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, November 30, 2004

Help them hear the Word

Today’s first reading should remind us of our obligation to spread the truth and love of Christ to those around us and to do what we can to promote the preaching of the Gospel in those places throughout the world that really need to hear it.

Reflections for the Days of Advent

Father Jeffery Keyes, C.PP.S., and other members of the greater Precious Blood community have posted online reflections for each day of this season of Advent.

Catholic Carnival VI

The Sixth Catholic Carnival - a weekly collection of posts submitted by different Catholic blogs - has been posted at the blog Happy Catholic.

Wanting more

Andrew did not have much free time. He and his brother ran a small business together and the work kept him pretty busy. Yet he felt the need for more.

He was a devout young man, whose interest in religion extended beyond the weekend, yet he felt the need for more. For one thing, there was a decided lack of good preaching in the area where he lived.

Then one day he heard preaching like he had never heard before, from a man whose holiness and fervor for God blazed like fire. Andrew went to listen to him every chance he had. Now Andrew felt that he was on track: he no longer felt the need for more.

Or did he?

The question stuck somewhere in the back of his brain, but he put it away and continued to drink in the marvelous preaching of God’s word.

One day they both happened to be standing outside with one or two others. Andrew couldn’t remember much about what they were doing, but suddenly the marvelous preacher, whom the whole country knew as John the Baptist, pointed and said:

Behold the Lamb of God!

Almost without thinking, Andrew and another of John’s disciples walked over to the man to whom John was pointing.

“What are you looking for?” the man asked.

Andrew didn’t know what to say, but he knew he wanted more.

“Teacher, where do you live?”

The teacher said, “Come and see.”

Andrew went and saw. He and his brother Simon eventually left their fishing business and followed Jesus of Nazareth, all the way to their own deaths on their own crosses.

St. Andrew, Apostle and Martyr of Jesus Christ, had it all.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Some advice to all

in the name of Jesus Christ…

The Dominican Sisters of St. Cecelia have compiled an interesting collection of quotations by Pope John Paul II to the youth of the world on the question of vocation.


An outsider teaches

Our Lord’s encounter with the Centurion, told in today’s Gospel (Matthew 8), is a very familiar one, especially for Catholics. The Centurion’s response to our Lord in the Latin Vulgate translation...

Domine, non sum dignus, ut intres sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur puer meus.

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant (boy) shall be healed.

...is found almost intact in the words by which the congregation prepares to receive our Lord in Holy Communion:

Domine, non sum dignus, ut intres sub tectum meum: sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur anima mea.

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.

(Trying to be more meaningful than rigidly literal, the current official English version of the Mass translates ut intres sub tectum meum as “to receive you” – utilizing the English word’s multiple senses: namely, to receive something or to receive someone as a guest.)

In this Year of the Eucharist, it is especially good to consider the Eucharistic aspects of such Scripture passages, as have so many Fathers and other saints of the Church throughout the millennia.

When our souls are in sin, we are paralyzed, like that servant boy: unable to free ourselves by our own power, needing God’s grace and most especially the graces that come in the Sacraments of Penance and Eucharist.

Moreover, we - and indeed the whole world - “suffer dreadfully” because of sin.

Then, when the Lord is asked for help, he says at once that he will come and bring healing. We may not always hear him clearly nor may we see that healing according to our own schedules, but we always have the unfailing assurance of his pledge: in his word and in the Eucharist (“futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur - the pledge of future glory given to us” in Aquinas’ immortal phrase).

Like the Centurion, we are keenly aware of our own unworthiness, yet we too have faith in the Lord’s power: a power that can overcome our unworthiness, that can heal us, that can make us whole, and that can enable us to receive him and to enter into Communion with God himself.

In this Communion, we are not perfect equals with God: we recognize and acknowledge that we are subject to his authority and we symbolize this by the reverence that we make as we approach Communion.

We are also reminded that this Communion must make a difference in our lives and on everything that is within our power to affect (everything that is subject to us).

Having entered into this Communion, when our Lord tells us to go, we go; when he says, “Come,” we come; and when he tells us to do something, we do it.

Communion with the Lord presupposes faith. It also builds our faith.

The one bread and one cup of the Lord brings together a truly great multitude from the east and the west.

It is not only Communion with God, but also Communion with all of the People of God (which extends in some form all the way back to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob).

Finally, as attested by St. Thomas Aquinas and so many others in the Church throughout the ages, the Eucharist is the foretaste of that great banquet in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Vatican II put it this way

“The Lord left behind a pledge of this hope and strength for life's journey in that sacrament of faith where natural elements refined by man are gloriously changed into His Body and Blood, providing a meal of brotherly solidarity and a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.” (Gaudium et Spes, 38)

The people of our Lord’s time took many things for granted. A Centurion – more than just an outsider, a pagan soldier in an army of oppression – helped our Lord to teach them about faith.

Likewise, we may take things for granted, even our Communion with the Lord, but through the story of the Centurion our Lord has much to teach us as well.

We must not take things for granted. We need to appreciate the great gifts of the Lord.

Domine, non sum dignus, ut intres sub tectum meum: sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur anima mea.

Sunday, November 28, 2004


those who do not follow
the counsel of the wicked,
Nor go the way of sinners,
nor sit in company with scoffers.

the law of the LORD is their joy;
God's law they study day and night.

They are like a tree
planted near streams of water,
that yields its fruit in season;
Its leaves never wither;
whatever they do prospers.

But not the wicked!
They are like chaff
driven by the wind.

Therefore the wicked will not survive judgment,
nor will sinners in the assembly of the just.

The LORD watches over the way of the just,
but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.

Psalm 1

The Lord Jesus is coming

Advent is the season in which we prepare for the Lord’s coming. Coming right before Christmas, it helps prepare us spiritually for that great celebration.

But the Church does not forget that there is another coming of Christ for which we must prepare, not just the commemoration of Christ’s first coming at Christmas, but the coming of Christ at the end of the world.

Indeed, the focus of the readings on this the first Sunday of Advent is not the image of a infant born in a stable, but rather the image of the Lord coming in glory to judge the world and set all things right.

Today’s Gospel passage from Matthew 24 most especially drives home the fact that God will indeed suddenly break into the course of everyday human events.

Two men will be out in the field;
one will be taken, and one will be left.
Two women will be grinding at the mill;
one will be taken, and one will be left.

Some Christians have taken this passage and others and have fashioned them into detailed narratives of exactly how the world will end. They debate among themselves the relative timing of apocalyptic events, paint fantastic pictures, and turn out book after book.

In all of this speculation and even novelization about the end of the world, however, one fears that the most fundamental points are getting lost:

  • We do not and will not know when it is going to happen.
  • We must be ready… now.

We’re not just talking about doomsday: we’re also talking about death.

Two men will be out in the field;
one will be taken, and one will be left.
Two women will be grinding at the mill;
one will be taken, and one will be left.

We must be prepared. It could happen at any time.

How do we prepare? St. Paul puts it this way in Romans 13:

Put on the Lord Jesus Christ,
and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.

Whether we’re talking about the end of the world or about the stopping of the heart, we must make spiritual preparations. When St. Paul says we are to “make no provision for the desires of the flesh” he is not just telling us to avoid decadence and bad behavior. He is telling us that our attention needs to be focused on Christ and on the things of the spirit.

Living according to the flesh doesn’t just mean decadence and excess, it also includes focusing on the things of this world as if they are what will bring us eternal happiness.

They won’t. What happens on earth stays on earth – and our life on earth is going to end.

If our hearts are on the things of this world, then our hearts will not be ready for life in the world to come, and then all we will have to look forward to is destruction and eternal oblivion.

May God have mercy on us all.

If, however, the focus of our lives is on Christ and our spiritual lives, then by his grace we will have life in the world to come.

It isn’t a matter of lip service. It isn’t enough to say, “Oh, yes, my heart is with Jesus,” and then go on with our lives and business as usual in this world. Everything we do should be in accord with a spiritual, Christ-like mindset.

