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, November 30, 2005

Really do it

Today’s first reading (Romans 10:9-18) starts with a classic, simple statement that is deep with meaning:

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus,
and shalt believe in thine heart
that God hath raised him from the dead,
thou shalt be saved

Some people make this so simple that it seems like magic.

Other people make this so complicated, theologized and spiritualized that it loses relevance.

What you and I need to do is to take these words and their meaning seriously.

We need to confess – really confess - the Lordship of Jesus out loud: not just in the simple statement - everything that comes out of our mouths should reflect the Lordship of Christ.

We need to believe – really believe – in the resurrection: not just as an isolated fact, but as the central event of existence (especially our own existence) with everything that flows from that resurrection.

If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus,
and shalt believe in thine heart
that God hath raised him from the dead,
thou shalt be saved.

Really do it.

Christian Carnival

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

Happy Saint Andrew's Day

St. Andrew - St. Peter's Basilica
Especially to the people of Scotland
and others who honor St. Andrew as a patron

Wanting more / having it all

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 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.

The Feast of St. Andrew is celebrated on this day.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

How God meant the world to be

Today’s readings are a feast of wonder and delights.

The Gospel (Luke 10:21-24) has Luke’s account of these simple and joyous word’s of our Lord:

I thank thee, O Father,
Lord of heaven and earth,
that thou hast hid these things
from the wise and prudent,
and hast revealed them unto babes:
even so, Father;
for so it seemed good in thy sight.

(I find these words especially comforting when my wisdom and prudence fails – which is often)

The first reading (Isaiah 11:1-10) begins with the classic Old Testament description of what the Holy Spirit gives:

And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.

And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.

(Come, Holy Spirit)

But the most amazing part of today’s readings is the last part of the passage from Isaiah and its description of messianic peace that is very familiar and yet still astounding:

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
and the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall feed;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den.

There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD,
as water covers the sea.

It is a wonderful, beautiful prophecy – very much in contrast to the world in which we live.

The year now approaching its close began with the aftermath of a tsunami and continued with hurricanes, earthquakes, and ongoing human-inflicted disasters from which millions still suffer.

Despite the misuse of the term “acts of God,” however, this is not how God meant the world to be, but he will make all things new.

We also see men and women compelled to do all manner of things: sometimes in the name of “love” and sometimes even in the name of “God.”

Despite the misuse of the words “love” and “God,” however, this is not how God meant the world to be, but he will make all things new.

God will indeed bring about what Isaiah’s prophecy describes, in his own way and in his own time.

In the meanwhile, we can make a start – in our own puny ways and within our brief time – by doing what we can to fill the earth (and ourselves) with knowledge of the Lord – through prayer, through study, and most especially through the gift of his Holy Spirit.

Come, Lord, do not delay.
Make all things new!
Forgive us and restore us.
Let all things be as you meant them to be.
Let there be peace, within ourselves and with all.
Fill us with knowledge of you
as water fills the sea.

Come, Lord Jesus!

Instruction about Seminarians

The long-discussed Instruction from the Vatican regarding homosexuality and seminarians was released early today.

A pdf copy is available on the U.S. Bishops' website.

The President of the U.S. Bishops' Conference, Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, has also released a statement. This is an excerpt:

"In this instruction, the Congregation for Catholic Education is exercising a Christian realism about what is expected in candidates for the priesthood. This realism understands the challenges of our time. It expresses the valid concern that all candidates must display an 'affective maturity' which enables them to relate properly to others as chaste, celibate priests who can faithfully represent the teaching of the Church about sexuality, including the immorality of homosexual genital activity. This realism also makes it clear that it is certainly not acceptable if a candidate practices homosexuality or, whether active or not, if he identifies himself principally by a homosexual inclination or orientation. It is also not acceptable for a candidate to support the 'gay culture' and to be so concerned with homosexual issues that he cannot sincerely represent the Church’s teaching on sexuality."

Catholic Carnival

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

Monday, November 28, 2005

Priesthood in the 21st Century?

"At first sight it may not seem to be an ideal time to consider becoming a priest. At the beginning of the 21st Century Western culture is not particularly supportive of the spiritual dimension of our humanity. Everything seems to be instant and temporary.

"On the other hand, it is a time when, increasingly, people are looking for a deeper meaning and purpose in their lives.... Without realizing it, Western society is searching for its soul.... It may not be an easy time to be a priest, but it is certainly a great time to consider it.

"To be a priest, diocesan or missionary, is to be a spiritual leader in the community of faith. A priest gathers the people around the table of the Lord. He opens the Word of God to people. He is called upon, sometimes on the same day, to comfort the dying and to share in the joy of the newly married.

"It is a varied and challenging way of life. It can sometimes be difficult, but in his work with people, a priest is often touched by the mystery and the presence of God."

from the website of the Diocese of Down & Connor (Ireland)

Listen up, soldier!

Today’s readings hold special resonance for men and women who serve in the armed forces. In the first reading (Isaiah 2:1-5), there is the classic prophecy of peace:

They shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;
One nation shall not raise the sword against another,
nor shall they train for war again.

A comforting prophecy for those who risk death daily in the cause of peace.

Then, the words of the Centurion in today’s Gospel (Matthew 8:5-11) ring familiar for anyone who has served in uniform.

For I too am a man subject to authority,
with soldiers subject to me.
And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes;
and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes;
and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.

Most Christians (especially Catholics who were confirmed with an old-style catechism) know that we are all soldiers of Jesus Christ: he is our Lord – our commander; we owe him obedience (and he has earned our undying affection); we are not just individuals, we are part of a larger unit; and we are engaged in an ongoing struggle for the greatest good possible.

The first objective of a soldier, however, is not capturing and holding territory: the first objective of a soldier is conquering and controlling oneself.

Likewise, what is most critical to a soldier day-in and day-out is not high-tech weaponry: what keeps you alive day-in and day-out is what you wear and what you carry with you – most especially your training.

As a soldier of Christ, what you train in, what you wear, and what you carry with you is Truth itself in all its fullness.

St. Paul runs through the checklist in Ephesians 6:14-17:

So stand fast with your loins girded in truth,
clothed with righteousness as a breastplate,
and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace.

In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield,
to quench all (the) flaming arrows of the evil one.

And take the helmet of salvation
and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

As we begin this season of Advent, preparing for the coming of the Lord at Christmas and the coming of the Lord at the end of days, we do well to take this opportunity to train and retrain ourselves as soldiers of Christ: immersing ourselves in his word, his truth, his faith; conquering ourselves internally by the power of that truth and of his grace; and letting ourselves shine externally as warriors of light - as beacons of charity, holiness, and truth - so that by our witness

Many peoples shall come and say:
"Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
That he may instruct us in his ways,
and we may walk in his paths."

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Get ready!

Advent is not a penitential season in the same way as Lent: it is a time of expectation and of getting ready – getting ready for the celebration of the Lord’s coming at Christmas and getting ready for the Lord’s coming at the end of time.

