Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Into the wilderness

My husband is on a business trip this week. Whenever he travels, he and our daughter have a ritual while he packs. She'll come out of her room carrying a stuffed animal and offer it to her daddy. "Here's Diddly so you won't forget me. And also, he'll watch over you." (As if he could forget his own daughter) He'll kiss her and dutifully pack the toy in his briefcase and say, "Thank you, sweetie." She'll walk off satisfied that all will be well while he's away. Then after he leaves, she'll crawl into bed with me at night and tell me that she's taking care of me for her daddy. I hope that my memory can hold fast to this for the rest of my life after the children have all grown and have lives of their own.

For this trip, my husband packed late after she went to bed. We didn't have the goodbye benediction. So yesterday, we felt a bit disoriented, that we missed something significant.

What is it about rituals that give our lives a sense of completeness? In the doing of them, we tap into something ancient as in reciting the Shema, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one God." Something is etched within us that longs for the acknowledgment of our parameters. "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" as I trace the cross on my body I remember that I am Christ's own forever. Tomorrow, we repeat another ancient rite as we take on ashes, "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return." I am mortal creature.

For forty days, we shall walk the desert in remembrance of Christ in the wilderness and His temptations. In a spiritual sense, we will re-enact the wanderings of the children of Israel in the desert and struggle with our own stubbornness even after our deliverance from slavery. We will grapple with our sacred cows and long for the dearly-loved leeks in our former lands.

I am glad for the saints who struggled as I struggle, who failed just as I fail, who doubted just as I doubt. In the daily reading of saints' lives, I can take comfort that the road has been taken before and that strength to persevere and overcome comes not only from the saints, but from Christ Himself who walked the dolorous way to Calvary and rose from the bowels of Death.

Plastic figure of Christ Child campaign in Cuba

Thousands of people are rediscovering Christianity…and all thanks to the baby Jesus
Konigstein, Feb. 28, 2006 (CNA) - The mass distribution of fluorescent plastic figures of the Christ Child of 9cm is causing a resurgence of interest in Catholicism with reports that 350,000 statues were distributed across Cuba within one month.

In what is thought to be the first official figures of their kind, a report by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) shows a significant increase in the number of practising Catholics with up to 90,000 now receiving communion weekly.

The statistics were collated with help from Carmelite nuns in the capital, Havana, who bake communion wafers for most of the dioceses spread across the island.

But as churches across the country report an increase in Church attendance in the wake of the baby Jesus initiative, bishops are convinced they have captured the imagination of the people and are putting together another order for yet more of the sacred figures.

In a message to ACN, which funded the baby Jesus initiative, Archbishop Juan Garcia, who heads up mission outreach across Cuba, president of the Bishop’s Conference of the Cuban Bishop’s, wrote that the initiative was the gift of the Holy Spirit: “We beg ACN for help so that more people can enjoy Christmas with the Baby Jesus”.

“We have had many testimonies praising the figures and so just think what Christmas 2006 could be like if we could have more of them, just think what it could mean for people who want to know Jesus more deeply.”

The initiative is being perceived as a milestone for religious expression in Cuba with reports of no difficulties with the Cuban authorities, through the work of the thousands of voluntary missioners who distributed the baby Jesus figures across the island.

Many travelled up to 20km by foot, knocking on doors and inviting people to receive the little statue complete with a leaflet explaining the initiative and the importance of Jesus and the nativity.

They also took the opportunity to visit the sick and infirm and bolster community spirit.
For information about Cuba’s baby Jesus initiative or to make a donation, contact Aid to the Church in Need.
Visit the website

Justices rule anti-abortion protests may not be banned using extortion laws


WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court dealt a setback Tuesday to abortion clinics in a two-decade-old legal fight over anti-abortion protests, ruling that federal extortion and racketeering laws cannot be used to ban demonstrations.

Anti-abortion groups brought the appeal after the 7th Circuit had asked a trial judge to determine whether a nationwide injunction could be supported by charges that protesters had made threats of violence absent a connection with robbery or extortion.

The 8-0 decision ends a case that the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had kept alive despite a 2003 decision by the high court that lifted a nationwide injunction on anti-abortion groups led by Joseph Scheidler and others.

Chocolates are good for you!

Here's a timely post!

~Via Yahoo News

CHICAGO - Leave it to the Dutch to help demonstrate the health benefits of chocolate. A study of older men in The Netherlands, known for its luscious chocolate, indicated those who ate the equivalent of one-third of a chocolate bar every day had lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of death.

The researchers say, however, it's too early to conclude it was chocolate that led to better health. The men who ate more cocoa products could have shared other qualities that made them healthier. Experts also point out that eating too much chocolate can make you fat — a risk for both heart disease and high blood pressure. [Killjoy!]

"It's way too early to make recommendations about whether people should eat more cocoa or chocolate," said Brian Buijsse, a nutritional epidemiologist at Wageningen University in The Netherlands, who co-authored the study.

Still, the Dutch study, supported by grants from the Netherlands Prevention Foundation, appears to be the largest so far to document a health effect for cocoa beans. And it confirms findings of smaller, shorter-term studies that also linked chocolate with lower blood pressure.

The findings, published in Monday's Archives of Internal Medicine, are based on data collected for more than a decade on Dutch men who were ages 65 and older in 1985. The long-running Zutphen Elderly Study has been used by other researchers to look for risk factors for chronic disease.

This time, researchers examined the eating habits of 470 healthy men who were not taking blood pressure medicine. The men who ate the most products made from cocoa beans — including cocoa drinks, chocolate bars and chocolate pudding — had lower blood pressure and a 50 percent lower risk of death.

The men ate the equivalent of about 10 grams of chocolate a day.

Cocoa beans contain flavanols, which are thought to increase nitric oxide in the blood and improve the function of blood vessels. More here

Lenten radio retreats

Washington DC, Feb. 27, 2006 (CNA) - A series of Lenten radio retreats is now available in English and Spanish.

The series includes six half-hour English-language and six Spanish-language editions of the retreats -- one for each Sunday of Lent. The programs were produced for the U.S. bishops' Catholic Communication Campaign by Franciscan Radio, a ministry of the Franciscans and St. Anthony Messenger Press.

Each radio retreat program features a bishop as retreat guide and homilist. The homily is followed by a song for meditation and a question-and-answer segment with the bishop concerning the themes of his homily.

The programs have been offered to Catholic dioceses and radio outlets throughout the United States on a non-exclusive basis.

They can be heard on a companion Internet Web site, http://www.radiorereat.org, and can be downloaded from the Web site as MP3 files for podcast or other personal use. The Web site has descriptions of each program, bishops’ biographies and links to other Lenten spiritual resources.

For a list of the bishops giving the talks, click here

A fruitful Lent

No Lent is worthy of the name without a personal effort of self-reformation, of leading a life more in accordance with God's commands and an attempt by some kind of voluntary self-denial to make reparation for past negligence. But the Church, together with the personal effort which she requires of all of us, her children, sets up in the sight of God the cross of Christ, the Lamb of God who took upon Himself the sins of man and who is the price of our redemption. As Holy Week approaches the thought of the passion becomes increasingly predominant until it occupies our whole attention, but from the very beginning of Lent it is present, for it is in union with the sufferings of Christ that the whole army of Christians begins on the holy "forty days", setting out for Easter with the glad certitude of sharing in His resurrection.

"Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold, now is the day of salvation." The Church puts Lent before us in the very same terms that formerly she put it before the catechumens and public penitents who were preparing for the Easter graces of baptism and sacramental reconciliation. For us, as it was for them, Lent should be a long retreat, one in which under the guidance of the Church we are led to the practice of a more perfect Christian life. She shows us the example of Christ and by fasting and penance associates us with his sufferings that we may have a share in His redemption.

We should remember that Lent is not an isolated personal affair of our own. The Church avails herself of the whole of the mystery of redemption. We belong to an immense concourse, a great body in which we are united to the whole of humanity which has been redeemed by Christ. The liturgy of this season does not fail to remind us of it.

This, then, is the meaning of Lent for us: a season of deepening spirituality in union with the whole Church which thus prepares to celebrate the Paschal mystery. Each year, following Christ its Head, the whole Christian people takes up with renewed effort its struggle against evil, against Satan and the sinful man that each one of us bears within himself, in order at Easter to draw new life from the very springs of divine life and to continue its progress towards heaven.

~Excerpted from The Saint Andrew Daily Missal.

