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...

Monday, January 31, 2005

"My name is Legion..."

"..for we are many."

The account in today’s Gospel of our Lord’s encounter with the man possessed by Legion is a mighty gem: substantial and multifaceted. I could go on for hours, digging into the marvelous details of this incident and the valuable lessons therein - but not this day. For now, I would like to focus on the darkly horrifying response given to our Lord’s question:

“My name is Legion, for we are many.”

Some people foolishly dismiss the idea of demonic possession, while others foolishly obsess about it, but Legion’s answer to the question gives us an important reminder beyond the circumstances of demonic possession or obsession.

Everyday (it is to be hoped) we in some way acknowledge our sinfulness before God. Sometimes, sad to say, it may be simply verbal and generic, rattled off without thought or feeling (peccavi nimis cogitatione, verbo, opere et omissione yadda yadda yadda). Obviously this is wrong.

Sometimes, however, we may be keenly if not painfully aware of a sin in our lives: something we always do, something we always fail to do, some bad habit of thought or speech, something wrong from which we seem helpless to extricate ourselves.

But wait, there’s more…

A lesson of the story of Legion is that there may be more than one problem in our lives and in our hearts.

It is very important, as we seek the Lord’s grace to overcome our sinfulness and all that binds us against his will, that we go deeper than just a generic acknowledgement of sinfulness, that we go deeper than just The Big Sin (or two) we may have in our lives.

It is necessary for us to examine our consciences fully and to do our best to open ourselves completely to the Lord’s forgiving, healing, and strengthening grace – that infinitely wonderful love and grace that can overpower any areas of darkness, be they but a few or legion. Christ conquers all.

Then the man went off
and began to proclaim in the Ten Cities
what Jesus had done for him…

Troubled boy

His “terrible twos” were terrible indeed, for that was when John’s father died. John would have to work to help support his family while still a boy. The family’s parish priest, however, made sure that John received an education.

It was no surprise, then, that John eventually entered the seminary and still kept working even during his years of study.

During his first assignment, John visited the local prisons and was heartbroken to see so many boys incarcerated, seemingly written off by society. Sometime later, he overheard a sacristan beating a boy off the street who wasn’t capable of serving Mass. He rebuked the sacristan and let the boy go free. The boy came back, bringing other homeless boys with him who needed education, prayer, and kindness. Soon, there were hundreds of them.

Some people thought John was crazy (literally!) but eventually both church and civic leaders saw the value of the work he was doing and supported it. Nearly fifty years after rescuing that first young man, approximately 130,000 children were being cared for by John and his coworkers, in houses dedicated to Mary Help of Christians and St. Francis de Sales.

St. John Bosco, founder of Society of Saint Francis de Sales (who later renamed themselves the Salesians of Don Bosco), died on this very day one hundred and seventeen years ago. He was canonized in 1934.

Pope sick

"Holy See Press Office Director Joaquin Navarro-Valls stated this morning (January 31) that 'the Holy Father, due to flu-like symptoms which began yesterday, has been advised to suspend the audiences scheduled for today.'"
via Vatican Information Service

Sunday, January 30, 2005


In the course of an old Seinfeld episode, Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza each try to argue that he is a bigger idiot than the other. Finally, George recounts how his own stupidity prevented his obtaining easily obtainable (worldly and decadent) things he had desired, punctuating his self-pity with the grandiose line:

For I am Constanza: Lord of the Idiots.

Actually, I think I am a bigger idiot (I am Penitens: Emperor of the Idiots).

Today’s Epistle and Gospel both relate how followers of Christ are considered idiots and otherwise looked down upon by the world.

Not many of you were wise
by human standards….
Rather, God chose the foolish of the world

to shame the wise…

"Blessed are the poor in spirit….
Blessed are you when they insult you….
Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward will be great in heaven.

The world thinks we are idiots when we do not chase after worldly and decadent things.

In that sense, I am an idiot – and I would like to be even more idiotic.

Moreover, as smart and as educated and as experienced as we may be, our self-made wisdom barely rises to the level of idiocy in comparison to the unsurpassed goodness and infinite wisdom of our loving God.

Many intelligent people in this world don’t believe in God. The idea of an all-powerful, loving God in their minds conflicts with the reality of evil in the world. The real problem, of course, is all in their heads: that they don’t realize the finitude of their own wisdom and understanding. They are not infinite – God is.

We can and do know much... but not everything, and certainly not infinity - not until we see God face to face, bathe in the light of the Beatific Vision, and know even as we are known.

In the meantime, it is important to be humble, to be realistic, to recognize that we are idiots (in the eyes of the world, in comparison to others among us, and most of all in comparison to God) and by God’s grace to move forward in faith, knowledge, and love and in doing the will of the Lord.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

The 2005 Catholic Blog Awards

Nominations for the 2005 Catholic Blog Awards are now open at http://www.cybercatholics.com/cba2005

The Categories are

  • Most Humorous Blog
  • Most Bizarre Blog
  • Best Presentation
  • Most Devotional
  • Best Blog by a Group
  • Best Blog by a Man
  • Best Blog by a Woman
  • Most Insightful Blog
  • Most Theological Blog
  • Best Blog by a Priest or Religious
  • Best Political Analysis
  • Best Apologetics Blog
  • Most Intellectual Blog
  • Best Blog Overall
  • Best New Blog
  • Most Creative Blog
  • Best Social Commentary Blog

(A tip of the hat to Joshua LeBlanc at Dei Gratia)

"Why are you terrified?"

"Do you not yet have faith?"

These questions our Lord poses to his disciples in today’s Gospel he may often pose to us.

What does he mean?

On one level, he means, “Do you not have trust in me?”

On another level, we have this famous definition of faith that begins today’s first reading:

Faith is the substance of things hoped for,
the evidence of things not seen.

We are sometimes terrified by what we see: the world is often not a good place, nor is our health, safety and prosperity on this earth forever assured.

But we have faith, by God’s grace. We trust Christ. We have assurance of things not yet seen.

If we hold onto that faith, if we hold onto Christ (or rather, let ourselves be held by Christ), then we can endure anything in the world we see or even suffer.

But as it is written,
Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard,
neither have entered into the heart of man,
the things which God hath prepared
for them that love him.
But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit:
for the Spirit searcheth all things,
yea, the deep things of God.

1 Corinthians 2:9-10

Friday, January 28, 2005

Wichita Bishop

The Holy Father this morning named Msgr. Michael Owens Jackels, a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln (Nebraska, USA), as Bishop of Wichita, Kansas.

Dominican Vocation Sites

(in honor of St. Thomas Aquinas, O.P.)

Dominican Central Vocations (Chicago)
St. Joseph Province (New York)
Holy Name Province (California)
St. Martin Province (New Orleans)
Province of England
Province of Ireland
Province of Australia & New Zealand
Province of Mexico
Province of the Philippines
Holy Rosary in the Orient (Hong Kong)
Province of Canada (Montreal)
Province of Spain (Madrid)
Province of Aragon (Spain)

(image & links from the Dominican World Wide Web site)


Today’s first reading is a beautiful exhortation to perseverance, a grace for which we sometimes feel the need so desperately.

Remember the days past when,
after you had been enlightened,
you endured a great contest of suffering.

At times

you were publicly exposed to abuse and affliction;
at other times

you associated yourselves with those so treated.

You even joined in the sufferings of those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, knowing that you had a better and lasting possession.

Therefore, do not throw away your confidence;
it will have great recompense.

You need endurance to do the will of God
and receive what he has promised.

For, after just a brief moment,
he who is to come shall come;
he shall not delay.

But my just one shall live by faith,
and if he draws back I take no pleasure in him.

We are not among those who draw back and perish,
but among those who have faith and will possess life.

Please, Lord, give us that grace in ever-greater abundance. May we draw ever closer to you, every day of our lives, and may we never fall out of your hand. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

The Third Order of Preachers

Today, the memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas, O.P, is the day when Lauren (author of the blog Cnytr) is to be received into the novitiate for the Third Order of St. Dominic.

