Prudence and Discernment

Prudence and Discernment

“The devil often purveys objects to the senses, affording to the sense of sight images of saints and most beautiful lights …  He does all of this so that by enticing persons through these sensory objects he may induce them into many evils.”

– St John of the Cross 

I have read a number of messages recently on social media where the poster is sharing information from alleged locutions, visions and revelations – in all of these cases, the supposed events have not been approved by the Church, and in some of the cases, they have been condemned by the Church. Why, then, would a Catholic, share or promote such things?

The danger with apparently heavenly revelations is that they appeal directly to our human senses – and our human senses are very easily fooled, which can result in us being led astray in one way or another.

Saint John of the Cross writes –

“The devil often purveys objects to the senses, affording to the sense of sight images of saints and most beautiful lights . . . And to the sense of smell, fragrant odors; and he puts sweetness in one’s mouth, and delight in the sense of touch. He does all of this so that by enticing persons through these sensory objects he may induce them into many evils.” (‘Ascent Of Mount Carnel’, 133)

How often do we do something on the basis of emotion, only to regret it later on!

Those who promote such things are, in most cases, free of malice or evil intent – but they may be subject to deceipt regardless of that. It may be that they have read a particular ‘message’ and are moved by it’s content, which seems good on the face of things; however, a broader reading of other ‘messages’ from the same source may reveal that this is not the case.

Such was the case in one post I read a few days ago – someone posted a ‘message’ which in itself seemed innocuous; others from the same source, unfortunately, claimed the Blessed Virgin had warned the alleged ‘seer’ that the Holy Father was in opposition to the Faith and would shortly install the Antichrist. Now, surely, any Catholic with even a little sense of discernment would go and check what the Church has said about such a ‘seer’ before promoting them further? Surely it would occur to them that perhaps what seems to be heavenly may in fact be the product of a deceived or deluded mind, or the end result of spiritual blindness and pride?

To be abundantly clear on this one point – in any authentic heavenly revelation, the Blessed Virgin will never ever set the faithful in opposition to the Church of Her Son nor to His shepherd, the Holy Father. You have the guarantee of Christ Himself on this – in matters of faith and morals the Church, led by the Holy Spirit, cannot err. Trust the Church. Trust the Holy Father.

In another case at the moment, many are promoting messages from an alleged ‘seer’ who has now been condemned by more than one Bishop. These Bishops have noted that a number of the general claims made by this person are simply not, in fact, true; also, that the content of the ‘messages’ is not in accord with authentic Catholic thought and teaching. And yet despite this, the promotion goes on. Those most closely involved in the promotion wrote all sorts of reasons why the judgement of these Bishops should be ignored – and yet, for any Catholic in good standing, it should be enough that a Bishop, the authority who is competent to judge, has spoken negatively. In this case, nothing more is needed. And those who seek to seduce the faithful into ignoring those judgements are wolves in sheeps clothing who will surely lead others astray.

For those tempted to promote alleged visionaries which have not received the approval of the Church, be critical and use your discernment and prudence in the first instance – check what (if anything) the local Bishop has said in their regard, and check not just one message, but all of them before promoting them. And if condemned already – do not promote them any further. You place not only yourself in spiritual danger, but also those who will later read what you have promoted or forwarded. And if you are not sure either way – then do nothing further.

Anything that is authentically from God will succeed, no matter what.

It may be worth noting here that even at the hallowed Grotto of Lourdes, the Deceiver was busy trying to fool the faithful and by means of this, to destroy the credibility of the authentic appearances of the Mother of God which had been taking place there. I have written about this previously –

‘From the start of time, God had warned Satan that there would forever be enmity between him and the Woman. Lourdes was to be no exception to this rule.

The Satanic manifestation had begun during the fourth Apparition, when Bernadette had heard the cacophony of dark voices rising from the waters of the river, until silenced by the glance from the Virgin.

Now, toward, the end of the Visions, he would once more commence his assault. A young lady of Lourdes named Honorine, had been at the Grotto one day when she heard voices coming from within the empty Grotto – she said these voices produced a strange effect on her senses. This was repeated the next day, when Honorine again heard sounds – this time, savage howls and sounds like wild beasts in combat. The girl was terrified, and did not return to Massabieille for a number of weeks. The People of Lourdes said she was simply hysterical.

At the same time, a young man from Lourdes was passing the Grotto one day on his way to work before dawn. He crossed himself as he passed the rock, in honour of She who had been present there. Instantly, strange globes of light surrounded him and he felt unable to move. Terrified, he made the Sign of the Cross once more – as he did so, each of the globes of light exploded loudly around him and he was able to leave the place. As this was occurring, he could hear from within the Grotto, maniacal laughter and blasphemies.

Jean Baptiste Estrade witnessed some of the assaults of the father of lies. A lady from the Rue des Bagneres in Lourdes, named Josephine, was experiencing apparitions in the niche – this lasted for two days. Estrade watched what was happening, but said that while Bernadette was in ecstasy, he felt “transported” – with Josephine, he merely felt “surprised”.