Today’s readings, however, remind us that this getting ready is not simply a matter of holiday shopping, social gatherings, or even choir rehearsal, for when we see God face to face in the full perfection of his love, all of our imperfections will become painfully clear.

As the Prophet Isaiah says in today’s first reading (Isaiah 63:16b-17,19b; 64:2-7):

Would that you might meet us doing right,
that we were mindful of you in our ways!

Our Lord gives the flip side to this sentiment in today’s Gospel (Mark 13:33-37):

May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.

The truth is that many of us, to some extent, are indeed sleepwalking through our lives, especially our spiritual lives, and we are not headed in the best direction. We therefore resonate very much with Isaiah’s lament.

Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways,
and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?

The wandering, of course, is our own fault – not God’s.

However, in Advent, God gives us an opportunity to get fully ready for him: to look at our lives, to look at our ways, to clean up the areas of our lives that need cleaning up, and to redirect ourselves along the ways of the Lord.

Fortunately, he does not leave us alone in this effort

Yet, O LORD, you are our father;
we are the clay and you the potter:
we are all the work of your hands.

God is at work in us by his grace – all we need do is to let go of our sinfulness, our selfishness, and our pride and to let ourselves be totally open and devoted to God’s grace and truth.

Then, we will no longer resonate with the lament of Isaiah in today’s first reading, but with the jubilation of St. Paul in today’s second reading (1 Corinthians 1:3-9):

I give thanks to my God always on your account
for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus,
that in him you were enriched in every way,
with all discourse and all knowledge,
as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you,
so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift
as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

He will keep you firm to the end,
irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Happy Advent

Come, let us worship the Lord,
the King who is to come.

Invitatory Antiphon for Advent

Saturday, November 26, 2005

So they said to him

"Then what sign do you do,
that we may see, and believe you?
What work do you perform?"
John 6:30

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me: a sinner.

Give to every one who begs from you

and of him who takes away your goods
do not ask them again.

Luke 6:30

The apostles returned to Jesus

and told him all that they had done and taught.
Mark 6:30

The grass of the field

But if God so clothes the grass of the field,
which today is alive
and tomorrow is thrown into the oven,
will he not much more clothe you,
O men of little faith?
Matthew 6:30

All are called to holiness...

"...to be holy as God is holy, that is our human dignity and grace.

"But some few are called to follow a less frequented path to achieve it: not because of any merit on their part, but to fulfil a particular function in the Church.

"In the case of the solitary, (that particular function is) to witness visibly - in his life - to the absolute priority of God to any created thing....

"Our monks come from many different countries and backgrounds, and follow very different paths.

What is "essential is the call (however it comes) and its discernment in the practical living of the Carthusian life.

"It is a question of letting one’s self be guided by the Spirit into the secret of God - into His infinite abounding love....

"Many will drop out along the demanding desert road of solitude. They may find that they are now called to live their faith in another way of life.

"Others, poorer perhaps in many ways but finding their grace in their poverty and trusting in God alone, will go on to the gift of self in Christ...."

from the website of St.Hugh's Charterhouse in England

(a very cool website - check your speaker volume)

Christian Carnival

This week's Christian Carnival - an ecumenical collection of posts from various Christian blogs - is now fully online at Thought Renewal in two parts: part one and part two.

Ordinary Time

Some people say they wish that every day was Christmas.

However, as I mentioned at this time last year, 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.

Letting it get to you

Sometimes we let life get to us: the stresses, the worries, and the troubles simply overwhelm us.

That definitely seems to be the case in today’s first reading (Daniel 7:15-27) as the prophetic visions of yesterday’s reading have put Daniel on the edge of a complete nervous breakdown.

I, Daniel,
found my spirit anguished within its covering of flesh,
and I was terrified by the visions of my mind.

Some people react to fears and troubles with anxiety; others try to drown themselves in drugs, alcohol, hedonism, or other mindless distractions.

In today’s Gospel (Luke 21:34-36), our Lord gives us advice for handling the fears and troubles of life, even the greatest ones.

Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy
from carousing and drunkenness
and the anxieties of daily life,
and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.

For that day will assault everyone
who lives on the face of the earth.

Be vigilant at all times
and pray that you have the strength
to escape the tribulations that are imminent
and to stand before the Son of Man.

We should not let everything get to us. Rather, we should take everything as an opportunity to get closer to Jesus.

May our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, give us the grace to pray always, to be alert and discerning, and to be strong in him – no matter what.

The Maltese Bishop et al

The Holy Father has accepted the retirement of Bishop Nikol J. Cauchi as Bishop of Gozo in Malta and named as his successor Monsignor Mario Grech, 48, a native of the diocese with a Doctorate in Canon Law from the Angelicum in Rome, who has been the diocese's Judicial Vicar while also serving in various diocesan and pastoral positions.

The Holy Father has also shifted two Spanish bishops, naming the Bishop of Albacete, Francisco Cases Andreu, 61, as the new Bishop of the Canary Islands and the Bishop of Palencia, Rafael Palmero Ramos, 69, as the new bishop of Orihuela-Alicante, accepting the retirement of the current bishops in those sees. The Holy Father has also named as the new bishop of Farafangana, Madagascar, Father Benjamin Marc Ramaroson, C.M., 50.

Friday, November 25, 2005

"Being too focused on scientific development...

"...I may not have seen all the ethical issues
related to my research."

Stem Cell Scientist Hwang Woo-suk
upon his resignation under an ethical cloud

(A truly classic statement, but sadly only the tip of the iceberg.)

Cooler than cool

Among all of the vivid imagery in the apocalyptic passages of Scripture, the ones that often stand out the most are the beasts: creatures that are both frightening and fascinating.

In today’s first reading (Daniel 7:2-14), there are four such beasts: a winged lion, a bear with three tusks, a four-headed leopard, and finally a strange beast with iron teeth and ten horns that gets even stranger as Daniel watches.

Suddenly another, a little horn,
sprang out of their midst,
and three of the previous horns
were torn away to make room for it.

This horn had eyes like a man,
and a mouth that spoke arrogantly.

To which some gamers, Goths, and druggies today may say: “Cool

More serious and devout people have spilled much ink and many bytes in speculation about the prophetic meaning of these beasts - over and above the meaning they would have had in past ages (some scholars identify the four beasts as representing the Babylonian, Median, Persian, and Hellenistic empires respectively).

The most important part of this passage, however, is not the description of the beasts.

The most important part of this passage is the vision of the heavenly court.

Terrible things have happened in this world and still more terrible things are certain to happen, but greater than all of these terrible things is the glory of God that is to be revealed at the end of days.

It is important for us to absorb the meaning of the Scriptures and to be vigilant against the terrible things that may come, but it is even more important for us to focus unswervingly on the majesty and the power of the Lord, who conquers all.

Besides, the heavenly court is way more cool...

...more spectacular, more thrilling, more frightening, infinitely more powerful, and – best of all – eternally more excellent for us.

Thrones were set up
and the Ancient One took his throne.

This Ancient One is no geezer, but rather a figure of infinite power and majesty, who shines with megapixel brightness.

