Friday, November 29, 2013

Hallelujah by Celtic Thunder

A Rose Among Thorns

The following comes from Christianity Today:
Beginning in 1996 with Father Elijah, Michael O'Brien—a devout Roman Catholic; a Canadian; a painter and writer—has been publishing a series of novels with the collective title, Children of the Last Days. Father Elijah is the story of Elijah Schafer, a Roman Catholic priest, a convert from secular Judaism, chosen by the power of the Holy Spirit to bring one last witness of God's mercy to the Antichrist himself. Set in the end of days, it finished with Elijah heading towards his prophesied martyrdom.
Due not only to the gravity of its themes but to its spirited writing, it was a tough book to follow with not just one but five others (O'Brien had projected both the number and subject of each of the novels from the beginning). O'Brien has been, in many ways, learning on the job. From the beginning he has been superb at forming full and powerful characters, with rich interior lives. And he has been simply unexcelled at writing about the importance of everyday life, unveiling for his readers the spiritual power of our simplest decisions and our casual commitments. O'Brien's focus on the spirituality of the everyday, not to mention his far superior writing, is what sets these books apart from dispensational novels like the Left Behind series—not to mention his very strongly held conservative Roman Catholicism, which is all-pervasive in his novels.
In A Cry of Stone, the fifth novel in the series, O'Brien has done his best work yet. This is a remarkable book, if for no other reason than for the wonderful and compelling character of its protagonist, Rose Wabos, an Ojibwa girl who grows into a solemn, winsome young woman in the course of the novel.
Born with a curved spine, abandoned by a mother she never knows, Rose is raised by her grandmother, Mary. Their love for each other is achingly described, and in a book filled with loves, theirs is perhaps most beautiful of all. They live in what can only be described as grinding poverty, but here O'Brien does one of the most wonderful things of the novel. While not pretending that their conditions are not miserable, he shows nonetheless their happiness without ever slipping into condescension.
O'Brien's great theme is the power of God seen in the weak. "Bent is the shape of love," Rose thinks once of her aging grandmother. The people around her who seem most straight turn out to be deeply twisted; and her bent spine holds together a vessel that brings grace and peace to those in need. But the actual pain that her deformed back gives her represses any pride that she might have in her brokenness. Her twistedness is not an accessory of virtue; it actually hurts, and makes her life one lived against a continual backdrop of ache, with spasms of agony.
Rose is an artist, and O'Brien has put a great deal of his artistic life in this book. It is not so much that he writes about pastels, oils, and the nature of tempera, though he does do that. The most important things he shares of his knowledge of art in A Cry of Stone are not techniques, but ways of seeing things. Rose from her childhood is blessed with a spiritual gift that she calls "falling into seeing," a prophetic knowledge of another person's heart. Her "falling into seeing" also enables her to see all the world around her as it actually is. In a wonderful scene when her painting class is studying the French artist Gericault's The Raft of Medusa, the following interchange occurs:
"It is as if the whole world is the sea," she said, "and the raft is the wreckage of a great ship that went down at the beginning of the world."
The professor's eyebrows raised.
"We are the survivors."
Her ability to see is related to her striving for. She knows more of pain and of the bitter things of life than most do or would want to do. Nor are these things accepted as if they caused no hurt. Like her bent spine, the events of her life cause her pain and suffering. Throughout the novel O'Brien follows moments of sweetness in Rose's life with moments of hurt, pain, and despair. It sounds a bit like a soap opera, when put like that. But Rose is meant to be a servant of the King of Kings, and O'Brien does not spare his creation from the same way of pain that the king himself took when he came into his own creation, and it knew him not.
The Raft of the Medusa summarizes the difference between sacrificial suffering and the suffering that leads only to despair. Rose is delighted to learn that Gericault painted his powerful work to show the moment when the survivors of the Medusa saw the rescue ship approaching after they had endured weeks of unimaginable suffering. In like manner, she is able to endure her suffering because she trusts that the rescue attempt on Earth has already begun.
In this season of Epiphany, here is a book alive with wonder at the Incarnation of God and its powerful work in the life of believers. Here is a beautiful depiction of another rose growing up amidst the world's thorns.

