Yesterday was the Titular Feast of the Society of Jesus. ‘The most Holy Name of Jesus’. The Jesuit ‘mother-church’ in Rome is the Church of the Gesu. Originally here in Manchester the founding fathers of the mission wished to call our church the Gesu – but the bishop of Salford, Bishop Turner, rightly intervened and said it would sound a bit weird. We have to remember that in 1870′s Catholicism was only just re-emerging into British public life and there was an acute sensibility to how we would be re-established. So following his advice, the Gesu became the Holy Name. Yesterday Pope Francis celebrated the feast of the Holy Name with Jesuits in the Gesu. It was a great occasion – and a double celebration of the Holy Name and the canonisation of the Jesuit Peter Faber.
In his homily, Pope Francis praised Faber’s “restlessness” to his brother Jesuits: “This is the restlessness that Peter Faber had, a man of great dreams.” He was, said the Pope, a “modest man, sensitive, with a deep inner life and endowed with the gift of making friends with people of all kinds…… However, he was also a restless spirit, indecisive, never satisfied…He was a man of great desires, and he took charge of his desires, recognized them….. An authentic faith always implies a deep desire to change the world. Here’s the question we must ask ourselves: Do we also have great vision and momentum? Are we too bold? Do our dreams aim high? Does our zeal devour us (cf. Ps 69.10) or are we mediocre and are satisfied?”
At the end of mass a gift (seen on the right) was presented to Pope Francis by the postulator of the cause of St. Peter Faber, Father Anton Witwer, SJ, and the Vice-Postulator Father Marc Lindeijer, SJ. It is a facsimile of the Final Vows of St. Peter Faber in 1541. Final Vows represent the full incorporation of a man into the Society of Jesus – often taking place 20 or so years after you entered as a novice. Every Jesuit takes simple and perpetual vows after two years in the Novitiate. One way of looking at it that at First Vows, you accept the Society; at Final Vows, the Society accepts you, “for better or worse.” Final Vows included a Fourth Vow of obedience to the Pope – to be available to be sent anywhere on Mission. At end of the final vow mass – the now fully professed Jesuit will take 5 Private Vows in the Sacristy – surrounded by his fellow Jesuits. These vows show how well St. Ignatius understood human nature and are described very well by James Martin – First, there is a vow never to change anything in the Jesuit Constitutions about poverty–unless to make it “more strict.” Second, a vow never to “strive or ambition” for any dignity in the church, like becoming a bishop. Third, never to “strive or ambition” for any high office in the Jesuits. Fourth, if we find out that someone is striving for these things, we are to “communicate his name” to the Society. (A friend calls this the vow to rat out someone, but it’s another indication of how much Ignatius wanted to eliminate ambition, as far as possible, from the Jesuits.) Finally, we take a vow that, if we are somehow made bishop, we will still listen to the superior general.
This is my homily for tomorrow - the Second Sunday of Advent
Speaking Truth to Power is a phrase that is often used to describe people who bravely stand up against injustice. It takes courage, it takes integrity to put your head above the parapet. It probably explains something behind the overwhelming reaction to the death of Nelson Mandela this week. Whenever there is a media frenzy there is a lot of nonsense spoken about someone’s life – and this week is no exception to this – however it cannot be denied that Mandela become a powerful symbol for many people. He spoke truth to power, and they tried to silence him, but in the end truth won out. He was lucky – he wasn’t silenced – he didn’t become a political martyr. Speaking truth to power is part of the job description for an Old Testament Prophet. And today in the Gospel – on the second week of our Advent Journey we meet the greatest prophet of them all, according to Jesus, John the Baptist. Unlike Nelson Mandela – we know that John was eventually silenced – beheaded by Herod. John is one of the great advent figures – bridging the gap between the NT & OT. He speaks with great authority, and that authority is recognised by the people and so he attracts great crowds.
What is his message for this advent ? I think that he is warning not to be complacent in our faith. He calls the Pharisees and the Sadducees ‘A brood of vipers’. He is not confronting the power of Herod yet – but a much more subtle power – the power of respectability and the power of a good reputation and keeping a public face. So let us examine our own faith and our own lives.
