Today’s Gospel is one of those we should frequently read to ourselves and continuously strive to exemplify:
If you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? . . .
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
On this measure, it’s not easy to be Christian. It’s not easy to love those who have betrayed us. It’s even harder to love those who have hurt someone we love. But our duty is clear.
The good news is, we’re not alone. We can pray for the grace to love our enemies. We can pray for healing.
This extract comes from Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch Christian who resisted the Nazis and hid Jews in her home. Towards the end of the war, she and her sister were arrested, and sent to a concentration camp.
After the war, Ten Boom toured Europe, preaching a gospel of love and forgiveness. Her experience is a remarkable one, but it’s one we can imitate.
It was in a church in Munich that I saw him, a balding heavy-set man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands.
One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!
This man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp.
“You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard in there.” No, he did not remember me.
“But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein, …” his hand came out, … “will you forgive me?”
And I stood there — I whose sins had every day to be forgiven — and could not. Betsie had died in that place — could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?
It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
I stood there with coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion — I knew that. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the heart’s temperature.
“Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand, I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”
And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!”
For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.
Ten Boom’s most famous book is her autobiography, The Hiding Place. I think I first read it when I was in school, but I’ve also read it since. It’s worth finding.
The film version of this book is available in full on YouTube. I haven’t watched it yet, but I intend to.
Although I’m not getting much done in the way of blogging, I’m certainly getting a lot of other things done. More on that tomorrow.
For now, why not read a much better post than I could ever write on the subject of abortion, choice, and hope.
And on the thirty-minute drive home with my mom at the wheel, the sobs continued even as I had no tears left to cry. Devastation made way to numbness the more the reality set in. And in a moment of truly facing my reality, I considered the option that Dr. Wilson had put forth. Abortion. Such an awful, horrific word it had always been to me. Until this very moment. Until it was ME. Until it was MY life interrupted. MY heart writhing in pain. MY mind in a torrent of fear and shame and despair.
This could all be gone JUST.LIKE.THAT.
Maybe the greatest thing Opus Dei offers me is ongoing formation.
Formation is what Opus Dei “does”, in the same way that Dominicans do preaching, and Carmelites do contemplation, and Jesuits do teaching. All these groups do all these things, but each has its main charism and focus.
So Opus Dei does formation, which includes, in my case, a regular talk on some spiritual practice, and on one of the virtues. The topic of these talks is determined by a cycle — in other words, they aren’t tailored to a perceived need — but it’s funny how often the right talk comes at the right time. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit I guess.
A recent talk rehearsed the benefits and means of order, and good use of time. At about the same time, I was contemplating a job offer of sorts, which would require a commitment to write 800 words every three weeks. I ran it by my parish priest, who being older and wiser than me, often gives me good advice. His response? “If you take this up, what will you give up? You’ve only got finite time and energy, and you don’t want to burn out.”
I hadn’t considered this at all. It relates, of course, to order and good use of time. So the juxtaposition of that talk on order and that conversation on burnout gave rise to a resolution. Six months ago, I started reading a book called Getting Things Done. Ironically, I never got around to finishing it. But I picked it up again, and read it cover to cover.
Reading mediocre novels is like drinking bad wine. Life’s too short! So I have a rule about novels: unless it’s personally recommended to me by someone I trust, I only read classics and cultural phenomenons. In the case of classics, if a novel remains in print over several generations, it is obviously worth reading. In the case of contemporary novels, if it is storming public consciousness, it’s probably worth reading even if it’s bad, just for the sake of cultural awareness.
Without consciously deciding this, I’ve applied the same rule to self-help books. I’ve only read two in my life. Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People (1936) basically founded the genre, and certainly meets the definition of a classic. I’m glad I read it, I occasionally re-read it, and I recommend it.
David Allen’s Getting Things Done was published in 2001, so it can’t be called a classic yet, but maybe it will become one. It’s certainly a bestseller, translated into 28 languages and heralded by TIME Magazine as “the defining self-help business book of its time.” In any event, I’m committed to it now, and I must say it has already helped me foster order and be more productive.
One GTD principle is to get “stuff” out of your mind and onto paper or electronic files. That’s all stuff — be it professional or personal, urgent or optional, tasks for tomorrow or aspirations for 2020. The idea is to implement an organising system which gives your brain a break. It works. Many of the distractions that used to bother me as I was meditating before the tabernacle or praying the Rosary are now in a reliable system, so I can easily dismiss them, if they bother me at all.
Another principle is to make filing easy by dispensing with formal categories — use a simple A-Z system, and be prepared to introduce a new manilla folder with a new category name for only one item, if that’s what it takes to file everything. I’ve also constructed a “tickler file,” which is worth implementing even if you reject the larger GTD system.