Pope Francis announces 2015 to be dedicated to Consecrated Life

Vatican City (VIS) The Union of Superiors General held its 82nd General Assembly in the Salesianum in Rome from 27 to 29 November. The story of three experiences provided the basis for reflections and encounters focusing on the challenges of leadership in the light of the Magisterium and following the example given by Pope Francis. The Holy Father chose to meet with the Superiors for three hours, rather than the short encounter envisaged: no address was prepared in advance, but instead a long, colloquial and fraternal discussion took place, composed of questions and answers.
The first group of questions related to the identity and mission of consecrated life. A radical approach is required of all Christians, the Pope stated, but religious persons are called upon to follow the Lord in a special way: “They are men and woman who can awaken the world. Consecrated life is prophecy. God asks us to fly the nest and to be sent to the frontiers of the world, avoiding the temptation to 'domesticate' them. This is the most concrete way of imitating the Lord”.
When asked about the situation of vocations, the Pope emphasised that there are young Churches which are bearing new fruit. This naturally gives rise to a re-evaluation of the inculturation of charism. The Church must follow the example of Matteo Ricci in asking forgiveness for and looking with shame upon apostolic failures caused by misunderstandings in this field. Intercultural dialogue must press for the introduction persons of various cultures, expressing different ways of living charism, in the governance of religious institutes.
The Pope insisted upon the importance of formation, which he presented as founded upon four fundamental pillars: spiritual, intellectual, communitarian and apostolic. It is indispensable to avoid every form of hypocrisy and clericalism by means of a frank and open dialogue on all aspects of life: “formation is an artisanal craft, not a form of policing”, he commented; “its aim is to form religious persons with a tender heart, not acid, not like vinegar. We are all sinners, but not corrupt. Sinners are to be accepted, but not the corrupt”.
When asked about brotherhood, the Pope said that this has a great force of attraction, and presupposes the acceptance of differences and conflicts. At time it is difficult to live in fraternity, but without it no fruit may be borne. In any case, “we must never act like managers when faced with a brother's conflict: conflict instead must be caressed”, said the Pope.
A number of questions were asked regarding the relationships between religious persons and the particular Churches to which they belong. The Pope confirmed that he had experience of the possible problems: “We bishops must understand that consecrated persons are not helpers, but rather charisms which enrich dioceses”.
The final questions regarded the frontiers of the mission of consecrated persons. “They must be sought on the basis of the charisms”, answered the Pope. Situations of exclusion remain the first priorities. Alongside these challenges he mentioned the cultural and educational mission in schools and universities. For the Pope, the pillars of education are “transmitting knowledge, transmitting methods, transmitting values. By these means, faith is communicated. The educator must measure up to those he educates, and must give careful thought to how to proclaim Jesus Christ to a changing generation”.
Before taking leave of the 120 Superiors General present, the Pope announced that 2015 would be a year dedicated to consecrated life. He added, “Thank you for what you do and for your spirit of faith and your service. Thank you for your witness and also for the humiliations through which you have had to pass”.

Dr. Peter Kreeft on The Lord of the Rings: Beauty and Language

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The gift of Thanksgiving and the Advent Season

The following comes from Archbishop Chaput:

Thanksgiving is a good time to step back from the pressures of work, reflect on the course of our lives and remember that gratitude is the beginning of joy.  It’s also an opportunity to remember whom we’re thanking, andwhy we’re thanking him.  The holiday has vividly Christian roots, and it makes little sense without its religious origins.  Americans certainly don’t need to be Christian to enter into the spirit of the day, but Thanksgiving reminds us of a fundamentally higher reality: our dependence on a loving Creator. 
In a world so often marked by suffering and want, God has blessed us with abundance – both as a nation and as individuals.  No one “owes” us this abundance.  Other people around the world work just as hard as we do, or harder, and receive far less from life.  As Scripture says:  To whom much is given, from them much will be required (Lk 12:48).  Thus we Americans have the privilege to turn our hearts to God in gratitude, but we also have God’s invitation to share our abundance with those who have less than we do.
This weekend, on December 1, we also celebrate the First Sunday of Advent, which opens the new Church year.  It’s a chance to begin again; a time to examine our hearts in the light of the Gospel, repent of our sins and look for the coming of our Savior.
We can’t really experience or understand Christmas unless we first conform our hearts to the longing of Advent.  Advent calls us all to refocus our lives on God’s promise of deliverance and the flesh-and-blood reality of Jesus Christ, our Deliverer – who came to us first in Bethlehem, comes to us today in the Eucharist, and will come again at the end of time.
As the Church reminds us throughout our lives, our Catholic faith, if it’s genuine, must have consequences – first in our private choices and conduct, but also in our public witness.  If we really believe in the coming of a Messiah, our lives will reflect that in the way we treat our families, our friends and business colleagues, the poor, the homeless and the suffering.
Real faith will drive us to live our lives in a spirit of humility, hope and courage, as Mary of Nazareth did.  It will also guide us to press our elected leaders – of both political parties — for laws and social policies that respect the dignity of the human person, from conception to natural death.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph knew the reality of poverty firsthand.  They knew the fear of being without shelter; of being hunted by enemies and being “strangers in a strange land” as refugees in Egypt.  This week might be a good time to remember that millions of immigrants in our own country – many of them undocumented; men and women who in many ways underpin our economy – feel that same uncertainty and vulnerability.  That’s why continuing efforts at immigration reform are so urgently necessary and so in need of Catholic involvement.
But immigration is only one of a dozen pressing issues like defending the unborn child, religious liberty, strengthening marriage and the family, and support for the elderly and disabled, which now face our country and cry out for prayer and action by Christians.  All genuinely Catholic action begins and ends in the worship of Jesus Christ.  If we want to change the world, we begin by saying “yes” to God, as Mary did. We begin with our own obedience to God, using Mary as our model.
The Thanksgiving holiday and the season of Advent give us a chance to start over; to begin the new Church year with a longing for God that leads to Bethlehem, to our own renewal, and to the conversion of the world.
So may God grant all of us the gift of his presence around the Thanksgiving table.  And may God stay with us in the weeks ahead, as we ready ourselves for the birth of his son.

