May is the Month of Mary

By | News, Teaching, Vatican

On April 29, 1965, the second year of his pontificate, Blessed Paul VI wrote his encyclical (meaning, a letter the Pope sends throughout the world) “MENSE MAIO” (the Month of May), on prayers during May for the preservation of world peace.

The Second Vatican Council was meeting in Rome with the aim, as the Holy Father explained:
“to adapt herself, in a suitable way, to the needs of our day. On the success of this endeavour will depend, for a long time to come, the future of Christ’s spouse and the fate of many souls. It is indeed a great moment which God has injected into the life of the Church and the history of the world” (n. 4).

The Pope wrote:

“The month of May is … a month which the piety of the faithful has long dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God. Our heart rejoices at the thought of the moving tribute of faith and love which will soon be paid to the Queen of Heaven in every corner of the earth. For this is the month during which Christians, in their churches and their homes, offer the Virgin Mother more fervent and loving acts of homage and veneration; and it is the month in which a greater abundance of God’s merciful gifts comes down to us from our Mother’s throne. We are delighted and consoled by this pious custom associated with the month of May, which pays honour to the Blessed Virgin and brings such rich benefits to the Christian people” (nn. 1-2).

The Encyclical was written in the aftermath of two horrible world wars —with all their macabre, insane loss of life— in the wake of so much instability and poverty left behind in many regions. The nuclear age was fast threatening to end humanity as we know it. The ‘cold war’ was freezing international relations. Although a man was about to step on the Moon, ushering in the digital age, this was also a period when science was claiming to have finally killed the need for God. Religion was often derided in Marxian terms, as das Opium des Volkes (often translated as: “Religion is the opium of the masses”). After the recent centuries of scientific and ideological revolution, religion was being pushed more and more into the private sphere, something only for the superstitious and unenlightened. Now humankind had come of age! There was no longer any need to invent and rely on those silly myths of the type propagated in the Bible and unscientifically expounded by blind devotees. And so, the age of indifference and scepticism, gave way to our current age of relativism and individualism.

Perhaps, as in every challenge humanity faces, paradoxically, the need for the spiritual seems to have become stronger than before. The promise of the irrelevance and absence of ‘religion’ in a ‘new age’, has been eclipsed by an almost explosion of a whole industry of self-awareness, self-help, mindfulness and alternative therapies to the historic old hat, supposedly opiate, institutional, collective varieties. Religion, in an intensely individualistic new age, has become rather à-la-carte; a supermarket experience of choice. For a Catholic with a sense of 2,000 years of history, we’ve seen similar eclectic trends become all the rage but only for a while, many times before! But why keep bringing Mary into the picture?

The simple answer, is that is precisely what God did! At the Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel brought God’s personal invitation to Mary, to become mother of the incarnate Messiah, God-made-flesh, Mary was brought into the scene of the Mystery of God’s redemptive plan: to save us all from perdition, from being lost for ever.

As St. Paul taught, due to the Fall, when Original Sin came into the world through Adam and Eve, our first parents (for more on this, including evolution, read Pius XII’s Encyclical Humani generis , we became ‘dead in sin’, no longer able to walk freely in our relationship with God (see: Romans 5, 12 -21). We utterly ‘were lost’” (see: Ephesians 2:1-10), but Christ Jesus came to our rescue, bringing us back into the Father’s loving embrace.

Why do we Catholic honour Mary?

Because God did! The Angel Gabriel was sent with this message for the world and for her: “Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you!”. Mary knew that her whole life was about to change from that moment onwards, and readily said “Yes!” to God, becoming forever “the handmaid of the Lord”, consecrated to doing His will in all things. For this reasons, as Mary herself prophesied: “all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48). It is therefore not only Catholics who honour her in this way, calling her blessed, but every Christian who acknowledges the gift of God’s Word-made-flesh in His humble servant Mary.

