Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Prayer and a Message for World AIDS Day - Vatican's Christmas Stamp 2009 - Robert Southwell, Edmund Campion and companions, martyrs

Today is World AIDS Day. Here is a prayer for those who suffer from HIV and AIDS and those who are involved with them and care for them (courtesy United States Conference of Catholic Bishops):

A Prayer for Those Who Suffer with HIV, AIDS

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
O Good and gracious God,
you are the God of health and wholeness.
In the plan of your creation,
you call us to struggle in our sickness
and to cling always to the cross of your Son.
Father, we are your servants.
Many of us are now suffering with HIV or AIDS.
We come before you, and ask you,
if it is your holy will,
to take away this suffering from us,
to restore us to health
and to lead us to know you
and your powerful healing,
love of body and spirit.
We ask you also to be with those of us
who nurse your sick ones.
We are the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children,
and friends of your suffering people.
It is so hard for us to see those whom we love suffer.
You know what it is to suffer.
Help us to minister in loving care,
support, and patience to your people
who suffer with HIV and AIDS.
Lead us to do whatever it will take
to eradicate this illness
from the lives of those who are touched by it,
both directly and indirectly.
Trusting in you and the strength of your Spirit,
we pray these things in the name of Jesus.

* * * * * *

A Jesuit friend and companion, Father Michael Czerny coordinates the activities of the Society of Jesus in Africa and Madagascar in regards to HIV and AIDS.

They have a message on their website that uses the image of an African family's strengths in dealing with this challenging disease (www.jesuitaids.net):

To the Jesuits of Africa and Madagascar: Learning to face AIDS as a family

Dear companions and friends in the Lord, on this World AIDS Day I invite you to meditate with me on our learning to face AIDS as a family.

When AIDS began to afflict Africa about 25 years ago, few of us reacted well. People who were HIV-positive or suffered from AIDS could easily find themselves condemned, rejected, cast out and treated “as good as dead”. How different things must be now, wherever belonging God’s family means reacting as Jesus showed us.

Many spiders working together can tie up a lion.

Fifteen years ago the first Synod for Africa enculturated and indeed africanized Vatican II with the inspiring expression Church-Family of God in Africa. The Church has invited her sons and daughters to re-imagine what it means to be Christian as a family community. For the last seven years now, the African Jesuit AIDS Network (AJAN) has been enabling our Assistancy to develop ways of facing HIV and AIDS in our works and communities, individually and with our co-workers, as Ignatian family.

It takes more than one stream to fill a river.

We cannot home in on ‘the problem’ without understanding the context, the rich cluster of complex factors which encircle any human situation. “AIDS is a pandemic, together with malaria and tuberculosis, which is decimating African populations and severely damaging their economic and social life. It is not to be looked at as either merely a medical-pharmaceutical problem or solely as an issue of a change in human behaviour. It is truly an issue of integral development and justice, which requires a holistic approach and response by the Church” (Synod). So HIV-AIDS, neither most important nor negligible, takes its place amidst the great challenges and inter-related problems facing Africa.

Whoever has seen the sun before you, passes the light of life to you.

Our African family is a seamless community binding the living and the not-yet-born and the living dead who have gone before. So facing AIDS includes the ancestors, and one thing they surely regard is sexuality. Sexuality has always been seen in Africa as morally neutral, neither good nor bad, part of what it means to be human. A comparison is instructive.

Fire, if controlled and tamed, is useful in preparing a meal; out of control, it can burn the roof and consume the whole house. Likewise, sexuality needs to be channelled and disciplined so that its life-giving potential is fulfilled and its destructiveness curbed. Both our traditional African cultures and our way of life as Christians give norms for living out one’s sexuality for the long-term good of everyone.

That’s not how everyone sees it, of course. The Church’s understanding of sexuality is often scorned for being rigid, unrealistic or moralistic. Some think that the fire should rage free and untamed, even in the face of AIDS. This can be a seductive message for younger members of our family who are just discovering their sexuality and for older ones, too. But in truth many seek guidance on how to live it in a healthy way.

So it is very important for the Church to get her life-affirming message across today to everyone. Abstinence and fidelity are not only the best ways to avoid HIV and tackle AIDS, but are the path to real, personal fulfilment. Honest moral education encourages a healthy approach to relationships and to sexuality based on respect and love for others. In particular, unmarried young people who would like to practice sexual abstinence before marriage – probably a significant majority among Christians and Muslims and even in society as a whole – need the Church to form and care for them pastorally and stand up for them in public.

