Archive for December, 2006

Blessed Charles Pages

Patricia has placed a new page on our parish website with an extract from the Christmas newsletter in which I wrote about Blessed Charles of Mount Argus and the newly approved Miracle. You can find it here.

Katholiek Nederland has an interesting page on Blessed Charles Houben (in Dutch) which includes a podcast interview with Dolf Dormans, the Miracolato (-excuse the Italian, but I don’t think there is one word in English for a person who has been miraculously cured) and Father Harrie Broers, the parish priest of Munstergeleen, who is a Laus Crucis reader and commentator. Meanwhile, for those who don’t speak Dutch, here is Katholiek Nederland‘s photograph of Mr Dormans and Father Broers.

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The Crib and the Cross

Here is part of a Christmas reflection I wrote last year, which Patricia has included on our parish web site this Christmas:
Saint Paul of the Cross, who founded the Passionists, often spoke about the link between Bethlehem and Calvary, the Crib and the Cross. When he would build the Crib each Christmas at the first Passionist church at Monte Argentario in Italy, he would place a cross behind the child Jesus in the Crib to remind those who would pray there of the true meaning of Christmas: “for us and for our salvation he came down from heaven”.
When we remember the Crib and the Cross together, there is no danger of a purely sentimental approach to Christmas, because we realise that even in the stable at Bethlehem, the love of God which is revealed is a sacrificial love, the kind of love that lays down its life.
Through the mysteries of the Crib and the Cross, God not only reveals himself to us as Love incarnate. He also invites us into the mystery of his love, into the very heart of God himself. Jesus says, in Saint John’s gospel, that “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes might not be lost but might have eternal life”.
Saint Paul of the Cross would say that God is most easily found in and through the humanity of Jesus. Bethlehem and Calvary, then, are places where we can find God, where our journey to God can begin, and where our relationship with him, our love for him can grow.

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Almost Christmas

This picture (“borrowed” from Passio Christi) shows an eighteenth-century Neapolitan crib which will be on view at the Basilica of Saints John and Paul from tomorrow night. I don’t remember it from when I lived there, but I do remember the Bambino fasciato, a carved figure of the baby Jesus, very tightly wrapped in silk and wearing a crown, with a little reliquary at his middle containing what was said to be a relic from the crib in the stable at Bethlehem (now venerated at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore). The Superior General used to (and I suppose still does) carry it in at the beginning of the Solemn Matins preceding Midnight Mass. At the end of the Mass, the General would again hold the Bambino while the community and then the congregation would come forward to venerate the relic. Is this the origin of the expression “left holding the baby”?

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No More Inverted Commas

Father Harrie Broers tipped me off (via the comments box) that the “miracle” has become the Miracle. That master of the quiet surprise, Pope Benedict XVI, had his meeting with Cardinal Saraiva Martins today, not next Wednesday as previously advised on this blog, and in the course of the audience, the Holy Father authorised the Congregation [for the Causes of Saints] to promulgate the Decrees regarding… [a whole series of miracles, martyrdoms and heroicities – is there such a word? – of virtue, including] a miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed CHARLES OF SAINT ANDREW (called in the world JOHN ANDREW HOUBEN), professed Priest of the Congregation of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who was born on the Eleventh of December 1821 at Munstergeleen (Netherlands) and who died on the Fifth of January 1893 at Dublin (Ireland).
(See the original Italian text on Blessed Charles Houben’s miracle from the Vatican Press Office here)

All we need now is a date for what will (I think) be the first ever canonisation of a saint whose tomb is in Ireland.
(Ireland has always been better known for exporting saints than importing them.)

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Good News

What will Pope Benedict be doing next Wednesday? The following is a long answer to a short question.

Father Harrie Broers, parish priest of Munstergeleen (the birthplace of Blessed Charles), suggested in the comments box that I should phone Father Giovanni (Zubiani), who is the Postulator of the Cause of Blessed Charles (and of all the other Passionist Causes of Beatification and Canonisation). I had tried to speak to Father Giovanni yesterday but he was out when I called. However, I had a better result when I phoned Ss. Giovanni e Paolo today.

