Wednesday 30 May 2018

Chartres 2018: Meditations (5)

Saint André of Montreal


"Woe to me if I did not proclaim the Gospel," said St. Paul of Tarsus. This mysterious call pushed him to cross the border between Asia Minor and Europe. Later - and it is something in which we Christians can take great pride France, the eldest daughter of the Church has, over the centuries, in turn carried the Gospel far, far over the seas.

One example is Quebec: and many founding saints continued to proclaim Christ on the new continent. Saint André of Montreal is, for us pilgrims, an example of holiness which we should aim to copy.

Points to remember
• Biography of Brother André.
• A door and a heart open to his neighbour.
• The “healer "
• A deep devotion to Saint Joseph.
• Saint André shows us the way of St Joseph.


Elements of his biography
Born on August 8, 1845 in a small village near Montreal, he was the eighth of thirteen children of a humble and poor family. Very quickly, André was to grow under the shadow of the Cross. He was orphaned at an early age, losing his father when he was 9 years old, and his mother two years later. So he was then entrusted to an uncle and an aunt.

At 17, he was a shoemaker and a baker. He led a life of penance and prayer, to such an extent that it worried those around him, and damaged his fragile health. But he liked to undertake hard tasks.

At 25, he went to the Congregation of the Holy Cross, recommended to the superiors by Father Joseph-André Provençal who could already see him as a saint. André was a novice with impeccable behaviour, but he was to miss making his profession several times because of his fragile health. After three long years of novitiate, the bishop of Montreal intervened so that he was authorised to pronounce his vows.

A door and a heart open to his neighbour
He was then appointed as the porter of the College. He was to remain there for forty years, fulfilling this task with incredible fidelity and charity. He welcomed all who came: the poor, the sick and the disabled, resolved to treat all those who rang at this door like Christ himself. That door that Saint André kept all those years..., we are called to do the same. That door is above all the door of our soul. "I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter in, I will sup with him, and he with me. "

Saint André: healer of bodies and healer of souls ... 125,000 miracles were listed during his beatification process. He distributed medals of Saint Joseph and olive oil; and asked people to anoint themselves, rubbing it in with confidence. Not everybody who came to him was healed, but he recognised in this fact, a divine pedagogy. It is often those who already have a strong faith that the Lord tests more. "My God, grant that those who seek you may find you; and those who have found you may seek you again. "

A profound devotion to Saint Joseph
"It's not me who heals, it's Saint Joseph!He was to build a basilica in honour of St. Joseph, in which his body is now at rest. The words POVERTY, SERVICE and HUMILITY, would guide his life, just as they did Saint Joseph’s; and they inspired him to put himself last, always in service to his neighbour. In a word, to become like Jesus.

He died at 92 and was canonized in 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI.

For us: Saint André shows the way of St Joseph.
Saint André, a frail little man, only five feet tall, did not look like a great saint. But he demonstrates the strength that we can draw from prayer; and he teaches us the kind of humility that will ensure that in each of our actions it is Christ who shines through.
We often feel helpless in the face of the difficulties of our world. What can I do, me, as a Christian in France (or England)?

Does not the first evangelization begin in our surroundings, our schools, our schools, our work?

Let's be a doorman in the image of Saint Brother André. Let's go beyond borders, our borders. 

• First, the borders of our hearts; to let us be touched by the word of God: "lend the ear of your heart";

• Then, to meet our brothers, go beyond individualism, which creates new barriers - no longer geographical boundaries, but barriers between souls.

• Let us then open the door of our heart to Christ, who desires only that, as he gives himself to us in his Eucharist.

• Finally, let us be those gatekeepers that Mother Teresa wanted: "Do not let anyone come to you and leave without being happier.May Our Lady, who has chosen Saint Joseph from all men to be her husband, guide us to him! 

"Our Lady of Chartres, tell us about Saint Joseph who admired the veil you made and wore. May we be able to love him and imitate him a little more, in the footsteps of Saint André Bessette! "

Tuesday 29 May 2018

Chartres 2018: Meditations (4)

Saint Joesph, Virginal Husband


Dear members of the chapter!

Christ has come to renew all things. This is true also for the marriage. The union of Christ and the Church becomes the model of the spouses in marriage. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church.”

