Friday, February 29, 2008

Exchange student claims host Coptic family starved him by excessive fasting

~from AP (hat tip to Canterbury Tales)
Jonathan McCullum was in perfect health at 155 pounds when he left last summer to spend the school year as an exchange student in Egypt.

But when he returned home to Maine just four months later, the 5-foot-9 teenager weighed a mere 97 pounds and was so weak that he struggled to carry his baggage or climb a flight of stairs. Doctors said he was at risk for a heart attack.

McCullum says he was denied sufficient food while staying with a family of Coptic Christians, who fast for more than 200 days a year, a regimen unmatched by other Christians.

But he does not view the experience as a culture clash. Rather, he said, it reflected mean and stingy treatment by his host family, whose broken English made it difficult to communicate.

"The weight loss concerned me, but I wanted to stick out the whole year," he said in an interview at his family's home outside Augusta.

Friends and teachers at his English-speaking school in Egypt urged him to change his host family, but he stayed put after being told the other home was in a dangerous neighborhood of Alexandria.

After returning to the U.S., he was hospitalized for nearly two weeks. The 17-year-old has regained about 20 pounds, but his parents say he's not the same boy he was when he left under the auspices of AFS Intercultural Programs.

"He was outgoing, a straight-A student, very athletic. Now, he's less spontaneous and more subdued," said his mother, Elizabeth McCullum, who was shocked when she met her son at the airport on Jan. 9 and saw he had lost one-third his weight.

Jonathan McCullum's parents said the exchange program should have warned them that students placed with Coptic families would be subject to dietary restrictions...
Read more

Debating the merits of the new Italian Lectionary

~from Chiesa, Timothy Verdun and Pietro DeMarco discuss the pros and cons of the new drawings for the Italian Lectionary. Here's a sample:

From Fr. Verdun:
The hostile reactions seen almost everywhere to the art of the new Lectionary concern, in fact, these choices, this overall approach to the visual appearance of the volumes.

That is to say, they reflect a discomfort that is not in the first place aesthetic, but conceptual, a difficulty with the idea of a word that requires a docile form of listening, open to "metanoia," to the conversion of the mind. Despite understanding that the readings proclaimed in the liturgy call us to an interior reconfiguration that is open to the overturning of our certainties, we demand that the art that accompanies this journey present an invariable form: instead of the risk of a laborious search, we want the illusory but comfortable safety of what has already been approved, forgetting that even Giotto and Michelangelo represented, at their time, moments of rupture with the past...

...This type of allusive iconography is offered as an analogy of the process of interiorizing the Scriptures themselves, the meaning of which emerges from the patient piecing together of irresistibly fascinating partial fragments. In any case, abstraction cannot frighten the Christian if Christ himself, the Word made man, although in the concreteness of his body taken from Mary, did not hesitate to present himself in terms far from any possibility of figurative representation, like way, truth, life, and the light of men.

Above all in the liturgical context, where art accompanies rites that press beyond the external appearance of things, contemporary languages, including abstraction, are suited to the vital mystery that we celebrate. This, I believe, is the meaning of the iconographic program of the Lectionary.
From Professor DeMarco
An outworn twentieth-century view is out of place in a liturgy in which the highly real realities of the Incarnation and Sacrifice are celebrated. It seems that the empty image by Vago (in the volume for year B) has raised perplexity among the patrons. In effect, it can be defended in itself, but not as an illustration to accompany any sort of liturgical text. It would have been more pertinent, if at all, for Easter, as the light of the empty tomb, than for Christmas, which is not only light but a real Body, the human determination of the Son.

The weakly iconic solutions, made up of general and allusive outlines and vague crucifixes – as in Amodei, Marchese, Paladino, Raciti, Ceccobelli, and others – are the most numerous in the Lectionary. They represent the modern style most widespread in the art of our churches, a moderate and academic form of modernism.

But although it is easy to multiply such results, their significance for piety, spirituality, and worship remains extremely limited. It is limited because of their excessively predictable and affected simplification of the narrative or symbolic event to which they refer. The effect of a solely decorative ornamentation is impressive. A valuable paradox comes to mind: while the conventional, "nineteenth century" iconography of our churches – with their alcoves for Our Lady of Lourdes, the altars of the Virgin Mary and the saints, the images of the Sacred Heart, etc. – can be and is a valid point of reference for prayer and devotion, this stylized and abbreviated modern production can never be. Addressing oneself to Mary or to a saint requires a complete and plausible image....

...A step backward should be taken in the relationship between the Church and artists. Both non-figurative artists and those capable of attempting figurative representations of Christian subject matter should again be guided, as in the past, by a patron who is a theologian and a biblicist.

As Edgar Wind explains in "Art and Anarchy," for the artist it is an act of artistic discipline and a religious value to conform to the "sensus fidei" and to the theological-liturgical disciplinary framework.

But the theologian, in turn, must not cultivate a latecomer's fascination with the "Negative." This would mean subjecting himself to a hackneyed form of "modernism," almost as if the artist, in his anarchic and unruly activity, were the bearer of a particular revelation. By giving in to this modernity, as I fear happens often, it would be the theologian first of all who would reactivate this taste for the figurative poverty of the sacred to which we have all somewhat fallen prey.

Peter Pan Syndrome

~from First Things a book review on The Death of the Grownup by Sally Thomas.
My reflexive response on reading Diana West’s The Death of the Grown-up has been to keep announcing magisterially to all and sundry that I am one. Pass the salt, because I said so, and I am a grown-up. “We know,” the children reply wearily, which is a relief. After all, I’ve just been reading a book that argues that, in the wake of World War II’s “Greatest Generation,” successive generations have abandoned traditional notions of adult gravitas in favor of a presumably, and even desirably, terminal adolescence. The titular allusion to Patrick Buchanan’s The Death of the West cannot be accidental: This cultural development, West argues, marks a devolution of civilization as, well, we used to know it. Adult judgment—the mysterious sixth sense, as it seemed, which enabled my mother to declare from outside my bedroom door that I was not going out wearing that—has been replaced by a gormless disinclination to discern the good from the not-so-good, or to venture even that such distinctions exist at all. The problem, as West views it, is not merely rejection of authority but rejection of the responsibility to assert authority on any level, wreaking havoc in the family and the local community and rendering the West as a whole all the more vulnerable to jihadist assault...

... To give context to these contemporary events, West constructs a historical trajectory that arcs from the World War II–era entry of the word teenager into the popular lexicon, to a future of multicultural uncertainty. By her account, the rise of the student radical in the 1960—and the accompanying acquiescence of sycophantic college administrators and parents who laud destruction of property and the hurling of mindless obscenities as “acts of conscience”—begets, in an unbroken lineage, the Islamic terrorist threat of our own era, “The Real Culture War.” Of the 1960s’ campus protests, she writes, “In place of a hierarchy based on accrued wisdom, there would emerge a power structure based on accrued grievance.” And in this hour, she argues, the powers of the West—like those ’60s parents—practice something “more like supplication than statecraft” in dealing with the militant Islamic world. Hence the proliferation of official Washington Ramadan celebrations, and airport security policies that shy away from “profiling” Middle Eastern men.

What, exactly, is everyone afraid of? Mainly, says West, they are afraid of defying the cultural narrative, also in development for the last thirty years or so, which asserts that no culture may claim to have advanced any further, or to have accrued any greater wisdom, than any other culture.

The mystery of our new life in Christ

~by Pope St. Gregory the Great

Holy Job is a type of the Church. At one time he speaks for the body, at another for the head. As he speaks of its members he is suddenly caught up to speak in the name of their head. So it is here, where he says: I have suffered this without sin on my hands, for my prayer to God was pure.

Christ suffered without sin on his hands, for he committed no sin and deceit was not found on his lips. Yet he suffered the pain of the cross for our redemption. His prayer to God was pure, his alone out of all mankind, for in the midst of his suffering he prayed for his persecutors: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.

Is it possible to offer, or even to imagine, a purer kind of prayer than that which shows mercy to one’s torturers by making intercession for them? It was thanks to this kind of prayer that the frenzied persecutors who shed the blood of our Redeemer drank it afterward in faith and proclaimed him to be the Son of God.

The text goes on fittingly to speak of Christ’s blood: Earth, do not cover over my blood, do not let my cry find a hiding place in you. When man sinned, God had said: Earth you are, and to earth you will return. Earth does not cover over the blood of our Redeemer, for every sinner, as he drinks the blood that is the price of his redemption, offers praise and thanksgiving, and to the best of his power makes that blood known to all around him.

Earth has not hidden away his blood, for holy Church has preached in every corner of the world the mystery of its redemption.

