Sunday, May 19, 2013


St. Bernardine of Siena
Feast: May 20

Feast Day:May 20
Born:1380, Massa Marittima, Italy
Died:1444, Aquila, Italy
Canonized:24 May 1450 by Pope Nicholas V
Patron of:advertisers; advertising; Aquila, Italy; chest problems; Italy; gambling addicts; public relations personnel; public relations work;
St. Bernardine, a true disciple of St. Francis, and an admirable preacher of the word of God, inflamed with the most ardent love of our divine Redeemer, was made by God an instrument to kindle the same holy fire in innumerable souls, and to inspire them with his spirit of humility and meekness. He was born at Massa in 1380, of the noble family of Albizeschi, in the republic of Sienna. He lost his mother when he was but three years old, and his father, who was chief magistrate of Massa, before he was seven. The care of his education devolved on a virtuous aunt called Diana who infused into his tender soul ardent sentiments of piety towards God, and a tender devotion to his blessed Mother. This aunt always loved him as if he had been her own son; and indeed his towardly dispositions won him exceedingly the affections of all who ever had the care of him. He was modest, humble, and devout; and took great delight in prayer, visiting churches, serving at mass, and hearing sermons, which he would repeat again to his companions with an admirable memory and gracefulness of action. In that tender age he had a great compassion for the poor. One day it happened that his aunt sent away a poor person from the door without an alms, because there was but one loaf in the house for the dinner of the family. Bernardine was much troubled to see the beggar go away unrelieved, and said to his aunt, "For God's sake, let us give something to this poor man; otherwise I will neither dine nor sup this day. I had rather the poor should have a dinner than myself." This wonderfully comforted his good aunt, who never ceased to incite him to all virtues, and, according to his strength, to accustom himself by degrees to fasting. Young as he was, he fasted every Saturday in honor of the blessed Virgin; which pious custom he always continued. At eleven years of age he was called to Sienna by his uncles, and put to school under the ablest masters, who all admired the quickness of his parts, and the solidity of his judgment; but much more, his docility, modesty, and virtue. If he chanced to hear any word the least unbecoming, he, by blushing, testified what confusion it gave him, and how much it wounded his very heart; and though he was otherwise most condescending, civil, and respectful to all, he could never bear with patience any indecent discourse. For a single word of that kind he so severely reprimanded a man of quality, that it was to him a warning during the remainder of his life to govern his tongue; and many years alter, hearing Bernardine preach, he was so moved that he seemed to be drowned in tears. The modesty of the virtuous youth was a check to the most impudent, and kept them in awe in his presence: in whatever company, if the conversation was too free, it was dropped when he appeared, and the very loosest rakes would say, "Hush! here comes Bernardine:" as the presence of Cato among the Romans restrained the lewd libertinism of a festival.1 Nor did the saint behave on these occasions in such a manner as might render virtue the subject of ridicule, but with a surprising dignity. Nevertheless, an impure monster had once the insolence to make an attempt upon his virginal purity, and to solicit him to sin. But the saint, not content to testify his scorn and indignation, excited the whole troop of his little innocent playfellows against the lewd villain, who pelted him with clods and stones, and made him ashamed any more to show his face. Bernardine was exceeding comely and beautiful; but his known virtue secured him from any further assaults; and he never ceased to beg of God the grace of purity, particularly through the intercession of the blessed Virgin Mary. When he had completed the course of his philosophy, he applied himself to the study of civil and canon law, and afterwards of that of the holy scriptures, with such ardor that he could never from that time relish any other study.