And a good example “embodies” a good discourse. Saint Joseph and Our Lady are a “pilot couple”! They are unique because their marriage is virginal. Let’s go now to discover this unique and radiant “pilot couple!”

Major ideas
  • Abstinence from the carnal gift; why and how?
  • Virginity, as a choice to belong to God alone.


To be a virgin by refraining from the carnal gift

Saint Joseph and Our Lady, engaged at the same time in marriage and virginity. It is a fact of faith. But on consideration, it’s not easy, it seems difficult... Is it possible? Yes, because what makes marriage is the desire to belong to one another; the consent. So...

• Marriage is primarily an affair of the soul. Marriage is a fully human reality, neither angelic (purely spiritual) nor animal (purely bodily). There is a necessary education of the body. It is chastity that puts the body at the service of the communion of people. It avoids division and disunity in the name of selfish sexual pleasure. See the importance, in and out of the marriage, of a look, of a word (what I say, how I say it), of a smile, of a hand that surrenders, of a service rendered...

Chastity before marriage (betrothal) prepares the union of souls and hearts, therefore, a solid marriage. Why abstain from sex before marriage? Because it is an obstacle to the communion of people. Otherwise, what mutual knowledge, what free communication is it possible? On the contrary, this expectation of prudence and prayer, of mutual aid helps the betrothed.

Successful marriage will include continence (not giving oneself bodily); at least for certain periods of time and for a good reason. Opportunities are multiple; the illness of one spouse, the spacing of births, the desire of both to devote more time to prayer, a period of geographical celibacy (for professional reasons, etc.). Prayer, the sacraments (penance, Eucharist), and mortification will then be necessary for the control of the body and desires. And their love will not only not weaken, but will be strengthened in those times. Yes, this renunciation, like all true, free, fully accepted and lived renunciation, is fruitful. We renounce the conjugal act, we do not renounce conjugal love.

Virginity as a desire to belong only to God

Marriage is not limited to physical union, but it is the union of mind and heart that comes first. Is that all? No, Joseph and Mary still teach us what the will to belong to God is. They reveal to us the desire for intimacy with the Lord.

In a very loving and united, strong home, a wife acknowledged: One of the first things we learned was not to expect from your spouse what God alone can give.They understood an important thing! One thing that illusion or excessive passion sometimes makes you forget...
The mutual love of Mary and Joseph is an extension of the fire of charity towards God that devours them. So within marriage, Christians can hear this call to a more ardent inner life. This second conversion is the secret of holy spouses; Louis and Zélie Martin (and many others with them) led a holy life in the world.

There are homes in which love is sick... their union is in tatters... Invoke Mary or Joseph. And they will say to Jesus, as at Cana: "They have no more wine, they have exhausted their provision of love.Sometimes the danger is in the very heart of the couple. The remedy is to rediscover this Christian art: to live well and to be sanctified in marriage.

What helps that? A little human science (psychology, physiology) does no harm... But that is not enough without the light and the superior strength of this “pilot couple,” Joseph and Mary.

Their virginal marriage inspires the desire for a relationship of souls, a forgetfulness of self and a perfect gift to God, lived in the couple and the family. This is the secret of a fertile and solid Christian marriage! Finally, Mary and Joseph deserved to become the parents of the Child-God. Christian couples give birth to children whom God makes His children by the grace of baptism, in order to make them like Him in heaven.

Monday 28 May 2018

A few reflections on this year's Chartres pilgrimage

I have blogged extensively about the Chartres pilgrimage in previous years. For those who wish to know more about the three days of walking, praying, penance and conviviality, I suggest you read this, this, this, and this...

So in this post, I will confine myself to what was different or particularly striking this year.  One thing was the mileage: I don't know why, but we covered many more miles on day one (over 30), despite starting at Notre Dame de Paris, and ending at the usual campsite at Choisel.

We also had a change of chaplains. Fr Mark Withoos, a stalwart or many years' standing, has now been clothed as a Benedictine monk, Brother Augustine Mary, and is helping establish a new monastery in Tasmania; so he was unable to join us. Fr Alex Redman was marching with the Chavagne chapter. So we were blessed to have Fr Zgorecki Przemyslaw, who walked with us full of energy, chatted amiably, heard our confessions and read some of the meditations. We were also joined by the excellent  Fr de Malleray FSSP for part of the walk.