St Ignatius in the Spiritual Exercises writes very clearly about the seduction of power and honour. In his meditation on the Two Standards – he talks about how the trappings of fame and honour are used by the enemy to seduce us …. to pull us away from God, so that we come to believe that we are all powerful. There is a fascinating index called ‘The Power Distance index’ which measures how much a country respects authority and values hierarchies. The higher the country is the more likely it is to be totalitarian and score high on corruption scales. In ancient times when a Roman General or a Roman Emperor used to have a victory triumph (or parade) and was receiving the adulation of the masses – a slave would stand behind him and according to Tertullian whisper in his ear “Look behind you! Remember that you are a man! Remember that you’ll die”…..the famous memento mori.
So this Advent – let us heed John’s challenge. Let us be honest about the little ways we are seduced into thinking that we are great, we are clever, lest we become complacent. Advent is a time for our hearts to become humbler – that we dust away the complacency – as we would preparing a guest room – for a special guest. But this time the room is our hearts – and for the grace of Christmas to go really deep – our hearts have to mirror that humble manger in Bethlehem.
Icon of Pierre Favre by Fr. William McNichols
There have been many whispers but today it seems to be confirmed in the Italian Press. Pierre Favre, the first Jesuit priest (he was already ordained when he joined with the group of men who were gathering around St Ignatius in Paris) is to be declared a saint in December. This is a great joy for many of us Jesuits, he is often quoted as being one of the favourite first companions but relatively unknown outside of the Society of Jesus. It seem that Pope Francis shares his fellow Jesuits affection for this great man. In the interview he gave to Jesuit magazines including Thinking Faith in October the Pope said this about Favre,
“[His] dialogue with all, even the most remote and even with his opponents; his simple piety, a certain naïveté perhaps, his being available straightaway, his careful interior discernment, the fact that he was a man capable of great and strong decisions but also capable of being so gentle and loving.”
Pierre Favre (or Peter Faber) was highly esteemed by St Ignatius as the companion he trusted the most to give the Spiritual Exercises. He had a remarkable skill in what we call ‘spiritual conversation’. a great preacher, and a remarkable ability to reconcile warring factions, particular families that were divided. This ‘spiritual skill set’ which would be valuable at any time was especially needed in the spiritual fractious times of the Reformation. He was sent by St Ignatius to be a ‘periti’ (an expert) at the Council of Trent. His reputation grew so fast that the he was missioned directly by popes and sent into flash points in Germany such as Speyer, Mainz, and Cologne, where Catholic Bishops were teteering towards Lutheranism.
Antonio Spadaro who gave the interview to Pope Francis provides this commentary As Pope Francis lists these personal characteristics of his favorite Jesuit I understand just how much this figure has truly been a model for his own life. Michel de Certeau, S.J., characterised Faber simply as “the reformed priest,” for whom interior experience, dogmatic expression and structural reform are intimately inseparable. I begin to understand, therefore, that Pope Francis is inspired precisely by this kind of reform.
Already beatifed, Pope Francis is following a process for Favre’s canonization called “equivalent canonization” – when he omits the judicial process and ceremonies involved and orders the new saint to be venerated in the Universal Church. John Paul II, decreed 3 such canonizations, Benedict XVI decreed 1. Here is a link to the report http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/the-vatican/detail/articolo/favre-gesuita-santo-30065/
Statue of Oscar Romero outside Westminster Abbey
We had a special night last Thursday here in Manchester hosting the Romero Trust and Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP. Fr Timothy gave an engrossing talk entitled the Disturbing Truth, Oscar Romero, The Church & the Poor – he spoke with a compassion and authority that kept the packed church of 400+ gripped. Oscar Romero was the Bishop of El Salvador who was killed in 1980 for his commitment to the poor. We were reminded how this quiet, ‘bookish’ bishop was ‘converted’ to the cause of the poor, when he looked on the bullet ridden body of his friend the Jesuit Rutilio Grande who had been assassinated by right wing paramilitaries. Romero spoke out fearlessly against the repression of the poor from that point on – till it became inevitable that he would have to be silenced. He was shot dead during mass in his Cathedral, and it was shocking to find out that when they prepared his body for burial they discovered that the inside of his trousers was coated with salt. It is probable that he saw the assassin at the back of the cathedral before he was shot – and that the anxiety caused an excessive sweating – but he would not abandon the prayer of the mass.
