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...

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

More ways to help Katrina victims

People in the Galveston-Houston area are invited "to contribute to the largest SLEEPOVER IN TEXAS!"

This is an effort by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Council of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston to gather particular items to "give comfort and cheer to the children affected by this disaster and who have found shelter in the Galveston-Houston area."

(News reports indicate that tens of thousands of refugees from New Orleans are to be relocated to the Astrodome in Houston.)

(Hat tip: Bill Cork)

"If you have tears..."

"...prepare to shed them now ."
(William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 3, scene 2)

On August 1, 1936, radio reporter Herbert Morrison was narrating the arrival of a flight from Europe.

Suddenly, he was reporting through his tears, as the airship burst into flame before his eyes.

On Monday of this week, WKRG-TV weekend anchor Jennifer Mayerle was reporting from the wreckage of Biloxi, Mississipi, when she asked a passer-by how he was doing.

Seconds later, she too was reporting through her tears, for heartbreak, despair, horror, and woe flowed from this man.

MAN: I'm not doing good.

REPORTER: What happened?

MAN: The house just split in half.

REPORTER: Your house split in half?

MAN: We got up in the roof, all the way to the roof, and water came and the house just opened up, divided…

REPORTER: Who was at your house with you?

MAN: My wife.

REPORTER: Where is she now?

MAN: Can't find her body. She's gone.

REPORTER: You can't find your wife?

MAN: No, she... I hold her hand as tightly as I could and she told me, you can't hold me. She said take care of the kids, and the grandkids...

The man identified himself as Hardy Jackson and his wife as Tonette.

The heartwrenching video is available in full on the WKRG website (RealPlayer format only)
and an excerpt through a link from this CNN story

UPDATE - Follow-up news reports on Hardy Jackson (whose name on the video was widely misunderstood as Harvey Jackson) appeared in mid-September.

Christian Carnival

This week's Christian Carnival - an ecumenical collection of posts from various Christian blogs - is online at Crossroads: Where Faith and Inquiry Meet.

Lift up your heads

“Keep your head down” is traditional advice for life (and for golf). The idea is to focus completely on the task at hand.

In today’s Gospel (Lk. 4:38-44), the example our Lord gives is not “Keep your head down” but “Lift up your heads... and keep them up.”

At daybreak, Jesus left and went to a deserted place.

The crowds went looking for him,

and when they came to him,
they tried to prevent him from leaving them.

But he said to them,
"To the other towns also I must proclaim
the good news of the Kingdom of God,
because for this purpose I have been sent."

Although he is fully engaged with the task of ministering to the people at hand, our Lord does not bury his head in it

He keeps his head lifted up in prayer to the Father, going to a deserted place in the morning to pray.

He keeps his head lifted up and his eye on the full panorama of his mission, of which the task at hand is only a part.

In our own lives, it is sometimes easy for us to feel overwhelmed: there are too many pressures, too much to do, too many needs to be met.

We should lift up our heads: always remembering to lift ourselves and our needs to the Lord in prayer and always keeping our eye clearly fixed on our fundamental obligations and on the purpose for which we have been sent.

Day of Prayer in Louisiana

Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco of Louisiana has declared today a Day of Prayer in the State of Louisiana, part of which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

"Pray for the victims and the rescuers. Please pray that God give us all the physical and spiritual strength to work through this crisis and rebuild.

"Please pray for patience for those anxiously waiting to hear from family members or to get word about their homes. Pray for the safety of our hard-working rescuers and those they are bringing to safety.

"I know, by praying together on Wednesday, that we can pull together and draw strength we need; strength, that only God can give us."

How do I know if I have a vocation?

"The simplest answer is that you do have a vocation... another word for 'calling.'

"Pope John Paul II said that 'every life is a vocation' – in the sense that every human life is a gift from God and every human being is created to give glory to and serve the Lord in some way. Our baptism gives us the power, right, and responsibility to live joyfully and generously – whether we are single, married, or given a unique role in the Church as a religious or ordained person.

"Are you wondering if you are called by God to serve the Church as a sister, brother, or ordained priest?

"The basic requirements for these vocations are a desire to pray, the ability to relate well to and serve others, the health and intellectual ability to complete the required studies, and positive affirmation from those who know you.

"The Vocations Office of the Diocese of Jackson can provide you with information on any type of vocation."

Vatican telegram in the wake of Katrina






Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Helping the victims

The news is pretty ugly on the day following Hurricane Katrina’s broad stab into Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Hundreds are feared dead and a million may be homeless. The water is rising in New Orleans and it may take weeks to pump it out.

Massive government and corporate resources are already being deployed, but Katrina’s victims will also need substantial assistance from nonprofit organizations.

The largest of these organizations is the American Red Cross. This is generally the best resource for individuals who want to help with the most immediate needs of Katrina’s victims.

Catholic Charities USA has sent technical assistance teams “to help the local Catholic Charities in the impacted areas with their response efforts.”

On its website, Catholic Charities says that “while local agencies along the Gulf Coast anticipate that they will be provide some type of emergency assistance in their communities, Catholic Charities' niche in disaster relief is to provide long-term recovery work. In fact, Catholic Charities agencies in Florida are still providing services to help people recover from last year's devastating hurricanes.

“Based on past disasters, possible long-term services that Catholic Charities may provide include temporary and permanent housing, direct assistance beyond food and water to get people back into their homes, job placement counseling, and medical and prescription drug assistance.

“Recovery work is underway in Dade County, FL, where Katrina caused extensive flooding when it stuck there last week. Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Miami has already distributed a large load of baby items, food, and other supplies to victims. Other aid that they will be providing includes assistance with food, shelter, rent, medicine, utilities, and mental health counseling.

“To help communities recover from the damage brought on by Hurricane Katrina, Catholic Charities USA is collecting financial donations that will fund agencies' emergency and long-term disaster recovery efforts.”

UPDATE - From the USCCB: "Bishop William S. Skylstad, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), has announced that a National Collection for Hurricane Relief will be taken up in the 195 Catholic dioceses throughout the United States."

SECOND UPDATE - The Salvation Army and other organizations have also been active.

Personally, given the enormity of this disaster, I believe donations are most effective with organizations that have sufficient infrastructure to help on a massive scale.

Donors should always verify the reputation of any charity. http://www.give.org/ and http://www.guidestar.org/ are excellent resources for this purpose.

"I thought it was safe"

That is what many victims of Hurricane Katrina are saying today, especially those who barely escaped yesterday with their lives. Tragically, something like it is also being said by the loved ones of some who died.

It is a frightening coincidence – if that is what it is – that the long-scheduled first reading from 1 Thessalonians 5 includes the following verse:

For when they shall say, Peace and safety;
then sudden destruction cometh upon them,
as travail upon a woman with child;
and they shall not escape.

We human beings easily lull ourselves into a false sense of security. We imagine our buildings and cities to be invulnerable. We take our technology and modern comforts for granted.

And now, some middle class suburban neighborhoods in the most powerful nation on the planet will be without electricity for weeks - if not months.

(Sometimes we subdue the earth
and sometimes the earth subdues us.)

Many of us sitting securely in our living rooms foolishly comfort ourselves by uncharitably picking at the faults of some of the hurricane’s victims (“if they had evacuated, they wouldn’t be dead”). But while it is good to reaffirm the lessons of prudence, it is a mistake to think that prudence alone will make us perfectly safe.

The most important lesson of yesterday’s tragedy and of today’s first reading is that our human lives are fragile: somewhere in the world tomorrow some other man-made or natural disaster will wipe out more lives (God have mercy on them), you or I could drop dead before we draw our next breath (God have mercy on us), and the Day of the Lord is coming (come, Lord Jesus).

As Christians, we do not have to lull ourselves to sleep with a false sense of security or numb ourselves in various ways against existential dread. We can joyfully walk forward, awake and sober.