Evangelii Gaudium: Pope Francis' first Apostolic Exhortation

10 Reasons to Read "The Joy of the Gospel"

The following comes from Aggie Catholics:

If you didn't know, Pope Francis issued a new document today. It is entitled "Evangelii Gaudium" which means "The Joy Of The Gospel" and it is about evangelization - sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. I am not exaggerating when I say I have read almost every modern Church document and many ancient ones too. But, this is my favorite papal document I have ever read! Why? See below.
10 Reasons Every Catholic Should Read Pope Francis New Document
  1. His language is simple and accessible, which makes it easy for the average Catholic to read and understand. Does this sound too churchy?
    "If we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?"
  2. He cracks jokes! Seriously - check this out.
    "They (the laity) and their ordained ministers suffer because of homilies: the laity from having to listen to them and the clergy from having to preach them!"
  3. He remains full of hope and challenges the Church to live and act out of hope:
    "One of the more serious temptations which stifles boldness and zeal is a defeatism which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, “sourpusses”. Nobody can go off to battle unless he is fully convinced of victory beforehand. If we start without confidence, we have already lost half the battle and we bury our talents."
  4. Francis doesn't want us to settle for being "ok", he wants what Jesus wants out of us - he wants us to be holy and missionary.
    "We must recognize that if part of our baptized people lack a sense of belonging to the Church, this is also due to certain structures and the occasionally unwelcoming atmosphere of some of our parishes and communities, or to a bureaucratic way of dealing with problems, be they simple or complex, in the lives of our people. In many places an administrative approach prevails over a pastoral approach, as does a concentration on administering the sacraments apart from other forms of evangelization."
  5. He wants to shake things up and doesn't want us to do something merely because it has been done that way in the past:
    "Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: “We have always done it this way”. I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities."
  6. He recognizes that some structures and practices of Catholic life aren't helping spread the Gospel. So, serious reform of these things might be tough, but they are also necessary:
    "We must recognize that if part of our baptized people lack a sense of belonging to the Church, this is also due to certain structures and the occasionally unwelcoming atmosphere of some of our parishes and communities, or to a bureaucratic way of dealing with problems, be they simple or complex, in the lives of our people. In many places an administrative approach prevails over a pastoral approach, as does a concentration on administering the sacraments apart from other forms of evangelization."
  7. He knows how to get you pumped up for the work ahead!
    "Challenges exist to be overcome! Let us be realists, but without losing our joy, our boldness and our hope-filled commitment. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of missionary vigour!"
  8. He understands that the message needs to stick to the basics. The Gospel Jesus proclaimed is not complicated nor should the message the Church proclaim even forget the basics.
  9. "On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.”"
  10. Reading it might do you some good! This is a very personal reflection on what is most important and Francis invites you to conversion!
    "The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”. How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost!"
  11. He is selling joy and who doesn't want that! The Gospel is supposed to be something that changes us and gives us joy, even when things are tough. This is a definitive sign that something has changed our lives!
    "The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew."

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Pope Francis Vision for an Evangelical Church

VATICAN CITY (CNS)  In his first extensive piece of writing as pope, Pope Francis lays out a vision of the Catholic Church dedicated to evangelization in a positive key, with a focus on society's poorest and most vulnerable, including the aged and the unborn.

"Evangelii Gaudium" ("The Joy of the Gospel"), released by the Vatican Nov. 26, is an apostolic exhortation, one of the most authoritative categories of papal document. (Pope Francis' first encyclical, "Lumen Fidei," published in July, was mostly the work of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.)

The pope wrote the new document in response to the October 2012 Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization, but declined to work from a draft provided by synod officials.

Pope Francis' voice is unmistakable in the 50,000-word document's relatively relaxed style -- he writes that an "evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!" -- and its emphasis on some of his signature themes, including the dangers of economic globalization and "spiritual worldliness."

The church's message "has to concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary," he writes. "In this basic core, what shines forth is the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead."

Inspired by Jesus' poverty and concern for the dispossessed during his earthly ministry, Pope Francis calls for a "church which is poor and for the poor."

The poor "have much to teach us," he writes. "We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voices to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them."

Charity is more than mere handouts, "it means working to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor," the pope writes. "This means education, access to health care, and above all employment, for it is through free creative, participatory and mutually supportive labor that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives."

Yet he adds that the "worst discrimination which the poor suffer is the lack of spiritual care. ... They need God and we must not fail to offer them his friendship, his blessing, his word, the celebration of the sacraments and a journey of growth and maturity in the faith."

Pope Francis reiterates his earlier criticisms of "ideologies that defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation," which he blames for the current financial crisis and attributes to an "idolatry of money."

He emphasizes that the church's concern for the vulnerable extends to "unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us," whose defense is "closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right."

"A human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development," the pope writes, in his strongest statement to date on the subject of abortion. "Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defense of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be."

The pope writes that evangelization entails peacemaking, among other ways through ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. He "humbly" calls on Muslim majority countries to grant religious freedom to Christians, and enjoins Catholics to "avoid hateful generalizations" based on "disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism," since "authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Quran are opposed to every form of violence."

Pope Francis characteristically directs some of his strongest criticism at his fellow clergy, among other reasons, for what he describes as largely inadequate preaching.

The faithful and "their ordained ministers suffer because of homilies," he writes: "the laity from having to listen to them and the clergy from having to preach them!"

The pope devotes several pages to suggestions for better homilies, based on careful study of the Scriptures and respect for the principle of brevity.

Pope Francis reaffirms church teaching that only men can be priests, but notes that their "sacramental power" must not be "too closely identified with power in general," nor "understood as domination"; and he allows for the "possible role of women in decision-making in different areas of the church's life."

As he has done in a number of his homilies and public statements, the pope stresses the importance of mercy, particularly with regard to the church's moral teaching. While lamenting "moral relativism" that paints the church's teaching on sexuality as unjustly discriminatory, he also warns against overemphasizing certain teachings out of the context of more essential Christian truths. 