At seventeen years of age he enrolled himself in the confraternity of Our Lady in the hospital of Scala, to serve the sick. Here he began with new vigor to tame his flesh by severe fasts, watchings, hair-shirts, disciplines, and other austerities; but he applied himself more to the interior mortification of his will, which rendered him always most mild, sweet, patient, and affable to every one. He had served this hospital four years, when, in 1400, a dreadful pestilence which had already made great havoc in several other parts of Italy, and was increased by the concourse of pilgrims to the jubilee, reached Sienna; insomuch that twelve, eighteen, or twenty persons died every day in this hospital; and among others were carried off almost all the priests, apothecaries, and servants, that belonged to the place. Bernardine therefore persuaded twelve young men to bear him company in the service of the hospital, expecting heaven for their speedy recompense; and they all strove which should come up the nearest to Bernardine in cheerfulness, humility, and assiduity in performing the most sacred offices, and in exerting themselves in the service of the sick. The saint was intrusted in a manner with the whole care of the hospital, which, in the space of four months, he put into excellent order. It is hardly credible how many lives he saved, or with what charity and pains he night and day attended the patients, and furnished them with every comfort and succor which it was in his power to afford them. God preserved him from the contagion during these four months, at the end of which the pestilence ceased. He then returned home, but sick of a fever which he had contracted by his fatigues, which obliged him to keep his bed four months; during which time he edified the city, no less by his resignation and patience, than he had done by his charity. He was scarce well recovered when he returned to the like works of charity, and with incredible patience attended a dying aunt for fourteen months, named Bartholomaea, a woman of great piety, who was blind and bedridden. When God had called her to himself, Bernardine retired to a house at some distance from the city, making the walls of his garden the bounds of his enclosure. Here, in solitude, fasting, and prayer, he endeavored to learn the will of God in the choice of a state of life. After some time he took the habit of the order of St. Francis, among the fathers of the Strict Observance at Colombiere, a solitary convent a few miles from Sienna; and after the year of his novitiate, made his profession on the 8th of September, 1404. Having been born on the feast of the Nativity of the blessed Virgin, out of devotion to her, he chose the same day for the principal actions of his life: on it he took the religious habit, made his vows, said his first mass, and preached his first sermon. His fervor increased daily; and while some sought interpretations to mollify the severity of the rule, he was always studying to add to it greater austerities and heroic practices of virtue, the more perfectly to crucify in himself the old man. He was pleased with insults and humiliations, and whatever could be agreeable to the most ardent spirit of humility and self-denial. When he went through the streets in a threadbare short habit, the boys sometimes cast stones at him, with injurious language; in which contempt the saint found a singular joy and satisfaction. He showed the same sentiments when a near kinsman with bitter invectives reproached him, as disgracing his friends by the mean and contemptible manner of life he bad embraced. These and all other virtues he learned in the living book of Christ crucified, which he studied night and day, often prostrate before a crucifix, from which he seemed one day to hear our Lord speak thus to him: "My son, behold me hanging upon a cross: if thou lovest me, or art desirous to imitate me, be thou also fastened naked to thy cross, and follow me; thus thou wilt assuredly find me." In the same school he learned an insatiable zeal for the salvation of souls, redeemed by the blood of Christ. Having in retirement prepared himself for the office of preaching, his superiors ordered him to employ his talent that way for the benefit of others. He labored under a natural impediment from weakness and hoarseness of voice; the removal of which obstacle he obtained by addressing himself to his glorious patroness, the mother of God. For fourteen years his labors were confined to his own country; but when the reputation of his virtue was spread abroad, he shone as a bright light to the whole church.

In vain cloth the minister of God confide in the weak resources of mere human eloquence and pomp of words, by which he rather debases the dignity and majesty of the sacred oracles: while he pleases the ear and gains the applause of his audience, he leaves their hearts dry. The great apostle of Andalusia, the venerable holy John D'Avila, being desired to lay down some rules for the art of preaching, answered, he knew no other art than the most ardent love of God and zeal for his honor. He used to say to young clergymen, that one word spoken by a man of prayer would do more good, and have a more powerful influence, than all the most eloquent discourses; for it is only the language of the heart that speaks to the heart; and a life of mortification and prayer not only draws down the dew of the divine benediction upon the labors of the preacher, but it replenishes his soul with a sincere spirit of humility, compunction, and all virtues, and with an experimental knowledge and feeling sense of the great truths which he delivers. Zealous ministers who are filled with the Spirit of God, are a great blessing to the people among whom they labor; and this reflection unfolds the secret how saints possess so extraordinary a grace of converting souls to God. This was the excellent talent of Bernardine. They who heard him preach felt their souls to melt in sentiments of compunction, divine love, humility, and the contempt of the world, and returned home new men, striking their breasts, and bathed in tears. The word, of God was in his mouth as a fire, and as a hammer breaking the hardest rocks. Another eminent preacher of his order being asked the reason why his sermons did not produce equal fruit with those of Bernardine, answered, "Brother Bernardine is a fiery glowing coal. What is only warm hath not the power of kindling a fire in others like the burning coal." The saint himself being consulted what was the way to preach with profit, gave this rule: "In all your actions seek in the first place the kingdom of God and his glory; direct all you do purely to his honor; persevere in brotherly charity, and practice first all that you desire to teach others. By this means the Holy Ghost will be your master, and will give you such wisdom and such a tongue that no adversary will be able to stand against you." This he faithfully practiced, and from his assiduous communication with God he imbibed that eminent spirit of virtue which gave him the most powerful ascendant over the hearts of men. Among the great truths of religion, he principally labored to inculcate a sincere contempt of the vanity of the world, and an ardent love of our blessed Redeemer. He wished he could cry out with a trumpet which could be heard over the whole earth, that he might sound aloud in the ears of all men that great oracle of the Holy Ghost: O ye sons of men, how long will you be dull of heart? Why do you love vanity, and seek after lying? O children, how long will you love childishness?3 And he never ceased with the thunder of his voice to raise men from grovelling always on this earth, to the important consideration of the things which belong to their eternal welfare, and to the love of Jesus Christ. So much was he affected with the mysteries of the incarnation and sufferings of the Son of God, that he could never pronounce his sacred name without appearing in transports of love and adoration. Often at the end of his sermon he showed to the people the sacred name of Jesus curiously cut on a board with gold letters, inviting them to adore Christ with him on their knees, reciting a pious doxology. This was misconstrued by some, who also cavilled at certain expressions which he had used. Upon their complaints, pope Martin V. summoned him to appear, and commanded him silence for a while. The humble saint meekly acquiesced without making any reply. But his holiness, after a full examination of his doctrine and conduct, dismissed him with his benediction, high commendations, and ample leave to preach everywhere. The same pope pressed him to accept the bishopric of Sienna in 1427; but he declined that dignity, alleging for his excuse, that if he were confined to one church, he could no longer employ himself in the service of so many souls. In 1431 he no less resolutely refused that of Ferrara, which Eugenius III. earnestly desired to confer upon him, and again that of Urbino, in 1435. When the saint preached first at Milan, the haughty duke Philip Mary Visconti took offence at certain things which he had said in his sermons, and threatened him with death if he should presume to speak any more on such subjects; but the saint declared, that no greater happiness could befall him than to die for the truth. The duke, to try him, sent him a present of one hundred ducats of gold in a golden bowl. The saint excused himself from receiving the money to two different messengers; but being compelled by a third to accept it, he took the messenger with him to the prisons, and laid it all out in his presence in releasing debtors. This disinterestedness turned the duke's aversion into the greatest veneration for the saint ever after.