And whereas Bernadette during her ecstasy was “transfigured”, Josephine was simply beautiful. The girl in question related to Estrade that she had indeed seen strange figures within the niche, but that she had felt suspicious of them since they appeared to her to be evil in nature, not Heavenly.

One day a young boy named Alex returned to his home in Lourdes screaming and shouting, but so paralysed with fear that he could not tell his poor mother what was the matter. After several days, he calmed down sufficiently to relate the cause of his terror –

“When I left the house I went to walk with some other children by the side of Massabieille. When I reached the Grotto I prayed for a moment. Then, while waiting for my companions, I went up to the rock. Turning toward the hollow of the rock, I saw coming towards me a beautiful lady. This lady concealed her hands and the lower part of her body in an ashen coloured cloud, like a storm cloud. She fixed on me here great black eyes and seemed to wish to seize me. I thought at once that it was the devil and I fled”.

Many other similar events occurred around this time.’

This should be a clear warning to every one of us – not everything that seems to come from Heaven, actually does so.

In some cases, our spiritual pride produces what we would like to be true; for other cases, the mind is being deluded or deceived in one way or another; and in certain cases, it is the Deceiver hard at work for reasons known only to him.

All of us need to listen very carefully to the Church and to the voice of her shepherds, the Bishops – they alone can judge authoritatively, and our viewpoint in this area never supercedes theirs.

The obedience of any alleged seer is one of the first indicators of the true source of any seemingly heavenly manifestation – we should immediately shun any who are not entirely obedient.

And for ourselves as observers, placing ourselves outwith the authority and judgement of the Church and her Bishops is generally a very clear sign that such an event is not Heavenly, and that our response is taking us along the wrong path.

The Church has very careful and comprehensive ways of judging the authenticity of any supposed heavenly revelation, which she has used consistently over the centuries and which are both tried and tested. It would be very surprising – and quite revealing – if any Catholic should seriously imagine that their personal judgement in such a matter is better than that of the Church.

May God grant all of us the grace and the light to remain obedient and docile to the voice of the Church, and to submit ourselves always and entirely to her, that we might never be led astray by ourselves, by others or by the Tempter.

A Nation Given To Mary

A Nation Given To Mary

“Tell everyone that God grants graces through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, that they are to ask Her for them.”

– Saint Jacinta of Fatima

Three years ago, we celebrated the Centenary Year of the appearances of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima, where She had shown Herself on six occasions to three young children. Her purpose was to call us back to the message of the Gospel through sorrow for our sins, a life of prayer and the Sacraments, and devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary as a way of achieving this.

Two of the three seers of Fatima, brother and sister Jacinta and Francisco Marto, had been declared Saints by our Holy Father, Pope Francis, on the centenary day of the first apparition. Speaking by video the pilgrims in Fatima on the centenary of the final apparition, the Holy Father had said –

“Never be afraid, God is infinitely greater than all of our problems. He loves us very much. Go forward in your journey without losing sight of the Mother; like a child who feels safe when close to his mother, we too are safe when close to Our Lady.. Never put the Rosary aside, but continue to recite it as She asked”.

The faithful join the Bishops in Consecrating Scotland to the Immaculate Heart of Mary

Shortly after the appearances of the Blessed Virgin, little Jacinta had said – “Tell everyone that God grants graces through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, that they are to ask Her for them”. Many would take these words to heart and would place great confidence in them. And so it was perhaps not surprising that in that Centenary Year, a great focus was placed on Our Lady of Fatima and Her Immaculate Heart – and various events took place in response to the appearances of Our Lady at Fatima.

One such event took place here in Scotland, where the people and the Bishops gathered together at our national Marian Shrine at Carfin Grotto; there, under pouring rain, we consecrated ourselves to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The date was 3 September 2017.

The day of Consecration had been preceded by various other events across the years, and which had contributed to the events which would take place at Carfin that day.

In 1946, Pope Pius XII had sent his legate, Cardinal Masalla, to Fatima in Portugal, where he was to crown the statue of Our Lady of Fatima. Speaking about the coronation, the Pope had said –

“The faithful Virgin never disappointed the trust put on Her. She will transform into a fountain of graces, physical and spiritual graces, over all of Portugal, and from there, breaking all frontiers, over the whole Church and the entire world.”

Here, then, the reasons for such a coronation were made very clear.