So… in this Month of Mary, we are conscious of our need for Christ. “It is right and just, our duty and our salvation” (a phrase often heard at the prefaces to the Eucharistic Prayer at Holy Mass), to acknowledge Him as Lord and so, to open wide the doors of our hearts to Him. Mary continues to do as she did on that day of the Annunciation: she gives birth to Christ in our hearts. We pray, that during the month of May, our blessed Mother will gently bring us closer to her Son, Jesus, the Saviour. In not dissimilar circumstances to our current situation, on 19th  July 1830, our Lady appeared to St. Catherine Labouré (at her convent in Rue du Bac, Paris, France). She desired to bring spiritual consolation to her children, warning that “times are evil in France and in the world”, and left us the gift of the so-called ‘Miraculous Medal’ so beloved to many by Catholics everywhere. On it we can read —and during this month of Mary make our own— those words of prayer and childlike confidence: Ô Marie, conçue sans péché, priez pour nous qui avons recours à vous,

“O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee”.

The European Union is in Danger

By | News

The President of the Federation of Catholic Family Associations in Europe (FAFCE), Antoine Renard, has warned that the  European Union is ignoring the “disastrous” population trends,  which will result in a “demographic winter” unless urgent action is taken now.

According to him, “today’s individualistic civilisation is leading to catastrophe…. [There is] ideological resistance to the very idea of families”.

In a recent interview, he explained that “survey evidence shows young people want lasting relationships and children. But they’re not starting families because they don’t feel safe to”. There is an urgent need for governments across Europe to put the family at the centre of national policies.

Average EU birth rates have fallen to 1.5 per cent, well below replacement levels, while about one million abortions are carried out each year in Europe alone, where fertility is declining and infertility treatments have soared over the past decade.

Mr. Renard laments that there is “absolutely no reaction” when FAFCE has raised demographic issues with government ministers. Instead, he is repeatedly assured by European Union officials that immigration would resolve population decline.  While it may be true that immigration is necessary, this should not be seen solely as an economic solution and ignore its social and cultural consequences. Unless, he reiterates, we continue raising children and provide incentives for young people to have them, our own families will simply disappear.

FAFCE says that its campaigns over Europe’s demographic crisis, it is being side-lined, despite past  European Parliament resolutions and international human rights commitments.  “FAFCE calls on leaders of the  EU and its member states to raise awareness about this demographic winter… and to implement a policy that recognises the unique,  fundamental and irreplaceable  position of the family in  society”. Official Eu data  forecasts showed that 85% of  Italians would have no  experience of brothers, sisters or  cousins by 2050!

FAFCE’s  is supported by the Pope. It was founded in 1997, acknowledged by the Council of Europe as a Non Governmental Organisation with a participatory status. The General secretariat is based in Brussels. FAFCE works both towards the institutions of the European Union and the Council of Europe. It ensures a political representation for family interests from a catholic perspective, on the basis of the Catholic Church’s Social and Family teaching as well as of the testimony of faith and experiential knowledge of Christians in Church and in society. As an umbrella organisation, it serves as a European liaison platform for exchange of experiences of pastoral care of the family and family policy issues for its members. Our member associations provide important catholic expertise and contacts on the national and local levels. FAFCE is the only European family organisation that explicitly refers to the social teaching of the Catholic Church.

For more information, visit their website: http://www.fafce.org/index.php?lang=en&Itemid=148

Our Lady of Europe

By | Churches, News

On the 5th May each year, we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Europe at the Shrine where an ancient statue is honoured in her name. This devotion goes back to over 700 years ago. On 31st May 1979 Pope St. John Paul II approved Our Blessed Lady as the Principal Patroness of the Diocese of Gibraltar, under the title of Our Lady of Europe.

The annual Diocesan Procession of Our Lady of Europe will take place on Wednesday 23rd May at 6:30 p.m.  The procession will be as usual, from St. Bernard’s Church to the Shrine. On arrival the Eucharistic celebration will take place.

For more information, please contact Mgr. Azzopardi at St. Theresa’s who is also the Rector of the Shrine and is organizing this procession.

May Our Lady of Europe intercede of us, Her children.

