Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Irish Blessing by The Priests

Monday, December 30, 2013

Doxology by Michael Gungor

A New Year, New Beginnings and Resolutions

The following comes from the International Catholic Stewardship Council:
The practice of making New Year's resolutions goes back over 3000 years. The start of a New Year gives us the feeling of a fresh start, a new beginning, and new opportunities. It is a time when people feel that they can begin anew with their lives. Common New Year's resolutions are to lose weight, exercise more and eat healthier; or to spend more time with family. Still others include managing money better and being more organized.
Although there is nothing in the Bible or notable in Christian tradition about New Year's resolutions, many good stewards take advantage of this time of year to become closer to the Lord. They may re-commit themselves to pray more, to read the Bible, or to attend Mass more regularly. If you are looking for some helps in your New Year's resolutions, here are a few ideas to get you started:
Practice gratitude – Cultivating a grateful heart is the hallmark of a Christian steward. Every day, express thankfulness to the Lord and to others. Seeing the good in your life will allow you to keep your heart compassionate and loving.
Encounter the Lord each day – Find time to be with the Lord each day, whether it be for an hour or ten minutes. Have a conversation with the Lord. Give your joys and worries to Him as well. Allow God's love to transform them. Our encounters will keep our eyes and ears open to the presence of Christ in our midst.
Be present to others – There is much celebration and mourning, joy and sorrow in peoples' lives. What a blessing it is to be able to share those times and not let others experience them alone. The gift of your presence to others is much more valuable than you realize.
Resist overwork – There is a pressure to produce, meet goals, be successful. But activities that lead us to overwork, constant fatigue and worry do not give glory to God. What God calls us to do we can do well. Be mindful that life requires balance, down time and letting go of unrealistic goals.
Nurture friendships – Our friends are those we choose to be with, those with whom we spend our evenings, with whom we vacation, to whom we go to for advice. Friends are gifts from God who give us a greater appreciation of God's love for us. Friends need our time and love.
Give more – Good stewards realize that everything they have is entrusted to them as gift to be shared. There is no better place to begin than sharing with the community that gathers around the Lord's table at Mass. Consider what you are giving to your parish and local diocese and commit to an even greater contribution as circumstances allow.
Make a difference in your parish community – Believe it or not, your parish community can use your talents. Offering your talents to your faith community is one of the most effective ways to feel useful and connected to others, and it is a potentially life-changing New Year's resolution.
Consider living more simply – We cannot find fulfillment in possessions. They add nothing to our self-worth. Jesus blessed the "poor in spirit" in his Sermon on the Mount; and Saint Francis of Assisi urged us to live with only what was necessary, for that is how we begin to find God.
Get healthy – Studies show that most people in North America are accelerating their own decline into premature old age, owing to poor diet and lack of physical activity. Be a good steward of your body. Plan a complete overhaul of your diet and exercise habits.
Don't give up – People give up their New Year's resolutions because of perfectionism and unrealistic expectations. So take it slow, be kind to yourself and keep trying. Resist the urge to throw your hands up and quit. You succeed through small, manageable changes over time.
Turn to the Lord – Ask the Lord for guidance, strength and perseverance in achieving your resolutions. In his letter to the Phillipians, Saint Paul writes: "I can do everything through Him who gives me strength" (Phil 4:13). If God is the center of our New Year's resolutions, they have a better chance for success.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Pope Francis: On Feast of the Holy Family

In his Angelus address given on the feast of the Holy Family, Pope Francis prayed especially for the approaching Synod of Bishops which will discuss pastoral challenges to the family.

“The next Synod of Bishops will address the theme of the family, and the preparatory phase has already begun some time ago. For this reason, today, (on) the feast of the Holy Family, I wish to entrust this synodal work to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, praying for families around the world,” he said on Dec. 29 in St. Peter’s Square.

Asking the crowds that packed St. Peter’s Square and the surrounding streets to join with him spiritually, Pope Francis prayed, “Holy Family of Nazareth, may the approaching Synod of Bishops make us once more mindful of the sacredness and inviolability of the family, and its beauty in God’s plan.”

The Pope dedicated his Angelus message to considering Jesus’ own family as an example for families everywhere. “God wanted to be born in a human family, he wanted to have a mother and a father, like us,” he explained.

“It’s an example that does much good for our families, helping them to become ever more a community of love and reconciliation, in which one experiences tenderness, mutual help, and mutual forgiveness.”

Even the Jesus’ own family, however, was not without its difficulties.

Forced to flee to Egypt to escape being killed by Herod, “Joseph, Mary, and Jesus experienced the dramatic condition of refugees, marked by fear, uncertainty, need.”

Unfortunately, Pope Francis continued, “in our day, millions of families can see themselves in this sad reality.” Refugees and immigrants do not always find “true welcome (or) respect.”

Yet “Jesus wanted to belong to a family that had experienced these difficulties,” to show that no one “is excluded from the nearness of God’s love.”

“The flight into Egypt because of Herod’s threats shows us that God is also there – there where man is in danger, there where man suffers, there where he escapes, where he experiences rejection and abandonment; but he is also where man dreams, hoping to return to his homeland in freedom, designing and choosing a life of dignity for himself and his family.”

Even in families who do not face such dramatic circumstances, “exiled persons” can be found, noted the Pontiff: “the elderly, for example, who sometimes are treated as a burdensome presence.”

“Many times I think that one sign to know how a family is doing is to see how the children and elderly are treated in it,” he said.

