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...

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Youth, age, and wisdom

Today's first reading (Ecclesiastes 11:9-12:8) begins cheerily and then turns abruptly into a tight spiral down into gloom:

Rejoice, O young man, while you are young
and let your heart be glad in the days of your youth.

Follow the ways of your heart,
the vision of your eyes;

Yet understand that as regards all this
God will bring you to judgment.

Ward off grief from your heart
and put away trouble from your presence,
though the dawn of youth is fleeting.

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth,
before the evil days come…

The reading then proceeds into an allegorical description of decrepit old age and then poetic and depressing description of death.

And the years approach of which you will say,
I have no pleasure in them;
Before the sun is darkened,
and the light, and the moon, and the stars,
while the clouds return after the rain;
When the guardians of the house tremble,
and the strong men are bent,
And the grinders are idle because they are few,
and they who look through the windows grow blind;
When the doors to the street are shut,
and the sound of the mill is low;
When one waits for the chirp of a bird,
but all the daughters of song are suppressed;
And one fears heights,
and perils in the street;
When the almond tree blooms,
and the locust grows sluggish
and the caper berry is without effect;

Because man goes to his lasting home,
and mourners go about the streets;
Before the silver cord is snapped
and the golden bowl is broken,
And the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
and the broken pulley falls into the well,
And the dust returns to the earth as it once was,
and the life breath returns to God who gave it.

Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth,
all things are vanity!

To which the people are invited to respond: Thanks be to God.

As is the case with most of Ecclesiastes, this passage is a wise person's bitter reflection on life. It represents human reason's grappling with the paradoxes of life and with its seeming futility.

Life and its pleasures are indeed doomed to diminishment and death, and yet life need not end in futility. Ecclesiastes hints at the way out of this trap:

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth,
before the evil days come...

If, when we are awash with the vigor and passions of youth, we can keep our focus on the things of eternity and truth, then we need not fear the advance of age or the prospect of death.

If, when we are young (or not so young), our goal is not pleasure, but rather life in and through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, then that life will never fade - indeed, it will be ever more abundant and joyful.

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth,
before the evil days come...

He was a young man from the boondocks

lured by the attraction of the greatest city in the world, but when he got there, what ultimately seized his imagination were not the great monuments of power and commerce, but rather the churches and the faithful people.

He received baptism and devoted himself to studying ever more deeply the faith he had embraced.

During his life, he would find himself in many places, but his favorite place was in the Holy Land: in Bethlehem, where he would live and work for many years, often in near isolation.

He wrote books, sermons, and commentaries full of wisdom and insight, but his greatest work was commissioned by an old bishop friend of his: a high-quality translation of the entire Scriptures into the language of the day that could be given to the people for their use.

So great was the quality of his work, his translation of the Holy Scriptures is still used even today: nearly one thousand and six hundred years after he completed it!

St. Jerome – priest, hermit, and ancient Father of the Church – died in Bethlehem on this very day in the year 420, about fifteen years after completing what would be known as the Vulgate or Biblia Vulgata: a Bible for the people (who in Jerome’s time used Latin).

(adapted from a previous post)

Friday, September 29, 2006

The powers

Some people think it is silly to believe in angels: thinking it to be only the stuff of children stories.

But it is human arrogance to think that we must be the greatest and most powerful creatures in this universe.

Yet even the most powerful of beings at best are but instruments in the hand of God.

One of the Scripture passages available for the first reading on today's Feast of the Archangels (Revelation 12:7-12) gives us a glimpse of the mother of all cosmic battles: a clash of forces never to be equaled.

War broke out in heaven;
Michael and his angels battled against the dragon.
The dragon and its angels fought back,
but they did not prevail
and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.
The huge dragon, the ancient serpent,
who is called the Devil and Satan,
who deceived the whole world,
was thrown down to earth,
and its angels were thrown down with it.

But the victory was not Michael's - he was but an instrument of the Lord.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
"Now have salvation and power come,
and the Kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Anointed."

The universe can be a scary place: full of unknowns and powers beyond reckoning.

But our God reigns.

Saint Michael the Archangel

Saint Michael the Archangel
defend us in battle;
be our protection
against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray:
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God, thrust into hell
Satan and all the evil spirits
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls.


Sancte Michael Archangele,
defende nos in proelio;
contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli
esto praesidium.
Imperet illi Deus, supplices deprecamur:
tuque, Princeps militiae Caelestis,
satanam aliosque spiritus malignos,
qui ad perditionem animarum
pervagantur in mundo,
divina virtute in infernum detrude.

Today the Church celebrates the Archangels
Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael

(from a previous post)

I am Gabriel

that stand in the presence of God

and am sent to speak unto thee
Luke 1:19

Today the Church celebrates the Archangels
Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael

(from a previous post)

I am Raphael

Raphael's Departure - by Giovanni Belivarteone of the seven holy angels, which present the prayers of the saints, and which go in and out before the glory of the Holy One.
Tobit 12:15

Today the Church celebrates the Archangels
Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.

(from a previous post)

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Christian Carnival CXLI

Welcome to this week's Christian Carnival!

I am honored to be the host. My sincerest thanks to Dory and to all who submitted posts this week. My apologies for the delay and the lack of a brilliant theme on my part. Please let me know if there are any problems.


"The Liturgy of the Hours' readings last week and this week are the Prophet Ezechiel on rotten shepherds and St. Augustine of Hippo's sermon 'On Pastors' - about all the ways that pastors can foul up. But Karen Marie is very much convinced that the sermon we direly need to read is 'On the Putative Faithful'. We are already very efficient at judging our pastors, but what about ourselves, the parishioners?"

In "Augustine and the Trinity", Henry Imler of The Unsound Argument relates that "Augustine sought to dispel heretical formulations of the Trinity and tried to show how each member of the Trinity have the same essential natures and how the Trinity was a necessary configuration of God. He did this in an interesting manner."


In "Be Obedient", Chasing the Wind asks "How can you obey the rules if you don't know what the rules are? God's Word is living and active and He wants you to be obedient."

"'Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live?' (Dt 4:33) Hammertime presents how a God who, unlike other gods, speaks & reveals himself to us in 'Revelation, General and Specific.'"

In "Sola Scripture Conference - what I learned", Random Thoughts writes about "How to get the most out of your bible. This conference had it all!"

In "Asking Questions of a Biblical Text", Participatory Bible Study Blog observes that "Some very basic questions can lead you to new meaning in a familiar Bible text. Using the initial announcement of the flood (Genesis 6:5-8), this post looks at what we can learn from this short, familiar text"

"Michele of Life Under the Sun begins a study of the 'book of Revelation'."

Ending with quotes from Scripture, Tidbits And Treasures observes that "Things have changed over the years, and politeness, manners, and respect has taken the back seat and 'anything goes', it seems."

In "The First Fantasy of the Bible", Adam Graham of The Lost Genre finds a place for Christian fiction writers.

In "Slavery, Morality and Counter-Culturalism", the blog ...in the outer... observes that "reflections on the use of the term bond-servant in the NT leads to some surprising tentative conclusion about church, and its relation to society, which suggests that the notion of the church being a counter-cultural force may not be as strong as often suggested."

In "Idolatry and Isaiah 40-66", Parableman holds that "the focus on idolatry in several places in Isaiah 40-66 counts against the view that these chapters were written by other people much later than Isaiah's lifetime during the exile and beyond."

With "What is blasphemy?" Imago Dei observes that "a lot of Christians are confused about what blasphemy really is, but the Bible gives a clear definition."


In "Mob Mentality", LeslieCarbone discusses reaction to the recent execution of three Christians in Indonesia.

