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Ageless Index


This is an index to the Agelessage blogs December 2011 to December 2013.
The Ageless Sage.
Reflections on life by an old missionary who believes that all people are called to care for one another and to care for the earth which we share and so leave it in good shape for those who come after us.
114 Ageless blogs between December 9, 2011 and March 21, 2013.
6 blogs in 2013; 85 blogs in 2012; 23 blogs in 2011.
The Index attaches the month and date to each title so you know exactly where to look for that title when you go to the Archives in
Index to Ageless blogs by date, title and number of words:

21-Mar Vatican and Women 539
14-Mar Pope Francis 505
7-Mar Infallibility On Hold 830
28-Feb Farewell Benedict 441
22-Feb Papal Election 508
14-Feb Benedict Surprise 457
8-Dec Immaculate Conception 445
7-Dec Saint Ambrose 262
6-Dec Saint Nicholas 195
26-Nov Religious Freedom 1040
19-Nov Unity of Christians 1121
12-Nov Church in Today’s World 521
5-Nov Revelation Vatican II 1349
29-Oct The Church Vatican II 1194
22-Oct The Liturgy Vatican II 860
15-Oct Teresa the Doctor 855
8-Oct 50 Years On 978
1-Oct Pious Deceit 1136
24-Sep New Wine-skins 1031
17-Sep Missing Counsel 832
11-Sep Sancta Maria House 905
4-Sep Bartholomew Again 454
27-Aug Saint Bartholomew 792
20-Aug Train of Thought 935
13-Aug John Milton and Galileo 718
6-Aug Galileo’s Daughter 500
30-Jul Message on Screen 369
23-Jul Nuns on Trial 511
16-Jul People of God 822
9-Jul Food for the Poor 766
2-Jul Fortnight for Freedom 355
25-Jun San Juan Bautista 879
18-Jun Penny Catechism 749
11-Jun Corpus Christi 470
4-Jun Filipino Santacruzan 846
28-May Solidarity 711
21-May Pope John XXIII 770
14-May Translations 606
7-May Original Sin 1038
29-Apr Vocations Sunday 603
22-Apr No Time 514
14-Apr 2012 Titanic 631
13-Apr Limbo Revisited 586
2-Apr Good Friday Mother 767
27-Mar Church Dynamite 644
19-Mar Saints Alight 533
1-Mar Where God Weeps 597
29-Feb Dominus Flevit 520
28-Feb Our Father 559
27-Feb Change Your Ways 487
24-Feb The Stations 669
23-Feb Lent Online 394
22-Feb Palms and Ashes 549
21-Feb Parent Leadership 449
20-Feb Father Leo Clifford ofm 349
17-Feb Subsidiarity 717
16-Feb Coincidence 327
15-Feb Saint of the Day 457
14-Feb St. Valentine’s Day 468
13-Feb Lourdes 710
10-Feb New Words 673
9-Feb From the Heart 482
8-Feb Josephine B 545
7-Feb Jesus and Religion 396
6-Feb A Day in the Life Of 656
3-Feb Throat Saint 437
2-Feb On Duty 382
1-Feb Find the Diamond 706
31-Jan Faith Endures 348
30-Jan Two Masters 606
27-Jan Winter Wedding 614
26-Jan Two Ships 549
25-Jan Sister Ursula 544
24-Jan March for Life 507
23-Jan Siege of Jericho 489
20-Jan San Sebastian 483
19-Jan Skills for Ills 549
17-Jan 2012 Anthony abbot feastday 382
16-Jan Vocations Fair 548
14-Jan Every Step Counts 257
13-Jan The Five Steps 490
12-Jan Desert Thirst 518
11-Jan Excess Baggage 489
10-Jan Breakfast All Day 462
9-Jan The Work of Christmas 414
8-Jan An Empty Manger 482
7-Jan Three Wise Gifts 424
6-Jan Traffic Star 407
5-Jan Pencilling Prisoner 431
4-Jan Modern Martyrs 392
3-Jan Actors’ Chapel 458
31-Dec Hogmanay 345
30-Dec The Holy Family 382
29-Dec The Great Silence 391
28-Dec Holy Innocents’ Day 406
27-Dec 12 Days of Christmas 325
26-Dec Boxing Day 344
25-Dec Our Lady of Dallas 371
24-Dec O Virgin of virgins 184
23-Dec O Emmanuel 211
22-Dec O King of the Nations 266
21-Dec O Radiant Dawn 132
20-Dec O Key of David 240
19-Dec O Flower of Jesse’s Stem 245
18-Dec O Adonai 233
17-Dec O Wisdom 194
16-Dec Speaking Truth to Power 248
15-Dec Saint Gall in Africa 257
14-Dec Saint John of the Cross 464
13-Dec Saint Lucy 424
12-Dec Our Lady of Guadalupe 323
11-Dec Three Comings 279
10-Dec Catholics Come Home 291
9-Dec 2011 The Miraculous Medal 326


