The Apostle of Rome

Faith

Today, May 26th, is the feast day of St Philip Neri. This is the day that we thank God for the blessings he gave Philip during his earthly life, reflect on Philip’s holy life, and ask him to pray for us.

St Philip was born in the early 16th Century in Italy and, by all account, grew up as a pious and loving young boy. When he reached manhood he travelled to Rome and spent a number of years working as a tutor, while also ministering to many of the poor in the city. He was eventually ordained and garnered a reputation as a holy, joyous and unique priest. Two of his major ministries were caring for the impoverished throughout Rome and forming young men in the faith. This latter ministry eventually grew into his order, the Oratorians. Philip – regarded by many as a saint even during his life – died in 1595 and was declared a saint less than 30 years later.

I first encountered St Philip in 2010. In fact, he inspired my first serious thoughts about priesthood. I was at the Catholic Discipleship College and his feast day rolled around. Even though St Philip’s feast isn’t a major one in NZ, our priest decided to preach about his life and ministry in our Mass that day. I was captured; I felt some strange affinity to this man from the 16th Century, and was desperate to know more about him. So I asked our priest if he had any more info on St Philip and I was given an article: St Philip Neri and the Priesthood (which I was blessed enough to find online after losing my copy).

I’ve returned to that article a number of times since I answered the call of God to enter the Seminary. And each time, it fills me with the same… excitement I felt the first time I heard about St Philip. I encourage you to read it, because it’s not just for priests – it shows a joyous Gospel life, and a way to communicate the joy of Christ to others. Here’s a small quote:

An authentic Christian humanism, the humanism of the Gospel, was the foundation of Philip’s ministry of personal relationships. He understood that God effected conversions through the priest’s personal influence as friend, teacher, confessor, father and spiritual guide.

Let’s pray that our priests (and seminarians!) may be given the strength from God to be loving and holy friends, confessors, fathers and spiritual guides. Or rather, let us pray that they will recognise the great love God has for them and desire to share this through authentic relationships.

Fiducia

Faith

All over the world today, the gospel story of Lazarus would have been (or is being, or will be) read. It comes around every year on the Fifth Sunday of Lent and is probably one of the better-known miracles of Jesus.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that most homilies today were about death. The homily I heard certainly was, and I can’t remember ever hearing someone preach on this gospel and not focus on death. I mean, just look at the readings that go along with it today. The reading from Ezekiel: “I am going to open your graves [and] raise you from your graves… you will live”. The second reading, from the letter to the Romans: “Though your body may be dead it is because of sin… [and] he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your own mortal bodies…”
I was surprised, then, to be sitting in Mass today and have a totally different theme leap out at me.

Have you ever experienced a line of Scripture striking your heart like an arrow? It’s as though that line was shouted, while the rest was barely whispered. It doesn’t happen to me very often, but when it does I try to sit up and take notice – it’s usually because the Man Upstairs is trying to get my attention. That’s what happened today, proving once again that “the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

Psalm 129 is fairly familiar to me – it comes up often in the breviary. So I was surprised when I heard a line with ‘new ears’, as though for the first time.

Let the watchman count on daybreak
     and Israel on the Lord.

That one line was like… a mental explosion. Or at least, the catalyst for a mental explosion. (Let’s now hope I can trace the wreckage in an intelligible way!)

If I went and asked a random pedestrian whether the sun is going to rise tomorrow, they’d look at me like I was crazy. Of course the sun will rise tomorrow, they’d exclaim, There’s no doubt about that! And I would agree with them. But do I have that same trust, that same confidence, in the Lord? His love for us is more dependable, more certain, than the sun rising tomorrow morning. I plan things for tomorrow without even questioning whether dawn will break; yet how often do I question God’s love, or faithfulness, or power, or truth?
The question resounded within me: Do I count on the Lord as surely as I count on daybreak?

