Claiming back our Angels

Monday was the feast of Sts Michael, Raphael and Gabriel, the Arcangels.

In past years I've never really had much of a devotion to these saints and had never really given much thought to angels at all. However, over the past couple of years, the arcangels have become a more important part of my prayer life for a couple of reasons.

When I was going into hospital for major surgery a couple of years back someone told me I should find a saint to "accompany" me into the operating theatre and to watch over the operation. I looked up vaious saints – patron saints of surgeons and hospitals etc. but none of them seemed the right fit. I had no feeling of belonging to any of them. Then, out of the blue, and I still don't know why, I settled on Raphael. I guess he seemed powerful and close to God and angels are, afterall, protectors. Why Raphael rather than the other two I'm not sure. I imagined Raphael to be huge – standing in the corner of the operating room, head brushing the ceiling, towering over all of the hospital staff, sternly watching over the operation and protecting me from harm. 

A year later I moved into the school and parish of St Michael's and I've since developed a close devotion to Michael. I often remind him that I work under his name now so he needs to keep me safe and protect me and help me with that work. I believe that he is a very powerful intercessor on my behalf. Someone also gifted me with a St Michael icon that hangs above  my bed and if I feel unsafe at any time in my home I ask Michael help me feel safe.

At Mass on Monday our priest reminded us that angels were ours first before they were claimed by the New Agers. That they are not meak and mild little cherubs or fairy-like creatures but that they are strong and powerful beings who exist to praise God. As the priest said, each time an angel appears in the New Testament, his first words are, "Do not be afraid," which would indicate that angels were terrifying to behold. 

So let's claim back our angels – our powerful intercessors, protectors, companions and guides. 

Pastoral Challenges – Bishop’s Response

Hi all,

havent seen much coverage of the latest Bishop's Conference letter, so here it is for your information and discussion…

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ

E te iwi whakapono, tena koutou, tena tatou katoa.

Next month an Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will take place in Rome.

The Preparatory Document for the Assembly, Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization, was received in October 2013, and included a list of questions. We decided to make the Document and the questions available in two ways: the usual way through national, diocesan and parish channels, and for the first time, online with the opportunity to provide an online response.

The questions were not the easiest to understand, and frustrated many respondents. However people persevered and gave us information which was often personal and painful to recount, and always heartfelt. We feel humble and blessed by the openness and honesty with which people responded to the questions. The responses provided us with some profound insights into how we Catholics think about and practise the faith, and we are grateful that so many of you chose to share your thoughts and experiences with us.

Themes emerged which were common to all the questions:

Respondents recognized that the Church’s teaching on marriage, divorce and adultery is the teaching of Jesus as found in scripture.

A strong sense of exclusion and hurt is felt by many people who are living in situations not in accord with Church teaching in areas such as divorce and re-marriage, cohabitation, contraception and same sex unions. This sense of exclusion and hurt is also felt by their family and friends, and by those in the wider community who see what they consider to be the exclusion of others.

The sense of exclusion can come from one or all of the following:

  • The existence of the teaching itself, which on its own is seen to exclude those who can’t match the ideal.
  • Hard-line un-pastoral presentation of the teaching, in a few cases by priests, but mostly by organizations or individuals who “police” the “rules”.
  • The attitudes of some parishioners which are perceived to be, or actually are, judgmental in relation to the life situation of others.
  • A strong personal sense of failure, of “not meeting the ideal” set by the Church, and therefore a feeling of not being accepted in the Church community.

There are a number of Catholics struggling to stay in their faith community who have been deeply wounded by the judgmental and sometimes righteous attitudes of individuals and groups who see themselves as upholding or policing the Church’s teaching.

At the same time those who feel excluded and hurt, or unable to “live up to the teaching” as they described it, also have a deep sense of connection to the Church. They spoke of “hanging on” to their faith in Jesus Christ while trying to deal with painful feelings of being excluded from the Church. Supportive Individuals (priests, parishioners and relatives) emerged as the best catalysts for strengthening their sense of belonging to the Church.

Many respondents considered that the Church’s definition of family implicit in the questions lacks understanding of the diverse nature of modern families. The emphasis on the family as mother, father and children has led many other family groupings to feel that in the Church’s eyes (or in the view of their faith community) their families are inferior; for example, grandparents bringing up grand children, parents bringing up children alone, families resulting from second marriages, and culturally-sanctioned adoptions within extended families.

