Monday, March 31, 2008

Three sons answer call to priesthood

~from Greater Milwaukee Today
The path that Luke Strand has chosen to follow is not a common one, nor is it an easy one.

But it is one he feels God called him to take - to become a Catholic priest.

What makes his decision all the more extraordinary is that his two brothers, Vincent and Jacob, have chosen similar paths and are also studying to become ministers of God’s word during a time when the Catholic Church is experiencing a shortage of priests and increased scrutiny.

"I very much fell in love with the church. I think the Catholic Church is beautiful," Luke Strand, 27, said. "In a time when there is a lot of skepticism about the Catholic Church, I feel called to share the joys she brings to the world."

Growing up as Catholics in Dousman, the three brothers considered themselves religious but never seriously considered becoming priests.

"Our journeys are all very unique and each of us have our own gifts to offer the church," Luke Strand said.

Answering God’s calling

Vincent Strand, S.J., 25, was a student at Marquette University studying biological sciences and theology when he began to feel that God was calling him. He said that he began to spend time with people from the Society of Jesus, also called Jesuits.

"I really became convinced that God was calling me to be a Jesuit. I really thought he was asking me to do it personally," Vincent Strand said. "The call was not vague or abstract, it felt very concrete to me and that Jesus was speaking directly to my heart."

In December 2004, he began to apply for admittance to start the novitiate process with the Jesuits. He is currently in New York City striving for a master’s degree in philosophy as part of his education process in the Society of Jesus.

"There was just tremendous peace, joy and freedom," he said about pursuing God’s calling.

Jacob Strand, 22, said he started to think about becoming a priest while a senior at Kettle Moraine High School. After completing two years at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, the desire became stronger.

"This began to occupy a larger area of my life," he said.

Jacob Strand thought going to seminary might help him discern better what he wanted to do with his life.

"When I began to look into this more closely, there was a strong sense of peace and that I was fulfilling what God wanted for me," he said.

In fall 2006, Jacob Strand entered seminary through the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, but because Milwaukee doesn’t have a college seminary, he is at St. Joseph College Seminary in Chicago.

Luke Strand, the oldest and first brother to chose the life of a priest, said he never considered becoming a priest while growing up. He said as a college student at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, he wanted a degree in marketing, to have a large Catholic family and to make money.

But those expectations began to change.

"I had some experiences that really led me to moments of conversion," Luke Strand said.

He said he started to frequent the Newman Center chapel and to help at a homeless shelter, Father Carr’s Place 2B.

"As I continued this journey, priesthood began to seem like something God was calling me to - something that God was putting in the forefront of my mind," he said.

Luke Strand is currently studying at the St. Francis Seminary, where he will be ordained a deacon this May and a priest in May 2009.

Family reaction and support

It hasn’t always been easy for the friends and family of the Strand brothers to understand their decisions.

"It's always surprising. It’s something that parents don’t expect," Luke Strand said, adding "They’ve been very encouraging in the process."

Their dad, Jerry Strand, admits it’s been difficult to accept their decisions at times.

"As parents, you always raise your kids to be independent and sometimes to take the road less traveled," he said. "We just didn’t think all three would make this decision."

Jerry Strand and his wife, Bernadette, have realized how happy their sons’ chosen vocations have made them.

"You get behind them and you give up personal selfishness," Jerry Strand said. "We’re just happy that our boys are able to make tough decisions."


Salvation to all that will is nigh;
That All, which always is all everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo, faithful virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though He there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He will wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death's force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created, thou
Wast in His mind, who is thy Son and Brother;
Whom thou conceivst, conceived; yea thou art now
Thy Maker's maker, and thy Father's mother;
Thou hast light in dark, and shutst in little room,
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb.

~John Donne

The mystery of man's reconciliation with God

~by St. Leo the Great

Lowliness is assured by majesty, weakness by power, mortality by eternity. To pay the debt of our sinful state, a nature that was incapable of suffering was joined to one that could suffer. Thus, in keeping with the healing that we needed, one and the same mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, was able to die in one nature, and unable to die in the other.

He who is true God was therefore born in the complete and perfect nature of a true man, whole in his own nature, whole in ours. By our nature we mean what the Creator had fashioned in us from the beginning, and took to himself in order to restore it.

For in the Saviour there was no trace of what the deceiver introduced and man, being misled, allowed to enter. It does not follow that because he submitted to sharing in our human weakness he therefore shared in our sins.

He took the nature of a servant without stain of sin, enlarging our humanity without diminishing his divinity. He emptied himself; though invisible he made himself visible, though Creator and Lord of all things he chose to be one of us mortal men. Yet this was the condescension of compassion, not the loss of omnipotence. So he who in the nature of God had created man, became in the nature of a servant, man himself.

Thus the Son of God enters this lowly world. He comes down from the throne of heaven, yet does not separate himself from the Father’s glory. He is born in a new condition, by a new birth.

He was born in a new condition, for, invisible in his own nature, he became visible in ours.

Beyond our grasp, he chose to come within our grasp. Existing before time began, he began to exist at a moment in time. Lord of the universe, he hid his infinite glory and took the nature of a servant. Incapable of suffering as God, he did not refuse to be a man, capable of suffering. Immortal, he chose to be subject to the laws of death.

He who is true God is also true man. There is no falsehood in this unity as long as the lowliness of man and the pre-eminence of God coexist in mutual relationship.

As God does not change by his condescension, so man is not swallowed up by being exalted. Each nature exercises its own activity, in communion with the other. The Word does what is proper to the Word, the flesh fulfils what is proper to the flesh.

One nature is resplendent with miracles, the other falls victim to injuries. As the Word does not lose equality with the Father’s glory, so the flesh does not leave behind the nature of our race.

One and the same person – this must be said over and over again – is truly the Son of God and truly the son of man. He is God in virtue of the fact that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He is man in virtue of the fact that the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Quasimodo Sunday

Today is Quasimodo Sunday, taken from the Introit: Quasi modo géniti infántes allelúia: rationábiles, sine dolo lac concupíscite, allelúia, allelúia, allelúia. Ps. Exsultáte Deo adjutóri nostro: jubiláte Deo Jacob. Glória Patri, et Fílio, et Spirítui Sancto. Sicut erat in princípio, et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculórum. Amen.

As newborn babes, alleluia, desire the rational milk without guile, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Rejoice to God our helper. Sing aloud to the God of Jacob. ~1 Peter 2:2

It is also called Low Sunday, in order to emphasize the contrast between the great Easter solemnity. In the Latin Missal and Breviary it is called Dominica in Albis (depositis or deponendis), because the Neophytes on that day put aside their white garments. Another Latin name, Pascha clausum, is preserved in the French Paques closes and in the Dutch Beloken Paschen, i.e. "close of Easter," this day ending the Octave (Collect). The Church compares the Neophytes to new-born babes, and the milk she gives them to drink (Introit) is the faith in Christ which will enable them to overcome with Him the world. This faith has for its foundation the testimony of the Father, Who at the baptism of Christ (water) declared Him to be His Son; the testimony of the Son, Who on the Cross (blood) showed Himself the Son of God; and that of the Holy Ghost, Who by Christ's Resurrection attested the divinity of the Redeemer (Gospel).

The Gospel further shows us how Christ, Who twice appeared in the Cenacle, dispelled the doubts of Thomas and praised those who, without having seen Him, yet believed in Him.

Let us proclaim our faith in the risen Christ, and in the Divine Presence in the Holy Eucharist let us repeat with Thomas that cry of faith and humility, "My Lord and my God !"