Another change this year was that we (the foreigners, that is) were not allowed to bring our own tents, but had to sleep in the large communal ones provided. I was not looking forward to this: the last time I had done so, I had been very grumpy, due to people deciding that 5.00 am wasn't nearly early enough to get up, and setting their alarms for 4.00, then spending the next half hour packing their bags very noisily...  Luckily, this time no such antisocial behaviour was indulged in; and the communal tents made things faster and easier.  I gather the reason for the change is the huge growth in numbers marching the pilgrimage: certainly they had opened new areas of the campsites. At Choisel, the Etrangers were treated to a very pitted part of the field; at Gas we were in a clay pigeon shooting area: there were empty cartridges and broken clays everywhere!  Our chapter was certainly large this year: 50 or so marching under the banner of St Alban (as well as 35-odd under the banner of Our Lady of Walsingham).

In addition to the meditations provided by the organisers (translations of which I am posting more or less on a daily basis to this blog) we had some additional talks.  

One was by Clare, who works as an Education Officer for Life. She was particularly keen to encourage people to attend the forthcoming Connect Conference, jointly organised by Life and the Alliance of Pro-Life Students. This promises to be excellent: it is aimed at young adults who don't know where they stand on pro-life issues, but are open to thinking seriously about them; and also those who do know where they stand, but are not (yet) active and are open to considering what (more) they might do.  Please book it in your diary if you are a young adult; bring your friends; tell others...

The second was by a seminarian - an old friend and veteran of the pilgrimage - Gwilym.  He talked about vocations, taking his own experience as a starting point, but reflecting on the different vocations to which people may be called: priesthood; the religious life; marriage; or celibacy. A number of people told me afterwards how helpful they had found this particular talk.

The third was by Jamie Bogle. He told us about the life and legacy of Blessed Charles, the last Emperor of Austria-Hungary, about whom he has co-written (with his wife Joanna) a book. This was a topic I had previously known nothing about, and Jamie's erudite and engaging talk was completely fascinating: so now I'll have to buy the book...

Other unique highlights of this year's pilgrimage included the final High Mass in Chartres Cathedral.  This was celebrated by the wonderful Cardinal Sarah, (about whose book I have enthused here and in the following posts). His homily was excellent, and may be read in translation here.  The final Mass may be seen here.  In addition, we were honoured to have a relic of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio) to venerate. 

Finally, we were blessed by a new pilgrim, Jamie, who not only sings chant well, but also plays the organ. So our final Mass for the English pilgrims on Tuesday morning, was excellent musically. Our scratch Schola numbered five (and we had found a few times to practice, so apart from a complete lapse of attention by me at the very end of the last piece of chant, we did well) and the organ really lifted the congregational singing: not least a fine celebratory rendition of Chez Nous, which everyone sung with great gusto.

St Denis
The final difference was that I did not travel home with the Chapter. My daughter (no 2 was with me this year) and I both had the opportunity to take a few days holiday, so we stayed with some friends in Paris, and enjoyed visiting various Churches and religious sites (including the wonderful St Denis, which I had never seen before, as well as old favourites like the Rue du Bac, where Our Lady appeared to St Catherine Labouré, resulting in the miraculous medal) and also payed due homage to Monet and the rest at the Orsay and the Orangerie...  (cue the joke about the love of Monet being the root of all evil...).


And then home, and waking next day to the results of the Irish referendum.  About which I may post in due course.

Chartres 2018: Meditations (3)

Saint Joseph: A Chaste Husband


Dear pilgrim,

What could St. Joseph look like? To tell the truth, the Scripture does not tell us anything about it... One tradition, however, represents him as an old, gray-headed man. But Saint Teresa of Avila, who accompanies us today on the road, protests against such a representation: No,” she exclaims, “Saint Joseph was certainly on the contrary a young and solid fellow, the protective and loving force that Mary needed.”

Here we find our chaste Joseph, object of this meditation! Yes, Mary and Joseph lived a truly passionate love, an incredible adventure at the service of the Incarnation. Only the perfect chastity of Joseph could always find the exact attitude, the just and delicate distance at which Mary expected to be loved, respected, protected.