Respondents to the questions indicated strongly that sexual abuse by clergy has undermined their faith in priests and bishops as teachers in matters of sexual morality. Many questioned the right of celibate men to “prescribe” what is right or wrong for married couples.

In both online and other submissions, gratitude and appreciation were expressed for the opportunity to contribute. A number of people were courageous in sharing personal stories which were difficult and painful, or the difficulties they have with various aspects of the Church’s teaching. Others expressed their support for the teaching and wrote about how they tried to be faithful to it in their families. We were deeply impressed by the way in which people are striving to live according to the gospel, whatever the circumstances of their lives.

In the responses there was a strong undercurrent of hope that those whose lives are in conflict with Church teaching would again feel at home in the Church, and that those who feel burdened by Church teaching might have their load lessened in some way.

We have taken very seriously the task of conveying your thoughts to the Holy See, and have been anxious to know if what people across the world are saying is truly being heard by those who will organise the Synod Assembly. Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri is the Secretary-General of the Synod of Bishops, and it is his office which is responsible for analysing the submissions on the Preparatory Document. He said in an interview that the responses show “much suffering, especially by those who feel excluded or abandoned by the Church because they find themselves in a state of life that does not correspond to the Church’s doctrine and discipline”.

The results compiled by the bishops’ conferences, he said, show “the urgency of recognising the lived reality of the people and of beginning a pastoral dialogue with those who have distanced themselves from the Church for various reasons”.

There is a huge responsibility resting on Pope Francis and those who take part in both the Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod this year and the Ordinary Assembly next year. The Synod needs the support of sustained prayer, something we can all participate in, individually and in our parishes. Please pray also for Archbishop John Dew who will represent us at the Synod Assembly.

The responses received to the Synod questions challenge us all to do some things now, here in Aotearoa New Zealand, without waiting for the Extraordinary Assembly and the Assembly to follow in 2015. The responses to the questions revealed that in our parishes we are hurting one another, and beyond our parishes there are people who have left because they felt like second-class Catholics due to their particular situation. Pope Francis has spoken often about judging others. He continually encourages us to focus on God’s mercy and love, forgiveness, reconciliation, and acceptance of one another with all our faults.

“What kind of love do we bring to others? Is it the love of Jesus that shares, that forgives, that accompanies… What are the relationships like in our parishes, in our communities? Do we treat each other like brothers and sisters? Or do we judge one another, do we speak evil of one another, do we just tend our own vegetable patch? Or do we care for one another? These are the questions of charity!”

Pope Francis, General Audience, 23 October 2013

This is where we must start now, in all of our interactions with one another, here in our own communities. We do not have to wait for the Synod Assembly in order to start bringing about change.

Yours sincerely in Christ

Archbishop John Dew, President NZCBC
Bishop Patrick Dunn
Bishop Denis Browne
Bishop Colin Campbell
Bishop Charles Drennan
Bishop Barry Jones
Bishop Peter Cullinane

Note: a summary of the responses is available from communications@nzcbc.org.nz, or from the NZCBC Communications Adviser, P O Box 1937, Wellington 6140.

 

It’s not all about the novus ordo

It seems lately that whatever I post about turns into a debate about the novus ordo vs the traditional rite. 

To be frank (and this would seem to be the right website for that) I find it patronising and very short-sighted that people would think that my faith is somehow lessened because I grew up after Vatican II and because I attend and even enjoy my local novus ordo Mass each weekend.

I've been to a few Masses celebrated in Latin in the traditional rite and yes, they have their merits. They are quiet, reflective and filled with deep symbolism and beautiful ritual. But I also find the novus ordo to be beautiful in its own way. I like being able to hear the words of the Eucharistic prayer in my own language and have them wash over me as I kneel and comtemplate their mysteries. I like seeing clearly what the priest is doing on the altar. I enjoy praying the prayers with the rest of the congregation in a language we hold in common and understand. To me, both rites are equally valid, beautiful and remain the source and summit of our faith.

I don't believe my faith has been damaged in any way at all by growing up after Vatican II. My faith is strong, I receive the Sacraments regularly, I spend time in prayer and my work is also based around bringing the Good News to people. My parents grew up before Vatican II and I see very little difference between their faith and mine. 

