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Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Unrestricted love of God is not simply an inspiring idea - Brennan Manning

"The wild, unrestricted love of God is not simply an inspiring idea.  When it imposes itself on mind and heart with the stark reality of ontological truth, it determines why and at what time you get up in the morning, how you pass your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, and who you hang with; it affects what breaks your heart, what amazes you, and what makes your heart happy."
- Brennan Manning from "The Furious Longing of God", p. 75. David C. Cook Publisher, 2009.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Five Catholic heroes of science

Meet five Catholic heroes of science
by Fr Matthew Pittam

posted Thursday, 21 Jan 2016

Mendel: the father of genetics

It's not just the big bang theory that we owe to a Catholic priest. Many clergy have made enormous contributions to science.

In a previous post I discussed the life and work of Georges Lemaitre, the Belgian Jesuit and cosmologist. Lemaitre's work and faith challenges the idea, proposed by New Atheism, that religion and science are in conflict. He is not alone as Catholic Church has raised up many scientific pioneers whose stories deserve to be better known, especially in the context of the New Evangelisation and Catholic apologetics. Here are a few examples to consider.

Gregor Mendel

Gregor Mendel is to genetics what Georges Lemaitre is to cosmology. Sadly, during his lifetime he did not receive the credit that he deserved. The significance of his work was only recognised more than 30 years later.

The main focus of Mendel's scientific life was the study of variation, heredity and evolution in plants. Initially studying pea plants he focused on seven traits which included, seed shape, pod shape, colouring of flowers, seed coat, pod colour when not ripe, plant height and flower location. Over a period of almost seven years he cultivated 29,000 plants for testing. His studies concluded that there was a pattern of inheritance of various traits. He produced two generalisations which later became known as Mendelian inheritance.

Mendel's first publication was in 1866 and it had relatively little impact at the time. This is partly because he was not a professional scientist and he had limited means to communicate his work with the scientific community. There was also criticism from some in the scientific world, but his paper is now considered to be a seminal work. Gregor Mendel's work encompassed far more than the study of pea plants but unfortunately much of his writing was destroyed when his papers were burned after his death.

In 1843, Mendel entered the Augustinian Monastery in Brno, which is today in the Czech Republic. He later was ordained to the priesthood and in 1868 was elevated as abbot. The administrative work and commitments required of an abbot saw the end of Mendel's scientific work. In later years, Mendel smoked up to 20 cigars a day, in an effort to lose weight, but it did not work. He died on January 6 1884.

Mary Kenneth Keller

When we think of the pioneers of computer science the image of a religious sister is probably far from our minds. Mary Keller entered the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ohio in 1932 and made her final profession in 1940. She was an outstanding mathematician and gained several degrees over the next few years.

In the late 1950s, Keller began working in the Computer Science Centre at Dartmouth College. At the time she was the only woman on the staff and faced some hostility. After gaining her doctorate she moved to Clarke College in Iowa to found a computer science department. During her twenty year tenure, her department did much pioneering work and she became renowned in her field.

She is remembered today through a scholarship created in her honour and a department at the college which is named after her. Sister Mary Keller wrote four books, which were influential at the time and certainly helped lay the foundations for modern computer science.

Stephen Barr
Barr was awarded the Benemerenti Medal by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 for his work in the areas of religion, science and public life. He regularly gives lectures on the relationship between religion and science and has published such discussion in journals and peer reviews. Stephen Barr's writing has also reached more popular audiences with appearances in secular newspapers and magazines.

He is a practising Catholic who takes his faith and family life seriously. Stephen Barr's significant scientific achievements have mainly involved research in cosmology and theoretical particle physics. He has helped to make significant discoveries in the study of basic particles.

Barr's academic CV is impressive. He obtained his Ph.D from Princeton in 1978 and has since held research and leadership posts at the University Pennsylvania, University of Washington and the Brookhaven National Laboratory. He has been based at the University of Delaware since 1987 and has held the position of Director of the Bartol Research Institute, within the university, since 2011. He is also a Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. For several years Barr has been a fellow of the prestigious American Physical Society, which is the world's largest organisation for physicists.

