Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter greetings to all readers of this blog

A happy and holy Easter season to all readers of this blog.

In March this blog was read in 235 cities around the world.

It is now linked to a twitter feed.

Thank you for your readership.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Risen Lord overcomes all fear

In his Easter Viigil Mass Pope Francis spoke about how the women were surprised to discover the empty tomb and how they told the disciples.

Fear turned to joy and hope.

The Risen Lord gives us the power to overcome all fear.

Cul-de-sac of Holy Saturday ends in Easter Sunday

Today's Thinking Anew column in The Irish Times.

By Michael Commane
Today is not Easter Saturday, rather Holy Saturday. And it's interesting how the world of marketing has changed today's name from Holy Saturday to Easter Saturday.

Of course the world of branding and marketing wants to keep us all so upbeat and celebratory that we want to dance out to the shops and fill our baskets with produce and spend our money.

But in the Christian calendar today and the days of this week are filled with doom and gloom. The agony in the garden, betrayal, crucifixion. Today the world stands still. We are in a cul-de-sac and it seems as if there is no hope.

We have been duped, fooled and it has all ended in the brutal and mocking execution of a man who claimed crazy things, offering hope to the marginalised and freedom to the enslaved.

And then on Easter Sunday a woman, well worth noting that it was a woman, Mary of Magdala, first became aware of the enormity that had taken place.

The man who had been crucified some hours earlier was no longer in the tomb where he had been placed. The woman was so excited about what she experienced that she called Simon Peter and the one Jesus loved.

And then it dawned on them that something extraordinary had happened.
"Till this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead. The disciples then went home again." (John 20: 9 - 10).
It was as extraordinary and as ordinary as that. Nothing is ever the same again.

For someone as ordinary as I, it is impossible to attempt to 'explain' or try to give an empirical or philosophical meaning to what resurrection means.

All I can say is that I am a child of my environment, a Christian who believes in my own fumbling way in resurrection. It is always made most manifest to me when I visit the grave of my parents, where I pray and believe that they share in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Surely my mother and father have not been annihilated. There is more to all this than nothing.

Anyone who has sat at the bedside of a gravely ill person knows something about the horror of pain and sickness. Clichéd and trite words are meaningless, even offensive. It's a time when the reality goes beyond our words.

The phenomenon of such illness is terribly bleak. One has every reason to say it is a cul-de-sac. There is no hope. It is the cruel reality we encounter in Holy Week.

Tomorrow we celebrate the most important feast in the Christian calendar - our hope and our belief, resurrection.
And this day today, Holy Saturday, is a great reminder for us to take some consolation in the reality that before our ultimate resurrection none of us avoids the pain and suffering, "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune".

Of course it is our mission, our project to do all in our power to alleviate pain and suffering in the world. It is simple cant to tell people to relax in their pain and suffering. But at the same time it would seem naive to try to hide ourselves from pain, to wish it away or to think that this world can be turned into a pain-free zone.

The present economic crisis gives us some hint of how close we are all the time to pain and suffering.

Maybe calling today Easter Saturday is not just a marketing technique but also signifies some wishful thinking that we can banish pain from the world. We believe all doom, all pain, all suffering end in resurrection. We all die. No one avoids that. But Christians believe that we are destined for resurrection.

We believe we have neither been fooled nor duped. There is more to it than a cul-de-sac. Holy Saturday leads to Easter Sunday.

Alleluia, alleluia, the Lord is risen.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Friel's 'Translations' at the Gaiety

Brian Friel's 'Translations' finishes in the Gaiety tomorrow.

The cruelty of all forms of military behaviour no matter how nuanced. How love manages to cross the most fortified borders.

At times the greatness of the play came through but far too often stereotypes seemed to dominate and as a result much was lost.

It's on this year's Leaving Cert and many students were in the theatre on Tuesday night. It would be interesting to ask them what they thought.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

A fabulous paragraph

Another paragraph from Pope Francis today.

People leaving church with good news.

This is great. We have been waiting a long time for this.

"A good priest can be recognised by the way his people are anointed: this is a clear proof. When our people are anointed with the oil of gladness, it is obvious: for example, when they leave Mass looking as if they have heard good news."

Pope suggests to priests to be shepherds with their people

Two short paragraphs from Pope Francis's Holy Thursday Chrism Mass. He is talking about priests

Those who do not go out of themselves, instead of being mediators, gradually become intermediaries, managers. We know the difference: the intermediary, the manager, “has already received his reward”, and since he doesn’t put his own skin and his own heart on the line, he never hears a warm, heartfelt word of thanks.

This is precisely the reason for the dissatisfaction of some, who end up sad – sad priests - in some sense becoming collectors of antiques or novelties, instead of being shepherds living with “the odour of the sheep”. This I ask you: be shepherds, with the “odour of the sheep”, make it real, as shepherds among your flock, fishers of men.

Pope Francis's Holy Thursday sermon

Easy to read and wise words.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This morning I have the joy of celebrating my first Chrism Mass as the Bishop of Rome. I greet all of you with affection, especially you, dear priests, who, like myself, today recall the day of your ordination.

The readings and the Psalm of our Mass speak of God’s “anointed ones”: the suffering Servant of Isaiah, King David and Jesus our Lord. All three have this in common: the anointing that they receive is meant in turn to anoint God’s faithful people, whose servants they are; they are anointed for the poor, for prisoners, for the oppressed…

A fine image of this “being for” others can be found in the Psalm 133: “It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down upon the collar of his robe” (v. 2). The image of spreading oil, flowing down from the beard of Aaron upon the collar of his sacred robe, is an image of the priestly anointing which, through Christ, the Anointed One, reaches the ends of the earth, represented by the robe.

The sacred robes of the High Priest are rich in symbolism. One such symbol is that the names of the children of Israel were engraved on the onyx stones mounted on the shoulder-pieces of the ephod, the ancestor of our present-day chasuble: six on the stone of the right shoulder-piece and six on that of the left (cf. Ex 28:6-14).

The names of the twelve tribes of Israel were also engraved on the breastplate (cf. Es 28:21). This means that the priest celebrates by carrying on his shoulders the people entrusted to his care and bearing their names written in his heart. When we put on our simple chasuble, it might well make us feel, upon our shoulders and in our hearts, the burdens and the faces of our faithful people, our saints and martyrs who are numerous in these times.

From the beauty of all these liturgical things, which is not so much about trappings and fine fabrics than about the glory of our God resplendent in his people, alive and strengthened, we turn now to a consideration of activity, action. The precious oil which anoints the head of Aaron does more than simply lend fragrance to his person; it overflows down to “the edges”.

The Lord will say this clearly: his anointing is meant for the poor, prisoners and the sick, for those who are sorrowing and alone. My dear brothers, the ointment is not intended just to make us fragrant, much less to be kept in a jar, for then it would become rancid … and the heart bitter.

A good priest can be recognized by the way his people are anointed: this is a clear proof. When our people are anointed with the oil of gladness, it is obvious: for example, when they leave Mass looking as if they have heard good news.

Our people like to hear the Gospel preached with “unction”, they like it when the Gospel we preach touches their daily lives, when it runs down like the oil of Aaron to the edges of reality, when it brings light to moments of extreme darkness, to the “outskirts” where people of faith are most exposed to the onslaught of those who want to tear down their faith. People thank us because they feel that we have prayed over the realities of their everyday lives, their troubles, their joys, their burdens and their hopes.

And when they feel that the fragrance of the Anointed One, of Christ, has come to them through us, they feel encouraged to entrust to us everything they want to bring before the Lord: “Pray for me, Father, because I have this problem”, “Bless me Father”, “Pray for me” – these words are the sign that the anointing has flowed down to the edges of the robe, for it has turned into a prayer of supplication, the supplication of the People of God.

When we have this relationship with God and with his people, and grace passes through us, then we are priests, mediators between God and men. What I want to emphasize is that we need constantly to stir up God’s grace and perceive in every request, even those requests that are inconvenient and at times purely material or downright banal – but only apparently so – the desire of our people to be anointed with fragrant oil, since they know that we have it.