St. Bernardine preached several times through the greatest part of Italy; some say also in Spain; but this seems uncertain. Nothing was more spoken of over all Italy than the wonderful fruit of his sermons, miraculous conversions, restitution of ill-gotten goods, reparations of injuries, and heroic examples of virtue. The factions of the Guelfs and Ghibellins then horribly divided many cities of Italy, and gave frequent employment to the saint. Hearing once of a great dissension at Perugia, he hastened thither from the marquisate of Ancona, and entering the city, thus addressed the inhabitants, "God, who is highly offended at this division among you, hath sent me, as his angel, to proclaim peace to men of good will upon earth." After preaching four sermons to persuade them to a mutual forgiveness of all injuries, and a general amnesty, at the end of the last he bade all those who forgave each other and desired to live in peace, to pass to the right hand. All present did so except one young nobleman, who stayed on the left, muttering some thing between his teeth. The saint, after a severe reproach, foretold him his sudden death, which happened soon after, and without the benefit of the sacraments. In 1433 he accompanied the emperor Sigismund to his coronation at Rome; after which he retired for a short time to Sienna, where he put the finishing hand to his works.

Amidst the greatest applause and honors, the most sincere humility always appeared in his words and actions; and he ever studied to conceal the talents with which God had enriched him. How great his esteem of humility was, he testified when a brother of his order asked him the means by which he might speedily arrive at perfection. The saint, instead of giving him any answer by words, threw himself at his feet; showing at the same time his own great affection to humility, and also that this virtue raises the soul to divine love and every grace. God, however, was pleased to honor his servant before men. Besides several predictions and miraculous cures of many lepers and other sick persons, the saint is recorded to have raised four dead to life. He was appointed vicar-general of his order of the Strict Observance in Italy, in 1438, in which he settled a rigorous reformation; but, after five years, obtained a discharge from his office; and in his old age continued the function of preaching through Romania, Ferrara, and Lombardy. He returned to Sienna in 1444, preached a most pathetic farewell sermon at Massa on concord and unity, and being taken ill of a malignant fever on the road, still preached as usual till he arrived at Aquila in Abruzzo. There, being confined to his bed, he prepared himself for his passage out of this life by the rites of the church. When he was speechless, he made a sign to be taken off his bed and laid upon the floor; where, lifting up his eyes to heaven, he surrendered his pure soul into the hands of his Creator on the 20th of May, 1444, after a life of sixty-three years, eight months, and thirteen days. His tomb was rendered illustrious by many miracles, and he was canonized by Nicholas V. in 1450. His body is kept in a crystal shrine, enclosed in one of silver, in the church of his order at Aquila.



Vatican Radio REPORT Below the official English language translation of Pope Francis’ homily at Mass for the Feast of Pentecost with New Movements:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today we contemplate and re-live in the liturgy the outpouring of the Holy Spirit sent by the risen Christ upon his Church; an event of grace which filled the Upper Room in Jerusalem and then spread throughout the world.

But what happened on that day, so distant from us and yet so close as to touch the very depths of our hearts? Luke gives us the answer in the passage of the Acts of the Apostles which we have heard (2:1-11). The evangelist brings us back to Jerusalem, to the Upper Room where the apostles were gathered. The first element which draws our attention is the sound which suddenly came from heaven “like the rush of a violent wind”, and filled the house; then the “tongues as of fire” which divided and came to rest on each of the apostles. Sound and tongues of fire: these are clear, concrete signs which touch the apostles not only from without but also within: deep in their minds and hearts. As a result, “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit”, who unleashed his irresistible power with amazing consequences: they all “began to speak in different languages, as the Spirit gave them ability”. A completely unexpected scene opens up before our eyes: a great crowd gathers, astonished because each one heard the apostles speaking in his own language. They all experience something new, something which had never happened before: “We hear them, each of us, speaking our own language”. And what is it that they are they speaking about? “God’s deeds of power”.

