Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Friday, March 31, 2006

Christ Reveals the Trinitarian Life

Station at Saint Eusebius'

The Station is at the 'Dominicum Eusebii', erected on the site of the house where St Eusebius of Vercelli, a 4th century bishop and an ardent defender of the faith against Arius, died a martyr c.357. It is situated on the Esquiline hill near the great cemetery of the Via Merulana and as the titulus Eusebii is one of Rome's ancient parish churches. In the 18th century the Irish Augustinians occupied the priory and basilica. This title is given to a cardinal priest and is currently vacant.

Remembering St Eusebius' struggle against the heresy of Arianism, we can agree with Von Balthasar when he says that "all great heresies strike Christ on his most sensitive and painful spot: on the centre of his love. They always argue away either the divinity of his humanity or the humanity of his divinity, under the pretext of an alleged purity" (The Grain of Wheat, 67).

Earlier in this same book (pp61-62), Balthasar examines the Mystery of the Person of Christ, who is both true God and true Man. What follows is an excerpt from Balthasar's reflections which bring us deeper into the Mystery of Christ and hence, of His Cross:

"In all his actions, words, and so on, Christ, being God and Man, is always both Archetype and Image, Form and Mirror, Model and Imitation, Lord and Servant. Everything about him is a question and a call by God to man and at the same time an answer by man to God. It is an apologetical oversimplification when the Fathers divide the Lord's words into those he spoke as God and those he spoke as man. The sufferings of the Lord, for example, are at every second just as divine as they are human: they are a revelation of God to man and a self-surrender of man to God. Two paths are trod simultaneously in Christ, two opposite currents intersect in him: that from heaven to earth and that from earth to heaven. More precisely: Christ is both the unmediated unity of the divine and human natures within the simplicity of his Person (and to that extent every one of his statements is a simple symbol that expresses this unity) and also the representation of the infinite distance between God and creature, exponentially raised and abysmally ruptured by sin (and to that extent his deeds and words are dialectical).

Christ portrays the love between God and man both from the side of its polarity (because every love demands two separate poles and suffers no amalgamation) and from the side of its unity (because in his Person simple love is evidenced beyond all tensions, and this is why his Person can only be divine). This enormous double signification that Christ represents is, in turn, possible only because it is a revelation of the Trinity: of the distance between Father and Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, as an autonomous Person. Christ's essence is itself trinitarian. Once this has been understood, then we can contemplate the whole gospel as the direct disclosure of trinitarian life."

I'm not sure such a paradox and mystery can ever be fully understood, except by the eyes of faith and revealed in prayer... And it is this that we ask the Lord to reveal more fully to us, with the intercession of St Eusebius of Vercelli.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Walking St Therese's Little Way with Balthasar

Station at Saints Sylvester and Martin

The Station is a sanctuary situated on the Esquiline hill. A holy priest (called Equitius) had given his house to Pope St Sylvester to turn into a church, and this titulus Equitii was built in the 4th century as one of Rome's twenty-five parish churches on the site of Trajan's Baths. It was initially an oratory devoted to all the martyrs because relics were transferred here from the Catacombs of Priscilla. It is known that a local synod or preparatory meeting for the Council of Nicaea took place here. It is believed that the Nicene Creed was first proclaimed here in Rome. In the 6th century, Pope St Symmachus built a new church next to the first basilica on a higher level and dedicated both to St Martin of Tours and Pope St Sylvester. This church has since been rebuilt and restored several times, most notably by St Charles Borromeo and it is now served by Calced Carmelites. Two Roman pontiffs were titular cardinals of this church: Pope Pius XI and Pope Paul VI.

This Station allows us to give a Carmelite character to our reflection today. Of all the saints, Von Balthasar had a great admiration for the Little Flower, St Therese of the Holy Face and of the Child Jesus, or St Therese of Lisieux as she is more popularly known. He wrote at least one book on her life and spirituality and another about her contemporary Carmelite, Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity. Calling them 'Sisters in the Spirit', these books have now been combined and Balthasar would often refer to St Therese of Lisieux and her 'little way'. Is there not perhaps another common thread between Balthasar and Pope John Paul II in that both had such love and admiration for this simple Carmelite saint? The late Holy Father proclaimed her a Doctor of the Church in 1997, the only one so honoured in his long pontificate.

Continuing our Von Balthasar week then, following is an extract from Balthasar's reflections on the example of St Therese of Lisieux - she whose vocation is Love - and her contemplative way. She has much to teach us, especially in Lent when we renew our struggle to let love permeate our every action, to follow her little way, her way of loving, a via crucis of sorts. Cardinal Von Balthasar writes:

"In recent times we do not have so many great saints that we could afford to make it without them. One might perhaps object that the designation 'great saint' does not exactly fit the 'little' Teresa with her doctrine of the 'little way' which was described by her explicitly and carefully as a way for all Christians, and precisely for 'little souls'... it is enough to note that the fervour of veneration for her across the entire world has surely been fanned by the breath of the Holy Spirit and that one applies the expression 'great saint' at best to those who have been borne toward canonization by the Holy Spirit itself (and especially not by human interests), as for example the Cure of Ars or Don Bosco...

Now great saints are not dependent upon advertising, but at most upon the love of the faithful, and this love arises whenever there is a feel for the special quality of their mission and for the suitability of its execution. [Anyone who reads Therese's writings] will be astonished at the freshness and genuineness one immediately encounters, the indomitable temperament, the will to convince, to bring one along, the impatience with all tepidity, all resignation, all false humility... We must note that in recent times no canonized saint is known to me who possessed such a poetic capacity as Therese of Lisieux. The images really bubble forth from pen, always original, always striking home. They illustrate her teaching about the little way, that it thereby becomes more colourful, intelligible, and attractive...

The 'little way' is so called, because it always undertakes to prescribe only the next step that needs to be taken right now. No high-flying plans for tomorrow, but the little bit that is required today, in this hour and minute.

Maybe we put up with an unpleasant person. Maybe we persevere in patience with some work, without stopping early. Maybe we go to the end of some prayer in which apparently nothing will come out right. Only today counts, even though the spirit would so much like to dream about tomorrow. To be sure, this today is transitory; Therese feels this urgently and longs for eternity with God. But for now God is nowhere else comprehensible than just in the now. Eternity, that to us seems to lie in the future, is in truth the hidden depth of the present moment. When I fill up this moment with Christian love, as much as I can, to the limit, then I am in contact with the eternal, with divine love, which accompanies me from moment to moment...

In the 'little way' there is no separation or opposition between love of God and love of neighbour. Such a distinction would never have occurred to Therese; from her earliest youth, she sees both as the full Christian unity of life.

For her, it is completely obvious that she loves God because he is love, love for all human beings, for all sinners, because he - as she says so many times - went to the point of madness in this love for humanity. For her, God and eternal life, in the abyss of the love of God, is the whole meaning of creation; this is why she wants to lead as many people as possible to this God, precisely because she loves human beings...

As a Carmelite, Therese understands that she cannot make her love known by outward works in the Church: her 'work' is the total self-giving of love, the 'whole burnt offering', which she knows is the most efficacious, most fruitful action of the Church. She compares herself to a small pendulum that sets all the great wheels of the ecclesial apostolate in motion. And the Church has for its part acknowledged this insight of Therese by declaring her the patroness of the missions. She understands her works to be the product of a complete selflessness: she wants to do no good deeds and to collect no profits; but rather to radiate everything before her for the benefit of the world and the good of the Church. And so much does she understand this action to be the definitive attitude of Christian love, that even in heaven she wants nothing but to be for God the 'defoliated rose', whose petals are wafted down over the earth...

One has to break through superficial outer skins, and then one sees with astonishment: Therese has answers, yes, in large part the answers to questions and problems of the Church in our time. The breakthrough that she signified for us in no way lies finished behind us. First she has the right answer to the slogan of orthopraxis: her little way is nothing else. But it really lives, as it would have to, as Christian, completely out of loving faith. She has the right answer to the problem posed between love of God and love of neighbour, for she shows us that both in truth are one and each side always inevitably refers to the other..."