Pope Francis then repeated one of his oft-used instructions on family life. “Remember the three key phrases: excuse me, thank you, I’m sorry!” he exhorted the crowds, who cheered in response.

In a family that uses these words, “there is peace and joy,” he assured them.

“Repeat it with me, everyone together!” the Pope urged, “excuse me, thank you, I’m sorry.”

The Pontiff closed by greeting the many pilgrim groups who had traveled to Rome and wishing everyone a happy feast day.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Oceans by United

Benedict XVI makes a short trip to have lunch with Pope Francis

Archbishop Aquila: The joy of Christmas is contagious

The following comes from The Denver Catholic Register:
A group of atheists recently bought a billboard in Times Square and asked the provocative question: Who needs Christ at Christmas? They answered their own question with a one-word answer—nobody.
That is an interesting take on the holy day that is named, quite aptly, after Christ himself.
According to the billboard, Christmas can now be about anything you want it to be. For example, they suggested, it can simply be about family, friends, presents, parties and hot chocolate.
Christians obviously do not agree with this, but the atheists bring an important point to the forefront of the public debate. In recent years Christmas has been accompanied by a “war on Christmas,” which is rather strange: What does the world have to fear from the belief that God so loved humanity that he became a child and dwelt among us?
Just this month, in an exclusive interview with the Italian newspaper La Stampa, Pope Francis spoke with laser-like precision on the essence of Christmas. “It is the encounter with Jesus,” he said.
“God has always sought out his people, led them, looked after them and promised to always be close to them,” he continued. “This is a beautiful thing. Christmas is God’s meeting with his people.”
The appeal of the message of Christmas, even to non-believers, is present all around us. The encounter of Christ with his people sparks an incredible outpouring of joy, of consolation, of generosity and of hope. This can be quite contagious.
The parties, the presents, the gatherings with friends and family, and yes, even the hot chocolate, are wonderful demonstrations of this joy that dwells in our hearts. Nobody throws a party when they are fearful of the future. We don’t give presents if there is no movement of joy and love in our hearts.
These wonderful aspects of Christmas don’t define the holy day, but rather they are a part of Christmas because we know that God is with us and for us; there is reason to rejoice.
We Christians have a great responsibility to let everyone know that Christmas is about the infinite mercy of God, especially because this reality is what unleashes the deepest joy anyone could experience. And for those who don’t share the Christian belief, everyone should be at peace celebrating even the concept that there is hope in such a love.
To Christians, I encourage you to remember, as Pope Francis reminded us in the aforementioned interview, that “Christmas is joy, religious joy, God’s joy, an inner joy of light and peace.” We must be witnesses of such joy, and we must contemplate the great mystery of God, who came to dwell among us.
“With Christ,” he writes in “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), “joy is constantly born anew.”
The Pope used the word joy in his letter more than 50 times, underlining the absolute centrality of joy in the life of a Christian. He invites Christians to “a renewed personal encounter with Jesus to Christ.” He urges us to listen intently to God’s voice in our hearts, and to experience the “quiet joy of his love.”
To non-Christians, I urge you to take another look at Christmas. Look at it again with fresh eyes. Look at what we celebrate: let the eyes of your souls go past the presents, the trees, the fat Santa and red-nosed Rudolph, and stop at the center of the manger. Listen to the everlasting message of love and peace, and you will know what Christmas is all about, the God who loves you eternally even if you do not wish to receive that love. It’s a message that benefits us all.
Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila, S.T.L.
Archbishop of Denver

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Pope Francis: The Feast of St Stephen the first martyr dissolves the "fairy tale" image of Christmas

Vatican City (AsiaNews) The Feast Day of Saint Stephen is "in full harmony with the deeper meaning of Christmas" and dissolves "the false picture of Christmas as a mushy fairy tale that does not exist in the Gospel," Pope Francis said in today's Angelus before the many pilgrims in St Peter's Square, on the day when the Church remembers its first martyr.

"In the joyful atmosphere of Christmas," the pope noted, "this commemoration might seem out of place. Christmas in fact is the celebration of life and gives us feelings of serenity and peace. Why upset its charm with the memory of such brutal violence? In reality, from the perspective of faith, the Feast of St Stephen is in full harmony with the deeper meaning of Christmas. In martyrdom in fact, violence is overcome by love, death by life. The Church sees in the sacrifice of the martyrs their "birth in heaven." Let us therefore celebrate today Stephen's "birth", which deeply stems from the birth of Christ. Jesus transforms the death of those who love him into the dawn of new life! The same clash between good and evil, between hatred and forgiveness, between gentleness and violence, which culminated in the Cross of Christ, is played out in Stephen's martyrdom. Thus, the memory of the first martyr comes immediately to dissolve the false image of Christmas as a mushy fairy tale that does not exist in the Gospel! The liturgy brings us back to the true meaning of the Incarnation, connecting Bethlehem to Calvary, and reminding us that divine salvation involves a struggle against sin through the narrow gate of the Cross."

For the pope, Saint Stephen's martyrdom is the reason why "we are praying today especially for Christians who suffer discrimination because of their witness to Christ and the Gospel."

"We are close to those brothers and sisters who, like Saint Stephen, are unjustly accused and subjected to violence of various kinds. This happens especially where religious freedom is still not guaranteed or not fully realised. In my opinion, there are more today than in the early days of the Church. As it happens however, even in countries and places that protect freedom and human rights on the paper, believers, especially Christians, encounter limitations or discrimination."

"For these brothers and sisters, I would ask you to pray, for a moment, in silence, everyone," the pope said off the cuff. After a brief moment of silence, he continued, saying, "Let us entrust them to Mary," and called on everyone to say a Hail Mary for them.

