Monday, 13 November 2017

War against Self-Interest

Padre Pio commented once that “only a general knows how and when to use one of his soldiers” There is as wide a variety of men and strategies as there are battles to fight. 

I suspect the Celtic part of my ancestry led me to embrace the idea that you can get a lot further in battle with an axe and a kind word than you can with just a kind word but I am also inspired by the diplomacy and patience of an Englishman, William Wilberforce who stood valiantly against slavery for most of his life, completing the task of its abolition across the whole British Empire just three days before he died. 

The key to success for this great man of God was that he not only had a clear vision of what was right and wrong in the sight of God but also he knew why his opponents (almost everyone at the time) could not see it. As he put it in one of his speeches “ self interest can draw a film across the eyes, so thick, that total blindness could do no more; and how it is our duty therefore to trust not to the reasonings of interested men, or to their way of colouring a transaction...”

He knew and made allowance for the weaknesses of man. Self-interest can justify absolutely anything in the mind of the one who wants it badly enough. Anyone can produce a litany of reasons for pursuing whatever he desires; he justifies what he wants so he can have it regardless of whether or not it is right. 

Wilberforce knew it and patiently made the blind to see, lifting the film off gradually through prayer, words and deeds until the nation understood, through a gift of grace, the horror of slavery and the ugliness of their own selfish hearts.

The same is true in the smaller details of life and this is where it becomes personal. What are the motives behind our daily decisions, choices, and speech? Do we give reasons for our actions to justify them or are they pure enough that there is no need to qualify them?

Every human heart is the battlefield and it’s only the amazing grace of God that can win the day as it enlightens individual hearts, heals the blindness of self-interest.

Whatever kind of Christian soldiers we are, whether savages or diplomats, we must hold our place in the line and with the weapon of prayer we will overcome.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

‘Ancient Paths’

When my grandfather was born, the steam train and walking were the means of transport as they had been for a long time. He lived to see supersonic flight and a man on the moon. Our last century seems to have produced such advancements in technology that it’s almost as if someone had nipped back to Eden for another bite of that apple.

Some are indeed amazing, from the heights of the Cordillera mountain range, with a laptop, a mobile broadband and harnessing the satellites that are encircling the earth, I can zoom in to the roof of a shed in old Trafford to see if my cat (Max) is sleeping in his favourite spot after a hearty lunch. His is. No amount of technology can change his nature, but alas ours has been.

In that same mountain range, I had the privilege to meet people who, in their hearts, have not moved too far from Eden.A tribal people living a simple agricultural lifestyle, very much in harmony with their ancestral land and the seasons.Organically grown food, using other plants as fertiliser and for pest control, water from a crystal clear river and mountain springs above.Vegetarians, except when a deer or a wild boar wanders by.

But the most astonishing thing, was the beauty of their hearts. A natural hospitality that welcomes strangers as family, without question. At first I found it slightly unnerving, having lived mostly in rather inhospitable places by comparison. It was an all embracing loving community, seasoned by Christianity (only a few centuries ago). Minimal crime if any, a small school and some of the most beautiful mountains and valleys that our Creator ever trod.A dead-zone for cell phones, no internet, no TV, and an improvised hydro electric system for lighting. Just what was useful.It is holy ground.

.There is something in the pace and noise we have created in the modern world that deadens the soul, crushes the spirit, we become machine-like, on a production line from birth to death, sometimes without entering into the purpose of our existence at all. We have disconnected the workings of our lives (and government of our world) from God and from each other almost entirely and so our problems multiply. The natural rhythm of life and the planet were disrupted.  How we need to go back and discover the ancient paths, the simplicity of life, see what we have lost... just how much we have given away

One retiree I read about remarked that whilst he had ‘climbed the ladder of achievement all the way to the top’ he had come to realise that the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall!

I am fortunate that circumstance has given me the opportunity to simplify my lifestyle over the years and the more I do, the more I gain. When I give something up or get rid of something I don’t really need, mostly what I feel is relief.