Whoever I may be, Lord, I lie exposed to your scrutiny

~From Confessions by St. Augustine

Let me know you, O you who know me; then shall I know even as I am known. You are the strength of my soul; make your way in and shape it to yourself, that it may be yours to have and to hold, free from stain or wrinkle. I speak because this is my hope, and whenever my joy springs from that hope it is joy well founded. As for the rest of this life’s experiences, the more tears are shed over them the less they are worth weeping over, and the more truly worth lamenting the less do we bewail them while mired in them. You love the truth because anyone who “does truth” comes to the light. Truth it is that I want to do, in my heart by confession in your presence, and with my pen before many witnesses.

But the abyss of the human conscience lies naked to your eyes, O Lord, so would anything be secret even if I were unwilling to confess to you? I would be hiding you from myself, but not myself from you. But now that my groans bear witness that I find no pleasure in myself, you shed light upon me and give me joy, you offer yourself, lovable and longed for, that I may thrust myself away in disgust and choose you, and be pleasing no more either to you or to myself except in what I have from you.

To you, then, Lord, I lie exposed, exactly as I am. I have spoken of what I hope to gain by confessing to you. My confession to you is made not with words of tongue and voice, but with the words of my soul and the clamour of my thought, to which your ear is attuned; for when I am bad, confession to you is simply disgust with myself, but when I am good, confession to you consists in not attributing my goodness to myself, because though you, Lord, bless the person who is just, it is only because you have first made him just when he was sinful. This is why, O Lord, my confession in your presence is silent, yet not altogether silent: there is no noise to it, but it shouts by love.

For it is you, Lord, who judge me. No-one knows what he himself is made of, except his own spirit within him, yet there is still some part of him which remains hidden even from his own spirit; but you, Lord, know everything about a human being because you have made him. And though in your sight I may despise myself and reckon myself dust and ashes, I know something about you which I do not know about myself.

It is true that we now see only a tantalising reflection in a mirror, and so it is that while I am on pilgrimage far from you I am more present to myself than to you; yet I do know that you cannot be defiled in any way whatever, whereas I do not know which temptations I may have the strength to resist, and to which ones I shall succumb. Our hope is that, because you are trustworthy, you do not allow us to be tempted more fiercely than we can bear, but along with the temptation you ordain the outcome of it, so that we can endure.

Let me, then, confess what I know about myself, and confess too what I do not know, because what I know of myself I know only because you shed light on me, and what I do not know I shall remain ignorant about until my darkness becomes like bright noon before your face.

~Botticelli, St. Augustine in his cell

Fat Tuesday

Happy Fat Tuesday, everyone!

Monday, February 27, 2006

Each human being a reflection of divine reality

VATICAN CITY, FEB 27, 2006 (VIS) - Benedict XVI today received participants in the general assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life which is currently considering the theme of "the human embryo prior to implantation."

The Pope described the theme as "fascinating, but difficult and arduous given the delicate nature of the subject being examined and the complexity of epistemological problems concerning the relationship" between experimental scientific data and reflection on anthropological values.

After recalling that Holy Scripture "expresses the love of God towards all human beings even before they take form in the mother's womb," the Holy Father affirmed: "The love of God does not distinguish between the newly-conceived infant still in its mother's womb, the baby, the youth, the grown adult or the elderly, because in each of them He sees the sign of His own image and likeness."

"This limitless and almost incomprehensible love of God for man reveals to what point human beings are worthy of love in themselves, regardless of any other consideration, be it intelligence, beauty, health, youth, integrity and so on. Human life is a good thing, always and definitively."

Benedict XVI went on to make it clear that "in man, in all men and women, whatever their stage or condition of life, there shines a reflection of God's own reality. For this reason, the Magisterium of the Church has constantly proclaimed the sacred and inviolable nature of each human life, from conception to natural end. This moral judgement also holds at the beginning of an embryo's life, even before it is implanted in the mother's womb."

Referring to research into the origins of life, "a mystery which science will be able to illuminate ever more clearly, though with difficulty will it decipher it altogether," the Pope indicated that "those who love truth must be aware that research into such profound themes puts us in the position of seeing and almost touching the hand of God. Beyond the limits of experimental methods, at the confines of the area that some call meta-analysis, where sensorial perception and scientific tests are neither enough or even possible, that is where the adventure of transcendence begins."

Pope's message to Greek Orthodox delegation

VATICAN CITY, FEB 27, 2006 (VIS) - At midday today, the Pope received a group of students - priests and seminarians - from the Theological College of "Apostoliki Diakonia" of the Orthodox Church of Greece, who are currently visiting Rome.

In a Message consigned to them at the end of their audience with him, the Holy Father writes: "For we Christians of both East and West, at the beginning of the second millennium the forces of evil acted in the divisions that still persist between us today. Nonetheless, over the last 40 years many consoling and hopeful signs have caused us to see a new dawn, that of the day on which we will fully understand that being rooted and founded in Christ's charity means truly finding a way to overcome our divisions through personal and community conversion, listening to others and common prayer for our unity."

Benedict XVI identifies one of these hopeful signs in the positive development of relations between the Church of Rome and the Greek Orthodox Church. The meeting between John Paul II and His Beatitude Christodoulos, archbishop of Athens and of all Greece, at the Areopagus in 2001 was followed, he writes in his Message, by "initiatives aimed at closer mutual knowledge and at educating the younger generations."

The Pope also writes of his certainty "that reciprocal charity will nourish our inventiveness and bring us to start down new paths. We must face the challenges that threaten the faith, cultivate the spiritual 'humus' that has nourished Europe for centuries, reaffirm Christian values, promote peace and encounter even in the most difficult conditions, and strengthen those elements of faith and ecclesial life that can lead us to the goals of full communion in truth and charity, especially now as official theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church as a whole begins again with renewed vigor."

Pope's message in prepration for World Youth Day

My dear young friends, I urge you to become familiar with the Bible, and to have it at hand so that it can be your compass pointing out the road to follow. By reading it, you will learn to know Christ. Note what Saint Jerome said in this regard: "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ" (PL 24,17; cf Dei Verbum, 25). A time-honoured way to study and savour the word of God is lectio divina which constitutes a real and veritable spiritual journey marked out in stages. After the lectio, which consists of reading and rereading a passage from Sacred Scripture and taking in the main elements, we proceed to meditatio. This is a moment of interior reflection in which the soul turns to God and tries to understand what his word is saying to us today. Then comes oratio in which we linger to talk with God directly. Finally we come to contemplatio. This helps us to keep our hearts attentive to the presence of Christ whose word is "a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts" (2 Pet 1:19). Reading, study and meditation of the Word should then flow into a life of consistent fidelity to Christ and his teachings.

Saint James tells us: "Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act - they will be blessed in their doing" (1:22-25). Those who listen to the word of God and refer to it always, are constructing their existence on solid foundations. "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them", Jesus said, "will be like a wise man who built his house on rock" (Mt 7:24). It will not collapse when bad weather comes.

To build your life on Christ, to accept the word with joy and put its teachings into practice: this, young people of the third millennium, should be your programme! There is an urgent need for the emergence of a new generation of apostles anchored firmly in the word of Christ, capable of responding to the challenges of our times and prepared to spread the Gospel far and wide. It is this that the Lord asks of you, it is to this that the Church invites you, and it is this that the world - even though it may not be aware of it - expects of you! If Jesus calls you, do not be afraid to respond to him with generosity, especially when he asks you to follow him in the consecrated life or in the priesthood. Do not be afraid; trust in him and you will not be disappointed.

Read the complete address here

~On the Feast of the Chair of Peter, February 22, 2006, St. Peter's Basilica

On Contemplating the Joyful Mysteries

And it came to pass after three days, that they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.
Luke 2:46

"How is it that you sought Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?"

This is the answer that Jesus gave to His Mother when, after three days' search she had the joy of finding Him in the Temple.

These are the first words coming from the lips of the Word Incarnate to be recorded in the

In these words Jesus sums up His whole person, His whole life, His whole mission. They reveal His Divine Sonship; they testify to His supernatural mission. Christ's whole life will only be a clarifying and magnificent exposition of the meaning of these words.

St. Luke goes on to tell us that Mary "did not understand the word that He spoke." But even if Mary did not grasp the full significance of these words, she did not doubt that Jesus was the Son of God. This is why she submitted in silence to that Divine Will which had demanded such a sacrifice of her love.

"Mary kept these words of Jesus carefully in her heart." She kept them in her heart, for there was the tabernacle in which she adored the mystery concealed in the words of he Son, waiting until the full light of understanding would be granted her.