In words very close to those he used in an oft-quoted interview with a Jesuit journalist in August, Pope Francis writes that "pastoral ministry in a missionary style is not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed," lest they distract from the Gospel's primary invitation to "respond to the God of love who saves us."

Returning to a theme of earlier statements, the pope also warns against "spiritual worldliness, which hides behind the appearance of piety and even love for the church, (but) consists in seeking not the Lord's glory but human glory and personal well-being," either through embrace of a "purely subjective faith" or a "narcissistic and authoritarian elitism" that overemphasizes certain rules or a "particular Catholic style from the past."

Despite his censures and warnings, the pope ends on a hopeful note true to his well-attested devotion to Mary, whom he invokes as the mother of evangelization and "wellspring of happiness for God's little ones."

Two Popes and the End Times

The following comes from Fr. Dwight Longenecker:

In a recent homily, Pope Francis warned the faithful against what he described as a “globalized uniformity,” which is the result of secular worldliness. The website Rome Reports quotes him: “[T]he people of God prefer to distance themselves from the Lord in favour of worldly proposals. ... Worldliness is the root of evil, and it can lead us to abandon our traditions and negotiate our loyalty to God, who is always faithful. This is called apostasy, which he said is a form of ‘adultery’ that takes place when we negotiate the essence of our being: loyalty to the Lord.”

Later in the homily, he referred to a modern English novel, The Lord of the World. Written by Robert Hugh Benson in 1907, The Lord of the World is considered the first novel in a genre known as dystopia, in which a disastrous and demonic future of the world is envisioned. It was followed by the classics 1984 andBrave New World. C. S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength echoes the dystopic vision, as have the books of novelist Michael O’Brien and numerous films and televisions shows.

Some commentators believe this is one of Pope Francis’s favorite books. If so, it is worth a closer look. The author Robert Hugh Benson was a remarkable figure from an illustrious family. His father was the Archbishop of Canterbury, and his brother the well-known writer, E. F. Benson. Another brother wrote the words to the patriotic English anthem, Land of Hope and Glory. Benson was ordained as an Anglican priest, but converted to the Catholic Church and was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1904. His novel, Lord of the World, fell out of fashion for a time, but is increasingly popular because of its uncanny predictions of the future and the direction of the world in our own times.

The novel is set in an imaginary future where the world is governed by a global socialist, secular state. The one world state has introduced Esperanto as the global language. Religion has been ignored and repressed as outdated and irrelevant. The population exists in a grey, monotonous world with no hope. Euthanasia is legal and practiced widely. The Catholic Church has been repressed, and the whole world has swallowed the religion of humanism. Churches are requisitioned and turned into Masonic temples, and the Catholics are few and far between.

In this setting, a Catholic priest named Percy Franklin is elected Pope Sylvester III. Meanwhile, a mysterious man named Julian Felsenburgh – who resembles Percy Franklin – becomes an anti-Christ figure, and thus “Lord of the World.”

That Pope Francis not only has read Benson’s The Lord of the World, but refers to the book in homilies indicates an awareness on his part of the cosmic struggle that exists between the powers of darkness and light. It is interesting how often this Pope refers to the devil, and in the homily in question he said the seduction of Christians to the way of the world rather than the way of the Lord was the work of the devil. 

A book like The Lord of the World reminds one of the words of Bl. Pope John Paul II. In a speech to American bishops in 1976 he said, “We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has ever experienced. I do not think the wide circle of the American Society, or the wide circle of the Christian community realizes this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-church, between the Gospel and the anti-gospel, between Christ and the antichrist. This confrontation lies within the plans of Divine Providence. It is therefore, in God’s plan, and it must be a trial which the Church must take up and face courageously.”

Then in 1980, he commented, “We must prepare ourselves to suffer great trials before long, such as will demand of us a disposition to give up even life, and a total dedication to Christ and for Christ. … With your and my prayer it is possible to mitigate this tribulation, but it is no longer possible to avert it, because only thus can the Church be effectively renewed. How many times has the renewal of the Church sprung from blood! This time, too, it will not be otherwise. We must be strong and prepared, and trust in Christ and his Mother, and be very, very assiduous in praying the Rosary.”

In continuity with his saintly predecessor, Pope Francis sees the storm clouds on the horizon and calls the faithful to stand firm. As Advent approaches, we should be reminded once more, as the first Pope preached, to “be alert for our adversary, the devil, who like a roaring lion prowls about, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8).

The Joyful Manifesto of Pope Francis

Pope Francis has released his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.  Here is Rocco Palmo's take on it:

So, Church, above you'll find what's already being described as "the manifesto"of Francis for the church –224 pages in book-form... whatever file-code you fancy,some 48,000 words.

If you're looking for a "primer," it's fairly simple:don't insult your intelligence – just take the time to actually read it. 

For now, only two other things are worthwhile: a comment that came over the wires a couple minutes ago saying that this document was "best read on one's knees," and – in a Vatican first – a word that the English translations of the "liner notes" (the introductory statements from this morning's pub-day press conference) have been rapidly released.

Those aside, a Pope who's succeeded masterfully at making himself understood to the entire world on his own terms has no need to be exegeted through any lens other than the one he's seen fit to set. Keeping with said principle, then, that's it from here for the holiday – Happy Reading to all... in a special way, meanwhile, to everyone here in the States, safe travels for those hitting the road, and may each of you, your loved ones and those you serve know the gift of a beautiful, easy, richly blessed and Happy Thanksgiving – not to mention this time around, an especially "joy"-ous one, to boot.

