A Penitent Blogger

Mindful of my imperfections, seeking to know Truth more deeply and to live Love more fully.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus? Quem patronum rogaturus? Cum vix iustus sit securus?
Recordare, Iesu pie, Quod sum causa tuae viae: Ne me perdas illa die...

Saturday, July 31, 2004

Interested in the Religious Life?

http://www.visionguide.info/ is a great-looking website by the National Religious Vocation Conference with links to many religious congregations.

Another resource is ReligiousMinistries.com, which also has contact information for many religious congregations (including the Missionaries of Charity, which -- no surprise -- does not have anything so worldly as an official web site).

(Yes, this post is a re-run, but good things bear repeating.)

Cardinal Ratzinger on Men and Women

"The Church certainly knows the power of sin at work in individuals and in societies, which at times almost leads one to despair of the goodness of married couples. But through her faith in Jesus crucified and risen, the Church knows even more the power of forgiveness and self-giving in spite of any injury or injustice. The peace and wonderment which she trustfully proposes to men and women today are the peace and wonderment of the garden of the resurrection, which have enlightened our world and its history with the revelation that 'God is love.'"

I've got a bad feeling about this

We like to be liked. We like to feel safe.

Today’s readings challenge us – indeed, we may even be afraid of them – because today’s readings talk about people who are faithful to God, who speak only the truth, and whom society wants to kill.

In the Gospel, John the Baptist is executed for speaking the truth about immorality in high places and the king who ordered John’s death also begins to wonder about Jesus. In the first reading, powerful forces seek the death of the prophet Jeremiah because he has spoken against them.

Even today, there are places in this world where we could be imprisoned and even killed for trying to spread the Gospel of Christ. And even in places that profess “freedom of religion” a creeping intolerance seeks to stifle those who dare to speak the truth revealed by God.

Sometimes the opposition is subtle and even has a veneer of reasonableness. More and more, however, those who are serious about living and speaking their Christian faith are ridiculed and hated.

Peer pressure has led many public figures who call themselves Catholic to condone and even support abortion on demand. Religious organizations are being forced by courts and legislatures to fund immoral practices.

The social censorship of “political correctness” is slowly permeating into legal, regulatory, and juridical spheres to impose consequences on those so bold as to say what they believe. Civil lawsuits have already been filed against those who dared to express traditional Christian teaching. (One wonders when and in which “modern” nation traditional Christian teaching will be criminalized first.)

At first, this seems very depressing. Then, we hear today’s readings… and we get even more depressed. But then, we remember the words of our Lord:

Blessed are you
when people revile you and persecute you
and say all manner of evil against you falsely

for my sake.

Rejoice, and be exceeding glad:
for great is your reward in heaven:
for so they persecuted the prophets before you.

Sometimes it isn’t easy being a Christian, but no matter what happens – very good or very, very bad – all things will pass, and if we have been faithful channels of God’s grace, then we will enjoy the infinite goodness of the Lord’s love without end.

Life is hard. Grace is forever.

Turn around

Iñigo had been religious as a small boy, but he was soon sucked into the sordid lifestyle that surrounded him. In his twenties, he turned his life around: joining the army and embracing its discipline and stoicism.

Then Iñigo was severely wounded in battle and captured. The medical treatment he received was primitive to the point of brutality and he was confined to bed for months.

Bored and seeking distraction from his pain, Iñigo asked his caregivers for adventure books to read, but all they had to loan him were books about religious people. He decided to work with what he had and read the books as if they were adventure stories.

In those months of reading and thinking, Iñigo came to understand how a life of faith could be the greatest adventure, the greatest heroism, and the greatest glory. It proved to be an intense conversion experience, in which he learned much about himself, about God, and about the spiritual life.

When he was finally able to get up and around, Iñigo spent some time alone, and then made a difficult pilgrimage to the Holy Land before devoting himself to study and to helping others reform their lives. His efforts were often met with opposition that sometimes turned violent. Eventually he left the country.

As Iñigo continued his studies, a small group of followers gathered around him. He began to see them as a company of soldiers: a company belonging to Jesus. They soon became known as the Jesuits.

Iñigo, also known as Ignatius of Loyola, came to be one of the great figures in the renewal of the Church. He also developed a book of Spiritual Exercises that remains not only a guide for life-changing spiritual retreats, but also for spiritual discernment and growth. He died in his mid sixties,in Rome on July 31, 1556.

Friday, July 30, 2004

The Truth About Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research

"The American public needs today to have a fair and truthful understanding of the differences between ethical and unethical stem cell research. More specifically, there must be an understanding of the differences between human embryonic stern cell research, which is always gravely unethical, and stem cell research involving adult tissues and organs than can be ethically permissible. My point is to explain why human embryonic stem cell research is always and without exception intrinsically evil."

Fr. Joseph Howard, M. Div., is the director of American Life League’s American Bioethics Advisory Commission. Fr. Howard holds degrees in biological sciences and theology.

The whole truth

People sometimes play games with the truth: “white lies,” “mental reservations,” “spin,” and “marketing.” One common element in these games is that we do not tell the whole truth: we choose and we tell only the parts of the truth that will either get the results we want or avoid trouble we do not want.

To be sure, not every utterance we make can be as comprehensive as a doctoral dissertation, and there can be legitimate and serious reasons to withhold information, but the occasions in which we tell the pre-selected truth need to be exceptions - and the rarer the better.

Today’s readings feature two truth-tellers who face serious rejection: the prophet Jeremiah and our Lord Himself. If we ourselves were facing those situations, we might be tempted to hold back anything that might be controversial and just say the things that keep everyone happy. But that is not what our Lord and Jeremiah do and it is not what God wants either.

Whatever I command you, tell them, and omit nothing.”

Again, one should be prudent. In most cases, it is not the most effective pedagogy to start with the things that would be hardest for the listener to understand (keep in mind God’s revelation is oriented toward salvation – we want people to accept the Gospel), but one cannot dance around the truth forever nor should one risk the integrity of the message or the messenger.

Be faithful to the mission of salvation.
Be faithful to the message - in its totality.
Be faithful to Christ.

A way with words

Words came easily to Peter: words that made people feel good, words that changed people’s lives. It was no surprise that he found himself in the ministry and that he was eventually named bishop of what was becoming the most important city in the country. People came from all over the world to hear him and spoke of his “golden speech.” Compilations of his homilies would be published widely. St. Peter Chrysologus shepherded the people of Ravenna for more than 25 years before his death in the year 450.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

I went down to the potter's house

and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels.
And the vessel that he made of clay
was marred in the hand of the potter:
so he made it again another vessel,
as seemed good to the potter to make it.

Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
O house of Israel,
cannot I do with you as this potter?
saith the LORD.

as the clay is in the potter's hand,
so are ye in mine hand...

Jeremiah 18:3-6

Martha, Martha

There has been talk recently of “opinionated” women – that is, women who are not afraid to speak their minds – as if they were an innovation of the twentieth century. Today we celebrate the memorial of a holy woman who was not afraid to speak her mind in the first century: St. Martha, the sister of Lazarus. In the two Gospel readings offered for this day, we have wonderful glimpses into the character of a woman who was both outspoken and devout.

In the passage from Luke’s Gospel, Martha has gone out to invite our Lord to her home and is diligent in the details of hospitality. She forthrightly expresses her concern about Mary leaving her to do everything, but accepts our Lord’s correction.

In the passage from John’s Gospel, once again it is Martha who goes out to meet our Lord and who is attentive to practical details (such as the problem of putrefaction). This time Martha is forthright in expressing not only practical concerns, but also her faith in Jesus as her Savior and Lord.

Martha said to Jesus,
"Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died.
But even now I know that whatever you ask of God,
God will give you."

Jesus said to her,
"Your brother will rise."

Martha said to him,
"I know he will rise,
in the resurrection on the last day."

Jesus told her,
"I am

the resurrection and the life;
whoever believes in me,

even if he dies, will live,
and anyone who lives
and believes in me
will never die.

Do you believe this?"

She said to him,

"Yes, Lord.
I have come to believe that you are the Christ,

the Son of God,
the one who is coming into the world."

Martha is a great example to all of us: she continually invites Jesus into her home and her life, she is open and honest with him, she accepts his correction and instruction, she expresses her faith boldly, and she is diligent in doing the right thing.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Reagan's Son RE: Embryonic Stem Cells

Michael Reagan, the eldest son of the late President and historically the most ideologically consistent with him, argues that his father would have been against the use of embryonic stem cells.

A National Review columnist meanwhile dissects a recent speech on the subject by a self-described atheist who has been accused of implicitly and repeatedly exploiting the President's recent death.

"After the Council: Living Vatican II"

An interesting article in the July-August issue of Crisis Magazine (pointed out by Amy Welborn) discusses how many of the problems often blamed on Vatican II were the result of other factors.

The article is not perfect, but some good points are made.