Barr is a good example of a Catholic who combines fidelity to science and his faith.

Giovanni Inghirami

Giovanni Inghirami is not alone among Catholic priests in having parts of the moon named after him, having both a valley and a crater which bear his name. This accolade reflects his significant contribution to astronomy.

At the age of 17 Giovanni Inghirami joined the Piarist Fathers. He started work as a teacher, eventually rising to the position of Professor of Mathematics and Philosophy at the Pious Schools of Volterra. He published works primarily on astronomy and astronomic tables and lesser works on hydraulics and statics.

In his religious life Inghirami rose to be Superior General of his order but he later resigned this office due to his failing health and poor eyesight. This retirement gave him more time to teach, write and research. He continued working until a few weeks before he died in 1851. He also influenced a future Pope as one of his former pupils was Pius IX.

Mariano Artigas
A member of the personal prelature, Opus Dei, Fr Artigas was ordained to the priesthood in 1964. In 1995 he received the Templeton Prize for his work on the relationship between science and religion. Much of his work was in the area of apologetics and he was a consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Dialogue with non-believers.

Mariano Artigas was interested in the ways in which science, philosophy and religious could actually work together and this led to him co-founding The Science, Reason and Faith Research Group at the University of Navarra in 2002. He also published over 150 articles and books on the interweaving of these three areas.

He held Ph.Ds. in philosophy, physics and theology. He died in 2006.

His work certainly challenges the shallow arguments that new atheism proposes about the relationship of religion and science.

In his opening words in the Encyclical, Fides et Ratio, Pope St John Paul II states that "Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart the desire to know the truth — in a word, to know himself — so that by knowing and loving God, men and women can come to the fullness of the truth about themselves". These faithful Catholic scientists have lived out this reality in their lives and work. We should use their stories and example when meeting with those who try to use science to undermine faith and belief.


Friday, January 22, 2016

To Consecrated: be the Father's mercy - witnesses/builders of authentic fraternity

The Year of Consecrated Life comes to an end

Vatican City, 21 January 2016 (VIS) – The Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Lfie and the Societies of Apostolic Life (CIVCSVA) has announced the events relating to the conclusion of the Year of Consecrated Life, to be held from 28 January to 2 February in Rome, which are expected to be attended by more than four thousand consecrated persons from all over the world.

On the theme "Consecrated life in communion. The common foundation in the variety of forms", on these days there will be meetings, prayer vigils, times for regrouping and examining in greater depth the specifics of each form, looking prophetically towards the future".

The aims of the meeting are to get to know better the great mosaic of consecrated life, to live communion rediscovering the single call uniting the variety of forms (Ordo Virginum, monastic life, apostolic institutes, secular institutes, new institutes and new forms of consecrated life), starting out together on the path of the great Jubilee of Mercy that once more gives all consecrated persons the specific mandate of their vocation: to be guided by the Father's mercy, witnesses and builders of an authentically lived fraternity.

The first event will take place on 28 January: a vigil in St. Peter's Basilica, presided by Archbishop Jose Rodriguez Carballo, secretary of the CIVCSVA, and in which Cardinal Joao Braz De Aviz, prefect of the Congregation, will participate. On 29 January, all consecrated persons will gather in the Paul VI Hall, while on 30 and 31 January, in five locations in Rome, representatives of each form of consecrated life will meet to explore in greater depth various specific aspects of their vocation. They will subsequently meet in the Paul VI Hall again on 1 February, for an audience with the Holy Father and the Oratory "On the trail of beauty", directed by Msgr. Marco Frisina.

The events will end on 2 February with the morning Jubilee pilgrimage and the Eucharistic celebration for the twentieth World Day of Consecreted Life, celebrated by Pope Francis.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Oldest Christian monastery in Iraq destroyed by Islamic State

Oldest Christian monastery in Iraq destroyed by Islamic State

St. Elijah's Monastery is seen on the outskirts 
of Mosul, Iraq on Oct. 1, 2006. 
(Col. Juanita Chang / U.S. Army) 
Martha Mendoza, Maya Alleruzzo and Bram Janssen , The Associated Press; Published Wednesday, January 20, 2016 3:27AM EST; Last Updated Wednesday, January 20, 2016 9:07AM EST

IRBIL, Iraq -- Satellite photos obtained by The Associated Press confirm what church leaders and Middle East preservationists had feared: The oldest Christian monastery in Iraq has been reduced to a field of rubble, yet another victim of the Islamic State group's relentless destruction of heritage sites it considers heretical.

