Archive for May, 2006

Mount ArgusI’m in Dublin, preaching at the Novena of Hope in Mount Argus. Saint Paul’s Retreat, Mount Argus is our provincial house. Each year, in May, there is a public novena here in honour of Our Lady, Mother of Holy Hope. The novena is always linked also with the devotion to Blessed Charles (Houben) of Saint Andrew who arrived in Ireland to become a member of this community on the Feast of the Mother of Holy Hope, 9 July, 1857. Blessed Charles, who died at Mount Argus on 5 January 1893, was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 16 October 1988.

At present, a possible miracle is under examination by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome. The case has already been approved by the medical commission and by a commission of theologians. If it is approved by the Congregation’s Cardinals and Bishops, then Pope Benedict will say whether (and when) Blessed Charles can be canonised. For a fuller account, click here and scroll down.

In preparation for the canonisation of Blessed Charles, the sermon themes for this year’s Novena of Hope are all related to his life and mission.

Blessed CharlesI began today with the theme “Hope is a Saintly Life”. I talked a little about Blessed Charles’ personality and about what made him attractive to people during his lifetime: his love for Jesus in his Passion, and his love for people, especially the sick and the suffering. After the Masses, I was amazed at how many people came up to me to tell me stories about Father Charles (-to the people of Dublin he is still “Father Charles”; it’s almost as if they don’t want to lose their familiarity with him). These were not stories from books, but stories from their own family, handed down by a father or mother, about how Father Charles had blessed someone in their family who was sick or dying and the person had been cured. Although he died more than a hundred years ago, he is still very much a part of people’s lives and of their family history.

If you wish to join in the novena prayers each day or have your petition included in the Novena, you should click here. If you want to hear the sermons from the novena, they are being posted each day here. (The sound is a bit faint on the first talk. I think I had the microphone too far away; I’ll try to move it closer tomorrow.)

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Saint Gemma

I haven’t had much time for blogging recently, but I can’t let the Feast of Saint Gemma Galgani go past without some acknowledgement. Gemma died in 1903 without having fulfilled her desire to become a Passionist Contemplative Nun, but she was taken into the cloister after her death when the Nuns founded a monastery in Lucca. Her body now lies under the main altar in the monastery church; near her is the tomb of her spiritual father, Father Germano di San Stanislao C.P.

This is an extract from the Decree Sanctitudinis Culmen of Pope Pius XII:
For some time, the servant of God [Gemma] had desired to enter a religious community, and thought she was being called to the Passionist Nuns. She felt that God was inviting her to greater austerity and more intensive contemplation of the Passion of Christ. Since this is the main mission, a kind of sacred heritage that Saint Paul of the Cross left to the religious he founded, Gemma asked more than once to be admitted into the cloistered monastery at Tarquinia. But there were obstacles, particularly her very poor health and the publicity that had been occasioned by her extraordinary graces. Eventually her illness progressed to such a point that it ruined all hope of her entering. But even though she could not become a member of the cloistered Passionist community, she deserved to be considered a member of it because she had professed private vows. As a laywoman, under the guidance of Bishop Giovanni Volpi and Father Germano of Saint Stanislaus, a Passionist priest, Gemma gave admirable witness to the religious spirit and was a model of Christian perfection. In fact, she practised all the theological and moral virtues on a heroic scale and we can say that her whole life was spent in the continual exercise of virtue.

In the Gospel of today’s (feast day) Mass, Jesus says: I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to children. Most of us won’t follow Gemma in her extraordinary mystical experiences, including the stigmata, but we can follow her in the way of interior simplicity and childlike confidence in Jesus.

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I was at a meeting of religious a couple of months ago at which the question of vocations in (northern) Europe was being discussed. One participant, a sixty-year old religious priest, asked the question: “Can anyone tell me: is there anywhere that religious life is actually working?” This is a question which someone living in Ireland or Scotland (the parts of Europe covered by the Passionist Province to which I belong, and where most orders and congregations seem to be in decline) might be forgiven for asking. In this part of the world, women’s communities seem to have less vocations than men’s, and communities of brothers seem to struggle more than communities of priests; while the priesthood draws some vocations, the religious life as such (i.e. when seen not simply as a form of priesthood) seems not to be attracting young people.