A previous ceremony at the Dominican House of Studies' beautiful chapel in D.C. at which fifteen candidates were received as Third Order Novices, three made temporary profession, and three made final profession.

"Members of the Third Order follow the Rule of St. Dominic by: praying (Rosary, Liturgy of the Hours, daily Mass, prayers for deceased Dominicans, etc.); reading, studying, and contemplating the Bible and other spiritual works; fasting; attending monthly meetings with the community, confessing frequently; making yearly retreats; and observing other practices."

"Third Order members live in, but are not of, the world: sanctifying their secular vocations by offering all to and for Our Lord; interspersing their daily work with prayer, study, contemplation, and praise; approaching others with love as they share the Truth which the fathers preach."

Text and picture from the website of
the Immaculate Conception Chapter of the Third Order of Preachers

Orate pro ea atque jubilate

"Like straw"

That is how St. Thomas Aquinas described everything he had written, after he had been blessed with a vision of God.

That is also how I would describe (more accurately) any effort on my part to do justice to the breadth and depth of St. Thomas' great theological and philosophical works.

So, I will just point out one or two of his greatest works and leave a more proper exposition to others.

  • Perhaps the greatest and most famous of his works is the Summa Theologica. English versions are available online at the great New Advent website (http://www.newadvent.org/summa/), the Christian Classics Ethereal Library (http://www.ccel.org/a/aquinas/summa/), et al.

    St. Thomas generally wrote in an extremely structured style that can be difficult for modern readers to appreciate at first. As one begins to read, however, one quickly becomes impressed with his enormously analytical and logical mind. The more one reads, the more one uncovers more and more the depth of his insights and of his devotion to God: a treasure trove for which there is no equal.

  • His Summa Contra Gentiles is another of his greatest works, devoted to explaining the faith to non-Christians. English versions are available online at the Digital Library at Dartmouth College(http://dciswww.dartmouth.edu:50080/v3?db=312&page=h&node=1&dfn=3).

  • Today's Office of the Readings includes an excerpt from one of St. Thomas' spiritual conferences. I have posted a copy on my other blog Toward Contemplation.

  • St. Thomas' works in the original Latin are available at www.corpusthomisticum.org

  • St. Thomas' glorious poetic side is fully displayed in the hymns he wrote for the Feast of Corpus Christi. The following site nicely presents the original Latin alongside a line-by-line English translation: http://www.smart.net/~tak/Prayers/corpus_christi.html.

Genitori, Genitoque
Laus et jubilatio,
Salus, honor, virtus quoque
Sit et benedictio:
Procedenti ab utroque
Compar sit laudatio.

When the boy was five years old

his parents sent him away.

Why? Partly for his education, partly because of his parents’ ambition, and also perhaps partly out of guilt.

Then, when he went to college, the young man rejected the plans of his rich, ambitious parents and joined a new religious group of panhandlers.

His parents had him kidnapped and attempted to “deprogram” him. After a couple of years, they gave up. He went back to college and his religious “family” of beggars.

He eventually got a teaching position and his entire life became devoted to teaching, writing, and praying.

Then suddenly, one day in his late forties, he gave up everything except prayer. He died the next year.

In his relatively short life, however, the little rich boy turned beggar and teacher had already made quite a name for himself. Kings and Popes had sought his advice, so great was his reputation for wisdom. Even in death, religious orders fought over his body, so great was his reputation for holiness.

The body of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, perhaps the greatest of all Christian theologians and philosophers, was finally interred in a church belonging to his fellow Dominicans on this very day in 1369, 94 years after his death and 42 years after his canonization.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

One of those little girls

By the time Angela was ten, both of her parents were dead. Not long after that, her older sister died suddenly.

Angela was already one of those little girls who seemed to have been born devout, but now she redoubled the intensity of her devotions. At age 15, she formally associated herself with the Franciscans as a tertiary.

Angela had already seen many of the bad things of the world. She resolved to do what she could to make the world a better place. She felt the best way for her to do this was to ensure that little girls were properly educated in the faith so that, as wives and mothers, they could form stronger Christian families, which would in turn improve society.

When she was only 20, she started a school in her own house. She was so successful that she was asked to open another school in a neighboring city.

One of her lifelong goals was to see the Holy Land. About the time she was 50, she had the opportunity to go on a pilgrimage. On the way, however, she was struck blind. She continued with the pilgrimage anyway. On her way back home, her vision returned while she was at prayer. Far from being disappointed, she experienced an even deeper devotion to the Lord.

About ten years later, she chose 12 young women to join her in a new community of devotion to the Lord and dedication to the education of girls. The community would grow and spread across the world.

St. Angela Merici, foundress of the Ursuline Sisters, died on this very day in 1540 in Brescia, Italy. She was canonized in 1807.

We must consider

how to rouse one another to love and good works.
Hebrews 10:24

This verse from today’s first reading is an excellent one for all of us to reflect upon.

Are we in need of being roused? Aren’t there also many people around us who are in need of being spiritually roused?

What can we do to rouse them?

What can we do to get ourselves and other people to seek to live true Christian love more deeply and actively? What can we do to rouse ourselves and other people to do more good works?

The very next verse is also an excellent reminder, especially nowadays when attending Church seems not to be a priority for many.

We should not stay away from our assembly,
as is the custom of some,
but encourage one another,
and this all the more
as you see The Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25

Let us pray for one another.
Oremus pro invicem

Lenten Message 2005

(A Penitent Blogger writes: The Vatican presented the Holy Father's Lenten Message today, in preparation for that penitential season beginning February 9. His age and current physical infirmities give this message a very special extra level of meaning.)

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

1. Each year, the Lenten Season is set before us as a good opportunity for the intensification of prayer and penance, opening hearts to the docile welcoming of the divine will. During Lent, a spiritual journey is outlined for us that prepares us to relive the Great Mystery of the Death and Resurrection of Christ. This is done primarily by listening to the Word of God more devoutly and by practising mortification more generously, thanks to which it is possible to render greater assistance to those in need.

This year, dear brothers and sisters, I wish to bring to your attention a theme which is rather current, well-illustrated by the following verse from Deuteronomy:
"Loving the Lord…means life to you, and length of days…" (30:20). These are the words that Moses directs to the people, inviting them to embrace the Covenant with Yahweh in the country of Moab, "that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord, your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him." (30:19-20). The fidelity to this divine Covenant is for Israel a guarantee of the future: "that you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them." (30:20). According to the Biblical understanding, reaching old age is a sign of the Most High's gracious benevolence. Longevity appears, therefore, as a special divine gift.

It is upon this theme that I would like to ask you to reflect during this Lent, in order to deepen the awareness of the role that the elderly are called to play in society and in the Church, and thus to prepare your hearts for the loving welcome that should always be reserved for them.

Thanks to the contribution of science and medicine, one sees in society today a lengthening of the human life span and a subsequent increase in the number of elderly. This demands a more specific attention to the world of so-called "old" age, in order to help its members to live their full potential by placing them at the service of the entire community. The care of the elderly, above all when they pass through difficult moments, must be of great concern to all the faithful, especially in the ecclesial communities of Western societies, where the problem is particularly present.

2. Human life is a precious gift to be loved and defended in each of its stages. The Commandment,
"You shall not kill!", always requires respecting and promoting human life, from its beginning to its natural end. It is a command that applies even in the presence of illness and when physical weakness reduces the person's ability to be self-reliant. If growing old, with its inevitable conditions, is accepted serenely in the light of faith, it can become an invaluable opportunity for better comprehending the Mystery of the Cross, which gives full sense to human existence.

The elderly need to be understood and helped in this perspective. I wish, here, to express my appreciation to those who dedicate themselves to fulfilling these needs, and I also call upon other people of good will to take advantage of Lent for making their own personal contribution. This will allow many elderly not to think of themselves as a burden to the community, and sometimes even to their own families, living in a situation of loneliness that leads to the temptation of isolating themselves or becoming discouraged.

