A Penitent Blogger

Mindful of my imperfections, seeking to know Truth more deeply and to live Love more fully.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus? Quem patronum rogaturus? Cum vix iustus sit securus?
Recordare, Iesu pie, Quod sum causa tuae viae: Ne me perdas illa die...

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Be ready to repent

Most of us feel that we are basically good people, even though we may acknowledge (as a theoretical proposition) that we are not perfect – “but, hey, we’re only human, right?”

Being “only human” also means that we are going to die and that there will be nothing left of us except ashes or worm food.

Being “only human” also means that everything we do will be forgotten and disappear from the earth. It may take a few years or a few millennia, but sooner or later there will be not a trace that we ever existed.

Being “only human” also means that we have fallen short of our potential, for we were created in the image of God and anything short of union with God means eternal frustration and emptiness.

Today’s readings (Jonah 3:1-10 and Luke 11:29-32) remind us of the necessity and the power of repentance.

Like the people of Nineveh and like the queen of the south, we need to be listening for God’s wisdom: ready to recognize how we fall short, ready to repent, ready to change our lives, and ready to go forward and grow in the grace, truth, and love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Catholic Carnival

This week's Catholic Carnival - a collection of posts from various Catholic blogs - is online at Catholic Matriarch in my Domestic Church aka Catholic Mom

Simple advice

Today’s readings inspire simple suggestions for this first full week of Lent.

The first reading (Isaiah 55:10-11) consists of this beautiful passage:

For just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
And do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
Giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
So shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
It shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.

This famous saying not only reaffirms our hope; it invites us to immerse ourselves in God’s word.

Perhaps we could include in our Lenten devotion a short time to read Scripture prayerfully and even audibly.

The Gospel (Matthew 6:7-15) gives us our Lord’s core advice about prayer: simplicity, brevity, and reality.

In praying,
do not babble like the pagans,
who think that they will be heard

because of their many words.
Do not be like them.
Your Father knows what you need

before you ask him.

This is how you are to pray:

Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

If you forgive men their transgressions,
your heavenly Father will forgive you.
But if you do not forgive men,
neither will your Father

forgive your transgressions.




Monday, February 26, 2007

It’s not all about you

Some people are very self-centered, even when it comes to God.

They speak of MY personal Lord and Savior or even absolve themselves from church attendance or any other inconvenient thing by saying "I don’t need that for me to feel close to God."

Today’s readings (and most especially today’s GospelMatthew 25:31-46) remind us that our spiritual life cannot be “just you and me, Lord.”

‘Depart from me, you accursed,
into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.

For I was hungry and you gave me no food,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
a stranger and you gave me no welcome,
naked and you gave me no clothing,
ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’

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

He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you,
what you did not do for one of these least ones,
you did not do for me.’

And these will go off to eternal punishment,
but the righteous to eternal life.

This Lent, may we focus not just on our individual spiritual lives, but also on how that spiritual life is bound to our service of others by the grace of God.

The Jesus Family Tomb - Not!

Another television network tries to boost its ratings and to assault the faith of billions with sloppy scholarship and sleight-of-hand headlines.

Amy samples some of the debunking and criticism of this nonsense.

CNN has the AP story, which starts with "Archaeologists and clergymen in the Holy Land derided claims in a new documentary..."

UPDATE - The Washington Post story begins this way: "Leading archaeologists in Israel and the United States yesterday denounced the purported discovery of the tomb of Jesus as a publicity stunt."

Other excerpts:

"'I'm not a Christian. I'm not a believer. I don't have a dog in this fight,' said William G. Dever, who has been excavating ancient sites in Israel for 50 years and is widely considered the dean of biblical archaeology among U.S. scholars. 'I just think it's a shame the way this story is being hyped and manipulated.'"

* * *

"Dever, a retired professor of archaeology at the University of Arizona, said that some of the inscriptions on the Talpiyot ossuaries are unclear, but that all of the names are common.

"'I've know about these ossuaries for many years and so have many other archaeologists, and none of us thought it was much of a story, because these are rather common Jewish names from that period,' he said. 'It's a publicity stunt, and it will make these guys very rich, and it will upset millions of innocent people because they don't know enough to separate fact from fiction.'

"Similar assessments came yesterday from two Israeli scholars, Amos Kloner, who originally excavated the tomb, and Joe Zias, former curator of archaeology at the Israeli Antiquities Authority. Kloner told the Jerusalem Post that the documentary is 'nonsense.' Zias described it in an e-mail to The Washington Post as a 'hyped up film which is intellectually and scientifically dishonest.'

"Jodi Magness, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, expressed irritation that the claims were made at a news conference rather than in a peer-reviewed scientific article. By going directly to the media, she said, the filmmakers 'have set it up as if it's a legitimate academic debate, when the vast majority of scholars who specialize in archaeology of this period have flatly rejected this,' she said....

"'This whole case [for the tomb of Jesus] is flawed from beginning to end,' she said."

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The simple path

We live in a complicated world, which can be navigated safely and morally only with careful thought and prudence.

