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...

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

As September 11 approaches...

...a reminder:

The stories of priests on the scene during the 9/11 attacks on New York City's World Trade Center Towers and the Pentagon in Washington are highlighted in We Were There…Catholic Priests and How They Responded.

We Were There…, a compilation of personal accounts of ministry amid ashes and ruin, was produced by the Secretariat for Vocations and Priestly Formation of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and is available on the web at www.usccb.org/vocations.

"Lord of the Rings" wins Catholic Award

The Catholic Academy for Communication Arts Professionals has announced its 2004 Gabriel Awards, including...

Best Film (Drama) - The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Special Achievement Award (Film) - The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

For more than 38 years, the Catholic Academy for Communication Arts Professionals (the U.S. affiliate of SIGNIS, a Vatican-approved organization for communication professionals) has sponsored the Gabriel Awards, designed to honor works of excellence in broadcasting--programs, features, spots and stations -- which serve viewers and listeners through the positive, creative treatment of concerns to humankind.

The 2004 Gabriel Awards Presentation will be held Friday, October 22, 2004, at the Director's Guild of America in Los Angeles, California.

"How can you believe in God?"

"Don’t you know there are little children dying of cancer? How could there be a loving, all-powerful God who lets that happen?"

The conclusion that worldly people draw is that God cannot exist: because their concept of a loving God is incompatible with the reality of innocent children suffering from natural causes.

The gap in their logic is pretty obvious: it is not God but their concept of God that is incompatible with reality.

In a sense, it is infantile to presume that the only things that exist are the things we experience. How childish it is for anyone to think that something cannot exist simply because he or she cannot understand it. How arrogant it is for a finite mind to deny unfathomable infinity.

There is more than what we know. There is more than this world.

St. Paul speaks about these things much more lyrically in today’s first reading. He speaks of “spiritual realities in spiritual terms” - realities that extend beyond this world: spiritual realities that can only be appreciated with a spiritual perspective, answers to this world's tragedies that can only be understood beyond this world.

While we live in this world, it is very important for us not to be bogged down in the world’s ways of thinking and acting: selfishness, greed, lust, envy, and despair.

We should always seek the help of the Spirit to keep our minds and our hearts on a higher plane, so that we may thrive and shine as spiritual beings in a dark and material world and so that by our faith, hope, and love we may give evidence of the loving God who dwells among us in this world and into infinity.

The greatest among you

must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself
will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself
will be exalted.

Matthew 23:11-12

In this passage, our Lord gives very clear guidance for those who aspires to or who exercise leadership within the Church. Sadly, some leaders and aspiring leaders have strayed from that guidance: focusing on self-aggrandizement and on power for its own sake.

Other Church leaders have been falsely accused of these things simply for doing their job. Bishops who are widely known as being personally humble and gentle are denounced as being focused on “ego” and “control” just for trying to be clear about the teaching of the Church and about liturgical guidelines that go back to the New Testament itself.

(Many times, the real “ego” or “control” issues usually belong to those who think more of their own personal opinion than the teaching of the Church.)

Individuals who lead within the Church must be personally humble and fully devoted to the service of the people. They must always remember that they are not worthy to lead. No human being can be wise enough or pious enough to exercise leadership or ministry within the Church. Only by being constantly aware of one’s own weakness can one let the power of God shine forth – for it is only by the grace and power of God that the Church can grow and people be saved.

Humility about oneself, however, should never be confused with timidity about the truth. I may be a flawed human being, but that does not change the truth of what Christ teaches – quite the opposite, for Christ came to save us all and to bring us into the fullness of the truth. I may be imperfect, but if I equivocate about the truth, I only add to my sin.

Son of man,
I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel;
whenever you hear a word from my mouth,
you shall give them warning from me.
If I say to the wicked, `You shall surely die,'
and you give him no warning,
nor speak
to dissuade him from his wicked way and save his life,
that wicked man shall die for his sin;
but I will hold you responsible for his death.
Ezekiel 3:17-18

It’s not about “ego” or “control” – it’s about the truth.

Monday, August 30, 2004

What is dialogue?

It can be a very simple idea: literally, a conversation.

It becomes more complicated when conflict is involved. Then one person’s “dialogue” can be another person’s “obstructionism” or “delaying tactic.”

What is a “frank and candid exchange of views” to one person, sounds like “a bunch of guys squabbling” to another.

For some, “dialogue” only happens when you listen to them. If you should say anything, you are trying to end dialogue, disrespect people, or impose “a one-way conversation.”

Dialogue, however, is a means, not the ultimate goal. Dialogue’s value – as great as it is -- absolves no one of his or her responsibilities to take action.

We must respect each other. We must listen - really listen - and speak to each other.

We must not delay in coming to know the truth. We must not delay in doing what is right.

A No-Challenge Zone?

The recent actions and statements from bishops about pro-abortion politicians and the reception of Holy Communion have made some Catholics uncomfortable. For them, religion is a “spiritual refuge” or simply “a place for a peaceful dialogue with God.”

It is not a place for them to be challenged, they seem to believe.

There is indeed great comfort in religion, in faith, and most especially in the Sacraments of the Church: a peace that surpasses all human understanding.

But if you think that is all it is, you are mistaken.

Christ challenges. Christ causes division.

So it was in the Gospel, so it has been in community of believers from the beginning, and so it is today.

If we fail to care for our fellow human beings in the world, Christ challenges us.

If we fail to protect life in the womb, Christ challenges us.

If we misuse the notion of “self-defense” in war and punishment, Christ challenges us.

If we abuse high positions – in public office, in the media, in business, in the Church – and let others fall into harm, Christ challenges us.

We should not dissemble. The weight of popular opinion cannot save us from the Truth.

Christ loves us and Christ challenges us.

Accept the challenge. Accept the truth. Accept the real and infinite peace of Christ.

Safe bread

Catholic News Service reports that Gluten-Free Living, a quarterly magazine for people with celiac disease has endorsed a low-gluten Communion host made by the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Missouri as "perfectly safe" for celiac sufferers.

Seeking God's Will

A good web page about discerning a vocation, hosted by the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

Catholic Charities and Hurricane Charley

"With the help of the Catholic Charities USA emergency grant, Catholic Charities of Venice is operating 15 recovery, shelters, or drop off sites throughout the diocese. According to Peter Routsis-Arroyo, president of Catholic Charities of Venice, more than 20,000 people are being assisted daily at the agency's recovery and shelter sites. Services being offered include distribution of water and nonperishable food items, medical assistance, mental health counselors, clean up crews, outreach crews, licensed contractors, lodging vouchers, and hot meals."

For information about donations, please go to the Catholic Charities USA website at www.catholiccharitiesusa.org

(Hat tip to Amy Welborn)

I came to you in weakness

and fear
and much trembling,
and my message and my proclamation
were not with persuasive words of wisdom,
but with a demonstration of spirit
and power,
so that your faith might rest

not on human wisdom
but on the power of God.

1 Corinthians 2:3-5

Sounds familiar

The old saying “familiarity breeds contempt” resonates strongly with today’s readings. We see it most clearly in the Gospel, as the people of the town where our Lord grew up try to kill him, after having spoken “highly of him” at first. Our Lord saw through their fair sounding façade and challenged them directly.

What was the problem? Why does familiarity breed contempt? Sometimes it is because we are more fully aware of the flaws of those we know better, while we give others the benefit of the doubt. In the case of our sinless Lord, however, there was something else at work.

Familiarity gives a feeling of ownership and control. He is our neighbor. We know him. We’ve got him pegged.

The people of the town not only felt that way about our Lord, they also felt that way about God. He is our God. We know him. We’ve got him pegged.

Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, broke through the boundaries of ownership and control built by long familiarity. For their part, the people were threatened and tried to reassert control, even to the point of using lethal force, but the Lord was utterly beyond their control.

There are many lessons to draw from this narrative. For one thing, we should keep our expectations low when we attempt to minister to our families and friends. Also, we should be careful about our own relationship with God falling into a rut. We should always keep our minds open to the possibility of the Lord doing amazing things – even through that which is very, very familiar to us.

“He will probably do it again”

The suspended priest who attacked the lead runner in the Olympic marathon Sunday was the next day given a 12-month suspended sentence, ordered to pay a $3,600 fine, and released from custody.

The perpetrator has been suspended from the exercise of ministry for the past decade. In recent years he has attempted to disrupt other high-profile sporting events including Wimbledon, rugby, cricket, and even a Formula One auto race.

The reaction of his victim, Vanderlei de Lima, was "But this means he will probably do this again and get killed, as in Formula One, or kill someone."

The perpetrator harms the reputation of all believing Christians, perverting Christian faith in the parousia into a justification for dangerous publicity stunts.