Notice what follows: Do not let my cry find a hiding place in you. The blood that is drunk, the blood of redemption, is itself the cry of our Redeemer. Paul speaks of the sprinkled blood that calls out more eloquently than Abel’s. Of Abel’s blood Scripture had written: The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to me from the earth. The blood of Jesus calls out more eloquently than Abel’s, for the blood of Abel asked for the death of Cain, the fratricide, while the blood of the Lord has asked for, and obtained, life for his persecutors.

If the sacrament of the Lord’s passion is to work its effect in us, we must imitate what we receive and proclaim to mankind what we revere. The cry of the Lord finds a hiding place in us if our lips fail to speak of this, though our hearts believe in it. So that his cry may not lie concealed in us it remains for us all, each in his own measure, to make known to those around us the mystery of our new life in Christ.

Stational Church: San Lorenzo in Lucina

The Basilica of San Lorenzo in Lucina is dedicated to Saint Lawrence the Deacon. It is also called the titulus Lucinae, one of the original twenty-five parishes of Rome, because it commemorates the Lady Lucina who built the original oratory. Since it conserves Lawrence’s gridiron, it is also known to many Romans as “San Lorenzo in Cucina!”

Known as the apostolorum discipula, Lucina is usually presented as a pious woman dedicated to works of charity towards all Christians in general and towards martyrs in particular. In fact, she is said to have cared for the burial of the martyr-saints Sebastian, Faustinus, Simplicius and Beatrice, Cyriacus, Largus and Smaragdus, and Pope Marcellus. Some of these attributions, however, must be mistaken since it would mean that she lived over a span of 200 years! There may, therefore, have been more than one lady named Lucina who exercised these acts of charity towards the martyrs.

The church was originally a fourth-century oratory, and was enlarged into a church in the fifth century. When it was destroyed by Robert Guiscard in 1084, Paschal II (1099-1118) rebuilt it. It was modernized in the seventeenth century by Pope St. Pius V.

Note Paschal’s delicate campanile and austere façade and porch. In the first chapel on the right is Lawrence’s gridiron. The fourth chapel on the right was designed by Bernini for Innocent X’s doctor, Gabriele Fonseca. Bernini also executed the bust of the good doctor. In the thirteenth century, the church was titular of Hugh of Evesham, author of Canones Medicinales, who was created cardinal by Martin IV (1281-1285) and summoned to Italy not only to act as his physician but also to rid Rome of malaria. (Sadly, Hugh himself succumbed to the dreaded Roman fever a few years after his arrival.) Over the high altar is Guido Reni’s Crucifixion, a masterpiece of religious art, and in the choir is Paschal’s beautiful episcopal throne. The station here was formally erected by Gregory the Great.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Being Called

...shortage of priests in Kansas City. From FoxNews
The Catholic Church is in the middle of a priest shortage so dire, it's changing the face of faith in many parts of the country. It's a big problem in Kansas City, and a solution is years away.

Over the last 40 years, the number of priests in the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese has decreased by 34 percent. Meanwhile, the Catholic population keeps growing. For the last two decades, the church has just made due, stretching to make an old system work. But it's getting to a critical point, and help is needed fast.

12 percent of Kansas City's population is Catholic. For them, the church acts both as an social outlet and an individual sanctuary. But for decades, like a rock that has been worn away, as the leaders of the church got older, fewer men have come forward to take the reigns.

"We are feeling the pinch because the average age is increasing," Keith Jiron, vocations director for the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese, said.

To meet the immediate need in the Metro, fewer priests are retiring. At an age when many hoped to take a step back, they are stepping up to help ease the strain.

"The priests are spread thinner and their faithfully doing their duties and their just waiting for, they're hoping that helps on the way," Jiron said.

The problem is especially severe in the largest and smallest congregations. His parishioners in Clinton, Missouri said Father Phil Egan's arrival two years ago was the shot of energy and the spirit the small community needed...

...But for Father Roach and others like him, there is light at the end of parish's tunnel. On the hollowed grounds of Conception Seminary in Conception, Missouri, lies the hope for the future of Kansas City's Catholic community. The 24 men in the diocese seminary class are the rescuers, making up the largest class of future priests the diocese has seen in 40 years. Ben Knieb is from the St. Joseph area and said he has seen the increased numbers first-hand.

"When I first entered seminary, we had 10 seminarians, and in a matter of only a few years we more than doubled," Knieb said.

Like Knieb, Adam Haake is also a senior at Conception Seminary. He said the shortage of priests is not a case of men not being called to the priesthood. They said it's a problem of men not listening.

"There are guys out there who are feeling called and what's going on in our culture is, it's so loud, we're being so bombarded here and there that they're not answering it and what it is is their not hearing it," Haake said.

If the size of the seminary class is any indication, more and more young men are listening. Diocesan officials said there's no specific recruitment strategy, just God filling a need. Their class is a point of pride for the diocese, not only for its numbers, but also for its attitude.

"I want to be a priest," Haake said. "It's about bringing Christ to others and people to Christ."

Sliding further down the slope

~Will Italy soon start selling RU-486? From CWN:
Italian media report that today the Italian Pharmaceutical Agency (Aifa) will give initial approval to the sale of the abortion pill RU486 in Italy this week.

The French pharmaceutical company Exelgyn hopes to begin distributing RU486 in Italy by the end of May. Legal approval could come as soon as February 27.
Smart move, Italy. With your precipitously low birth rate, you're moving closer toward extinction. Lord, have mercy.

More on the Bishop Braxton and the theologian

~by Carl Olson in Ignatius Insight
One reason this story interests me is that I have heard Dr. Johnson speak in person (on the Jesus Seminar; he was excellent). I've read several of his books and have benefited much from his commentaries on the Gospel of Luke and The Acts of the Apostles (both are very good). I've read several of his books, including The Real Jesus and Living Jesus (solid, with many helpful insights).

I've also heard him (following the talk mentioned above) publicly voice his support of the ordination of women and his belief that the Catholic Church will eventually have priestettes (my term, not his). And, in fact, whenever Johnson moves from New Testament studies and Christology into the realm of Church authority, sexuality, and morality, he seems, well, to get really angry and a wee bit illogical. Worse, he consistently rejects and even mocks Church teaching. It can be seen, for example, in the tenor of his scathing critique of Pope John Paul II's theology of the body (published in—where else?—Commonweal; an excellent response by Christopher West can be read here).

Johnson's strained relationship with the aforementioned issues is both blatant and expressed at some length in his popular book, The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why It Matters (Doubleday, 2003). I wrote a review of it for This Rock magazine that can be read online ("From Creed to Screed: How Cafeteria Catholicism Leads to Dissent" [Sept. 2004]), so I won't go into too much detail here, except to note that reading the book was quite disconcerting, as it readily displayed a bewildering theological schizophrenia, as I noted at the start of my review: "When Johnson agrees with Church teaching, his writing is measured and his arguments are logical. But when Johnson parts ways with Church teaching, the tone becomes polemical and he shows little if any respect for the thinking and logic behind those teachings." That is, frankly, putting it mildly.

In short, Johnson not only supports women's ordination, he also supports "same sex marriage," thinks homosexual acts are just fine, supports the use of contraceptives, believes Jesus had brothers and sisters born of Mary, and thinks that belief in the miraculous conception and Virgin birth of Christ is silly: "The plain fact is that it is neither possible nor important to know the biology of Jesus’ conception and birth" (p 157). Not least, Johnson argues that since the Creed "says nothing about the Lord’s Supper or other sacraments," we can conclude that "they are not essential, and if they are not essential, then definition should be avoided and a plurality of observance should be allowed or even cultivated" (p 320).
There, you have it. A bishop is protecting his flock from corrupting influences. However, it's curious to me that Bishop Braxton always seems to draw the media's condemnation. Recall the kerfuffle over his appointment...a long list of priests' signatories protesting his appointment as Bishop of Belleville. Then complaints about his lack of communication regarding diocesan programs...etc.

The spiritual offering of prayer

~by Tertullian

Prayer is the offering in spirit that has done away with the sacrifices of old. What good do I receive from the multiplicity of your sacrifices? asks God. I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, and I do not want the fat of lambs and the blood of bulls and goats. Who has asked for these from your hands?

What God has asked for we learn from the Gospel. The hour will come, he says, when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. God is a spirit, and so he looks for worshippers who are like himself.

We are true worshippers and true priests. We pray in spirit, and so offer in spirit the sacrifice of prayer. Prayer is an offering that belongs to God and is acceptable to him: it is the offering he has asked for, the offering he planned as his own.