It is necessary to raise the awareness in public opinion that the elderly represent, in any case, a resource to be valued. For this reason, economic support and legislative initiatives, which allow them not to be excluded from social life, must be strengthened. In truth, during the last decade, society has become more attentive to their needs, and medicine has developed palliative cures that, along with an integral approach to the sick person, are particularly beneficial for long-term patients.

3. The greater amount of free time in this stage of life offers the elderly the opportunity to face the primary issues that perhaps had been previously set aside, due to concerns that were pressing or considered a priority nonetheless. Knowledge of the nearness of the final goal leads the elderly person to focus on that which is essential, giving importance to those things that the passing of years do not destroy.

Precisely because of this condition, the elderly person can carry out his or her role in society. If it is true that man lives upon the heritage of those who preceded him, and that his future depends definitively on how the cultural values of his own people are transmitted to him, then the wisdom and experience of the elderly can illuminate his path on the way of progress toward an ever more complete form of civilisation.

How important it is to rediscover this mutual enrichment between different generations! The Lenten Season, with its strong call to conversion and solidarity, leads us this year to focus on these important themes which concern everyone. What would happen if the People of God yielded to a certain current mentality that considers these people, our brothers and sisters, as almost useless when they are reduced in their capacities due to the difficulties of age or sickness? Instead, how different the community would be, if, beginning with the family, it tries always to remain open and welcoming towards them.

4. Dear brothers and sisters, during Lent, aided by the Word of God, let us reflect upon how important it is that each community accompany with loving understanding those who grow old. Moreover, one must become accustomed to thinking confidently about the mystery of death, so that the definitive encounter with God occur in a climate of interior peace, in the awareness that He "
who knit me in my mother's womb” (cf. Psalm 139:13b) and who willed us "in his image and likeness" (cf. Gen. 1:26) will receive us.

Mary, our guide on the Lenten journey, leads all believers, especially the elderly, to an ever more profound knowledge of Christ dead and risen, who is the ultimate reason for our existence. May she, the faithful servant of her divine Son, together with Saints Ann and Joachim, intercede for each one of us "now and at the hour of our death".

My Blessing to All!


Christian Carnival #54

This week's Christian Carnival - an ecumenical collection of posts from various Christian blogs - is now online at Digitus, Finger & Co.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Serve Christ through his Church

from the Vocations website of
the Archdiocese of Melbourne (Australia)

(The faint Greek writing at the top, by the way, is Matthew 5:16: Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. [Another English translation is given in small print.])

T and T

Today is the memorial of Saints Timothy and Titus, bishops and apostolic men, coworkers of the great Apostle Saint Paul who wrote letters to each of them that are preserved in the New Testament canon.

Seeds and water

On this memorial of Saints Timothy and Titus, today’s Gospel of the Parable of the Sower reminds me of St. Paul’s famous “reality check:”

I have planted, Apollos watered;
but God gave the increase.
1 Corinthians 3:6

One of the parable’s important lessons is that the seed that is the word of God is to be planted generously: even in places one might not think likely to be productive.

Take together with the verse from 1 Corinthians, this should serve as a good reminder for all of us to be more generous in our planting and watering of the seeds of faith as we go through our day-to-day lives.

Opportunities for planting and watering these seeds are always there. All we need to do is open our eyes and be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit - who can and will give the increase.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

"Second Look" at Abortion

Catholic News Service reports that "the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has launched a major advertising campaign encouraging people to take a 'second look' at their views on abortion."


Thrown Back is back

Father Rob Johansen has new posts today on his blog Thrown Back after a two month hiatus (I guess Advent and Christmas are busy times for priests).

One of his posts concerns Terri Schiavo (Father Rob has been very close to Terri's parents).

He says, "While (the Supreme Court's decision yesterday) is a setback and disappointment, this is not the end of the road. It's not time to start panicking yet."

The Passion of the Christ nominated

The Oscar nominations have just been announced.

Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ has nominations for Cinematography, Makeup, and Music (Score).

Catholic Carnival XIV

The fourteenth Catholic Carnival - a collection of posts from various Catholic blogs - is now online at DeoOmnisGloria.com.

The Conversion of St. Paul

'The Conversion of St. Paul' by Caravaggio - Santa Maria del Popolo (Rome)
And I fell unto the ground,
and heard a voice saying unto me,
Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?

And I answered, Who art thou, Lord?

And he said unto me,
I am Jesus of Nazareth,
whom thou persecutest.

(And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me.)

And I said,
What shall I do, Lord?

And the Lord said unto me,
Arise, and go into Damascus;
and there it shall be told thee of all things
which are appointed for thee to do.
Acts 22:7-10

"Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?"

Today’s Gospel, from the conclusion of the holy Gospel according to Mark, is only four verses long, yet it overflows with fodder for controversies of all kinds.

Perhaps the most colorful controversies center on the “signs (that) shall follow them that believe” – and most especially on the sentence, “They shall take up serpents.”

There are small groups of Christians that have interpreted this sentence in such a way that they hold live poisonous snakes in their bare hands as a key part of their regular worship services.

Other people dismiss this sentence as a reference (prophetic or otherwise) to St. Paul’s encounter with a viper in Acts 28:3-6 and as having no relevance to how Christians should live their lives today.

It is dangerous, however, to dismiss any part of Scripture as irrelevant to the life of a Christian.

That is not to say that we should all run off and wrestle with cobras. The words and example of our Lord himself are instructive: “'Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.'” (Matthew 4:7)

Our focus should always be on doing the work of the Lord. Signs and wonders such as snake handling or even speaking in tongues should not be our focus. “These signs shall follow them that believe” is not a command, but simply a description of what God can do.

We should consider also that there are many two-legged serpents in the world around us. We have no need to rush into the brush to test our faith with snakes: we encounter them everyday and we need to pray always that we may be strong in living out our faith despite the snakes and other perils around us.

We should not be intent on chasing after signs and wonders, but on doing the work of the Lord: to "preach the gospel to every creature." As we do the work of the Lord, the Lord may indeed choose to work wonders and even miracles through us. Yet we must also remember that as we do the work of the Lord, his will might be that we endure rejection, pain, and even death (as did our Lord and the Apostles) and that the infinitely majestic power of God might then be manifested through our weakness.

And he said unto me,
My grace is sufficient for thee:
for my strength is made perfect in weakness.

Most gladly therefore

will I rather glory in my infirmities,
that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities,
in reproaches, in necessities,
in persecutions, in distresses
for Christ's sake:
for when I am weak,
then am I strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

We should not be intent on chasing after signs and wonders, but first and foremost, on doing the work of the Lord: to "preach the gospel to every creature."

Seek ye first the kingdom of God,
and his righteousness;
and all these things shall be added unto you.
Matthew 6:33

Monday, January 24, 2005

War and Marriage

A former chaplain to Worldwide Marriage Encounter was recently named an Auxiliary Bishop for the Military Vicariate for the Philippines.

Today it was reported that Auxiliary Bishop John J. Kaising of the United States Archdiocese for the Military Services has agreed to serve as episcopal moderator for Worldwide Marriage Encounter.


War and Marriage...
War and Marriage...

March for Life Phone Call

(By President Bush to Nellie Gray, president of the March for Life Fund, and to all participants in the March for Life, January 24, 2005)

"Nellie, thank you. Thanks a lot for inviting me to speak.

"I know it's chilly there in Washington, but weather hasn't stopped thousands of participants from marching for life for the past 32 years, and it did not this year, either. And so I'm honored to be a part of this tremendous witness that is taking place in our Nation's Capitol, and it's good to hear your voice again.

"You know, we come from many backgrounds -- different backgrounds, but what unites us is our understanding that the essence of civilization is this: The strong have a duty to protect the weak.

"I appreciate so very much your work toward building a culture of life -- a culture that will protect the most innocent among us and the voiceless. We are working to promote a culture of life, to promote compassion for women and their unborn babies.

