“Just remember, you’re only Richard Umbers!”

“Just remember, you’re only Richard Umbers!”

You may have heard of, or perhaps watched yourself, Andrew Denton’s recent contribution to the debate about legalising euthanasia.

For the most part, his address to the Australian Press Council was thoughtful, because Denton is a thoughtful and intelligent man. He did, however, reveal defective thinking (or something worse: pernicious illiberalism) in his call for the religiously minded to disqualify themselves from the national debate.

Peter Kurti presents a good summary and rebuttal in the latest Australian edition of The Spectator.

‘I urge you, step aside,’ Denton said, directing his remarks at those ‘whose beliefs instruct you that only God can decide how a human being should die.’ If you’ve got religion, in other words, sit down, shut up, and don’t be a pest.

This is the new sectarianism where all Christian traditions are equally unacceptable. When it comes to making medical decisions about who can die and when, the new sectarians apparently already know everything there is to know about human suffering. Those who agree with them are welcome to speak up; but any with opposing views must remain silent.

Meanwhile, Fr Richard Umbers has been on retreat at the beautiful Brooklands Retreat Centre in New Zealand. I very much doubt he was even aware of Denton’s proposal when he posted this video on Sunday, but his remarks on faith are very pertinent:

. . that consideration on a retreat of faith, hope and charity: what we have as Christians to offer our society. Faith which is a light: it helps us to see the world in a very different way. It’s a gift God gives us, to see things from His perspective — the meaning of suffering; the meaning of our lives . . .

Since concluding his retreat, Fr Richard has returned to Sydney, where he will be ordained a bishop on Wednesday. Judging from his online activity in recent weeks, Fr Richard will quickly become the most prolific Australian bishop on the Internet:

Keep him, and Msgr Tony Randazzo, in mind on Wednesday evening. Maybe we can pray Fr Richard never forgets his mum’s sage advice:

“Just remember: you’re only Richard Umbers.”

Gold!

Judgement Day: the narrow door

Judgement Day: the narrow door

During World Youth Day, I was interested (but not surprised) to learn that pilgrims wanted to know more about heaven and hell.

As chaplain, I’d spend each day with a different group — exploring Krakow, attending events, finding food, waiting in queue. (There were a lot of queues!) In conversation, I kept to ‘secular subjects.’ I’d start conversations about school, or politics, or the footy, or travel, or whatever.

Conversation turned to the supernatural or spiritual only when a pilgrim raised those subjects. And then the audience would grow. Suddenly there were three people in the conversation, or four, or six, or more. It became informal catechesis — pilgrims would ask questions, and I’d do my best to give the Catholic answers. And then the discussion always — always — moved to heaven and hell.

So I can imagine that the question Jesus fields in today’s Gospel — “Sir, will there be only a few saved?” — was probably asked of him many times.

Our Lord replies in typical fashion. He doesn’t give a direct answer. He doesn’t say, “Only a few will be saved,” as the Pharisees taught. He doesn’t say, “Most or all will be saved,” as the modern world teaches.

Instead, he moves the focus away from general statistics and towards the individual. He looks his interlocutor in the eye: “Try your best to enter by the narrow door.”

I wish I’d thought of this gospel in Poland, when I fielded similar questions. I did, at least, apply its principles. What Jesus wants is clear:

  • he wants us to be responsible for our choices;
  • he wants to lead us to heaven;
  • but he needs us to follow his lead.

We have to do our part. It’s not enough to have a superficial knowledge of Christ. We have to have a living, lasting, growing friendship with him. Friendship always involves effort and self-sacrifice, time and energy.

We don’t earn our way into heaven. Even the greatest saints are in heaven because of God’s mercy, not because of justice. But imagine what it must be like at the moment of judgement, standing before Jesus. There we are: our sins exposed by the light of truth; our lukewarm love ice cold in comparison to the burning fire of divine love.

It must take a lot of humility to stand there and seek the Lord’s mercy. It must require profound intimacy with Jesus; a sincere confidence that his love is greater than our sin. Standing there before him must demand a self-forgetful love — I think I could stand it only for his sake, not my own.

It would be easier, less painful, more self-satisfying, to turn away, to demand his departure. To condemn ourselves to hell. This is why Jesus insists we strive in this life to enter through the narrow door.

So let’s ask ourselves: what more can I do to know Jesus? To love him? To serve him?

How is my prayer life? Daily prayer and frequent confession are essential aspects of the Christian life.