In the end, however, historical analysis is good, but one must be careful, because rehashing old internal battles endlessly is not good.

We should be working together as a Church - hierarchy and laity, each in our own way as well as hand-in-hand as appropriate: adhering to the deposit of faith, worshipping in accord with that faith, living that faith, and spreading to those around us that faith in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Want to get radical, young lady?

Young women who feel called to embody Christ's absolutely selfless love in service to the poor should prayerfully consider the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta.
(Given the truly radical simplicity and poverty of their lifestyle, it is no surprise that they do not have a website.)
Missionaries of Charity
335 East 145th Street
BronxNew York 10451
(718) 292-0019

Missionaries of Charity
Gift of Love
1596 Fulton Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 563-9446
Missionaries of Charity
727 North West 17th St
Miami, FL 33136
(305) 545-5699

Infinite value

Today’s Gospel has two very short parables – each only a sentence or two: the Parable of the Treasure in the Field and the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price. The message for both seems to be the same.

At first glance, the message is that the Kingdom of Heaven is really, really valuable.

But again, an important meaning within the parables of Jesus can be found be looking for the “odd” element of the story. The “odd” point these parables share is that the person “goes and sells all that he has” to obtain one valuable thing.

The parables reinforce Christ’s message that we must be ready to give up everything to be His disciples.

Are we ready?

A resonating reminder

How today’s first reading seems to resonate so strongly in our lives today!

It reminds us of the great joy and deep peace we feel when we really take in the Word of God.

It reminds us of the vast differences we sometimes feel with the world around us, especially at those moments when decadent people seem to be having a “good time” while our spiritual life is enduring a “desert experience” (when we do not feel God’s grace flowing through us – as if the brook upon which we had relied was suddenly dried up and gone).

It reminds us of God’s promise: if we are faithful; if we continue to root out our imperfections, with the help of His grace; if we speak His truth; then, God will be with us. We will endure opposition and trouble, but in the end nothing can or will overcome us in the name and the power of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

When I found your words, I ate them,
and they became to me a joy
and the delight of my heart;
because I bore your name,
O LORD, God of hosts.

I did not sit with the partyers,
nor did I rejoice;
I sat alone, because your hand was upon me,
because you had filled me with indignation.

Why is my pain unceasing,
my wound incurable,
refusing to be healed?
Will you be to me like a deceitful brook,
like waters that fail?

Therefore thus says the LORD:
"If you return, I will restore you,
and you shall stand before me.
If you utter what is precious
and not what is worthless,
you shall be as my mouth.
They shall turn to you,
but you shall not turn to them.

"And I will make you to this people
a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you,
but they shall not prevail over you,
for I am with you

to save you and deliver you,"
says the LORD.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Not bad for “Reality TV”

Sorry, but I simply must make this plug for a favorite television show.

Television is full of terrible things that call themselves “Reality TV” but “The Amazing Race” is widely recognized as a program of exceptional quality.

The premise is simple: a race around the world for a million dollars. There is no voting: the outcome is determined by luck and ability. The last team to finish a race segment is eliminated.

The fifth running of the Race is now being shown. The first leg began on an ocean pier in California and ended in Uruguay. The second leg proceeded to the tomb of Evita Peron in Buenos Aires and ended in Argentinean cattle country. The third leg included paragliding in Patagonia. From the southern part of South America, the next leg of the race will lead to Russia.

In addition to the inevitable adventures of traveling quickly through strange places, teams are required to perform tasks related to the country they are in, from eating some local “delicacy” to performing a perilous feat or messy errand.

As the teams compete under very stressful conditions, they are not always charitable and occasionally they have ethical slips. In past years, a few teams promoted an “alternative lifestyle” but there seems to be nothing of the sort this year.

The Amazing Race is televised in many countries around the world. They will start taping the sixth running of the Race very soon.

This nation

We sometimes feel that God has blessed us as a nation, because religious people helped establish it, because religious renewal has been so involved in its history, and because of the lofty values it espouses.

Depending upon the neighborhood we live in, however, we may be very disturbed by what we now see around us and we may find great resonance in the ancient words of the prophet Jeremiah.

Therefore you shall say this word to them:

Let my eyes run down with tears night and day
and not cease:
for the untouched daughter of my people
is broken by a great wound,
with a very grievous blow.

If I go into the field,
look! those slain by the sword!
If I enter into the city,
look! those sick with famine!
Yes, both the prophet and the priest
wander in a land they do not know.

Have you utterly rejected Judah?
Does your soul loath Zion?
Why have you smitten us
and we cannot be healed?

We looked for peace
and there is no good;
we looked for the time of healing
and behold trouble!

We acknowledge, O LORD, our wickedness,
and the iniquity of our fathers:
for we have sinned against you.

For your name's sake, do not abhor us,
do not disgrace the throne of your glory:
remember and do not break
your covenant with us.
Jeremiah 14:17-21

Egress of Evil

The most amazing thing about today’s self-described “intelligentsia” is not that they do not believe in God (which they don’t) but that they do not believe in evil – despite the most horrific examples that have taken place in the past hundred years and continue to erupt.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are those who give too much credit to Satan, in an almost Manichean extreme – parodied by the line “the Devil made me do it.”

Today’s Gospel reminds us of the reality of evil – evil in the world and an evil beyond that which our eyes can see – but it reminds us even more of the power and mercy of God. God is infinitely powerful, strong enough to be very patient. God is also very concerned with our salvation.

There is evil in the world and we should be aware of it as we keep our focus on doing what is right and good. By ourselves, we cannot conquer all the evil that exists, but that is all the more why we must stay close to the Lord and call on Him always to aid us.

And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven,

Now is come
salvation and strength
and the kingdom of our God
and the power of his Christ:

for the accuser of our brethren is cast down,
who accused them before our God day and night.

They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb,
and by the word of their testimony;
and they did not love their lives to the death.

So rejoice, you heavens,
and you who dwell therein!

Revelation 12:10-12a

Monday, July 26, 2004

Murder in the Cathedral

A screaming man slit the throat of a 69-year old priest as he was walking back to the sacristy after Mass Saturday evening in the Cathedral in Santiago, Chile.

Wow! That was CLOSE!

Some people today will not be hearing the proper first reading for Monday of the 17th week in Ordinary Time, from the book of the prophet Jeremiah, hearing instead readings for today’s memorial. Some who do hear the reading from Jeremiah may wish that they heard something else.

Today’s reading from Jeremiah focuses on a very vivid prophetic metaphor, one that sounds earthy and crude to our ears: comparing the people of Israel to a loincloth... and intending it to be a positive image!

The point is to show how close the relationship should be between the people of Israel and the Lord. It is sad that prudery, lechery, or some other unwholesome concept of the body should prevent our minds from appreciating the metaphor. Interestingly enough, this mental block may not be far off what this prophecy is warning against.

In the prophecy, the people of Israel, whom the Lord has created to be in a close relationship with Himself, run away from that relationship to their own ruin.

So too we may shy away from a really close relationship with the Lord, we ourselves may shrink from emotional intimacy with God, we may be stubborn in our ways, we may chase after the allurements of this world – to our own ruin.

We are created for God and if we do not stay close to Him, all we have to look forward to is rot and decay into eternity.

God has made us for Himself. We should not be childish or sophomoric. We need to be close to God.

Here's to Grandparents!

Today is the memorial of Saints Joachim and Anne, the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary and grandparents of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.


(delayed from yesterday)

The common theme between the first reading and the Gospel is persistence in prayer. In the first reading, Abraham again and again asks the Lord for greater and greater forbearance with regard to Sodom and Gomorrah. In the end, the Lord agrees not to punish these cities with well-deserved destruction if only ten righteous people can be found there (a tiny percentage indeed and its relevance to the world today would be an interesting topic – for another day).

In the Gospel, after teaching the disciples what we know now as the Our Father or the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus exhorts them through a parable to be persistent in prayer.

It is sometimes easy for us to be discouraged, in prayer that seems unanswered and even in living a Christian life in the midst of a world of selfishness and godlessness. Today’s readings encourage us to be persistent, by the example of Abraham and by the glorious words of Christ Himself.

And I say unto you,
Ask, and it shall be given you;
seek, and you shall find;
knock, and it shall be opened to you.
For every one that asks receives;
and he that seeks finds;
and to him that knocks it shall be opened.

If a son shall ask a father for bread, will he give him a stone?
or if he ask for a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent?
Or if he shall ask for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?
If you then, who are wicked,
know how to give good gifts to your children:
how much more shall your heavenly Father
give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?

God is patient with humanity and wants it to be saved. By His grace, we must be one with Him – in His love, His plan for salvation, and His time – as we join ourselves to Him in prayer and as we seek to be instruments of His saving love on earth.

Saturday, July 24, 2004


Catholicism is the largest Christian denomination in the United States and in the world. It can make us feel good: safety in numbers and comfort in familiar traditions.