~EWTN Meditations on the Holy Rosary

Old Calendar: St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows

On Ascension Day, 1920, Pope Benedict XV bestowed the honors of sainthood on a youth who is rightly called the Aloysius of the 19th century. He was Francis Possenti, known in religion as Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother.
Born in Assisi, January 3, 1838, he was given the name of the city's illustrious patron, St. Francis, at baptism. As a student in neighboring Spoleto, he led a good though rather worldly kind of life until God drew him closer to Himself through an illness. The decisive step was taken while seeing the highly honored miraculous picture of our Lady in Spoleto borne about in solemn procession. As his eyes followed our Blessed Mother, Francis felt the fire of divine love rising in his heart and almost at once made the resolve to join the Passionists, a religious congregation dedicated to the veneration of and meditation on the passion of Jesus Christ (1856).

After overcoming many difficulties, he carried out his resolution and received the religious name, Gabriel of the Mother of Sorrows. Even as a novice, he was regarded as a model of perfect holiness both within and beyond the cloister.

Saint Gabriel did not stand out from his community in any extraordinary way — his heroism lay in his obedient attitude. He conformed himself to his community in complete humility. Little is known of his life - only that he was blessed with an excellent memory and other gifts that made him an outstanding student. He also had a great devotion to the Passion of Christ and the Sorrows of Mary. Pius X and Leo XIII especially desired that he be the patron saint of young people and novices in religious orders, as their model in the interior life. He died in the year 1862.

Saint Gabriel Possenti wrote: "Love Mary!... She is loveable, faithful, constant. She will never let herself be outdone in love, but will ever remain supreme. If you are in danger, she will hasten to free you. If you are troubled, she will console you. If you are sick, she will bring you relief. If you are in need, she will help you. She does not look to see what kind of person you have been. She simply comes to a heart that wants to love her. She comes quickly and opens her merciful heart to you, embraces you and consoles and serves you. She will even be at hand to accompany you on the trip to eternity."

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Arrividerci, Torino

An upright and honest man who feared God and shunned evil

Some people are so simple that they do not know what uprightness is. Theirs is not the true simplicity of the innocent: they are as far from that as they are far from rising to the virtue of uprightness. As long as they do not know how to guard their steps by walking in uprightness, they can never remain innocent merely by walking in simplicity. This is why St Paul warns his disciples I hope that you are also wise in what is good, and innocent of what is bad but also Brothers, you are not to be childish in your outlook, though you can be babies as far as wickedness is concerned. Thus Christ our Truth enjoins his disciples with the words Be cunning as serpents and yet as harmless as doves. In giving them this admonition, he had to join the two together, so that both the simplicity of the dove might be instructed by the craftiness of the serpent, and the craftiness of the serpent might be attempered by the simplicity of the dove.

That is why the Holy Spirit has manifested his presence to mankind, not only in the form of a dove but also in the form of fire. For by the dove simplicity is indicated, and by fire, zeal. So he is manifested in a dove and in fire, because those who are full of the Spirit have the mildness of simplicity, but catch fire with zeal of uprightness against the offences of sinners.

An upright and honest man who feared God and shunned evil. Undoubtedly whoever longs for the eternal country lives sincerely and uprightly: perfect in practice, and right in faith, sincere in the good that he does in this lower state, right in the high truths which he minds in his inner self. For there are some who are not sincere in the good actions that they do, looking not to be rewarded within themselves but to win favour from others. Hence it is well said by a certain wise man, Woe to the sinner who follows two ways. A sinner goes two ways when an action he performs belongs to God but what he aims at in his thought belongs to the world.

It is well said, who feared God and shunned evil, for the holy Church of the elect starts on the path of simplicity and of uprightness from fear but completes that path in charity. When, from the love of God, she feels an unwillingness to sin, then she may shun evil. But when she is still doing good deeds from fear then she is not entirely shunning evil: the fact is that she would have sinned if she could have sinned without being punished.

So then: when Job is said to have feared God, it is rightly related that he also shunned evil. Fear comes first and charity follows later; and when that has happened, the offence which is left behind in the mind is trodden underfoot by the desires of the heart.

~by St. Gregory the Great

God will call to account those who spill “brother’s blood” in “his name”

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Benedict XVI has strongly condemned recent violence against churches and mosques in Iraq and Nigeria. In his encounter with pilgrims gathered in St Peter’s Square for the Angelus, after the Marian prayer, the pope mentioned the destruction of the golden dome in Samarra and violence in several areas across Iraq, characterized by mutual vendetta between Sunnis and Shi’ites. He branded such actions as moves which “sow mourning, feed hatred and seriously obstacle the already difficult work of reconstruction in the country”. The pontiff also condemned the destruction of churches and mosques in Nigeria, where Christians and Muslims have been clashing for some days now.

“I express firm condemnation for the violence in places of worship, I entrust all the dead and those who mourn them to the Lord,” said Benedict XVI. With harsh words for those who foment inter-religious hatred and for those who use the name of God to kill human beings, the pope added: “The fruits of faith in God are not devastating antagonism, but a spirit of brotherhood and collaboration for the common good. God, Creator and Father of all, will call to account even more severely those who spill their brother’s blood in his name.”

Benedict XVI invited all to “more intense prayer and penitence, in the sacred time of Lent, so that the Lord may distance the threat of similar conflicts from those dear Nations, and from many other places on earth!”

Preparation for Lent was the theme of the meditation before the Angelus. Referring to the gospel passage of the Mass – which is about Christian fasting “when the bridegroom is taken away” (cf. Mk 2:18-20) – the pope said that Christ is “the Bridegroom of Israel, who has come for the wedding of his people. Those who recognize and welcome him with faith are feasting. However, he must be rejected and killed by his own: in that moment, during his passion and his death, the hour for mourning and fasting will come”. The time for Lent, he added, “is a great memorial of the passion of the Lord, in preparation for the Easter of Resurrection. During this period we are made to abstain from singing the Alleluia and we are invited to practice appropriate forms of penitential renunciation. The time of Lent should not be faced with the ‘old’ spirit, almost as if it were a heavy and bothersome duty, but with the new spirit of he who has found the meaning of life in Jesus and his paschal mystery, which makes one aware that He now has a bearing on everything.”

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Quinquagesima--Shrove Sunday

Tomorrow is Quinquagesima Sunday or Shrove Sunday, the fiftieth day before Good Friday. Sometimes, it is also known as Esto mihi from the introit for the day:
Be Thou unto me a God, a Protector, and a Place of refuge, to save me: for Thou art my Strength and my Refuge: and for Thy name's sake Thou wilt be my Leader, and wilt nourish me. (Psalm 30: 3-4). In Thee , O Lord, I have hoped, let me never be confounded: deliver me in Thy justice, and set me free. (Psalm 30: 2) Glory be to the Father...
For many early Christians it was the beginning of the fast before Easter. In many places this Sunday after and the next two days were used to prepare for Lent by a good confession; hence in England we find the names Shrove Sunday and Shrovetide. As the days before Lent were frequently spent in merry-making, Benedict XIV by the Constitution "Inter Cetera" (1 Jan., 1748) introduced a kind of 'Forty Hours' Devotion to keep the faithful from dangerous amusements and to make some reparation for sins committed. (From The Catholic Encyclopedia).

The world will be reveling in Carnival or Mardi Gras in these last hours before the great season of Lent. Talk will surround what to give up for Lent and will barely touch on any acts of charity to be offered as sacrifice. There is, I suppose, amusement in the discussion--giving up chocolate or watching TV or such share the same kind of expentancy as New Year's resolutions. Let's see how long we can keep this up. In many ways, we miss the point of Lent, that the denial of earthly things is a time to focus on the state of our souls.

In the old calendar, the epistle reading for Quinquagesima is I Corinthians 13 extolling the primacy of caritas. It echoes much of Hosea 6:6:
"Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn, that he may heal us; he has stricken, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know, let us press on to know the LORD; his going forth is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth." What shall I do with you, O E'phraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away. Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets, I have slain them by the words of my mouth,
and my judgment goes forth as the light. For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings. (Revised Standard Version)

The very heart of God yearns for us, do we long for God in turn? So perhaps in our temptation to eat that piece of chocolate or watch another half hour of television, we can instead yearn for God, to desire Him instead of that transitory thing. The Dutch still life paintings teach us not to forget the evanescence of life. On top of the bunch of luscious fruit is a cockroach, beside the sheaf of wheat sits a mouse, and over the leg of lamb hovers the fly.