Infallibility On Hold


Some journalists were fascinated by the fact that Pope Benedict XVI freely surrendered his infallibility in giving up the Papacy.  But however wonderful Papal infallibility may seem in theory, it really has not been of much significance in the history of the Church.  It is very limited, and works only for faith and morals.  It has never solved any problem for the Church, but rather has led to problems when there was an overlap between matters of faith and matters of science.

The Church authorities have sometimes extended their competence in matters of faith to cover other matters, like when they said that the bible taught that the sun goes round the earth, and therefore it was heretical to teach that the earth moves round the sun. At the time of Galileo (1564-1642) all writings that claimed that the earth was in motion were placed on the Index of Forbidden Books.  That remained in force until 1741 when the Roman authorities quietly relaxed the ban.  They learned that they were not always infallible.

I have often wondered why Pope Pius IX was so anxious to get the Council of Vatican I (1870) to confirm his claim to infallibility as Pope.  Some historians suggested that Pius was upset because he was in the process of losing the Papal States to Garibaldi and the Italian nationalists, and desperately wanted some new symbol of power to help him stay relevant in the world of politics.  But Pius claimed that the Pope had full and supreme power over all the Church, so it puzzles me that he did not simply declare the dogma of Papal infallibility.  To insist on confirmation from the Council seems to hint at some degree of self-doubt.

Anyway, Papal infallibility is not always what it is talked up to be.  Pope Boniface VIII tried it in 1302, and it fell flat. He should have known better.  Boniface VIII immediately succeeded Pope Celestine V (1294), who resigned after just 5 months as Pope.   Before Celestine there was no Pope for two years, as the Cardinals could not agree on a candidate after the death of Pope Nicholas IV in 1292.  But the fact that they dawdled for two years without electing a Pope seems to indicate that they thought the Church could manage quite well without somebody infallible in charge.

 Boniface got into a head to head struggle for power with the Emperor Philip the Fair. To establish the Pope’s superiority over the Emperor he issued a Papal Bull, Unam Sanctam, in which he refers to the two swords (Luke 22, 38) as the sword of temporal power (of the Emperor) and the sword of spiritual power (of the Pope).

According to Boniface, the Papal sword always trumps the Imperial sword.  He concludes the document with these words: “We state, declare and define that every human being, in order to be saved, must submit to the Roman Pontiff”. (Denzinger n.874)
With this solemn choice of words it seems that Boniface wanted to appear to speak infallibly. Unfortunately for him, his declaration was so obviously self-serving that nobody took him seriously.

Centuries earlier there was the case of Pope Honorius I (625-638).  As Pope he got involved in correspondence with some bishops and theologians in discussions about the human nature of Christ.  The words used by Pope Honorius implied that Christ had no human will.  This led to Pope Honorius after death being declared anathema by the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (680) and condemned by Pope Leo II (681-683) for “fanning the flame of heresy”.  That was a sad fate for a Pope who could have taught infallibly if only he had remembered.

Even the first Pope Saint Peter was not immune from teaching error as the apostle Paul pointed out in his letter to the Galatians (Galatians 2, 11-14).  Peter approved the ruling that gentile converts to Christianity were obliged to observe Jewish religious law.  Paul objected to this and later wrote, “I opposed Kephas (Peter) to his face because he was clearly wrong” (Galatians 2, 11).  Paul prevailed, and his teaching on this issue became official Church teaching.