For God hath not appointed us to wrath,
but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,
Who died for us,
that, whether we wake or sleep,
we should live together with him.

Our security, our safety, our peace comes from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – no matter what prosperity or destruction may befall us.

Therefore let us not sleep, as do others;
but let us watch and be sober.

For they that sleep sleep in the night;
and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.

But let us, who are of the day, be sober,
putting on the breastplate of faith and love;
and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.

Catholic Carnival

This week's Catholic Carnival - a collection of posts from various Catholic blogs - is online at HerbEly.com.

Monday, August 29, 2005

They didn't make it

These terrible words are often said when people die, especially when a group of people endure some intense, life-threatening event – a firefight, a terrorist attack, a tsunami, or a hurricane – and some of them do not survive.

They didn't make it.

These words are often said by those who did make it, who did survive: the grief-stricken survivors who contemplate both the deaths of their comrades and loved ones and also the life ahead they now will not share.

They didn't make it.

These words reflect what the Thessalonians thought, the ones to whom St. Paul wrote today's first reading (1 Thes.4:13-18). They were in that first great, glorious generation of believers and they were looking forward to the imminent return of Christ in glory. They were ready for him to come back and take them all to heaven.

But then some of them died, before the Lord Jesus could come to get them.

This was a doubly heavy blow to the survivors, who not only mourned the loss of their brothers and sisters in the Lord, but who even wondered whether their dead comrades would be deprived of a share in the life and glory of Christ’s second coming.

St. Paul's words of comfort to the Thessalonians are words of comfort for us as well.

We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters,
about those who have fallen asleep,
so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose,
so too will God, through Jesus,
bring with him those who have fallen asleep.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.

* * * * *

When I saw that this was the scheduled reading today – a day when thousands of people (including people I know - may God keep them all in his care) are threatened by death from a hurricane – I was disturbed. Was it a sign? The response for today’s responsorial psalm seemed especially ominous.

The Lord comes to judge the earth.

I can imagine Father Richard, who ministers in a close suburb of New Orleans, reading this line with his characteristically reverential solemnity as the storm thunders all around him and his flock.

The Lord comes to judge the earth.

Miserere nobis, Domine.

* * * * *

The bottom line of today’s first readings and today's events is best summed up, I think, by a verse from another of St. Paul’s epistles (Rom. 14:8).

For if we live,
we live for the Lord,
and if we die,
we die for the Lord;

so then, whether we live or die,
we are the Lord's.

This is both a comfort and a challenge.

Whether we live or die this day, whether we face life's difficulties or face the Lord in judgment, we are the Lord's – he holds us in his hand and loves us in his mercy.

Have mercy on me, God, have mercy
for in you my soul has taken refuge.
In the shadow of your wings I take refuge
till the storms of destruction pass by.
(Psalm 57:2)

The challenge for us who remain, those who survive, is to live truly "for the Lord" – as men and women who belong to the Lord – not to live for our own safety or for our own pleasure, but to live every moment of our lives – every moment – for the good of others and for the glory of God.

The nation’s most powerful man

had a weakness for young ladies.

The moves of one young lady in particular caught his eye.

He called her over.

She came to him and whispered...

"I want you...

"...to give me...

"...right now...

" ...the head of John the Baptist on a platter."

Thus a sleazy moment in the corridors of power ended with the death of one of history’s greatest holy men.

Today the Church remembers the death of John the Baptist.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Pray for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast

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.
Prayer in times of storms

Intimate yearning for God

Living faith is not a purely intellectual exercise, as today’s readings testify.

Indeed, today’s first reading (Jer. 20:7-9) and today's responsorial psalm (from Psalm 63) are poetic, powerful, and passionate in describing overwhelmingly deep emotional bonds with God.

Jeremiah begins with imagery of intense and dramatic seduction.

You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped;
you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.

(How foolish we are when you and I resist God in our souls and in our lives. How truly empty the triumphs we seek for ourselves. May we, like Jeremiah, be overwhelmed by God’s grace and experience the wonders of God’s triumph.)

God’s triumph over Jeremiah, however, does not leave Jeremiah passive – quite the contrary.

I say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.

(How dull, dreary, and lackluster our lives so often are. How wonderful it would be to feel the fire of God’s spirit truly burning in our hearts, pressing out from deep within our bones, overcoming all fear, and ready to pour forth in a glorious dynamism of grace and word and deed.)

A wonderfully deep, intimate yearning for God also fills David.

For you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts
like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.
Thus have I gazed toward you in the sanctuary
to see your power and your glory…

(And how much more magnificent and jubilant is the attainment of God.)

For your kindness is a greater good than life;
my lips shall glorify you.
Thus will I bless you while I live;
lifting up my hands, I will call upon your name.
As with the riches of a banquet shall my soul be satisfied,
and with exultant lips my mouth shall praise you.
You are my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy.

(And how firmly and gently do the bonds of God’s love hold his dear ones close)

My soul clings fast to you;
your right hand upholds me.

May we pray always for the graces that blessed Jeremiah and David, graces that overflow in superabundance in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: graces that make us yearn, graces that stir us to life, graces that flow like a torrent, graces that lift us to the heavens, and graces that draw us ever closer into the eternally living, loving mystery that is God.

Do not conform yourselves to this age

but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,
that you may discern what is the will of God,
what is good and pleasing and perfect.

Romans 12:2

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Young women deeply in love with God

"In 1869, five young women, deeply in love with God, desired to share their daily lives together in rural Wisconsin. St. Francis of Assisi's simple Gospel way of life inspired them. Today, the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity live whole-heartedly the loving spirit of their foundresses. They strive to live the Gospel in simplicity, built on faith in a loving God; joyful acceptance of poverty; love for the Church and selfless dedication to the service of others.

"The Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity welcome young women, high school graduates to age 35, caught by the spirit of St. Francis and fired with a burning love for Jesus, to join them.

"The world needs you. God calls you. We invite you."

Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity
2409 South Alverno Road
Manitowoc, WI 54220

Progress even more

Are you happy? Do you feel content?

You may be a loser.

Sometimes we may in fact, by the goodness of God, be blessed with moments of relative happiness and contentment, but complete happiness and absolute contentment can be experienced only when God brings us to be immersed eternally in the vision of his infinite love.

If we stop short of that, if we seek and relish only happiness and contentment in this world, sooner or later we will be bitterly disappointed. Even in this life, the absence of growth comes with the onset of death.

So both of today’s readings (1 Thes. 4:9-11 and Mt. 25:14-30) exhort us not to be content and passive with what we have – like the lazy servant who buried his master’s treasure and consequently lost it all – but “to progress even more” in the ways and the grace and the service of God.

Then my mother said...

"'Son, for myself, I have no longer any pleasure in anything in this life. Now that my hopes in this world are satisfied, I do not know what more I want here, or why I am here.

"'There was indeed one thing for which I wished to tarry a little in this life, and that was that I might see you a Catholic Christian before I died. My God has answered this more than abundantly, so that I see you now made his servant and spurning all earthly happiness.

"'What more am I to do here?'

"I do not well remember what reply I made to her about this. However, it was scarcely five days later--certainly not much more--that she was prostrated by fever.

"While she was sick, she fainted one day and was for a short time quite unconscious. We hurried to her, and when she soon regained her senses, she looked at me and my brother as we stood by her, and said, in inquiry, 'Where was I?'

"Then looking intently at us, dumb in our grief, she said, 'Here in this place shall you bury your mother.'

I was silent and held back my tears; but my brother said something, wishing her the happier lot of dying in her own country and not abroad.

"When she heard this, she held him fast with her eye and an anxious face, because he cherished such earthly concerns, and then gazing at me she said, 'See how he speaks.'

