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2nd Dec, 2016

athgarvan

PERMISSION TO SPEAK, SIR?

I wish our Irish Prime Minister, a confused Catholic at the best of times, had the guts to follow Theresa May's example when she told MPs in London yesterday: "Our Christian heritage is something we can all be proud of".

She was responding to a question from a Conservative MP who asked the Prime Minister if she would endorse a recently published book called Speak Up (created by the Lawyer's Christian Fellowship and the Evangelical Alliance) which is designed to help readers understand what their rights are and what the law says in terms of sharing and practising faith in everyday British life.

There have been concerns among some Christians that currently laws, as well as counter-extremism measures by the government, restrict a believer's ability to share their faith or their views on certain issues like gay marriage.

The MP's question came after the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commissioner, David Isaac, said earlier this week that British employers should fully embrace Christmas without fear of offending staff who do not celebrate it.

The PM told the House: "My honourable friend raises an important issue which matters to both her and me, and I think that the phrase that is used by the book was 'the jealously guarded principle' of that ability to speak freely... about one's religion. I'm happy to welcome the publication of this report and its findings".

"Of course, we're now into the season of Advent and we have a very strong tradition in this country of religious tolerance and freedom of speech and our Christian heritage is something we can all be proud of.

1st Dec, 2016

athgarvan

GUILT

Guilt is often portrayed as a Catholic thing, a millstone around the necks of otherwise decent folks, a ball and chain clapped on to the ankles by sinister clerics bent on absolute control of people’s lives. Or do non-Catholics also experience guilt?

Far from a psychological hindrance imposed by overbearing parents and clerics, I see guilt as an alarm bell rung by conscience itself that tells us when we’ve violated the natural law and put ourselves out of sync with the divine order of things. I see it as the spiritual equivalent of physical pain: it tells me when something is wrong. If I stub my toe, I’m alerted to the fact by a throbbing ache or a sharp pain. The unpleasant feeling lets me know my attention is needed in a particular part of my body. Likewise, guilt tells me that my focus is needed in a particular area of my spiritual life - my faith may be lagging, my hope may be sagging, or my charity may be flagging. I may have spoken a harsh word or committed an imprudent act, and that sinking feeling is the sensation of a wound I've inflicted on my spiritual being.  And that’s something I should like to know about!

Of course, guilt is not an infallible tool. The scrupulous person is far too sensitive to guilt. This gives rise to the caricature people are referring to when they talk about “Catholic guilt” in the way a lapsed Catholic comedian might. A favorite target is the 'no meat on Fridays rule', inviting quips along the lines “I don’t pray or keep any of the commandments anymore, but I’m still terrified to have a hot dog at the end of the week.”

But scrupulous people are the exception, not the rule. Perhaps we could say they are like spiritual hypochondriacs, constantly concerned about every tiny ache and pain, certain that at the very best it’s the sign of a debilitating and excruciating disease that’s looming. Scrupulous people do not give us a good picture of guilt any more than hypochondriacs give us a good picture of medicine.

On the other extreme, there are people whose consciences have become so desensitized and deadened to guilt that they take no notice of the spiritual or even the legal consequences of their actions.

These aberrations have given guilt a bad name.  I think one always needs to embrace one's guilt as a gift and try to form one's  conscience in a positive way.
 

28th Nov, 2016

athgarvan

NOISE AND SILENCE

Saturday was a cold, and noisy, Christmas-shopping day here in Wexford. Colourful lights and carnival activities everywhere. Noise, Noise, and more noise! It will be that way for the next 4 weeks.

Yesterday was the First Sunday in Advent when the first candle on the Advent Wreath was lit by Christians and the quiet in our church contrasted with the shopping frenzy all over our town outside.

Tomorrow, Martin Scorsese's new film "Silence" will be premiered in the Vatican! It is based on the novel of the same name by Shusako Endo and is about the ministry of Jesuit priests and the massacre of Christians in the Japan of the 17th century. Do I continue to believe or do I not - a question of real Faith.

Very recommended:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/27/magazine/the-passion-of-martin-scorsese.html?emc=edit_th_20161127&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=42925209&_r=0

26th Nov, 2016

athgarvan

WHO RULES THE WORLD?

So poor old Fidel Castro has died. May he rest in peace.

Fidel once told the children to “close their eyes and ask God for candy”. The children were disappointed when they opened their eyes and saw that there was no candy. Then Fidel said to the children: “close your eyes and ask your leader President Castro for candy” and then he would give them candy and the children were happy when they opened their eyes.This is how the Communists brainwashed people to worship the State rather than God.

