Silent retreat

Silent retreat

My annual retreat begins tonight. It’s silent, so there won’t be much blogging this week. (Just a few scheduled posts I’ve cobbled together during the flight to Sydney.)

I’m looking forward to a week of rest at the beautiful Kenthurst Study Centre — but not too much rest. Spiritual retreats may be physically restful, but they are still hard work. I’ll have to be generous in the time I spend in prayer. I’ll have to fight sleep. I’ll have to combat boredom. I’ll have to put my own concerns on the back burner, and attend first and foremost to the Lord.

Since the retreat begins on the day of her canonisation, and we celebrate her feast day for the first time tomorrow, I’m asking St Teresa of Calcutta to pray for me during the retreat. With her prayers and God’s grace, I hope to match Mother Teresa’s spirit of prayer, and her generosity of time in prayer — at least for this week. As a start. I’d be very grateful if you could pray a short prayer accordingly.

I’ll keep in mind the intentions of all my blog readers. It sounds a bit funny, because I have never even met many of you. But then again, I’m always having to pray for “whats-her-name” and “whose-it” in the parish, recommending “faces” to the Lord on the assurance that he knows their names and intentions. So praying for anonymous readers isn’t much of a departure from the norm. God knows what He’s about.

St Teresa, pray for us!

St Lawrence and St Philomena

St Lawrence and St Philomena

Today is (was) the Feast of St Lawrence. Apart from his horrific and heroic martyrdom (he was rotated on a spit over a fire), St Lawrence is famous for recognising the greatest treasure of the Church.

St Ambrose most notably related the story, but I’ll settle for Wikipedia. After the summary execution of Pope Sixtus, Archdeacon Lawrence, who was the Holy See’s treasurer, was given three days to present the Church’s wealth to the Emperor’s prefect.

He worked swiftly to distribute as much Church property to the poor as possible, so as to prevent its being seized by the prefect. On the third day, at the head of a small delegation, he presented himself to the prefect, and when ordered to give up the treasures of the Church he presented the poor, the crippled, the blind and the suffering, and said these were the true treasures of the Church. One account records him declaring to the prefect, “The Church is truly rich, far richer than your emperor.”

Since then, the Church has amassed priceless treasures, like St Peter’s Basilica, Michelangelo’s Pieta, and the Sistine Chapel. But Lawrence’s claim still rings true: the Church’s greatest treasures are the sick and suffering. Maybe someone reading numbers among that group of the physically and mentally ill. Thank you! Your carrying of the cross is not in vain, and your prayers are invaluable. Souls are being saved. God bless you.

Today is (was) also the feast of St Philomena, who no longer features in the liturgical calendar, but still belongs to the canon of saints. Dear Philomena was a great help to me at World Youth Day. I carried a relic of hers on my person at all times, and I’m very certain it was her prayers and intercession which accomplished some extraordinary graces, especially in sacramental confession.

St Philomena is a very powerful intercessor. Since 2008, I have prayed a novena to her several times. In every instance the spiritual favour I sought for someone else — usually conversion — was bestowed sooner or later. I can’t overstate this: if you are in need of extraordinary graces, ask St Philomena to pray for your intentions. Her prayers are very efficacious.

New prayer book for youth

New prayer book for youth

Today I joined 300 or so pilgrims at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, where Archbishop Hart prayed a blessing over us and commissioned us to join the pope in Poland for World Youth Day later this month.

In addition to the blessing and commission, we received briefings and tickets and a host of related goodies, like a green and gold combination of pilgrim T-shirt and hat:


What really caught my eye, though, was that Prayer Book for Youth which the Melbourne Vocations Office has published in honour of Pope St John Paul II. It’s a great new resource, which seeks to be something of a one-stop shop for young Catholics becoming acquainted with traditional forms of prayer.

There are adaptations of the Divine Office — I particularly like the Night Prayer. There are popular devotions like the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross, and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. You’ll find traditional formulae of Catholic doctrine, a guide to spiritual discernment, and prayers authored by saints old and new. The book concludes with several lengthy quotations from St John Paul II to youth, on the priestly vocation, the married vocation, and the universal call to sanctity.