How do I relate to my neighbours? We love God only as much as we love the person we like least.

How do I mould my character? Habitual acts of self-denial foster self-discipline and freedom of the heart.

But of course, our Lord doesn’t ask us to navigate the narrow door all by ourselves. He constantly helps and strengthens us, especially through holy communion and the other sacraments.

He loves us so much. Let’s try our best to enter the narrow door.

Signs in heaven

Signs in heaven

The First Reading in today’s Mass of Our Lady’s Assumption shows John’s Apocalypse at its most vivid. Here’s an extract:

Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman, adorned with the sun, standing on the moon, and with the twelve stars on her head for a crown. She was pregnant, and in labour, crying aloud in the pangs of childbirth . . .

And on it goes. Veritable libraries have been written interpreting these “signs in heaven.” It’s very interesting, I think, that next year the stars happen to align and interact in such a way that at least some of these signs are retold.

Patrick Archbold, the brains behind Creative Minority Reportpublished an article on this last year, in The Remnant. It’s well worth reading his entire article. Here’s how it starts:

On September 23, 2017, we will see the constellation Virgo with the sun rise directly behind it (the woman clothed with the sun). These events transpire during the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of “the woman clothed in the sun,” Our Lady at Fatima in 1917. What does it mean?

[Editorial Note: In the following article, I intend to present a series of facts and observations from which I draw no definitive conclusion. Yet, these facts and observations are of such a nature, for no other reason than their observation and reporting, that lend themselves to misinterpretation. So let me be clear, in the following article, I predict nothing. I am offering my observations on some upcoming phenomena, both heavenly and man-made, potentially of great import, that people might find interesting and of which people should be aware.]

I included his editorial note in full, because that’s especially important. Many of my readers probably suspect that we are in the End Times. I suspect as much myself. That’s all well and good, insofar as it informs a truly supernatural outlook, by which we strive for sanctity, and pray like there’s no tomorrow, because maybe there won’t be a tomorrow. As Our Lord advises, “when that day and hour will come, no one knows.” (Mt 24:36)

On the other hand, “millennial fever” is no good at all if it distracts a person from the interior life. Stockpiling food and water, and poring over calendars and prophecies, can be very destructive to a person’s faith — and the faith of those around them. It can also leave a person looking a bit cray-cray, which is really not a good way to attract others to Christ.

Of course, it’s also worth considering that there are people in every generation who think theirs is the last generation. Just ask the apostles! Be that as it may, there’s little doubt in my mind that we live in extraordinary times. Ours is a time where evil abounds, but grace abounds even more.

Deo gratias.

Tommy Corrigan

Tommy Corrigan

On this day in 1894 the champion jockey Tommy Corrigan died of brain lacerations, two days after he and his horse Waiter fell in the Caulfield Grand National Steeplechase.

He was born in Ireland, but his family migrated to Australia when he was 13. He worked for his father on a dairy farm near Woodford but at age 14, his racing career was launched with a win in Warrnambool. Later on, he settled in Ballarat. I don’t think we’re related — not closely — so it’s pure coincidence that we share surnames and hometowns. (In any event, I’m connected to Ballarat via O’Hehirs and Warrnambool via McElgunns. The Corrigan side of the family comes from outback Queensland.)

Tommy Corrigan was the greatest Australian jockey of the nineteenth century, and some call him the best jumps rider ever. Between 1866 and 1894 he recorded 238 wins, 135 seconds and 95 thirds from 788 starts. That’s a 60 per cent strike rate. I’m a bit surprised that he doesn’t have an entry in Wikipedia. Maybe I’ll do something about that.

The diminutive Irishman’s fame was huge, and like all popular Australian athletes, it was his good nature and beaming smile which shielded him from the tall poppy syndrome. We could imagine him as a 19th century version of Pat Rafter, or even better, another Michelle Payne! By all accounts, he was devoted to his family, and to his Catholic faith. He sought out a priest and made a good confession before every race, and 11 August 1894 was no exception.

For two days, his life hung in the balance, and for two days crowds milled through St Francis’ Church, praying for his recovery. His funeral was the largest ever seen in Melbourne. Traffic was suspended for two hours, and most businesses were closed all day. The route from his home in Caulfield to his grave in Carlton was lined by thousands of mourners, and onlookers described Swanston Street as “a mass of humanity.”