Pope Francis: Trust the Lord even in extreme situations

(Vatican Radio) Christians are called to trust in the Lord, even in the most extreme situations. These were the words of Pope Francis at Mass on Monday morning in the Vatican’s Casa Santa Marta.

Pope Francis focused his homily on those characters from the daily readings who testify to the importance of trusting in God, even in extreme situations. In the Book of Daniel, the young Jewish men living as slaves of King Nebuchadnezzar remain faithful to the Lord, even at risk of their own lives. In the Gospel of Luke, the impoverished widow who puts two small coins into the offering box is praised by Jesus, who says: “Those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood”. 

The Lord, Pope Francis says, is everything, and they trusted in the Lord. They didn’t do so because of some fanatical force, but because they knew that the Lord is faithful. They trusted in that faith which is always there, the Pope said, because the Lord cannot be unfaithful, cannot deny Himself.

Choosing to be faithful to the Lord, Pope Francis continued, is equally important in the little things and in the most difficult situations. He remembered the men, women, elderly and young people who every day choose to be faithful to the Lord, who live as martyrs, and as an example to us all. When we read in the newspapers about Christians who are persecuted in our own times, the Pope explained, we must take their lives as an encouragement to offer the Church everything we have, our whole livelihood. 

Let us think, Pope Francis said, about the brothers and sisters who have made courageous, definitive choices throughout history, and continue to do so today. But let us also think about the many mothers and fathers who make small but definitive choices of faith every day, with their families and with their children. Let us ask the Lord, Pope Francis concluded, for the grace of courage, the courage to go on with our Christian lives, in everyday life and in the most extreme situations. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Francis and Peter

The following comes from

Bones believed to belong to Saint Peter, regarded as the first bishop and pope of the Catholic Church, went on display for the first time Sunday, as Pope Francis held a ceremony to end the "Year of Faith".

Tens of thousands of pilgrims gathered to catch a glimpse of the remains, eight fragments of bone between two and three centimeters (around one inch) long displayed on an ivory bed within a bronze 

The chest, given to Pope Paul VI in 1971 and usually kept in the tiny chapel of the papal apartments, was decorated with a carving of Peter, who was a fisherman before becoming the Church's first pope, casting his nets into the sea.

At the start of the solemn ceremony, Francis prayed before the chest, bordered by white and yellow roses, before blessing the bones with incense.

The bones have long been the object of controversy between historians and archaeologists: they were first discovered in a 1940 dig next to an ancient monument honoring Saint Peter, but ended up gathering dust in a storage box.
It was not until archaeologist Margherita Guarducci discovered graffiti near the excavated tomb reading "Petros eni", which could mean "Peter is here", that she requested tests on the fragments.

She found they belonged to a robust man who died aged between 60 and 70 and had been buried in a purple, gold-threaded cloth -- enough to convince Paul VI to say in 1968 that Peter's bones had been identified "in a convincing manner."

With no DNA evidence to support the find, the debate over whether they really do belong to one of Jesus Christ's apostles is likely to continue, but the Vatican has said it "has no intention of opening up any argument."

"Faith, the people of God, have always believed these to be the relics of the apostle Peter, and we continue to venerate them in this way," Rino Fisichella, head of the pontifical council for evangelisation, said in the Vatican's newspaper L'Osservatore Romano.

The ceremony brought to an end the Vatican's "Year of Faith", a Benedict XVI initiative which began on October 11, 2012 to mark the 50th anniversary of the start of the Vatican II Council, which approved key Catholic Church reforms.
The project's principle aim was to tackle the decline of religious practice in the developed world, particularly in Europe.

The Vatican said the "Year of Faith" had attracted 8.5 million pilgrims to Rome.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Gaudium et Spes: The Right Reading of Vatican II by Fr. Robert Barron

Friday, November 22, 2013

Brandon Vogt Interview with Msgr. Charles Pope

The following comes from Brandon Vogt:
What if your pastor stood up next Sunday and said he wanted to double the size of the parish within one year? That's exactly what happened at Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Catholic parish in Washington DC, a predominantly African-American parish. Monsignor Charles Pope made that bold challenge last September and then got to work.
He trained forty parishioners to evangelize door-to-door, had another forty stay at the church and pray, and then asked forty more to cook meals for everyone upon their return. The whole program was a success. They visited more than 1,500 homes and drew many people back to the church.
Msgr. Pope is known for more than his parish work, though. His popular blog at the Archdiocese of Washington website is read across the world and his dynamic preaching inspires countless others.
Msgr. Pope recently sat down with me to talk about blogging, preaching, evangelization, and the unique experiences of serving in an African-American Catholic parish.