Returning to 2017, Cardinal Nichols had presided over a ceremony at Westminster Cathedral on 18th February that year, where he solemnly crowned the pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima. In the course of the ceremony he re-consecrated the nations of England and Wales to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. England had long since been dedicated to the Mother of God, because of which the nation has historically been called ‘the Dowry of Mary’. The Cardinal had previously expressed his thoughts on all this –

“Devotion to Mary is not an optional ‘add-on’ to Catholic belief, but an expression of what is at the heart of our faith. To draw close to Mary is to draw close to Jesus. As the earliest Christian witnesses often taught, Mary was open to receiving Jesus in Her mind and in Her Heart before She gave birth to Him in her flesh. For this reason, She is the first of all the disciples of the Lord as She is the most faithful of all the Lord’s followers. In Her maternal love of us, She continues to assist us in our following of Him; a consecration to Her Immaculate Heart gives expression to this in a simple way.”

Cardinal Nichol’s consecration was a renewal of a similar consecration in 1948, undertaken by Cardinal Griffon.

Ireland also undertook a similar national Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, performed by Cardinal Brady, the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, on the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, 15th August, at the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock.

On 20 May 2017, Bishop Toal had consecrated the Diocese of Motherwell, Scotland, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary at a Mass in the Cathedral, which was exceptionally well-attended. In his homily, Bishop Toal had spoken very beautifully on the message of Fatima, noting that it centres on conversion, prayer, reparation and, in short, ‘a change of heart’. This is what the Blessed Virgin calls us to.

Bishop Toal spoke about his own experiences of visiting the shrine at Fatima, where there is a strong sense of penance and reparation. He also spoke about the newest Saints of the Church, Jacinta and Francisco Marto, who had been canonised the previous week. He said these two children remind us of the very special place which children occupy in life generally and in the Church specifically – adding that it is to children that we must hand on the fullness, beauty and sanctity of our Faith. At the conclusion of the Mass, Bishop Toal made the solemn Act of Consecration of the Diocese.

In June of that year, Bishop John Keenan of Paisley had announced the intention of the Bishops to undertake the Act of Consecration on ‘National Pilgrimage Day’ at Carfin. He had also announced a period of forty days of preparation prior to that day, inviting the faithful to join him spiritually throughout those days.

Two days beforehand the Scottish Parliament had announced that it would include itself, by means of ‘a motion of recognition’, in the collegial Consecration of Scotland to the Immaculate Heart of Mary by the Bishops of Scotland, which the Bishops were about to undertake. The Parliament issued an announcement to that effect –

“That the Parliament recognises that Scotland’s Catholic bishops will consecrate the nation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on 3 September 2017; understands that the Bishops will pray for Scotland at the Marian Shrine at the Carfin Grotto, near Motherwell, asking that Scotland be energised with a renewed desire to seek the truth, and understands that at the same time they will pray for all parliamentarians and government, so that they will play their part in building a true civilisation of love and strive to create a place where all people are valued, a place where poor, lonely and marginalised people are not forgotten, and a place where people are free to practise their faith.”

For a very secularised nation, and one with a noted anti-Catholic bias in many respects, this was really something. But it was also extraordinary for another – and far greater – reason. By means of this self-inclusion of the Scottish Parliament, the two strands of Scottish life and identity, the Church and the State, had come together in unity for an explicit purpose – and a spiritual one at that.

The day before the Consecration at Carfin, a Vigil was held as final preparation; this consisted of Adoration of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, the holy Rosary was prayed every hour, and it concluded with Benediction.

On the day of Consecration, all of Scotland had truly come together.

Parliament – representing the State – had given notice of it’s alignment with what was to take place; the entire Scottish Hierarchy were present and took part; many Religious had come to the Grotto to take part; and the faithful were greatly represented by the thousands of laity who had travelled to the Grotto from all over Scotland and beyond.

And so, the Act of Consecration was truly collegial – and national – in every possible sense of those words.

The Sacrifice of the Mass was offered by Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of the Archdiocese of Glasgow, and concelebrated by Archbishop Emeritus Mario Conti and the Scottish Bishops, together with a large group of Priests and Deacons from the various Dioceses of Scotland.

In his homily, Bishop Brian McGee of the Diocese of Argyll and the Isles, spoke about the rain and quipped that it had been much the same on 13th October 1917, when the great Miracle of the Sun took place at Fatima. On that day, of course, the rain stopped; on our day of Consecration, the Lady of the Rosary gave us an opportunity to offer something up for the acceptance of the Consecration.

Bishop McGee also spoke about the children of Fatima, who constantly said ‘yes’ to the invitation of the Lady and so became ever more united to the will of God for them; in this, they echoed the life of the Blessed Virgin, who so perfectly and constantly said ‘yes’ to God. The Bishop invited those present to make this same commitment, growing in holiness by our correspondence to the will of God for us in our own lives.

At the Conclusion of the Mass, the solemn Act of Consecration was read aloud by all present, led by Archbishop Tartaglia. He had noted that the original intention was that he alone would read the Act, but he felt it more appropriate that all present should take part vocally.

Hearing the Bishops and the people of Scotland consecrating themselves and our nation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a great and swelling array of voices rising up from the Grotto like incense, was perhaps the most beautiful thing I had ever heard and I was deeply moved to be there and to a part of it all.

