Today is the feast day of Pope St John Paul II. He is the only saint (so far) who directly impacted me in his own lifetime.
I met him once. Sort of. I was in St Peter’s Square on 6 October 2002, when he canonised St Josemaría Ecrivá. I was one pilgrim among half a million, but it was an exhilarating moment. He was my Holy Father. I loved him then, and I love him now.
Maybe my faith would be weaker without his influence. Maybe I wouldn’t love our Lord so much. Certainly, I wouldn’t be a priest. JP2 was a big factor in the discernment of my vocation.
I think John Paul impacted me because he was a saint. But not only that. He impacted me because we had a relationship, however remote.
I have many relatives and friends who weren’t impact the same way. Why? I think it’s because they weren’t in a relationship with him. Wojtyla was like a third grandfather to me, so his words and gestures and witness had a profound influence.
That’s the thing about saints. They’re not magic. Relationship is key. That’s why it’s important for you and I to become saints. JP2 may have had little or no impact on some family and friends, but we can have an impact, precisely because we are in relationship with them.
John Paul II was a rockstar pope, with a name and face recognised by millions. He was also a mystic, who apparently received extraordinary graces. In one sense he’s not the easiest guy to imitate. But in another, more important sense, we can follow his lead.
Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the Polish pope’s press secretary, tells the story of the first time they prayed the rosary together. When they reached the first Our Father, and Navarro started reciting it, the pope raised a hand to quiet him, and explained apologetically that he liked to chant the Lord’s Prayer. Would that be okay? (Navarro, of course, consented.)
Navarro began by praying each Hail Mary at the normal pace he was accustomed to. But gradually, he fell into a much slower pace, following the lead of the pope, who almost relished each syllable. A prayer he normally prayed in 20 minutes took twice as long when he prayed it with John Paul II.
Bishop John Magee, the Irish bishop who was ‘secretary to three popes’ (Paul, JPI and JP2), relates a story which occurred just a few days after Wojtyla was elected pope. It was early in the day, before normal working hours, when Magee received an urgent request from some VIP to see the pope. He checked the chapel, then the pope’s office, the private sitting room, the dining room, and the pope’s bedroom, but the pope was nowhere to be found. In a state of mild panic, he told the pope’s Polish secretary, “We’ve lost the Holy Father!”
His Polish counterpart was dubious. “Did you check the chapel?”
“It was the first place I looked.”
“Look again. More carefully.”
Magee returned to the darkened chapel. The pope was not at his seat, or his at prie-dieu. But he was in the chapel after all: at the altar, embracing the tabernacle, crooning a Polish lullaby.
Now I’m not advocating slavish imitation of these practices. But it’s something we can adapt to our situation.
I spend a lot of time in the car, and I usually pray the rosary there. Mostly attending to the road (and kangaroos); only partly attentive to the mysteries I’m contemplating and words I’m praying. If your rosary is something similar, keep it up. It’s better than not praying the rosary.
But it’s not so hard to pray an extra decade some other time during the day, more closely imitating John Paul II’s way of praying. It must please our Lady very much.
I’m not in the habit of hugging the tabernacle — and I’m a priest, with after-hours access to churches, when no one else is around! If I had only normal access, I’d be even less eager to approach the sanctuary and make a spectacle of myself.
But still we can pay a short 5 minute visit to the Blessed Sacrament, and sing a song to the Lord under our breath, sitting in the pew. We can bring our smart phone, and show him the interesting photos we took this morning. We can repeat the exciting news a friend told us, or complain about the lousy customer service we experienced this afternoon.
I think our Lord craves that sort of easy familiarity. It’s not uncommon to speak to our closest friends for a just a few minutes, but every day, and about the every day. Why not Him?
I think if we live this way, coupling small acts of affection with more pious practices (not least frequent communion and frequent confession), we can have the impact of a JP2 on our circle of family and friends. The ‘orbit’ is much smaller, but the love of God is not.
The present Synod of Bishops concludes today, but I’ve already tuned out. The cynical manipulations (mostly vanquished thankfully), are all too unedifying.
I need to note, though, that I was wrong on one of my facts in my previous post. Cardinal Müller denies calling the interim report shameful. “I do not speak in that style,” he has told reporters. I quoted news reports in good faith, but I still need to apologise for misleading readers. Sorry.
For those who are still interested in the synod, Sandro Magister has an excellent rundown on its history and proceedings. (My single misgiving: he credits Cardinal Pell with “with the physique and temperament of a rugby player.” I suppose we must forgive Italians their ignorance of Aussie Rules.)