Apostolic Exhortation on Holiness

By | News, Vatican

The Holy Father has published an Apostolic Exhortation on holiness for all, not just saints, but for everyone who wishes to follow the Lord faithfully in their lives. Its goal is “to repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time.”

Gaudete et Exsultate

The Holy Father is calling you to Holiness;

Apostolic Exhortation on Love in the Family

By | News, Vatican

On March 19th 2016, Solemnity of St. Joseph, the Holy Father, Pope Francis published Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love). This is a Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on love in the family. It brings together the results of the two Synods on the family convoked by Pope Francis in 2014 and 2015. It frequently cites their final Reports, documents and teachings of his predecessors, and his own numerous occasions of catechesis on the family, as well as contributions from various Episcopal Conferences around the world.

An apostolic exhortation is a type of communication from the Pope to the Catholic Church and beyond. It encourages a community of people to undertake a particular activity but does not define Church doctrine. It is considered lower in formal authority than a papal encyclical, but higher than other ecclesiastical letters, Apostolic Letters and other papal writings.

Apostolic exhortations are commonly issued in response to an assembly of the Synod of Bishops, in which case they are known as Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortations.

Amoris Laetitia also addresses some important, very difficult, pastoral family and marriage situations we sometimes face. Obviously, it is impossible to cater for every single possible pastoral situation in a relatively short document as this: it cannot give template answers to every human situation. This is not its aim; nor the Church’s style. Human nature and morality cannot be summarily boxed into categories in this way. Nevertheless, we always have to remember that it is God’s holy will we are seeking, not ours. The light of the Gospel can always shed its light, even in the hardest of human dilemmas. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is always a reason to hope. In God’s Word, we find the means to turn away from our sin, convert at the deepest level and return to Him. As a loving Father, He is always ready to receive His repentant, prodigal children (Luke 15:11–32). We should never despair. Amoris Laetitia encourages us to think in this way.

But what happens when, despite a rediscovered desire to reach out and return to God, my previous situation in life prevents me now from fully returning home? This is the sort of moral question Amoris Laetitia grapples with. The Pope is encouraging us to develop our consciences. It is before God, true to our consciences, that we will face the inescapable Final Judgement (Matthew 13:40-43). No one can stand in our place. We have to form our conscience now, since it is not some infallible divine light. For this reason, the Document encourages discernment. Below, you can read a sample summary of Chapter 8 of the Document and how it helps us to grow into greater Christian maturity, where we acknowledge responsibility before God for our actions, hopefully always, out of love.

Chapter eight: “Guiding, discerning and integrating weakness” (291-312)

The eighth chapter is an invitation to mercy and pastoral discernment in situations that do not fully match what the Lord proposes. The Pope uses three very important verbs: guiding, discerning and integrating, which are fundamental in addressing fragile, complex or irregular situations. The chapter has sections on the need for gradualness in pastoral care; the importance of discernment; norms and mitigating circumstances in pastoral discernment; and finally what the Pope calls the “logic of pastoral mercy”.

Chapter eight is very sensitive. In reading it one must remember that “the Church’s task is often like that of a field hospital”. Here the Holy Father grapples with the findings of the Synods on controversial issues. He reaffirms what Christian marriage is and adds that “some forms of union radically contradict this ideal, while others realise it in at least a partial and analogous way”. The Church therefore “does not disregard the constructive elements in those situations which do not yet or no longer correspond to her teaching on marriage”.

As far as discernment with regard to “irregular” situations is concerned, the Pope states: “There is a need ‘to avoid judgements which do not take into account the complexity of various situations’ and ‘to be attentive, by necessity, to how people experience distress because of their condition’”. And he continues: “It is a matter of reaching out to everyone, of needing to help each person find his or her proper way of participating in the ecclesial community, and thus to experience being touched by an ‘unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous’ mercy”. And further: “The divorced who have entered a new union, for example, can find themselves in a variety of situations, which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment”.