Does not this final sentence have strong echoes in Deus Caritas Est? As we consider how we can respond to the Pope's encyclical, there is perhaps no better saint to call upon than St Therese of Lisieux. May she shower her roses upon us, guiding us along her little way, Christ's own way of love, and may Ss Sylvester and Martin pray for us.

The icon above left depicts St Therese of the Holy Face and the Child Jesus, written by Fr William McNichols SJ and on right, St Therese's relics are being carried into Valletta Co-Cathedral in Malta by Carmelite friars.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Johan's Ark

A Dutch Christian, Johan Huibers, has built a half-scale replica of Noah's ark to express his belief in the literal truth of the Bible and to revive Christianity in the Netherlands. The ark, when complate will be used as a petting zoo and the profit from that venture will fund a full scale ark!

More on the BBC website and his Dutch webpage which has a video.

Well... you have to admire his perseverence!

Discovering Von Balthasar for Passiontide

Station at Saint Paul-without-the-Walls

At Rome the Station was held at the great basilica of St Paul's on the Via Ostia outside the walls of the City, built over the tomb of the Apostle to the Gentiles by the emperor Constantine in 324. It was almost wholly destroyed by fire in 1823 but it was rebuilt and consecrated in 1854. To my mind, it is the most beautiful and serene of the four papal basilicas in Rome and a fitting monument to my baptismal name-saint. On this day in the Roman Church, the second Great Scrutiny for catechumens was held, when candidates for admission to baptism were examined, hence a large church was needed for this Station. The choice of so great an apostle and fisher of men, is entirely apt and felicitous.

Considering the fact that many people call St Paul the first Christian theologian, I would like today to draw our attention to a theologian who, like St Paul, consistently preaches the love of God in Christ Crucified and who is a key figure in the renewal of Catholic theology in our day when so much of contemporary theology has become an academic exercise - often devoid of prayerful contemplation and thus soul-less.

To my delight, a friend of mine in Canada and my brother novice both expressed very recently a growing interest and love for the writing and ideas of Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905 - 1988). This great theologian is one I have been discovering for a good number of years now, one whose ideas challenge and attract me by their sheer beauty and profundity as well as the stark radiance of the Cross. I began with 'A Short Primer for Unsettled Laymen' and little did I imagine that this little book would be the first steps on my theological journey with such an accomplished and fascinating guide.

I have known seminarians who dismiss Balthasar because of a perceived flirtation with 'universalism', lecturers who are experts in Rahner but fail to read any of Balthasar's corpus of writings and others who denounce him as an ivory-towered aristocratic dogmatician and thus lackinng in 'relevance'. And yet, Balthasar is and remains one of the last century's most fascinating and prolific theologians, even the greatest 20th-century Catholic theologian. Reputedly Pope John Paul the Great's "favourite theologian" and also beloved of Pope Benedict XVI, I think there is a growing surge of interest in Balthasar, especially as more and more of his many writings are being translated from German into English, thanks to the wonderful Ignatius Press. Reading the late Holy Father's encyclicals and as I read Deus Caritas Est, I could not help but notice the glimmer of Balthasarian influence on the writings of these pontiffs.

Only last October, on the occasion of Balthasar's birth centenary, Pope Benedict said of him: "I think that his theological reflection maintains intact, to this day, a profound timeliness and leads many to penetrate ever more in the profundity of the mystery of faith, held by the hand of such an authoritative guide... The example that von Balthasar has left us is rather that of an authentic theologian who had discovered in contemplation the coherent action in favor of Christian witness in the world. In this significant circumstance, we remember him as a man of faith, a priest who in obedience and hiddenness, never sought personal affirmation, but full of the Ignatian spirit always desired the greater glory of God."

But many people may feel intimidated by such a giant of theology. And yet, his writings are not inaccessible, despite their poetic and mystical style. The Balthasarian Trilogy on the theological aesthetics is a huge amount of theology to digest and presupposes a sound grasp of philosophy and Western culture; but one need not start here, or even necessarily look into it. Balthasar himself said that "the aesthetics is a fragment among other fragments... Perhaps the shorter books provide a better view of the whole than this meandering work".

So as we approach Passiontide, my mind often turns to Balthasar's shorter but magnificent work, 'Mysterium Paschale', which is, in my opinion, one of the most profound reflections on the kenosis of Christ, the depths of the love of God revealed on the Cross and the meaning of Holy Saturday. Dr Andrew Louth has called this book "a concise introduction to the very heart of Balthasar's theological vision." Cynthia Neilsen has blogged on this book if you want a taste of it and hopefully, you will want to obtain a copy to read yourself.

In addition, I would recommend articles in Communio, the international theological review founded by Balthasar with Ratzinger and De Lubac. In its current issue, there is an article by Adrian J. Walker which I would highly recommend, especially if one is interested in beginning a relationship with Balthasar's theology. It is available online and it is called 'Love Alone: Hans Urs von Balthasar as a Master of Theological Renewal'. Below is an excerpt from this article which contextualizes Balthasar and his way of approaching theology and situates him within the school of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, leading to the much-needed renewal of Catholic theology and theologians:

"Contrarily to what it may seem at first, then, the crisis of Catholic theology today boils down to a conflict between two and only two possible first principles: experience or divine revelation. Or, to be more precise: between the logos of what John Milbank calls “secular reason” or the logos contained in divine revelation itself. This contest, it is important to see, is an unequal one. Of the two alternative principles, in fact, divine revelation has the greater integrative power: it can comprehend all that is true in “secular reason,” whereas the converse is far from being the case. Recognizing this poverty of mainstream liberal theology, with its captivity to the secular social sciences as the oracles of all-judging experience, a growing number of voices on the English-speaking Catholic theological scene have begun to call for what William L. Portier has felicitously termed the “re-theologization of theology.” These theologians have found confirmation and support in the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who, contrarily to the stale clichés propagated endlessly by the media, have not been conservative “restorationists,” but faithful expositors of Vatican II’s attempt to reawaken in the Church a living awareness of its all-embracing catholicity—not on the basis of liberal cosmopolitanism, but on the basis of Christ who, in revealing the Father, also reveals man to himself (see Gaudium et spes, 22)...

A re-theologized theology, if it is to measure up to the Christian tradition it claims to recover, must go beyond the opposition between Christian uniqueness and universal relevance that both liberal and post-liberal theology assume, in order to re-learn that the distinctive principle of theology is itself what is most universally relevant, “so that holy teaching,” as Aquinas puts it, “is a sort of impression of the divine knowledge, which embraces all things in its simple oneness.”

With that we come to Hans Urs von Balthasar, whom I would like to propose in the following pages as a master of theological renewal able to teach us how to re-theologize theology without sacrificing its hallmark claim to speak to universal human reason. To be sure, Balthasar clearly distinguishes himself from most other contemporary Catholic theologians by the radical consistency of his commitment to starting theology from, and letting it be normed by, the uniquely Christian revelation of God’s trinitarian love in Christ."
Read the rest here and click here for more Balthasar articles online.

May St Paul pray for us on our journey into the heart of Christ, the mystery of the Cross.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Coming Soon to a Bookstore Near You: LEO!

So far, Leo our priory cat has been seen on the internet via this blog and the Priory website. Thanks to the latter, a photographer called Richard Surman, expressed an interest in Leo as a candidate for his latest book, 'Cloister Cats', a sequel to his earlier books on 'religious' cats.

So today he came for the appointed photography session (above, in our garden) and Leo behaved impeccably, showing off his natural beauty and docile nature. I look forward to the publication of this book next year which will include anecdotes and stories told by the cat's minders and take Leo's image to good bookshops everywhere!

From Lady Day to Easter Day

Station at Saint Lawrence's in Damaso

This Station is at yet another church built in honour of the celebrated deacon and martyr, St Lawrence. It was built in the 4th century by Pope St Damasus I and was believed to have been on the site of is own home, hence it is called the titulus Damasi and is one of the oldest parish churches in Rome. The adjoining palace contained the archives of the Church which were transferred to the Lateran palace in the 7th century. The church was rebuilt in the 15th century and restored after a fire in 1944.