Here is what he told me:

The “miracle” was presented to the members of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on Tuesday (- the Cardinals and Bishops who form what you might think of as the “board of directors” are the actual members of the Congregation; the others who work there are the officials of the Congregation). The ponente (i.e. the member who presented it on our behalf) was Monsignor Grillo, Bishop of Tarquinia and Civitavecchia. The “miracle” was approved unanimously by the members of the Congregation and will be submitted to the Holy Father by the Prefect of the Congregation for Saints, Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, on 21 December. If Pope Benedict accepts the “miracle”, the way is clear for Charles’ canonisation, and the Consistory at which the Decree on the Miracle is published will be probably take place in February.

If all goes well, then, after the Consistory, the Secretariat of State will set a date for the Canonisation of Father Charles of Mount Argus. We are hoping that the canonisation will be in October but, of course, that will be decided by the Secretariat of State. Meanwhile, the next step will be the reading of the proposed decree by Pope Benedict on 21 December (next Wednesday).

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I returned from Dublin this evening. We haven’t heard anything yet from their Eminences and Lordships (U.S. = Excellencies) about Blessed Charles (Houben)’s “miracle” (-I suppose I should use inverted commas until it is totally and definitively approved). In the meantime, here are some Blessed Charles photographs I took a while ago.

This is the main staircase of the monastery; if you turn right at the top of the right-hand flight of stairs, you are just beside Blessed Charles’ room.

Here is the door of his room; Charles went in and out of here many times each day, going downstairs to the parlour or the church to bless the hundreds of sick people who came to Mount Argus seeking his blessing.

The brass plaque on the door records his death on 5 January 1893.

Here you can see the interior of his cell, which is now used as a chapel. The picture above the altar was given to the community in thanksgiving for a cure which took place during Charles’ lifetime.

The altar in Blessed Charles’ cell was previously in the former retreatants’ chapel, which later became a classroom for the theology students; this room is very near Charles’ cell. He offered his last Mass in the retreatants’ chapel, about four weeks before he died. The plaque on the altar states: On this Altar Fr Charles of St Andrew (Houben) celebrated Mass for the last time, 8th December 1892.

This picture shows the top floor corridor, with Charles’ cell on the right (with the door open). At the end of the corridor is the old Choir (or community chapel).

The community chapel was moved down to the first floor about thirty years ago. This beautifully panelled room is now used by the community for chapters and conferences. You might be able to see a door at the extreme left of the picture; this leads to the choir sacristy.

From the choir sacristy, there is a sort of “bridge”, a narrow corridor leading to the bell tower and, from there, to the church. After the morning meditation, Charles would go to the refectory to take his coffee and bread; then he would return to the choir and go through the sacristy to this hidden-away corner where he could pray alone and undisturbed, but still near the Blessed Sacrament.

Finally, a picture of the altar of Saint Mary Magdalen (the Magdalen Altar) in the church, where Charles usually celebrated Mass.

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Mount Argus Tomorrow

Tomorrow morning (6.30) I will leave here for Saint Paul’s Retreat, Mount Argus, Dublin, for what used to be called the Consulta (meeting of the Provincial Council), followed on Tuesday by related meetings. Tuesday is also the day on which the Cardinals and Bishops of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints are scheduled to examine the proposed miracle for the Canonisation of Blessed Charles (Houben) of Mount Argus, so I’ll be able to pray for them at the tomb of Blessed Charles. The picture (above) shows a copy of the reliquary which was presented to Pope John Paul II at Charles’ beatification.

Family News: My father has been transferred to Lightburn Hospital where he will receive physiotherapy and, I hope, will soon be ready to leave hospital. At present, all he seems to be suffering from are the consequences of being in hospital for six weeks.

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Blessed Bernard Mary Silvestrelli

Today is the feast of Blessed Bernard Mary Silvestrelli C.P. Father Gary has a series of interesting posts on him at The Passionist Charism. He was beatified on the same day as Blessed Charles of Mount Argus, whom he had met when he made visitation (as Superior General) of the Retreats in Ireland, England and Scotland in 1881. In his life of Blessed Bernard Mary, Father Fabiano Giorgini describes his first contact with the Passionists:
He loved to get out in the country and join in hunting parties. One of these was with Count Giuseppe Cencelli, in the area around Soriano. At nightfall this friend, whose family were benefactors of the Passionists, proposed that they should seek hospitality in the Retreat of Saint Eutizio near Soriano. During the night, the religious got up to pray their customary midnight office… [-he was wakened by the rattle calling them to prayer and heard the sound of the office being chanted]. The peaceful solitude of their Retreat, their serenity of spirit, and the idea that their prayer continued both by day and night fascinated Bernard.