With the history of occasional Papal mistakes it seems unreasonable to demand unquestioning assent to every public statement of a Pope as if it were infallible.  I think the framers of the doctrine would have done better to insist on infallibility for the Church while admitting Popes as individuals can be wrong occasionally.  Even in the contests with the Roman Emperor, history shows that the power of excommunication proved to be a much more effective weapon for the Pope than the claim to infallibility.

Benedict XVI must have been aware of all this when he handed in his infallibility badge on February 28, 2013.  But I am sure he was quite confident that the Church, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, would not go astray even while Papal infallibility was temporarily placed on hold.

Religious Freedom


On April 18, 2008 Pope Benedict XVI addressed the United Nations General Assembly.  They were celebrating the 60th anniversary of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR).

Article 18 of the UNDHR states: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Pope Benedict told the Assembly: “This document was the outcome of a convergence of different religious and cultural traditions, all of them motivated by the common desire to place the human person at the heart of institutions, laws and the workings of society, and to consider the human person essential for the world of culture, religion and science”.

Pope Benedict did not tell the Assembly that the universal freedoms promulgated by the United Nations in 1948 were contrary to the official teaching of the Catholic Church at that time.  For centuries the teaching of the Catholic Church was simple and clear: where Catholics are in a majority, a privileged position for the Catholic Church and intolerance of other religions; where Catholics are in a minority they must have full freedom to live and exercise their faith.

That was the teaching in the text books used in the seminaries preparing young men for the priesthood.  This double standard was based on the assertion that only the Catholic Church taught the true religion.  All others are in error, and error has no rights.

In 2008 the Pope was able to speak favorably of the UNDHR because in 1965 the Second Vatican Council promulgated the Declaration on Religious Freedom which included a tolerance and respect for other religions, something totally absent from Catholic teaching in previous centuries.

The Vatican II document on Religious Freedom was known by its first two words Dignitatis Humanae (Of Human Dignity).  It had a stormy passage from its first presentation on November 1963 until the final vote in December 1965.

One reason for the opposition to the document was that the tolerance and respect expressed towards other religions appeared to be contrary to the traditional Church attitude of criticism and condemnation.  Several bishops saw the document as a reversal of earlier Church teaching. The supporters of the document tried to persuade them that it was a development of doctrine, not a reversal.

It was not an easy sell.  For many of us there is nothing surprising in what the document states, such as: In religious matters no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs.  Religious freedom is a civil right.  All are obliged to seek the truth, and to do this they must be free from external coercion.  This is a natural right based on man’s very nature. (n.2)

Man is bound to follow his conscience.  He cannot be forced to act contrary to his conscience (n.3).  Religious groups have the right to govern themselves according to their own rules (n.4).  Even if special legal status is given to one particular religion, the religious freedom of other religious bodies should be recognized and respected (n.6).

For those of us who lived in countries where Catholics are in the minority we expect the rules to be even-handed and fair.  But it is very different for those who live in countries where Catholics are the large majority.  They are used to the Catholic Church having a privileged position, with other religions being barely tolerated or placed under restrictions.  It is the old story of error having no rights.

But the main opposition to the document came from those bishops who believed that Church teaching is unchangeable, and who saw this document as a betrayal of earlier teaching on true and false religion.  They succeeded in delaying a vote, but Pope Paul VI, who was invited to address the United Nations General Assembly on October 4, 1965, made clear that he wanted this document approved by the Council.

Several changes were made to try to win over those who opposed the document for being against tradition.  To assure the Traditionalists the document stated: “It (the Council) leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies towards the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ” (n.1).  It added: “The Council intends to develop the doctrine of recent Popes on the inviolable rights of the human person and on the constitutional order of society” (n.1).

The only Pope they could call upon was Pope John XXIII, whose Encyclical Letter Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) issued in 1963 prepared the way for this document.  As regards leaving untouched traditional Catholic doctrine, it calls for some ingenuity to see this tolerant respectful document as the natural development of an earlier Church teaching which could allow Galileo to be placed under house arrest, and Giordano Bruno and Jan Hus to be burned at the stake for expressing ideas not in conformity with official teaching.