St. Elijah's Monastery stood as a place of worship for 1,400 years, including most recently for U.S. troops. In earlier millennia, generations of monks tucked candles in the niches, prayed in the chapel, worshipped at the altar. The Greek letters chi and rho, representing the first two letters of Christ's name, were carved near the entrance.

This month, at the request of the AP, satellite imagery firm DigitalGlobe tasked a high resolution camera to grab photos of the site, and then pulled earlier images of the same spot.

Before it was razed, a partially restored, 27,000-square-foot stone and mortar building stood fortress-like on a hill above Mosul. Although the roof was largely missing, it had 26 distinctive rooms including a sanctuary and chapel. One month later photos show "that the stone walls have been literally pulverized," said imagery analyst Stephen Wood, CEO of Allsource Analysis, who pinpointed the destruction between August and September 2014.

"Bulldozers, heavy equipment, sledgehammers, possibly explosives turned those stone walls into this field of grey-white dust. They destroyed it completely," he said from his Colorado offices.

On the other side of the world, in his office in exile, in Irbil, Iraq, Catholic priest Rev. Paul Thabit Habib, 39, stared in disbelief at the before- and after- images.

"Our Christian history in Mosul is being barbarically levelled," he said in Arabic. "We see it as an attempt to expel us from Iraq, eliminating and finishing our existence in this land."

The Islamic State group, which now controls large parts of Iraq and Syria, has killed thousands of civilians in the past two years. Along the way, its fighters have destroyed whatever they consider contrary to their interpretation of Islam.

St. Elijah's joins a growing list of more than 100 religious and historic sites looted and destroyed, including mosques, tombs, shrines and churches. Ancient monuments in the cities of Nineveh, Palmyra and Hatra are in ruins. Museums and libraries have been pillaged, books burned, artwork crushed -- or trafficked.

U.S. troops and advisers had worked to protect and honour the monastery, a hopeful endeavour in a violent place and time.

"I would imagine that many people are feeling like, 'What were the last 10 years for if these guys can go in and destroy everything?"' said U.S. Army reserve Col. Mary Prophit, who was deployed there in 2004 and again in 2009.

Built in 590, tragedy struck at St. Elijah's in 1743, when as many as 150 monks who refused to convert to Islam were massacred by a Persian general. In 2003 St. Elijah's shuddered again -- this time a wall was smashed by a tank turret blown off in battle. Iraqi troops had already moved in, dumping garbage in the cistern. The U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division took control, painting over ancient murals and scrawling their division's "Screaming Eagle," on the walls. Then a U.S. military chaplain, recognizing its significance, began a preservation initiative.

Roman Catholic Army chaplain Jeffrey Whorton, who celebrated Mass on the monastery's altar, was grief-stricken at its loss.

"Why we treat each other like this is beyond me," he said. "Elijah the prophet must be weeping."

At the Vatican, spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi, noted that since the monastery dates back to the time Christians were united, before the break with Orthodox and Catholics, the place would be a special one for many. He said it was the first news he had had of the destruction.

"Unfortunately, there is this systemic destruction of precious sites, not only cultural, but also religious and spiritual. It's very sad and dramatic," Lombardi told the AP.

Mendoza reported from Santa Cruz, Calif., Alleruzzo reported from Cairo. Associated Press writer Frances D'Emilio in Rome contributed to this report.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Why Does Pope Francis Love the Blessed Virgin Mary So Much?

