life line can continue on. Pope Francis referred to this when he made his historic visit there in August.

Jesus is born in Bethlehem. With no place available to stay, he comes into the world in a shed at the back of an Inn with animals and swaddling clothes to keep him warm. He is laid in manger where Shepherds are the first to come and worship. Christmas is meant for all but especially for those who feel there is no room for them. The beauty of the Christmas spirit is how people try to make room for others so that there is a place at the table, and where no one will be left out.

The place at the front of the crib is meant for me and you. Everyone can be confident of a welcome at there and the baby Jesus waits for us with no agenda except to open his arms to us all. Jesus counts on us to open our arms to one another, even when this may seem difficult and even if it takes us a few attempts. Pope Francis invites us to be ‘infected with the joy of Christ’s birth’ This true joy of Christmas which spills over into the whole year and for our whole lives is a spirit of kindness and that which asks us to see what we have in common first. In the words of Saint Francis of Assisi; Let us begin again…

Friday, 31 August 2018

Pope Francis - Repair my Church

No doubt the historic but intensive Apostolic Visit of Pope Francis to the World Meeting of Families 2018 in Ireland was a success. But a perusal of the media reporting and social media coverage since Pope Francis has returned to Rome highlights criticism by Archbishop Vigano as well as a sharp focus on how effective the universal Church is in its management of child safeguarding.

While it is an imperative that the truth comes out on these important matters, specifically in relation to Archbishop Vigano, I cannot help but believe that the Holy Father is being subjected to a tactical attack by some in clerical leadership roles in the Church. I feel that they simply don’t like him, and indeed have been critical of him since his first day as pope.

In the Gospel according to Matthew, at the Last Supper, Jesus turns to the disciples and prophesies that the “Shepherd will be struck, and the sheep will be scattered.” (Matt 26:31) In the second chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Herod learned of the birth of Jesus and wanted to kill him (Matt 2:13). Almost from the beginning of his public ministry, the established faith leaders didn’t like what Jesus stood for. They didn’t like Him eating with sinners, and they were critical of His association with lepers and tax collectors. They resented that He met people on the periphery and that He crossed borders to reach out to the poor. They watched for every opportunity to condemn Him when He ministered on the sabbath. It made them angry when Jesus called them out for their hypocrisy. In a word, Jesus was brave.

When Jesus was condemned to death, Pilate didn’t know Him. The Romans in charge of the scourging and the execution didn’t know Him. The soldiers who drove the nails into His hands and feet didn’t know Him. The Pharisees and the Scribes who were supposed know the scriptures should have known Him. Jesus’ disciples who abandoned him, and they certainly should have known Him. At least they came back, and they repented because of the prayer of Christ. “Simon, Simon, Satan has got his wish that he sift you all like wheat, but I have prayed for you, Simon, and after you have recovered, you in turn must strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22: 31-32).

The very ones who are criticising Pope Francis are supposed to be shepherds, wouldn’t you think they should know him? Instead of showing a leadership of service, it seems to me that some ministers in the Church would prefer to see the back of Pope Francis and this is very sad.

There are some in ministry who feel Pope Francis is too liberal, dispensing with many of the exterior trappings of the papacy like living modestly, wearing a simpler cassock and sash, and wearing simpler vestments. Others feel he is still too conservative and should speak up in support of the prevailing culture of the world more, especially in the west.

While it is critical that the truth fully comes out, because the truth will set us free, it is very sad that some attack the Holy Father in public and chip away at his mission of service to the Church.

I get consolation from remembering the vast multitudes of ‘God’s holy and faithful people’ (as Francis likes to call them) gathering at the faith enriching Festival of Families in Croke Park last Saturday evening, and at the wonderful Papal Mass last Sunday. The people came to see the Holy Father from the four corners of the world – and our country - in the wind and rain, to hear in his words and see in his example, his desire, to bring people closer to Jesus Christ. In the words of the gospel for the Mass, “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the message of eternal life, and we have come to know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68).

The vision of Pope Francis comes from the life Saint Francis of Assisi when he kneels in prayer before the cross in the little ruined chapel of San Damiano. Francis hears the voice of Jesus which says “Francis, go repair my Church which as you can see is falling completely into ruin.” At first, Francis begs for bricks and mortar to literally build up that ruined chapel. Later, with the help of the poor and marginalised, and with the help of the other brothers who came to join him, he discovers that Jesus means upbuilding the Church not with bricks and mortar but person by person and by embracing the best parts.

Franciscans don’t destroy, they repair. This is the vision of Pope Francis too, and his vision contains time, and care, and prayer. Let us act on his request to us on that special day in August when he visited the Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin city centre. Before giving his Apostolic blessing to all present has said: “Thank you for trusting us. Pray for the Capuchins, pray for priests, pray for bishops and pray for the Church.”