At a sermon last week on the Solemnity of the Annunciation, the preacher mentioned that in the Eastern church, the Annunciation was so great an event that even if it fell on Holy Saturday, it was still celebrated and would not be transferred, as is the Western custom. A week before that, I had delivered a talk in which I quoted the Fathers as saying that the Incarnation led to the Cross and that the eyes of faith which look upon the Cross see the Resurrection. This telescoping of the various mysteries of our Faith is a reminder that although we live out the events of Christ's life over the liturgical year, they are actually all one Paschal Mystery, the Mystery of Jesus Christ. Laetare Sunday was yet another day when so many ideas are brought to bear on one day, expressing the Mystery of the Body of Christ, His Holy Church.

Thinking upon the Annuciation and the Cross, I looked to Fr John Saward's book, The Mysteries of March, and I would like to recommend his reflections which draw deeply upon Von Balthasar's insights:

"The mysteries of March meet in Mary, the Virgin Mother of God. At the Annunciation she says 'Yes' to the Incarnation of God the Son in her womb. On Calvary she consents to the Sacrifice he offers for the sins of the world. When he rises in glory from the tomb, her fiat flows into a jubilation beyond words. Mary gives her undivided assent to the whole mission of Jesus, from Lady Day to Easter Day and to the ages of ages..."

As such, the Annunciation is not a festal note that intrudes on the gravity of Lent: it is central to the Cross, the goal of our Lenten journey. As such, Mary is our companion on the Lenten journey and our model and exemplar. With her we contemplate the Cross on which her Son hung for the salvation of mankind.

Read the rest of Fr Saward's article here.

May Our Blessed Mother and St Lawrence be our guides as we look to the Cross and learn to say 'Yes' to God, consenting that His will be done in us.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Rome is about Love

Station at the Four Holy Crowned Martyrs'

The Station is on Mount Coelius, in a church erected in the 7th century in honour of four unknown officers of the Roman army who, having refused to adore a statue of Aesculapius, received the crown of martyrdom. These were the 'four crowned ones' whose relics are venerated in this sanctuary, together with the head of the martyr St Sebastian, an officer of the army of Diocletian. However, according to tradition, the site has been traced to the 4th century and the titulus Aemilianae, named after the foundress of an early parish church here. The church has been in the care of Augustinian nuns since 1560 and the current titular is Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles.

"Rejoice, Jerusalem! Be glad for her, you who love her; rejoice with her, you who mourned for her, and you will find contentment at her consoling breasts." (cf Is 66:10-11)

That was the Introit for yesterday, Laetare Sunday. As I did not comment on the liturgy yesterday, I would like to turn my attention to it today, to give it its due. In the liturgy, the mention of Jerusalem focuses our minds on the Church as the Holy City which is the source of catholic (hence, universal) unity. Hence, the custom arose on that day to travel to the Mother Church of a diocese, as the Cathedral church - being the seat of the Bishop - is the symbol of diocesan unity, of ecclesial communion.

Unity in the universal Church is very much a theme in yesterday's Liturgy and indeed also the focus of recent events in Rome - the Consistory. As Pope Benedict XVI said at that glorious occasion: "The ordinary public consistory is an event that manifests most eloquently the universal nature of the Church, which has spread to every corner of the world in order to proclaim to all people the Good News of Christ our Saviour." The cardinals express that universality and diversity of the Church but are gathered as one Sacred College around the Pope, who is the symbol of unity in the Church, the Vicar of Christ. In doing this, they express the very nature of the Church, as the sacrament of salvation, which is to unite all things in Christ; to be both the sign and means of unity in the world (cf Lumen Gentium, 1).

Thus, on a more parochial and personal level , Fr Geoffrey Preston, O.P. suggests that "the Church can be experienced, at least in germ, wherever and whenever we see a sign of unity between men which also functions as a means for furthering the unity of mankind". And this begins with the reconciliation of two people and the vocation to unity begins when two people come together. As such he goes on to say:

"The new and greater David, David's Son and David's Lord, Jesus of Nazareth, says that where two or three are gathered together in his name there he is in the midst of them. In any reconciliation of even two people, wherever two people become one spirit or one flesh, the Lord is at work and personally present, always there as the third.

From this point of view 'church' is a verb rather than a noun. 'Church' refers to the work of reconciliation between men. This suggests how our religious communities within the Church are meant to function. They have a never-ending task of becoming truly one, of reducing multiplicity to a unity which stifles no one but opens up to us a share in the unity of the Father and the Son, what we call the Holy Spirit. St Augustine (above), whose Rule Dominicans follow and who stands at the head of the canonical way of life, explains that he and his monastic brethren are called 'monks' [from 'monos', single] because in their diversity they have become one in heart and mind, through the ardour of their love for the Christ who stands in the midst of them. We must never allow ourselves to settle for anything less than this monasticism, this becoming one, no matter how formidable the obstacles in its way. But whatever our particular vocation in the Church we must never belittle the Davidic task, the work of reconciliation within any group, large or small...

Every Christian life is directed to some form of oneness, communion, 'sobornost' as the Russians call it, with other men.

Not that it finishes there. By our baptism we are committed to being instruments, in one way or another, in the unifying of all mankind. Our local churches are gathered around the figure we call the bishop; and a bishop is precisely a sign and instrument of unity. All the extraordinarily enthusiastic things that Ignatius of Antioch has to say about bishops and their place in the Church are rooted in a sense of the bishop as a man of unity. Through his instrumentality in securing the concord and symphonic love of the Christian community, Jesus Christ is sung. And in the Church at large the Bishop of Rome has supremely the function of being a creative centre of unity, the expression of the mutual love of all the members of the body of Christ. You remember the ancient anagram: ROMA - AMOR. Rome is about love; and if it is not about love, it is nothing. But all of us, and not just the Roman pope, have a duty to fulfil the function of Rome and Jerusalem as well as we can in our local situation, never reconciling ourselves to the disunity of Christianity or to the disunity of the family of man, but always keeping our eyes open to ways in which we can further that unity which is God's will and plan for the world."

That is very much the Cardinals' task: to enflesh the love of Christ. As the Holy Father said last Friday:

"I am counting on you, venerable brothers, I am counting on the entire College into which you are being incorporated, to proclaim to the world that "Deus caritas est," and to do so above all through the witness of sincere communion among Christians: "By this," said Jesus, "all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).

I am counting on you, dear brother cardinals, to ensure that the principle of love will spread far and wide, and will give new life to the Church at every level of her hierarchy, in every group of the faithful, in every religious Institute, in every spiritual, apostolic or humanitarian initiative. I am counting on you to see to it that our common endeavor to fix our gaze on Christ's open Heart will hasten and secure our path toward the full unity of Christians.

I am counting on you to see to it that the Church's solicitude for the poor and needy challenges the world with a powerful statement on the civilization of love. All this I see symbolized in the scarlet with which you are now invested. May it truly be a symbol of ardent Christian love shining forth in your lives."

Let us not only support them in prayer but also by witnessing to Christ's love and reconciliation in our own lives and being instruments of unity ourselves, living stones in Christ's Holy Church.

May the Four Holy Martyrs and St Sebastian pray for us!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Collects of the Roman Missal

The Tablet has been re-vamped and re-designed and it now contains a new weekly article by Dom Daniel McCarthy, OSB, called 'Listen to the Word', which is a study of the Sunday Collect (Opening Prayer) in the Roman Missal, using the Latin version of the editio typica (shown on the left). This Latin prayer is compared with the current I.C.E.L. translation of it. In my opinion, this is one of the more interesting articles in the magazine as it highlights the paucity of the English translation that we use in the Liturgy, as well as the shift in theological nuance, and the crying need for a more elevated and faithful translation of the beautiful Latin prayers. For example, Dom McCarthy noted today that the subject of the prayer for Laetare Sunday is God in the Latin prayer but in the English version, "we" are the subject.