To perceive and to sense, even as the Lord sensed the hope-filled anguish of the woman suffering from hemorrhages when she touched the hem of his garment. At that moment, Jesus, surrounded by people on every side, embodies all the beauty of Aaron vested in priestly raiment, with the oil running down upon his robes. It is a hidden beauty, one which shines forth only for those faith-filled eyes of the woman troubled with an issue of blood. But not even the disciples – future priests – see or understand: on the “existential outskirts”, they see only what is on the surface: the crowd pressing in on Jesus from all sides (cf. Lk 8:42). The Lord, on the other hand, feels the power of the divine anointing which runs down to the edge of his cloak.

We need to “go out”, then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the “outskirts” where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters. It is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter the Lord: self-help courses can be useful in life, but to live our priestly life going from one course to another, from one method to another, leads us to become pelagians and to minimize the power of grace, which comes alive and flourishes to the extent that we, in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others, giving what little ointment we have to those who have nothing, nothing at all.

The priest who seldom goes out of himself, who anoints little – I won’t say “not at all” because, thank God, the people take the oil from us anyway – misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart.

Those who do not go out of themselves, instead of being mediators, gradually become intermediaries, managers. We know the difference: the intermediary, the manager, “has already received his reward”, and since he doesn’t put his own skin and his own heart on the line, he never hears a warm, heartfelt word of thanks.

This is precisely the reason for the dissatisfaction of some, who end up sad – sad priests - in some sense becoming collectors of antiques or novelties, instead of being shepherds living with “the odour of the sheep”. This I ask you: be shepherds, with the “odour of the sheep”, make it real, as shepherds among your flock, fishers of men.

True enough, the so-called crisis of priestly identity threatens us all and adds to the broader cultural crisis; but if we can resist its onslaught, we will be able to put out in the name of the Lord and cast our nets.

It is not a bad thing that reality itself forces us to “put out into the deep”, where what we are by grace is clearly seen as pure grace, out into the deep of the contemporary world, where the only thing that counts is “unction” – not function – and the nets which overflow with fish are those cast solely in the name of the One in whom we have put our trust: Jesus.

Dear lay faithful, be close to your priests with affection and with your prayers, that they may always be shepherds according to God’s heart.

Dear priests, may God the Father renew in us the Spirit of holiness with whom we have been anointed. May he renew his Spirit in our hearts, that this anointing may spread to everyone, even to those “outskirts” where our faithful people most look for it and most appreciate it.

May our people sense that we are the Lord’s disciples; may they feel that their names are written upon our priestly vestments and that we seek no other identity; and may they receive through our words and deeds the oil of gladness which Jesus, the Anointed One, came to bring us. Amen.

Chips for every dog in the State

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney plans to introduce chipping for all dogs in the State.

Sounds a good idea.

Thirty per cent of dog owners buy a dog licence. What sort of a system is that, where 70 per cent don't purchase a licence?

As 'Dougal' would say: "... that's mad

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Cruel bank holiday social welfare cuts

Certain categories of social welfare recipients have a disproportionate sum of money cut from their weekly payments in weeks which have bank holidays.

Imagine the justified anger people who are so affected must feel.

Mr Ahern and Mr Cowen receive €2,743 per week from the State.

And then the palaver that is used to explain why such cuts are made in weeks which have bank holidays.

No cuts in those weeks to Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Advised to go away and join the Masons

This letter was written to me subsequent to a column I had wirtten in INM Irish regional newspapers on March 6.

Dear Fr Commane,
I don't know who you are or do I want to know you but reading your story in this week's Kerryman leads me to believe that you are one of these so-called association of priests that no right minded priest would want to be associated with, parasites in every sense of the word, lost in the quagmire of sin and the delusions that sinful living manufactures.
Fod God's sake and for the sake of the majority of Kerryman readers, all well grounded and God fearing, go away and join up with the Masonic movement or some other oganisation of similar persuasion.

I doubt the Masons would take me.

The writer did give his name and address.

The world according to 'Alive'

In the April issue of the free sheet 'Alive' there is an un-signed article which states that 'The Irish Times' places more value in 'The New York Times' than it does in the natural law or common sense.

On another page the reader is informed that 'The New York Times' is 'the great bastion of silly liberalism'.

Herod gets mention again this month above a story that has the headline: "Study finds UK hospitals killing off 60,000 patients a year"

The April issue also carries a story on UK environmental campaigner David Bellamy.

The piece is titled 'Bellamy says he was frozen out of the BBC'.

'Alive' reports how Bellamy regrets the present political correctness at the BBC.
"When I was at the BBC, I could do whatever I wanted. In those days, you could say what you liked. You can't now," he said.

Replace 'BBC' with 'church' and would it still be political corectness.

Logic never seems a strong point with 'Alive'.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Gunther Jauch continues the Nazi discussion

This evening's Gunher Jauch Show highlighted the years of the Nazi terror.

On the proramme were: 1. an 85-year old actor, whose father was a convinced Nazi. As a young woman she prayed that God would protect Adolf Hitler, 2. a 91-year old woman, who served in a field hospital in what was then Königsberg, 3. a 30-year-old historian, who in 2005 interviewed his grandfather, who fought on the eastern front, 4. a man who volunteerd to serve with the Herman Goering battalion, 5. Sigmar Gabriel, SPD president, whose father was a convinced Nazi until his death last year.

Fascinating television.

There was a general consensus that after the war families simply did not speak to one another about what had happened.

The young historian argued that in the programme instead of speaking about what happened at Auschwitz, they should ask how was it that the German people allowed Auschwitz to happen.

Also on the show was an interview with a man, who fought in Russia, his son and the old soldier's grand-daughter.

It was an insightful programme but not one of the participants ever hinted, that yes, he or she personally did wrong, shot someone, informed on someone, as millions of Germans did in the years of the Hitler terror.

It so happens that today German President Joachim Gauck, on the invitation of a survivor, visited a village in Tuscany, 150 kilometres from Florence, where Germans massacred more than 500 villagers on August 12, 1944.

Born on Palm Sunday 1915

Lally Lawlor was born on Palm Sunday 1915.

A remarkable woman, who reads the daily newspaper and knits for her grandchildren.

An amazingly kind person and so alert.

When the cardinals gathered to elect a pope she commented that there was not a woman to be seen.

Ms Lawlor is the grandmother of 'Nidge' in the RTE series 'Love/Hate'.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Michael Harding makes great television

Michael Harding was most impressive on the Brendan O'Connor Show this evening.

Or maybe it is simply that this blogger is greatly impressed with the man and his writing.

His fun, his sense of the world about him, his lack of any self importance. And then the throw-away comment about what life might be about.

His remark about the theological facism of Pope John Paul ll and how the world of liberal theology changed with his papacy was more than interesting.

His realness was so clear. Compare that to all the pious 'stuff' we hear from the 'holy ones' .

Interesting. Surely in a healthy and a church that is alive and real there would be a place for the likes of former priest, Michael Harding.

A mere extra 80 or so million years

Scientists revise previous estimates of the age of the universe.

They now say it is 13.81 billion years old.

Nobel Peace Prize winner support Pope Francis

Some clarification on the role Pope Francis, the then Fr Bergoglio, played in Argentina during the junta.

Argenitne Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel after a meeting on Thursday with Pope Francis said: "Fr Bergoglio in no way colluded with the Argentine military dictatorship."

Friday, March 22, 2013

Different German boots in Astana this evening

Time in Dublin 18.31, in Berlin 19.31 and in Astana 00.31.

Thirty-one minutes ago was kick-off time for the football game between Kazakhstan and Germany.

Obviously the time is to suit German TV viewers. What about the people of Kazalhstan?

Still, that young German men are playing in friendship and peace against young men from Kazakhstan is the miracle of our time.

Seventy years ago, 69 years ago, young men from these parts were slaughtering one another.

It is a great evening for the world even if the money of the wealthy have the people of Kazakhstan staying up so late. Better than to be kept awake watching football than listening to the bombs and rifle fire of German guns and Russian Katushas.

Fortunately, the Germans never got so far east but it was the young men of the east, who were drafted in to fight on the Volga.