The great jockey is memorialised in a poem by Banjo Paterson:

You talk of riders on the flat, of nerve and pluck and pace—
Not one in fifty has the nerve to ride a steeplechase.
It’s right enough, while horses pull and take their fences strong,
To rush a flier to the front and bring the field along;
But what about the last half-mile, with horses blown and beat—
When every jump means all you know to keep him on his feet.

When any slip means sudden death—with wife and child to keep—
It needs some nerve to draw the whip and flog him at the leap—
But Corrigan would ride them out, by danger undismayed,
He never flinched at fence or wall, he never was afraid;
With easy seat and nerve of steel, light hand and smiling face,
He held the rushing horses back, and made the sluggards race.

He gave the shirkers extra heart, he steadied down the rash,
He rode great clumsy boring brutes, and chanced a fatal smash;
He got the rushing Wymlet home that never jumped at all—
But clambered over every fence and clouted every wall.
You should have heard the cheers, my boys, that shook the members’ stand
Whenever Tommy Corrigan weighed out to ride Lone Hand.

They were, indeed, a glorious pair—the great upstanding horse,
The gamest jockey on his back that ever faced a course.
Though weight was big and pace was hot and fences stiff and tall,
“You follow Tommy Corrigan” was passed to one and all.
And every man on Ballarat raised all he could command
To put on Tommy Corrigan when riding old Lone Hand.

But now we’ll keep his memory green while horsemen come and go;
We may not see his like again where silks and satins glow.
We’ll drink to him in silence, boys—he’s followed down the track
Where many a good man went before, but never one came back.
And, let us hope, in that far land where the shades of brave men reign,
The gallant Tommy Corrigan will ride Lone Hand again.

Post-WYD retreat in Wisla

Post-WYD retreat in Wisla

Following the rigorous privations of World Youth Day in Kraków — and they were rigorous — the 300 or so Victorian pilgrims converged on the beautiful mountain hamlet of Wisła.

For a couple of days we lived like kings, enjoying rest and recuperation at the very plush Hotel Gołębiewski. It’s officially a four star hotel, but to my mind it’s closer to five stars, and certainly the most comfortable hotel I’ve stayed in.

Hotel Gołębiewski Wisła

Hotel Gołębiewski Wisła: during our stay all 553 rooms were booked out!

Nonetheless, that timeless WYD motto was still in effect: “we are pilgrims, not tourists.” Our task in the days immediately after World Youth Day was to pray, reflect, and journal. Our days in Wisła constituted a spiritual retreat, not a holiday. I was invited to preach the first meditation, on the evening of our arrival. What follows is very long (I had a 30 minute time slot to fill!), but the theme of the meditation — interior silence — applies to us all, young and old, pilgrim or not.

The audio files from St Faustina’s Diary which I used in this meditation come from a CD set available at John Canavan’s Divine Mercy Publications.

Introduction

As we sit here, for the next 30 minutes or so, you’re invited to pray. You can pray by meditating on my words, or you can pray by blocking out my voice and formulating your own prayer.

During our pilgrimage, Bishop Mark has often repeated a wise saying, which echoes the saints:

“Pray as you can, not as you ought.”

In other words, let the Holy Spirit be your guide during our days here. And enjoy your days here, in the lap of luxury! You know you’re onto a good thing when you walk into a hotel foyer, and it feels likes you’ve boarded the Titanic.

Seriously, doesn't this belong in a luxury ocean liner?

Seriously, doesn’t this resemble a luxury ocean liner?

I think if anyone here receives an upgrade at the airport, and flies back to Australia in business class — compared to this hotel, you’re slumming it.

But these are the perfect circumstances, I think, for transition. We’ve already moved from one extreme to another: from privation and physical exertion, to luxury and comfort. And we’re preparing to move from the unique and exceptional circumstances of this pilgrimage, back to the routine of daily life in Australia.

Our challenge is to find continuity. As Cardinal Stanislaus told us at the Opening Mass, the Holy Spirit is posing three questions, and it’s our task to seek the answers:

First, where have we been?

Second, where are we now?

Third, where are we going, and what are we taking with us?

Asking and answering these questions is the purpose of the next few days. And I don’t think our present comfort and luxury is a hindrance. On the contrary, it’s a great help. If we can find some continuity between Kraków and Wisła — despite the radically different conditions — then we can also find continuity between our pilgrimage and life back at home — despite the radically different conditions.

The power of silence

I wonder how many heard what I heard at Campus Misericordia, a few hours before the pope joined us? One of the MCs remarked something like this:

Pope Francis wants to make the world a better place. But he doesn’t want to do it alone. He needs the young people of the world to join in. His dream is for us together to make the world a better place.