This is masculine chastity, supported by a beautiful virility and ordered to love!

And yes, chastity is not a discount from love, not a brake on love; chastity is not the fear of love, it is not a suspicious look on tenderness and affection; chastity is not for the weak, but for truly male men, for truly female women, and for truly loving love.

Major ideas
  • Chastity, why? The body at the service of true love.
  • Chastity of the spouses.
  • Chastity of betrothed.
  • Chastity of consecrated persons; priests, religious men and women.
  • Concrete applications: let’s do it!
  • Chastity of the gaze.
  • Chastity of the garment.
  • Chastity for God, our guardian angels, and our neighbour!


Definition and riches of chastity

But if chastity is none of these clichés, what is it? I propose a definition that, if not academic, seems fair, simple and practical: Chastity is the art of putting our bodies at the service of love, to signify it, to nourish it and to make it grow. It is the beautiful vocation of the body, which makes the love that is hidden in our hearts tangible, while strengthening it!

Let’s say: signify—nurturegrow love. Let us look at all these more closely.

Dear married couple, on the beautiful day of your wedding you gave yourself, totally and definitively. This is what you express, signify, with the language of your bodies, following the commandment of Genesis: They will become one flesh.This union is therefore in itself pure and chaste. But as you have experienced, it will be fully chaste only if it nurtures the same love we are talking about, and to do this, it will be necessary to pay attention to each other and to correspond to a life of daily self-giving. Without that, you know that the most beautiful embraces can leave one’s heart in solitude. Moreover, it will happen that the circumstances of life do not allow such an intimate union; then those spouses who will discover and deploy in these trying times small gestures that, being most modest, will reassure and comfort the hearts, they will be chaste.

And you, dear betrothed, you understand that if you wanted to become one flesh when in fact you are not yet fully united before God and men, you would be objectively lying, your bodies expressing a link that you have not yet contracted. Now, you are young, and youth loves what is true and authentic. Chastity is truth and coherence. In fact, premature unions often disappoint. And what sadness, what frustration, on the evening of your wedding, if you no longer have an absolutely new body language to say to you “I love you in a new, total and definitive way.” For all that, you want to nurture your nascent love and to make it grow. You are right. But rather than crush your still fragile love under the weight of a gesture so full, discover all the small gestures and great attentions that will tell you where you really are and will lead you little by little but surely where you want to go. What are these gestures? This is not the place to detail them but here are some simple criteria: if you feel lonely, it is because you have not done enough, or you have done so in a selfish way. If you feel dirty, you may have done too much. Talk to each other. Chastity also demands this dialogue. And this dialogue builds love, conjugality. Chastity is also prudence, anticipation, because sometimes a misleading exaltation leaves behind a bitter taste. But if on the contrary you feel lasting peace in your heart and in your body, and so does your fiancé, then you have judged it correctly.

There is still a third category of lovers on the road to Chartres, they are the consecrated— priests, religious and nuns. They, too, reveal their love by their body, by their “habit” which signifies their love, their total and definitive gift to God and to the Churchfor the priest is like Christ, husband of the Church. We see them offering their lips to the Church by reciting the breviary, a hymn of love to the Creator and Redeemer, offering their hands to bless, absolve and consecrate, finally offering by celibacy their entire body, thereby signifying the exclusive gift of their hearts to the Lord and his Church.

Concrete applications

Yes, you have understood now, chastity is a marvel because it is the container of love, its expression, its womb. But like everything that is beautiful, great and noble, it requires work, effort, asceticism. What fiancé did not one day find himself sad to be unable to love his fiancée's beauty as delicately as he would have liked, for lack of self-control? So, I propose a challenge: take advantage of this pilgrimage, from this moment, to experience this magnificent virtue, win a victory in this area, by helping each other.

First, look chastely: If your eye is pure, all your body will be pure,says the Gospel. The modesty of our gaze on others is an elevation of our soul: what do we look at first? If the person is beautiful? If she is well-built? Or if there is clarity in her gaze? Let us think of Jesus’ gaze on us, which never reduces us to the body, but seeks out the essentials. Let’s look at Jesus’ view of Mary Magdalene... Whenever our gaze rests on somebody, let us remember that we are called, like Saint Joseph, to serve this person chastely:  for she is put in our way by the Lord: what can I do for her? If only to entrust her soul to God?

