Archive for January 4th, 2007

Feast of Blessed Charles

Tomorrow (5 January) is the Feast of Blessed Charles of Mount Argus. He died on the Vigil of the Epiphany, 5 January 1893, at Saint Paul’s Retreat, Mount Argus. The Mount Argus Passionist Community has a summary of his life on their website, which I am stealing in order to post it here (see below); I hope the community will forgive me! If you would like to read something longer, my book on Blessed Charles (To Heal the Broken-Hearted) will be reprinted later this year; in the meantime, our bookshop still has a few copies in stock. You can e-mail mungoshop@gmail.com to buy a copy (£4.50 + postage) or to request information. Here is the Mount Argus text:

Blessed Charles was born John Andrew Houben on the 11th December 1821 in the village of Munstergeleen, Holland. He was the fourth of a family of eleven children born to Peter and Johanna Houben. The family background was simple and Catholic with prayers morning and evening and children taught the Rosary. They worked in a flour mill owned by their uncle.
John Andrew’s childhood was nothing exceptional. He was shy, quiet, pious, friendly and “always bright and cheerful in the family circle”, according to his brother. Even though he found study difficult, he walked the two miles into secondary school in Sittard for ten years. He wanted to be a priest and served Mass and visited the Church every day.
At nineteen, Andrew was enrolled for military service from 1840 to 1845 but only saw active service for three months. He was not an outstanding soldier. He spent too much time in Church! While in the army, he first heard of the Passionists and from that moment he decided to join them.
On returning home he worked in the mill by day and continued to study but this time with greater ease. Troubles came, first with the death of his uncle, who had taken a special interest in the family and then in 1844 his mother died at 52 years of age. With his military service completed in 1845 Andrew, despite the initial reluctance of his father, joined the Passionists at Ere, near Tournai, Belguim. As a student he was remembered as cheerful and good-humoured and was ordained on Saturday December 21st 1850 in Tournai. His father had died in August of that year and none of the family could make the journey for the celebrations.
He never saw Holland again. In February 1852, he was sent to England. Here Fr. Charles first came in contact with the Irish who were emigrating to England in the wake of the Famine. He was transferred to Ireland and on July 9th, 1857, he arrived in the newly-founded monastery of Mount Argus, in Harold’s Cross, Dublin. Dublin had a population of less than a quarter of a million – many of whom were British soldiers. It was not a saintly place, with many official brothels, licensed public­ houses and shebeens. Murders were common and moral standards questionable. Religious knowledge was hopeless.
Charles was not a good preacher. He never really mastered the language. But it was in the Confessional and in comforting the sick that he excelled. He was fond of the Irish. He called them “my people”. He respected their struggle against oppression, he admired the way the Faith was preserved. But he wasn’t blind to their faults. He soon became extraordinarily popular not only in Dublin but all over Ireland and collected money throughout the length and breadth of the country to pay for the new monastery of Mount Argus.
It was his gift of healing the sick which is most clearly remembered. As many as three hundred people a day came to be blessed by him. Fr. Sebastian Keens told of a boy of 12 years old who lost the use of his leg and was brought to him. With no delay he called Fr. Charles and shortly afterwards found the boy walking up and down in front of the house completely cured.
His fame spread and trouble came. Some medical doctors claimed, a claim which later they withdrew, that he discouraged people from going to the doctor. Then others took Holy Water blessed by Fr. Charles and began to sell it throughout Ireland. This was not Fr. Charles fault but he was transferred to England in 1866 and remained there for eight years.
He returned to Ireland on the 10th January 1874, Charles was once more among “his people” in Mount Argus. He remained there for the last nineteen years of his life. The daily pilgrimage of sick and distressed began almost immediately. He went out all over Dublin and into the country blessing people. He started on his fund-raising rounds again, but this time for the new Church at Mount Argus. John Patterson, 6 years of age and blinded by flying stones was blessed by Fr. Charles. The first thing he saw was Fr. Charles with his arms outstretched and on the way home he saw a cow in the field.
During the last years of his life he had many trials. He was also in failing health, was anxious about death. His family in Holland were dying. Old injuries returned to plague him. Towards the end of 1892, it was obvious that the life of Fr. Charles was coming to an end. He said his last Mass on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception 1892. Word of his illness spread through the city, crowds gathered to enquire about him. Just after Christmas he couldn’t eat, lost his sight and was like a living skeleton. At 5.30 in the morning of the 5th January 1893 he passed peacefully to his Maker.
His body was brought to the Church and lay in state for five days. Despite heavy snow, thousands filed past his coffin with the police keeping order. His funeral was said to have been bigger than Parnell’s two years before. Finally his remains were laid to rest in the cemetery beside Mount Argus Church. His grave became a place of pilgrimage where people came daily to pray. When in 1949 his remains were moved inside the Church the Shrine became the place of prayer. Today people come twice each day to be blest with the Relic of Blessed Charles.