With "Tortured", Romans 15:4 Project has questions, noting that "Torture is a hot topic right now. What constitutes torture? Should we use it if it saves more innocent lives? Some don't even stop to ask, and the people they torture have done nothing other than confess a living faith in Jesus Christ, not murder or terrorist plots, just faith in Jesus. They are not given rights or trials."

With "Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Not Political Parties", Pursuing Holiness asks "Ever find yourself irritated at a fellow church member who holds an opposing political view?"

In "Evolution is Great Theology!"(sic), Thinking Christian observes that "Somehow, incredibly, the professional skeptic Michael Shermer got tapped by Scientific American to explain why Christians should be delighted to believe in Darwin. His understanding of Christianity is revealed to be very weak. But (see the end of the post) maybe it's not all his fault."

"Can you prove evolution using the Bible? Don Bosch follows up a lecture by Christian geneticist Dr. Francis Collins with his own efforts to link DNA, evolution, and Scripture. This and lots of other eco-bloggy goodness at The Evangelical Ecologist Blog this week."


JCHFleetguy from Brain Cramps for God is doing a "Journal (on) "'The Life You've Always Wanted'" at the blog Street Prophets.

In "Bringing Fictional Characters to Life", Sun and Shield "starts off with a book, in which bringing fictional characters to life is an integral part of the plot, and goes to bringing Jesus back to life."

"When you think of God's mercy and forgiveness, what movie comes to mind? This week at Light Along the Journey John tells us 'what movie comes to his mind' and why."

In "Songs that Matter, Part II: Rich Mullins", DawnXianaMoon.com:Randomness says, "Two of Rich's songs are particularly special to me: Hard to Get and Hold Me Jesus. After growing up in church and taking it seriously for my entire life, I can usually give reasonable answers to theological questions--but sometimes life doesn't make sense, even after all the intellectualized mantras about trusting God and how God is love."

In "Behind the Scenes Photos", Jan of the blog The View From Her "has some connections, and shares some exclusive photos and information aboutthis new movie, based on Christian author Francine Rivers' best-selling book" The Last Sin Eater.

"The discipline of propriety involves more than a modest appearance. It also includes our words. What comes out of our mouths says more about what is in our hearts than anything else." "The Propriety of Our Words" "details insights gleaned from Barbara Hughes' book, Disciplines of a Godly Woman," and Lux Venit's "own experience with gossip and other speech problems."


In "Calvary Church's $100mil project", Journal of Ruth comments that "a Malaysian church is planning to raise money to build a $100mil convention centre for "holistic" activities. All this in a country where some churches hold services from a shack and some pastors are living in poverty."

In "If so, then what", Technogypsy says, "I look at an atheists work and ask, if he is right, why should I care?" (Warning: strong language)

With "Dissing Reason", Pseudo-Polymath says, "I've been having an ongoing discussion about reason and related maters spurred on by Benedict's speech. In this essay, I consider reasons to not place reason on a pedastal."

In "Faith and Conversion", Fides et Veritas "explores a growing trend toward forced conversions and why we as Christians must resist the temptation to use such methods."

Steve Bishop of An Accidental Blog looks at what he feels are "Phrases Christians should avoid".


This sounds like an ad, but it really is a reflection on Scripture and good sense: "The Secret to Defeating Debt" on the blog Unleash Your Potential.

With "4 Secrets to Time Management That Define You", Patricia of a better you blog says, "Succeed in fulfilling God's purpose for your life with these four secrets to managing your time wisely."

In "Money and Depression, and some stuff in between"..., Where's the Auto Pilot? observes that "money spending is often used by most of us as a bandaid on a bigger problem. Feeding the habit of materialism will only continue the problem."

In "Why Religion Matters", Matt Hutter discusses "studies on the effects of religion related to stress-levels in life, the effects of religion on CEOs and how students handle stress while at college with religion."


At Crossroads, "Postmodernism: What is Truth?" "is the second in a series challenging elderly Christians to be proactive in bringing in younger adults since they seem to be missing in our churches. In the series I cover just what postmodern thinking is in understanding this younger generation. At the end of the post I give an assignment."

In "Prayer: A Response and An Appeal", truegrit is "Responding to another blogger's post caused me to take a closer look at the truth about prayer."

In "Thinking for yourself", A Penitent Blogger reflects briefly on our limitations and opportunities as human beings.

In "Window On The World: Hospitality in Africa", Lingamish has "reflections on busy American Christians and their interaction with overseas missionaries."

jamileigh.com shares "What Charleigh has taught me about God."



There is no remembrance of former things;
neither shall there be any remembrance
of things that are to come
with those that shall come after.

Ironically, these ancient words from today’s first reading (Ecclesiastes 1:2-11) remain true today.

Many people today are tragically ignorant of history, leaving them ignorant of its lessons and vulnerable to the manipulations of the glib.

Today's first reading challenges us to dig into the riches of the past, such as the many gems contained in the book of Ecclesiastes.

But today’s first reading also reminds us of the futility of what we do.

Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher,
vanity of vanities; all is vanity.

What profit hath a man
of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?


The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be;
and that which is done is that which shall be done:
and there is no new thing under the sun.

There is no remembrance of former things;
neither shall there be any remembrance
of things that are to come
with those that shall come after.

In time, all things are forgotten, and at the end of time, the heavens and the earth itself will vanish with a roar.

But God forever is.

All things are indeed vanity, unless they are done in God.

We need to stop wasting our lives chasing after goals and desires that evaporate or rot in an instant.

We need to stop chasing after wind and start running with the Spirit of God, holy and immortal.

May God remember us in his mercy.

Lawrence had a wife and three kids

He had a modest job as a document specialist and he went to Church regularly.

Out of nowhere, this average husband and father was accused of murder.

The local justice system being notoriously corrupt and unreliable, fellow church members arranged for him to leave the country.

This average husband and father soon found himself on a ship with four priests and a leper.

To make matters even more uncomfortable, after the ship left port, Lawrence discovered that they were going to a distant country where Christians were routinely tortured and killed

Sure enough, not long after their arrival, Lawrence and his companions were arrested. They were cruelly tortured for days, but they reaffirmed their faith in Christ and rejected the offer of release.

Lawrence said, "I'm a Christian and I will remain a Christian even to the point of death. Only to God will I offer my life. Even if I had a thousand lives, I would still offer them to Him. This is the reason why I came here in Japan, to leave my native land as a Christian and die here as a Christian, offering my life to God alone."

They were all hung upside down and made to bleed slowly to death.

Lawrence was the last to die, days later, on September 29, 1637 outside Nagasaki.

The great Pope John Paul II beatified Lawrence Ruiz and his companions nearly 350 years later in Lawrence’s home country of the Philippines. They were canonized on October 18, 1987.

(From an earlier post)

A Dysfunctional Family

Vaclav was a fine young man, raised by his grandmother in the Christian faith of his father. His mother, however, hated Christianity and when Vaclav's father died, she sought to drive it out of the country their family ruled.

Though he was not yet of age, responding to the pleas of the people, Vaclav overthrew his mother. He made an alliance with the neighboring superpower, brought in more priests, built churches and cared for the poor.

One Sunday, he was visiting a church in another town. He planned to return home after Mass, but his brother stopped him and made him stay the night.

Early the next morning, as the church bells rang, Vaclav rose and went out. His brother followed him to the church door.

Vaclav, knowing that his brother and his mother had been scheming against him, looked back at him and said: "Brother, you were a good subject to me yesterday".

"And now I intend to be a better one!" said his brother as he struck Vaclav's head with his sword.

Vaclav grabbed his brother and wrestled him to the ground, saying, "Brother, what are you trying to do?"