In this complicated world, temptation often tries to twist careful thought into specious rationalization, leading us by a reasonable-seeming path to immorality and spiritual destruction.
In today’s Gospel (Luke 4:1-13), our Lord is tempted by the reasonable-sounding, Scripture-quoting devil. Our Lord navigates effortlessly past these temptations, remaining clear about the truth and focused on God’s will.

During the season of Lent, we try to renew our spiritual lives and free ourselves of the complex entanglements of sin and temptation into which we may have let ourselves slip.

Today’s readings invite us to return to the simple path of truth and God’s will, so that we too may resist temptation and remain faithful by the grace of God.

The first two readings are classic expressions of this simple path. The first reading (Deuteronomy 26:4-10) expresses the basic facts of God’s chosen people: what God has done and what they must do.

‘My father was a wandering Aramean
who went down to Egypt with a small household
and lived there as an alien.
But there he became a nation
great, strong, and numerous.
When the Egyptians maltreated and oppressed us,
imposing hard labor upon us,
we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers,
and he heard our cry
and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.
He brought us out of Egypt
with his strong hand and outstretched arm,
with terrifying power, with signs and wonders;
and bringing us into this country,
he gave us this land flowing with milk and honey.
Therefore, I have now brought you the firstfruits
of the products of the soil
which you, O LORD, have given me.’

The second reading (Romans 10:8-13) expresses the basic facts of Christian redemption.

For, if you confess with your mouth
that Jesus is Lord
and believe in your heart
that God raised him from the dead,
you will be saved.

May we not be led astray by sophisticated temptations
but may we always remain focused on God’s will
and the simple path of righteousness

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Things to do for Lent

When it comes to Lent, some of us are in a rut. Every year we do the same things: give up ice cream, etc.

Among other things, today’s readings (Isaiah 58:9b-14 and Luke 5:27-32) provide very special suggestions for other things we could do this Lent: some of them more challenging than giving up Häagen-Dazs.

Clean up our language and what we say about other people

Remove from your midst oppression,
false accusation and malicious speech...

Help the poor and work for justice.

Bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted...

Treat the Lord’s Day as the Lord’s Day

Hold back your foot on the Sabbath
from following your own pursuits on my holy day;
... call the sabbath a delight,
and the LORD’s holy day honorable;
... honor it by not following your ways,
(nor) seeking your own interests,
(nor) speaking with malice...

Reach out (prudently) to lost sheep.

Those who are healthy do not need a physician,
but the sick do.
I have not come to call the righteous to repentance
but sinners.

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

Friday, February 23, 2007

Fast results

For some, fasting is old fashioned.

For some, fasting is a good way to lose weight (consult your doctor first).

For some, fasting is a heroic practice and affirmation of Catholic identity.

For the Church, fasting is “an expression of interior penance, in imitation of the fast of Jesus for forty days in the desert. Fasting is an ascetical practice recommended in Scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers; it is sometimes prescribed by a precept of the Church, especially during the liturgical season of Lent.” (USCCB Glossary to the Catechism)

Today’s Gospel (Matthew 9:14-15) reminds us that fasting has an eschatological dimension: a physical act of recognition that while Christ in one sense is always with us, in another sense “the bridegroom is taken away” from us until his return at the end of time and that in the meantime we are in exile.

Today’s first reading (Isaiah 58:1-9a) reminds us that fasting - and by extension all forms of prayer and devotion - as an expression of interior penance fails without the exterior practice of justice and mercy.

May the Lord give us the grace to draw ever closer to him through what we do within ourselves and beyond ourselves: in prayer and fasting as well as in word and deed.

A living link

He was over eighty years old,
but he was still physically agile and mentally sharp.

What made him interesting, however,
was not so much how well he had aged,
but rather how much he had experienced
and how much good he had done for so long.

The young people could only marvel
as he spoke of things
that seemed to them ancient history
but that he himself had lived through.

He was a living link to the past:
a link that reached back even beyond his lifespan,
for when the old man was young,
he himself had learned much from the old men of that day,
especially one very special old man.

Thus when young people gathered
around the old man now in their midst,
he could tell them of things
that had happened more than a century before
and that he himself had heard
from that other very special old man:
someone who had actually been there,
someone who spoke of amazing events
with simple, wonderful words...

This is what we proclaim to you:
what was from the beginning,
what we have heard,
what we have seen with our eyes,
what we have looked upon,
and our hands have touched

-- we speak of the word of life.

(1 John 1:1)

St. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna
and disciple of St. John the Apostle,
was martyred for the faith
on this day in the year 155 at the age of 86.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Who do you say that I am?

On this day after Ash Wednesday, as we begin our spiritual journey of Lent, we hear our Lord ask a question in today’s Gospel (Matthew 16:13-19):

Who do you say that I am?

Simon Peter gives the right answer:

You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Simon Peter gives the right answer, but not through this insight and these words alone.