Why Does Pope Francis Love the Blessed Virgin Mary So Much?
Posted by DEACON NICK DONNELLY on Monday Dec 21st, 2015 at 3:24 PM

Time magazine recently published an article titled, “Why Pope Francis Is Obsessed With Mary.” One of the reasons the magazine gave for describing Pope Francis as having an obsession with Our Lady was the fact that he prays the Rosary three times a day.Time is correct in observing that the Holy Father does have a personal devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, but this is not an obsession; it is better described as a very deep love.

Pope Francis has admitted the importance of his daily Rosary to his sense of peace and well-being, which also helped him remain calm during his election as pope. The Holy Father told an interviewer that, during the course of the second vote during the conclave that elected him, he was praying the Rosary, which gave him “great peace, almost to the point of insentience. I have not lost it. It is something inside; it is like a gift.”

Pope Francis’ Love of the Salus Populi Romani

Twelve hours after his election as the 266th successor of St. Peter, Pope Francis made a quiet visit to the Basilica of St. Mary Major to venerate the famous icon of Our Lady known as Salus Populi Romani (protectress of the Roman people). The Holy Father placed a small bouquet of flowers before the icon and sang the Salve Regina. Cardinal Abril y Castell├│, the archpriest of St. Mary Major,explained the significance of the Holy Father’s veneration:

“He decided to visit the basilica, not only to thank the Blessed Virgin, but — as Pope Francis said to me himself — to entrust her with his pontificate, to lay it at her feet. Being deeply devoted to Mary, Pope Francis came here to ask her for help and protection.”

Since his first visit as pope, the Holy Father venerates this icon of Our Lady before and after each of his international trips.

When Pope Francis Fell in Love With Our Lady

But Pope Francis didn’t always have such a deep devotion to Our Lady or to praying the Rosary. Father Jorge Bergoglio was 49 when he fell in love with Our Lady. Two encounters with Mary in the 1980s transformed the future Pope Francis’ devotion to her — witnessing Pope St. John Paul II praying the Rosary and discovering the sacred painting of Our Lady, Undoer of Knots.

To understand why Father Bergoglio’s devotion to Mary underwent a radical transformation, it’s important to know something of the traumatic events that led up to this moment in his life. He had served as the Jesuit provincial during Argentina’s “Dirty War,” when the military and paramilitary death squads conducted state-sponsored terror, resulting in the killing of as many as 49,000 civilians. Left-wing guerrillas also killed 6,000 military, police and civilians. The death squads singled out for execution anyone working with the poor, including priests, religious and catechists.

Father Bergoglio used his position to publicly criticize the violence of the junta and the guerrillas. But more than this, he put his own life at risk by rescuing people from the death squads and helping others to evade arrest, providing them with the means to flee the country. He personally drove through the streets of Buenos Aires with men and women in his car who were being hunted by the regime. It has been estimated that Father Bergoglio saved at least 100 people during the Dirty War.

Pope Francis has admitted that the stress of living through those times resulted in personal problems for him:

“I had to deal with difficult situations, and I made my decisions abruptly and by myself. My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems and to be accused of being ultraconservative.”

Like countless Catholics before him, Father Bergoglio turned to Our Lady in his pain and suffering.

St. John Paul II Taught Jorge Bergoglio How to Pray the Rosary
Two years after the end of the Dirty War, Father Bergoglio witnessed Pope St. John Paul II pray the Rosary. This encounter most probably took place during Pope John Paul’s apostolic visit to Latin America in 1985. Following Pope John Paul’s death, then-Cardinal Bergoglio gave this personal testimony on the impact on his life of seeing the Holy Father praying the Rosary:

“If I remember well, it was 1985. One evening I went to recite the holy Rosary that was being led by the Holy Father. He was in front of everybody, on his knees. The group was numerous; I saw the Holy Father from the back, and, little by little, I got lost in prayer. I was not alone: I was praying in the middle of the people of God to which I and all those there belonged, led by our pastor.

“In the middle of the prayer, I became distracted, looking at the figure of the Pope: his piety, his devotion was a witness. And the time drifted away, and I began to imagine the young priest, the seminarian, the poet, the worker, the child from Wadowice … in the same position in which he knelt at that moment, reciting Ave Maria after Ave Maria. His witness struck me.