"We know -- we know that in a culture that does not protect the most dependent, the handicapped, the elderly, the unloved, or simply inconvenient become increasingly vulnerable.

"The America of our dreams, where every child is welcomed in law -- in life, and protected in law may still be some ways away, but even from the far side of the river, Nellie, we can see its glimmerings.

"We're making progress in Washington. I've been working with members of the Congress to pass good, solid legislation that protects the vulnerable and promotes the culture of life. I signed into law a ban on partial birth abortion. Infants who are born despite an attempted abortion are now protected by law. So are nurses and doctors who refused to be any part of an abortion. And prosecutors can now charge those who harm or kill a pregnant woman with harming or killing her unborn child.

"We're also moving ahead in terms of medicine and research to make sure that the gifts of science are consistent with our highest values of freedom, equality, family, and human dignity.

"We will not sanction the creation of life only to destroy it.

"What I'm saying is we're making progress, and this progress is a tribute to your perseverance and to the prayers of the people.

"I want to thank you, especially, for the civil way that you have engaged one of America's most contentious issues.

"I encourage you to take heart from our achievements, because a true culture of life cannot be sustained solely by changing laws. We need, most of all, to change hearts. And that is what we're doing, seeking common ground where possible, and persuading increasing numbers of our fellow citizens of the rightness of our cause.

"This is the path to the culture of life that we seek for our country. And on its coldest days, and one of our coldest days, I encourage you to take warmth and comfort from our history which tells us that a movement that appeals to the noblest and most generous instincts of our fellow Americans -- and that is based on a sacred promise enshrined in our founding document that this movement will not fail.

"And so on this day of compassion, where warm hearts are confronting the cold weather, I ask that God bless you for your dedication, and may God continue to bless our great country.

"And thank you for letting me share this moment with you, Nellie."

George W. Bush

The Sister Servants of the Eternal Word

"are a new order that follows the Rule of St. Francis of Assisi with St. Dominic and St. Francis as our patrons."

"Our apostolate is prayer, catechesis, and retreats."

"We are, as yet, a small but enthusiastic community. We love our life, our habit, our vows; we love our obedience to the Pope and to the magisterium. We love the poverty that demands hard work. Everything seems easy when we consider the enormous spiritual benefits given to us by our loving merciful God."

"If you feel called to authentic Catholicism by the Franciscan/Dominican way, this is the religious life for you."

from the website of
The Sister Servants of the Eternal Word
Birmingham, Alabama

Adaptations of Faith-filled Authors

There are interesting discussions at Ut Unum Sint and Against the Grain about how current Hollywood films based on famous Christian writers reflect the faith of their authors (or not):
  • The Lord of the Rings – based on the work of diehard Catholic J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Chronicles of Narnia – Christian allegories for children by C.S. Lewis (whom Tolkien helped convert to Christianity)

(The springboard for the above discussion is a new book called Peter Jackson in Perspective: the Power Behind Cinema’s The Lord of the Rings – A Look at Hollywood’s Take on Tolkien’s Epic Tale by Greg Wright, a contributing editor at at HollywoodJesus.com)

Million Dollar Baby and Euthanasia

Sandra Miesel reports at the Heart, Mind and Strength blog that "Clint Eastwood had tried to keep the ugly twist at the end of Million Dollar Baby secret and obliging critics cooperated. But now that the film--a leading Oscar contender--is picking up awards, he's been forced to open up a bit. He insists the endng is supposed to be ambiguous. However, disability activists are taking the film as a piece of pro-euthanasia advocacy..."

Protestants vs. Catholics

Sadly, at different times and places, the relationship between Protestants and Catholics has been a highly belligerent one – sometimes literally!

For example, a fellow by the name of Claude Granier was bishop of a region where Catholic-Protestant relations were very often violent. In parts of his diocese, Catholic worship had been actually outlawed and churches were destroyed or taken over.

When the laws were changed in one of those parts of his diocese, the bishop decided to send there a priest by the name of Father Francis who had been ordained only recently. Father Francis would be physically attacked a number of times and beaten, yet he would persevere with great gentleness, compassion, and success.

Before long, Bishop Granier wanted to make Father Francis his successor. It took a long time for the humble priest to agree, but when the bishop died, Father Francis became the new bishop at the age of 35.

His reputation spread widely and he was invited by religious and secular leaders to preach throughout the country. He was even invited by the Pope to mediate a tricky theological dispute.

His writings were also well regarded. He wrote a series of letters to a cousin of his, giving her pointers in cultivating a more spiritual life, and these letters were eventually compiled into a bestselling book.

He helped found a new order of nuns, the first of a number of orders that would take their inspiration from him.

St. Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geneva in Switzerland (where Calvin had made his base and had died but a few score of years before), died in his mid-fifties in 1622, was canonized in 1665, and his memory is celebrated on this day.

The orders that look to him as their spiritual father (e.g., the Sisters of the Visitation, the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales) continue to this day. His books are also widely read, especially the one derived from those letters to his cousin: Introduction to the Devout Life.

The House

Today’s Gospel ends with a discussion of the interesting, but frightening reality of unforgivable sins (upon which I reflected back in October).

Today’s Gospel begins with the scribes’ bizarre accusation that Christ’s exorcisms are satanically powered.

In the middle of this Gospel passage, as a retort to that ludicrous allegation, we have our Lord’s famous expression (later adopted by Lincoln) “if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”

An interesting but frightening reality is that too often it is our own house that is divided against itself: parishioner against parishioner, Catholic against Catholic, Christian against Christian.

We should never be working against each other, but rather working to stand together in the love and truth of our one Lord Jesus Christ.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

The worship of God

ZENIT has a great interview with Father Richard Neuhaus on the Eucharist. I love this quote:

"The worship of God has no purpose other than the worship of God.

"While worship has many benefits, we do not worship in order to attain those benefits. The simple and radical truth is that we worship God because God is to be worshiped."

Your dead buddy

In combat, one of the greatest shocks that can happen is when your best friend and comrade is suddenly blown away. Your buddy, the one you had relied on for emotional support and encouragement in the thick of battle, is gone and the feeling of danger builds inside you with painful intensity.

In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist has just been arrested. Not only has our Lord lost his greatest earthly ally, it is also a brutal reminder of the great peril closing around him.

Our Lord’s reaction is not to hunker down in fear, but to go forth even more boldly and proclaim the Kingdom of God.

As people of faith, we often rely emotionally on others for support and encouragement as we struggle within a faithless world. Sometimes these people are taken from us: sometimes by natural death, but also sometimes (as in the case of John the Baptist) by unjust imprisonment or even martyrdom.

We must always look to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for our example; we must always look to Christ for our support and our encouragement, so that we may never shut ourselves down in fear or despair, but that we may boldly go forward as he did and proclaim the Kingdom of God.

"Now I beseech you, brethren

by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that ye all speak the same thing,
and that there be no divisions among you;
but that ye be perfectly joined together
in the same mind
and in the same judgment."
1 Corinthians 1:10

Saturday, January 22, 2005

God in Inaugural Addresses

In an excellent post, Ut Unum Sint gives numerous examples of religious language in past Presidential Inaugural Addresses.

He goes back a hundred years (and then hops all the way back to George Washington).

One should also note Lincoln's second Inaugural Address, provided in full below. It has generally been hailed as the greatest of of Inaugural Addresses AND has significant sections that are not only explicitly religious but downright theological!

"Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.

"The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.

"'Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.' If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?

"Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'"

Abraham Lincoln, 2nd Inaugural Address (excerpt)

The bishop’s speech impediment

was a bit of a problem.

Vincent was the solution to that problem. The young man was fervent in his faith and stellar in his studies. The bishop ordained him a deacon and commissioned him to preach on his behalf throughout the diocese.

Then the authorities moved in. They deported the bishop and imprisoned Vincent under the most inhumane conditions. There were even stories of his being tortured, both physically and psychologically.

St. Vincent of Zaragoza (Spain) would die in prison, almost exactly seventeen hundred years ago, and his memory is celebrated on this day.