The Greek judge harms the reputation of all those entrusted with the common good, washing his hands of someone whose loss of control is dangerously escalating.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

How to be

Today’s readings give very strong reminders about the need for humility: very important for us to consider and remember in this world of “getting ahead” and “looking out for number one.” Whatever slight advantages we might be able to gain among ourselves fail into laughable insignificance when compared to the glory of God and the power of his grace. We can focus on ourselves all we want, but it will never get us anywhere as far as we can be if we focus on the things of God.

What might be lost as we hear today’s readings is what our Lord says at the end of today’s Gospel, in which he speaks not so much of humility as of generosity. Generosity is truly one of the very important things of God upon which we should be focusing. God has been and continues to be very generous with us (although we may not always recognize it) and God calls us to be generous in return, as we hear in today’s Gospel.

Today’s Gospel, however, speaks of a very special kind of generosity. It is not the remote-control generosity of writing a check or helping some organization (although those things are important). It is an “up-close and personal” generosity: literally inviting to lunches, dinners, and banquets people who are poor, disabled, dirty, smelly, clumsy, ignorant, foreign, or whatever.

The point here is not necessarily to change your dining habits. The point is that it is one thing to write a check to help some generic, anonymous needy person, but quite another to give also of your time and of your comfort zone: to take the time to be with these people, to look them in the eye, to shake them by the hand, and to help them with what they need.

Be humble. Be generous. Be present. Be like Christ.

Conduct your affairs with humility

and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts.

Humble yourself the more, the greater you are,
and you will find favor with God.

For great is the power of God;
by the humble he is glorified.

What is too sublime for you, seek not,
into things beyond your strength search not.

What is committed to you, attend to;
for what is hidden is not your concern.

With what is too much for you meddle not,
when shown things beyond human understanding.

Their own opinion
has misled many,
and false reasoning
unbalanced their judgment.
Sirach 3:17-23

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Feeling restless?

'Great art thou, O Lord, and greatly to be praised;
great is thy power, and infinite is thy wisdom.'
And man desires to praise thee, for he is a part of thy creation;
he bears his mortality about with him
and carries the evidence of his sin
and the proof that thou dost resist the proud.
Still he desires to praise thee,
this man who is only a small part of thy creation.

Thou hast prompted him, that he should delight to praise thee,
for thou hast made us for thyself
and restless is our heart
until it comes to rest in thee.

magnus es, domine, et laudabilis valde.
magna virtus tua et sapientiae tuae non est numerus.
et laudare te vult homo, aliqua portio creaturae tuae,
et homo circumferens mortalitatem suam,
circumferens testimonium peccati sui
et testimonium quia superbis resistis;
et tamen laudare te vult homo,
aliqua portio creaturae tuae.

tu excitas ut laudare te delectet,
quia fecisti nos ad te
et inquietum est cor nostrum
donec requiescat in te.

St. Augustine, Confessions, Book 1, Chapter 1

Ready or nought

At the core of the Parable of the Talents in today’s Gospel is a very powerful insight about life in this world and what happens afterward: namely, that life in this world is a preparation for the next.

This may not seem like the biggest news flash for believing Christians, but it is key to understanding the puzzling statement that stands as the moral of the story.

For to everyone who has,
more will be given and he will grow rich;
but from the one who has not,
even what he has will be taken away.

Everything we have and are in this life is given to us by the Lord. How we use what we have in this life will directly affect what we have and experience in the life to come.

The good servants in the parable are like those who use the opportunities they have been given in life to build up for themselves treasure in heaven. So, when their life in this world ends, there is something waiting for them – and not just the fruit of their good works, but even “more will be given:” the infinite riches of God’s grace.

The lazy servant does not make use of the opportunities of life in this world in preparation for the world to come. So, when life in this world ends, “even what he has will be taken away” by death and he is left with nought: nothing except the terror of utter oblivion, “the outer darkness where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”

Use the opportunities you have
to build up treasure in heaven
while you still have opportunities to use.

Late have I loved you

O Beauty ever ancient, ever new,
late have I loved you!
You were within me, but I was outside,
and it was there that I searched for you.

In my unloveliness
I plunged into the lovely things which you created.
You were with me, but I was not with you.
Created things kept me from you;
yet if they had not been in you
they would have not been at all.

You called,
you shouted,
and you broke through my deafness.
You flashed,
you shone,
and you dispelled my blindness.
You breathed your fragrance on me;
I drew in breath
and now I pant for you.
I have tasted you,
now I hunger and thirst for more.
You touched me,
and I burned for your peace.

sero te amavi,
pulchritudo tam antiqua et tam nova,
sero te amavi!
et ecce intus eras et ego foris,
et ibi te quaerebam,
et in ista formosa quae fecisti
deformis inruebam.
mecum eras, et tecum non eram.
ea me tenebant longe a te,
quae si in te non essent,
non essent.

et clamasti
et rupisti surditatem meam;
et fugasti caecitatem meam;
et duxi spiritum et anhelo tibi;
et esurio et sitio;
tetigisti me,
et exarsi in pacem tuam.

St. Augustine, Confessions, Book 10, Chapter XXVII

Did you hear about the bishop?

The bishop had a girlfriend once and got her pregnant.

The bishop used to make his mother cry all the time.

People also remembered the bishop saying pretty contemptuous things about the Church, its leaders, and its theology.

All that happened before he had heard the Archbishop of Milan. Soon after that, he started getting his life together, his girlfriend left him to pursue the religious life on her own, and eventually he and his 15-year-old son entered the Church to the great joy of his mother.

He settled into a quiet life of prayer and writing in monasteries he established, but he was not to be allowed a quiet life. He was practically drafted into the priesthood and to be a prominent spokesperson for the Catholic faith. When his bishop became feeble, he was again drafted into being made coadjutor bishop. After the old bishop died, he would continue as bishop of the diocese for 34 years, all the time writing and preaching about the Catholic faith.

St. Augustine, bishop of the north African city of Hippo, one of the greatest intellects of the Western world, died at the age of 75 on this very day in the year 430.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Don't be clueless

Today’s Gospel underscores the need for us to prepare in this world for the world to come and how not everyone is focused on those preparations (and may be tragically surprised as a result). These unprepared people are called foolish.

Ironically, as St. Paul tells us in today’s first reading, these people who are foolish and unprepared for the world to come often include those who are considered the smartest people in the world in which we live.

St. Paul boils it all down to one thing: the message of the cross.

We proclaim Christ crucified,
a stumbling block to Jews
and foolishness to Gentiles,
but to those who are called,
Jews and Greeks alike,
Christ the power of God
and the wisdom of God.

The recent film The Passion of the Christ demonstrated anew the truth of Paul’s statement. It was denounced as Anti-Semitic: very much a stumbling block to the Jews. Also, the elites of today’s world denounced it for what they saw as a glorification of suffering (an absurdity and a perversion in their eyes) as well as a product of dangerous religious extremism. At least one reviewer associated believers in Christ’s passion with those who fly airplanes into skyscrapers (the review was later pulled from its website).

[The “religion is evil” canard is a tired one. Ungodly ideologues are the ones who have perpetrated the greatest slaughters and sufferings of the world: from Shi Huangdi to Hitler, Mengele, Stalin and Pol Pot. To be sure, religion has been misused by evil or misguided people, but the power of faith to bring good into the world has always been greater.]

People who reject the gift of faith think themselves intelligent, and they may have some form of practical ingenuity or mental sophistication, but when it comes to the big picture, they are literally clueless.

People with the gift of Christian faith understand what the suffering and death of Christ is: it is not suffering for its own sake; it is an act of the deepest love, the most powerful compassion, the most perfect answer to the evil and suffering in the world.

Cherish the gift. Spread the wisdom.

What the blog is this?

A new icon has appeared on this site, courtesy of Blogger.

Email This Post enables readers to share posts from this blog with others. Just click on the envelope icon on the "Posted by" line (the real one, not the example above) and you will be brought to a page where you can enter your name and email address, your friend's email address, and a message. Blogger will send the email to your friend with your message and a link to the post.

A Mother's heartache

She was a good woman, devoted to her Christian faith.

Her husband, on the other hand, was a violent and irreligious man. Even her son, a very bright boy whom she loved so very much, went a totally different direction from her faith.

She prayed for her son. He got involved in cults. She prayed harder. He got his girlfriend pregnant. His mother wept and wept before the Lord. He was contemptuous of the ignorant people who shared her faith. She kept on praying.

In the Lord’s own time and in the Lord’s own way, the Lord answered her prayer. Her son not only accepted the Catholic faith and was baptized, he became a bishop and a very famous theologian. The day she died she was in pain but happy as they spoke together and shared their faith in the glories they would share in heaven.