"Soon after, she said to us both: 'Lay this body anywhere, and do not let the care of it be a trouble to you at all. Only this I ask: that you will remember me at the Lord's altar, wherever you are.'

* * * * *

"On the ninth day of her sickness, in the fifty-sixth year of her life and the thirty-third of mine, that religious and devout soul was set loose from the body.

"I closed her eyes; and there flowed in a great sadness on my heart and it was passing into tears, when at the strong command of my mind my eyes sucked back the fountain dry, and sorrow was in me like a convulsion. [...] But she neither died unhappy nor did she altogether die.

* * * * *

"So, when the body was carried forth, we both went and returned without tears. [...] Then I slept, and when I awoke I found my grief not a little eased. And as I lay there on my bed, those true verses of Ambrose came to my mind, for You are truly...

"'Deus, creator omnium,
Polique rector, vestiens
Diem decoro lumine,
Noctem sopora gratia;

"'Artus solutos ut quies
Reddat laboris usui
Mentesque fessas allevet,
Luctusque solvat anxios.'

"'O God, Creator of us all,
Guiding the orbs celestial,
Clothing the day with lovely light,
Appointing gracious sleep by night:

"'Thy grace our wearied limbs restore
To strengthened labor, as before,
And ease the grief of tired minds
From that deep torment which it finds.'

"And then, little by little, there came back to me my former memories of Your handmaid: her devout life toward You, her holy tenderness and attentiveness toward us, which had suddenly been taken away from me--and it was a solace for me to weep in Your sight...."

Excerpts from the Confessions of St. Augustine - Book 9, Chapters 10-12

Today the Church celebrates the memory of St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine

Friday, August 26, 2005

Protestant "Popewatch"

Mark D. Roberts, Senior Pastor at Irvine Presbyterian Church in California, has a regular feature on his blog (markdroberts.com) called "Popewatch." He is currently making extensive comments on some of what Pope Benedict XVI said during World Youth Day. While he is clear about having differences with certain Catholic positions, he has been generally very positive.

He is particularly enthusiastic about a quote from the Pope's welcoming address (even superimposing the quote on a picture in a nifty graphic at right).

"This is a phenomenal sentence: beautiful, true, and worthy of regular citation. I'm impressed here, not only with Benedict's theological insight, but also with his poetic ability."

Let's talk about... GOD

Sex - or the lack of it - seems to figure prominently in each of today’s readings: the Gospel (Mt. 25:1-13) is a parable full of virgins and in the first reading (1 Thes. 4:1-8) St. Paul warns against immorality, lustful passion, and exploitation with regard to marriage.

The fundamental point of both readings, however, is not sex, but God.

The Gospel is not really about virgins, but about being prepared in this life for the life to come. Likewise, St. Paul warns about particular forms of immorality, but his primary focus is on holiness and pleasing God.

The sins of the flesh (even if only adultery in the heart) are generally grave matter and deeply problematic on many levels and not just spiritual.

But while we must strive to avoid these sins
(and those things and situations that lead to them)
our focus dare not be
only on avoiding evil
but rather on holiness
and pleasing God.

Miserere mei, Deus,
secundum misericordiam tuam;
et secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum
dele iniquitatem meam.
Amplius lava me ab iniquitate mea
et a peccato meo munda me.

Ps 51:3-4

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Vocations poster on mainstream media

That Matrix-style vocations poster from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis has been featured by the mainstream media (cable news anyway) in a very positive interview today by MSNBC's Chris Jansing with the man behind the poster, Father Jonathan Meyer.

The interview is available online at http://msnbc.msn.com/id/9075370/

''My mother always told me...''

"...never to wear my hat in church."

Bishop John Noonan following his ordination yesterday as Auxiliary Bishop of Miami (as quoted by the Miami Herald).

Long-distance love

We can’t always be with the ones we love, especially with all of the ones we love in Christ.

St. Paul feels the same way about those to whom he is writing in today’s first reading (1 Thes. 3:7-13).

May his words be our words always.

For this reason, brethren,
in all our distress and affliction
we have been comforted about you

through your faith;
for now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord.

For what thanksgiving can we render to God

for you, for all the joy
which we feel for your sake before our God,
praying earnestly night and day
that we may see you face to face
and supply what is lacking in your faith?

Now may our God and Father himself,
and our Lord Jesus,
direct our way to you;
and may the Lord make you
increase and abound in love
to one another and to all men,
as we do to you,
so that he may establish your hearts
unblamable in holiness

before our God and Father,
at the coming of our Lord Jesus

with all his saints.

Get medieval on you

Disputes were decided by combat. Testimony was verified by ordeal. The word of the king was law. The acquisition of land by force was the rule. Early 14th century statue from the church of Mainneville, France - reputed to be a true likenessReligion was important only as a tool for power.

The young king thought differently.

He instituted systems of courts and written law. He negotiated treaties with neighboring rulers, acquiring some lands while handing over others to maximize political and economic stability for his people.

Most importantly, for the young king, religion was not a tool – quite the contrary, everything should be in service to faith.

He personally fed and served the poor daily. He built great houses of prayer and worship, including the glorious Sainte Chapelle.

The glorious interior of the Sainte Chapelle - click image for larger version and above link for more information and pictures

He would also come to the aid of important churches in other lands, no matter what the risk.

Louis IX, King of France, died of disease at the age of 56 in North Africa while on a failed campaign to rescue churches in the Holy Land, 735 years ago today. Saint Louis was canonized 27 years later.

Father Joseph

was from a very good family and was an excellent priest of the Diocese, rising to become Vicar General.

It wasn’t enough. He gave away his inheritance and left the country.

He would be concerned about the most neglected of society: poor children and victims of deadly contagious diseases. He cared for the sick and opened free schools for the children.

He started his own religious order to provide manpower for educating poor children. He faced much opposition, even from within the order he himself founded, and the order was driven out of existence (only to come back again – today his order, the Piarist Fathers number over 1400 in 32 countries around the world).

St. Joseph Calasanz died in Rome on this very day in 1648 at the age of 91.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

"The Government considers to be extreme"

UK Home Secretary Charles Clarke published today a finalized "list of certain types of behaviours that will form the basis for excluding and deporting individuals from the UK."

A footnote to the press release states that, after consultation, the Home Secretary "removed 'the expression of views that the Government considers to be extreme and that conflict with the UK's culture of tolerance' from the list of (deportable) behaviours."

Vocations Awareness Weekend

The Archdiocese of Miami is holding a Vocations Awareness Weekend "for young men who are considering a vocation to the diocesan priesthood (Seniors in high school through 35 years of age)."

Friday November 11 at 8:00 p.m. through noon Sunday, November 13 at St. John Vianney College Seminary, Miami, Florida

"Este retiro es para jóvenes que estén interesados en la posibilidad de ser sacerdotes diocesanos que cursen 12 grado en high school hasta aquellos que tengan 35 años de edad.

"¡El cupo es limitado! Para más información, llamar al numero que aparece abajo."

(Space is limited - contact the Vocations Office for info)

ADOM--Vocations Office
9401 Biscayne Boulevard
Miami Shores, Florida 33138
Tel: 305-762-1137 * Fax: 305-754-7762

Christian Carnival

This week's Christian Carnival - an ecumenical collection of posts from various Christian blogs - is online at WalloWorld.

Coax a friend

They say that people should never discuss religion or politics and there is prudence in that saying: the strength of religious beliefs and political positions can destroy friendly conversations and relationships.

But in today’s Gospel (Jn. 1:45-51), Philip coaxes his friend Nathaniel to see Jesus with spectacular results.

"Amen, amen, I say to you,
you will see heaven opened and the angels of God
ascending and descending on the Son of Man."

We must respect our friends, relatives, coworkers and indeed all people – whether they believe as we do or not – yet we dare not be false to our faith.

Sometimes the gentle witness coaxes best.