Fire that is surrounded by elders cannot burn you.

Within our family, couples who are discordant or doubly-infected face a particularly difficult situation. They deserve “pastoral support which informs and forms their consciences, so that they might choose what is right, with full responsibility for the greater good of each other, their union and their family” (Synod). Jesuit pastors and counsellors should be ready to accompany them sensitively, help them with formation and information, and support them in their fidelity.

Besides sexuality, there are other important causes which fuel the spread of HIV. Thousands of people, for example, are infected because of poverty, hunger, war and forced displacement, domestic violence and the sex trade. Thus, sin wreaks destruction, hurts our brothers and sisters, and weighs heavily on us all. Anyone who wants to understand how HIV-AIDS impact on human life must consider economics, politics, society and culture, as well as the more immediate personal and family issues.

AIDS cuts across all the disciplines which promote social justice in Africa. Many Church programmes, including ours, fight for access to comprehensive care treatment, with testing, medication for opportunistic infections, food and support to earn a living. The aim is to live like a family: to respect the dignity and life of each one, to show solidarity with anyone in need.

One finger can’t do all the work.

We should not be afraid of, less still be discouraged, by the enormity of the problems of our continent among which HIV and AIDS. It is part of life and will be for a long time to come. As a great family, we face the challenge confidently. We plead for sustained support to meet the needs of many for assistance. We know that our all-provident Father is at our side. This faith gives us compassion and perseverance.

An army of well organised ants can bring down an elephant.

Like Jesus, Mary and Joseph in the Holy Family, so the Church-Family of God in Africa knows her sons and daughters, their needs, strengths and weaknesses, fears and hopes. She manifests this loving knowledge in her familiar ways of preventing HIV and caring for the sick and for those affected by AIDS, working for reconciliation, justice and peace. With the Synod, JESAM thanks all those who are generously involved in this difficult apostolate of love and care.

Fratern Masawe SJ, JESAM Moderator (Karen, 1 December 2009)

* * * * * *


The basic Vatican Christmas Stamp 2009 is Francesco Melanzio's 1516 depiction of the "Madonna and Child with Two Angels and Sts. Joachim and Anne".

It is accompanied by a poem on the Christ Child by one of the Jesuit martyr saints of England celebrated today (St. Robert Southwell).

Below it is the famous "Brag" made by another of the martyr saints in today's possible liturgical observance (St. Edmund Campion), in which, he hopes at its close that after all their skirmishing, debates and persuasions Reformers and Catholics may find themselves happy together in heaven.

A Child My Choice (By Robert Southwell)

Let folly praise that fancy loves, I praise and love that Child
Whose heart no thought, whose tongue no word, whose hand no deed defiled.

I praise Him most, I love Him best, all praise and love is His;
While Him I love, in Him I live, and cannot live amiss.

Love's sweetest mark, laud's highest theme, man's most desired light,
To love Him life, to leave Him death, to live in Him delight.

He mine by gift, I His by debt, thus each to other due;
First friend He was, best friend He is, all times will try Him true.

Though young, yet wise; though small, yet strong; though man, yet God He is:
As wise, He knows; as strong, He can; as God, He loves to bless.

His knowledge rules, His strength defends, His love doth cherish all;
His birth our joy, His life our light, His death our end of thrall.

Alas! He weeps, He sighs, He pants, yet do His angels sing;
Out of His tears, His sighs and throbs, doth bud a joyful spring.

Almighty Babe, whose tender arms can force all foes to fly,
Correct my faults, protect my life, direct me when I die!

* * * * * *

Enemies of St. Edmund Campion (1540-1581) disparagingly referred to his apologia as "Campion's Brag," the title by which his "Challenge to the Privy Council" is most commonly known today. It is perhaps the earliest defense of the faith to appear in English during the Reformation.

To the Right Honourable, the Lords of Her Majesty's Privy Council:

Whereas I have come out of Germany and Bohemia, being sent by my superiors, and adventured myself into this noble realm, my dear country, for the glory of God and benefit of souls, I thought it like enough that, in this busy, watchful, and suspicious world, I should either sooner or later be intercepted and stopped of my course.