St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine, died in her mid-fifties in the year 387.

Mother and son

"Because the day when she was to leave this life was drawing near – a day known to you, (O Lord), though we were ignorant of it – she and I happened to be alone, through (as I believe) the mysterious workings of your will. We stood leaning against a window which looked out on a garden within the house where we were staying, at Ostia on the Tiber; for there, far from the crowds, we were recruiting our strength after the long journey, in order to prepare ourselves for our voyage overseas. We were alone, conferring very intimately. Forgetting what lay in the past, and stretching out to what was ahead, we enquired between ourselves, in the light of present truth, into what you are and what the eternal life of the saints would be like, for Eye has not seen nor ear heard nor human heart conceived it. And yet, with the mouth of our hearts wide open we panted thirstily for the celestial streams of your fountain, the fount of life which is with you....

"This was the substance of our talk, though not the exact words. Yet you know, O Lord, how on that very day, amid this talk of ours that seemed to make the world with all its charms grow cheap, she said, 'For my part, my son, I no longer find pleasure in anything that this life holds. What I am doing here still, or why I am still here, I do not know, for worldly hope has withered away for me. One thing only there was for which I desired to linger in this life: to see you a Catholic Christian before I died. And my God has granted this to me more lavishly than I could have hoped, letting me see even you spurning earthly happiness to be his servant. What am I still doing here?'

"What I replied I cannot clearly remember, because just about that time – five days later, or not much more – she took to her bed with fever. One day during her illness she lapsed into unconsciousness and for a short time was unaware of her surroundings. We all came running, but she quickly returned to her senses, and, gazing at me and my brother as we stood there, she asked in puzzlement, 'Where was I?'

We were bewildered with grief, but she looked keenly at us and said, 'You are to bury your mother here.' I was silent, holding back my tears, but my brother said something about his hope that she would not die far from home but in her own country, for that would be a happier way. On hearing this she looked anxious and her eyes rebuked him for thinking so; then she turned her gaze from him to me and said, 'What silly talk!' Shortly afterwards, addressing us both, she said, 'Lay this body anywhere, and take no trouble over it. One thing only do I ask of you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be.'"

From the Confessions of St. Augustine, Book nine, Chapters 10-11 (excerpts)

Thursday, August 26, 2004


"With respect to the question of relationships, my general view is that freedom means freedom for everyone. People ought to be able to free -- ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to. The question that comes up with respect to the issue of marriage is what kind of official sanction, or approval is going to be granted by government, if you will, to particular relationships."
Vice President Richard B. Cheney, August 24, 2004

The Vice President here is primarily interested in what level and role government should or should not have in personal relationships. His remarks are problematic at best.

Taken in isolation, the first part of his remarks might seem to be opening the door to anything, including polygamy and who knows what.

Part of the problem is that freedom is often confused with license. There cannot be freedom from reality or from the truth -- not even a Vice President or a Supreme Court Justice can make it otherwise. To quote St. Thomas More: "suppose the Parliament would make a law that God should not be God. Would you then, Mr. Rich, say that God were not God?"

Want to be like Mother Teresa?

Founded by Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, the Corpus Christi Movement is an International Movement for diocesan priests that seeks to foster priestly holiness and the spiritual renewal of the Church.

The movement's website also has contact information for orders founded by Blessed Teresa of Calcutta:
Missionaries of Charity (active sisters)
Missionaries of Charity (contemplative sisters)
Missionaries of Charity Fathers
Missionaries of Charity (active brothers)

You are going to die

I am going to die too. It could be decades from now. It could be today (God have mercy on us).

As today’s Gospel reminds us, we know neither the day nor the hour our Lord will come: neither the end of the world nor the end of our own life. At any moment, Judgment could come.

But, like the wicked servant in the Gospel, we too often say (at least implicitly), “My master is long delayed” and go about our lives just like everyone else.

Sometimes people ask the question, “If you knew you had only 6 months to live, what would you do?” Very often, the answer involves the pursuit of self-centered desires (generally the opposite of a lifestyle intent on heaven). On the other hand, how great would be the peace of knowing that a 6-month notice would change nothing, because you are already doing what the Lord wants you to do this day and every day you have left.

Today’s gospel reminds us that we should be living every day as if it were our last.

God, give us the strength to do what is right and to be ready for you now. Cleanse us of our imperfections so that by your grace we may be irreproachable at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Do you believe

"that it is proper or improper for Catholic church leaders to deny communion to Catholic politicians whose views on abortion and other life issues go against church teachings?"

This was a question in a recent poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Most answered that it was improper, even Catholics who go to Mass every week.

The actual survey report and the original questionnaire are available on the Pew site.

The inclusion of the phrase "and other life issues" clouds the question somewhat. What does it mean? If the respondent asks "what do you mean by 'life issues?'", what would the polltaker say? Only abortion and euthanasia have been identified by the Holy Father and the bishops as life issues which can never be supported by Catholics in political life. Those who oppose the bishops on this matter will improperly include capital punishment, war, or even contraception.

Whether the polltaker offered an improper elaboration or not, it is reasonable to conclude that the results would have been different if the question had focused solely and properly on abortion (or even on abortion and euthanasia). It is reasonable to think that conservatives in particular would have demurred if they thought (however mistakenly) that bishops would deny communion based on politicians’ views on the death penalty or the war in Iraq.

That being said, one cannot deny that many Catholics who go to Mass every week are opposed to the denial of Communion to pro-choice politicians. Why?

Some oppose it because they too define themselves as Catholic and pro-choice, tragically sharing the politicians’ error, albeit in a less high profile way. Regular Mass attendance does not ensure orthodoxy or perfection for any of us.

Some oppose it because they mistakenly extend Jefferson’s “wall of separation” between Church and state to a greater extreme even than John F. Kennedy did. It is a dangerous, Machiavellian view that a person should act contrary to his or her personal beliefs for political purposes. That which happens within the political sphere cannot be exempt from moral evaluation.

Some oppose it because they feel uncomfortable with anything that smacks of judging the moral standing of a person who professes to be acting in “good conscience.” Perhaps they have confused the distinctions between objective and subjective morality (or have discarded the idea of objective morality altogether). A “good conscience” may be a deluded conscience, and if the person is not diligent in seeking truth, they will be held to account.

None of us are perfect. All of us need God’s grace. Each of us must continually seek to understand more and more of the Truth. Each of us must continually strive to make God’s will more effective in our lives.

To be sure, judgment ultimately belongs to God alone, yet it belongs to the teaching and pastoral functions of the Church to make clear what the truth is and to make clear when people have strayed from the truth. If a member of the flock has strayed from the truth, the duty of the shepherd is to call that person back. If that straying member is drawing others off course, the duty of the shepherd is to call publicly and as strongly as necessary. It may be an uncomfortable duty, but it is a duty and a solemn obligation.

God will judge these politicians. God will also judge the shepherds and all of us as well.

Son of man,
I have appointed you a watchman for the house of Israel.
When you hear a word from my mouth,
you shall warn them for me.

If I say to the wicked man, You shall surely die;
and you do not warn him
or speak out to dissuade him from his wicked conduct
so that he may live:
that wicked man shall die for his sin,
but I will hold you responsible for his death.
Ezekiel 3:17-18

Kyrie, eleison.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

We would have been different

In today’s Gospel, our Lord again denounces the scribes and the Pharisees, using the strongest language. There is no escaping, no evasion, and no self-justification – not for them and not for us.

They protested that they would not have helped murder the prophets if they had lived in those days, just as we might protest that we would not have acted like the Pharisees if we had lived in the time of Christ. Likewise, we might protest that we would not have acted like the Nazi guards in the concentration camps or like the traitors to the faith during the ancient Roman persecutions. We would have been one of the good guys.

Self-justifying thoughts, pious words, and grand gestures are easy – seriously living the faith of Christ is hard.

We dare not fool ourselves. To echo a line from a movie, the same weakness flows in our veins that flowed in the veins of the scribes, the Pharisees, the ancient mobs, the apostates, and the Nazi conscripts: the same fallen human nature.

We need God’s grace to be strong enough to be honest about our sinfulness and our need to be cleansed by that grace of all the hypocrisy, evildoing, filth and death within us. We need God’s grace to be strong enough to stand up for our faith, to stand against the world, to stand against today’s culture, to stand against popular opinion, and even to stand against the ways of the people we live and work with everyday.

It is easy to imagine ourselves as being the good guys in times gone by. It is much less easy – but it is necessary – for us to be heroes for the faith right here and right now.

Lord Jesus, be merciful to me, a sinner, and give me the grace to be different, to be true to You.