We must dedicate this offering with our whole heart, we must fatten it on faith, tend it by truth, keep it unblemished through innocence and clean through chastity, and crown it with love. We must escort it to the altar of God in a procession of good works to the sound of psalms and hymns. Then it will gain for us all that we ask of God.

Since God asks for prayer offered in spirit and in truth, how can he deny anything to this kind of prayer? How great is the evidence of its power, as we read and hear and believe.

Of old, prayer was able to rescue from fire and beasts and hunger, even before it received its perfection from Christ. How much greater then is the power of Christian prayer. No longer does prayer bring an angel of comfort to the heart of a fiery furnace, or close up the mouths of lions, or transport to the hungry food from the fields. No longer does it remove all sense of pain by the grace it wins for others. But it gives the armour of patience to those who suffer, who feel pain, who are distressed. It strengthens the power of grace, so that faith may know what is gaining from the Lord, and understand what it is suffering for the name of God.

In the past prayer was able to bring down punishment, rout armies, withhold the blessing of rain. Now, however, the prayer of the just turns aside the whole anger of God, keeps vigil for its enemies, pleads for persecutors. Is it any wonder that it can call down water from heaven when it could obtain fire from heaven as well? Prayer is the one thing that can conquer God. But Christ has willed that it should work no evil, and has given it all power over good.

Its only art is to call back the souls of the dead from the very journey into death, to give strength to the weak, to heal the sick, to exorcise the possessed, to open prison cells, to free the innocent from their chains. Prayer cleanses from sin, drives away temptations, stamps out persecutions, comforts the fainthearted, gives new strength to the courageous, brings travellers safely home, calms the waves, confounds robbers, feeds the poor, overrules the rich, lifts up the fallen, supports those who are falling, sustains those who stand firm.

All the angels pray. Every creature prays. Cattle and wild beasts pray and bend the knee. As they come from their barns and caves they look out to heaven and call out, lifting up their spirit in their own fashion. The birds too rise and lift themselves up to heaven: they open out their wings, instead of hands, in the form of a cross, and give voice to what seems to be a prayer.
What more need be said on the duty of prayer? Even the Lord himself prayed. To him be honour and power for ever and ever. Amen.

Stational Church: Santi Cosma e Damiano

According to tradition, Cosmas and Damian were twin brothers, born in Arabia, who studied the sciences in Syria and became eminent for their skill in medicine. Filled with Christian charity, they practiced their profession without taking payment from their patients, and on this accounted they were surnamed in the East anagyroi (“the moneyless ones”). During the persecution of Diocletian, they were apprehended in Aegea in Cilicia by order of the governor Lysias, and after various torments – including trial by drowning, burning, and crucifixion – they were eventually beheaded. Their bodies were carried to Syria and buried at Cyrrhus, which was the chief center of their cultus. Later their relics were brought to Rome, and the reception of their cultus here is an early example of the orientalization of Roman cult, which reached a crescendo in the seventh century.

The body of the church was built by Vespasian (69-79) as the templum alma urbis to conserve censorial records, municipal street plans, etc. The circular vestibule opening onto the Forum was constructed by Maxentius, possibly as a mausoleum for his son (the so-called “Temple of Romulus”). Originally, the external wall was clad with about 150 marble slabs incised with a street map of Rome at the time of the Severi (3rd century AD) known as the Forma Urbis. Felix IV (526-530) united the two structures and rededicated them as a church, the first such appropriation in the Forum of pagan temples. Urban VIII (a Barberini, 1623-1644) solved the problem of dampness by building a new floor across the middle of the church, creating a lower crypt and an upper church of unusual proportions.

Note the pleasant 17th century cloister, the street plan of San Severus in the back of the church, several typical baroque paintings, and one of the finest apse mosaics in Rome, installed by Felix IV (526-530) and frequently copied: Christ coming on the clouds with Peter and Paul, Cosmas and Damian, and Theodore and Felix IV presenting the church. Despite the overall Byzantine style, Christ is depicted in a Roman manner. They stand on golden water plants, symbolizing the River Jordan. On the triumphal arch, the enthroned lamb with motifs from the Apocalypse is also very beautiful. The ambone and baldachino were added in the seventh century. One curiosity is found in the series of 17th century depictions of saints below the mosaic. Included with the Franciscan women on the right side is Saint Bridget of Sweden in a Franciscan habit. Though not Franciscan, she did wear a widow’s costume and thus was often mistaken as a member of the Order.

Cosmas and Damian are named in the Roman Canon at Mass. With St. Luke, they are patrons of physicians and surgeons. Their church here is one of the nineteen urban deaconries of Leo III (795-816) and was erected as a station by Gregory II (715-731). It is cared for by the Third Order Regulars of Saint Francis. ~From Pontifical North American College, Station Churches of Rome

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

General Audience: Augustine's Conversion

~translation via Papa Ratzinger Forum

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today I would like to conclude my presentation of St. Augustine. After having dwelt on his life, his works, and some aspects of his thought, I wish to go back today to his interior life which made him one of the greatest converts in Christian history.

To this interior experience, I particularly devoted my reflections during the pilgrimage I made to Pavia last year to venerate the mortal remains of this Father of the Church. I wanted to express the homage of the entire Catholic Church but also to show my personal devotion and acknowledgment of a figure to whom I feel very much connected for the part that he has played in my life as a theologian, priest and pastor.

Even today we can retrace the experiences of St. Augustine, thanks above all to his Confessions, written in praise of God and which originated one of the most specific literary forms of the West, the autobiography, that is, a personal expression of one's consciousness about oneself.

Whoever reads this extraordinary and fascinating book, which is still widely read today, will easily realize that Augustine's conversion was neither sudden nor fully realized immediately, but that it could be better defined as a true and proper journey, which remains a model for each of us.

This itinerary certainly culminated in his conversion and baptism, but it did not end on that Easter Vigil of 387 when the African rhetorician was baptized by Bishop Ambrose in Milan.

Augustine's journey of conversion, in fact, continued humbly until the end of his life, so that one can say that its various stages - one can easily distinguish three - made up a unique act of conversion.

St. Augustine was a passionate searcher for the truth - he was from the very beginning and all his life. The first stage of his journey of conversion was his progressively coming close to Christianity. Actually, he received a Christian education from his mother Monica, to whom he was always closely linked, and although he led an undisciplined life in his youth, he always felt a profound attraction to Christ, having drunk love for the name of the Lord with his mother's milk, as he himself underscored (cfr Confessiones, III, 4, 8).

But philosophy, too, especially Platonic, contributed to bring him closer to Christ by showing him the existence of the Logos, creative reason. The philosophers' books showed him that there was Reason, from which the whole world sprung, but they did not tell him how to reach this Logos which seemed so remote.

Only reading about the faith of the Catholic Church in St. Paul's letters revealed the truth fully to him. This experience was synthesized by Augustine in one of the most famous pages of the Confessions: He recounts that, in the torment of his reflections, he retired to a garden, where suddenly he heard a child's voice which repeated to him a lullaby he had never heard before, "Tolle, legge, tolle, legge..." (Take and read, take and read) (VIII, 20,29).

He then remembered the conversion of St. Anthony Abbot, the father of monasticism, and with great urgency, he turned to the Pauline epistolary which he had in his hands earlier, opened it, and his glance fell on the passage from the Letter to the Romans where the Apostle exhorts the Romans to abandon the ways of the flesh and 'put on the Lord Jesus Christ' (13, 13-14).

He understood that at that moment, those words were addressed to him, that it came from God through the Apostle, and showed him what to do right then. Thus, he felt the shadows of doubt dissolve and he found himself finally free to give himself completely to Christ: "You converted my being to you", he commented (Confessiones, VIII, 12,30). This was his first and decisive conversion.

The African rhetorician reached this fundamental stage of his long journey, thanks to his passion for man and for the truth, a passion which brought him to look for God, great and seemingly inaccessible. Faith in Christ made him understand that God, apparently so remote, was really not. In fact, that he had made himself close to us by becoming one of us.

In this sense, faith in Christ fulfilled Augustine's long search along the path of truth. Only a God who made himself 'tangible', one of us, was a God to whom one could pray, for whom and with whom one could live. But it is a way to follow with courage as well as humility, opening us to a permanent purification of which each of us is always in need.

With that Easter Vigil Baptism of 387, as we said earlier, Augustine's journey was not done. He returned to Africa where he retired with a few friends to dedicate themselves to a life of contemplation and study. This was the dream of his life. He was called to live totally for the truth, with the truth, in friendship with Christ who is the Truth.