One of his brother's henchmen then stabbed Vaclav in the hand. Vaclav let go of his brother and went to take refuge in the church, but his brother's henchmen struck him down at the church door and ran him through with a sword.

They say that Vaclav, still a very young man, died there on this very day in the year 935 with the words: "Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit!"

The people immediately acclaimed Vaclav as a saint and a martyr. He remains the patron saint of the Czech Republic to this day. (Sadly, many remember him only through a Christmas carol by the Latinized form of his name: Wenceslaus).

(from an earlier post)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Blogger.com issues

I am experiencing problems with Blogger today.

Wanting more

Today's first reading (Proverbs 30:5-9) reminds us of the spiritual dangers of riches, but it also reminds us of the spiritual dangers of poverty.

Two things I ask of you,
deny them not to me before I die:

Put falsehood and lying far from me,
give me neither poverty nor riches;

Provide me only with the food I need;

Lest, being full, I deny you,
saying, "Who is the LORD?"

Or, being in want, I steal,
and profane the name of my God.

The danger lies in wanting more material things as the focus of one's existence instead of God as well as in doing evil to get and keep these things.

The answer lies not in impoverishment for its own sake and certainly not in shirking our family responsibilities.

Rich or poor or somewhere in-between, our answer lies in always keeping our focus on the Lord and in wanting to be filled more and more with his love and his grace.

Kidnapped by Muslim Outlaws

was a young priest, still continuing his studies and traveling, when he was kidnapped by violent men from the Middle East and forced into slave labor.

Within two years, however, he converted one of his captors to Christianity and together they made their escape.

Back home, Vincent soon found himself ministering to the rich and powerful, but his heart went out to the poor and the rejected. He established groups to care for the poor and for prisoners. He also wanted to establish an order of priests to serve the rural poor, but he soon realized that there was a desperate need for more and better seminaries. Vincent’s priests would eventually run a third of the seminaries in the country, in addition to their missionary work to the rural poor in many places.

St. Vincent de Paul, founder of the Congregation of the Mission and of the Daughters of Charity, died on this very day in 1660. He was canonized in 1737. A hundred years after that, a group of laymen drew upon St. Vincent as the inspiration for the service of the poor and founded the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

(from an earlier post)

Physicians tortured

They were twin brothers who refused to be paid for treating patients and who were zealous in their Christian faith.

They were arrested, tortured, and executed...

...just over 1,700 years ago.

They are included among the saints named in the first Eucharistic Prayer.

Yesterday the Church celebrated the memory of Saints Cosmas and Damian.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Thinking for yourself

When it comes to right and wrong, many people today talk about "thinking for yourself" and "making up your own mind" and "deciding what is right for you."

Experience, however, teaches that we often delude ourselves: rationalizing our own selfishness and convenience.

Scripture teaches the same thing, as we hear in today's first reading (Proverbs 21:1-6, 10-13).

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes:
but the LORD pondereth the hearts.

This recalls the Lord's words to Samuel in 1 Samuel 16:7:

For the LORD seeth not as man seeth;
for man looketh on the outward appearance,
but the LORD looketh on the heart.

Things may seem right and good to us, but things are not always as they seem and human beings have a great capacity for self-deception (especially where one's own desires are concerned).

God, however, sees not as man sees; God sees not just outward appearance; God sees and knows the very essence of things and the very heart of man.

Moreover, God loves us and has a plan for us that transcends and transforms the suffering and tragedies of this world into goodness beyond the reach of human imagination or thought.

God has thought it through - and he has done it for us.

As human beings, as finite creatures of flesh and blood, we need to be mindful of our limitations as we face a complex world and we need to be humble before God as we seek to know and live the truth in its fullness by the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.


"The Holy See Press Office today released a communique concerning the present ecclesial position of Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo. The text of the communique is given below:

"'With great concern, the Holy See has followed the recent activities of Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, emeritus of Lusaka, Zambia, with his new association of married priests, spreading division and confusion among the faithful.

"'Church representatives of various levels have tried in vain to contactArchbishop Milingo in order to dissuade him from persisting in actions that provoke scandal, especially among the faithful who followed his pastoral ministry in favor of the poor and the sick.

"'Bearing in mind the understanding shown, also recently, by Peter's Successor towards this aged pastor of the Church, the Holy See has awaited with vigilant patience the evolution of events which, unfortunately, have led Archbishop Milingo to a position of irregularity and of progressively open rupture of communion with the Church, first with his attempted marriage and then with the ordination of four bishops on Sunday, September 24, in Washington D.C., U.S.A.

"'For this public act both Archbishop Milingo and the four ordinands have incurred excommunication "latae sententiae," as laid down in Canon 1382 of the Code of Canon Law. Moreover, the Church does not recognize, nor does she intend to recognize in the future, these ordinations and all ordinations deriving from them; and she considers the canonical status of the four supposed-bishops as being that they held prior to this ordination.

"'The Apostolic See, attentive to the unity and peace of the flock of Christ, had hoped that the fraternal influence of people close to Archbishop Milingo would cause him to rethink and return to full communion with the Pope. Unfortunately the latest developments have made these hopes more unlikely.

"'At times of ecclesial suffering such as these, may prayers intensify among all the community of the faithful.'"

(Source: Vatican Information Service)

Catholic Carnival

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

Monday, September 25, 2006

Dear Muslim Friends...

"Dear Cardinal Poupard,
Your Excellencies,
Dear Muslim Friends,

"I am pleased to welcome you to this gathering that I wanted to arrange in order to strengthen the bonds of friendship and solidarity between the Holy See and Muslim communities throughout the world. I thank Cardinal Poupard, President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, for the words that he has just addressed to me, and I thank all of you for responding to my invitation.

"The circumstances which have given rise to our gathering are well known. I have already had occasion to dwell upon them in the course of the past week. In this particular context, I should like to reiterate today all the esteem and the profound respect that I have for Muslim believers, calling to mind the words of the Second Vatican Council which for the Catholic Church are the Magna Carta of Muslim-Christian dialogue: 'The Church looks upon Muslims with respect. They worship the one God living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to humanity and to whose decrees, even the hidden ones, they seek to submit themselves whole-heartedly, just as Abraham, to whom the Islamic faith readily relates itself, submitted to God' (Declaration Nostra Aetate, 3).

"Placing myself firmly within this perspective, I have had occasion, since the very beginning of my pontificate, to express my wish to continue establishing bridges of friendship with the adherents of all religions, showing particular appreciation for the growth of dialogue between Muslims and Christians (cf. Address to the Delegates of Other Churches and Ecclesial Communities and of Other Religious Traditions, 25 April 2005).

"As I underlined at Cologne last year, 'Inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims cannot be reduced to an optional extra. It is, in fact, a vital necessity, on which in large measure our future depends' (Meeting with Representatives of Some Muslim Communities, Cologne, 20 August 2005).

"In a world marked by relativism and too often excluding the transcendence and universality of reason, we are in great need of an authentic dialogue between religions and between cultures, capable of assisting us, in a spirit of fruitful co-operation, to overcome all the tensions together.

"Continuing, then, the work undertaken by my predecessor, Pope John Paul II, I sincerely pray that the relations of trust which have developed between Christians and Muslims over several years, will not only continue, but will develop further in a spirit of sincere and respectful dialogue, based on ever more authentic reciprocal knowledge which, with joy, recognizes the religious values that we have in common and, with loyalty, respects the differences.

"Inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue is a necessity for building together this world of peace and fraternity ardently desired by all people of good will.

"In this area, our contemporaries expect from us an eloquent witness to show all people the value of the religious dimension of life.

