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Feastival of Santa Rosalia of Palermo 15-July 2018… to all the Sicilians from Palermo who have emigrated…

We must all make an effort and enter into and adopt a more authentic Gospel process of reasoning.  It teaches us that the place in which we have been placed by God’s will is primarily a service to be carried out for the common good of all, for a better, more humane world and for peaceful coexistence. The concept of service to the common good must be able to precede everything else and prevail over a mentality of profit and gain, for which we often selfishly work toward. This impoverishes us, it makes us petty and detaches us from the reality in which we are engulfed thus preventing us from seeing the face of Christ in our brother who is right next to us.

Homily by the Rev. Fr. Dom. Ugo-Maria  of St. Mary’s Hermitage.

My dear Bishops, brothers in the priesthood, Deacons, Religious, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord and always dear to me!

Perched 1,970 feet above the Tyrrhenian Sea and the city of Palermo, the Grotto Sanctuary of Santa Rosalia on Monte Pellegrino is one of Sicily’s two primary Catholic shrines.  I grew up in the shadows of Monte Pellegrino in Palermo, it was visible from my grandmothers balcony window. Our patron Saint (La Santuzza – The Little Saint) Santa Rosalia († 1166), is known by all who originate from Sicily.  Many years ago on the celebration, called the festino, which is still held each year on July 15, and continues into the next day, I made my first and only pilgrimage to the top of the Mount, bare footed, frankly exhausted yet exhilarated by the achievement and the view was stunning.  As a hermit I had a slight tinge of admiration in Santa Rosalia finding a perfect spot for her desert.  On the cave wall she wrote “I, Rosalia, daughter of Sinibald, Lord of Roses, and Quisquina, have taken the resolution to live in this cave for the love of my Lord, Jesus Christ.”


l'Acchianata a Santa Rosalia.png
Arial View of the Sanctuary

In the churchyard of the Sanctuary of Mount Pellegrino in Palermo, crowded on that day that I made my pilgrimage there were so many people, the sun was glaring, you could hear the people whispering their prayers or singing during the ascent, these are the faithful who never cease to pray to her and who annually bring her their pure and heartfelt devotions, Santa Rosalia welcomes them with her inner story even today, her life and her fervent and passionate witness is palpable to all.

At the front of the Grotto of Mount Pellegrino, in which Santuzza lived in her hermitage in the last years of her earthly life – as evidenced by the discovery of her relics – she passed away on a morning whilst the celestial light that she had always enjoy so much began to enter her cell: “O God, my God, to thee do I watch at break of day. For thee my soul hath thirsted.” (Psalm 62:2)

Il Santuario della Santuzza
Sanctuary Church of Santa Rosalia.

These days, and especially tonight, the Sanctuary, which is a highly significant place not only for worship but also in the history of the city of Palermo, becomes a destination for the usual pilgrimage that the faithful offer as a sign of their devotion to the Santuzza.  The traditional “acchianata” (climbing up) sees thousands of people who dissolve their promises or implore a grace through the intercession of the saintly virgin hermit.

As a priest and hermit of this beloved portion of God’s people who grew up in Palermo, I too could not but resist to find myself among you in the past, a pilgrim among pilgrims, to share in the joy of this celebration, to raise perfect praises to God and bless Him in the figure of Saint Rosalia, which her infinite goodness wanted to donate to the Church.

Climbing this mountain, and even more arriving at the churchyard which is always so crowded with the faithful, I was impressed by the number of faithful, which bears witness to the affection and devotion that the people of Palermo and from around the world nurture towards this Patron Saint of the city.

Of course all this is positive. It is a devotion that we have a duty to transmit to the next generation, to discover evermore the message that Santa Rosalia communicates to her faithful.

When I ascended, my examination of Jesus turning provocatively toward the crowds flowed from the depths of my heart – and I have heard the repeated echoes – when recalling the prophetic and steadfast figure of St. John the Baptist: “What went you out into the desert to see?” (Cf. Matthew 11:7).  It is a question that i address to you today, gathered together to celebrate Santa Rosalia.  What did you come to see? What moved you to come? Why are you here? What are you asked to contemplate during your ascent on Monte Pellegrino?

Teenage drink drivers
Teenage drink driver.

La Santuzza, my grandmother Concettina used to tell me, freed Palermo from the Peste (Plague).  Today luckily through science this disease is under control with antibiotics and can be cured if diagnosed in time; yet today there is another form of plague, one that is within us, which destroys our dignity; yet she can heal us, if we make a true commitment.  It is an inner pestilence, imposed by a dominant secular culture, where there is no respect for oneself – drug and alcohol abuse to which many young and older people look for an quick fix and false happiness – there is no respect for each other, a lack of loving your neighbour, vandalism, theft much of it brought about by these consumeristic and secular attitudes.   It is as if modern society has become the new Sodom and Gomorrah, yet no one is doing anything to stop it dead in its tracks.


I remember that when I was serving the UN as a young officer and had chance to drive to  Hebron in Palestine a city located in the southern West Bank, 19 miles south of

Palestinian Boy
A boy in Palestine having lost his family, his home.  He has nothing left but his dignity.

Jerusalem and nestled in the Judaean Mountains and when returning to Sicily, I was struck by the enormous waste done everywhere.  It often happened that I’d see a lot of food or bread thrown away in streets, whilst still carrying and remembering the faces of thousands of undernourished and homeless children and people who died of hunger and hardship deep within my heart.  It is something that still haunts me and is forever unforgettable.


We know very well that a pilgrimage is not done out of sheer curiosity, nor a habit that is repeated annually by pure impulse of vague religious sentiments. People go on a pilgrimage because they are attracted to Santa Rosalia who chose the Lord as the only Spouse in her life, making Him become the entire reason of her love, full of His joy, the reason for her freedom and from personal and social conditionings. A full freedom with which Santa Rosalia, like the young girl in Solomon’s Song of Songs, runs to meet His love, and embraces Him for the rest of her life.

This is who we came to see! The virgin who gave everything of herself and for this she made her life a shining example of the sanctity of our Creator who from the beginning chose her as a witness by her goodness. The pilgrims have come to see Christ in love, to the point of wanting to be totally his. We have come to see a lionhearted young woman, who defied her time bringing into fulfilment of how much intimacy the Holy Spirit had placed in her heart, this path is traced through listening to the Word and to its deepest desires.

This fundamental choice of God, the place that God occupies in our lives commits us all, according to the duty of our own state.  To us priests, called by the Lord and representing his ministry, and who are called to centralise of our prayers, our faithfulness to our priestly commitments, our unconditional dedication in administering the sacraments, listening to confession and serving our communities loyally.  To you, wives, husbands, a commitment to remain faithful to the love you have promised to each other and the gift of the sacrament you exchanged.  Just as grace sustained Santa Rosalia’s gift of life with fidelity to her husband, we all have to rely on grace as the force which helps us conquer our difficulties and moments of crisis.

But we did not simply come to “catch a glimpse of” the testimony of eight hundred and fifty-two years ago.  Pilgrims do not make a pilgrimage just to be spectators at a feast.  One cannot call themselves an authentic devotees of Santa Rosalia if we allow this experience to pass by without it leaving an indelible mark on our lives, without the Santuzza having pierced a clear message in our way of life and in our times.

Santa Rosalia had lived in the Grotto the idyll of divine love, her own Garden of Eden whilst choosing a hard, rigorous, stringent and unyielding life, comprised of prayer and self-abnegation.  The act of denying her own wishes, of refusing to satisfy her desires, especially from a moral, religious and altruistic motive, bares witness to us of her total surrender to the will of God.  With her we celebrate, not so much the rejection of a comfortable and carefree life that she as a noble woman could have lived, but rather a love so strong, so unique and so boundless for her Lord that she had not been seduce by material things or anyone.  Her life was entirely Christocentric, not in a manner that surrounded her with riches but in absolute poverty, which she lived as a hermit.  This is concomitant of the fact that when loving the One who created everything, and making Him the centre of your life, she would not need anything else at all.  We have been taught this in the Gospel of Matthew when the apostle Peter said to Jesus “Behold we have left all things, and have followed thee: what therefore shall we have?” (Matthew 19:27-28)  Jesus knowing that with God all things are possible replied “Amen, I say to you, that you, who have followed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit on the seat of his majesty, you also shall sit on twelve seats judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”  Too often today we expect rewards there and then, being disappointed when our efforts seem to have been ignored by our peers or employers.  I once overheard a young student I was teaching at Oxford say “I’m only doing this charity trip thing because it will look good on my resume for the firm I want to join”.  This disheartened me greatly, it was for her a purely self-seeking motive and not as she had written on her application to help others less fortunate than her and be of use to the community.  Too many of us these days seek rewards for the small things that we do and this is purely egocentric, unchristian and soul destroying.

This is why the example of Santa Rosalia’s austere and unwavering life still calls to us today, because we can all be encouraged to experience more and more the cruciality in which we discover and rediscover, every day, the absolute primacy of God and the beauty of the authentic values ​​of life that He has given us and that He has committed himself to in redeeming us from evil and darkness of this world.

The socio-economic crisis that the world is facing these days are visible to all of us.  How many of us waver with the effort just to get to the end of the month, coping with the various commitments and finding the means to be able to provide.  How many of us look to the future with desolation over the many social instabilities that look like dark clouds on every skyline.  We are told as children that every cloud has a silver lining, then we grow up and realise that the silver lining  do not exist.  But the promise of our Lord’s future gifts do exist and our deposited in our heavenly bank account awaiting our withdrawal once we have joined him.       

surprisingWhen I looked on the internet for “Global Crisis effecting humanity” the only images that came up in my search were matters concerning the financial industry, corporations, economy, investments.  Have we really sunk so low that we cannot recognise the human global crisis beyond the financial.  Surely human life is more valuable than a bank?  We live in times when the crisis for mankind has become present at many levels, as evidence of a social context in which possessions and merriment seem to prevail over every logic rather than dedicating and donating ones life to service and helping our neighbour. Yes there are many risks. particularly for the next generation and those to follow. They are all connected to the serious possibility of corroding all beauty and the full and authentic sense of life for those things that are non-essential, trite, worthless, even purposeless and fraught with danger.

We see it in the inability to serve the common good, to do one’s duty seriously, determined only by one’s selfishness, self-interests and egocentrism. We all have responsibilities, because each of us has a duty to our neighbour, even the ones we do not like.

I think of those who work in public services or offices. The politicians that have been elected, chosen by the people to serve the common good. You have this responsibility toward everyone and not just yourself.  Just think what a better place we would live in if a politician actually really genuinely cared, was honest to a fault, truthful at all times.  Your responsibility is and always will be to God, the state and those who elected you.  At the same time everyone must also do their duty.  Think of the mothers who provide nurturing care for the family, teach us how to pray, encourage and nurture spiritual growth and development, and are living examples of the meaning of sacrificial, self-giving love which is the genesis and source of an authentic spirituality.  Through the lens of the Blessed Virgin Mary, “we see [in all motherhood] the reflection of a beauty which mirrors the loftiest sentiments of which the human heart is capable: the self-sacrificing totality of love; the strength that is capable of bearing the greatest sorrows; limitless fidelity and tireless devotion to work; the ability to combine penetrating intuition with words of support and encouragement” (Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, 46).

A father should strive to be to his family everything that is revealing and in reliving on earth the very fatherhood of God, a man is called upon to ensure stability and harmony within the family.  He does this by exercising generous and selfless responsibility for the life conceived in the womb of the mother; by taking a more active role in, and making a more serious commitment to his children’s education and prayer life, a task that he shares equally with his wife; by working in a job that is never the cause of division within the family but promotes and provides for its security and unity; and, most importantly, by being a living witness and example to his children of what it means to live and act as a man of God, showing his children first-hand what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and how that relationship is lived-out daily by loving the truth, goodness, and beauty of our Catholic faith.