In the light of this passage from Acts, I would like to reflect on three words linked to the working of the Holy Spirit: newness, harmony and mission.

1. Newness always makes us a bit fearful, because we feel more secure if we have everything under control, if we are the ones who build, programme and plan our lives in accordance with our own ideas, our own comfort, our own preferences. This is also the case when it comes to God. Often we follow him, we accept him, but only up to a certain point. It is hard to abandon ourselves to him with complete trust, allowing the Holy Spirit to be the soul and guide of our lives in our every decision. We fear that God may force us to strike out on new paths and leave behind our all too narrow, closed and selfish horizons in order to become open to his own. Yet throughout the history of salvation, whenever God reveals himself, he brings newness and change, and demands our complete trust: Noah, mocked by all, builds an ark and is saved; Abram leaves his land with only a promise in hand; Moses stands up to the might of Pharaoh and leads his people to freedom; the apostles, huddled fearfully in the Upper Room, go forth with courage to proclaim the Gospel. This is not a question of novelty for novelty’s sake, the search for something new to relieve our boredom, as is so often the case in our own day. The newness which God brings into our life is something that actually brings fulfilment, that gives true joy, true serenity, because God loves us and desires only our good. Let us ask ourselves: Are we open to “God’s surprises”? Or are we closed and fearful before the newness of the Holy Spirit? Do we have the courage to strike out along the new paths which God’s newness sets before us, or do we resist, barricaded in transient structures which have lost their capacity for openness to what is new?

2. A second thought: the Holy Spirit would appear to create disorder in the Church, since he brings the diversity of charisms and gifts; yet all this, by his working, is a great source of wealth, for the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of unity, which does not mean uniformity, but which leads everything back to harmony. In the Church, it is the Holy Spirit who creates harmony. One of Fathers of the Church has an expression which I love: the Holy Spirit himself is harmony – “Ipse harmonia est”. Only the Spirit can awaken diversity, plurality and multiplicity, while at the same time building unity. Here too, when we are the ones who try to create diversity and close ourselves up in what makes us different and other, we bring division. When we are the ones who want to build unity in accordance with our human plans, we end up creating uniformity, standardization. But if instead we let ourselve be guided by the Spirit, richness, variety and diversity never become a source of conflict, because he impels us to experience variety within the communion of the Church. Journeying together in the Church, under the guidance of her pastors who possess a special charism and ministry, is a sign of the working of the Holy Spirit. Having a sense of the Church is something fundamental for every Christian, every community and every movement. It is the Church which brings Christ to me, and me to Christ; parallel journeys are dangerous! When we venture beyond (proagon) the Church’s teaching and community, and do not remain in them, we are not one with the God of Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Jn 9). So let us ask ourselves: Am I open to the harmony of the Holy Spirit, overcoming every form of exclusivity? Do I let myself be guided by him, living in the Church and with the Church?

3. A final point. The older theologians used to say that the soul is a kind of sailboat, the Holy Spirit is the wind which fills its sails and drives it forward, and the gusts of wind are the gifts of the Spirit. Lacking his impulse and his grace, we do not go forward. The Holy Spirit draws us into the mystery of the living God and saves us from the threat of a Church which is gnostic and self-referential, closed in on herself; he impels us to open the doors and go forth to proclaim and bear witness to the good news of the Gospel, to communicate the joy of faith, the encounter with Christ. The Holy Spirit is the soul of mission. The events that took place in Jerusalem almost two thousand years ago are not something far removed from us; they are events which affect us and become a lived experience in each of us. The Pentecost of the Upper Room in Jerusalem is the beginning, a beginning which endures. The Holy Spirit is the supreme gift of the risen Christ to his apostles, yet he wants that gift to reach everyone. As we heard in the Gospel, Jesus says: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to remain with you forever” (Jn 14:16). It is the Paraclete Spirit, the “Comforter”, who grants us the courage to take to the streets of the world, bringing the Gospel! The Holy Spirit makes us look to the horizon and drive us to the very outskirts of existence in order to proclaim life in Jesus Christ. Let us ask ourselves: do we tend to stay closed in on ourselves, on our group, or do we let the Holy Spirit open us to mission?

Today’s liturgy is a great prayer which the Church, in union with Jesus, raises up to the Father, asking him to renew the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. May each of us, and every group and movement, in the harmony of the Church, cry out to the Father and implore this gift. Today too, as at her origins, the Church, in union with Mary, cries out:“Veni, Sancte Spiritus! Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love!” Amen.


Vatican Radio) Ahead of reciting the Easter Marian hymn, Regina Caeli, for the last time this year on Pentecost Sunday, Pope Francis had a special message for the estimated 200 thousand men, women and children gathered before for him in St. Peter’s Square and stretching back right to the banks of the Tiber. He told them; “You are a gift and a treasure for the Church”.
The vast majority gathered to the Vatican Sunday morning were members of the New Movements and Ecclesial Communities – all formed by lay Catholics - that the Pope had convoked to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost together with him, as part of the Year of Faith.