Nevertheless opposition to the document gradually diminished, though there was a strong influential group of bishops who resisted to the very end.  The final vote, promulgated on December 7, 1965, was 2308 in favor with 70 opposed.

Father John Courtney Murray, the American Jesuit, played an important role in drafting the document on Religious Liberty.  After the promulgation of the document he made this comment: “The conciliar affirmation of the principle of freedom was narrowly limited – in the text.  But the text itself was flung into a pool whose shores are wide as the universal Church.  The ripples will run far.” (Introduction to Dignitatis Humanae).

These could be prophetic words.  Catholic Church authorities have been trying to protect Catholic doctrine by discouraging new thinking and suppressing debate within the Church.  The ripples mentioned by Father Murray are beginning to appear as Catholic thinkers and writers claim their freedom to seek the truth without hindrance, the freedom that is a God-given right deriving from the dignity of the human person, and recognized by the Church in article 2 of Dignitatis Humanae (Of Human Dignity) the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom.

Teresa the Doctor


Teresa was only 7 years of age when she and her young brother set out from Avila in Spain to go to North Africa in the hope of finding a short-cut to heaven by being martyred there.  They had travelled about a mile down the road when they were met by one of their uncles who brought them back to their anxious parents.

The martyrdom venture was a failure, but it was already a manifestation of the vision and determination of a young woman who one day would be the first woman to be declared a Doctor (Teacher) of the Catholic Church.

Teresa was the third child in a family of nine.  Her mother died when she was only 13, and she became very close to her father.  At this early stage she decided to enter religious life, not because she was attracted to it, but because she thought it was a sure way to heaven.  Her father was opposed to the idea, and told her to wait until he died and then she would be free to do as she wished.

Teresa waited, but not for long.  At the age of 20 she left home secretly to enter the Carmelite Convent of the Incarnation in Avila.  She compared the pain of leaving her father to death itself.  But he respected her decision, and Teresa was allowed to continue in the convent of 140 nuns. The following year she made her religious profession.

Sometime after her religious profession Teresa became seriously ill, and was subjected to lengthy medical treatment.  As a result of poorly administered treatment her health became fragile and she suffered recurrent illness for the rest of her life.

Life in the convent was free and easy, and the young nuns were able to continue their social life, meeting their friends frequently in the convent parlor.  At this time Teresa gave up the practice of mental prayer, using her poor health as an excuse.

One day a young cousin who was visiting Teresa told her that she was thinking of becoming a nun, “but a real nun following a strict Rule, not like the worldly nuns in this convent”.  Teresa was shocked to be brought face to face with the lax life the nuns were living.

As a result of this experience, Teresa resolved to try to return to the original strict rule of the Carmelite Order.  She was supported in this by some friends and relatives who were able to build a small convent and chapel for her.  With three other nuns she took up residence in the new convent, and called it Saint Joseph’s.  They followed the new Rule, which was really the earlier stricter rules, along with new regulations on poverty and penance for which she had received papal approval.

The new foundation met with immediate opposition, not only from the Carmelite nuns of the Incarnation convent, but also from the mayor and the magistrates of the town.  They were fearful that a convent without endowment would become a burden on the townspeople.

Fortunately the outcry subsided fairly quickly, and Teresa became known as the mother of the reform of Carmel.  Her nuns were cloistered, and lived in almost complete silence.  They were poor and wore sandals instead of shoes.  Because of this they became known as the discalced (shoeless) Carmelites.

For the next five years they lived in comparative peace.  Then in 1567 Teresa received permission to establish more houses of her Order.  This led to a flurry of activity, and in the next 15 years she established sixteen convents of the new Order throughout Spain.

These foundations involved punishing journeys in a small horse-drawn carriage across rough terrain and sometimes flooded roads.  In addition to the physical demands there was also much opposition and many setbacks.  All this took a toll on Teresa’s fragile health.