"Likewise, faithful to the teachings of their own religious traditions, Christians and Muslims must learn to work together, as indeed they already do in many common undertakings, in order to guard against all forms of intolerance and to oppose all manifestations of violence; as for us, religious authorities and political leaders, we must guide and encourage them in this direction. Indeed, 'although considerable dissensions and enmities between Christians and Muslims may have arisen in the course of the centuries, the Council urges all parties that, forgetting past things, they train themselves towards sincere mutual understanding and together maintain and promote social justice and moral values as well as peace and freedom for all people' (Declaration, Nostra Aetate, 3).

"The lessons of the past must therefore help us to seek paths of reconciliation, in order to live with respect for the identity and freedom of each individual, with a view to fruitful co-operation in the service of all humanity. As Pope John Paul II said in his memorable speech to young people at Casablanca in Morocco, 'Respect and dialogue require reciprocity in all spheres, especially in that which concerns basic freedoms, more particularly religious freedom. They favour peace and agreement between peoples' (no. 5).

"Dear friends, I am profoundly convinced that in the current world situation it is imperative that Christians and Muslims engage with one another in order to address the numerous challenges that present themselves to humanity, especially those concerning the defence and promotion of the dignity of the human person and of the rights ensuing from that dignity.

"When threats mount up against people and against peace, by recognizing the central character of the human person and by working with perseverance to see that human life is always respected, Christians and Muslims manifest their obedience to the Creator, who wishes all people to live in the dignity that he has bestowed upon them.

"Dear friends, I pray with my whole heart that the merciful God will guide our steps along the paths of an ever more authentic mutual understanding. At this time when for Muslims the spiritual journey of the month of Ramadan is beginning, I address to all of them my cordial good wishes, praying that the Almighty may grant them serene and peaceful lives. May the God of peace fill you with the abundance of his Blessings, together with the communities that you represent! "

The prepared text for Pope Benedict's address to today's audience with Ambassadors of majority Muslim countries and representatives of Muslim communities in Italy (translation by the Holy See).

(Participating in the meeting were heads of mission from Kuwait, Jordan,Pakistan, Qatar, Ivory Coast, Indonesia, Turkey, Bosnia-Herzegovina,Lebanon, Yemen, Egypt, Iraq, Senegal, Algeria, Morocco, Albania, the ArabLeague, Syria, Tunisia, Libya, Iran and Azerbaijan. Also present were 14members of the Islamic Council of Italy and representatives from the ItalianIslamic Cultural Center and the Office of the World Muslim League. Source: Vatican Information Service)

Do not put it off

Many of us procrastinate (I know I do – but more about that later).

Seriously, procrastination can be a problem.

In our work and in the practical things of life, procrastination can cause more than a little trouble and stress, if not failure.

In our spiritual and moral lives, procrastination can be deadly.

(Lord Jesus, have mercy on me.)

We procrastinate in our moral and spiritual lives by not taking advantage here and now of the opportunities God gives us to grow in faith and in his grace.

Today's first reading (Proverbs 3:27-34) begins with a warning against moral procrastination:

Refuse no one the good
on which he has a claim
when it is in your power to do it for him.

Say not to your neighbor,
"Go, and come again,
tomorrow I will give,"
when you can give at once.

It is not simply a matter of "Justice delayed, justice denied."

It is also a matter of taking advantage of opportunities that may not come to us again.

In the extreme, some even put off the manifestation of their faith until the next world: hiding the light of what they call faith totally within themselves.

Our Lord himself warns us of this in today's Gospel (Luke 8:16-18):

No one who lights a lamp
conceals it with a vessel
or sets it under a bed;
rather, he places it on a lampstand
so that those who enter may see the light.

For there is nothing hidden
that will not become visible,
and nothing secret
that will not be known and come to light.

Take care, then, how you hear.

To anyone who has,
more will be given,
and from the one who has not,
even what he seems to have
will be taken away.

We need to let the light of our faith shine forth now.

We need to heed the word of the Lord and live it NOW.

Plot no evil against your neighbor,
against one who lives at peace with you.

Quarrel not with a man without cause,
with one who has done you no harm.

Envy not the lawless man
and choose none of his ways:
To the LORD
the perverse one is an abomination,
but with the upright is his friendship.

The curse of the LORD
is on the house of the wicked,
but the dwelling of the just
he blesses;
When dealing with the arrogant,
he is stern,
but to the humble
he shows kindness.


He who walks blamelessly and does justice;
who thinks the truth in his heart
and slanders not with his tongue.
Who harms not his fellow man,
nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor;
By whom the reprobate is despised,
while he honors those who fear the LORD.
Who lends not his money at usury
and accepts no bribe against the innocent.

He who does these things
shall never be disturbed.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The roots of conflict

We seem immersed in conflict nowadays: among political parties, nations and even communities of faith.

Each of today's readings speaks to the roots of these conflicts and to each one of us: not just as nations or organizations, but as individuals - beginning most explicitly with the second reading (James 3:16-4:3):

Where do the wars
and where do the conflicts among you come from?

Is it not from your passions
that make war within your members?

You covet but do not possess.
You kill and envy but you cannot obtain;
you fight and wage war.

You do not possess
because you do not ask.
You ask but do not receive,
because you ask wrongly,
to spend it on your passions.

Envy also figures prominently in today's Gospel (Mark 9:30-37) in which the disciples argue about who the greatest among them might be.

In the first reading (from Wisdom 2), conflict arises from wicked people perceiving moral people as obstacles to their desires.

Let us lie in wait for the righteous man,
because he is inconvenient to us
and opposes our actions;
he reproaches us for sins against the law,
and accuses us of sins against our training.

He professes to have knowledge of God,
and calls himself a child of the Lord.

He became to us a reproof of our thoughts;
the very sight of him is a burden to us,
because his manner of life is unlike that of others,
and his ways are strange.

We are considered by him as something base,
and he avoids our ways as unclean;
he calls the last end of the righteous happy,
and boasts that God is his father.

(Indeed, we seem to see this kind of resentment and motive for conflict more and more in the world today, as people of faith come under attack by "worldly" people.)

Returning to the second reading, we see both the summation of all of these motives for conflict and also the solution.

Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist,
there is disorder and every foul practice.

But the wisdom from above
is first of all pure,
then peaceable,
full of mercy and good fruits,
without inconstancy or insincerity.

And the fruit of righteousness
is sown in peace
for those who cultivate peace.

We help to cultivate peace by following Christ, especially (as he says in today's Gospel) through humble service and openness to those who are humble.

"If anyone wishes to be first,
he shall be the last of all and the servant of all."
Taking a child, he placed it in the their midst,
and putting his arms around it, he said to them,
"Whoever receives one child such as this in my name,
receives me;
and whoever receives me,
receives not me but the One who sent me."

In the midst of conflict and selfishness, may you and I always be faithful Christians and people of service, in humility and holiness, by the grace of Christ, all the days of our life.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Get your mind out of the clouds

Pearly gates and halo crowns
And feath'ry wings to fly around
And golden harps with wondrous sound
I've looked at heav'n that way.

(Apologies to Joni Mitchell)

Such is the image that some people have of heaven: an image that is too often ridiculed and rejected by others who consider themselves "intelligent and sophisticated."

Many people have tried to imagine what heaven is like. Very often they have trouble figuring out the logistics, the physics, and other details in their own minds.

Based on today's first reading (1 Corinthians 15:35-27, 42-49), one may conclude that the Corinthians looked at heaven and at the resurrection that way: trying to figure out the details to the point of despair.

St. Paul is brusque in his response.

Someone may say, "How are the dead raised?
With what kind of body will they come back?"

You fool!

St. Paul does not respond with specific details, but tries to drum into the heads of the Corinthians that resurrected reality will be different.