His clothing was snow bright,
and the hair on his head as white as wool;

Daniel uses the word "fire" in describing the heavenly court, but these are no wussy orange flames, but rather "flames" of great, pulsing energy. Imagine the most awesome energy fields of the best science fiction movie, complete with that low, heavy hum of pent-up force - and multiply it to the nth power.

His throne was flames of fire,
with wheels of burning fire.
A surging stream of fire
flowed out from where he sat;

Thousands upon thousands

were ministering to him,
and myriads upon myriads attended him.

The court was convened,

and the books were opened.

Bye-bye, beastie.

I watched, then... until the beast was slain
and its body thrown into the fire to be burnt up....

As the visions during the night continued, I saw

One like a son of man coming,
on the clouds of heaven;

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

When he reached the Ancient One
and was presented before him,
He received dominion, glory, and kingship;
nations and peoples of every language serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not be taken away,
his kingship shall not be destroyed.

The Ultimate Cool

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

Friendship with God

"'My opinion is that
prayer is nothing other than

a friendship with God
and in solitude
to converse with Him,
who we know loves us.'
St. Teresa of Jesus

"If one takes this seriously, prayer becomes a way of life - an attitude for life. Thus can one live in the presence of God while working, eating, reading, resting or when doing something else.

"This is the goal of the Carmelite nuns: always to live in the presence of the living God, to be conscious that one's soul is, as Teresa says, the 'castle of the King.'"

from the website of
Karmel "Totus Tuus"
the northernmost Carmel in the world - built in 1998 on the island of Tromsø, Norway

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 and her memory is celebrated on this day.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

And looking up to heaven,
to You, His Almighty Father,
He gave You thanks...

Et elevatis oculis in caelum
ad te Deum Patrem suum omnipotentem,
tibi gratias agens...

The first thing out of our mouths

Many times when people get together, once they get past the usual words of greeting, the first thing out of their mouths is not always the most edifying thing to say: forgettable small talk, perfunctory health queries, and sometimes even a renewed salvo in a long-running feud.

In an epistle offered for today in the United States (1 Corinthians 1:3-9), the first words out of St. Paul’s mouth – after the usual greeting and blessing – is an expression of thanksgiving.

I give thanks to God always for you...

How much better might our own lives and relationships be if the first thing out of our mouths when we meet each other would also be words of thanksgiving.

By the way, dear readers...

I give thanks to God always for you...

Into the lions’ den

That is where some people feel like they are going when they gather with their extended families on Thanksgiving.

It is sheer coincidence that this is also the subject of the first reading proper to today (Daniel 6:12-28).

The basic message of this passage is stated clearly within it:

Daniel was removed from the den,
unhurt because he trusted in his God.

But the lions’ den is not the only dangerous place in this reading: the corridors of power in which Daniel walks are full of murderous treachery (as the verses immediately prior to this passage make clear) – a treachery that doubles back on the treacherous and their loved ones at the end of this passage.

Likewise in our own lives, we may have to walk, live, and work in places and situations full of danger and treachery. The world today seems to be an especially hostile place for Christians who take their faith seriously.

The message of today’s first reading is therefore more relevant than ever.

May we, like Daniel, serve our God constantly, so that – in his own way and in his own time, no matter what we may have to suffer – he will save us.

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, catechists,
farmers, doctors, soldiers,
husbands and fathers -
martyred for the Christian faith in Vietnam
in various ways and in various locations over the centuries,
canonized in 1988 as the Martyrs of Vietnam
and celebrated on this day.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

“How bad is it, doctor?”

It is a scene that we have seen many times in movies and on television. The patient looks up from a bed of pain at the noble doctor and asks the plaintive question.

"How bad is it, doctor? Tell it to me straight."

"It’s bad news: you’re going to die. If only you could've gotten to me sooner!"

This clichéd scene from modern drama echoes the classic scene from today’s first reading (Daniel 5:1-6,13-14,16-17,23-28): the handwriting on the wall.

As did the patient, the king knew that it looked ominous, but he wanted to get the definitive word.

As the doctor did to the patient, Daniel gave the bad news to the king and also assigned responsibility to him.

The implication is that if the king had sought and followed the guidance of the Lord earlier, he would not have gotten this bad news too late.

Likewise should we be seeking more diligently and heeding more perfectly the will of God in our lives now and not wait for the arrival of bad news: the handwriting on the wall.

Arrested 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-eight years ago today - right after this picture was taken.

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, he was beatified by the great Pope John II.

(adapted from an earlier post)

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 God call 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 to preach 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 the Irishmen. But, here and there, the monks were able to establish small monasteries from which they could work to evangelize the people anew.

Toward the end of his life, he retired to a small cave where he had built a chapel high above a river amid beautiful snowcapped mountains.

There in the mountains of northern Italy, St. Columbanus, son of Ireland and re-evangelist of Europe, died on November 21, 615. His memory is celebrated on this day.

(adapted from an earlier post)

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.

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

The problems in his own diocese did not blind him to the problems of the Church elsewhere. 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. Copies were made and it would 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 - the fisherman from Galilee 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 still and his memory is celebrated on this day.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Catholic Carnival

This week's Catholic Carnival - a collection of posts from various Catholic blogs - is online at Vitamin B16.

Steps to Discernment

"Stay Close to the Sacraments - Participate in Mass every Sunday, on holy days of obligation and daily when your schedule permits. Make frequent confession, once a month or even more often. Not yet confirmed? Do it!

"Get A Spiritual Director - Ask a priest to meet with you once a month for 30 to 60 minutes for confession and to discuss your spiritual life. Tell him you're considering priesthood.

"Pray Every Day - Develop a daily prayer routine with your spiritual director. Pray for God to give you not only knowledge of what He wants you to do but the courage to do it.

"Serve Your Parish - Seek opportunities to get involved in parish life. Choose one parish and register - don't float from parish to parish. "

from the Vocations page of the Archdiocese of Washington

Feet of clay

There are giants among us, especially among Christians: men and women who stand tall, who speak the truth with power, and who do great deeds.

And sometimes even these giants fall.

Today’s first reading (Daniel 2:31-45) describes the famous vision of a great statue of gold, silver, brass and iron whose feet were a mixture of iron and clay: the feet are struck by a mysterious stone, the statue comes tumbling down, and the stone becomes a great mountain that fills the earth.

The most basic meaning of the vision is that it describes the succession of ancient Middle Eastern empires and the future Kingdom of God.

The vision has also been used as a metaphor for the fall of exalted personages: they had "feet of clay."

What about our own feet?

Do we have feet of clay? Do we base our lives or our faith on things that are inherently fragile, such as emotion or a single hero figure?

Do we have feet of iron mixed with clay? Are we living our lives atop an accumulation of compromises?

We need to make our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ ever more the foundation of our lives, for he is the Rock: the one who fills the earth and who stands forever.

She was a heartbreaker

She was 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 her devotion to the Lord and for the things she did for the Church and for Christians.

That is why she was killed.