Simon Peter gives the right answer when he accepts correction from the Lord (verse 23), saying in effect that “I had my own ideas, but you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Simon Peter gives the right answer when he comes before the risen Lord after having denied him, saying in effect that “I have sinned, but you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Simon Peter gives the right answer when he preaches to the multitudes and works miracles, saying to the Lord quite plainly in these words and deeds, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Finally, Simon Peter gives the right answer when he accepts crucifixion for proclaiming Christ, coming with open arms to the crucified and risen Lord and saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

As we begin this spiritual journey of Lent, we would do well to keep the Lord’s question in our own minds and hearts.

Who do you say that I am?

In what we believe…
Who do you say that I am?

In our everyday speech...
Who do you say that I am?

In what we do and what we do not do…
Who do you say that I am?

May we have the grace always to give the right answer.

Confession campaign

"Catholics in the Archdiocese of Washington, especially those who have been away from the Church or the sacrament, are invited to experience God's mercy and forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation this Lent. To help you get started, you will find information here on how to go to Confession, frequently-asked questions, links to Catholic parishes and their locations, and more.

"In addition, Catholic churches across the Archdiocese will be open for Confession Wednesday evenings in Lent (starting February 28 through April 4, 2007), 7:00 p.m.-8:30 p.m."

from the website of the Archdiocese of Washington

(hat tip: The Washington Post)

The Chair of Peter

The Altar of the Chair of Peter - St. Peter's Basilica

"Today we celebrate the Feast of the Chair of Peter. It is an ancient feast, dating back to the fourth century, which gives thanks to God for the mission entrusted to the Apostle Peter and to his successors.

"The first ‘seat’ of the Church was the Cenacle where, in all probability, there was a special place reserved for Simon Peter. From there the ‘seat’ of Peter moved to Antioch where he became its first Bishop, and from there, Providence led Peter to Rome where his service to the Gospel was crowned with martyrdom.

"In this way Rome came to be known as the ‘See’ of the successor of Peter and the ‘cathedra’ of its Bishop, as representing the mission entrusted to him by Christ to shepherd his entire flock. In celebrating the ‘Chair’ of Peter we thus recognize its spiritual significance: it is a special sign of the love of God - the good and eternal shepherd - who guides the whole Church along the way of salvation. In the words of Saint Jerome, 'I follow no leader save Christ so I consult the chair of Peter, for this I know is the rock upon which the Church is built!'"

Pope Benedict XVI
from his General Audience - February 22, 2006

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Let the priests weep

When they think of contrition, many Catholics simply think of the Act of Contrition: a formal prayer they rattle off before Confession or during terrifying plane flights.

Today’s first reading (Joel 2:12-18) reminds us what contrition really should be.

Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.

The key elements, of course, are not the wearing of one’s heart on one’s sleeve but the heartfelt realization of one’s sinfulness – to open our hearts fully to the pain God feels when we reject him - and the wholehearted resolve to direct the course of one’s life according to the way of God.

We may be grievous sinners, who have longed strayed or who have been playing complex games of multilayered hypocrisy, but even now God extends to us this opportunity to open ourselves to his grace so that things can be right again.

Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.

Ash Wednesday

Remember, man, that you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.

Memento, homo, quia pulvis es,
et in pulverem reverteris.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Catholic Carnival

This week's Catholic Carnival - a collection of posts from various Catholic blogs - is online at To Jesus Through Mary.

Catholic Blog Awards results

The "unofficial" results of the 2007 Catholic Blog Awards have been posted. Here are the categories with winners and winners-up (with votes for each).

Best Apologetic Blog
Jimmy Akin: 218
The Cafeteria is Closed: 66
Pontifications: 62

Best Blog by Clergy/Religious/Seminarian
What does Prayer really say?: 91
Pontifications: 55
Cardinal Sean's Blog: 45
Dappled Things: 45

Best Designed Catholic Blog
The New Liturgical Movement: 73
Open Book: 52
Happy Catholic: 50
Rorate Caeli: 50

Best Group Blog
The Shrine of the Holy Whapping: 115
The New Liturgical Movement: 82
Jimmy Akin: 52

Best Individual Catholic Blog
Open Book: 89
The Cafeteria is Closed: 50
What does Prayer really say?: 46

Best Insider News Catholic Blog
Whispers in the Loggia: 135
Open Book: 77
Rorate Caeli: 75

Best New Catholic Blog
Rorate Caeli: 69
Cardinal Sean's Blog: 50
Alive and Young: 37

Best Overall Catholic Blog
Open Book: 100
Jimmy Akin: 50
The Cafeteria is Closed: 44

Best Political/Social Commentary Catholic Blog
The Anchoress: 70
Catholic and Enjoying It: 62
The Curt Jester: 47

Best Written Catholic Blog
Open Book: 53
Daily Danielle: 47
Jimmy Akin: 41

Funniest Catholic Blog
The Curt Jester: 192
Daily Danielle: 57
The Shrine of the Holy Whapping: 50

Most Spiritual Blog
Pontifications: 52
The New Liturgical Movement: 38
Daily Danielle: 37

Smartest Catholic Blog
Jimmy Akin: 77
Pontifications: 63
What does Prayer really say?: 55

Advance advice for Lent

The Church calendar does not celebrate today as Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent, but simply as Tuesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time. Even so, today's first reading (Sirach 2:1-11) provides excellent advice for the long journey of Lent and indeed for the rest of our lives.