Part of the problem here is that in Ireland and Scotland we have virtually no experience of the new religious congregations and people who live only within that confined context are unaware of the large number of religious communities (-by this I mean vowed forms of consecrated life, not movements or associations) which have been founded in the last thirty or so years. We see ourselves as living in a desert, because we have never turned around and discovered the green shoots right behind us. It seems that every time I visit France or Italy, I learn about another new religious congregation that is flourishing there. On a recent visit to Rome, for example, I met some members of the Franciscan Fraternity of Bethany. They are a flourishing group of young religious, women and men, who began in 1978 and took their present form in 1983. From the photograph below, it would appear that they are good singers too!


A community I have known for longer is the Community of Saint John, founded in 1975 by five or six university students under the guidance of a Dominican priest, Fr Marie-Dominique Philippe. They are now a Congregation of diocesan right, approved by the Church, with over five hundred members, about two hundred of whom are priests; they also have contemplative sisters and sisters of apostolic life who share the same charism and spirituality. When I met Fr Marie-Dominique Philippe some years ago, he said to me: “We have the same spirituality”; the spiritual focus of this community is to be like John the beloved disciple, standing with Mary at the foot of the Cross. They are engaged in preaching, catechesis (including adult education in theology), retreat houses, chaplaincies, some parish work and overseas missions. They celebrate Mass and the Divine Office in common, have meditation togethre morning and evening (including Eucharistic adoration), and they even rise for the night office of readings (matins) at 1.30 a.m. on Sundays and feasts. In spite of (or in fact because of) a very challenging lifestyle, this community is growing not only in Africa, Asia and Latin America, but particularly in tired old Europe.


Already in France, some of the old orders and congregations are experiencing renewal and life, perhaps through contact with or some sort of breathing the same air as these new communities. This new life is not universal and is confined to certain abbeys and not to others or to certain provinces and not others. A grace is being offered but not all are able to see it and grasp it. It is, of course, frightening for the older orders, especially those who have worked hard to adjust to death and dying. All the dreams of the nineteen-sixties hold little attraction for young people of the twenty-first century. When older religious do look at these new groups, they are genuinely frightened by what they see and think this is an attempt to turn the clock back, rather than a chance to repair a clock which has long since stopped ticking.

The Discalced Carmelites in France are an interesting example of one of the older orders which has come back from the point of death and is now expanding. The key to all this is the rediscovery of community and spirituality, which is at the heart of any genuine religious vocation. A simple life lived together in an atmosphere of prayer is energising for those who have been called to the religious life; for those whose vocation lies elsewhere, it will be exhausting. For me, the biggest obstacle to religious vocations today is not the secularisation of society, or the breakdown of family life, or lack of faith formation in Catholic schools, or materialism, though all these have a part to play. I believe that the biggest problem for a young person thinking about a religious vocation is: “Where can I go? Where can I find a way of life that will really challenge me and at the same time deepen my relationship with Christ? Where will I find a community that will accept my hunger for a fuller understanding of the teaching of the Church, rather than point out to me all that it thinks is wrong with what the Church is saying?” We who are already religious (of many years standing) are often too slow to admit that we are part of the problem.

In the history of the religious life, the old orders have always learned from the new: in the late Middle Ages, the friars reminded the monks about simplicity of life; after the reformation, the Jesuits and other clerical institutes helped the observant reforms of the friars; in the nineteenth century, the older orders were enriched by the missionary, educational and caring zeal of the new congregations. Is it too much to expect that the new communities being founded today will be more significant “signs of the times” for the renewal and adaptation of religious life than the front page of yesterday’s newspaper?