"For Christians," he added, "this is not surprising because Jesus foretold it as an opportunity to bear witness. Nevertheless, injustice must be legally reported and eliminated."

"May Mary Queen of Martyrs help us experience Christmas with the ardour of faith and love that shines in Saint Stephen and all the martyrs of the Church," the pope said in concluding.

After the Marian prayer, Francis greeted those present. Earlier he had praised them because they had not "been afraid of the rain," which was falling on the city.

"May the visit at this time to the crèche to see Mary and Joseph and the Child arouse in everyone a generous commitment to love one another so that within families and communities people may experience an atmosphere of understanding and brotherhood that is so beneficial to the common good," said the pope as he spoke about the pilgrims who come to Rome from all over the world to visit the Neapolitan crèche in St Peter's Square.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Why Christ? An Undying Love

The following comes from Monkrock:

When I was in jail I fell very, very ill. I had tuberculosis of the whole surface of both lungs, and four vertebrae were attacked by tuberculosis. I also had intestinal tuberculosis, diabetes, heart failure, jaundice, and other sicknesses I can’t even remember. I was near to death.

At my right hand was a priest by the name of Iscu. He was abbot of a monastery. This man, perhaps in his forties, had been so tortured he was near to death. But his face was serene. He spoke about his hope of heaven, about his love of Christ, about his faith. He radiated joy. 

On my left side was the Communist torturer who had tortured this priest almost to death. He had been arrested by his own comrades. Don’t believe the newspapers when they say that the Communists only hate Christians or Jews—it’s not true. They simply hate. They hate everybody. They hate Jews, they hate Christians, they hate anti-Semites, they hate anti-Christians, they hate everybody. One Communist hates the other Communist. They quarrel among themselves, and when they quarrel one Communist with the other, they put the other one in jail and torture him just like a Christian, and they beat him. 

And so it happened that the Communist torturer who had tortured this priest nearly to death had been tortured nearly to death by his comrades. And he was dying near me. His soul was in agony. 

During the night he would awaken me, saying, “Pastor, please pray for me. I can’t die, I have committed such terrible crimes.” 

Then I saw a miracle. I saw the agonized priest calling two other prisoners. And leaning on their shoulders, slowly, slowly he walked past my bed, sat on the bedside of this murderer, and caressed his head—I will never forget this gesture. I watched a murdered man caressing his murderer! That is love—he found a caress for him. 

The priest said to the man, “You are young; you did not know what you were doing. I love you with all my heart.” But he did not just say the words. You can say “love,” and it’s just a word of four letters. But he really loved. “I love you with all my heart.” 

Then he went on, “If I who am a sinner can love you so much, imagine Christ, who is Love Incarnate, how much He loves you! And all the Christians whom you have tortured, know that they forgive you, they love you, and Christ loves you. He wishes you to be saved much more than you wish to be saved. You wonder if your sins can be forgiven. He wishes to forgive your sins more than you wish your sins to be forgiven. He desires for you to be with Him in heaven much more than you wish to be in heaven with Him. He is Love. You only need to turn to Him and repent.” 

In this prison cell in which there was no possibility of privacy, I overheard the confession of the murderer to the murdered. Life is more thrilling than a novel—no novelist has ever written such a thing. The murdered—near to death—received the confession of the murderer. 

The murdered gave absolution to his murderer. They prayed together, embraced each other, and the priest went back to his bed. Both men died that same night. It was a Christmas Eve. But it was not a Christmas Eve in which we simply remembered that two thousand years ago Jesus was born in Bethlehem. It was a Christmas Eve during which Jesus was born in the heart of a Communist murderer. 

These are things which I have seen with my own eyes.