I had no doubt then, as I have no doubt now, that all of Heaven was listening intently, too; and I prayed that this Consecration would be found pleasing and acceptable by God.

Archbishop Tartaglia

At its conclusion, Archbishop Tartaglia noted how moved he, too, had felt, and how historic this moment had been; he spoke of his pride at the people of Scotland coming out to honour the Blessed Virgin, and he added that the Bishops and Priests of Scotland love the people of this nation very much. It was deeply heartening to see so many of the Priests of Scotland coming together in a public show of devotion to the Mother of God.

More than anything, it was wonderful to see so many thousands of ordinary people who braved the typical Scottish rain that day to pay homage to the Lady of the Rosary of Fatima.

At the time, I had written that I was certain Our Blessed Lady had listened to the Act of Consecration offered to Her, that She accepted it, and that great graces would flow as a result of our offering ourselves and our Nation to Her. Three years later, I remain completely convinced of that.

 

Text of the Act of Consecration of Scotland to the Immaculate Heart of Mary

Queen of Heaven and Earth, and tender Mother of all people, in accordance with Your ardent wish, made known to the three children at Fatima, we consecrate to Your Immaculate Heart our beloved country of Scotland.

We stand confidently before You today, O holy Mother of God. Inflame us with the same divine fire which inflamed Your own Immaculate Heart. Reign over us and teach us how to make the Heart of Jesus reign and triumph in us and around us, as It has reigned and triumphed in You. Make our country and it’s people, Your shrine, O holy Mother of God, so that we may be Yours in prosperity and adversity, in joy and sorrow, in health and sickness, in life and in death.

We consecrate Scotland to You; all that we have, all that we love, all that we are. To You we give our minds and hearts, our bodies and souls. We willingly place at Your service our homes and families, our parishes and schools. We desire that everything that is within us and around us, amuy belong to You, O Mary.

That this Consecration may be truly efficacious and lasting, we renew this day the promises of our Baptism and Confirmation – to be faithful witnesses to the Good News of Jesus Christ.

We pledge ourselves to foster a true love of the Mass, and devotion to the Real Presence of Your Son in the Blessed Sacrament. We pledge ourselves to keep the Commandments of God and His holy Church. We undertake to promote in our homes and parishes a virtuous life. We pledge ourselves to recite ether Rosary more frequently, and to make reparation for the coldness and indifference of so many human hearts.

Finally, we promise, O glorious Mother of God, to devote ourselves whole-heartedly to the service of Your blessed name, in order to assure, through the sovereignty of Your Immaculate Heart, the coming of the Kingdom of Your Son, Jesus Christ, in our hearts and in our country of Scotland.

Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us.

 

A False Devotion

A False Devotion

For all who profess a devotion to the Mother of God, it is a salutary – in fact, a necessary – task to stop from time to time and to compare the practice of our devotion to those descriptions given by the Church, by the Popes and by the great Marian saints such as Louis de Montfort.

In his great work, ‘Treatise On The True Devotion To The Blessed Virgin Mary’, Saint Louis Marie de Montfort takes time to describe the signs of that devotion which can properly be called ‘true’.

To begin with, St Louis tells us that “I must now state in what this devotion consists. This I will do, with God’s help, when I have laid down certain fundamental truths, which will throw light on this great and solid devotion which I desire to disclose” (TD 60). He then expounds on five articles, describing his thoughts on each of them. The five articles are that Jesus Christ is the ultimate end of devotion to Our Lady; we belong to Jesus Christ and to Mary as their slaves; we must empty ourselves of what is evil in us; we need a mediator with our Mediator, Jesus Christ; and it is very difficult for us to preserve the graces and treasures received from God.

After this, our Saint tells us that it is crucial that we are able to recognise false devotion to the Blessed Virgin so that we can avoid it; and to be able to recognise true devotion, so that we can embrace it. He adds that it is equally important that we know which practices are the most pleasing to the Blessed Virgin, the most perfect, the most glorious for God and the most sanctifying for us. Saint Louis then moves on to describe seven characteristics of false devotees of Our Lady and of false devotions. He gives these as being critical; scrupulous; external; presumptuous; inconstant; hypocritical; and self-interested. As before, he adds much detail to each of these categories to explain his thinking.

Concluding his thinking in this area, he explains the characteristics of a true devotion to the Blessed Virgin – he describes it as being interior; tender; holy; constant; and disinterested.

For all who think themselves to be devoted the Mother of God, or who feel drawn to practice that True Devotion described by Saint Louis, it is important to think critically about the nature and purpose of our devotion, comparing our intentions and resolutions objectively to the descriptions offered by the great Knight of the Blessed Virgin, whose writings have been so lauded by the Church and by so many of the Popes.

In this present time, this is perhaps especially pertinent.