Alas, now at 18.36 the Germans are two goals to the good.

Priestly jealousy can look so polished

The Scottish Herald reports that it is a former lover of Cardinal Keith O'Brien who outed the now retired Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh.

The article points out that the complainant is a priest now working on mainland Europe.

Revenge, conniving, hurt.

There are no answers to human nature but so much of this pain might well be avoided.

Our church needs to be a more honest place, kinder too. The spoof is intolerable. The more sophisticated the spoof, the more likely it is rewarded with promotion.

Often it is said that women are the jealous ones. So wrong. Men are the experts. And nowhere is jealousy more evident than among priests. And all done in the nastiest of ways. And ever so polished. It can even sound eloquent and eerily kind.

Sad and pitiful too.

Pray God Pope Francis will see the story.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

How headlines can mislead

Yesterday's Guardian ran a headline: 'Police support officer guilty of sex charges'

Of course the police were not supporting the officer. The man in the dock was a police support officer.

Separating the men from the women

There is a number of givens that divide women and men. Women remember dates of birthdays, anniversaries.

It seems women too can match socks.

I can never fathom how I end up with so many odd socks. I have just spent the last 30 minutes kneeling down trying to match socks. I can't believe how many pairs I managed to create but I still end up with 12 odd socks.

It has to be one of the great unresolved mysteries.

It sounds wise to buy all black socks until you discover there is a myriad shade of black.

Are there as many shades of white?

It's impossible.

Government can cut vulgar pensions

Former taoisigh Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen have had their pensions 'reduced' to €142,655.

In yesterday's Irish Times David Gwynn Morgan, emeritus professor of law at UCC, argues that Government has scope to reduce such pensions to a scale comensurate to the current crisis.

It makes little sense for Government to 'slash and burn', especially the most vulnerable and fragile and at the same time to leave Mr Cowen and Mr Ahern with weekly cheques of €2,743. It's by the week the less well-off manage their budgets.

Two men who oversaw the destuction of this State paid such pensions can't make sense.

But it is not just the former taoisigh, judges, senior civil servants and other senior managers in the public and priavte sector are simply paid vulgar pensions.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Simply slipping into a new queue

What changes will the new pope bring?

On Sunday a wise man said: "The sycophants will just change queues."

He used a more common and vulgar term for sycophants.

Clever, accurate too.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Guardian columnist tells another story

This article by George Monbiot appears in today's Guardian. Upsetting if this is an accurate picture.

"When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist." So said the Brazilian archbishop Dom Hélder Câmara. His adage exposes one of the great fissures in the Catholic church, and the emptiness of the new pope's claim to be on the side of the poor.

The bravest people I have met are all Catholic priests. Working in West Papua and then in Brazil, I met men who were prepared repeatedly to risk death for the sake of others. When I first knocked on the door of the friary in Bacabal, in the Brazilian state of Maranhão, the priest who opened it thought I had been sent to kill him. That morning he had received the latest in a series of death threats from the local ranchers' union. Yet still he opened the door.

Inside the friary was a group of peasants – some crying and trembling – whose bodies were covered in bruises made by rifle butts, and whose wrists bore the marks of rope burns. They were among thousands of people the priests were trying to protect, as expansionist landlords – supported by police, local politicians and a corrupt judiciary – burned their houses, drove them off their land, and tortured or killed those who resisted.

I learned something of the fear in which the priests lived when I was beaten and nearly shot by the military police. But unlike them, I could move on. They stayed to defend people whose struggles to keep their land were often a matter of life or death: expulsion meant malnutrition, disease and murder in the slums or the goldmines.

The priests belonged to a movement that had swept across Latin America, after the publication of A Theology of Liberation by Gustavo Gutiérrez in 1971. Liberation theologists not only put themselves between the poor and the killers, they also mobilised their flocks to resist dispossession, learn their rights and see their struggle as part of a long history of resistance, beginning with the flight of the Israelites from Egypt.

By the time I joined them, in 1989, seven Brazilian priests had been murdered; many others across the continent had been arrested, tortured and killed; Óscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador, had been shot dead. But dictators, landlords, police and gunmen were not their only enemies. Seven years after I first worked in Bacabal, I returned and met the priest who had opened the door. He couldn't talk to me. He had been silenced, as part of the church's great purge of dissenting voices. The lions of God were led by donkeys. The peasants had lost their protection.

The assault began in 1984 with the publication by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the body formerly known as the Inquisition) of a document written by the man who ran it: Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict. It denounced "the deviations, and risks of deviation" of liberation theology. He did not deny what he called "the seizure of the vast majority of the wealth by an oligarchy of owners … military dictators making a mockery of elementary human rights [and] the savage practices of some foreign capital interests" in Latin America. But he insisted that "it is from God alone that one can expect salvation and healing. God, and not man, has the power to change the situations of suffering."

The only solution he offered was that priests should seek to convert the dictators and hired killers to love their neighbours and exercise self-control: "It is only by making an appeal to the 'moral potential' of the person and to the constant need for interior conversion, that social change will be brought about." I'm sure the generals and their death squads were quaking in their boots.

But at least Ratzinger has the possible defence that, being cloistered in the Vatican, he had little notion of what he was destroying. During the inquisition in Rome of one of the leading liberationists, Father Leonardo Boff, Ratzinger was invited by the archbishop of São Paulo to see the situation of Brazil's poor for himself. He refused – then stripped the archbishop of much of his diocese. Ratzinger was wilfully ignorant. But the current pope does not possess even this excuse.

Pope Francis knew what poverty and oppression looked like: several times a year he celebrated mass in Buenos Aires's Villa 21-24 slum. Yet, as leader Argentina's Jesuits, he denounced liberation theology, and insisted that priests seeking to defend and mobilise the poor remove themselves from the slums, shutting down their political activity.

He now maintains that he "would like a church that is poor and is for the poor". But does this mean giving food to the poor, or does it mean also asking why they are poor? The dictatorships of Latin America waged a war against the poor, which continued in many places after those governments collapsed. Different factions of the Catholic church took opposing sides in this war. Whatever the stated intentions of those who attacked and suppressed liberation theology, in practical terms they were the allies of tyrants, land grabbers, debt slavers and death squads. For all his ostentatious humility, Pope Francis was on the wrong side.

Full text of Pope Francis's sermon

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I thank the Lord that I can celebrate this Holy Mass for the inauguration of my Petrine ministry on the solemnity of Saint Joseph, the spouse of the Virgin Mary and the patron of the universal Church. It is a significant coincidence, and it is also the name-day of my venerable predecessor: we are close to him with our prayers, full of affection and gratitude.

I offer a warm greeting to my brother cardinals and bishops, the priests, deacons, men and women religious, and all the lay faithful. I thank the representatives of the other Churches and ecclesial Communities, as well as the representatives of the Jewish community and the other religious communities, for their presence.

My cordial greetings go to the Heads of State and Government, the members of the official Delegations from many countries throughout the world, and the Diplomatic Corps.

In the Gospel we heard that “Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary as his wife” (Mt 1:24).

These words already point to the mission which God entrusts to Joseph: he is to be the custos, the protector. The protector of whom? Of Mary and Jesus; but this protection is then extended to the Church, as Blessed John Paul II pointed out: “Just as Saint Joseph took loving care of Mary and gladly dedicated himself to Jesus Christ’s upbringing, he likewise watches over and protects Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, of which the Virgin Mary is the exemplar and model” (Redemptoris Custos, 1).

How does Joseph exercise his role as protector? Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand. From the time of his betrothal to Mary until the finding of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem, he is there at every moment with loving care.

As the spouse of Mary, he is at her side in good times and bad, on the journey to Bethlehem for the census and in the anxious and joyful hours when she gave birth; amid the drama of the flight into Egypt and during the frantic search for their child in the Temple; and later in the day-to-day life of the home of Nazareth, in the workshop where he taught his trade to Jesus.

How does Joseph respond to his calling to be the protector of Mary, Jesus and the Church? By being constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God’s presence and receptive to God’s plans, and not simply to his own.