Secondly, chastity of dress: do my language, my way of dressing and my manners immediately reveal what I am within, the love to which I aspire deeply? Am I beautiful enough to lift the hearts of others? Am I decent enough for a boy to look me in the eye with a genuine frankness, without that look being fatally diverted further down? Do my beauty and decency help pilgrims to love and pray?

Last but not least, do my beauty and decency please God? Do they accord with the Holy Spirit of which I am the Temple? During Mass, do I upset the angels of God? Or am I making them happy? Let us remember that we, the laity, contribute to the beauty of the liturgy by our dress, and our prayerful attitude!


And yes, chastity really takes us that far, even as far as to God Himself; and perhaps this is its most beautiful fruit: Blessed are the pure of heart: for they shall see God! What if we experience this during this pilgrimage? Let us ask Saint Joseph to give us the delicacy of his love and the virility which we, man or woman, need to become chaste. Let us also ask this grace of St. Teresa of Avila, who knew how to use her great beauty not to seduce her neighbour, that is, to lead him to herself only, but to lead him to God. What a wonderful programme! Let’s use the silence that follows this meditation to reflect on the meaning of love and the role of our body. And do not be afraid to be true and concrete, to change our outfits and our attitudes on this road. We will not be disappointed with the result.

Sunday 27 May 2018

Chartres 2018: Meditations (2)

Saint Joseph: A Perfect Model Of A Husband


It must be said again and again in the face of all the distortions of our times: marriage is the matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman constitute between themselves a community of all life, ordered in the first place by its nature towards the generation and education of children and the good of the spouses.

This reality belongs to the order of creation. It is something willed by God from the very beginning.

Unfortunately it has been damaged by sin, and it is so gravely attacked today that we need to remind ourselves that the marriage union can only be the indissoluble alliance of a man and a woman.

Major ideas
  • Christ saves marriage and family by coming into the marriage and the family.
  • Saint Joseph, a perfect model of a husband.
  • The protector! His Mission: to protect the Holy Family.
  • Mission accomplished!
  • Saint Joseph guides and encourages spouses and parents in their path of holiness.
  • Spiritual and supernatural fecundity of spouses and parents; to radiate and to go beyond even the family circle.
  • Saint Joseph, master of the two loves; love of charity, human love.

Christ, the healer of our souls, never ceases take care for our wounds, and especially those of the family. This is how Christ restored marriage to its original dignity by healing it with his grace. For that he has elevated it to the rank of sacrament, so that the spouses are especially supported by their grace to allow them to love each other faithfully and to be truly Christian parents for their children.

But Christ did not just sanctify marriage from the outside. Let us note that he sanctified it from within... The Word of God wanted to be born into a true family. Coming to fulfill our Redemption, Christ extended his work of salvation to all the realities that make up our lives, beginning with the family, without which none of us would have been born.

Naturally, each solitary man needs a family, a community, a society to grow and flourish. Left to his own strength, without the protection of a home, a solitary man would disappear almost immediately after his appearance on this earth.

This fundamental and genetic reality is inscribed in the very nature of man as desired by his Creator. Original sin did not change this basic structure, but it profoundly disrupted its concrete realisation. In a context in which societies hardly recognise the true structure of the family, it is up to the Church, mother and educator of the peoples, to recall the meaning of the family as responsible motherhood and fatherhood.

And for that, the Church constantly turns our eyes towards the Holy Family.

By making Saint Joseph the head of the Holy Family, God wanted to show us what real fatherhood and matrimony are. He also gives us a perfect model of a husband.

Let’s look at Saint Joseph: he is truly the husband of the Virgin Mary. Within the Holy Family, he fully and silently fulfills a fundamental mission, which teaches us, educates us, enlightens us, shows us what it is to be married.

