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..

Monday, 30 July 2012

St. Leopold Mandic, Capuchin, Small in stature but a spiritual giant

Saint Leopold Bogdan Mandić was born on May 12, 1866 in Castelnuovo di Cattaro (today Herceg Novi) Small in stature and delicate in his early life, (1.35m tall) he developed tremendous spiritual strength as he grew older.
Although he wanted to be a missionary in Eastern Europe, he spent almost all of his adult life in Italy, and lived in Padua from 1906 until the end of his life. He spent one year in an Italian prison during World War I, since he did not want to renounce his Croatian nationality. He dreamed unceasingly about reuniting the Catholic and Orthodox churches and going to the Orient. He became known as Apostle of Confession and Apostle of Unity.

Bogdan Mandić was the twelfth child of Dragica Zarević and Petar Antun Mandić, owner of an Adriatic fishing fleet; they came from the village of Zakučac (hinterland of the city of Omiš, 28 km from Split) As a child, he struggled with his health, and had a speech impediment. In November 1882 when he was 16, Bogdan went to Udine to enter the novitiate of the Venetian Capuchins. Two years later he was sent to the friary at Bassano del Grappa where he was given the name Brother Leopold. He made his first profession of vows a year later, and in 1888 he made his final profession of vows. On September 20, 1890, Leopold was ordained to the priesthood at Venice at the age of 24.

He was a small man but was a spiritual giant who spent most of his priestly life hearing confessions for up to 18 hours a day. He believed that as long as someone crossed the threshold of the confessional he had to do his "utmost" for them to be reconciled to God. He was a kind and compassionate confessor who, ahead of his time, didn't believe people needed to be judged or frightened with threats of condemnation.

As a result of the bombing during World War II, the church and part of the friary where Leopold lived was demolished, but Leopold's cell and confessional were left unharmed. Leopold had predicted this before his death, saying, "The church and the friary will be hit by the bombs, but not this little cell. Here God exercised so much mercy for people, it must remain as a monument to God's goodness."

Leopold suffered from cancer of the oesophagus which would ultimately lead to his death at age 76. On July 30, 1942, while preparing for the liturgy, he collapsed on the floor. He was then brought to his cell, where he was given the sacrament of the sick. Friars that had gathered at his bed began singing the Salve Regina and witnessed Leopold draw his last breath as they sang "O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary."

 Leopold was beatified by Pope Paul VI on May 2, 1976. He was canonized by John Paul II during the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on October 16, 1983. Leopold is a saint of our time and is hailed as the "Apostle of Unity".

Some sayings of St. Leopold:

"Some say that I am too good. But if you come and kneel before me, isn't this a sufficient proof that you want to have God's pardon? God's mercy is beyond all expectation."

"Be at peace; place everything on my shoulders. I will take care of it." He once explained, "I give my penitents only small penances because I do the rest myself."

"A priest must die from apostolic hard work; there is no other death worthy of a priest."

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Death - The gateway to a better place

Death is a formidable foe until we learn to make it a friend. Death is to be feared if we do not learn to welcome it. Death is the ultimate absurdity if we do not see it as fulfilment. Death haunts us when viewed as a journey into nothingness rather than a pilgrimage to a place where true happiness is to be found. The human mind cannot understand death. We face it with fear and uncertainty, revulsion even; or we turn away from the thought for us is too hard to bear. But faith gives answers when reason fails. The strong instinct to live points to immortality. Faith admits us into death's secrets. Death is not the end of the road, but a gateway to a better place. It is in this place that our noblest aspirations will be realised. It is here that we will understand how our experiences of goodness, love, beauty and joy are realities which exist perfectly in God. It is in heaven that we shall rest in him and our hearts will be restless until they rest in God.

*A reflection by Cardinal Basil Hume OSB, Archbishop of Westminster, following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in August 1997.  Cardinal Hume died in June 1999

A ship sails, and I watch till she fades
I am standing on the sea shore. A ship sails and spreads her
white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the ocean.
She is an object of beauty and I stand watching her till at
last she fades on the horizon, and someone at my side says:
‘She is gone.’ Gone where? Gone from my sight, that is all;
she is just as large in the masts, hull a spars as she was
when I saw her, and just as able to bear her load of living
freight to its destination.