Today’s readings should make us feel uncomfortable. In the first reading, Jeremiah denounces the people who maintain the outward shell of true religion while committing injustice, sacrilege, and violence. In the Gospel, there is a parable about evil seeds being sown among the good.

Today’s readings should strike fear in the hearts of those who are “Catholic in name only” and also challenge all of us to not be complacent in our faith, but to deepen our doctrinal fidelity, authentic spirituality, and true Christian charity.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Looking for renewal, young man?

The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal "is seeking to live the vows of authentic Franciscan life in a way that effectively challenges the worldly values prevalent in every age.  Material poverty, manual labor, complete renunciation of ownership of immovable property, mature and faithful chastity, an active and responsible obedience, and living with and engaging in hands-on work with the materially poor and destitute are essential components of this reform.  The spiritual values uniting the friars are personal and communal commitment to Jesus Christ, our Savior, through contemplative and liturgical prayer, daily Eucharistic adoration, devotion to Our Lady, imitation of St. Francis and St. Clare, love for the Church and loyalty to the Holy Father.  To preserve the spirit and life of St. Francis in their apostolate, the friars will carry on the work of evangelization by preaching and other non-parochial ministry in the manner of the early Capuchin reform."
(Fr. Benedict Groeschel is a member of this community.)

Dig into the soil

Today’s Gospel provides an allegorical interpretation of the Parable of the Sower we heard 2 days ago. This interpretation clearly focuses on where the seed is sown, that is to say, those who hear the Word of God.

Many of us may tend to think of ourselves as being the “good” soil in this interpretation: people who hear and understand God’s word. The question we need to ask ourselves, however, is “How good?”

Is there a path running through part of our “good” soil? Is there some part of us that has been so affected by life that it is beaten down, calloused, or numb? Perhaps this makes it hard for us to really appreciate some part of the Gospel message or to let God’s love and truth really shine forth in our life. If so, we need to let the Lord heal and refresh us.

Are there a few rocks or thorns in our “good” soil? Are there things in our lives, in our hearts, in our nightmares, or in our desires that we fear may be stronger than our commitment to Christ? If so, we need to face these things within ourselves honestly and ask God to purify and strengthen us.

God sows the seeds of His word most generously. We should never tire of cultivating the soil of our hearts and our lives, by His grace, so that we may always be open to His word and that it may bear abundant, joyous fruit in us.

Return, O rebellious children, says the LORD

for I am your Master...
Jeremiah 3:14a

A Wilde Journey

An interesting article in the National Catholic Register on Oscar Wilde’s wayward but (at the very end) successful journey toward the Catholic faith.

Template troubles

The template for this blog has begun to act strangely (at least in my browser). I will investigate and repair as I can. My apologies for any inconvenience.

The politician's daughter

Bridget was the daughter of a rich but personally pious politician. She married extremely young, but happily, and had eight children. When she was in her early forties, her husband died. Always a devout and generous person, Bridget now devoted herself fulltime to her faith. As a contemplative, she became renowned for her asceticism and her mysticism. Her writings were widely read. She was also extremely active, founding a religious order, living charitably and piously amid decadence and chaos, and even admonishing the Pope (a pious man then in the grip of geopolitical intrigue).

Born in Sweden, St. Bridget died in Rome around the age of 70. She was canonized 18 years later in 1391. One of her daughters, St. Catherine of Sweden, was herself declared a saint several decades later.

Obstinate? Check...

Pro-abortion politicians who call themselves Catholic are digging in their heels, seemingly more afraid of the abortion lobby than they are of the justice of God and of the accusing cries of the slaughtered unborn.

Hiding behind support for food stamp programs will be of no avail.

The divergence between politics and Catholic principles seems to be getting worse all the time, not just with regard to abortion (although the direct and purposeful destruction of innocent human life is a unique evil).

Politicians should not be able to benefit from promoting themselves as people of faith while they obstinately and manifestly disregard the principles of that faith.

None of us, of course, should hold ourselves exempt. How often have we let inertia, convenience and peer pressure affect our moral choices, in both our personal and professional lives, more than truths of our faith?

We should never stop studying the deposit of faith, in Scripture and Church teaching, and examining our lives and our consciences anew so that we ourselves by God’s grace may be more and more faithful and holy.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Detecting digitally doctored photos

The Guardians of Truth develop new weapons, but of course the Deceivers will too.

No comment

Sorry to say, I have not enabled the posting of comments to this blog. I admire those who do enable this feature and have the time and energy to properly follow-up (responding, ignoring, or deleting when appropriate).
Hamlet described quite accurately what happens when a blogger does not follow-up properly: 

Fie on't! ah fie! 'tis an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely.

Alas, I do not have the time and energy to do a proper job of hosting comments.
My apologies.
Correspondence may be directed to me via
penitens at yahoo dot com.
 Pax et bonum.

Passionate love

Some of us are afraid to love: to open our hearts, to expose our vulnerability, to be emotionally dependent, to have a deep and aching need for a particular person.
That is the way many of us are when it comes to God. We like God. We say we love Him. We feel good feelings about God, but deep down we are afraid of going emotionally overboard, even for God.
The writings of the saints speak eloquently and explicitly about this kind of intensely deep love for God, going all the way back to the Song of Songs and continuing in the writings of St. Theresa of Avila and so many others. The Song of Songs itself takes the form of a collection of wedding songs, but holy people throughout the ages have recognized it as a magnificent expression of the passionate love between God and His people, between Christ and His Church, and even between the Lord and the individual soul.
This is the kind of love each of us is called to have with the Lord: to feel a deep and aching need for God even when we lie down to sleep, to seek Him and Him alone everywhere we go and in everything we do, to talk about Him longingly with those we meet, to hold fast to Him in the innermost depths of our being, to cling to Him forever and feel His wonderful, passionate love for us.

In the quiet of our prayers and always, let us open ourselves up and really love the Lord.

De-coding Da Vinci

is a book by Amy Welborn, one of several books on the market that debunks a particular book of fiction that has led many people astray.

A shorter dissection of the same subject, by journalist Sandra Miesel, can be found online at Crisis Magazine.


Mary, Mary

There was something about Mary, something very wrong. The very best medical care available seemed useless to help her, as she went from place to place to no avail. In the end, she found someone who was able to cure her. She was so grateful that she went to work for him, learning everything she could from him.
Then, in a strange and rapid turn of events, he came to be arrested on trumped-up charges, found guilty, and executed. Mary watched him die, one of the very few of his family and friends who stayed by him to the end.
A couple of days later, still overcome with grief, she went to visit where he had been laid to rest. Grave robbers appeared to have come during the night, because the body was gone, adding cruel heartbreak upon heartbreak. She panicked and ran to get her coworkers, but they just came to look and left. Grief now overwhelmed her and she sobbed uncontrollably. Through her tears, she saw people around her and heard them ask why she was crying. One of them seemed to be a landscaper. She hardly knew what to say. Then the "landscaper" responded by calling her by name, “Mary.”
Now she saw clearly. It was him. It was Jesus. It was the Lord. He was risen as he had said.
Mary Magdalene was thus the first to see the risen Lord. She was the one who would bring the news to the Apostles. Much later, many strange stories came to be told about Mary, but what remains always clear is that she was faithful to the Lord even in the most horrible of circumstances and that she was the first to tell the news of Christ’s resurrection.

May none of us have to endure the grief Mary suffered, but may all of us be as resolute as she was in remaining close to the Lord and witnessing to the power of his resurrection.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Sisters of Life

is a contemplative/active religious community dedicated to protecting and advancing a sense of the sacredness of all human life- beginning with the infant in the womb and extending to all those vulnerable to the threat of euthanasia.

Quite a spread

The parables of Jesus are interpreted in many ways. Often, they are understood as allegory. Our Lord Himself, in a part of Matthew’s Gospel we will hear later, provides just such an interpretation for the Parable of the Sower, which we have heard in today’s Gospel.
But there is another way of understanding parables, a way that our Lord would have not needed to explain to those who heard Him. Every parable features at least one point that would strike the listener in that time and place as odd, as being different from the usual way of things. Considering this oddity is a way to understand an important message of the parable.
What is odd in the Parable of the Sower? The oddest aspect of the parable is the behavior of the Sower. Very few farmers in those days could afford to be wasteful, so when they went out to sow, they sowed the seed in the field – not on paths, not in the rocks, not into thorns – in the field. 
But that is exactly the way God works, but in His infinite and merciful plan it is not wasteful.  God gives His Word and plants the seeds of faith everywhere, not just among the “good” people: people raised in religious households, etc. As St. Paul says, God wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. Of course, it doesn’t always work out, people chose to go other directions, but still God gives the grace they would need to come to Him.
So too we must be in our living and sharing the Gospel of Christ. We can and should exercise a certain amount of prudence, but we should always remember that we have been commanded to “preach the Gospel to every creature.” The Word of God and the Truth of Jesus Christ must ultimately be spread freely and universally.
Finite human beings that we are, we may not always see where all the “good soil” is: the people who we ourselves may not recognize as people who will embrace the Truth and produce grace-filled results beyond our wildest expectations.
Spread the Word!