Missionaries and Martyrs

The following comes from Fr. Dwight Longenecker: 
Today on the SonRise Morning Show Brian Patrick asked me what the difference was between the national saints of England and the national saints of the United States.
Missionaries and martyrs! The saints of North America are all missionaries. Yesterday, for example, St Rose Philippine Duchesne. What a life! She comes to the new world from France, winds up in New Orleans, travels up the river to St Louis where she starts a school in a log cabin. The bishop asked what she was seeking. She said, “A cross.” He said, “That’s all I have to offer you!”
The Native Americans named her, “Woman Who Prays Always”. This tall, dignified Frenchwoman would pray all night straight backed and watching and waiting for the Lord. Once a school girl crept in and placed paper scraps on the back of the saint’s legs as she knelt. They wanted to see if the paper would be moved by morning when the saint got up. It was still there in the morning.
Think of the other missionaries of the Americas: Isaac Jogues, Francis Xavier Seelos, Bishop John Neumann, Elizabeth Ann Seton, Damien of Molokai. Their example and their lives fill me with such zeal and desire for a radical discipleship!
In England, on the other hand, the most memorable saints are the English martyrs. Margaret Clitherow- crushed slowly for hiding a priest, Ann Line – who before she was hanged for harboring a priest cried out that she would gladly have harbored a thousand. Ambrose Barlow the Benedictine, Cuthbert Mayne the convert priest, Nicholas Owen–the dwarf and master craftsman who devised holes for hiding priests.
Read the lives of the saints! They will spur you on and cheer you up and help you to see the world’s true priorities. This is what I so love about reading the lives of the saints. They stand the world on its head. The concerns of this world are put into perspective, the yawn inducing cowardly conformity of most people is shown to be shallow and dull as death.  The saints show us the way to heaven and the way is one of excitement, miracles and marvels.
Missionaries to remind us that the world still needs messengers of the gospel who will give all to spread the Catholic faith–martyrs who remind us that persecution is always surrounding the church and that the ultimate sacrifice is what is demanded of every follower of Christ in one way or another. He does not say, “You may take up your cross and follow me if you like…” The cross is part of the way of the disciple.
How different it is today. St Rose Philippine Duchesne’s bishop said, “A cross is all I have to offer you.” In modern America we religious people offer everything BUT the cross. Here a wonderful liturgy, there a zesty youth group, here a splendid choir, there a hip hop pastor with a line in groovy sermons, here a parish self help group, there an apologetics cruise, there a mission trip to Disneyland…
If we looked to the saints more we would understand the catechism and the Scriptures for the saints incarnate the catechism. The saints are lived theology, they are the catechism come alive, the scriptures living and breathing and walking among us. The saints show us that Christianity is not an idea. It is a Life. Christianity is not an ideology. It is a Person and a Family of persons. The saints show us that Christianity is not a theory. It is reality.

Fr. Robert Barron on Why We Confess to a Priest

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Celtic Thunder: Caledonia

This is a great song sung by Celtic Thunder and is all about missing home. Caledonia is the Latin name given by the Roman Empire to a northern area of the island of Great Britain. The modern use of 'Caledonia' in English is as a poetic name for Scotland. If you are Scottish or not, I am sure you will enjoy this song! Here are the Dougie MacLean lyrics:

I don't know if you can see
The changes that have come over me
In these last few days I've been afraid
That I might drift away
I've been telling old stories, singing songs
That make me think about where I've come from
That's the reason why I seem
So far away today


Let me tell you that I love you
That I think about you all the time
Caledonia, you're calling me, now I'm going home
But if I should become a stranger
Know that it would make me more than sad
Caledonia's been everything I've ever had

Now I have moved and I've kept on moving
Proved the points that I needed proving
Lost the friends that I needed losing
Found others on the way
I have kissed the fellas and left them crying
Stolen dreams, yes, there's no denying
I have traveled hard, sometimes with conscience flying
Somewhere with the wind


Now I'm sitting here before the fire
The empty room, the forest choir
The flames have cooled, don't get any higher
They've withered, now they've gone
But I'm steady thinking, my way is clear
And I know what I will do tomorrow
When hands have shaken, the kisses float
Then I will disappear

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Fr. Robert Barron comments on C. S. Lewis

Pope Francis and the "Culture of Encounter"

 Continuing his efforts to promote a “culture of encounter” with the disabled, Pope Francis again embraced a severely disfigured man after his Nov. 20 weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square.

The Pope spoke with a man who lacks facial features, embraced him and gave him a blessing. Pope Francis then smiled at the man, kissed him and gestured toward the sky in the midst of a crowded square.

The cause of the man’s disfigurement was not known. His identity is also not known, the British newspaper The Daily Mail reports.

It is the second time this month that the Pope’s hospitality towards the disfigured has drawn public attention.

At the end of his Nov. 6 audience, Pope Francis warmly embraced Vincio Riva, an Italian man suffering from severe tumors all over his body. His disorder is known as nerofibromatosis, a genetic condition.

The Pope received Riva for several minutes, took the man’s face in his hands, kissed him and gave him a blessing. Riva later said he “felt only love” by the action, noting that the Pope did not know whether his condition was contagious.
Though previous Popes have also made a habit of greeting the disabled, Pope Francis has drawn unique media attention for his actions.

At World Youth Day in July, Pope Francis welcomed a newborn girl born with anencephaly, who lacks a part of her skull and brain. The Pope blessed the child and her parents during the July 28 Mass on Copacabana beach.

In a June audio message to the Italian Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Pope Francis called for a “culture of encounter, solidarity and hospitality” with the disabled that encourages their “active participation” in society.