The diminished size and total loss of sight is in me, not her;
and just at the moment when someone at my side says;
‘She’s gone’ there are others who are watching her coming
and other voices take up a gland shout,
‘There she comes’, and that is dying.

-Bishop Brent

“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”

-Elisabeth Kubler Ross

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

'You sent my Nanny up to heaven!'

Talk about ‘out of the mouth of babes.’ I was over with some parishioners who had been recently bereaved and we were to plan the funeral liturgy. Naturally there was sadness in the household as they were coming to terms with their big loss.  The house was full with relations and neighbours calling in to sympathise, indeed there was a large group of people gathered inside and outside the house. There was a Burco boiler filled to the brim to make pots of tea and coffee and plates of sandwiches that friends and neighbours brought to cater for the visitors. I am continually amazed by the goodness and generosity of our people to others in times of sadness. Despite the sadness, there was also laughter, tears, and stories as they all shared their own memories with each other. The best therapy in the world is to give time to hear and share each other’s pain and struggles at a time of tragedy. This occasion was particularly poignant as the one who died was barely in middle age and the body was laid out in the living room of the family home.

There were some small children there who brought a degree of distraction to the situation and their innocence helped the older ones to cope here and there. One of the young lads maybe about 5 years old looked at me before the prayers and pointed to the coffin and said; “Is that yours?” In other words; did I own the coffin? I didn’t know what to say. What does one say? But another child, again about 4 or 5 years old and sporting a pair of glasses, quite like a junior Harry Potter was running in an out and came over and said; “You sent my Nanny up to heaven.”All the theology and the M.A. stuff I’ve done couldn’t prepare me for what came out of that child’s mouth. I was speechless. The only reply I could manage was; “That’s a lovely thing to say, thank you.”  And it was a lovely thing to say. I have known this particular family and indeed their neighbours for the last few years in the Parish and I have been with them for baptisms and funerals. One of the grown-ups would have told the child that I offered the funeral Mass for his grandmother and the language they used was something like ‘that priest sent your Nanny up to heaven.’ And the little boy remembered.

Priests are honoured to stand at the baptismal font to welcome a new member of our Christian family. In Ireland it is still mostly infant baptisms. We are there to solemnise a Marriage between a man and a woman and we stand at the foot of the altar to welcome a coffin and sprinkle it with holy water. These are three big occasions in the life of a family, intimate and emotional occasions which people will always remember and we are the privileged ones to be allowed inside.  To be seen as someone whose prayers and Masses helps to bring another close to God or to send someone ‘up to heaven’ is something I feel will take a lifetime for me to understand.  To be ‘In Persona Christi’ as a priest is awesome. Perhaps this child was spot on. And there’s no doubt that I was reminded of the responsibilities that goes hand in hand with it too.

Jesus exclaimed, 'I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to little children.  Matthew 11:25

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Ten monks eat me out of house and home!

The local farmer who took care of the old Penal graveyard in Tisaran, Co. Offaly told us a little of the history of the place. He showed us some of the work he had done cutting the grass, and the ivy from the stone walls. He then said; “Ten monks are supposed to be coming down here for a Mass tonight.”  He went on to smile; “Ye wouldn’t happen to be three of them would ye?”
We were in Tisaran, in the Parish of Ferbane, Co. Offaly, to be part of the Jubilee celebrations of the local Church there dedicated to Sts. Patrick and Saran.  St. Saran was a local saint who ministered in that area fifteen hundred years ago. The monastic site of Clonmacnoise is further east, on the banks of the river Shannon, the next parish in fact.

Another reason we were there was because one of the first Irish Capuchin Franciscans, Fr. Stephen Daly is buried in that small rural cemetery of Tisaran.  He died at the age of 45 in the year 1620 having returned to the little parish five years before.

Stephen was born up the road in the 1570’s and left the area to join the newly formed Capuchin reform of the Franciscan Order in Europe. He was ordained to the priesthood and ministered in Belgium. He felt called to return to Ireland and landed back in Dublin in 1615 and made his way to Offaly to his home parish in the diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacniose.