The Christmas Message of Pope Francis

The following comes from the AP:
Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors (Luke 2:14)
Dear brothers and sisters in Rome and throughout the world, Happy Christmas!
I take up the song of the angels who appeared to the shepherds in Bethlehem on the night when Jesus was born. It is a song which unites heaven and earth, giving praise and glory to heaven, and the promise of peace to earth and all its people.
I ask everyone to share in this song: it is a song for every man or woman who keeps watch through the night, who hopes for a better world, who cares for others while humbly seeking to do his or her duty.
Glory to God!
Above all else, this is what Christmas bids us to do: give glory to God, for he is good, he is faithful, he is merciful. Today I voice my hope that everyone will come to know the true face of God, the Father who has given us Jesus. My hope is that everyone will feel God’s closeness, live in his presence, love him and adore him.
May each of us give glory to God above all by our lives, by lives spent for love of him and of all our brothers and sisters.
Peace to mankind.
True peace is not a balance of opposing forces. It is not a lovely “façade” which conceals conflicts and divisions. Peace calls for daily commitment, starting from God’s gift, from the grace which he has given us in Jesus Christ.
Looking at the Child in the manger, our thoughts turn to those children who are the most vulnerable victims of wars, but we think too of the elderly, to battered women, to the sick. Wars shatter and hurt so many lives!
Too many lives have been shattered in recent times by the conflict in Syria, fueling hatred and vengeance. Let us continue to ask the Lord to spare the beloved Syrian people further suffering, and to enable the parties in conflict to put an end to all violence and guarantee access to humanitarian aid. We have seen how powerful prayer is! And I am happy today too, that the followers of different religious confessions are joining us in our prayer for peace in Syria. Let us never lose the courage of prayer! The courage to say: Lord, grant your peace to Syria and to the whole world.
Grant peace to the Central African Republic, often forgotten and overlooked. Yet you, Lord, forget no one! And you also want to bring peace to that land, torn apart by a spiral of violence and poverty, where so many people are homeless, lacking water, food and the bare necessities of life. Foster social harmony in South Sudan, where current tensions have already caused numerous victims and are threatening peaceful coexistence in that young state.
Prince of Peace, in every place turn hearts aside from violence and inspire them to lay down arms and undertake the path of dialogue. Look upon Nigeria, rent by constant attacks which do not spare the innocent and defenseless. Bless the land where you chose to come into the world, and grant a favorable outcome to the peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. Heal the wounds of the beloved country of Iraq, once more struck by frequent acts of violence.
Lord of life, protect all who are persecuted for your name. Grant hope and consolation to the displaced and refugees, especially in the Horn of Africa and in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Grant that migrants in search of a dignified life may find acceptance and assistance. May tragedies like those we have witnessed this year, with so many deaths at Lampedusa, never occur again!
Child of Bethlehem, touch the hearts of all those engaged in human trafficking, that they may realize the gravity of this crime against humanity. Look upon the many children who are kidnapped, wounded and killed in armed conflicts, and all those who are robbed of their childhood and forced to become soldiers.
Lord of heaven and earth, look upon our planet, frequently exploited by human greed and rapacity. Help and protect all the victims of natural disasters, especially the beloved people of the Philippines, gravely affected by the recent typhoon.
Dear brothers and sisters, today, in this world, in this humanity, is born the Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Let us pause before the Child of Bethlehem. Let us allow our hearts to be touched, let us allow ourselves to be warmed by the tenderness of God; we need his caress. God is full of love: to him be praise and glory forever! God is peace: let us ask him to help us to be peacemakers each day, in our life, in our families, in our cities and nations, in the whole world. Let us allow ourselves to be moved by God’s goodness.

Little Drummer Boy by Bob Dylan

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Child is Born

Hallelujah by Cloverton

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Pope's secret strength: The freedom to be Francis

From the Rev. Thomas Rosica at (CNN) :

Christmas was a moveable feast for me this year - in fact it happened right smack in the middle of Lent, when the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church elected a man from Argentina to be the next Pope.
I have been asking myself a ton of questions over the past months.
What has happened in the church, and how can it be that a 77-year-old, retirement-bound archbishop from Buenos Aires has captivated the world?
How can we describe the sense of springtime that has come upon the church? How is it fathomable in our day and age that not only Christians and Catholics but millions of others are speaking about “Papa Francesco” as if he were their own?
Is this all the work of a PR company or clever media strategists hired by the Vatican to rebrand its image? Or is there something else at work? Let me tell you what I think is afoot.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio took the name Francis upon his election as Pope and told us he did so because of his love for Francis of Assisi. For the past nine months, many of us have been associating the Pope’s gestures and actions with the “Poverello” or “Little Poor One” of Assisi, perhaps the most beloved saint of the Catholic tradition.
We can easily envision Francis of Assisi in that idyllic, medieval Umbrian hilltop town and mythologize about what really happened back in his day. But too often Francis’ radical message is lost and we reduce him to a gentle, whimsical hippie who fed birds, smelled flowers and tamed wild wolves. We easily forget that in reality, Assisi’s favorite son was and is the model of a radical Christian.
One day as a young man, Francis heard the plea of Jesus from the crucifix in the dilapidated San Damiano chapel on Assisi’s outskirts. “Go and repair my Church,” he heard Jesus say. And he certainly did that in his lifetime and through the huge Franciscan family that he left behind to carry forward his dream and continue his work.
Many of us have spent the past months finding similarities between Francis of Assisi and Francis of Buenos Aires, who took up residence in a guest house in Vatican City rather than the papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace.
We become easily fixated on lots of eye-catching, buzz-causing externals and great photo opportunities: A Pope who abandoned the red shoes - that were never an official part of the papal wardrobe! A Pope who dresses modestly, pays his own lodging bills, drives around Vatican City in a Ford Focus, calls many people on the phone, brings jam sandwiches to on-duty Swiss Guards at his door and invites street people to his birthday breakfast.
This Roman pontiff specializes in kissing babies and embracing the sick, disfigured broken bodies, and the abandoned of society. We sit back, smile and utter: “What simplicity!” “Wow!” Awesome!” “Finalmente!”
We say: “Here is a one world leader who speaks the truth to power, walks his talk, and names idolatry and greed for what they are. Here’s a bold and courageous shepherd who lifts up the poor and tells us that if they are not part of our lives, then we are a sad and even doomed lot. Just like Francis of Assisi did in his day!”
But that is not the whole story.
I have realized more and more over the past months that while I have always loved Francis of Assisi and all the romantic ideals he embraced and stood for, Francis of Buenos Aires doesn’t transport me back to medieval Assisi. He takes me back to Bethlehem, Galilee and Jerusalem.
Everything the Pope is doing now is not just an imitation of his patron saint who loved the poor, embraced lepers, charmed sultans, made peace and protected nature. It’s a reflection of the child of Bethlehem who would grow up to become the man of the cross in Jerusalem, the Risen One that no tomb could contain, the man we Christians call Savior and Lord. The one whose birth we celebrate on December 25.
More than anyone in my lifetime, Pope Francis has given me a powerful glimpse into the mind and heart of God.
He wants the church to be an instrument of reconciliation and welcome, a church capable of warming hearts, a church that is not bent over on herself but always seeking those on the periphery and those who are lost, a church capable of leading people home.
Francis knows only too well that at times we lose people because they don't understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity.
On the late afternoon of March 13, 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio received the call to go, rebuild, repair, renew and heal the church.
What we have witnessed over the past nine months is simply a disciple of Jesus, and a faithful disciple of Ignatius of Loyola (the founder of the Jesuits) and of Francis of Assisi, repairing, renewing, restoring, reconciling and healing the Church.
There are those who delight in describing the new Pope as a bold, brazen revolutionary sent to rock the boat. Others think he has come to cause a massive shipwreck.
But the only revolution that Pope Francis has inaugurated is a revolution of tenderness, the very words he used in his recent major letter on "The Joy of the Gospel."
“True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others. The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness.”
It is this revolution that is at the heart of Pope Francis’ ministry.
Last week during a banquet in Chicago, Cardinal Francis George revealed why the cardinals gathered in conclave last March elected Bergoglio pope. George said: “Because the cardinal from Argentina was completely free. He possessed an interior freedom that was so evident.”
Is it not this unflinching freedom that allows Pope Francis to do what he does because he is unafraid and totally free to be himself at the same time of being such faithful son of the Church?
In our war-torn world, where selfishness, sadness, meanness, vengeance and harshness seem to have the upper hand at times, we need the message of Christmas: goodness, joy, kindness, mercy and the tenderness of our God.
These are also the qualities of the current revolutionary Bishop of Rome. No wonder why he has taken the world by storm, and why so many people are paying attention to him. We need the Francis revolution of tenderness and mercy now more than ever before.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Winter Snow by Audrey Assad with Chris Tomlin