 

sunrise

 

This idea of trust formed itself for me as a ‘key’ to the rest of today’s Scriptures.
Death – usually preached as today’s dominant theme – is what Tolkien calls ‘the doom of man’. When someone close to us dies, it doesn’t feel like some normal or natural process. It jars us. It disturbs us. It is one of our biggest fears and preoccupations. Our entire being cries out, This is not right! Because it isn’t right: we were made for life, not for death. Death is a punishment for sin, and sin entered the world through one man (see Romans 5:12, 6:23).
So how can we love God in a world plagued by death? How can we know that He is loving, faithful, powerful, and truthful?

You will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves, my people.

Right there, in the first reading, the Lord is crying out: Trust in me! I can destroy your greatest fear! The second reading reinforces this by telling us exactly how our death is overcome: it is by the Spirit of God living within us! But we, in our weakness and distrust and sin and blindness, reply: What gives you the power to do this? Can we really trust you? And Jesus says:

I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE
     Do you believe this?

Do you believe this? Do you trust him? “Trust in the Lord with all your heart… and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3: 5-6)
To finish, I wish to share Charles de Foucald’s Prayer of Abandonment.

 

Father,
I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.

Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures –
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.

683 minutes

Faith, Films

Earlier this year, I had one of the happiest days of my life.
Three friends and I spent the day watching all three Extended Editions of the Lord of the Rings films. That’s a total of 683 minutes (11 hours, 23 minutes) of Middle Earth.

It was glorious. And it got me thinking about LOTR again.

See, I’ve been a huge fan of Tolkien’s works since I was about… 13?
I had attempted the books when I was 8 or 9, but struggled through the first five parts and eventually gave up; I’d seen the movies when they came out and enjoyed them, but hadn’t grasped the depth – I just saw them as fun action movies. When I was 13, my grandparents gave me an old copy of LOTR and I decided that the time was ripe for another attempt. I devoured the books. I loved them. I finally got them, understood that there was more than just a story or an event here. I suppose I was beginning to see them in the way Tolkien had hoped for them to be seen: as myths.
Since the books alone weren’t enough, I then purchased Anduril (Aragorn’s sword) and other assorted memorabilia before getting my hands on a copy of the Extended Edition DVDs. I set aside a day and started at 7am, finishing around 8:00pm (I didn’t take many breaks!). That viewing cemented me as a LOTR fan for life. To be honest, I think that the worldview presented in LOTR may have helped my conversion to Catholicism – I’ll have to ask the Lord when I see Him.

Over the eight years since I first watched these Extended Edition films, I’ve watched them at least another ten times each – but I’d never done another 683-minutes-in-one-day viewing. I’d tried with friends over the years, but no one had ever been keen enough. We’d start, get about 3 or 4 hours in, but then call it a day. But now, after years of searching and waiting, it has happened.
Admittedly, it did take us about 14 hours to get from Galadriel’s opening monologue to Sam’s hopeful and settled “Well, I’m back.” But when you factor in toilet stops, people coming and going, two meals, running around outside while screaming and holding a sword (we needed exercise, OK?), and discussing finer points of Middle Earth mythology, I think that’s understandable.

Something that came up very strongly with this viewing of LOTR was the depth of Catholic thought that is within Tolkien’s world. Every time I watch the films or read the books, I’m reminded of this – but I end up forgetting about it! So after watching the films (and discussing these Catholic ideas and themes with my mates), I turned to google to help me find what others were saying about this. I found some awesome stuff. Here’s a collection of my favourites:

  • The best, undoubtedly, is Dr Peter Kreeft’s book The Philosophy of Tolkien, where Dr Kreeft uses the world of Middle Earth (and Tolkien’s other writings) as a springboard to explain and discuss philosophy, reality and virtues. An awesome read.
  • There’s a series of four articles from the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, written by Timothy O’Malley. They were originally given as a single talk but have been broken up into four separate articles for ease of reading. The series is titled The Catholic Imagination in the Lord of the Rings, and the first article can be found here.