The Tabernacle and...

Today’s first reading essentially expands upon the theme of the unsurpassable superiority of the new covenant in Christ.

For Catholics, the word “tabernacle” in this reading rings a special bell, yet the physical container isn’t the most important thing.

Christ’s sacrifice on the cross in his own body and blood was indeed “once for all” but it is made present again in the Eucharist. We experience this most fully in the celebration and the reception of the Eucharist, but we also experience it and worship the Lord Jesus in a special way through both our quiet prayers and our communal celebrations focusing on the Eucharist outside of Mass.

This Year of the Eucharist might be a good opportunity for each of us to think about ways in which we can deepen our devotion to the Lord in his body and blood to “cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.”

Friday, January 21, 2005

The blessing of the lambs

"Pope John Paul, in liturgical memory of the virgin-martyr St. Agnes, whose feast is today and for whom the traditional symbol is a lamb, blessed some baby lambs in the library of his apartment. The wool of these lambs will be used to make the palliums given every year to new metropolitan archbishops as signs of their office. The blessing of lambs, who are under one year of age, is traditionally celebrated on the January 21 feast of St. Agnes... who is buried in the basilica named for her on Rome's Via Nomentana. The lambs are raised by Trappist Fathers of the Abbey of the Three Fountains in Rome and the palliums are made from the newly-shorn wool by the sisters of St. Cecilia."
from V.I.S. -Vatican Information Service

Christian Carnival

This week's Christian Carnival - a collection of posts from Christian blogs representing a number of ecclesial communities - is online at http://sidesspot.blogspot.com/2005/01/christian-carnival-its-finally-up-no.html


Today’s first reading from the epistle to the Hebrews is an easy one to misuse.

Some, for example, misuse passages such as these in wrongheaded attempts to justify the unjustifiable mistreatment of Jews.

The epistle writer’s point is that Christ’s covenant is the effective means of salvation, whereas the old covenant was not really effective. That is not, however, a rejection of the Jewish people.

It is important to read Romans 9-11 in this regard, in which St. Paul expresses confidence that they will eventually will be saved through Christ.

“God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew….” (11:2a), “and so all Israel shall be saved…” (11:26) and “they are beloved for the fathers' sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” (11:28b-29a)

Another example: some misuse passages such as these to denounce human teachers (or a fortiori a Magisterium) among Christians as redundant or worse. This is a mistaken notion that contradicts our Lord's own command (Matthew 28:20) and every place in the New Testament where the Apostles and other Christians are described as teaching.

The epistle writer’s point is that true, personal knowledge of the Lord ultimately comes as a grace from God. Intellectual learning by itself – without grace – will not give anyone the intimate relationship with God to which he calls us. A person without grace may acknowledge the validity of proofs of God’s existence and understand certain concepts about God, but cannot truly know God in himself unless God gives that person the grace.

Human teachers, of course, may act as occasions of this grace or even as instruments in some way. Furthermore, as intellectual beings, intellectual understanding of our faith is vital.

All of us need to grow continually by God’s grace in our personal relationship with him, in our intellectual understanding of our faith, and in the ways we share with others the faith, grace, and love we have received through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Agnes was a little girl

Her faith was pure as snow
And everywhere that Jesus went
Agnes was sure to go.

Christians were being grabbed in the streets or dragged from their homes. Some had their heads cut off. Others weren’t so lucky: they were cruelly tortured before they were killed.

The ones who were left found comfort in their faith and in the grace of Christ. They also told each other about the heroism of those who had already died for the faith.

Many talked about a little girl named Agnes, whose name meant “lamb.”

The brutes had taken her too, but she refused to give up her faith, so they killed her.

If that little girl could be so brave for Christ, they told each other, we can be too.

Agnes’ name would be remembered every time they gathered and, seventeen hundred years later, Agnes’ name is still included in the Roman Canon, the first Eucharistic Prayer.

St. Agnes is especially remembered every year on this day.

(In Rome on this day every year there is a special blessing of lambs. Wool from these lambs is later made into ceremonial cloths [pallia or palliums] that is placed by the tomb of St. Peter and then worn by archbishops throughout the world.)

Thursday, January 20, 2005

You are a priest forever

after the order of Melchizedek...
Psalm 110:4

"In the second half of chapter 14 of the Book of Genesis, the mysterious figure of Melchizedek makes a brief appearance in sacred history. After Abram defeated Ched-or-laomer and his allies in battle, Melchizedeck, the king of Salem, 'brought out bread and wine' because he was 'priest of God most high' so that he could bless Abram. After this blessing, God made covenant with Abram, promising him that he would be a great nation and changing his name to Abraham.

"The Letter to the Hebrews links Melchizedeck's priesthood to the high priesthood of Christ. The author of Hebrews points out that Melchizedeck is one of the only figures in the book of Genesis who is not connected to parents or children. His name in Hebrew means 'king of righteousness' and as king of Salem, he is the 'king of peace' (Salem is very similar in Hebrew to shalom, which means peace). Melchizedeck is both king and priest, a combination that was unheard of in the Old Testament. He is also a prophet or one who speaks with Divine authority. Evidence of this is that when He blesses Abram all of the neighboring kings acknowledge the blessing. Most strikingly, Melchizedeck offers bread and wine in his prayer on behalf of Abram.

"The parallels are obvious. Christ is eternally begotten of the Father. He has no human father. He had no children. He was the righteous Man who through His death on the cross made peace between God and man. Jesus possesses the fullness of priesthood as priest, prophet and king. His offering on the Cross is perpetuated in the Church under the appearances of bread and wine.

"Melchizedeck points toward some important qualities for a New Testament priest. The New Testament priest is willing to cut himself off from the pursuits of the world by living a life of chaste celibacy and simplicity. In his moral life, he is upright or 'righteous' so that he can bring the abiding peace of the Kingdom of God to the world around him. He is a priest when he anoints, hears confessions and most of all when he offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The priest of the New Testament is a prophet when he teaches the faith to his flock. He is a king when he takes up the burden of leadership within the Church. In all ways, he seeks to join every fiber of his strength to the Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary."

--Christopher Roberts, seminarian

from the Vocations website
of the Diocese of Lafayette in Indiana

(I just did a Yahoo search for "diocese vocations priest" and this site came up on the list. I thought it was particularly appropriate to post this since I'd been reflecting on Melchizedeck earlier this week. The website, by the way, says that Mr. Roberts is studying at the North American College in Rome and Deo volente will be ordained a priest in 2007.)

"From the day of our Founding

we have proclaimed
that every man and woman on this earth
has rights,
and dignity,
and matchless value,
because they bear the image

of the Maker of Heaven and earth."
George W. Bush, 2nd Inaugural Address
January 20, 2005

* * * * *

That is my favorite line from the speech today. He said some other very good things, although I wouldn’t say it’s the best speech he’s ever done.

(Yale has an online collection of Presidential Inaugural Addresses here and this morning’s Washington Post has an interesting ranking of these addresses here.)

Of course, the greatest “2nd Inaugural Address” – if not one of the best speeches in the English language – remains that of Abraham Lincoln, which follows below:

* * * * *

"At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

"On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war--seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation.

"Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

"One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it.

"Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding.

"Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.

"The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.

"'Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.' If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?

"Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'

"With malice toward none,
with charity for all,
with firmness in the right
as God gives us to see the right,
let us strive on
to finish the work we are in,
to bind up the nation's wounds,
to care for him
who shall have borne the battle
and for his widow and his orphan,
to do all which may achieve and cherish
a just and lasting peace
among ourselves
and with all nations."

Abraham Lincoln, 2nd Inaugural Address
March 4, 1865

Reality check

Some people see Jesus as something like a cross between Leo Buscaglia and St. Thomas More: “A Hug for All Seasons.”

In today’s readings, however, we hear things about our Lord that may be described as “distancing.”