It was a beautiful dream that lasted three years, until when, against his wishes, he was consecrated a priest in Hippo, destined to serve the faithful, continuing to live with Christ and for Christ, but in the service of all.

This was very difficult for him, but he understood from the beginning that only by living for others, and not only for his private gratification, could he really live with Christ and for Christ. Thus, renouncing a life of pure meditation, Augustine learned, often with difficulty, to offer the fruit of his intelligence for the benefit of others.

He learned to communicate his faith to simple people, and living that way in what became his city, he carried out tirelessly a generous and onerous service that he described in these words in one of his beautiful sermons: "To preach continuously, discuss, reiterate, edify, be at the disposal of everyone - it is an enormous responsibility, a great weight, an immense effort" (Serm. 339,4).

But he took this weight on himself, understanding that this way, he was closest to Christ. To understand that one reaches others with simplicity and humility was his true and second conversion.

But there is a third stage in the Augustinian journey, a third conversion: that which brought him every day of his life to ask God's forgiveness. Initially, he had thought that once he was baptized - in a life of communion with Christ, in the Sacraments, in the celebration of the Eucharist - he would attain the life proposed in the Sermon on the Mount: the perfection given in Baptism and reconfirmed in the Eucharist.

In the latter part of his life, he understood that what he had said in his first preachings about the Sermon on the Mount - that is, that we Christians would thereafter live that ideal permanently - was wrong. That only Christ himself was the true and complete realization of the Sermon on the Mount.

We are all always in need of being 'washed' by Christ, who washes our feet, and to be renewed by him. We need permanent continuing conversion. Up to the end we need the humility to recognize that we are sinners on a journey, until the Lord gives us his hand conclusively and introduces us to eternal life. In such an attitude of humility, lived day after day, Augustine died.

This attitude of profound humility before the one Lord Jesus introduced him also to the experience of intellectual humility. Augustine, in fact, who is one of the greatest figures in the history of ideas, wished during his final years to place all his numerous works under lucid critical examination.

That was the origin of Retractiones(Revisions) which, in this way, placed his theological thinking, which was truly great, within the humble and holy faith of what he called simply with the name Catholic, that is, the Church.

"I understood," he wrote in this very original book (I, 19,1-3), "that only one is truly perfect, and that the words of the Sermon on the Mount are completely realized only in one - in Jesus Christ himself. The whole Church, instead - all of us, including the Apostles - must pray every day: forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us."

Converted to Christ, who is truth and love, Augustine followed him the rest of his life and has become a model for every human being, for all of us in search of God.

That is why I wished to conclude my pilgrimage to Pavia by symbolically offering to the Church and to the world, at the tomb of this great lover of God, my first encyclical, Deus caritas est.

In fact, the encyclical owes a great deal, especially in the first part, to the thought of St. Augustine. Even today, as in his time, mankind needs to recognize, and above all, to live, this fundamental reality: God is love, and the encounter with him is the only response to the anxieties of the human heart. A heart that is inhabited by hope, perhaps still obscure and even unconscious in many of our contemporaries, but which for us Christians, already opens the future, such that St. Paul wrote, "in hope we are saved" (Rom 8,24).

I dedicated my second encyclical, Spe salvi, to hope, and even that owes a great deal to Augustine's thoughts and his encounter with God.

In a very beautiful text, Augustine defined prayer as the expression of desire, and stated that God responds by opening up our hearts to him. On our part, we should purify our desires and our hopes in order to receive the kindness of God (cfr In I Ioannis, 4, 6). Only this, in fact, opening us up to others, saves us.

Let us pray therefore that in our life we may be granted to follow everyday the example of this great convert, encountering like him, in every moment of our life, the Lord Jesus, the only one who saves us, purifies us, and gives us true joy and true life.

A New Bishop for Lansing

~from the Holy See's Bollettino

The Holy Father has named Auxiliary Bishop Earl Boyea of the Diocese of Detroit as the new Bishop of Lansing. Bishop Boyea was ordained to the priesthood in 1978. He studied in Detroit's Sacred Heart Seminary and the Pontifical North American College in Rome. He received a doctorate from Catholic University of America. He served on the faculty of Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit and was rector-president of the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio.

He was named Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit in July 2002 and was consecrated as Bishop in September 2002.

Dark circles

...humor break. When I opened my webmail, there was this rather frightful banner at the very top. This was an ad for a product that is supposed to zap dark circles under you eyes. Now, do the advertisers seriously think that I believe anyone naturally walks around looking like this?

Then, I open the New York Times today and see that this look is, oh, so chic. To demonstrate, here are samples from the Paris Fashion Week.

Goodness, how long did the makeup artist take to make these models look like they've been up for several nights in a row? I wonder if these models ever thought that modeling jobs would demand them to look like they've walked off the set of "Night of the Living Dead"?

Walkway fashions are so amusing. Last year, it was clerical chic and the Virgin Mary look (mind you, no mention of her virtues) was "in".

But! I found my Easter bonnet. Now I am sure my RCIA class will be so pleased when I show up at Vigil looking like this:

Can anyone explain this to me?

Anglican Use Conference

...will be in San Antonio on July 10th - 12th, 2008.
In this annual conference organized by the Anglican Use Society, representatives of the several Catholic parishes of the Pastoral Provision will gather, together with interested Anglican clergy and lay people. This year's conference will be hosted by Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church

The theme of this year's conference is The First 25 Years of the Anglican Usage of the Roman Rite: Unity in Diversity in the Catholic Church.

Guest speakers will include The Most Reverend John Myers, Archbishop of Newark and the Ecclesiastical Delegate for the Pastoral Provision; The Reverend Christopher G. Phillips, Pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church; and Dr. Jeffrey N. Steenson, formerly the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande, and recent convert to the Catholic Church.

The registration fee is $90.00 per person.
Check out the website for the registration form.

More on the Shrine

~While we're on the subject of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, let's take a look at the organ built by the Noack Organ Company. I have been involved in two pipe organ installations previously. It gets under your skin and you become hopelessly addicted to pipe organs, even though raising the money can be a royal headache. The organ case at the Shrine was designed by Duncan Stroik and it is carved mahogany.

Here is the drawing via the Noack Organ Company:

The stop list may be found at the Noack website. Click on "Instruments" and then Shrine of OLOG.

Baldacchino at Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine

Baldacchino, from the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Duncan Stroik, architect

A view of the baldacchino from the confessio, Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome, when I visited there last June.

Beautiful new baldacchino at the Shrine. For more pictures, go to Creative Minority Report.

Ireland running out of priests

~from Times Online
Ireland, a country that used to export its Catholic clergy around the world, is running out of priests at such a rate that their numbers will have dropped by two thirds in the next 20 years, leaving parishes up and down the land vacant.

The decline of Catholic Ireland, for decades the Pope’s favourite bastion of faith in Europe, has been regularly predicted, as the economic successes of the Celtic Tiger brought growing secularisation. But new figures have starkly set out the fate of the Irish priesthood if action is not taken by the Church to reverse the trend.

One-hundred and sixty priests died last year but only nine were ordained. Figures for nuns were even more dramatic, with the deaths of 228 nuns and only two taking final vows for service in religious life.

Based upon these figures The Irish Catholic newspaper predicts that the number of priests will drop from the current 4,752 to about 1,500 by 2028.

The decline in vocations is attributed to the loss of the Church’s authority after a string of sex-abuse scandals. In 1994 the Government collapsed over the mishandling of the case of a paedophile priest Brendan Smyth.

The scandals broke a dam of silence, prompting apologies from both the Church and the Government for the abuse of children and women who passed through religious institutions. An estimated €1 billion (£750,000) are being paid out in compensation to victims.

Regular church attendance, which was at 90 per cent at the start of the 1990s, has suffered a collapse, mitigated partially in recent years by the mass influx of Polish workers.

The priestly age profile is creating another dilemma because most priests are already close to normal retirement age. The average age of Irish priests is currently 61.

Religious commentators are calling on the Church authorities to convene a national synod to address the crisis. Some are even challenging the vow of celibacy as unnecessary. “The time has come for the Church in Ireland to confront this problem much more seriously,” The Irish Catholic said.

Father Eamonn Bourke, director of vocations in Dublin, said: “These latest statistics bring the problems we are facing into sharp focus.

“It is impossible to argue with statistics and the situation is very grave. For a long time people have failed to real-ise how much the decline is.” He said he was concerned that “some priests are reluctant to offer priesthood to people as a valuable way of life. It will take a long time to increase this confidence.”

David Quinn, a commentator on Irish religious affairs, told The Times: “The real problem is that the demographic has finally caught up and priests are retiring and dying at a rate of knots.