The Feast which falls 50 days after Easter, marks the end of the Easter season. It commemorates Christ’s sending the Holy Spirit down upon his Apostles in the Upper Room and the birth of the Church.

Speaking from the raised altar in front of St Peter’s basilica, where he had celebrated Mass for the Feast, before imparting his final blessing Pope Francis said:

“Dear brothers and sisters,

this celebration of faith, which began yesterday with the Vigil and culminated in the Eucharist this morning is about to end. A new Pentecost has transformed St. Peter's Square into an open-air Upper Room. We have relived the experience of the early Church, who gathered in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus (cf. Acts 1:14). We, too, in the variety of our charisms, have experienced the beauty of the unity, of being One. And this is the work of the Holy Spirit, who always creates unity anew in the Church.

I would like to thank all the Movements, Associations, Communities and Ecclesial groups. You are a gift and a treasure for the Church! This is what you are! I particularly thank all of you who have come to Rome from many parts of the world. Always bring with you the power of the Gospel! Do not be afraid! Always have joy and passion for communion in the Church! May the Risen Lord be with you always and Our Lady protect you!

Let us remember in prayer the people of Emilia Romagna, who on 20 May last year were affected by an earthquake. I also pray for the Italian Federation of Voluntary Associations in Oncology”.

Pope Francis then stepped away from the altar, moving to the left of the basilica fa├žade, where the icon of Our Lady, dearly beloved of the Roman faithful Salus populi romani, was enthroned. There he reached out and placed a hand upon the icon as the Regina Caeli rang out across the ocean of faithful marking the end of Easter time. As of Monday the Church enters Ordinary Time.

But not without one last word from Pope Francis. Before once again touring through the throng in his open topped jeep, all the way down to Via della Conciliazione, the Pope bid everyone goodbye in his own way: “Brothers and sisters, thank you so much for your love for the Church! Have a good Sunday, a blessed feast day and a good lunch!