So in preparation, Micah shows us the way through the desert of Lent:
"With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Come to the Lord and receive enlightenment

~by St Gregory of Agrigentum

Light is sweet, says Ecclesiastes, at the sight of the sun the eyes are glad. Take away light, and the world is without beauty. Take away light, and life itself is without life. Moses, a man who saw God, says God saw the light and said it was good. So it is right for us to contemplate the great, the true, the eternal llight that enlightens every man that comes into the world – that is, Christ the saviour and redeemer of the world, who was made man and lived the human condition to its very end. Of him the prophet David says in the Psalms,

Sing to the Lord and celebrate his name!
Make a road for him who rides upon the clouds –
“The Lord” is his name.
Rejoice in his sight!

He called the light sweet and foretold that it would be good to see with his own eyes the Sun of glory, he who as God-in-man said I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows me will not be walking in the dark: he will have the light of life. And again: This is the judgement, that light has come into the world. In this way he used the light of the sun, which we perceive with our eyes, as a prefiguration of the coming of the Sun of justice. That Sun was sweet indeed for those who were found worthy to be taught by him and to see him with their own eyes just like any other man. He was not just any man, he was also the true God, and this is why he made the blind see, the lame walk and the deaf hear, this is why he cleansed people afflicted with leprosy and by his sole command called the dead back to life.

Moreover, even now , in the present, it is a most sweet activity to look on him with the eyes of the spirit, to contemplate his divine beauty and ponder it in our hearts. Thus through communion and togetherness we are enlightened and adorned, our spirits filled with sweetness and we ourselves wrapped in holiness as in a cloak. We attain understanding and finally we are filled with exultation in God which will all the days of this our present life. As the wise preacher Ecclesiastes said, However great the number of years that a man may live, let him enjoy them all. Obviously the Sun of justice makes all who gaze on him rejoice. As the prophet David says:
The righteous are glad and exult in God’s sight;
they rejoice in their gladness.
Rejoice in the Lord, you just: it is good for the upright to praise him.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Episcopal Spine--Bishop Vasa

“Pro-Choice” Position is Heresy Says Oregon Catholic Bishop

Robert Vasa, the Catholic bishop of the Oregon diocese of Baker, has written a letter to his diocesan newspaper clearly identifying the so-called “pro-choice” position among Catholics as a “heresy”. For decades, many Catholics have argued that “primacy of conscience” allows them to dissent from basic Church teaching, including the right to life, and still consider themselves “good Catholics.”

He said he does not seek to justify “vigilante theology,” and that the word needs to be applied with care, “but we do need strong words to combat erroneous and fallacious teaching.”

“There is a very strong word, which still exists in our Church, which most of us are too ‘gentle’ to use. The word is ‘heresy.’”

To the many Catholics who publicly profess that one can be both a good Catholic and “pro-choice” on abortion, Vasa says, “The teaching of the Church in the area of life is clear and unequivocal. Human life must be respected and protected from conception to natural death. Those who maintain that any and all decisions about the disposition of pre-born human beings are exclusively the right of the mother or the parents, at least implicitly, reject the clear and consistent teaching of the Church.” This rejection, he writes, is heresy, as defined in the Church’s canon law.

Those Catholics who hold the “pro-choice” position, he writes, “reject the clear and consistent teaching of the Church.”

Vasa blows away the usual claim that asserting the right to life or the sinfulness of homosexuality is ‘intolerant.’ Jesus, the bishop writes, was “meek and humble of heart,” but not tolerant of sin. “I wonder if those who heard Jesus say, ‘Whoever leads one of these little ones astray, it would be better if he had a millstone tied around his neck and be cast into the sea,’ nodded approval and said, ‘He is so tolerant and accepting.’”

He writes, “There is a point at which passive ‘tolerance’ allows misleading teachings to be spread and propagated, thus confusing or even misleading the faithful about the truths of the Church.” More here

Benedict to renew an ancient tradition

Santa Sabina Aventina

Vatican City, Feb. 24, 2006 (CNA) - The Vatican announced today that next week, Pope Benedict himself will mark the beginning of Lent with an Ash Wednesday Mass at Rome’s Basilica of Santa Sabina, an act which will serve to renew an ancient Lenten tradition long held by the Diocese of Rome.

The late Pope John Paul II was forced to abandon the practice as his health deteriorated late in life.

Prior to Mass, the Holy Father will preside at brief prayer in the nearby Church of St. Anselm on Rome’s Aventine Hill.

Following that, he will lead a penitential procession to the Basilica, which will be attended by local cardinals, archbishops, bishops, as well the Benedictine monks of St. Anselm, the Dominican Fathers of Santa Sabina and an expected throng of lay faithful.

During the Mass at Santa Sabina, the Pope will also preside over the traditional rite of blessing and imposition of ashes.

The Vatican pointed out in a communiquĆ© earlier today that the day’s activity will renew an ancient Lenten tradition, long held by the Church in Rome of celebrating Mass in designated "station" or churches, which change each year.

Sant Anselmo Aventino

Contemplating the Sorrowful Mysteries

For let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man. He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.Philippians 2:5-8

Cross of Jesus, cross of sorrow,
Where the blood of Christ was shed,
Perfect Man on thee did suffer,
Perfect God on thee has bled.

Here the King of all the ages,
Throned in light ere worlds could be,
Robed in mortal flesh is dying,
Crucified by sin for me.

O mysterious condescending!
O abandonment sublime!
Very God himself is bearing
All the sufferings of time!

~William J. Sparrow-Simpson (1860-1952)

Christian singer beaten in Islam conversion attempt

Lahore (AsiaNews) – The move to rob a famous Christian singer in Pakistan became an attempt of forced conversion to Islam. The incident took place on 18 February in Lahore, Punjab. When he was returning home at night, the Christian, A. Nayyar, was stopped by six men who wanted to rob him. When the criminals recognized him, however, they started to beat and insult him, demanding that he recite the Salama-Tayyaba, the Islamic profession of faith.

After they robbed and injured him, the assailants fled, leaving Nayyar on the ground. Residents of the area, who had heard shouting, went to help the singer.

The singer, according to the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) – an organ of the Pakistani Church tackling human rights – has no intention of taking legal action against the as yet unidentified perpetrators. According to Waseem Muntazir, a friend of the singer, they were amateur criminals, because otherwise “they would have done much more”.

Nayyar, who performs many national songs apart from Christian lyrics, is very popular among Muslims too.

After the incident, the NCJP wrote a letter to the Religious and Minority Affairs Minister, calling on him to tackle such episodes and to seek to educate the people in religious respect.

My soul, rejoice in the Lord!

Come, eat your bread with joy
and drink your wine with a glad heart;
for what you do, God has approved beforehand.

This exhortation of Ecclesiastes is very proper if you take its words in their ordinary everyday sense. If we embrace a simple rule of life and let our beliefs be inspired by a sincere faith in God, we should eat our bread with joy and drink our wine with a glad heart. We should not fall into slanderous speech or devote ourselves to devious stratagems; rather, we should direct our thoughts on straight paths and (as far as is practicable) help the poor and destitute with compassion and generosity – that is, dedicate ourselves to the activities that please God himself.

But the same text can be given a spiritual meaning that leads us to higher thoughts. It speaks of the heavenly and mystical bread, which has come down from heaven, bringing life to the world, and to drink a spiritual wine with a cheerful heart, that wine which flowed from the side of the True Vine at the moment of his saving passion. Of this, the Gospel of our salvation says: When Jesus had taken bread and blessed it, he said to his holy disciples and apostles, Take, eat; this is my body which is being broken for you for the forgiveness of sins. In the same way he took the cup and said, Drink from this, all of you: this is my blood, the blood of the new covenant, which will be shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. For whoever eats this bread and drinks this mystical wine enjoys true happiness and rejoices, exclaiming: You have put joy into our hearts.

Moreover, I think this is the bread and this is the wine that is referred to in the book of Proverbs by God’s self-subsistent Wisdom (that is, Christ our Saviour): Come, eat my bread and drink the wine I have mixed for you. Thus he refers to our mystical sharing in the Word. For those worthy to receive this are forever clothed in garments (that is, the works of light) shining as bright as light itself. As the Lord says in the Gospel, Let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven. And, indeed, oil will be seen flowing eternally over their heads – the oil that is the Spirit of truth, guarding and preserving them from all the harm of sin.

~by St Gregory of Agrigentum

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Grave condition

 width=Each week, I drive my children an hour-and-a-half away to a violin master for lessons. The drive to his house takes us through rural roads, and in that hour-and-a-half, we get a visual lesson in the human condition. One of the more startling things we have encountered is the phenomenon of a "backyard grave".