Advent is a time of preparation. We need to take this opportunity to prepare, to examine our lives and to see where our hearts are: on the things of this world, or on the spiritual things that will carry us into the life of the world to come. We can take this opportunity to make a new start and to draw closer to the Lord through his grace while we’re in this world so that we will be ready when he comes.

Let’s get ready. The Lord Jesus is coming.


The Church begins its liturgical year with Advent, the season in which we prepare for Christ's coming.

For the world, it is already the "Christmas" season: a time of shopping, parties, and carols.

For the Church, Christmas begins on Christmas.

Until then, it is a time of prayerful preparation and joyful expectation, for Christ is coming.

Prayers for Advent

For the imprisoned...
for the victims of crime...
for their families...

...that God’s forgiveness and healing will touch their lives....

For those who minister in jails and prisons...

...that their ministry will be richly blessed
as they bring God’s message of compassion and reconciliation
to those they serve...

...we pray to the Lord.

From a Diocesan Office of Prison Ministry

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Priesthood Thanksgiving

Fr. Rob Johansen has a good Thanksgiving post on his blog Thrown Back that begins with a report on his celebration of the day this year and then...

"But it was yesterday morning at Mass that I realized what I had to be most thankful for. I was able to concelebrate Mass at the local parish. The priest, Fr. Boniface, was most gracious and welcoming. Fr. Boniface is 86 years old, and still going strong. He’s a little stooped, and he doesn’t move very fast, but according to everyone here, he’s just as active as the other parish priests.... In his own quiet way, he was inspiring to me. I realized that Fr. Boniface, and all the other priests like him who have been faithful to their vocations for decades, quietly doing the Lord’s work, are truly men to be thankful for."

God be thanked for good priests
and may God bless Father Boniface and Father Rob.

The End of Ordinary Time

In today’s Gospel, our Lord warned about “the anxieties of daily life” leading us to be unprepared to stand before him.

Daily life does indeed have its anxieties: it can also have its monotony.

It is truly Ordinary Time.

Some people say they wish that every day was Christmas.

However, Because of our earthly human psychology, if every day was Christmas, then Christmas would no longer be special: Christmas would be mundane and we would lose heart.

Ordinary Time is the basic fabric of our lives: it is the simple background against which our special celebrations and seasons of remembrance shine more brightly and resonate more deeply.

This afternoon, Ordinary Time ends.

This evening, something wonderful will begin.


In today’s Gospel, our Lord gives us comprehensive advice about how we should both live in the present and face the future.

Much of the advice is rather familiar to us, especially after so many of the readings in recent days have been telling us in one way or another to prepare for the end of the world, but there is also something special here.

Our Lord reminds us that the world will indeed end and that it will forcefully surprise the world. (When we read such passages, we also remember that death ends the world for individuals and that it can happen for any of us at any time.)

Lord, have mercy.

Thus our Lord tells us to be “vigilant at all times.” (We need to be ready and watchful, not only because at any moment the Lord could take us into the next world, but also because at any moment the Lord could present us with tasks to perform for him in this world.)

Our Lord also reminds us that there will be things taking place before the very end (often referred to as tribulation) and that prayer is the way to escape these troubles. Prayer is also necessary for us to prepare to stand before him at judgment.

Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, be merciful to me, a sinner.

Our Lord also says something very special in the beginning of this passage.

Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy
from carousing and drunkenness…

That seems fairly straightforward - alcohol and drugs numb our minds and cripple our hearts, as does a lifestyle of partying – but the verse adds to this mix the phrase “and the anxieties of daily life.” Thus one may read:

Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy
from… the anxieties of daily life.

Indeed, anxiety can be like alcoholism on several points: they can both be crippling, they can both impair our ability to think and to feel, they can both be covering over some unresolved question deep within ourselves, and they both prevent us from focusing on love of God and neighbor.

Even if “the anxieties of daily life” do not cripple us in all these ways, yet we can become so busy with all the details of daily life that we forget the big picture. The details of our daily life can even be filled with godly things, yet we can be so busy that our hearts become drowsy: we focus on action for God and lose focus on heartfelt love for God.

We must be vigilant. We must be ready. We must pray.

An end (and a beginning) could come at any time.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Where have all the bloggers gone?

Interesting fortnight in Catholic blogdom: Karen Marie is sick, God calls Gerard Serafin home, Amy Welborn has a baby, Father Ethan goes on vacation, a couple of other bloggers are traveling, and now Mark Shea is going on hiatus.

God bless them all.

Good thing the Lord has a deep bench.

8 steps for discernment

  • "Be Quiet in order to hear the Lord's voice calling. Take time to pray and meditate in silence about your vocation, especially in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
  • "Find a spiritual director - somebody you can be open with - who can help you to develop your relationship with God and to know yourself better.
  • "Ask a priest, brother or sister in your parish to put you in touch with a vocation director.
  • "Read up on religious and priestly life. Look at a good periodical on vocations and check out the ads.
  • "Write to the communities that interest you.
  • "Visit the ones you feel called to.
  • "Build a relationship with the one where you have a sense of coming home. Get involved in its summer or monthly programs. Don't just talk the talk - walk the walk with them as well.
  • Wait for the Lord. Discerning your vocation is a process. God's timing is always perfect - but seldom seems soon enough!

"Remember, if you ASK, SEEK, KNOCK, you may not find the vocation you thought you would, but by trying you'll have found out one of the most important things in life - self-knowledge."

from the Vocations website of
the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal

Have a nice, quiet weekend

Wedding preparation

Sometimes, wedding preparations go smoothly: just one happy experience after another.

Sometimes, wedding preparations are a chaotic, stressful nightmare: a perfect storm of an anxious bride-to-be, demanding relatives, befuddled clergy, caterers and other “professionals” who are incompetent, and a groom-to-be who is… oh, no! Where did he go?

No wedding preparations, however, could ever be as terrifying as the wedding preparations described in today’s first reading (from Revelation 21 & 22): an angry dragon unleashed, dead people coming out of the ocean, the annihilation of the Earth, and people you thought had been on the invitation list ending up in a huge pool of fire.

All these things and more lead up to the climatic event: the new Holy City, the People of God, coming down out of heaven like a bride walking down the aisle to wed her betrothed, who is Christ himself.

What enables an engaged couple to survive the challenges of wedding preparation is their love for each other. They may encounter some problems, but each of them looks at the other and says, “This is the person I want to spend the rest of my life with.”

So too we as Christians – married, single, or celibate – as members of the People of God, the Church, face many challenges and problems – some of them severe – but we need to understand and deal with these challenges as being part of our preparation to be with Christ, the bridegroom of the People of God.

What enables Christians to survive the challenges of this world is our love for Christ. We encounter problems, but each of us can look to Christ and say, “This is the person I want to spend eternity with.”

And so we continue and get ready for the wedding to end all weddings: when Christ joins us to himself.

Make us ready, Lord Jesus, and make it soon.

A despondent woman tried to kill herself

by jumping off a bridge into a South Carolina river several weeks ago, according to news reports. A game warden happened to be nearby, went into the water, and pulled her out: saving her life.

Last Wednesday afternoon, a traffic accident at that same bridge sent a pickup truck into the river, trapping the driver. A passer-by went into the water, pulled out the driver, and performed CPR until the paramedics arrived, saving the man’s life.

His rescuer turned out to be the same woman who had apparently tried to end her own life at that very spot weeks earlier.

Life is precious
and every one of us
always has an opportunity
to make a positive difference in the lives of others,
sometimes very quietly,
such as through intercessory prayer,
sometimes quite dramatically.

Pass it on.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

"There have been important gestures..."

"...photographs have been taken, and gifts have been exchanged. Now, there is need for assessment and also for a more spiritual ecumenism, namely, a grass-roots ecumenism.

"Now, peoples, priests and parishes and individuals must talk among themselves.

"It is necessary to become friends and not to speak as diplomats, but as brothers."

Archimandrite Ignatios Sotiriadis of the Greek Orthodox Church, in statements November 25 to Vatican Radio. The ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I, "first among equals" among the Orthodox, will be in Rome for a two-day visit.

She’s back

A young woman in Egypt named Catherine accepted Christ as her savior, entered the Church, and spoke to people about Jesus.