Wherefore, providing for all events, and uncertain what may become of me, when God shall haply deliver my body into durance, I supposed it needful to put this in writing in a readiness, desiring your good lordships to give it your reading, for to know my cause. This doing, I trust I shall ease you of some labour. For that which otherwise you must have sought for by practice of wit, I do now lay into your hands by plain confession. And to the intent that the whole matter may be conceived in order, and so the better both understood and remembered, I make thereof these nine points or articles, directly, truly and resolutely opening my full enterprise and purpose.

i. I confess that I am (albeit unworthy) a priest of the Catholic Church, and through the great mercy of God vowed now these eight years into the religion [religious order] of the Society of Jesus. Hereby I have taken upon me a special kind of warfare under the banner of obedience, and also resigned all my interest or possibility of wealth, honour, pleasure, and other worldly felicity.

ii. At the voice of our General, which is to me a warrant from heaven and oracle of Christ, I took my voyage from Prague to Rome (where our General Father is always resident) and from Rome to England, as I might and would have done joyously into any part of Christendom or Heatheness, had I been thereto assigned.

iii. My charge is, of free cost to preach the Gospel, to minister the Sacraments, to instruct the simple, to reform sinners, to confute errors—in brief, to cry alarm spiritual against foul vice and proud ignorance, wherewith many of my dear countrymen are abused.

iv. I never had mind, and am strictly forbidden by our Father that sent me, to deal in any respect with matter of state or policy of this realm, as things which appertain not to my vocation, and from which I gladly restrain and sequester my thoughts.

v. I do ask, to the glory of God, with all humility, and under your correction, three sorts of indifferent and quiet audiences: the first, before your Honours, wherein I will discourse of religion, so far as it toucheth the common weal and your nobilities: the second, whereof I make more account, before the Doctors and Masters and chosen men of both universities, wherein I undertake to avow the faith of our Catholic Church by proofs innumerable—Scriptures, councils, Fathers, history, natural and moral reasons: the third, before the lawyers, spiritual and temporal, wherein I will justify the said faith by the common wisdom of the laws standing yet in force and practice.

vi. I would be loath to speak anything that might sound of any insolent brag or challenge, especially being now as a dead man to this world and willing to put my head under every man's foot, and to kiss the ground they tread upon. Yet I have such courage in avouching the majesty of Jesus my King, and such affiance in his gracious favour, and such assurance in my quarrel, and my evidence so impregnable, and because I know perfectly that no one Protestant, nor all the Protestants living, nor any sect of our adversaries (howsoever they face men down in pulpits, and overrule us in their kingdom of grammarians and unlearned ears) can maintain their doctrine in disputation. I am to sue most humbly and instantly for combat with all and every of them, and the most principal that may be found: protesting that in this trial the better furnished they come, the better welcome they shall be.

vii. And because it hath pleased God to enrich the Queen my Sovereign Lady with notable gifts of nature, learning, and princely education, I do verily trust that if her Highness would vouchsafe her royal person and good attention to such a conference as, in the second part of my fifth article I have motioned, or to a few sermons, which in her or your hearing I am to utter such manifest and fair light by good method and plain dealing may be cast upon these controversies, that possibly her zeal of truth and love of her people shall incline her noble Grace to disfavour some proceedings hurtful to the realm, and procure towards us oppressed more equity.

viii. Moreover I doubt not but you, her Highness' Council, being of such wisdom and discreet in cases most important, when you shall have heard these questions of religion opened faithfully, which many times by our adversaries are huddled up and confounded, will see upon what substantial grounds our Catholic Faith is builded, how feeble that side is which by sway of the time prevaileth against us, and so at last for your own souls, and for many thousand souls that depend upon your government, will discountenance error when it is bewrayed [revealed], and hearken to those who would spend the best blood in their bodies for your salvation. Many innocent hands are lifted up to heaven for you daily by those English students, whose posterity shall never die, which beyond seas, gathering virtue and sufficient knowledge for the purpose, are determined never to give you over, but either to win you heaven, or to die upon your pikes. And touching our Society, be it known to you that we have made a league—all the Jesuits in the world, whose succession and multitude must overreach all the practice of England—cheerfully to carry the cross you shall lay upon us, and never to despair your recovery, while we have a man left to enjoy your Tyburn, or to be racked with your torments, or consumed with your prisons. The expense is reckoned, the enterprise is begun; it is of God; it cannot be withstood. So the faith was planted: So it must be restored.

ix. If these my offers be refused, and my endeavours can take no place, and I, having run thousands of miles to do you good, shall be rewarded with rigour. I have no more to say but to recommend your case and mine to Almighty God, the Searcher of Hearts, who send us his grace, and see us at accord before the day of payment, to the end we may at last be friends in heaven, when all injuries shall be forgotten.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely! Thank you for posting the poem and Campion's Brag in full.