Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Irish bishops beware, The Roman Missile is coming

Once upon a time the role of Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland was reserved for aging, stooped Italian clerics with broken English. It was a ‘peach’ of a job: elderly priests who were tired of the traffic and never-ending tourism of Rome were only too happy to spend their last years among docile, obedient Catholics in Dublin. They would stroll around Dublin’s O’Connell Street dreaming of lasagne and prosecco, while grannies and teenagers alike would line up and go on bended knee for a blessing from the Vatican’s representative in Ireland.  The days of incense wafting through the air and subservience to clergy are a hazy memory.  Few in Ireland can conjure up a mental picture of the last few Apostolic Nuncios.  For many of the faithful in Ireland, the authority of The Holy See means long time, no See. 
 After the commotion caused by the Irish Government’s vengeful decision to close down Ireland’s Embassy to the Holy See, the assumption was that the curtain was coming down on diplomatic relations between the Irish Republic and the Vatican. But the show will go on, and the leading role will be played by Archbishop Charles Brown, or ‘Charlie’, to all who know him. Of all the hard-working and decent priests in the world, Charles Brown was hand-picked by Pope Benedict to be the new Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland.  On the 6th of January, Pope Benedict personally consecrated Charles Brown an archbishop; a very rare move for B16, who has only consecrated three other bishops since he became pope six years ago. The newly elected Archbishop Charlie is an Irish American who hails from New York and is very proud of Irish heritage. He is handsome in a vaguely George Clooney way and fresh looking for his fifty-two years. But there is no mistaking that his eyes are those of an eagle, and he is known for his keen intelligence and that he doesn’t suffer fools.
But why does the Pope hold Archbishop Charlie in such high esteem? How is B16 so confident of his abilities?  Pope Benedict and Charlie go back a long way. They worked side-by-side in the office of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for eleven years.  Charlie Brown has a unique insight into the Pope’s character, as well as his plans for the urgent renewal of the Catholic Church in Ireland. In 2001, when our Pope Benedict was Cardinal Ratzinger, he wrote to each and every Catholic bishop instructing them to inform the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Church about every allegation of abuse. As a direct result, no other place on earth was as aware of the abuse scandals within the Church as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. His Excellency Charlie Brown became a trusted ally of Pope Benedict’s when they were trawling through the quagmire of filthy abuse descriptions.
Archbishop Charlie is a veteran of the CDF, having spent seventeen years in total there. He’s alert to the precise details of the Irish Church’s failings. But the response to Archbishop Charlie’s appointment in Dublin has been met with exclamations of joy from afar and acts of mean-spirited skulduggery. Both critics of the Church such as The Irish Times’ Geraldine Kennedy and supporters of the Church such as Rocco Palmo hailed the appointment as indicative of Pope Benedict’s heartfelt attempts to stop the rot in the Irish Church. Unfortunately, there was at least one move from the Irish Church hierarchy to prevent Archbishop Charlie’s appointment. It might be a case of begrudging this youthful Irish American his important position in Dublin as a direct envoy to the Holy See, but it definitely shows reluctance on the part of Irish Church leaders to work with Pope Benedict. Would the Church hierarchy prefer a doddery cleric with poor English? It would appear that after Archbishop Charlie’s years in the CDF, he knows too much about the Irish Church for some of its members to be comfortable to have him in their midst.
In this crucial time before Archbishop Charlie arrives, we, the Irish people must surely prepare a proper welcome to our new Apostolic Nuncio, who faces many challenges, not least from his own fellow priests. It’s not unthinkable that he could bear the brunt of the bitterness. Not only would it be unjust to tar Archbishop Charlie with the same brush reserved for such bishops like Magee who ignored their own guidelines for handling abuse and were guilty of notorious cover-ups, but it does not support this enthusiastic but also entirely blameless archbishop to help restore the Church in Ireland.
I’ve been in touch with Archbishop Brown, with the view to finding out his plans for Ireland. This week he is tying up loose ends in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but will shortly be taking up residence in the nunciature on Navan Road, Dublin where he tells me ‘lots of work’ awaits him. He has deep faith and none of the pretentiousness that besets such a highly-favoured prelate. His profile picture for his e-mail is a simple pencil drawing of the Eucharist.  If rumours of a possible Papal Visit during the 2012 Eucharistic Congress are confirmed, then Archbishop Charlie will once more be at Pope Benedict’s side as he walks the island that was home to Dublin’s Frank Duff, and Cork’s Little Nellie of Holy God.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Santorum attends the Novus Ordo in Latin, and has attracted vibrant young people including Evangelical Christians to manage his campaign