I think of you the educators, who recognises that the human heart is created with an

Jesus our Teacher
Jesus our Eternal Teacher

innate yearning to seek, find and rest in God in this world and the next and will therefore develop the whole person intellectually, physically emotionally and spiritually.  The educator does this by respecting each child of God, preparing their students as much as possible to attain their immutable destiny.  An exceptional educator at whatever level of schooling they teach at encompasses and frames for other a Catholic perspective of the world structure by reflection, prayer, action, service, teaching and sacramentality.  This is expressed and developed through the physical space, choice of activities, allocation of time, and the kind of relationships that are fostered.  The educator’s tools are the rich moral, artistic, scientific, spiritual and intellectual treasury of the Catholic church (see The Excellent Catholic Teacher).

The Gospel page of the parable of the ten virgins “The Kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  Five of them were foolish and five were wise.  The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.”  Jesus is talking about our spiritual preparation and conditioning.  The parable gives us some strong indications of what needs to be in place here and now.  We must not wait to be sure our lamp is lit and that we have plenty of oil.  It almost seems that the lethargy that affects young people today also concerns our civilisation, which has forgotten to live in waiting for our encounter with God.  More and more people lean towards secularism, stopped believing that the Lord is ever present in every moment of our lives and in which we must be watchful to recognise HIs signs, vigilantly listening for His call and be ready for action.

The numbness of our society manifests itself in forgetting the essentials of life and many idolise and to turn to new false god, innumerably propagated by commercial entities who are advocate and sell that false happiness that leaves only a bitter taste and disappointment.  In our youth today there seems to be an increasingly weak sense of personal responsibility, an extremely potent example is the increasing number of traffic accidents due to speeding, the use of drugs and alcohol where alcohol is cheeper than food and encouraged by the “buy one get one free” culture, without the slightest responsibility being taken by those who drive a vehicle carelessly and irresponsibly.

For this very reason today, I would like you all to look at Santa Rosalia’s austerity, her strong and decisive choices, to always remain conscious and wait to welcome her Lord in her daily and mystical meetings with him. I would like Santuzza to be the stimulus for all to become more responsible from now on, for all the occasions in our lives and situations in which the Lord has by his will placed us, to be prepared, to be aware, to be responsive and responsible.  A time, which in Christ has become kairos (right, critical, or opportune moment), an occasion for personal sanctification, which is one of the instruments that God’s mercy gives to us to enable us to reach him. It is a benefaction given to us, so much so that none of us can waste a single minute to our lives.  Therefore let us not waste it in that which does not lead us to the truth.

The occasions, the circumstances by which we always judge the positive or negative, depending on whether they correspond to our schemes or not, are in fact opportunities that the Lord offers us so that we can appreciate and love Him in everything.  From this stems or responsibility toward duty, to respond to the task to which we are called for the common good.  I wholeheartedly endorse it because it is worth it!  Doing your duty well is a requisite on account that through it one arrives at the realisation of one’s self, being fully content, which gives a credible witness to one’s encounter with God in the workplace, among our co-workers, often non-believers or like many just indifferent.  Santa Rosalia, adhering to the will of the Lord fulfilled her duty in such an exemplary manner as to be a model for us even today after so many centuries.

We must all make an effort and enter into and adopt a more authentic Gospel process of reasoning.  It teaches us that the place in which we have been placed by God’s will is primarily a service to be carried out for the common good of all, for a better, more humane world and for peaceful coexistence. The concept of service to the common good must be able to precede everything else and prevail over a mentality of profit and gain, for which we often selfishly work toward. This impoverishes us, it makes us petty and detaches us from the reality in which we are engulfed thus preventing us from seeing the face of Christ in our brother who is right next to us.

Everyone is invited to do his part.  However small or large, it is the part that belongs to each member of the Mystical Body of Christ which is the Church.  The essentiality of Santa Rosalia’s austere life shows us the responsibility with which we are called to bring our faith to life, to transfer the beauty of our encounter with Christ into our daily lives whilst walking among men.

And it will be one of the most beautiful pilgrimages ever undertaken. It will be the most significant one you have ever done, because it will enable you to reach the full significance of our existence and to prepare us for our heavenly goal which is the eternal Kingdom in which Santa Rosalia, together with the angels and saints, enjoys the face of God for eternity.  Surely that is what we all seek and desire?

I leave you all with my humble prayers and blessings, and ask for the intercession of Santa Rosalia to help you in your daily service for the common good.  In Jesus and Mary.  Amen

Translation of the Prayer to Santa Rosalia:

Oh admirable Santa Rosalia, who resolved to imitate within herself the most perfect image of Your only good, the Crucified Redeemer, you applied yourself to all the rigors of the most bitter penance in the solitude of a cavern, where you always delighted ‘to extol with vigils and fasts, the scourges which macerated your innocent flesh, a grace to us all the grace to always tame by the exercise of evangelical mortification all our rebellious appetites, and to always pasture our spiritual meditations the most devoted of those Christian truths, which alone can bring us true well-being in this life and eternal bliss in the other.  Pater, Ave and Gloria


Again, the claim of the apologetic that the Orthodox have always been unchanging — reproducing entire and purely the life of the primitive Church — does not stand up well to close examination. The Orthodox Liturgies do retain the early Church’s insistence on one altar only in each Church.  But otherwise, in general and in a host of details, their Liturgy and Office have undergone at least as many changes as the Western liturgy.

Approximately 50 years ago a rapid series of events has concentrated the attention of many Catholics on the Orthodox Church.  This widespread interest is something new.  After 1917 there grew up in most Western countries a diaspora of Russian Orthodox exiles.  This had several small-scale consequences.  It led to the rise of a few small Catholic groups dedicated to the study of the problem of reunion with the Orthodox — the Amay community, now at Monastère de l’Exaltation de la Sainte Croix in Chevetogne, Belgium, and, in England, Fr Bede Winslow and the other promoters of the Eastern Churches Quarterly.[1] There also appeared a small society of Anglicans and Orthodox, the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius.  There were a variety of reasons why numbers of High Anglican clergy should have become interested in the Orthodox. For one thing, intermittently, High Anglicans and Orthodox had had relations since the mid-seventeenth century. Behind these relations lay—at any rate, on the side of the Anglicans—a very genuine theological interest in a Church which seemed, from afar, to be a real remnant of that ‘Undivided Church’ of the first centuries which was the ideal of the Patristic scholars of the learned wing of High Anglicanism. There were also—on the side of the Orthodox—often political reasons for seeking relations. Both sides detested Rome. Subconsciously, High Anglicans felt that any measure of acceptance of them by the Orthodox would increase their ‘Catholic standing’. Hence, in the years between the wars, the Orthodox Liturgy was quite often celebrated in English in Anglican churches, a few Anglican ordinands stayed in Orthodox seminaries, and a large number of Orthodox national Churches (though not the Churches of Greece and Russia) pronounced rather ambiguously on the validity of Anglican Orders. 

The Orthodox exiles in contact with this Anglican movement soon developed a fruitful line of apologetic—especially Dr Zernov.[2] Put simply, this maintained that Orthodoxy represented alone the integral Catholicism of the early Church, a Church constituted by the sacraments and ‘right worship’ in the Eucharist. Through these the Holy Ghost creates and sustains ‘sobornost’,[3] a supernatural, interior unity of life and faith, out of which automatically flows true Christian living as a spontaneous love. In such a mystical view of the Church, there is little place for hierarchies, primacies, canon law, organised good works or missions. So, the apologetic ran, Western Christianity — Rome included — has all fallen away from ‘sobornost’ into a Pharisaical legalism, activism, materialism; all are alike ‘Protestants’ in this.  To High Anglican readers this apologetic offered multiple attractions.  Its extreme supernaturalism appealed at a time when the anti-Liberal reaction was strong.  It seemed to show that as Anglicans came more and more to share such an outlook, by the Orthodox theory of ‘economy’, their Orders would become progressively more and more valid — indeed, it by-passed the whole sterile problem of validity.  So also it by-passed the mass of problems about Scriptural exegesis — for, if Zernov were right, all that would be needed would be the living interior Tradition of the Church’s life.  Finally, it by-passed all problems about a primacy in the Church — for there could, on Zernov’s theory, be no such thing. Every Orthodox worshipping community at the Eucharist was mystically the whole Church; the Holy Ghost Himself and ‘sobornost’ could do without primacies or even Councils. 

The war brought into this country increased numbers of Orthodox and Eastern Catholics. But it also brought the first Anglican criticisms of the Zernov apologetic.  Closer acquaintance with Orthodoxy in the national Churches proved somewhat disconcerting.  In the first place, although it was true that Orthodoxy was through and through permeated with an otherworldly spirit remote from the normal atmosphere of Western Christian life, alongside that were very different features — an extreme complexity of rubrics and Canon Law, a positive pullulation of autocratic primacies, often locked in battle. From very early indeed in Eastern Church history, there existed very autocratic local patriarchal primacies claiming Divine and apostolic succession. Alongside them were the sweeping claims to Oecumenical or Universal Apostolic Primacy of the Patriarchs of Constantinople — the Second Rome —and Moscow — the Third Rome.  Alongside that were the claims of Caesar, first at Byzantium, then in Moscow, to be Head of the Church. Then there were the theories which gave practically complete ecclesiastical autonomy to national hierarchies — of the ‘autocephalous Churches’.[4]  It seemed that the Zernov theory of ‘sobornost’ and a mystical unity apart from all law and primacies had long roots back in Pan-Slavism,[5] and represented only one — an Opposition — strand in Orthodox ecclesiological thought, common amongst Orthodox exiles in history. 

Again, a closer study of early medieval history made the sweeping simplicity of the apologetic idea of a Papal, Western aggression on a peaceful and loving Orthodoxy seem dangerously misleading.  Western barbarous treatment of Orthodox in the earlier middle ages is undeniable, but there was also a far older Greek tradition of contempt for the West.  When the Eastern Emperors were strong they — like the Russian When the Eastern Emperors were strong they — like the Russian Emperors later — had no hesitations in imposing Eastern rites by force; when in control of Italy, the Byzantine Emperors imposed Greek Popes on Rome.  Greek polemic against the West never halted at a demand that each side should live and let live; on the contrary, the Greeks regarded Western rites and canons and beliefs as all suspect of heresy.  

Again, the claim of the apologetic that the Orthodox have always been unchanging — reproducing entire and purely the life of the primitive Church — does not stand up well to close examination. The Orthodox Liturgies do retain the early Church’s insistence on one altar only in each Church.  But otherwise, in general and in a host of details, their Liturgy and Office have undergone at least as many changes as the Western liturgy. The eikonostasis and the dialogue character of the Eastern Liturgy are no older than the distant altar and silent Canon of the West, and neither are primitive. In theology and in Church government, the Orthodox have undergone a long series of outside influences — of the Byzantine Imperial government, of Peter the Great’s establishment of the Synod, of influences from German Hegelian philosophy, Catholic theology and canon law, Lutheran and Calvinist theology.  We get an external impression of immense conservatism and antiquity when we look at Orthodoxy.  After all, it lives in ancient sites — although most often in late medieval or modern buildings.  Its clergy and people are obviously fanatically conservative — but what they conserve in detail is more often Byzantine or early modern fashion than ancient, and their conservatism is to a large degree bred out of the conditions of life under Turkish rule.  It is a commonplace of the Zernov apologetic that the East has not had — or needed — a Hildebrandine Reform, a Counter-Reformation. But this is misleading — since the Orthodox have known many crises, many mass-schisms and apostasies, many black periods of collapse and many spiritual revivals. 