This is what God asked of David, as we heard in the first reading. God does not want a house built by men, but faithfulness to his word, to his plan. It is God himself who builds the house, but from living stones sealed by his Spirit. Joseph is a “protector” because he is able to hear God’s voice and be guided by his will; and for this reason he is all the more sensitive to the persons entrusted to his safekeeping.

He can look at things realistically, he is in touch with his surroundings, he can make truly wise decisions. In him, dear friends, we learn how to respond to God’s call, readily and willingly, but we also see the core of the Christian vocation, which is Christ! Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!

The vocation of being a “protector”, however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us.

It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!

Whenever human beings fail to live up to this responsibility, whenever we fail to care for creation and for our brothers and sisters, the way is opened to destruction and hearts are hardened. Tragically, in every period of history there are “Herods” who plot death, wreak havoc, and mar the countenance of men and women.

Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be “protectors” of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world! But to be “protectors”, we also have to keep watch over ourselves! Let us not forget that hatred, envy and pride defile our lives!

Being protectors, then, also means keeping watch over our emotions, over our hearts, because they are the seat of good and evil intentions: intentions that build up and tear down! We must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness!

Here I would add one more thing: caring, protecting, demands goodness, it calls for a certain tenderness. In the Gospels, Saint Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the weak but rather a sign of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love. We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness!

Today, together with the feast of Saint Joseph, we are celebrating the beginning of the ministry of the new Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Peter, which also involves a certain power. Certainly, Jesus Christ conferred power upon Peter, but what sort of power was it? Jesus’ three questions to Peter about love are followed by three commands: feed my lambs, feed my sheep.

Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and that the Pope too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross. He must be inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked Saint Joseph and, like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Only those who serve with love are able to protect!

In the second reading, Saint Paul speaks of Abraham, who, “hoping against hope, believed” (Rom 4:18). Hoping against hope!

Today too, amid so much darkness, we need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others. To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope; it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds; it is to bring the warmth of hope!

For believers, for us Christians, like Abraham, like Saint Joseph, the hope that we bring is set against the horizon of God, which has opened up before us in Christ. It is a hope built on the rock which is God.

To protect Jesus with Mary, to protect the whole of creation, to protect each person, especially the poorest, to protect ourselves: this is a service that the Bishop of Rome is called to carry out, yet one to which all of us are called, so that the star of hope will shine brightly. Let us protect with love all that God has given us!

I implore the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, Saints Peter and Paul, and Saint Francis, that the Holy Spirit may accompany my ministry, and I ask all of you to pray for me!

A few lines from Pope Francis's sermon

Cherish and protect one another and our environment

Caring, protecting demands goodness.

We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness.

Never forget authentic power is service.

The pope must be inspired by the lowly. He must open his arms to all, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, the stranger, the sick, those in prison.

Only those who serve in love are able to protect.

The hope we bring is against the horizon of God.

Let us protect with love all that God has given us.

I ask you to pray for me

Major TV networks carry papal Mass

Michael Ross, who wrote his column in Saturday's Irish Times, will note, BBC One, BBC World, CNN, Al Jazeera, ARD, Phoenix, France 24 and indeed RTE are some of the television stations carrying live transmission of Mass from Rome this morning.

The 'carnival' might well be over

It is reported that when Pope Francis was handed some red garment to wear on the announcement of his election as pope, he turned to the monsignor and said: "You wear it Monsignor, carnival is over."

Monday, March 18, 2013

Closed doors do us harm and cause separation

Pastoral Letter from Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Octubre de 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Among the most striking experiences of the last decades is finding doors closed. Little by little increasing insecurity has made us bolt doors, employ means of vigilance, install security cameras and mistrust strangers who call at our door.

None the less in some places there are doors that are still open. The closed door is really a symbol of our today. It is something more than a simple sociological fact; it is an existential reality that is imposing itself as a way of life, a way of confronting reality, others and the future.

The bolted door of my house, the place of my intimate life, my dreams, hopes, sufferings and moments of happiness, is locked against others. And it is not simply a matter of the physical house; it is also the whole area of my life, of my heart. All the time there are fewer who can cross that threshold. The security of reinforced doors protects the insecurity of a life which is becoming more fragile and less open to the riches of the life and the love of others.

The image of an open door has always been a symbol of light, friendship, happiness, liberty and trust. How we need to recover them. The closed door does us harm, reduces and separates us.

We begin the Year of Faith and, paradoxically, the image that the Pope proposes is that of a door, a door through which we must pass to be able to find what we need so much.

The Church, through the voice and heart of its Pastor, Benedict XVI, invites us to cross the threshold, to take an interior and free step: to animate ourselves to enter a new life.

The phrase “door to faith” brings us back to the Acts of the Apostles: “On arriving, they gathered the Church together and told them what God had done through them and how He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts. 14.27).

God always takes the initiative and He does not want anyone to be excluded. God calls at the door of our hearts: Look, I am at the door, calling: if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I shall enter his house and dine with him and him with me (Rev.3.20).

Faith is a grace, a gift of God.

“Only by believing does faith grow and be strengthened: in a continual abandon into the hands of a love which is always felt as greater because it has its origin in God”

Crossing through that door presupposes the beginning of a way or journey that lasts a lifetime, as we pass in front of so many doors which open to us today, many of them false doors, doors that invite us in a very attractive but lying manner to go down that road, promising an empty narcissistic happiness which has an expiry dated: doors that lead to cross-roads where, no matter which option we follow, will, sooner or later, cause suffering and confusion, doors focused on self which wear out and have no guarantee for the future.

While the doors of the houses are closed, the doors of the shopping malls are always open. One passes through the door of faith, one crosses that threshold, when the Word of God is announced and the heart allows itself to be shaped by that grace which transforms. A grace which has a concrete name, and that name is Jesus. Jesus is the door. (Jn. 10:9). He, and only He, is and will always be the door. No one goes to the Father except through Him. (Jn.14.6). If there is no Christ, there is no way to God. As the door, He opens the way to God and as Good Shepherd he is the Only One who looks after us at the price of his own life.

Jesus is the door and he knocks on our door so that we allow him to cross the threshold of our lives. “Don’t be afraid … open the doors wide for Christ”, Blessed John Paul II told us at the beginning of his papacy. To open the doors of our hearts as the disciples of Emaus did, asking him to stay with us so that we may pass through the doors of faith and that the Lord himself bring us to understand the reasons why we believe, so that we may then go out to announce it. Faith presumes that we decide to be with the Lord, to live with him and share this with our brothers and sisters.

We give thanks to God for this opportunity to realise the value of our lives as children of God through this journey of faith which began in our lives with the waters of baptism, that unending and fruitful dew which makes us children of God and brothers and sisters in the Church.

The purpose, the objective (of this year of Faith) is that we meet with God with whom we have already entered into communion and who wishes to restore us, purify us, raise us up and sanctify us, and give us the happiness that our hearts crave.

To begin this year of Faith is a call to us to deepen in our lives that faith we have already received. To profess our faith with our mouth implies living it in our hearts and showing it in what we do: it is a testimony and public commitment. The disciple of Christ, a child of the Church, can never think that believing is a private matter. It is an important and strong challenge for every day, convinced that he who began the good work in you will continue to perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ. (Fil. !:6).Looking at our reality, as disciples who are missionaries, we ask ourselves what challenge this crossing the threshold of the faith has for us?

Crossing the Threshold of Faith

Crossing this threshold of the faith challenges us to discover that, even though it would seem that death reigns in its various forms and that our history is governed by the law of the strongest or the most astute and that hate and ambition are the driving forces of so many human struggles, we are also absolutely convinced that this sad reality can and should change decisively, because ‘if God is with us, who can overcome us?’ (Rom. 8: 31, 37).

Crossing this threshold of the faith supposes that we’ll not be ashamed to have the heart of a child who, because he still believes in impossible things, can still live in hope, which is the only thing capable of giving sense to and transforming history. It means asking unceasingly, praying without weakening and adoring so that our vision may be transfigured.

Crossing the threshold of the faith brings us to beg for everyone “the same sentiments that Christ had” (Phil. 2-5), so that each discover a new way of thinking, of communicating with one another, of looking at others, of respecting one another, of being in family together, of planning our futures, of living out love and our vocation.