In this line, gathering the observations of many Synod Fathers, the Pope states that “the baptised who are divorced and civilly remarried need to be more fully integrated into Christian communities in the variety of ways possible, while avoiding any occasion of scandal”. “Their participation can be expressed in different ecclesial services… Such persons need to feel not as excommunicated members of the Church, but instead as living members, able to live and grow in the Church… This integration is also needed in the care and Christian upbringing of their children”.

In a more general vein, the Pope makes an extremely important statement for understanding the orientation and meaning of the Exhortation: “If we consider the immense variety of concrete situations, … it is understandable that neither the Synod nor this Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases. What is needed is simply a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases, one which would recognize that, since ‘the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases’, the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same”. The Pope develops in depth the needs and characteristics of the journey of accompaniment and discernment necessary for profound dialogue between the faithful and their pastors.

For this purpose the Holy Father recalls the Church’s reflection on “mitigating factors and situations” regarding the attribution of responsibility and accountability for actions; and relying on St. Thomas Aquinas, he focuses on the relationship between rules and discernment by stating: “It is true that general rules set forth a good which can never be disregarded or neglected, but in their formulation they cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations. At the same time, it must be said that, precisely for that reason, what is part of a practical discernment in particular circumstances cannot be elevated to the level of a rule”.

The last section of the chapter treats “The logic of pastoral mercy”. To avoid misunderstandings, Pope Francis strongly reiterates: “To show understanding in the face of exceptional situations never implies dimming the light of the fuller ideal, or proposing less than what Jesus offers to the human being. Today, more important than the pastoral care of failures is the pastoral effort to strengthen marriages and thus to prevent their breakdown”.

The overall sense of the chapter and of the spirit that Pope Francis wishes to impart to the pastoral work of the Church is well summed up in the closing words: “I encourage the faithful who find themselves in complicated situations to speak confidently with their pastors or with other lay people whose lives are committed to the Lord. They may not always encounter in them a confirmation of their own ideas or desires, but they will surely receive some light to help them better understand their situation and discover a path to personal growth. I also encourage the Church’s pastors to listen to them with sensitivity and serenity, with a sincere desire to understand their plight and their point of view, in order to help them live better lives and to recognize their proper place in the Church.”.

On the “logic of pastoral mercy”, Pope Francis emphasises: “At times we find it hard to make room for God’s unconditional love in our pastoral activity. We put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of its concrete meaning and real significance. That is the worst way of watering down the Gospel”.

Confirmation ’18

By | News, Schools

At the same time as children receive their First Holy Communion, those in the final year at the Middle or Primary schools, receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Upon doing so, they begin to undertake those same responsibilities, which their parents and God-parents made on their behalf when they were babies and were baptized. Now they stand before God as fully-fledged Christian adults. They will bear witness to Christ to the whole world, through their faith and their happiness in being disciples of the Lord. The Holy Spirit seals that witness with the gifts of His Love. Traditionally, we speak of the 12 gifts of the Holy Spirit: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity.

Let us pray for our new Confirmands, that they may show to the world, the joy of being His disciples (John 15).

Bishop’s Latest Pastoral Letter

By | Bishop Carmel, News

Every Bishop presents a Pastoral Letter from time to time. This is his way of keeping close to his people, exercising his ministry as the chief Teacher and Shepherd of his flock.

Usually, a Pastoral Letter is issued for special occasions or for the major liturgical seasons, to help the faithful prepare and make of that time, a grace-filled opportunity with the Lord. Lent and Advent are two traditional times of the Church’s year when the Bishop tries to help set the scene in preparation for the two greatest moments of our history: the Birth of our Saviour; and His Passion, Death and Resurrection in Holy Week. These are also “Penitential” seasons, when the faithful are invited to make space and time for the Lord, through sacrifice and prayer.

The last Pastoral Letter was issued for Sunday 18th February, the First Sunday of Lent, to be read in all churches and chapels in Gibraltar where a Sunday Mass was being celebrated.

Although Lent has already passed and we now find ourselves rejoicing in Eastertide, the Bishop’s message can still help us spiritually. It encourages us not to forget what the Lord did for us at His Passion on Good Friday, as something we honour almost each Friday of the year. You can read his message here