The government frowned on that, so she was arrested and eventually executed.

That was over 1500 years ago.

Over the centuries, many devout stories about St. Catherine of Alexandria were told and retold and eventually snowballed out of control. During the Middle Ages, she would become one of the most popular of saints. By the modern era, however, it became very difficult to know what was historical about Catherine (and many other saints) and what was pious fantasy.

During the liturgical housecleaning of the late 1960’s, the Church decided to focus on the remembrance of saints for whom there was a certain level of historical evidence. There was also an effort to open up the calendar to free more weekdays for the simple celebration of ordinary time and of the liturgical seasons as well as to make room for the celebration of newly canonized saints. To accomplish all this, a fairly significant standard was followed.

Catherine didn’t make the cut.

During the subsequent liturgical housecleaning at the turn of the millennium, however, it was determined that, unlike most of the other saints, Catherine retained sufficient historicity and popularity to be included once more in the liturgical calendar.

St. Catherine of Alexandria is back.

Unfortunately, this year, her optional memorial is largely ignored in the United States because it falls on Thanksgiving Day.

But Catherine will be back again.

Thanksgiving readings?

Because it is Thanksgiving Day in the United States the Church allows alternate readings. That is a good thing, because the readings of the day do not immediately convey the warm feeling that people like to have on Thanksgiving Day – quite the contrary.

"Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great.
She has become a haunt for demons....”

These are not the kind of images that greeting card companies would put on a Thanksgiving card.

However, if we consider today’s readings carefully and thoroughly, they provide us with an opportunity to reflect on an important aspect of Christian thanksgiving, an aspect that should be a cause for comfort and a cause for joy.

Both the first reading (from Revelation 18-19) and the Gospel today (from Luke 21) present essentially the same scenario: the evil committed by humanity will come to fruition in terrible catastrophes, the evil that the world perversely considered the greatest and most valuable will be utterly destroyed, and then the perfect kingdom of heaven will begin.

“But when these signs begin to happen,
stand erect and raise your heads
because your redemption is at hand.”

On Thanksgiving Day, it is not a bad thing to reflect briefly on the bad things that happen in the world, because although there is evil in the world, the fundamental lesson of today’s readings is that the plan of God is already set and that all evil ultimately will be overthrown and that there will then be rejoicing and gladness without limit or end.

We remember evils of the recent past, we fear threats in the future, and we endure sufferings in the present, yet we are thankful, because God is with us and the days of evil are numbered.

God is with us and will be with us and in his own perfect time he will bring us into a state of undiluted goodness, boundless joy, and infinitely wonderful love for a journey of gladness that will never end.

The plan of God is set. In faith, hope, and grace, our eternal happiness is assured.

Praised be our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God.

Prayers answered

On October 22, Karen Marie Knapp (remember to pray for her) posted on her blog the following request for prayers on behalf of a very sick girl.

"Prayer Warriors unite! because rabies has been confirmed in Fond du Lac County teen hurt by a bat. She removed a bat from Holy Trinity-St. Patrick's Church during Mass back in September, received a minor scratch doing it, washed the scratch well, and thought no more about it. Now she's in a Milwaukee hospital, and only one human in history has survived rabies after symptoms appeared. Pray for her and her family in this great trial.... Her name is Jenna Giese."

This just in...

"An American teenager is the first human ever known to survive rabies without vaccination, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control confirmed Wednesday, after the girl received a desperate and novel type of therapy for the fatal disease....

"'You have to see this therapy repeated successfully in another patient,' said Dr. Rodney Willoughby, the associate professor of pediatrics who had prescribed the cocktail of medicines for the patient, Jeanna Giese, 15. 'Until then, it is a miracle.'

(reported today - Thanksgiving Day -
in the
International Herald Tribune)

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving

and into His courts with praise:
be thankful to Him, and bless His name.

For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting;
and His truth endures for all generations.

Psalm 100:4-5

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

The great Christological hymn

"which opens the Letter to the Colossians....

"Prominent in it is the glorious figure of Christ, heart of the liturgy and center of the whole of Church life.

"However, the hymn's horizon very quickly extends to creation and redemption, encompassing every created being and all of history.

"In this song can be found the living faith and prayer of the ancient Christian community, whose voice and witness the Apostle takes up, while imprinting on the hymn his own stamp .

Giving thanks unto the Father,
which hath made us meet to be partakers
of the inheritance of the saints in light:
Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness,

and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:
In whom we have redemption through his blood,

even the forgiveness of sins:

"After an introduction in which thanks is given to the Father for Redemption, this canticle, which the liturgy of Vespers presents every week, is set forth in two distinct strophes.

"The first celebrates Christ as 'the firstborn of all creation' (that is, begotten before every being), thus affirming his eternity, which transcends space and time.

Who is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of every creature:

"Instead, the face of the Father, Creator of the universe, becomes accessible in Christ, craftsman of created reality:

For by him were all things created,
that are in heaven, and that are in earth,
visible and invisible,
whether they be thrones, or dominions,
or principalities, or powers:
all things were created by him, and for him:
And he is before all things,

and by him all things consist.

"Therefore, on one hand, Christ is superior to created reality, but on the other, he is involved in his creation. For this reason, he can be seen by us as 'image of the invisible God,' brought close to us through the creative act.

"The praise in honor of Christ proceeds, in the second strophe, toward another horizon: that of Salvation, of Redemption, of the Regeneration of Humanity - created by him but which, by sinning, was sealed into death as with lead.

And he is the head of the body, the church:
who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead;
that in all things he might have the preeminence.

"He is thus celebrated as 'the firstborn from the dead.' Now, the 'fullness' of grace and of the Holy Spirit that the Father has placed in the Son is such that, by dying and rising, he can communicate new life to us.

For it pleased the Father
that in him should all fullness dwell;
And, having made peace through the blood of his cross,

by him to reconcile all things unto himself;
by him, I say,
whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.

"With his divine 'fullness,' but also with his blood shed on the cross, Christ 'reconciles' and 'makes peace in' all realities: heavenly and earthly. Thus he returns them to their original situation, recreating the primordial harmony, willed by God according to his plan of love and life. Creation and Redemption are, therefore, linked together as stages of the same history of Salvation.

"As usual, we now make room for the meditation of the faith's great teachers: the Fathers of the Church. One of these will lead us in reflection on the redemptive work accomplished by Christ in his sacrificial blood.

"When commenting on our hymn, St. John Damascene, in the Commentary attributed to him on St. Paul's letters, writes:

"'Saint Paul speaks of "redemption through his blood."

"'In fact, the blood of the Lord was given as ransom, leading death's prisoners to life. It was just not possible for those subject to death's reign to be freed if not by one who had become a participant with us in death ....

"'From the factual reality of his coming we have known the nature of God which he was prior to his coming.

"'It is, in fact, the work of God to have extinguished death, restored life, and led the world back to God. That is why he says, "He is the image of the invisible God:" to show that he is God - also that he is not the Father, but the image of the Father - and has indentity with Him although he is not Him'

"John Damascene then concludes with an overall view of the salvific work of Christ:

"'Christ's death saved and renewed man; and restored to angels their original joy - for the sake of the saved - and united the lower realities with the higher.... In fact, he made peace and removed enmity from their midst.

"'That is why the angels said: "Glory to God in the highest heavens and peace on earth"'"

Pope John Paul II
Today's weekly audience (November 24, 2004 )

"If you are a young man...

"...wondering about your mission, your vocation, I would invite you to take a chance. The seminary is a win, win situation. Go and discern your call where real discernment takes place. If you stay, you will learn to surrender to God as a faithful priest. If you leave, you will have learned how to surrender to God so to be a great husband and Father. We await your presence at Seminary so that you can make Jesus present at the Altar for the people of God!"
from the "Vocation Story" of Rev. Mr. Patrick Farley
(soon to be ordained a priest - Deo volente)
on the Vocations website of the Diocese of Phoenix.

The Number

In today’s first reading, from the beginning of Revelation 15, we pass from the wrathful, intrinsic consequence of our sinful choices to what amounts to the mother of all victory parties.