Permanent Revolution

I heard a sermon once, the gist of which was that whilst the church’s mission is to evangelise the world; the world also seeks to evangelise the church. Whilst there are many examples of where this has taken place, a particularly prominent one I noticed is in the area of Catholic education.

Here in the Philippines there are many religious orders and many of them are involved in education, it’s their particular gift. Arriving centuries ago they set to work starting schools. Their founding fathers focus was generally the poor children, seeking to give them their faith and values and also a way out of poverty through a good education.

If we look at these same schools and colleges now it is a very different picture. Most are for the elite, the richest of the rich and their middle class poorer cousins. Whilst there will certainly be a proportion of scholarships, most are paying top dollar because the schools are the best. 

The poor alas will remain barefoot and living under the stars for some time yet. At some point someone was seduced by the dollar or the peso; maybe for the best of reasons, they could expand, have better facilities, all they had to do was play by the world’s rules and become what it wanted them to become. Such is the weakness of man. 

Another allied area is where they were nobbled, not by weakness this time but by their strength. Catholic schools have a reputation for being academically brilliant. I think this is true from primary schools to universities. All well and good, nothing wrong with that, until it becomes the primary driving force.

I have noticed that there is a tendency to hire teachers who are well qualified and competent in their chosen field whether it’s ABC or nuclear physics but not necessarily measuring up quite so well (or at all) as men and women of God. If the teachers are atheists or living lifestyles which are incompatible with Christianity can they really pass on the faith and values of the Catholic Church? Can they give what they do not have? The focus on academic excellence at the expense of its other purpose of making saints of the young is the most insidious worldly evangelisation.

They may become the most prestigious institutions and most sought after but fail to fulfil their stated purpose. By not being mindful of this struggle for mastery we risk being in the service of the enemy camp.

Leon Trotsky believed that for socialism to thrive and not become decadent, it needed to be in a constant state of flux or “permanent revolution” as he called it; (we might call it vigilance) he knew that any deviation from the ideal would be its downfall. As Catholics, as we know our enemy is far more powerful than tainted human nature alone, we should be all the more mindful and alert to his tactics. 

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Ancient Weaponry

I live in the Philippines, one of the few citadels of Christendom that has not as yet ‘flung wide its gates’ to every evil; for example abortion is still illegal here.

Perhaps the reason it remains relatively strong is the realisation that on earth we are living in enemy occupied territory, there is a great confidence and reliance on prayer not only for help and defence but also for offence as I re-discovered last week.

I was in the shopping mall, a bit distracted and irritated, (I hate shopping) and at noon, over the loudspeaker a bell rang, and everyone in the place stopped dead in their tracks, like someone pressed pause on the remote. And we began to pray the Angelus together.

A few minutes and suddenly the atmosphere had changed, people were noticeably calmer, whatever was bugging me had gone too. Had we all just refocused our hearts heavenward or had the demons fled?  Both I believe.

I noticed the same thing on another day, this time at 6pm in the grounds of a Catholic University in Manila. Again as the bells rang out over the loudspeaker, everyone stopped, even the cars stopped and the security men at the gates bowed their heads and those few thousand souls, (together with those in every Catholic school in the entire country), as one, knowingly or unknowingly, went into battle together. 
What a great victory it must have been to eliminate this ancient weapon from everyday life in Europe, the sophistication or complexity of society makes the supernatural seem remote, irrelevant or unnecessary in the age of reason, but look at the continent now.

The funny thing is that it would be quite easy to reinstate this practice in all the Catholic schools and offices in the country; the benefits would be greatly felt.

A samurai warrior (Miyamoto Musashi) was onto something when he said “This is a truth: when you sacrifice your life, you must make fullest use of your weaponry. It is false not to do so, and to die with a weapon yet undrawn”.  

Friday, 27 October 2017

‘What if we listened ?’

I wondered the other day, how the world would look if the Second World War did not happen. No Nazi’s, no holocaust nor concentration camps, no mourning widows and orphans, no dead soldiers; Eastern Europe without  a half-century of living in the dark shadows of the Soviet Union.