GTD is a system, intended to inform one’s entire life, not just professional work. It has attracted criticisms for being cult-like, too rigid, too systemic, suspiciously New Age. I’ll deal with criticisms of GTD, many of them valid, tomorrow.
In the meantime, though, in the interest of full disclosure, I recommend it. Its positives outweigh its negatives, and it has already had a positive impact on my time management and workflow. I hope and expect this will translate into more consistent blogging!
The tragic and horrific murder of eleven year old Luke Batty — killed by his father at cricket training — leaves us all speechless, I think. Except, remarkably, in the case of Luke’s mother, Rosie Batty, who has had a lot to say, and said it graciously.
It’s worth watching her extended press conference. She eloquently relates the ubiquity of domestic violence, the profundity of a parent’s love, and who Luke was. Her poise obviously belies the desolation and grief which afflicts he, but even on the subject of her grief, and what she needs right now, she is articulate and compelling.
The most famous quote of the Second Vatican Council relates to this situation.
The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.
Gaudium et Spes, 1
In other words, the Church asks us — our Lord asks us — to make Rosie Batty’s grief our grief, and to support and assist her.
But how do we do that? What do we do, to empathise with the afflicted? To become to them an alter Christus, another Christ?
I think in the first place, we have to be present to grieving friends and acquaintances. It’s so much easier to avoid grieving people. On the one hand, “we want to give them space.” On the other hand, we don’t know what to say. We have nothing to offer them anyway. We’ll only get in the way.
But this is wrong. Followers of Christ have to be present. “Giving them space” only increases the experience of isolation and loss.
In the second place, we have to acknowledge what has happened. We need to tell them we are sorry for their loss. We need to talk about the loss — name the person who has died; share memories. Sometimes a person might tear up, and we’re compelled to look away. We’d like to change the subject. But it’s better at that moment to listen. And sometimes “listening” means attending to the silence.
One of the greatest supports we can offer the bereaved, I think, is to mention the elephant in the room. This gives them the opportunity to share their memories and grief.
Of course there are other, pragmatic, supports. A meal. An errand. When we offer to help in these ways, we need to be specific. “Can I mow your lawn on Saturday?” “Can I bring around a meal tomorrow? It’s easily frozen.”
Now having said all that, being present and giving our time and support shouldn’t be invasive. People do need some space. And we can say the wrong thing.
“I know how you feel.”
No. We can’t know. So we shouldn’t say it.
“They’re with God now,” or “Death isn’t the end.”
These statements, of course, are true. But they aren’t always consoling. At the wrong time, they’re offensive. Talking about the resurrection too easily, and too soon, denies the reality of loss and death.
We can only imagine the pain and anguish of Mary the mother of Jesus, standing at the foot of the cross. It would have been easier for her to stay away — especially since she expected to see her son again on the third day. But she didn’t. Before rejoicing with her son on Easter Sunday, she suffered with him on Good Friday.
Our Lady’s faith in the resurrection wasn’t diminished by her grief. Nor is ours.
So we don’t look past the cross; we attend to it. We are present at people’s Calvary. And like Mary — who stands for the whole Church — we pray for the afflicted, and we accompany them, in their joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties.
Today is a massive day in the life of Australia’s Missionaries of God’s Love.
At 11:00 this morning, at a Solemn Mass Solemn Mass at St Christopher’s Cathedral in Canberra, Archbishop Prowse inaugurated the MGLs as a Religious Institute of Diocesan Right.
Such inauguration is a major step in the development of a religious congregation. Here’s a snapshot:
1. God inspires a founder (or co-founders) to establish a new institute of consecrated life, with a unique charism which can enrich the Church.
2. The founder(s) assembles a number of aspirants who discern a call to join this new mission.
3. A diocesan bishop sanctions the group, and informs the Holy See. In its embryonic form, the new group is canonically recognised as an ‘association of the Christian faithful.’ An association needs to have its own statutes, governance, and rules of life, all approved by the bishop.
4. As the group expands, members may take private vows, and assume some sort of habit. The association may seek permission to establish itself in additional dioceses, but the group maintains a particular relationship with the bishop of the original diocese.
5. After at least ten years of stability and sustainable growth, an association may be approved as an institute of diocesan right. This brings additional canonical rights and autonomy.
6. If the group’s stability and growth is sustained, it may seek to become an institute of pontifical right, which brings even greater autonomy.
(I’m no canon lawyer. Corrections are welcome!)