“I’d say that a majority of priests in Ireland would probably favour dropping the celibacy rule, while the bishops would be more evenly split on the issue. But vocations in Ireland were exceptionally high between 1920 and 1960, higher than in the 19th century, just as now they are so low as to be an aberration. Ireland is now the vocations blackspot of the world.
Read more. Note to David Quinn: The Anglicans have married (and more!) clergy and they have a vocations crisis (among other things) too. So, dropping the celibacy rule will not solve the problem.

Forming consciences

~A story to watch. Did the writer incur a canonical penalty for wishing damnation on the Bishops? Or was he merely following his conscience? What does that say about a Catholic's state of mind when he can justify voting for a pro-abort like Obama, not just your run-of-the-mill pro-abort, but a rabid one to boot? From CNA.
A writer who wrote a Washington Post op-ed piece arguing against the U.S. bishops’ criticism of voters who support pro-choice politicians and ended his article with a curse of the bishops could face canonical penalties for inciting hatred against the bishops.

Joe Feuerherd, a correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, attacked the bishops’ statement “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” in the Sunday edition of the Washington Post. In their statement, the bishops noted that voters’ political decisions could affect their salvation.

Feuerherd also criticized the bishops’ efforts to ensure the worthy reception of Holy Communion in the case of pro-abortion politicians who attend Mass.

While describing himself as an opponent of liberal abortion laws, Feuerherd criticized Republicans and pledged his support for the Democrats. “Sounds like I'll be voting for the Democrat -- and the bishops be damned,” his essay concluded.

Canon lawyer Dr. Edward Peters vigorously condemned the curse. “To wish damnation on an individual or a group is to wish on them the absolutely worst fate conceivable: separation from God forever,” Peters wrote. “Catholics possessed of even a rudimentary catechesis know that one cannot invoke upon a human being any greater calamity than damnation, and that it is never licit, for any reason, to wish that another person be damned.”

Peters said Feuerherd’s “words of contempt” were not made in the heat of the moment. “Feuerherd's curse, ‘the bishops be damned’, was expressed in cold, deliberate, prose intended for maximum effect in a prominent national publication.”

Peters noted that Canon 1369 canon law mandates the imposition of a “just penalty” for a person who in published writing “expresses insults or excites hatred or contempt against religion or the Church.” Another canon, 1373, commends “an interdict or other just penalties” to be imposed on a person who publicly incites animosities or hatred against an episcopal ordinary “because of some act of power or ecclesiastical ministry.”
The canon lawyer for the Archdiocese of Denver says however:
“The bishops, in this case, are ordinaries. The Washington Post is a public forum, and it is read by subjects of the bishops. The issue, however, is that while issuing Faithful Citizenship probably constitutes an act of ministry, it is not entirely clear that Feuerherd incited others to disobey their ordinaries, so much as he stated that he was voting in accord with his conscience, as the bishops have commanded him to do. His obligation to form his conscience is another story.”

“Therefore, it is not clear to me that he violated [canon] 1373,” Flynn wrote in an email. He told CNA that any episcopal action would begin with fraternal correction, then possibly continue with an investigation to determine if Feuerherd had committed a willful wrong. If it was determined such a wrong had been committed, the bishop could then initiate a penal procedure.

Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God

~by St. Theophilus of Antioch

If you say, “Show me your God”, I will say to you, “Show me what kind of person you are, and I will show you my God”. Show me then whether the eyes of your mind can see, and the ears of your heart hear.

It is like this. Those who can see with the eyes of their bodies are aware of what is happening in this life on earth. They get to know things that are different from each other. They distinguish light and darkness, black and white, ugliness and beauty, elegance and inelegance, proportion and lack of proportion, excess and defect. The same is true of the sounds we hear: high or low or pleasant. So it is with the ears of our heart and the eyes of our mind in their capacity to hear or see God.

God is seen by those who have the capacity to see him, provided that they keep the eyes of their mind open. All have eyes, but some have eyes that are shrouded in darkness, unable to see the light of the sun. Because the blind cannot see it, it does not follow that the sun does not shine. The blind must trace the cause back to themselves and their eyes. In the same way, you have eyes in your mind that are shrouded in darkness because of your sins and evil deeds.

A person’s soul should be clean, like a mirror reflecting light. If there is rust on the mirror his face cannot be seen in it. In the same way, no one who has sin within him can see God.
But if you will you can be healed. Hand yourself over to the doctor, and he will open the eyes of your mind and heart. Who is to be the doctor? It is God, who heals and gives life through his Word and wisdom. Through his Word and wisdom he created the universe, for by his Word the heavens were established, and by his Spirit all their array. His wisdom is supreme. God by wisdom founded the earth, by understanding he arranged the heavens, by his knowledge the depths broke forth and the clouds poured out the dew.

If you understand this, and live in purity and holiness and justice, you may see God. But, before all, faith and the fear of God must take the first place in your heart, and then you will understand all this. When you have laid aside mortality and been clothed in immortality, then you will see God according to your merits. God raises up your flesh to immortality along with your soul, and then, once made immortal, you will see the immortal One, if you believe in him now.

Stational Church: San Sisto Vecchio

By tradition, this church was built to mark the spot where Pope Saint Sixtus II (257-258), on his way to martyrdom, met Saint Lawrence during the Valerian persecution (253-260) towards the end of the Roman Empire. Its original name was the titulus Tigridae, possibly the name of the Roman lady on whose property it was built. The first recorded mention of it was in 595 at the Council of Rome. The Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great mention the nomination of the priest Basso to the title of St. Sixtus, and St. Gregory chose the church as one of the Lenten stations.

The church was restored in the eighth and ninth centuries, and Gregory IV (827-844) presented the church with sacred vestments. After that it seems to have been neglected, since Innocent III (1198-1216) had to rebuild it almost completely. In 1219 Honorius III (1216-1227) entrusted the church and monastery to the recently-founded Dominicans, and St. Dominic (1170-1221) himself lived for some time in the monastery, collecting there about a hundred friars before he was given Santa Sabina on the Aventine.

Sixtus IV (1471-1484) ordered the complete renovation of the ceiling and the rebuilding of the façade, and its doorway is now in the southern wall. In the 16th century Filippo Cardinal Boncompagni, its titular, carried out extensive renovations. About the same time, the Dominican nuns living in the convent attached to the church received permission to vacate it on account of the malaria raging in the district. In the 18th century Pope Benedict XIII (1724-1730), a Dominican, planned a restoration for the church. This plan, however, was abandoned in the midst of the invasion of Napoleon until 1856 when the Irish Dominicans, who had charge of the church from 1677-1798, restored it.

In the 6th century the relics of Pope St. Sixtus II were translated from the Catacombs of St. Callistus to this church. Its Romanesque bell-tower dates from the 13th century, and inside the church is an interesting 13th century fresco cycle depicting Scenes from the New Testament and the Apocrypha. ~From Pontifical North American College, Station Churches of Rome

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


~again from The New York do we relieve our eco-guilt? Find an eco-psychologist.
Like traditional therapy, ecopsychology examines personal interactions and family systems, while also encouraging patients to develop a relationship to nature.

“Global warming has added an extra layer of anxiety to what people are already feeling,” said Sandy Shulmire of Portland, Ore., a psychologist and practitioner of ecopsychology.

Therapists like Dr. Shulmire use several techniques, like encouraging patients besieged by multitasking to spend more time outdoors and exploring how their upbringing and family background influence their approach to the natural world.
Now, I have no problem with going on "fasts" such as from shopping and dependence on electronic gadgets and replacing them with simpler pursuits, such as gardening and meditating. This is good. We are too addicted to things--bigger, better, and more. Lent is a wonderful and joyful time to experience the beauty that austerity can bring....eating less, consuming less, praying more, and giving more.

It's the eco-anxiety that is wacky. Face it, folks, the world is going to end. It's only a matter of time, God's time. What was it that Jesus said, "Do not worry about your life. By worrying, have you added a cubit to your stature? Consider the lilies of the field how they neither toil nor spin, yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." This just reminds me of how urgent the need is to proclaim the Gospel. There are hungry and hurting people who need the eternal message of God's saving grace. And perhaps, we do need some humility to see how our lives proclaim that Gospel of Hope.