Vatican appointments for Americans

Today the Holy Father named Father Michael A. Blume, S.V.D., as Apostolic Nuncio to the west Africa countries of Benin and Togo and named him an Archbishop. Archbishop-elect Blume was born in South Bend, Indiana, in 1946 and ordained a priest for the Divine Word Missionaries in 1972. He received a theology degree from the Gregorian University in Rome. He taught theology at a seminary in Ghana from 1975 to 1983. After that, he was his order's provincial for Ghana, Benin, and Togo from 1983 to 1990 and Secretary-General from 1990 to 1994. In 1995 he began working for the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerant People and was named Under-Secretary in 2000. (Father Blume was not exactly a career diplomat, but he obviously has strong experience both in the region and in Rome.)

Also today, Archbishop William Levada, formerly Archbishop of San Francisco and currently Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, was named a member of the Congregation for Bishops (as was his predecessor).

Suffering for Christ

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Bartholomew (also known as Nathaniel in John's Gospel).

Like most of the other Apostles, he preached in different parts of the world and was put to death for his faith in Christ.

An ancient tradition says that he was flayed alive. That is why he appears in Michelangelo's Last Judgement holding in one hand the skin that was cut from his body and the knife that was used in the other: signs of hateful violence and horrific suffering endured on account of faith and love and thus signs of his triumph.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Catholic Carnival

This week's Catholic Carnival - a collection of posts from various Catholic blogs - is online at LivingCatholicism.com.


Scribes, Pharisees, crooked preachers – these are the wicked people to which today’s readings refer.

Yet we walk a dangerous road if we think that these accusations and warnings could never apply to us.

Indeed, as we seek to imitate Christ more perfectly by his grace, we do well to use Scripture as a guide for our self-examination, even verses that may seem primarily directed at historical figures of the distant past.

Perhaps the most fundamental lesson of these readings comes at the very end, from the last verse of today’s Gospel (Mt. 23:23-26):

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
for ye make clean

the outside of the cup and of the platter,
but within they are full of extortion and excess.

Thou blind Pharisee,
cleanse first

that which is within the cup and platter,
that the outside of them may be clean also.

Many people today are very concerned with external appearances. Even among churchgoers, there is often an overriding focus on looking good in the eyes of others, while hiding one’s secret sins. Recent, extreme examples of this include the president of a Kansas congregation who turned out to be a sadistic serial killer and the Virginia man who associated with the strictest of congregations and devotional groups who turned out to be a traitor.

We may not be murderers and traitors, yet if we focus only on looking good while neglecting the pursuit of goodness within ourselves, we are not only fooling others, we are also fooling ourselves: for we cannot fool God. Sooner or later, our façade will crumble, our sin and our foolishness will be revealed, and there will be a heavy price to be paid.

Cleanse first that which is within...

(God, be merciful to me - a sinner.)
* * * * *

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin,
and have omitted the weightier matters of the law,
judgment, mercy, and faith:
these ought ye to have done,
and not to leave the other undone.
Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat,
and swallow a camel.

Our Lord’s specific examples are generally not found in modern life, but our Lord’s warning is very relevant to our lives as Christians.

On the one hand, those of us who consider ourselves devout and orthodox frequently focus on particular details of faith and morality: these are what we talk about in sermons, discussion groups, blogs, letters to the editor, and even picket lines.

Our Lord’s words warn us to take a step back from time to time, look at the big picture, and honestly consider whether we are overlooking some other area of sinfulness in our lives - the proverbial elephant (or camel) in the living room- and also whether we are neglecting “the weightier matters of the law: judgment, mercy, and faith.”

On the other hand, our Lord adds the words “and not to leave the other undone.” These words speak to those who think that particular acts of morality or immorality don’t matter as long as you are a generally "good" person.

Of course, no amount of generic goodness, sacrificial philanthropy, or rigorous morality can get us into heaven – only the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ does that – but it is important this grace and our faith be manifested in every aspect of our lives: both in “the weightier matters” and in the details - for our own good, the edification of others, and the glory of God.

* * * * *

In the first reading (1 Thes. 2:1-8), St. Paul writes about himself and his ministry, but it is clear that he is contrasting himself with wicked preachers who were also going from church to church in those days.

In our own days we have seen ministers of the Gospel who seem very much like those wicked preachers: greedy people with “a cloak of covetousness,” feel-good preachers more interested in pleasing people than God, or individuals more interested in seeking their own power and glory than in the good of others.

Yet our primary focus in reading this passage should not be on those wicked preachers in the world today, but on ourselves, for each of us in different ways have been entrusted with the Gospel of Christ and have been called to pass it on to others.

By God’s grace, may we one day echo Paul’s words in our own hearts and in our own lives:

For our exhortation was not of deceit,
nor of uncleanness, nor in guile:
But as we were allowed of God
to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak;
not as pleasing men,

but God, which trieth our hearts.

For neither at any time used we flattering words,
as ye know,
nor a cloke of covetousness;
God is witness:

Nor of men sought we glory,
neither of you, nor yet of others,
when we might have been burdensome,

as the apostles of Christ.

But we were gentle among you,
even as a nurse cherisheth her children:
So being affectionately desirous of you,
we were willing to have imparted unto you,
not the gospel of God only,
but also our own souls,
because ye were dear unto us.

Young lady athlete

Know ye not
that they which run in a race run all,
but one receiveth the prize?
So run, that ye may obtain.
And every man that striveth for the mastery
is temperate in all things.
Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown;
but we an incorruptible.

I therefore so run, not as uncertainly;
so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:
But I keep under my body,
and bring it into subjection:
lest that by any means,
when I have preached to others,
I myself should be a castaway.
1 Cor 9:24-27

These words of St. Paul rang in the heart of little Isabel. She was a beautiful child and could have had any man or life she wanted, but she wanted God.

From the time she was a little girl, she devoted herself to God with an amazing intensity. As she grew, so did the intensity of her devotion as she sacrificed all things to God and disciplined herself strictly in her pursuit of union with Christ. She took the name Rose as well as the habit of a third order Dominican and she secluded herself in her father’s garden. After she died, on August 24, 1617 at the age of 31, miracles blossomed.

In 1671, St. Rose of Lima became the first person born in the Americas to be canonized and her memory is celebrated on this day.

Monday, August 22, 2005

God, the Father of Mercies

Absolution being given at World Youth Day Saturday night (hat tip: Recta Ratio)through the death and resurrection of his Son
has reconciled the world to himself
and sent the Holy Spirit among us
for the forgiveness of sins;

through the ministry of the church
may God give you pardon and peace...

Deus, Pater misericordiarum,
qui per mortem et resurrectionem Fílii sui
mundum sibi reconciliavit
et Spiritum Sanctum effudit
in remissionem peccatorum,

per ministerium Ecclesiae
tibi tribuat
et pacem...


That is what they call us.


That is their name for those who advocate moral perfection and yet fall short of perfection themselves in one way or another (sometimes abysmally short of perfection).


That is the battle cry of those who want to do their own thing or to drift along with what’s popular in opposition to religious people who proclaim traditional morality.


That is also the word in today's Gospel (Mt. 23:13-22) that our Lord hurls at the high-profile religious people around him.

Strangely enough, some of us find it easy to dodge our Lord’s accusation of hypocrisy: he’s talking to the notorious "scribes and Pharisees" – who look nothing like us.

On the other hand, we may sometimes find it less easy to brush off the accusations of hypocrisy thrown at us by people in our world today. Sometimes we stammer and become defensive. Sometimes we just slink away or never even try to share our moral beliefs with others.

Being a human being and a follower of Christ means that we must be honest about our vulnerability to accusations of hypocrisy, for we are sinners who aspire to perfection through the grace of Christ.

We must neither exempt ourselves from Christ’s warnings nor let ourselves be paralyzed by the denunciations of others.