Pope Francis: Celebrating Christmas contemplating Mary and Joseph

At the Sunday Angelus Francis comments on a banner: " The poor can not wait ," recalling the misery of those without a home. "Family and home go together." The invitation to the "pitchfork" protesters in Italy to "defend their rights" choosing "the path of dialogue". Joseph was tested like Abraham . He "did not insist on pursuing his life project, he did not allow resentment to poison his soul , but was prepared to place himself at the service of the novelty he was presented with".

Vatican City ( AsiaNews) - " ... We should celebrate Christmas contemplating Mary and Joseph .... With them, we walk together towards Bethlehem".  This was Pope Francis' invitation to the tens of thousands of pilgrims gathered in St Peter's Square for the Angelus today, the last Sunday of Advent (the fourth ), the period leading up to Christmas . Immediately after the Marian prayer , he focused on a banner held up by those present in the square: " The poor can not wait," and devoted a special greeting to a group of believers , together with members of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions ( PIME) .

The pope said: "Mary, [ is ] full of grace, the woman who had the courage to totally trust in the Word of God, Joseph, the faithful and just man who preferred to believe in the Lord instead of listening to the voices of doubt and human pride". But his reflection, commenting on today's Gospel (Matthew 1 , 18-24) , was primarily a story of the birth of Jesus "from St. Joseph's point of view".
It should be remembered that Francis has entrusted his pontificate to the intercession of St. Joseph . The inaugural Mass of his pontificate took place on the feast of St. Joseph (March 19, 2013 ).

The pontiff outlined Joseph's personality, the betrothed of Mary, when he discovers that his betrothed was "with child through the Holy Spirit".

"When Joseph becomes aware of this fact - continued the Pope - he remains perplexed. The Gospel does not explain what his thoughts were, but it tells us what is essential: he tries to do the will of God and is ready to make a radical renunciation. Instead of defending himself and assert his rights , Joseph chooses a solution that represents a huge sacrifice for him : " since he was a righteous man,

yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly" ( 1:19) .
This short sentence sums up a real inner drama, if we think of Joseph's love for Mary , but even in such a circumstance, Joseph intends to do the will of God and decides , no doubt with great pain , to repudiate Mary in private".

Joseph's trial is similar to that of Abraham, "when God asked him for his son Isaac (cf. Gen 22) : to give up the most precious thing, the most beloved person . But, as in the case of Abraham, the Lord intervenes : he found the faith that opens and finds a different path , a path of love and happiness , "Joseph - he says - do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her"( Mt 1:20 )".
" This Gospel - he concluded - shows us the greatness of St. Joseph's soul . He was leading a good life, he had plans but God had other plans for him, a greater mission . Joseph was a man who always listened to the voice of God , deeply sensitive to his secret will, a man attentive to the messages that came from the heart and from on high. He did not insist on pursuing his life project, he did not allow resentment to poison his soul , but was prepared to place himself at the service of the novelty he was presented with. And thus he became even freer and greater. Accept everything according to the Lord's, Joseph finds himself fully, he goes beyond himself. This freedom to give up all that he has, to renounce his own existence, and his full availability to the inner will of God, challenges us and shows us the way".

After the Angelus prayer, speaking off the cuff, the pontiff commented on one of the many banners hoisted by so-called "pitchforks" , impromptu groups of Italian families and small business owners who protest the difficult economic situation and politicians' delay in finding solutions.

"I see - said the pope - a large banner : the poor can not wait. It makes me think that Jesus, who was born in a stable. He was not born in a house. Then they had to flee, to Egypt to save his life . Eventually he returned to his home in Nazareth. And I think today, even reading this, of the many homeless families, either because they never had a home, or because they lost it for many reasons. Families and go home together. It 's very difficult to raise a family without a home. During these days of Christmas , I invite all persons, entities and social authorities to do everything possible to ensure that every family can have a home".