Castro himself was baptized and raised a Roman Catholic. He once wrote:  "Physical life is ephemeral, it passes inexorably. . . . This truth should be taught to every human being – that the immortal values of the spirit are above physical life. What sense does life have without these values? What then is it to live? Those who understand this and generously sacrifice their physical life for the sake of good and justice – how can they die? God is the supreme idea of goodness and justice".

But, like many of us, he did not practise what he preached!  "I have never been a believer, and have total conviction that there is only one life." Pope John XX111 excommunicated him in 1962.


But the Holy See never broke diplomatic ties with Cuba, even though the Vatican considered godless communism its greatest threat. The Church has to exist with systems that don’t agree with it and the Church has forged a space in Cuban society that no other organization shares and the clergy has found a way to coexist with godless communism. In 1992, Castro agreed to loosen restrictions on religion and began describing the country as 'secular' rather than 'atheist'.

Pope JohnXX111, Pope John Paul 11, Pope Benedict XV1, and Pope Francis, have all visited Cuba and met Castro.

25th Nov, 2016

athgarvan

IS SIN A DIRTY WORD?

A child confirms him/herself to be a Christian in a ritual called Confirmation at about the age of 12. When I was that age it was the custom for the Bishop of the Diocese to invite each confirmand to answer a question about the Faith. I was asked what was "sin". I'm still not happy I know the answer!

Of course I was able to rattle off the official definition: "Sin is a deliberate thought, word, deed or omission contrary to the eternal law of God". Sin is an offence against God as well as a fault against reason, truth, and right conscience. This definition presumes that there is such a thing as 'truth' and an 'eternal law', created by God, which we are called to follow.

But we live in a culture that no longer believes that “truth” or “eternal law” exist - a society that insists there is no higher “truth” than our own set of opinions. “Don’t impose your truth on me.”  Talk to an 18-year-old and ask them if there is anything that is true and right for all people, everywhere, at all times. You will hear all sorts of passionate arguments about why truth, right and wrong are merely relative to one’s culture and conditioning, and why we can’t tell others what is true for them. Taken to its logical conclusion, one can’t even say that what ISIS is doing is “wrong” because those terrorists believe that what they are doing is “right.” The problem with this thinking is that if nothing is objectively true, right or wrong, then anything goes. And an “anything goes” society always ends in anarchy.

Christians believe that we are all born with a spiritual alienation, inheriting a disordered, fallen nature that stands in need of the radical healing and remediation provided through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the honest admission of a wound within our nature that requires healing through God’s intervention, love and grace.

I've been going on about sin. Maybe I should be talking about God! Galileo once said, "Let it be known that sin is not the centre of the Christian solar system". The Church down the years would not have given me that impression!

23rd Nov, 2016

athgarvan

HAPPY THANKSGIVING

Americans celebrate Thanksgiving Day tomorrow. For my Irish friends, George Washington declared Thanksgiving an official holiday in 1789 at the end of the Revolutionary War. Traditionally, it is celebrated on the 4th Thursday in November with a big turkey dinner. Originally, too, it was celebrated in a religious and harvest context. Today?

"Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” (Lk 17:18)

Any feast of Thanksgiving should include God who has so often healed us. We should pause and remember all those whom God has given us as companions in faith. Especially this year, we remember those who have suffered as a result of political upheaval.

So, tomorrow, I join in singing 'Halleluia' with my LJ friends who show me God's face in so many ways.
We should also thank God tomorrow for allowing us to play a small role in the healing of others, such as broken families, shattered marriages, lonely teenagers, desperate older people and the mentally ill, to name just a few. They have all been given to us as gifts. Most of the time the only thing we had to give others was time itself, and to our surprise, that was more than enough.

22nd Nov, 2016

athgarvan

BABETTE'S FEAST

Today was miserable. The weather was atrocious. I sat in and watched a film - Babette's Feast (1987) - a film that Pope Francis has referred to a number of times - it is even mentioned in an encyclical of his: Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love). He usually refers to it to make his case for a more merciful, loving and merciful Church.

He recently brought it up in response to questions about those who criticized his ecumenical endeavours. He compared the rigid behaviour of those opposed to his ecumenical outreach to the rigid townspeople portrayed in Babette’s Feast.