People came from all over the North of England to hear Fr Radcliffe – and it was clear that there is a great love for Romero. So it is heartening to hear that Pope Francis has unblocked his cause for canonisation. Timothy argued that for Romero, the fundamental moral choice was between dialogue and violence. Patient dialogue is not about negotiation but transformation. The deepest truths are only attainable through patient exchange, building friendship, transforming our hearts and minds. It is the very opposite of violence. Britain at one level is more tolerant than El Salvador was in the 80’s however a more subtle dynamic of violence is at work. In modern Britain, the contempt for the poor often takes the form of contrasting the so-called good, hard-working poor, and the imagined multitude of ‘skivers’, parasites devouring benefits. The uncomfortable truth is that the vast majority of poor people in this country work but simply are not paid enough. Romero had to be assassinated because he refused to collude in the myth of the wickedness of the poor.
In giving a vote of thanks, Eammon O’Brien, the president of the Manchester Universities’ Catholic Chaplaincy, commended Timothy for inspiring a new generation of Catholics. He pointed out that the Chaplaincy has just opened the first student-run foodbank in the country, and that his words would inspire them to deepen their commitment to the poor through the regular soup runs, and supporting a breakfast club at a local primary school. They would challenge the globalisation of indifference and the denigrating language of the poor. It was great to have Bishop Brain of Salford & Bishop Rawsthorne of Hallam with us for the talk.
Today’s celebration of all the Saints is a very special one for the church. All Saints day grew out of a need in the early church to remember all the martyrs that couldn’t fit into the emerging liturgical calendar. Initially every martyr (saint) was given their own feast day – but in the first three hundred years of the church, so many were killed by Roman emperors (about 100,000 according to some scholars) - that they couldn’t fit them in the emerging liturgical calendar – hence the birth of all saints day. The status of Christianity changed dramatically during the reign of Emperor Constantine. He was the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christian, and agreed on the Edict of Milan, which stressed religious tolerance. His mother St Helena is credited with discovering the true cross of Christ. Christianity went from being a sect, heavily persecuted and underground, to becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire. A bit further down the line Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs. This was a remarkable moment where the ancient temple to all the gods of ancient Rome became a Christian church dedicated to all the saints of the early church. Pope Gregory IV (827-844) extended this celebration to the entire Church and gave the feast universal status – So for Catholics it is called a Holy Day of Obligation (i.e. they must go to mass) . Such important feast days have their own vigil – hence Halloween – the evening of all Hallows. Wearing costumes / jack-o-laterns etc / partys (fiestas) can all be traced back to the start of this three-day holiday.
There are two paths to ‘sainthood’ in the Catholic Church. One is to be a martyr – or to be killed distinctly out of hatred for the faith (“odium fidei”), the other is to live a life of heroic virtue. The second process usually requires independent proof of miracles as a result of someone praying for your intercession. The pictures on either side of the blog today come from a marvellous set of tapestries in the Cathedral of Our Lady and the Angels in Los Angles. THe tapestries are called the communion of Saints consisting of females and males of all ages, races, occupations and vocations the world over. Saints from the Renaissance are intermingled with people from the 1st century and the 20th century. The artist – John Nava - combined digital imaging and “Old Master” methods in creating the saints for the tapestries. He constructed figures from multiple studies, combined drawn and painted elements, had costumes made when needed and even drafted family members to serve as models on occasion. He wanted the figures to look like people we know now, and did not use a highly stylized form to depict the saints. Nava’s desire is that people identify and see that “a saint could look like me.”
You can see these marvelous tapestries in more detail by clink on this link
AMDG Taken from today’s chaplaincy newsletter (click)
Last Thursday we celebrated the Feast of St Luke, apostle and evangelist. Each of the Gospels gives us a slightly different portrait of Jesus and what following him (discipleship) entails. One of the themes that Luke is keen on in his Gospel is that of perseverance. It is something that Luke would have valued himself as he accompanied St Paul on his many journeys and chronicled the events of the Early Church as he wrote the Acts of the Apostles. Today’s Gospel is often referred to as the parable of the Persistent Widow, and develops this Lucan theme of perseverance. As the nights get longer and colder and the summer fades away, it may be important to pray for this gift of perseverance. For some of us – even just making it to mass this Sunday or during the week is a victory of perseverance, especially when it is tempting to curl up at home.