Then I saw
something like a sea of glass mingled with fire.
On the sea of glass were standing those
who had won the victory over the beast
and its image
and the number that signified its name.
They were holding God's harps,
and they sang the song of Moses, the servant of God,
and the song of the Lamb:

There are many famous symbols in the book of Revelation, but perhaps the most notorious of them is mentioned here in passing and earlier in its enigmatic fullness:

Here is wisdom.
Let him that hath understanding
count the number of the beast:
for it is the number of a man;
and his number is
Six hundred threescore and six.

Revelation 13:18

Enormous amounts of ink have been spilled in print (and bytes allocated in cyberspace) in various attempts to decode that infamous number – 666. People with particular agendas like to devise ways to make that number point to their personal bête noir: from Adolph Hitler, to the Popes, to Bill Gates III. (There are also sci-fi interpretations involving computer chips, barcodes, etc.)

As for the person the human writer might have been thinking of, the most logical candidate is actually the Emperor Nero, for both linguistic and historical reasons (Nero was the bête noir for the 1st century Church – even after he was dead).

Another way to look at it is to see 666 as being the highest yet imperfect mockery of God (who would be symbolized by the number of perfect fullness - seven - writ thrice: 777).

Any way you look at it, 666 means the enemy of God and his people.

As for the relevance of this prophecy for the future, as mentioned before, at the end of the day (and at the end of all things) we will realize that the details of what God has planned are more wonderful than we could have ever imagined. We can spend a little time speculating about it, but ultimately it is beyond our reckoning and we should be focusing on what we are to do here and now.

So, what meaning does the prophecy of the beast’s number have for us here and now?

Consider that the book of Revelation often depicts humanity as divided between those who marked with the number of the beast and those marked for God and that the marks appear on people’s foreheads.

The simplest lesson to draw from this is that it needs to be clear to everyone that we belong to Christ, from the way we live our lives, as clear as if it were marked on our forehead.

If it is not, if our lives appear no different from the lives of everybody else, then de facto we bear the mark of this world.

Is that how we want to meet Christ when he comes, either when we die or at the end of all things? With the mark of this world on our forehead?

Choose you this day whom ye will serve...
(from Joshua 24:15)

Miserere nobis, Pie Jesu Domine

Pray for this blogger

Mark Shea passes on a prayer request (to which I am responding and,in turn, passing on) for Karen Marie Knapp, author of the blog From the Anchor Hold, saying that she "will be in surgery today (Wednesday the 24th) at 1:30 pm (U.S. Central Time) to have dead tissue removed from her leg. Please pray for a successful operation and a speedy recovery."

"I Paul, in chains for the name of Christ..."

"...wish to relate to you the trials besetting me daily, in order that you may be inflamed with love for God and join with me in his praises,

"The prison here is a true image of everlasting hell: to cruel tortures of every kind - shackles, iron chains, manacles - are added hatred, vengeance, calumnies, obscene speech, quarrels, evil acts, swearing, curses, as well as anguish and grief.

"But the God who once freed the three children from the fiery furnace is with me always; he has delivered me from these tribulations and made them sweet,

"In the midst of these torments, which usually terrify others, I am, by the grace of God, full of joy and gladness, because I am not alone - Christ is with me.

"Our Master bears the whole weight of the cross, leaving me only the tiniest, last bit. He is not a mere onlooker in my struggle, but a contestant and the victor and champion in the whole battle. Therefore upon his head is placed the crown of victory, and his members also share in his glory.

"How am I to bear with the spectacle, as each day I see emperors, mandarins, and their retinue blaspheming your holy name, O Lord? Behold, the pagans have trodden your cross underfoot! Where is your glory? As I see all this, I would, in the ardent love I have for you, prefer to be torn limb from limb and to die as a witness to your love.

"O Lord, show your power, save me, sustain me, that in my infirmity your power may be shown and may be glorified before the nations; grant that I may not grow weak along the way, and so allow your enemies to hold their heads up in pride.

"Beloved brothers, as you hear all these things may you give endless thanks in joy to God, from whom every good proceeds; bless the Lord with me....

"Come to my aid with your prayers, that I may have the strength to fight according to the law, and indeed to fight until the end and so finish the race.

"We may not again see each other in this life, but we will have the happiness of seeing each other again in the world to come, when, standing at the throne of the spotless Lamb, we will together join in singing his praises and exult for ever in the joy of our triumph. Amen."

From a letter of Father Paul Le Bao Tinh
to the seminarians at Ke-Vinh, Vietnam, 1843
(Office of the Readings)

Saint Paul Le Bao Tinh was martyred for Christ on June 4, 1857.

Vietnam veterans

Andrew Dung Lac An Tran, 54, priest

Anthony Quynh Nam, 72, doctor

Dominic Henares, 83, bishop

Francis Trung Von Tran, 33, soldier

John Charles Cornay, 26, priest

Joseph Uen, 52, priest

Paul Le Bao Tinh, priest

Peter Thi Van Truong Pham, 76, priest

There were many more, well over a hundred - missionaries and natives, priests, bishops, farmers, doctors, soldiers, catechists, husbands and fathers - martyred for the Christian faith in various ways, in various locations in Vietnam over the centuries - canonized in 1988 as the Martyrs of Vietnam and celebrated on this day.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

And the angel…

…thrust in his sickle into the earth
and gathered the vine of the earth,
and cast it
into the great winepress
of the wrath of God.

The word of the Lord.
T-t-thanks b-be... (gulp) ...t-to God.

Today’s first reading from Revelation 14 ends with a powerfully frightening image. But if you think that's bad, consider the verse that follows after:

The wine press was trodden outside the city
and blood poured out of the winepress
to the height of a horse's bridle
for two hundred miles.

(Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, be merciful to me, a sinner.)

How does one reconcile such terrifying descriptions of “the wrath of God” with the idea that God is love?

The truth is that God is indeed love. That which is depicted in this passage as “the wrath of God” is simply the accumulated result of the evil committed by mankind over the millennia. The words of Lincoln’s second Inaugural Address come to mind:

“Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’"

God in his love has given us freedom, so that we may freely love him, and although he enables us by his grace to choose love, he does not take back that gift of freedom, even when we choose not to love him and it is this choice - the choice to not love God - that is the essence of all evil.

For a time, God shields us from the full effects of the evil that we and all of mankind have committed. As St. Peter says,

The Lord does not delay his promise,
as some regard "delay,"
but he is patient with you,
not wishing that any should perish
but that all should come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9

Yet there will come a time when the choice will be behind us, when we will have passed the last fork in the road.

If, by the grace of God, we have chosen to love God and to be faithful to that choice, then we will be purified by that grace and experience the fullness of the grace we have lived in the eternal beatific vision of God in heaven.

If, however, (God forbid) we have chosen to not love God or have made a mockery of loving God, then we will experience the fullness of the evil we ourselves have wrought and have only temporarily eluded.

(May God have mercy upon me and make me walk down the center of the path that leads to Him.)

The images are frightening, but the reality is deadly serious – indeed, it is eternally serious.

God gives us the eternal gift of choice. God wants us to choose to love him. We should not delay. We dare not delay. You and I as individuals must choose God and purge ourselves of evil, embracing his truth and his love in its fullness before it is too late.

Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, be merciful to me, a sinner.

Tolkien Evangelization

Nârwen at Quenta Nârwenion points out an interesting article in the Pittsburgh Catholic about six priests of the Diocese who entered the Catholic Church as adults.

One of the priests, Father David Poecking, gives some credit to J.R.R. Tolkien in his conversion.

"When I saw the Catholic faith, especially in the liturgy, I began to recognize in that what Tolkien had been writing about....

"That was I think the foundation, my falling in love with the Catholic Church, with Christ as revealed, especially in the sacraments."

A blog by one discerning

Enbrethiliel at Sancta Sanctis points out a new discernment blog, Ancilla Domini, "to fill the vacuum created by all the old vocations 'blogs that are now retired because the 'bloggers who maintained them left for their respective religious orders."

The new blogger, Angela, feels drawn to the cloistered life.