Marines, Royal Priesthood, and The Communion of Saints

The following comes from Frank Weathers:

“For Conspicuous Gallantry and Intrepidity in Action at the Risk of Life, Above and Beyond the Call of Duty . . . ”
As a kid growing up, I had a lot of daydreams floating through my head. Daydreams of Glory! The lines above (from the beginning of the citation for the Medal of Honor) would be read to throngs of adoring, thankful citizens as my exploits and heroic feats of daring-do and close-combat were read and celebrated throughout the land.
Is it any wonder that I was drawn to the vocation of a warrior?I wrote here about one of the Marines that every new recruit is taught about when he is undergoing either Marine Corps Recruit Training (boot camp) or Officer Candidates School (OCS). The Marine I am referring to is Sergeant Major Dan Daly. Was he a Catholic? Who knows? And frankly, that’s not the point.
The point is that the Marine Corps teaches all of her warriors her history. And if you like, you can think of Dan Daly, along with Smedley Butler, John H. Quick, Chesty Puller, O. P. Smith, Samuel Nicholas, John A. Lejuene, et al (I could go on naming Marines for hours) as the Marine Corps equivalent of the Communion of the Saintshere in the Church Militant. I have so much fun learning their names and reading about their heroic exploits! Talk about “Above and Beyond the Call of Duty”!

I don’t know much, but I do know this: Marines who have been “canonized” by the Corps were ordinary Marines who responded extraordinarily in a combat situation. A freshly minted private who has just graduated from boot camp is just as much a Marine as the hero Captain Kurcaba, whose bravery was written about by his comrade Joseph R. Owen in his memoir Colder Than Hell: A Marine Rifle Company at Chosin Reservoir.
It’s lump-in-my-throat time. As Owen recounts in his memoir:
Under enemy fire Captain Wilcox, Kurcaba, and Lee all walked straight up. It seemed impossible to me that they weren’t hit, especially Lee, who was usually far forward. It set a good example for the men, and I tried to do the same.
Yet when a fire-fight got hot, Owen would hit the deck and low-crawl to protect himself. Captain Kurcaba never “got down.” He said to Owen in the heat of a battle once, “If I get down, I may never get up again.” Owen writes, “I couldn’t speak to my superior officer who stood while I groveled on the deck [under fire]. I forced myself to stand up and I wished that Joe Kurcaba would get the hell away from me!”
Wow! — The saints are a lot like that to me too. Would you agree? Their exploits of daring are frightening and yet inspiring at the same time. Whether we’re talking about Joan of Arc or Charles Borromeo each challenges us to be better Christians the way the heroes of the Corps taught me to be a better Marine.
There is a fact about all Marines, whether they are flying F-18s or serving food in the chow hall: Every Marine is a rifleman. And there is a similar fact to be said of members of the Catholic Church: as Christians, each one of us is called to the Priesthood. Maybe not Holy Orders, but the Royal Priesthood all the same. If you don’t want this, then you joined the wrong outfit. If you were born into this, guess what, you still have to earn the title. Because Marines are made and not born, and so are Catholics.
But don’t worry and please don’t forget the mission of Our King’s Church: to save souls, at any cost. Most of us haven’t been called into the Church’s equivalent of the Officer Corps (Holy Orders). But we can still serve with distinction, whether we are butchers, bakers, or candle-stick makers. Again, one of the heroes of the Church (St. Francis of Assisi) serves as an example to me. “Preach the Gospel always,” he said. “Use words if necessary.” Also, there is no age requirements (17 – 28 to enlist) either and no minimum or maximum(6 – 8 years) contract length. Heck you can even get “out” and rejoin! Or join on your deathbed; just ask Oscar Wilde.
Our first Pope (dare I equate St. Peter with the first Commandant of the Marine Corps, Samuel Nicholas?) said as much in the second chapter of his first letter. Is this letter (1 Peter 2:9) similar to a Marine Corps Order? I’d say yes:
But you are a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises” of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
Mother Church has remembered her heroes and canonized them in the Communion of the Saints so that by their “conspicuous gallantry” they can demonstrate to both raw Catholic recruits and grizzled Catholic veterans how to be good Catholic Christians.
By the way, if you graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy, you have to go to Marine Corps OCS if you decide you want to be an Officer of Marines. No excuses, no waivers, no questions. And if you were in the Army and want to try out the Marines next, you’d have to leave your rank behind and rejoin the Corps as a private.
Think about that the next time the “Renew” class is mentioned in your parish and you think to yourself, I don’t need that nor do I have the time.
Semper Fidelis

Pope Francis’ School of Love

The following comes from Elizabeth Scalia at First Things:

With only 266 popes named over two thousand years, the papacy is the most exclusive office on the planet, and—the occasional scoundrel notwithstanding—we Catholics have been mostly well served by our Petrine successors. Particularly during the modern era, in which invention and industry have cooperated in finding new and creative ways to spill unprecedented amounts of human blood, and ancient evils like slavery are put down in one place only to grow like intentional, pernicious viruses somewhere else, our popes have been particularly clear-eyed servants of the servants.

Perhaps perspective has something to do with that. In his book Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith, Fr. Robert Barron recalls a comment made by Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George, who had been asked what he was thinking as he stood on the balcony of St. Peter’s after the election of Benedict XVI. George said, “I was gazing over toward the Circus Maximus, toward the Palatine Hill where the Roman Emperors once resided and reigned and looked down upon the persecution of Christians, and I thought, ‘Where are their successors? . . . But if you want to see the successor of Peter, he is right next to me, smiling and waving at the crowds.’”

From the Chair of Peter, a pope’s perspective necessarily lengthens, as with the opening of a spyglass; it is informed by thousands of years of human history that have played out before his window. Whatever else the new pope brings to this office, that fuller perspective seems to endow a man with an expansive generosity of spirit.

Currently the Internet is abuzz with the news that Pope Francis, upon hearing that Catholic Traditionalist Mario Palmaro was ill, picked up the phone and called this vociferous critic of his papacy, assuring him that there were no grudges being held, only prayers being offered.