Certainly the couple constituted by Mary and Joseph have something unique: they were both chosen to constitute the family of the Son of God who became, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, the Son of Man. Jesus owes his humanity only to his Mother and she lived with Joseph in perfect chastity. This is why Mary and Joseph are examples both for those who choose celibacy for the Kingdom of Heaven and for Christian spouses because their union reveals the dignity and beauty of sacramental marriage.

The mission of Saint Joseph also has something unique: he has accepted a very special mission: that of protecting the Holy Family. He is present in all the vicissitudes that accompanied the first stages of our Saviour’s life in the flesh. And Mary found in Joseph a protector, an unwavering and faithful affection, a support for every moment.

Joseph is not crushed by the mystery, but, faithful to the particular grace that has been given to him, he holds his place, he fulfills perfectly the mission entrusted to him. He is truly “the righteous man,” the one who is always perfectly adjusted to the will of God as soon as it is manifested to him, including when that will seem very confusing and unexpected. In this sense, St. Joseph recapitulates the whole Old Covenant. A member of the royal tribe of Judah, descendant of King David, he appears as someone always perfect according to the heart of God. He lives all the requirements of the covenant that the Lord has made with his people. A father who acts in the image of St. Joseph will be able to give clear directions to his children, he will teach them to recognise and love the requirements of natural and divine law, he will prepare them to take their full place in the divine plan.

Spouse of the Blessed Virgin, Saint Joseph knew all the requirements of marriage, which is an indissoluble, faithful and fruitful alliance. It supposes the total gift of the spouses, with all that they have, and especially all that they are. Because of the consequences of sin, to keep oneself faithful, to grow in the total and selfless gift of oneself, presupposes a great spiritual struggle and requires the grace communicated by the sacrament of marriage. 

The perfection of Mary and Joseph does not distance them from us, quite the contrary. Their example reveals what God can achieve in this double human existence: the incarnation of the Word is not the consequence of the fidelity and virtue of the Virgin Mary or Saint Joseph; but rather it is the incarnation of the Word that communicates to them the very specific grace of being fully faithful to their mission! In the same way, the sacrament of marriage is a treasure of graces that allows the spouses to be faithful to their vocation. From this treasure of graces, the spouses can always draw: they will then find in it the strength to be holy spouses and parents.

This holy couple, Mary and Joseph, were rewarded with the greatest fecundity possible: to give the world its Saviour, to communicate to mankind the God-made-man. By living fully with sacramental grace, Christian spouses participate in this work of salvation: they become credible signs of the presence of God in this world. Thus they are able to have a real spiritual and supernatural fecundity which resounds well beyond their own homes and their children. Moreover, a couple who have to face the ordeal of infertility can also benefit from this fecundity, invisible to the eyes of many, and yet very precious in the eyes of God.

The spontaneous and spousal love that Joseph bore to Mary was raised by grace to a dimension that we will only discover in Heaven. But there remains a human love, with all its dimensions of delicacy, self-sacrifice, perseverance and courage. As a wife, the Virgin Mary was able to count on the unfailing support of Joseph, her husband.


As husband, St. Joseph remained the man of silence. He has perfectly accomplished what St. John, another great contemplative of the Incarnate Word, has written: “Let us not love in word, nor in tongue, but in deed, and in truth” (1 John 3:18). Schooled by St Joseph, the Christian husband learns to manifest the total gift of himself by his generosity, the quality of his presence, the strength of his patience, the perseverance of his hope. 

O Saint Joseph, enlighten our paths, obtain for each Christian couple all the graces they need to accomplish their mission and their vocation.

Saturday 26 May 2018

Chartres 2018: Meditations (1)

Over the next few days and weeks I will be posting the English translations of the meditations provided for the Chartres pilgrimage.

The theme of this year's meditations is St Joseph: Father and Servant

This seems particularly apt to me, as I believe that a major crisis in the modern world is a crisis of paternity. Many of our spiritual as well as our familial fathers no longer now how to exercise their paternity. St Joseph is a good model for us all.

The first day of the pilgrimage was also under the patronage of St Teresa of Avila, and the first meditation invites us to reflect on the relationship between St Teresa and St Joseph.

Dear pilgrims,

Do you know who had a passionate love to, and an unconditional trust in Saint Joseph? Who was at the origin of devotion to him that has spread all over the world?