Even without this study though, those among us who are fortunate to use the translation of the Liturgy of the Hours, approved by the English Bishops' Conference (and others) will notice that in Lent and Advent and on Sundays per annum, the translation of the Concluding prayer in the Office, which is a translation of the Latin Collect from the Mass of the day, is rather different from the I.C.E.L. translation of the same Latin Collect which is found in the Missal. This is because a special commission based in Leeds translated the Collects for the English Breviary but the I.C.E.L. version was foisted onto the Missal and the American Breviaries. Even a cursory glance at these will reveal the notable difference in tone, nuance and theology between the I.C.E.L. and Leeds Commission versions.

In this season of Lent, it is particularly noteworthy that while the Leeds Commission would translate the word 'gratia' as 'grace', the I.C.E.L. would translate it as 'help'...

Anyway, it seems The Tablet wishes to highlight these discrepancies to their readership and I applaud them for it! Sadly the articles by Dom McCarthy are not available online, so you'll have to buy or borrow a copy or have it photocopied and sent to you!

Alternatively... Many thanks to Henry Edwards who has commented on The New Liturgical Movement blog and pointed out to me a fantastic blog by Fr John T. Zuhlsdorf called 'What does the Prayer really say'. Translations galore and cutting commentary on the Collects and other Orations of the Roman Missal. Well worth a visit, if this sort of thing interests you! Fr Zuhlsdorf's site has been added to the blogroll.

The Cardinal's New Clothes et al...

Station at the Church of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem

Today's Station in Rome is made at that great basilica built by St Helena that represents in the heart of Rome, Jerusalem and all the holy places of Our Lord's life. The church actually stands on the site of Helena's own palace on Mount Coelius, called the Sessorian mansion. She had brought back relics of the true cross, the title above Our Lord's head and other relics from Jerusalem and converted her own home into a church.

It is quite appropriate on Mothering Sunday that we remember St Helena, mother of the emperor Constantine and also in holding the Station at this church, we remember Jerusalem, in a sense, the Mother Church from which the apostles were sent out. The presence of Jerusalem in Rome, through this basilica, unites and emphasises the roots of Our Holy Mother, the Church, whence this day gets its name in English ecclesiastical tradition.

Today is also Laetare Sunday, the mid-Lent Sunday set aside for rejoicing in the victory of the Cross - which is found in the Stational church - and associated with roses - once fashioned from gold. The links above have more information about the customs associated with this day as does this post from Daniel Mitsui. These themes of motherhood, roses and joy are reflected in yesterday's post on the Solemnity of the Annunciation.

I also mentioned last week the great Lenten Gospels taken from St John which are read to the catechumens who are approaching the baptismal joy of Easter. Today's Gospel is that of Christ healing the Man Born Blind (Jn 9:1-41)... and the prayer below is taken from the Prayer over the Catechumens at their Second Scrutiny today.

However, what I would like to post about today, on a slightly more frivolous note but befitting recent events in Rome, is some trivia about cardinalatial symbols and vesture, especially as the cardinal's red hat and outfit elicits such excitement! I suppose this is a fitting diversion for Laetare Sunday, especially following on from the Mass of the Rings celebrated yesterday by Pope Benedict XVI with his 15 new cardinals,). At that Mass the Holy Father gave each of the new cardinals a ring that is a symbol of their office within the Church; Rocco Palmo has already posted something about this and you can read his very informative post here. Moreover, I think it's quite appropriate to talk about vesture and matters sartorial on this day, since many a sartorially-minded priest would specially don a rose-coloured vestment today! This is my 'tribute' to them. Don Jim Tucker, are you reading?!

What follows is an entertaining (and amusing) account by H. V. Morton about the sartorial symbols that traditionally attended a cardinal and expressed his dignity within the Church. The book was written in 1957 but it is still broadly applicable today:

"More than most men, priests must be the despair of their tailors: those rusty cassocks and old hats, those broad-toed unpolished shoes! Possibly St Jerome's savage attack on fashionable fifth-century priests with their curled and scented locks, walking on tip-toe lest they should soil their feet, may have had a chilling effect ever since on any latent Brummellism in the Church. Though, if anyone wishes to see how smart a priest could look, he should go to Gammarelli and the other ecclesiastical outfitters in the Piazza della Minerva, not far from the Pantheon.

This is the Savile Row of ecclesiastical Rome. The windows display a fine selection of sombre hats, an occasional mitre, birettas, little cloth-covered violet and red buttons, braids and pipings of various colours, strong shoes that look as if they might inflict a mighty kick on the devil, and those beautifully made skull caps, white for the Pope, red for a Cardinal, purple for a bishop, and black for ordinary priests, known as the zucchetto...

I have always thought the most romantic of all headgear is the red hat of a Cardinal. [He means the galero, now sadly all but extinct] This remarkable object sails majestically through history and art. In Rome you see it, old and dusty, hanging, many-tasseled, from the arches of a titular church to which it has been bequeathed by its owner. I looked in vain for a red hat in the windows of these shops, and was told it is not an article which is kept in stock, but it is made only to order. I was also told that Cardinal's hats are not what they once were [indeed!]. They are now merely symbols and are never worn: the crown has almost ceased to exist and the famous hat is nothing more than a wide, stiff brim from which to hang fifteen tassels. Nevertheless they cost £20 each [about £350 today]. There is a story that Cardinals owe their hats to a woman, the Countess of Flanders, who at the Council of Lyons in 1145 complained that she could not distinguish the Cardinals in their mitres from abbots and other great persons, for their distinctive dress had not yet developed. From the time of Boniface VIII in 1297, the colour worn by Cardinals was royal purple, but in 1464 Paul II, who loved to surround himself with magnificence, put the Sacred College into scarlet, though Cardinals still wear purple in Lent and Advent, and during a Conclave [This is also sadly abrogated]. At such times you can tell a Cardinal from a Bishop only by his red zucchetto and red stockings. John Evelyn was told in Rome that the Jews used to wear red hats by order until one day a short-sighted Cardinal saluted one of them, thinking him a fellow member of the Sacred College, after which the Jews were made to wear yellow!

When discussing the dress of a Cardinal, the manner of the ecclesiastical outfitter becomes hushed and reverent, much as a military tailor must contemplate, even in these informal days, the full dress uniform of a field marshal. Of all the members of the Roman Church, the Pope not excepted, the Cardinal is the most dressy and has the largest wardrobe. His everyday costume is a black soutane and short black cape edged with scarlet piping, scarlet cloth-covered buttons and scarlet buttonholes. With this he wears a scarlet sash and stock - which is the right name for that flash of colour beneath a clerical collar - and scarlet stockings. Out of doors he wears an ordinary priest's hat trimmed with red silk ribbon and with fifteen gold tassels. In formal dress a Cardinal wears a full cloak of scarlet silk over his black soutane, and on state occasions his soutane is scarlet, worn with a lace rochet and a short round cape called a mantelletta, which opens for the arms.

He needs an even more sumptuous outfit for papal functions, corresponding to court dress. This is a scarlet soutane with a train, a lace rochet, and a large circular scarlet silk cloak cut like an ancient Roman paenula, which is drawn up over the arms in front and spreads out behind into a long train called the cappa magna. This cape has a hood of scarlet silk (covered with ermine for warmth from October 25 to April 25), and in the days when the red hat was worn, it was put on over his hood, as seen in old portraits. The skull cap, the biretta, the stockings and gloves are all scarlet.

Cardinals today are no longer millionaires, neither do they drive about in the heavy coaches drawn by black stallions which were such a notable feature of Roman streets a century or so ago; but they have the status of princes. In Roman society it is customary for a Cardinal to be met at the foot of the stairs by servants with lighted candles, who escort him to the reception rooms and wait to precede him, when he leaves, to his car. A Cardinal's dwelling, no matter how humble, is still his 'palace', and he is entitled to keep a throne there, but it must face the wall and may never be used except when the Pope is dead and before his successor has been elected. There are about ten days during an interregnum in which a Cardinal can turn his throne around and sit in it before he attends the Conclave..."
(A Traveller in Rome, 280-283)

But... enough of such indulgent frivolity and vanities!