The reason I say this is that I see some souls who profess to be devoted to the Blessed Virgin and to practice the devotion of our Saint – and yet who, at the very same time, place themselves in direct opposition to the Holy Father and to the Church. Such souls are either deluding themselves or being deluded. I say this not as a judgement upon such souls but as an observation which I am noting increasingly often these days.

One of the most common expressions of this seems to be those who profess to be devoted to the Mother of God under the title of ‘Our Lady of Fatima’ – and who, at the same time, state with no evidence and with no sense of critical thinking, that the Church, in the persons of the last few Popes, has deceived and lied to the faithful, has had an ‘imposter’ nun squirrelled away in a convent over several decades, occasionally appearing to give false statements which are designed to lead the faithful astray and in this way, to perpetuate the lies of the Church hierarchy. In my experience, such souls are not at all open to discussion – and so making any attempt at this is entirely fruitless – and do not recognise that their views can only exist if certain other conditions are met. In the case of Sister Lucia, they presuppose that the ‘real’ nun is where – dead? Silenced in some other way? And for the lie to hold, it is necessary that the upper hierarchy of the Church has put out a lie which they have maintained over many, many years. The evidence to the contrary – the repeated statements of Sr Lucia, the documents and statements of the Church and of the various Holy Fathers – mean nothing and are simply discarded and excluded from their critical thinking and from any sense of objective judgement.

A second example concerns the third part of the ‘secret’ of Fatima, revealed by the Blessed Virgin to the three seers in July 1917. Notwithstanding the very clear and consistent documents of the Church and, in particular, the document released in 2000 which revealed the contents of the third part of the ‘secret’, these souls proclaim, instead, that the Church has lied and deceived the faithful – and simply reject outright the testimony of Sr Lucia herself, who said repeatedly that the document was an accurate description of what she had seen.

Similarly, for the consecration made by the Holy Father Pope John Paul in March 1984; Sr Lucia made it perfectly clear this consecration fulfilled the request of the Blessed Virgin and had been accepted by Heaven. But these souls do not accept this, as though they are in a position make a judgement on the matter and to tell Sr Lucia – and the Pope – that they were wrong.

So why does all of this matter enough that I write about it here? There are several reasons.

Firstly, such an attitude does great damage to the Church and to its unity – the work of these souls is divisive and does nothing for the good of the Church.

Secondly, it does damage to the reputation of the Blessed Virgin; for other souls, She will become ‘tainted’ in a sense, so that souls who would otherwise have developed a strong and healthy relationship with Her, will perhaps not do so now. Often these days, for example, devotion to Our Lady of Fatima is equated to a caustic view of the Church and the world, to a ‘fringe element’ within a particular corner of the Church – and this is diametrically opposed to the authentic message and purpose of the Fatima appearances.

Thirdly, it places these souls in danger. Certainly, Fatima is part of ‘private revelation’ and no matter how good and holy, the faithful are not obliged to accept or practice the devotion – the Church notes only that it is ‘worthy of belief’ and leaves the rest to us, even while recommending the devotion strongly to us. But for such souls, Fatima is raised to a level above the public revelation to which we are required to submit. And for such souls, how can it be possible to believe the Church and the Popes to be liars and deceivers whilst at the same time professing unity with them and allegiance to them? And so the great danger for these souls is that their misguided and deluded views place them, inch by inch, outside the Church and ever further from the submission to the Vicar of Christ which is one of the great marks of the Catholic Church.

To be very clear – the Mother of God will never, ever, distance any soul from the Church nor from her true Shepherd. In life, Mary and Peter were very close – and in eternity, it is no different. And to be just as clear again – if our ‘devotion’ to the Blessed Virgin places us at enmity with the Church or with the Holy Father, then it comes not from God, but from the Deceiver, the Father of Lies.

Proclaiming to be devoted to the Blessed Virgin is not, in itself, a guarantee that one is so devoted, nor that one is ‘on the right path’.

As Saint Louis notes so very carefully, there are particular characteristics of any such devotion which will let us know – if our hearts and minds are open to it – whether or not we are walking the right path.

Earlier in his work, Saint Louis makes the point that an authentic and true devotion in the form he is describing is not something we take upon ourselves – rather, it is a grace to which we are called and to which we may (or may not) respond.

As for the Church herself, she too gives us a description of authentic Marian devotion – this is found in the eighth chapter of Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution On The Church), from the Second Vatican Council. Together with this, we have so many beautiful Encyclicals and other documents written by so many of the Holy Fathers – and in more recent years, particularly those of Saint John Paul II.

For all who profess a devotion to the Mother of God, it is a salutary – in fact, a necessary – task to stop from time to time and to compare the practice of our devotion to those descriptions given by the Church, by the Popes and by the great Marian saints such as Louis de Montfort. Please God, we will find that our devotion aligns with what we read there – and if not, may the grace of God enlighten us and open our hearts and minds in all humility, so that we might change and address whatever is remiss.