“I felt that this man, chosen to lead the Church, was following a path up to his Mother in the sky, a path set out on from his childhood. And I became aware of the density of the words of the Mother of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego: ‘Don’t be afraid; am I not your mother?’ I understood the presence of Mary in the life of the Pope. That testimony did not get forgotten in an instant. From that time on, I recite the 15 mysteries of the Rosary every day.”

It’s as if, at that moment of inspiration, St. John Paul’s deep devotion to Our Lady was passed on to the man who would succeed him as successor of St. Peter 28 years later.

Cardinal Bergoglio’s insight into the significance of the Rosary to Pope St. John Paul as a “path up to his Mother in the sky” resonates with Pope John Paul’s own description of the Rosary in his apostolic letter on the Rosary, Rosarium Virginis Mariae.Pope John Paul concluded his exhortation to the faithful to pray the Rosary with a Marian prayer composed by Blessed Bartolo Longo, the apostle of the Rosary, that uses the image of the Rosary as a “chain” to heaven:

“O blessed Rosary of Mary, sweet chain which unites us to God, bond of love which unites us to the angels, tower of salvation against the assaults of hell, safe port in our universal shipwreck, we will never abandon you.”

Pope John Paul, like his successor Pope Francis, saw the Rosary as a precious chain of prayers that joins us to heaven.

Father Bergoglio’s Encounter With Our Lady, Undoer of Knots

In 1986, Father Bergoglio traveled to Frankfurt, Germany, to study theology. During this German sabbatical, he visited the Church of St. Peter am Perlach, in Augsburg, Bavaria, where he saw the enigmatic 17th-century painting Our Lady, Undoer of Knots.

It is unclear why this painting had such a deep impact on Father Bergoglio at that time in his life. It has been speculated that he was struggling with his own personal problems as a consequence of his recent experiences as Jesuit provincial. But what is clear is that he left St. Peter am Perlach with a passionate devotion to the Blessed Mother.

The painting shows Our Lady surrounded by a host of angels, crowned with a circle of 12 stars, standing on the crescent moon and crushing the head of the knotted serpent, Satan. Our Lady holds in her hands a long, knotted white ribbon; and she is untying a large knot, one of several on the ribbon. Below her is the Old Testament figure Tobit, with the Archangel Raphael, traveling to ask Sarah for her hand in marriage.

The painting was commissioned by the nephew of Wolfgang and Sophia Langenmantel to commemorate the miraculous healing of their marriage through the intercession of Our Lady.

Spread the Devotion

Though it’s unknown why seeing this painting was so important to Father Bergoglio, what is known is that he took a postcard of Mary, Undoer of Knots back to Argentina. By this simple act, and by the example of his own personal devotion, Father Bergoglio is responsible for the spread of this devotion throughout Argentina and Latin America. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, it was his custom to attach an image of Our Lady, Undoer of Knots to his letters.

A homily Pope Francis gave in October 2013 gives an indication of the significance of Our Lady, Undoer of Knots to the Holy Father. In an address on the faith of Our Lady, Pope Francis asked, “What was Mary’s faith like?” The first characteristic he listed: “Mary’s faith unties the knot of sin.” It is an ancient belief of the Church that the Blessed Virgin Mary untied the knot of disobedience in man’s heart created by Eve’s disobedience.

Pope Francis encourages us to look at the knots of unbelief and disobedience in our own lives, with the help of Mary:

“We all have some of these knots, and we can ask in our heart of hearts: What are the knots in my life? ‘Father, my knots cannot be undone!’ It is a mistake to say anything of the sort! All the knots of our hearts, every knot of our consciences, can be undone. Do I ask Mary to help me trust in God’s mercy, to undo those knots, to change? She, as a woman of faith, will surely tell you: ‘Get up; go to the Lord: he understands you.’ And she leads us by the hand as a mother, our Mother, to the embrace of our Father, the Father of mercies.”

