Category: Saint


AMDG   

download (4)Today we are moving into the Third Week of the Exercises – where we contemplate Christ in his Passion.  It is a ‘test’ of discipleship and any elections made in the Second Week.  Often a dry and difficult period in prayer – as the mystery of the cross is so difficult to penetrate.  Luckily we have a great saint today – Edith Stein.  I am privileged to be celebrating mass today too, so this is my reflection on this great woman.

On the eve of the third millennium, John Paul II named three women as new patrons of Europe, one of them was St Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein.  She was a saint of the second millennium, who would accompany us into the third millennium, the Pope said.

Why was Edith Stein so close to the Popes heart?  Why did he feel she was such a powerful patron for us as we entered the new millennium?

It may be helpful to think of three stages to Edith’s Life  1) The towering intellect and public genius   2) Conversion and an irresistible call to a hidden contemplative life      3) Her embrace of the cross and Confronting evil in Auschwitz…. And in this incredible journey she synthesised the dramatic history of the twentieth century in her own heart.

The first part of her life was a journey from Judaism to atheism, of outstanding intellectual achievements, as a pupil and then teaching assistant of the famous phenomenologist Husserl who supported her ambition to be the first female professor – she was fascinated with truth and with empathy, the subject of her doctoral dissertation.  She had built a great intellectual tower – but she did not stay on top of it looking down at the rest of us – like so many of the so called ‘new atheists’

World War One intervened – she worked as a nurse  – but the moment when her unbelief collapsed was when one of her colleagues was killed in Flanders.  She visited his widow and encountered a women with deep faith –  This was in her own words:  My first encounter with the cross and the divine power that it imparts to those who bear it .    ….……  This was a generation whose experience of War had penetrated their hearts, and the search for truth was not a merely intellectual exercise

download (5)So the second phase of her life began – resuming lecturing after the War – she read the New testament, and Kierkegaard and interestingly the Spiritual Exercises – all of which made a deep impression on her (notice she only read the Exercises – she didn’t make them)   However the  breakthrough was when visiting a friend she picked up the biography of St Teresa of Avila and read it all night –  at the end she simply said ‘this is the truth’  – she was to be baptised a Catholic and her work became a combination of Scholarship and Faith ….. ten years later she entered the contemplative Carmelite life – and took up the religious name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

Like our own Hopkins – she was to stop writing as she enthusiastically immersed herself into religious life.  This self-imposed silence was to finish as she published a book called ‘The Science of the Cross’ to mark the 400th anniversary of St John of the Cross birth…..  This immersion into the mystery of the Cross was to be prophetic as she was to imitate her beloved Jesus …..

He turned his face to Jerusalem and his passion – she was to be taken to Auschwitz with her sister who had followed her into ‘Carmel’ .  The rounding up of Jewish converts was in retaliation to the Dutch Bishops letter condemning Nazism and its ethnic cleansing.  Her last words to her sister were Come we are going with our people’ as they were rounded up with 987 Jewish Christians and sent today to the gas chambers.

So three steps – from an intellectual tower, to a silent life of adoration and then this profound welcoming of the cross.

One of my fellow Jesuits said yesterday – so many of us want Christianity without the cross – let us pray with Teresa Benedicta that we learn to serve our crucified Lord.

AMDG

loyola2Thanks for all the messages on this feast of St Ignatius…..  I have fond memories of celebrating this feast in Tanzania in recent years with our pupils, and in India with the Dalits, and in Manchester with some of the students.  This year seems special, here at St. Beunos, in North Wales, directing the 30 days – in the silence of the Exercises, at the beginning of the Second Week.  Now our retreatants are praying for a growing interior knowledge of Christ. Having meditated on the Call of the King they are now contemplating, step by step, the life of Jesus.    After the intensity of the First Week it is a rich and vivid journey they are making, using imaginative contemplation. If we are to remember Ignatius for anything – it is not necessarily for the Jesuits, for our works, for the apostolates – Ignatius knew that we are founded to serve the church, to help souls.  Famously Ignatius said if we were to be disbanded it would take 15 mins in the chapel for him to reconcile himself to that.