Homily of Bishop Brendan Leahy, Bishop of Limerick at Mass celebrating “Choose Life: We Cherish them Both”
  • “Cherishing of mothers and babies is a noble cause. It is not limited to the impact of this or that political move.  It is a continuing call from the Gospel’s logic of love, the love that is mutual” – Bishop Leahy
Earlier this morning we’ve heard inspiring testimonies. Now at Mass, we come to pray, to hear God’s word and offer God our resolve to do our part in choosing life and cherishing both mothers and babies.
Gathering as an assembly of God’s people, we are reminded of a basic reality when we’re reflecting on cherishing both mothers and babies, namely, that the spiritual DNA of life is that we journey together. None of us exists for him/herself alone. Indeed, we exist to love one another. From the very first pages of the Bible, in the story of Adam and Eve, we are given this beautifully simple and profound message: everyone has been created as a gift for us, and we are a gift for others. Jesus knew this well and lived it out. In his Farewell address, he summarised his whole life’s teaching in the New Commandment: “Love one another, as I have loved you”.
The Unique Relationship during Pregnancy of Mother and Child
The unique relationship that comes into play between a mother and a child conceived within her, is a special place where this logic of love, of being a gift for one another comes to the fore. In the Old Testament we read of how God’s own relationship with us and ours with God is mirrored in this intimate bond of mother and child.
The child is not an extension of its mother. He or she is another human being. In this new situation, each is the nearest neighbour to the other. So the mother is a gift for her child and he/she is a gift for its mother. We could say it’s the unborn child’s incapacity to return in visible quantifiable ways the love that is lavished on him or her that is the greatest gift he or she already offers to the world. The unborn child is a pure gift of itself to be loved simply from the very fact of its existence. A friend of mine described for me the sense of wonder at having another human being growing within her, someone who was different than her while also being part of her. “The baby’s first detectable move”, she said, was “particularly memorable because this new little creature was drawing us more and more into the miracle that was happening in our lives.” The philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas reminds us that we become ourselves in the light of our responsibility for others. The “other” in the case the unborn child provides the mother (and all of us) with the possibility of responsibility.
The mother is the child’s first home. In the fullness of time, as the Second Reading reminds us, Jesus found his first home in the womb of Mary. It was from there he began his mission of making all of humanity children of God. In the account of the Visitation in today’s Gospel, we are presented with the scene of another unborn child, John the Baptist, leaping in joy in Elizabeth’s womb at the greeting of the as yet unborn child Jesus in Mary’s womb.
Many women here today will attest that pregnancy involves wonder. But it also involves suffering and sacrifice for the mother. In some pregnancies crises arise that involve both the mother and the child in her womb. When hard cases occur, they underline the truth that we are dealing with two persons and that what matters is that in the logic of love, all must be done to protect the life both of the mother whose life is at risk and of the innocent unborn child.
In Ireland, the right to life of the unborn is greatly valued. In recent years attention has been directed towards the complexity of the situations that can arise for mothers in delicate circumstances of pregnancy. Right from the earliest times, the Church has been clear about the duty to protect life. Around 200 AD, Tertullian, for instance, wrote that it is not permitted to destroy “even the foetus in the womb”. But is this duty to the detriment of the mother’s life?
It is important to clarify a point that has been well worked out in Catholic teaching. And this teaching did not come from today or yesterday. It has been around a long time. The medical treatment of mothers whose lives are in danger is permissible even if this results in the unintended death of the child in the womb. When there’s a risk to a pregnant woman’s life, operations, treatments, and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of her condition are permitted.  Abortion is something very different. It is an act which is directly aimed at ending the life of the unborn child.
When things go wrong in pregnancy and childbirth for whatever reason, there may be no adequate answer at the human level. We remember today those who have been through heart-breaking situations in pregnancy. Let’s remind ourselves at this Mass that God is not a tyrant. If he has given the commandment not to kill, and this applies also to abortion, it is because he will not abandon us even in difficult situations. The God who is Love knows what is best for us. The God who has created us has given us the means to help carry out his commandments. He has put love into our heart and into this love he has poured his own love that comes from above. I would appeal to women who are contemplating abortion at this time to wait for a moment, ask God for direction; ask others for help. Cura, the Church’s crisis pregnancy agency is available to any woman facing a dilemma at this time. The burden shared will not seem anything as heavy as you thought it was at first. I was struck recently by a comment made to me by parents of a severely disabled child – we wouldn’t swap him for fifty thousand children. God had come to the aid of those parents. God is always present in situations of crisis and difficulty also in complex pregnancies.
Irish Society Today faced with a Choice and a Possibility
Irish society is today faced with a serious choice. It is very possible that an abortion regime will be introduced into this country, thereby for the first time overturning in law the fundamental principle of the inviolability of innocent human life.
For the sake of the common good, Catholics need to propose their view on this topic. We do so not to impose some obscure teaching of our own but rather to respectfully offer what we consider a reasoned position echoed by many with other religious or indeed non-religious convictions, convictions based on human reason. It is one of the positive and heartening aspects of the past fifty years in the Catholic Church that it finds itself in a new way alongside people of other religious, social and cultural convictions in promoting a more socially just world, a more peaceful world, a more ecologically-conscious world. One of the areas where this brotherly and sisterly co-responsibility is emerging most clearly is in the area of the protection of life.
It is inspiring to see vibrant, articulate women and men able to put forward their case on this fundamental issue in society. In some cases, as I said, those promoting life claim no religious affiliation but say simply that since their days of studying science in school, or simply looking at the evidence provided by ultra-sound scans of early unborn children, they have become convinced of the pro-life perspective. What is emerging increasingly is a modern voice that is pro-life. And today I would like to acknowledge the significant contribution of many young people to the promotion of life. We see them here today in great numbers with us.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Ireland, instead of introducing an abortion regime, became the place where the Western world’s confusion about the right to life of the unborn could begin its journey to a renewed discovery of the wonder of life? There have been such strides in ecology in the Western world; wouldn’t it be wonderful if Ireland could be the country that led the way in human ecology? What is this human ecology? It is a lifestyle that respects all of our environment, preserving the patrimony of creation and working to make our world safe for human beings. A priority in such a human ecology must be respecting the right to life of the unborn as well as the right of pregnant women to the best of medical treatment and care in safeguarding their life while at the same time preserving the life of the baby as far as practicable.
We have the potential. By the UN-agreed definitions and standards for measuring maternal safety in pregnancy, Ireland consistently ranks among the safest countries in the world for women in pregnancy. While there will always be exceptionally tragic situations in pregnancy, it is possible for the word to go out from our country that abortion is never the solution to problems in pregnancy.
For Ireland to lead the way in this aspect of human ecology, we need both to affirm our conviction that abortion is never the solution while at the same time re-launching Ireland’s care of mothers and babies. We can be grateful for the work in this area carried out day by day by doctors, nurses, midwives and other health personnel. If the Church has been to the fore in providing health-care, then today too we want to commit ourselves to a culture of care and best practice in the cherishing of mothers and babies.