My son,
when you come to serve the LORD,
stand in justice and fear,
prepare yourself for trials.

Be sincere of heart and steadfast,
incline your ear
and receive the word of understanding,
undisturbed in time of adversity.

Wait on God,
with patience, cling to him,
forsake him not;
thus will you be wise in all your ways.

Accept whatever befalls you,
when sorrowful, be steadfast,
and in crushing misfortune be patient;
For in fire gold and silver are tested,
and worthy people in the crucible of humiliation.

Trust God and God will help you;
trust in him, and he will direct your way;
keep his fear and grow old therein.

You who fear the LORD, wait for his mercy,
turn not away lest you fall.

You who fear the LORD, trust him,
and your reward will not be lost.

You who fear the LORD, hope for good things,
for lasting joy and mercy.

You who fear the LORD, love him,
and your hearts will be enlightened.

Study the generations long past and understand;
has anyone hoped in the LORD
and been disappointed?
Has anyone persevered in his commandments
and been forsaken?
has anyone called upon him
and been rebuffed?

Compassionate and merciful is the LORD;
he forgives sins,
he saves in time of trouble
and he is a protector
to all who seek him in truth.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Only through prayer

Today’s Gospel (Mark 9:14-29) involves a relatively long and complex account of an exorcism that includes ministerial failure by the disciples and a dialogue between our Lord and the possessed boy’s father that begins almost pediatrician-like and culminates in powerful statements about faith.

Jesus said to him, “‘If you can!’
Everything is possible to one who has faith.”

Then the boy’s father cried out,
“I do believe, help my unbelief!”

Then, after restoring the boy to health, our Lord answers the disciples questions rather enigmatically.

This kind can only come out through prayer...

(Sometimes this is read as “prayer and fasting”) However, the text that we have does not really show our Lord saying or doing anything different in this exorcism.

What is meant here is not that prayer and fasting need to be added to the rite of exorcism like specialized modules for specialized cases, but rather that a person who wishes to prevail against such evils must be a person thoroughly devoted to God, with a strong life of prayer and self-mortification.

Not all of us are perfect in this. We do not always pray as much as we should and we are sometimes more self-centered than God-focused. And so, as we struggle against evil in the world and in ourselves, together with that desperate father we ask our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for the grace we need.

“I do believe, help my unbelief!”

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Suckers and doomats

Nobody wants to be called a “sucker” or a “doormat” - especially in today’s world - but that is exactly what today’s readings invite us to be.

Our Lord is especially clear in today’s Gospel (Luke 6:27-38):

Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you.

To the person who strikes you on one cheek,
offer the other one as well,
and from the person who takes your cloak,
do not withhold even your tunic.

Give to everyone who asks of you,
and from the one who takes what is yours
do not demand it back.



Why would anyone want to live that way?

The truth is that we might - repeat, might - be able to gain some relatively slight advantage or retain some temporary security in this world by looking out only for ourselves, but not even that is certain and no amount of advantage or security in the brief time we are in this world will mean anything in the eternal emptiness of death (let alone in comparison to the pains of Hell).

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

Only by the grace and mercy of God do we have any hope of joy or goodness beyond this world, let alone the eternal happiness to which God calls us.

That is why we must be merciful and generous - even to the point of being called suckers or doormats in this world.

For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.

(That is not to say that we should neglect our responsibilities to protect and provide for those entrusted to our care: we must indeed fulfill these responsibilities appropriately - as well as our responsibility to teach mercy and generosity).

For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.

Indeed, in eternity, the real “suckers” will be those who focused on prosperity and security in this world but neglected to store up treasure in Heaven by God’s grace.

And those who committed evil for the sake of their own worldly prosperity, if unrepentant, will be doormats in Hell.

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

To you who hear I say,
love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you.

To the person who strikes you on one cheek,
offer the other one as well,
and from the person who takes your cloak,
do not withhold even your tunic.

Give to everyone who asks of you,
and from the one who takes what is yours
do not demand it back.

Do to others as you would have them do to you.

For if you love those who love you,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners love those who love them.
And if you do good to those who do good to you,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners do the same.
If you lend money
to those from whom you expect repayment,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners lend to sinners,
and get back the same amount.

But rather,
love your enemies and do good to them,
and lend expecting nothing back;
then your reward will be great
and you will be children of the Most High,
for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.

Give, and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together,
shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.

For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Seeing the seen with faith

Today's first reading (Hebrews 11:1-7) begins with the famous description of faith:

Faith is the realization of what is hoped for
and evidence of things not seen.

But today’s readings also remind us that faith is about much more than “things not seen”. Faith teaches us the true and fundamental meaning of the things that we do see.

By faith we understand that the universe
was ordered by the word of God,
so that what is visible
came into being through the invisible.

We hear likewise in the Gospel (Mark 9:1-13) how faith gives understanding of people and events

But I tell you that Elijah has come
and they did to him whatever they pleased,
as it is written of him.