After the greetings, which included a special greeting for the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions , Francis added: " To those of Italy gathered to express their social commitment, may you always choose the path of dialogue, in defending your rights. I wish you all a Christmas of hope, justice and brotherhood".

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Heart of the Catholic Thing

The following comes from Word on Fire:

What is the Catholic thing? What makes Catholicism, among all of the competing philosophies, ideologies, and religions of the world, distinctive? I stand with John Henry Newman who said that the great principle of Catholicism is the Incarnation, the enfleshment of God. What do I mean by this? I mean, the Word of God—the mind by which the whole universe came to be—did not remain sequestered in heaven but rather entered into this ordinary world of bodies, this grubby arena of history, this compromised and tear-stained human condition of ours. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14): that is the Catholic thing.

The Incarnation tells central truths concerning both God and us. If God became human, without ceasing to be God and without compromising the integrity of the creature that he became, God must not be a competitor with his creation. In many of the ancient myths and legends, divine figures such as Zeus or Dionysus enter into human affairs only through aggression, destroying or wounding that which they invade. And in many of the philosophies of modernity, God is construed as a threat to human well-being. In their own ways, Marx, Freud, Feuerbach and Sartre all maintain that God must be eliminated if humans are to be fully themselves. But there is none of this in the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation. The Word does indeed become human, but nothing of the human is destroyed in the process; God does indeed enter into his creation but the world is thereby enhanced and elevated. The God capable of incarnation is not a competitive supreme being but rather, in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, the sheer act of being itself, that which grounds and sustains all of creation, the way a singer sustains a song.

And the incarnation tells us the most important truth about ourselves: we are destined for divinization. The church fathers never tired of repeating this phrase as a sort of summary of Christian belief: Deus fit homo ut homo fieret Deus (God became human so that humans might become God). God condescended to enter into flesh so that our flesh might partake of the divine life, that we might participate in the love that holds the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in communion. And this is why Christianity is the greatest humanism that has ever appeared, indeed that could ever appear. No philosophical or political or religious program in history—neither Greek or Renaissance or Marxist humanism—has ever made a claim about human destiny as extravagant as Christianity’s. We are called, not simply to moral perfection or artistic self-expression, or economic liberation, but rather to what the eastern fathers calledtheiosis, transformation into God.

I realize that an objection might be forming in your mind. Certainly the doctrine of the incarnation separates Christianity from the other great world religions, but how does it distinguish Catholicism from the other Christian churches? Don’t Protestants and the Orthodox hold just as firmly to the conviction that the Word became flesh? They do indeed, but they don’t, I would argue, embrace the doctrine in its fullness. They don’t see all the way to the bottom of it or draw out all of its implications. Essential to the Catholic mind is what I would characterize as a keen sense of the prolongation of the Incarnation throughout space and time, an extension of it precisely through the mystery of the church. Catholics see God’s continued enfleshment in the oil, water, bread, imposed hands, wine, and salt of the sacraments; they appreciate it in the gestures, movements, incensations, and songs of the liturgy; they savor it in texts, arguments, and debates of the theologians; they sense it in the graced governance of Popes and bishops, they love it in the struggles and missions of the saints; they know it in the writings of Catholic poets and in the cathedrals crafted by Catholic architects. In short, all of this discloses to the Catholic eye and mind the ongoing presence of the Word made flesh, namely Christ.

Newman said that a complex idea is equivalent to the sum total of its possible aspects.  This means, he saw, that ideas are only really known across great stretches of space and time, with the gradual unfolding of their many dimensions and profiles.  The Incarnation is one of the richest and most complex ideas ever proposed to the mind, and hence it demands the space and time of the church in order fully to disclose itself.  This is why, in order to grasp it fully, we have to read the Gospels, the Epistles of Paul, the Confessions of St. Augustine, the Summa theologiae of Thomas Aquinas, the Divine Comedy of Dante, John of the Cross’s Ascent of Mt. Carmel, The Story of a Soul of Therese of Lisieux, among so many other master texts.  But we also have to look and listen.  We must consult the Cathedral of Chartres, the Sainte Chapelle, the Arena Chapel, the Sistine Ceiling, Bernini’s Ecstasy of Ste. Teresa; the church of the Holy Sepulchre, Grunewald’s Crucifixion, the soaring melodies of Gregorian chant, the Masses of Mozart, and the motets of Palestrina.  Catholicism is a matter of the body and the senses as much as it is a matter of the mind, precisely because the Word became flesh.