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WYD2008 and the Passionists


On Palm Sunday, Pope Benedict handed over the World Youth Day Cross to a delegation of young people so that it could begin its pilgrim journey towards WYD2008 in Sydney, Australia. In his homily, the Holy Father explained the significance of this gesture which launched the period of preparation for the next World Youth Day; he said:
Palm Sunday tells us that the great “Yes” is precisely the Cross, that the Cross itself is the true tree of life. We do not find life by possessing it, but by giving it. Love is a gift of oneself, and for this reason it is the way of true life symbolized by the Cross. Today, the Cross that was recently the focus of the World Youth Day in Cologne is being consigned to a special delegation so that it may begin the journey to Sydney, where in 2008 the youth of the world are planning to meet again around Christ to build with him the Kingdom of peace. From Cologne to Sydney – a journey across continents and cultures, a journey through a world torn and tormented by violence! Symbolically, it is like the journey the prophet pointed out from sea to sea, from the river to the ends of the earth. It is the journey of the One who, in the sign of the Cross, gives us peace and makes us become messengers of reconciliation and of his peace. I thank the young people who will now carry this Cross, in which we can as it were touch the mystery of Jesus on the highways of the world. Let us pray that at the same time, it will touch us and open our hearts, so that by following his Cross we will become messengers of his love and his peace.

Travelling with the Cross will be a copy of the Icon “Salus Populi Romani”, which is especially dear to the hearts of Passionists as the image of Mary (in Santa Maria Maggiore) before which Saint Paul of the Cross, at the beginning of his religious life, took a special vow to promote the Memory of the Passion of Jesus and to gather companions who would do the same. Both the Icon and the World Youth Day Cross were welcomed by our community here in Glasgow in the lead up to the World Youth Day in Cologne last year.

The Superior General of the Passionists, Father Ottaviano D’Egidio has sent a letter to all our communities, inviting young people who share in our spirituality, life and mission to celebrate World Youth Day with him and the other Passionists who will be in Sydney in two years time:
Those young people who are associated with us Passionists in the our parishes, Shrines, Retreat Houses, youth groups and monasteries are invited to participate in special events that are part of a program that is focused on the Passionist Charism. The program will be multi-lingual and will be guided by Passionists throughout the world. It is also hoped that some Sisters and the laity of the Passionist Family that are associated with us will also become involved. This proposal has the support of the General Council and the Asian-Pacific
Passionist Conference (PASPAC). This is a wonderful event and I invite all of you to seriously consider it.

(The full text of the letter can be found here.)

The Passionists in Australia have devoted a section of their province website to the Passio World Youth Day Pilgrimage 2008. They are inviting suggestions from young people associated with our parishes, retreat houses, prayer groups… around the world. Any thoughts?

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Today is the anniversary of the foundation of the Monastery of the Presentation in Tarquinia, Italy (-in the eighteenth century, the town was called Corneto). This was the first monastery of the Passionist Contemplative Nuns, founded by Saint Paul of the Cross. The first “Madre presidente” (-Paul never liked the word “superior” for his religious, men or women; instead the nuns had a “presiding mother”, as the blessed Virgin was to be the superior) was the Venerable Maria Crocifissa of Jesus, who had been a Benedictine nun before the founding of the new monastery. On this day, formerly the Feast of the Finding of the True Cross, she and her companions began the female dimension of Passionist religious life. This was the monastery that Saint Gemma Galgani wished to enter; she was unable to do so because of her health and also because the Madre presidente did not like the idea of a stigmatist in the community, probably thinking it would disturb the quiet of the monastery if people knew she was there.

Not only have the Passionist Nuns spread to other countries and continents – such as France, Spain, Belgium, the United States, Mexico, Japan, Korea, Indonesia… – but women’s congregations of apostolic life ( at least seven of them) have been founded to live the Passionist charism in different ways. Today I wished the two Sisters of the Cross and Passion who work with us (Sister Maureen and Sister Edith) a “happy International Women Passionists Day”! -Then I had to explain to them that I had just invented it, because on this day in 1771 the first female Passionists set out on their journey to religious profession.

Here are some pictures of the Monastery.
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