Crossing the threshold of the faith is to be active, trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit present in the Church and who is also seen in the signs of the times. It is to join in the constant movement of life and of history without falling into the paralyzing defeatism that everything in the past was better. It is an urgency to think in new ways, to offer new suggestions, a new creativity, kneading life with “the new leaven of justice and holiness” (1 Cor. 5:8).

Crossing the threshold of the faith implies that we have eyes to wonder and a heart that is not lazily accustomed, that is able to recognize that every time a woman gives birth it is another bet placed for life and the future; that, when we watch out for the innocence of children we are guaranteeing the truth of a tomorrow and when we treat gently the dedicated life of an elderly person we are acting justly and caressing our own roots.

Crossing the threshold of the faith means work lived with dignity and with a vocation to serve with the self-denial of one who comes back time and time again to begin without weakening, as if everything done so far were only one step in the journey towards the Kingdom, the fullness of life.

It is the quiet wait after the daily planting: it is the contemplation of the collected harvest, giving thanks to the Lord because he is good, asking that he not abandon the work of his hands (Psalm 137).

Crossing the threshold of the faith demands that we struggle for liberty and life together with others even when the ambient drags its feet, in the certainty that the Lord asks of us to live justly, love goodness and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).

Crossing the threshold of the faith bears deeply within it the continued conversion of our attitudes, modes and tones with which we live. It demands a reformulation, not a patching up or a varnishing. It means accepting the new form that Jesus Christ prints on him who is touched by His hand and his Gospel of life.

It means doing something totally new for society and the Church; because “He who is in Christ is a new creature” (2 Cor 5, 17-21)

Crossing the threshold of the faith leads us to forgiving and to know how to break into a smile. It means approaching every person who lives on the edge of existence and to call him by name. It is taking care of the fragility of the weakest and supports his trembling knees in the certainty that in what we do for the smallest of our brothers it is to Jesus himself that we are doing it (Mt. 25. 40).

Crossing the threshold of the Faith demands that we celebrate life. That we let ourselves be transformed because we have been made one with Jesus at the table of the Eucharist celebrated in community and from there our hands and heart be busy working in the great project of the Kingdom: all the rest will be given us in addition (Mt. 6.33).

Crossing the threshold of the faith means living in the spirit of the Vatican Council and of Aparecida (the latest meeting of the Latin American and Caribbean bishops), a Church of open doors, not just to receive in but fundamentally to go out and fill the street and the people of our times with the Good News.

Crossing the threshold of the faith, in our Archdiocesan Church, presupposes that we be convinced of the Mission to be a church that lives, prays and works with a missionary orientation.

Crossing the threshold of the faith is, definitively, the acceptance of the newness of the life of the Risen Christ, raised in our poor flesh to make it a sign of the new life.

Meditating all these things, we look at Mary. May she, the Virgin Mother, accompany us in our crossing the threshold of the faith and bring the Holy Spirit over our Church, as in Nazareth, so that just like her we may adore the Lord and go out to announce the marvels he has done in us.

Cardenal Jorge Bergoglio Buenos Aires, Octubre de 2012

(Translated by Paul O’Connor OSA)

Cyrpus is not Kursk. Still!

German TV station ZDF is showing a three-part series this week, 'Our mothers, Our Fathers'.

It is about what 'ordinary' German men and women did in World War ll. The good and the bad.

It is a shocking film and is being much discussed in the German media.

This evening's episode showed the stupidity/madness/badness of German soldiers killing deserters when every sensible person knew it was over.

It showed coverage of the battle of Kursk and how soldiers had been so brainwashed to believe Hitler would send relief troops to support them. Madness.

At one stage a voiceover said: "When the Wehrmacht was winning we were fighitng for Germany. From there it moved to fight for our comrades and then in the end we were figthing for our own survival".

Watching the film one is forced to realise how evil and mad all war is. Also it surely must confirm how important the EU is for all of us.

Later in a news programme on RTE in a clip on the crisis in Cyrpus a woman carrying a placard reading 'Fuck Europe' was to be seen.

Who and what institutions in Europe have caused and allowed the present crisis to happen?

Pope Francis's background is parish not podium

A nice piece by Fr Brendan Hoban. it appears on the ACP site.

When I saw Pope Francis the First emerging on the famous balcony overlooking St Peter’s Square and looking down silently on the 200,000 plus people, I thought of Pope John Paul I, the quiet Italian who lived about a month after his election as pope in 1978.

Pope Francis looked like a man who was traumatised, almost as if he was asking himself, How did I get myself into this? He was 76, a long way from home, he had a return ticket to Buenos Aires in his back pocket but now, by a quirk of fate or history, he would be a life-prisoner of the Vatican.

Even though it was known that he had come second to Benedict in the last papal election, he looked like a bestman who found himself as an unlikely groom at a different wedding several years later and didn’t quite know if he wanted to be there.

At last he broke his silence and he smiled, a broad smile that reminded me of Pope John XXIII who smiled a lot. And then he spoke, almost just above a whisper as he greeted the people of his new diocese, Rome. And then he asked the people to pray for him as he led them in prayer. Simply. In silence. Then the Our Father. The Hail Mary.

It’s going to be difficult to predict what Francis I will be like. Because no one seems to know Jorge Mario Bergoglio. There was an embarrassing silence on the RTE television news after his name was announced because Bryan Dobson and the assembled experts obviously hadn’t a clue who he was. George who? Understandably because his appointment was totally unexpected. He was never included in dispatches. No one had even mentioned him as a possibility.

He’s a conservative, of course, as popes are. And he will be traditional, pressing the predictable buttons, as popes do. But his background is parish, not podium and there is some evidence that he was unhappy with Benedict’s approach, though he was careful to keep it to himself.

So the style will be different: more modest, less certain, more aware of human complexity, less dressing up, fewer dressing downs, fewer titles, less lace. Recently he described some of his own priests in Buenos Aires as in danger of becoming hypocrites because they refused to baptise the children of single mothers. Clearly Francis is not a man impressed with those who preach the rules without any sense of the human predicaments that limit their implementation. A good omen.

The early predictions are that Francis will be a unifier, a reconciler, a moderate as the pendulum swings back again towards the insights of the Second Vatican Council. We shouldn’t expect dramatic change, of course, but we’ve a very different pope now and, as important, a transformed church landscape. The unexpected and unprecedented retirement of Pope Benedict XVI has thrown a grenade into the centre of the Church, starting a debate about what the Church, with its many problems, needs to do now.

Attitudes can change quickly. A few years ago when the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) was founded, it was represented by some bishops, many priests, Catholic papers and very traditional Catholics as a nest of radicals intent on damaging the Church. A year later the Vatican Visitors spoke ominously about the corrosive effects of ‘dissidents’ in the Irish Church, and it was obvious who they meant.

This had the effect of copper-fastening on the ACP a reputation that was unwarranted and unfair. We were demonised because we were asking fundamental questions about the direction the Church has taken over the last two pontificates. And we were suggesting some fundamental changes. Like, for example, that a ‘collegial’ approach of church governance, which emanated from the Second Vatican Council – pope and bishops working together – should be given a fair wind.

Spool the tape on two years and, in the interregnum between the retirement of Benedict and the election of Francis, cardinals, bishops and media – even some of the Catholic press – are saying the same thing! Suddenly, it seems, the supposed ‘dissidents’ were right all along!

Maybe Francis I is the new John XXIII. Around the same age, an unexpected appointment, an outsider brought in from the shadows. The slight, diffident Argentinian might just surprise us. Of course, we don’t know what we’re getting and it may well be no more than the game the cardinals have so often played: an interim appointment, the equivalent of kicking the papal can down the road. Maybe it’s simply a refusal by the cardinals to grasp the nettle but then the cardinals thought John XXIII was an interim appointment, a ‘stop-gap pope’ who went on to transform the Catholic Church.

Pope Francis I has a lot going for him. For one thing he’s not from Rome. While he has had contact with the Vatican he’s from far enough away to have a realistic perspective on the shenanigans that will no doubt now begin to be unmasked. It will be interesting now to see if he has the backbone for tackling the vested interests in the Curia, now universally regarded as the first challenge of his pontificate. Will he bite the bullet?