Fr. Robert Barron comments on The Nativity of Luke's Gospel

Friday, December 20, 2013

Pope Francis: Mystery doesn't seek publicity

The following comes from the Vatican News:
In his homily at Holy Mass on Friday morning, 20 December, Pope Francis reflected on the day's Gospel from St Luke (1:26-38), which record the words of the angel Gabriel to Mary: “The power of the Most High will overshadow you. The Holy Spirit will come upon you”. The Pope noted that the angel's words harken back to the day's first Reading from the Book of Isaiah (7:10-14).
“Throughout salvation history, the overshadowing of God has always guarded mystery,” the Pontiff said. “The overshadowing of God accompanied his people in the desert” and the whole of salvation history, he said, “demonstrates that the Lord has always guarded the mystery. He veiled the mystery, he did not publicize the mystery”. In fact, the Pope added, “a mystery that promotes itself is not Christian, it is not a mystery of God”. The day's Gospel clearly confirms this, he said, for when Mary received the angel's announcement, “the mystery of her motherhood” remained hidden.
“God's overshadowing of us in our lives,” the Pope continued, helps us to “discover our own mystery: our mystery of encounter with the Lord, the mystery of our life's journey with the Lord”. In fact, he said, “each of us knows how mysteriously the Lord works in his or her heart and soul. And this is the overshadowing, the power, the Holy Spirit's style, as it were, for veiling our mystery. This overshadowing in us, in our lives, is called silence. Silence is the cloud that veils the mystery of our relationship with the Lord, of our holiness and of our sins”.
“It is a mystery that we cannot explain. But when there is no silence in our lives, we lose the mystery, it goes away”. Hence the importance “of guarding the mystery with silence: this is the cloud, this is God's power in us, it is the strength of the Holy Spirit”.
The Pope turned again to the witness of the Blessed Virgin, who lived in this silence for the whole of her life. “I think about how many times she remained silent, how many times she did not say what she felt in order to guard the mystery of her relationship with her Son”. He then recalled how “in 1964, in Nazareth, Paul VI told us all that we need to renew and strengthen, to fortify silence,” precisely because “silence guards the mystery”.
The Pope then gave voice to “the silence of Our Lady at the foot of the Cross,” as Pope John Paul II had done before him. In reality, he said, the Gospel does not report any words from Our Lady. Mary “was silent, but within her heart how many things she said to the Lord” in that crucial moment in history. Likely, Mary would have thought back to the angel's words regarding her Son: “On that day you told me he would be great! You told me he would be given the throne of David his father and that he would reign for ever! But now look there” at the Cross. Mary, Pope Francis added, “veiled in silence the mystery which she did not understand. And through silence she allowed the mystery to grow and flourish,” thus bringing great hope to all.
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the Most High will overshadow you”. The angel's words to Mary assure us that “the Lord veils his mystery,” the Pope said. For “the mystery of our relationship with God, of our journey, of our salvation should not be aired or publicized. Silence should be its guard”.
Pope Francis concluded with a prayer that “the Lord might grant us all the grace to love silence, to seek it out, to have a heart guarded by the cloud of silence. Thus the mystery growing within us shall bear much fruit”.

Strength for the Kingdom: An Interview with Catholic Bodybuilder Jared Zimmerer

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Robertson's: I Am Second

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

After a Year with Pope Francis

The following comes from Leah Libresco:

Time, The Advocate, and The New Yorker are just the latest publications to find Pope Francis front-page worthy news and the symbol of a spiritual year in review.  Meanwhile, I’ve gotten an email from a friend who wants a recommendation for a Pope Francis book for a relative who is unexpectedly excited about Catholicism again, and I see non-Catholic friends sharing interview excerpts and photos, talking about the first pope they’ve liked.
And, the whole time, I’ve felt a little odd about not being more swept off my feet.  Maybe it’s the way that each interview comes with a week or two of more arguing, confusing translations, out-of-context quotes, and arguing.  I kept waving off my friends’ questions about Evangelium Gaudii since I hadn’t read the proclamation and was suspicious of brief reporting on long documents.
There’s a palpable sense of urgency when people talk about Pope Francis’s latest comment or act of mercy, and I think that’s the source of my distance.  For the most part, the things Pope Francis does that make news aren’t new.  (For example, when he said it was entirely possible that atheists who follow their consciences go to heaven, that was exactly in line with Catholic orthodoxy – we like to say we know where the Church is, but not where it isn’t.  God can give grace anywhere, but we stick by the sources of grace we can recognize: the Sacraments).
The good works the Pope does aren’t in any way dependent on his being Pope.  Any of us can offer compassion to the sick, feed the poor (with companionship as well as food), and keep offering all this help with a human face.  Francis may be a new wineskin, but what people seem to be desperately imbibing is far from new wine.
And, I start to wonder, what kind of Christian am I that my friends find Pope Francis’s kindness and compassion so sui generis and startling?  We shouldn’t have to rely on the witness of the Pope to communicate the beauty and love of Christianity, but it seems like for many people, Catholic and not, he sounds like a voice crying out in the wilderness.
As an abstract, systematizing thinker, I’m more likely to talk about Catholicism in the context of epistemology or theology.  I like to poke at abstruse corners of the faith and get excited about small connections between ideas.  But academic, theoretical joy isn’t what people are responding to when they turn their eyes to Pope Francis.  Although his remarks are erudite, he keeps bringing his conversations back to the small-scale, urgent level of human lives.
When I sometimes do good or struggle to mend the evil I’ve done, I’m less likely to talk about how it relates to my religion.  Maybe because I’m in the middle of comforting a friend and I don’t want to interrupt his troubles to explain the undercurrents of why and how I’m trying to help or maybe I’ve only barely got a grip on my anger and pride, and it seems too risky to try to talk about my faith while I’m in such a mood.
I’m not sure what the solution is, but, in the coming year, I want to be able to respond the hunger that Pope Francis has exposed and to make my Christianity a little less private and picayune in my day to day life.  I’d like for people to be able to look at my life and think, “If that’s what Christianity does, I’d like to know more.”  Or, at least, to think, “If Christianity is what makes Leah acknowledge those acts as faults and try (with middling success) to mend them, I’d like to know more.”
It’s awfully sobering to know that the basic decency of Pope Francis is a shock to the people I ostensibly love.

