Tag Archive: Francis


AMDG

1102014686_univ_cnt_5_xlI have been thinking a lot about Pope Francis’s ‘Eldest Son Problem’.  If you remember the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the elder brother who has worked hard and kept the rules all the time seethes with resentment  as the dissolute younger brother is forgiven and embraced by the father.  In fact his resentment at the Father (Gods) unlimited mercy and forgiveness stops him from going in and enjoying the banquet.  They appear to be a sizeable group – particularly in The States, often an elite of some type or other, who seems to resent the popularity of Pope Francis outside of the borders of the church.  It;s as if they don’t want the wrong type of people included in their church which has become a comfortable country club. They can seem to dominate the English Language Catholic Blogosphere and so they appear to be many, but in reality they create an ‘echo chamber’  and they are not representative of most Catholics.

private-club-members-only-sign-k-0249_grnrevFrancis’ inspiring model of the ‘field hospital church’ that gets out there in the middle of the messiness of life, that tends wounds and listens to those hurting, is very threatening to some people, even if it may well be very close to Jesus’s vision.  So an alternative ecclesiology is at play – rather than the field hospital church it is the ‘officers mess‘ church. They create an elitist Catholicism,  have an ideological spin on history, often use the labels of tradition and orthodoxy  as weapons  and don’t seem to take into account the reality of many peoples messy lives.  So they create a type of Virtual Gated Community – and their criticisms of Francis are out in the open, relentless and already they are splintering (always a sign of the bad spirit).  What worries me is the effect that these blogs are having on some of my students – perhaps even on some of our bishops.  The less you are pastorally engaged – the more tempting it is to live in these echo chambers, and feel good about your Catholic Identity.

ddeb78bb63620d00e54880ddb8b12536 So how do we bring these dissenters along with us?  I think we can learn something from the Japanese here and how they discharged soldiers.  After the defeat in the Second World War, many returning soldiers were not fit to return to their communities. Their only identity for their formative years had to be a loyal soldier for their country and now they needed a broader identity. So some very wise communities created a public ceremony where they were welcomed back and praised effusively for what they had done.  The community realised that they needed to move on  so they created this ritual for closure and transition for ex-soldiers to return to civilization.  After the praise and thanksgiving, an elder would stand and declare ‘The war is now over – The community needs you to let go to what has served you until now, the community needs you to return as a man, a citizen and something more than a soldier.’ Maybe the Pope needs to do the same with some of our culture-warriors that are finding it difficult to move with him.

AMDG

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Fr Pedro Arrupe

I have been enjoying a few days in Valladolid with a group of Jesuit theologians who are preparing for ordination. They are taking part in what is called the ‘Arrupe Month’. Fr Pedro Arrupe, then the general of the Jesuits,  noticed that in the 1970’s there was a curious phenomenon of men who left the order (and often the priesthood) soon after they had been ordained.  It was almost as though even after the long period of formation they were expecting something magic to happen – and had a rather superficial expectation of what the ‘ontological change’ that the sacrament of ordination conferred, really meant.   So Fr Arrupe’s letter issued on December 27, 1979 addressed this – and now there is  a period set aside for a deepening of self-knowledge and Jesuit identity to help prepare the Jesuit Scholastic for ordination to the priesthood. I have joined them for a couple of days to give some input on thriving in (not just surviving) the first years of priesthood.

PictureWe are staying at a fascinating and beautiful College – the Royal English College ‘St Albans’ in Vallodalid.  It was founded by the English Jesuit Robert Persons in 1589, during the English Reformation, as a seminary to train Catholic Priest for the English and Welsh Mission, at a time when it was illegal to do so in the UK.  It has an impressive legacy of alumni who are saints – many Jesuits,  although not all – who would eventually be executed on their return to Britain.   Their portraits line the corridors.  In today’s climate of Islamic violence we have to be careful about the narrative of martyrdom – although it is worth noting that none of the Catholic men and women executed were perpetrators of Violence.  Although it fair to say that Fr Persons was agitating the Spanish King to invade so that England could return to becoming a Catholic country. This  resulted firstly in the famous failure of the Armada.  A second attempt was foiled in Cadiz by Walter Raleigh ….  but we will come to that in a minute.  The College, well endowed, and beautifully kept, still has the patronage of the Spanish Royal Family.  When you enter the college you are greeted with a picture of the King & Queen of Spain with an affectionate and personal message to the College. This Royal patronage is important when you think of how the Jesuits where expelled from Europe, from different countries on numerous occasions, so you can see how it is good to know you have powerful allies ….  things can change however.