Lastly, there is the undoubted fact that theological and Patristic and Biblical studies are at low ebb amongst the Orthodox; that the religious life is passing through a very severe crisis indeed amongst them, and is at its lowest point so far in history … and this at a time when the challenge of the Oecumenical Movement and the challenge of the coming of Western technology and all its social and religious consequences to the Near East are both confronting the Orthodox inexorably.  As traditional patterns of life change, as Communism and modern materialism sweep over the Near East, there is grave danger that the Orthodox clergy will have no resources to meet the threat but a retreat into mysticism, the liturgical life and obscurantism.  This will not hold the masses and — infinitely more important — is a sub-Christian response to the challenge.  In all this the Orthodox have an immense amount to learn from a West which they still basically regard as barbarous and inferior.  The belated and still adolescent movements in the Greek Church to revitalise catechetics, to adapt the monastic life, to establish a living theology, Patristics and Biblical theology have not got very far. What is badly needed is that Orthodoxy should produce real philosophers — instead of accepting on ecclesiastical authority a stale amalgam of Neo-Platonism and German Hegelianism; that they should produce real exegesis, instead of catenae [6] of the exegetical opinions of Byzantine theologians; that they should produce a living Patristics, instead of treating the Greek Fathers — seen exclusively through the spectacles of Byzantine, or even nineteenth-century Russian, theological comment — as mines of proof texts; that they should appreciate that the great Greek Fathers were themselves far more rationally-minded than they imagine, far less sure that they themselves were the last word in wisdom, conscious that they were caught up in many local controversies of their day. 

Unfortunately these frank criticisms of Greek Orthodoxy were voiced by few, and the Zernov line in apologetics remained very influential. But now, in rapid succession, have come the joining of the World Council of Churches by the Orthodox (and who shall say how far political and national motives influenced this move, and how far the urgings of the European and American Orthodox exiles?), the appearance of Orthodox observers at the Vatican Council, the imminence of Catholic-Orthodox theological conversations, the meeting of the Pope and the Patriarch of Constantinople.  Simultaneously the great movement for theological, liturgical and ‘governmental’ self-criticism and renewal has been fairly launched in the Catholic Church.  This, in its turn, has brought an immensely strong and realistic desire for reunion.  On our side many barriers between us and the Orthodox have fallen.  But what sign is there of any similar movement on the other side? 

Two old books by Orthodox in the West give us someindication of a change of heart — operating very slowly.  The first, The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware, an English convert to Orthodoxy, obviously owes very much to Zernov apologetic.[7]  Its view of the history of Catholic-Orthodox relations is still controversial and superficial. But these defects pale into insignificance before the positive virtues of the book.  It is frank about the present realities of Orthodox life (except perhaps in Russia).  In the sections on reunion with Rome, it recognises plainly how unprepared the national autocephalous Churches are for theological dialogue and how much they have to learn from the West.  The second book, The Primacy of Peter: essays in Ecclesiology and the Early Church, by four Orthodox theologians, reveals clearly how impoverished their exegesis of Scripture, Patristics and theology are. When dealing with Scripture, the authors have no body of modern Orthodox scientific exegesis to depend on, but are forced to improvise or quote Byzantine authors, late nineteenth-century Russian manuals or modern Western works by Catholics and Protestants.  Much the same is true in Patristics and theology.  In general they fail to come to grips with the problem of primacy in the Church.  They admit that Orthodox theological tradition knows, de facto, of a multiplicity of conflicting views on the Roman Primacy and on primacy in the Church in general — but that Byzantine and Greek and Russian theological writers have almost never risen beyond blank statement or polemics when treating of this.  Most of the authors of the book take refuge in ‘sobornost’ — the self-sufficient local worshipping community — and condemn outright any search for a ‘universal ecclesiology’ as materialism, Western Protestant activism and legalism; indeed, as exiles, they would equally condemn the theory of the autonomous authority of patriarchs, heads of autocephalous Churches, Synods.  But in two of the essays— by Fr. Nikolay N. Afanasiev († 4 Dec. 1966) and Fr. Alexander D. Schemann († 13 Dec. 1983) — there is a partial admission that perhaps a Roman primacy, exercised as a general superintendence in love without any fixed theological definition or canonical status, has a genuine place in ‘Orthodox tradition’.[8]

Complementing these books in many ways is The Eastern Churches and Catholic Unity, a series of papers by Catholic Melkite Eastern bishops.[9]. Three subjects—closely related ones — are dealt with; the whole problem of reunion with the Orthodox as seen by Eastern Catholics, the Vatican Council and Melkite objections to Western Catholic ignorance of Eastern ways and theology.  The book begins rather curiously with a very trenchant survey of the problem of adjusting the West to union with the East — a survey simply headed ‘Publisher’s Note’.  Two things are particularly impressive in this remarkable book.  The first is the vigour and clarity with which it pleads that the renewal of life in the Western Church is integrally bound up with reunion with the Orthodox.  In effect it extracts from the Zernov thesis its truth and leaves aside its errors.  The West has much to learn from the East — a sense of proportion about Church government, about the liturgy, about the position of the laity.  The existence of the Catholic Eastern Churches and of the Orthodox diaspora in the West (of which Patriarch Athenagoras († 7 Jul. 1972) of Constantinople was a member) had been Providential.  The second remarkable feature of the book consists not so much in what it says as in how the book is written.  In its vigour, theological and historical clarity it contrasts strikingly with the formalism and hesitancy of the Orthodox essays in The Primacy of Peter.  In this, it is a clear example of the benefits for an Eastern Church of being in living communion with the Catholic Church of the West. 

Continue reading “‘THE ORTHODOX CHURCH’”

The Trinity and Worship

Trinity 3

IT is proverbial that we are sometimes blindest of all to the most familiar things: the old house, the cherished walk, the parks and gardens where we are accustomed to while away the hours.  Like good friends they do not need the reassurance of a long and searching scrutiny. We are at home with them and can find our way about them. Anything more is for the visitor, the dilettante, the tourist. 

This is especially so regarding religious matters.  We have staked our claim here, and have wandered in and out since childhood. Here most of all we have our home. It is almost inevitable as a consequence that here we can be blindest of all. 

Let us take the most sacred moment in our daily worship and describe it as though to a stranger. 

‘The bell rings for the consecration’, as we say. The priest bows down upon the altar as though he were trying to seclude himself from the people and their concerns.  The congregation stops its coughing, and feet-scrapings and bead-rattlings, and each member of it gradually becomes a little pool of silence.  For each of them is waiting, waiting alone and solitary, so it seems.  But for what?  For something to adore.  After the first bell all the eyes are raised, eyes like those of children about to look upon their parents’ gift until now hidden from them.  This is what they were waiting for, the Host, the white Wafer under which their God lies hid. The priest has done his work unfailingly as he always does, and the object of adoration is presented to those reverent eyes.  So many lips murmur softly to themselves the words that confess the Lord’s divinity and his real presence, ‘My Lord and my God’. For many the main part is over.  They have seen their Lord.  They have gained their indulgence.  The chalice contains and yet hides the Precious Blood.  They look at it when raised, for that is what some missals direct them to do. ‘Look at the chalice’, they are told, ‘and then bow down to adore the Blood of Christ.’  But the Blood moves the people less for the simple reason that they cannot see It. 

The coughing checked in masterly fashion for the few moments of the adoration returns harsher than ever for a little while, but then gentler, more reverent. So it is with the shuffling feet and the dangling beads. The congregation is now in the presence of God. What better sign of his presence could the Lord have given to his elect than this Host, white and pure and radiant, even its shape — circular, and so without beginning and end—betokening divinity? 

No reader, I suppose, would either query the general accuracy of this description or fail to be somewhat saddened at the deficiencies in the appreciation of the Mystery that it betrays. 

Our people, in the main, give little more than notional assent to the Eucharist as a sacrifice.  The Mass is thought of sometimes as Benediction with rather different rubrics. We must admit that our laity often do not know what it means when they are told that they should be offering with the priest. 

I want to suggest that the real reason for this lack of comprehension is that there is no practical understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity.  Because many people’s whole spirituality is directed to Christ as God it is seriously lacking in many respects. Christian prayer is not only prayer in which our Lord figures but in which he figures as Mediator.  Our people are praying with great piety and zeal, so much so that we are inclined to forget that it is not always according to knowledge.  For they do not know practically that ‘through him (Christ) we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father’. 

They do not offer, then, with the priest because the priest is offering to the Father and they are unaccustomed to thinking of prayer as directed to the Father.  When the priest raises his hands at the altar they take it for granted that he is just giving them a view of the Host so they can adore It.  After all, the priest used to have his back to them and had to raise the Host high for them to see.  They cannot—and perhaps with every justification cannot — recognise this elevation as a sacrificial attitude because the priest does not raise his hands in any case until the words of consecration are completed.  No wonder they think the priest’s task is wholly separate from, and antecedent to, their own. The habit they have acquired of bowing down accentuates their seeming exclusion from the sacrifice.  For no outside observer would think this ostrich-like behaviour symbolic of an attitude of sacrifice. Hands raised high to heaven, yes, that would be fitting, hands outstretched, eyes held aloft, that would indeed be a sign of an oblation to the heavenly Father.  This general collapse over the benches certainly is not. 

As for the Host Itself on which they concentrate in affection almost entirely, it would be something if they could recognise It as bread.  As it is, It may satisfy their aesthetic sense but It is scarcely calculated to remind them that they are hungry.  They feel the proper attitude is, as before, adoration, so that Communion as a habit appears to some to be rather overdoing the familiarity.  We should emphasise to them that the Eucharistic bread is not a symbol of Christ’s divinity but of his flesh and we were meant to hunger after it: the very condition of salvation is feeding on that flesh in faith and in the Eucharist. When our people do not know this effectively, they are quite content with their adoration. The Family’s bread remains undistributed, and nobody seems to be hungry . . . 

To offer the doctrine of the Trinity as a remedy to much of this is not like offering any kind of cheap panacea.  We were baptised into the Trinity.  The Trinity lives in each of us.  Each Person is personally united to each of us.  It is the Trinity that is the home of all our wanderings.  It must be obvious that our life of worship should be centred on the Trinity as Trinity. 

We cannot go on with the pastoral neglect of this doctrine without, unconsciously at least, erecting many barriers to true devotion. To be able to pray to the Father in the name of Jesus is the very meaning of the Incarnation. For Christ is our Mediator with the Father. It is through him that we have access to the Father in the Spirit. 

The ordinary Catholic, if asked, might fail to see what all the commotion is about.  He only knows that there are three Persons in God and that God the Son became man and suffered and died for us. In worshipping Christ we are worshipping God.  Isn’t that enough? 

Naturally, we know it isn’t.  Not only is it not enough but it is a dangerous dilution of the revealed word of God.  But the mistake is easily made, for their priests and teachers do not, for the most part, present them with any richer Trinitarian doctrine. 

The objection of the layman comes down to asking this fundamental question: ‘Does it really mean very much to say that the Father is God, the Son is God, and yet the Father is not the Son?’  If it means nothing at all we would be justified in addressing our prayer, as many do, uniquely to the Son.  It is because that question is meaningful — in fact, is in the deepest sense of all meaningful — that it is not sufficient to pray to ‘Jesus because he is God’.  And it is not sufficient simply because he is not the Father.  Christianity is not the creed in which God is seen to be our Father, but in which God the Father is seen to be our Father.  We are not just sons of God, therefore, but sons in the Son.  The whole of our Christian life is a share in the Sonship of the Son, a participation, on our own level, of that eternal relationship of Son to Father. 