And what you sow
is not the body that is to be
but a bare kernel of wheat, perhaps,
or of some other kind;
but God gives it a body as he chooses....

So also is the resurrection of the dead.

It is sown corruptible;
it is raised incorruptible.
It is sown dishonorable;
it is raised glorious.
It is sown weak;
it is raised powerful.
It is sown a natural body;
it is raised a spiritual body.

(He then parallels Adam with Christ. )

The first man
was from the earth, earthly;
the second man,
from heaven.

As was the earthly one,
so also are the earthly,
and as is the heavenly one,
so also are the heavenly.

Just as we have borne
the image of the earthly one,
we shall also bear
the image of the heavenly one.

When it comes to the realities of eternity and infinity, we cannot let ourselves stumble because of the limits of our knowledge or even of our imagination, as St. Paul says elsewhere in this same letter:

For our knowledge is imperfect
and our prophecy is imperfect;
but when the perfect comes,
the imperfect will pass away.

When I was a child,
I spoke like a child,
I thought like a child,
I reasoned like a child;
when I became a man,
I gave up childish ways.

For now we see in a mirror dimly,
but then face to face.

Now I know in part;
then I shall understand fully,
even as I have been fully understood.
(1 Corinithians 13:9-12)

But, as it is written,
"What no eye has seen,
nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him,"
God has revealed to us
through the Spirit.

For the Spirit searches everything,
even the depths of God.

(1 Corinthians 2:9-10)

When it comes to contemplating the things of heaven and the life of the world to come, we cannot let ourselves be limited by clouds or by anything of this world.

In the meantime, we hold the revelation of the Risen Christ close to our hearts, we open our minds to the light of the Holy Spirit, and we live according to the grace of God in hope of resurrection and of the eternal joy to come.

It will be greater and more wonderful than anything we can imagine: the infinitely many and infinitely happy sides of heaven.

He had been a priest for just 8 months

The older priest had been ordained a decade before the young priest had even been born.

The young priest had heard many things about the older priest, who was known as a humble and very holy man.

For his part, the older priest was happy to speak with the young man, to hear his confession, and to share some of what he knew about God and the love of Jesus Christ.

Then the older priest told his new young friend something very strange.

The young priest would someday become Pope.

The young priest would later tell that story among his friends and laugh.

He venerated the old priest, but it was ludicrous that he would ever become the Bishop of Rome.

It would take more than a few miracles.

Fifty-five years and a number of miracles later, the once-young priest was already in the 23rd year of his pontificate as the great Pope John Paul II.

And now the once-young priest now Pontiff had the honor of canonizing the humble priest who had heard his confession and who had told him such amazing things.

Today, just over 4 years later, on the 38th anniversary of the old priest’s death, the Church celebrates the memory of St. Pio of Pietrelcina – known in his lifetime worldwide as Padre Pio.

(from an earlier post)

Friday, September 22, 2006

Papal meeting with Muslims Monday

"At Castel Gandolfo on Monday, September 25, at 11:45 a.m., the Holy Father will receive Cardinal Paul Poupard, President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue as well as some representatives of the Muslim community in Italy.

"Ambassadors accredited to the Holy See from majority-Muslim countries are also invited to this meeting."

(from the Holy See Press Office - translation mine)

There is more than this

In today's first reading (1 Corinthians 15:12-20), St. Paul confronts squarely the question, "What if there is no resurrection of the dead?"

St. Paul reaffirms the reality of the resurrection, earlier in this chapter by citing the eyewitness testimony of those who saw the risen Christ – many of whom were then still alive (including himself) and later in this chapter by referring to the misery of his own labors (in effect saying, why would I go through all this if I did not know for a fact that there is a resurrection?).

There are many today who believe neither in a resurrection from the dead nor in an afterlife of any sort. Such a belief can be a very slippery slope to all sorts of immorality, from might-makes-right to hedonism (as St. Paul says, "If the dead are not raised, 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.'").

Many, many more, of course, believe in an afterlife – and not only primitive, religiously minded people. Even in this scientific age, it requires strong nihilistic discipline to stick consistently to the idea that nothing persists after death.

One might say that it is a natural feature of human consciousness to have a belief in the permanence of that consciousness (to paraphrase Descartes, Cogito ergo ero - I think, therefore I will be).

To put it another way, deep down, each of us has a feeling that "there is more than this": more than the world we see, more than the infinitesimally brief flash which is the human life span, more than what science alone can tell us.

As believers, we would hold that this feeling, this natural part of human consciousness, is part of what St. Augustine described in those wonderful words: "For you have made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee."

The resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ shows us not only that there is indeed more than this, but also shows us the way.

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

There is more than this, and in Christ we can have it to the full.

And so, as St. Paul says at the very end of this chapter:

But thanks be to God,
who gives us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brethren,
be steadfast, immovable,
always abounding in the work of the Lord,
knowing that in the Lord
your labor is not in vain.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

From Lutheran bishop to Catholic priest

The Western Catholic Reporter has a story about a Lutheran bishop who is to be ordained a Catholic priest this year.

The Call of St. Matthew

The concept of vocation, of being called by Christ, was depicted most wonderfully by the great Italian painter Caravaggio in his "La Vocazione di San Matteo" which hangs in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome.

Many of us can imagine ourselves in Matthew's place as he hears Christ calling him.

"Who? Me?"

(from an earlier post)

Go to bell

On some game shows, when a contestant answers a question incorrectly, there is the grating sound of a loud buzzer.

You're wrong!

When the answer is right, a bell rings.

For those of us who are proud to take our faith seriously and to live lives of righteousness and sacrifice, the words of our Lord at the end of today's Gospel (Matthew 9:9-13) may sound like this:

You're wrong!

Go and learn the meaning of the words,
I desire mercy, not sacrifice.
I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.

Does that mean it is better to sin? Of course not.

The truth is that we are all sinners: we all fall short of the ideal to which God calls us.

We need to take our faith seriously.
We need to live righteously.
We need to be self-giving.

But most of all, we need to recognize our need for the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and our need to be conduits of his mercy.

And then, by that grace and by living our faith, we may hear the bells of heaven.


So, you go up to the guy and you tell him that he’s gotta give you such and such amount of money and if he doesn’t, you’re going to take his stuff or take his family or tie him up and take him someplace until his relatives cough up the dough. It’s a pretty sweet racket, because you get a big piece of the action: as big as you want. You can live like a king and all you got to do is put the squeeze on the people in your territory.

That is what it was like to be a tax collector in the time of Christ: more like a gangster than a dedicated public servant.

Not only were tax collectors generally corrupt, decadent, and ruthless: they were ultimately collecting taxes to fund the very same regime that was cruelly oppressing the people.

Hence the scandal of Christ calling a tax collector (technically, collecting customs duties) to be one of his key disciples.

Needless to say, it proved to be an excellent choice. Levi, also known as Matthew, would not only be a successful Apostle, but would be responsible for the Gospel that stands at the beginning of the New Testament canon: a Gospel that strove eloquently to make clear to his fellow Jews that the Messiah had come in the person of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

St. Matthew is a reminder to us all of how successful repentance can be.

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist.

(from an earlier post)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Christian Carnival

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

At today's audience

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,

"Today I wish to share some recollections of my pastoral visit to Bavaria. More than a journey to my roots, it was an opportunity to look forward with hope. Under the motto 'those who believe are never alone' I invited all to reflect on the baptized person's membership in the Church where, never alone, one is in constant communion with God and others.

"In Munich's central square, I implored the Virgin's blessing upon the whole world. The following day I spoke of a certain difficulty in hearing God in a secular world which needs so much the Gospel’s message of hope. At Altötting we reflected on Mary's generosity in accepting God’s will, recalling how she guides us towards Jesus. Returning to the theme of the visit, I noted in Regensburg that the Father wishes to gather all humanity into one family, the Church.