In and of itself, I guess this isn’t a bad statement, but at the time I thought to myself, “that’s wrong.” I thought Pope Francis would put it differently. He’d point us to Christ. He’d tell us Christ has already made the world a better place. The world doesn’t need anymore messiahs; the world needs disciples.

Sure enough, a few hours later, that is what he said to us:

As he did at Pentecost, the Lord wants to work one of the greatest miracles we can experience; he wants to turn your hands, my hands, our hands, into signs of reconciliation, of communion, of creation.

He wants your hands to build the world of today, and he wants to build that world with you.

This is our commission. And it doesn’t come from the pope. It comes from Christ himself, via the pope.

The Holy Father said something else at Saturday’s Vigil. And at Sunday’s Mass. Or rather, he did something. He called for prayerful silence. And we obliged. And wasn’t it powerful?

There’s great power in prayerful silence. Physically. Mentally. Spiritually. That’s what I propose we recapture tonight, and in the days we are here.

A stillness prayer

So in that spirit, I’m going to stop talking for a moment, and we’ll very deliberately meditate on the present moment. The saints and mystics tell us there’s something sacramental about the present moment. The present is real, and God, who is the source of reality, is here.

The past and the future — they’re different. The past can be populated by regret and imagined memories; the future can be a place of fantasy. So the past and the future can be playgrounds of the devil.

But not the present. The present moment is all God’s, and it’s all ours. So let’s meditate on and pray in the present moment. That means, in addition, praying with our bodies. We’re humans, not angels. We’re body and soul. Let’s pray with both.

So: close your eyes. Place both feet firmly on the ground. Feel the floor beneath you. Arrange your hands so that they’re comfortable. Maybe place them, palms down, on your lap.

Breathe deeply, at a comfortable pace, three times. Fill your lungs.

Attend to your body. Remember, we’re praying with our bodies, not despite them. How do those blisters feel? Your sore heels? Your old injury? Your sunburn? Your stiff neck? What signals is your body giving? Focus on these things, and you’re focused on the present.

God is in the present. God is with us. When you were baptised, you received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. God dwells within you.

While you attend to the present moment, I’m going to slowly read a short word from the scriptures. From Psalm 46. Meditate on God’s word if you can. Or focus on the present moment. Remember: pray as you can, not as you ought.

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that I am.

Be still and know.

Be still.

Be.

Be still and know that I am God.

Jesus, Martha and Mary

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke:

Jesus came to Bethany, and Martha welcomed him into her house. Her sister Mary sat down at the Lord’s feet and listened to him speak.

Martha, who was distracted with all the serving said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself? Please tell her to help me.’

But the Lord answered: ‘Martha, Martha,’ he said ‘you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her.’

Jesus is not repudiating Martha’s work of service. Jesus is not suggesting we should spend all our time in prayer and let others work around us. But you know that already. You know that Jesus was, and is, a man of work and action. We’ve recognised Jesus very directly, in those who’ve served us.

I’m thinking now of the generous leaders and pilgrims who having walked the 15kms to Campus Misericordia, in the service of others walked an extra 10km round trip, and spent three hours queuing up for meal packs. That’s nothing short of heroic. Those pilgrims are very much alter Christus. Another Christ. Ipse Christus. Christ himself. This is the call of every Christian. To be the hands and feet of Jesus in the contemporary world.

Consider the first aid team, who spent themselves entirely in their ministry to the sick. Alter Christus. Ipse Christus.

What about those pilgrims, who arrived at Campus Misericordia hours before most of us, and staked out ground for us? Many of them were not only the first to arrive, but also the last to leave. Alter Christus. Ipse Christus.

And of course there are the countless “little things” every one of us here has done out of love of God and love of neighbour. Invisible acts of self-denial and invisible works of mercy – invisible to everyone but God, and His angels, and the saints. Not a bad public, that.

Does our Lord look at all of these examples, and wish we’d just sat and prayed instead? Of course not.

Recall the Holy Father’s words on Saturday:

The times we live in do not call for young couch potatoes, but for young people with shoes – or better – boots, laced.

So, if our Lord wants us off the couch, and in our boots, what do we make of his words to Martha? Remember, St Luke tells us that Martha was distracted with all the serving. ‘Martha, Martha,’ Jesus said ‘you worry and fret.’ There’s our clue.