The name Francis was an inspired choice. Not only does Pope Francis have something of the humility and gentleness and softness of the saint from Assisi but he has too a commitment to the poor as St Francis had. When he was made cardinal he told those who wanted to accompany him to Rome to stay at home and give the money to the poor. When he was archbishop of Buenos Aires he chose to live in a small apartment rather than the archbishop’s palace, took the bus to work and cooked his own meals. This simple, prophetic lifestyle wasn’t a pose or a public relations stunt, it was a way of life. In Buenos Aires he was a man who seemed to prefer visiting the slums to mixing with the rich.

Following in the footsteps of the saint from Assisi, we can expect a quieter, more humble pope, who places a premium on serving the poor and tackling the injustices of society. He may also, like St Francis, be a reformer who comes from outside and has a clear view and a robust commitment to reform. But he will know that reform, of course, like charity starts at home, in Rome.

The first pope for thirteen centuries from outside Europe, the first Third World pope, the first Jesuit pope and the first Francis. It’s a lot of firsts but the last first – choosing the name Francis – may be the most significant of all.

For that and the chink of hope his election represents, we should give thanks. Deo gratias.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Not papal bull but personal bull

In today's Irish Times Michael Ross's 'RTÉ needs to challenge the papal bull' argues that the station gave undue amount of time to the resignation of Benedict and the election of Francis.

Obviously Michael Ross does not watch German television, BBC or Channel Four.

The election of Francis received wall-to-wall coverage on ARD, ZDF, n-tv, N24, arte, MDR and all the main German radio stations.

BBC interupted its schdule to cover the event and on more than two evenings BBC2's Newsnight had it as its top story.

CNN and CNBC also turned its cameras on the Vatican. As did RTV - Russian Television.

Papal bull or just bull?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Vatican spokesman says ill-advised words

Today in the Vatican an English speaking press officer, a priest, equated the left with anti-church campaigners.

His comments were in reply to criticisms of Pope Francis' alledged behaviour in Argentina during the junta.

The priest's comments were reprehensible and hopefully an apology will be made.

The is either being prophetic or illiterate

Direct quotation from 'The "Pope Frances (sic) warned today .........."

Or maybe The Journal is being prophetic or knows something about which the rest of the world is unaware.

The hypocritcal priests who don't baptise

"In our ecclesiastical region there are priests who don't baptise the children of single mothers because they weren't conceived in the sanctity of marriage. These are today's hypocrites."
Archbishop of Buenos Aires Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis.

And all the nonsense that we have heard about not baptising children of unmarried mothers.

This is beginnng to look good.

And something else, note he is wearing more 'common sense' Mass vestments.

At a Mass in a Dublin church on Thursday the priest mumbled the words of Mass. Spent more time cleaning and fumbling with the chalice, bowing and genuflecting and there he was with his maniple and fingers joined. Not a word of reflection on the Gospel.

Might Pope Francis have a word or two on this phenomenon too? Because it is a sham.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The last of the von Stauffenberg plotters dies

Edwald-Heinrich von Kleist, one of the officers, who was involved in the failed attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler in July 1944, died on March 8.

He is the last survivor of the abortive plot.

von Kleist was descended from a prominent Prussian military family and was born in Pomerania, now part of Poland.

His family tree includes two field marshals and one of Germany's most distinguished writers.

After the failed plot he was arrested, sent to a concentration camp and then released. On release he was sent on active service to the Russian front.

After the war he went into publishing.

He founded the Munich Security Conference.

Simple man who will listen to our pain

Pope Francis is a protege of the Jesuit Superior General Arrupe.
The piece below appears in today's Irish Daily Star.

By Michael Commane
Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the first Jesuit pope, the first pope to take the name Francis and the first pope from the Americas.

The son of a railway worker, whose parents emigrated from Italy.

It all sounds good and he even looks like John XXlll.

His first appearance in St Peter's gave the impression of a man who might well turn the tide away from the men in lace. And what good fortune that would pave for the church right now. It is desperately needed.

As archbishop of Buenos Aires he had a reputation for being a man genuinely interested and concerned for the poor and marginalised. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said yesterday that the new pope was a man of deep pastoral concern and a man of great simplicity.

Many people have already commented on his simplicity and simple dress when he appeared on the balcony of St Peter's last evening. And he managed too to control the crowd with the gentlest of words.

What a relief it would be if our new pope was a man of genuine simplicity, interested in the day-to-day concerns of ordinary people, who are living with pain and suffering, joy and happiness too. A man who is not going to preach down to us and lay down the law, rather a man who will listen to our pain with a sympathetic ear. A man who will inspire us.

On a personal note I spent some time teaching German in the Jesuit run school, Belvedere and was greatly impressed with how the Jesuits run the school. The order has a reputation for doing things well, something badly needed in the church right now. Pope Francis was provinical of the order in Argentina.

He will have no trouble chatting away with Josef Ratzinger as he speaks perfect German.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Francis looks good

Francis sounds and looks good. A Jesuit, speaks fluent German and the son of a railway worker.

He has a lovely smile. Looks like Pope John XXlll.

Commuting to work per shanks's pony

The dead fox near Ratmines today.
Blue skies, sharp crisp air over and in Dublin today.
This blogger's bicycle was in the wrong place so instead of taking the bus or tram it was an ideal morning for a walk.
Dublin's Palmerston Road must be one of the most expansive streets in the capital.
It's a strange feeling being a pedestrian and passing cars going in the same direction. Queues and queues of slow-moving vehicles.
A qucik glance in the windows and you see all sorts of activities: women putting make-up on, men reading papers, telephoning and picking their noses, though not all at the same time.
And just before Rathmines a dead fox on the ground.
To think it all began circa 13.5 billion years ago.

Looking on at the papal election

There seems a mood in Ireland, which is looking at the papal election as something so far removed from anything to do with the lives of 'ordinary' peope.

Is there something farcical about it?

If so, who created the farce?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What to do with a retired pope

Someone sent this to the blog. It's meant to be a bit of fun and not in anyway intended to be disrespectful.

(a) Move him to a cloistered community (translate: make him an absolute prisoner of the Vatican)

(b) Allow him to devote his life to prayer (translate: make sure he makes no public statements)

(c) Protect his tranquillity in old age (translate: ensure he cannot be extradited or subpoenaed)

(d) Ask the faithful to pray for him (translate: hope he dies soon)

(e) Emphasise the spiritual nature of his retirement (translate: ensure he publishes nothing)

(f) Avoid confusing the faithful (translate: erase his memory as quickly as possible)

(g) Commit to building on his great legacy (translate: erase his memory as quickly as possible)

(h) Follow through on what he had begun (translate: erase his memory as quickly as possible)

"The pope who never was, the last I'll ever listen to"

Michael Harding in today's Irish Times.

Is this how it is?

I was in my study one morning last week, and there was a heartbreaking stillness across the lake. I was listening to a CD of Rachmaninov’s Vespers, which I got from a woman on the street in Ennis the previous day.

She just handed it to me without any reason. And when a woman comes out of the blue and points me in a particular direction, I don’t argue. So I sat listening to the choir all morning and wishing I was a monk: to be alone in a monastery garden. To add my voice to the choir as they sang, “Come let us worship.”

As a teenager I used to wonder why other young people were alienated from religion. What could be more wonderful, I thought, than the glow of fire in a bucket on Holy Saturday night? I thought atheism was just the cantankerous whim of grumpy students who were more intelligent than me. I didn’t realise that reading history had made them wise.

Although it wasn’t the bombs falling on Dresden or the crooked smoke wafting from the chimneys of concentration camps that destroyed Ireland ’s enthusiasm for religion. It wasn’t even B52 bombers showering napalm on Vietnam that marked the death of innocence in our hearts. It was the unrelenting drip of stories about children raped and buggered by clerics that woke us up. The grim and intimate narratives of child abuse have been the milestones in Ireland’s journey away from the pomp of Rome.