A new creation in Christ

~by St. Augustine

I speak to you who have just been reborn in baptism, my little children in Christ, you who are the new offspring of the Church, gift of the Father, proof of Mother Church’s fruitfulness. All of you who stand fast in the Lord are a holy seed, a new colony of bees, the very flower of our ministry and fruit of our toil, my joy and my crown. It is the words of the Apostle that I address to you: Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh and its desires, so that you may be clothed with the life of him whom you have put on in this sacrament. You have all been clothed with Christ by your baptism in him. There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor freeman; there is neither male nor female; you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Such is the power of this sacrament: it is a sacrament of new life which begins here and now with the forgiveness of all past sins, and will be brought to completion in the resurrection of the dead. You have been buried with Christ by baptism into death in order that, as Christ has risen from the dead, you also may walk in newness of life.

You are walking now by faith, still on pilgrimage in a mortal body away from the Lord; but he to whom your steps are directed is himself the sure and certain way for you: Jesus Christ, who for our sake became man. For all who fear him he has stored up abundant happiness, which he will reveal to those who hope in him, bringing it to completion when we have attained the reality which even now we possess in hope.

This is the octave day of your new birth. Today is fulfilled in you the sign of faith that was prefigured in the Old Testament by the circumcision of the flesh on the eighth day after birth. When the Lord rose from the dead, he put off the mortality of the flesh; his risen body was still the same body, but it was no longer subject to death. By his resurrection he consecrated Sunday, or the Lord’s day. Though the third after his passion, this day is the eighth after the Sabbath, and thus also the first day of the week.

And so your own hope of resurrection, though not yet realised, is sure and certain, because you have received the sacrament or sign of this reality, and have been given the pledge of the Spirit. If, then, you have risen with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your hearts on heavenly things, not the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, your life, appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Clear Creek Monastery

~more on the Clear Creek Monastery. Check out this slideshow produced by Tulsa World.

Click here if your browser doesn't support iframes.

The anointing with the Holy Spirit

~from the Jerusalem Catechesis

When we were baptised into Christ and clothed ourselves in him, we were transformed into the likeness of the Son of God. Having destined us to be his adopted sons, God gave us a likeness to Christ in his glory, and living as we do in communion with Christ, God’s anointed, we ourselves are rightly called “the anointed ones”. When he said: Do not touch my anointed ones, God was speaking of us.

We became “the anointed ones” when we received the sign of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, everything took place in us by means of images, because we ourselves are images of Christ. Christ bathed in the river Jordan, imparting to its waters the fragrance of his divinity, and when he came up from them the Holy Spirit descended upon him, like resting upon like. So we also, after coming up from the sacred waters of baptism, were anointed with chrism, which signifies the Holy Spirit, by whom Christ was anointed and of whom blessed Isaiah prophesied in the name of the Lord: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor.

Christ’s anointing was not by human hands, nor was it with ordinary oil. On the contrary, having destined him to be the Saviour of the whole world, the Father himself anointed him with the Holy Spirit. The words of Peter bear witness to this: Jesus of Nazareth, whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit. And David the prophet proclaimed: Your throne, O God, shall endure for ever; your royal sceptre is a sceptre of justice. You have loved righteousness and hated iniquity; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above all your fellows.

The oil of gladness with which Christ was anointed was a spiritual oil; it was in fact the Holy Spirit himself, who is called the oil of gladness because he is the source of spiritual joy. But we too have been anointed with oil, and by this anointing we have entered into fellowship with Christ and have received a share in his life. Beware of thinking that this holy oil is simply ordinary oil and nothing else. After the invocation of the Spirit it is no longer ordinary oil but the gift of Christ, and by the presence of his divinity it becomes the instrument through which we receive the Holy Spirit. While symbolically, on our foreheads and senses, our bodies are anointed with this oil that we see, our souls are sanctified by the holy and life-giving Spirit.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Chronicling Benedict in America

~Please bookmark Christopher Blosser's site: Benedict in America. He will be compiling news items, commentaries, reactions, etc. to the Holy Father's Apostolic Journey here in just nineteen days. Here's an excerpt from today's post touching on a theme that I've complained about--media's blackout on the Pope's homilies and addresses except to take some small kernel to provoke negative reactions:
And, as was amply demonstrated by the coverage of Benedict's Regensburg address in September 2006, there is a remarkable tendency of the press -- in its failure (laziness?) to grasp the substance of what Benedict is saying in any given text to simply "cherry pick" for that choice phrase or reference which is most inflammatory (i.e., will make the greatest headline).

Consequently, it comes as no suprise that an article proclaiming Benedict "still a mystery after three years", "a white-robed enigma to most Americans," together with the tired old comparison (that really, after 3 years into his pontificate, should be duly retired) between the "shy, scholarly" Benedict and the "charismatic rock star pope" that was John Paul II, are sure to cause a few Catholic bloggers to bristle.

* * *
But I also think there are also many signs that readily challenge the suggestion that Benedict's so-called "mysteriousness" constitutes a barrier between him and the laiety, that it may "take years (or longer) for his teachings to seep down," that Catholics have been unable to arrive at an appreciation and understanding of Benedict -- that they are in fact responding enthusiastically to his person and his pontificate...
Read more.

Baptism is a symbol of Christ's passion

~from the Jerusalem Catechesis

You were led down to the font of holy baptism just as Christ was taken down from the cross and placed in the tomb which is before your eyes. Each of you was asked, “Do you believe in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit?” You made the profession of faith that brings salvation, you were plunged into the water, and three times you rose again. This symbolised the three days Christ spent in the tomb.

As our Saviour spent three days and three nights in the depths of the earth, so your first rising from the water represented the first day and your first immersion represented the first night. At night a man cannot see, but in the day he walks in the light. So when you were immersed in the water it was like night for you and you could not see, but when you rose again it was like coming into broad daylight. In the same instant you died and were born again; the saving water was both your tomb and your mother.

Solomon’s phrase in another context is very apposite here. He spoke of a time to give birth, and a time to die. For you, however, it was the reverse: a time to die, and a time to be born, although in fact both events took place at the same time and your birth was simultaneous with your death.

This is something amazing and unheard of! It was not we who actually died, were buried and rose again. We only did these things symbolically, but we have been saved in actual fact. It is Christ who was crucified, who was buried and who rose again, and all this has been attributed to us. We share in his sufferings symbolically and gain salvation in reality. What boundless love for men! Christ’s undefiled hands were pierced by the nails; he suffered the pain. I experience no pain, no anguish, yet by the share that I have in his sufferings he freely grants me salvation.

Let no one imagine that baptism consists only in the forgiveness of sins and in the grace of adoption. Our baptism is not like the baptism of John, which conferred only the forgiveness of sins. We know perfectly well that baptism, besides washing away our sins and bringing us the gift of the Holy Spirit, is a symbol of the sufferings of Christ. This is why Paul exclaims: Do you not know that when we were baptised into Christ Jesus we were, by that very action, sharing in his death? By baptism we went with him into the tomb.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

General Audience: Historical Truth of the Resurrection

~from Asia News
If faith in the resurrection diminishes in the Church, "everything stops, everything falls apart. On the contrary, the adherence in heart and mind to Christ dead and risen changes lives and illuminates the entire existence of persons and of peoples". Benedict XVI made these remarks today during the general audience held in the courtyard of St Peter's basilica, in the presence of about 50,000 people. Immediately after the audience, the pope spent a few moments with some children who survived the massacre of Beslan, hosted in Italy by the association "Reset".