The first time we saw one, we were cresting a hill and rounding a curve. To our left was a narrow parcel of land on which stood a couple of ramshackle trailers. As we came to the bottom of the hill, there it was by the side of the road--a freshly dug grave. The glaringly bright red dirt mound demanded our attention, its tributes of flowers piled high. It was ringed by yellow hazard tape. My first reaction was of revulsion. Who in their right mind would want a grave in their yard? And so prominently placed, too.

I quickly averted my eyes and tried to shake off the feeling of discomfort and not a little bit of disgust. The sadness of it lingered with me for a long time. And week after week, we would have to pass by that grave, there was no avoiding it. By some morbid fascination, I would find myself looking at that grave and noting how the earth had settled, and grass now covered the clay earth. Fresh flowers would cycle through the seasons of celebration. In winter, silk poinsettias would adorn the little knoll that would soon give way to daffodils in the spring. Every Memorial Day celebration, wreaths on tripods would stand sentinel.

With Lent quickly approaching, this scene keeps replaying in my mind. My squeamishness has been replaced by a different understanding and a surprising compassion for the loved one who faithfully tends the grave. Key to my more sympathetic view has been my conversion to the Catholic faith. A fuller understanding of the Mystery of the Incarnation helps me to ponder that grave, to wonder about that body's soul that once animated it. A soul dearly loved by God the Father, cherished to the point of death of His Own Son. The glory of the Christian hope is that even at the grave, we can sing an Alleluia. We know that the dusty end is only transitory. O Death, where is Thy sting? O grave where is thy victory?

On Ash Wednesday, we will take on ashes as a reminder that we are dust and to dust we shall return. In reverence and love for Our Lord, we will take on disciplines to mortify our preoccupation with this mortal life. We will be tempted because that is the nature of denying oneself...that thing which we eschew takes on an amplified importance. Yet, we have the Holy Spirit and the saints who pray for us that we may triumph over love of earthly things and become holy as Our Father is holy.

I pray that you may have a fruitful and holy Lent. In pondering the starkness of the wilderness, may you learn to hear and in hearing do the will of God. Pray for me that I may hold fast in obedience to the Lenten discipline. And as always, may the prayers of Our Blessed Mother Mary spur us on to greater faith in her Son.

Villagers claim church fresco is lost Michelangelo

~From The Guardian Unlimited, UK
No one else knows what the pensioner told the priest about what he got up to when he was a naughty altar boy. But his confession holds out the tantalising possibility that there could be a lost Michelangelo on the wall of a village church in Chianti.

For centuries the inhabitants of Marcialla have handed down the legend that a fresco above the altar was painted by the great Florentine artist in his youth. And the claim has sometimes been referred to in scholarly texts.

But it has recently been learned that, at the end of last year, a stone slab forming part of the altar was heaved aside to reveal the first visible evidence for the claim: a monogram with the letters M, B and F intertwined. MBF is thought to stand for Michelangelo Buonarroti (his name) and fecit (did (it) in Latin), a common way of asserting authorship, or fiorentino (the Florentine).

Elsa Masi, a retired chemist and the head of a local cultural association who is leading a campaign to have the fresco examined by experts, told the Guardian yesterday that the M and B were "exactly the same" as in the lettering above a crucifix attributed to Michelangelo in the church of Santo Spirito in Florence.

She said the decision to find out what lay behind the altar had been taken by the parish priest, Father Rosario Palumbo, after hearing the confession of an elderly parishioner who said that, during a prank as an altar boy, he had glimpsed the initials. Father Palumbo was not available for comment. More here

Food for the Wilderness

A Lenten Reading Plan offered by Ancient and Future Net. Click on the picture to download the .pdf form. It includes all the text readings for each day of Lent. If you devote 15 minutes per day, you will enrich your understanding of the richness of our faith. You will be grateful for these Fathers upon whose shoulders we stand.

Remarks by Abp. Gaudencio Rosales

Abp. Rosales spoke last night at Manila Cathedral about his appointment to the College of Cardinals:
I have no voice.

First of all I have to apologize, I literally broke into your celebration, I am a gatecrasher. It was the Apostolic Nuncio who told me to come to the cathedral…nonetheless I am truly appreciative of the presence of the (members of the) Focolare Movement in the Philippines; your spirituality is one of unity and communion; unity embedded in the prayer of Jesus to his father, begging the father just a few hours before he entered his passion, “Father make me one as you are in me and I am in you. That they be one among themselves, that the world may believe you sent me.” That is the heart of the Focolare spirituality. Unity even among so many differences. And sharing in communion, cutting through their various status, socio-economic and cultural strata. Is this not what our country needs? Unity. I ask you as you celebrate your 40 th year of grace and presence in the Philippines, is this not exactly what our country is looking for? And if you think along that line, then I would say there is absolutely no unity and communion unless everyone makes a sacrifice of surrendering self, ambition, selfish interests no matter how good they think they are. Is it called sharing without giving yourself totally to the other in Jesus?

Pray for our country still looking for unity and yet is not willing to make sacrifice. It is a prayer, like the sacrifice Jesus was looking for in that prayer. Pray much. I’m sure we will find it (unity) one day, not through the barrel of the gun, not through selfish ambition, not through plots, power or powerlessness, but to only in the prayer and spirit of Jesus. I also want to thank you for praying to God for me. I need not tell you I do not deserve this. I’m completely unworthy. Woe to you that this added task or responsibility or work will not be honor but would mean greater service to the many poor around us, so neglected by the powerful, may be attended to, recognized, loved and served. Thank you so much for allowing me to concelebrate or celebrate with you. God bless.
Hat tip to Rocco

Mgr. Zen's appointment is sign of hope for underground Church

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Mgr Zen’s appointment as cardinal, the only one in the Chinese world aged less than 80 years, was welcomed by Chinese Catholics as a great sign of hope. News of his possible appointment had been circulating for some time. Today, many Chinese Catholics spent the day glued to their satellite televisions or to the internet, to await confirmation of the appointment of the bishop of Hong Kong.

Mgr Wei Jingyi, unofficial bishop of Qiqihar, contacted by AsiaNews by phone, immediately exclaimed: “It’s a great joy! As soon as I heard the news, I quickly called Hong Kong to congratulate him in person.”

Mgr Giuseppe Wei Jingyi was among the four bishops of the People’s Republic of China invited to the Synod on the Eucharist last October. The Chinese government did not allow them to leave China to go to Rome.

“I think the pope appointed Bishop Zen precisely because he is Chinese,” continued Mgr Wei. “It is a perfect decision, just and intelligent. [Cardinal-designate] Zen is a magnificent person. This appointment expresses the fact that for the pope, the Chinese nation and the Chinese church have an important place in his heart.”
More here

Holy Father encourages study of Latin

At yesterday's General Audience, Pope Benedict XVI called for a renewal of the study of Latin which he said can help foster a firmer understanding of sound doctrine in the Church's teaching and literature.

“In the same way,” the Holy Father added, “we encourage the continuation of this activity, so that as many people as possible may perceive the importance of this treasure and attain it."

So, here are a few places to learn Latin:

  1. Learn Latin with Fr. Reginald Foster, the Pope's Latinist (click here for pdf form)

  2. Gerald Augustinus podcast on learning the Latin of the Mass

  3. Learn your Latin Prayers at Thesaurus Precum Latinarum

  4. Learn the classical Roman rite in Latin
Okay, that should be a good start. Also, tune in to Vatican Radio at 2:40 EST to recite the rosary in Latin. Follow along here which includes the meditations on the Mysteries.

At the very least, learn the basic Latin prayers. If you're ever in Rome waiting for a General Audience or a Papal Mass and you're surrounded by nuns, chances are they'll be praying the rosary and you can join in with them.

A rich and pleasing sacrifice

~From a letter on the martyrdom of Saint Polycarp by the Church of Smyrna

When the pyre was ready, Polycarp took off all his clothes and loosened his under-garment. He made an effort also to remove his shoes, though he had been unaccustomed to this, for the faithful always vied with each other in their haste to touch his body. Even before his martyrdom he had received every mark of honour in tribute to his holiness of life.

There and then he was surrounded by the material for the pyre. When they tried to fasten him also with nails, he said: “Leave me as I am. The one who gives me strength to endure the fire will also give me strength to stay quite still on the pyre, even without the precaution of your nails”. So they did not fix him to the pyre with nails but only fastened him instead. Bound as he was, with hands behind his back, he stood like a mighty ram, chosen out for sacrifice from a great flock, a worthy victim made ready to be offered to God.