Eco-Moms and the new religion

~Remember when Cardinal Pell called the global warming hysteria as neo-pagan emptiness? Well, it's now de rigeur among certain circles. Cardinal Pell was right about the emptiness needing to be filled with something that takes on the characteristics of a fundamentalist religion. Here's the New York Times with "eco-moms". If you go to the article, you'll see an inocuous picture of moms sitting in a livingroom....reminiscent of neighborhood Bible Study circles of old...also, of Tupperware parties and the like.
Move over, Tupperware. The EcoMom party has arrived, with its ever-expanding “to do” list that includes preparing waste-free school lunches; lobbying for green building codes; transforming oneself into a “locovore,” eating locally grown food; and remembering not to idle the car when picking up children from school (if one must drive). Here, the small talk is about the volatile compounds emitted by dry-erase markers at school.

Perhaps not since the days of “dishpan hands” has the household been so all-consuming. But instead of gleaming floors and sparkling dishes, the obsession is on installing compact fluorescent light bulbs, buying in bulk and using “smart” power strips that shut off electricity to the espresso machine, microwave, X-Box, VCR, coffee grinder, television and laptop when not in use.

“It’s like eating too many brownies one day and then jogging extra the next,” said Kimberly Danek Pinkson, 38, the founder of the EcoMom Alliance, speaking to the group of efforts to curb eco-guilt through carbon offsets for air travel.

Part “Hints from Heloise” and part political self-help group, the alliance, which Ms. Pinkson says has 9,000 members across the country, joins a growing subculture dedicated to the “green mom,” with blogs and Web sites like and Web-based organizations like the Center for a New American Dream in Takoma Park, Md., advocate reducing consumption and offer a registry that helps brides “celebrate the less-material wedding of your dreams.”

At an EcoMom circle in Palo Alto, executive mothers whipped out spreadsheets to tally their goals, inspired by a 10-step program that urges using only nontoxic products for cleaning, bathing and make-up, as well as cutting down garbage by 10 percent.

“I used to feel anxiety,” said Kathy Miller, 49, an alliance member, recalling life before she started investigating weather-sensitive irrigation controls for her garden with nine growing zones. “Now I feel I’m doing something.”

The notion of “ecoanxiety” has crept into the culture here. It was the subject of a recent cover story in San Francisco magazine that quotes a Berkeley mother so stressed out about the extravagance of her nightly baths that she started to reuse her daughter’s bath water. Where there is ecoanxiety, of course, there are ecotherapists.

“The truth is, we’re not living very naturally,” said Linda Buzzell, a therapist in Santa Barbara who publishes the quarterly EcoTherapy News and often holds sessions in her backyard permaculture food forest. “We’re in our cars, staring at the computer screen, separated most of the day from the people we love.”

“Activism can help counteract depression,” Ms. Buzzell added. “But if we get caught up in trying to save the world single-handedly, we’re just going to burn out.”
Cardinal Pell is so right on.

Is it censorship?

~from Belleville News-Democrat about Bishop Braxton's disallowing Luke Timothy Johnson to speak at a Newman Center. Censorship! so cry some Catholics (note Commonweal is prominent in this story)
Johnson, a professor of theology at Emory University in Atlanta, was scheduled to speak April 20 at the diocese-funded Newman Center on the campus of Southern Illinois University Carbondale. But in October, Braxton, who has authority over virtually all diocesan matters, blocked the presentation.

In an editorial published two weeks ago, Commonweal, a national Catholic magazine, criticized Braxton's action, terming it "censorship."

While Braxton rarely comments to local reporters and could not be reached for comment for this article, he did respond to Commonweal, citing a need to protect the "magisterium," or teaching authority of the Catholic Church, and wrote:

"I do not wish Catholic institutions or organizations to invite speakers into the diocese who have written articles or given lectures that oppose, deny, reject, undermine or call into question the authentic teachings of the magisterium of the Catholic Church."

Steven Sanders, a Carbondale insurance brokerage owner and member of the center's pastoral council that invited Johnson, said of Braxton, "I think he's stepping in where it's none of his damn business. These kids are college kids. They should be able to hear all sides."

Braxton's action in blocking the talk is not unusual, said Johnson, who is mainly known as a biblical scholar who sometimes questions church authority. He recently wrote a Commonweal article about applying practical experience instead of relying solely on Holy Scripture's condemnation of homosexuality. The article also mentioned the long-standing opposition by church hierarchy to the ordination of women.

"It's hardball politics in this kind of thing. And by no means is it restricted to Catholicism. It's widespread," he said.
Dear, dear Mr. again what "bishop" is very well his business. It's called "oversight". It is his business to guard the faith, to govern and to correct. Go back to the Catechism, Mr. Sanders. Censorship is quite different from sponsorship. The Church is NOT obligated to give forum to dissenting and opposing views to the magisterium.

TLM at the Pantheon

~hat tip to Cathcon

When Bishops Act, the Government Knocks

~from CNA. What happens when a Bishop insists on orthodoxy in Catholic institutions?
A committee in the British House of Commons will investigate Catholic schools following the Bishop of Lancaster’s instructions to schools to place crucifixes in every classroom and stop “safe sex” education, the Independent reports.

Patrick O’Donoghue, Bishop of Lancaster, had circulated a 66-page booklet instructing Catholic schools to stop “safe sex” education. Bishop O’Donoghue wrote, "The secular view on sex outside marriage, artificial contraception, sexually transmitted disease, including HIV and AIDS, and abortion, may not be presented as neutral information."

Additionally, he told the schools not to support charities that support abortion. He singled out Amnesty International, which recently renounced its neutrality on abortion and now favors the abortion of children whose mothers were raped in war zones.

The government’s investigating committee is chaired by Labour Party member Barry Sheerman, who is reportedly concerned the Church is adopting a “fundamentalist” line.

"A lot of taxpayers' money is going into church schools and I think we should tease out what is happening here," he added. "We seem to have a shift in emphasis on the ground despite what the reasonable voices of the leadership are saying,” Sheerman said.

"Two years ago, it was possible to set up an inter-faith academy in Liverpool (jointly run by the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England)," Sheerman recalled.

However, a similar attempt in the area that Sheerman represents was abandoned after a letter was read in all area parishes before a meeting dedicated to discussing whether politicians were trying to dilute Catholic education.

“I just want to know why it is not now possible to set up an inter-faith school," Sheerman said.
Got that? It's unreasonable to adhere to Catholic teaching. The government is going to "tease out" (read obliterate) what is happening there. Oh, and the whining about inter-faith initiatives is a ruse.

Prayer knocks, fasting obtains, mercy receives

~by St. Peter Chrysologus

There are three things, my brethren, by which faith stands firm, devotion remains constant, and virtue endures. They are prayer, fasting and mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives. Prayer, mercy and fasting: these three are one, and they give life to each other.
Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others you open God’s ear to yourself.

When you fast, see the fasting of others. If you want God to know that you are hungry, know that another is hungry. If you hope for mercy, show mercy. If you look for kindness, show kindness. If you want to receive, give. If you ask for yourself what you deny to others, your asking is a mockery.

Let this be the pattern for all men when they practise mercy: show mercy to others in the same way, with the same generosity, with the same promptness, as you want others to show mercy to you.
Therefore, let prayer, mercy and fasting be one single plea to God on our behalf, one speech in our defence, a threefold united prayer in our favour.

Let us use fasting to make up for what we have lost by despising others. Let us offer our souls in sacrifice by means of fasting. There is nothing more pleasing that we can offer to God, as the psalmist said in prophecy: A sacrifice to God is a broken spirit; God does not despise a bruised and humbled heart.

Offer your soul to God, make him an oblation of your fasting, so that your soul may be a pure offering, a holy sacrifice, a living victim, remaining your own and at the same time made over to God. Whoever fails to give this to God will not be excused, for if you are to give him yourself you are never without the means of giving.

To make these acceptable, mercy must be added. Fasting bears no fruit unless it is watered by mercy. Fasting dries up when mercy dries up. Mercy is to fasting as rain is to earth. However much you may cultivate your heart, clear the soil of your nature, root out vices, sow virtues, if you do not release the springs of mercy, your fasting will bear no fruit.

When you fast, if your mercy is thin your harvest will be thin; when you fast, what you pour out in mercy overflows into your barn. Therefore, do not lose by saving, but gather in by scattering. Give to the poor, and you give to yourself. You will not be allowed to keep what you have refused to give to others.