In the parallel to this text, Matthew adds (17:13)

Then the disciples understood
that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.

May we always ask the Lord to give us the light of faith: to strengthen our hope in the good things not yet seen and to make clear to our minds the grace and the goodness that underlies the things we see and feel.

Rich young men

They made up a very special clique in a very special city.

And they were all interested in the same, very special lady.

Her name was Mary, the mother of Jesus.

These seven young men dedicated themselves completely to the love of God.

In the beginning, they had secluded themselves on a tall hill out in the countryside.

In time, they would be called to spread the message of God out in the world.

Their little religious community would grow. Within fifty years, they would have over ten thousand members.

The memory of the Seven Founders of the Order of Servites is celebrated on this day, when the last of those seven young men from Florence, lay brother Alexis Falconieri, died in 1310.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Friday, February 16, 2007

Why can’t we all just get along?

In today’s first reading (Genesis 11:1-9) we have the famous account of the tower of Babel and the confusion of human language.

Many times in human history, and most especially in our own day, there are great efforts to unify all of humanity. It sounds like a wonderful goal, but humanity never makes the progress it should.

The pattern of Babel persists: people are joined together, either by force or agreement, to achieve some great end, make progress, but eventually conflict arises.

The confusion of language ultimately arises from the confusion of men’s hearts that in turn arises from sin. In the sinful condition of humanity after the Fall desire conflicts with desire and even human perception and reason is clouded over. This tendency within individuals becomes exponentially stronger within groups.

The answer to the problem of Babel is alignment of all desires and all people with the true Good, which is God. The way to this answer lies in God’s truth and grace.

Where there is conflict, dialogue and cooperation are useful, but we will “get along” truly and fully only in and through God.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Sign of the covenant

In today’s first reading (Genesis 9:1-13) we hear of God’s covenant with Noah after the Flood. Some things remain the same from God’s words to man at creation:

Be fertile, then, and multiply;
abound on earth and subdue it.

Some things appear different: an explicit reference to the eating of meat (while excluding the eating of blood) and to the death penalty (whereas Cain’s life had been protected from retaliation).

Then there is the sign of the covenant:

This is the sign that I am giving for all ages to come,
of the covenant between me and you
and every living creature with you:
I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign
of the covenant between me and the earth.

It is a significant moment in salvation history – the long relationship between God and his people – foreshadowing the covenant in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that will continue beyond all the ages of this world:

He is the image of the invisible God,
the first-born of all creation;
for in him all things were created,
in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions

or principalities or authorities
-- all things were created through him and for him.
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
He is the head of the body, the church;
he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead,
that in everything he might be pre-eminent.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
and through him to reconcile to himself all things,
whether on earth or in heaven,
making peace by the blood of his cross.

(Colossians 1:15-20)

The cross is our rainbow: the great sign of what God has done to establish forever an everlasting covenant of love with his faithful people. Indeed, it is more than a sign, for it is by the blood of his cross that Christ has brought salvation and the peace beyond all understanding.

The rainbow in the sky gives us hope and delight at the passing of storms.

May we always look to the cross of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in all of the storms of our life, for in the cross is the infinite power of God’s eternal love and almighty salvation.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Catholic Blog Awards

Voting is now open for the 2007 Catholic Blog Awards at www.catholicblogawards.com/2007


Some people say that human beings are basically good, that children are born innocent, and that it is society that causes people to do bad things.

Experience teaches otherwise, as does today’s first reading (Genesis 8:6-13, 20-22) in which God says that “the desires of man's heart are evil from the start” (i.e., from youth or childhood).

That is not to say that God created man evil (God created man good) but that all human beings since the Fall are marked by sin and to some extent are under its sway. The good of God’s original creation endures but through the Fall of Man, the dominion of sin has taken hold.

Traditional theology speaks of concupiscence: that from our birth, in the state of fallen human nature, our sensual appetites yearn for their own satisfaction: what feels good, without regard to reason or what is truly good.

For the creation waits with eager longing
for the revealing of the sons of God;
for the creation was subjected to futility,
not of its own will
but by the will of him who subjected it in hope;
because the creation itself
will be set free from its bondage to decay
and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation
has been groaning in travail together until now;
and not only the creation, but we ourselves,
who have the first fruits of the Spirit,
groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons,
the redemption of our bodies.
(Romans 8:19-23)

The bottom line is that we must be careful not to trust too much to human nature, fallen as it is, but rather that we as individuals and as societies must be diligent in applying the discipline of human reason in all our decisions, big and small.

Most importantly, we must seek the will and grace of God who is the true and ultimate Good and who will provide us what we truly desire: the satisfaction that flesh and the things of this world cannot give, a satisfaction of infinite and eternal intensity.

Catholic Carnival

This week's Catholic Carnival - a collection of posts from various Catholic blogs - is online at just another day of Catholic pondering.

The brothers came from a political family

but what interested them was the spiritual life, so they left the world behind and entered a monastery.

The world, however, would not leave them alone.

A great need was being felt in many places for the Gospel of Christ, but different problems posed obstacles in various places.