Let us pray with and for those who are to be baptised this Easter that everything we do (and whatever we wear) gives glory to God who has opened the eyes of our heart:

"Lord Jesus,
you are the true light that enlightens the world.
Through your Spirit of truth
free those who are enslaved by the father of lies.
Stir up the desire for good in these elect,
whom you have chosen for your sacraments.

Let them rejoice in your light, that they may see,
and, like the man born blind whose sight you restored,
let them prove to be staunch and fearless witnesses to the faith,
for you are Lord forever and ever."


Saturday, March 25, 2006

Of a Lovely Rose is all my Song!

Station at Saint Susanna's

Today's Stational church dates to the 4th century. St Susanna was a Roman virgin-martyr who died in the persecution of Diocletian. Her name was given to the titulus Caii, the church established in the house of her uncle Pope Caius, that was later to become a parish church of Rome. Remains of a 3rd-century house have been found in the crypt of the existing church. Cistercian nuns occupied the adjacent convent from the 16th century (and are still there) and in 1921 Paulist Fathers came to serve the church. The church remains in their care and it is the church for nationals of the U.S.A. in Rome.

Today is Lady Day - the Annunciation - when we mark the virginal conception of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. Today the archangel Gabriel appeared to the Blessed Virgin Mary and declared that God would take flesh in her pure and sinless womb and she gave her whole-hearted 'Yes' to God's plan of salvation, thus co-operating in the salvation of the world. Today our salvation has dawned through Mary's 'Fiat' and the working of the Holy Spirit. Today, Our Lady, filled with grace, became the Mother of Christ and our own Blessed Mother. How fitting then that tomorrow, we should also celebrate Laetare Sunday, for this solemnity is a cause of universal and cosmic rejoicing! Fitting too that tomorrow is Mothering Sunday for this solemnity celebrates the 'Yes' of the Mother of us all!

In an age which fails to respect unborn life, Lady Day is also a day for honouring Christ in the womb of His most holy Mother, for celebrating the Incarnation and remembering that when the Word was made flesh, it was so from the moment of conception, by the power of the Holy Spirit. As this great event marked the dawn of a new era for all of creation - the hallowed time of Christ - so in medieval England, the New Year began on Lady Day! The current financial year which runs from April 6 and thus falls around this time is a vestige of that older tradition.

The Annunciation (depicted on right in a rare pre-Reformation stained glass window from the recusant Hengrave Hall in Suffolk; Hengrave was built by the wealthy Kytson family c.1525 and they are related by marriage to President George Washington!) is probably one of the most popular scenes in sacred art and is celebrated in song, verse and story. Moreover, in England many pubs are named in honour of the Annunciation. Pubs called 'The Angel' and 'The Salutation' are named in honour of Our Lady and this momentous event but after the Reformation, the signs featured only an angel (without the Virgin Mary) or were given secular interpretations! Oddly enough, 'The Flower Pot' was another name given to pubs commemorating the Annunciation because in some medieval paintings of the Annunciation, a flower pot was shown in the background.

Below is a beautiful 14th-century English poem and hymn in honour of Our Lady and has a profound theology of the incarnation, Eucharist and redemption. Mary is the lovely rose from whom Jesse's rod is sprung and there is (perhaps) a pun on the word 'spring' and its' derivatives as Lady Day falls around the Vernal Equinox. This song has been rather prettily set to music by John Rutter The writer of this text has remained anonymous but it is something we can pray with as we contemplate this joyous day of Our Lady's Annunciation and praise God for His marvellous work of our salvation and redemption in Christ:

Of a Rose, a Lovely Rose

"Listen, lords, both old and young,
How this rose began to spring;
Such a rose to my liking
In all this world ne know I none.

The angel came from heaven's tower
To greet Mary with great honour,
And said she should bear the flower
That should break the fiend's bond.

The flower sprung in high Bedlem,
That is both bright and sheen:
The rose is Mary, heaven queen,
Out of her bosom the blossom sprung.

The first branch is full of might,
That sprung on Christmas night,
The star shone over Bedlem bright
That is both broad and long.

The second branch sprung to hell,
The fiendish power down to fell,
Therein might none soul dwell;
Blessed be the time the rose sprung!

The third branch is good and swote,
It sprang to heaven, crop and rote,
Therein to dwell and ben our bote,
Every day it shows in priest's hand.

Pray we to her with great honour;
She that bear the blessed flower,
She be our help and our succour
And shields us from the fiend's bond."

The above illustration of the Annunciation is from a late-19th-century Roman Missal.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Playlist meme

This meme has been making the rounds. I first saw it at The Curt Jester, and again at You Duped Me Lord. It seemed quite fun, even though I have very few 'songs' per se on my MP3 player so I decided to give it a spin... I have to admit, I skipped all orchestral/instrumental tracks... after all, 'Scherzo in F sharp minor' did not seem like any kind of answer! The answers are below with a commentary on each one. Some of them are strangely apt!

Instructions: Go to your music player of choice and put it on shuffle. Say the following questions aloud, and press play. Use the song title as the answer to the question. NO CHEATING.

How does the world see you?
Tu es Petrus (Communion antiphon) - Gregorian chant

Hmm... deluded then? Or just as thick as a rock?!

Will I have a happy life?
I was glad (Ps 122) - C. Hubert H. Parry

This is beginning to make sense... especially since this is one of my favourite anthems to sing!

What do my friends really think of me?
Beatus es et bene tibi (cf Ps 128:2) - Guerrero

The text of this motet is "You will be happy, and it shall go well with you". Lovely!

What do people secretly think of me?
Away in a Manger - Christmas carol

Hmmm... A bit of a baby then... or firmly Incarnated?!

How can I make myself happy?
Sanctus from 'Requiem' - Berlioz

Eternal beatitude with the angels? Sounds like a good recipe for happiness!

What should I do with my life?
O Filii et Filiae (Easter prose) - Parisian chant

"Ye Sons and daughters of the Lord/ the King of glory, King adored/ this day Himself from death restored" is the beginning of this twelve-verse hymn. Makes great sense to me to give my life in praise of the Risen Lord!

Will I ever have children?
King Jesus, I believe - Martyn Layzell (Soul Survivor)

Therefore, I give my life and self to you in celibacy? Well said!

What is some good advice for me?
Kyrie Deus Creator omnium - Sarum chant

Sounds like good advice to me... And so, as the psalmist says: "He made us, we belong to Him."

How will I be remembered?
Benedictus qui venit from 'Missa Brevis' - Kenneth Leighton

Further self-delusion: from Peter to the Messiah!! Oh dear! Ah... but then again, "Blessed are the feet of him who bring good news...", as befits a friar preacher, perhaps.

What is my signature dancing song?
Tu devicto mortis from 'Te Deum' - Texeira

As it turns out this was a particularly 'dancey' tune and the words from the 'Te Deum' says: "You overcame the sharpness of death" which is certainly a cause for rejoicing and yes, even the odd jig!

What do I think my current theme song is?
I'm trading my sorrows - Delirious

Great song, great words, great tune. I like it!

What does everyone else think my current theme song is?
He was cut off out of the land of the living (Recititive) from 'Messiah' - Handel

Ha ha ha. Perhaps I should call my friends or email them more frequently?!

What song will play at my funeral?
In exitu Israel (Ps 114) - Guerrero

Marvellous. The psalm associated with Pilgrimage, Exodus and hence Easter. Very apt for the crossing over from death into eternal life!

What type of men/women do you like?
Welcome, Maids of Honour from 'Spring Symphony' - Britten

Well... I couldn't have put it better myself.

What is my day going to be like?
In nomine Patris... from 'Mass' - Bernstein

And how else ought one to begin, maintain, and complete one's day? Again, I agree.