Preaching in power

Lawrence was a famous preacher, with a deep knowledge of Scripture in its original languages, who performed miracles and was often (as popularly described today) “slain in the Spirit.”
He was so well respected that he was invited to speak at churches and great events even before he was ordained a priest. He also was sent to speak to Protestants and Jews, where his his powerful gifts converted many.
Not just a “talker,” he was a capable administrator and would serve in the highest offices of his Capuchin order. He was also skilled in diplomacy and geopolitics. Perhaps the most cinematic moment of his career was when he personally led an army against a host of invaders, riding in his Capuchin habit on horseback and armed with only a crucifix.
He was also a deep contemplative, falling regularly into ecstasy during the celebration of Mass.

When he was old and sick, he was begged to leave his monastery in his native Italy for an important diplomatic mission. He performed the mission, but was too sick to return. St. Lawrence of Brindisi died in Lisbon July 22, 1619.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Sisters in the storm

A storm roared through Nashville July 13, ripping a newly installed roof from the motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia. None of the sisters were injured.

In the family way

Today’s Gospel usually strikes cradle Catholics as strange. We have been raised to venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary, but today’s Gospel speaks of Jesus’ brothers and seems to depict Jesus as speaking almost dismissively of his mother and family.
The part about the “brothers” is relatively easy to deal with: in the usage of that time and place, that term included close relatives who were not necessarily children of the same parents.
The seeming slight against the Blessed Mother seems more difficult to deal with.
"Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?" And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother."
It not only disturbs our long-nurtured Marian devotion, it makes Jesus look like a rude child (“I don’t need my parents, I’ve got my friends”), and it seems to clash with the wonderful depiction of Mary in the Gospel of Luke.
But it is precisely in the Gospel of Luke that we find the key to understanding what our Lord is saying, most specifically in one of the things Elizabeth says upon her Visitation by Mary.
“Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”

And in what Mary says at the Annunciation.
“Be it done to me according to your word.”
Christ’s message in this Gospel passage is that a relationship with Him must be based on living faith in God. As we know and as Luke emphasizes, Mary is first and foremost a woman of faith, who accepts and lives out the will of God – in a way more profound than our imagination can bear.
If we accept our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, receive his grace and live according to God’s will, we are His brothers and sisters, and because of her faith, the greatest of our sisters is Mary (whom our Lord on the cross also presented to us as our Mother).
The Blessed Virgin Mary is the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God, the Mother of the Church, and our Sister in Faith.

Not welcome

The Bishop of Ravenna was a good man who did good work (some said he did miracles), but that did not mean everyone welcomed him with open arms. One group of people physically attacked him, beat him savagely, dragged him out of the city, and left him to die on a beach. 
Parishioners found him, barely alive. They tried to hide him from his enemies while he recovered from his injuries, but his enemies found him again. They tortured him and threw him out of the city a second time. He stayed in the area, evangelizing in the countryside, before returning to his place in Ravenna once more. This time, he was tortured repeatedly and in multiple ways before they finally deported him. 
While in exile, he continued to preach the Gospel and to do good works, but the authorities there too saw him as a threat, so he was again beaten and sent back, returning to Ravenna a fourth time.
One day, as he was making his way out of the city, he was set upon yet again and beaten. It took several days for him to die. During that time, he warned his people that things were going to get worse, but that the Church would triumph.
Why did this bishop keep going back (for more than 25 years) to a place where he was not welcome? For love of the Gospel and of the people.
It was also his duty as bishop of the place. It was a responsibility that had been entrusted to him by his dear old friend and comrade Peter. In the end, since Peter, Bishop of Rome and leader of Christ's twelve Apostles, had been tortured and killed under the Emperor Nero, it was no surprise to his friend Apollinaris, Bishop of Ravenna, that he would die not too many years later under the mandate of Nero’s successor, Vespasian.

We too may not always be welcome as we strive to live and spread the Gospel, but if we persevere by God’s grace we will be welcomed and will share the glory enjoyed by Peter and Apollinaris

Monday, July 19, 2004

What were the teachers doing?

So asked someone in the town in India where 90 schoolchildren died in a fire while all of the teachers reportedly escaped unharmed.
One should be loath to condemn all the teachers, based only on fragmentary reports, but one should also ask oneself some very hard questions.
Would I risk my life to save someone else? Would I let fear and danger keep me from doing the right thing?

God forbid that any of us should be brought to that choice, but as Christians we would do well to ask ourselves such questions regularly and pray to God that we will have the grace and courage to do the right thing without hesitation in a moment of fear.

Labor UK PM denounces liberal 1960's

"A society of different lifestyles spawned a group of young people who were brought up without parental discipline, without proper role models and without any sense of responsibility to others," said Mr Blair. "All of this was then multiplied in effect by the economic and social changes that altered the established pattern of community life in cities, towns and villages."

You have been told, O man

what is good,
and what the LORD requires of you:
Only to do justice
and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8
Indicatum est tibi, o homo,
quid sit bonum,
et quid Dominus quaerat a te:
utique facere iudicium
et diligere caritatem
et sollicitum ambulare cum Deo tuo.

An evil and unfaithful generation

seeks a sign.
So says our Lord in today’s Gospel, but what’s wrong with seeking signs? Elsewhere we have read of just and holy people seeking signs, e.g., the story of Gideon’s fleece.
So, what could be wrong with seeking signs? Note the word “unfaithful” and remember the famous saying from the Epistle to the Hebrews, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith in itself does not rely on anything material or external: it is an internal assent of the will made possible by the grace of God.
Sometimes God does use signs as part of his plan of revealing his will and manifesting His glory (as in the case of Gideon), but the more our faith rests on externals, the less secure it is. For this reason, we should be careful about looking for signs.
Consider also the word “evil.” Ultimately, what is being talked about here is the evil of omission: people delay doing something good indefinitely or keep putting off reforming something sinful in their lives because they are waiting for the “right” sign. The classic words of the prophet Micah speak directly to this, saying in effect: you know what to do, you have been given the gift of faith, just do it.

O my people...

what have I done to you,
or how have I wearied you?
Answer me!
Micah 6:3

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Why not serve God in the sunshine?


Today’s readings give us great examples of hospitality: Abraham provides hospitality for three strangers who turn out to be angels of the Lord and Martha provides hospitality to our Lord Himself.
It sometimes seems that simple hospitality is not so important now: people in the world today focus too much on themselves. We have become fortified islands unto ourselves, planets floating forever alone in space. Hospitality seems a bit old-fashioned and all of us suffer for it.
Today’s readings remind us that we must practice hospitality: in our homes, in our lives, and within ourselves.
Hospitality essentially consists of just three things: preparing, inviting, and caring.
One reason we do not provide hospitality in our homes is that we are not prepared. “The house is a mess,” we say, or, “We’re really busy.” Too many of us are too ambitious in our day-to-day lives, resulting in confusion and stress that will cost us dearly. Being open to the blessings of providing hospitality means being brave enough to maintain empty places in our schedules as well as a certain order and neatness in our lives.
Another reason we do not provide hospitality is that we think it requires too much. Some guests can be high-maintenance, but ultimately the most important and valuable part of providing hospitality is caring for your guests. If you care, really care, you will succeed.
Hospitality is not just for our homes, but also all through our daily lives. We should be always prepared to take the time and give the space so that we will be ready when needed. To be sure, there are people who waste time uselessly and people who are dangerous. We should be prudent, but we should also be alert. During our day, we may come across someone we can help or someone who can bless us, with just a moment or two of hospitality and caring.
Finally, hospitality is something we must provide in our hearts for our Lord. Martha provided hospitality in her house, but her sister provided hospitality for our Lord in her heart. We must prepare hospitality for our Lord, making time and making space for Him. We must invite Him through prayer. We must reach out to Him with all our hearts and He will dwell within us and give us hospitality forever.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Getting ahead

Today’s readings present a stark contrast between the way of the world and the way of Christ, and it’s all about “getting ahead.”
The first reading depicts people “getting ahead” by stealing and cheating. The prophet Micah foretells an evil end for these people. The Gospel, on the other hand, shows another way to get ahead: as it depicts our Lord performing very good works very quietly.

Which way are we going?