A reminder about rights

Above all,
the common outcry,
which is justly made on behalf of human rights
-for example, the right to health, to home,
to work, to family, to culture-
is false and illusory
if the right to life,
the most basic and fundamental right
and the condition for all other personal rights,
is not defended
with maximum determination.

Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici (December 30, 1988), 38 (excerpt)

(a tip of the hat to Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life)

Resistance is futile

Joseph's family was wealthy, so they had no problem giving him the finest university education he could want (and he could pick his own majors). Once he was finished with school, however, his father had plans for him, intending that Joseph carry on the family line.

Then Joseph got sick - and nearly died. After he recovered, he knew he had to follow his own way. He became a priest.

He proved to be an excellent priest, working in a parish and in various positions in the Diocese: reviving zeal among laity and clergy alike. After several years, he realized that he had to go further. He gave away his fortune and went to Rome where he ministered to the noblest and to the lowest members of society.

When he tried to enroll poor outcast children in school, he was met with stiff resistance from many quarters. So, he started his own school and his own order to teach the poor children.

His work continued to meet with external resistance. Some were afraid that educating the poor would cause unrest. Some religious orders were jealous. Joseph's friendship with a controversial scientist was also troubling to some Church leaders.

Later, when Joseph was a very old man, members of the order he himself had founded turned against him. He would be vindicated, but the dissension took its toll. The order was dissolved two years before Joseph died, at very ripe age of 91 on this very day in 1648.

The next year, Joseph's order was resurrected and continues even now. St. Joseph Calasanz was canonized in the following century.

The bottom line

He inherited the family business when he was eleven. His mother ran things until he was old enough. When he finally came to be in charge, his record of success was mixed. He was fixated on grand foreign ventures, but both attempts ended in disaster.

Even so, he was widely respected and loved. That he was a man of prayer and deep spirituality, no one doubted. He built hospitals and homes for the poor. He would feed at least hundred hungry people everyday. He washed the feet of the dirtiest men, women, and children – even those with terrible diseases. He helped establish one of the most venerable institutions of higher learning in the world and built one of the most beautiful chapels of all time.

Louis, the ninth king of France by that name, died of disease on this very day in 1270 at the age of 55, in North Africa during his second crusade. Within 30 years, he was canonized: Saint Louis.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Same Church, Different Pew

The judge in the Terri Schiavo case is being opposed for re-election -- by a member of his own Baptist congregation, as reported by a Florida Baptist newspaper.

(A tip of the hat to James Taranto of Opinion Journal).

The Skeptic

Of the 12 Apostles, Thomas is known for his doubting. In today’s Gospel, in our first glimpse of the Apostle Bartholomew we see skepticism.

Skepticism can be a valuable trait in a world full of con artists and exaggerators of all types. Healthy skepticism can save one from a variety of dangers. In late 20th century politics, healthy skepticism was summed up in the expression “Trust but verify.”

In the spiritual life, some people may think that there is no such thing as healthy skepticism. Aren’t we supposed to be always trusting?

Trusting in God, yes. But it is not always easy to tell what is truly of God and what is not. That is why the New Testament often speaks of “discernment of spirits.” Not every spirit is of God. We must practice a healthy skepticism.

What distinguishes healthy from unhealthy skepticism? Healthy skepticism is being proportionately diligent in discerning the truth of something before giving assent to it or taking action based on it. Skepticism can be unhealthy if it is disproportionate: blocking or delaying inordinately decisions and actions that should be accomplished. Skepticism becomes deadly as it becomes absolute: the incurable skeptic never trusts anything, not even God’s gift of salvation.

The Apostle in today’s Gospel moves from skepticism to belief instantaneously (almost comically so), but this sudden profession of faith in Christ (as our Lord Himself says of Peter’s profession) results from a special blessing from God.

We must be careful; we should be a bit skeptical; we must pray for the gift of discernment; and then we must trust and step forward in the way of the Lord.

No more duplicity

Our Lord calls Nathanael (a.k.a. Bartholomew) "A true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him." Scholars point out that Jacob was the first to bear the name 'Israel' (Genesis 32:29), but Jacob at one point had been duplicitous (Genesis 27:35-36).

From the footnotes of the New American Bible with a doff of the biretta to Father Cornelius O'Brien.

What Should You Do

If You Want to Be A Priest?

  1. PRAY - and ask the Lord to show you His will;
  2. LISTEN TO GOD - and if God is calling you, have the courage to respond;
  3. RECITE THE ROSARY daily, asking the intercession of Mary the Mother of Christ and the Mother of priests;
  4. PRAY A HOLY HOUR before the Blessed Sacrament regularly;
  5. ATTEND MASS daily if possible and receive the Holy Eucharist;
  6. GO TO CONFESSION on a consistent basis;
  7. READ and MEDITATE on the WORD of GOD;
  8. TALK TO A PRIEST you find approachable;
  11. TALK TO SEMINARIANS when they come home for the holidays;
  12. BECOME INVOLVED in your parish.

From the Vocations Office of the Archdiocese of Atlanta

What would his father think?

It is hard to imagine what Tholmai would have thought of his son that day when his friend found him taking a break in the shade. The friend was babbling excitedly about something and Tholmai's son was skeptical, to say the least, but at his friend's insistence, he went along to see what all the fuss was about.

When they arrived at their destination, he saw a man (whom he had never seen before) talking about him. They were good things, but strange to hear from a complete stranger.

"How do you know me?"

"Before Phillip called you, I saw you under the fig tree."

He saw the light. "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel."

There was a smile. "You believe because I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than this."

Nathaniel, son of Tholmai (Bartholomaios), indeed saw greater things, including the death and resurrection of Christ, and would help spread tidings of these things to the world.

Today, we celebrate the Feast of St. Bartholomew, apostle.

Poll: Americans Prefer Embryo-Sparing Research

"Despite exaggerated recent claims about the benefits of embryonic stem cell research, Americans strongly prefer funding research that does not require destroying human embryos. They also strongly oppose human cloning for either reproductive or research purposes. These are the chief findings of survey questions commissioned by the Pro-Life Secretariat of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)."

Better off?

"The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has released a bulletin insert summarizing the bishops' teaching on the role of Catholics in the public arena.

"The new bulletin insert suggests that in an election year, 'We need a new kind of politics—focused on moral principles, not the polls; on the needs of the vulnerable, not the contributions of the powerful; and on the pursuit of the common good, not the demands of special interests.'

"It urges voters 'to see beyond party politics, to analyze campaign rhetoric critically, and to choose political leaders according to principle, not party affiliation or self-interest. As bishops, we do not wish to instruct persons on how they should vote by endorsing or opposing candidates. We hope that voters will examine candidates on the full range of issues and on their personal integrity, philosophy, and performance.'

"Affirming that in Catholic teaching abortion and euthanasia are 'pre-eminent threats to human life and dignity,' the insert also suggests that during this election year, 'politics should be about an old idea with new power—the common good. The question should not be, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" It should be, "How can ‘we' — all of us — especially the weak and vulnerable — be better off in the years ahead?"'"

Monday, August 23, 2004

"Lines must be drawn"

Amy Welborn has pointed out a recent column in Time by Charles Krauthammer, psychiatrist and pundit, in which he says this:

"When I was 22 and a first-year medical student, I suffered a spinal-cord injury. I have not walked in 32 years. I would be delighted to do so again. But not at any price. I think it is more important to bequeath to my son a world that retains a moral compass, a world that when unleashing the most powerful human discovery since Alamogordo — something as protean, elemental, powerful and potentially dangerous as the manipulation and re-formation of the human embryo — recognizes that lines must be drawn and fences erected."

Mr. Krauthammer does not draw the line exactly where the Church draws it, but he makes very important points.

"Honorable people will draw the line in different places because this is not an issue of reason vs. ignorance, as the Democrats have portrayed it, but of recognizing two important competing human values: the thirst for knowledge and cures on the one hand and, on the other, the respect for even embryonic human life and a well-grounded respect for the proven human capacity to misuse newly acquired powers, in this case, the power to manipulate, reshape, dissect and redesign the developing human embryo."

Have you striven lately?

Once again our Lord in today’s Gospel denounces the Scribes and the Pharisees and once again we may be letting ourselves off the hook.

Our Lord’s warning is not just to the Scribes and the Pharisees back then or even just to religious scholars or high-profile religious people today. To be sure, more is required of those who have studied more or who exalt themselves more, but none of us dare say that these warnings say nothing about us.

As we hear this Gospel (or any Gospel) we should always examine ourselves carefully and seriously so we might answer the call to greater perfection and love the Gospel contains.