 

 

Pandemic and Prayer

Pandemic and Prayer

O Mary, You shine continuously on our journey as a sign of salvation and hope.
We entrust ourselves to You, Health of the Sick.
At the foot of the Cross, You participated in Jesus’ pain,
with steadfast faith.
You, Salvation of the Roman People, know what we need.
We are certain that You will provide,
so that, as You did at Cana of Galilee,
joy and feasting might return after this moment of trial.

– Prayer of Pope Francis

In these days, as the coronavirus spreads, the effects of it’s presence are being ever more keenly felt.

One such effect is that our perception of the world around us is changing to some degree – and we are looking differently at those things we perhaps take for granted. As time passes, we are told to consider self-isolation where that is appropriate; in some places, schools and colleges, shops and workplaces have already been closed; travel is affected; and even entire nations are in a state of ‘lockdown’.

It is entirely possible that in days to come, we may feel a very real effect upon our ability to publicly practice our Catholic faith.

There are already calls in some places for public acts of worship – and especially the Catholic Mass – to be suspended for a time, for fear that large gatherings of the public may prove to be an effective means of spreading the virus. Already in my own Diocese, the Holy Water fonts have been emptied, we can no longer receive from the Chalice, nor can we offer the Sign of Peace; and today, some previously-planned large scale Masses have been cancelled. All these things are, no doubt, only temporary measures – but they are disconcerting regardless of that.

So what does all this suggest to us?

 First of all, we should not panic. Rather, we should listen to, and follow, the advice given to us by the civic authorities.

 Secondly, remember that the illness will – for most people – be relatively simple and short-lived.

 Thirdly, remember that a time such as this offers us the opportunity to practice a number of the Works of Mercy – and we should most certainly do so.

 And fourthly, perhaps it will remind all of us to give thanks for what we already have – particularly the Church to which we belong, and the ability to practice our Faith.

But what of the practice of our Catholic Faith? It may be that for a while, our practice will change in terms of location and form.

The location may move from the parish Church to the ‘domestic Church’ – that is, our home.

And the form may change from liturgical gatherings and worship, to prayer practiced at home. Of course, we should already be practising prayer at home – our Faith does not exist and show itself only at Mass; and if it does, perhaps it is more habit than faith.

How, then, do we practice our faith at home? A small home altar may be the solution.

A simple home altar

In days past, it was almost expected that every Catholic home would have some form of devotional area, where the family would pray together. This area is where the prayers of the Rosary would be recited, or the Bible read together. The presence of such an altar said something about the people living there – their faith, their beliefs, their value system, their unity. It is certain that God, Who “looks with favour on the humble” smiles upon such small places where people gather together in His Name to offer their prayers to Him.

Today, the idea of such a place within our home may have fallen out of favour, such that it is no longer as common as it once was. And yet, the idea of a visual representation of our beliefs is not so different to keeping photographs of loved ones – looking at them, we are reminded of those we love, and from our hearts issue sentiments of love and tenderness, or longing, when those depicted are far from us or have already gone to their eternal reward.

It does not matter if the altar is small or large, ornate or simple. Indeed, simplicity is generally better here as it is in so many areas of life. Whether it is comprised of a shelf, a table, a corner of the dresser or the desk – it makes little difference.

What is important is that there is an area which is specifically set aside for prayer and devotion, a place dedicated to the Lord and which lifts our hearts and minds to Him, where we can be with Him in a particular way, and where the common distractions of life can be put to the side, even for just a little while. And in the context of the present situation, it will also be a special place where we can explicitly pray for all those affected by the coronavirus pandemic – those who have died, those who are ill, and all caring for them and sharing their suffering; as well as all those yet to be affected.

Perhaps the basics of such a home altar are these – a Crucifix, that central symbol of our faith, accompanied by an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whether a picture or a statue; the New Testament or Bible; a Rosary; and a candle. Together, these items can help to keep us focused on what really matters.

Ultimately, our goal in setting up a small home altar is to try to establish ourselves in the habit of prayer. But how do we make prayer a daily part of who we are and what we do? How do we cultivate the habit of prayer?

The first thing we need is the grace of God. We might think prayer is our move toward God – in reality, it is our response to God’s move toward us. It is a reaction, rather than an action; a response, rather than an initiative. The very desire to pray is a gift of the Lord, Who seeks us out. I think He is particularly generous with this grace – He calls so many souls to enter into a deeper conversation with Him, to listen quietly to His voice speaking in the silence of our hearts.

And this word ‘conversation’ is key here. Prayer is nothing more – and nothing less – than the conversation between two hearts, or ‘an intimate sharing between friends’, as the great St Teresa of Avila describes it. She also says this – ‘Prayer is an act of love; words are not needed.. all that is needed is the will to love’.

And so this is the next thing we need – desire, or the will to pray, and to continue praying. Our will opens the door to God’s grace – and it can close that door just as easily. God will never force us; He will always respect our ‘yes’ or our ‘no’.