To say, ‘Isn’t it enough to pray to Christ as God?’ turns out to be as curious a question as asking, ‘Wasn’t Christ praying to himself since he was praying to God his Father and he himself was God?’  We might ask with equal impropriety, ‘Didn’t God the Father become man, since the Son did so and he was God?’ 

Too often our people pray as if it were not the Son who came in our flesh, as if he had never revealed the Father to us or sent us his Spirit. 

The divinity of our Lord is central to Christian belief; and yet its over-emphasis, that is, the emphasis on it to the distortion of the context in which we were meant to see it in God’s plan, has obstructed our insight into the divine economy.  It has made us forget that the temporal economy of salvation mirrors forth the eternal relations, that through the Incarnation, Passion and Glorification of the Son we, too, were meant to be caught up with him, parcelled up in him, share his Sonship, and so pass with him into the full condition of being God’s sons. 

The strange thing is that praying to Christ almost exclusively has made us even forget the role of Incarnation.  For the Word was made flesh to be our Mediator with the Father — not just an intermediary between God and men.  For ‘he is the Mediator of the New Testament: that by means of his death … they that are called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance, in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Hebrews 9:14-15). 

To pray to the Father is necessarily to keep Christ ever in our minds for it is only in him that we can approach the Father at all.  The Word was made flesh that suffering and dying for us he might bring us in himself to the Father.  He accomplished this in his Spirit.  The Spirit who is the mutual Love of Father and Son is given to us as a Gift.  The Spirit is not a substitute or a replacement for Christ since Christ’s gift of the Spirit is also his own return.  ‘And I will ask the Father, and he shall give you another Paraclete, that he may abide with you for ever. …  I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you.’ (John 14: 16,18).  So the Spirit’s task is to make Christ’s spiritual presence and power — for Christ by his Resurrection has become a living spirit — effectual in the world.  The Spirit’s task is to make effective Christ’s mediation, so that through Christ we may be reconciled to the Father, and in Christ glorify the Father. 

In our almost exclusive approach to Christ as God, then, we tend to lose the whole force of Incarnation for we are treating the Son as though he were the Father. We let slip from view the role of Christ’s humanity and move away automatically from a sacramental conception of our faith which is the correct one.  Moreover, there is scarcely room for the Spirit at all.  If the Father is dimly there in the background of our prayer (as one to whom Christ is to lead us after our deaths!), the Spirit simply does not seem to fit in comfortably anywhere.  In our odd moments when the thought strikes us we realise very forcibly that the Spirit is also God, and address a few unintegrated invocations to him, hoping that this will make up for our long bouts of unaccountable neglect. 

The remedy for all these difficulties is simple.  It is to obey the injunction of Christ: ‘When you pray, say, our Father’.  To address the Father is to know in an experimental way that we can only approach through the merits of the Son, and in the Spirit who makes Christ’s redemptive work operative in us.  All our prayers become summaries of our Christian faith. They become ‘homely’ for Father, Son and Spirit come to us and make their abode with us.  The very word ‘Father’ has about it all those proper resonances that should belong to it. 

The attitude at Mass which was outlined above is only the symptom of a deep disquietude, and of a far – reaching maladjustment, in our worship, to Trinitarian doctrine.  The effects are there in our secret prayer to God as well. 

Praying to the Father does not mean that we must never pray directly to the Spirit or to Jesus.  This would be contrary to the teaching of the Church and to her experience of God as expressed in many parts of the liturgy.  We have been talking about an emphasis. Prayer to the Father which Pius XII called the ‘normal’ procedure helps to remind us that we do not and cannot pray alone.  It is always through Christ and with Christ that we speak to God.  Jesus is our Mediator, so that prayer is a chorus, an ensemble, a community affair. And the habit of speaking exclusively to Christ as God makes us feel unbearably the lack of a Mediator.  We experience a kind of loneliness of approach that should be quite alien to the Christian spirit. 

Jesus becoming the end of our supplications, we find ourselves alone, without merits, and we look around for mediators to help us. We choose our Lady above all for this role.  Now I do not deny that in a most genuine and special sense our Lady is our intercessor.  But she is not the ‘Mediator of the New Testament’.  In practice the neglect of Trinitarian doctrine and the almost unique direction of prayer to Christ as God has tended to make us put our Lady in place of Christ in our approach to God.  This should not be so.  Protestants are very wrong in thinking that for Catholics it must be so.  Let us just admit in all honesty that for too many Catholics it simply is so. 

No Catholic would dream of attributing divinity to our Lady. Newman was clearly correct in thinking that anybody who makes such an accusation betrays his own Arianism.  It means that he does not know what divinity is, if he thinks that the honours paid to Mary are divine honours which ought to be reserved for Christ. 

Might it not be, however, that often what Protestants are really getting at and yet expressing so badly is that the practice of many Catholics in fact is opposed, by reason of the role given to Mary, to the apostolic injunction, namely, to pray to the Father through Christ. Devotion to our Lady must fit into the latter scheme and not supplant it.  When a true harmony is achieved there is a resultant warmth about traditionally Catholic worship which is lacking in Protestantism as such.  But it does no harm and will perhaps do much good to admit that sometimes Protestants have a much deeper sensitivity to the structural aspects of Christian doctrine than have many Catholics. 

Lastly, on the subject of our secret prayer to God, we see that we can only become humble when our prayer is Trinitarian, for it is in Christ that we are led to the Father.  If God were to take our present mode of prayer seriously one wonders if we should be heard at all, for we are speaking to Christ as God unaided.  We are praying, that is, as if failure or success were uniquely dependent on us.  But to pray through the merits of Christ is always to be heard because it becomes the prayer of the well-beloved Son who is always heard for his reverence.  ‘Hitherto you have not asked any thing in my name. Ask, and you shall receive; that your joy may be full.’ (John 16:24). When we experience darkness and desolation in prayer, therefore, it is not as if our voices cannot pierce the heavens.  For our supplications are simultaneously on the lips of Christ in whom we are incorporated, and who has already passed beyond the heavens. Not only is all liturgy heavenly liturgy, but all prayer is heavenly prayer. All this is a source of consolation. 

The central action of the Mass, that most familiar of familiar things, has revealed to us by our description of it a crucial neglect of the doctrine of the Trinity.  This neglect has led insensibly to mistaken emphases in many other areas of faith. And it is difficult to see how it could have been otherwise. 

“Father, help us to pray as your Son taught us to pray and grant us even now to live in humble and loving obedience to your will. Through the merits of the same Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Spirit for ever and ever.  Amen.”



During the early days of the Church, both Saturday AND Sunday were kept as holidays but soon Sunday came to be preferred because the Lord had risen from the dead on a Sunday – and again, two consecutive holidays with the attendant need for communities to gather in common made the community itself increasingly vulnerable to police detection and penetration. The fact that it was also on a Sunday that the Holy Spirit had descended upon the Apostles in the Upper Room did not damage the speed of the trend to adopt only Sunday as the proper holiday of observation.

How Our Lord celebrated the first Divine Liturgy is clearly delineated in the New Testament accounts of the Last Supper. We have had portrayed for us there the simplest elements of that Most Holy Sacrifice.

Our Lord took the bread and wine and prayed over them, He offered them up to the Father with a blessing and then consecrated them, changing them into His Own Precious Body and Blood.  He then gave them to the apostles in Holy Communion. Communion.  Oneness.  With Him. PHYSICAL one-ness with Him, as “well” as spiritual.

Last Supper
Do this in commemoration of me. (Luke 22:19).

The Saviour told the apostles to do the same thing.  To do it in commemoration of Him, and to bear witness concerning Him until the end of time.  They did so faithfully.  Wherever they preached the Gospel they also celebrated the Eucharist.

At first the Jewish-Christian converts continued to pray and perform their religious worship obligations in the Temple at Jerusalem. They went to the synagogues, reserving the celebration of the Eucharist until the evening hours when it was usually joined to the communal meal they then took as a matter of custom. It was in this way that they obeyed the Lord to “do this in commemoration of Me” when He instituted the Blessed Sacrament as an evening meal.

Problems, however, arose swiftly, as they always do when someone either sets himself apart or is seen by others to be set apart – or even to be simply “different” somehow.  It wasn’t long at all before the Jewish authorities initiated a persecution of the Jews. The Romans as yet had no part in it – it was, for them, a purely local and religious matter to be settled among the Jews themselves.  Soon, however, the politics of the region brought down the Legions of Rome upon Jerusalem, and with the rage of Rome, Jerusalem was quite literally destroyed.

Simultaneously, alongside the destruction of Palestine and the levelling of Jerusalem, gentiles were beginning to join the Christians at an ever-increasing rate.  More and more thousands of Gentiles were entering the Church.  It became quite impossible, if only because of the numbers, to frequent the local synagogue and to be a Christian at the same time.  The numbers of converts made the one impossible, the persecution made the other equally impossible.

sacraments initiation
Sacrament of Initiation

Christians, however, never completely outgrew their synagogal background. Among those elements which were borrowed from our Jewish heritage came the service we still call the “Liturgy of the Catechumens.” Today we refer to it more commonly as “The Liturgy of the Word,” but it reflects in form (and almost as much in content) the old synagogal forms, by which the Christians now held their own synagogue services, which quickly developed into a kind of synagogal service in the morning, and a Eucharistic service in the evening. The format eventually developed over the centuries into the entire form known as “The Office,” “The Divine Office,” “The Liturgical Hours,” or any of a dozen other appellations which came to describe those processes by which Christians have ever sought to turn the entire day into a way of worshipping, glorifying and praising God. Beginning with the “Liturgy of the Catechumens” in the morning (something like “lauds” now), frequent prayer during the day (probably as a matter of simple convenience developing into naturally marked times such as mid-morning, noon, mid-afternoon, early evening, etc.), and completed at the end of the day with the full Eucharistic service combined with a meal or supper which we still remember as “The Agape,” the Feast of Love.

It is not difficult to understand, however, that it swiftly became difficult for people to gather twice for service on Sundays, particularly under the burdens inflicted by growing persecution. Frequent movement to and from identifiable locations would quickly prove the undoing of a clandestine group simply trying to stay alive. The era of the Great Persecutions (64-313 A.D.) made it necessary to assemble secretly. Not every city had “catacombs.” So, at a very early date, it became customary to join the synagogue service together with the Eucharistic service into one sacred function. Very soon into the Christian era we have the Divine Liturgy already formed into its current form, at least in broad outline.

Catacombs San Callisto  Rome c. 300 A.D

First one would find the “Liturgy of the Catechumens” as the beginning part of the service.  So-called because the catechumens, those converts still taking instructions in the faith but not yet baptised, were allowed to be present ONLY at this portion of the service.  The Eucharistic Feast itself was only for the initiates – and the Byzantine Liturgies to this day commemorate that fact by calling for the catechumens to depart just prior to the profession of faith. There would be readings from the sacred scriptures (at that time, mostly the Old Testament; much of the New Testament had not yet been written, and much of what had been written had not yet percolated its way throughout the entire community, though much had). Then would follow the “Liturgy of the Faithful” from the fact that only baptised believers could be present during the celebration of the Eucharist. Today this is still called the Liturgy of the Eucharist (literally, in Greek, “Thanksgiving”) because the Liturgy proper, or the confection of the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, took place at that point – the chief characteristic of the Christian service.