Sure, we don’t look like the scribes and the Pharisees - we don’t wear elaborate robes and sit in prominent positions within the assembly (well, most of us don’t) - but we very much need to take our Lord’s words to heart.

You lock the Kingdom of heaven before men.
You do not enter yourselves,
nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.

Ironically, we may run afoul of this denunciation by trying to avoid accusations of hypocrisy. We may be aware that certain persistent behavior of ours is contrary to a precept of Scripture and the Church, so we don’t talk about it: leaving other people in the same darkness we have made for ourselves.

Rather than avoid the subject, we should be working with each other – even with painful honesty when necessary – to get past our hurdles through the grace of God and enter into the greater perfection to which he calls us.

You traverse sea and land to make one convert,
and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna
twice as much as yourselves.

As I read this, I cannot help but think about those of us who blog about our faith on the World Wide Web. How often do we let our own imperfections mix into our cyber-witness? And think of how these imperfections can be magnified and multiplied, especially in the hyperlinked echo chambers of some of our blog communities.

When we evangelize others, we also need to be evangelizing ourselves. Even as our words journey to the other side of the world, we should also be focusing on our own journey to the fullness of truth and love in Christian faith and practice.

(I am far, far from perfect in all of this myself, yet I am grateful whenever I find that the writing of these reflections enables me to wrestle with my own limited understanding of God’s holy truth and with the flaws of my own life. Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, be merciful to me – a sinner.)

Just as we can not excuse ourselves from the warnings of Christ, so also we cannot let accusations of hypocrisy excuse us from Christ’s command to teach his word.

First, it is important to remember that it is not our word, but Christ’s.

The truth of God’s commands may be poorly served by some of his messengers, but that truth remains nonetheless. The moral authority of the Church and of Christian teaching comes from Christ, not from those who those who try - successfully or unsuccessfully - to pass that teaching on.

If those who proclaim the truth are faithful to that truth in all their words and deeds, how much more effective their proclamation! However, if those who proclaim the truth are not personally faithful to that truth, then their personal position is perilous, but the truth and its power remains.

The greatest danger comes when we forget that we ourselves are sinners, when we make ourselves sound as if the truth and wisdom that we speak comes from ourselves rather than from Christ, when we make it sound to others as if we have attained perfection while we are actually still struggling up the same road they are.

But if we fail to speak, if we let the denunciations of others silence us, if we evade or defer the command of Christ – waiting until we ourselves achieve a level of perfection that rivals the saints (who were always mindful of their own sinfulness) – then we let ourselves slip backwards down the road and we pave the way for others to slip back down with us – even further away from the light, from the truth, from the perfection to which we allegedly aspire.

It is not easy to face the accusations of hypocrisy; it is not easy to be confronted with our own sinfulness; but it is deadly not to be honest about the truth of Christ: deadly for those in need of that truth and doubly deadly for those of us who fail to share it.

"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

We are sinners,
in desperate need
of the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
and also
with the eternally serious obligation
of honestly proclaiming
the truth of Christ
and the need we all have for Christ’s grace.

"A laboratory of vocations"

"(World Youth Day) is a laboratory of vocations, because in the course of these days the Lord will not have failed to make his call heard in the hearts of many young people.

"It is a call which naturally must be received and internalized, if it is to put forth deep roots and thus bear good and lasting fruit.

"So many of the testimonies of young people and couples show that the experience of these world meetings, when it unfolds within a journey of faith, discernment and ecclesial service, can lead to mature decisions for marriage, religious life, priestly and missionary service."

from Pope Benedict's address to German bishops yesterday

The Queenship of Mary

is a doubly strange concept for many today.

To begin with, the notion of queenship sounds alien to some people in an age of democracy.

Moreover, some see such a title as “the Queenship of Mary” to be an example of ideas about Christ’s mother they consider “over-the-top” at best.

But it is a mistake to view such titles and devotions as the “Queenship of Mary” in isolation from the saving work of the One Mediator, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as revealed in Scripture.

To be sure, Mary had a unique and critical role – beginning with her saying “Yes” to God, continuing through our Lord’s life and death on the cross, and even being present at the great Pentecost event – but everything Mary was and everything Mary did was made possible by the grace of Christ (her son though he was) and was a manifestation of her faith.

We see all of this tied together in the account of the Visitation (Lk 1), as Elizabeth proclaims the blessedness that flows from Mary’s faith and Mary herself exults in what has been done for her (and for all) by the grace of God her Savior.

We must remember also that our Lord promised a kingly eschatological role to his followers (e.g., Mt. 19:28).

This kingly role that awaits us flows from the power of faith and the power of Christ’s grace – all of which was exemplified in that humble teenage mother who said “Yes” to God. For all of these reasons and more, the Church celebrates today the Queenship of Mary. detail from 'the Madonna of the Magnificat' by Sandro Botticelli


"At the conclusion of this, my first visit to Germany as the Bishop of Rome and the Successor of Peter, I must express once again my heartfelt gratitude for the welcome given to me, to my collaborators and especially to the many young people who came to Cologne from every continent for this World Youth Day.

"The Lord has called me to succeed our beloved Pope John Paul II, whose inspired idea it was to initiate the series of World Youth Days.

"I have taken up this legacy with joy, and I give thanks to God for giving me the opportunity to experience in the company of so many young people this further step along their spiritual pilgrimage from continent to continent, following the Cross of Christ."

(from Pope Benedict's farewell at the Cologne/Bonn airport yesterday)

Word to the bishops

"Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

"I bless the Lord who has given me the joy of meeting you here, on German soil, at the conclusion of this Twentieth World Youth Day. I think we could say that the hand of Providence has been visible during these days, and not only has it given encouragement to me, the Successor of Peter, but it has also offered a sign of hope to the Church in this country, and above all to you, her Pastors.

* * * * *

"We know that on the face of this Church there are unfortunately also wrinkles, shadows that obscure her splendour. These too we should keep before us, in a spirit of unfailing love, at this moment of celebration and thanksgiving.

* * * * *

"May the memory of these hope-filled days spent in Cologne sustain your ministry, our ministry."

from an address to German bishops yesterday

Next time, in Sydney

from Pope Benedict's Angelus message at World Youth Day yesterday:

"And now, as the living presence of the Risen Christ in our midst nourishes our faith and hope, I am pleased to announce that the next World Youth Day will take place in Sydney, Australia, in 2008."

Concluding and going forward

"Anyone who has discovered Christ must lead others to him. A great joy cannot be kept to oneself. It has to be passed on.

"In vast areas of the world today there is a strange forgetfulness of God. It seems as if everything would be just the same even without him. But at the same time there is a feeling of frustration, a sense of dissatisfaction with everyone and everything. People tend to exclaim: 'This cannot be what life is about!' Indeed not.

"And so, together with forgetfulness of God there is a kind of new explosion of religion. I have no wish to discredit all the manifestations of this phenomenon. There may be sincere joy in the discovery. Yet if it is pushed too far, religion becomes almost a consumer product. People choose what they like, and some are even able to make a profit from it.

"But religion constructed on a 'do-it-yourself' basis cannot ultimately help us. It may be comfortable, but at times of crisis we are left to ourselves.

"Help people to discover the true star which points out the way to us: Jesus Christ! Let us seek to know him better and better, so as to be able to guide others to him with conviction.

"This is why love for Sacred Scripture is so important, and in consequence, it is important to know the faith of the Church which opens up for us the meaning of Scripture. It is the Holy Spirit who guides the Church as her faith grows, causing her to enter ever more deeply into the truth (cf. Jn 16:13). Pope John Paul II gave us a wonderful work in which the faith of centuries is explained synthetically: the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I myself recently presented the Compendium of the Catechism, prepared at the request of the late Holy Father. These are two fundamental texts which I recommend to all of you.

"Obviously books alone are not enough. (You must) form communities based on faith!