From the Cenacle to the World

Station at Saint Lawrence's in Lucina

This Stational church is one of the numerous sanctuaries built at Rome in honour of the 3rd-century martyred deacon. It was built on the site of the house of a Roman matron called Lucina who had sheltered Pope St Marcellus I during the persecution of Maxentius. Pope St Damasus I was elected at this ancient site in 366 and in the 5th century the Titulus Lucinae was established as a parish of Rome. In that century a tradition began of the Major Rogation day on 25 April, at which the Litany was sung in procession, beginning at this basilica and making its way to St Peter's Basilica. Part of the gridiron on which the martyr was famously tortured is kept in this church and in recognition of this church's antiquity, the first of the Cardinal Priests derives his title from this church.

Yesterday, Pope Benedict gathered the cardinals around him in prayer and reflection, in an atmosphere that was described by Cardinal Angelo Sodano as a "spiritual climate which reigned in the Cenacle at Pentecost, when the Apostles were joined with Peter and Mary in expectation of the Holy Spirit." Hence, I posted yesterday on the Pope's reflections on the Pentecost event as indicative of the marks of the Church - one, holy, catholic and apostolic - and that the cardinals are called to express this Mystery in their lives and to enter into it ever more deeply.

Today, the eve of the Annunciation, the Holy Father will hold a public consistory and confer the red biretta on fifteen men, thus admitting them to the Sacred College of Cardinals. Like Our Lady, Queen of the Apostles, the cardinals are called to deepen their 'Fiat' to God's plan and mission in the Church. Emerging from the cenacle and filled with the Holy Spirit, they are to set out with renewed vigour as Apostles of the Word, walking in the footsteps of the Prince of the Apostles, St Peter, around whose successor they have gathered and at whose threshold they have prayed. Once more, let us pray for these servants of the Gospel, that the Lord may give them the grace to rise to so great a calling and faithfully proclaim it as Heralds of Christ to all peoples and nations. May He who has begun this work in them bring it to fulfillment.

Thus the Pope said on Wednesday at his General Audience, referring to the apostles and by extension all who share in their mission: "They would not have to be heralds of an idea, but witnesses of a person. Before being sent to evangelize, they would have to 'be' with Jesus (cf. Mark 3:14), establishing a personal relationship with him. With this foundation, evangelization is no more than a proclamation of what has been experienced and an invitation to enter into the mystery of communion with Christ (cf. 1 John 13)."

I believe that this is essential for the cardinals but no less so for us, who are baptised and so called to preach Christ to all nations. This begins, as the Holy Father suggests with spending time with Jesus and getting to know Him: in prayer, in adoration and celebration of the Eucharist, through the sacraments of the Church.

As the Pope and the cardinals have gathered in prayer and reflection, we too must do likewise, especially in this time of grace, this season of Lent. As we reach mid-Lent and we prepare to solemnly celebrate the Annunciation, let us imitate Our Blessed Mother and with her, contemplate the face of Christ in prayer so that we too may bring forth Christ and give Him to the world.

The images above and right show the pivotal moment of the Public Consistory - when the cardinal receives the red biretta (or galero) - as it was in 1960 and as it was today.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Panoramic views of great churches

I came across this site today that links to an amazing set of panoramic views of some of the great churches of the world. The Roman basilicas site is particularly recommended as we make our daily 'visit' to the Stational churches of Rome. Again, as with the Roamin' Roman blog, its the next best thing to being there! Do check them out.

The Marks of the Church

Station at Saints Cosmas and Damian

Today is mid-Lent Thursday, the twentieth day of Lent. The Station is held in the former temple of Romulus, Templum Sacrae Urbis, which was part of the Roman Forum and it was rebuilt and consecrated as a church in the 6th century, probably by Pope St Felix IV in 527. Here lies the bodies of the holy martyrs Cosmas and Damian who were put to death under the Diocletian persecution. The sick came in crowds to visit the tomb of these two Greek brothers who had been doctors and these saints were later the patrons of the Medici family and thus celebrated in art. There is a beautiful apsidal mosaic from the 7th century in this church depicting these two saints beholding the parousia of Christ. The church is now in the care of the Friars of the Regular Third Order of St Francis.

On this day too, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI has called the entire College of Cardinals to Rome for a "meeting of reflection and prayer" with him, on the eve of the first public consistory of his pontificate. Speaking of the fifteen who are to elevated to the Sacred College, the Holy Father said they "well reflect the universality of the Church. In fact, they come from various parts of the world and undertake different duties in the service of the People of God. I invite you to raise a special prayer to the Lord for them, that He may concede them the grace necessary to carry out their mission with generosity."

Indeed, let us pray for these chosen men who "have the duty to help and support Peter's Successor in carrying out the apostolic task entrusted to him in the service of the Church" and entrust them to the care and guidance of Mary, Mother of the Church and St Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church.

Let us also reflect with the cardinals on their mission and role in God's one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. In 1983 the then-Cardinal Ratzinger gave a Lenten retreat to the Roman Curia, in which he reflected on such ecclesiological ideas which are so central to the cardinals' role and mission. The Pope had similar themes on his mind at yesterday's General Audience when he contemplated the calling and mission of the Apostles. It is very likely that he will have similar thoughts for the cardinals who are gathered in prayer and reflection with him today:

"A first sketch of a Catholic ecclesiology is found in the Acts of the Apostles... St Luke develops his course of ecclesiology in the first two chapters of Acts, especially in the account of Pentecost Day. I should therefore like to give briefly in this session a general view of the principal elements of this ecclesiology, starting from the account of Pentecost as it is presented in Acts... We can therefore say that the Church begins with the descent of the Holy Spirit and that the Holy Spirit 'enters' into a community which prays, is united, and at whose centre are Mary and the Apostles.

Meditating on this simple fact reported in the Acts of the Apostles, we find the marks of the Church:

The Church is apostolic, 'built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets' (Eph 2:20). The Church cannot live without the living, concrete bond with the uninterrupted line of apostolic succession, sure guarantee of fidelity to the faith of the Apostles. St Luke emphasizes the mark of the Church in his description of the primitive Church once again in the same chapter: 'They devoted themselves to [persevered in] the apostles' teaching' (2:42). The value of perseverance, of being and living constantly in the doctrine of the Apostles is, according to the Evangelist's intention, also an admonition for the Church of his time - and all times. Note that it is not a matter of only listening to the Apostles' teaching. It is a matter of the deep and vital perseverance by which the Church is inserted, rooted, in the doctrine of the Apostles, and thus the admonition becomes more radical for the personal life of believers also.

Is my life truly based on this doctrine? Do the currents of my life flow in this central direction? The moving discourse of St Paul to the elders of the church at Ephesus (Acts 20) gives still deeper meaning to this element of 'persevering' in the doctrine of the Apostles. The elders are the ones responsible for this perseverance. They are the support on which 'persevering in the doctrine of the Apostles' hinges, and 'to persevere' implies in this sense what is linked with it, obedience to the elders. 'Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the Church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son' (20:28). Do we watch sufficiently over ourselves? Do we watch over the flock?

The Spirit entered into a community united with the Apostles, and this community was assiduous in prayer. Thus we find the second mark of the Church. The Church is holy, and her holiness does not result from her own powers. Her holiness results from her conversion to the Lord. The Church looks to the Lord and can be transformed in his image... Fix our gaze on the Father - fix our eyes on the blood of Christ. This perseverance is the essential condition of the Church's stability, her fertility, her life... By celebrating the Eucharist we keep our eyes fixed on the blood of Christ. Thus we shall also see that the celebration of the Eucharist is not a purely liturgical thing but that it has to be the fixed centre of our life. Starting from this centre we become 'conformed to the image of his Son' (Rom 8:29). It is thus that the Church becomes holy and, in holiness, one... To fix our gaze on the blood of Christ is to fix our gaze on love, and become loving.

The community at Pentecost was united in prayer, was 'with one accord' (1:14). After the descent of the Spirit, St Luke uses a still stronger expression: 'the company... were of one heart and soul' (4:32). And with these words St Luke indicates the deeper reason for the union of the primitive community: oneness of heart... This essential organ, the centre of our life, after conversion no longer acts of its own volition as the private and isolated "I" of the individual, seeking itself and making itself the centre of the world. The heart, the driving force, is one and unique for all and in all... When the centre of myself is outside myself, the prison of the "I" is laid open and my life begins to share the life of another - Christ. When this happens it produces unity.