Life in rural Ireland for Catholics was much different than on the continent and in Catholic Belgium when Fr. Stephen began his ministry. The Penal laws were beginning to come into force and some few years later they would be at their strongest. Many Catholics were forced to embrace the Protestant reform or starve. Priests and religious were hunted and spied upon and for generations, people who wanted to practice their faith had to do so underground. It was on ancient Irish ‘Mass Rocks’ that a priest offered the Holy Sacrifice with some of the poor congregation keeping a look out for soldiers. The friars were used to living in community and poverty in Europe and there they were very visible in their Capuchin habits and long beards. In Ireland this was forbidden and the first four friars in Ireland had to dress in secular clothes. They also lived their religious life apart from each other and in fear of capture and worse.  The friars in the later years were bolstered by new arrivals from Europe but with the Penal Laws it was almost impossible to minister. Hardship, illness, and even martyrdom awaited a zealous catholic. (cf. the Irish Martyrs for example)

One famous Irish success story however in the years before the Great Famine of the 1840’s was Kilkenny Capuchin Fr. Theobald Mathew, the Apostle of Temperance. He succeeded in calling people to take the pledge against alcohol and at a time when the country was brought to its knees by famine and emigration; so many people addicted to drink were supported in the virtue of Temperance. The Capuchin order died out in Ireland and it was only when a mission left Belgium in the 1870’s that the present-day Capuchin Province was reformed in 1885.

We friars travelled to be part of the Jubilee celebrations of Tisaran Parish and to pay fraternal tribute to Fr. Stephen, our Capuchin brother among his own fellow county women and men. We were warmly welcomed by the local clergy; Fr. Frankie Murray PP. And Fr. Tom Cox CC. Fr. Frankie had a fantastic supper laid on for us and where he was expecting 10 friars (monks) 14 turned up and eat him out of ‘house and home!’ In the spirit of the rule of St. Francis; “The Friars shall eat what is set before them.” And we certainly did!

When we travelled out the road to the old grave-yard, seats were set up and an altar and candles and flowers prepared. We offered Mass with many of the local people who made us feel so welcome.  At Mass, led by our Capuchin Provincial Minister, Fr. Des McNaboe, with a homily powerfully preached by Capuchin historian Fr. Paul Murphy, we paid tribute to St. Saran and the other saints of the locality; Sts. Mel and Ciarán. We also recalled the faith handed on to us by those mighty women and men who selflessly passed it on at the cradle and by the fireside here in Ireland and all over the world. We prayed with our Capuchin brother, Stephen Daly who we look up to as a trail-blazer for the faith in his time.
At a time when the Irish Church is suffering once again, this time for reasons other than Penal Laws, this time acknowledging the criminal sexual abuse of children by priests and religious, and the cover-up and denial of this by many in leadership, we draw strength from people like Fr. Stephen Daly. We also drew strength from selfless and holy religious, priests, fellow women and men, our parents, and others, gone before us who inspire us to this day and who urge us on.

“Let us begin again, because up to now we have done nothing.” St. Francis of Assisi

Monday, 2 July 2012

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Capuchin Franciscan Saints and Blessed

Addressing some Capuchins in the early 1980’s, Pope John Paul II said ‘They say you Capuchin’s are poor, but you are actually very rich, rich in saints!’

And this is true, we are very lucky compared to many other religious orders and congregations, we have many saints and blessed to look up to and to try to imitate.  There are over 57 saints and blessed in the Capuchin Order and many more who’s causes are being looked into for sanctity.

Pope John Paul II, who has canonized more saints and blessed in his pontificate than any previous popes, would say that sanctity is not an impossible dream.  We are all called to be saints and in canonising and beatifying so many people, John Paul II would be saying that it is entirely possible for us all to be saints.  Saints are people that the church believes are in heaven with God and are willing and able to pray to God for us, and for the good of the church and humankind.  Saints were ordinary men and women from all different backgrounds who have never stopped trying to serve God to the best of their talents.  Mothers and Fathers, Professionals, the Marginalised, Workers, Children, Religious, Priests, Bishops, Hermits, Martyrs who suffered for their beliefs, all have become saints for their lives of heroic virtue.  Pope John Paul’s first canonization was Capuchin Saint, Crispin of Viterbo (1668-1750) in 1982.

It would be impossible to tell you about all our Capuchin- Franciscan saints and blessed in this blog, however, I will mention briefly a few of saints here. 

St. Lawrence of Brindisi (1559-1619)

Lawrence felt the call to the Capuchin life from an early age.  He joined the Order at the age of 16 taking the name Lorenzo.  He studied theology, the Bible, French, German, Spanish, Syriac, and Hebrew at the University of Padua and became renowned as a brilliant student known for his knowledge of languages.  He was a famous and effective preacher and scholar in any of his several languages. 