The Church can always use more prayer warriors.

Memorial to Gerard Serafin

Joshua LeBlanc, webmaster for cybercatholics.com, has created a memorial page for Gerard "Serafin" Bugge, creator of A Catholic Blog for Lovers, who passed away last week.

Joshua's blog, by the way, is Dei Gratia: Daily Thoughts on Catholicism and Church Life - one of the blogs I love to check daily (although family and work obligations have prevented him from adding new posts daily).

Catholic Carnival V

This week's "Catholic Carnival" - a weekly collection of posts submitted by different Catholic blogs - has been posted at livingcatholicism.com.


"The Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy has become more widely known in recent years because of one of its members: Saint Faustina Kowalska (canonized in 2000).... Currently, there are about 400 professed sisters, 35 novices, and 22 postulants throughout the world. We have two novitiates: one in Poland and one in the United States for English-speaking candidates.

"We actively participate in carrying out Saint Faustina's mission by spreading the devotion to the Divine Mercy, by proclaiming the message of the infinite mercy of God, and by imploring Divine Mercy for the entire world."

From the U.S. website of
The Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy


Holy Smoke... Illegal?

As reported by the BBC et al, a study by Dutch researchers describes potential health threats from the use of candles and incense in church.

Researchers found that, after nine hours of candle-burning, church air had fine particulate levels 12 to 20 times what is allowed by the European Union.

Will "nanny governments" attack Mother Church over this?

Identified as a terrorist

He was a religious zealot who had received special training overseas.

He often used disguises.

He was sentenced to death for attempting to murder a former president with a bomb.

He was executed by the lawful authorities…

…seventy-seven years ago today.

The charges were false.

Father Miguel Agustin Pro’s real "crime" was to be zealous in administering the Sacraments during a time when Mexican authorities were viciously persecuting the Church.

In 1988, Pope John II declared him to be Blessed Miguel Agustin Pro.

He was a good-looking Irish lad

who made the women swoon. Those who didn’t swoon chased him.

He was flattered and very much tempted, but his heart belonged to God, so he decided to become a monk (over the energetic objections of his mother). For many years he devoted himself completely to prayer, reflection, and spiritual writing.

Then, he felt a new current in his prayer. He felt God calling him to leave his refuge and to become a missionary. When he was sure that it was the Lord’s will, he and several of his fellow monks left Ireland and set sail to preach the Gospel of Christ in foreign lands.

The foreign lands were not happy to receive them. In fact, the Church was already there (although the fire of Christian devotion was not what it once was) and local clergy grumbled about these Irishmen. In some places, the local bishops even asked Rome to deal with these strange Irish monks. But, here and there, the monks were able to establish small monasteries from which they could work to evangelize the people anew.

Towards the end of his life, he and his brother monks found a place that would accept them and they built a new monastery amid beautiful snowcapped mountains. Feeling life begin to slip away, he retired to a small cave where he had built a chapel high above a river.

There in the mountains of northern Italy, St. Columbanus, son of Ireland and re-evangelist of Europe, died on November 21, 615.

The bishop had problems

His was a rather new diocese (it was only about half a century old and there had been only three bishops before him) but there was no shortage of problems. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of its bishops, the diocese could never get itself organized terribly well.

One of the diocese’s main problems was that its bishops kept getting killed.

Although he had reputedly been reluctant to accept the episcopacy, once entrusted with the flock this bishop threw himself completely into his work, with considerable energy and intelligence.

The problems in his own diocese did not blind him to the problems of the Church in other places. In fact, he was so moved by the plight of one diocese that he wrote them a letter, even though they were many hundreds of miles away and had already received letters and personal visits from the most exalted authorities in the Church.

The bishop's letter turned out to be truly magnificent, wide-ranging and profound. Copies of the letter were made and it would eventually be read throughout the world.

As for the letter writer himself, the good bishop would indeed be killed, as had been the three bishops before him: his friends and mentors Cletus, Linus, and Peter (who had been named by Christ himself).

The letter that St. Clement, martyr and fourth bishop of Rome, had written to the Corinthians remains widely read to this day.

Monday, November 22, 2004

"'We applaud Congress' recognition...

"'...that hospitals and other health care providers should have a right to choose not to be involved in destroying life,' said Cathy Cleaver Ruse, Esq., Director of Planning and Information for the USCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. 'Over a million abortions are done every year by willing abortion providers in this country. It is outrageous to suggest that Catholic health care providers and others with moral objections should be forced into the practice of abortion.'

["A federal spending bill passed by Congress on Saturday includes protection against discrimination for hospitals and health care providers who decline to provide, pay for, or refer for abortions. The provision, known as the 'Hyde-Weldon Conscience Protection Amendment,' is named after its House sponsors, Reps. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) and Dave Weldon (R-Fl.)."]

"'The threat of discrimination is not theoretical, it is real,' said Ruse. 'Already, hospitals in Alaska, New Jersey, and New Mexico have been discriminated against because of their pro-life policies.'

"Current federal law already protects 'health care entities' from having to perform or provide for abortions. The Hyde-Weldon Conscience Protection Amendment was needed because current law had been misinterpreted to protect only individual physicians and training programs, leaving hospitals, health plans, nurses, and other health care participants without protection.

"'This Amendment simply clarifies what should be obvious,' Ruse said. 'Legal protection for "health care entities" should include the full range of participants who provide health care – no one who provides health care should be forced to participate in abortion.'

"'The opposition of abortion activists to this Amendment is telling,' said Ruse. 'The champions of "choice" worked to deny the choice of health care providers to choose not to perform abortion. Here's more evidence that "pro-choice" really does mean "pro-abortion."'"
A press release issued today by
the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

(A Penitent Blogger adds: let us continue to pray for and work to help women who are tempted by the evil choice of abortion, women who have committed this evil, and those who care for their children.)

Being in that number

Once again, the compilers of the Lectionary have seen fit to cut something out of a Scripture passage, presumably with good reasons.

While I truly respect these compilers, when I’m feeling my best, I prefer (perhaps foolishly) to tackle the challenging parts of Scripture that more cautious people may gloss or skip over.

Today’s first reading, from the beginning of the 14th chapter of Revelation, describes a heavenly scene enjoyed by 144,000 individuals who...

…had the name of the Lamb and the name of the Father on their foreheads;

…have been ransomed from the earth;

…are unblemished, with no deceit on their lips; and

…are virgins “who were not defiled with women.”

That last part is what got cut.

Obviously, there is more than a little symbolism involved in all of this. The number 144,000, for example, does not indicate the actual total number of people who will be saved (Revelation 7:9 tells of a great multitude which no one could count). It is a symbolic number, indicating a new and incredibly more numerous people of God (the number of Israel’s tribes – 12 – squared and multiplied by a thousand).

On the other hand, we cannot exclude the possibility that these 144,000 may be a special subset of the great multitude who will enjoy the gift of eternal salvation in Christ. The fundamental equality of those who are saved in Christ does not require uniformity.

Likewise, some scholars will say that the politically incorrect phrase “who were not defiled with women” symbolically refers to people who were never involved in idolatry (idolatry is symbolized as harlotry elsewhere in this and other books of the Bible).

On the other hand, there is much to be said for virginity - without at all denigrating the great natural and spiritual goods of Christian marriage. Virginity - for men or for women - can be a great symbol of a soul dedicated to God. Virginity is also a powerful witness of self-respect, as is faithful Christian marriage in its own way, in a world where so many people defile themselves at the drop of a hat with anyone and anything.

Most of us are not virgins. Many of us have committed some small deceit – or worse – sometimes in our lives (may God have mercy on us all).

In some way or another, most of us have incurred spiritual blemishes somewhere along the road.

Yet by the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ we can be restored to grace and brought into the everlasting Kingdom of his Father. Then, when we stand with that great joyful multitude at the end of time, where there will be no rivalry or envy, we will rejoice abundantly to see by the Throne those especially blessed by God: those who were heroically saintly in their life, those who bravely stood for Christ in their death, and those who were totally dedicated to God in their bodies.

Meanwhile, each of us need to be the best Christians we can be: in consecrated virginity, in Christian marriage, and every devout state in-between.