44423190For me the jewel in the crown in Valladolid is ‘La Vulnerata’ or the Wounded One  – a disfigured statue of Mary in the chapel.  After Sir Walter Raleigh defeated the Spanish Fleet in Cadiz and took control of the city in 1596,  some of the English troops started a riot (like the football ‘fans’ in Marseille). The soldiers dragged the statue  to the market square where they desecrated it.  The priests and seminarians of the English College in Valladolid brought it to Valladolid and installed with great solemnity in the College Chapel in 1600.  They wished to make reparation for the desecration of their fellow country men.  Every year during Holy Week the statue is processed along the street, where it is met by a huge paso or float, which has a large depiction of the Crucified Christ resting on top of it. The two images meet, and dance to each other for a brief period—then the Vulnerata comes back to the College

gress-CZESTOCHOWA-650x340A little like the famous Image of the Icon of the Black Madonna of Czetochowa which was similarly damaged by Hussite raiders in 1430… and has now become the most visited shrine in Poland, and revered by Catholics and Orthodox alike.  The potential power of our vulnerabilty is a spiritual paradox.  Christ glorious risen body still carried his wounds as St Thomas can testify. The popular devotion to these disfigured images of Our Lady are striking – they seem to unlock a mysterious power in peoples hearts. Many people point to John Paul II visits to Czetochowa as the start of the fall of communism, how this icon of the suffering Poland and the first Polish Pope drew millions together in defiance of the authorities.  Pope Francis will be visiting next week during the world Youth Day  celebrations,  I hope the Queen of Poland draws the 2 million young people expected to attend, to her heart.

AMDG  –  Doubting Thomas and Divine Mercy Sunday

This Sunday – we had three things converging – Doubting Thomas, Divine Mercy Sunday as instituted by St JPII, and also Pope Francis announcement of an extraordianry Jubilee Year of Mercy (to begin on Dec 8th) ….. I shameless tried to squeeze them all in to my homily …

Today we hear the famous post-resurrection encounter of Jesus with ‘Doubting Thomas’….. who refuses to believe that Jesus is truly risen unless he can but his fingers in his wounds.

Why did Thomas did his heels in – and refuse to believe that Jesus was Risen?  Why did he demand special proof? Why wasn’t he satisfied like the other disciples?

Because Thomas loved Jesus – and when we love we also know that we our heart has also been exposed to being hurt.  Anyone who has experienced the death of someone they love…..  anyone who has seen a relationship disintegrate…. Anyone who has been left by someone they love knows the hurt and pain that follows.  Jesus mission had ended abruptly – Thomas after witnessing the miracles, the great crowds… was convinced that this was the Son of God.  He had left everything to follow him …. And then in confusion and dread witnessed his arrest, he had run away to save his own life but heard about Jesus being tortured, heard about his public and humiliating death.  The experience of Holy Week that we have just passed through had left the disciple frightened, disorientated and disillusioned.

So stubborn Thomas, having been so deeply hurt because of his love for Jesus, is reluctant to raise his hope again.  When we human being are hurt so often we react like hedgehogs and curl up into a little ball, nursing grudges, becoming angry and bitter.  But look at Jesus’s response – Jesus who had been abandoned by his disciples, who had been tortured and killed in a humiliating way – but now the risen glorious Jesus, still bearing his wounds, his first words are not of blame and retribution but of peace and mercy.

A modern doubting Thomas

‘ Peace be with you ‘   and to Thomas  ‘ Doubt no longer and believe’ … and Thomas makes one of the most beautiful declarations of faith in the Bible ‘ My Lord and My God’ – and then Jesus  commissioned to the Disciples to spread this message of peace and mercy, the forgiveness of sins.

The difference between our human experience of being hurt, and how we nurture grudges and find it difficult to forgive and the divine mercy is great.  So it is beautiful that Saint John Paul II has named this Sunday Divine Mercy Sunday and dedicated it to the visions that Sr  Faustina of Krakow had just before WW2,  She died a year before the Nazi’s occupied Poland which lead to some terrible years, firstly with the Nazi Occupation and followed by the Communist Occupation, a period which John Paul referred to as the crucifixion of Poland.  The most famous of the visions was the lord revealing his sacred heart with rays of white and red light flowing from it as we can see at the font of the church by the lectern …. Coming at the start of the 20th Century – the most violent, most genocidal, most hate filled period in world history …..  In the face of this violence and hatred – God reveals his mercy.

What is mercy -?  Coming from –misericordia – mercy is a deep loving identification in others suffering  ….  Mercy is the very essence of God, not just one attribute amongst many….. Psalm 113 reminds us that God’s mercy endures forever and a merciful Church is what Pope Francis longs for….  Pope Francis today has declared this year – to be an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy for the Church …. He has published a bull for the called Misericordia Vultus……   Saying  “The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love……  we will be asked if we have helped others to escape the doubt that causes them to fall into despair

I think we should take this invitation seriously.  As well as an increased participation in the Sacrament of Confession – so that we can experience God’s Mercy ….  Let’s remember the seven corporal works of mercy are: 1. Feed the hungry.
2. Give drink to the thirsty.
3. Clothe the naked. 4. Shelter the homeless.
5. Visit the sick.
6. Visit the imprisoned. 7. Bury the dead. And the seven spiritual works of mercy are: 1. Counsel the doubtful.
2. Instruct the ignorant.
3. Admonish sinners.
4. Comfort the afflicted.
5. Forgive offences.
6. Bear wrongs patiently.
7. Pray for the living and the dead.  Anyone who is interested in how we can implement this more – students and non-students …. Come and see me …. We already have exceptional things like the foodbank, homeless runs, running breakfast clubs in local primary schools but we can do more … come and see me if you are interested.  How will you respond to this extraordinary Jubilee of God’s Mercy?