Looking up to heaven, he said: “Lord, almighty God, Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have come to the knowledge of yourself, God of angels, of powers, of all creation, of all the race of saints who live in your sight, I bless you for judging me worthy of this day, this hour, so that in the company of the martyrs I may share the cup of Christ, your anointed one, and so rise again to eternal life in soul and body, immortal through the power of the Holy Spirit. May I be received among the martyrs in your presence today as a rich and pleasing sacrifice. God of truth, stranger to falsehood, you have prepared this and revealed it to me and now you have fulfilled your promise.

“I praise you for all things, I bless you, I glorify you through the eternal priest of heaven, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son. Through him be glory to you, together with him and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen”.

When he had said “Amen” and finished the prayer, the officials at the pyre lit it. But, when a great flame burst out, those of us privileged to see it witnessed a strange and wonderful thing. Indeed, we have been spared in order to tell the story to others. Like a ship’s sail swelling in the wind, the flame became as it were a dome encircling the martyr’s body. Surrounded by the fire, his body was like bread that is baked, or gold and silver white-hot in a furnace, not like flesh that has been burnt. So sweet a fragrance came to us that it was like that of burning incense or some other costly and sweet-smelling gum.

Memorial of St. Polycarp of Smyrna

Polycarp had known those who had known Jesus, and was a disciple of St. John the Apostle, who had converted him around the year 80 AD. He taught, says his own pupil Irenaeus of Lyons, the things that he learned from the Apostles, which the Church hands down, which are true. Irenaeus, who as a young boy knew Polycarp, praised his gravity, holiness, and majesty of countenance. He had lived near Jerusalem and was proud of his early associations with the Apostles.

Polycarp became bishop of Smyrna and held the see for about 70 years. He was a staunch defender of orthodoxy and an energetic opponent of heresy, especially Marcionism and Valentinianism (the most influential of the Gnostic sects). Toward the end of his life he visited Pope St. Anicetus in Rome and, when they could not agree on a date for Easter, decided each would observe his own date. To testify his respect and ensure that the bonds of charity were unbroken, Anicetus invited Polycarp to celebrate the Eucharist in the papal chapel on this occasion. Polycarp suffered martyrdom with 12 others of his flock around the year 156.

Excerpted from St. Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr by Fr. Paul Haffner (Inside the Vatican, February 2004)

Among the select few from apostolic times about whom we have some historical information is Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna and one of the most glorious martyrs of Christian antiquity. His life and death are attested by the authentic "Acts" of his martyrdom (no similar account is older), as well as by other contemporary writings. It moves us deeply when, for example, we find in St. Irenaeus, a disciple of Polycarp, the passage in which he reminisces:
"The memory of that time when as a youth I was with Polycarp in Asia Minor is as fresh in my mind as the present. Even now I could point to the place where he sat and taught, and describe his coming and going, his every action, his outward appearance, and his manner of discourse to the people. It seems as though I still heard him tell of his association with the apostle John and with others who saw the Lord, and as though he were still relating to me their words and what he heard from them about the Lord and His miracles. . . ."

On the day of his death (February 23) the Martyrology recounts with deep reverence:
"At Smyrna, the death of St. Polycarp. He was a disciple of the holy apostle John, who consecrated him bishop of that city; and there he acted as the primate of all Asia Minor. Later, under Marcus Antoninus and Lucius Aurelius Commodus, he was brought before the tribunal of the proconsul; and when all the people in the amphitheater cried out against him, he was handed over to be burned to death. But since the fire caused him no harm, he was put to death by the sword. Thus he gained the crown of martyrdom. With him, twelve other Christians, who came from Philadelphia, met death by martyrdom in the same city."
Excerpted from The Church's Year of Grace, Pius Parsch.

~From Catholic Culture

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Consistory for the creation of new cardinals

At the General Audience today, the Holy Father Benedict XVI announced a consistory to create new cardinals on March 24. The following names were presented:
  1. William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
  2. Franc Rode, Prefect of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life
  3. Agostino Vallini, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura
  4. Jorge Liberato Urosa Savino, Archbishop of Caracas
  5. Gaudencio B. Rosales, Archbishop of Manila
  6. Jean-Pierre Ricard, Archbishop of Bordeaux
  7. Antonio CaƱizares Llovera, Archbishop of Toledo
  8. Nicolas Cheong-Jim-Suk, Archbishop of Seoul
  9. Sean Patrick O'Malley, OFM Cap., Archbishop of Boston
  10. Stanisaw Dziwisz, Archbishop of Krakow
  11. Carlo Caffarra, Archbishop of Bologna
  12. Joseph Zen Ze-Kiun, SDB, Bishop of Hong King
Also, the Holy Father wishes to elevate three men who are above voting age to the College of Cardinals in recognition of their service to the life of the Church.
  1. Andrea Cordero Lanza de Montezemolo, Archpriest of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Wall
  2. Peter Poreku Dery, Archbishop emeritus of Tamale, Ghana
  3. P. Albert Vanhoye, SJ, former Secretary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.

Catechesis of the Holy Father on the Feast of the Chair of Peter

Dear Brothers and Sisters

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Chair of Peter. It is an ancient feast, dating back to the fourth century, which gives thanks to God for the mission entrusted to the Apostle Peter and to his successors.

The first ‘seat’ of the Church was the Cenacle where, in all probability, there was a special place reserved for Simon Peter. From there the ‘seat’ of Peter moved to Antioch where he became its first Bishop, and from there, Providence led Peter to Rome where his service to the Gospel was crowned with martyrdom.

In this way Rome came to be known as the ‘See’ of the successor of Peter and the ‘cathedra’ of its Bishop, as representing the mission entrusted to him by Christ to shepherd his entire flock. In celebrating the ‘Chair’ of Peter we thus recognize its spiritual significance: it is a special sign of the love of God - the good and eternal shepherd - who guides the whole Church along the way of salvation. In the words of Saint Jerome, "I follow no leader save Christ so I consult the chair of Peter, for this I know is the rock upon which the Church is built!"

I warmly welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims present at this audience. In particular, I greet the members of the Pro Oriente Syriac Commission, and also the members of the British Parliament. Today, I invite you all to visit the specially decorated monument to the ‘cathedra’ of Peter, in the Basilica. There, I ask you to pray that the Holy Spirit may enlighten me and support me in my service to the Church. Thank you and may God bless you all!

Tu es Petrus

Tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram aedificabo Ecclesiam meam.

~Perugino, Christ Handing the Keys to Peter, Sistine Chapel
~St. Peter's Basilica Dome and Baldacchino

The Church of Christ rises on the firm foundation of Peter's faith

~From a sermon by St. Leo the Great

Out of the whole world one man, Peter, is chosen to preside at the calling of all nations, and to be set over all the apostles and all the fathers of the Church. Though there are in God’s people many shepherds, Peter is thus appointed to rule in his own person those whom Christ also rules as the original ruler. Beloved, how great and wonderful is this sharing of his power that God in his goodness has given to this man. Whatever Christ has willed to be shared in common by Peter and the other leaders of the Church, it is only through Peter that he has given to others what he has not refused to bestow on them.

The Lord now asks the apostles as a whole what men think of him. As long as they are recounting the uncertainty born of human ignorance, their reply is always the same.

But when he presses the disciples to say what they think themselves, the first to confess his faith in the Lord is the one who is first in rank among the apostles.

Peter says: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. Jesus replies: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but my Father who is in heaven”. You are blessed, he means, because my Father has taught you. You have not been deceived by earthly opinion, but have been enlightened by inspiration from heaven. It was not flesh and blood that pointed me out to you, but the one whose only-begotten Son I am.

He continues: And I say to you. In other words, as my Father has revealed to you my godhead, so I in my turn make known to you your pre-eminence. You are Peter: though I am the inviolable rock, the cornerstone that makes both one, the foundation apart from which no one can lay any other, yet you also are a rock, for you are given solidity by my strength, so that which is my very own because of my power is common between us through your participation.

And upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. On this strong foundation, he says, I will build an everlasting temple. The great height of my Church, which is to penetrate the heavens, shall rise on the firm foundation of this faith.
The gates of hell shall not silence this confession of faith; the chains of death shall not bind it. Its words are the words of life. As they lift up to heaven those who profess them, so they send down to hell those who contradict them.

Blessed Peter is therefore told: To you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth is also bound in heaven. Whatever you lose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven.