In 1956, the Capuchin Order compiled fifteen volumes of his sermons, letters and writings.  He was Canonized on December 8th 1881 by Pope Leo XIII, and proclaimed Apostolic Doctor of the Church by Pope John XXIII in 1959.

St. Felix of Nicosia (1715-1787)

Felix joined the Capuchin Order in 1743 at Mistretta and took the habit as a Novice.  He was sent to Nicosia the following year to assist the questing brother in his rounds of asking alms for the Order.  He was endowed with the gift of healing temporal and spiritual diseases and he was always ready to pray beside the sick bed of anyone.  “So be it for the love of God” were words that he often said to people.  He had a special gift of obedience to his superiors and he never did anything without permission first.

He died in 1787 and he was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1888, and he was one of Pope Benedict XVI’s first Canonisations on October 23rd 2005.

Blessed Marco of Aviano (1631-1699)

Marco of Aviano is best known for giving the famous name to Cappuccino Coffee.  He was a wandering Capuchin preacher and he is credited with rallying Catholics and Protestants on the eve of the Battle of Vienna in 1683, which was crucial in halting the advance of the invading Turkish soldiers in Europe.

Legend has it that following the victory, the Viennese reportedly found sacks of coffee abandoned by the enemy and finding it too strong for their taste, diluted it with cream and honey.  The drink being of a brown colour like that of the Capuchin habit, the Viennese named it “Cappuccino” in honour on Marco of Aviano’s Order.

St. Leopold Mandic (1866-1942)

Leopold was born Bogdan Mandic in Castelnuovo, Dalmatia.  He was physically frail but spiritually strong.  He joined the Capuchins at Udine and was received as a novice in 1884.  He was ordained priest in 1890.

Despite a big desire to go on the missions, his health and size possibly went against this ambition of his (He was 4 feet 5 inches tall).  Having worked in different ministries from 1890 to 1906, and in 1906 he was moved to the friary in Padua where he spent the greatest part of his life as a confessor, for which he is best known.  He often said ‘I can refuse no-one who comes to me in the confessional’ He was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1976 and Canonised by Pope John Paul II in 1983.

St. Pio of Pietrelcina

Perhaps Padre Pio is the best known of all of the Capuchin Saints and Blessed.  He was born in Pietrelcina in 1887 and joined the Capuchins at 16.  He was ordained priest in 1910 and in 1918 he received the stigmata, the visible and bleeding wounds of Jesus Christ on his hands, feet, and side.  He lived the greater part of his life in the friary of San Giovanni Rotondo, in South Eastern Italy and people came from all over to go to confession to him.  He lived in great suffering and felt that this was his vocation.  He organised the building of a hospital in San Giovanni in the 1950’s called the Home for the Relief of Suffering which today is one of the finest hospitals in Italy.  He died on September 23rd 1968 and Pope John Paul II beatified him in 1999 and Canonised him in 2002.

Saints today.

In regard to Saints Leopold and Pio, they are saints who lived in our time and were photographed and even filmed, and have something to say to us about the closeness of God to us in our world of today.  They are saints who are accessible and show the accessibility of God.  It is also important to note that the miraculous gifts attributed to some of our saints, like St. Pio of Pietrelcina for example, are secondary to the fact that they all lived the Gospel and the Franciscan life well. 

Below is a list of their Feast-Days;

January 5
Blessed Didacus Joseph of Cadiz
January 12
Saint Bernard of Corleone
February 4
Saint Joseph of Leonessa
February 9
Blessed Leopold of Alpandeire
February 27
Blessed Jose Tous Y Soler
April 21
Saint Conrad of Parzham
April 24
Saint Fidelis of Sigmaringen
April 30
Blessed Benedict of Urbino
May 8
Blessed Jeremiah of Valacchia
May 11
Saint Ignatius of Laconi
May 12
Saint Leopold Mandic of Castelnovo
May 18
Saint Felix of Cantalice
May 19
Saint Crispin of Viterbo
June 2
Saint Felix of Nicosia
June 8
Blessed Nicholas of Gesturi
June 16
Blessed Anizet Koplin and Companions
June 26
Blessed Andrea Giacinto Longhin

St. Francis of Assisi

Francis of Assisi- the Early Years.
Francis of Assisi was born in 1182 to Pietro, a wealthy cloth merchant, and to Pica, a lady descended from the nobles of Provence in France.  As a young man, he was no different from his many friends in that he loved to dance, sing and go to parties.  He loved the limelight and he was dubbed the ‘king of feasts’ by his friends as he was renowned for throwing the best parties.