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. 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.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Monday, November 21, 2005

You are what you eat

If you only half-listen to today’s first reading (Daniel 1:1-6,8-20), it sounds like an infomercial for vegetarianism.

"Give us vegetables to eat and water to drink.
Then see how we look

in comparison with the other young men...."

(He) tested them for ten days;
after ten days they looked healthier and better fed
than any of the young men...

They also tested ten times better on intelligence tests.

How much would you spend for a diet like that?

But wait! There’s more!

Indeed, there is more to this story, for the issue was not really meat versus vegetables, but rather the provender of God versus the provender of the world.

Sometimes it seems as if we are living inside one long infomercial: one way or another, we are besieged constantly by messages – via mass media or peer pressure, subtly or overtly – that what the world has to offer us will make us happy and solve all our problems.

I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

For they suffer no pain;
their bodies are healthy and sleek.

They are free of the burdens of life;
they are not afflicted like others.

(Psalm 73:3-5)

Of course, we know that the comfort and pleasures of this world bind us to this world, leaving us at the end of our lives empty-handed -- and worse.

You set them, indeed, on a slippery road;
you hurl them down to ruin.
How suddenly they are devastated;
undone by disasters forever!

(Psalm 73:18-19)

But it isn't just a matter of what happens at the end of everything: today’s first reading indicates that we may benefit in many ways here and now by turning away from what the world offers and focusing on what God offers.

Daniel and his companions, held captive in what is now Iraq, look healthier and think more wisely than the elites who have filled themselves from the king’s table. Again, this was not because of any inherent properties of the food itself (although vegetables are good for you), but because they were obeying the will of God.

What the world offers tastes great but is less filling. Materialism and hedonism never fully satisfy: they only numb people temporarily to their deeper hunger - a hunger that can be satisfied only by God.

What the world teaches sounds impressive, but is ultimately lacking. Human science reveals many wonders, but closer examination always reveals its limitations. Modern medicine relieves much suffering, but it is often erratic as a guide for life decisions (pity those who constantly redirect their lives based on "the latest study"). Modern technology increases human capabilities, both for good and for evil.

What God offers does not contradict anything that is truly good in technology, medicine, science, pleasure or any material thing. In fact, by being grounded in God, we help ensure that all of these things may remain truly good and help keep us directed on God. Without God, all these things – some more quickly than others – will lead us astray and into darkness.

What this world sets before us is tempting – often more appetizing than what God sets before us (about as appetizing as a strict diet of vegetables and water for many of us) – but it is only in God that our deepest hungers can be satisfied and that all the things of this world may be directed to our greatest happiness.

Taste and see that the Lord is good.

A nice Jewish girl

Today’s memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple, like all Marian celebrations, is ultimately about Christ her son, the Savior of all. It reminds us that our Lord’s coming was a culmination of a long history of God’s relationship with his chosen people, that our Lord was born into that unique tradition and covenant with God, and that he was born into the very best of that tradition: of a woman specially devoted and dedicated to the Lord from the very beginning.

May we give thanks for the long history of God’s salvation among us and may we ourselves become ever more devoted and dedicated to the Lord through the power of his grace.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

When the Son of Man comes in his glory

Detail from New Jerusalem, Alpha and Omega by Julius Schnoor von Carolsfeld

What have you done for me lately?

Some Christians see Christ only as a gentle shepherd, with nothing but love in his eyes and a simple message of peace in his words.

Some see Christ only as a social revolutionary, overturning the oppressive structures of human injustice and exalting those who are poor and downcast.

Some Christians see Christ only as a stern judge, who will cast unrepentant sinners into Hell.

Today’s readings on the Feast of Christ the King remind us that Christ is all of the above and more.

The dominant image in these readings, especially the Gospel (Matthew 25:31-46), is the image of Christ as judge. But the criteria by which he condemns is not the common laundry list of personal sins. He judges, rather, on the basis of personal compassion.

'Depart from me, you accursed,
into the eternal fire

prepared for the devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me no food,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
a stranger and you gave me no welcome,
naked and you gave me no clothing,
ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.'

Then they will answer and say,
'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty
or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison,
and not minister to your needs?'

He will answer them,

'Amen, I say to you,
what you did not do for one of these least ones,
you did not do for me.'

Make no mistake: the usual suspects of personal sin are still on the table, but personal purity does not excuse one from the deeper obligations of personal charity.

Likewise, caring for those in need and working for social justice does not allow one to neglect the basic demands of religion and morality.

(You) have neglected the weightier matters of the law,
justice and mercy and faith;
these you ought to have done,
without neglecting the others.
(Matthew 23:23)

This reality of Christ as judge, who demands care for the poor and the outcast, is in perfect harmony with the reality of Christ as the loving Good Shepherd.

The Lord indeed loves us totally and is wonderfully gentle with us, but if this love is not passed on to others, it will die.

As St. John says (1 John 3:17):

If someone who has worldly means
sees a brother in need
and refuses him compassion,
how can the love of God remain in him?

And if we let the love of God die within us, so also dies all hope, all life, all light.

We need not let the love of God die. We can and must pass it on. Therefore, we should take our Lord’s words in today’s Gospel as an invitation and as a guide.

  • What can you and I – as individuals and as groups – do for those who are hungry: both the physically hungry and the spiritually hungry around us and around the world?

  • What can you and I – as individuals and as groups – do for the strangers among us: the people who are not like us, the people who are not from this place, the people who do not think as we do?

  • What can you and I – as individuals and as groups – do for those who lack basic essentials such as clothing and shelter?

  • What can you and I – as individuals and as groups – do for the sick or for prisoners?

Writing a check is not enough. Advocating particular political solutions – either in a liberal or in a conservative framework – is not enough.

Both of these things
are worth doing as much as possible, but...
the full flowering of Christ’s love
within our hearts and souls
demands personal involvement.

For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.’

Then the righteous will answer him and say,
'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?'

And the king will say to them in reply,
'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.'

* * * * *

Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you
from the foundation of the world.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

If you knew you were going to die

What would you do,
if you only had six months to live?

In today’s first reading (1 Maccabees 6:1-13), a mighty king collapses into a puddle of regret and grief when he realizes he is going to die.

How would we react? How should we react?

After all, we believe in the gift of eternal life that comes to us in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ - that death is not the end.

Death, therefore, is not to be feared, but what of the life remaining to us?

The answer many give is that they would do something different from what they are doing now: sometimes they say they will do various special things for themselves, sometimes they say they will do various good things for others and for God.

The self-centered plan is obviously not the best way to prepare for God’s judgment.

But if our response to imminent death will be amending our lives, dedicating ourselves to helping others and drawing closer to God, why aren’t we doing that now?

Seriously, why aren’t we doing these good things now?

From time to time in my own life, I ask myself this question: what would I do if I only had six months to live?

Sometimes I know that I would make no change, for I know that I am living as the Lord wants me to live.

Sometimes I hang my head in shame and know that I must make a change – and that I should not wait.

What about you?

May almighty God have mercy on us,
forgive us our sins,
and bring us to everlasting life.

Friday, November 18, 2005

"A film that is more like a meditation..."