In the Gospel, he “withdraws,” he doesn’t want his identity disclosed, and he orders up a boat to protect him from the crowd. In the first reading, he is described as “separated from sinners” and not “on earth.”

We need to maintain a good balance in our relationship with the Lord.

It is important – indeed, it is critical – that we strive to have a relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that is ever more intimate and loving. Yet it is also necessary for us to appreciate that in a very real way the Lord is absolutely untouchable, sacred, holy.

It is only by his grace that we can have the loving, intimate relationship he calls us to enjoy and we appreciate the wonder of that grace all the more when we appreciate that the one "who dwells in unapproachable light" (1 Tim. 6:16) loves us and enables us to love him.

Making Family Vacations Catholic

There is a great post at Living Catholicism titled Making Family Vacations Catholic.

Time and place

Not even two months after he was elected, the Pope was dead.

As the prelates gathered to elect a new Pope, there was a great deal of speculation. Some wondered if this was the time to “think outside the box,” whether this was the time for the Holy Spirit to choose someone unexpected.

Indeed, an outsider was chosen: a Pontiff who would guide the Church wisely for years.

How much of an outsider was he? He was actually a farmer on a visit to the city who happened to be in the room. As the leaders had prayed for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, a dove had flown in the window and perched itself on the farmer’s head.

Everyone took it as a sign and he was unanimously acclaimed the new Pope.

Fabian, the visiting farmer and layman who was made Bishop of Rome, turned out to be a fairly successful Pope: ministering to the people, improving Church administration, sending out missionaries, and dealing with heresies during years of relative peace.

The peace came to an end and St. Fabian was martyred in the year 250. His memory is celebrated on this day.

The mightiest man

“…may be slain by a single arrow…”

This line from The Lord of the Rings begins one character's account of a great warrior who struggles to protect those entrusted to his care even as he is shot again and again.

When the first of the recent Lord of the Rings films came out, a number of reviewers took note the film’s image of this warrior still standing despite the arrows in his flesh and compared it to a classic image of Christian iconography: the image of St. Sebastian, who is remembered on this day.

All that we really know about Sebastian is that he was a Roman soldier martyred for his Christian faith. The story that came to be told of him was that he was pierced by many arrows and yet continued his work of spreading the good news of Christ until he was finally beaten to death and received a martyr’s crown.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Who is your...

Today’s first reading from the letter to the Hebrews presents us with further theologizing about the mysterious figure of Melchizedek (as mentioned Monday).

One of the key points of this complex passage is that, like Melchizedek, Christ has a priesthood that does not depend upon “physical descent” (as did the priesthood of the Mosaic covenant).

To be sure, familial connections may have some value – indeed, it is to be hoped that we receive much good from our parents – but it is only from Christ that we receive value that is infinite and eternal.

The most important question is not “Who’s your daddy?” but…

Who is your Lord?"

Amazing Race at Church

The Amazing Race last night began on the gorgeous Mediterranean island of Corsica and ended in Lalibela, Ethiopia, which appears now as a green and rugged land with scattered villages but was once the capital of ancient Ethiopia.

In the 12th century, the King of Ethiopia built a collection of astonishing churches that are literally carved into the rock of the ground. Last night's episode of the Amazing Race featured the Ethiopian Orthodox Church of St. George (Bet Giorgis), named after Ethiopia’s patron saint.

Ground-level view


Interior detail
I found additional interesting information (including a cut-away sketch of the structure) at the following webpage:

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

A vocation to religious life

"...is always a mystery. Even more of a mystery when this call is a call to leave the world and join a Cloistered, Contemplative Community. It is as real and needed today as it was centuries past.

"There is a magnetic beauty about Contemplative Life which whets the human appetite for God.

"Contemplatives witness to the holiness of God and the unfathomable love which lies behind the story of Jesus. He is our Way; our Truth; and our Life. This Truth has so captured our hearts that we are willing to leave the material world and vow ourselves to live our Baptismal Life to the full.

"This is how the Passionist Nuns of today take the pains and sufferings of this world seriously. In other words, we go to the heart of the Mystery of God's Love: Jesus Crucified and Risen."

From the website of the Passionist Nuns of St. Joseph Monastery and Retreat House at Whitesville, KY.

This site includes a wonderful vocation story by a self-described "small-town Hoosier girl" and "Teenager of the 80's."

Before                                    AFTER


Many among us have been laboring long and hard for the end of abortion and yet abortions continue.

Many among us have been working intensely for laws that protect Christian values and have been disappointed by politicians and judges.

Most of us have been striving continually to become more faithful followers of Christ in everything we say and do, and yet we still fall short.

Today’s first reading, from the letter to the Hebrews, gives us words of great encouragement:

God is not unjust so as to overlook your work
and the love you have demonstrated for his name
by having served
and continuing to serve the holy ones.

We earnestly desire each of you
to demonstrate the same eagerness
for the fulfillment of hope until the end,
so that you may not become sluggish,
but imitators of those who,
through faith and patience,
are inheriting the promises.

Carnival update

A submission from Alex Rarus has been added to Catholic Carnival XIII

Catholic Carnival XIII

Death, Sacrifice, and Life

For if, by the transgression of one person, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one person Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:17

Death, Sin, and the Christian Reaction

Santificarnos.com reports about a Baby Murdered To Please Grandparents, saying "a while back I published an item about a 27-year old mentally handicapped woman who was pregnant. If you remember the post, then you´ll remember that she was seven months pregnant - and her parents had asked for an abortion. Last weekend the parents of the woman got their wish, and the baby was murdered. There can be no other word than that, since we are talking about a child that was in the doctor´s own words, "viable outside of the womb."

Sister Consuelo, the tsunami, abortion and recovery has My Domestic Church's "thoughts on different types of grief, recovery, and help."

The Blog from the Core reports on how Pope Pius XII Was Smeared Again with "quotations from recent articles showing how a report last month about Pope Pius XII was false."

In Tiptoe Through the TULIP, Ales Rarus sends "an FYI to the Catholic blogging community. Jollyblogger, a respected and well-read Protestant blogger, has posted a series of entries about the five core ideals of Calvinism. This gives us an excellent opportunity for Catholic apologetics and evangelization."

In Guardini: Possibilities of Action, Notes provides "excerpts from the last chapter of Romano Guardini's remarkable book on 'The End of the Modern World'"

Christ's Sacrifice

In Made Holy by the Blood of the Lamb, HMS Blog discusses "what we learn from the readings for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time this year about accepting Jesus as the Lamb of God."

In Priesthood Reflections, A Penitent Blogger offers a long set of reflections, based on Hebrews 5:1-10, on the Priesthood of Christ, the Priesthood of the Baptized and the ministerial priesthood.

New Life

In Living Psalm 23, Happy Catholic gives "a testimony to how God has changed my life."

Monday, January 17, 2005

Archbishop kidnapped (UPDATED)

In Mosul, Iraq, Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa of the Syrian Catholic Church was seized today by gunmen. The 66-year-old churchman was grabbed while walking in front of his church.

UPDATE - The Archbishop was released the very next day (Tuesday the 18th).

The world changed

The world changed for Anthony when he was around 20 years old. His parents died and it made him think very seriously about what he wanted to do with his life.

He decided to sell everything he had and to give the proceeds to the poor (after making sure that his younger sister would be educated and cared for). He eventually went out into the desert by himself, found shelter in some ruins, and devoted himself entirely to prayer and solitude.

And then the world changed – and not just for Anthony.

The government in that part of the world had been persecuting people who dared to show their Christian faith in public, imprisoning many and even executing them. There were many zealous young men who wanted to go all the way for the faith and these were the ones often executed and later celebrated as martyrs.

Then there was a tremendous change in the government and it was no longer dangerous to be known as a Christian. Zealous young men sought new ways to go all the way for the faith. Many of them came to hear about the radical Christian lifestyle that Anthony was pursuing in the desert and sought to imitate him in his imitation of Christ.

St. Anthony of Egypt came to be known as the Father of Monasticism. He died at the age of 105 in the year 356 and his memory is celebrated on this day.