During this time Teresa continued her writing.  She wrote her life story of several hundred pages, in which she recounts her remarkable experience of God in prayer.  She wrote El Camino de la Perfección (The Way of Perfection) to help her nuns in living the life of the reform.  In 1577 she wrote El Castillo Interior (The Interior Castle) explaining the stages in prayer from meditation to contemplation and on to the profound experience of mystical prayer.

Teresa was on one of her journeys when she fell into her final illness.  She died in early October 1582, the very night that the Catholic nations switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar which involved dropping 11 days from that year.  Teresa died on the night of October 4-15.  Her feast day is celebrated on October 15th.

Forty years after her death, Teresa was canonized by Pope Gregory XV.  In 1970 she was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI.  This title is conferred on someone because of great benefits the Church has received from their teaching.  Teresa’s teachings on prayer, derived from her personal experience, surpass anything previously written.  She was the first woman to be declared a Doctor of the Church.

No Time


Sister Ann was student counselor at a prestigious girls’ college in Boston, Massachusetts.  As a religious psychologist Sister Ann also helped religious communities in the psychological development of their candidates and members.

I met Sister Ann when she was working with the Sisters who administered the hospital and nursing home where I was chaplain in Minnesota.  Sister Ann was administering tests which enabled the Sisters to learn the personality types to which each belonged, so that they could have a better understanding of one another, and work together more effectively.

I found Sister Ann a refreshing personality who was happy to share her skills and experience with anyone willing to learn from her.  I remember her telling us that her daily schedule was so packed with appointments that she scheduled a one-hour slot every day for God.  I think it was her way of reminding the overworked hospital Sisters not to let their dedication to others leave no time for God in their lives.

How often I have heard people say, “I have no time to pray.  I offer my work to God, and I hope that is enough”.  Indeed it is a wonderful idea to offer your work to God, but I wonder how long you can maintain that attitude if you do not spend some time every day with God alone.

The wonderful thing about time is that everyone is given exactly the same amount.  The billionaire does not receive more, and the beggar does not receive less.  How you spend your time can reveal to you who or what is important in your life. You will give priority time to what is important, and leave the remaining time to be divided among the less important things.

Sometimes you may not realize what is important to you until you sit back and look at how you spend your time.  I remember working with a poor community in the tropics where the people believed that the most important thing for them was education.  But when their daily activities were examined it showed that families spent more hours every day waiting in line for water.

They had no option.  There was only one water tap for the sixty or so families who lived there.  Water was their top priority, and until that challenge was overcome, education would not get the priority attention they thought it deserved.

So it is in the life of each one of us.  You give your time to what is important to you.  Each one of us is given 86,400 seconds every day.  Cardinal van Thuan, the not yet canonized saint of Vietnam, said he tried to follow his mother’s advice and fill every second of his time with love.

Maybe the best that most of us can do is to imitate Sister Ann, and give God a guaranteed special slot of time every day.  Even if nothing else goes well, you will never regret that you reported for duty, and waited in humble silence for guidance on how to use the rest of your time that day.



One week ago today I was on the Belfast docks where the Titanic was built.  Hundreds of people crowded the Titanic Centre for the commemoration of the Titanic’s ill-fated maiden voyage in 1912.

One hundred years ago today, at twenty minutes to midnight, the Titanic collided with an iceberg in the North Atlantic, resulting in the loss of the liner and most of those on board.  The capacity of the lifeboats fell far short of the numbers of passengers and crew.  Only 709 were saved, and 1514 were lost.

I have read much about the Titanic disaster, but I learned something I did not know from the English Catholic weekly, The Universe.  Among the 1514 who were lost on the Titanic were three Catholic priests, one from England, one from Germany and one from Lithuania.

Father Thomas Byles was an English diocesan priest, a convert to Catholicism, ordained in 1902 at the age of 32.  He was on his way to officiate at the wedding of his brother William in Brooklyn.  He travelled on a 2nd class ticket costing thirteen pounds Sterling.

Father Josep Peruschitz was a Benedictine monk from Bavaria, on his way to take up the post of principal in a Benedictine school in Minnesota.  He also travelled on a 2nd class ticket.

Father Juozas Montvila was a 27 year-old who had been barred from Lithuania by the Russians.  He decided to follow  his brother Petras in America.