During the early days of the Church, both Saturday AND Sunday were kept as holidays but soon Sunday came to be preferred because the Lord had risen from the dead on a Sunday – and again, two consecutive holidays with the attendant need for communities to gather in common made the community itself increasingly vulnerable to police detection and penetration. The fact that it was also on a Sunday that the Holy Spirit had descended upon the Apostles in the Upper Room did not damage the speed of the trend to adopt only Sunday as the proper holiday of observation.

There is a remnant, however, even today remaining in the Byzantine Rite of the early state of things.  Liturgically, Saturday is “still” a liturgical day in the East.  And the Liturgical Day still begins at sundown. And the Liturgical Year still begins on September 1st. Even though Sunday is the Day of Obligation, on which all are obliged to render public worship to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Saturday in the Byzantine Rite is not a fast day, except for the Saturdays of Lent, and even in Lent the Liturgy is always celebrated on Saturday, whereas during Lenten weekdays the Liturgy is NOT celebrated. Only the “Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified” is celebrated traditionally on Lenten weekdays, and that is not truly a liturgy because it lacks a consecration. It is, in fact, Vespers joined to a communion service, and the consecrated species are actually consecrated at a prior Liturgy. Hence, of course, the name “Pre-Sanctified.” Additionally, there are many Saturdays during the Liturgical Year that have Propers of the Liturgy, like the Sundays. There “are” no “propers” for, say, the Sixth Wednesday after Pentecost. There IS for the First Saturday of Lent; or for Lazarus Saturday; or Akathistos (Ἀκάθιστος) Saturday; or for the five All Souls’ Saturdays. Saturdays in the Eastern Rites are “almost” as sacred as are Sundays.

Early Persecution Of Christians
Persecution of Early Christians

The persecutions lasted more than 200 years – a long time. A time quite long enough for necessary practices to harden into traditions, habits of mind and attitudes. Constantine issued the famous Edict of Milan in 313, not, as customarily has been said, “establishing Christianity as the state religion,” a false statement, but establishing their freedom to practice Christianity without let or hindrance, just as the other religions in the Empire had been accustomed during the entire history of the period. It simply restored Christians to equal status. The establishment of Christianity as the state religion came considerably later. Strictly speaking, however, the Edict of Milan did no more than permit Christians to come out of hiding, build churches and basilicas and hold services freely, without fear of punishment, persecution or discrimination, as often and as long as they wished, whenever and however they so chose.

At that point, the development of the Liturgy flowered greatly, bringing with it a richness and diversity quite unexpected by everyone involved. And bringing with it problems which nobody could have foreseen, and difficulties which, because unanticipated, would have the most serious consequences for the history of the world.

Copyright © 1997 Catholic Information Network (CIN) – 04-14, 2003
Courtesy of Catholic Information Network (CIN)


The solemn feast of the Most Precious Blood of the Heart of our Lord Jesus Christ. Sunday July 1, 2018.

The Blood of Christ is precious because it is Christ’s own great ransom paid for the redemption of mankind. In this belief, as there was to be no remission of sin without the shedding of blood, the “Incarnate Word” not only offered his life for the salvation of the world, but he offered to give up his life by a bloody death, and to hang bloodless, soulless and dead upon the Cross for the salvation of humanity. Jesus is said to have given his life – his blood – for the sake of all humanity, atoning for every form of human sin. The Precious Blood is a call to repentance and restitution.

Today at St. Mary’s Hermitage, the Hermits of Saint Bruno  commemorate the Most Precious Blood of the Heart of our Lord Jesus Christ.   It is an adoration, a gratitude and love, directed to Him whose heart poured out its life-blood for our redemption.  Whether in its deep cistern, or in its unfailing out-flow, we honour and venerate the price of our freedom and our life. 

What else is the blessed Heart of Jesus but the wonderful cup which transmuted the food of earth, not merely into the nourishment of one body, and the life-stream of one person, but into the quickening support of millions, into the circulation of unity through the entire Church of ages, into the ransom beyond price of all mankind, into the golden flood, which flowing ever from the foot of the Lamb, waters and fertilises heaven and earth, becomes the river of life to one, the stream of grace to the other. 

Paschal lamb
The Sacrificial Lamb.

For what, again, is the adorable Heart of Jesus but the fountain of Paradise, from what source does the river spring that divides into four branches, carrying refreshment, healing, and life to every region, and to every race?  One is a basin of cleansing and regenerating water, washing away all sin and stain; another is a bath that restores or increases strength and vigour to those who have to wrestle and fight for God; the third is a rich flow of consecrating unction like the one that streamed from the head of Aaron; while the last and best is the refreshing torrent of delights, at which saints drink with renewed bliss, and forgiven sinners with strengthening relish. 

All these streams of salvation, however different their immediate action, are nevertheless one in source and substance.  For what is it that washes away our stains but “the blood of Jesus Christ, which cleanses us from every sin?”  How did the oil of unction come by its power to strengthen and to consecrate, but from those first instalments of our deliverance, which flowed upon the root of the olive, trickling from the pores of our prostrate Lord, like an enriching dew that saturates their fruit.  If not direct from the divine Heart, in full warm outpouring, flowing forth the tide of a spiritual cornucopia, water for our purification, unction for our consecration, and the chalice of salvation.  Hence the eucharistic “wine springing forth virgins,” (Zach. 9:17) the sap of the true vine, of which we are the branches, the balsam of soothing and healing virtue which issued, from His body, to the very hem of our Lord’s outer garment, but now rushes out through the open gash, that reaches to the very core of that celestial plant. 

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, that which is good, which is holy, whatever is perfect upon earth has come to us from, and through, and by the most precious Blood of our divine Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  This, from the beginning, was in several different ways, and more copiously representing to us than anything else in the New Testament; though its excellence is revealed by the contrast in which it stands with its types.  It was to be innocently shed like Abel’s, that it might be shown to plead better and more powerfully than it for mercy, not for vengeance.  It was poured out in sacrifice, that it might be proved vastly superior to the blood of oxen and of goats, which had no power to cleanse the soul. (Hebrews 9:13)  Finally, the paschal lamb, the noblest type of our redemption, by the anointing with its blood of the door posts of the Israelites, warned away the destroying angel, and made Pharaoh relax his grasp on God’s chosen people, and subsequently freed them; only to be a harbinger of how the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world would baffle and defeat the prince of darkness and of eternal death, and force the oppressor of earth and hell to let His own people go free, to offer sacrifice even in this wilderness.

And how was this?  The posts of the gate which alone leads to immortal life, the cross under which all must bend the knee who desire to enter into Paradise, are richly streaked, and more than that, thickly painted with the Blood of “our sacrificed Pasch”, more terrible to His enemies than the brightest flash of Heaven’s lightning.  And so, when we partake of the Divine Mysteries, the edge of our mouths, our lips are dyed with the same rich drops that fell so abundantly on Calvary. 

Precious-Blood-JesusWith what devotion, then, should we not commemorate this shedding of our Saviour’s precious Blood, at the very mention of which the Church makes her ministers bend their knees, in awe and adoration of a mystery so pro found and yet so sweet, so fearful and yet so tender.  As the more deep and terrible is the gulf that opens beneath us, the more we feel drawn towards it, and tempted to plunge into it, so is this abyss of wonderful and unfathomable goodness, awful to contemplate, yet inviting our love to dive into it fearlessly, and taste unsatisfied of its delights. 

To think that God should have taken flesh, the very body of man, with all its inferiority of nature but wonders of construction, purely so that He could die, and that He should have blood to shed, for man’s ransom, salvation, and nourishment; to contemplate by what traumatic and burdensome ways this outpouring should have to be made, by what stripes, lashes, wounds, gashes, piercing and perforation of every part of that three times holy Body, to the tearing in two of its divine Heart; to meditate on the formidable truth that God, the Father who loved Him with an infinite affection, should have been pleased, appeased, soothed and turned to love from just anger by this tremendous atonement, baffles and sets at nought all our estimates, all our reasonings on the eternal and infinite ways of a divine imposition.  Still how bright this depth, how richly illuminated by every tender tone of love! How meekness and gentleness, mercy and forgivingness, impartiality and self-sacrifice, bounty and liberty, affectionateness and familiarity, parental fondness and brotherly caress play through the abyss, as profound and as measureless, and as incomprehensible as itself!  How unsearchable are the ways of God’s love, as much as those of His power! Who has been His counsellor but Himself the infinite goodness urging on the infinite energy of the Divine in all things. 

Yet what multiplies beyond the bounds of a limited conception the immensity of this love is, that it is individual and singular. “the whole to all, no less the whole to each.”  Every drop of blood, so unreservedly poured out on Golgotha, was gathered into one cup, the whole contents of which every soul is allowed to drink and make its own.  The full price was paid for each: the value of each soul is the equivalent of the entire ransom.  The treasure is not divided and paid out in single coins, but the entire sum is lavishly given to each profusely.  Who can penetrate to the depths of this almighty mercy; yet who can restrain themselves to love it and do his utmost to be worthy of it! 


As a consequence, my brothers and sisters in Christ, when we put before you the claims of little ones — little by age or by being of little significance — we are accustomed to lay our principal stress on this one motive, that their souls have been thought worthy of His precious life-blood, by Jesus Christ, their and our Redeemer. When especially we call on you to exercise the highest act of spiritual charity, to save their souls rather than sustain their bodies, the plea comes home with tenfold urgency.  Will you not agree and assist to the utmost in saving the souls which He so dearly secured, and loved beyond His own precious life? July Month-of-the-Precious-Blood

To this appeal no one can say, no: it is impossible.  Similarly, then, especially, is our pleading the day that you hear these words.  It is only by multiplying the means of religious education that thousands of your poor children can be ensured that salvation which Jesus Christ purchased for them.  The society to which you are asked to contribute has this for its sole and universal object.  It seeks, like the charity of our Lord and Saviour, to embrace all and each, to extend its beneficial effects throughout the whole country, and to reach the smallest and most neglected child with individual assistance. 

God will reward you, and give you of His abundance, through the redemption which is by Christ Jesus.  Amen. 

Continue reading “The solemn feast of the Most Precious Blood of the Heart of our Lord Jesus Christ. Sunday July 1, 2018.”

Homily for the feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul – 29th June 2018

Herod Philip and Herod Agrippa: the cult of a decadent Empire and the birth of the kingdom of Christ!

(Acts 12:1-11, 1 Timothy 6:4-18, Matthew 16:13-16)

The Edist of Milan
The Edict of Milan

The Church of Rome has finally raised its head so that it could breathe again, after the Christians endured the great persecutions from Diocletian; under Constantine and Licinius, who signed the Edict of Milan in 313 AD proclaiming religious toleration of the Christians in the Roman Empire.

It wonderfully describes the people, the times and feasts.  The celebration of the “Sol Invictus” becomes irreversibly that of Christmas; that of the perhaps legendary founders of the “Eternal City” becomes the feast of the holy apostles Peter and Paul! After Benedict XVI, we realize the need and urgency for the ‘re-Christianisation’ of the new evangelisation and evangelisation itself.

The neo-paganism, which has vaguely recovered since the 1960s, is very similar to that of decadent Rome: immorality, orgies, cruelty, aberrations, stupidity, and – excuse the expression, a “slovenly” loss of North, loss of identity and pride all at the same time, even pride in the practice of bad habits, the defeat of the family, doubts about marriage, confusion for children… Cicero exclaimed, “O tempora o mores!”, “Oh the times! Oh the customs!” the sentence is an exclamation critical of present-day attitudes and trends.