To every thing there is a season

and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born,
and a time to die;

a time to plant,
and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill,
and a time to heal;

a time to break down,
and a time to build up;

A time to weep,
and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn,
and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones,
and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace,
and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get,
and a time to lose;

a time to keep,
and a time to cast away;

A time to rend,
and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence,
and a time to speak;

A time to love,
and a time to hate;

a time of war,
and a time of peace.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
(Terry Melcher, son of movie star Doris Day, who produced the Byrds' hit recording "Turn, turn, turn" that featured this passage, died last week of cancer - requiescat in pace).

She was a heartbreaker

a little girl whose beauty would shake the confidence of any little boy, but her own heart was always given to Christ.

She was known for this devotion and for the things she did for the Church and for Christians.

That was why they killed her.

People continued to talk about her afterwards, remembering the grace with which she lived her life and with which she endured her death.

Churches were built in her memory and many stories of her life were told and grew in the telling. Musicians in particular have been drawn to her memory and consider her their patron.

For more than 1500 years, the memory of this young girl, St. Cecilia, virgin and martyr, whose heart forever belongs to Christ, has been celebrated on this day.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

What’s with the bickering?

There is a lot of bickering in the world. There is bickering in families (ready for Thanksgiving, everybody?). There is bickering on the job. There is even bickering within parishes.

Bickering is harmful to relationships and to the people involved. It also makes people who witness it very uncomfortable.

Still, bickering persists. Indeed, sometimes it gets worse. The other night, during a “professional” basketball game, bickering got physical and soon violence erupted not only among the “players” but also between the players and the “spectators.” In its worst extremes, bickering can lead to bloodshed, murder, and even war.

In today’s Gospel we have perhaps the strangest instance of bickering ever, as a man being cruelly put to death chooses that particular moment to pick a fight with one of the other people in the process of being executed.

“Have you no fear of God?” yet another of the dying men asks.

What’s with the bickering?

A Dominican Priest, Victorino Osende, provides a pretty good answer to this question: one that fits today’s celebration of Christ the King very well:

“All the evils of life, all hatred, envy, discord and wars come from self-love which demands all rights for itself and rejects whatever hinders self-satisfaction.

“Therefore, once this great enemy of charity is destroyed, the world will enjoy the most perfect peace and union.

“In order to establish this kingdom in our hearts we must first destroy all other kingdoms and dominions within it, or rather, the sole kingdom of our ego, of our self-love, which is the origin, sum and compendium of them all, and which is diametrically opposed to the Kingdom of Christ.”
(Fruits of Contemplation, p. 336)

At the heart of our bickering, our conflicts, and much of our unhappiness in this world is out-of-control self-love. (The materialistic culture in which we live exacerbates our concupiscent tendencies to indulge our appetites and to follow our basest impulses.)

We let our appetites and our selfishness run wild. Grown men with riches and fame beyond anyone’s dreams fight like drunken vagrants because they feel “dissed.” Communities of love such as families and parishes are full of petty squabbles motivated by individuals’ disordered sense of wounded self-esteem.

Have we no fear of God? Is this how we want to meet our Maker? As a bickering people?

On this feast of Christ the King, we should not just be celebrating Christ as King of Heaven and Earth. We desperately need to be making Christ the King of our hearts.

Making Christ the King of our hearts means that we no longer let ourselves be ruled by our stomachs or by our pride or by any part of us. It means that we let Christ rule us. It means we let Christ rule every part of us.

It means no longer asking ourselves, “What do I feel like doing?” It means asking ourselves, “What is the right thing to do? How should a servant of Christ act?”

Certainly we must not ignore our feelings and the needs that pull at us. We must deal with them, but we must not let the things we feel cause us to contemplate or say or do things that are opposed to the Kingdom of Christ: a Kingdom of true justice, true love, and true peace.

That is the way the great saints have lived. Many of us, however, do not seem to have this grace right now. It feels so hard to really, really let go and to really, really subject ourselves to the Kingship of Christ IN EVERYTHING.

We may feel powerless, but God is ready to give us the grace we need. All we have to do is ask.

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

“Amen, I tell you, this day you will be with me in Paradise.”


"If you are presently discerning, or think you are ready to enter into a discernment process, the following steps will help:

  • "PRAYER: Spend time with God, speaking with Him, listening to Him, and in that way attempt to procure God’s help in knowing His will.
  • "SPIRITUAL DIRECTION: Regularly and honestly talking over your spiritual life with a priest or someone in religious life will enable you to understand where God is leading you.
  • "SEEKING OUT OTHERS: Seek out happy, satisfied, fulfilled priests and vowed religious men and women to find out why they are happy. Ask them their stories and discernment of God’s call.

"If you have any questions, or want more information please view the other sections of this site, or go here for contact information."

From www.godiscallingyou.com
The Vocations website of the Diocese of Trenton

'He wants me?' - 'The Call st. Matthew' by Caravaggio

Behold the King

Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat - Cathedral Basilica of Notre Dame, Ottawa, Canada

I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty. (Rev 1:8)

He humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name... (Phil 2:8-9)

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Points about Eternal Life

  • "The first point about eternal life is
    that man is united with God.
    For God himself is the reward and end of all our labours....

  • "Next it consists in
    perfect praise....

  • "It also consists in
    the complete satisfaction of desire,
    for there the blessed will be given
    more than they wanted or hoped for....

    "Whatever is delightful
    is there in superabundance....

  • "Again, eternal life consists of
    the joyous community of all the blessed,
    a community of supreme delight,
    since everyone will share
    all that is good
    with all the blessed.

    "Everyone will love everyone else as himself,
    and therefore will rejoice in another’s good as in his own.

    "So it follows
    that the happiness and joy of each
    grows in proportion to the joy of all."

From a conference by St Thomas Aquinas
(Office of the Readings)

Who are those trees?

As the Liturgy continues its journey through the book of Revelation, today’s first reading finds us in the book’s eleventh chapter -- and the vivid, piled-up images have not gotten any easier to understand.

As mentioned before, there are at least four dimensions to many of the prophecies and symbols in the book of Revelation. Unfortunately, too many people consider only one or two dimensions.

The most popular dimension in which people try to understand the book of Revelation is the trickiest: the book of Revelation as a prophecy of the future, most especially the end-time.

It is certainly an exciting dimension to consider. Many books have been published containing explanations of how the prophecies of Revelation (and the rest of Scripture) correlate with current events and containing details almost like a movie script that depict the rise and fall of the Antichrist and other events leading to the Last Judgment.

These books are indeed exciting to read and often inspire people to reform their lives in anticipation of Christ’s imminent, second coming (which is good, all things being equal), but the books inevitably prove mistaken in their correlation of current events with prophecy and, on closer examination, are found to have shortchanged the richness of the prophecies.

(That is not to say that these attempts to correlate current events with Scriptural prophecy are without any foundation: Christ may indeed return at any time and every Christian for the last two thousand years has rightly been able to see some of these prophecies resonate in the world around them – only later do we realize that the best fulfillment of these prophecies is yet to come.)

The New Testament often warns us to be careful about trying to figure out the details of God’s plan for the future. It can be a helpful exercise (within limits), but at the end of the day (and at the end of all things) we will realize that the details of what God has planned (such as the final meaning of the prophecy of the trees) are more wonderful than we could have ever imagined.

The second and third dimensions in which people (especially scholars) try to understand the book of Revelation are both historical: the situation in which both the inspired writer and the readers of the book were living, and the treasure house of Old Testament symbolism from which the inspired writer drew (sadly, some scholars actually or practically ignore the reality that the writers of Scripture were very specially inspired by the Holy Spirit and that these human words are also the Word of God).

The basic historical situation for the book of Revelation is the early Christian Church struggling through the persecutions and martyrdoms inflicted on it by the Roman Empire. The intense dangers posed by this persecution often motivated the inspired writer to make his apocalyptic symbolism especially obscure, yet no Christian of that time could fail to recognize “the great city” mentioned in this passage as pagan imperial Rome.