This is just a tiny selection of the wealth of info on Tolkien and his Catholic worldview for Middle Earth. But what do you think? I know heaps of LOTR fans who avidly deny that the stories are religious. Of course, to see Tolkien’s writings as allegory is foolish (he explicitly said they’re not), but he also explicitly said that they are Catholic.

So that’s that.

The Crowded Seminary

Faith, Photos

Today I have begun my second official year as a Catholic Seminarian.

It’s funny saying that, because I feel like I’ve been on this journey for all of my life; it feels impossible to split things up into ‘before preparing for priesthood’ and ‘preparing for priesthood’. I suppose this is because the Lord is now using all my experiences, all my joys and hopes, my griefs and anxieties (see Gaudium et Spes 1), to shape me into His priest. Somehow, in His wisdom, the Father is able to take hold of my entire life and use it for His will. Looking back with a heart that now knows Him, I can see His fingerprints and recognise His voice. My sins, weaknesses, failures and mistakes are all still there – sometimes in
So yes, I’m entering my second year. But, in a certain way, I’m also halfway through my 21st year of preparation for Holy Orders.

To begin our year, we have travelled down to the old Seminary which was founded in 1900 and active for nearly a century. Celebrating the Sunday Eucharist in the chapel there was a beautiful experience. As you can see from my photo below, the chapel itself is beautiful – but what was truly special was celebrating Mass in that place where so many seminarians before me have prayed. Fr Alan, our spiritual director, said in his homily that it has a special feel to it because “the walls are filled with the prayers of seminarians who have gone before us.” I thought of all the men who would have sat or knelt in there, pouring their hearts out to the Lord. At different times they would have felt afraid, uncertain, excited, bored, nervous, peaceful. Their prayers would have been fervent, desperate, difficult, honest, hollow, beautiful. In other words, these men – my ancestors in the faith – were like me, and prayed like me.

20140209-170006.jpg

To be one of thirty men in the New Zealand seminary, it’s easy to feel lost among the four-point-something million Kiwis currently living here. And sometimes this feeling of minority can lead to either pride (‘Aren’t I good to be doing this, when so few do?’) or despair (‘Why the heck am I doing this, when do few do?’). But now, recognising the ‘great crowd of witnesses’ who have gone before me, I can see it from a new perspective. I’m no longer one of thirty; there are hundreds and hundreds of NZ men who’ve answered the call.
Suddenly, the journey towards priesthood is a lot more crowded – I like it.

Truth, Sainthood, and Suffering

Faith

Peter KreeftThere is only one reason why anyone should believe anything: because it’s true.

CS Lewis and Mere Christianity (talk), Peter Kreeft

 

[Become a saint] not by giving up your desires, but by giving up the ‘you’ in your desires! It is simply like giving God a blank cheque.

– Peter Kreeft

 

The Church is big, and rich, and free… Yes, just like ancient Israel. And if God still loves his Church […] he will soon make it small and poor and persecuted, just as he did to ancient Israel, so that he can keep it alive – by pruning it. If he loves us, he will cut the dead wood away, and we will bleed, and the blood of the martyrs will be the seed of the Church again. And a second spring will come, and new buds – but not without blood. It never happens without blood, without sacrifice, without suffering. Christ’s work, if it is really Christ’s work and not a comfortable counterfeit, never happens without the cross. Whatever happens without the cross may be good work but it is not Christ’s work, for Christ’s work is bloody.

Culture War (talk), Peter Kreeft

‘big words and windows’

Faith

Here’s an excerpt from big words and windows, a post by Fr John O’Connor, a Catholic Priest in the diocese of Christchurch, NZ.

The language we use in church is often an obstacle for good people. A sermon flowing with words like adoration, beatific vision, catechesis paschal mystery and dogma may be thoroughly orthodox and inspiring to the theologian, but it will probably not touch the hearts of the worshippers at a parish Sunday Mass.