This Roman corruption spreads to Palestine, that poor “promised land” it no longer seems to be so promising! On the throne of Jerusalem, mortified as vassals of the “Eternal City”, reigning and governing with an iron fist is the Edomite and converted Jew, the puppet king of the Romans, Herod the Great, a paranoid megalomaniac murderous infanticide. His sons and successors, vassal rulers, masters and at the same time subdued, follow his “good” example!  Herod Antipas passes “by a whim the head of John the Baptist”, he is beheaded to please a dancing girl! Herod Philip (the Tetrarch) II, one of the few virtuosos of that dynasty, takes the wife of his brother or step-brother: just see what Flavius  Josephus wrote on the subject! Herod Agrippa I, as cynical as his grandfather, arrests, just to please the Jews, an “insignificant” almost illiterate fisherman named Shimon (Simon), son of Jonah (John), nicknamed Cephas-Peter (Shemayon Keppa) by one who was “enlightened” shortly after the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth!

Back in Rome, the new “sovereign pontiffNero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, Oh hoorah! A matricidal, fratricidal pyromaniac, this time! Has just dismissed his tutor Lucius Annaeus Seneca, the Spanish sage, who willingly listens to his second wife, obviously a “God-fearing” woman who sympathises with the Jews (with an exception to circumcision!) And can not even look at paintings of the Nazarene’s disciples.

Acts 12: 1-11: Saint Peter thrown into prison

Here we follow the readings, in contrast to the chronological order. The little son of Herod the Great understands that he will become more popular among the high priests, the scribes and the Pharisees, if he massacres the Nazarenes.  He limits himself to executing their “leader“only.  Alas the angel of the Lord, as he has done in the past during the Exodus, frees him.  The apostle cannot believe their own eyes!

During the course of History, the See of Rome has passed from stupor to amazement and wonder, enchanted by the miracles of divine grace! This gives rise to a profusion of converts and so to speak “christianises” an entire Empire that has finally reached the depths of the abyss!  From the simple Aramaic-speaking fishermen, some of the Roman citizens, including some of Jewish origin, share their discovery of Christ and the Gospel! In a few years, the apostles can already write in his adoptive language and writes “The brethren who are with me, salute you. All the saints salute you; especially they that are of Caesar’s household” (Phil 4:22).

At the level of the Roman Church and the Curia, however, over the centuries, the “chains” and the dust have accumulated!  A sort of “prison” of corruption, a mafia and nepotistic favouritism has formally taken root and becomes the norm!  The Holy Spirit decides to send one of his little angels, of Italian-Argentine extraction, to sweep away the dust and cobwebs, smash the mafia, and get the Vatican out of their imperialist ivory tower.  But something that is not quite palpable is still amiss.  Albeit, The Risen One is still alive. And He continues to watch over his Church!

St. Paul at the end of the scroll (1 Timothy 4:9)

The former Pharisee, armed with an almost murderous zeal, against the pagans and against “this kind of heretical Nazarene“, polytheists or rather we should say, blasphemer who substituted God with Jesus, is Saul of Tarsus, militarily conquered by the Risen one who has defeated him!  He realises that it is just “terrible to fall into the hands of the living God“, mysteriously and irresistibly identified with one Jesus of Nazareth! All his hostility falls away! All his objections seem to disappear.  Even today, Judaism and Islam hold the same objections toward the Trinity, the Incarnation and the divinity of Christ! Just this morning, a young Muslim expressed his bewilderment towards the concept of Redemption through the crucifixion!

St. Paul proceeds to respond and defend, “with gentleness and dignity“, “in truth and charity“, at least in two ways: through “logic” (cf. Romans 12:1) according to the triumph of the Crucified whom defeats and crowns (1 Corinthians 1:17); and through his own personal experience in the “life in Christ” indescribable happiness and the”true Way of the Cross“, the unquestionable reality of the of the Master’s Resurrection  (1 Corinthians 15), the incomparable sublimity of His teachings and the reflections upon His extraordinary guidance!

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”

At the Golan Heights, a few steps away from the Greek temple of Pan, the fictitious god of nature and music, who apparently loved beauty (which, would seem to have been  tragically and irremediably lacking) in the city built by Herod Philip in honour of the Emperor, Simon of John of Bethsaida proclaims Jesus Christ, Lord and King! Although normally, Simone, who is not distinguished for either his excessive silence or pathological shyness, for once it’s not him that speaks, it’s not his intelligence nor his “comprehension” that inspired this statement!  They are no longer “flesh and blood“, nor human calculations!  And “our Father who is in heaven“!  At Caesarea Philippi, the Fisherman arrives, thank’s be to God, to take the big fish of transcendent Truths of his teacher and friend, Jesus!


Peter and Paul follow the Nazarene, from Palestine to Rome! Both pass through Cesarea marittima, the administrative capital of the Empire. Both face and opposition from Judaism, from paganism, and from the “human” passions that reject the cross and find only hostility and vacuous virtues! Martyrdom will unite them! May their martyrdom, μαρτυριαtestimony nourish our faith, from Jerusalem to Rome, and “until the end of the earth!”  Amen!



This article was originally written by Fr. Madros on the 28th June 2014 of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.  I found his version fun to read in Italian and have therefore translated edited and embellished a little so that I could shared it with our English speakers.

The Eremitic Charism

Religious consecration is expressed and realised through the profession of the three evangelical counsels – chastity, poverty and obedience – and has the “duty of making somehow present the way of life which Jesus himself chose and indicated as an absolute eschatological value.” (John Paul II, Vita Consacrata, 29).  Consecrated persons remind all the baptised who, whilst not explicitly called to effectively and materially live the evangelical counsels, must nevertheless embrace them both emotionally and spiritually (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:29-31), knowing that it is the best form of life, as it is the one who has chosen Christ and that it will be the condition of all in eternal beatitude..

But the fame of him went abroad the more, and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by him of their infirmities.  And he retired into the desert, and prayed. (Luke 5:15-16).

Very many great saints avoided the company of men wherever possible and chose to serve God in retirement.  (The Imitation of Christ Book I, Ch. 20).


In this teaching we will try to illuminate the specific elements of eremitical life:

    1. In part one – we will review the various forms of Christian consecration.
    2. In part two – we will specify the various forms of religious consecration.
    3. In part three – we will study the ecclesial texts on the eremitical life.
    4. In part four – we will present the particular charism of urban eremitism.


A. The Baptismal Consecration

All Christians, thanks to Baptism, are consecrated to the Father by Christ, through the Holy Spirit:

For every high priest taken from among men (cf. Hebrews 5:1-5), is ordained for men in

Baptism of Jesus

the things that appertain to God,and hath made us a kingdom, and priests to God and his Father” (Revelations 1:6; cf. 5:9-10). The fact the baptised are consecrated by rebirth and by the anointing of the Holy Spirit, to be a spiritual home and a holy priesthood, and thus be able to offer in spiritual sacrifice all the human activities of the Christian, and announce the wonders of him who from the darkness He has called them into his marvellous light (cf. 1 Pt 2, 4-10)” (II Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, 10). Baptismal consecration enables Christians to live as children of God, exercising the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.


B. The priestly consecration

At the Last Supper, in conjunction with the Eucharist Christ instituted the ministerial priesthood:

During the Last Supper, Christ entrusted this sacrifice to the Church – the sacrifice of the new and eternal Covenant – as a Eucharist: the Sacrament of his Body and his Blood

Presbyteral Consecration


under the species of bread and wine “in the manner of Melchizedek” (Psalms 110:4; cf. Hebrews 7:17). When he said to the Apostles: “Do this for a commemoration of me (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24) He commissions the ministers of this particular sacrament within the Church, which must be continued for all time, renewing and implementing the sacrifice He had offered for the redemption of the world, and these same ministers He orders to operate – by virtue of their sacramental priesthood – in his stead: “in persona Christi” (Letter of the Holy Father Pope John Paul II To Priests for Holy Thursday 1985).


The priestly consecration enables some Christians to serve the people of God with the love of Christ the Good Shepherd, in whose name we proclaim the Gospel, celebrate the sacraments and guide communities.

“The laying on of hands by the bishop, with the consecratory prayer, constitutes the visible sign of this ordination.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1538).

C. The Religious consecration

The lay faithful have as their specific but not exclusive characteristic, activity in the world; the clergy, ministry; consecrated men and women, “special conformity to Christ, chaste, poor and obedient.” (John Paul II, Vita Consecrata, 31). “This call is accompanied,

Consecration of a Virgin

moreover, by a specific gift of the Holy Spirit, so that consecrated persons can respond to their vocation and mission.  For this reason, as the liturgies of the East and West testify in the rite of monastic or religious profession and in the consecration of virgins, the Church invokes the gift of the Holy Spirit upon those who have been chosen and joins their oblation to the sacrifice of Christ.” (John Paul II, Vita Consacrata, 30).


Religious consecration is expressed and realised through the profession of the three evangelical counsels – chastity, poverty and obedience – and has the “duty of making somehow present the way of life which Jesus himself chose and indicated as an absolute eschatological value.” (John Paul II, Vita Consacrata, 29).  Consecrated persons remind all the baptised who, whilst not explicitly called to effectively and materially live the evangelical counsels, must nevertheless embrace them both emotionally and spiritually (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:29-31), knowing that it is the best form of life, as it is the one who has chosen Christ and that it will be the condition of all in eternal beatitude..


By simplifying one can classify the various forms of “special consecration” having the experience of Christ as a guideline (A: Christological classification), or by way of assuming profession through the counsels of the Church (B: Canonical classification).

A. Christological classification

The form of life embraced by Christ was lived by Him in divine perfection, so those who follow in his footsteps through a special consecration can imitate only one aspect; this explains the great variety of charisms, which are the origins of the forms of consecrated life “in the strictest sense”.  We can group the variety of charisms into three great scions:

1. The contemplative consecrated life:

a.  This form of consecrated life imitates and represents Christ, who retires to pray in solitude.

b.  It gives pre-eminence to the relationship with God, and in organising one’s daily life as a direct function of the meeting Him in solitude, in silence and prayer (Sacred liturgy and prayer).

c.    Comprising:

  i.  Religious Communities (Benedictines, Camaldolese, Carmelites, Carthusians, Clares).

ii.  Hermits.

2.    The active or Apostolic consecrated life

a.  This form of consecrated life imitates and represents Christ, which inaugurates the Kingdom of God with his public ministry with preaching the Gospel, of liberation from evil and healing from disease.

b.  It gives a place of importance to the direct relationship with our neighbour, in order to serve them in their spiritual needs (education, evangelisation) and their corporal (poverty and sickness).

c.  Comprising:

  i.  Community Religious (e.g.: Camillians, Franciscans, Jesuits, Dominicans, Salesians, Comboni Missionaries and the Canossians, etc.).

ii.  Consecrated Virgins.

3.  The secular consecrated life

a.  This form of consecrated life imitates and represents Christ who shares in all (particularly the humble and ordinary thirty years of His life in Nazareth) the condition of life of His contemporaries, working for the salvation of the world in an unseen manner (such as yeast leavening in dough) doing every single thing in filial communion with the Father’s will.

b.  Establishes to live in the various activities of the world, with the goal (assumed with faith and love, but without publicly declaring their specific consecration) to guide them according to the will of God and in the evangelical spirit.

 c.   Those who embrace it live at the same time:

      i.  Community aspects:

–   They are placed in Institutes with regular meetings for training, sharing and decision-making;

       –    They have daily contacts in their work environment;

     –    They can live in fraternities or with a family (where no one, however, will know that they are consecrated persons).

   ii.  Solitary aspects:

    –  They do not ordinarily share in the daily prayers and fraternal life of the members of their own Institute;

    –  They can live alone.