The Jubilee of Mercy that commenced on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary reflects Pope Francis’ deep love for his “mama,” as he refers to Our Lady. Throughout the Year of Mercy, the holy Rosary will be prayed daily in St. Peter’s Square before the statue of St. Peter; and during October 2016, a Marian jubilee will be celebrated, with Pope Francis venerating the Salus Populi Romani in St. Peter’s Square.

As part of our participation in the Year of Mercy, let us join our Holy Father in daily praying the Rosary and also asking Our Lady for her assistance in untying the knots of sin in our lives and the lives of our family and friends.

Deacon Nick Donnelly is a contributor to EWTN Radio’s Celtic Connections program.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Franciscans in Holy Land: priest released in Syria

Franciscans: priest released in Syria
2016-01-05 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) 

The Franciscan 'Custody of the Holy Land' announced late Monday that the Fr. Dhiya Aziz, OFM has been liberated, and the Custos, Franciscan Fr. Pier Battista Pizzaballa confirmed the announcement in brief remarks to Vatican Radio.

“The situation remains very grave and dramatic in Syria, though we are doubtless happy and relieved that Fr. Dhiya [Aziz] has been released,” he said. The Custody had had no news of the Fr. Dihya since Saturday, July 4, in the late afternoon. Fr. Dhiya was allegedly treated well during his kidnapping.

A statement from the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land thanks those around the world who prayed for a successful outcome to this trial that Fr. Dhiya endured, as well as the faithful of Yacoubieh, of which he is the pastor, his religious family and his family in Iraq.

The statement goes on to say, "The Custody does not forget that other religious are still missing in Syria and it invites everyone to continue praying for peace in [that] country."(from Vatican Radio)

Pope makes secret stop at Nativity scene’s birthplace

Pope makes secret stop at Nativity scene’s birthplace
by Catholic News Service
posted Wednesday, 6 Jan 2016

Pope Francis prays in front of a Nativity scene 
during a visit to the Franciscan shrine in 
Greccio, Italy (CNS)

Francis made a surprise visit to the place where St Francis of Assisi created the world's first Nativity scene

Pope Francis made a surprise visit to the place where his namesake, St Francis of Assisi, created the world’s first Nativity scene.

“He wanted to visit the sanctuary and places where St Francis, on Christmas Eve in 1223, represented the first living Nativity in history,” Bishop Domenico Pompili of Rieti told ANSA, the Italian news agency.

The Pope had nothing listed on his official schedule, and so he used the free day to visit the Franciscan shrine in Greccio, a town 60 miles north-east of Rome and 56 miles south of Assisi.

The bishop said he and the shrine’s prior were the only people informed a few days ahead of time of the Pope’s plans to make the January 4 visit.

As the Pope arrived in a blue Ford Focus accompanied by two plainclothes security guards, the shrine’s guardian said he was caught completely off guard. “I didn’t even have my habit on and I quickly went to the refectory to put it on. Then I opened the gate for the Pope,” Franciscan Father Alfredo Silvestri told the Italian bishops’ TV2000.

The Pope also made an unannounced stop at a local youth meeting organised by the diocese. Amid loud cheers and chants of “Francesco,” some participants were moved to tears.

The Pope told the some 150 young people that their bishop had told him it would be a good idea to pray at Greccio during the Christmas season. “So I came to pray. But I won’t say what white lie he used to lure me here,” the Pope joked.

In impromptu remarks, the Pope told them to reflect on two important signs associated with Christ’s birth: the star of Bethlehem and the baby in a manger.

“The sky is full of stars, isn’t it? But there is one that is special,” the star that inspired the Three Wise Men to leave everything behind and begin a journey into the unknown, he said.

The Pope asked the young people to be on the lookout in their own lives for a “special star that calls us to do something greater, to strike out on a journey, to make a decision.”

“We have to ask for this grace of discovering ‘the star’ that God today wants to show me because that star will lead me to Jesus,” he said.

The second sign, which the angels tell the shepherds about, is a baby born in a manger, he said.

This shows, the Pope said, how “God lowered himself, obliterated himself to be like us, to walk before us, but with smallness, that is, you can say, humility, which goes against pride, self-importance, arrogance.”

The Pope asked them to think about whether their own lives were “meek, humble, (one) that doesn’t turn up its nose, that isn’t full of pride.”