Each chapter title is accompanied by a black and white photo of the pope, and several of these photos I have not seen before. The chapter on sacramental confession incorporates a famous photo of John Paul II with Ali Agca, his would be assassin. The pair strike a pose which evokes confession, and although no sacraments were ministered that day, grace abounded and a very real reconciliation took place.


The guide to a good confession which constitutes this chapter is very familiar to me. I prepared it for last year’s Adelaide Catholic Youth Festival, in collaboration with my good friend and neighbour in Mt Gambier, Fr Michael Romeo. I’ve blogged before about Fr Romeo’s heroic efforts at the ACYF to promote eucharistic adoration and sacramental confession. The guide to confession he commissioned from me, and a guide to eucharist adoration he commissioned from Adelaide’s Fr Peter Zwaans, are now featured in this excellent new prayer book.


I’m not saying you should get the JPII Prayer Book for Youth because of the material I prepared for it. I’m recommending it because it positively teems with great content, from all quarters — most notably the saints. It is beautifully presented and easy to use. Best of all, it’s free! Keep your eyes peeled, because its public circulation began today.

There Be Dragons: a tale of two (or possibly three) films

There Be Dragons: a tale of two (or possibly three) films

To celebrate St Josemaría’s actual feast day today, I watched There Be Dragons tonight. Well. I thought that’s what I was watching.

It turns out there are two different versions of the movie — a producer’s cut, which was the original cinema release, and a director’s cut, which is subtitled Blood and Country. The director’s cut also goes by another name, Secrets of Passion. I think.

Confused? I am.

The original There Be Dragons is the version preferred by the producers — members of Opus Dei — who had envisaged a biopic of St Josemaría and a dramatisation of the Work’s origins. This version is 120 minutes long. I recall enjoying it very much, although the plot was confusing and sometimes plodding.

Blood and Country or Secrets of Passion is the version preferred by the director — Roland Joffé — who envisaged a romantic epic, set amidst the Spanish Civil War, and focused on the themes of love and forgiveness. This version is only 100 minutes long. I did not enjoy it so much. It may be shorter, but the plot is even more tedious, and it doesn’t help that a new soundtrack drowns out the dialogue.

Those who are interested in how two movies were cut and released can read more from the director’s perspective, and from the editor’s perspective. A perfect illustration of the differences: Blood and Country omits one of my favourite scenes from There Be Dragons. It depicts the radical nature of Opus Dei in the context of 1930s Catholicism:

I can understand why details like this may not be as interesting to a broader audience. Hence the move, in the director’s cut, away from spiritual themes and ecclesial history, and towards unrequited love and revenge. Unfortunately though, both versions of the movie were box-office flops.

The biggest problem lies with the jarring leaps from one time to another time. Both versions of the film contain plots competing for attention. One plot — the more interesting one — is set in the 1930s; the less interesting sub-plot is set in the 1990s. I think the complex convolutions of the Spanish Civil War are confusing enough, without adding a trite 1990s melodrama which only serves to break our concentration and investment.

Still, I did enjoy the original cinema version. I’m now in the market for a DVD of the “St Josemaría cut,” with the original soundtrack and dialogue I can hear. Cue the power of Google . . .

Pope JPI on St Josemaría

Pope JPI on St Josemaría

Today is the feast of St Josemaría Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei. Actually, his feast is tomorrow – the anniversary of his death in 1975 – but that clashes with Sunday, so his feast was moved forward a day.

To mark the feast, the very readable Opus Dei news site has reproduced an old article about Josemaría and his spirituality which I have never read before. It was written in 1978 by Cardinal Albino Luciani, one month before he became Pope John Paul.  (That means he wrote it only two months before he died!)