Priesthood Reflections

Today’s first reading is a magnificent reflection on our “great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God” (Hebrews 4:14).

All of us who are baptized into Christ have a share in that priesthood.

Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house,
an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices,
acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”

1 Peter 2:5

Furthermore, in keeping with the diversity of functions within the Body of Christ (see Romans 12 & 1 Corinthians 12), there are some among us who are called to exercise the priesthood of Christ in a special way, as a ministry.

Thus today’s first reading can be seen not only as being about Christ, but also about the “priesthood of the baptized” as well as about the “ministerial priesthood” - both of which (each in their own way) merely share in the one priesthood of Christ.

Every high priest
is taken from among men
and made
their representative before God…

Intercession is an essential part of every Christian’s life, for we each must pray for one another. Moreover, whenever any one of us prays for another, in a very real sense we are standing at that moment as a representative of that person before God (through the one mediator Jesus Christ).

The diversity of functions within the Body of Christ, avoiding simplistic homogeneity without diminishing fundamental equality, helps highlight functions such as intercession in which we all share (even if differently). Thus particular members are taken from among the many members of the Body of Christ and ordained for these highlighted functions and for service within the Body of Christ.

And so, although we can and must pray directly to God, we build ourselves up within the Body of Christ by asking our sisters and brothers in Christ to join us in prayer. We do this in a extra special way when we also ask priests and other ordained ministers who lead the community in prayer.

…to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.

The one sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is sufficient in itself to take away the sins of the world, and yet he calls us to participate somehow in that sacrifice in different ways (see Colossians 1:24; 1 Peter 2:5, 4:13).

It is a glorious thing for to be able to participate in so great a mystery, no matter how infinitesimally small and unworthy our gifts and sacrifices may be, whether through the sacrifice of physical suffering, the sacrifice of personal resources, or the sacrifice of the Eucharistic Prayer – all of which unite within and draw power from the one, perfect sacrifice of Christ.

He is able to deal patiently
with the ignorant and erring,
for he himself is beset by weakness…

This is very important for all of us to remember. Those among us who strive to be doctrinally faithful, unimpeachably moral, and liturgically correct too often sin against charity and patience when we try to deal with the ignorant and the erring.

We must do what we can to educate the ignorant and to help the erring to the right path, but we must always strive with charity and patience, mindful of our own human weaknesses (may God be merciful to me, a sinner) and our absolute dependence upon the grace of Christ.

The greatest self-inflicted wounds suffered by Christian laity in the so-called "culture wars" are sins against charity. Likewise the lightest faults are magnified in the unkindest clergy.

We must speak what is true and fight for what is right, but we must also always serve the truth in kindness, especially those among us ordained to the ministerial priesthood: remembering “to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring for he himself is beset by weakness.”

…and so, for this reason,
must make sin offerings

for himself
as well as for the people.

Again, Christ by his mysterious grace can enable our puny efforts to participate in his one perfect offering for sin - and this indeed is a glorious grace for us poor sinners.

Yet we must always remember that we are sinners, that we are empowered by grace, and that we are given the power of this grace not just for our own sakes, but for the people of God.

Those among us who are lay Christians and most especially those among us who are ordained must therefore be incessantly penitent and altruistic.

No one takes this honor upon himself
but only when called by God,
just as Aaron was.

Many of us know too many clergy who obviously relish the honors and perks of clericalism, embracing pride and comfort rather than the cross.

Yet even lay Christians can make the mistake of embracing pride and comfort rather than the cross in their daily “Christian” lives.

Being a Christian is a gift from God, as is the call to ministry. In either case, if it becomes a personal boast, the gift is being abused.

This verse also reminds us of how mysterious the call to ministry can be. Aaron was personally called by God, but he was also called by means of Moses.

We must fulfill our God-given obligations, but we must also be listening always for the voice of the Lord, calling us to act or speak at a particular place and time or calling us to a radical, life-long commitment of love and service.

We must also do what we can to help others hear the voice of the Lord in their lives, especially encouraging young people not to be swayed by the siren call of selfishness nor to fall into lockstep with what is “normal” in a post-Christian culture, but to seek the Lord’s will for their lives, to pray about their possibly becoming priests and/or professed religious.

In the same way,
it was not Christ

who glorified himself
in becoming high priest,
but rather
the one who said to him:
’You are my Son…’

When we pray, we need to be honest with God, honest about what we need and what we want, and yet the great and constant danger is that our prayers are almost exclusively self-centered: help me, give me, show me, etc.

That is when things are not going well (which is when many of us are more inclined to pray).

When things are not going well, our prayer should be that of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane: when he poured out his heart to God but always finished by saying with absolute sincerity, “Yet not my will but yours be done.”

When things ARE going well, our prayer should be Psalm 115:1

Non nobis, Domine, non nobis,
sed nomini tuo da gloriam
super misericordia tua et veritate tua.

Not to us, O LORD, not to us,
but to thy name give the glory,
for the sake of thy mercy and thy truth.

This is especially true for those in ministry, who can so glorify themselves (sometimes with the assistance of kindly parishioners) that they become dependent on it and (if only subconsciously) tailor their ministry to cultivate that glory for themselves rather than to do the work of God.

‘You are my Son:
this day I have begotten you;’

The strong sense of a personal, loving relationship with God is critical for any Christian, but most particularly for Christians confronted with physical and spiritual dangers - and few Christians are more often confronted with physical and spiritual dangers than those who are ordained to the service of God and who energetically and zealously live out their vocation day after day. Catholic priests in particular have suffered tremendously in the past few years because of the sins of a relative handful of their brothers (who have inflicted unspeakable suffering upon children).

Priests, ministers, and laity - all of us - need to open our hearts and our ears each and every day and hear the voice of our Heavenly Father saying with love,

"You are my child."

…just as he says in another place,
’You are a priest forever…’

Earlier this month, concern was publicly expressed about a notorious pedophile somehow retaining priestly status even after being laicized. Laicization suppresses all the functions, rights and obligations that go with being a priest, but it does not take away the fact that this person was once taken from among men and ordained a priest ("you are a priest forever"). That historical and ontological reality remains forever even when attempted exercise of that ministerial priesthood after laicization would be a grave sin (except for absolution in pericolo mortis with no legal alternatives).

What comes to my mind are the stones of which the altar of the Lord was built in the Old Testament. At one point in history (1 Maccabees 4:36-47), the altar was so desecrated that it was dismantled, never again to be used for sacrifices to the Lord, and yet the defiled stones were still set aside with a certain respect for they had once been made sacred as the altar of the Lord.

The point is not the intrinsic worth of the rocks or of a man (who may be in some ways lower than dirt) but the irremovable imprint that God can make.

Crimes should be punished and children must be protected, even as we all strive to cleanse ourselves of our own sins and to build each other up in true holiness by the grace of Christ.

’You are a priest forever
according to the order of Melchizedek.’

There is a sense in which it is good to be “living in the here and now” – not to be daydreaming about the past or about the future. Too many of us, however, live only in the “here and now.” (As Ecclesiastes says, “There is no remembrance of former things.")

Melchizedek is a mysterious figure of the ancient past who in Genesis 14 offers bread and wine, blesses Abraham, and then is never seen again. Centuries later, his name appears in Psalm 110:4, the verse quoted here in the letter to the Hebrews.

The letter to the Hebrews will theologize further about Melchizedek and there are many things that I could add here, but the fundamental point that should be made is the wonderful continuity of the salvation history in which we are living. A line from J.R.R. Tolkien expresses the feeling thusly:

“Why, to think of it, we’re in the same tale still! It’s going on."

Thus those today serving in the ministerial priesthood of Christ today are tied to God’s saving action throughout history, even to Melchizedek, "priest of the Most High God."

In the days when he was in the Flesh...

With all due respect to Melchizedeck, however, the definitive act of God’s saving power in human history, the most perfect revelation of God, was Jesus Christ come in the flesh, who was born, walked and talked in our midst, suffered, died, and rose again.