Make your heart another Bethany

I have here a few recorded extracts from the diary of St Faustina. It’s through her diary entries that the world, and you, and I, have learned so much more about the Divine Mercy which consumes the heart of Jesus. To narrate Faustina’s words, the American producers found a young Polish nun — a Sister of Our Lady of Mercy — who belongs to the same congregation as St Faustina.

Listen:

St Faustina, Divine Mercy In My Soul: entry 1008

The Lord gave me to know how displeased he is with a talkative soul. “I find no rest in such a soul. The constant din tires me, and in the midst of it, the soul cannot discern my voice.”

The Polish Faustina is nice to listen to, isn’t she? I’m not so sure about “California Jesus.” But let’s attend to those words he spoke to Faustina.

“I find no rest in such a soul.” We’re used to finding rest in Jesus:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mt 11:28-30)

But a relationship with Jesus — like any other relationship — is reciprocal. He seeks rest in you. He enjoys your company. He longs for holy communion with you.

It’s a noble aspiration I think — a measure of our love for God — if you and I can be for Jesus in our time, what Mary and Martha and Lazarus were 2,000 years ago. In Bethany, our Lord found a place to rest and recharge. He could relax, and laugh, and enjoy good food and good conversation.

Mary and Martha and Lazarus were relaxed too. They made demands of Jesus. They sometimes rebuked him. This is the privilege of intimate friendship.

So let’s make our own hearts another Bethany for our Lord. A place where he can enjoy our company. A place where he can find rest. We do that by fostering interior silence.

St Faustina, Divine Mercy In My Soul: entry 552

The Holy Spirit does not speak to a soul that is distracted and garrulous. He speaks by His quiet inspirations to a soul that is recollected, to a soul that knows how to keep silence.

So here is another reason to foster interior silence: to permit the Holy Spirit to speak. To hear the quiet inspirations which are whispered in the depths of our heart.

This is what we’re doing for the next few days. We’re here to heed the Holy Spirit; to discern what our Lord asks of us when we return home.

But I don’t think that requires us to observe a literal silence while we’re here. I can picture Victorian pilgrims in the water park, splashing and swimming and sliding — all without uttering a sound. Maybe miming the normal shrieks and screams. I think that would be eerie. Sinister even.

It’s a bit like that scene in The Simpsons, when Marge peers out the window to see Bart flying a kite in the middle of the night:

Don’t be like Bart. Don’t fly kites at night, and don’t walk around the hotel like mimes. You’ll scare the other guests. You’re expected to enjoy the next few days. Our Lord enjoyed his Bethany, and so can we. Enjoy good food. Enjoy good conversation. Enjoy the facilities.

But we can do all that, and still foster a spirit of interior silence which permits the Holy Spirit to be heard. St Faustina elaborates:

St Faustina, Divine Mercy In My Soul: entry 118

In order to hear the voice of God one has to have silence in one’s soul and to keep silence; not a gloomy silence but an interior silence; that is to say, recollection in God. One can speak a great deal without breaking silence, and on the contrary, one can speak little and be constantly breaking silence.

Oh what irreparable damage is done by the breach of silence. We cause a lot of harm to our neighbour, but even more to our own selves. In my opinion, and according to my experience, the rule concerning silence should stand in the very first place.

God does not give Himself to a chattering soul which, like a drone in a beehive, buzzes around but gathers no honey. A talkative soul is empty inside. It lacks both the essential virtues, and intimacy with God.

There you have it: “One can speak a great deal without breaking silence, and on the contrary, one can speak little and be constantly breaking silence.”

The silence we’re meditating on here, the recollection we aspire to, might be better called an interior stillness; an inner calm. An ease with one’s own company. A willingness to occasionally “waste time with God,” even when we’re in the company of other people.

St Faustina, Divine Mercy In My Soul: entry 447

Silence is a sword in the spiritual struggle. A talkative soul will never attain sanctity. The sword of silence will cut off everything that would like to cling to the soul. We are sensitive to words and quickly want to answer back, without taking any regard as to whether it is God’s will that we should speak.

A silent soul is strong; no adversities will harm it if it perseveres in silence. The silent soul is capable of attaining the closest union with God. It lives almost always under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. God works in a silent soul without hindrance.

St Faustina makes interior recollection sound very attractive, doesn’t she?

  • It will help you attain sanctity.
  • It will sow peace in the people around you.
  • It will make you strong.
  • It will bring you into close union with God.
  • It will render you almost always under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration.