The path to joy and fulfillment can be made up of these small heroic victories. However God wishes us to thrive not just to preserve. Persevering in the faith is a lot easier when we feed our faith regularly with the sacraments, in fact the more frequently we engage with God at this sacred level, whether at mass or confession, we can make that shift from a faith where we are just hanging on in there, to a faith that is alive, growing and flourishing. I have heard people say – it is not about keeping the faith, but giving the faith away. Jesus knows how hard it can be at times, when we are surrounded by cynicism and negativity – he knows how hard it is for the widow in the Gospel to get justice from the dishonest judge. Let’s prepare for winter by strengthening our faith – even if all that means is putting 10 minutes aside each day to come and sit in the sacred silence of the Church.
Tomorrows Saint is the remarkable St Maximiliam Maria Kolbe, a Polish Franciscan who famously gave up his life in place of another in the Nazi death camp Auschwitz. Before his arrest Kolbe was famous in Europe for his ministry in promoting the veneration of the Immaculate Virgin Mary. He had founded the monastery of Niepokalanów near Warsaw, a seminary, a radio station, and several other organizations and publications.
German Stamp commemorates Kolbe (with Auschwitz stamp on it)
His arrest by the Gestapo was partly due to his heroic effort in sheltering Jews, with over 2000 being hidden in his monastery. It was after three prisoners successfully escaped from the camp, that he deputy camp commander, picked 10 men to be starved to death in an underground bunker in order to deter further escape attempts. One of the selected men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out, “My wife! My children!”, so Kolbe volunteered to take his place. After two weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe remained alive. The guards wanted the bunker emptied and they gave Kolbe a lethal injection of carbolic acid.
Something that brought this amazing story vividly alive to me was listening to an interview on the internet. Saint Cast is an excellent website run by a marathon running brain surgeon from America, Paul Camarata. A few years ago he posted a fascinating audio file – of an interview and translation of an eye-witness to this event. One of the saint cast listeners – found that a member of his parish in Uppsala, Sweden, a guy called Tadeusz Raznikiewicz, was an eyewitness to the last days of St. Maximilian Kolbe.
This amazing interview can be listened to by visiting the saint cast website here > Eyewitness acount to Kolbe’s last days
Today’s Saint – Saint Lawrence – is famous as a deacon in Rome. As a deacons in the early church, Lawrence had the responsibility for the material goods of the Church & distributing alms to the poor. In the third century when the Roman emperor ordered the death of the Pope, the prefect then ordered for the churches goods to be handed over. When St. Lawrence was asked for the treasures of the Church he brought forward the poor, among whom he had divided the treasure as alms.”Behold in these poor persons the treasures which I promised to show you; to which I will add pearls and precious stones, those widows and consecrated virgins, which are the church’s crown.”
When reading this I though of the commitment to the poor of Pope Francis – like Lawrence his faith was rooted in the daily struggle of the people he lived with. It is a rooted faith – and then of course I thought of his football team San Lorenzo (Saint Lawrence). It is great to hear that he is keeping his membership up (reminding me to renew my Liverpool membership card!). Like many football teams San Lorenzo’s roots are actually ecclesial. San Lorenzo was formed by a group of kids that used to play football in the corner of two busy streets of Buenos Aires. Due to the increasing traffic in the city, playing football at the streets became a risky activity for the boys. Fr Lorenzo Massa, the priest of the neighbourhood’s church, saw how a tram almost knocked down one of the boys while they were playing in the streets. As a way to prevent more accidents, he offered the boys to play in the church’s backyard, under the condition they had to go to mass on Sundays. Wanting to call the club after him the priest denied to be honoured that way. Nevertheless, the name was finally accepted by the priest, explaining that the name would not honour himself but , St Lawrence of Rome
Pope Francis still pays his annual membership fee – and so proud of their fan becoming the Pope – San Lorenzo recently took to the pitch with his face replacing the advertising on their shirts. A faith that is rooted and close to the passions of the people – that reminds us that God is close to us in all things. A faith that shares the passions of many. The 34rd General Congregation of the Jesuits published a decree on our mission and culture – at one point it says “(as Jesuits) …. We have sometimes sided with the “high culture” of the elite in a particular setting: disregarding the cultures of the poor and sometimes, by our passivity, allowing indigenous cultures or communities to be destroyed” ….. On a final note I recommend a great book called ‘Thank God for Football’ by Wirral author Peter Lupson – he traces the roots of Aston Villa, Barnsley, Birmingham City, Bolton Wanderers, Everton, Fulham, Liverpool, Manchester City, Queen’s Park Rangers, Southampton, Swindon Town and Tottenham Hotspur all back to churches and priests / ministers!