B. Canonical classification

Code of Canon Law

Since the life of special consecration belongs to the Church as a constitutive and precious reality, the Pastors have established some norms to favour authenticity and stability; these norms are gathered in the Code of Canon Law, Book II (the People of God), Part III: Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (canons 573746).


Starting from the canonical norms we can classify the various forms of consecrated life considering


a.  The method of adopting the evangelical counsels; from this perspective we can discern:

i. Religious Institutes, in which the three evangelical counsels are decide on by public votes.

ii.  Secular Institutes, in which the three evangelical counsels are taken with votes that remain reserved.

iii.  The consecrated Virgins, who publicly assume only the vow of chastity.

iv.  Societies of apostolic life, in which the evangelical counsels are not generally adopted by votes.

b.  Relations between consecrated persons; from this point of view we can distinguish those who live:

i.  In brotherhood, as in religious Institutes of active life and in Societies of apostolic life.

ii.  In community, reserving spaces and times appropriate to solitude, as in religious institutes of contemplative life.

iii.  In solitude, separated from the world and from other solitary (hermits in the strictest sense of the word).

c.  The ecclesiastical authority competent in admitting consecrated persons; from this point of view we can distinguish the forms of consecrated life by right:

i.  Diocesan, when they are recognised by the diocesan Bishop (Religious institutes at the beginning of their experience or small in numbers; Consecrated Virgins; Hermits).

ii.  Pontifical, when recognised by the Apostolic See (Religious institutes whose charism leads them to operate beyond the boundaries of the Diocese, and who are numerically important).

Live in Solitude


Hermits are consecrated persons who have a contemplative charism, who live in solitude (both with regard to the world and with respect to other hermits) and who take the three evangelical counsels by professing them publicly in the hands of the diocesan Bishop.


The Magisterium of the Church offers us the following three texts on the eremitic life.  Code of Canon Law, can. 603 – (January 25, 1983)

§1. In addition to institutes of consecrated life, the Church recognizes the eremitic or anchoritic life by which the Christian faithful devote their life to the praise of God and the salvation of the world through a stricter withdrawal from the world, the silence of solitude, and assiduous prayer and penance..

§2. A hermit is recognized by law as one dedicated to God in consecrated life if he or she publicly professes in the hands of the diocesan bishop the three evangelical counsels, confirmed by vow or other sacred bond, and observes a proper program of living under his direction..

Catechism of the Catholic Church, pt. I., sec. II., ch. III., n. 921. (October 11, 1992).

921. They manifest to everyone the interior aspect of the mystery of the Church, that is, personal intimacy with Christ. Hidden from the eyes of men, the life of the hermit is a silent preaching of the Lord, to whom he has surrendered his life simply because he is everything to him. Here is a particular call to find in the desert, in the thick of spiritual battle, the glory of the Crucified One..

John Paul II, Vita Consecrata, nos. 7 and 42 – (March 25, 1996)

7. Men and women hermits, belonging to ancient Orders or new Institutes, or being directly dependent on the Bishop, bear witness to the passing nature of the present age by their inward and outward separation from the world. By fasting and penance, they show that man does not live by bread alone but by the word of God (cf. Matthew 4:4).

Such a life “in the desert” is an invitation to their contemporaries and to the ecclesial community itself never to lose sight of the supreme vocation, which is to be always with the Lord.

42. […] Hermits, in their profound solitude, do not withdraw from ecclesial communion but serve that communion by their specific charism of contemplation..

From these ecclesial texts, which proffer both an instruction and a rule, we can draw a profile of the eremitic charism, i. considered in the particular commentary, ii. in its ecclesial relationship and iii. in its spirituality.


a.  For a consecrated person to be a hermit, he must live “through a stricter withdrawal from the world“ (can. 603 §1). This separation makes  this particular exterior solitude possible, which implies detachment from creatures and hidden from the eyes of men: it is the “desert” of the Catechism n. 921.  External solitude favours external silence..

monastic seclusion
Monastic detachment

b.  Exterior silence supports inner silence, that is the contemplation and peace that derive from detachment (not thinking about it, not worrying, not desiring) from creatures; this separation cannot and must not be absolute (we have need of others and this is also true for hermits that the heart of Christian life is the love of God, verified with the love for our neighbour), but if it is not an effectual detachment, then there is no eremitic life.

c.  Interior silence facilitates the reciprocity of love with the Lord, which is the vocation of every Christian (cf. Ephesians 1:4-5), but the hermit must do so  progressively:

  • profound: is the “personal intimacy with Christ” of which the Catechism speaks, n. 921;
  • exclusive: “because He is everything for him” (Catechism n. 921); the hermit together with his vocation receives a particular grace which enables a maturity in divine love by withdrawing from human affairs as much as possible and to immerse oneself totally in the relationship with God in Christ;
  • continuous: this continuity is indicated “to be always with the Lord” in Consecrated Life n. 7 and in “continuous prayer” in canon 603 §1. .

From the relationship of love with the Lord Jesus, which inserts us into His Mystical Body, which is the Church, the hermit therefore obtains the necessary ecclesial relationship.


Public profession of a hermit

a.  The hermit receives everything that enables him to be a disciple of Christ from the Church: the proclamation of the Gospel, the grace of the Sacraments, the service of the Pastors who guide him in the truth and in the will of God and a reciprocal edification of mutual love within the Communion of Saints.


b.  From the Church the hermit receives the authoritative instruction to enable him to live his particular vocation authentically (cfr. three specific ecclesial texts mentioned above, together with all the fundamental indicators that are given for each form of consecrated life).

c.  The hermit receives from the Bishop of his local Church (Diocese):

  • the last discernment of his vocation;
  • the approval of his Rule of Life (canon 603 §2);
  • the possibility of publicly professing the three evangelical counsels into his hands (canon 603 §2);
  • the possibility of living in obedience, and having him as a legitimate Superior (canon 603 §2).

d.  The hermit donates to the Church:

  • the spiritual service of intercession incorporating prayer (similar to Moses on the mountain) and sacrifice (similar to Christ on the Cross);
  • a testimony of the priority of the love for God and of the “temporary nature of our current times” (Vita Consecrata, no. 7).


Celtic Cross - spirituality
Celtic Cross – Early Celtic Christianity had a very clear concept of Spirituality

a.  The hermit believes that love received from God and given back to Him is the supreme vocation of man.  He believes that only in a relationship with Christ can this vocation be fulfilled.


b.  The hermit accepts the need to be separated from the world as a mysterious initiative from God, trusting that with his vocation He gives the necessary help.  He believes that Christ “satisfies” his transformation into being a saint in love; he is confident that becoming increasingly holy gives conjointly to the Church and world, a help that is incalculable.

c.  The hermit bravely embraces the mortifications that are tied to his vocation (penances established by the Rule and unforeseen penances), knowing that he has to combat relentlessly denying his self admiration, therefore like Jesus and Mary becoming a absolute filial “Yes” with the love of the Father.

d.  The hermit remains ever vigilant to be humble (in his life everything is a gift where nothing is acquired once forever), faithful (obedience to the Rule is the surest way to persevere in God’s will) and grateful (even when the way it is narrow, God  has reserved the best part for him: Luke 10:42, a most magnificent inheritance: Psalms 15:6).



At first sight the hermit’s life and the city seem to be self-contradictory, for the simple

Florence a city with urban hermits.

reason, that a city is composed of many people who live together, whilst a hermit is called to live in solitude.


In reality solitude is also possible in a city because:

  • many people do live alone (32% of housing stock in the Canterbury Kent area are single occupancy); this may be by choice (young people who leave the parental home to be self-sufficient) or by necessity (separated or divorced people, the elderly);
  • being immersed in a crowd can produces the experience of anonymity: people who intersect each other have no name and mostly do not forge personal relationships, even when an exchange of information or services occurs.

The hermit can live alone in the city because:

  • they can find sufficiently quiet self contained accommodation;
  • they can limit their “outings” to the strictly necessary (especially with online shopping using companies like amazon etc.);
  • they can go quite inconspicuously through a crowd (“relatively” but not entirely, due to their dress, nevertheless most people are mostly in a hurry and are concerned about their own affairs).

It is clear, however, that the city is not the best place for a hermit because:

  • it is not possible to enjoy complete silence;
  • There are several circumstances for distractions or interruptions;
  • there is a need to take into account additional stress because:
  • i.the possibilities of getting around are reduced because of the need for solitude;

ii.  lack of beneficial contact (for body and soul) with nature.


Since the city is not the ideal environment for eremitic life, why do some hermits choose to live in the city?

To this question we can apply two answers:

1. From a personal point of view, a hermit chooses the path to live in the city het recognises that this is God’s will for him.

2. From a design point of view in that Divine Providence is realising for the salvation of all men, we can surmise that the good Lord places hermits right inside a city for:

  • to remind men, who are so often absorbed by earthly and material things, that the greater gain in life (Matthew 16:26) is to fashion a love story with God, a love story:
  • to which the hermit dedicates his total existence;
  • that, alone, it will allow him to authentically love his neighbour;
  • to witness to the disciples of the Lord and to all those who seek God, that solitude and silence:

i.  are necessary for the interior life and for the prayer of everyone;

ii.  that it is also possible in a city, dependant upon the particular circumstances of each individual;

iii.  to suggest that purely out of necessity solitude can become a way of peace, communion and productiveness, if lived in the intimate friendship with Christ;

iv.  stand before God, with continuous tenaciously in prayer and sacrifice, interceding for the benefit of all (Psalms 105:23; Code of Canon Law, can. 603 §1).


The eremitical life in the city, although difficult, is possible:

The Venia is performed as a mark of humility
Venia is performed as a sign of humility

1. Because the good Lord through our vocation always gives us the grace to bring to fruition.

2. Expand on a Rule of Life (Code of Canon Law, can. 603 §2) with the consensus of the diocesan Bishop, who for the hermit becomes the ecclesial reference point, both for discernment and for any obedientiary restrictions.


3. Cultivating the “separation from the world” by means of:

  • a solitary dwelling;
  • the predisposition to concentrate the necessary egress throughout one half of the day, morning or afternoon;
  • of an entire day in the desert once a week;
  • a vigilant economy regarding meetings, relationships with family members, using the telephone, radio, newspapers and computer (for work) and not having television.




Plan of the Sceilig Mhór Lavra or Hermitages. Drawing by J.R. Allen (1881) .

The Lavra or Laura were clusters of anchoritic cells or caves, inhabited by monks who, although living alone, gathered as disciples around the figure of an Elder, to regularly share experiences and prayer, especially the solemn liturgy of Saturday and Sunday. The term laura in Greek (Λαύρα ) means “narrow lane or alley” and was chosen based on the network of paths that connected the the individual cells of the hermits with one another to a central community site with a church and a refectory at its center.



The Lavra, whilst respecting the specific aspects of the eremitic vocation, offers the hermits who adhere to it:

1. moments of community prayer and Lectio Divina;

2. an organic path of doctrinal and spiritual formation;

3. a simple, regular and concrete opportunity for fraternal sharing;

4. mutual economic support.


Since every hermit has made a vow of obedience to the diocesan bishop, it is up to them to approve the constitution of Lavra and to watch over the activities.  Owing to the fact that “separation” is the specific charism of a hermit, association with the Lavra must not lead to any canonical constraint, not even for a simple association of the faithful.