Blimey! Is it conceivable that a ‘Traddie’ will be the next president of America, and go with his kids to live in The White House? There can only be one person that fits the description of goes-to-a-Mass-in-Latin, home schools six of his seven kids, and is also running for president: Rick Santorum. The question is; might he home-school in The White House? Until recently, conservative Catholic Santorum has been under the radar. And in all honesty, when I heard a description of him I thought, ‘that can’t be, there must be some mistake, no one who is Catholic-of-a-traditional-mindset and totally pro-life could ever even think of becoming the president of America!’ Like a lot of ‘Traditional Catholics’, I endure my Holden-Caulfield’esque inferiority complex and I often think that the highest positions in politics are somehow off-limits to us devout Catholics. Thank you, Santorum, for proving me and your cynics wrong.

There is something mesmerising about Santorum: is it the perceived absence of spin? He’s not a Svengali, who manipulates his public reputation by deceiving a vast group of people that he believes what they believe. He’s not a spin-master who mixes his words to be accepted by one audience, but says the opposite to the next group he addresses. The scary thing about him for his opposition: he believes what he says. I’ve heard this is called integrity.

I agree with Linen On The Hedgerow that even his name, Santorum, sounds ‘Latiney’.
It is true that Santorum attends a Novus Ordo Mass in Latin, at St Catherine of Siena’s in Great Falls, Virginia. This is a Solemn High Latin Mass, very much like the one at The London Oratory on Sunday at 11am. But it is not the Tridentine Mass, according the the Missal of 1962. I am not saying that I hold it against Santorum for not attending the Tridentine Mass; I merely and humbly point out a fact that I gleaned from my research. A quick look at this directory shows that the Mass Santorum attends is a Novus Ordo Mass which happens to be in Latin. This rather flies in the faces of all the people who are writing miles online that Santorum is ‘behind the times’ because of he attends ‘the Old Mass’. If they are so intent on critiquing Santorum, they might as well get the facts about which Mass he attends correct.

I may have the opportunity to discuss the Catholic Mass with Santorum in greater detail. I am currently chasing Rick Santorum for an interview. I’ve chatted with the young campaigners who have committed to ‘get in the vote for Santorum’. These squadrons of newby college graduates are answering the phones; begging for donations; and doing all the nitty-gritty office work. And are they Catholics and singing from the same hymn sheet as Santorum? No, a lot of them are Evangelical Christians, and they sound 100 percent behind Santorum. One very polite chap that I spoke to, Charles, said to me, ‘Mizz Reagan ma’am, I’m a Protestant, but I fully support Rick Santorum, a Catholic, he’s definitely Catholic, that’s clear for everyone to see. And as a Protestant, I invite you to support us. Thank you for calling Rick Santorum for president.’ Santorum’s campaign managers who answer the phone know that I’m not a voter in the US. They know that as a simple journalist, I do not have mega-bucks to donate to the campaign. Yet, their spirit of enthusiasm and their joyful voices are infectious. You can compensate someone to sit by a phone, but you cannot pay someone to have genuine optimism and verve in their voice. There is something noteworthy in the joyful spontaneous way that the campaigners encourage you to support their candidate Santorum.

I read a ton of tomes about the 2008 US presidential election. And one key reason cited for why the Republicans lost was: ‘hired guns’. Instead of energetic, wholeheartedly-dedicated bodies manning the phones, there were ‘hired guns’ who were there to collect a pay check and who didn’t know or endorse the campaign’s manifesto. They didn’t have requisite passion for the candidates to impart to the voters.  Everyone from hacks working on small newspapers to John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, prize-winning authors of Race of a Lifetime, blamed the Republican defeat, on the sheer lack of idealistic, committed people. On the contrary, in 2012, Santorum, a practising Catholic, has attracted sincere, bright young people to his cause. If Santorum succeeds in becoming the Republican presidential candidate; his young, passionate staffers could yet make all the difference in the end.