The pontiff, who dedicated his catechesis to the resurrection of Christ, emphasises how "it is the certainty that Christ has risen that imparts courage, prophetic audacity, and perseverance to the martyrs of every age. Is it not the encounter with the living Jesus that converts and fascinates so many men and women, who ever since the beginning of Christianity have continued to leave everything in order to follow him and put their lives at the service of the Gospel?".

Moreover, he continues, the "historical truth of the resurrection of Christ, a fundamental truth of the Christian faith, is widely documented, even if today, as in the past, there is no lack of those who in various ways bring it into question or even deny it". This phenomenon must not influence the Christian faith, because "the weakening of faith in the resurrection of Jesus makes the witness of believers feeble".

The Easter proclamation, Benedict XVI emphasises, "which we hear over and over again in these days, is precisely this: Christ is risen, he is the Living One, and we can encounter him . . . And, even after his ascension, Jesus continues to remain present among his friends, just as he had promised: "Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age" (Mt. 28:20).

The Lord is with us, the pope adds, "with his Church, until the end of time. Illuminated by the Holy Spirit, the members of the primitive Church began to announce the Easter proclamation openly and without fear. And this proclamation, handed down from generation to generation, has come to us and resounds each year at Easter with a power that is constantly renewed".

With this proclamation in our hearts, Benedict XVI concludes, "may the joy of these days make us even more firm in our faithful adherence to the crucified and risen Christ. Above all, let us allow ourselves to be conquered by the fascination of his resurrection. May Mary help us to become messengers of the light and joy of Easter for many of our brothers".

Christ the source of resurrection and life

~an Easter homily by an ancient author

Saint Paul rejoices in the knowledge that spiritual health has been restored to the human race. Death entered the world through Adam, he explains, but life has been given back to the world through Christ. Again he says: The first man, being from the earth, is earthly by nature; the second man is from heaven and it is heavenly. As we have borne the image of the earthly man, the image of human nature grown old in sin, so let us bear the image of the heavenly man: human nature raised up, redeemed , restored and purified in Christ. We must hold fast to the salvation we have received. Christ was the first fruits’, says the Apostle; he is the source of resurrection and life. ‘Those who belong to Christ will follow him. Modelling their lives on his purity, they will be secure in the hope of his resurrection and of enjoying with him the glory promised in heaven. Our Lord himself said so in the gospel: Whoever follows me will not perish, but will pass from death to life.

Thus the passion of our Saviour is the salvation of mankind. The reason why he desired to die for us was that he wanted us who believe in him to live for ever. In the fullness of time it was his will to become what we are, so that we might inherit the eternity he promised and live with him for ever.

Here, then, is the grace conferred by these heavenly mysteries, the gift which Easter brings, the most longed for feast of the year; here are the beginnings of creatures newly formed: children born from the life giving font of holy Church, born anew with the simplicity of little ones, and crying out with the evidence of a clean conscience. Chaste fathers and inviolate mothers accompany this new family, countless in number, born to new life through faith. As they emerge from the grace giving womb of the font, a blaze of candles burns brightly beneath the tree of faith. The Easter festival brings the grace of holiness from heaven to men. Through the repeated celebration of the sacred mysteries they receive the spiritual nourishment of the sacraments.

Fostered at the very heart of holy Church, the fellowship of one community worships the one God, adoring the triple name of his essential holiness, and together with the prophet sings the psalm which belongs to this yearly festival: This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad. And what is this day? It is the Lord Jesus Christ himself, the author of light, who brings the sunrise and the beginning of life, saying of himself: I am the light of day; whoever walks in daylight does not stumble. That is to say, whoever follows Christ in all things will come by this path to the throne of eternal light.

Such was the prayer Christ made to the Father while he was still on earth: Father, I desire that where I am they also may be, those who have come to believe in me; and that as you are in me and I in you, so they may abide in us.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Cistercian Monks of the Abbey of Holy Cross

Hidden Homilies of Pope Benedict

~from Chiesa....about the continuing failure of the world's media to give a forum for the Pope's homilies.
Of the six homilies delivered by Benedict XVI during the Holy Week ceremonies this year, only two had wide reverberations and reached the ears of millions of people.

The first was the one read at the end of the Via Crucis on Holy Friday, and the other is the "Urbi et Orbi" message of Easter Sunday. Both of these were broadcast live on radio and television, in many countries around the world.

But not the other four. They reached few – only the few thousands of the faithful who were present at the ceremonies celebrated by the pope, and who understood the Italian language (many of them were foreigners). To these should be added the few people who read the pope's words in the Catholic media during the following days.

If one considers that Catholics in the world number well over one billion, the number of those who heard or read the pope's homilies last Holy Week appears even more microscopic.

And yet these homilies are among the most revealing characteristics of Joseph Ratzinger's pontificate. They are a culmination of the magisterium of this pope, theologian and pastor.

They are unmistakably written by the pope himself. And they are inseparably connected to the liturgical celebration in which they were pronounced. In their genre, they are masterpieces.

The comparison that comes most naturally is with the homilies of the Fathers of the Church, for example, those of Leo the Great – the first pope whose liturgical preaching was preserved –, of Saint Ambrose, of Saint Augustine.

It is an illuminating comparison under the aspect of communication as well. Because even the homilies of a Leo the Great, at the time, were heard by few and read by fewer. The same can be said of Saint Augustine. But the influence that the preaching of these Fathers had upon the Church was equally great, and was produced over the span of centuries.

It is not impossible that something similar could happen with the homilies of Benedict XVI. All that is necessary is that there be, in the Church, persons who recognize the originality and depth of the liturgical preaching of this pope. And who work to expand its audience.

Benedict XVI's book about Jesus, his encyclicals, his great addresses on faith and reason and have all made news. For some time, interest has also been kindled in his Wednesday audiences, dedicated first to the Apostles and now to the Fathers of the Church.

But so far the same kind of attention has been lacking for his homilies. And yet it is enough to read those for Holy Week of this year – reproduced below – to understand how central these are in the magisterium of pope Benedict.

It is astonishing that the communications machine of the Holy See has so far neglected them. "L'Osservatore Romano" publishes them quickly, but for a readership that is too restricted, since the newspaper still does not make adequate use of the internet. The Libreria Editrice Vaticana has not yet published any books compiling the homilies of Benedict XVI, either in their entirety or according to the various liturgical periods, for example the Christmas homilies, or those of Easter, which would ideally be accompanied by the scriptural passages of the liturgies of which they were part.
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It was necessary that Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory

~by St. Anastasius of Antioch

Christ, who has shown by his words and actions that he was truly God and Lord of the universe, said to his disciples as he was about to go up to Jerusalem: We are going up to Jerusalem now, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the Gentiles and the chief priests and scribes to be scourged and mocked and crucified.

These words bore out the predictions of the prophets, who had foretold the death he was to die in Jerusalem. From the beginning holy Scripture had foretold Christ’s death, the sufferings that would precede it, and what would happen to his body afterward. Scripture also affirmed that these things were going to happen to one who was immortal and incapable of suffering because he was God.

Only by reflecting upon the meaning of the incarnation can we see how it is possible to say with perfect truth both that Christ suffered and that he was incapable of suffering, came to suffer. In fact, man could have been saved in no other way, as Christ alone knew and those to whom he revealed it. For he knows all the secrets of the Father, even as the Spirit penetrates the depths of all mysteries.