In one distant location, there were simply no teachers well-educated in the faith, so the brothers were called out of their monastery and sent.

In another location, the native people resisted anything not in their language. This was complicated by the fact that they did not have a well-developed written language. Once again, the brothers were chosen. The younger brother actually devised a whole new alphabet, whereupon they translated the Gospels and many prayers into the native people’s language.

Sadly, success sometimes brings new challenges, especially envy, rivalry, and other political problems. People from Western regions attacked them – after all, the brothers were Easterners. They were summoned to Rome where they were not only vindicated but selected to become bishops!

The younger brother, St. Cyril, Apostle to the Slavs and inventor of the Cyrillic alphabet (used to this day), died shortly afterwards on this very day in the year 869. His brother, St. Methodius, Apostle to the Slavs, continued their work and their struggles until his own death in 885.

(from an earlier post)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A remnant

Today's first reading (Genesis 6:5-8; 7:1-5, 10) gives us part of the familiar story of the Flood and the remnant destined by God to survive that great catastrophe.

From that remnant, the world would be repopulated with all of its diversity of life.

It is a reminder that, no matter how bad things may get and no matter what shreds of existence we may be left with, God remains faithful to his faithful people and God can restore the frailest shred to the fullness of glory.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Crouching demon, hidden danger

In the New American Bible translation of today’s first reading (Genesis 4:1-15, 25), the Lord gives this evocative warning:

Why are you so resentful and crestfallen?

If you do well, you can hold up your head;
but if not, sin is a demon lurking at the door:
his urge is toward you, yet you can be his master.

The English Standard Version puts it thusly:

Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?

If you do well, will you not be accepted?
And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door.
Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.

However it is translated, the basic warning is plain: we must not let resentment and anger remain within us, hidden or otherwise, lest these feelings lead us into deadly sin.

Rather, we need to open our minds and our hearts to the light and love of Christ, so that the Lord may heal whatever hurts we may suffer and that he may enable us always to walk in the paths of righteousness, charity, and true peace.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Signs of success

The world constantly advertises and tempts us with what it calls signs of success: things that will all inevitably backfire or fail.

In today's Gospel (Luke 6:17, 20-26), our Lord reminds us of the true signs of eternal success and the grim reward of the false success promoted by the world.

Blessed are you who are poor,
for the kingdom of God is yours.
Blessed are you who are now hungry,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who are now weeping,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
and when they exclude and insult you,
and denounce your name as evil
on account of the Son of Man.
Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!
Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.
For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way.
But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are filled now,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will grieve and weep.
Woe to you when all speak well of you,
for their ancestors treated the false
prophets in this way.

May we succeed in Christ.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Sin makes you hurt

In today’s first reading (Genesis 3:9-24) we hear the familiar account of the punishments that followed from the first sin. Chief among these punishments is the association of pain with basic human activities.

I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing;
in pain shall you bring forth children....

Cursed be the ground because of you!
In toil shall you eat its yield
all the days of your life.
Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to you,
as you eat of the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
shall you get bread to eat,
Until you return to the ground,
from which you were taken;
For you are dirt,
and to dirt you shall return.

This reminds us that the most fundamental cause of pain is separation from God: a separation caused by sin, a pain that manifests itself in so many ways, most especially emotional pain.

Too many people today seek relief from emotional pain through drugs, alcohol, medication, endless psychoanalysis, or hedonism, but the pain never really goes away.

If we really want to find healing from our emotional pain,
we need to find healing from our separation from God:
seeking his grace,
his forgiveness,
and his love.

She used to visit her brother once a year

"He would come down to meet her at a place on the monastery property, not far outside the gate.

"One day she came as usual and her saintly brother went with some of his disciples; they spent the whole day praising God and talking of sacred things. As night fell, they had supper together.

"Their spiritual conversation went on and the hour grew late. The holy nun said to her brother, 'Please do not leave me tonight; let us go on until morning talking about the delights of the spiritual life.'

'Sister,' he replied, 'What are you saying? I simply cannot stay outside my cell.'

"When she heard her brother refuse her request, the holy woman joined her hands on the table, laid her head on them and began to pray.

"As she raised her head from the table, there were such brilliant flashes of lightning, such great peals of thunder and such a heavy downpour of rain that neither Benedict nor his brethren could stir across the threshold of the place where they had been seated. Sadly, he began to complain.

"'May God forgive you, sister. What have you done?'

"'Well,' she answered, 'I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen. So now go off, if you can, leave me and return to your monastery.'

"So it came about that they stayed awake the whole night, engrossed in their conversation about the spiritual life.

"Three days later, Benedict was in his cell. Looking up to the sky, he saw his the soul of his sister Scholastica leave her body in the form of a dove, and fly up to the secret places of heaven. Rejoicing in her great glory, he thanked almighty God with hymns and words of praise. He then sent his brethren to bring her body to the monastery and lay it in the tomb he had prepared for himself."

St. Scholastica, sister of the great St. Benedict, died in 543 and her memory is celebrated on this day.

Benedict would die in 547. The above account would be set down a few decades later by Pope St. Gregory the Great.