I assume most of my readers are familiar with the film but for those who are not, it focuses on a small Protestant village that has been led for many years by a very rigid pastor. The beliefs of the congregation are extremely “Puritan,” making the village into a drab, grey place where there is hardly any joy. The townspeople are so worried about following the many rules that they are afraid to indulge in any earthly pleasures.

After the pastor has died, his daughters are forced into leading the dwindling congregation. They had hoped to marry, but their father was staunchly against marriage and forbade any suitors from approaching his daughters. Then one day a French woman, Babette, comes to the village, and upends everything. While working as a housekeeper in the village, Babette discovers that she won a lottery back in Paris and instead of taking the money and returning home, she spends it all on one big “French feast.”
The townspeople were scandalized by the many colourful ingredients and are set on refusing to enjoy what she cooks. They believe the feast is a “satanic Sabbath” and firmly believe the food should not be enjoyed and could expose them to terrible sins. However, after sitting down and beginning to eat the many courses, they quickly discover it is harder to resist than they thought. They eventually can’t contain themselves and openly enjoy the feast and by the end of it, are eternally grateful to Babette for opening their eyes to the simple joys in life.

Pope Francis sees the feast as an example of true joy. He writes in Amoris Laetitia: “The most intense joys in life arise when we are able to elicit joy in others, as a foretaste of heaven". He says that it is a joy to bring delight to others, to see them enjoying themselves. Fraternal love, is not that of the vain and self-centred, but of lovers who delight in the good of those whom they love.

21st Nov, 2016

athgarvan

THE DEMISE OF THE TRADITIONAL IRISH FUNERAL

November, traditionally, is the month when we remember our dead; when families and communities join in rituals of remembrance. Traditional funeral practices, like everything else, however, have been caught up in a modern process of change.

Irish people have always loved a 'good funeral'! There is the genuine desire to pay last respects to a deceased friend, neighbour, or relative, and show solidarity with the bereaved family at a time of grief and loss.  But there is also the social aspect of the proceedings. A funeral gathering is an opportunity to meet with old friends and acquaintances, and catch up with family and local news. It brings communities together.

Customs like the wake, the removal of the remains, the Requiem Mass, the shouldering of the coffin, the gathering and recital of the Rosary at the graveside, and the invitation to a meal, are gradually disappearing. Funeral expenses can be prohibitive for many, and an ever- increasing secularism means that humanist and other non-religious services are growing in popularity.

How times, they are a-changing!

20th Nov, 2016

athgarvan

CAN THE STATES BE UNITED AGAIN?

The States have just endured one of the most divisive elections in recent memory. The country is splintered, wounded, and deeply hurting. In times of conflict like this, people instinctively gravitate to one of two behaviours: to unify, or to divide.

It is usually easier to be a divider than a unifier. It takes less effort.  Being a unifier requires strength and maturity. Unifiers inspire others with their courage, patience, and kindness. They lift up those who are feeling afraid and anxious. They try to understand. They defend those who are vulnerable. They help others understand.

People often don’t respond well to calls for unity. Unifiers are often attacked from both sides. They’re accused of compromising. They are ridiculed and told that they don’t have the courage to fight for truth. But unifiers reach out. They ask questions. They try to understand and find truth and understanding by engaging with those who think differently. They debate respectfully and in good faith.

This problem of unifiers versus dividers is not something new. We hear of it in the Gospel:

"Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear". (1 Peter 3: 15-16)

"All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ". (Ephesians 4:31-32)

18th Nov, 2016

athgarvan

HOW FAR DOES MY FORGIVENESS STRETCH?

This evening in our local Church we celebrate the end of the Catholic Church's 'Jubilee Year of Mercy'. One of the core teachings of the Gospel is an expansion of our understanding of love: “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same?” (Matt 5:44-45). It is this teaching on mercy that Pope Francis hoped to instill within the faithful during this Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Forgiveness is fairly easy to do with small offenses, or with actions that don't affect me directly. But true mercy, of course, must extend beyond this.

On today's local paper we're told about a mother who lost her two young children and her husband as a result of a devasting crash caused by a suicidal driver. Attending a memorial service to road victims she said: "I forgive the driver - he wasn't in his sane mind - he was ill and I honestly don't believe he meant to harm my family. He was a father himself".

Do I want to see people like Rudolf Hoess, Commandant of Auschwitz, meet the mercy of God? No.

But I know that God desires His mercy for everyone, and so, in these last days of the Year of Mercy, I ask that God grant me the grace to desire it.

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