For everyone else, I recommend a post Fr Ray Blake published several weeks ago, which deftly anticipated the political shenanigans of the Synod:
What I really am beginning to resent are men with ‘ideas’ (Francis’ ideologues?) but who never seem concerned about Christ or the Gospel or holiness or ultimately Eternal Life, who turn the Church into a debating chamber. I hate their squabbles, I detest their clever solutions. The spiritual life is about muddling through, the muddle is the wound of concupiscence, I just wish we had men who recognise the muddle for what it is and point to Christ as our hope but no, it is about clever schemes to deal with the previous clever schemes that have got us into the mess we are already in. Why do so many of our Bishops and senior clergy sound like Enda Kenny or Nick Clegg rather than Christ? Why the strong reek of the politician?
Thanks to Cardinal Pell and others, transparency won the day at the synod. But behind-the-scene machinations will continue to afflict the Church. Fr Blake’s post is a nice antidote.
“How,” I’ve often wondered, “was the Second Vatican Council so artfully reinvented, that the very bishops who attended the Council implemented changes in its name which they had never envisaged?”
Books have been written answering that question, and I don’t think the answer is settled even now. But there’s another question — a related question — which I think is being definitively answered at this very moment.
“If the Council were to occur today could it be manipulated and reinterpreted as it was in the 60s?”
I’ve suspected not. In the first place, the media is much more democratic these days. It was possible, at the time of the Council, to mould and control a media image. But the abundance of independent media voices — especially online — now makes that impossible. Just ask any government, anywhere. (North Korea excepted.)
In the second place, within the Church unquestioning obedience is a distant memory. At the time of the Council, if the local bishop made a decision, priests would faithfully communicate and execute that decision, and the vast majority of lay faithful complied. That doesn’t happen anymore. Not in the West, anyway.
The present Synod of Bishops, which has become something of a debacle, proves these points. I think there was an attempt to manipulate the synod, just as the Council was manipulated, but it hasn’t worked.
Proceedings of the present synod are closed to the media: an unprecedented innovation which enables the General Secretariat to control information flow. Synod Fathers are unable to publicise the speeches they table, but they’re free to speak to journalists outside session. So they have — and many have openly criticised the control of information.
Following convention, Synod Fathers elected representatives to draft the synod’s final report. In another unprecedented innovation — which as pope he is entitled to do — Francis appointed six of his own nominees to the task. But the official news bureau of the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference underlines the political significance of this intervention:
The fact is worrying those who want to maintain the current discipline of the Church regarding these issues, considering that all the persons named by the Pope are of a liberal tendency, unlike Erdö.
In yet another unprecedented innovation, the General Secretariat has published an interim report. And this is where the attempts at manipulation have really unravelled. The report is, to say the least, problematic — both in its content, and in the fact that it doesn’t represent the synod. Archbishop Gądecki, who heads the Polish Bishops’ Conference, has called it unacceptable. Cardinal Müller, who heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has called it “undignified and shameful.”
But the most damning evidence of attempted manipulation? During the press conference which followed the report’s release — a press conference which left at least one Catholic journalist unedified — Cardinal Erdö, who is charged with officially speaking for the Synod Fathers, handballed a controversial question to his assistant, effectively disowning a document bearing his signature:
The Hungarian cardinal [...] gave the floor to Mgr. Forte because, he said, “he who wrote the text must know what it is talking about.”
I have only quoted the misgivings and criticisms of Synod Fathers. A cursory glance at the Catholic blogosphere will reveal even greater disquiet among disinterested observers. Much of the online commentary is overblown and hysterical because the Internet is a hot house of wild opinion and speculation. But even so, the online response demonstrates that resistance to the attempted manipulation is widespread and savvy — a phenomenon which wasn’t present 50 years ago. If the Internet had existed during the Second Vatican Council, I think the implementation of that Council would have been very different.
In a first for this blog, I’m posting from 30,000 feet in the air, somewhere above the north west coast of Australia. I’m about halfway through a flight to Singapore; from there I fly to Dubai; from there I fly to Madrid.
Don Alvaro Portillo will be beatified next Saturday, and I’ll be there! I don’t think I’ll be blogging much, though, until my return to Australia next week.
Three years ago today, at the conclusion of my ‘First Mass,’ I placed flowers before an image of Our Lady, and consecrated my priestly ministry to her Immaculate Heart.
But immediately before that, I presented my own mother with a special gift. The previous day, the bishop had anointed my hands with the Oil of Chrism. I used a specially bought cloth (an embroidered purificator, I recall) to remove the excess oil from my hands. It was this cloth, perfumed by the Chrism, which I presented to Mum after my First Mass.