Assuming, then, that we are responding to God’s grace in having the desire to pray, how do we actually develop prayer into a habit?

Habits are formed by repetition. By doing the same thing at the same time or in the same place, we might develop a habit. And so when it comes to prayer, the same principles apply; we need to make a time and find a place.

To strengthen and support our prayer life, that small and special home altar which we associate with – and set aside for – the habit of prayer, is very beneficial. In the same way that we associate one place with eating, or another with sleeping, perhaps there is a place somewhere at home which we can use specifically for prayer, where we have the devotional objects to assist us in this task, as suggested above. Writers often have a favourite desk at which to write; Saints often have a favourite little corner where they like to pray. Perhaps we can follow their example.

As far as possible, this time and this place should be free of distractions, particularly if (especially in the early days) our mind is likely to wander.

At least to begin with, perhaps it is sensible to keep our goals attainable. It is better to commit to five minutes of prayer and to do this consistently and well, than to promise we will pray for an hour and quickly give up altogether because we don’t manage it. Perhaps begin simply, with an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be; after all, what matters more is the quality of the prayer, not the quantity. You may well find that as the habit of prayer develops, your heart yearns to pray more – this, too, is the grace of God at work.

Cultivating the habit of prayer becomes something of a discipline. Most of us lead busy lives and it can seem difficult to make time for prayer, but make it we must, if we are to succeed – otherwise, we will probably find that we quickly lose the habit and our efforts come to nothing.

For some, first thing in the morning may suit best for praying; while for others, the evening may be better, after the work of the day is done and our minds can begin to quieten a little. Whichever time of day suits you best, try to pray at the same time each and every day – this develops the habit of prayer more easily and more concretely, and it gives us a fighting chance to succeed.

For me, I pray the Rosary late each evening, when the cares of the day are already passing and I can concentrate better on my prayers, particularly as it is much quieter at that time; evening prayer also allows me to go over my intentions of the day, which have increased as the day has gone on.

And this leads on nicely to the next point – what are we praying for?

Our first reason for praying is to give praise to God, Who deserves our praise and our adoration. He also deserves our thanks for all the blessings He grants us each and every day – beginning with the fact that we are alive, and then becoming more specific as we look at our lives and all they contain, including the people with whom we interact each day.

As human beings, we all have needs – and that might be the next focus of our prayers. We may pray for our own personal needs, whatever they are, as well as the needs of others – they have needs, too. After all, if we stop at ourselves, we have missed the point of acquiring and developing the habit of prayer. As much as the Scriptures tell us to pray, they also tell us to pray for each other – remember, the Lord gave us the Our Father, not the My Father. Prayer is communal; we lift up each other in prayer, and prayer gains even greater power when we pray in company. If we feel we are short of ‘intentions’ for which to pray, try to listen carefully to every person we meet in the course of the day; if our heart is attuned, we will very quickly find more than enough intentions to keep us busy in prayer.

Pope Francis tells us that “prayer is all powerful” and he goes on to say that “miracles happen – but prayer is needed; prayer that is courageous, struggling and persevering, not prayer that is a mere formality”. In other words, our prayers – whatever form they may take – should come deeply from the heart, and they should cost us something of ourselves.

St John Paul also spoke often about prayer, as on this occasion – “often the most powerful prayers are the unspoken acts of mercy we choose as intercession for a specific person, intention, or global need .. prayer joined to sacrifice constitutes the most powerful force in human history”.

He went on to say that his favourite prayer is that of the Rosary, which he called “a storehouse of countless blessings”. He said – “the Rosary, though clearly Marian in character, is at heart a Christ-centered prayer.  It has all the depth of the Gospel message in its entirety.  It is an echo of the prayer of Mary, Her perennial Magnificat for the work of the redemptive Incarnation which began in Her virginal womb”.

Perhaps, then, this is a further crucial element we need in order to acquire, develop and maintain the habit of prayer – a model in prayer.

We have so many holy models to choose from and to imitate – they are called Saints, each with a particular slant on prayer, it’s form and it’s type. The Church has placed these people before us precisely for this reason – that we, like them and following in their footsteps, might seek to become holy; and we cannot achieve this at all if we do not pray.

There are many who will tell us what prayer is, of what it consists, and recommend various ways of doing it – and that is all well and good. In the end, though, the important thing is not really that we know about prayer, but that we actually pray.

The model above all others is surely that of the Mother of God, the Woman of prayer of the Gospels, Who “kept all these things and pondered them in Her Heart”.

And that, surely, helps to describe the habit of prayer.

In this time of present coronavirus pandemic, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has specially written a prayer which beautifully captures the feelings which will be in many hearts; perhaps this prayer is a good and timeous one with which we can begin –

 

United With the Holy Father

United With the Holy Father

“I saw the Holy Father in a very big house, kneeling by a table, with his head buried in his hands, and he was weeping. Outside the house, there were many people. Some of them were throwing stones, others were cursing him and using bad language. Poor Holy Father, we must pray very much for him.”