Friday, July 16, 2004

The Paradigm of the Pharisees

Many of us are very serious about living a moral life and following “The Rules.” In today’s Gospel, we may secretly identify with the Pharisees and may be confused about what our Lord is saying. Does he mean that rules don’t matter? That it all depends on the situation? That anything goes?
In a word... no.
The Pharisees were operating under the paradigm of the Old Testament, in which a relationship with the Lord depended entirely on obedience to the Law of Moses. For a devout person, everything else in life is seen in relationship to the Law and the Law takes precedence over everything.
With the coming of Christ, the paradigm shifts. Christ is revealed as the ultimate prerequisite for a relationship with God. Everything else must be seen in relationship and subservience to Christ, even the Law.
We are not talking about situational ethics, where what is right and what is wrong changes depending upon the situation. This is a paradigm shift: a radically different way of looking at and living life based on Christ, the ultimate revelation of God, a new paradigm that will not pass away.
In this paradigm shift, Jesus is not overturning the natural law or the Ten Commandments. Notice that the cases put forward are matters related to ritual: the “bread of offering” and technical regulations concerning the Sabbath. What is right remains right and what is wrong remains wrong. Our salvation comes not from the Law but from Christ, from his grace that empowers our faith, a faith necessarily manifested in an objectively moral life.
Following the Rules is good, but following the rules in Christ is the only way to salvation.

Mount Carmel

In the Holy Land, high above the waters of the Mediterranean rises Mount Carmel, a special place of spirituality and contemplation since the time of the prophet Elijah. This tradition flowered powerfully in the 12th century A.D. A small band of hermits developed into a thriving group of monasteries. The Carmelites eventually established monasteries throughout Europe and eventually around the world.

Living out the Gospel in both active and contemplative ways, the Carmelites hold as their exemplars both the prophet Elijah and the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of our Lord Jesus – remembering her under the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Carmelites promoted the use of scapulars, special cloths worn as signs of constant devotion and prayer.

The Carmelites today are a diverse collection of communities of friars and women religious (including cloistered contemplatives). One of these communities, Friars of the Carmelite Province of the Most Pure Heart of Mary, eloquently expresses the Carmelite way,

“We embrace an eight century contemplative, prophetic tradition of Gospel living, patterned on the Carmelite Rule and inspired by Elijah and Mary. As contemplatives, we seek to live consciously in the presence of God and to affirm and challenge one another by living a prayerful life in common. As prophets, we walk with people, announcing God's presence, denouncing oppression, and promoting the well being of the human family, as we serve in pastoral, educational, spiritual, and other creative ministries...”

Thursday, July 15, 2004


The world presents us with many challenges. The Lord presents us with challenges as well: challenges to be more loving, pure, and faithful.

Yet the Lord also gives us comfort, as today’s readings testify so beautifully

As Isaiah says, so we say,
My soul yearns for you in the night;
yes, my spirit within me looks early for you....
LORD, you will ordain peace for us...

And our Lord Himself says,
Come to me,
all you who labor and are heavy laden,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me;
for I am meek and lowly in heart:
and you shall find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

His name is John, but...

John was born in a small town. When he was a young man, he joined a relatively new and controversial religious order. He was sent to Paris for his studies and eventually obtained a teaching position there.

Several years later, serious accusations were lodged against his religious order and he was forced to stop teaching. Shortly after that, at the age of 36, he was elected head of the order. He wrote extensively, defended the order against its detractors, dealt with serious divisions within the order, and made important structural improvements. After about ten years, the Pope vindicated John’s order and formally condemned its greatest critic. The University bestowed on him a doctoral degree. The Pope would eventually force upon him the offices of Bishop and Cardinal.

John became widely known for his theological wisdom and personal holiness (there were many stories of miracles). He went on to have a great influence on the Universal Church: advising Popes and acting as the guiding force of an Ecumenical Council. Suddenly, while the Council was still in session, John died, still in his early 50’s. He may have been poisoned by his enemies, but they could not conquer him: his order, the Franciscans, would continue; and his theological writings would be venerated as among the best of all time.

Early in his life, John stopped being known by his baptismal name. There were many different stories about where he got the new name. One story says that when John was a little child, his parents had brought him to St. Francis not long before his death and that St. Francis himself was the origin of John’s new name: Bonaventure.

Bonaventure was recognized as a saint with little delay. In due course, he was listed as a “Doctor of the Church.”

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Remember who's who

Once again, each of today’s readings differ markedly in tone from the other, yet they are really two halves of the same coin. The Old Testament reading addresses the arrogant harshly while the Gospel rejoices in the blessings bestowed on the childlike.

What distinguishes the arrogant from the childlike? The arrogant think only of what they want and of their own greatness: “By my own power I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I am shrewd.” The arrogant do not keep in mind what God’s will is or that God has enabled them to do everything they have done.

(A presidential candidate from Massachusetts once remarked, “People say I’m arrogant, but I know better.)

The childlike, on the other hand, never fail to recognize that they are dependent on God. By God’s grace, they open their minds to receive his self-revelation in Jesus Christ.

At that time Jesus answered and said,
I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
because You have hidden these things
from the wise and prudent,
and revealed them to children.
Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Your sight.
All things are given to Me by My Father:
and no man knows the Son, but the Father;
neither does any man know the Father, except the Son,
and he to whom the Son will reveal Him.

We all try to do our best in spreading the love and truth of Christ – perhaps we can and should do more – but no matter how much we are accomplishing, it is vital that we always remember that we are totally dependent on God and all of our abilities have been given by him and for his glory. And if we are not accomplishing anything, perhaps we should consider whether our minds are where they should be: fixed on God’s will and on God as the source of all we have and do.

A brave girl

War had wiped out the village of Catherine’s mother when her mother was young. Rather than send her to a camp to work as a slave, one of the victors decided to take her for himself. They would have two children, a boy and a girl – Catherine.

There were invaders in the land: bringing strange ideas and strange diseases. When Catherine was four, one of the invader’s diseases swept through Catherine’s family, killing her parents and her brother and leaving her half blind, disfigured, and orphaned.

She was adopted by an uncle and raised by aunts. When she was 11 or so, her uncle hosted three of the invaders who were passing through on a peace mission. It was from them that Catherine first learned of Christianity. They were members of the Society of Jesus and a flame was lit in Catherine’s heart. After a few days, the men went on their way, but Catherine never forgot the message they had brought. She would cling to it through all the years that followed, firmly resisting demands to be married or to enter into the lifestyle swirling about her.

When she was 18, another priest came to her village. Catherine was baptized and began to openly practice her faith. Even her uncle could not protect her from the persecution that then descended upon her. She was rescued by fellow Christians and brought to a place where she was able to practice her faith with the most intense devotion.

Kateri Tekakwitha died in 1680 at the age of 24. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

REAL discrimination?

An Oxford professor discusses whether or not the existing prohibition on homosexual marriage constitutes discrimination.

Young woman, do you want to send a message?

"The Daughters of St. Paul are called to enter this culture of modern media and bring to it Jesus Christ and his message of love and salvation."

Choose salvation!

Once again, against stereotype, today’s Old Testament reading seems full of good news (the Lord promising protection in the face of danger) while the Gospel seems full of bad news (our Lord seeming to consign his home base of Capernaum to hell).

Actually, the readings are very consistent with one another as they depict slightly different stages of the relationship between God and his people in which God offers salvation and gives the people an opportunity to choose it.

In the first reading, the king and the people are in mortal terror of being conquered, but the prophet Isaiah assures them of the Lord’s saving power, but he also says: “Unless your faith is firm, you shall not be firm!” In the very next verse after this reading, this faith would be mildly tested as the king is prompted to ask the Lord for a sign. The king would refuse God’s offer and the prophecy would turn dark for him, even as Isaiah would also prophesy God’s promise of salvation eventually bearing fruit in a far more wonderful way.

Listen, O house of David!
Is it not enough for you to weary men,
must you also weary my God?

Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign:
the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son,
and shall name him Immanuel.

In the Gospel, Jesus has given unprecedented signs and proofs of God’s salvation, but many of the people have refused to accept it. Jesus is making it vividly clear that the alternative to accepting salvation is no salvation.

God offers us salvation, ultimate freedom from all evil and pain, and gives us the grace to choose to accept this salvation.

We have a choice. We have a chance. We need to remember this and to let others know as well.

Prince of Peace and Lord of Lords

(Blog entry from yesterday delayed for technical reasons)

There is a very popular conception of Jesus as almost a cartoon figure preaching love and peace and not much else. People who think that way seem out of touch with yesterday’s Gospel, in which Jesus says,

"Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man 'against his father, a daughter against her mother...'"

Jesus is indeed the Prince of Peace, the ultimate reconciler, the infinite manifestation of divine love, but he is also the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

A good man in a snake pit

Henry was a studious and religious young man: not the most obvious choice for leadership positions (except in Church leadership), but the corridors of power can twist strangely.

The world had great need of strong leaders who were also good people. From inner-city rivalries to continental power struggles, politics was a snake pit of conspiracy, conflict, and corruption. Even Church leaders at the highest levels were bound tightly in this web.

“Kingmakers” saw great promise in Henry and he was chosen to have greater and greater responsibility. He worked diligently to bring stability and prosperity wherever he could. He strove to promote reform within the Church and to position it for a new campaign of evangelization. He and his wife were also personally generous with the poor. Not every leadership decision he made was perfect in all respects, and not everyone agreed with him, but he was conscientious and benevolent and he was eventually recognized for this.