I would suggest, dear pilgrims, that this is precisely what you have experienced in the last week. In the midst of all the noise and activity, inconvenience and discomfort, you’ve received the gift of interior silence, and its fruit.

Contrasting experiences; singular union

It’s important to note that this gift of interior silence — which is something we can foster, but only God can give — interior silence is not the same as spiritual consolation.

Many of us have received great spiritual consolations in the last week. A tangible encounter of God’s love maybe; a physical and spiritual warmth which enveloped you.

Some of us received a new infusion of faith — we see that in the pilgrims who will receive the Sacrament of Confirmation tomorrow. What a beautiful gift to those pilgrims, but for all of us too.

Some of us received the grace of conversion, making a good confession after many years away from the sacrament. Keep it up! The saints encourage frequent confession — at least once a month. (The pope goes fortnightly.)

I noticed some people were moved to tears during the Vigil with Pope Francis. Such tears, which are balm for the soul, are a gift of the Holy Spirit.

But some of us did not receive spiritual consolations this week. Some of us were blessed with spiritual desolation, which is much harder to receive. Ill health prevented some of us from reaching Campus Misericordia. That can bring bitter disappointment.

Some of us have experienced grave doubts, which we can’t overcome. In the context of World Youth Day, that can be very isolating.

And maybe some of us just feel empty. Spiritual desolations like this feel like an absence of God. But it’s not absence. On the contrary, it’s a very keen presence of God. The feeling of God’s absence was experienced by Christ himself, on the cross. “Eli! Eli! Lama sabachthani?”

I can imagine there are people in this room who could have called out the same terrible cry during the past week. “My God! My My God! Why have you forsaken me?”

So even those pilgrims who have experienced, or are presently in the midst of, spiritual desolation — even you are united to Christ. Closely united. Desolation propels you to the foot of the cross, next to our Lady.

Our Lady

So we’ll finish this prayer with a consideration of our Lady — Mary, the mother of Jesus, and our mother too. She is a great model of interior silence. The Scriptures tells us that as our Lord grew up, our Lady loved and learned from her son: she “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Lk 2:19)

That’s our task too. The challenge of the next few days. To contemplate what we’ve learned from Jesus this past week, what graces we’ve received from him — whether they took the form of spiritual consolation, or spiritual desolation.

We’ve all received the gift of interior silence this week. Recollection in the midst of busyness and activity. Let’s ask our Lady to help us cultivate that silence, that recollection in God, and ponder in our hearts what we experienced in Kraków.

Let’s stand and pray:

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of death. Amen.

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.

The papal vigil

The papal vigil

The vigil with the Holy Father was very moving. Unlike the other World Youth Days I have attended (in Sydney and Madrid), there were no “rival events” to the pope’s prayer.

There were no small groups holding ad hoc dance parties. There were no pilgrims with their back to the pope, engrossed in conversation or (!) card games. This year’s Vigil was free even of well-meaning pilgrims who diminish the spirit of prayer by ill-timed chants of “Viva il papa!”

This is what did happen:

  • Millions listened attentively to the pope (or to real-time translations on their small radios).
  • Millions laughed when the pope joked; millions cried out “no!” when he asked if we’d conform to the world, and “si!” when he asked if we’d be generous disciples.
  • Millions of people fell to their knees to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy in five languages, candle in one hand, and — for those who had them — rosary beads in the other.
  • And perhaps most profoundly, when the pope asked for moments of silence, and when he ministered benediction with the Blessed Sacrament, two million weary pilgrims, scattered across several hectares, made no earthly sound, but stormed heaven in prayer.

candle-lit-vigil

Before the vigil, I heard many good confessions, and during it I saw some younger pilgrims overwhelmed with emotion. Among the 200 pilgrims I’ve accompanied, most of whom I didn’t meet personally, I have met seven young people who are for the first time contemplating a priestly or religious vocation, and two more who aren’t Catholic but who wish to become Catholic on their return.

Many, many pilgrims have personally encountered Christ, some for the first time, and in the case of the younger pilgrims, the faith of their parents is now becoming their own faith. In the words of one teenager, “I thought the Church was governed by rules and prohibitions, but now I know it’s all love.” Grace has flowed through the pilgrimage like a torrential river, and the pilgrims I accompanied corresponded with youthful generosity.

Many pilgrims have experienced a different World Youth Day. The faith and enthusiasm of their peers has only emphasised their own doubts, or at least a spiritual dryness. Pray for them, that they can find God even in such trying circumstances, and learn to love His holy will.

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