On my flatscreen TV, I watched the cardinals gather in Rome last week, like a flock of elegant flamingos. Today, they will lock themselves away in conclave and toss their prayers into the fire each time they vote for the new pope. But no matter how much I want to belong to their communion I cannot; no more than I could ever be a child again.

The scales have fallen from my eyes. I can see what is merely an elaborate ritual. I can understand the grip that myth has on the unconscious mind. And I realise that the cancer of deceit set into the organised church a long time ago, and that in the college of cardinals we now see the body of Christ reduced to a mannequin in a glass case, bereft of all humanity.

Pomp and ceremony

On my flatscreen TV I can see the entire world in high definition, and its pomp and poverty forces me sometimes to wonder if the human species is an ever-expanding cancer on the planet, eating its way into the heart of the Earth just to fuel its own survival.

For me there will be no more popes. For me, it ended when they placed Pope John Paul II in his simple coffin.

I saw the watch on his wrist, during the first Mass he celebrated as pope. And when he raised the white host into the air above his head, I knew something was wrong. Here was a man transformed forever into the likeness of the fisherman, I thought. He wears the fisherman’s shoes, and his hands hold God transformed into bread.

But the wristwatch told a different story. Time had caught up with eternity, and beneath the costume there was an ordinary man.

Pope John Paul II toured more than U2 to keep the myth alive, theatrically and heroically, until his last breath. But then came Joseph Ratzinger to the throne; a man who even as pope was known by an ordinary name. He never quite became “the holy father”, on the lips or in the hearts of the faithful. He never quite managed to shake off his earlier career or even his vulgar nickname.

Things were different, in 1958, when Angelo Roncalli became Pope John XXIII. They showed him the pope’s bed and he laughed, saying: “I will die in that bed.” Then he wrote a postcard to his sister.

“Look what happened to little Angelo,” he wrote, before appearing at the window to smile at a world from which Angelo Roncalli had vanished forever.

But not so with Joseph Ratzinger; he never quite managed to transform himself into that enduring and singular icon of an all-compassionate god. Yet Ratzinger did manage to outlive his own papacy, thus undermining its symbolic power forever.

The woman that came to me out of the blue with a CD of Rachmaninov left me her email address, so I wrote to her a love letter as I listened to the music. On the flatscreen, CNN had breaking news from St Peter’s Square, but the sound was off.

Keeping fit gives you perspective

Upper and Lower Lough Bray - well worth a walking visit.
The column below appears in this week's INM Irish regional newspapers.

By Michael Commane.
I might well be knocked down by a bus tomorrow but in the meantime.

It’s bright these mornings at 06.30 and it’s simply great to be out walking with the dog in daylight. Better still, it’s that little less awful getting out of bed.

It often amazes me that there are not more stand-up comedians or short story writers who don’t do pieces on the agony of getting out of bed in the morning, especially on those dark cold wet winter mornings. It’s close to hell and all those thoughts that speed through the mind with the possibility of staying in bed an extra ten minutes. And then once out on the floor, the agony is over. Well almost.

Surely this is the best time of the year. It’s all to look forward to. Okay, at the end of the month the clocks will go forward and there will be a little blip as it will be dark again around 06.00, but only for a short period. Daylight is racing forwards right now, morning and evening.

Out walking the dog these mornings I am conscious of the amazing beauty that is all around us. It so happens I live close to a river and beside two public parks. To be greeted by singing birds, tiny shoots and new daffodils is simply the best possible way to start the day.

Three weeks ago I walked around the side of Kippure and down by the two Lough Braes. Again it was pure magic. Every time I go on any sort of long walk I can never believe how well in mind and body I feel after it.

These days there is so much talk and attention being paid to the problem of obesity. The RTE programme ‘Operation Transformation’ has highlighted how people can return to healthy weight levels by changing their lifestyles, exercising more and eating a proper diet.

We are creatures of habit and once we get into a rhythm for doing or not doing something it is damn hard to break it. If people are not accustomed to going walking, swimming or cycling or whatever, it is unlikely that they will start doing so out of the blue. I’m told it takes 21 days to break or make a habit

But walking, swimming and cycling are so easy to do for people who are healthy and have no disabilities.

Ok, it’s not nice cycling to work in the rain and wind. But like all habit building, once we get into the routine of it, it becomes second nature. And it’s free. But far more importantly, there is a joy about cycling and walking that is simply unsurpassable. Swimming too is great fun and another ideal way to keep fit and help you enjoy a healthy body and mind.

Cycling, swimming and walking give one a whole new perspective on the world around you. And the great thing about the three of them is that you can do them well after you have hung up your football boots, hurlies or running shoes.

This is the perfect time of the year to set yourself a target: a two or three kilometre walk, half an hour on the bike or a few laps of the local swimming pool. And if you are brave, why not try the sea for the perfect swim.

A number of charities organise outdoor activities. On March 2 96 people climbed Connacht’s highest mountain, Mweelrea in Mayo. It is 814 metres high. On April 13 you have a chance of climbing Slieve Donard, which is the highest mountain in Ulster. The Antrim mountain is 850 metres. If you are interested in climbing with Concern contact, Zoe at or telephone 01 – 417 8028.

This is the perfect time of year to throw off the shackles of winter and take to the great outdoors.

Allow yourself to be surprised by the joys of nature. Those of us who are fortunate to be able to get out and about should thank God for the privilege. We are so lucky.

Monday, March 11, 2013

BBC interview inspiring Mexican bishop

BBC Two's Newsnight interviewed this evening Dominican Bishop of Saltillo José Raúl Vera López.

The bishop spoke of the urgency of giving more importance to the local church.

He expressed concern of how drug cartels give money to the church. He also made pertinent remarks about the quality of some of the church hierarchy.

A bishop who appears to be an inspiring man.

He is known for his struggle for human rights and social justice.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

All bets on for Tuesday's ballot

Before the publication of the Code of Canon Law in 1917 it was of grave matter for someone, especially a priest, to bet on the outcome of a papal ballot.

The new Code removed the clause.

An example or relativism?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

No fear of new plates running out of numbers

Car sales in Kerry down 19 per cent and down 40 per cent in Leitrim.

Those new plates. Do any of the people who make these silly decisions ever think they might get it so awfully wrong.

What's the saying? 'Covering over the cracks.'

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Cardinal Mauro Piacenza is at odds of 50/1 for pope

Boylesports in Dublin are offering odds of 50/1 on curial cardinal Mauro Piacenza.

Schönborn has gone out to 11/4 but is 20/1 on the net. He was 12/1 in Boylesports shops on Monday

March 8 is International Women's Day

Tomorrow, March 8 is International Women's Day.

Concern Worldwide has published a booklet to mark the day. The booklet highlights case studies of what the agency is doing to facilitate the improvement of the lives of women in the countries where it is working.

"When women are empowered and can claim their rights and access to land, leadership, opportunities and choices, economies grow, food security is enhanced and prospects are improved for current and future generations."
               Michelle Bachelet, Under Secretary-General and UN Women Executive Director

This writer will give mention to the topic at a Lenten talk in the Dominican church in Limerick tomorrow evening.

On next Monday at 2pm Michael Commane is giving a talk at the University of Limerick. The theme of the talk is 'Church and Media'. It is one in a series of talks being organised by the School of Journalism at the college.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Blog readership

This blog is read in 138 cities around the world, including the cities of Yerevan and Baku

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A safe pair of hands and ecclesiastical protocol

This column appears in today's INM Irish regional newspapers.

By Michael Commane
Last Tuesday I arrived home shortly before the main evening news on RTE One television. I had one eye on the news and the other on the cup of tea I was making. RTE’s Tony Connelly was reporting from Rome, talking about the political crisis in Italy. He then switched to how Pope Benedict was preparing to leave the Vatican. Though I only half heard it, I can still remember what he said: that the Pope would no longer be wearing his red, Prada shoes, but would instead, wear brown moccasins. Connelly then explained all about the clothes, the pope, in retirement, would be wearing and how people should address him.

It so happens that on that same day the English newspaper, The Guardian, made its lead story the resignation of the archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh. Its lead editorial took up the subject. Elsewhere in the Guardian was a further news story, an analysis piece and a comment article, all on the archbishop, how he came to resign and what might happen because he did.