It was necessary for Christ to suffer: his passion was absolutely unavoidable. He said so himself when he called his companions dull and slow to believe because they failed to recognise that he had to suffer and so enter into his glory. Leaving behind him the glory that had been his with the Father before the world was made, he had gone forth to save his people. This salvation, however, could be achieved only by the suffering of the author of our life, as Paul taught when he said that the author of life himself was made perfect through suffering. Because of us he was deprived of his glory for a little while, the glory that was his as the Father’s only-begotten Son, but through the cross this glory is seen to have been restored to him in a certain way in the body that he had assumed. Explaining what water the Saviour referred to when he said: He that has faith in me shall have rivers of living water flowing from within him, John says in his gospel that he was speaking of the Holy Spirit which those who believed in him were to receive, for the Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified. The glorification he meant was his death upon the cross for which the Lord prayed to the Father before undergoing his passion, asking his Father to give him the glory that he had in his presence before the world began.

Monday, March 24, 2008


Listen to Randall Thompson's setting of Alleluia.

Regina Cæli

Regina caeli, laetare, alleluia.
Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia.
Resurrexit, sicut dixit, alleluia.
Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.
Gaude et laetare, Virgo Maria, alleluia.
Quia surrexit Dominus vere, alleluia.

+ + +

Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.
For He whom you did merit to bear, alleluia.
Has risen, as he said, alleluia.
Pray for us to God, alleluia.
Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia.
For the Lord has truly risen, alleluia.

The Easter praise of Christ

~by St. Melito of Sardis

We should understand, beloved, that the paschal mystery is at once old and new, transitory and eternal, corruptible and incorruptible, mortal and immortal. In terms of the Law it is old, in terms of the Word it is new. In its figure it is passing, in its grace it is eternal. It is corruptible in the sacrifice of the lamb, incorruptible in the eternal life of the Lord. It is mortal in his burial in the earth, immortal in his resurrection from the dead.

The Law indeed is old, but the Word is new. The type is transitory, but grace is eternal. The lamb was corruptible, but the Lord is incorruptible. He was slain as a lamb; he rose again as God. He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, yet he was not a sheep. He was silent as a lamb, yet he was not a lamb. The type has passed away; the reality has come. The lamb gives place to God, the sheep gives place to a man, and the man is Christ, who fills the whole of creation. The sacrifice of the lamb, the celebration of the Passover, and the prescriptions of the Law have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Under the old Law, and still more under the new dispensation, everything pointed toward him.

Both the Law and the Word came forth from Zion and Jerusalem, but now the Law has given place to the Word, the old to the new. The commandment has become grace, the type a reality. The lamb has become a Son, the sheep a man, and man, God.

The Lord, though he was God, became man. He suffered for the sake of those who suffer, he was bound for those in bonds, condemned for the guilty, buried for those who lie in the grave; but he rose from the dead, and cried aloud: Who will contend with me? Let him confront me. I have freed the condemned, brought the dead back to life, raised men from their graves. Who has anything to say against me? I, he said, am the Christ; I have destroyed death, triumphed over the enemy, trampled hell underfoot, bound the strong one, and taken men up to the heights of heaven: I am the Christ.

Come, then, all you nations of men, receive forgiveness for the sins that defile you. I am your forgiveness. I am the Passover that brings salvation. I am the lamb who was immolated for you. I am your ransom, your life, your resurrection, your light, I am your salvation and your king. I will bring you to the heights of heaven. With my own right hand I will raise you up, and I will show you the eternal Father.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

He is not here, for He has been raised

Christ is Risen!

~by St. Maximus of Turin

Christ is risen! He has burst open the gates of hell and let the dead go free; he has renewed the earth through the members of his Church now born again in baptism, and has made it blossom afresh with men brought back to life. His Holy Spirit has unlocked the doors of heaven, which stand wide open to receive those who rise up from the earth. Because of Christ’s resurrection the thief ascends to paradise, the bodies of the blessed enter the holy city, and the dead are restored to the company of the living. There is an upward movement in the whole of creation, each element raising itself to something higher. We see hell restoring its victims to the upper regions, earth sending its buried dead to heaven, and heaven presenting the new arrivals to the Lord. In one and the same movement, our Saviour’s passion raises men from the depths, lifts them up from the earth, and sets them in the heights.

Christ is risen! His rising brings life to the dead, forgiveness to sinners, and glory to the saints. And so David the prophet summons all creation to join in celebrating the Easter festival: Rejoice and be glad, he cries, on this day which the Lord has made.

The light of Christ is an endless day that knows no night. Christ is this day, says the Apostle; such is the meaning of his words: Night is almost over; day is at hand. He tells us that night is almost over, not that it is about to fall. By this we are meant to understand that the coming of Christ’s light puts Satan’s darkness to flight, leaving no place for any shadow of sin. His everlasting radiance dispels the dark clouds of the past and checks the hidden growth of vice. The Son is that day to whom the day, which is the Father, communicates the mystery of his divinity. He is the day who says through the mouth of Solomon: I have caused an unfailing light to rise in heaven. And as in heaven no night can follow day, so no sin can overshadow the justice of Christ. The celestial day is perpetually bright and shining with brilliant light; clouds can never darken its skies. In the same way, the light of Christ is eternally glowing with luminous radiance and can never be extinguished by the darkness of sin. This is why John the evangelist says: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never been able to overpower it.

And so, my brothers, each of us ought surely to rejoice on this holy day. Let no one, conscious of his sinfulness, withdraw from our common celebration, nor let anyone be kept away from our public prayer by the burden of his guilt. Sinner he may indeed be, but he must not despair of pardon on this day which is so highly privileged; for if a thief could receive the grace of paradise, how could a Christian be refused forgiveness?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water. ~Zechariah 9:11

The Lord's descent into the underworld

~an ancient homily for Holy Saturday

Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all”. Christ answered him: “And with your spirit”. He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light”.

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

Friday, March 21, 2008

By the Cross death was slain

~a sermon by Theodore the Studite

How precious the gift of the cross, how splendid to contemplate! In the cross there is no mingling of good and evil, as in the tree of paradise: it is wholly beautiful to behold and good to taste. The fruit of this tree is not death but life, not darkness but light. This tree does not cast us out of paradise, but opens the way for our return.

This was the tree on which Christ, like a king on a chariot, destroyed the devil, the lord of death, and freed the human race from his tyranny. This was the tree upon which the Lord like a brave warrior wounded in hands, feet and side, healed the wounds of sin that the evil serpent had inflicted on our nature. A tree once caused our death, but now a tree brings life. Once deceived by a tree, we have now repelled the cunning serpent by a tree. What an astonishing transformation! That death should become life, that decay should become immortality, that shame should become glory! Well might the holy Apostle exclaim: Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world! The supreme wisdom that flowered on the cross has shown the folly of worldly wisdom's pride. The knowledge of all good, which is the fruit of the cross, has cut away the shoots of wickedness.

The wonders accomplished through this tree were foreshadowed clearly even by the mere types and figures that existed in the past. Meditate on these, if you are eager to learn. Was it not the wood of a tree that enabled Noah, at God's command, to escape the destruction of the flood together with his sons, his wife, his sons' wives and every kind of animal? And surely the rod of Moses prefigured the cross when it changed water into blood, swallowed up the false serpents of Pharaoh's magicians, divided the sea at one stroke and then restored the waters to their normal course, drowning the enemy and saving God's own people? Aaron's rod, which blossomed in one day in proof of his true priesthood, was another figure of the cross, and did not Abraham foreshadow the cross when he bound his son Isaac and placed him on the pile of wood?

By the cross death was slain and Adam was restored to life. The cross is the glory of all the apostles, the crown of the martyrs, the sanctification of the saints. By the cross we put on Christ and cast aside our former self. By the cross we, the sheep of Christ, have been gathered into one flock, destined for the sheepfold of heaven.