You can read a little reflection on Blessed Charles which I wrote for our parish’s Christmas 2006 newsletter here.

Here are some links to posts about him (or related to him) on this blog (-enjoy the photos):
Blessed Charles Pages
No More Inverted Commas
Good News
Mount Argus Tomorrow
Mount Argus 1856-2006
Father Charles of Mount Argus

These posts have some more photos of the Monastery and Church at Mount Argus:
Day Trip to Dublin
Mount Argus Celebration

You can listen to nine meditations on the life and spirituality of Blessed Charles here.

Although, in Australia, the feast-day has already begun, Father Gary hasn’t posted anything yet at the Passionist Charism, but I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t do so before the end of the day.

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When I was in Dublin before Christmas, Father Charles c.p. (Charles Cross – not Blessed Charles) reminded me that I still haven’t posted anything on the Passionist Religious Life Weekend we held in Crossgar from 24 to 26 November. My excuse is that, with my father still in hospital, I’m blogging less frequently. The weekend was conducted by Father Charles, Father Victor and myself; seven young men who wanted to learn more about the Passionist Vocation took part; three of them were from Scotland and four from Ireland.

Here is the ferry at Stranraer; as you can see, the weather was not very promising but, in fact, the crossing was quite smooth and we arrived fit for a good dose of prayer, penance and solitude.

Saint Patrick’s Retreat is just beside the village of Crossgar, which you can glimpse here through the trees. The original name of the house is Tobar Mhuire (Our Lady’s Well); the old holy well is still there in the woods, just off the main avenue. The house was bought by the Passionists in 1952 as a juniorate or minor seminary; later it was the novitiate house.

Behind this wall, at the rear of the property, there is a large enclosed garden which is now the headquarters of the Ulster Wildlife Trust.

The stable block, adjoining the main building, has been converted into a small retreat house. There are about fifteen rooms for retreatants, three conference rooms, two oratories and a public chapel.

This glass-covered yard connects the stable block to the main building. Father Dermot’s talent for plants and flowers keeps it looking bright and welcoming.

The theme of the weekend was “The Priesthood in the Passionist Congregation”. All the young men taking part had some familiarity with the life and work of diocesan priests but were interested in knowing more about what it is like being a priest in a religious community. Of the three priests who took part in the weekend, I am the only one engaged in parish work. Father Victor’s ministry at the Crossgar monastery is mostly hearing confessions, blessing those who come there for spiritual or other healing, and working with prayer groups. Father Charles peaches Parish Missions and gives retreats to priests, religious and laity throughout Ireland and England. He is also coming to Saint Roch’s, Glasgow, later this year to give a Mission to mark the centenary of the parish.

Perhaps today, with so many parish priests living alone, the most obvious difference between diocesan and religious priests is the fact that religious priests usually live in community (although some of them are living alone nowadays too). More important, however, are the particular charism and spirituality of the order or congregation which shape how the community lives and the way in which its apostolate is conducted. As Passionists, we live according to the spirituality of Saint Paul of the Cross, taking a vow to promote in the hearts of God’s people the Memory of the Passion of Jesus Christ. This is the meaning of the Passionist Sign which we wear on our habit (modelled here by Father Charles).

During the weekend, we had Mass each day, we prayed parts of the Divine Office, and we had a half hour of Eucharistic Adoration each evening. The priests also gave some talks (-there were two each day) and we had time for questions, group discussion and personal reflection. Here is Father Charles speaking about what we learn about Faith in Saint John’s Gospel.

Behind Father Charles, you can see a relief of Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, a Passionist student who died in 1862. The picture below gives a closer look. On one of the days I gave a talk on the Passionist Saints and Beati and their importance for our community.

We usually try to visit some place of local interest when we have a Vocation weekend at Crossgar; this part of Ireland has many associations with Saint Patrick. This time we went to Delamont Country Park, near Killyleagh, which is only about five miles from Crossgar. From the top of the hill we had a good view of Strangford Lough, where Saint Patrick landed when he returned to Ireland as a missionary.

The weather was far from perfect, but this didn’t discourage us from enjoying the (very) fresh air.

Here you can see the Sun trying to shine over Saul, where Saint Patrick died in 461 a.d. His grave is at Downpatrick, just a few miles away.

The weekend was very prayerful and I was most impressed by the good mixture of seriousness and fun the young men brought to it. Please pray for them as they discern what God is asking of them. Becoming a priest or religious is a challenge for young people today, but that doesn’t mean that God has stopped inviting people to follow Christ in this way; he hasn’t.

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