Friday, 6 January 2012

"I fell in love with the Latin Mass"

It’s a baffling mystery to our secular society: why would a young, good-looking, talented and highly qualified young man such as Ian Verrier give his life completely to the Lord and pursue a vocation to the priesthood? For many Catholics, perhaps, an even bigger question is why Ian is learning to offer Mass in the Extraordinary Form and has gone to Lincoln, Nebraska, to do so. Lincoln is a bleak, flat region in the Great Plains of the Midwestern United States. Ian jokes that “it’s a giant chessboard”. But he has persevered in this dry, dreary climate and is delighted to be in his fourth year of seminary with the Fraternity of St Peter (FSSP). Ian chose the FSSP when he was 25.

“I really felt God wanted me to have this form of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as the centre of my priesthood,” he explains. “I met priests from the Fraternity of St Peter and discovered that they centre not only their idea of the priesthood but their very lives on the traditional Latin Mass. So I entered Our Lady of Guadalupe seminary, the Fraternity’s international English-speaking seminary in Nebraska in September of 2008.” Ian was brought up an Anglican, but his family did not practise very much until Ian was 12. He says that his childhood faith took the form of little
chats with God, whom he thought of as a grandfather figure in heaven. He would pray: “God, please look after this person who is having a tough time.” Ian learned the cello and piano, later finding an outlet for his talent when his family started attending St Mark’s, a high Anglican parish in an underprivileged area of the West Midlands. At the age of 15, Ian was the organist and director of the choir. The care given to the liturgy in this particular church made a deep  impression on Ian. “There may have been leaks in the building and no one was well-off, but we gave the best of what we thought we had to God, and much attention was devoted to the exterior aspect of liturgy,” he recalls. While studying at Birmingham University Ian was received into the Catholic Church on the feast of Pentecost 2003, after 10 months of instruction. Explaining when he left the Anglican Church, he says: “There wasn’t unity in belief. Everyone believed different things. The realisation dawned that it was not the True Church. I was drawn to the universality of the Catholic Church, that no matter where you go in the world the Church is the same, as God made it to be, founded on St Peter and his successors, the popes.”  

As a new member of the Catholic Church, Ian was initially wary of the Latin Mass, because he thought “it was being used as a political football”. In 2006, Ian had settled in well to Catholicism and was offered a teaching job. He had felt a deep call to work for the Church in Europe after seeing the funeral of Blessed Pope John Paul II. Ian answered that call by accepting work at an “unashamedly Catholic school” in France. It was at Chavagnes International College where he found a living charity in a close-knit Catholic community in the Vendée region. While at Chavagnes, Ian met a young, inspirational priest who loved celebrating Mass in the Extraordinary Form. He began to assist at Masses more regularly. “I fell in love with the traditional Latin Mass,” he says.

At Chavagnes, Ian felt for the first time that he lived “a fully Catholic life”. He clarifies: “I experienced the best of everything that I had seen of the Church: Mass ad orientem, staff and pupils committed to their faith, and we were allowed to say grace before meals.”  While working at the school Ian felt the first stirrings of a priestly vocation. He gave a definite Yes to God’s invitation after walking the 2007 Paris to Chartres pilgrimage with a group of boys and teachers from the school. At Chartres Cathedral Ian was overawed by the closing Mass. “I was reduced to tears. Everything in the Mass took on its full spiritual significance. The choir were like angels singing divine praises and the priest was in the form of Christ. At that instant, I said yes to becoming a priest.”

Now, having spent three and a half years with the Fraternity of St Peter, he is even more certain of his priestly vocation. On November 13 he received the minor orders of acolyte and exorcist. 

Although only half-way through the seminary’s demanding seven-year programme, Ian loves the intellectual rigour, especially the study of philosophy and theology of St Thomas Aquinas. Ian is one of seven British seminarians in the FSSP. At Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary alone, they accepted 25 new seminarians last year and this autumn saw the arrival of 22 new seminarians. The average age of the  392 priests and seminarians working with the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter
is 34. Before becoming an FSSP seminarian, Ian admits that he fell prey to generalisations about traditional Catholics and worried that he would find it difficult mixing all the time with “Traddies”. He argues that Latin Mass communities are sometimes unfairly characterised by their extremely strict members “and then people think that we are all very severe”. But Ian was
pleasantly surprised by the other seminarians and says that all the seminarians have great fun, get on very well together and support each other.