Many have been talking about "Into Great Silence" - a reverent documentary about the Carthusians (my heroes from afar).

It is "the first film ever about life inside the Grande Chartreuse: the mother house of the legendary Carthusian Order in the French Alps."

"There is no music except the chants in the monastery."

There are "no interviews, no commentaries, no extra material."

It is "a film on awareness, absolute presence, and the life of men who devoted their lifetimes to God in the purest of form."

The above quotes are taken from the Bavaria Film International website, which also has a a version of the trailer with English titles.

The film's own website has great reviews and pictures.

Hat tip: Notes of a Thirst Scribe

God on the Internet

First Things has a substantial article titled "God on the Internet" that includes much about blogging (especially Catholic).

Hat tip: DeoOmnisGloria.com and Fructus Ventris.

Catholic Alcoholics

"Calix is an association of Catholic alcoholics who are maintaining their sobriety through affiliation with and participation in the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. Our first concern is to interest Catholics with an alcoholic problem in the virtue of total abstinence. Our second stated purpose is to promote the spiritual development of our membership.... toward spiritual maturity."

"We welcome other alcoholics, not members of our faith, or any others, non-alcoholics, who are concerned with the illness of alcoholism and wish to join with us in prayer for our stated purposes."

from the website www.calixsociety.org

Rebuilding the place of worship

Today, the cycle of readings brings us to the account of the Temple’s rededication (commemorated today by the celebration of Hanukah) on the very day the Church celebrates the memorial of the dedication of two other houses of worship – the Basilicas of Peter and Paul in Rome.

Today’s first reading (1 Maccabees 4:36-37,52-59) hits the highlights, but the verses that were omitted (probably in deference to shortened attention spans) contain wonderful details that are worth our individual reflection.

It can be especially beneficial for us to read the entire passage while thinking about ourselves as temples of God, as places of worship.

Consider how we may find prayer difficult: how we feel after being overrun by the distractions and the distortions of today’s world.

They found the sanctuary desolate,
the altar desecrated,
the gates burnt,
weeds growing in the courts
as in a forest or on some mountain,
and the priests' chambers demolished.

Consider our grief and repentance.

Then they tore their clothes
and made great lamentation;
they sprinkled their heads with ashes
and fell with their faces to the ground.

And when the signal was given with trumpets,
they cried out to Heaven.

With the Lord’s help, we must deal with the distractions, misunderstandings and bad habits that have cluttered up our spiritual lives.

Judas appointed men to attack those in the citadel,
while he purified the sanctuary.

He chose blameless priests, devoted to the law;
these purified the sanctuary
and carried away the stones of the Abomination
to an unclean place.

With God’s grace we must also rebuild and rehabilitate our interior prayer life.

Then they took uncut stones, according to the law,
and built a new altar like the former one.

They also repaired the sanctuary
and the interior of the temple
and purified the courts.

They made new sacred vessels
and brought the lampstand,
the altar of incense,
and the table
into the temple.
Then they burned incense on the altar
and lighted the lamps on the lampstand,
and these illuminated the temple.
They also put loaves on the table
and hung up curtains.

Thus they finished all the work they had undertaken.

Then, in the quiet of our grace-renewed spirit, we may rejoice and give thanks in the glory of the Holy Spirit.

For eight days they celebrated the dedication of the altar
and joyfully offered burnt offerings and sacrifices
of deliverance and praise.

That the rededication of the Temple is commemorated annually
reminds us that we should make a habit
(annually or even more often)
of taking the time and the care
to rededicate our interior temples:
to let the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
and the power of his Holy Spirit
sweep through us
and fill us with a fresh, joyful awareness
and worshipful appreciation
of the presence of God.

Basilicas and Apostles

Today’s optional memorial of the Dedication of the Basilicas of the Apostles Peter and Paul is first and foremost yet another opportunity to celebrate the great faith of these two men and their special roles in Christ as foundation stones of the Church.

It is also an opportunity to appreciate the Basilicas themselves.

One of my favorite parts of St. Peter’s Basilica is the Altar of the Chair, dominated by Bernini’s magnificent sculpture group towering above it: the Cathedra Petri – the “Chair of Peter.”

Four great Fathers of the Church – St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Athanasius, and St. John Chrysostom – each extend a single finger to hold a majestic chair aloft; on the back of the chair is an image of Christ entrusting the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven to St. Peter; inside the chair are the venerated remnants of an ancient chair said to have been used by St. Peter himself; atop the chair two cherubs hold a papal tiara; and above it all is the glory of the Holy Spirit.

In this recent picture, the latest successor of Peter sits beneath the “Chair of Peter.”

One of the most interesting features of the Basilica of St. Paul’s "Outside the Walls" is the atrium: a common feature of ancient basilicas (an opportunity to “decompress” after walking in off the street and to prepare for entering a very special building).

Here, the gentle garden and covered walkways are centered on a statue of St. Paul wielding the sword of God’s word.

Places of worship can be lesson books in themselves: witnessing both to the details and to the power of faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Unafraid of confronting the challenges

"We the Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco, are an international congregation of more than 14,000 sisters ministering to and with youth in every continent.

"We are consecrated women, unafraid of confronting the challenges encountered in the world of youth.

"A simple but deep prayer life, a strong community life, and a youth-centered ministry give us the strength and energy we need to face these challenges."

* * * * *

"Did you ever wonder what the life of the Salesian Sister is all about? Join us for the weekend (of December 16-18, 2005 in New Jersey) and participate in our prayer and community life. Learn about our ministry with youth and meet some of us. (For single, Catholic women ages 18 to 35)."

"Days of Prayer and Reflection... provide an opportunity for some quiet time in the midst of our busy lives. There are opportunities to pray, reflect, and share with other women on issues related to discernment.... December 10, 2005 - Advent Day of Prayer - New Jersey... from 1:00 PM - 5:00 PM, for single, Catholic women, ages 18-35."

To learn more, click here for contact information.

from the Salesian Sisters website

In 1818, she took a little trip...

...a little-known Frenchwoman, up the mighty Mississippi river.

She had nearly died from disease during the long ocean crossing. Now this petite 49-year-old would barely survive this hazardous river voyage.

But she would recover, settle in the Missouri territory, and would 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 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.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Thursday, November 17, 2005


Irreligious people sometimes call people who take their faith seriously “religious fanatics,” lump them all together with suicide bombers, and blame religion for causing more deaths than any other manmade cause throughout history.

Irreligious people have avoidance issues with the facts: the substantial differences between a viewpoint’s serious adherents and fanatics (religious and irreligious), the abundance of suicide-murderers from various social and other contexts (not just theistic), and that history’s greatest murderers by far – whose death counts run well into the millions – were irreligious men: Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, et al.

Today’s first reading, however, (1 Maccabees 2:15-19) may seem to be a problem for our apologia, for in this passage a hero of our Judeo-Christian faith slays a fellow Jew for religious reasons. This is the beginning of an exceptionally violent campaign that soon sweeps the nation: inflicting death on many more of his fellow Jews and forcing young men and boys to undergo very painful procedures.