So, here's your chance… those who continue to rubbish our novus ordo and wish for a return to the past, have it out below… 

To evangelise or not to evangelise

A couple of interesting comments came up from my post last week. Some commenters felt pretty strongly that rather than admiring my friend's steadfast commitment to her faith, I should be trying to evangelise her and make her see the "error of her ways".

Religion has always fascinated me. There is nothing I love more than meeting someone of a different faith and delving into what they believe and how they celebrate. So when I get together with my friend the conversation almost always ends up (through my leading) being about faith and what we hold similiar and different. My friend visits the Morman Temple in Hamilton each school holidays and I'm often curious about what she does there and what it's like inside. She also often visits Salt Lake City and I'll ask her about that. Sometimes I ask her about pictures she has hanging in her house. For me it has the same kind of feeling as a history lesson, history also being an area I'm fascinated with. It's just interesting.

I think the reason that this has been an enduring  friendship (of 13 years now) is that we both have equal respect and admiration for each other's faith. She doesn't try and evangelise me and I don't try and evangelise her. When I first met her I did worry that she might try and give me the hard-sell – Mormons are known for wanting to spread their faith and taking active steps to do so. But that has never been the case. She is equally interested in Catholicism as I am in LDS – she recently attended a Catholic wedding and had lots of questions for me about the church and the ceremony, all asked in a curious and respectful way. I have never said anything disrespectful or even doubting about her beliefs and she has never disrespected my beliefs or called them into question. It's a mutual thing.

The other thing is that having this friend in my life has, in many ways, deepened my faith. As much as we hold different, there are many things we hold in common – the strongest of which being our belief in Jesus as the Son of God and the Bible as the Word of Life. My friend will often quote New Testament stories to me to help me with problems or issues I'm struggling with and I am able to do the same for her. She also encourages me to pray about things. It is nice to have a friend who I can speak with openly about what I believe.

So, I won't be trying to bring my friend to Catholicism. I will continue to live my life as a Catholic so that she (and everyone else I meet) can see the gift my faith is to me while respecting and yes, even admiring, her commitment and the way she lives her life.

Til Death Do Us Part

I've blogged here before about my Mormon friend and how much I admire her commitment to her faith - the fact that she doesn't work or spend money on a Sunday, the way that she fasts once a week, the way she abstains from alcohol, the emphasis she gives to prayer time and to reading the BIble.

Now, I'm not going to be joining the Mormon faith any time soon but I recently discovered something else that I love about their faith.

When Mormons get married they don't say "til death do us part", they say "for time and all eternity". They believe that you will still be married after your death (which, incidentally is where polygamy came from – after your spouse dies, if you remarry, in the Mormon faith you are, in theory, a polygamist because even though your spouse has died, they are still your spouse).

For time and all eternity. I think that's beautiful. Why don't we promise this in the Catholic world? With our belief in the resurrection and communion of saints, and that we can still ask those who have died to pray for us, how does it follow that our links to those who have died are broken by death?

Jokes

What's with this new trend of priests telling jokes before they start their sermon? These jokes usually have some very tenuous link to the message of the sermon but I don't think their purpose is to deepen our understanding, in fact, I'm not sure what the purpose is.

Is it to hook us in, to gain our attention? Is it to add a bit of levity to proceedings?

I quite like it when a priest shares a personal story – something that has happened to him that week or something that has happened during his life, that relates to his own faith journey or understanding of the day's Gospel. But the jokes I could take or leave… mostly they aren't even that funny.

But the oldies certainly like them don't they? Our older parishioners sometimes laugh until they cry over these jokes. Easy crowd to please I guess.

Redundant?

I was watching (well, actually being distracted by) the altar servers at Mass on Sunday and the thought popped into my head, "why do we even have altar servers any more"??? 

And I don't mean that question to sound like I am ignorant of the role they play and the reasons for it – I get that they are helping the priest, that it can be utilised as a ministry for young people, etc, etc. I'm meaning more practically, are they actually required in order for the Mass to be all that it can be?

My experience is that they are often a distraction to the liturgy, or are used as a way of giving children a job to do as "Father's little helpers". Not that there's anything wrong Father having some help, I just wonder though whether the role  has become superfluous. 

I'm approaching this issue very broadly I know, and that a deeper examination of the role of altar servers could be given. But in this post, I am just highlighting how I feel about the current reality of how the ministry of altar serving "looks", not the theological purpose of it. 

What do you think? Time to rethink the role of altar servers? Or is there still a place for them?