In this 100th anniversary year of the apparitions of Fatima, it’s worth pausing to consider the magnitude of the opportunity humanity has missed. Unlike in the Garden of Eden where Eve was deceived and our first parents had less understanding of the consequences of failure, our Lady gave really quite clear instructions to our more recent ancestors and even prophesied the stern, far-reaching result of not responding to her requests:- “But if people do not cease offending God ... another and more terrible war will begin. If my requests are heard, Russia will be converted and there will be peace. If not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, fomenting wars and persecution of the Church.” It could have all been prevented through repentance, change of heart, fervent prayer and sacrifice. Instead we chose death.

The wars and their consequences that we see playing out in our own day are an extension of the spiritual battle; that’s where the real action is and we are invited to participate in that through our prayer to advance against the forces of darkness that are behind the veil and the woes of this world.

Our collective and consistent prayers, we have been told, can prevent and stop wars, suspend the forces of nature, bind and disarm Satan and the fallen angels and save souls. And so we don’t get confused, our Lady even supplies the weapon we require: the Rosary. Young or old, illiterate or educated, ‘one size fits all’.

We have, within our grasp, such an amazing opportunity to change the world, or, we can wait ... for the next war, the next terrorist group, the next deadly disease, famine or weapon of mass destruction and bear the pain of our complacency and disobedience, like our ancestors did.

The conclusion of Fatima’s message is reassuring though “In the end my Immaculate heart will Triumph”.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

‘Love Conquers Hate in Marawi’

Perhaps in an effort to re-establish credibility, as their strongholds in the middle east crumble, ISIS-inspired groups sprung up in the Southern Philippines. The ‘Maute group’ backed by foreign fighters from Indonesia and Malaysia started an insurrection in the Islamic city of Marawi in Mindanao. Hundreds of people killed, hundreds of thousands internally displaced and as the siege enters its last days, as the Philippine army clears out the few remaining terrorists, the city is now in ruins.

Mindanao has been a tinder box for a long time with deep mistrust between Muslim & Christian communities and frequent clashes between armed rebels & government forces. But in the midst of the immense suffering caused by the Marawi Crisis, a new hope has been ignited.

In the wake of the siege, with internally displaced Muslim families on the move to find shelter with relatives and in improvised camps in the north of the island, help came not only from government but in large measure from the Church. Caritas Philippines (using their nationwide network and the previous experience gained through the many natural disasters that the country has faced over the years) were early responders. The way they did so is of particular note.

As well as the nation’s Catholics coming together to give generously to their suffering brothers & sisters, they did so with great sensitivity to the religious and cultural background of the Maranao tribe. They employed what they called a Survivor Led Response whereby the religious and tribal leaders designed the relief plan with Caritas. Young Muslim volunteers led with the distribution of relief goods by taking it to the displaced families in their temporary homes instead of making people stand in endless queue’s at the back of trucks which we often see in such disaster scenes. Also care was taken in what kind of aid they provided for the Muslim evacuees eg:- prayer mats, halal foods etc as well as other items and services that were supplied to the children to help them cope-up like toys and group activities.

Groups from different dioceses/islands near to Mindanao prepared their own aid convoys and brought them over and helped with distribution too and the youngsters of both Muslim and Christian communities worked together. (see attached pics from Archdiocese of Capiz)

The Maranao people are a proud and self-sufficient tribe and unused to receiving help, much less from the Christian community, so it was a great witness really. Love is felt. And relations between the two groups, particularly with the youth, has been greatly enhanced as a consequence of this kind of response which acknowledges the evil of ISIS inspired groups without tarring the whole community with the same brush.

The same people are now working on rebuilding the community, as well as the city itself, and hopefully what rises from the ashes will be more unified with greater mutual understanding as the Muslim community has experienced firsthand the love of the Christian community for them and perhaps a glimpse of their Saviour.

ISIS brought the people death & destruction, the Catholic community brought them breakfast, friendship and a new hope.

NB :- the Residents of the Islamic City of Marawi are primarily the Maranao Tribe