There is a close link between that point and those preceding. To transcend our own life demands the way of prayer, not only private prayer but the prayer of the Church - that is, the sacraments and the Eucharist, active union with Christ. And to follow in the way of the Sacraments demands perseverance in the doctrine of the Apostles, and with the successors of the Apostles, with Peter. But another element must enter in, the Marian element - oneness of heart, daily life, feelings, will, and intellect suffused with the life of Jesus.

Pentecost Day supplies also the fourth mark of the Church: catholicity. The Holy Spirit shows his presence in the gift of tongues, thus renewing and reversing the occurance at Babel, the pride of the people who wanted to become like God and build the Tower, the bridge to heaven, with their own powers, without God. It is this pride which creates the divisions in the world, the walls of separation. In their pride men recognize only their own intelligence, their own will, their own feelings, and in consequence are no longer able to understand the language of others or to hear the voice of God. The Holy Spirit, divine love, understands tongues and makes them understood; he gives unity in diversity. Thus already on her first day the Church speaks in all languages; she is catholic from the start...

Catholicity requires the multiplicity of tongues, the reconciliation and reunion of the wealth of mankind in the love of the Crucified. Catholicity is not therefore only an external thing, but also an internal characteristic of personal faith. It is believing with the Church of all times, all continents, all cultures, all languages. Catholicity demands an open heart... the Church becomes barren where and when she lacks catholicity of heart, catholicity of personal faith...

The two-word name 'Roman Catholic' expresses no contradiction, as though the name of a particular church, a city, were a restricting or even a withdrawing of catholicity. Rome means fidelity to the origins, to the Church of all ages, and to a Church which speaks in all tongues. But for Rome to have such a spiritual content means for us, who are called to be this Rome today, the guarantee of genuine catholicity and an obligation that demands much of us.

This consists in a deep committed fidelity to the successor of St Peter, and an inner journey towards an ever more profound catholicity - and also the readiness at any time to accept the state of the apostle as described by St Paul: 'For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world... as the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things' (1 Cor 4:9, 13). Anti-Roman sentiment on the one hand results from sin, human weakness, and human errors, and so is always a fresh subject for examination of conscience and an incentive to great and sincere humility. On the other hand this sentiment corresponds to the situation of the Apostles and so is a great source of consolation. We know the Lord's saying: 'Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets' (Lk 6:26).

The words used by St Paul when he wrote to the Corinthians come to mind here. 'Already you are filled! Already you have become rich!' (1 Cor 4:8). The apostolic ministry is not compatible with this type of situation, with false praise at the expense of truth, which would be to disown the Lord's cross."

The Holy Father may well remind the cardinals of this, as they don the sacred scarlet that reminds them that they are to be willing to give their very life-blood for Christ, for the Church, for truth: they are to take upon themselves the blood of the Cross, the blood of Christ which they gaze upon and partake of in the Eucharist.

Let us pray for them, these Prince of the Holy Roman Church, that the Holy Spirit may descend upon them gathered in prayer around Mary and Peter, and that they may be ever more faithful servants of Christ, true cardinals - hinges - of the Church.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Miracle of San Sisto

Station at Saint Sixtus'

The basilica of San Sisto on the Via Appia is today's Station and it dates to the 4th century and is recorded as the Titulus Crescentianae, thus relating the site to some Crescentia, possibly a Roman woman whose home was a place of Christian worship on this site. According to tradition, the church was established by Pope Anastasius I (399-401)and in the 5th century it was a parish church of Rome. According to some authorities it was in this very place, in the area of the Porta Capena that the deacon St Lawrence asked Pope St Sixtus II (ob. 258) if he could accompany him in martyrdom. The relics of this martyred pope and other martyrs are housed in this church. In 1218 Pope Honorius III assigned the church of St Sixtus to St Dominic who gathered there his first disciples. As such, San Sisto is the first Dominican church in Rome. Later he transferred the friars to Santa Sabina, also given by Pope Honorius III, and he began building a convent for Dominican nuns in San Sisto. This convent was solemnly inaugurated on 26 February 1221 and Dominican sisters still live there.

One of the most famous miracles involving St Dominic happened in the Refectory of San Sisto, which still exists, and the story is recounted in the Vitae Fratrum of the Order of Preachers and a painting of the event often adorns Dominican refectories:

"When the brethren were still living at the Church of San Sisto and formed a community of about one hundred, Blessed Dominic one day sent Brother John of Calabria and Brother Albert of Rome into the city to beg. From morning to noon, they went from house to house, but all in vain. As they were returning home without anything, they passed by the church of St. Anastasia where they met a woman who had a great love for the Order. Seeing that they had received no alms, she gave them one loaf of bread, saying, "I would hate to see you return empty-handed." They thanked her for the bread and continued on their journey home. Soon they were met by a handsome youth, who earnestly begged an alms of them. But they explained that having almost nothing for themselves, they could hardly give anything to him. As he continued to press them, they said to one another, "How far would a loaf of bread go with us? Let's give it to him for the love of God." No sooner had they given him the bread than he disappeared so quickly that they did not even know in what direction. When they reached the priory, the first one they met was Blessed Dominic who already knew, by a special revelation, all that had happened. He smiled and said, "I see you have nothing, my children," and they answered, "No, father." Then they hold him what they had received and of the beggar to whom they gave the bread. But he said to them, "It was an angel of the Lord. Nevertheless, the Lord will feed His servants. Let us go and pray." After they said a brief prayer in the church, he told them to summon the community for their meal. But they reminded him, "Holy Father, how can you tell them to come, when we have nothing to serve them?", and he answered, "The Lord will feed His servants." But when they continued to dilly-dally, he called Brother Roger, the procurator, and ordered him to call the brethren to the refectory, because the Lord would provide for His servants. So they set the tables and, when the signal was given, the community entered the refectory. After the blessing of the meal by Blessed Dominic, the brethren sat down and Brother Henry of Rome began to read. At his table Blessed Dominic joined his hands in prayer. Then the promise he had made through the Holy Spirit began to be fulfilled, for, in the middle of the refectory, there suddenly appeared two handsome youths from whose shoulders hung, in front and in back, two beautiful baskets filled with bread. Serving the youngest first, they began, one on the right and the other on the left, to distribute to each of the brethren one whole loaf of bread of marvelous appearance. When they reached Blessed Dominic and gave him a loaf, they bowed and disappeared. No one to this day knows whence they came or where they went. Then Blessed Dominic said to the brethren, "Come, brethren, eat the bread which the Lord has sent you."

Then he told the brethren who were serving to get some wine for the brethren. But they answered, "Holy father, there is no wine." Then filled with a prophetic spirit, Blessed Dominic told them to go to the wine-cask and draw off the wine the Lord has put there. They went and found the cask filled to the top with wine. Drawing some off, they served it to the brethren. And Blessed Dominic said, "Come, brethren, drink the wine which the Lord has sent." Thus they ate and drank as much as they needed that day and the next and the day after. When the meal was over, he ordered that all the unused bread and wine be given to the poor, because he did not want anything to remain in the house. But for those three days he sent no one out to beg, because the Lord was supplying them with bread and wine from heaven in abundance. Later the blessed father gave the brethren a beautiful sermon exhorting them never to lose their trust in God's providence, even in the direst need.

Later on, Brother Tancred, prior of the brethren, Brothers Odo and Henry of Rome, Brother Lawrence of England, Brother Gaudio, Brother John of Rome, and many others described this famous miracle to Sister Cecilia, who was living in the convent of St. Mary in Tempulo, and to other nuns. To them they gave some of the bread and wine, which they kept for many years as relics."
On another occasion, St Dominic had been visiting the sisters in San Sisto and had stayed quite late; it was almost midnight. The sisters, fearing for his safety, asked him not to return to Santa Sabina alone but Holy Father Dominic said the Lord would send an angel to guide him and indeed, one appeared to lead the saint to Santa Sabina and let him into the locked convent.