"Here, at the University where for many years I had taught, I spoke on the relationship between faith and reason. I included a quotation on the relationship between religion and violence.

"This quotation, unfortunately, lent itself to possible misunderstanding. In no way did I wish to make my own the words of the medieval emperor.

"I wished to explain that not religion and violence, but religion and reason, go together.

"I hope that my profound respect for world religions and for Muslims, who 'worship the one God' and with whom we 'promote peace, liberty, social justice and moral values for the benefit of all humanity' (Nostra Aetate, 3), is clear.

"Let us continue the dialogue both between religions and between modern reason and the Christian faith!

"I warmly welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims present today. In particular, I greet the members of the Society of Missionaries of Africa and the pilgrims from Samoa. Upon you all, I invoke God’s abundant blessings."

Pope Benedict's words in English at today's General Audience.

Liberating and exploring agape

The more a person goes to church weddings, the more a person is likely to have heard today's first reading (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13).

It is easy to see why it is so popular at weddings: in some translations it sounds like ideal advice for a couple about to begin their married life together - "Love is patient, love is kind..."

Except that it's not - at least, not exactly.

The sad truth is that our contemporary English words fail miserably in translating this passage.
The word translated in many translations here as "love" is agape (ag-ah'-pay). It does not mean romantic love nor does it mean what people usually mean when they say "I love my dog" or "I love my work."

The traditional translation of agape was "charity", but this word in many places today is used only in reference to organizations that help poor people.

To be sure, agape is very much related to married love and to charities. In the case of charities, St. Paul makes this very clear:

If I give away all I have,
and if I deliver my body to be burned,
but have not agape,
I gain nothing.

Likewise, agape gives a special and transcendent dimension to the love of man and woman (eros). (Pope Benedict XVI gives a wonderful reflection on this in his Encyclical Deus Caritas Est.)

But what does agape mean?

One can take the academic route and look up the word in a Greek dictionary, but the New Testament meaning of agape is in many ways something different from what the word would have meant to the philosophers and poets of the period.

Indeed, one might say that the entire New Testament and indeed our entire Christian experience is centered around learning what agape means.

To be sure, agape is a self-giving love, but it is also itself a gift of God: indeed, as St. John famously says (1 John 4:16), "God is agape."

The greatest manifestation of agape is to be found in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: the greatest gift of God, who gave himself totally for us on the cross.

We need to liberate agape from the limitations of romantic love, of philanthropy, and of academia and continue to explore the meaning of agape: beginning with this wonderful passage and continuing on in our story of the word, in our living out of the faith, and in our communion with God who is agape.

Earnestly desire the higher gifts.

And I will show you a still more excellent way.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels,
but have not agape,
I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
And if I have prophetic powers,
and understand all mysteries and all knowledge,
and if I have all faith,
so as to remove mountains,
but have not agape,
I am nothing.

If I give away all I have,
and if I deliver my body to be burned,
but have not agape,
I gain nothing.

Agape is patient and kind;
Agape is not jealous or boastful;
it is not arrogant or rude.

Agape does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrong,
but rejoices in the right.

Agape bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.

Agape never ends;
as for prophecies, they will pass away;
as for tongues, they will cease;
as for knowledge, it will pass away.

For our knowledge is imperfect
and our prophecy is imperfect;
but when the perfect comes,
the imperfect will pass away.

When I was a child,
I spoke like a child,
I thought like a child,
I reasoned like a child;
when I became a man,
I gave up childish ways.

For now
we see in a mirror dimly,
but then
face to face.

Now I know in part;
then I shall understand fully,
even as I have been fully understood.

So faith, hope, agape abide,
these three;
but the greatest of these is agape.

He knew it would not be easy

but Andrew wanted to be a priest.

One of the obstacles was that there were no seminaries near where he lived. The nearest seminary that would take him was over a thousand miles away.

He also knew his decision would not be popular, so he kept his studies secret.

Finally, he knew that it would be dangerous, but it was something he had to do, it was what he was called to do.

Andrew's wish would be fulfilled. He was ordained a priest of Jesus Christ.

Andrew's fear would be realized quickly. The year after his return home, in 1846, Andrew Kim Taegon and his father were executed by the Korean government, together with Paul Chong Hasang, a lay apostle, and many others.

More martyrdoms would follow, but Church in Korea would survive and eventually thrive. In less than a century and a half, in 1984, the great Pope John Paul II would visit Seoul and there canonize Andrew and 102 other Korean martyrs for Christ.

Their memory is celebrated on this day.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


I like to think that I am fairly intelligent, well-educated, and talented, even though I recognize that there are other people in this world who are more intelligent, better educated, and/or more talented than I (actually many, many, many other people).

And yet, when I look at some of the people in high-profile positions of ministry and church leadership, I sometimes (foolishly) think of how I would do a much better job than they or of how I could like a long happy life as a Christian without those people in those positions or without many of those we must call brethren within the Body of Christ.

Today's first reading (from 1 Corinthians 12) helps bring me back down to earth.

For as the body is one,
and hath many members,
and all the members of that one body,
being many, are one body:
so also is Christ.

For by one Spirit
are we all baptized into one body,
whether we be Jews or Gentiles,
whether we be bond or free;
and have been all made to drink
into one Spirit.

For the body is not one member,

but many.

If the foot shall say,
Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body;
is it therefore not of the body?

And if the ear shall say,
Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body;
is it therefore not of the body?

If the whole body were an eye,

where were the hearing?

If the whole were hearing,

where were the smelling?

But now hath God set the members
every one of them
in the body,
as it hath pleased him.

And if they were all one member,

where were the body?

But now are they many members,

yet but one body.

And the eye cannot say unto the hand,

I have no need of thee:
nor again the head to the feet,

I have no need of you.

Nay, much more those members of the body,
which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:
And those members of the body,
which we think to be less honourable,
upon these we bestow more abundant honour;
and our uncomely parts
have more abundant comeliness.

For our comely parts have no need:
but God hath tempered the body together,
having given more abundant honour
to that part which lacked:
That there should be no schism in the body;
but that the members
should have the same care one for another.

And whether one member suffer,
all the members suffer with it;
or one member be honoured,
all the members rejoice with it.

Now ye are the body of Christ,

and members in particular.

And God hath set some in the church,
first apostles, secondarily prophets,
thirdly teachers, after that miracles,
then gifts of healings, helps,
governments, diversities of tongues.

Are all apostles? are all prophets?
are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?
Have all the gifts of healing?
do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?

But covet earnestly the best gifts:
and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.

St. Paul then goes on in the next chapter to write about love and charity, but his words in this chapter about diversity within the Body of Christ bear serious reflection by each one of us.

The word "diversity" has been used quite a bit in recent years. Sometimes it has been hijacked by certain people as a weapon to exalt certain groups of people over others (ostensibly for remedial reasons) and sometimes it is even used as the rallying cry for a certain ideological homogeneity (ironically).

The diversities of which St. Paul writes, of course, mean neither of those things.

To begin with, the diversities of which St. Paul writes are first and foremost grounded in the fundamental unity of the members of the Body of Christ.

For as the body is one, and hath many members,
and all the members of that one body,
being many, are one body:
so also is Christ.

Secondly, despite any God-given diversities among us, on a very real and fundamental level we all share in the blessing and sufferings of each of us.

And whether one member suffer,
all the members suffer with it;
or one member be honoured,
all the members rejoice with it.

Thirdly, these difference of function are derived from the specific gift of God

And God hath set some in the church,
first apostles, secondarily prophets,
thirdly teachers, after that miracles,
then gifts of healings, helps,
governments, diversities of tongues.