Stational Church: Santa Pudenziana

After the close of the eighth century, a story arose of Saints Pudentiana and Praxedes, in which they were described as sisters (Pudentiana being only 16 years old) and the daughters of Pudens, martyred by Nero, and granddaughters of the Senator Quintus Cornelius Pudens, the host of St. Peter. (Opinion is divided as to whether this Pudens is to be identified with the Pudens mentioned in 2 Tim 4:21.) The sisters are said to have buried Neronian martyrs in a well, now enclosed within this church. When Paschal I (817-882) began to translate relics from the catacombs, these two sisters stand together first in the list of virgins transferred. Though the story of the sisters is somewhat uncertain, it is certain that there was a Christian named Pudens in whose bathhouse Pius I (141-155) later built an oratory, which was rebuilt in the fourth century and constitutes one of the original twenty-five parish churches (tituli) of Rome, known as the ecclesia Pudentiana or titulus Pudentis. Owing to a confusion in the name, the church later became associated not with Pudens, but with Pudentiana; indeed, the name was even misunderstood to be Potentiana!

The old basilica was modernized in 1598 by Volterra, and the façade was restored and Via Urbana staircase added in the 19th century. The house of Pudens, or possibly the baths adjoining the house, has been partially excavated under the church.

Note the 12th century campanile, 19th century façade mosaics, and the magnificent 4th century apse mosaic, thoroughly Roman in inspiration and unique in its treatment of Christ-Jupiter and the Apostles-Senators against a Roman panorama. The buildings in the background may be the churches built by Emperor Constantine in Jerusalem, suggested by the gemmed cross with which Constantine is said to have marked Calvary. The panorama is intended to symbolize the Heavenly Jerusalem toward which we are on pilgrimage.

Next to the cross are symbols of the Evangelists, the oldest preserved example of these famous icons. Unfortunately the 16th century “renovations” partially destroyed this mosaic, probably the oldest in Rome. The sisters’ well stands in the left aisle, which is said to contain the relics of 3,000 early martyrs, and behind it opens the Capella Caetani (family of Boniface VIII), built in the 16th century. Notice here the mosaics over the entrance, an Olivieri relief over the altar, and the columns of Lumachella (fossilized snails) marble. At the head of the left aisle is Cardinal Wiseman’s Chapel of St. Peter, with an ancient pavement, della Porta’s fine relief of the conferral of the Keys, and a slice of Peter’s altar table (the rest is embedded in the papal altar of St. John Lateran). A door in the left aisle opens into a cortile with a small chapel frescoed in the 11th century. The station was formally erected by Gregory the Great.

Among the former titulars of the church is Cardinal Luciano Bonaparte, great-nephew of the French emperor. Today it is the national church of the Philippines, which has the largest Catholic population in Asia. ~From Pontifical North American College, Station Churches of Rome

Monday, February 25, 2008

Demographic Winter

~Hat tip again to Dr. Blosser. Make sure to watch this movie!
"Question: What does "Demographic Winter" mean?

Answer: "Demographic Winter" denotes the worldwide decline in birthrates, also referred to as "birth-dearth," and what it portends...

..Worldwide, birthrates have been halved in the past 50 years. There ar enow 59 nations, with 44% of the population, with below-replacement fertility.

Sometime in this century, the world's population will begin to decline. At a certain point, the decline will become rapid. We may even reach population free-fall in our lifetimes.
"Only if political incorrectness of talking about the natural family within policy circles is overcome will solutions begin to be found. These solutions will necessarily result in policy changes, changes that will support and promote the natural, intact family.

Alice von Hildebrand on Summorum Pontificum

~I know that this article was published in December, a busy time. So I thought now's a good time to make a citation. Thanks to Dr. Blosser for the reminder. He's republished the entire article on Scripture and Tradition.
Many repetitions in liturgical prayers have been abolished; they were viewed as "unnecessary." That repetitions have a profound meaning is ignored. Granted that repeating a piece of neutral information is meaningless and boring, words such as "Lord have mercy' cannot be repeated often enough. A wife once complained to me that her husband never said to her that he loved her. In a roundabout way, I tried to make him understand that she would appreciate hearing these sweet words, to which he answered, "I told her so when I asked her to marry me. She therefore knows it. Why should I repeat it?" He was missing the point. The key words in a deep human relationship are, "I love you," "Thank you" and "Forgive me." Marriages in which these words are never uttered are doomed.

Prior to Vatican II, women entering church wore a veil, whereas men took off their hats. Feminists interpreted this as a clear sign of discrimination. Now women go bare-headed like men. By allowing this change, according to the feminists, the Church is "slowly" trying to correct her ill-treatment of the female sex. But once again, a profound symbolism has been eliminated. Not only are we now disregarding a recommendation of Saint Paul, but we no longer understand its deep meaning. Because Mary, the Woman par excellence, was privileged to carry the Savior of the world in her sacred womb, and sacredness calls for veiling, women wearing a veil were reminded that their bodies have the very same structure as the one of the Theotokos. Mary has given life to the Savior; women are also "mothers of life" and this implies a unique closeness between them and the One who is the Life of the world. To be veiled indicated clearly the sacredness of the female body, and once again, this sublime message has been lost.

That girls are now allowed to serve on the altar is a manifestation of the same tendency to confuse the role of men and women in Holy Church. Women, under the nefarious influence of feminism totally forget that receptivity is their special charisma (for Mary said: "... be it done to me ...") and an essential feature of religious life. In our secularized world, only "doing" is appreciated. Silence, receptivity, contemplation are "inefficient."

Another reason why the Traditional Mass has such a powerful attraction is that it incorporates what Plato calls: "the golden chord of tradition." In a society where marriage and the family are breaking down, in which innumerable people are "uprooted," in which the "deprivation syndrome" is endemic, the awareness of participating in religious celebration that goes back for centuries, that has been the spiritual food of innumerable, cherished saints, is a powerful incentive to "feeling at home," in a deeply spiritual sense. One feels embedded in the "Communion of Saints" and experiences that saints living centuries ago are our spiritual contemporaries. Our poor prayers are joined to those of beloved saints and carried by them to God. It is such a consolation to those of us who daily feel the imperfection of their praise of God. The Traditional Mass has a note of "eternal youth" (... qui laetificat juventutem meam ...); this is why it could not die.
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When there is no "we" in marriage

~What a sad, sterile marriage this is. From the New York Times
AT many weddings, the officiant talks about how a husband and wife should be like two pillars on a porch: separate but together. In their marriage, Jennifer Belle, a novelist, and Andrew Krents, an entertainment lawyer, take the separation part to the extreme. It is almost as if they are afraid of spending too much time together.

“Familiarity breeds contempt,” Mr. Krents said.

When Ms. Belle was single, her career always came before everything else, including spending time with a boyfriend. In her mind, love and marriage had about as much chance of lasting as snow on a Manhattan sidewalk.

“My parents were divorced big time,” said Ms. Belle, who grew up on West End Avenue. “For me, marriage came with divorce.”

Then she met Mr. Krents. Both are brutally honest and darkly hilarious, relate to Woody Allen movies and Bob Dylan lyrics, and could subsist for years on Chinese takeout. And Mr. Krents was almost as short (she’s 5-foot-1, he’s 5-4) as she. They danced to Randy Newman’s song, “Short People,” at their wedding reception on Aug. 25, 2002.

After they started dating — and even after marrying — she still put her writing before everything else. Mr. Krents, also a workaholic, barely noticed. They have never been the kind of couple to stare into each other’s eyes. They’re too busy staring into their BlackBerrys.

After their wedding, the two often and happily went their separate ways. In fact, they even started married life separately. She began their honeymoon alone (he couldn’t find his passport), checking into their suite in Venice and thoroughly enjoying herself without him.

“I learned, ‘O.K., you like Italy more than you like me — good to know,’ ” said Mr. Krents, now 38.

He found the passport, showed up four days later, and the honeymoon (what was left of it anyway) turned out to be blissful. “It was the first time in weeks we weren’t practicing the box step,” he said.

During their first year of marriage, they were perfectly in sync. They would wake at about 10 and he would serve her takeout coffee from the Korean deli on the corner. After that, he would climb the stairs to his office on the top floor of their Greenwich Village duplex while she would leave for the neighborhood cafe where she has written all her novels: “Going Down,” “High Maintenance” and “Little Stalker.”

He describes her as an unconventional, sometimes unreachable, wife. “Dinner isn’t on the table at a certain time every night,” he said. “She’s out, she’s writing, she’s teaching workshops. Who can ever find her?”

She also has trouble tracking him down. “When we first started dating, he just wanted to make me happy and make my life better,” she said. “We would talk about my career and my books. Now, I feel like I have to make an appointment to call him on his BlackBerry to talk about myself for one second.”
Read more. Now, they have two children and you would think that this would draw them closer together. But what's their reaction?
Now that they have two children, and she is working on another novel, the marriage has become “one big competition for time alone,” Ms. Belle said.

“Andy’s desperate to work all the time, and I want to work,” she said. “I spend a lot of time saying things like, ‘My work is important, too!’ I must say that 25 times a day.”