The stories above speak amply of St Dominic's trust in God's loving providence, which we are called to emulate. The Lenten practice of fasting reminds us that God alone provides and He feeds us with food (and abundant wine!) as well as His Living Bread.

May St Dominic and St Sixtus pray for us and guide us to the eternal Banquet where we will feast together in the company of all the saints and angels!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Persecution of Christians

Yesterday, The Times reported that the Holy See is to conduct a study to rehabilitate the Crusades and to seek the truth behind the myth that the Crusades were an unprovoked attack by barbaric Christians on civilised Muslims. Personally, I remember being taught the issue as a child in school and being told that the Crusades were an attempt by Western Christians to free the Holy Land and Christian shrines from Muslim control and to liberate the Christians who were being persecuted...

And the persecution of Christians continues unabated and with increasing boldness in the 21st century:
Fr Andrea Santoro (left)was killed outside his church in Turkey, apparently for no other reason than the fact that he was a Christian. The Italian missionary is already being hailed as a martyr in some Christian quarters, and the Holy See has announced moves to beatify him.

Today, news has emerged of an Afghan who is set to be tried and executed for converting to Christianity some 14 years ago. Attempts by Muslim apologists in The Times to justify this on the grounds of Christian intolerance during the Inquisition and the Crusades seem to betray ignorance about these events as well as to ignore the fact that we live in a more tolerant age with an understanding of basic human rights - many of which are a fruit of Christian influence.

Recently we had an appeal in our chapel for a family of refugees from Pakistan who are claiming asylum in Britain because they are likely to be ostracized and killed if they were to return to their homeland. Their crime? Converting to Christianity. Please pray for this family as they are appealing against deportation by the British government.

Of course, Christians are being persecuted not only by Muslims but by other regimes and states too. The Christian Solidarity Worldwide site keeps track of these new martyrs for the Faith. Jonathan Raban's article on the rise of fundamentalism and its roots is also instructive to add balance and perspective to our this issue.

We often hear Muslim 'leaders' who claim that Islam is a religion of peace. Indeed, the very word 'Islam' is derived from the Arabic word 'salam' which means peace or harmony. If that is so, it has to be borne out in action, above all by Islamic nations. As Pope Benedict XVI said on 8 February 2006, it is hoped that the witness of martyrs like Fr Andrea Santoro will "contribute to dialogue between religions and to peace among people." If there is any lesson to be learnt from the Crusades, it is that violence and bloodshed does not resolve our differences nor is it a sound way to teach the Truth.

The sacrifice of love given by the martyrs and by persecuted Christians is still the only true witness to Christ, the King of Martyrs and He alone will draw hearts to Himself, converting them with His infinite Love.

May the martyrs pray for us all, especially those who are persecuted for the the sake of Jesus Christ, the Church and His Gospel.

Love is the Way to Lenten Joy

Station at Saint Pudentiana's

The Ecclesia Pudentiana or titulus Pudentianus was so called after the name of St Pudens (perhaps the senator mentioned in St Paul's epistles), and was built on the site of the founder's house, making it one of the most ancient in Rome. It seems to have been the residence of some popes during the 2nd century. In the 5th century it became a parish church of Rome and dedicated it to St Pudentiana who was believed to have been the daughter of Senator Pudens and sister of St Praxedis. The Italian bishops granted this ancient basilica to the Filipino people making it the national church of the Philippines in the Eternal City; Mass is celebrated here in English, Tagalog, Cebuano and Italian.

The recent celebrations of St Patrick's day and St Joseph's solemnity has come as a kind of relief from the austerities of the Lenten season. And there is more to come! This Saturday, we rejoice in the Annunication of the Lord and it is followed by Laetare Sunday when the Liturgy permits the use of rose vestments, organ music and flowers to adorn the altar for that one day as keynotes of joy. And yet, Fr Gerald Vann, O.P. suggests that Joy belongs altogether to the Lenten season and he explains how and why:

"We think of Lent as a gloomy season: it is because we do not love God enough. The same thing has happened to our word 'sacrifice': we think of it as something painful, repulsive, something which has to be done but which we do not pretend to like; we forget the idea of a 'sacrificium laudis', a sacrifice of praise and joy: it is because we do not love God enough. Who has ever found it repulsive to make sacrifices for someone he loves deeply? On the contrary, to give is precisely what love impels us to do. And we should think of Laetare Sunday not merely as brief respite from the rigours of Lent but as needed emphasis on the fact that it should be a time of Joy. 'Be not as the hypocrites, sad', said our Lord: that is the worst thing, to assume a glum and suffering appearance so as to impress the onlooker; but to let ourselves in fact be saddened by such sacrifices as God asks of us is still very imperfect: it means that we have not yet learnt to love because as yet we do not love to give...

But how can we acquire that perfect freedom? The power can only come from God: but we have access to that power because we are in God's house: the Lord is 'round about his people' (Ps 124:2)... We find the power only if we stop thinking that of ourselves we have any, only if we stop assuming a mastery we do not and cannot possess, only if first of all we try to be humble.

The two things, humility and joy, go together. If we think of the acceptance of the crosses that God sends us, or of the sacrifices we ourselves make, as something that we are doing, as of ourselves - 'I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all I possess' - we are going in the wrong direction, away from the house of the Lord. A son, by definition, receives from his father; and, knowing that dependence, give it all back again in the form of love. If we think of our fasting and tithes as ours, then God will do as we wish, will leave us to our own devices; our austerity will become a form of self-regarding stoicism, and in the effort to live up to the plan we have set ourselves we may well become thin-lipped, gloomy, hard. St Francis, when he gave everything to God, even his clothes, burst into song; because his nakedness was not a feat of human endurance but a liberation of spirit, falling into the arms of God.

So in our Lenten prayer, we should try to make more real to ourselves the kingship of God, the nothingness of man. We can do nothing 'as of ourselves' (2 Cor 3:5). We might begin by reflecting on our obvious inability to give ourselves wholly to God with gladness. Some hard things we can take from him, perhaps, some sacrifices we can make; but we cannot do what Francis did, what all the saints do: we cannot put the whole of life unreservedly back into his hands, a total offering... so the saints sit down like children before the ultimate facts about God and man, about their own inability to serve God of themselves; they leave God, as St Teresa put it, to accomplish his will in them; and so they can be free and happy and at peace in his arms, and in his arms they find the power to do all things.

We for our part can hope to find there the power for our smaller purposes. It is not much use setting out to execute grandiose schemes of asceticism of our own choosing if at the same time we grumble at every little trial that God sends us. The first thing we can learn from the attempt to cast all our cares upon him is the ability to see his love in all that comes to us and so to accept it lovingly and if possible gladly. The gladness, we know, would be there if only our sense of God's providence and love of God's providence were deeper and stronger. The essential thing therefore is to try to make sure that we are going in the right direction, taking things in their right order: first the deepening awareness of our total dependence on God, then the correspondingly deep awareness of his constant care for us and the joy of being in his house, then thirdly the response which is thus called forth from us, the deepened gratitude for, and love of, that will in which his care is expressed at each moment as it comes, and so finally the ability to make of each moment a sacrifice of praise, something that we take humbly and gladly from the hands of God and, having done the best we can with it, return to those hands. Then in that setting we can hope that any sacrifices we try to make in addition to what comes to us not of our choosing will similarly be sacrifices of praise, similarly theocentric, similarly motivated and ensouled by love. And so we come back to the beginning: because if they are indeed acts of love they will certainly also be acts of joy."

(The Son's Course, 86-90)

I have come close to seeing this perfect Joy and Love evident in the lives of the poor Filipinos whom I lived and worked with (above): they seem to me to give without complaint, to accept their difficulties and trials with such hope and cheer and to have such child-like humility and trust in God's loving care and providence. It is fitting then that today's Stational church in Rome is also their national church in that Holy City.

Let us pray for the Filipino people, for their nation and leaders and let us learn from them how to have such joy in the Lord. May St Pudens and St Lawrence Ruiz, protomartyr of the Philippines pray for us all that we may follow their saintly example of total resting in God's arms, in His provident will.