Well, that person was Saint Teresa of Avila! That's why we chose her as Patron Saint of this first day of the pilgrimage.

Born in the early sixteenth century, she was said to be very pretty, deeply intelligent, of a fiery temperament, with a talented pen, a delicious sense of humour and a wonderful wit. She left the world to enter Carmel at the age of 20. At the age of 40, she was to be converted radically, to experience extraordinary mystical graces and to reform the male and female branches of the Carmelite Order with the help of St. John of the Cross. Canonized forty years after her death, she was to be the first woman proclaimed a Doctor of the Church, by Pope Paul VI.

All of that you probably knew already, but what you possibly didn’t know is the very close connection between this great Saint and Saint Joseph! This is what we will discover in this meditation.

It all started with an illness that lasted three years. But let her explain in what state she was: My extreme weakness cannot be described, for by this time I was nothing but bones... I remained in this condition for more than eight months, and my paralysis, though it kept improving, continued for nearly three years... For when I found that, while still so young, I was so seriously paralysed, and that earthly doctors had been unable to cure me, I resolved to seek a cure from heavenly doctors... I took for my advocate and lord the glorious Saint Joseph and commended myself earnestly to him. He came to my help in the most visible manner. This loving father of my soul, this beloved protector, hastened to pull me out of the state in which my body was languishing..”

Saint Joseph did more than simply healing Saint Teresa, he continued to watch over her throughout her life, because dangers did not fail to arise; especially during her many journeys.

One day when she was traveling to found a convent in Andalusia, she went through the defiles of the Sierra Morena. The drivers of the wagons lost their way and advanced imprudently along a passage so narrow that it was soon impossible to move forward or backward. St. Teresa and her companions remained suspended above the precipice; a slightest movement would cause them to fall down into the chasm.

Pray, my daughters!says the saint. “Let us ask God through the intercession of Saint Joseph that He would deliver us from this danger!

At the same moment, a voice like that of an old man cries to them with force: “Stop, stop! You are lost, if you go ahead.”

But how do we get out of this trouble?they ask.

Tilt your carts on this side, says the voice, “and turn back.”

They followed these instructions; the guides, to their great surprise, immediately found an excellent route and, full of gratitude to their saviour, sprang up on the side where he spoke to them, in order to thank him. Saint Teresa follows them with her eyes, she sees them running at full speed and searching in vain.

Really,” she says to her daughters, “I do not know why we let these good people go, for it is the voice of my father St. Joseph that we have heard, and they will not find him.

Saint Joseph is especially well known for his help in material difficulties. Saint Teresa has benefited from this more than once, as for example during the construction of her first convent where the work was stopped for lack of money to pay the workers: “Saint Joseph, my true father and lord, appeared to me and gave me to understand that money would not be lacking and I must make all the necessary arrangements. I did so, though I had not a farthing, and the Lord, in ways which amazed people when they heard of them, provided the money.”

This convent was naturally placed under the patronage of its benefactor, Saint Joseph. Finally, the whole Order of Carmel will come under his protection and take him as its Patron Saint in 1631.

In her autobiography, St. Teresa explains the deep reason for her devotion to St. Joseph and why she dedicated herself and her Order to him. “To other saints the Lord seems to have given grace to succour us in some of our necessities; but of Saint Joseph my experience is that he succours us in them all and that the Lord wishes to teach us that as He was Himself subject to him on earth (for, being His guardian and being called His father, he could command Him) just so in Heaven He still does all that he asks.

For St. Teresa, Saint Joseph is indeed the universal intercessor! Not only for diseases, bodily dangers, material necessities, but also and especially for the spiritual life. Even for prayer; and knowing that the whole life of a Carmelite is based on prayer (at the very least, two hours a day... ), we can trust the saint when she tells us: If anyone cannot find a master to teach him how to pray, let him take this glorious saint as his master and he will not go astray.

So, dear pilgrims, you now know whom to turn to for prayer or perseverance. Do not hesitate to ask a priest, a seminarian or a nun on the column to enlighten you, since this pilgrimage is especially under the patronage of St. Joseph!