Are there women who feel their life is at risk due to suicidal thoughts and feelings? Let’s ensure their safety, providing the appropriate psychiatric and psychological intervention, medication, nursing and social support. Professionals warn against acting on the assumption that suicidal thoughts and feelings originate from a single cause or may be resolved by a single act. The majority of Irish psychiatrists have been telling us that abortion is not a medical treatment for suicidal thoughts or feelings in a pregnant woman. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that a leading professor of psychiatry has said that contained in the recent proposed legislation entitledProtection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013 are “multiple flaws and diverse flaws…The first and most obvious is that there is no evidence that abortion is an intervention that reduces suicide.” And in their preliminary response to the Bill, the Catholic Bishops of Ireland point out that “the Bill as outlined represents a dramatic and morally unacceptable change to Irish law and is unnecessary to ensure that women receive the life-saving treatment they need during pregnancy”. In their response the Bishops also say that at this crucial time it is essential that all who share beliefs such as the inviolability of the right to life of both a mother and her unborn child in all circumstances, and the belief that the deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of life is always morally wrong, make their beliefs clear to their legislators. I know that some politicians have already made it clear they have difficulty with this legislation. It is right that legislators would pause before voting. Is it really necessary to provide for abortion in circumstances where evidence overwhelmingly indicates it is unnecessary and unjustified? Are we crossing a Rubicon?
Are there women in pregnancy who need clarity about the range of medical care appropriate to their specific medical condition? Let’s ensure that an effective and accessible system of providing information is available to them.
Are there women in pregnancy who seek clarity that if they so wish they can receive medical treatment where their life is at risk even though an appropriate treatment may result unavoidably in the death of the baby? Let’s encourage the appropriate bodies of medical expertise to draw up the guidelines providing for such a procedure.
Are there women who seek assurance that their opinion will be sought and taken into account as far as practicable where treatments would likely unavoidably result in the death of the baby? Let this be included in the provision of specific guidelines for particular medical conditions or combination of conditions that would be drawn up within the medical profession by the relevant bodies of medical expertise.
Yes, all of this needs to be done. But none of these steps involves abortion. The A, B, and C v Ireland judgement of the European Court of Human Rights says Ireland is entitled to have laws protecting the right to life of the unborn. In enshrining the principle underlying current best practice in relation to women in pregnancy and their babies, it is clear that the essential medical treatment needed by women in pregnancy to preserve their lives is given to them, even where the death of the baby may unavoidably result, but there is also a duty of care to do whatever is practicable to preserve the life of the baby as far as practicable.
Medical treatment is not the same thing as unlawful abortion. The issue of intention comes in. To intend to directly terminate a pregnancy as an end in itself is different from intending to carry out medical treatment of a woman whose life is in danger even if this results in the unavoidable death of the unborn child. The issue of intention has always been considered important in law. The new legislation acknowledges the importance of intention though it needs to be said that the direct taking of the life of an unborn child cannot be justified on the grounds of intention in the case of a mother’s threatened suicide which ought to be treated by other means. As many psychiatrists have pointed out abortion is not a treatment for suicidal ideation. Under current law, no doctor has ever been in trouble for providing an intervention where they were acting with intent to preserve the life of the mother.
Respectfully Proclaiming the Gospel of Life
Here among us today there are women who have had abortions. We know there are women and men here who have assisted their friends as they considered abortion or had one. They are very much in our thoughts right now. During the current debate they are most likely now reliving what happened in the past. Some will tell the story of how, in the light of their experience, they became people who proclaim the Gospel of life. Yet for others the discussions around this topic can be painful. It may be that someone listening to me is still perplexed about what has gone on in her life. She (and also others who have been involved) might still bear the burden in confusion, pain and silence, not seeing any way ahead from where they have been. Let’s promise her and them we are with them with our care, prayer and support. At this Mass, we can all of us turn again to Christian faith that tells us that there is no experience in life that has not been touched in some way by God’s presence.
The Spirit has been poured into our hearts enabling us to turn to God as a loving, merciful Father. The First Reading today reminds us of God’s tenderness. The inspired words of Scripture invite us to “cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Pet 5:7). We can hand over everything that troubles us to God who, in his infinite mercy and love, can draw good out of everything and make all things new. God loves each person immensely. We are never outside his loving glance. As the psalm tells us so powerfully, God is always with us. Even when we feel cut off from Christ, Jesus is there precisely at that point to help us always start again to believe, to love, to hope. As St. Paul tells: Nothing can come between us and the love of Christ. Nothing: “neither death nor life … nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38)
I appreciate there are those listening to me or reading these words who hold very different views, including those who believe the protection of women in pregnancy means the law needs to allow abortion and those who see abortion as a dimension of equality for women. We hear your concern for mothers, your analysis of complex situations, your desire for abortion services in Ireland. Underlying our differences are values that we all share. It is important for us all to dialogue on the basis of these shared values. The first value we have in common is that women in pregnancy should have all the essential medical treatment needed to safeguard their lives, and the second is the respect for equality. We bring to the dialogue a Gospel of Life we believe is fair and reasonable, and safeguards both the lives of women in pregnancy and their unborn children.
We want to respectfully proclaim that message to you. We appeal to you to recognise that abortion legislation concedes a basic principle of law – that innocent human life may not be taken. There is a lesson to be learned from the experience of other countries that started down the path of abortion legislation with what they thought were ‘restrictive’ laws. Around 97% of the nearly 200,000 abortions in England and Wales in 2011 were on mental health grounds. Such a statistic was in no way envisaged when abortion was first introduced there.
Our sincerely-held conviction and passion for life arises because the stakes are high. What might appear as a limited step, restricted abortion, is far from limited in potential. And not simply in terms of the “floodgate” phenomenon but also in terms of the practice of medicine by the obstetricians and psychiatrists, the nursing and other supporting professional staff in hospitals, social services and other agencies where questions of the right of conscience not to be involved in the provision of abortion services may arise.
It is time to conclude. In doing so, I need to return to a basic point. The cherishing of mothers and babies is a noble cause. It is not limited to the impact of this or that political move. It is a continuing call from the Gospel’s logic of love, the love that is mutual. In the springtime around us these days we see the warmth of the sun transforming nature. Everything is coming to life and beginning to blossom. It is the sun that makes life blossom. Likewise, it is love in the human heart and in society that brings about the triumph of life. From this prayer vigil, may a great current of Christian love spread out from among us into our society as our specific contribution to cherishing mothers and babies. To give true love to one another means to help one another be fully realised in the gift that each of us is for one another.
Here at Knock, let’s resolve to be like Mary who, as we read in today’s account of the Visitation, took the initiative in going out in love towards a mother and her unborn baby. She did so bearing Love incarnate within her. And Elizabeth greeted her with words we can make our own: “Blessed are you who believe”. Yes, blessed are you who believe that life is inviolable, that love casts out all fear, that love is stronger than death.