Recommended Reading:

The Eremitic Life Paperback – 1 Jun 2006

In Praise of Hiddenness Paperback – 1 Jun 2006

Silence Paperback – 15 Dec 2010

When Silence Speaks: The Spiritual Way of the Carthusian Order Paperback – 21 Aug 2015

Homily on the solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist

25630701The angel had brought this announcement to Zechariah: “13 But the angel said to him: Fear not, Zachary, for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John:14 And thou shalt have joy and gladness, and many shall rejoice in his nativity.” (Luke 1:13-14).

Among the many who rejoiced at this birth are the citizens of Florence who chose St. John the Baptist as the Patron Saint of the city. Since ancient times the Baptistery of San Giovanni, “my beautiful San Giovanni” as Dante Alighieri calls it (Inf. XIX, 17), is ideal in the centre of the city, the custody of its highest values of faith and civilisation, a bond that connects the different generations to each other.

The solemnity that we celebrated on Sunday the 24th of June 2018, (I was a day late posting this article) revives in us the memory of the extraordinary gifts that have made the history of the city of Florence so glorious and incomparable and moves us to thank God for so many gifts.

The Gospel account we have heard of the birth focuses on the name to be given to the child. “John is his name”, his father Zachariah peremptorily writes on the tablet.  John means “Yahweh is gracious, shows his benevolence”. 

Trusting fully in the intercession of their Patron Saint; the Florentines invoke God’s blessing so that they may continue their historical journey in full fidelity to their singular religious and civil vocation.

In this perspective of joy and hope I address my homily to our Archbishop, the Most Reverend  Alistair Bate, his auxiliaries, our diocesan clergy and the religious of our diocese and to all my readers who presently read my blog, also to the people who are called John, Giovanni, Jehanne, Jeanne, Joan and other derivatives in their many variations, with special affection I want to assure them of my, our brothers priests, the religious and St. Mary’s Hermitage’s spiritual closeness to all of you.

Celebrating the nativity of St. John the Baptist means rediscovering our reasons for joy and hope, but also allows us to question and take active responsibility of his teachings and the person he was, with the aim of guiding us personally in our daily lives.

In the I reading, from the book of Isaiah, we have heard: “Give ear, ye islands, and hearken, ye people from afar. The Lord hath called me from the womb, from the bowels of my mother he hath been mindful of my name.” (Isaiah 49:1). In other words: God thought of me before I was born, He loved me, He gave me a personal identity and a mission to fulfil.

Science highlights that the embryo is programmed to contain future development with all its fundamental characteristics. It is an undertaking of nature. But before that it is an undertaking of God and of his creative love. “The Lord hath called me from the womb, from the bowels of my mother he hath been mindful of my name from the womb of my mother he pronounced my name.”  Therefore our relationship with God is constitutive of the human person.

Science further proves that the embryo, immediately after conception, is a new life, distinct from that of the mother, a life that will develop without interruption unless we get involved. Nothing suggests that the embryo is not already an individual of the human species and therefore it has a dignity of a person. It therefore deserves respect and protection from the very first moment.

Abortion, whether surgical or pharmacological, violates the first of the fundamental rights of the person, which is that of life. The Church does not fail to remind us of it, faithful to the teachings received from the apostle Paul: “ Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine. For there shall be a time, when they will not endure sound doctrine; but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears: And will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables.” (2 Timothy 4:2-4).

The widespread tendency to justify and trivialise abortion can not but worry a Christian conscience. Everyone is called to commit himself, according to his possibilities, to create more favourable conditions for the reception of nascent life. Moreover, for those who do not want to cooperate in the suppression of it, the right to conscientious objection must be claimed and firmly defended.  I must add that just because a government makes laws in favour of abortion does NOT make it morally right nor pleasing to a God.

In the second reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, we heard a part of the discourse given by the Apostle Paul to Antioch of Pisidia during his first missionary journey. “ 23 Of this man’s seed God according to his promise, hath raised up to Israel a Saviour, Jesus: 24 John first preaching, before his coming, the baptism of penance to all the people of Israel.” (Acts 13:23-24).

John has preached a baptism of penance, that is of (μετάνοια) metanoia, of changing ones mind, of conversion.  In the Gospel we find some features of this preaching.  To the crowds John said: “He that hath two coats, let him give to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do in like manner.” To the publicans he said: “Do nothing more than that which is appointed you.”  To the Roman soldiers: “Do violence to no man; neither calumniate any man; and be content with your pay.” (Luke 3:11 & 3:13-14).

John therefore did not ask to change profession, not even to publicans and soldiers, but to practice justice and solidarity.

What does this mean for us today? What sort of conversion would John ask of us?

Surely he would warn us against the temptations of maddening consumerism. He would exhort us to a sober style of personal and family life, in order to generously share our goods with those in need and the poor.

With regard to the occurrences of migration, which is constantly in the news or being talked about for the last few years, he would ask us to adopt an attitude that is able to reconcile as much as possible the generous reception of a people in need within the confines of legality and public order.

More generally, he would stimulate us to engage in cultural, economic and political efforts to reduce the gap between rich and poor countries.  Obviously in the dynamic economy of today, it is no longer simply a matter of redistributing wealth, (but it could be a start) but of helping to produce it, promoting education and the acquisition of new work skills, fostering democratic growth, directing international finance to create job opportunities, opening markets to products from underprivileged and poor countries.

Practicing justice and solidarity in our relationships between people and between nations: that is a summary of the conversion desired by St. John the Baptist. But conversion is not just these. The Gospel tells another significant point in the preachings of St. John the Baptist, the one that cost him his life.

To Herod Antipas, who had repudiated his first wife Phasaelis and whilst she was still alive took as wife Horodias who was married to his brother Philip, John boldly addressed them with stern reproach, he made sure he was heard by the people and by Herod and Herodias: “It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife.” (Mark 6:18).

John therefore defends marriage and the family.  Consider the relationship between two people of social importance, regulated by law, and not simply as a private contractual matter. [N.B.: I must stress that in this day and age a family can be comprised of “man and woman, two men or two women” who themselves  raise families which are stable and productive as a family unit.. (whilst many religious organisations may not recognise that same sex couples now also have legal rights which are also covered by the state and the UCHR) we as a church have a duty to be inclusive regardless of our personal views, and when we say family we must include them in our statements, for if we did not we would be remiss in our duty to the family and we would be perpetuating an unfounded bigotry which most certainly has no place within Christianity nor within society as a whole today.  Therefore it is not necessary when talking about a family, to constantly underline the phrase with a married man and woman as today this is no longer the dynamic of a family unit.]

The family, is really a social form with its own and irreplaceable functions of fundamental importance.  The stability of the relationship, the generating or adoption of children, the educational commitment towards them, the mutual assistance among all the members of the family constitute his precious contribution to the good of society.

The state of health of people and of the social fabric is strongly conditioned by the quality of family relationships.  Experience shows that various forms of disadvantage, especially for youth, and social disintegration are linked to the family in crisis. Not to mention the demographic decline and the consequent ageing of the population: in 40 years people over 65 are expected to comprise half of the population, while currently this figure is actually a quarter; this signals very serious human, social and economic problems for us in the future.

Given its relevance for the whole of society, the family has the right to be protected and supported by public institutions. The laws of the United Kingdom states it: “In the UK, human rights are protected by the Human Rights Act 1998.  The Act enforces the human rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights.  The right to respect for your family and private life, your home and your correspondence is one the rights protected by the Human Rights Act.” (Article 8). By family life UK law further explains “Family life includes the right to have and maintain family relationships.  The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights solemnly affirms this: “The family is the natural and fundamental nucleus of society and has the right to be protected by society and the state.”  And finally, the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child reaffirmed: “The family, the fundamental unit of society and the natural environment for the growth and wellbeing of all its members and in particular children, must receive the protection and assistance needed to fully fulfil its educational role in the community.”

The primacy of the family, however it is comprised, must be fundamentally protected at a cultural, judicial, social and economic level.  For this reason, a preferential fast track should be reserved for them, like road traffic, with public service vehicles having a special fast lanes compared to private ones.

By way of example, some forms of support are particularly desirable, such as home facilities for young couples, reforms that promote job opportunities for young people, harmonisation as much as possible of the needs of the family for those at work, taxation commensurate with overall family income, significant reduction of the tax burden on the basis of the number of dependent children, so that families with children are not penalised compared to those without children, parity that ensures effective freedoms of choice without additional burdens for families.

The family is not a remnant of the past, but it is a fundamental resource for the future.

I can not but express gratitude to the many exemplary families, even in our church, who make my homily credible with them being daily witnesses, they are a source of hope for the Church and for civil society.

I would also like to encourage Associations that pursue the spiritual and the material good of the family and endeavour to recognise the wider rights of citizenship in local, national and European spheres, I would like to say globally but that would make this a dream rather than a reality.

Finally I like to recall that a prominent part has the family in a pastoral letter which was published in 2003 in my old Diocese in Italy, “Evangelising today: Christian community and ministries”.  The pastoral letter outlined a broader perspective: the Church sent to bring the Gospel with actions in life and words; all Christians called to evangelise in all environments; the necessity of some specific shepherd coordinated ministries. However, in analysing the current situation with all its challenges and opportunities, it emphasises that the family is the natural and privileged interlocutor of the parish and should be placed at the centre of ordinary pastoral care, in particular by seriously involving parents in the Christian initiation of their children.

While I entrust to your reflection these considerations that the solemnity of Saint John the Baptist has suggested to me, I invoke upon all of you that kindness and grace of the Lord which is indicated by the very name of our patron Saint John the Baptist.

Lord God, you sent the prophets,

servants of your word,

we praise you and thank you

for the person and the preaching of St. John the Baptist.

Welcoming his message,

we want to convert to truth, justice and love.

We want to live with joy in your presence,

aware that you are a God of grace,

benevolent and merciful. Amen.


Catholic Comic Book on Saint Bruno the Carthusian – for our Spanish Readers

En 1086, San Bruno Fundó la Orden de los Cartujos en el Delfinato francés de Chartreuse. En ese lugar el santo estableció su célebre monasterio, combinando las severas reglas de los ermitaños del desierto egipcio con las de los monasterios occidentales.

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Portada de la Revista “Vidas Ejemplares” de México sobre San Bruno

Recientemente, hemos encontrado una Revista Católica para los jóvenes en nuestros Archivos en español sobre la vida de San Bruno el Cartujo.


En 1086, San Bruno Fundó la Orden de los Cartujos en el Delfinato francés de Chartreuse. En ese lugar el santo estableció su célebre monasterio, combinando las severas reglas de los ermitaños del desierto egipcio con las de los monasterios occidentales.

Está destinado principalmente para niños, pero también es bueno para adultos y queríamos compartirlo con nuestros lectores. Lo hemos incluido en un documento PDF para que se pueda leer en sus dispositivos electrónicos o se puede imprimir para su uso. El copyright ha expirado.

Por favor, pasa este libro a tus hijos para su educación católica.

Nuestras oraciones y bendiciones están con usted.

⬇︎Haga clic en el enlace a continuación para descargar la revista sobre San Bruno, el fundador de la Orden Cartuja.

Vidas Ejemplares San Bruno

⬆︎Click on the link above to download the magazine on San Bruno the founder of the Carthusian Order

We recently found a Catholic Magazine for the young in our Archives in Spanish on the life of Saint Bruno the Carthusian.

In 1086, San Bruno founded the Order of the Carthusians in the French Delfinato de Chartreuse. In this place the saint established his famous monastery, combining the severe rules of the hermits of the Egyptian desert with those of the western monasteries.

It is intended mainly for children but also good for adults and we wanted to share it with our readers. We have mede it into a PDF document so that it can be read on your electronic devices or it can be printed out for your use. The copyright has expired.

Please pass this book on to your children for their Catholic education.

Our prayers and Blessings are with you.