Today’s first reading is also piled high with wonderful, instructive Old Testament symbolism, from the olive trees of Zechariah to the plagues of Moses.

But the book of Revelation has value to us beyond whatever hints it may drop about the future or whatever it may tell us about the past: it also speaks to us about our lives and our journey in the Lord.

In a sense, the olive trees represent all those who give witness to God: in the future, in the past, and now.

We are olive trees planted in the house of God. We are lampstands before the Lord of all the earth. We are witnesses of Christ.

When we speak the word of God, when we tell the truth of Christ in love, it is indeed like fire – shining the light of truth on everything that is not of God, making clear the ultimate futility and destruction that awaits the ungodly – especially those who would harm us – in hopes that they will repent.

The power of what we say comes not from ourselves or from our own worthiness: the power and the truth comes from God.

Moreover, God confirms his own message by signs and wonders – according to his will and his plan.

There have been some among us throughout the millennia whose wills are so perfectly attuned to the will of God that such signs and wonders do indeed come “as often as they wish” - because their wishes are so perfectly aligned with God’s will and therefore his power.

(God have mercy on me – my will is still so far from the perfection to which God calls.)

This power, however, does not make us safe from harm. Indeed, God’s holiest witnesses have all suffered and many of them were killed for their witness to Christ.

The power of God and the power of Christ’s resurrection, however, can never be overcome and God will raise us all up in glory.

In the meantime, as we reflect on the past and look forward to the future, we need to conform ourselves more closely to Christ, to be better and more powerful witnesses of his love and his truth, and to rely on his grace through all the wonders and sufferings we may experience so that we may be raised up on the last day and be with him forever in the joys of heaven.

A child is born in blogdom

Amy Welborn, queen of Catholic Blogdom, yesterday (November 19) gave birth to Michael Jacob Dubruiel: 7 pounds 11 ounces and 22 inches long. Amy's husband Michael Dubruiel reports on his blog that both mother and child are "doing great!" and has posted a picture of their son on his website.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Have a good weekend!

Pope John Paul II waves at the end of his general audience, Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2004

Gerard Serafin Bugge Funeral

Requiescat in pace

Sunday, November 21

Viewing: 3PM to 5PM and 7PM to 9PM

Ambrose Funeral Home
1328 Sulphur Springs Road
Arbutus, Maryland 21227
(410) 242-2211

Monday, November 22

St. Benedicts Church
2612 Wilkens Avenue
Baltimore, Maryland 21223
(410) 947-4988

Viewing: 9AM to 11AM
Mass: 11AM

St. Mary’s Church
109 Duke of Gloucester Street
Annapolis, Maryland 21401
(410) 263-2396
Information posted by Bill Bugge on Gerard's blog

Newspapers embarrassed by the President

“The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat, and dishwater utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.”

So said the Chicago Times in its initial reporting of the remarks given by the President on this very day in 1863:

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

"Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met here on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

"But in a larger sense we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled, here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Good news… bad news…

Today’s first reading from the 10th chapter of Revelation, like any chapter from that book, sounds a bit strange, but there is something very familiar about what it describes.

Most of us have had wonderful experiences in hearing the word of God and the Gospel – literally, the “Good News” – of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, especially when we were children (if we were raised in the faith) or when we were first attracted to the Christian message. A sweeter, more wonderful message does not exist.

Most of us have also had a sour experience of “bad news” in association with the Christian faith: when that faith conflicts with what we think or feel, when we are ridiculed or persecuted for living that faith, or when we see that some of our brothers and sisters and fathers in the faith are nowhere near as perfect as they should be.

So it is with the prophecy given in the book of Revelation: a sweet message of salvation, yet also containing elements that are sour and disturbing.

We know how the book comes out, however: with eternal sweetness for those who hold fast to the Lord, especially those who remain faithful even when things seem sour.

Another way to look at the metaphor of the prophetic scroll that tastes sweet but feels sour in the stomach is that we are not always able to digest easily everything that comes to us in the faith.

Sometimes it takes time and sometimes it requires a struggle before we can fully understand aspects of the faith that seem hard for us (even for the greatest of theologians).

Yet this is the faith that comes to us from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; this is the faith of the Church; and it comes with infinitely sweet salvation for us and for all who call upon his name.

So, even while we are still growing in our understanding of the faith and go through our struggles in this world, we can be proud to profess this faith and to spread it as best we can.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

A Gentle Blogger passes

Mark Shea reports that blogger Gerard Serafin has died: a very sad loss for many.

According to comments left on Gerard's blog, he died peacefully at his Maryland home around 3:00 this morning (November 18). The Funeral Mass is to be Monday at his parish St. Benedict's in Baltimore.

Gerard had been responsible inter alia for A Catholic Blog for Lovers, a popular list of Catholic blogs at http://praiseofglory.com/blogs.htm, and his parish's website.

Gerard posted the following last Friday

It seems like several regulars of St Blog's are "under the weather" these days. I'm not exactly sure what's going on with me but sense I am not running at my usual and relative "one hundred percent." Some ominous signs (if they continue and get worse). I have a moved up appointment with my wonderful doctor this coming Thursday. I am planning a 2 night trip to Lancaster Pa. with my twin sister Peg and her husband and Father Michael - and seeing some friends, too, 2 sets of which just happen to be in Pennsylvannia Dutch country the same time as I happen to be passing through. And hopefully a few fun meals at places like "Good and Plenty" with its Amish style meals, plentiful indeed!Things have been somewhat out of whack since returning from Paris. Since then something changed. Before that I used to envy those who could fall asleep at their desks and in cars and planes, etc. I couldn't. Now I have a hard time staying awake at my own desk!!! That's no big deal of itself, but combined with some water retention, congestion, and swelling in the akles - a matter of some concern. I don't write this to panic anyone. I am doing OK right now. But I am asking your prayers.

He continued with a few more posts. His last post was Monday, as he was about to leave for Pennsylvania Dutch country, and it ended with the following

And for those concerned about my physical condition lately... I will be seeing my main doctor this Thursday, God willing. Let's hope for the best.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord.
And let perpetual light shine upon him.

May he rest in peace.

May his soul
and the souls of all the faithful departed
through the mercy of God
rest in peace.

"Central to the Benedictine vocation...

"are the words from the letter to the Philippians:

"Christ 'emptied Himself
and took the form of a slave....
He was known to be of human estate,
and it was thus that He humbled Himself,
obediently accepting even death,
death on a cross!'

(Phil. 2:7-8)

"St. Benedict took this humble, obedient Lamb of God as the archetype of our monastic lives, calling his own teachings a 'little rule for beginners' who are 'hastening to their heavenly homeland.' (Rule of St. Benedict 73:8)

"It is to this that the woman who desires to become a Benedictine nun grafts herself."

"The Abbey of St. Walburga is a small community of contemplative Benedictine nuns located in a valley in northern Colorado, where the high plains meet the foothills of the Rocky Mountains."

from the Abbey website www.walburga.org

What was it about that scroll?

In today’s first reading, from the fifth chapter of the book of Revelation, we hear about a scroll that is the center of considerable drama. We hear that the writer actually breaks down and cries at the thought that the scroll might not be opened. In subsequent chapters, the drama goes off the scale: the scroll’s seven seals are opened one-by-one to unleash a new apocalyptic terror.

What was it about that scroll and why is Christ, the lamb that was slain, the only one worthy to open it?

The scroll corresponds to God’s plan for the world he has created. God’s plan is ultimately a plan of salvation, but that is sometimes very hard for us to understand.

As it turns out, God’s plan is often made plain to us only after suffering. Thus, in these early chapters of the book of Revelation, as disasters befall the world, we see that another of the scroll’s seven seals has been broken and God’s plan has unfolded even more.

The fact that this plan is salvific, even with the disasters that go with it, is reinforced by the fact that it could only be revealed and implemented by Christ: the lamb that was slain, whose blood has purchased us for God.

If it were not for Christ, God’s plan would not be salvific: there would be no remedy for sin and finitude.

But because Christ did indeed die for our sins, all things (the good and the disastrous) work together for the good of those who love him.

Only Christ can reveal and consummate God's plan for creation because Christ is the Savior.