The Three Wise Men were very smart “because they let themselves be led by the star. All the splendour of Herod’s huge palace” did not fool them because they were able to sense right away that the promised king they were looking for was not there, the Pope said.

He told the young people he hoped their lives would always be guided by these two signs — two gifts from God. He asked they always have that star that will guide them and “the humility to rediscover Jesus in the little ones, the humble, the poor, in those who are a cast off by society and from our own life.”

The Irish ‘fairytale’ to challenge today’s secular orthodoxy

Books blog: The Irish ‘fairytale’ to challenge today’s secular orthodoxy
by Francis Phillips
posted Tuesday, 5 Jan 2016

Dublin Millennium Bridge (PA)

The Gentle Traditionalist has scathing words to say about our contemporary western culture

An old friend of mine, a steadfast Catholic, emailed me the other day to say she had been to a New Year’s Eve supper party with her neighbours, who were lapsed Catholics. She had to endure much anti-Catholic commentary until “I said in the end that I believed Jesus Christ was who He said He was and therefore I followed Him and the Sacraments – for which you need the Church.” Apparently this silenced her hosts.

This anecdote has been in my head as I have been reading an oddly beguiling little book: The Gentle Traditionalist by Roger Buck, published by Angelico Press (which has also published some of the writings of the late Stratford Caldecott). The book is sub-titled “A Catholic Fairy-Tale from Ireland” and was recommended to me by an Irish friend who has returned home to live after many years in Birmingham.

Written in the form of a Socratic dialogue between the Gentle Traditionalist (aka “GT” or the early Roman martyr St Valentine) and a confused modern young agnostic, its theme is a cheerful one for the new year: that having jettisoned our Christian heritage in the western world from the Age of Reason onwards, we are living surrounded by a culture in a state of terminal decline. In some ways this is a gloomy thesis, not unknown to other serious Catholic writers of today; in another way the book is written with such kindly wisdom and charity towards the young agnostic, and is so full of Catholic understanding of history and gratitude towards the Church’s civilising role in that history, that the description of “cheerful” is not wholly inapposite.

The author of this charming fairy-tale (he blogs under the title “Cor Jesu Sacratissimum”) spent 20 years dabbling in New Age practices, including a stint at Findhorn, the Eton of New Age communities, before having a conversion experience, finding a like-minded girl to marry and then moving to rural Ireland, where he believes the battle for the Catholic soul of the country is still being fought. He asks the question, “How can the Irish spiritual genius be preserved, so that Ireland does not simply become a second-rate clone of the liberal Anglo-American world?” A good question.

The Gentle Traditionalist has scathing words to say about our contemporary western culture: “If you belong to the New Secular Religion, the 1960s revelation is your creed, your Bible. Every generation of people before you, who believed differently, was wrong.” He is also critical of western Christians in the Anglo-American world, who “have all been swept up in this religion of nice. They try to make Jesus nice.” And he laments the fact that “Millions and millions of English people…think a church is somewhere you gather on Sundays for spiritual instruction. Rules!”

I am slightly critical of the Gentle Traditionalist’s somewhat nostalgic tone throughout the book. This goes along with his clear preference for the traditional Latin Mass rather than the Ordinary Form, about which he is dismissive. Bringing back the Latin Mass will not bring back the supposedly “good old days” which, even in Catholic Ireland, had many features that needed urgent reform, as Dubliner Frank Duff, the saintly founder of the Legion of Mary, used to point out.

Yet in the face of moral and cultural anarchy, the author is right to make a plea for a Catholic Counter-Revolution, starting with prayer and sacrifice. He echoes the words of my friend at the dinner party when he tells his young listener, “I’m Christian. I choose Jesus over Freud. And I don’t conveniently forget Jesus when he says tough things about sex… Our Lord knew these things were tough. That’s why he provided the Sacraments! Today we forget that. No wonder sexual restraint seems so impossible.”

If even one person who reads this book begins to challenge the new secular orthodoxies constantly broadcast at him/her by the media, it will have been a worthwhile enterprise.