Stational Church: Santa Croce in Gerusalemme

Cloister Garden

Relics of the True Cross

Oratory of Our Lady of Good Help

The power of Christ's blood

~by St. John Chrysostom

If we wish to understand the power of Christ’s blood, we should go back to the ancient account of its prefiguration in Egypt. “Sacrifice a lamb without blemish”, commanded Moses, “and sprinkle its blood on your doors”. If we were to ask him what he meant, and how the blood of an irrational beast could possibly save men endowed with reason, his answer would be that the saving power lies not in the blood itself, but in the fact that it is a sign of the Lord’s blood. In those days, when the destroying angel saw the blood on the doors he did not dare to enter, so how much less will the devil approach now when he sees, not that figurative blood on the doors, but the true blood on the lips of believers, the doors of the temple of Christ.

If you desire further proof of the power of this blood, remember where it came from, how it ran down from the cross, flowing from the Master’s side. The gospel records that when Christ was dead, but still hung on the cross, a soldier came and pierced his side with a lance and immediately there poured out water and blood. Now the water was a symbol of baptism and the blood, of the holy eucharist. The soldier pierced the Lord’s side, he breached the wall of the sacred temple, and I have found the treasure and made it my own. So also with the lamb: the Jews sacrificed the victim and I have been saved by it.

“There flowed from his side water and blood”. Beloved, do not pass over this mystery without thought; it has yet another hidden meaning, which I will explain to you. I said that water and blood symbolised baptism and the holy eucharist. From these two sacraments the Church is born: from baptism, “the cleansing water that gives rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit”, and from the holy eucharist. Since the symbols of baptism and the Eucharist flowed from his side, it was from his side that Christ fashioned the Church, as he had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam Moses gives a hint of this when he tells the story of the first man and makes him exclaim: “Bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh!” As God then took a rib from Adam’s side to fashion a woman, so Christ has given us blood and water from his side to fashion the Church. God took the rib when Adam was in a deep sleep, and in the same way Christ gave us the blood and the water after his own death.

Do you understand, then, how Christ has united his bride to himself and what food he gives us all to eat? By one and the same food we are both brought into being and nourished. As a woman nourishes her child with her own blood and milk, so does Christ unceasingly nourish with his own blood those to whom he himself has given life.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Take, eat, this is My Body

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom."
~Matthew 26:26-29

Do as I have done

Unless I wash you, you have no share with me. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.

Duccio di Buoninsegna, Washing of Feet, 1308-11

Sartorial Rage

~by Anna Arco via Papa Ratzinger Forum

Penitential Liturgy

Palm Sunday

It is often seen as a subject that should long have been relegated to the dusty storerooms of the collective memory, much like the pre-conciliar vestments have been consigned to museums, depots or sold to junk shops and decorators. Ecclesiastical dress, be it ancient or modern, has the power to provoke strong emotions.

"The sartorial choices of Benedict XVI fill me with indescribable anger," lamented one Tablet reader last week, reacting to the Pope's choice of vestments on Ash Wednesday which were based on patterns from Pope Paul V's pontificate.

"What message is all this ostentation giving to the poor and deprived in the rest of the world? What need have the cardinals, or the pope, for ermine-trimmed capes, red velvet shoes, chasubles commissioned in the style of the 17th-century pope, priceless lace albs and surplices, ornate gold rings, jewelled mitres (or even mitres at all)? 'I am the Way,' said Christ; what would he think of all this richesse?"

On the other side of the spectrum (quite literally) the bonanza of tie-dyed blue and yellow that the Pope wore for the Mass in Mariazell in Austria was met with a mixture of grim mirth and despair.

The liturgical reforms of Vatican II changed attitudes to sacred vestments. They came in part to be a physical symbol of the renewal of the Church that the Council was hoping for, but also for some of the overly liberal interpretations of the Council documents which led in turn to some liturgical excesses never envisaged by the Council Fathers.

In 1971, shortly after the liturgical reforms were implemented, Mgr John Doherty, the executive secretary of the Liturgical Commission of the Archdiocese of New York, wrote: "The Church's attitude toward the use of vestments of our time grows out of her present view of her mission and image. While firmly committed to sacred vestments in the performance of the liturgy and to maintaining the basic tradition of the past, the Church will see adaptation and creativity grow and increase, based not on a Roman or a Catholic or a baroque model, but arising from varying cultures and local expression."

Many old vestments were discarded; opulent Renaissance and Baroque vestments especially were relegated to museums, warehouses or simply thrown away. In the mainstream Church, the poncho-like Gothic shape of the chasuble (the vestment worn by the celebrant) replaced the rounded shield shape of old Roman vestments; maniples stopped being used and abstract images and shapes replaced traditional patterns. Albs, the white vestment worn under dalmatic, chasuble, and cope, lost their lace and became simpler.

Since Pope Benedict replaced Pope John Paul II's creative Master of Ceremonies, Archbishop Piero Marini, with Mgr Guido Marini last year, a number of changes have crept into the papal wardrobe. With the liberalisation of the 1962 traditional form of the Mass, which requires the use of items that have fallen out of use like the maniple and the biretta, he has slowly started mixing the old with the new.

As Archbishop Marini's favourite liturgical designers, X Regio, said in a 2005 interview with the French newspaper Le Monde, what the Pope wears sets trends.

For the Palm Sunday procession this year Benedict XVI wore an old-fashioned cope, a long mantle-like liturgical vestment which was less widely used in the mainstream Church after the reforms of the 1960s and 1970s (although it was not suppressed), while the cardinal deacons wore dalmatics which were similar in style. The Pope's chasuble during the Mass was plain, in the modern Gothic shape.

Pope Benedict's renewed use of older forms of liturgical vestments is more than just a taste for showy clothes and is in keeping with his concept of the liturgy, which is informed not by a nostalgia for an older Church or by an elaborate "aestheticism" but by his profound understanding of the reforms instituted by Vatican II and what he sees as their place in both the long history of Church tradition and its philosophical and theological underpinnings.

As the Australian theologian and philosopher Dr Tracey Rowland argues in her excellent new book Ratzinger's Faith; The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI that beauty plays an important role in Pope Benedict's faith, not as an optional pedagogical tool or a "question of taste" but as an integral part of his understanding of Christ.

While Dr Rowland does not write about vestments, she outlines Pope Benedict's theology and how it informs his understanding of the liturgy. Beauty and God are inseparable and for Pope Benedict the liturgy is "a living network of tradition which had taken concrete form, which cannot be torn apart into little pieces, but has to be seen and experienced as a living whole".

Chrism Mass in Rome

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates Holy Thursday's Chrismal mass in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican March 20, 2008.

The Lamb that was slain has delivered us from death and given us life

~by St. Melito of Sardis

There was much proclaimed by the prophets about the mystery of the Passover: that mystery is Christ, and to him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

For the sake of suffering humanity he came down from heaven to earth, clothed himself in that humanity in the Virgin’s womb, and was born a man. Having then a body capable of suffering, he took the pain of fallen man upon himself; he triumphed over the diseases of soul and body that were its cause, and by his Spirit, which was incapable of dying, he dealt man’s destroyer, death, a fatal blow.

He was led forth like a lamb; he was slaughtered like a sheep. He ransomed us from our servitude to the world, as he had ransomed Israel from the hand of Egypt; he freed us from our slavery to the devil, as he had freed Israel from the hand of Pharaoh. He sealed our souls with his own Spirit, and the members of our body with his own blood.