Here’s a different sort of snapshot which is more particular to the MGLs:
The MGLs’ major formation house is in Melbourne, so I studied with many MGL brothers, and MGL sisters, during my own priestly formation. The MGLs were consistently cheerful and supernaturally-minded. (This sometimes contrasted with my own critical spirit and tendency to complain!)
On one occasion I accepted an invitation from the brothers to Saturday evening dinner, only to learn that the Saturday evening meal, at least, depended solely on Providence. I may be mistaken, but from what I recall, if there were no donations forthcoming, they went without. This seldom occurred however. Food would be found, often at the last minute. This discovery gave me new insight into the MGLs’ optimism and faith.
I don’t know Fr Ken Barker very well, but I have heard him speak, and I’ve read his books, and there are occasions when I’ve gone to him for confession. He speaks and conducts himself with compelling authority. This quality is hard to describe. It’s something you can recognise, I think, only after a personal encounter. I’m privileged to know several people who possess this authority, and Fr Ken is one of them.
God bless the MGLs on this auspicious day. God bless Australia.
Pope Francis has announced the beatification of Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, St Josemaría’s closest collaborator and Opus Dei’s first prelate.
Don Alvaro will be beatified in Madrid on Saturday 27 September. Maybe I will go. Who knows? My first trip to Europe was in 2002, to attend the canonisation of St Josemaría. I wasn’t in Opus Dei back then, but I owed a lot to Josemaría, and I was happy to celebrate his canonisation! My other trip to Europe was the 2011 World Youth Day, in Madrid. Can you see a Spanish theme emerging?
On the other hand, I intend to go to Rome next January for the CCC’s international clergy conference. Diocesan priests don’t take a vow of poverty, but we do try to foster simplicity. An advisable model is the father of a large family, scraping to get by. In other words, I imagine my own Dad’s spending habits back when I was in primary school. I remember it being a big deal when he bought a new suit. I don’t recall him jetting off to Europe twice in three months!
Whatever of that, here’s a few interesting anecdotes about Don Alvaro, taken from Alvaro Del Portillo, by Salvador Bernal:
On the Spanish Civil War
Don Alvaro spoke about that period of his life only on rare occasions. One such occasion took place in the Filipino city of Cebu, at the end of January 1987. He was trying to get across how necessary it is to love and to foster peace, and this brought to his mind the persecution against the Church which had been unleashed in Spain during the civil war.
“I had never been involved in any political activity,” he said, “and I was not a priest, or a religious, or even a seminarian; I was just an engineering student. I got thrown in jail just because I came from a Catholic family. By then I was already wearing glasses, and one day one of the guards came up to me—his name was Petrof, it’s a Russian name—and he put a pistol to my temple and said, ‘You’re wearing glasses—you must be a priest.’ He could have killed me at any moment. I think the only reason he didn’t was because God thought I still had a lot of fighting to do against the devil, or because I was not worthy of heaven. It was terrifying.”
On hearing his first confession (I can relate to this one!)
After his ordination, Don Alvaro became an even firmer support, so to speak, for the founder of Opus Dei. The overwhelming avalanche of supernatural gifts which God was pouring out on Father Josemaría made it necessary for him to have at his side an intelligent and humble priest who was truly close to him. The founder had a responsibility to discern and to get confirmation of the paths which the Holy Spirit was opening in his ardent and vibrant soul, and to distinguish, when necessary, between what had to do with his interior life and what had to do with the foundation. And the reality is that he only went ahead with complete peace of mind when he began to open his heart and soul to Don Alvaro not only as his closest associate, but as his confessor as well.
Despite the openness and ease that characterized their relationship, that first confession was one of the few times in his whole life when Don Alvaro became noticeably nervous. The confession took place on June 26, 1944—the very day after Don Alvaro’s ordination. The two of them were at the Villanueva Street center, in Madrid. Father Josemaría asked Don Alvaro if he’d heard any confessions yet, and when he said no, the founder said that he would like to make a general confession to him.
The confession had hardly started when Don Alvaro began to worry that he might forget the words of absolution. He knew the prayer by heart, but, as he himself had just said, he had not as yet given anybody sacramental absolution. This was so much on his mind that as soon as Father Josemaría got finished confessing his sins, Don Alvaro started saying the prayer of absolution. The founder had to interrupt him. “My son,” he said, “I can understand it if you don’t want to give me any advice, but you do need to at least give me a penance!” So Don Alvaro gave him one, but then when he started the prayer of absolution again, he forgot how it went. He had to repeat it after the founder!
On another occasion, a German fellow named Mathias, who belonged to some evangelical denomination, addressed Don Alvaro publicly, not long after the death of Mgr Escriva. “How can I find out the will of God for my life? How can I know what direction I should take?”