There have been many great people and great ideas throughout human history and there are many great new ideas being developed even today. It is important for us to draw upon the best that humanity has to offer, but it is critical for us to always hold onto Jesus of Nazareth as our touchstone, our teacher, our Savior and our Lord. This is especially critical for priests, who are called to act in persona Christi.

The question “What would Jesus do?” was a fad a few years ago and it can be a useful question for Christian moral enquiry, but there are other questions to be asked before that one and the most important are “What did Jesus do?” and “What did Jesus say?”

True religion is not something devised by human caprice: it flows directly from the action and revelation of God, which took place most definitively and perfectly two thousand years ago in a small land just east of the Mediterranean Sea.

...he offered prayers and supplications
with loud cries and tears...

We return again to quintessential priestly actions: the offering of prayers and supplications. Once more we remember that these priestly actions are something all of us can do and should do. There is great value in having particular people set apart or ordained for these actions, but that excuses none of us from faithfully performing these actions - offering prayers and supplications - in the ways that we can do best.

The offering of prayers and supplications, however, is not just a job, an obligation, or something to do. We must really pray from the heart. That is what is meant to offer prayers with loud cries and tears. Histrionics do not impress God, but prayers of the heart do.

This is a particular challenge for priests and others who pray regularly and in public. It is very, very easy for prayer to degenerate into a repetition of words detached from both heart and mind - even extemporaneous prayers.

It takes a special effort of mind, heart, and spirit (as well as grace) to reach deep down into our hearts and souls each and every time we pray, but these are the prayers we are called to make, with loud cries and tears in the heart.

...to the one
who was able to save him from death...

Deep in our hearts, most of us fear death more than anything else. Some believers may fear the fires of hell, while others (believers or not) may fear the existential terror of absolute nothingness.

Part of being a Christian is to stand up for the fact that there is more than the existence of this world, that there is something beyond, and that it is worth working and hoping for.

That is part of the great witness of priestly celibacy: a bizarre practice in the eyes of the world, but a sign of faith and hope in the kingdom of God that extends beyond this world.

Sadly, this witness is sometimes tarnished, not only by priests who commit indiscretions (or even crimes) or who forsake their promises and vows, but even by priests whose life of celibacy has degenerated into simply a life of very comfortable bachelorhood.

Of course, it is easy for any of us to throw stones at each other and point out each other’s faults (Lord Jesus, be merciful to me, a sinner). It is better for us to do what we can to uphold each other in our respective vocations: to encourage each other to make and live up to our commitments and to help bring people back when they fall.

In all of this, we have the promise of the help of God, whose almighty power is greater even than the power of death. We should always be eager to call upon the name of the Lord, no matter what our need, for he can always save us. And even if the blessings of his will are not what we might want, even if all our earthly desires are frustrated, even if we die, we have the unshakeable confidence that God will save his faithful ones from death in the joys of eternal life in heaven.

...and he was heard
because of his reverence.

“Why didn’t God hear my prayer? Is it because I did something wrong?”

Emotionally and otherwise, this is a hard question to answer. Ultimately, we may find an answer in understanding that while God does indeed hear our prayers, prayer is first and foremost a conversation with him, in which we express our will to God - tell him what we want.

Sometimes we find our will to be in accord with his and what we pray for comes to pass. Sometimes we even find that our prayer proved to be an instrument of his holy will in some mysterious way.

Many times, however, God’s will for a particular situation at a particular time is somehow different from what we want. Sometimes God’s will even allows things to happen that we might rightfully see as evil.

Our faith, however, assures us that God will bring about a greater good, often far beyond our imagining, and that as we express our will to him in prayer, God brings our will and heart closer to his own.

This verse reminds us that an attitude of reverence is a critical component of prayer. In other words, the more perfectly our hearts, minds and lives are aligned with and subordinated to our loving Father, the more fruitful our prayers, our conversations with him will be.

Again, this is especially important for priests and others who may lead others in prayer. In certain circumstances, God works ex opere operato. In some circumstances, God works through people and things that are truly strange (remember God’s speaking through that donkey in the Old Testament).

Even so, a manifest attitude of reverence in itself (by priests presiding prayerfully and by congregants kneeling devoutly and singing zestfully) helps build up the community, reaffirming the nature of this conversation with God and of our relationship with him.

Son though he was,
he learned obedience
from what he suffered;

This may sound bizarre: to learn obedience from suffering. I am reminded of a scene from Robert Bolt's play "A Man for All Seasons" in which Richard Rich argues with Thomas More that any man can be "bought."

Rich: Well, with suffering, certainly.

More (intrigued): Buy a man with suffering?

Rich: Impose suffering, then offer him - escape.

More: Oh. For a moment I thought you were being profound.

Regarding this verse from Hebrews, Richard Rich would probably argue that to learn obedience from suffering is like a dog learning obedience from the suffering imposed by the master's whip, but that is not the intent of the verse.

Of course, many people in today's culture have trouble dealing with the concept of suffering and many have trouble with the idea of obedience.

As a rule, nobody wants to suffer and yet, suffering happens. Thus the one who suffers may not only endure the physiological phenomenon of pain, but also the psychological experience of vulnerability, of not being in control.

This loss of control is an occasion for the believer to remember that while we ourselves may not masters of our own universes, God is.

In the midst of suffering, the believer is comforted by the assurance of God's love and that, in his infinite wisdom and power, he can bring a greater good even out of the greatest suffering and this is a way in which the believer responds to unavoidable suffering by learning and being reaffirmed in obedience to the mysterious, benevolent will of God.

The details of how Christ "learned obedience from what he suffered" would be difficult to fully explain here, being so closely involved in the mystery of the hypostatic union. What can be said is that Christ in his human nature in some way gained a real experience and understanding of suffering and its connection to obedience .

The trusting, obedient aspect of the Christian's relationship with God is highlighted by the solemnized obedience embraced by priests and professed religious. Promises and vows of obedience are much more than just mechanisms for organizational discipline, they dramatically symbolize how obedience is a fundamental aspect of every Christian's relationship with God. The 68th Chapter of St. Benedict's Rule shows just how dramatic this can be:

"If, perchance, any difficult or impossible tasks be enjoined on a brother, let him nevertheless receive the order of him who commandeth with all meekness and obedience. If, however, he see that the gravity of the task is altogether beyond his strength, let him quietly and seasonably submit the reasons for his inability to his Superior, without pride, protest, or dissent. If, however, after his explanation the Superior still insisteth on his command, let the younger be convinced that so it is good for him; and let him obey from love, relying on the help of God."

...and when he was made perfect,
he became
the source of eternal salvation
for all who obey him.

Obedience in our relationship with God, however, is more than just a recognition of our personal vulnerability and God's absolute sovereignty with regard to an immeasurable universe. We see in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ the great example and reality of obedience as the way of salvation, as St. Paul says in Philippians 2:8, "obediently accepting even death: death on a cross!"

Christ did this for us out of love and so our obedience to Christ flows from the love he inspires in us.

Obedience to God through Christ is therefore not just an acknowledgement of who's boss in the universe, nor is obedience to God simply adherence to a system of morality, obedience to God through Christ is a key mechanism for our receiving eternal salvation. Obedience to God through Christ draws us closer to him and opens us more fully to receive his grace, while disobedience pulls us away and closes us off from God.

Obedience can be sacrificial, especially as we sacrifice our own will as well as our earthly desires and hopes. Obedience is also sacrificial when it is obedience to Christ, for it ties us to the salvific obedience of his sacrifice on the cross.

Obedience for Christians may thus be understood as a kind of participation in the priestly dynamism of Christ.

This reality of Christian life - participating in the loving, obedient, salvific sacrifice of Christ our great High Priest - is shared in different ways by all Christians and is highlighted in and through the ministerial priesthood, most fully when the one sacrifice of Christ is made present again in the Eucharist in obedience to his command, "Do this in memory of me."