We cannot always understand exactly how God's plan for salvation takes place, either for ourselves as individuals and for all of God’s creation.

But we know that although there will be struggles, as we move from a world of sin to a world of grace, we know even more assuredly that our Savior will be with us, and that when God's plan is ultimately consummated, no earthly disaster will be able to keep us from being fully revealed as the holy and beloved ones of God... and we will reign with him in glory.

Church and Sword

Statue of St. Paul in front of the Basilica of St. Apul's Outside the Walls - click for wider angle

(Statues and icons of St. Paul often show him bearing a sword: the sword being the Word of God, which was wielded so well through him.)

The Basilica of St. Paul's "Outside the Walls" may be neither as famous or nor as spectacular as St. Peter's, but it does have its own majesty.

Now THAT'S a Church!

click for larger image
(click on the picture for a larger image)

When they see St. Peter's for the first time, many people think, "It's not as big as I thought."

Consider this: at the very edge of each side of the picture, you can see a pair of cherubs holding holy water fonts.

Each cherub is six feet tall.

In 1818, she took a little trip...

...this little dark-clad Frenchwoman, up the mighty Mississippi river.

Having nearly died from disease during the long ocean crossing, this petite 49-year-old would barely survive this hazardous river voyage, but she would recover, settle in the Missouri territory, and start teaching school out of a log cabin.

It was not exactly a complete success: her teaching style was foreign and her English was terrible. In the end, however, most people recognized that the children were getting a good education and that the Frenchwoman’s heart was in the right place.

She had encountered great obstacles before. Her family had opposed her becoming a nun, but she entered the convent as soon as she came of age. Then, a few years later, all the convents in France were closed down because of the Revolution, but she persevered in the work of a nun (excluding only the habit): establishing schools and caring for the sick. When the persecution was lifted, her old convent failed to make a comeback, so she joined the Sisters of the Sacred Heart (who had eventually sent her to America).

She would establish convents and schools up and down the Mississippi. She also worked to help Native Americans. After 34 years of serving God on the American frontier, she would die at the age of 83 on this very day in 1852 in St. Charles, Missouri.

St. Rose Philippine Duchesne was canonized by Pope John Paul II on the 3rd of July 1988.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

News from the U.S. Bishops meeting

(As reported by Catholic News Service et al)

  • Concerned about a perceived excess of statements, campaigns, etc. coming from the Bishops Conference, the Bishops adopted new internal processes for prioritizing and pacing such activities, so that their efforts may be more pastorally effective.

    In that spirit, given the urgent concerns about marriage in the U.S. (evidenced by current political and other controversies), the bishops voted to accelerate a new pastoral initiative on marriage ahead of other important matters that may be less urgent and specific, such as an upcoming campaign to encourage the reading of Scripture (that would only supplement already existing efforts in parishes and dioceses).

  • The bishops unanimously approved formal Spanish-language liturgical texts to meet specific needs of the growing number of Latin American Catholics in the U.S.

  • Archbishop Edwin O'Brien, chairman of the bishops' Committee on the North American College, announced a $25 million capital campaign for the college - the U.S. seminary in Rome. Most would be used to increase its endowment, while $10.7 million would be used to make necessary improvements in its buildings (some of which are 400 years old).

  • The bishops voted to join the new national ecumenical forum: Christian Churches Together in the USA.

  • With regard to the proper disposition of politicians and other Catholics to receive Holy Communion, the primary pastoral responsibility remains with the bishop of a Diocese. On the conference level, committees will continue to consult among the bishops and with the Holy See to develop any further guidance that may be appropriate.

Wow, that’s so “now!”

Sometimes when people read the Scriptures, connections with contemporary reality leap out at them.

The richly symbolic visions described in today’s first reading from the fourth chapter of Revelation seem like the product of modern hallucinogenics.

Likewise, the politically-minded, after a bitterly fought election, may hear one particular verse from today’s Gospel in a strange way:

“Now as for those enemies of mine who did not want me as their king, bring them here and slay them before me.”

Actually, Scripture always has strong and deep connections with contemporary reality -- LSD and the “Revenge of the Reelected,” however, are not among them.

(It also has strong connections with the time in which it was written and with what went before: our Lord’s story about the king going to a far country recalls a trip made to Rome in those days by one of Herod’s sons; also, much of Revelation’s imagery repeats what was written by Ezekiel and others.)

Perhaps the most fundamental connection Scripture has with contemporary reality – the here and now – is the meaning it has for our individual lives.

Today’s readings remind us that we are going to stand before the judgment seat of God at the end of the world – if not before – and it could come much sooner than we think (either the end of our individual lives or the end of all things).

It could even happen NOW (may God have mercy on us all).

When that happens, we will behold him in all his glory and he will judge us.

If we have been like the good servants, we will have made good use in our lives of whatever gifts and graces the Lord has given us and then he will give us even more of his grace.

If, however, we have not used well the gifts and graces the Lord has given us in our lives, then when our lives are over, so also will be the gifts and graces of the Lord for us: we will find ourselves with nothing but an eternity of oblivion.

And, God forbid, if we should have openly rebelled against the Lord, how much worse should be our fate! (May God have mercy on us all.)

We should take the hint. We should look at how we are spending our time, talent, and treasure; we should recognize that God will hold us accountable for everything we have and everything we do (or fail to do); and we should do whatever we can to make God proud of us when we come to stand before his throne of glory.

And we should do all this now.

A precious girl

When she was four years old, Elizabeth was essentially sold to a rich family. The family that would raise her was not very religious, yet Elizabeth somehow became a very pious and devout child.

When one of the family's sons reached manhood, Elizabeth was given to him for his wife, even though she was only 14. As it turned out, the young man truly loved Elizabeth and she loved him. They became partners in life, prayer, and even work. When business called her husband away, Elizabeth would run the family business - putting great power and riches in the hands of a still young girl.

Tragically, on one of those trips, Elizabeth’s husband would die, making her a widow at the young age of 20. Powerful people quickly plotted against her. Elizabeth fled and devoted herself to the care of the sick. In a few years, Elizabeth would herself be overcome by sickness and weariness in the service of the Lord, dying on this very day at the age of 24.

Elizabeth was buried on the hospital grounds. Very soon, sick people would visit her grave and be healed. News quickly spread throughout the Church. Within four years, in 1235, Elizabeth of Hungary – wife, mother, princess, and servant of the wretched – was declared a saint.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Catholic Carnival IV

A "Catholic Carnival" has been organized in the blogosphere: a weekly collection of posts submitted by different Catholic blogs.

Dunmoose the Ageless is hosting this week's Catholic Carnival on his blog.

The needy

In today’s first reading, from Revelation 3, we hear more prophecies directed at churches: sayings that are multifaceted, thickly layered, and damning.

The latter part of this passage is directed at the church in Laodicea, a booming commercial center in ancient Asia Minor.

It could very well be directed at many of us today (I myself certainly feel these words strike at me – may God have mercy on us all).

For you say,
'I am rich and affluent
and have no need of anything,'
and yet do not realize
that you are wretched,
and naked.

The Laodiceans were indeed rich, with a state-of-the-art medical school. They made fortunes exporting fine garments and popular eye ointments.

Here is Laodicea today.

Sic transit gloria mundi.
Thus passes the glory of the world.

The comforts of this world are fleeting. In fact, they are a trap: lulling us into inactivity, making us lukewarm in our preparations for the world to come, making us forget our absolute need for God’s grace.

I advise you to buy from me
gold refined by fire
so that you may be rich,
and white garments to put on
so that your shameful nakedness
may not be exposed,
and buy ointment to smear on your eyes
so that you may see.

God's grace is the treasure that will make us rich in eternity. It is the covering that will make us beautiful and protect us from all evil. God's grace gives us the ability to see beyond the ups and downs of life to his all-powerful plan for our salvation.

We must beware of the comforts of this world. We must disentangle ourselves.

We must keep our focus on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and his grace, at all times and in all things, so that he may take us according to his will through all the good and the bad of this world into the everlasting, never-fading glory of his eternal love in the world without end.