The authority vested in this power passed also to the other apostles, and the institution established by this decree has been continued in all the leaders of the Church. But it is not without good reason that what is bestowed on all is entrusted to one. For Peter received it separately in trust because he is the prototype set before all the rulers of the Church.

Feast of the Chair of Peter

Since early times, the Roman Church has had a special commemoration of the primatial authority of St. Peter. As witness one of the most renowned of the Apostolic Fathers, the Roman See has always held a peculiar place in the affection and obedience of orthodox believers because of its "presiding in love" and service over all the Churches of God.

"We shall find in the Gospel that Jesus Christ, willing to begin the mystery of unity in His Church, among all His disciples chose twelve; but that, willing to consummate the mystery of unity in the same Church, among the twelve He chose one. He called His disciples, said the Gospel; here are all; and among them He chose twelve. Here is the first separation, and the Apostles chosen. And these are the names of the twelve Apostles: the first, Simon, who is called Peter. [Mt. 10, 1-2] Here, in a second separation, St. Peter is set at the head, and called for that reason by the name of Peter, "which Jesus Christ," says St. Mark, "had given him," in order to prepare, as you will see, the work which He was proposing to raise all His building on that stone.

"All this is yet but a beginning of the mystery of unity. Jesus Christ, in beginning it, still spoke to many: Go, preach; I send you [see Mt. 28, 19]. Now, when He would put the last hand to the mystery of unity, He speaks no longer to many: He marks out Peter personally, and by the new name which He has given him. It is One who speaks to one: Jesus Christ the Son of God to Simon son of Jonas; Jesus Christ, who is the true Stone, strong of Himself, to Simon, who is only the stone by the strength which Jesus Christ imparts to him. It is to him that Christ speaks, and in speaking acts on him, and stamps upon him His own immovableness. And I, He says, say to you, you are Peter; and, He adds, upon this rock I will build my Church, and, He concludes, the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. [Mt. 16, 18] To prepare him for that honor Jesus Christ, who knows that faith in Himself is the foundation of His Church, inspires Peter with a faith worthy to be the foundation of that admirable building. You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. [Mt. 16, 16] By that bold preaching of the faith he draws to himself the inviolable promise which makes him the foundation of the Church.

"It was, then, clearly the design of Jesus Christ to put first in one alone, what afterwards He meant to put in several; but the sequence does not reverse the beginning, nor the first lose his place. That first word, Whatsoever you shall bind, said to one alone, has already ranged under his power each one of those to whom shall be said, Whatsoever you shall remit; for the promises of Jesus Christ, as well as His gift, are without repentance; and what is once given indefinitely and universally is irrevocable. Besides, that power given to several carries its restriction in its division, while power given to one alone, and over all, and without exception, carries with it plenitude, and, not having to be divided with any other, it has no bounds save those which its terms convey."

Excerpted from The See of St. Peter, Jacques Bossuet.

Cathedra Romana, St. John Lateran, Rome--The Mother Church of the Christian World

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Episcopal Spine

Philippines Bishops Institute Mandatory Pro-Life Course Without Which Sacraments Denied
A US$1.4 million grant was given by the United Nations to help finance the population control program.

"The bishops were appalled by the swift release of the grant and the filing of the reproductive health bill and the launching of the health department's population control programs," said Jo Imbong, legal counsel of the Catholic Bishops' Conference.

In response, the bishops have called for greater accountability from parishioners on moral issues. Those Catholics who promote or utilize artificial birth control methods may not be able to receive communion or other sacraments.

The bishops have instituted a course for parishioners on the fundamentals of Church teaching, called the Basic Ecclesiastical Communities seminar. Catholics are required to take the course, which runs for eight consecutive Sundays, before receiving sacraments for themselves or their children, and upon entering adulthood.

The course includes teachings on the basics of the faith, Bible study, Christian leadership, family and life apostles, salvation history, and the changing Church.

Sister Regina Arguelles of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, who works with the CBCP in offering the seminars, said the Catholic bishops have been alarmed by the “continuing moral decay” that was eating up the society.

The bishops are firm on the necessity of participating in the seminars before being allowed to receive sacraments.

“That’s the idea. That’s exactly the Church’s message. If you want to be a Catholic, act like one and follow the Church’s teachings,” Sister Arguelles said.
Sister Regina, how about coming to the States and teaching some of our bishops here, too.

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

Last night, I was at the gym working out when the show Insider came on. I was rounding out my first mile on the treadmill and was hardly paying attention. But I was startled out of my exercise-induced reverie by this segment, Most Extreme Plastic Surgery Ever. I was horrified by this example of intentional self-mutilation.Not only did Amanda start out as a boy, s/he is addicted to plastic surgery to maintain and augment her/his look.

What would cause a person to have such an extremely disordered view of his own God-given design? In his denial of his natural state, he has turned his body into something grotesque...a caricature of his humanity. And if the surgery wasn't enough, his current lifestyle amplifies the deep-seated worship of self.

This need to revise what God has given is a sickness in our culture. I have acquaintances who are going in for plastic surgery to lift here and there. They come out looking with that un-natural startled look. Plumped-up lips don't enhance their looks and instead advertise a surgery has been done here. What their surgeries say is, "I'm getting older and I don't want to look it."

One of the most beautiful women I know is nearing seventy. She has a shock of white hair cut to chin length. When she smiles, there are crinkles around her eyes and the lines around her mouth deepen. She embraces growing older with all its sorrows and joys--people dying, children breaking her heart, loneliness. She feeds herself with daily contemplation of God in her garden which is beautiful in all seasons, but especially in winter when the branches are bare. You can see the brilliance of her design that there's always something to look at no matter what the season. Her favorite accessories are a battered straw hat, garden gloves, and dirt. It is a joy to be around her, even when she says nothing at all and we're just sitting on her deck sipping tea listening to the mourning dove coo.

What a contrast to the poverty in "Amanda's" soul.

Last Day for the 2006 Catholic Blog Awards

Voting 'til noon CST. I'm putting a plug in for my favorites: Ales Rarus, Angry Twins, Contemplata aliis Tradere, Musings of a Discerning Woman, Pontifications, The Cafeteria is Closed, and The Curt Jester.

World Catholic population up 1.1%

~Via Catholic World News

The world's Catholic population-- just over 1 billion-- increased by 1.1% in the latest year for which full statistics are available.

The 2006 edition of the Annuario Pontificio, the official Vatican yearbook, shows 1,098,000,000 Catholics in the world. The volume shows figures compiled by the Church's central statistical bureau, headed by Mgr. Vittorio Formenti. The new edition, formally presented to Pope Benedict XVI on February 18, shows statistics through the end of the year 2004.

Between 2003 and 2004, the world's Catholic population grew by 12 million. But with overall world population growing at a considerably faster pace, the percentage of baptized Catholics among the world's people declined from 17.2% to 17.1%. More here

~I'm doing my part...

A Lenten Reading Plan

Jonathan at Ancient and Future Catholic Musings and David at An Aid to Memory have come up with a Lenten Reading Plan featuring 10 of the Early Church Fathers. They include the Didache, Justin Martyr, Ignatius of Antioch, Ambrose, and others. The writings of the Fathers nourished and strengthened the faith of the Church through the ages. If you're not familiar with their writings, this is a great chance for you to dip your toe into the wonderful world of the Patristics.

Here's the outline in .pdf form. And here's the Reading Plan with texts included so you don't have to hunt for them. The texts are also available at New Advent.

You have probably received your Lent Black Book by now which takes all of five minutes to read. If you add this plan by Jonathan and David you will have a source to deepen your spiritual life and food for the time of the Lenten wilderness.

There is a time to be born and a time to die

~A sermon on Ecclesiastes by St. Gregory of Nyssa

There is a time to be born and a time to die. The fact that there is a natural link between birth and death is expressed very clearly in this text of Scripture. Death invariably follows birth, and everyone who is born comes at last to the grave.

There is a time to be born and a time to die. God grant that mine may be a timely birth and a timely death! Of course no one imagines that the Speaker regards as acts of virtue our natural birth and death, in neither of which our own will plays any part. A woman does not give birth because she chooses to do so; neither does anyone die as a result of his own decision. Obviously, there is neither virtue nor vice in anything that lies beyond our control. So we must consider what is meant by a timely birth and a timely death.

It seems to me that the birth referred to here is our salvation, as is suggested by the prophet Isaiah. This reaches its full term and is not stillborn when, having been conceived by the fear of God, the soul’s own birth pangs bring it to the light of day. We are in a sense our own parents, and we give birth to ourselves by our own free choice of what is good. Such a choice becomes possible for us when we have received God into ourselves and have become children of God, children of the Most High. On the other hand, if what the Apostle calls the form of Christ has not been produced in us, we abort ourselves. The man of God must reach maturity.