(from an earlier post)

Friday, February 09, 2007


Of all the imagery in today's first reading (Genesis 3:1-8), the well-known account of the first human sin, my favorite is this:

...the LORD God moving about in the garden
at the breezy time of the day...

Such is the paradise that we lost: a garden of cool breezes where God walks.

Such is the paradise that will be ours - and even more wonderful than this - by the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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

Thursday, February 08, 2007

It is not good for the man to be alone

Loneliness can be a terrible thing.

Loneliness can be an insatiable hunger that leads a person into darkness or into temptation and sin.

In today’s first reading (Genesis 2:18-25), God says,
It is not good for the man to be alone.
I will make a suitable partner for him

It is very important to note that God is not simply observing the man’s feelings and trying to make him feel better. The focus is not loneliness but rather the unfolding of God’s will. It is not a matter of God saying, “Awww. He looks lonely. Let’s fix him up.” but rather the creation of gender and establishment of what would be understood as matrimonial union – much as was expressed in the previous chapter (1:27-28a):

God created man in his image;
in the divine image he created him;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them, saying:
"Be fertile and multiply..."

We can all get lonely, but ultimately our loneliness can only be satisfied by God, who has created us for himself, and the path to that satisfaction is adherence to his will. For most of us, holy matrimony is part of that will, but not for all and it is only part of the answer. Marriage by itself will not solve our loneliness. Only God can.

It is not good for the man to be alone, but ultimately God has created us for himself and our loneliness will be lesser as God fills our hearts more.

Sudanese girl sold into slavery

Nine-year-old Josephine’s family was not badly off, but that did not protect her from being kidnapped. She would be sold a number of times and physically abused quite often.

While she was still a teenager, she had a master who relocated to Europe and took her along. It was there that she learned about Christ and was baptized. Later, when her master wanted to take her back to Sudan, she refused. The Italian authorities granted her asylum and several years later she entered the convent of the Canossian Daughters of Charity where she would live decades of quiet humble service even as fame of her sufferings and her sanctity spread.

St. Josephine Bakhita died 60 years ago today and was canonized on October 1, 2000 by the great Pope John Paul II.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Paths of glory

He was born to upper class parents and as a young man began a career track in the military.

He served in combat and was even a prisoner of war.

He was subsequently appointed to positions of authority and seemed destined for great things.

Then, he chose to be a priest, to care for the sick and for orphans, giving away everything he had: forsaking earthly glory and comfort for the glory of God.

While caring for plague victims, St. Jerome Emiliani died of plague himself on this very day in 1537.

(from an earlier post)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

It's not about the food

On weekdays of Ordinary Time, the first reading and the Gospel each follow their own track, as part of a plan to cover all of Scripture within the multi-year cycle of the Lectionary. This week, the first readings are stepping through the book of Genesis and the Gospel readings are continuing through the Gospel according to Saint Mark. Sometimes these "twin tracks" provide interesting juxtapositions.

Today, the first reading (Genesis 2:4b-9, 15-17) appears to connect eating with condemnation to death while the Gospel (Mark 7:14-23) appears to disconnect eating from condemnation.

Of course, it was never really about the food: it was a matter of tangible, actual conformity to God’s will.

We cannot play games with God. Some people are intensely scrupulous about some things while neglecting charity and other aspects of a moral life. Other people think just being "charitable" or an outspoken Christian excuses all manner of moral failures.

None of us are perfect (I myself am a walking quagmire) but all of us are called to be more and more conformed by the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to the loving and pure will of God in everything we say and do.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Catholic Carnival

This week's Catholic Carnival - a collection of posts from various Catholic blogs - is online at Kicking Over My Traces.

Sharing in creation

Today's first reading (Genesis 1:20-2:4a) completes the well-known account of the creation of the world by God that culminates with these words of blessing:

Be fertile and multiply;
fill the earth and subdue it.

Have dominion over the fish of the sea,
the birds of the air,
and all the living things that move on the earth.

With these words, God extends to humanity a share in his creative action: bringing life into existence and establishing order out of chaos.

We are not masters of the universe to pursue our own selfish purposes or caretakers of a universe that exists for its own sake: we are children and servants of God, called to share in his creation of life and establishing of his kingdom according to his will and the true good of all things.

The most powerful pulpit

His father was rich and powerful, so Paul had a nice life growing up.

The family was very close to the Jesuits and even as a young boy Paul wanted to become a Jesuit himself. So it was no surprise that he entered the order as soon as he was old enough.

Paul proved to be an excellent student and a powerful speaker.

But then, the government, which had been friendly toward the Christian faith, turned against it with extreme violence.

Paul and many others were rounded up and sentenced to death by crucifixion.

The date was February 5, 1597 and the place was Nagasaki, Japan.

For young Paul Miki, it was more than an opportunity to die in the same way as Christ. As he looked at the crowd that had gathered to watch, he realized that this cross was the most powerful pulpit of his life.

And so, using his strong voice for the very last time, he spoke to the crowd.

"All of you who are here, please, listen to me.

"...I am Japanese by birth, and a brother of the Society of Jesus.