Ian believes that traditionalists have often been misunderstood and thus mistreated. “Like all of God’s children they deserve mutual respect as they bring a rich and diverse element to the Church of today. Casting aside the imperfections of some ‘traditional Catholics’, one thing is important: the Mass they love. The Extraordinary Form offers a rich treasure, both tried and tested, to men and women regardless of place and time, since in the words of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI: ‘What was sacred for prior generations, remains sacred and great for us.’ ”
Vatican II reiterated the sentiment that should be shared by all Catholics,“traditional” or not: that the source and summit of the spiritual life is indeed the Eucharist.
On December 12, Ian and his fellow seminarians celebrated the feast day of their patron, Our Lady of Guadalupe, by having a procession with Mexican Marian hymns, followed by Solemn High Mass. In the evening the seminarians had high jinks by hanging a piñata and bashing it with sticks until chocolates and sweets rained down.

The FSSP encourages all it seminarians to have a balanced lifestyle and they have periods of recreation. When they enjoy better weather, they play spirited games of football on their own pitch. The seminary has a weight room with some high-tech weightlifting equipment, which is a big hit with the seminarians. During the colder months since they have no gym of their own, the seminarians drive through ice and snow to play basketball in a nearby country gym.

Ian misses some British home comforts, such as the NHS. He doesn’t get ill much, but had chest pains after eating a lot of fried food and had to pay a high fee to find out that it was indigestion.
When I ask him what he misses most about Britain, he exclaims: “Yorkshire pudding, I absolutely love it!’ He’s not so keen on “the ketchup-smothered meatloaf” that is so beloved by Americans, but it is a useful penance for Ian. He says that, while he is British, the seminary is his “spiritual home” and that he has found deep fulfillment living in community. In 2010, Ian’s father lay dying of cancer in Birmingham and when Ian travelled back to be with him the other seminarians were fervently praying and having Masses said. Ian prayed daily for seven years that his father would become a Catholic and shortly before his death, his father swam the Tiber.

The FSSP likes to put priests back in their country of origin and Ian likes the thought of being a priest back in Britain, perhaps in the FSSP’s apostolate in Reading. He says that in the wake of Anglicanorum Coetibus he looks forward to the possibility of being surrounded by many fellow former Anglicans who are now Catholics.

Ian is 29 and I ask him if he is daunted by his decision to forfeit the opportunity of having a wife and family. His response is so lucid and sincere that it convinces me of his commitment. “The celibate life totally frees the man for the priesthood,” he says. “The priest makes a sacrifice by living out his public promise of celibacy. And instead of having his own biological children he is a father to many souls, the exact number of which we will only know when we reach heaven. If you are acting as Christ to offer Mass, hearing Confessions, that must be confidential and putting your whole life into being a spiritual shepherd for whoever your flock is – it’s not practical to be a husband and have a natural family at the same time. You can’t do both to the best of your ability.”  He thinks that priestly celibacy is misunderstood. “Our vocation is the means of our salvation and celibacy is a sacrifice,” he says, “but it’s a gift to the priesthood, and if you use it to give yourself fully to Our Lord, then it becomes a joy.”

I wrote this article for this week's edition of The Catholic Herald.  Alex Begin, very kindly, gave me the first photo of Ian that you see in this post.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