All three priests refused to take a place on the lifeboats, and chose to remain with those doomed to go down with the ship.  They assisted the 3rd class passengers to the upper decks and into the lifeboats.  They comforted and prayed with those left behind.  They sacrificed themselves to be with those who could not escape.

A survivor in one of the lifeboats described how she could hear the fading strains of “Nearer My God to Thee” as the lifeboat pulled away from the sinking ship.

There was another Titanic priest who was different.  Firstly he was not fully-fledged, but a priest in the making.  Secondly, he was only on board of the Titanic for two days of the voyage.

Francis Browne was an Irish Jesuit student in training for the priesthood.  His uncle, the bishop of the diocese of Cloyne in Ireland, bought him a first class ticket on the Titanic.  He was on board the Titanic when it sailed from Southampton on April 10, 1912.  He disembarked when the Titanic dropped anchor at Cobh (Queenstown, Ireland) to pick up its final passengers before crossing the Atlantic.  It is not clear why he disembarked, whether it was his original intention, or due to a sudden decision of his uncle-bishop or his Jesuit Superior.

Francis Browne became famous even before he became a priest.  He had brought a camera with him on board the Titanic.  With the help of the ship’s purser, Hugh McElroy, he was able to take hundreds of photographs of the interior of the liner at all levels, even places out of bounds to passengers.

Incredible as it may seem, his photographs appear to be the only surviving photographs of the interior of the Titanic, and have been reproduced time and again.  Father Browne died in 1960.  He wrote and spoke much about his short experience on board the Titanic, and must have wondered why Providence spared him the fate of the other three priests.

Father Browne revealed the depth of his feelings in the words with which he concluded one of his talks on the Titanic when he said: “As you say goodbye to one another tonight, remember to pray for those who perished with the Titanic that dreadful night in the icy waters of the North Atlantic”.

Saints Alight


The Catholic Cathedral of Santiago, Chile, is situated in the city’s main square called the Plaza de Armas.  Even before I ever entered the Cathedral I was impressed by it because of a story I heard from an official of the Archdiocese.

The Cathedral is a popular tourist attraction, and one day a father brought his young son to see the Cathedral and to tour the interior.  The interior can be dark and almost gloomy, making it difficult to see the succession of side altars of the patron saints, and the historic treasures of the heroes of Chile’s struggle for independence encased along the inner walls.

But at a certain point of time in the late morning, the gloom is suddenly dispelled by a flood of light, as if an invisible hand had thrown a giant switch.  The sun has just turned a corner on its daily path, pouring its rays through the stained glass windows high in the central nave, flooding the interior of the Cathedral with color and light.

The little boy was taken by surprise, and grasped his father’s hand as he looked up and saw the larger than life images outlined in the sunlit colors of the stained glass.  “Who are they?” he asked in a whisper, as if afraid that they might hear him.  His father smiled in reply, “They are the saints”, he said.  Then noticing his son’s puzzled look he asked him, “Do you know who the saints are?”  The boy hesitated, then, with the excitement of one who has just made a new discovery, he replied, “The saints are people who let the light shine through”.

I think that child gave a wonderful interpretation of what he had just witnessed.  Images that had been gloomy, almost invisible, suddenly became dramatically alive and beautiful by allowing the light of the sun to shine through them.  The little boy captured it in a single phrase, and that phrase had a more profound meaning than he realized.

The saints are people who let the light shine through not just at the level of stained glass, but at the level of real life.  Saints are people who allow the light of God’s love to shine in our world through the words and actions of their daily life.

I remember Father Alfred Delp, the Jesuit priest who was executed in 1945 by the Nazis at the age of 38, once wrote, “When someone brings a little more light and truth, a little more goodness and love into the world, that person’s life has had meaning”.  The saints are continually doing that.  The rest of us try to do it now and again.

You may not be able to let the light shine through all day every day.  But if you just remember that the light is from God, that the light is God, and if you try to let the light shine through you some time each day, then maybe your life will take on a new meaning.

(For the immediate future I will try to provide a blog every Monday, and more often if the opportunity arises.  At a later date I hope to return to the 5-blog week).