The end result of this bloody campaign was the first Hanukah.

But while these events had a strong religious element, the bottom line was really just power and control: religion was just a tool cynically wielded by the Hellenistic empire to consolidate its control over the diverse people under its rule.

Jews who remained faithful were executed. The people and their faith were going to be exterminated.

It was truly a matter of survival and self defense in extremis.

But what does this all mean to us?

First, that sinful humanity is violent (with or without religion). True religion mitigates this bloodthirstiness, but even true religion can be perverted into a weapon.

Second, that the world can be a dangerous place for people who take their faith seriously.

Third, that we should do everything we can to avoid the state of affairs in today’s first reading: so that none of us should ever have to defend ourselves and our faith with extreme measures.

People who take their Christian faith seriously have too often been complacent in this modern age of religious liberty. Irreligious people try to chase people of faith out of the public square. Expressions of faith are prosecuted: from the display of a crèche to the teaching of the Bible itself.

Inexorably, some fear, people of faith are being pushed into the corners of society. When that is done, what would follow then is too terrible to contemplate.

We can avoid this state of affairs, with God’s help: by being attentive and thinking ahead, by asserting ourselves peacefully and reasonably, by avoiding internecine squabbles, and by holding firm to the faith and the love God has given us.

A precious girl

When she was four years old, Elizabeth was essentially sold to a rich family.

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 work called her husband away, Elizabeth would run the family business - thus great power and riches were placed 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.

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.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A woman’s right to choose

This is the favorite euphemism of abortion supporters.

Among the nonsensical aspects of this euphemism is that it deceptively implies that a mother has complete ownership and control over her unborn child.

Despite the advances of medical technology, however, ownership of an unborn human being and complete control over an unborn child’s development both remain far from the reach of humankind.

A mother’s words to her children in today’s first reading (2 Maccabees 7:1, 20-31) remain true today.

I cannot tell how ye came into my womb:
for I neither gave you breath nor life,
neither was it I

that formed the members of every one of you.

Although we must love and honor our parents (and obey their lawful instructions when we are children), we are not owned by them, not even in our mother’s womb.

We are not even owned by ourselves, not even when we are “adults” for we did not give ourselves the gift of life: that comes from God alone.

God has indeed given us the power to choose: he has given us free will, so that we may freely choose and love him - the giver of life.

Women or men, if we choose death, death awaits us in eternity.

Women and men, may we always choose life: not only in decisions such as bearing children or caring for the terminally ill, but also in helping each other (helping especially women and children in need as well as the sick and their caregivers) and in embracing the eternal life God offers us in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Christian Carnival

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

After the death of Macbeth

One of the gems of the English language, this short speech by Macbeth in Shakespeare’s play captures powerfully the darkness of godless despair.

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Macbeth was a great warrior who consulted with pagan witches and murdered his way to the throne of Scotland, stabbing to death his liege lord Duncan while he slept in Macbeth’s own house.

In time, Duncan’s son Malcolm would return to claim his father’s throne and Macbeth would die in battle.

There would be many more changes.

After Malcolm’s first wife died, he married an Anglo Saxon princess, whose family had just been exiled by the Norman Conquest. Malcolm was devoted to her and Margaret bore him several children.

From Margaret would descend nearly all of the subsequent kings of Scotland and also – beginning with the famous King James – all of the kings and queens of the United Kingdom to this day (not to mention other illustrious descendants).

Margaret was also a strong woman with an intense Christian faith. Through Christ, she knew the true significance of life, with all its sound and fury.

She worked with Malcolm to drive out paganism and to expand and reform the life of the Church in Scotland. She was generous to the poor, loving to her family, and deeply devout in her prayer (she had once hoped to be a nun).

Margaret, woman of faith and mother of kings, died in Edinburgh on this very day in 1093.

St. Margaret of Scotland was canonized in 1251.

(adapted and updated from an earlier post)

Lonely never again

Nobody knows what happened to the little girl’s parents. Nobody is even sure where they were from.

She was five years old and absolutely alone in the world.

The Benedictine nuns who ran a local school took the little girl into their care and named her after their abbess Gertrude. The abbess’ biological sister (also a member of the abbey) ran the school and took special care of little Gertrude.

With such special care, little Gertrude truly grew in wisdom and grace. She would join the abbey, would be blessed with amazing visions and would write tremendous works of spirituality.

St. Gertrude died in her mid-forties on November 17 at the very start of the 14th century. Today, November 16, the Church throughout the world celebrates the memory of this saint who had once been a lonely little girl.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Shame, shame

Shame gets the blame for many problems, according to some.

Lack of shame gets the blame for many problems, according to others.

Shame also has a key but complex role in the familiar story of Zacchaeus in today’s Gospel (Luke 19:1-10).

When our Lord says he is going to Zacchaeus’ house, the people murmur against Christ “that he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.”

In their minds, to visit the house of a sinner is to bring shame upon oneself.

Our Lord pays them no attention.

For his part, Zacchaeus announces that he will give half of his riches to the poor and repay fourfold anyone he has defrauded. Our Lord responds joyfully.

This day is salvation come to this house.

The crowd’s attempt to cast shame on Christ was wrong on many levels. It is an example of how public shame can be very problematic.

The most fundamental problem is that shame involves consciousness of guilt and that none of us are in a position to judge the subjective guilt of anyone.

Judge not, that ye be not judged.
(Matthew 7:1)

That is not to say we should just sit in silence when we are aware of objective sin: we are all sinners, but we must all help each other, relying always on the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Our Lord himself gives us a better, incrementalist approach:

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee,
go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone:
if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.

But if he will not hear thee,
then take with thee one or two more,
that in the mouth of two or three witnesses
every word may be established.

And if he shall neglect to hear them,
tell it unto the church:
but if he neglect to hear the church,
let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
(Matthew 18:15-17)

A publican, of course, is what Zacchaeus was: a tax collector for the evil Roman Empire.

The crowd had instantly judged and attempted to cast shame not only upon Zacchaeus but also on our Lord, as if associating with a publican automatically made you as bad as a publican.

Our Lord’s approach was different. He did not treat the publican as a publican, but as a potential penitent.

For the Son of man is come
to seek and to save that which was lost.

Likewise, as followers of Christ the Good Shepherd, we do well not to leap immediately in denunciation and repudiation of others, brandishing the treacherous sword of public shame, but rather we do well to seek and save those who are lost: approaching sinners with prudence, compassion, and moral clarity.

To be sure, we must not compromise on the truth. We do no favors to the sinner by minimizing or ignoring the sin. Indeed, when all attempts at outreach have failed and someone obstinately persists in public and manifest sin, appropriate public words and decisions will be required for the sake of the truth and the good of everyone involved.

Ultimately, what is most helpful is not public shame, but personal shame.

Zacchaeus felt personal shame: a true consciousness of his own sin.

Perhaps the foolish words of the crowd had something to do with his feeling of shame, but it is safe to say that the more decisive factors were Christ’s compassionate outreach and Zacchaeus’ awareness of Christ’s infinite holiness.