Henry died in his early fifties, King of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor, in 1024. He was canonized in 1146.

Ratzinger on U.S. Bishops' Statement

"Your Eminence:

"With your letter of June 21, 2004, transmitted via fax, you kindly sent a copy of the Statement 'Catholics in Political Life,' approved by the members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at their June meeting.

"The Congregation is grateful for this courtesy. The statement is very much in harmony with the general principles 'Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion,' sent as a fraternal service-to clarify the doctrine of the Church on this specific issue-in order to assist the American Bishops in their related discussion and determinations.

"It is hoped that this dialogue can continue as the Task Force carries on its important work.

"With fraternal regards and prayerful best wishes, I am,

"Sincerely yours in Christ
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger"

Sunday, July 11, 2004


Today’s Gospel features the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan. It is a well-loved story and people often like to hear it in a way that suits their particular world-view.

Some see it as a tale of overcoming the barriers of hatred between people. Some see it as an indictment of hypocritical religious leaders. Some religious leaders focus on the need of the priest and the Levite to maintain ritual purity for the duty they were rushing to Jerusalem to perform on behalf of the people. Some see it as an allegory of the people of God in their journey through salvation history. Some just see it as a story of a really nice guy who goes above and beyond the call of duty to help someone in trouble.

Each of these interpretations has some value, but it is vitally important for us to understand it within its context in the Gospel. On one level, it takes place within a dialogue between Jesus and a professional theologian, a scholar of God’s law, who has decided to confront him. The overall topic is what we must do to inherit eternal life. There are many things we must do, but they all boil down to two.

The first and most important thing is to love God with all our hearts, with all our being, with all our strength, and with all our mind.

Doing good works is great; helping other people is wonderful; but love of God must be paramount. Everything we do, no matter how good, sooner or later is going to fall into dust and be forgotten. Everyone we help is eventually going to die and be remembered no more. Our world is going to end. Only God is eternal and for us to have eternal life we must have our relationship with God as the foundation and the capstone of our lives. If we are continually being filled with the love of God above all things, then all that we do in accomplishing his will, his truth, and his love will be truly meaningful. It will make every good work we do and every person we help an occasion of God’s grace.

The second important thing is to love our neighbors as ourselves.

If we do not have love for our sisters and brothers, how can the love we profess for our Heavenly Father be real? It is also important to understand clearly what is meant by loving oneself. It is not the selfish, narcissistic love so prevalent in this world. It is love that is self-giving and that is based on truth and on the love that comes from God. Some of us may not like the idea of loving ourselves, confusing it with narcissism or something carnal. Indeed, there can be things we may not like about ourselves, things that may be far short of the perfection to which God calls us, but these are all things we should be striving to change. What we should love is ourselves as created by God, as redeemed by our Lord Jesus Christ, graced with the Holy Spirit, and called to beatitude.

These are the two greatest commandments. Jesus then makes a third very important point: do it! “Do this and you will live.”

Love is not just an intellectual concept. Love is not just an emotion or a “warm fuzzy.” Love is not love if it is not acted out, to the best of our abilities, in service to God and our fellow man. We cannot just sit back or look the other way: we have to get involved, we have to do everything we can. Love is not love if it is not the true love we have received from God and which naturally flows to all of God’s children, even those we don’t naturally like (those we may dislike as much as Jews and Samaritans despised each other). Love is not love if it is not drawing us all, ourselves and those we love, back to God.

Love God. Love others with God’s love. Be concrete. Be faithful. “Do this and you will live.”

Even the most beautiful moon

fades into insignificance beside the sun.

So too with the greatest of saints. Even the man who has been called Father of Europe and Father of Western Monasticism does not have his memorial celebrated this year in the general liturgical calendar because it falls on Sunday, the day of the week we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, without whom there would have been neither Benedict nor Europe.

Saturday, July 10, 2004


Today’s readings touch on many things, but they all boil down to this: awareness of sin and courage to speak.

The world puts Christians down. It calls us arrogant, hypocrites, and secret sinners. It says we lack the “moral standing” to tell other people what to do. (But from where do they get the moral standing to tell us this?) Jesus essentially warns us of these things in today’s Gospel.

To be sure, we are sinners: all of us, as individuals and, in some concrete ways, even as a Church. Like the prophet Isaiah, we are keenly aware that we have unclean lips, individually and collectively. We know that nothing is concealed that will not be made known.

We confess our sins, we seek to make things right, we ask for forgiveness, we trust in the powerful forgiveness that comes from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and we obey His command: proclaim His Truth from the housetops.

This Truth is not of our own making - we are sinners – it is Christ who gives us this Truth and it is He who gives us the courage to proclaim it, in spite of our own unworthiness, to call to those around us to join us on the journey up the road that leads to perfection.

We dare not shrink from this duty, for if we deny Christ – in word or deed, by action or inaction – he will deny us. We need not fear anything in this world, for nothing evil in this world lasts forever. We should take courage, for the Father loves us, He offers us forgiveness in Jesus Christ, and He wants us to come to Him.

Spread the word.

"If you can’t trust me with a choice..."

"...How can you trust me with a child?"

So says a bumper sticker.

But what is the choice?
To rob a bank? To beat up old ladies? To kill children?

If the choice is abortion, it is a choice to kill a child.
That is not choice; that is not freedom; that is murder.

If someone is inclined to kill unborn children, perhaps that person should indeed choose not to go down the road that leads to childbearing, but that is no excuse to kill children in the womb.

We need to pray for the children threatened and slaughtered in the womb. We also need to pray and work to help children who have been born as well as those women who may be tempted to do terrible things to their children.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Sounds familiar, but...

I listened to the homily for today's Mass on EWTN. As always, it was enriching. The priest made many good points, but one thing saddened me.

In giving an example of enduring even unto death, the priest chose to focus on the death of Mel Gibson's character in the movie Braveheart rather than that of the Chinese martyrs whose optional memorial was today.

A disappointing choice and a missed opportunity, for their torture was every bit as horrific, especially considering the tender ages of many of them. Their final words every bit as heroic, if not more so. Most of all, they died explicitly for their faith in Jesus Christ.

I fear that perhaps the priest's fondness for the movie led him to miss an example that was more "on point" and was tied in with today's optional memorial.

To be honest, I too have movies from which I most readily (perhaps too readily) borrow for illustrative purposes: e.g., Ben-Hur and A Man for All Seasons.

Indeed, when hearing our Lord's dictum to be clever as serpents and gentle as doves, I thought of St. Thomas More (whose story A Man for All Seasons tells). Of course, I have no doubt that such qualities was also to be found in abundance in the Chinese martyrs.

Familiar paths are easiest, but as we go through the liturgical year, perhaps we should make a special effort to look more closely at those saints we don't usually focus on, most especially the ones more recently canonized (what wonderful gifts they are for us today). Surprising riches are to be found in the most unfamiliar saints.

U.K. considering abortion restrictions

Following media coverage of the baby-like behavior of fetuses in the womb, a Member of Parliment who helped legalize abortions in 1967 suggested tightening restrictions on abortions from 24 to 12 weeks.

Find God in the desert, young man!


Today’s Gospel follows... after yesterday’s Gospel, part of the wondrous journey through God’s word we make by means of the Lectionary. By chance, however, (if it is chance) this Gospel expresses magnificently what we know of those whose optional memorial we celebrate today, the martyrs of China.

In the Gospel, Our Lord says,
"When they hand you over,
do not worry about how you are to speak
or what you are to say.
You will be given at that moment
what you are to say.
For it will not be you who speak
but the Spirit of your Father
speaking through you."

When he canonized these martyrs, just a few years ago, the Holy Father quoted the last words of some of these martyrs, who were teenagers, as they are being tortured and killed: "Every piece of my flesh, every drop of my blood will tell you that I am Christian" and "The door of heaven is open to all."

If Christ has made us this promise, and these boys and girls so gloriously embraced that promise all the way to the most painful of deaths, how can we not be braver in speaking and witnessing to the truth of Christ?

Scumbag Prelate

Media reports indicate that a newly released film portrays high officials of the Catholic Church in England very negatively.

While the film’s accuracy has been called into question by some, there can be no question that there were unsavory figures in the Church abusing their authority, etc. during the period the story takes place: the 5th century, the dawn of the Dark Ages.

The Church has never run away from the fact that it is both a divine institution and a human institution. This twofold nature of the Church manifests itself in its leaders as well as in its people. Most of us try the best we can and succeed in doing good, more or less, most of the time. Some of us mean well, but err grievously in our choices of action. Inevitably, there will be a handful with flawed character who do bad things, but it is more inevitable that there will always be saints among us who will shine out like stars on the darkest of nights.