Quest for Knighthood.

He dreamed of becoming a knight.  Like the other young men of Assisi, he wanted to excel in the war that was waging between Assisi and the neighbouring town of Perugia.  Because he was the son of Pietro di Bernadone, his father dressed him in the best armour money can buy, but he had no skills as a fighter!  The young knights of Assisi marched out of the town to war and soon Francis was captured and imprisoned by the enemy for a lengthy period of time.  It was while Francis was in prison that he was to realise that God wanted him to do an altogether different kind of Fighting.  God was asking him to understand that the time was coming for him to serve the real master.

 Encounter with the Leper.

He escaped and found his way home where he was quite ill for a long time.  His mother and father couldn’t understand what had come over him.  He was loosing interest in his old lifestyle and spending a lot of time alone and visiting some of the old churches in the valley outside Assisi.  It was while he was thinking about his future that one day he encountered a leper.  Lepers were outcast in the society of the time as they had a highly contagious and incurable disease.  Francis became sick to the pit of his stomach at the sight of the leper and wanted to run fast in the opposite direction.  Suddenly, he was off his horse, and he put some money into the leper’s hand.  He then took the lepers diseased hand and kissed it.  He couldn’t believe he had done this but felt so good in himself for having done it.

 Francis; Go repair my Church.

It was while he was kneeling in prayer before a cross in the little church of San Damiano that he thought he saw the lips moving and the image of Jesus speaking to him.  He heard an inner voice saying “Francis, go repair my church, which, as you can see is falling completely into ruin.”  Was he hallucinating?  Could this feeling be a mistake.  But there was no mistake, he heard the inner voice speak again, “Francis, go repair my church, which, as you can see, is falling completely into ruin.”  In the days that followed, he told his Father that he no longer had any interest in knighthood, or following in his footsteps as a businessman.  His father was very upset that Francis was going to follow a different path and not the ones that he had mapped out for his son.  He asked the local bishop, Guido, to speak to Francis and Francis told the Bishop that he was no longer calling Pietro Di Bernadone his father, but he was now saying “Our Father in Heaven.”

 He began to repair the little church of San Damiano and to beg for money to buy oil to keep a lamp burning there.  He also repaired some of the other ruined churches around the area.  He dressed himself in a rough tunic with a long hood and tied a rope around his waist, rather than wear a belt which only the rich wore.  He was beginning to see his purpose in life and other young men from the town started to become curious about what he was doing.  They could see how happy and free he was and they wanted to join him in his new building programme.

Pope Innocent III.

Francis and his new followers lived in San Damiano and they became known as the ‘little brothers’ or the friars minor.  Francis drew up guidelines or a ‘rule of life’ for the friars to live by and he went to see the pope at the time, Pope Innocent III.  At first, the pope thought they were fanatics and he had no time for radicals or fanatics.  The pope saw something different in Francis and his brothers and realised that this little movement was God’s will.  He approved their rule of life and sent Francis and his brothers back to Assisi to grow and spread their way of life around Italy and beyond.

Rebuilding the Church into the Future.          

As the brothers came to Francis and as the order of lesser brothers grew and spread around Europe, Francis accepted Ciara di Offreducio (St. Clare of Assisi) into the order and she and her first followers moved into San Damiano where they became known as the ‘Poor Ladies’ or the ‘Poor Clares’, and to this day they live in enclosure and prayer.  Francis also accepted lay women and men into the Franciscan family and are today known as the Secular Franciscan Order.  It is clear that at first, Francis set out to repair the little ruined churches around Assisi, but as time went on, he found out that his work of rebuilding was to repair the church of God not with bricks and mortar, but with people.

In 1224, two years before his death he was in prayer on Mount La Verna where he received the stigmata, the bleeding wounds of Jesus on his hands, feet and side.  This is seen and symbolising his commitment to the sufferings of Jesus on the cross.  Francis of Assisi died early on October 4th 1226 and he was canonised a saint by Pope Honorius III in 1228.  He is the Patron Saint of Italy and of Ecologists.