That feeling of personal shame for Zacchaeus was not cause for him to wallow in self-loathing: it was an impetus to repentance and to bold action.

May we be like Zacchaeus. May the Lord reach to us with his grace, may we become more aware of our sin, may our personal shame turn us to repentance and bold action, and may we too hear our Lord say of us:

This day is salvation come to this house.

New General Secretary for US Bishops

"The Reverend Monsignor David J. Malloy has been elected General Secretary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

"A priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Msgr. Malloy has served as a USCCB Associate General Secretary for the past five years. In his new post he succeeds Msgr. William P. Fay, who became General Secretary in 2001 and will leave that position on February 2, 2006.

"The General Secretary serves a term of five years which can be extended for a year at a time.

"David J. Malloy was born February 3, 1956, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the son of David and Mary Malloy. His father is deceased.

"He studied for the priesthood at St. Francis de Sales Seminary, Milwaukee, and the North American College, Rome, and was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee on July 1, 1983.

"After serving as an associate pastor, he studied at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, in preparation for service in the papal diplomatic corps.

"While in the diplomatic corps, he served as secretary to the apostolic nunciatures in Pakistan and Syria. He also served as secretary to the Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations in New York.

"Monsignor Malloy holds a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, as well as a license in canon law from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas (the Angelicum), also in Rome. He is fluent in Italian, French, and Spanish.

"Monsignor Malloy was serving in the Prefecture of the Papal Household prior to his appointment to the USCCB. He became USCCB Associate General Secretary on January 15, 2001. His duties involved supervision of about one third of the departments, offices, and secretariats of the Conference. He also acted as liaison to several outside groups affiliated with the Conference, and worked with two other associate general secretaries in matters of supervision and administration.

"The election took place November 15 at the USCCB Fall meeting. Msgr. John J. Strynkowski, former Executive Director of the USCCB Secretariat for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices, was the other candidate in the election of a new General Secretary for the bishops’ national organization."

Press Release by the USCCB

Catholic Carnival

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

Dominicans today

"work in a diversity of apostolates. Not all of them are explicitly preaching ministries: still, we hope that preaching the Gospel is the one thing that ties our work together and makes it truly Dominican. We serve in parishes, university campuses and have missions in the Solomon Islands We teach in schools, colleges and seminaries; we are engaged in various forms of the preaching apostolate, retreats, missions, as well as peace and justice issues. We serve as chaplains to hospitals, rest homes and convents. Most of the brethren engage in 'hobby' and 'spare-time' activities associated with preaching, such as the Arts or the Internet."

from www.australia.op.org

A gift used well, then taken

His father was well off, so Albert could go to the best schools - which he did.

While he was in college, however, he happened to hear a powerful preacher who was in town.

It changed Albert’s life...

...at least partly: Albert would stay in school, but he would soon be begging in the streets as well: renouncing his inheritance in imitation of Christ’s poverty.

Albert’s mind was powerful and wide-ranging. He not only became an authoritative theologian and philosopher, but eventually one of the most famous scientists in the world. He also mentored a young man who would become one of the most famous theologians and philosophers of all time. Albert would also be the bishop of a diocese.

Then, toward the end of his life, having given up everything to follow Christ, Albert lost his most treasured possession.

Although a clinical diagnosis would not be possible, Alzheimer’s disease (or something very much like it) took away Albert’s incredible intellect.

Yet nothing could take away what this friar had accomplished, and history would remember him well, even after he could remember nothing, as “Albert the Great.”

St. Albert the Great - Dominican friar, bishop of Cologne, doctor of the Church, mentor of St. Thomas Aquinas - died on this very day in 1280.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Monday, November 14, 2005

Advice about Living Wills

ZENIT reports on advice given at a recent meeting of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists by Deborah Sturm, a registered nurse and member of the National Association of Pro-Life Nurses.

She suggests living-will documents that have a "general presumption for life" from organizations such as National Right to Life (who makes forms available here), the International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force and the American Life League.

(Of course, it is always good to review important legal documents with one's attorney.)

Worth being killed?

Yesterday, the world saw a woman matter-of-factly describe how she had tried to kill people by blowing herself up in the middle of a wedding reception.

In today’s first reading (1 Maccabees 1:10-15,41-43,54-57,62-63), people choose to be killed rather than eat non-kosher food.

614 years ago today, a Franciscan priest named Nicholas Tavelic was killed for preaching Christ and refusing to recant.

Irreligious people try to lump all of this and more under the category of deadly religious extremism, but the differences are overwhelming.

The would-be bomber and her accomplices intended horrific objective evils: to die by their own hand and to kill innocent people deliberately.

The people in today’s first reading intended and committed no objective evil, they sought only to be faithful to God’s command: they do not die by their own hand, but are killed at the hands of a super-conformist society.

St. Nicholas Tavelic likewise sought only to be faithful to God’s command, knowing it was nearly certain that he would be killed by a super-conformist society.

There is nothing worth killing oneself for.

But there are things worth being killed for.

Would you and I be willing to be killed for doing the right thing?

Is our desire to do what is right greater than our fear?

Sadly, for too many of us, fear is greater: we shrink from doing right things, we pull back from following a vocation, and we even commit sin.

Tragically, this fear is not usually the fear of death but the fear of unpopularity, the fear of discomfort, or even the fear of being denounced as a religious fanatic

By giving into these fears, we risk the most fearful situation of all: being lost, weak, alone, and in the dark forever – the very place suicide bombers and antireligious extremists deserve (may God have mercy on us all).

May our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ give us the courage to avoid evil, to do what is right, to do what is good, and to be faithful to him in our lives – no matter what.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

A worthy wife?

Today’s first reading (Proverbs 31:10-13,19-20,30-31) may drive some people crazy: a veritable canticle extolling “a worthy wife.”

But the praiseworthy attributes of a worthy wife are praiseworthy attributes for a husband as well: diligent, altruistic, focused on the Lord, etc.

This reading thus gives a guide to both husbands and wives (as well as those not yet married) in what to appreciate in their spouse and how to act as a spouse themselves.

Even the celibate may find insights in today’s reading, for in a very real sense, their ministry in Christ is their spouse and thus diligent, altruistic and focused on the Lord.

It is foolish to close our minds to any Scripture or to think it does not apply to us, for God’s word always bears abundant fruit for those whose hearts are open to his gifts.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

The midnight hour

The first verse and a half of today’s first reading (Wisdom 18:14-16; 19:6-9) is frequently heard at Christmas time, especially at Midnight Mass:

When peaceful stillness compassed everything
and the night in its swift course was half spent,
Your all-powerful word, from heaven’s royal throne bounded...

The rest of the passage, however, diverges from the common depiction of Christmas: instead of a peaceful child, a loving mother, and pious shepherds, there is the wrath of God on a doomed land, followed by a flashback to the Red Sea.

In this context, what leaps from heaven at midnight is the angel of death visiting the last and most deadly plague upon Egypt.