Pope Francis: Jesus is God-with-us

The following comes from Vatican Radio:

At his weekly General Audience, Pope Francis turned his attention to the Feast of the Nativity. “This our encounter,” he said, “is taking place in the spiritual climate of Advent, made even more intense by the Novena of the Holy Nativity that we are living in these days, and that leads us to the Christmas holidays.” The Holy Father reflected on the Nativity of Jesus, “the feast of confidence and hope, that overcomes uncertainty and pessimism.” The reason for our hope, he said, is this: “God is with us, and God still trusts us.”
“God has willed to share our human condition to the point of making himself one of us in the Person of Jesus, who is true man and true God.” But even more surprising, he said, is that Jesus becomes man not in “an ideal world, an idyllic [world], but in this real world, marked by so many things, good and bad, marked by divisions, wickedness, poverty, arrogance and wars.” In this way God shows that He is merciful towards humanity, and filled with love for us. “He is God-with-us: do you believe this?” Pope Francis asked the crowd. When they responded “Si!” the Holy Father continued “But let us make this confession: Jesus is God-with-us! All together: Jesus is God-with-us!” And he thanked the faithful for their enthusiastic response.
The birth of Jesus, the Pope said, brings us the good news that we are loved “immensely and individually” by God – and God not only helps us to know this love for each of us, but also gives and communicates this love to us.
Pope Francis concluded his Audience by pointing out two considerations we can take away from these considerations on the Nativity of Jesus: The first is that God reveals Himself not as one who remains on high and dominates the universe, but as one who humbles Himself. This shows us that in order to be like Him, we must not put ourselves above others, but must humble ourselves and serve others. He had strong words for Christians who refuse to humble themselves: “It is an ugly thing,” he said, “when you see a Christian who doesn’t want to humble himself, who doesn’t want to serve, a Christian who struts about everywhere: it’s ugly, eh? That is not a Christian: that’s a pagan!”
The second consideration is that, if Jesus has become one of us, than whatever we do for a brother or a sister, we do for Him. “Jesus Himself reminds us: He who has fed, welcomed, visited, loved one of the smallest and poorest of people, has done it for the Son of God.”
Pope Francis concluded his catechesis with greetings for the various groups who attended the Audience in Saint Peter’s Square, noting in particular pilgrims from England, Australia and the United States. He also had a word of thanks for members of the group “Up with People” for their musical entertainment during the audience.

Below, please find the complete text of the English-language summary of the Pope’s remarks, followed by his greetings for English-speaking pilgrims:
Synthesis: Dear Brothers and Sisters: In these last days of Advent we prepare ourselves spiritually to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Christmas is a feast of joyful hope, for God has become one with us in the person of his Son, true God and true man. He showed his love for us by becoming part of our world, with all its conflicts, its suffering and its poverty. Jesus is truly Emmanuel: God among us. This is the great “gift” which he brings: a divine love which heals and transforms our hearts, overcoming all uncertainty and pessimism. Our joyful contemplation of the mystery of Christmas should make us realize that, as God has become one of us, we too are called to become like God: humble, close to others, especially the poor, and ever attentive to their needs. This Christmas, let us ask Mary, Mother of Jesus and our Mother, to help us see in our neighbour the face of Jesus, God made man. May we be in this world a ray of that light which shone forth from Bethlehem, bringing the joy and peace to the hearts of all men and women.
Greetings: I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s Audience including those from England, Australia and the United States. I thank the members of “Up with People” for their musical entertainment. Upon you and your families I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Immanuel: Songs of Praise

Monday, December 16, 2013

Bleed Red by Ronnie Dunn

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Pope Francis: "Never be afraid of tenderness"

The following comes from La Stampa:

In this exclusive interview, Pope Francis speaks about Christmas, hunger in the world, the suffering of children, the reform of the Roman Curia, women cardinals, the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR), and the upcoming visit to the Holy Land
“For me Christmas is hope and tenderness...”. Francis tells Italian newspaper La Stampa about his first Christmas as Bishop of Rome, in an interview published in today’s issue. During the interview the Pope also talks about the innocent suffering of children and the tragedy of hunger in the world, the Catholic Church’s relations with other Christian denominations and the “ecumenism of blood” that unites them in times of persecution. The Pope also touches on the issue of the family, which will be discussed at the next Synod, and responds to US critics who accused him of being “a Marxist”.
“Christmas is God’s meeting with his people. It is also a consolation, a mystery of consolation,” Francis explains. “After the midnight mass I have often spent an hour or so alone in the chapel before celebrating the dawn mass. I felt a profound feeling of consolation and peace.” “On Christmas eve, my thoughts are above all with the Christians who live there, with those who are in difficulty, with the many people who have had to leave that land because of various problems,” the Pope adds, referring to the Holy Land. 
On the subject of children’s suffering, Francis says: “When I come across a suffering child, the only prayer that comes to mind is the “why” prayer. Why Lord?” In response to the criticism he received after the publication of the “Evangelii Gaudium” from ultraconservatives in the US who accused him of being a “Marxist”, the Pope remarks: “Marxist ideology is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.” But, he points out, “there is nothing in the Exhortation that cannot be found in the social Doctrine of the Church.”

Replying to a question on Christian unity, Francis referred to the “ecumenism of blood”: In some countries Christians are killed for wearing a cross or having a Bible and before they are killed they are not asked whether they are Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic or Orthodox. Blood is mixed. To those who kill we are Christians.” Regarding the subject of remarried divorcees, Francis recalls that their exclusion from communion is “not a sanction” and confirms that these issues will be dealt with in greater depth at the next Synod.

Commenting on Curia reform, the Pope informs that in February his eight cardinal “advisors” will deliver their “first” concrete “suggestions”. Francis flatly denies allegations that he intends to nominate women cardinals, stating:  “I don’t know where any such an idea came from. Women in the Church must be valued not “clericalised”.”