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New Passionist Website

Vice-ProvinceThe Bavarian-Austrian Vice-Province of the Five Wounds has a new website. One of the images on the website(shown on the left) is this tapestry of the life of Saint Paul of the Cross, which was hand-woven for the Retreat of the Holy Trinity in Schwarzenfeld when Father Alban was rector. How many of the scenes can you identify?
If you can understand German, you might want to listen to some of Father Gregor’s podcasts on Passionist themes, in the Radiovorträge section; these were originally broadcast on Radio Horeb. As far as I recall, the podcast/broadcast on the Name of Jesus is one of his own personal favourites.

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Bucharest Cathedral

Yesterday the Press Office of the Holy See issued a communiqué “Concerning the matter of the construction of a skyscraper near the historic Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Joseph in Bucharest, Romania”. Articles about this proposed “skyscraper” which could undermine the foundations of the Cathedral had already appeared on the Net last May (e.g. here).
Here is Zenit’s summary of the content of the communiqué:
The note states that the construction of a building — of 19 floors above ground level and four below — at a distance of less than 10 meters from the northeast wall of the Cathedral of St. Joseph, risks damaging the church irreparably. “Concerns are aggravated by the precedent of the Armenian church, which suffered grave damage for similar reasons,” explains the note. According to the Vatican, the construction of the skyscraper goes against “the provisions of the 1993 European Union Treaty concerning Legal Conditions and Measures for Preserving Cultural Heritage, to which Romania adhered, and the State Commission Report for Monitoring Building.” The Romanian Senate has already approved the report of the commission of inquiry, which requests the immediate suspension of work. The Holy See explained: “This should be followed by a decision on the part of the appropriate authorities.”

Why should this story appear on Laus Crucis, which usually has a fixation on items of Passionist interest? Because, dear reader, (as you can read on this page, which is full of interesting details expressed in the most extraordinary English) “the Saint Joseph Cathedral was built in Roman style combined with gothic elements between 1875-1883, by the Bishop Ignatius Paoli (1870-1885) from the Pasionist Monk Union, who was named Archbishop.”

Ignatius PaoliIgnatius Paoli (left), first Catholic Archbishop of Bucharest and founder of the Cathedral of Saint Joseph, was probably the most fascinating Passionist of the nineteenth century. He has never been proposed as a candidate for canonisation, possibly because he represented that modernising spirit which many, including myself, tend to resist. As Provincial in Britain and Ireland, he brought the Passionists to Saint Joseph’s, Paris and Saint Mungo’s, Glasgow, which were probably the first Passionist houses in Europe to be opened in citie rather than on hilltops (the only earlier example being Saints John and Paul in Rome which, with its private park on the Caelian Hill, is set apart from the noise of the city). Ignatius was in favour of adapting the Passionist lifestyle to new situations in the industrial centres of Britain, disagreeing with the Superior General, Father Peter Paul Cayro, who wrote to him:
I know well that some, perhaps in order to ease their remorse of conscience, suppose that if our blessed Founder had foreseen the establishment of the Congregation outside of Italy would have written the Rule differently. but anyone can see that this is nonsense…. My maxim is this: it is not necessary that a religious order should be in every country in the world; what is necessary is that the order, wherever it is, should be the same, through conformity to the Rule.
After a difficult spell as General Consultor, Ignatius became one in the long line of Passionist Bishops of Nicopolis (in present day Bulgaria) and subsequently Archbishop of Bucharest in the newly-independent Romania. He wished to set up a sort of “Third Order Regular” Passionist Community of priests and brothers who would work as missionaries without having to fulfil the demands of monastic observance.

In the building of the Cathedral, as in many of his other projects (e.g. Mount Argus [Dublin], Highgate [London] and Saint Mungo’s [Glasgow]), he was ably assisted by Brother Alphonsus Zeegers, a Dutch master builder and clerk of works whose last job was building the house in which I write this and who is buried in the Passionists’ grave at Saint Peter’s Cemetery, Dalbeth, Glasgow. Ignatius died in Vienna while on a mission to the Austro-Hungarian court on behalf of his Diocese of Bucharest. May his Cathedral, which escaped destruction by communism, be saved from the ravages of capitalism.

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