Now if the meaning of a timely birth is clear, so also is the meaning of a timely death. For Saint Paul every moment was a time to die, as he proclaims in his letters: I swear by the pride I take in you that I face death every day. Elsewhere he says, For your sake we are put to death daily and we felt like men condemned to death.

How Paul died daily is perfectly obvious. He never gave himself up to a sinful life but kept his body under constant control. He carried death with him, Christ’s death, wherever he went. He was always being crucified with Christ. It was not his own life he lived; it was Christ who lived in him. This surely was a timely death-a death whose end was true life.

I put to death and I shall give life, God says, teaching us that death to sin and life in the Spirit is his gift, and promising that whatever he puts to death he will restore to life again.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Announcement on new cardinals on Wednesday?

Buzz says that Papa might make an announcement at General Audience on Wednesday. Short announcement in Catholic World News.

He finished the cycle on the Psalms, so he gets to start something new. Maybe that includes cardinals, too?

Dusting off the organ shoes

One evening, when I was pregnant with my second child, I was up in the organ loft of a lovely old English Gothic church where I was organist, practicing for the upcoming services. I was having a hard time with registrations for a Bach toccata and fugue on a small 12-rank tracker (not to mention a round belly getting in the way). I don't remember which T & F it was now. My eldest as crawling back and forth on the pedalboard causing the greatest racket you could imagine. He was fascinated by my feet gliding up and down the board and couldn't decide which foot to chase, his giggles melting my anxious heart. That was the moment when I knew that something had to give. As difficult as it was to hang up my organ shoes, I knew that the children wouldn't stay small for long and that I would rather spend the time being with them than puzzling over stops and fugal passages. As a trade, I joined early music chamber groups and learned the art of singing in a small ensemble. I thought the organ shoes would remain consigned to a dark corner of my closet.

Somehow, in our new parish, our music director was able to ferret out that I am a musician. Soon, he's handing me files of music to learn (more like stacks of music--why does the Heritage Missal have to be so huge?). In three weeks time, he's off to a big family celebration leaving me with a whole host of services to play for, including a wedding and a possible funeral.

Last night, I opened my Bach Orgelwerk for the first time in a dozen years and picked an easy chorale to start. Okay, age has caught up with me....the score is compressed so that you can read the pedal and manual notes easily. However, I'm nearing that critical age of needing, dare I say it? bifocals. The notes were swimming and my face is scrunched up in that familiar look I used to associate with my parents when trying to read small print.

Horrors! Why didn't I keep my mouth shut and go along in an anonymous manner? It seems I'm being swept along in events beyond my control. This is a parish happily ensconsced in the Novus Ordo liturgy. Now I from an Anglo-Catholic High Church background have been asked by the music director to help him re-envision the music program in our parish. Did I say, "No, I don't want to do that"? Oh, no! I had to say, "Yes, I'd be happy to." Why can't God leave me alone sometimes? I'm a new convert, shouldn't I have some time of pew-warming? Michael, our music director tells me that I can't hide a talent when it's needed. And he is grateful to have a pinch-hitter and the staff is delighted that we don't have to go outside the parish to find that elusive and rare organist. But why does it have to be me?

Somehow, I have a suspicion that it's divine justice for all the ill-thoughts I carried while refusing to sing "On Eagle's Wings" with everyone. Mercifully, the mass setting will be plainchant which he's been teaching the congregation prior to masses lately. And the choir anthem will be Palestrina!

This reform of the reform was great and exciting in the theoretical form. I never dreamed of being part of living it out. Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison. Sigh! Off to practice...

Just in time for Lent

~From Yahoo News

It's every chocolate lover's wish that their favorite indulgence could somehow be healthy for them. Now, chocolate makers claim they have granted that wish.

Mars Inc., maker of Milky Way, Snickers and M&M's candies, next month plans to launch nationwide a new line of products made with a dark chocolate the company claims has health benefits.

Called CocoaVia, the products are made with a kind of dark chocolate high in flavanols, an antioxidant found in cocoa beans that is thought to have a blood-thinning effect similar to aspirin and may even lower blood pressure. The snacks also are enriched with vitamins and injected with cholesterol-lowering plant sterols from soy.

But researchers are skeptical about using chocolate for its medicinal purposes and experts warn it's no substitute for a healthy diet.

"To suggest that chocolate is a health food is risky," said Bonnie Liebman, nutrition director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. More

A competition of martyrs?

Michael at Sacramentum Vitae: When a martyr shouldn't be called one reveals yet more of the looniness of the Generation of Dissent. From Sr. Chittester (regarding opening the cause for Fr. Andrea Santoro's beatification),
From where I stand, this does not seem the time to elevate the present political situation to the level of religious warfare by incorrectly declaring our own dead, like those of Islamic fundamentalists, to be "martyrs." All we need is to trigger another century of Crusades by beginning a competition of martyrs. It's time to watch our language. This obscure little article may be all the warning we get.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't recall Cardinal Ruini calling for a Crusade at Fr. Santoro's funeral.

The Courage to Live and Witness to our Catholic Faith

We drove up to Raleigh on Friday to attend the weekend Ignited by Truth Catholic Conference founded four years ago by two homeschooling soccer moms. These moms asked each other what they could do to help Catholics live out a more authentic and vibrant faith. The impact of their courage to venture out has spread throughout the Diocese of Raleigh. It was wonderful to see so many of us from around the diocese, including teenagers. The stunning thing was seeing a large number of new converts to the Catholic faith.

The featured speakers included George Weigel, Alice von Hildebrand, Stephen Ray, Kerri Caviezel, and three people from our diocese. I'm going to post my transcribed notes here from Dr. Weigel's final talk on "The Courage to Live and Witness to Our Catholic Faith".

Dr. Weigel asked how can we against the backdrop of The Scandal find the courage to be Catholic? He sees four main sources of strength for us:
  • First, in Christ is the example of perfect filial obedience on the cross which shows us the way to live beyond fear

  • Second, in the Church, though she is battered, there are more than glimmers of hope within her

  • Third, in the Communion of the Saints, who surround us with prayer

  • Fourth, in the Good News
Elaborating on the second point of finding courage in the Church, he notes several positive developments he framed in the emergence of The New South which he sees as holding a key to understanding the opportunities for advancing our faith. He asked an intriguing questions: concurrent to the decline of mainline Protestantism, why is there a surge of conversions and reversions among prominent public figures? Why especially are intellectuals joining a society regarded as the enemy of intellectualism?

  • The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a bold and compelling account of the human condition for the last 2,000 years. The Catechism is a genuine counter-cultural challenge to high culture in the West. It affirms that one cannot live without the truth and is a beacon for change in the future.

  • The renewal of devotional life through grassroots movement has revitalized our understanding of the Church's Eucharistic identity through Eucharistic piety. Through Marian devotion, we find a greater awareness of our own call to discipleship as she is the example of obedience and fidelity. Through new devotions such as Divine Mercy, we present something to present culture which is an encounter with God's mercy.

  • There is hope in new configurations of ecumenism that don't compromise our faith, but instead recognize a mutual call to work in the public square. Dr. Weigel said that there is a coming joint statement from Evangelicals and Catholics Together on the culture of life.

  • The emergence of new centers of Catholic intellectual life where serious Catholic thought is engaged is an exciting development. We can no longer look to traditional bastions to shape the Catholic mind. Schools such as the University of Dallas and Thomas Aquinas College, California are living out Ex corde ecclesiae, John Paul II's teaching on the Catholic University, reveal a revolt against political correctness and radical secularism which has become the established religion. And he adds, the graying of the Generation of Dissent will have an impact on the advance of serious Catholic thought.

  • The emerging Reform of the Reform movement with a new emphasis on transcendence and beauty in public worship will have an influence over our Catholic life. He reminds us of the maxim "lex orandi, lex credendi" is certainly finding great resonance in our current Catholic scene.
Each one of these expressions of vitality reveal an ongoing Catholic reform inspite of the crisis. He quotes John Paul II's admonition to the US bishops in light of the public scandal that the crisis stems from the failure to teach and to live Catholic truths. Structural fixes will not take us beyond the current crisis. We must be engaged in the retrieval of the essential forms of our Catholic faith given by Christ if we are to convert culture.

In closing he quotes Pope Pius XI, "It is no longer permitted to anyone to be mediocre."