He is the One who covered death with shame and cast the devil into mourning, as Moses cast Pharaoh into mourning. He is the One who smote sin and robbed iniquity of offspring, as Moses robbed the Egyptians of their offspring. He is the One who brought us out of slavery into freedom, out of darkness into light, out of death into life, out of tyranny into an eternal kingdom; who made us a new priesthood, a people chosen to be his own for ever. He is the Passover that is our salvation.

It is he who endured every kind of suffering in all those who foreshadowed him. In Abel he was slain, in Isaac bound, in Jacob exiled, in Joseph sold, in Moses exposed to die. He was sacrificed in the Passover lamb, persecuted in David, dishonoured in the prophets.

It is he who was made man of the Virgin, he who was hung on the tree; it is he who was buried in the earth, raised from the dead, and taken up to the heights of heaven. He is the mute lamb, the slain lamb, the lamb born of Mary, the fair ewe. He was seized from the flock, dragged off to be slaughtered, sacrificed in the evening, and buried at night. On the tree no bone of his was broken; in the earth his body knew no decay He is the One who rose from the dead, and who raised man from the depths of the tomb.

Stational Church: San Giovanni in Laterano

Baldacchino, High Altar, and Confessio


Colossal Statues of the Apostles

Apse, Cathedra


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

General Audience: The Central Events of Our Salvation

~from Asia News
Again today, the audience was divided between the Paul VI audience hall and the basilica of St. Peter's, because of the great numbers of the crowds, and Benedict XVI dedicated it to illustrating the days in which the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus are commemorated. "The next three days", he said, "make us relive the central events of our redemption", the "essential nucleus of the Christian faith". They are "days that we can consider as a single day, the heart and fulcrum of the liturgical year and of the Church's life".

Benedict XVI, greeted with choruses of good wishes for his name day, then indicated the main characteristics of the days of the Triduum: tomorrow, Holy Thursday, the Church "remembers the last supper, during which the Lord instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist and of the ministerial priesthood". "That same night, he left the new commandment, of fraternal love". Before entering into the commemoration of the last days of Jesus, "in every Christian community the bishop and priests renew their promises", and the oil of the catechumens, of the sick, and the sacred chrism are blessed. It is "a very important moment for every diocesan community gathered around its pastor".

On Good Friday, "the liturgy does not provide for the celebration of Mass, but the assembly gathers to meditate on the great mystery of sin and evil". As "the last moment for meditation", Christian tradition has given rise to various manifestations of popular piety: outstanding among these is the Stations of the Cross, "a pious exercise that in the course of time has been enriched with many spiritual and artistic manifestations".

Holy Saturday "is marked by a profound silence; the churches are bare, and no special liturgies are provided". Believers "wait together with Mary, meditating and praying". On this day, the pope said, great importance is attached to the sacrament of reconciliation, an irreplaceable means for purification. The day ends with the Easter vigil, "which flows into the most important Sunday of history, that of the resurrection of Christ", "the definitive liberation from the ancient slavery to sin and death".

In these days, Benedict XVI added, "let us decisively orient our lives toward generous and steadfast adherence to the plans of the heavenly Father. Let us orient our lives toward the 'yes', as Jesus did upon the Cross"; these are days, he concluded, that "offer us the opportunity to deepen the meaning and profundity of our Christian vocation".

The perfection of love

~by St. Augustine

Dear brethren, the Lord has marked out for us the fullness of love that we ought to have for each other. He tells us: No one has greater love than the man who lays down his life for his friends. In these words, the Lord tells us what the perfect love we should have for one another involves. John, the evangelist who recorded them, draws the conclusion in one of his letters: As Christ laid down his life for us, so we too ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. We should indeed love one another as he loved us, he who laid down his life for us.

This is surely what we read in the Proverbs of Solomon: If you sit down to eat at the table of a ruler, observe carefully what is set before you; then stretch out your hand, knowing that you must provide the same kind of meal yourself. What is this ruler’s table if not the one at which we receive the body and blood of him who laid down his life for us? What does it mean to sit at this table if not to approach it with humility? What does it mean to observe carefully what is set before you if not to meditate devoutly on so great a gift? What does it mean to stretch out one’s hand, knowing that one must provide the same kind of meal oneself, if not what I have just said: as Christ laid down his life for us, so we in our turn ought to lay down our lives for our brothers? This is what the apostle Paul said: Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we might follow in his footsteps.

This is what is meant by providing “the same kind of meal”. This is what the blessed martyrs did with such burning love. If we are to give true meaning to our celebration of their memorials, to our approaching the Lord’s table in the very banquet at which they were fed, we must, like them, provide “the same kind of meal”.

At this table of the Lord we do not commemorate the martyrs in the same way as we commemorate others who rest in peace. We do not pray for the martyrs as we pray for those others, rather, they pray for us, that we may follow in his footsteps. They practised the perfect love of which the Lord said there could be none greater. They provided “the same kind of meal” as they had themselves received at the Lord’s table.

This must not be understood as saying that we can be the Lord’s equals by bearing witness to him to the extent of shedding our blood. He had the power of laying down his life; we by contrast cannot choose the length of our lives, and we die even if it is against our will. He, by dying, destroyed death in himself; we are freed from death only in his death. His body did not see corruption; our body will see corruption and only then be clothed through him in incorruption at the end of the world. He needed no help from us in saving us; without him we can do nothing. He gave himself to us as the vine to the branches; apart from him we cannot have life.

Finally, even if brothers die for brothers, yet no martyr by shedding his blood brings forgiveness for the sins of his brothers, as Christ brought forgiveness to us. In this he gave us, not an example to imitate but a reason for rejoicing. Inasmuch, then, as they shed their blood for their brothers, the martyrs provided “the same kind of meal” as they had received at the Lord’s table. Let us then love one another as Christ also loved us and gave himself up for us.

Stational Church: Santa Maria Maggiore

For today's stational church, we return to the Patriarchal Basilica dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Santa Maria Maggiore. It is fitting that as we anticipate the Triduum, we contemplate on the Sorrows of the Mother of God. Here is Santa Maria Maggiore again:

The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to a fourth century Roman couple that was childless and had decided to leave their fortune to the Mother of God. She appeared to them in a dream and told them to build a church in her honor on the Esquiline Hill, promising a miracle to confirm her desire. The miracle came in a bizarre snowfall on August 5, 353 – the hottest month in Rome – that outlined the plan for her church on the Esquiline Hill. The Virgin has been invoked, since that time, as Our Lady of the Snow. After the Council of Ephesus in 431, which affirmed the title of Our Lady as Mother of God, Pope Sixtus III (432-440) erected the present basilica and dedicated it to the holy Mother of God. It was later called Saint Mary Major because it is the oldest church in the West dedicated to her honor.

As early as the seventh century, the crypt beneath the Blessed Sacrament Chapel was arranged as a reproduction of the cave in Bethlehem where Jesus was born. The Christmas crib here is one of the finest in the world, dating to the thirteenth century. St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church and translator of the Bible into Latin in the fourth century, is buried in the crypt. Since he lived as a hermit next to the cave in Bethlehem, it was thought fitting to preserve his relics here, in the “Bethlehem of Rome.” St. Ignatius of Loyola offered his first Mass at the Cosmatesque altar in the crypt. The statue opposite the altar is by Bernini, depicting St. Cajetan holding the Holy Child. In a letter the saint wrote to a nun in Brescia, he explained that when he was once lost in prayer at this spot, the Holy Child climbed into his arms. Bernini himself is buried here in his family’s tomb, in the floor of the 13th-century chapel on the right-side of the church, near the door leading out of the church.