"In recent decades movements and communities have come to birth in which the power of the Gospel is keenly felt. Seek communion in faith, like fellow travellers who continue together to follow the path of the great pilgrimage that the Magi from the East first pointed out to us.

"The spontaneity of new communities is important, but it is also important to preserve communion with the Pope and with the Bishops. It is they who guarantee that we are not seeking private paths, but are living as God’s great family, founded by the Lord through the twelve Apostles.

"Once again, I must return to the Eucharist.

"'Because there is one bread, we, though many, are one body” says Saint Paul (1 Cor 10:17). By this he meant: since we receive the same Lord and he gathers us together and draws us into himself, we ourselves are one.

"This must be evident in our lives. It must be seen in our capacity to forgive. It must be seen in our sensitivity to the needs of others. It must be seen in our willingness to share. It must be seen in our commitment to our neighbours, both those close at hand and those physically far away, whom we nevertheless consider to be close. Today there are many forms of voluntary assistance, models of mutual service, of which our society has urgent need. We must not, for example, abandon the elderly to their solitude, we must not pass by when we meet people who are suffering.

"If we think and live according to our communion with Christ, then our eyes will be opened. Then we will no longer be content to scrape a living just for ourselves, but we will see where and how we are needed. Living and acting thus, we will soon realize that it is much better to be useful and at the disposal of others than to be concerned only with the comforts that are offered to us.

"I know that you as young people have great aspirations, that you want to pledge yourselves to build a better world. Let others see this, let the world see it, since this is exactly the witness that the world expects from the disciples of Jesus Christ; in this way, and through your love above all, the world will be able to discover the star that we follow as believers.

"Let us go forward with Christ and let us live our lives as true worshippers of God! Amen."

(the conclusion of Pope Benedict's homily at World Youth Day yesterday)

The value of Sunday

"Jesus’s hour seeks to become our own hour and will indeed become so if we allow ourselves, through the celebration of the Eucharist, to be drawn into that process of transformation that the Lord intends to bring about. The Eucharist must become the centre of our lives.

"If the Church tells us that the Eucharist is an essential part of Sunday, this is no mere positivism or thirst for power.

"On Easter morning, first the women and then the disciples had the grace of seeing the Lord. From that moment on, they knew that the first day of the week, Sunday, would be his day, the day of Christ the Lord. The day when creation began became the day when creation was renewed. Creation and redemption belong together.

"That is why Sunday is so important.

"It is good that today, in many cultures, Sunday is a free day, and is often combined with Saturday so as to constitute a “week-end” of free time. Yet this free time is empty if God is not present.

"Dear friends! Sometimes, our initial impression is that having to include time for Mass on a Sunday is rather inconvenient. But if you make the effort, you will realize that this is what gives a proper focus to your free time. Do not be deterred from taking part in Sunday Mass, and help others to discover it too. This is because the Eucharist releases the joy that we need so much, and we must learn to grasp it ever more deeply, we must learn to love it. Let us pledge ourselves to do this – it is worth the effort!

"Let us discover the intimate riches of the Church’s liturgy and its true greatness: it is not we who are celebrating for ourselves, but it is the living God himself who is preparing a banquet for us. Through your love for the Eucharist you will also rediscover the sacrament of Reconciliation, in which the merciful goodness of God always allows us to make a fresh start in our lives."

(from Pope Benedict's homily at World Youth Day yesterday)

Christ, adoration, and union

"We are to become the Body of Christ, his own flesh and blood. We all eat the one bread, and this means that we ourselves become one.

"In this way, adoration, as we said earlier, becomes union. God no longer simply stands before us, as the one who is totally Other. He is within us, and we are in him. His dynamic enters into us and then seeks to spread outwards to others until it fills the world, so that his love can truly become the dominant measure of the world.
"I like to illustrate this new step urged upon us by the Last Supper by drawing out the different nuances of the word 'adoration' in Greek and in Latin.

"The Greek word is proskynesis.

"It refers to the gesture of submission, the recognition of God as our true measure, supplying the norm that we choose to follow. It means that freedom is not simply about enjoying life in total autonomy, but rather about living by the measure of truth and goodness, so that we ourselves can become true and good. This gesture is necessary even if initially our yearning for freedom makes us inclined to resist it. We can only fully accept it when we take the second step that the Last Supper proposes to us.

"The Latin word for adoration is ad-oratio – mouth to mouth contact, a kiss, an embrace, and hence ultimately love.

"Submission becomes union, because he to whom we submit is Love. In this way submission acquires a meaning, because it does not impose anything on us from the outside, but liberates us deep within.

"Let us return once more to the Last Supper. The new element to emerge here was the deeper meaning given to Israel’s ancient prayer of blessing, which from that point on became the word of transformation, enabling us to participate in the 'hour' of Christ.

"Jesus did not instruct us to repeat the Passover meal, which in any event, given that it is an anniversary, is not repeatable at will. He instructed us to enter into his 'hour.' We enter into it through the sacred power of the words of consecration – a transformation brought about through the prayer of praise which places us in continuity with Israel and the whole of salvation history, and at the same time ushers in the new, to which the older prayer at its deepest level was pointing. The new prayer – which the Church calls the 'Eucharistic Prayer' – brings the Eucharist into being. It is the word of power which transforms the gifts of the earth in an entirely new way into God’s gift of himself and it draws us into this process of transformation.

"That is why we call this action 'Eucharist,' which is a translation of the Hebrew word beracha – thanksgiving, praise, blessing, and a transformation worked by the Lord: the presence of his 'hour.'

"Jesus’s hour is the hour in which love triumphs. In other words: it is God who has triumphed, because he is Love."
(from Pope Benedict's homily at World Youth Day yesterday)


"Dear young friends,

"Yesterday evening we came together in the presence of the Sacred Host, in which Jesus becomes for us the bread that sustains and feeds us (cf. Jn 6:35), and there we began our inner journey of adoration. In the Eucharist, adoration must become union.

"At the celebration of the Eucharist, we find ourselves in the 'hour' of Jesus, to use the language of John’s Gospel. Through the Eucharist this 'hour' of Jesus becomes our own hour, his presence in our midst.

"Together with the disciples he celebrated the Passover of Israel, the memorial of God’s liberating action that led Israel from slavery to freedom. Jesus follows the rites of Israel. He recites over the bread the prayer of praise and blessing. But then something new happens. He thanks God not only for the great works of the past; he thanks him for his own exaltation, soon to be accomplished through the Cross and Resurrection, and he speaks to the disciples in words that sum up the whole of the Law and the Prophets: ' This is my Body, given in sacrifice for you. This cup is the New Covenant in my Blood.' He then distributes the bread and the cup, and instructs them to repeat his words and actions of that moment over and over again in his memory.

"What is happening? How can Jesus distribute his Body and his Blood?

"By making the bread into his Body and the wine into his Blood, he anticipates his death, he accepts it in his heart and he transforms it into an action of love. What on the outside is simply brutal violence, from within becomes an act of total self-giving love.

"This is the substantial transformation which was accomplished at the Last Supper and was destined to set in motion a series of transformations leading ultimately to the transformation of the world when God will be all in all (cf. 1 Cor 15:28).

"In their hearts, people always and everywhere have somehow expected a change, a transformation of the world. Here now is the central act of transformation that alone can truly renew the world: violence is transformed into love, and death into life. Since this act transmutes death into love, death as such is already conquered from within, the resurrection is already present in it. Death is, so to speak, mortally wounded, so that it can no longer have the last word. To use an image well known to us today, this is like inducing nuclear fission in the very heart of being – the victory of love over hatred, the victory of love over death.

"Only this intimate explosion of good conquering evil can then trigger off the series of transformations that little by little will change the world. All other changes remain superficial and cannot save. For this reason we speak of redemption: what had to happen at the most intimate level has indeed happened, and we can enter into its dynamic. Jesus can distribute his Body, because he truly gives himself.