Today is the beautiful feast of All Saints and the students here have come up with a beautiful way of marking it – with the first of our monthly all-night adorations. Aside from the mass this seems to be one of the best ways to mark the feast of all saints. There seems to be a link between Adoration and sharing in the Beatific Vision – we believe saints are in the presence of God, which is beyond our understanding, but has something to do with the most powerful force in the universe, that of Divine Love. Rowan Williams the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, explained this the other week in much more eloquent words. Making history by being the first Anglican Primate to address a Vatican Synod. Although this happened three weeks ago I have been pondering his words since then, building on the theological anthropology of French Jesuit Henri du Lubac he said some beautiful things that are worth treasuring and meditating on .
To be fully human is to be recreated in the image of Christ’s humanity….. in his relationship to the Father… a relationship of loving and adoring self-giving, a pouring out of life towards the Other….. this is a contemplative humanity… that selfless attention to the Other that brings not death but life to the self. All contemplating of God presupposes God’s own absorbed and joyful knowing of himself and gazing upon himself in the trinitarian life. To be contemplative as Christ is contemplative To be contemplative as Christ is contemplative is to be open to all the fullness that the Father wishes to pour into our hearts. With our minds made still and ready to receive, with our self-generated fantasies about God and ourselves reduced to silence, we are at last at the point where we may begin to grow. And the face we need to show to our world is the face of a humanity in endless growth towards love, a humanity so delighted and engaged by the glory of what we look towards that we are prepared to embark on a journey without end to find our way more deeply into it, into the heart of the trinitarian life.
The rest of his address can be read here – and it is well worth your time, even worth printing it out as I have done for material for prayer. The stunning tapestries (click here) in the Cathedral of Our Lady and the Angels in LA are beautiful representation of the Saints in adoration. Why not join us in the chaplaincy in Manchester tonight – as we hold a vigil of adoration on this feast of All Saints, 9pm-9am.
English: Manchester University Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
So it has been announced publicly now that my next job is to be chaplain at Manchester University. I will be moving in sometime by the end of this week. I will be on my own till Christmas and then 3 other Jesuits will join me. It is a very exciting new mission, with a conglomeration of over 85,000 students (the biggest in Europe I’ve been told) and 400-600 coming to the Sunday evening mass. Outside the chaplaincy is also the busiest bus stop in the country (foot-fall wise) with more than 2000 passengers embarking and disembarking an hour, so we really are in the thick of it. Fantastic! Many of mates think it is hilarious that a scouser and Liverpool fan is going to Manchester to be chaplain, but as I said on local radio yesterday, over the last 20 years us Liverpool fans have had to learn humility, which is a good quality for a chaplain. I hope that brought a smile to a few Mancunian faces…. Daniel into the lions den!
Probably by advent we will be taking back the Holy Name Church (next door to the chaplaincy) as the Oratorians will move to their newly founded oratory nearby. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude as in essence they saved the Church. Last week a national newspaper reported that Roberto Mancini (Man City manager) is a regular mass attendee click here, so I will have to exercise restraint in the pulpit! At the back of the church is a beautiful copy of the Rubens painting of St Ignatius and St Philip Neri, the founder of the Oratorians (see right). They were great friends and St. Philip encouraged a number of his own disciples who displayed a desire for missionary work to become Jesuits. Philip was fascinated with the plans of St. Francis Xavier, whom he befriended before the latter set off on his missionary journeys. Ignatius used to pass along the letters of St. Francis reporting back to Rome, which Philip and his companions would read and discuss together in community. However, Philip was told by a wise Trappist that “Your India is to be Rome.”, a city which is always in need of missionary and reforming zeal! We owe a great debt to Father Ray Matus and his companions for all the work they have done in Manchester and I hope we can keep the spiritual synergy going!