Are we hypocrites? Do we do the same things we tell other people not to do? None of us are perfect, of course, but have we stopped striving to do better? Have we built around us a lockbox of rationalizations that keeps us from living out the truth and love of Christ more fully? Are we better at good excuses than good works and manifestations of faith? Do we encourage others to heroic holiness or do we subtly encourage them to be ordinary (and to rot with the rest of us)?

We must not be like the scribes and the Pharisees. We must be real. We must strive. We must help. We must be holy through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The "Latinitas Foundation"

As reported by Zenit, the Holy See's Web site introduces an academic institution which, inter alia, offers online a brief Italian-Latin dictionary of modern words.


From an Op-Ed in today’s Washington Post by two professors at a major research center:

"While we recognize and respect embryos as early forms of human life, we do not believe that embryos in a dish have the same moral status as children and adults."

If you look at the protocols for actual experiments, as fodder for medical experimentation, a single human embryo often has a lower moral status than a monkey. Perhaps even lower than a dog.

How exactly do they "respect" human embryos? Or is it just a nice-sounding word to provide PR cover?

If "early" forms of human life are fair game, how "late" a form do you have to be in order to be safe?

Gifts of beauty

From the moment she was born, everyone knew that Rosa had been given the gift of physical beauty. What they didn’t know was that she had also been given other gifts of beauty.

She began to show these gifts as a little girl: respectful to her parents, industrious around the house, kind to all, generous to the needy, and very devout in prayer.

As she grew up, however, she began to manifest a gift of beauty that was very, very hard to recognize: the gift of being united to the sufferings of Christ in a very real way and to a very profound degree. Her family, her friends, and even the local Church authorities were very concerned about what she was doing. Before she was allowed to receive the Dominican habit, many worried about her health, her sanity, and what would come from all this.

What came from it was charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity. When she finally entered into paradise, many miracles took place.

Less than sixty years after her death, St. Rose of Lima was canonized, in 1671 – the first native born American saint.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Universal and Restricted

Today’s readings deal with a very interesting tension within our faith. On the one hand, the grace of God is universal, for God wants all people to be saved. On the other hand, the way of salvation is narrow and not always easy.

We see this tension manifested in many ways, sometimes in people who lean strongly to one side or the other. Some emphasize the universalism of God’s grace: the extreme can be found in Unitarian churches that even have atheists as members (although there are Catholic parishes that seem allergic to anything that might be perceived as exclusionary). On the opposite extreme, some seem intent on purging from the Church anyone who is not perfect. Others try to avoid these two extremes and muddle in the middle.

So, which is it? Universal or restricted? Actually, it's both - and there are two ways in which we must live this out.

First, we must live this out within ourselves.

No matter who we are or where we come from or what we have done, God reaches out to us - his call is universal. We should never despair. We should always open ourselves to God's grace that comes to us through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Yet, opening to that grace means letting it make a difference in our lives. Too often we don't let God make a difference in our lives, we refuse to change or grow, we stubbornly cling to our personal status quo. We dare not restrict God or close ourselves to His grace: we must strive to be ever more faithful to God in our life..

Second, we must live this out with one another.

No matter who people are or where they come from or what they have done, we are called to reach out to them and in some way to be channels of God's grace. Christ commands us to preach the Gospel to every creature. We must do everything we can so that everyone may come to Christ.

Yet it must be the true Gospel and the true Christ. We do no one any favors by misleading anyone about what is true and what is not. The words and actions of a believer should be restricted to those that are consistent with the truth of Christ. Prudence may call for a particular person to be brought to the fullness of the truth step-by-step or for a particular person to be given a little time and space to grow, but we dare not say or do anything that would lead a person to believe that the truth is not the truth.

The call to salvation is universal and we must be universal as instruments of that call. The response to that call, however, must be real, it must grow to be evermore perfectly consistent with the truth of Christ. That may seem like a restriction to those heading toward nothingness, but believers see clearly that this is the road to salvation.

I am the Way and the Truth and the Life, says the Lord,
No one comes to the Father except through Me.

Amen, Lord Jesus!
Shepherd us all in the Truth that leads to eternal life.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Looking for more, young lady?

The Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco, "are empowered with an ardent prayer life, strong community life and simple lifestyle that overflows into a single ministry that takes many forms. You can find the Salesian Sisters among youth in schools, youth centers, summer camps, leadership retreats, catechetical centers, youth gatherings on a local and worldwide level and in retreat centers. Perhaps there is a place for you!"

Who's up?

Today’s Gospel offers us several points that are critically important for our life in the Church.

The first thing Christ does is to remind us of the importance of offices within the community of the faithful. Some among us are entrusted with certain functions within the body of believers and we should be respectful of these functions, even if the behavior of certain people entrusted with these functions (God forbid) is not respectable. To be sure, immoral behavior must be dealt with in an appropriate way, but God’s promises to his people ensure that his grace is at work even if individuals fail. The personal failures of Church leaders do not diminish the truth or the inner power of Church teaching.

Then Christ tells us not to call people “Rabbi,” “Teacher,” or “Father.” Taken together with the rest of Scripture, the point here is that ultimately it is God who is our leader, our teacher, and our father. Earthly fathers beget only by the grace of God – parents are co-creators with God. Earthly teachers of faith are only instruments: it is the Holy Spirit who teaches us. Earthly leaders may derive "their just powers from the consent of the governed," but the ultimate source of authority and inalienable rights is God. We may use titles of respect for different people as appropriate, but must never forget that none of these people are anything more than instruments in the hand of God.

Our Lord also speaks of those who exalt themselves, meaning most particularly those who exalt themselves within the community of the faithful. It is easy here to point the finger at the clergy in this regard, but none of us are exempt from this danger. We may take just a little too much pleasure in being recognized as devout people. We may receive just a little too much satisfaction in having our good deeds recognized and appreciated by others. We may be just a little too confident that we are the virtuous ones who can do a much better job than whoever is in power right now.

Whoever exalts himself will be humbled.

Finally, our Lord gives guidance to those who undertake the responsibilities necessary for the good of the people. Humble service must be the watchword of anyone who works in the Church. One of the greatest Popes of all time, Gregory the Great, used this Gospel passage to create his own job description, to always remind himself what he was doing, as he called himself "the servant of the servants of God."

Humility should not be confused with false modesty. Humility must be real. Nor should humility be confused with weakness or hesitancy regarding the truth or the power of God. We must be humble about ourselves, but strong in GodI am not worthy, but Jesus is Lord and his word is true.

The greatest among you
must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself
will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself

will be exalted.

An energetic pastor

Joseph Sarto’s father was a postman but he wanted to be a priest. From his very first assignment he was a tireless worker, tackling multiple responsibilities at once. He kept up his own studies, while providing night school for adults in the area. Many towns in the region asked him to preach in their parishes. He would later be heavily involved in the seminary, energetically promoting study of St. Thomas Aquinas and of Gregorian Chant.

When he was 54 he was appointed bishop of a troubled diocese. Again, his energy, vision, and devotion proved very successful. Within ten years he was promoted to head an archdiocese and was named a Cardinal. Ten years after that, against his wishes, he was elected Pope.

In the eleven years of his pontificate, he initiated a complete revision of canon law as well as the Liturgy. He worked to navigate the Church through a very dangerous political environment as well as philosophical challenges to Church teaching. He encouraged early and frequent reception of the Eucharist. A strong Pope, he was personally humble, austere, and devoted to pastoral work: especially preaching and hearing confessions.

He was greatly troubled by the political instability in the world and a growing militarization. His fears would be brutally confirmed. Two months after a high-profile assassination, a ferocious war broke out.

Within days, the man born as Giuseppe Sarto but forever known as Pius X, died of grief, on August 20, 1914. He was canonized forty years later by Pius XII.

Friday, August 20, 2004

"A Bishop Explains" more fully

Here is the full text of a homily (quoted earlier) by one of the bishops who recently said that pro-abortion politicians should not be admitted to Holy Communion.

Practical Problems with Embryonic Stem Cells

"While some researchers still claim that embryonic stem cells (ESCs) offer the best hope for treating many debilitating diseases, there is now a great deal of evidence contrary to that theory. Use of stem cells obtained by destroying human embryos is not only unethical but presents many practical obstacles as well."

Also, "in an effort to provide more information on the Catholic Church's position on stem cell research and human cloning, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is publishing a one-page flyer in a clear, easy-to-read question and answer format.The flyer is entitled 'Stem Cell Research and Human Cloning: Questions and Answers,' and is intended for distribution in parishes and Catholic organizations across the country.'

Vicar of Christ

"The pope, in his weakness, is living more than ever the role assigned to him of being the Vicar of Christ on earth, participating in the suffering of our Redeemer.