"This first fundamental transformation of violence into love, of death into life, brings other changes in its wake. Bread and wine become his Body and Blood. But it must not stop there, on the contrary, the process of transformation must now gather momentum. The Body and Blood of Christ are given to us so that we ourselves will be transformed in our turn."

(the beginning of Pope Benedict's homily at World Youth Day yesterday)

Sunday, August 21, 2005

They shall not prevail

Our Lord’s words in today’s Gospel (Mt. 16:13-20) are very familiar – especially for Catholics – and yet his words remain both astounding and powerful.

It is possibly no coincidence that the World Youth Day events are scheduled to culminate on the day this Gospel is read, as Pope Benedict XVI in a unique and dramatic way carries on the Petrine ministry that began with these words.

But there is also a dark hint in these words of power: a note of darkness barely softened by modern translations.

The gates of hell.

In speaking of his Church, our Lord says that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

The "gates of hell" encompass all that is evil - all that is opposed to God - and we seem to see these gates everywhere in these days.

There are many forces in the world on the attack today: opposed to God, opposed to the Church, opposed to faithful Christian living, even opposed to the very notion of objective morality.

They shall not prevail.

There are also many things in our world that oppose God by pushing in their own selfish directions: in popular culture, in politics, in science, in our churches, and even within ourselves.

They shall not prevail.

It is sometimes easy to get discouraged. Every day, the world seems to get worse. Every day, selfish people denigrate holy things. Every day, temptations tug at us and sin seems to overwhelm us.

They shall not prevail.

Upon this rock I will build my church;
and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The better you know...

"It is only when a young man has had a personal experience of Christ that he can truly understand the Lord’s will and consequently his own vocation.

"The better you know Jesus the more his mystery attracts you. The more you discover him, the more you are moved to seek him. This is a movement of the spirit which lasts throughout life..."

from an address August 19 by Pope Benedict XVI to seminarians at World Youth Day

(Photograph of priests and seminarians reacting to Pope Benedict's election 4 months before.)

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Vigil with the youth

"Dear young friends,

"In our pilgrimage with the mysterious Magi from the East, we have arrived at the moment which Saint Matthew describes in his Gospel with these words: 'Going into the house (over which the star had halted), they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him' (Mt 2:11).

"Outwardly, their journey was now over. They had reached their goal. But at this point a new journey began for them, an inner pilgrimage which changed their whole lives."

* * * * *

"The Magi from the East are just the first in a long procession of men and women who have constantly tried to gaze upon God’s star in their lives, going in search of the God who has drawn close to us and shows us the way.

"It is the great multitude of the saints – both known and unknown – in whose lives the Lord has opened up the Gospel before us and turned over the pages; he has done this throughout history and he still does so today. In their lives, as if in a great picture-book, the riches of the Gospel are revealed. They are the shining path which God himself has traced throughout history and is still tracing today....

"The saints and the blesseds did not doggedly seek their own happiness, but simply wanted to give themselves, because the light of Christ had shone upon them. They show us the way to attain happiness, they show us how to be truly human.

"Through all the ups and downs of history, they were the true reformers who constantly rescued it from plunging into the valley of darkness; it was they who constantly shed upon it the light that was needed to make sense – even in the midst of suffering – of God’s words spoken at the end of the work of creation: 'It is very good.'"

* * * * *

"Now I want to express this in an even more radical way: only from the saints, only from God does true revolution come, the definitive way to change the world.

"In the last century we experienced revolutions with a common programme – expecting nothing more from God, they assumed total responsibility for the cause of the world in order to change it. And this, as we saw, meant that a human and partial point of view was always taken as an absolute guiding principle.

"Absolutizing what is not absolute but relative is called totalitarianism. It does not liberate man, but takes away his dignity and enslaves him.

"It is not ideologies that save the world, but only a return to the living God, our Creator, the guarantor of our freedom, the guarantor of what is really good and true. True revolution consists in simply turning to God who is the measure of what is right and who at the same time is everlasting love.

* * * * *

"There is much that could be criticized in the Church. We know this and the Lord himself told us so: it is a net with good fish and bad fish, a field with wheat and darnel.

"Pope John Paul II, as well as revealing the true face of the Church in the many saints that he canonized, also asked pardon for the wrong that was done in the course of history through the words and deeds of members of the Church.

"In this way he showed us our own true image and urged us to take our place, with all our faults and weaknesses, in the procession of the saints that began with the Magi from the East.

"It is actually consoling to realize that there is darnel in the Church. In this way, despite all our defects, we can still hope to be counted among the disciples of Jesus, who came to call sinners.

"The Church is like a human family, but at the same time it is also the great family of God, through which he establishes an overarching communion and unity that embraces every continent, culture and nation. So we are glad to belong to this great family; we are glad to have brothers and friends all over the world.

"Here in Cologne we discover the joy of belonging to a family as vast as the world, including heaven and earth, the past, the present, the future and every part of the earth. In this great band of pilgrims we walk side by side with Christ, we walk with the star that enlightens our history.

“'Going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him' (Mt 2:11).

"Dear friends, this is not a distant story that took place long ago. It is with us now. Here in the sacred Host he is present before us and in our midst. As at that time, so now he is mysteriously veiled in a sacred silence; as at that time, it is here that the true face of God is revealed. For us he became a grain of wheat that falls on the ground and dies and bears fruit until the end of the world (cf. Jn 12:24). He is present now as he was then in Bethlehem. He invites us to that inner pilgrimage which is called adoration. Let us set off on this pilgrimage of the spirit and let us ask him to be our guide. Amen."

from a vigil celebration with the youth this evening

Meeting with Muslims

"Dear Muslim Friends!

"It gives me great joy to be able to be with you and to offer you my heartfelt greetings....

"I turn to you, dear Muslim friends, to share my hopes with you and to let you know of my concerns at these particularly difficult times in our history.

* * * * *

I am certain that I echo your own thoughts when I bring up as one of our concerns the spread of terrorism.... Those who instigate and plan these attacks evidently wish to poison our relations, making use of all means, including religion, to oppose every attempt to build a peaceful, fair and serene life together.

"Terrorism of any kind is a perverse and cruel decision which shows contempt for the sacred right to life and undermines the very foundations of all civil society.

"If together we can succeed in eliminating from hearts any trace of rancour, in resisting every form of intolerance and in opposing every manifestation of violence, we will turn back the wave of cruel fanaticism that endangers the lives of so many people and hinders progress towards world peace....

"Dear friends, I am profoundly convinced that we must not yield to the negative pressures in our midst, but must affirm the values of mutual respect, solidarity and peace.

"The life of every human being is sacred, both for Christians and for Muslims. There is plenty of scope for us to act together in the service of fundamental moral values....

"During my meeting last April with the delegates of Churches and Christian communities and with representatives of the various religious traditions, I affirmed that 'the Church wants to continue building bridges of friendship with the followers of all religions, in order to seek the true good of every person and of society as a whole' (L’Osservatore Romano, 25 April 2005, p. 4).

"Past experience teaches us that relations between Christians and Muslims have not always been marked by mutual respect and understanding. How many pages of history record battles and even wars that have been waged, with both sides invoking the name of God, as if fighting and killing the enemy could be pleasing to him.

"The recollection of these sad events should fill us with shame, for we know only too well what atrocities have been committed in the name of religion.

"The lessons of the past must help us to avoid repeating the same mistakes. We must seek paths of reconciliation and learn to live with respect for each other’s identity. The defence of religious freedom, in this sense, is a permanent imperative and respect for minorities is a clear sign of true civilization."