These big words are important since they are the windows to essential knowledge of our faith. The big words are our linguistic short-cut, our method for conveying all that scripture and tradition teaches us about each aspect of our faith.

Therefore it is important that when we use these words, we also provide the meaning in an understandable, accurate and attractive form. At times, for a particular audience, we might speak about (for example) the “incarnation,” without using the word itself. Our hope is that with good catechesis there will come a time when the simple use of this big word will remind the hearers of the full meaning of the incarnation of Jesus. The word will be the window leading us to recall the full significance of the event of the incarnation.

Read his full post here and check out his awesome blog food for faith.

Brideshead, Beauty, and Evangelisation

Faith, Fiction

What follows are some excerpts from an article by Fr Robert Barron, entitled Evangelizing Through Beauty, from WordOnFire.org.

In his masterpiece Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh implicitly lays out a program of evangelization that has particular relevance to our time.  “Brideshead” refers, of course, to a great manor house owned by a fabulously wealthy Catholic family in the England of the 1920’s.  In the complex semiotic schema of Waugh’s novel, the mansion functions as a symbol of the Catholic Church, which St. Paul had referred to as the “bride of Christ.”  To Brideshead comes, at the invitation of his friend Sebastian, Charles Ryder, an Oxford student, devotee of the fine arts and casual agnostic.  Charles is overwhelmed by the sheer majesty of Brideshead’s architecture and the sumptuousness of its artistic program, which includes magnificent painting and sculpture, as well as a fountain of Bernini-like delicacy, and a chapel which was a riot of baroque decoration.  Living within the walls of the manse, Charles mused, was to receive an entire artistic education.  The beauty of the place would entrance Charles for the rest of his life, drawing him back again and again. […]

This brief and utterly inadequate summary of Waugh’s narrative is meant simply to highlight a ryhthm that obtains, I would argue, in effective evangelization. […] The pattern is more or less as follows:  first the beautiful (how wonderful!), then the good (I want to participate!) and finally the true (now I understand!). […]

The same applies, a fortiori, in regard to religion.  I might suggest that the evangelist  start with the Sainte Chapelle or the life of Francis of Assisi or the Little Flower’s Story of a Soul or Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain or Gregorian chant, or perhaps best of all,  a carefully executed liturgy of the Roman rite.  These would function in the manner of Brideshead, captivating even the most bored agnostic.  Then, the wager goes, the captivation would lead to a desire, perhaps vague at first, to participate in the moral universe that made those artistic expressions possible.  And finally, the participation would conduce toward a true and experiential understanding of the thought patterns that undergird that way of life.  First the beautiful, then the good, then the true.

I wonder whether this winsome aesthetic approach might prove more frutiful in a postmodern culture so instinctively skeptical of dogma either intellectual or moral.

Gaming – and Faith?!

Faith

Confession time: at the end of a long or tired day, I enjoy nothing more than blowing stuff up, shooting stuff to pieces, or silently stalking my enemies. Yes, I am a gamer.

The sad thing is, when I tell people that I enjoy gaming, they assume I’m an anti-social freak who can’t leave his house without a digital device. Though all of that is partly true, it’s not gaming that’s done that to me! Gaming is an awesome hobby, but it doesn’t dominate my life. And I know I’m not the only one who feels like this.

This morning I stumbled upon a couple of awesome articles by Catholic blogger, Colin Gormley. They speak of his love for gaming and how he is now trying to ‘intersect’ his love for gaming with his Catholic faith. Whether or not you’re a person of faith, they’re pretty interesting articles. Check out part one here, and part two here.

In part two, he mentions a few of the good aspects of gaming, which should be focused on to endorse and support development and society:

  1. Games provide a rule set and structure
  2. Games provide community and foster cooperation
  3. Games are fun

 

With games as common as they now are, how do you think they can or will affect our society?