This custom is the modern variation of an old and venerable tradition, wherein a newly ordained priest presented to his mother his manitergium.
According to tradition, the mother of a priest is to keep this precious cloth in a safe place. When she is buried, the cloth is placed in her hands. In the case of an open coffin, it serves as a reminder that one of her sons is a priest — a rare honour given to few.
The practice also evokes a pious legend, which imagines that when the mother of a priest finally meets our Lord face to face, and is asked that fateful question — “Did you love me?” — she can reply in the affirmative, presenting as part of her case, her Chrism-fragranced hands. This demonstrates that she loved our Lord so much, that she gave to him one of her sons, to serve him as a priest.
The literal details of that legend are of course superstitious, but I don’t think the gesture can be reduced to superstition. I think the presentation of the manutergium recognises and honours something profound. Not being a mother myself, I can’t very well describe it. (Perhaps I should ask my mum!)
In the meantime, we can consider this very moving footage from the ordination of three priests in Melbourne last June. If pictures tell a thousand words, then a motion picture must tell millions.
This video shows Fr Michael Kong, Fr Matthew Baldwin, and Fr Vinh Nguyen processing out at the conclusion of their ordination, and receiving the congratulations of their brother priests and seminarians. Then it cuts to Fr Michael blessing his mother, who is deeply, deeply, moved. That scene speaks volumes, I imagine, to what every woman of faith experiences, when her son becomes a priest.
Three years ago today — three years already! — I was ordained to the Catholic priesthood.
I have to admit, this anniversary would have passed me by, except that my grandmother called last night to congratulate me. Which meant she also inadvertantly reminded me.
I think if she hadn’t called, I’d have realised today’s anniversary when I prayed this morning’s Office of Readings, which commemorates the Feast of Ss Cornelius and Cyprian. That would have jogged my memory.
But actually, it wouldn’t have come to that because dozens of other friends have also contacted me today, sending me their congratulations. I may have forgotten, but others didn’t. Thanks everyone!
The last few days have been a wonderful way to celebrate. On Saturday, I attended the ordination of three priests and six deacons in Melbourne, among whom are some of my dearest friends.
Here’s some photos taken by Junray Rayna, a Sandhurst seminarian who will himself be ordained a deacon this Saturday:
This was a great way to celebrate the anniversary of my own ordination. I was able to renew my promises and my consecration, and to share with my brothers the joy of priesthood.
In his homily, Archbishop Hart remarked on the value of friendships forged in the seminary, but he added that as important and blessed as this fraternity is, a priest’s relationship with the people entrusted to him is even more important and grace filled. I know what he means. The following day’s First Communion celebrations in Hamilton were another excellent way to celebrate the anniversary of my ordination. Nothing compares to preparing children to receive into themselves the Real Presence of Jesus Christ . . . except maybe all the other sacraments a priest is called on to minister!
Still, Ordinations and First Communions are my two favourite days in the year (after Easter and Christmas). So this last weekend was a great double whammy which has renewed my gratitude for the holy priesthood. Deo gratias.
I bet lots of people have brought cameras today, to take First Communion photos. After all, today is a very important day! People want to remember it, and photos help us to remember special events. They’re also a great way of remembering people.
Think of two people, who love each other, but who are forced to part. They would like to stay together forever, but they can’t. Maybe one of them has to go overseas. Or maybe one of them is dying. For whatever reason, they have to say goodbye. So they exchange gifts, or cards, or a photograph. These are symbols of love, which help us to remember. In fact, they help us to love.
The cross is a bit like that. We can look at this big crucifix in the sanctuary, and remember that Jesus loves us so much, that he died for us. He loves us so much, that “everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
But this cross is just a symbol. Photos are just symbols. It’s not the same as actually being with the person we love and miss. It doesn’t matter how much we love someone. It doesn’t matter how much we desire to be with them. Human power is not as great as human desire.
But God’s power is much greater. What we cannot do, our Lord is able to do. Jesus doesn’t just leave us a symbol; he leaves a reality. Jesus has ascended to the Father, but he also remains with us. He has left us, not simply a gift which will make us remember him, not just a photo which fades and yellows; he has left us himself. Under the appearance of bread and wine, he is with us — body and blood, soul and divinity.
Our First Communicants have been preparing all year for this day. But I know someone who has been waiting even longer. For 2,000 years, our Lord has been present in the Tabernacle, knowing that this day was coming! He loves our First Communicants so much. How pleased he is, that he’ll now be in communion with them.
Two thousand years! That’s a long time to wait, so I won’t preach any longer!