John Paul I is a very good writer. Outstanding, in fact. I’m inspired now to read his famous Illustrissimi, which I’m sure is every bit as entertaining and insightful as his short article on Opus Dei and its founder. I am very familiar with St Josemaría and his spirituality, which as a member of the Work is my spirituality too. But still, this article has taught me new things about both.

Here’s a taste:

Msgr Escrivá, with Gospel in hand, constantly taught: ‘God does not want us simply to be good, he wants us to be saints, through and through. However, he wants us to attain that sanctity, not by doing extraordinary things, but rather through ordinary common activities.’

More than 300 years earlier St Francis de Sales taught something along the same lines. A preacher had publicly consigned to the flames from his pulpit a book in which St Francis had said that in certain circumstances dancing can be permissible; the book also contained a whole chapter on the “worthiness of the marriage bed.” However, Msgr Escrivá went further than St Francis de Sales in many respects. St Francis proclaimed sanctity for everyone but seems to have only a “spirituality for lay people” whereas Msgr Escrivá wants a “lay spirituality.” Francis, in other words, nearly always suggests for the laity the same practical means used by religious, but with suitable modifications. Escrivá is more radical; he goes as far as talking about “materializing”—in a good sense—the quest for holiness. For him, it is the material work itself which must be turned into prayer and sanctity.

The legendary Baron Munchausen tells a fable of a monstrous hare that had a double set of legs: four normal ones on his belly and four more on his back. Pursued by the hounds and feeling himself about to be overtaken, he flips himself over and continues running on four fresh legs. For the founder of Opus Dei, the life of a Christian would be just as monstrous if he were to go about with a double series of activities: one consisting of prayers, for God; the other made up of work, relaxation and family life, for himself. ‘No,’ says Escrivá, ‘there is only one life, and it has to be made holy en bloc.’ That is why he speaks of a “materialized” spirituality.

Follow the link to read it all.

The reluctant martyrs

The reluctant martyrs

Today is the feast of St John Fisher and St Thomas More, perhaps the two most famous martyrs of the English Reformation. Longterm readers will know already how much I admire St Thomas.

Today’s feast coincides with a tour of the martyrs’ relics around the United States. To celebrate the tour, Scepter Publishing has made freely available for download two booklets about St Thomas More.

One of the interesting things about both men is that they are unlikely heroes and reluctant martyrs. They differ from St Edmund Campion, for example, who was born into an age of persecution and always knew the potential cost of proclaiming the Faith. In contrast, Cardinal Fisher and Sir Thomas had persecution and martyrdom unexpectedly thrust upon them. They met their fate with poise and good humour.

Cardinal Fisher’s final request, prior to his execution on 22 June 1535, was time for a siesta. He slept soundly for two hours. I suppose he had been deprived of decent sleep for some time, so the request was very practical. But it also demonstrates the serenity which God granted him in his final hours.

Two weeks later, on 6 July 1535, when Sir Thomas endured his own final moments, he famously joked with the axeman. More had been clean shaven throughout the divorce controversy which led to his trumped up charges, but during his years of imprisonment he had grown a long beard. As he laid his head on the chopping block, he removed his beard away from the path of the blade, for “This hath not offended the king.”

Hopefully we will never personally encounter the persecution and martyrdom which was thrust upon Fisher and More. But still they are outstanding models for us when we endure smaller trials and occasional enmity. I think their serenity and good humour are as important as their integrity and charity.

During his imprisonment More composed and prayed a beautiful prayer for his enemies. A prayer we can make our own.

Almighty God, have mercy on N. and N., and on all that bear me evil will, and would me harm, and their faults and mine together by such easy, tender, merciful means as thine infinite wisdom best can devise; vouchsafe to amend and redress and make us saved souls in Heaven together, where we may ever live and love together with thee and thy blessed saints, O glorious Trinity, for the bitter passion of our sweet Saviour Christ. Amen.

Lord, give me patience in tribulation and grace in everything, to conform my will to thine, that I may truly say: “Fiat voluntas tua, sicut in cælo et in terra.”

The things, good Lord, that I pray for, give me thy grace to labour for. Amen.

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