Are all apostles? are all prophets?
are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?
Have all the gifts of healing?
do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?

Fourthly, these diversities are primarily functional, which is not to say that they are not identified with particular individuals, but that these differences are directed toward providing different functions within the Body of Christ for the good of the Body of Christ. St. Paul expands on this more clearly in a related passage (Ephesians 4:11-13):

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets;
and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
For the perfecting of the saints,
for the work of the ministry,
for the edifying of the body of Christ:
Till we all come in the unity of the faith,
and of the knowledge of the Son of God,
unto a perfect man,
unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ...

As much as we may think that we can do without these other members or functions of the Body of Christ, St. Paul reminds us that we cannot.

As much as we may think that we could do a much better job than some of the people in high-profile positions in the Church, St. Paul reminds us that ministry and functions within the Church are specific gifts of God.

I may think (very foolishly) that because of my natural intelligence or other abilities that I would do a much better job than a particular person who holds a particular position within the Church, but if that person has indeed been placed in that position by the specific choice and grace of God, then I can be sure that God has the ability to do far greater things through that person than I could by my own gifts alone.

As human beings, it is very easy to fall into disagreements and rivalries. In today's first reading, St. Paul calls us to a proper unity of diversities: faithful to the truth, faithful to God's love, and faithful to each other in the name and in the body of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

That there should be no schism in the body;
but that the members
should have the same care one for another.

The Bishop’s Blood

Winston Churchill once said that he had "nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat."

This bishop is remembered only for his blood

Little is remembered of the details of his life or of his death: he was just one of many hundreds who were being slaughtered for their faith in Christ.

But on this day, in the city of Naples and throughout the world, 1700 years after his death, the blood and the faith of this bishop, Januarius, is remembered.

(from an earlier post)

Catholic Carnival

This week's Catholic Carnival - a collection of posts from various Catholic blogs - is online at Just Another Day of Catholic Pondering.

Monday, September 18, 2006


Two and a half years ago, the Holy See issued the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum on certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist.

Perhaps the earliest antecedent of this document may be found in today's first reading (1 Corinthians 11:17-26, 33) in which St. Paul forcefully addresses a number of matters to be observed or to be avoided in the communal worship of the Church in Corinth.

Some of what St. Paul says at first seems irrelevant to our situation today. That which we call the Eucharist, for example, is no longer celebrated in the context of a communal meal, very much for the reasons St. Paul cites in this letter.

But the word of God is always relevant.

First, as in Corinth, there are divisions among us: not just a division between the repentant and the unrepentant, but divisions of the I-belong-to-Paul/Apollos variety. We stay within our own cliques, in cyberspace and in the real world.

Second, the social aspects of our gathering together - as important as they are - sometimes receive too much focus and at the wrong times.

To be sure, there are some congregations where people almost totally ignore each other (or even appear silently hostile - especially to newcomers) , but there are also congregations that have a party atmosphere.

St. Paul's rebuke to the Corinthians speaks to us loudly and clearly.

When you meet in one place, then,
it is not to eat the Lord's supper...

Also loud and clear is St. Paul's reminder of where our focus should be.

For I received from the Lord
what I also handed on to you,
that the Lord Jesus,
on the night he was handed over,
took bread
and, after he had given thanks,
broke it and said,
"This is my Body that is for you.
Do this in remembrance of me."

In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying,
"This cup is the new covenant in my Blood.
Do this, as often as you drink it,
in remembrance of me."

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup,
you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.

And then, St. Paul goes on to say,

Therefore whoever eats the bread
or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily
will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord.

A person should examine himself,
and so eat the bread
and drink the cup.

May we heed the instruction we have been given.

May we examine ourselves,
so that by the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
we may indeed be worthy of his body and blood.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Action and reaction

Once again, a reading that is thousands of years old (Isaiah 50:5-9a) and was set long ago to be heard on this day in the multi-year cycle of Lectionary readings, seems to be ripped from today's headlines:

The Lord GOD opens my ear that I may hear;
and I have not rebelled,
have not turned back.

I gave my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who plucked my beard;
my face I did not shield
from buffets and spitting.

The Lord GOD is my help,
therefore I am not disgraced;

I have set my face like flint,
knowing that I shall not be put to shame.

He is near who upholds my right;
if anyone wishes to oppose me,
let us appear together.

Who disputes my right?
Let that man confront me.

See, the Lord GOD is my help;
who will prove me wrong?

And so it is that during the past several days, the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI has been burned in effigy and threatened with death for a small quote of a Byzantine emperor (which he did not justify) within a long and erudite lecture about faith and reason.

The emperor's opinions and the centuries of struggle from which they arose are matters of history. As he said at today's Angelus, the Holy Father did not intend to offend or disrespect Muslims. He did, however, intend to challenge all of us - Christian, Muslim, secular, or whatever - about faith and reason in the world of today.

Today's Gospel reading (Mark 8:27-35) also seems incredibly apropos: beginning with the great profession of faith by Pope Benedict's predecessor:

Jesus and his disciples set out
for the villages of Caesarea Philippi.

Along the way he asked his disciples,
"Who do people say that I am?"

They said in reply,
"John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others one of the prophets."

And he asked them,
"But who do you say that I am?"

Peter said to him in reply,
"You are the Christ."

The relevance continues, as our Lord forcefully challenges Peter to think anew:

You are thinking not as God does,
but as human beings do.

Truly, much if not all of the current consternation arises because people are stuck in their narrow, earthbound patterns of thought, emotion, action, and reaction.

For many of us, whenever we hear something, our first question is often not "What can I learn from this?" but rather "Is something bad being said about me and mine?" and "Is this going to get in the way of what I want to do and my vision for the future?" (This latter question lay behind Peter's amazingly stupid rebuke of Christ.)

Pope Benedict, speaking from the perspective of faith in Christ, challenges people to think anew, but too many minds - from the angry chanters in dusty streets to the editorial page of a once respected New York newspaper - seem impenetrably closed.

It is from closed minds such as these and from the entrenched interests of people's selfishness that attacks such as those described in today's first reading come.

Yes, they may seize upon one small sentence or one tiny bit of political incorrectness as the excuse for their outrage, but it is often only a smokescreen to their more fundamental refusal to listen with open hearts and minds to the truth being faithfully proclaimed.

Now, we must be careful, lest we too overreact.

There are some among us who loudly and incessantly beat the drums of warning: whipping various headlines into the specter of a full-scale attack on faithful Christians by extremists espousing abortion rights, gay rights, militant Islam, etc.

Like the prophet Isaiah, we need to set our faces like flint, focusing on our task of proclaiming the Gospel and living in accordance with the way of Christ, while not letting our agenda be set by those who oppose us.

We and our mission as Christians will not be well served by paranoia, persecution complexes, naiveté, or pollyannaism.

We must follow Christ: neither fleeing nor attacking nor standing still.

We must follow Christ and at the very end of today's Gospel, he reminds us what that means.

Whoever wishes to come after me
must deny himself,
take up his cross,
and follow me.

For whoever wishes to save his life
will lose it,
but whoever loses his life
for my sake and that of the gospel
will save it.

And so, with today's Psalmist (Psalm 116: 1-6,8-9), we may say

I shall walk before the LORD
in the land of the living.

Deeply sorry

Before leading the recitation of the Angelus at noon today (Rome time), the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI said:

"The Pastoral Visit which I recently made to Bavaria was a deep spiritual experience, bringing together personal memories linked to places well known to me and pastoral initiatives towards an effective proclamation of the Gospel for today. I thank God for the interior joy which he made possible, and I am also grateful to all those who worked hard for the success of this Pastoral Visit.