To conclude this meditation on Saint Teresa of Avila, we will gladly let her exhort all of us, once again, to have a true devotion to Saint Joseph: “I wish I could persuade everyone to be devoted to this glorious saint, for I have great experience of the blessings which he can obtain from God... I only beg, for the love of God, that anyone who does not believe me will put what I say to the test.

Finally, those who would like to know more about the life of St. Teresa of Avila are strongly invited to read the beautiful meditation dedicated to her life at the website of Our Lady of Christendom.

In the meantime, let us remain, dear pilgrims, in silence for a few minutes to meditate on this magnificent life of St. Teresa of Avila, and ask her for all the graces we need, especially to increase in our souls love and devotion for Saint Joseph.


St Joseph: pray for us
St Teresa: pray for us

Tuesday 8 May 2018

March for Life (2)

Rachel Mackenzie
I have already posted my reflections on Saturday morning. Once we arrived in Parliament Square, we had a pro-Life song from Joy Villa (who famously wore a dress with an image of her unborn child to the Grammy award ceremony), and then some of the most powerful testimonies from British pro-Life women.

The first was Rachel MacKenzie, who now works for Rachel's Vineyard, the organisation dedicated to helping women to recover from the trauma of abortion. She described her own sad experiences as a young woman, including being awake enough during one of her abortions to see the abortionists counting the body parts of her dismembered baby.  She described her long journey through the classic stages of grief: anger, denial, bargaining, depression, and acceptance; and acknowledged that some of the anger and hostility that we were experiencing from the counter-protestors might indicate that some of them were stuck in the early stages of that process.  Rachel's courageous acceptance of the reality of her choices was very evident in all that she said: about the children she had had aborted, and about her finding meaning through faith and her charitable outreach to others in a similar situation. Rachel's talk may be seen and heard here

Clare McCullough
The second was the indomitable Clare McCullough, founder of Good Counsel Network. Clare was very clear about the need for the frontline work she and her volunteers do: reaching women on the very threshold of the abortion clinics. Her testimony gives the lie to the political posturing of Sister Supporter and their fellow-travellers.  If Clare and her team were harassing or abusing women, then women would never trust them; and it would be self-evidently counter-productive. In fact, many women are grateful for their presence, as it offers them a real choice, to turn away from the path they are - often extremely unwillingly - on, and make a positive choice for themselves and their unborn children.

Alina and her daughter
Powerful as Clare's speech was, it was the following testimonies of two of the women that Good Counsel Network have helped that was most moving.  The first, Alina, told us her story, and how one of Clare's volunteers had offered her love and support, and the belief that she could have her baby.  She had the girl - due to be killed by Marie Stopes International on that fateful day all those years ago - with her on stage.  Alina is so grateful for Good Counsel Network that she now volunteers for them, and it is she who is challenging Ealing Council's Buffer Zones in the courts.

The next speaker was Aurelia, another women rescued from the very jaws of the abortuary.  Again, her situation was difficult, and seemed without hope, until a Good Counsel volunteer approached her and said that she could help. And that volunteer was Alina. Like Alina, Aurelia had her daughter with her: you can watch and listen to her testimony here - and in the background at the start, you will see Clare McCullough carrying Aurelia's baby: 'the best thing that ever happened to me, the love or my life' as Aurelia said.

After Aurelia's story, Alina and Aurelia were joined on stage by a number of other women helped by Good Counsel Network, and their babies and young children.  This is why we do what we do.


Shortly after this, I had to leave, as the last train North was unreasonably early!  But as I made my way home, I reflected on the start and the end of the day: on Life's fantastic strategy of reaching as many women as possible at the very start of their pregnancies: trying to help them before they are placed on the one-way path to abortion; and then on Good Counsel Network's heroic work at the other end, snatching life from the jaws of death, and hope from the threshold of despair.

Pray for them all.  And act! As Clare McCullough said, it is no good lamenting the draconian actions of Ealing Council if we are not prepared to do something. Prayer is important; but it doesn't let us off the hook of writing the the Home Secretary and our own MP about the travesty of buffer zones (and drawing their attention to the testimony of women like Alina and Aurelia); and of considering what more we can do to support the essential work of Life and Good Counsel Network, both through alms and volunteering.  

If not us, then who?...


Lord, when did I see you pregnant and refuse to help you? Unborn, and refuse to stand up for you?...