"Many times we have the idea that the head of the church is like a super-manager of a great international company, a man of action who makes decisions and is judged on the basis of his effectiveness. But for believers the most effective action, the mystery of salvation, happens when Christ is on the cross and can't do or decide anything other than to accept the will of the Father."

Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger, Archbishop of Paris
Quoted by John L. Allen, Jr., National Catholic Reporter 8/20/2004

Our hope is lost

We are dried up all the way to the bone. We are cut off.

These are expressions of depression and despair from today’s first reading. These were the feelings of people in ancient Israel.

Sometimes we can feel that way too. We can feel like the prophet Ezekiel: alone in a great empty place that is devoid of life, with only dry and scattered bones around us.

There is a voice, “Can these bones come to life?” Is there a way out? A way back to life? Ezekiel himself cannot see an answer, but he trusts in the Lord, “Lord God, you alone know that.”

Hear the word of the Lord.

As we hear this reading, we may be reminded of the famous Spiritual based on it, which sings of the dry bones connecting together. But we should take more away from this reading than just a catchy tune.

Hear the word of the Lord.

Even when we feel lifeless and alone, God is there with us – all we have to do is listen, really listen for his voice: a voice that brings life.

Hear the word of the Lord.

Perhaps Ezekiel felt a little funny talking to bones, but he spoke aloud the message that God had given him and it had an effect. So too we are commanded to speak the word of the Lord aloud, even when we see no one to hear it or we think it will have no effect. The word of God always accomplishes the purpose for which God sends it forth and we are the ones through whom it is to be sent.

Hear the word of the Lord.

We should not be afraid of speaking the word of the Lord to others. Nor should we be afraid of speaking the word of the Lord aloud when we are alone. Especially if we feel totally alone in a very lifeless place, reading the word of God aloud can do wonderful things, if we let it.

O my people!
I will put my spirit in you
that you may live,
and I will settle you upon your land;
thus you shall know that I am the LORD.
I have promised,
and I will do it,
says the LORD.

Hear the word of the Lord.

All he really wanted to do was pray

His family was prominent and he received the finest education, but he did not want the life society offered him. What interested him was a life of virtue and prayer and he spoke passionately of this with his family and friends.

A new and very different monastery had opened several miles from his home. It focused on absolute simplicity and prayer. This was the place he was looking for. His enthusiasm was so great that when he entered the monastery in his early twenties, four of his five brothers came with him as well as more than two dozen of his friends. Now he could devote himself totally to prayer.

However, it was clear that his vocation to prayer was combined with extraordinary charisms of leadership. Three years later, he was sent to establish a new monastery in a place known as the Valley of Bitterness (which he renamed Clear Valley). The reputation of the monastery spread quickly and many flocked to join, even his widowed father. He had to open still more monasteries.

His reputation for holiness, wisdom and leadership grew so much that the wider Church many times would turn to him to help solve difficult challenges. He was summoned to a meeting of the nation’s bishops to help sort out serious problems that had arisen in some dioceses. He was called to combat heresies and rally political support in defense of the Church and of Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land. He was even asked to decide who was the rightful Pope, after two groups of Cardinals elected two different men on the same day. He also wrote important spiritual books.

Bernard of Clairvaux, pioneer of the Cistercian order, died in his 63rd year in 1153. His reputation did not diminish in death. He was canonized twenty years later. Two centuries later, Dante depicted him as his guide through the highest heavens in the Divina Commedia. In the 19th century he was declared a doctor of the Church. Cistercian monasteries around the world today look to him as one of the founders.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

The Catholic League

works to safeguard both the religious freedom rights and the free speech rights of orthodox Catholics "whenever and wherever they are threatened."

Répondez s’il vous plaît

The parable in today’s Gospel has many facets. Many of them may strike the hearer as odd: the rudeness of the original invitees, the subsequent invitation of people off the street to a royal wedding feast, and what happens to the guest who had not changed into a wedding garment.

The king’s instructions to invite people off the street obviously represent how God reaches out to everyone.

How the people respond to that invitation is something we should carefully consider.

How do we respond to the Lord? Have we turned away from God and ignored the promptings of the Spirit within us? Do we react angrily to those who bring forward the teaching of the Church to challenge our beliefs or the way we live our lives? Do we really think we don’t have to change?

The Lord is inviting us. We must respond and continue to change, to grow, and to pass on the invitation.

I will sprinkle clean water upon you

to cleanse you from all your impurities,
and from all your idols I will cleanse you.

I will give you a new heart
and place a new spirit within you,
taking from your bodies your stony hearts
and giving you natural hearts.

I will put my spirit within you
and make you live by my statutes,
careful to observe my decrees.
You shall live in the land I gave your fathers;
you shall be my people,
and I will be your God.
Ezekiel 36:25-28

A John

He was often seen in the company of prostitutes and he went by the name of “John.”

It wasn’t what one might think: he was a priest. Also, a notorious Cardinal vouched for him.

Seriously, few souls are more lost than those who find themselves in situations where they sell themselves for money or whatever. They are in a dreadful trap and society does not make it easy for them to get out of it.

Father John disregarded the cynicism of society and reached out to these lost sheep, establishing a place of refuge to which women of “ill-fame” could go and change their lives.

He did other good work as well, from educating the clergy to spreading devotion to the Sacred Heart. He also established new religious orders (for which he needed the political assistance of Cardinal Richelieu and others).

St. John Eudes died at the age of 78 in 1680.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Discerning a vocation?

The Diocese of Arlington has a nice site with links for men and women discerning vocations.

Wolves attack good shepherds

Zenit reports that Chinese authorities on August 6 arrested eight priests and two seminarians of the underground Catholic Church loyal to the Holy Father. Nine of those arrested belong to the Diocese of Baoding, whose Bishop had been arrested by the government in 1997 and who has not been seen publicly since last November, while hospitalized in a Baoding hospital. The Auxiliary Bishop vanished after his arrest by the government in 1996.


Today’s first reading, a prophecy of Ezekiel against the shepherds of Israel, is not very comforting for priests, pastors, and other ministers to hear.

Many of us may be able to think quickly of someone who seems to fit the bill of the Lord’s wrath: people who should have been shepherding God’s people but are instead gratifying themselves.

How can such people read this Scripture and not be ashamed?

Well, one way is to think that this Scripture is really talking about someone else: that notorious pastor over there, that bishop, that cardinal, those Sadducees, etc.

Those of us who are laypeople can fall into the same trap, thinking that the wrath of God is reserved only to ordained ministers who fail.

Each of us, ordained or lay, in different ways share the responsibility of shepherds. Each of us in our own ways are called to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strayed, and seek the lost. To be sure, those of us who are ordained have a heavier responsibility (to whom much is given, much is required), but lack of ordination or ecclesial authority will excuse none of us from doing what we can.

Each of us, lay or ordained, should re-read this passage carefully, ask ourselves some serious questions, and answer them honestly.

Am I just pasturing myself? Is my experience of Church just a “feel-good” experience? Do I get too much pleasure from feelings of moral superiority?

What can I do to spread the Gospel? What can I do to build up the people of God? What can I do to strengthen the weak, care for the injured, and bring back the lost?

We should stop just pasturing ourselves. We may not have the same roles within the Church, but in our own ways each of us must be shepherds.

Prophesy against the shepherds of Israel

son of man, in these words prophesy to them
(to the shepherds):

Thus says the Lord GOD:
Woe to the shepherds of Israel
who have been pasturing themselves!

Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep?
You have fed off their milk, worn their wool,
and slaughtered the fatlings,
but the sheep you have not pastured.
You did not strengthen the weak
nor heal the sick nor bind up the injured.
You did not bring back the strayed nor seek the lost,
but you lorded it over them harshly and brutally.
So they were scattered for lack of a shepherd,
and became food for all the wild beasts.
My sheep were scattered
and wandered over all the mountains and high hills;
my sheep were scattered over the whole earth,
with no one to look after them or to search for them.

Therefore, shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:
As I live, says the Lord GOD,
because my sheep have been given over to pillage,
and because my sheep have become food for every wild beast,
for lack of a shepherd;
because my shepherds did not look after my sheep,
but pastured themselves and did not pasture my sheep;
because of this, shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:

Thus says the Lord GOD:
I swear I am coming against these shepherds.
I will claim my sheep from them
and put a stop to their shepherding my sheep
so that they may no longer pasture themselves.
I will save my sheep,
that they may no longer be food for their mouths.

For thus says the Lord GOD:
I myself will look after and tend my sheep.

Ezekiel 34:2-11

A very special plain Jane

Jane got married when she was twenty. He was a good man and they were very happy together. They both wanted kids and they wasted no time: she had six before the time of their tenth wedding anniversary.