The Dark Ages were precipitated by the crumbling of the Roman Empire and the migrating of warring peoples throughout Europe. Sad to say, the Church, being a relatively stable structure of authority during these centuries, was an obvious path for ambitious men with limited martial ability. These were the exceptions rather than the rule, and as damaging as they were, they did not undo the work of good ministers and people who continued to serve with all the holiness they could muster.

And then the saints came marching in. Less than a hundred years later, a Roman monk learned of the spiritual plight of the English and resolved to go with a handful of his confreres and preach anew the Gospel of Christ. Upheaval in the city of Rome prevented his journey, but a few years later, upon the Pope’s death, the people of the city seized the monk who had wanted to be a missionary and almost literally dragged him kicking and screaming to become Pope. History would know him as Pope St. Gregory the Great.

Pope Gregory quickly set about putting things in order and within a few years sent a group of his former confreres, led now by St. Augustine of Canterbury, to preach the Gospel and build better foundations for the Church in England.

We ourselves may sometimes be turned off by the imperfections of some people in the Church, even the imperfections of a few priests and prelates, but we should take great encouragement from the fact that there also powerful saints among us and, despite our own imperfections, we should strive in be in that number of those who work mightily in service of the truth and the love of God.

The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart

"These words of the Responsorial Psalm clearly reflect the experience of Augustine Zhao Rong and his 119 companions, martyrs in China. The testimonies which have come down to us allow us to glimpse in them a state of mind marked by deep serenity and joy.

"Today the Church is grateful to her Lord, who blesses her and bathes her in light with the radiant holiness of these sons and daughters of China. Is not the Holy Year the most appropriate moment to make their heroic witness shine resplendently?

Young Ann Wang, a 14-year-old, withstood the threats of the torturers who invited her to apostatize. Ready for her beheading, she declared with a radiant face: 'The door of heaven is open to all,' three times murmuring: 'Jesus.'

And 18-year-old Chi Zhuzi, cried out fearlessly to those who had just cut off his right arm and were preparing to flay him alive: 'Every piece of my flesh, every drop of my blood will tell you that I am Christian.'

"The other 85 Chinese men and women of every age and state, priests, religious and lay people, showed the same conviction and joy, sealing their unfailing fidelity to Christ and the Church with the gift of their lives. This occurred over the course of several centuries and in a complex and difficult era of China's history. Today's celebration is not the appropriate time to pass judgement on those historical periods: this can and should be done elsewhere. Today, with this solemn proclamation of holiness, the Church intends merely to recognize that those martyrs are an example of courage and consistency to us all, and that they honour the noble Chinese people.

"Resplendent in this host of martyrs are also the 33 missionaries who left their land and sought to immerse themselves in the Chinese world, lovingly assimilating its features in the desire to proclaim Christ and to serve those people. Their tombs are there as if to signify their definitive belonging to China, which they deeply loved, although with their human limitations, and for which they spent all their energies.

'We never wronged anyone", Bishop Francis Fogolla replied to the governor who was preparing to strike him with his sword. "On the contrary, we have done good to many.' God sends down happiness.

Pope John Paul II, Canonization Mass Homily (excerpt)
October 1, 2000

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Love and Doom

For some people, the Old Testament is filled with thunder and punishment while the New Testament is filled with peace and love. Today’s readings seem to point in exactly the opposite direction. In the Old Testament reading, God says

How could I give you up, O Ephraim,
or deliver you up, O Israel?
How could I treat you as Admah,
or make you like Zeboiim?
My heart is overwhelmed; my pity is stirred.
I will not give vent to my blazing anger…

And today’s Gospel, the “Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ,” ends with Jesus saying that on Judgment Day it will go better for the lands of Sodom and Gomorrah than it will for a town that rejects the Apostles.

The apparent tension between the two readings is even more pronounced when one remembers that Admah and Zeboiim were located precisely around the lands of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The bottom line is that God is love and wants all people to be saved. The history of the world, however, as well as our own personal histories have been filled with occasions when we, in one way or another, have turned away from God and rejected His love. Yet He has come back, again and again, reaching out to us, finally sending us the greatest gift of His love in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Jesus calls us and asks us to walk in His love. If we have strayed, we must turn away from the doomed path we are on. That is what Jesus is saying: if we reject God, we are on the path that leads to doom.

We must turn to Christ and walk more closely with Him in His eternal love and truth.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Let grace come

and let this world pass away.

Hosanna to the Son of David.

If any one is holy, let him come to the Eucharist;
if any one is not, let him repent.


Didache 10:6 (the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles)

Oh, THAT person?

Every time an election year approaches, a poll will ask people to rank a particular officeholder against a nameless person from the opposing political party. Almost always the generic, nameless person does much better than any opponent with an actual name. One reason is that the named individual is a human being with a history and with imperfections, like all of us, while the generic opponent is a mythical creature with every virtue the mind can imagine.

That is why today’s Gospel is so significant. Jesus did not establish the Church through some vague association of likeminded people or mythical heroes. He chose twelve specific individuals: men with names, with life histories, and with imperfections. He chose them, gave them authority, and sent them forth.

One of the most beautiful things about our faith is what worldly people might think the most distressing. We believe that God works in human history and that God works through real human beings like us. God is transcendent and pure spirit, but he chooses to enter our world and act on the level of human experience. Although we may sometimes experience God in a purely spiritual way, the most important and perfect revelation and action of God happened in a particular time and place and in a particular man (true God and true man) Jesus Christ who founded his Church on the twelve particular men known as apostles. Were these men imperfect? Yes, but they were also empowered by our Lord to bring Him to the world.

To be sure, the imperfections themselves are not good things. Each of us must move as quickly as possible toward greater perfection and if, God forbid, the imperfection in one or another of us is one that causes damage, that damage must be prevented.

All of us are imperfect, and while we continue to strive for greater perfection, we are called to bring Christ to the world and receive Christ from those who were sent.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Cardinal Ratzinger on Communion and Politicians

Catholic News Service reports on a recent memorandum in which Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger gave guidelines under which ministers may deny Communion to Catholic politicians who consistently promote legal abortion.

It had been published online July 3 by the Italian magazine L'Espresso and a Vatican official confirmed it authenticity, although an accompanying cover letter has not been published.

And that's the way it was (is)

It is easy for us to look down on the people in today’s readings. They seem almost laughable: worshipping golden calves and saying unbelievably evil things about our Lord Jesus Christ.

The sad truth is that people are doing the very same things today. Today’s idols are not generally shaped like golden calves, but the way of the world today is to worship material things and earthly pleasures: these are the things people chase after and even sacrifice for. Politicians establish laws without any regard for God or God’s truth – even the truth that needs no special revelation. As in the time of Hosea, although in accordance with the mode of democracy, these politicians make kings, but not by God’s authority, and establish princes, but without God’s approval. Laws and regulations are even established that put Christianity on the same level as Satanism. Articles are published that put Christian ministers in the same category as witch doctors.

No things haven’t changed all that much.

We need to make sure that we ourselves are not swept along with the way of the world today, a way that leads ultimately to disaster. We need more laborers for God’s harvest, heroes to stand against the way of the world and to testify to the love of God.

The harvest is abundant
but the laborers are few;
so ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest.

Letter from a murderer

Twenty-year-old Alessandro seemed to be a normal, red-blooded young man, but his eyes were set on Maria, a very pretty twelve-year-old girl. Finally, he came upon her when she was alone and he would not take her soft-spoken “no” for an answer. “No,” she shouted. “It is a sin!” He threatened her with a dagger, but still she would not yield. Red-hot anger overwhelmed him and he stabbed her fourteen times, so viciously that her intestines came out. Doctors tried to save her (it was 1902), but she died many painful hours later. What she said about her attacker was, “Yes, I forgive him for the love of Jesus, and I want him to be with me in heaven. May God forgive him!”

St. Maria Goretti was canonized in 1950.

Meanwhile, after serving 27 years in prison, Alessandro Serenelli had entered a Capuchin monastery where he lived until his death more than thirty years later. During that time, in 1961, he wrote this letter to the world:

"I'm nearly 80 years old. I'm about to depart.

"Looking back at my past, I can see that in my early youth, I chose a bad path which led me to ruin myself.

"My behavior was influenced by print, mass-media and bad examples which are followed by the majority of young people without even thinking. And I did the same. I was not worried.

"There were a lot of generous and devoted people who surrounded me, but I paid no attention to them because a violent force blinded me and pushed me toward a wrong way of life.

"When I was 20 years-old, I committed a crime of passion. Now, that memory represents something horrible for me. Maria Goretti, now a Saint, was my good Angel, sent to me through Providence to guide and save me. I still have impressed upon my heart her words of rebuke and of pardon. She prayed for me, she interceded for her murderer. Thirty years of prison followed.

"If I had been of age, I would have spent all my life in prison. I accepted to be condemned because it was my own fault.