I was astonished, amazed, above all moved [by] one of the most beautiful experiences in my life. But I felt the duty to remind the Pope that I . . . had expressed specific criticisms regarding his work, while I renewed my total fidelity [to him] as a son of the Church. The Pope almost did not let me finish the sentence, saying that he had understood that those criticisms had been made with love, and how important it had been for him to receive them.

Palmaro, noting that the conversation was private, shared it reluctantly upon consideration “that [news] agencies have mentioned it . . .”

This is a very beautiful story that needed sharing; Western society is increasingly closing in upon itself, and we need this Petrine example of generosity and personal outreach.

Still, and sadly, our human hearts—disordered since Adam and strangled by the thorny vines of our own egocentrism—often do not develop the breadth of perspective or magnanimity enjoyed by Peter. We are inclined toward idol-worship that ultimately validates ourselves, and this inclination informs how we perceive others. This was evident as Palmaro’s story spread through social media, and one righteous wag after another responded with a variation of “this never happened with John Paul II and Benedict XVI!”

Well, nonsense. If news agencies did not “mention it” when Francis’ predecessors reached out to critics, how pinched does one’s own heart need to be to assume that such outreach never happened? Pope Benedict had his own boisterous critic in Hans Küng, whom he invited to Castel Gandolfo for a lengthy talk and supper. John Paul II, of course, went to the prison cell of his would-be assassin. The press duly covered these large gestures, but how many smaller ones did we never hear of?

Veteran Vatican journalist John Allen, currently promoting his book The Global War on Christians, shared some thoughts on the difference in papal coverage under Francis:

I was there two days after Benedict was elected, when he went back to his apartment, packed his own bag and carried it . . . to the Apostolic Palace. . . . So this notion that the humility of a pope was somehow born with Francis is a little exaggerated, [and] I frankly think there’s some media guilt here. There is a residual understanding that we spent the last eight years beating up on the pope, and so, now that we’ve got a guy we can like, we really, really like him.

We should like him; Francis is not only a School of Love on legs, he appears to be a rare man-in-full, and the only grown-up currently striding upon the world stage. We need him. The Holy Spirit clearly knew we needed him, as we needed his predecessors who—together with Francis—have become full-fledged Internet memes; through the papal trinity of John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis, we image a manifestation of that which remains: hope, faith and love, respectively. None exist without the others.

It is a very fine thing to admire Pope Francis, but we’re meant to do more; we’re meant to surrender the idols of our own bitterness and absorb his lessons in generosity. Only then can we model ourselves after them.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Eucharistic Adoration in Ireland

The Duty to Evangelize

The following comes from the Catholic Exchange:
The bible study group had been discussing the Sunday readings, which naturally led to the subject of evangelization, which naturally led to our responsibility for preaching the Good News. Suddenly the subject was evangelization and us. A woman had a question.
“I heard the diocese was putting together an evangelization plan,” she said, “but I haven’t seen anything about it in the parish yet. Do you know anything about that?” And she turned a quizzical eye on me.
Now, right here I should say that when it comes to real-life evangelizing, this good woman can run rings around me and just about everybody. She’s a woman of faith who’s eager to share her faith with others and has plenty of practice doing that. Nothing I said should be taken as a putdown of her.
“I don’t know what the diocese has in mind,” I replied. “And I certainly agree that a plan is needed if people are supposed to work together in evangelizing teams. But really–there’s no reason why individual Catholics must wait for the word from on high before they evangelize. The right and the duty to do that come to each one of us with baptism and are reaffirmed and strengthened by confirmation.
“Sharing in the mission of the Church–of which evangelization is a fundamental part–is something expected of every single member of the Church by reason of his or her Christian vocation. If more of us understood that, we wouldn’t be sitting around waiting for somebody to tell us to start doing it. We’d be out there evangelizing right now.”
Which, as I said, is exactly how things already are with the woman who asked the question. We could all take a leaf from her book.
Looking for an authority to support what I said? You can’t do better than Blessed John Paul II’s  marvelous document on the vocation of the laity, Christifideles Laici (The Lay Members of Christ’s Faithful People). He speaks there about individual apostolate as a duty of each baptized Catholic and then says this:
“Such an individual form of apostolate can contribute greatly to a more extensive spreading of the Gospel; indeed it can reach as many places as there are daily lives of individual members of the lay faithful….In sharing fully in the unique conditions of life, work, difficulties and hopes of their sisters and brothers, the lay faithful will be able to reach the hearts of their neighbors, friends, and colleagues, opening them to a full sense of human existence–that is, to communion with God and with all people” (Christifideles Laici, 28).
Beautiful but unrealistic? We’d better hope it’s not. For otherwise the problems confronting the faith in the United States may be more serious than most people imagine.
Recently I came across numbers for the Church in the U.S. make the point more vividly than rhetoric can. Consider. Infant baptisms declined from 1,005,490 in 2003 to 763,208 in the year past. Adult baptisms fell from 81,013 to 41,918. People received into full communion dropped from 82,292 to 71,582. Catholic marriages plummeted from 241,727 to 163,976. (Source: 2013 Official Catholic Directory)
However anyone explains those numbers, they tell a troubling story. If you agree, you won’t wait for somebody to hand you a plan of action before setting out to do what you can, in word and in the way you live your life, to open the eyes of family members, friends, and neighbors to the beauty and truth of the Good News.