In the confessio, St. Matthias the Apostle is buried. He was the thirteenth Apostle, elected after Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus. Above the altar in the confessio is a reliquary which holds five pieces of wood, said to be from the Santa Culla, the Holy Manger that held Christ in Bethlehem. The relics are displayed on the 25th of each month – but a group of pilgrims can always ask the sacristan to see them at other times. Also contained in this church is the famous icon of Our Lady, Salus Populi Romani, in the seventeenth-century Pauline Chapel., and one of the oldest Christian mosaics in a church in Rome (432-440) above the ancient nave columns made from Athenian marble. Finally, the relics of Pope St. Pius V are in the large chapel to the right.

In August, white rose petals are dropped from the ceiling to commemorate the miracle of snows. The obelisk behind the apse is in the same axis as the obelisk at St. John Lateran. The facade contains a large mosaic above the portico which simulates an outdoor apse and turns the piazza into an open air church during the pilgrim procession of the Feast of the Assumption.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Shielding preschoolers from the graphic nature of Easter

~from Touchstone Magazine....A Sunday School curriculum publisher has decided that Easter is too graphic for there's an alternate ending to Easter. Has the world totally gone bonkers? Please, someone remind the publishers about 'the glory of the cross'. Are we that far sunk into the touchy-feely culture that we have become a parody of ourselves?
We didn't know that the Gospel, like Ginsu knives and blood pressure medicine, ought to be kept out of the reach of small children.

At least that's what one church was told recently, by a publisher of children's Sunday school curricula, according to Two Institutions, a blog about family and church matters.

The pastors at this church in Raleigh, North Carolina, were perplexed when they saw the Holy Week Sunday school lessons for preschoolers from "First Look," the publisher of the one to five year-old Sunday school class materials. There wasn't a mention of the resurrection of Jesus. Naturally, the pastors inquired about the oversight. It turns out it was no oversight.

The letter sent from the publishing company is up on the Two Institutions blog website. I had to read it three times to make sure I wasn't falling for a Lark News parody. It turns out this publisher has decided that the Gospel is too scary for preschoolers.

"Easter is a special time in churches," the letter from the publisher says. "It's a time of celebration and thankfulness. But because of the graphic nature of the Easter story and the crucifixion specifically, we need to be careful as we choose what we tell preschoolers about Easter."

The letter continues:

"In order to be sensitive to the physical, intellectual, and emotional development of preschoolers, First Look has chosen not to include the Easter story in our curriculum. Instead, we are focusing on the Last Supper, when Jesus shared a meal and spent time with the people He loved. We have made this choice because the crucifixion is simply too violent for preschoolers. And if we were to skip the crucifixion and go straight to the resurrection, then preschoolers would be confused."

The curriculum marketers must know how bad this sounds, so they reassure the church they believe that the Gospel is for all people. Leaving out the cross and the resurrection is actually to help children come to Christ. They write, "We're using these formative preschool years to build a foundation for that eventual decision by focusing on God's love and telling preschoolers that 'Jesus wants to be my friend forever.'"

The publishers note that there is an "alternate ending" to the kindergarten lesson that "tells a simple version of the Easter story" for older preschoolers, for those churches that want it. What kind of evangelical world do we find ourselves in when the Easter story is an "alternate ending" to the story of Jesus, at Eastertime?

Jesus wants to my friend forever? Who is this Jesus? And where is He? Apparently, He's a Christ without a cross, without an empty tomb. He spends time with His friends, and loves us. Does knowing this, apart from the Gospel, actually prepare preschoolers to see themselves as sinners in need of a Mediator before a Holy God?

No, a Jesus who is not crucified, buried, and resurrected, does not save, and doesn't help ease the way to salvation. Jesus as moral teacher, inspirational rabbi, or "forever friend" apart from the Gospel only prepares one for old-fashioned Protestant liberalism, the notion that what matters is that I'm civilized, ethical, and enculturated as a Christian. That's not Christianity.
For crying out loud, I mean it. We're here to save souls. What good will it be if we lose the children for the sake of the false concern for their sensitivities. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh! No crucifixion, no substance to the Last Supper! My kids got it, so will yours. The Oprah-ization of our culture is complete.

Dr. Death to run for Congress in Michigan

~from CNA
Jack Kevorkian, the infamous advocate of physician-assisted suicide, has announced his plans to run for Congress for the ninth district of Michigan, Cybercast News Service reports.

Kevorkian, who has been nicknamed “Dr. Death,” has said he has assisted in more than 130 suicides. Michigan outlawed assisted suicide in 1998. In April 1999 Kevorkian was sentenced to 10 to 25 years for second-degree murder in the death of Thomas Youk, which he filmed. The film was later broadcast on the CBS newsmagazine show “60 Minutes.”

He was paroled on June 1, 2007, and will remain on parole for two years. His parole conditions require that he not assist in any suicides and that he treats neither disabled patients nor patients over the age of 62.

Kevorkian has said he will continue to press for the legalization of assisted suicide. "It's got to be legalized. That's the point," he told WJBK-TV in Detroit, Mich. "I'll work to have it legalized. But I won't break any laws doing it."

Kevorkian must gather a minimum of 3,000 signatures on nominating petitions by July 17 to appear as an independent on the November ballot.

CUA President on anticipating Pope's message to Catholic colleges

~in The Washington Post, a letter from Fr. David O'Connell, president of CUA
Regarding the March 14 front-page article "Catholic College Leaders Expect Pope to Deliver Stern Message":

I could not disagree more with those who predict a "stern message" and a "rebuke" when Pope Benedict XVI addresses Catholic university and college presidents and diocesan education leaders at Catholic University on April 17. The fact that the pope, as teacher of the faith, takes on the compromises advanced within contemporary culture, pushes hard against moral relativism, and seeks to present the intelligibility of the alliance between faith and reason in the quest for truth does not constitute an attack on the Catholic academy. They are the very things that Catholic universities and colleges, too, should be considering, precisely because they are Catholic.

The pope is presenting a challenge to all of us in Catholic higher education to be authentic and faithful to what we say we are and what we say we do. No one should fear such a challenge or paint the call to authenticity as some sort of public reprimand. It is the pope's role and responsibility to lift up Catholic principles as goals to be achieved and as elements of truth, identity and mission for all institutions within the church.

Positive messages do not often make headlines. Controversies -- real or imagined -- do. The suggestion that the pope is coming to the United States with a hammer for Catholic educational leaders is not only premature but also prejudicial. Instead of condemning Catholic universities and colleges for what may be perceived as failures -- and failures do exist -- the pope might very well thank Catholic educational institutions for being beacons of light in a society that sometimes prefers darkness.

Call to prayer culture clash in Oxford

~from AFP. At last, we come to the question, how far is tolerance to be pursued and where do you draw the line? Now we come to Europeans confronting the fruits of the politically correct stance of cultural self-hatred and of indifferentism that rejects religion as being profitable for man and pleasing to God. Pope Benedict's call for Europeans to acknowledge the Christian roots of western civilization is not just nostalgia here but one of the continuing threads of his pontificate.
The Central Mosque was built in the east of the city, the "other Oxford", which is home to a poorer population and more immigrants than the historic centre of ancient, sandstone colleges, libraries and students on bicycles.

Cutting through the area is the main, multi-ethnic thoroughfare of Cowley Road, where Pakistani men in traditional tunics and other immigrants rub shoulders with the city's student intelligentsia going to and from their digs.

In this city, with a population of just 140,000, including nearly 20,000 students, nothing is very far away.