Chaplaincy Sunday 2013: Life is Beautiful

Friday 17 May 2013

Life is beautiful and there is always HOPE, is the inspirational core message in the new 2 minute video clip, produced for the 2013 Chaplaincy Sunday Appeal being held in parishes this weekend.

Kristen Toohey of the Communications Office at the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne who wrote and directed the clip said, “This style of clip engages people at the heart level by providing visual insight into the incredible work of chaplains. On average, each Catholic Chaplain in Melbourne faces around 100 people in need of their help on any given day - the demand for chaplaincy services is growing daily and therefore the need for support for chaplaincy is critical.”

For more information or to donate to the 2013 Chaplaincy Sunday Appeal CLICK HERE



At least there is a chance for relations to improve
<p class="MsoNormal">Pakistani Prime Minister-elect Nawaz Sharif speaks to media after his election win (AFP / Arif Ali)</p>
Pakistani Prime Minister-elect Nawaz Sharif speaks to media after his election win (AFP / Arif Ali)
  • John Dayal, India
  • Pakistan
  • May 17, 2013

It was under Prime Minister-elect Nawaz Sharif’s government in 1999 that Pakistan sent its army units into the frozen heights of the Kargil glacier in Jammu and Kashmir, northern India. After a long and bloody skirmish, Indian troops evicted the invaders, while then Pakistani army chief General Pervez Musharraf claimed credit for the incursion. Fourteen years on, that decision by Musharraf, deflecting as it did criticism of Sharif, carries renewed value for Pakistan's new leader as he sets about extending an olive branch to New Delhi.
Sharif’s victory in elections last week marks the first time that Pakistan, whose recent history is scarred by coups and military despots, will transfer power between democratic governments. It is cause for celebration among many, although things are not so cut and dried in its relations with India. Historically, democratically elected civilian leaders have not always meant peaceful relations between the two countries, whose shared border has in fact been most at peace when Pakistan has been under army rule.
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was foreign minister in 1965, when his refusal to hand over power to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rehman after the general elections led to a war with India and the liberation of Bangladesh. His daughter, the revered democracy icon Benazir Bhutto, failed to bring about a substantial peace agreement with India. The rule of her Pakistan People’s Party was instead characterized by a turbulent relationship with New Delhi, which reached its nadir this year with the killing of Indian prisoner Surjit Singh in a Lahore jail.
The concerns continue with Sharif. The army remains restive under a civil boss, a problem accentuated by the Prime Minister-elect’s pressure on the military to accept the supremacy of the civil government. Moreover, the elections themselves signaled the deep seated domestic conflicts in Pakistani politics, with over 100 dead in bomb blasts and shootouts during campaigning, and 15 dead on polling day. The figures bring to more than 47,500 the number killed in terrorist violence in the last 12 years.
This unrest, coupled with the state of perpetual armed tension with India, will have had much to do with the 60 percent voter turnout on election day, one of the largest recorded in Pakistan. The two countries will hope that their nuclear arsenals remain in the warehouse, particularly given the economic slowdowns that are affecting both and the fact that, unlike India, Pakistan does not have the economic strength for a real and decisive military confrontation, despite support from the US and China.
Sharif has no option but to talk peace with India, but it remains to be seen whether or not he can gain the political strength to do so. It is unlikely he will hold an absolute majority in parliament, and will instead depend on independents and smaller parties. His party will govern only in Punjab, with other powerful satraps controlling Sindh, Baluchistan and the North West Frontier where the popular Imran Khan will call the shots.
But it will be in India’s interests to encourage Sharif in his peace initiatives. The right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has already criticized Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s open invitation to Sharif to visit India. But the BJP does not reflect the real yearning in India for lasting peace with its neighbor, which will also resolve such niggling issues as the situation of political, military and civil prisoners in both countries, and an escalation of the Siachin tension, which is bleeding both countries in an ongoing battle of attrition.
Nawaz Sharif’s warm if off the cuff remarks about his desire to visit India offer just that olive branch. The two governments will do well to rise above the babble from self-serving hyper-patriots, including the BJP, to resume full scale peace talks with each other.
John Dayal is the general secretary of the All India Christian Council and a member of the Indian government’s National Integration Council