"As is the custom, I will speak more of this during next Wednesday’s General Audience.

"At this time, I wish also to add that I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims.

"These in fact were a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought.

"Yesterday, the Cardinal Secretary of State published a statement in this regard in which he explained the true meaning of my words.

"I hope that this serves to appease hearts and to clarify the true meaning of my address, which in its totality was and is an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with great mutual respect. "

(translation by the Holy See - photo from Aug. 20)

Saturday, September 16, 2006

FACT: God may be calling you

"As you consider your life and where it is leading, ask for God’s help in discovering what His purpose is for you. Consider these words from Scripture:

"'For I know well
the plans I have for you,
says the LORD,
plans for your welfare,

not for woe!
Plans to give you

a future full of hope.

"'When you call me,

when you go to pray to me,
I will listen to you.
When you look for me
you will find me.
Yes, when you seek me with all your heart,
you will find me with you,
says the LORD...'
(Jeremiah 29: 11-14)

"In these difficult times in the Church, the people of God are looking for courageous young men who want to make the difference. The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph is looking for Priestly candidates who are F.A.C.T.

"Faithful - Do you demonstrate a love for God and His Church?

"Available - Are you willing to give your life in service for God’s people?

"Contagious - Do you attract others through your character, example and leadership?

"Teachable - Are you humble and open to growth?

"F.A.C.T. - If you are Faithful, Available, Contagious, and Teachable, God may be calling you to the Priesthood.

"For more information about pursuing Priesthood in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, contact Fr. Steve Cook at (816) 756-1850 ext. 252 or vocations@diocesekcsj.org "

from the Vocations pages of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph

The whole trip and nothing but the trip

Against the Grain has a good round-up (as always) of the Holy Father's Apostolic Journey to Bavaria.

Muslim commentator defends the Pope

Father Stephanos, O.S.B., translates a commentary published in Corriere della Sera.

Cardinal Bertone on the Muslim controversy

On his second full day on the job, the Holy Father's new Secretary of State addressed the current controversy:

Statement by His Eminence Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State

"Given the reaction in Muslim quarters to certain passages of the Holy Father's address at the University of Regensburg, and the clarifications and explanations already presented through the Director of the Holy See Press Office, I would like to add the following:

- "The position of the Pope concerning Islam is unequivocally that expressed by the conciliar document
Nostra Aetate: 'The Church regards with esteem also the Muslims. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, Who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting' (no. 3).

- "The Pope's option in favor of inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue is equally unequivocal. In his meeting with representatives of Muslim communities in Cologne, Germany, on 20 August 2005, he said that such dialogue between Christians and Muslims 'cannot be reduced to an optional extra,' adding: 'The lessons of the past must help us to avoid repeating the same mistakes. We must seek paths of reconciliation and learn to live with respect for each other's identity'.

- "As for the opinion of the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus which he quoted during his Regensburg talk, the Holy Father did not mean, nor does he mean, to make that opinion his own in any way. He simply used it as a means to undertake - in an academic context, and as is evident from a complete and attentive reading of the text - certain reflections on the theme of the relationship between religion and violence in general, and to conclude with a clear and radical rejection of the religious motivation for violence, from whatever side it may come. On this point, it is worth recalling what Benedict XVI himself recently affirmed in his commemorative Message for the 20th anniversary of the Inter-religious Meeting of Prayer for Peace, initiated by his predecessor John Paul II at Assisi in October 1986: ' ... demonstrations of violence cannot be attributed to religion as such but to the cultural limitations with which it is lived and develops in time. ... In fact, attestations of the close bond that exists between the relationship with God and the ethics of love are recorded in all great religious traditions'.

- "The Holy Father thus sincerely regrets that certain passages of his address could have sounded offensive to the sensitivities of the Muslim faithful, and should have been interpreted in a manner that in no way corresponds to his intentions. Indeed it was he who, before the religious fervor of Muslim believers, warned secularized Western culture to guard against 'the contempt for God and the cynicism that considers mockery of the sacred to be an exercise of freedom'.

- "In reiterating his respect and esteem for those who profess Islam, he hopes they will be helped to understand the correct meaning of his words so that, quickly surmounting this present uneasy moment, witness to the 'Creator of heaven and earth, Who has spoken to men' may be reinforced, and collaboration may intensify "to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom' (
Nostra Aetate no. 3).

Source: Vatican Information Service - emphasis in the original.

"They sacrifice to demons, not to God"

When it comes to establishing relationships between religions, there are some who - consciously or not - aspire to a kind of syncretism. After all, they argue, we are all praying to the same God, aren't we?

Today's first reading (1 Corinthians 10:14-22) seems to take a very opposite view, as St. Paul writes about pagans:

They sacrifice to demons, not to God,
and I do not want you

to become participants with demons.

The specific matter at hand for St. Paul was the fact that the meat from pagan sacrifices was generally sold or otherwise distributed for consumption and that this posed a question of conscience for Christians. Formal participation by Christians in a pagan sacrifice is obviously wrong(10:21-22). St. Paul goes on to indicate that remote material participation in a pagan sacrifice by eating meat known to have been sacrificed would be inappropriate because of scandal (10:28-29a), but excessive scrupulosity should not cause a person to forswear all meat "just in case" (10:25-27).

In the face of this, what may be said about people in non-Judeo-Christian religions?

First of all, it must be affirmed that there are no other Gods: there is no God but God.

Second, as St. Paul says elsewhere (1 Timothy 2:4), God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." Also, to paraphrase St. Augustine, God has made us for himself and there is a restlessness in our hearts that yearns for him.

Third, as St. Paul himself did in Athens (Acts 17:16-34), although we may be distressed by other religions, we do well first to affirm that which is good in the practitioners of these religions as we seek to help them grow in knowledge of the truth.

Note here the subtle but critical distinction: to affirm that which is good in the practitioners.

I see that in every respect you are very religious.

For as I walked around looking carefully at your shrines,
I even discovered an altar inscribed, 'To an Unknown God.'

What therefore you unknowingly worship,

I proclaim to you.

It is in that same sense that Vatican II spoke in Nostra Aetate, 3 (as quoted today by Cardinal Bertone as part of the response to current controversies):

"The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting."

Interfaith relations are never to be pursued or perceived as an endorsement of anything opposed to Christian teaching or - God forbid - as a celebration of communion or identity where such does not truly exist.

But as the Holy Father has said (also as quoted by Cardinal Bertone today), interfaith dialogue is not an "optional extra" - especially in a world that modern technology has made smaller and more dangerous.

Without compromising the truth or sharing in anything opposed to that truth, we must affirm the good in other people and work together for the common good, even as continue to proclaim the truth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the only Son of the one God.

Being a Christian used to be no big deal

Christians were accepted members of society. Church leaders lived comfortable lives (sadly, some were even scandalous).

But things changed. Society turned against Christians. Government agents targeted the Church. There were many stories of violence and even death.

Many Christians succumbed to the pressure and turned publicly away from the faith. Of these, many would eventually repent of their apostasy and return to the Church.

Some of those who had remained loyal to the faith were angry with those who had deserted, even to the point of treating these penitents with extreme cruelty. Some extremists said that baptized Christians who had formally embraced another religion could not be forgiven.

Caught between government pressure on one side and extremists on the other, the Pope himself was driven out of public view and died. One of his chief allies, a bishop from Africa, was captured by government agents and murdered this very week in the year 258.

The memory of Pope St. Cornelius and St. Cyprian, bishop of the North African city of Carthage, is celebrated on this day: two men who fought to be faithful to Christ’s truth and Christ’s mercy.

(adapted from an earlier post)