"Little Maria was really my light, my protectress; with her help, I behaved well during the 27 years of prison and tried to live honestly when I was again accepted among the members of society. The Brothers of St. Francis, Capuchins from Marche, welcomed me with angelic charity into their monastery as a brother, not as a servant. I've been living with their community for 24 years, and now I am serenely waiting to witness the vision of God, to hug my loved ones again, and to be next to my Guardian Angel (Maria) and her dear mother, Assunta.

"I hope this letter that I wrote can teach others the happy lesson of avoiding evil and of always following the right path, like little children. I feel that religion with its precepts is not something we can live without, but rather it is the real comfort, the real strength in life and the only safe way in every circumstance, even the most painful ones of life."
Alessandro Serenelli

Monday, July 05, 2004

From Doctor to Disreputable to...

Anthony’s father died when he was two, leaving his mother to raise him alone, but he went on to graduate from medical school and to work as a doctor in his home town, which was suffering from outbreaks of disease and the aftereffects of various troubles.

Anthony, however, felt what he was doing wasn’t enough: the people needed more. After three years as a doctor, he began to study for the priesthood.

It was not a step up. Catholic priests were not held in high regard. Catholicism in that time and place had become disreputable in the eyes of many, but Anthony saw the situation as a challenge that he was called to meet.

He gathered a group of like-minded, devout priests around him and threw himself into the work of caring for the sick, helping the poor, preaching in the streets, and reforming religious houses. The Order he founded, known as the Barnabites, was endorsed by the Pope in less than five years and would spread across the globe.

Having done so much in a short time, St. Antonio Maria Zaccaria himself died in 1539 at the age of 37.

Young woman, consider teaching Christ

"Over the past 140 years, the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia have given the fruits of their contemplation in the apostolate of Catholic education. With a love of Truth and a dedication to the Church, the sisters have brought generations of young people the message of Christ.

"Today the Church calls religious to proclaim this message with new vigor in what our Holy Father has called 'the New Evangelization.' Over the past three years in recognition of the Great Jubilee of Our Lord’s birth, the leadership of St. Cecilia Congregation has responded with the extension of our presence in five additional schools.

"The Congregation is presently in 25 schools across nine states; teaching children and young adults from pre-school through college level; in schools both suburban and inner city, private and diocesan.

"Our mission encompasses the following goals:

"To enlighten minds and inspire hearts with a love of the Truth and, most especially, the person of Christ, the source of all truth.

"To encourage reverence for the Eucharist, devotion to Mary and fidelity to the Church.

"To promote a greater awareness of the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person.

"To provide students with the freedom of a liberal education so that with the development of skills and a strong academic foundation they may fulfill their God-given vocation.

"To encourage the promotion of an authentic Catholic culture and thereby enable students to appreciate all that is good, true and beautiful.

"To strengthen family life by offering support, guidance and instruction to parents in their role as the primary educators of their children."

From the website of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia.

Reaching out, rejection, and ridicule

Many people have experienced fear in asking someone for a date. It can be terrifyingly vulnerable moment: revealing your feelings and leaving your heart open to possible rejection (and even ridicule).

In today’s readings, God is just such an openhearted suitor: God is reaching out with his heart to the people of Israel who have treated him so badly; Christ is reaching out to people who are suffering the tragic loss of a little girl.

So sublime is the beauteous expression of God’s love:

And I will betroth thee unto me forever;
yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness,
and in judgment, and in loving-kindness,
and in mercies.

But Israel responded to her Lord imperfectly, and the people at the little girl’s house openly ridiculed the Lord Jesus.

So too we ourselves have not always responded perfectly to the love the Lord reaches out to us.

Yet the Lord is not dissuaded or discouraged, he continues to open his heart and reach out his hand. The Lord’s love is not diminished by rejection or even ridicule. No matter what we have done, even now the Lord reaches to us with his heart, calling us to a deeper relationship with him.

The Lord also calls us to be his hands and arms in this world, for we are the body of Christ, and we are to reach out to others with God’s truth and love just as he has reached out to us.

We will experience rejection, we may even experience ridicule, but we will always experience the unconquerable, unquenchable love of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior and Lover of humankind.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

The harvest truly is great

but the laborers are few;
so ask the Lord of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest.

Luke 10:2

The Body

There’s the story of a boy whose grandfather told him about the inner beauty of trees, how their branches were like hands lifted up to God and how walking in a forest was like walking in a cathedral. However, the boy’s life took a dark turn and he grew to think about trees only as things: things to be used, things to be shaped, things to be sold. He no longer saw trees as creatures pointing up to God. His thoughts and his heart stayed below.

Many of us are like that little boy, but it is not the godly beauty of trees with which we’ve lost touch, but something much more important, something that points much more eloquently to God. We’ve lost touch with the godly beauty of ourselves and our human bodies. Tragically, human bodies in today’s culture have become just things: things to be coveted, things to be reshaped, objects of selfishness. Thus, in our spiritual lives, bodies distract us: they drag us down and away from God.

Like the boy who can no longer see the godly beauty in a tree, we may have damaged or destroyed our sense of the godliness in ourselves, in the people we see and in our bodies.

We need to reclaim for God our attitude to the human body. Like everything else we have and are, the prime focus of the human body should not be to feel good, but to be good, to do good, and to help bring us to God.

We can recapture that sense of beauty, that understanding of real value, that presence of God in ourselves and in our bodies. We can find it again through purity, charity, and the grace of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Respect people, uphold truth.

Male and female created he them.
And God blessed them,
and God said unto them,
Be fruitful, and multiply...

Genesis 1:27c-28a

Let the vote go forward

From a USCCB Press Release:

"Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), has written to all Catholic bishops asking them to personally urge their Senators to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution defining marriage as exclusively between one man and one woman.

"The first vote on the proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which has become popularly known as the Federal Marriage Amendment, is expected to occur in the Senate as early as mid-July.

"The measure, introduced as S.J. Res. 30 by Sen. Wayne Allard (R-CO), reads as follows:

"'Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.'

"In the letter (June 24), Bishop Gregory noted that while the proposed amendment defines marriage as between one man and one woman, it leaves legislative decisions on civil unions or domestic partnerships up to the state legislatures, which already have this authority.

"Since opponents of the Federal Marriage Amendment are expected to mount a filibuster against it, the key vote in the Senate will likely occur on a motion to bring debate to a close (i.e., invoke 'cloture'). Under these circumstances, cloture is a necessary step before the Senate can vote on the substance of the Federal Marriage Amendment. Bishop Gregory said.

“'Your message should also strongly support any effort to stop a "filibuster" and allow the Senate to vote on this vitally important matter,' he wrote."

Bishops in turn are asking parishioners to let their Senators know how they stand on this issue.

Senators can be contacted via the U.S. Senate Web Site at www.senate.gov.

Additional information is available at www.allianceformarriage.org.

Fitting In

One of the questions many if not all teenagers ask themselves is “Where do I fit in?” Perhaps they don’t feel they fit in with their families, perhaps they don’t feel they fit in at school, often they are not sure where they fit into the great wide world.

We too may still feel like that sometimes. We may even feel like that at Church. We don’t know all those people. The Pastor doesn’t know we exist. We see pictures of the Pope faraway in Rome. We hear stories about the saints whose heroic statues are carved in stone. Where do we fit in with all this? Do we fit in?

St. Paul the Apostle (the large statue on your right) tells us in today's first reading,
“You are strangers and aliens no longer.
You are fellow citizens with the saints
and belong to the household of God
this is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets,
with Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone
in whom the whole structure is fit together
and grows into an holy temple in the Lord:
in whom you too are being built together
to become a dwelling place of God through the Spirit.”

We may not feel like it sometimes and we may not always see exactly where and how we fit in, but we do fit in, we belong. We are part of this structure, this body, this family, this Church – the same Church of the great saints, the same Church as the Holy Father the Pope, the same Church as all of those people we see on Sundays, the one true Church of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

If we make ourselves available and persevere, we will find our place and we will share in the glory.

Believing Farther

We know little of the Apostle Thomas: a few lines in the Gospels and ancient traditions. Much has been made of the incident that led to his being known as Doubting Thomas. His uncertainties also seem apparent at the Last Supper:

Thomas said to him,
"Lord, we do not know where you are going.
How can we know the way?"
Jesus said to him,
"I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:5-6

But although he had moments when he wasn't entirely clear about what was happening, Thomas believed – in fact, one could say he believed farther than any of the Twelve.

Peter’s great confession of faith was to say to Jesus,
“You are the Christ! The Son of the living God!”
Thomas’ confession of faith was to say to Jesus,
“My Lord and my God!”

The Apostles preached around the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Far off in India, Christians have persisted for millennia in the faith they hold to have received from Saint Thomas the Apostle, in spite of heresies and invasions, and they venerate his tomb today.

Thomas may have had moments when he wasn’t clear, but he found his way, or rather, the Way found him: he believed and he proclaimed Christ to the ends of the earth.

We hold to have the faith of Thomas. We too say to Christ, “My Lord and my God!” Why do we not go farther than we do in proclaiming Christ?