They do have help — Suzy’s Chinese restaurant does most of the cooking, and they have a nanny 50 hours a week. “If I had the money, it would be more, frankly,” she said.

For a couple that craves and fights for time alone and apart, how do they stay together? One way, they said, is by pretty much ignoring their relationship in the same way a writer ignores a blank page.

“I try not to think about marriage,” Ms. Belle said. “It just seems impossible to me. It’s wondrous. It’s like trying to understand the meaning of the universe.”
So much for cleaving together and becoming one.

Thirst for Christ an Entryway to Mystery of God

~from Zenit
Like a good father, God desires the best for mankind, which happens to be God himself, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope said this today before reciting the midday Angelus with several thousand people gathered in St. Peter's Square, commenting on the passage in the Gospel of John that recounts the meeting between Jesus and the woman at the well, which he called "one of the most beautiful and profound texts of the Bible."

"It is impossible," the Pontiff said, "for a brief explanation of this passage of the Gospel to bring out its richness: It is necessary to read and meditate on it personally, identifying oneself with that woman, who, one day, like many others, went to draw water from the well, and found Jesus there, seated by it, 'tired from the trip,' in the noonday heat."

The encounter with the Samaritan woman, he said, began with "the real and sensible experience of thirst."

"The thirst of Christ is an entranceway into the mystery of God, who made himself thirsty to refresh us, as he made himself poor to enrich us," the Holy Father continued. "Yes, God thirsts for our faith and our love. Like a good and merciful father he desires for us all possible good and this good is God himself."

"For her part the Samaritan woman represents the existential unhappiness of those who have not found what they are looking for," said Benedict XVI. "She had 'five husbands' and is now living with a man; her coming and going to the well represents a repetitive and resigned life."

"But everything changes for her that day," he said, "on account of her conversation with the Lord Jesus, who shakes her up so much that she leaves the water jar and runs to tell the people of the village: 'Come and see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?'"

The Pope concluded, "Let us too open our hearts to the confident hearing of the word of God to meet, like the Samaritan woman, Jesus, who reveals his love to us."

Boast only of the Lord

~by St. Basil the Great

The wise man must not boast of his wisdom, nor the strong man of his strength, nor the rich man of his riches. What then is the right kind of boasting? What is the source of man’s greatness? Scripture says: The man who boasts must boast of this, that He knows and understands that I am the Lord. Here is man’s greatness, here is man’s glory and majesty: to know in truth what is great, to hold fast to it, and to seek glory from the Lord of glory. The Apostle tells us: The man who boasts must boast of the Lord. He has just said: Christ was appointed by God to be our wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification, our redemption, so that, as it is written, a man who boasts must boast of the Lord.

Boasting of God is perfect and complete when we take no pride in our own righteousness but acknowledge that we are utterly lacking in true righteousness and have been made righteous only by faith in Christ.

Paul boasts of the fact that he holds his own righteousness in contempt and seeks the righteousness in faith that comes through Christ and is from God. He wants only to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and to have fellowship with his sufferings by taking on the likeness of his death, in the hope that somehow he may arrive at the resurrection of the dead.

Here we see all overweening pride laid low. Humanity, there is nothing left for you to boast of, for your boasting and hope lie in putting to death all that is your own and seeking the future life that is in Christ. Since we have its first fruits we are already in its midst, living entirely in the grace and gift of God.

It is God who is active within us, giving us both the will and the achievement, in accordance with his good purpose. Through his Spirit, God also reveals his wisdom in the plan he has preordained for our glory.

God gives power and strength in our labours. I have toiled harder than all the others, Paul says, but it is not I but the grace of God, which is with me.

God rescues us from dangers beyond all human expectation. We felt within ourselves that we had received the sentence of death, so that we might not trust ourselves but in God, who raises the dead; from so great a danger did he deliver us, and does deliver us; we hope in him, for he will deliver us again.

Stational Church: San Marco

This basilica was originally dedicated to St. Mark the Evangelist. According to tradition, the author of the second Gospel, the man named Mark who is mentioned in the New Testament with Peter and Paul, is the same John Mark mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles and, it is sometimes said, the young man who ran away when Christ was arrested in Gethsemene. If these identifications are correct, then we learn that St. Mark was the son of a woman householder in Jerusalem named Mary, that St. Barnabas was his cousin, that he helped to evangelize Cyprus, and that he rejoined Paul in Rome where he probably wrote his Gospel. Papias, writing around 140, said that St. Mark was the interpreter of St. Peter. Later, Mark is said to have evangelized Alexandria, to have become bishop there, and to have been martyred under Trajan (98-117). In 829 the Venetians appropriated his relics and the “winged lion” has been their symbol, and patron saint, ever since. This church was later also dedicated to Pope Saint Mark (336).

Built by Pope St. Mark over an older oratory, the basilica became known as the titulus Marci, one of the original twenty-five parishes of Rome. The structure has been rebuilt several times, and the current rich and elegant interior is of the late-eighteenth century. The massive travertine portico and loggia, which precede the church, were constructed in 1465 by Pope Paul II (1464-1471) with stone quarried from the Colosseum to integrate San Marco into his new Palazzo Venezia. The upper story served as his loggia of benediction.

In the portico note, on the right wall, the funerary inscription of Vanozza Cattanei, mistress of Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503) and mother of Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia. Inside, note especially the columns veneered in Sicilian jasper and the coffered fifteenth-century ceiling by dei Dolci, architect of the Sistine Chapel. It may be the oldest such ceiling in Rome, rivaled only by that of St. Mary Major. The rough apse mosaic from the ninth century depicts, from left to right, St. Agnese, St. Agapitus, Pope Saint Mark, Christ giving a Greek blessing, St. Felicissimus, St. Mark the Evangelist, and Pope Gregory IV (827-844) offering the church, which he restored following a severe flood. It was the last major mosaic in Rome for three hundred years.

Visit the ninth-century crypt of Gregory IV, and try to see some of the church’s vast relic collection, including Sts. Abdon and Sennen, two Persians martyred in the Colosseum. The church also contains the body of Pope St. Mark and relics from the Holy Innocents murdered in Bethlehem by Herod.

The station was formally erected by Gregory the Great and is the national church of Venetians. One former Patriarch of Venice to have become titular of this church was Albino Luciani, later Pope John Paul I.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A Samaritan woman came to draw water

~by St. Augustine

A woman came. She is a symbol of the Church not yet made righteous. Righteousness follows from the conversation. She came in ignorance, she found Christ, and he enters into conversation with her. Let us see what it is about, let us see why a Samaritan woman came to draw water. The Samaritans did not form part of the Jewish people: they were foreigners. The fact that she came from a foreign people is part of the symbolic meaning, for she is a symbol of the Church. The Church was to come from the Gentiles, of a different race from the Jews.

We must then recognise ourselves in her words and in her person, and with her give our own thanks to God. She was a symbol, not the reality; she foreshadowed the reality, and the reality came to be. She found faith in Christ, who was using her as a symbol to teach us what was to come. She came then to draw water. She had simply come to draw water; in the normal way of man or woman.

Jesus says to her: Give me water to drink. For his disciples had gone to the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman therefore says to him: How is it that you, though a Jew, ask me for water to drink, though I am a Samaritan woman? For Jews have nothing to do with Samaritans.
The Samaritans were foreigners; Jews never used their utensils. The woman was carrying a pail for drawing water. She was astonished that a Jew should ask her for a drink of water, a thing that Jews would not do. But the one who was asking for a drink of water was thirsting for her faith.

Listen now and learn who it is that asks for a drink. Jesus answered her and said: If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, perhaps you might have asked him and he would have given you living water.

He asks for a drink, and he promises a drink. He is in need, as one hoping to receive, yet he is rich, as one about to satisfy the thirst of others. He says: If you knew the gift of God. The gift of God is the Holy Spirit. But he is still using veiled language as he speaks to the woman and gradually enters into her heart. Or is he already teaching her? What could be more gentle and kind than the encouragement he gives? If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, perhaps you might ask and he would give you living water.
What is this water that he will give if not the water spoken of in Scripture: With you is the fountain of life? How can those feel thirst who will drink deeply from the abundance in your house?

He was promising the Holy Spirit in satisfying abundance. She did not yet understand. In her failure to grasp his meaning, what was her reply? The woman says to him: Master, give me this drink, so that I may feel no thirst or come here to draw water. Her need forced her to this labour, her weakness shrank from it. If only she could hear those words: Come to me, all who labour and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Jesus was saying this to her, so that her labours might be at an end; but she was not yet able to understand.