– Saint Jacinta Marto

EDITORIAL

One of the dangers of social media in our day is that we run the risk of believing everything we read. Of course, not everything we read online is actually true, and so we need to exercise a degree of discernment – checking facts and the (apparent) sources of quotations and of claims made, and placing things in context rather than simply accepting them at face value.

We also need to exercise prudence in our online responses; it is all too easy to read something and immediately respond to it. I know from bitter personal experience that this is often the wrong thing to do, and can be regretted at a later moment. If this is a danger for the average person, how much more of a danger can it be if we present ourselves as ‘Christian’ or ‘Catholic’ to the online community.

A particular feature of the present day is the tendency to criticise the Pope; whilst the Holy Fathers have always been sport for the written and spoken barbs of others, those others were generally – in days past, at least – outside of the Catholic Faith.

In the present time, the real danger is coming from some who profess to be Catholic.

No doubt, most of these are well-intentioned  – but that does not lessen the damage they are capable of producing. While most of those who criticise and castigate the Holy Father may be well-intentioned, even if they get things wrong, we should be aware that there are also some whose intentions are decidely dark and nefarious, and others who will be used by those with dark intentions. Remember, our battle is – above all else – a spiritual one.

The damage caused by attacks on the Holy Father takes two forms.

The first form is the damage to the unity of the Church – how can we say we are members of the Catholic Church whilst our words and our hearts are openly in combat with the Shepherd who has been given the task of leading the Church? And when these people are Cardinals, Bishops, Priests or Deacons, or organisations describing themselves as ‘Catholic’ – what message does this send not only to those outside of the Church, but to her own members? Where is the unity? Where is the loyalty? Our Church is ONE, holy, Catholic and Apostolic.

The second form is the damage to ourselves – to our spiritual life and to our soul. Walking the path of criticism of the Pope carries with it the danger that, unchecked, we will eventually find ourselves distancing ourselves from the Church herself. After all, how can we remain in the Church if we believe she is heading in the wrong direction and is being led astray by the one whose very task it is to lead and govern her?

Have we no faith in the Lord, whose promise to Peter means that a Holy Father can never err in matters of faith or morals? Regardless of our thoughts on the person who is Pope at a given moment, still he is the Pope – and this demands our loyalty and the submission of our will and our religious intellect to his teaching magisterium – this includes not only his officially promulgated documents, but also the teaching he gives day after day. We might think a particular Pope has ‘got it wrong’ in some way – and if we do, we need to stop, take stock, check our ‘facts’ and then ask ourselves what is more likely: that the Pope is indeed wrong as we believe, or perhaps that our understanding is at issue. Or simply that what is being reported is either inaccurate or just not true. Stop and think for a moment – do you honestly believe that you know better than the Pope when it comes to the Catholic Faith? It takes docility, humility and charity to do this; but the effort will be well-rewarded.

How do we resolve this situation?

We need to pray and we need to TRUST in the Lord; it is His Church and His Mystical Body – and He has already promised that she will not go astray and will never be overcome by evil. That is our starting point – trust in the Lord. And the Holy Father of any given moment has been placed there by the Lord, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for a very good reason – regardless of whether or not we know (or understand) that reason. Again, we must TRUST the Lord. His divine will shall always prevail.

We also need to be prudent and discerning, as noted already. We should not automatically believe something that is reported as fact, nor should we be too quick to deliver a judgment, especially where this is negative. We ought also to remember the sin of calmuny, which is the damage to the reputation of another. This is a serious sin and one that is not always easily undone.

As Catholics, we are aware that our first aim is to make use of this life in order to reach Heaven, our true home – and to do all in our power to ensure we don’t arrive there alone, but assisting other souls to reach there too. Charity is, as the Lord said in the Gospel, something which covers a multitude of sins – and which may well tip the balance for us, one way or another, depending on how we have exercised it.

Our hope of reaching Heaven lies in our membership of – and communion with – the Church; she is designed precisely to get us to Heaven, her Sacraments assisting us greatly along the way, especially at those times when we fail in one way or another. But in order for this to happen, we need to be part of the Church – united to her in our will, our heart and our mind; and that means remaining united to the Holy Father.

So what do we need to do?

If you ‘like’ (for want of a better word) this particular Holy Father (or the next one, or the one after), then pray for him. Pray for him every single day – he needs our prayers.

And if you do not ‘like’ this (or any future) Holy Father – pray for him every single day. And if you find yourself in this latter category, these prayers will have greater merit because they will require a greater degree of charity, humility, docility and TRUST in the Lord.

May the Lord greatly bless our Holy Father Pope Francis. And may the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of the Church, smile upon him and keep him always close to Her Immaculate Heart.