But it would not be a happy anniversary. Jane’s husband was killed the year before in a hunting accident.

A few years later, she attended a Lenten mission that moved her tremendously. The visiting bishop who gave the mission agreed to be her spiritual director. Several years later she and three other women decided to start a religious community of their own. The primary purpose of the community was gentle prayer, while remaining mindful of the poor. So many more women became interested, Jane had to open more monasteries for her community. After three decades, there would be 80.

St. Jane Frances de Chantal died at the age of 69 in 1641 and was buried near her longtime spiritual director St. Francis de Sales. The order she founded, the Sisters of the Visitation, would continue to flourish and other great saints would come from their number.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Dappled Things

is a blog by Father Jim Tucker of the Diocese of Arlington.

We should be especially thankful for this lovely and thoughtful blog. Too few priests reach their ministerial arms into the blogosphere.

The title of his blog comes from the famous poem "Pied Beauty" by the 19th century Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins.

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

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The greatest glory in the world

Many people today decry the cult of celebrity so prevalent today. The fawning and the adulation sometimes border on worship.

It isn't new. In ancient Greece, Olympic champions were actually considered divine and in at least one case immune from prosecution (one champion literally got away with murder). Even in ancient Israel, people deferred to the rich and the powerful and considered them blessed by God.

But, the real truth is that such glory is not only fleeting, it can also be insidiously deadly, both for those who enjoy it and for those who envy it.

Today’s first reading tells of a prince who has generated great wealth for himself, much like those who enjoy financial success in our own day.

By your wisdom and your intelligence you have made riches for yourself; You have put gold and silver into your treasuries. By your great wisdom applied to your trading you have heaped up your riches; your heart has grown haughty from your riches.

But the prince has grown arrogant, ignoring God and looking only to his own wealth and abilities for happiness and security. Yet he will die, and his glory and riches will avail him nothing.

So too our Lord warns that the rich (whom conventional wisdom considers blessed by God) will have an extremely hard time getting into the kingdom of God. The first shall be last.

When death comes, the greatest glory in the world will fade into nothingness.

Sooner or later (and it could be very, very soon), you and I are going to die. Perhaps we are not rich or famous, but perhaps we do derive our feelings of happiness and security from material things or from what other people think of us. If that is what we rely on, then when death strips us of all these things, we will be so empty and alone that even the memory of them will be painful – intensely painful.

The only thing that we can take with us in death is our relationship with God. If we use or experience the things of this world in ways that distract from that relationship, we will find ourselves in a very bad position when the final journey comes. If however we use the things of this world according to His will, for the good of those in need and for His glory, we can help build up our relationship with God through the infinite merits of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Do not be distracted. Stay focused on the Lord.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Embryonic sales hype

Catholic News Service has the following quotes from stem-cell expert Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk:

"The stress on the destruction of embryos as a way to bring about medical cures and miracles is vastly oversold....

"The true cures are not coming from destroying embryos. The true cures are coming from adult and umbilical cord stem cells. And people need to realize that.

"That's the exciting science that works today, and we don't have to wait 10 years or 20 years and invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a project that may fizzle. We have cures that work today."

Father Pacholczyk holds a doctorate in neuroscience from Yale and has completed advanced studies in Rome in theology and bioethics.

Against the Grain

is the title of an interesting blog, self-described as "occasional notes by the guy who maintains the '(Cardinal) Ratzinger Fan Club'" [unofficial].

Cardinal Ratzinger, of course, is often polemicized as the Grand Inquisitor or Guard Dog of Orthodoxy, but is in point of fact a devout servant of the People of God who should be recognized (in the words of the above-mentioned blogger) "both as brilliant Catholic theologian but also as a man whose faith, honesty, integrity, and unswerving devotion to the Truth is readily apparent."

The devotion of Against the Grain to a substantive exploration and exposition of the Truth is itself readily apparent and most admirable.

By a sudden blow

I am taking away from you the delight of your eyes...

Research says that, on average, no event in a person’s life has a more severe emotional impact than the death of a spouse. This is the pain suffered by the prophet Ezekiel in today’s first reading. This pain - and pain very much like it - is also being suffered by many people today: survivors of those killed by Hurricane Charley, survivors of those being massacred in Sudan, or survivors of any person stricken by sudden death.

When terrible things like this happen, the immediate question is “Why?” God really doesn’t give Ezekiel an answer. Sometimes we don’t get a satisfying answer either.

What God does tell Ezekiel is how to react to his wife’s passing: a reaction very different from the way people usually reacted to such circumstances. Other people noticed the difference and it became an occasion for Ezekiel to share with them the Lord’s message.

We do not need to imitate Ezekiel in the details of what he did, but we should follow in his spirit. Because we believe in the revelation of God, because we believe in Christ, because of His death and Resurrection, because we have the Holy Spirit, we see everything in life and in death differently. How we react to things in life (and most especially to death) must therefore be different as well.

We should not be afraid to let our faith influence both our actions and our reactions, even in the face of death. We should not be afraid to let our faith shine.

Son of chiefs

Vaik was the son of the chief. Their people had swept in from the east and conquered the land decades before. Now they embraced civilization: they accepted Christianity and aligned themselves with the aristocracy of neighboring lands.

But for Vaik, Christianity was more than part of the window-dressing of civilization. He cared for the poor, provided hospices for pilgrims, established monasteries, and cultivated piety in his personal and family life.

As the end of his life drew near, sickness and violent political intrigue afflicted him, but nothing could overwhelm his devotion to Christ and to his people, nor would Vaik’s people ever forget his shining example: a holy man who established a nation.

Born with the name of Vaik as son of a chief, baptized with the name of Christ’s first martyr and later crowned as first King of Hungary, St. Stephen died on August 15, 1038.

Sunday, August 15, 2004


As we go through our lives, it is very easy for us to get so wrapped up in day-today things that we forget that there is more than this. There is more than just our lives here on earth. We have a destiny in eternity, where Christ has won for us a place in the bosom of our heavenly Father.

The victory of Christ over sin and death was not for Him alone. It is for all of us mere mortals who believe in Him and are true to Him.

As a demonstration of this, we celebrate today the moment when the first mere mortal entered into the glory of the resurrected Christ. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the first fruits of Christ’s resurrection. It is a reminder that there really is more than this life – there really is a resurrection.

If the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised,
and if Christ has not been raised,
your faith is vain; you are still in your sins.
Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.
If for this life only we have hoped in Christ,
we are the most pitiable people of all.

But now Christ has been raised from the dead,
the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

For since death came through a human being,
the resurrection of the dead

came also through a human being.
For just as in Adam all die,

so too in Christ shall all be brought to life,

but each one in proper order:
the first fruits;
then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ.

There is more than this. There is a resurrection. Mary is there and we will be there too if we are faithful and true to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

A good assumption

"All these proofs and considerations of the holy Fathers and the theologians are based upon the Sacred Writings as their ultimate foundation. These set the loving Mother of God as it were before our very eyes as most intimately joined to her divine Son and as always sharing his lot. Consequently it seems impossible to think of her, the one who conceived Christ, brought him forth, nursed him with her milk, held him in her arms, and clasped him to her breast, as being apart from him in body, even though not in soul, after this earthly life. Since our Redeemer is the Son of Mary, he could not do otherwise, as the perfect observer of God's law, than to honor, not only his eternal Father, but also his most beloved Mother. And, since it was within his power to grant her this great honor, to preserve her from the corruption of the tomb, we must believe that he really acted in this way."
. . . .
"For which reason, after we have poured forth prayers of supplication again and again to God, and have invoked the light of the Spirit of Truth, for the glory of Almighty God who has lavished his special affection upon the Virgin Mary, for the honor of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages and the Victor over sin and death, for the increase of the glory of that same august Mother, and for the joy and exultation of the entire Church; by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma:

that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory."

Pius XII, Apostolic Constitution MUNIFICENTISSIMUS DEUS,38 & 44, November 1, 1950

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Which way?

As people read the Old Testament and as they experience the troubles that often come in life, they may come to think of God as vengeful and even capricious. In today’s first reading from the prophet Ezekiel, God presents us with a better perspective.

Because he practiced all these abominations,
he shall surely die;
his death shall be his own fault.

Therefore I will judge you, house of Israel,
each one according to his ways, says the Lord GOD.

Turn and be converted from all your crimes,
that they may be no cause of guilt for you.
Cast away from you all the crimes you have committed,
and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.

Why should you die, O house of Israel?
For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,
says the Lord GOD.
Return and live!

God wants our good. He loves us. Even when we have directed ourselves toward evil, God reaches out to us, that by His grace we may turn away from the dead end of evil and turn back to Him and the eternal life of our heavenly Father.