Also on that Tuesday, the theologian and Augustinian priest, Gabriel Daly, wrote about changes that are necessary in the Roman curia. The previous evening on the BBC’s Newsnight, Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith, who writes for The Catholic Herald, said that that same curia was not fit for purpose. Fr Lucie-Smith neither sounds nor looks like a crazy liberal and The Catholic Herald is far from being a free-thinking, publication.

I studied in Rome from 1974 to 1976. It was a breathtaking experience to live right in the heart of 'the eternal city'.

The Dominican priory where I lived is on the Via Labicana, a stone's throw from the Colosseum. The university I was attending was not much further.

I was 25 when I went to Rome. The university was a melting pot for men with strange accents, unusual appearances. In retrospect, I was probably one of the oddest of them all. But there was a group of students, separate and particular, who intrigued me. Every single one of them dressed in identical clerical suits and roman collars. All carrying similar briefcases, wearing similar shiny shoes, looking similarly perfect. Looking back, they were a kind of canonical Stepford Wives. In my Dunne’s Stores jumper, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. But most of the time I found myself laughing. Not at them, but nervously for myself and my group. We seemed almost biblically unclean for these visions of perfection. We were out of place in such lovely order.

In fact, these uniform and ‘uniformed’ men were members of the Legionaries of Christ. Their founder is the now-notorious Fr Marcial Maciel.

But back in 1974, as a 25-year-old from Ireland, I was profoundly struck with the ‘strange’ and exclusive behaviour of these men. They were like an army – a weird army. They never engaged in small talk. They seemed veterans of some bizarre drill. At the time I got the distinct feeling they were brainwashed.

It's now eight years or so since I contacted the Legionaries of Christ to ask questions about their founder and then superior general. I was given a glowing report about him, and told how graced the order was to have such a ‘holy man’ as their superior.

Since those early days in Rome I have been observing aspects of clericalism in church life that I find nothing less than extraordinary and at such a far remove from the message of the Gospel. Over the years I have expressed my opinion loudly and clearly to individuals and groups.

If anything, the situation is getting worse. Nothing is being done. Apologies, that’s not correct. If you show any whisper of liberal thinking or criticise any aspect of the Roman curia or curial appointments, you will quite likely be sanctioned.

Once you are a ‘safe pair of hands’ and are a fan of ecclesiastical protocol and loads of lace you are on the fast-track to ‘promotion’.

And if there is any thorny or difficult issue, which requires attention the institutional church makes a mad dash to its expensive lawyers.

It is shocking.

But what to do?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Christoph Schönborn is 12 to one

Dublin bookmakers Boylesports today are offering 12 to one against Vienna's archbishop Christoph Schönborn being the next pope.

New number plates mean fewer car sales

Figures released show that new car sales are down in January and February, year on year.

The reason we were given for the new number plate system was to increase car sales.

The same old management class have some belief that they can feed any nonsense to the all-believing and vulnerable public.

There has to be a lesson there.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

A smidgen of honesty will go a long way

The Keith O'Brien story is endemic across the Catholic Church. They have been lying about it for far too long.

And nothing, nothing at all, is being done to discuss or talk in an open and charitable way about the issue.

What now will all the righ-wing magazines, newspapers and free sheets say to explain away all those words of the former Cardinal Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh?

Might the church sit down and ask serious questions as to how bishops are appointed in the Catholic Church.

Might there be a discussion on the link there is between crazy right wing nonsense and closet homosexuality among the clergy?

It would seem the kern of the problem is homosexual men joining priesthood and then being forced to keep their sexual orientation secret.

Houston, we have a problem. And we should be singing from the rooftops that the lid might now come flying off the humbug, lies, nonsense and all that 'holy claptrap'.

The Keith O'Brien story was the first item in this evening's main BBC One news.

This writer asked for a discussion on this very subject at a meeting of the Irish Dominicans in Dublin in the mid 1980s.

Nothing happened then and nothing is happening today.

Aspects of the issue were mentioned again last summer. A response of complete silence.

We might even be told that it is all part of an anti Catholic media agenda.

Hardly this time. That one trick pony might have run its course.

O'Brien accepts allegations

And now Archbishop Keith O'Brien admits to the allegations.

Who appoints these people?

Why do so many of them lie?

It's as clear as the nose on one's face.

And then the standard spin line of asking for forgiveness.

The brave men who spoke out.

Something terribly wrong at Irish Rail

Who manages Irish Rail?

A report in today's Sunday Independent tells how the underground heating systems at Connolly and Heuston stations are not working. The systems were installed in the 1990s. And already not fit for purpose.

Irish Rail introduced a new timetable in January. It was decided not to print a hard copy of the timetables. Then a change of mind and hard copy timetables are available.

But according to the hard copy timetable the first train on a Monday ex Tralee is 05.50. The online version gives a train departing Tralee on a Monday at 04.50.

Who manages Irish Rail?

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Important to question the status quo

The 'hinking Anew' column in today's Irish Times.

By Michael Commane
Two realities are circling in my head this week. One is the resignation of Pope Benedict and the other is a series of lectures on cosmology I am attending.

It so happens that the man giving the cosmology lectures was my teacher in third class in primary school. I can still recall what a great teacher he was. He later went on to study mathematics. He is also a man of faith in the person of Jesus Christ.

Cosmology is made up of two Greek words, cosmos, meaning the universe and logos, meaning knowledge. The lecture series is in Monkstown in Dublin, and it is fascinating to see how different cultures, different people try to give meaning to the world about them, and the similarities of different cultures in trying to make sense of their environment.

Answers have to be meaningful for people or the story loses its appeal. A literal understanding of the Book of Genesis, for example, is not a cosmology that makes sense to many people today. Cosmology is the study of who we are.

Christian cosmology emerges out of Jewish cosmology - a world of biblical revelation.

I’m back thinking of the resignation of Pope Benedict. Because I have lived in Germany and taught German for many years I have always had a healthy respect for Josef Ratzinger and Pope Benedict. The books written by the former ‘Der Spiegel’ journalist Peter Seewald on Benedict greatly impressed me.

It is tempting to approach the topic of faith with a ready-made rule book. But that never gives us the full picture. Listening to these cosmology lectures I can’t help but wonder have we tied our understanding and faith in God to some sort of cosmology of our making. Might that be why so many people today seem unimpressed and uninterested with aspects of ‘traditional religion’?

There are those who say science will give us all the answers. Today there is a pluralism of cosmologies. Christians need to keep grounded in Christ.

In the first reading tomorrow, which is from the Book of Exodus we see how God and Moses engage with each other. But it seems there is an issue about giving a name to God.

Moses answers God: “If I go to the Israelites and say to them: ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ they will ask me: ‘what is his name?’ What shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO AM.” (Exodus 3: 13 - 14)

Moses discovers something beyond the material, beyond the here-and-now.

The dominant dispensation today is scientific, it’s about what we can see, hear, name and measure. But Pope Benedict sees the reality of the spiritual at the very heart of life and the cosmos.

Josef Ratzinger in his book ‘Introduction to Christianity’ considers this passage in Exodus and shows how for Christian faith all our cosmological reflections are fulfilled in Christ. He points out that God is not a God of place or a God, who belongs to any one locality but is God of the universe, yet One who invites each of us into a personal relationship. In some ways it is accurate to say there is no name adequate for God.

When all the threads are gathered together, we have to be on our guard not to be a “one-trick pony”, where our vision is so tunnelled that we cannot see outside our own immediate environment.

Jesus always questions the status quo. That is something few of us are comfortable doing.

These are exciting times. Surely it’s the job of the person who is trying to talk about God to use words that make sense in the here-and-now, in this culture, all the time with Christ as our beacon.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Imperative to cut vulgar pensions

Anyone who looks at the large pensions of the elite can be left in doubt of the inequality that exists in the State.

The vulgar sums paid to retired high ranking public servants and politicians cannot make sense in the current environment.

What a statement it would be if all these pensions were cut to €99,000. And that still would be a fabulously generous payment.

And please don't let anyone say, it can't be done. Of course it can.

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