Don Alvaro spoke to him about the Gospel, about freedom of conscience, and about the one Church founded by Jesus Christ: the Catholic Church. “In the sixteenth century,” he said, “pieces were chipped off of that great Church of Christ, but those pieces still have something of that divine richness. Pope Pius XI used to say that it was like splinters from a gold-bearing rock—even the tiniest piece has a few grains of gold. You have a lot of gold in your faith. You believe in the Father, in the Son, and in the Holy Spirit. You believe in so many things… But I would be a hypocrite if I were not to tell you that you’re still missing something of the true faith, the faith that your ancestors had before they separated themselves from the one Church of Jesus Christ. The only thing I can do is ask you for permission to pray for you, that the Holy Spirit will give you the fullness of faith . . . In return, I ask of you one thing: that you pray for me. Let’s make between us a kind of pact—you pray that I be a worthy successor of a saint, because I am a poor man, a poor priest of Jesus Christ.”
Death took him by surprise in March 1994, just after his return from the Holy Land. On March 23, 1994, Don Javier Echevarría made this announcement: “Last night a heart attack ended the life of Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, Prelate of Opus Dei. A little before four in the morning, he called me to tell me he was feeling bad. While the doctor was tending to him, I myself gave him the last sacraments, in accord with his explicitly and often stated wish.”
At 6pm that evening, Pope John Paul II went in person to pray in the funeral chapel, accompanied by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican Secretary of State. And before and after that extraordinary visit, many cardinals and prelates of the Roman Curia and superiors of religious orders went to pay their last respects.
John Paul was especially touched by the fact that the Lord had called Don Alvaro home upon his return from the Holy Land. He put a lot of emphasis on this in the audience that he gave to the participants of the 1994 UNIV Congress, which, as usual, took place in Holy Week. “At this time,” he said, “the thought of the Holy Land is for you very tied in with the person of Bishop Alvaro del Portillo. Just before calling him to himself, God allowed him to make a pilgrimage to those places where Jesus spent his life on earth. Those were days of intense prayer which united him very closely to Christ and, in fact, prepared him for his final meeting with the Blessed Trinity.”
Many of my prayers and thoughts have been for Edward Ekari, his family, and the seminarians at Wagga’s Vianney College and Brisbane’s Holy Spirit Seminary. Eddie was only 33 years old when he was killed in a car crash on Monday.
I didn’t know Eddie well — we had met; we were Facebook friends — but still a story like this cuts close. I’m reminded, too, of the untimely death of Br Jason Duck OMI, whom I did know well. Whenever I come across the prayer card from his funeral, I always stop and wonder at God’s designs, and sincerely pray for Jason.
I wonder at God’s designs because a seminarian, especially late in his formation, when the question of discernment is more settled, is whole-heartedly focused on ordination. Ordination signifies the culmination of many years’ work and study, but it’s also the start of something: a new life of ministry, and also something more personal and eternal. “Once a priest, always a priest,” as the saying goes. (Cf CCC 1582, 1583.)
Once a man is a ordained, I think, the only future milestone that compares to ordination is death. I think if I was married I would look forward to the birth of my children. And the birth of grandchildren must be a massive milestone too. And then, of course, there is also the death of a spouse, which half of all married people must experience.
For a priest, I think, the measure of milestones is very different. It’d be nice to celebrate my golden jubilee one day, certainly. Fifty years of priesthood is a great thing to celebrate. But I don’t look forward to it the way I looked forward to ordination.
Is that how I look forward to death? Not in an eager I-can’t-wait-til-I-die fashion, no. But I do look forward to death as the only life-changing event that compares to ordination. Of course, dying is a very different proposition for consecrated celibates. We live a life of total dedication to the Lord, which also demands a certain detachment. We don’t have the sacred and sublime commitments — a spouse and children especially — that interfere with a married person’s death. I’m not saying that dying is any easier for a celibate, but it’s certainly less complicated.
I also look forward to death in another way. I hope I can die without regret — without looking back, and only looking forward. We can only die the way we have lived. I can only die “looking forward, not back” if I try to live every day like that.
In Eddie’s case, and Jason’s, I feel they were cheated. They aspired to holy orders, but they died before receiving them. The second milestone intervened before the first. “Too soon!” “They was robbed!” It’s ridiculous of course. Please God, both these men now enjoy the Beatific Vision, which surpasses the joys of holy orders.
But apart from that, both men were young. Eddie’s mother now has the unhappy task of burying him. I think we can all intuit the injustice of that.
Facebook users may like to visit a tribute page to Eddie.
May he rest in peace.