The heart of St Ignatius is found most clearly in making the Exercises.   That is a legacy of his that we can never lose.  This uniquely transformative tool that has changed so many lives.  And in the privilege of giving the exercises, I feel very close to him.   One of the things we are encouraged to do is review our own notes of the Exercises we made in Tertianship.  I was in Manila – three years ago – and during the second week I read a biography of St Ignatius by the Basque Historian José  Tellechea Idígoras.  It is the best biography I have read.  I have been thinking a lot over the past few days about how Ignatius would ‘give’ the Exercises.  There were no retreat houses in his day, no en-suite facilities!  He would invite someone he had got know, for whom he thought it would be profitable. They would often stay in a spare room in his house and he would meet them after dinner to listen, to help and then set them points for the next day.  Maybe we need to renew that practice ourselves…..   and then there is beautiful description Idigoras leaves us with of Ignatius….  you can imagine him towards the end of his life…. perhaps leaving the house after having met his exercitant….

He wore a simple austere cassock and fought off the cold with a large cloak.  When he left the house he wore a voluminous cape and a broad brimmed hat with attached chords that he tied to his chin. It was impressive to see him walking in the street. He was always going, because of some business, to some specific place or to see some particular person. At this period in his life his fair hair had disappeared, he was bald and wore a short beard from which loomed an aquiline nose and high cheekbones.  His complexion had become darker, weather-beaten, perhaps even yellowish because of his liver ailment? His countenance, serious and peaceful, was the image of circumspection and a life lived interiorly. Some found it particularly luminous and expressive. His eyes which at one time had been sparkling and bright were now blurred by work, old age and copious tears. They had lost their gaiety but not their penetrating force. He seldom looked at people straight on.  When he did, however, people said he took in the person from head to toe. His gaze seemed to have the power of seeing straight through a person right into his heart. 

 

AMDG

Thanks for all the messages about yesterdays homily on Radio 4  (available on listen again for 6 days from now  Link )

 In response for a few requests for a copy of it – below is the original unedited version ( we had to cut it to allow it to fit into a 38min live broadcast) 

Guido_Reni_-_Sts_Peter_and_Paul_-_WGA19309

Guido Reni’s St Peter & Paul

In a culture that can seem obsessed with celebrity, that even grades them A-List, B-List etc. – the church celebrates today two of our foremost saints…. Saints Peter and Paul have been called the indispensable men of the early church, Peter with the unique authority that Jesus conferred to him, as we heard in today’s Gospel, Petrus the Rock who is given the keys to heaven, on which Jesus says I will build my church – and Paul the great missionary who first takes the News of the Risen Christ to those outside of the Jewish community. It may be fitting in these days of the World Cup to compare them to a defensive and attacking midfielder, Peter anchoring the team built around him and Paul making ranging runs into the opponent’s box. Different roles, and as any team knows, there may be tensions between their star players, but if that energy can be harnessed and becomes a creative tension, if the egos (and perhaps I should say teeth!) can be kept in check and when we’re playing for the team not for ourselves, when we remember it’s God’s Kingdom rather than our own we’re building – these different but complementary roles can become great channels of grace. Peter and Paul certainly had their differences, notably Paul rebukes Peter in his Letter to the Galatians, for Peter’s decision to stop eating with Gentiles to appease the hardliners in the early church. But Paul always ultimately deferred to the senior apostle.   Both were to die a martyr’s death in Rome, sometime in the AD 60’s, Peter reputedly crucified upside down in the area of Rome known as the Vatican Circus, and Paul beheaded.  Ever since then