The mosque itself -- which can hold up to 700 of the town's 6,000 Muslims -- is little more than a 15-minute walk from Oxford's colleges, many of which were founded by Christian religious scholars as long ago as the 12th century.

But while the city's history is marked by Christianity's influence, some believe the mosque's imposing minaret defiles the city's famous skyline, which has remained largely unchanged for centuries.

Those feelings have been brought to a head since last November when mosque authorities expressed a desire to broadcast via loudspeaker the Muslim prayer call, the Adhan, sparking controversy that has not yet died down.

Wearing a three-piece suit with a bow tie and a gold chain hanging out of his jacket pocket, Chapman describes himself as "profoundly English" but rejects suggestions that he is taking an extreme view.

"I'm a liberal... I want to be inclusive but I don't want to be walked over," he said.

For him, the issue goes above and beyond the noise created by the call to prayer, which goes out five times daily in Muslim countries, and instead challenges English tolerance and threatens Britain's values and history.

"If Oxford accepts it, it would be used right across the country," he said.

Charlie Cleverly, the rector of the Saint Aldates church, in the heart of Oxford, says the city has long represented "the essence of Englishness".

"It is common knowledge, though few will say it, that 'radical Islam' has a programme to 'take Europe, take England and take Oxford'," he said.

"In this strategy, some say the prayer call is like a bridgehead, spreading to other mosques in the city."

French case seeking euthanasia for disfigurement

~from AFP

A French court on Monday rejected a request from a 52-year-old severely disfigured former schoolteacher for the right to die, in a case that has stirred much emotion in France, a judicial source said.

The high court in Dijon, eastern France, decided to side with the prosecution which argued that current legislation does not allow Chantal Sebire's doctor to prescribe lethal drugs.

In her appeal to the court, Sebire said she did not want to endure further pain and subject herself to an irreversible worsening of her condition. She asked the court to allow her doctor to help her end her life.

A mother of three who lives in the Bourgogne region of eastern France, Sebire drew a strong outpouring of sympathy when she appealed in a television interview last month for the right to "depart peacefully".

Before-and-after pictures of the woman, her face severely deformed, have been featured in the press and her account of frightened children who run away at the sight of her has drawn sympathy.

Sebire learnt in 2002 that she had developed an esthesioneuroblastoma, an uncommon malignant tumour in the nasal cavity, which she said has led to "atrocious" suffering.

"In 2000, I lost the sense of smell and taste ... and I lost my sight in October 2007," she said in the television interview.

"One would not allow an animal to go through what I have endured," she said before urging President Nicolas Sarkozy to intervene and grant her request.

Commenting on the case, Justice Minister Rachida Dati said last week that "doctors were not there to prescribe lethal drugs".

Legislation adopted in 2005 allows families to request that life-support equipment for a terminally-ill patient be switched off, but does not allow a doctor to take action to end a patient's life.

Sarkozy asked his chief adviser on health issues to contact Sebire and seek a second opinion on her condition.

Sebire has said she will not appeal the decision rendered Monday and that she would find life-terminating drugs through other means.

"I now know how to get my hands on what I need and if I don't get it in France, I will get it elsewhere," she said.

Only 200 cases of the disease have been recorded worldwide in two decades.

By one death and resurrection the world was saved

~by St. Basil, bishop

When mankind was estranged from him by disobedience, God our Saviour made a plan for raising us from our fall and restoring us to friendship with himself. According to this plan Christ came in the flesh, he showed us the gospel way of life, he suffered, died on the cross, was buried and rose from the dead. He did this so that we could be saved by imitation of him, and recover our original status as sons of God by adoption.

To attain holiness, then, we must not only pattern our lives on Christ’s by being gentle, humble and patient, we must also imitate him in his death. Taking Christ for his model, Paul said that he wanted to become like him in his death in the hope that he too would be raised from death to life.

We imitate Christ’s death by being buried with him in baptism. If we ask what this kind of burial means and what benefit we may hope to derive from it, it means first of all making a complete break with our former way of life, and our Lord himself said that this cannot be done unless a man is born again. In other words, we have to begin a new life, and we cannot do so until our previous life has been brought to an end. When runners reach the turning point on a racecourse, they have to pause briefly before they can go back in the opposite direction. So also when we wish to reverse the direction of our lives there must be a pause, or a death, to mark the end of one life and the beginning of another.

Our descent into hell takes place when we imitate the burial of Christ by our baptism. The bodies of the baptised are in a sense buried in the water as a symbol of their renunciation of the sins of their unregenerate nature. As the Apostle says: The circumcision you have undergone is not an operation performed by human hands, but the complete stripping away of your unregenerate nature. This is the circumcision that Christ gave us, and it is accomplished by our burial with him in baptism. Baptism cleanses the soul from the pollution of worldly thoughts and inclinations: You will wash me, says the psalmist, and I shall be whiter than snow. We receive this saving baptism only once because there was only one death and one resurrection for the salvation of the world, and baptism is its symbol.

Stational Church: Santa Prisca

It is difficult to pinpoint the original dedication of this church. To begin, it is difficult to say whether or not Priscilla and Prisca are the same person. In addition, there may be two different Priscilla’s and two Prisca’s. One Priscilla is that mentioned, with her husband Aquila, by and with Saint Paul (Acts 18:1-4, Rom 16:3, 1 Cor 16:19, 2 Tim 4:19) who welcomed Saint Peter to Rome and gave him hospitality. Then there is the Priscilla, perhaps different, who is the patron saint of the catacomb on Via Salaria. There are also two Prisca’s, Roman martyrs of the first and third centuries. It seems probable that on the site of the present church was the house of the first Prisca’s family and that close by lived Aquila and Priscilla, Jews. Prisca was a young girl of noble birth who was baptized by Saint Peter at the age of thirteen. She was condemned during the reign of Claudius (41-54) to be exposed to the amphitheater where a fierce lion was unleashed on her, but the lion licked her feet and did not hurt her. Later she was beheaded, and her body was concealed on the Aventine and discovered in 280 by Pope St. Eutychianus (275-283), who moved it to this church and placed it under the high altar. This church’s Saint Prisca is remembered as the protomartyr of the West. She is said to have been baptized in the baptistery’s font, though this is unlikely since Peter would probably have practiced baptism by immersion or partial immersion.

The first mention of the church is in connection with a cemetery of the fifth century where it is given as titulus Priscae. Adrian I (772-797) rebuilt its roof, and Leo III (795-816) embellished it and enlarged its title to “Most Blessed Aquila and Prisca,” which has prompted some of the confusion regarding the dedication. Around 1455, Callistus III restored it, and it had to be restored again in 1600 and 1734. The church suffered greatly during the French occupation of Rome in 1798 and for some time it was in a ruinous state until repaired by the Franciscans, who cared for it then. Today it is entrusted to the Augustinians.

Though little attention was paid to the discovery, in 1776 the walls of the house of Aquila and Priscilla, or possibly that of Prisca, were discovered. It would have been here that they received Saint Peter as their guest, and so this was probably the first place in Rome where “two or three were gathered together” as a Christian community. In 1933 a passage was opened behind the high altar leading down to rooms of a first century Roman house. This can also be approached from the outside. In some of these rooms there are several important frescoes depicting Mithraic worship, including the seven steps of their initiation.

Santa Prisca was the last of the series of stations in parishes organized by Gregory the Great. From tomorrow onwards, the stations take place in Major Basilicas. When at Saint Prisca, note her relics (under the altar of the confessio), as well as those of Sts. Martesia and Claudia. ~From Pontifical North American College, Station Churches of Rome