I was going to keep quiet about St Anthony finding lipstick…

Isn’t it Shakespeare’s King Lear who declares; ‘vanity thy name be woman’? Well the mad King Lear summed me up; I’m a woman and vain. I’m all for the simple Snow White look; powder-white pale skin with red lipstick and a dark sweeps of hair. But Snow White wore the same dress every day.  And I found myself wanting a specific type of lipstick that would coordinate with burgundy/reddish-purple suede skirts and wool sweaters. But finding the right shade that’s not too pink and not too red is so trying that it could turn you into a loony. It involves doing the rounds of the make-up counters in lit-up by million-watt bulbs department stores and chemists. Then one must meet over-anxious sales people who always have imploring, never-blinking eyes that implore you to buy, buy, buy! Then one must inspect tray after tray of gooey neon pink and yellow lipstick, smear it one your fingers until your hand looks tie-died, but you must say something nice about the lipstick.
And usually you come to the conclusion that shade ‘priggish plum’ and ‘putrid peach’ is not for you. Then there’s shopping-for-lipstick blindness: you see so many shades that they all look the same brown-red-violet mélange. Then there’s the task of telling the saleswoman that you won’t purchase ‘cremated cherry’ because it will clash with your wardrobe of clothes. The saleslady will bite her pink-frosted lips, hold back silver tears, sigh and say that she could’ve talked to other customers who would’ve bought ‘mulberry mishap’ and that she wasted thirty minutes convincing you of the joys of ‘juicy lemon’ because ‘yellow is the new lipstick for 2012.’
Trust me, buying the right shade of lipstick is such an ordeal; that it could be the new test for psychic powers; if someone who reports to be clairvoyant can automatically pick the correct shade of lipstick for a person, then they must have supernatural strengths. But I don’t believe in psychics or employ them, even if it means that picking the right colour lipstick would be made easier.  And I didn’t want to waste hours traipsing round shops to find the exact shade of wine-pink lipstick. So a few weeks ago, in deepest, darkest December, I threw my hands up in the air, said that I wouldn’t waste time and money and sanity in looking for a very specific shade of lipstick that I had in mind. And I said to St Anthony, ‘you must be sick of me by now, but if there’s any way that I can find that lipstick, or if the lipstick would just appear?’ The last part seemed a bit fantastical, even to me. 
Again, I never said a word about my desire for a type of dark puce lipstick; really I can’t bore my friends with make-up monotony.  But I was given a present of a little jacket with pockets and the first day that I wore it, I found that one pocket had a strange ‘lump’ in it.  I pulled out a blue lipstick case. 

I opened it to find that it was the exact hue that I had asked St Anthony to find. Thinking that I was kidding myself, I held the lipstick up to the light, tried it on and pronounced that it was the one that I had asked St Anthony to find. I thought that I would keep the matter to myself; it's of too much a fashion-fanatic theme to share with the readers. But it does demonstrate that we might be surprised if we ask for little things.
First tea, second soap, now lipstick! 

It's still Christmas....

I'm persevering with the Christmas spirit, and will listen to carols until the 6th. 

Monday, 2 January 2012

For the love of dogs... Part 2

There has been renewed interest in how the St Benedict's medal cured my sheepdog Pollly of a huge, sprawling wound on her back. While I expressed the opinion that dogs don't go to heaven, I have modified my views; A Jesuit was asked if there would be dogs in heaven, and he replied, "if dogs are necessary for your happiness, then there will be dogs in heaven."

Between this life and when we go to God, we can use the St Benedict's medal to relieve the pains of the dumb animals that walk through this life with us. Polly not only survived the ordeal of the skin on her back splitting open and suffering a temporary doggy bald spot, but went on to have fifteen pups. My favourite of all Polly's yapping black and white sheepdogs was Juliet, pictured here for the world to admire her silky sleek black fur, badger-esque face and spotted nose.  I used clasp my hands around her chest because I would feel the pulse of her heart through my hands. Juliet went to a farm where her duty is looking after and being a companion for an much older dog.

May all my readers from Guam, to New Jersey, to Denver and to Brazil - have a happy and better-than-ever new year!

The last week has seen a surge in the number of my blog readers; from a few hundred every day, to nearly 11,000 in the past week. I've been the recipient of some very kind e-mails from readers from all over the world. I regret that time has not allowed me to reply to all your e-mails. After celebrating the new year with a glass of champagne in one hand and a fist full of fruit cake and after seeing the London fireworks explode from Big Ben and the London Eye, I returned to my room and moderated comments until the early hours and even at that late hour it was a joy to read all the many promises-of-prayer that were flooding in for Paul Birch, a young father battling with cancer. Paul's wife, Tracy left a comment on the post concerning Padre Pio's favourite painting of Our Lady.

I'm still drafting the 'perfect e-mail' to reply to the relative of Padre Pio's who got in touch with me, and who remembers the process for Padre's beatification and canonisation. In the meantime, I would like to wish all my readers from Japan, to Turkey, to France and back again to Liverpool and London a very happy and grace-filled new year that is packed with opportunities for you to develop your talents and for meeting the best of people. 

Happy New Year? Are we finished with the old one...

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