Why head toward evil and death?

Return to God and live!

Loves everyone

Raymond joined the Franciscans in his mid-teens. He was excited about using 20th century technology to spread the Gospel and the love of God to everyone. He enjoyed great success, even traveling around the world.

His work eventually drew the displeasure of the authorities and he was arrested, but even incarcerated, he was focused on helping those around him. When some prisoners were chosen at random for punishment, Raymond volunteered to take the place of a man who had a family. Raymond and the others were locked up and starved. Raymond ministered to the others as they suffered and died.

“For Jesus Christ,” Raymond at one point said, “I am prepared to suffer still more.”

Raymond Kolbe, who had taken as his religious name Maximilian Maria Kolbe, was put to death by lethal injection August 14, 1941 at Auschwitz. 41 years later, the man he had saved was present at his canonization.

A Bishop Explains

"The pro-abortion Catholic lawmakers are creating scandal in the Church by saying they are practicing Catholics and receiving Holy Communion, while at the same time promoting abortion legislation -- promoting what is gravely evil. Since they have chosen, on a very, very grave matter, to separate themselves from the communion of the faith of their Church, they cannot come to Holy Communion until they have had a change of heart.

"The focus of the statement this week was admittedly very narrow indeed -- only pro-abortion Catholic lawmakers.

"I am grateful for people's calls and letters this past week. Some people have also reminded me not to forget the other important moral issues -- euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, death penalty, preemptive war, health care. I assure you, the Church will continue to speak on all these moral issues, while realizing that not all moral issues have the same moral weight.

"Procured abortion is always intrinsically evil and can never be justified. It is a direct attack on an innocent human life. The pope wrote in the encyclical on the Gospel of Life in 1995 that today many people have lost a sense of how grave abortion is. Because it is accepted in the popular mind, in behavior, and in the law, people are losing the ability to distinguish between good and evil, even on so fundamental an issue as the right to life of the unborn.

"The destruction of human embryos for stem-cell research is also intrinsically evil, as is euthanasia, and can never be justified because all these directly target and destroy innocent human life. The Catechism reminds us: The death penalty may be justified in very limited instances: "in cases of absolute necessity ... when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society ... (and today) such cases are very rare, if not practically nonexistent (Gospel of Life, 56)." War also may be justified under certain defined conditions (Catechism, 2309).

"But procured abortion may never be justified. Euthanasia may never be justified. Destruction of human embryos for stem-cell research may never be justified.

"There is a lot of work for the church to do on many fronts."

Excerpts of a homily by Bishop Peter Jugis of Charlotte
August 7, 2004

Friday, August 13, 2004

In-vitro Fertilization Reminder

The National Catholic Register reports that "Catholic teaching has called in-vitro fertilization techniques immoral for decades. But most Catholics still haven’t heard the news."

But from the beginning it was not so

The word of God is very often a word that challenges, and today’s readings are challenging in more way than one.

Both the first reading and the Gospel are complicated: packing many things together. Also, the imagery of the first reading is more vivid and earthy than we may be used to.

In the Gospel, our Lord speaks of what we know as the special grace of celibacy – speaking of those who “have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. (Whoever can accept this ought to accept it).”

And then, there is our Lord's teaching on divorce: a very challenging teaching in today’s world, especially for people who have experienced the breakup of a marriage.

“But from the beginning it was not so.”

There is a great temptation for us to tell people who have been divorced that it is okay, that people make mistakes, and that God loves them.

People certainly make mistakes, God certainly loves us, and we certainly should comfort those who suffer – including those who experience divorce.

“But from the beginning it was not so.”

As those who have been married and divorced can tell you, divorce is not “okay.” Even if their divorce was allegedly "amicable," if their marriage ever meant something to them, it does not feel “okay” to have lost it (and if the marriage never meant anything to them, that is not “okay” either).

“But from the beginning it was not so.”

As we strive to help people get their lives together, none of us – neither we nor they – should let go of our ideals, none of us should let go of the way things were meant to be. The union of man and woman in marriage is too wonderful a thing: a lifelong bond of love and grace, the foundation of society, and a symbol of the loving relationship between God and His people (which is what today’s first reading is all about).

Sometimes it does feel easier to diminish our ideals in the name of “compassion” but that hurts all of us in the long run – especially those for whom life has been less than ideal. Compassion is not real if it denies what is true and good.

Life in this world is not perfect, “but from the beginning it was not so” and all of us – married, divorced, celibate, single, or widowed – should strive, with God’s help, to work toward making things the way they were meant to be.

Prayer against storms

all the elements of nature obey your command.

Calm the storms and hurricanes that threaten us
and turn our fear of your power
into praise of your goodness.

Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.

Two strong men

Not only was he a heretic: he declared the Pope to be his enemy. He set himself up as the head of a rival church.

Many years later, he was arrested. As he wandered through the place he was incarcerated, he was startled to find the Pope there with him.

Pontian, the only pope of that name, had been the latest of those against whom Hippolytus had rebelled. He had actually resigned from the papacy after he had been arrested by the Emperor in 235 so that the Church may have a free shepherd, but now he saw an opportunity to bring a lost sheep back into the fold.

In that terrible place, Pontian reconciled Hippolytus to the Church and in that terrible place they both died, martyrs for the one true faith of Christ.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

New priests

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has posted a web page with short biographies of some of the men who were ordained to the priesthood in the United States this year.

It is SO frustrating

to try to get people to understand the truth. It sometimes feels very much like what the Lord is saying at the beginning of today’s first reading:

Son of man, you live in the midst of a rebellious house;
they have eyes to see but do not see,
and ears to hear but do not hear,
for they are a rebellious house.

And yet, even after having said that, the Lord still sends the prophet Ezekiel to deliver his message to the people, as rebellious as they are. The God of all eternity knows about perseverance in mercy.

We too are to persevere in mercy, as we are told very strongly in today’s Gospel.

"Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive him?
As many as seven times?"
Jesus answered,
"I say to you, not seven times
but seventy-seven times."

We must persevere in mercy: no matter how repetitious or useless it may feel, we must continually forgive and continually give witness to the truth.

Shuffling Off to Buffalo

The Holy Father is transferring the bishop of Nashville, the Most Reverend Edward U. Kmiec, to become the new bishop of Buffalo.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

It's their job

"They’re praying as you read this,
no matter what time you read it;
they’re praying for you because
it’s their job
to cast a night-and-day mantle of prayer over the world..."

They are the Poor Clare Sisters of Perpetual Adoration

They pray from their monasteries in Cleveland and Portsmouth, Ohio; Birmingham, Alabama, and other places throughout the world.

Is it possible that this is a better job than the one you have now?

Wipe them out!

Today’s first reading is profoundly disturbing prophecy of God’s wrath.

"Pass through the city (through Jerusalem)
and mark a cross on the foreheads
of those who moan and groan
over all the abominations that are practiced within it."

To the others I heard the Lord say:
"Pass through the city after him and strike!
Do not look on them with pity nor show any mercy!
Old men, youths and maidens, women and children
--wipe them out!
But do not touch any marked with the cross."

This prophecy disturbs us because it seems so at war with our image of God. Do not look on them with pity nor show any mercy? Old men, youths and maidens, women and children--wipe them out? How can this be from our loving and just God?

The simple fact is that it is the world that has no pity or mercy. Without God, the world can ultimately offer only death. If people do not look to God, when their world ends, all the world has to offer is nothingness, annihilation, being wiped out.

But God offers love and justice that extends beyond the world. Those who look to Him, who think of Him, and who walk in His way are not bound to the fate of this world, which is death.

We must do what we can to help the people of the world understand this and have hope.

If our hope is only in this world, even that hope will be wiped out. If our hope is truly in God, that hope will be fulfilled in eternal happiness, through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

She was rich and beautiful

and all the men wanted her. They approached her with their charming smiles and boastful dreams.

They bored her.

Instead, she was fascinated with the village idiot.

To be sure, where she lived was much larger than a village and he was technically not an idiot. He had been a fine young man from a good family, but his life had gone off track. He was virtually homeless and went about town talking loudly.

Strangely enough, other young men of the town had joined him. He said they were embracing the simplicity and the poverty of Christ.

She knew what that meant.

She and other young women needed to embrace the simplicity and poverty of Christ.

Around the age of eighteen, she withdrew from the world. Her father threatened to drag her back home, but he was soon realized that it was pointless.

Clare of Assisi, friend of St. Francis, led the community she founded for four decades until her death in 1253. She was canonized two years later. The Poor Clares continue their lives of simplicity and prayer throughout the world, from Bangladesh to Birmingham, Alabama.