And yet the passage also stands as a prophecy of the Messiah’s coming. Our Lord’s own words help reinforce this understanding.

Do not think that I have come
to bring peace upon the earth.
I have come to bring not peace
but the sword.
For I have come
to set a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one's enemies will be those of his household.
(Matthew 10:34-36)

We all have these midnight hours in our lives: a moments when God comes and sets before us a choice – life or death, God or oblivion, truth or lies, self-sacrifice or self-destruction.

May the Lord Jesus give us the grace to chose wisely and may he gather us with the blessed.

A man of talent

John's father was a man of great talent: a businessman and a politician.

As a man of talent himself, John at first followed his father into the business world, but at the age of 24, he decided to direct his talents in a different direction: he decided to become a monk.

John’s talent and piety made a tremendous impact. While still a student, he was providing spiritual counsel to leading citizens. Soon after he was ordained a priest, he was put in charge of several monasteries. He became an archbishop before he was 40.

John’s ministry was very successful: promoting reform, spiritual renewal, and Church unity. His work for unity, however, had many enemies.

On the sixth anniversary of his becoming a bishop, a mob broke into his house. John Josaphat Kuncevyc was beaten, axed, beaten, and thrown into the river on this very day in 1623. His body was found 5 years later – miraculously incorrupt. St. Josaphat, Archbishop of Polotsk (Lithuania) in the Byzantine Ruthenian rite of the Roman Catholic Church was canonized in 1876.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Friday, November 11, 2005

God in nature

Natural surroundings are a spiritual experience for many: the trees whose branches lift up to the heavens and whose leaves sing in the breeze, the cleansing sound and touch of flowing water, the silent awe of a towering mountain, and even the quiet peace of the open plains.

These experiences are good things in themselves and we do well to take advantage of them whenever we can.

Sadly, however, too many people crush the spirit out of these experiences by refusing to go beyond the beauty and wonder of these created things to the infinite beauty and wonder of the God who made them and who sent his Son among us, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Tragically, some people today actually pervert the spiritual experience of nature into modernized versions of pantheism and even paganism.

Thus, the ancient message of today’s first reading (Wisdom 13:1-9) resonates even more strongly.

But either fire, or wind, or the swift air,
or the circuit of the stars, or the mighty water,
or the luminaries of heaven, the governors of the world,
they considered gods.

Now if out of joy in their beauty

they thought them gods,
let them know

how far more excellent than these
is the Lord;
for the original source of beauty fashioned them.

Or if they were struck by their might and energy,
let them from these things realize
how much more powerful is he who made them.

For from the greatness and the beauty of created things
their original author, by analogy, is seen.

But yet, for these the blame is less;
For they indeed have gone astray perhaps,
though they seek God and wish to find him.
For they search busily among his works,
but are distracted by what they see,
because the things seen are fair.

But again, not even these are pardonable.
For if they so far succeeded in knowledge
that they could speculate about the world,
how did they not more quickly find its Lord?

May we find peace and refreshment in nature, but may the beauty of nature always draw us closer to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, through whom all things were made.

Thanks to those who serve

Today, the eleventh day of the eleventh month, commemorates the end of the First World War. It is a day of remembrance of and appreciation for the sacrifices of all veterans who fought for peace and freedom.

We remember in prayer those who have died in military service.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
And let perpetual light shine upon them.

May they rest in peace.

I would like to extend my personal appreciation to all those who have served and most especially to all those who now serve.

May God watch over you
with his unconquerable mercy.
May the Lord bring true peace and freedom
to the places where you serve
and to the people you protect.

Army brat makes good

Martin was what is affectionately known as a "military brat."

His dad was an army officer and the family moved around a lot, depending upon where his father was assigned.

It was no surprise that when he was old enough, Martin joined the army too.

Martin’s unit was eventually deployed far from his family. During that deployment, Martin became interested in the Church.

One day, he found a half-naked beggar shivering beside the road. Martin tore his weather gear in half and gave it to the man.

After Martin was honorably discharged, he embraced a life of prayerful solitude. He developed a reputation for holiness and a community of monks gathered around him.

When the bishop of a nearby city died, Martin was asked to replace him (they had to beg him to accept).

Martin proved to be a very effective shepherd: ministering to the needs of the people, aiding Churches in other areas, and yet retaining the ascetic lifestyle of a monk - living in a small cell just outside of town.

Martin died an old man after a long life of service to God and his people and was buried on this very day in the year 397.

His reputation continued to spread even after his death and St. Martin of Tours would be one of France’s most venerated men of God.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Assumption College for Sisters

"Assumption College for Sisters exists to educate women called to a life of consecration to God and of service in the Roman Catholic Church. It provides a value-centered, two-year program in theology and the liberal arts. The College welcomes women religious of any racial or ethnic background. In addition, any woman who is seriously discerning religious life and is recommended by a vocation director or spiritual director may also enroll, though she is not yet part of a religious community or a formal formation program."

from the website of the Assumption College for Sisters

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Attila confronts Leo and friends

This 17th century bas relief marble altarpiece by Alessandro Algardi in St. Peter's Basilica portrays Pope St. Leo the Great repelling Attila the Hun from his attack on Rome in 452. Attila raises his arm in fear as the Apostles Peter and Paul appear with swords in the sky.

The God’s-eye view

In a world overflowing with information and conflict, we desperately need wisdom.

The source of ultimate wisdom, of course, is God.

But what is this wisdom of God?

People often talk about a "God’s-eye view" as if it were only from a great height looking down upon the whole world far below.

Today’s first reading (Wisdom 7:22b-8:1) gives us a very different understanding of the “God’s eye view” in an effusive canticle of praise for God’s wisdom.

God’s wisdom is not aloof, but active and involved. It is for this wisdom that we should pray.

In Wisdom is a spirit
intelligent, holy, unique,
manifold, subtle, agile,
clear, unstained, certain,
invulnerable, loving the good, keen,
unhampered, beneficent, kindly,
firm, secure, tranquil,
all-powerful, all-seeing,
And pervading all spirits,
though they be intelligent, pure and very subtle.

For Wisdom is mobile beyond all motion,
and she penetrates and pervades all things
by reason of her purity.

Yet, God’s wisdom – the wisdom for which we must pray – is also transcendent:

For she is a breath of the power of God
and a pure effusion of the glory of the Almighty;
therefore nought that is sullied enters into her.
For she is the refulgence of eternal light,
the spotless mirror of the power of God,
the image of his goodness.
And she, who is one, can do all things,
and while remaining in herself, renews everything.

God’s wisdom – the wisdom for which we must pray – also draws us ever closer to God in love.

And passing into holy souls from age to age,
she produces friends of God and prophets.
For there is nought God loves,
be it not one who dwells with Wisdom.

Whenever we feel confusion in our lives, we need to pray for this wisdom: the wisdom of God.

For Wisdom is fairer than the sun
and surpasses every constellation of the stars.
Compared to light, she takes precedence;
for indeed, night supplants light,
but wickedness prevails not over Wisdom.

Truly, Wisdom reaches from end to end mightily
and governs all things well.