Catholics believe that the leadership of Peter has continued down the years in the Popes, some saintly men, others certainly not – and these saints and sinners have exercised what we call the Petrine ministry. It‘s been a great scandal and a great sadness that this Petrine ministry has become a source of division for so many Christians – so much so that Pope John Paul II appealed to all Christians to help him explore how the Petrine ministry could be at service to unity….. a crucial question that we have to take seriously. We can see the damage that inter-religious feuding can wreak, looking at the painful history in our islands, but also now in the poisonous conflict between the Sunni and the Shi’ite.    It is clear after Pope Francis’ recent visit to the Middle East that he, following in the footsteps of  John Paul II, wants his role to be at service to unity.  He surprised the world with his invitation to both the Presidents of Israel and Palestine to join him for prayer – and it was great to see how quickly they responded, joining him in prayer in the Vatican Gardens and giving people a new hope and a new dream of peace.

images (2)Jorge Bergoglio, Pope Francis – was never meant to be Pope. He’s a Jesuit like me , and when he took his final vows, he took private vows never to seek authority or status in the Church or within our Order – Jesuits call it ‘ambitioning’ and it’s strictly forbidden, as St Ignatius – the founder of the Jesuits saw clerical ambition as one of the main sources of corruption in the Church. In the influential Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius we are asked at one point to meditate on how power, wealth and honour can in a very subtle but deadly way to undermine our commitment to be disciples of Jesus.  So Pope Francis has an inbuilt aversion to careerism in the church……  so how did he become a bishop – let alone sit on the Chair of Peter?  Because as a Jesuit he has also promised special obedience to the Pope – which took priority when first he was asked by the Pope to be a Bishop in Argentina – and then was elected Pope by his peers.

 

I think the other key to understand him is to understand the significance of the Spiritual Exercises.  Jesuit training is called formation – it often lasts for longer that ten years, but the key experience of that formation is a 30 day silent retreat called the Spiritual Exercises.  This is a programme written and honed by St Ignatius which is split into Four Parts.  Each day is split into 5 hour long slots of prayer – interspersed with mass and also a daily meeting with their spiritual director.  The four parts –are referred to as’ weeks’, although the Director decides how long is spent in each week – for some it can be a couple of days, for others it can be up to ten or more days.  For each week there is a grace that is being prayed for and series of meditations which are leading towards that grace. To understand Pope Francis is to see someone who is profoundly marked by the grace of the first week – which is a gentle, but deep and honest assessment of life, warts and all.  And when it is when we honestly look at our mistakes, at how we’ve hurt others and inspite of all of that – we are still loved unconditionally – that our life changes.  It happened to me and I am sure it happened to Pope Francis.  Somehow this sense of being loved inspite of all my messiness – and my sinfulness, as well as being a healing experience it unlocks a great compassion in us.  And more that his simplicity, and his integrity people sense a deep compassion there. And I think there is wonderful parallel with Peter there – who denied Christ three times and was forgiven three times.  Both are leaders who made mistakes early on and have encountered a Risen Christ who is only compassionate.

 

Francis is a man who knows he made many mistakes as young Jesuit – who was thrust into authority at a young age in a toxic political situation in Argentina – the Dirty War.  Through the spiritual exercises he has faced up to this, his mistakes, his weakness, and has experienced that like St Peter – even though he is frail, God still loves him.  He often describes himself as a loved sinner – and someone who has experience of the mercy of God, becomes more and more compassionate themselves.  The courage to go deeply into silence – to honestly assess one’s life and to experience the love of God – as happens so often in the Spiritual Exercises – gives one great freedom – freedom from fear, and also great compassion.  These graces are not instantly available – they take commitment to prayer, the courage to seek silence and the wisdom of a Spiritual Guide.

 

So what about us? As we remember how the risen Jesus undoes Peters threefold denial – by offering Peter the chance to express his love three times ….. so we too are offered that same encounter with the unlimited mercy of God.,  Only this encounter can change hearts and change minds – and an increasingly angry world is thirsting for this.  Let us,  like St Peter, and Pope Francis dedicate our lives to sharing this compassion…..Let us be the blessing which Zechariah recognised was coming from God in Jesus: ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel: for he hath visited and redeemed his people.’

 

 

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