* * * * *

"As Christians and Muslims, we must face together the many challenges of our time. There is no room for apathy and disengagement, and even less for partiality and sectarianism. We must not yield to fear or pessimism. Rather, we must cultivate optimism and hope. Interreligious and intercultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims cannot be reduced to an optional extra. It is in fact a vital necessity, on which in large measure our future depends....

"I pray with all my heart, dear Muslim friends, that the merciful and compassionate God may protect you, bless you and enlighten you always. May the God of peace lift up our hearts, nourish our hope and guide our steps on the paths of the world."

from an address to representatives of Muslim communities

The Foreigner

In today's first reading (click here for a reflection on today's Gospel) we hear the rest of the familiar story of Ruth: the account of how a woman from an alien land became the great-grandmother of one of the greatest figures in the history of Israel - King David.

Key to the sequence of events is this exchange between Ruth and her future husband:

Casting herself prostrate upon the ground, she said to him, "Why should I, a foreigner, be favored with your notice?"

Boaz answered her: "I have had a complete account of what you have done for your mother-in-law after your husband's death....

Although Ruth was doubtlessly attractive, there were certainly many other attractive girls in the area who were significantly younger and true Israelites.

Boaz looked beyond Ruth's background and based his opinion of her on her virtues, her faithfulness, and the way she lived her life.

Do we do the same?

He was born an aristocrat

  • He motivated nearly all his brothers and friends to become monks with him.
  • He reformed an entire religious order.
  • He advised kings and popes.
  • He was an important figure at an Ecumenical Council.
  • He ended schisms and launched campaigns.
  • He wrote magnificent works of faith.
  • He inspired one of history’s greatest poets.
  • He was the first member of his order to become a saint.
  • He was solemnly declared a Doctor of the Church.
  • Today, thousands follow his example in imitating Christ.

Sadly, uninformed people today only know about the dog.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the great reformer of the Cistercian order, died on this very day in 1153.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The teacher

Pope Benedict at a seminary today

Ecumenical Meeting today

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,

"Permit me to remain seated after such a strenuous day. This does not mean I wish to speak 'ex cathedra.' Also, excuse me for being late. Unfortunately, Vespers took longer than foreseen and the traffic was slower moving than could be imagined.

"I would like now to express the joy I feel on the occasion of my Visit to Germany, in being able to meet you and offer a warm greeting to you, the Representatives of the other Churches and Ecclesial Communities.

* * * * *

"Among Christians, fraternity is not just a vague sentiment, nor is it a sign of indifference to truth. As you have just said, bishop, it is grounded in the supernatural reality of the one Baptism which makes us members of the one Body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:28; Col 2:12).

"Together we confess that Jesus Christ is God and Lord; together we acknowledge him as the one mediator between God and man (cf. 1 Tim 2:5) and we emphasize that together we are members of his Body (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, 22; Ut Unum Sint, 42).

"Based on this essential foundation of baptism, a reality comes from him which is a way of being, then of professing, believing and acting. Based on this crucial foundation, dialogue has borne its fruits and will continue to do so.

"I would like to mention the re-examination of the mutual condemnations, called for by John Paul II during his first visit to Germany in 1980, and .... 'Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification' (1999), which grew out of that re-examination and led to an agreement on basic issues that had been a subject of controversy since the sixteenth century.

"We should also acknowledge with gratitude the results of our common stand on important matters such as the fundamental questions involving the defence of life and the promotion of justice and peace.

"I am well aware that many Christians in this country, and not only in this country, expect further concrete steps to bring us closer together.

"I myself have the same expectation.

"It is the Lord’s command, but also the imperative of the present hour, to carry on dialogue, with conviction, at all levels of the Church’s life.

"This must obviously take place with sincerity and realism, with patience and perseverance, in complete fidelity to the dictates of one’s conscience in the awareness that it is the Lord who gives unity, that we do not create it, that it is he who gives it but that we must go to meet him."

* * * * *

"Another urgent priority in ecumenical dialogue arises from the great ethical questions of our time.

"In this area, modern, searching man rightly expects a common response on the part of Christians, which, thanks be to God, has often been forthcoming.... but unfortunately, this does not always happen.

"Because of contradictory positions in these areas, our witness to the Gospel and the ethical guidance which we owe to the faithful and to society lose their impact and often appear too vague, with the result that we fail in our duty to provide the witness that is needed in our time.

"Our divisions are contrary to the will of Jesus and they disappoint the expectations of our contemporaries.

"I think that we must work with new energy and dedication to bring a common witness into the context of these great ethical challenges of our time."

* * * * *

"I am convinced that if more and more people unite themselves to the Lord’s prayer 'that all may be one” (Jn 17:21), then this prayer, made in the name of Jesus, will not go unheard (cf. Jn 14:13; 15:7, 16, etc.). With the help that comes from on high, we will also find practical solutions to the different questions which remain open, and in the end our desire for unity will come to fulfilment, whenever and however the Lord wills.

"Now let us all go along this path in the awareness that walking together is a form of unity. Let us thank God for this and pray that he will continue to guide us all."

from Pope Benedict's address to an ecumenical gathering today

UPDATE: As said earlier, the Holy Father speaks so well off the top of his head. Indeed, he deviated a number of times from his prepared text (which I have generally followed in most of these posts). Sandro Magister of L'Espresso has copied in his Sept. 2 column the actual transcript from the Vatican web site and I have adjusted the above excerpts accordingly. (Hat tip: Amy Welborn)

The Pope goes to seminary

"Dear Seminarians,

"I greet all of you with great affection and gratitude for your festive welcome
and particularly for the fact that you have come to this gathering from so many countries the world over.

* * * * *

"The Magi set out because of a deep desire which prompted them to leave everything and begin a journey. It was as though they had always been waiting for that star. It was as if the journey had always been a part of their destiny, and was finally about to begin.

"Dear friends, this is the mystery of God’s call, the mystery of vocation. It is part of the life of every Christian, but it is particularly evident in those whom Christ asks to leave everything in order to follow him more closely.

"The seminarian experiences the beauty of that call in a moment of grace which could be defined as 'falling in love.'

"His soul is filled with amazement, which makes him ask in prayer: 'Lord, why me?' But love knows no 'why;' it is a free gift to which one responds with the gift of self."

* * * * *

"The seminary years are a time of journeying, of exploration, but above all of discovering Christ. It is only when a young man has had a personal experience of Christ that he can truly understand the Lord’s will and consequently his own vocation.

"The better you know Jesus the more his mystery attracts you. The more you discover him, the more you are moved to seek him. This is a movement of the spirit which lasts throughout life...."

from an address to seminarians earlier today

Family ties

Mothers-in-law in some cultures are the frequent subject of jokes and indeed not every married person has a wonderful relationship with their in-laws.

Today’s first reading tells a very different story: the first part of the familiar story of Ruth (from the book of that same name) in which Ruth forsakes her homeland and pagan religion to accompany her mother-in-law and embrace her mother-in-law’s faith – faith in the Lord God of Israel.

Ruth’s mother-in-law had not been intent on converting her – quite the contrary – and yet it was through her that Ruth came to know the Lord.

It is an example to us of how the simple witness of our lives can prove to be the instruments by which others – even our own family members – can be brought deeper into the faith.

Although clarity about faith in charity is important, arguments about religion are usually counterproductive, especially with relatives. The simple witness of a life fully lived in Christ, however, can be a much more effective instrument of grace – for the stranger we meet as well as for the ones we know and love.

The Priest of Hearts

Love was very important to John: not just any love, but the love of God – the love that flows from the heart of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and fills the hearts of the saints, most especially our Lord’s mother.

Intent on focusing on that love, when he was 14, John took a vow of chastity and several years later was ordained a priest.

He would be instrumental in promoting public devotion to the love of God through the Sacred Heart of Jesus (and manifested in the Holy Heart of Mary). He wrote many prayers still used today.

St. John Eudes died on this very day in 1680 and was canonized in 1925.