"I have committed no crime, and the only reason why I am put to death is that I have been teaching the doctrine of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

"I am very happy to die for such a cause, and see my death as a great blessing from the Lord.

"As I come to this supreme moment of my life, I am sure none of you would suppose I want to deceive you. And so I tell you plainly: there is no way to be saved except the Christian way.

"My religion teaches me to pardon my enemies and all who have offended me. I do gladly pardon the Emperor and all who have sought my death.

"I beg them to seek baptism and be Christians themselves."

Thirty years later, in 1627, Paul Miki and his fellow martyrs were beatified by Pope Urban VIII. They were canonized in 1862 by Blessed Pope Pius IX.

Their memory is celebrated on this day.

(from an earlier post)

Monday, February 05, 2007

The breath of God

Today’s first reading takes us to the very beginning: the beginning of Scripture and the beginning of all things (Genesis 1:1-19).

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

And the earth was without form, and void;
and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

And the Spirit of God
moved upon the face of the waters.

The expression translated here as “Spirit of God” (traditionally and justifiably) is rich and multilayered with meaning: it could also be translated “breath of God” or even “mighty wind.”

I think of this expression often, especially when I look upon an expanse of water or feel a mighty wind upon my face.

And a mighty wind
moved upon the face of the waters.

I am also reminded of these well-known verses by Edwin Hatch:

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou dost love,
And do what Thou wouldst do.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Until my heart is pure,
Until with Thee I will one will,
To do and to endure.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Blend all my soul with Thine,
Until this earthly part of me
Glows with Thy fire divine.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
So shall I never die,
But live with Thee the perfect life
Of Thine eternity.

And the breath of God
moved upon the face of the waters.

No matter what is happening in our life, whether all is well or all is chaos, God is always there with the life-giving breath and unseen power of his Holy Spirit.

The Sicilians killed her

She was a Sicilian too: and a beautiful one as well.

But she would not go along with them. She was intent on following Christ.

That is why they killed her.

Who were they? Their names are mostly forgotten.

But the name of Agatha, virgin and martyr, would be remembered far and wide, even in the Eucharistic Prayer, and celebrated on this day.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The sinful proclaimer

There have been many scandals lately.

The despicable crimes of a few priests, sometimes facilitated de facto by their superiors, have inflicted great harm upon the Church and its people (not to mention the victims of these crimes).

Other churches and ecclesial communities have also suffered from scandals and crimes among its leaders and people, in congregations both large and small.

Such sins and crimes need to be addressed, the innocent need to be protected, and victims need to be comforted, but we should not have any illusions about Church leaders being perfect (or Church members for that matter).

Today's readings give us very examples of high-profile religious leaders who are painfully aware of their own sinfulness.

In the first reading (Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8) the great prophet Isaiah says,

Woe is me, I am doomed!
For I am a man of unclean lips,
living among a people of unclean lips;
yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!

But by the grace of God, Isaiah – unworthy as he is – is empowered to be a great prophet.

Then one of the seraphim flew to me,
holding an ember

that he had taken with tongs from the altar.

He touched my mouth with it, and said,
“See, now that this has touched your lips,
your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying,
“Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?”
“Here I am,” I said; “send me!”

In today’s second reading (1 Corinthians 15:1-11), St. Paul is also keenly aware of his sinful unworthiness but also of the power of God’s grace.

For I am the least of the apostles,
not fit to be called an apostle,
because I persecuted the church of God.
But by the grace of God I am what I am,
and his grace to me has not been ineffective.

Likewise in today’s Gospel (Luke 5:1-11):

When Simon Peter saw this,
he fell at the knees of Jesus and said,
“Depart from me, Lord,
for I am a sinful man.”

....Jesus said to Simon,
"Do not be afraid;
from now on you will be catching men."
When they brought their boats to the shore,
they left everything and followed him.

You and I are not perfect – we are sinners and unworthy to be instruments of God’s word, love, and grace – but the truth and grace we share comes not from us but from God.

You and I must never ignore our sins, we must repent and seek Christ's forgiveness, we should always be aware of our unworthiness, but we cannot let anything stop us from proclaiming and sharing the truth, love, and grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – unworthy as we are.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Our life

Today's first reading (Hebrews 13:15-17, 20-21) gives us a wonderful reminder of what our lives should be like as members of Christ's church.

First of all, we must be people of worship.

Through (Jesus),
let us continually offer God
a sacrifice of praise,
that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.

We must also people of service.

Do not neglect to do good
and to share what you have;
God is pleased by sacrifices of that kind.

We must also be a people gathered in right order: with proper obedience and accountability.

Obey your leaders and defer to them,
for they keep watch over you
and will have to give an account,
that they may fulfill their task with joy
and not with sorrow,
for that would be of no advantage to you.

Although this verse was passed over in today's selection, we must pray for each other, even for the holiest and most righteous ones among us (that would not be me - may God have mercy on me).

Pray for us,
for we are confident that we have a clear conscience,
wishing to act rightly in every respect.

Likewise, we must also pray for those separated from us by external forces, circumstances or sin.

I especially ask for your prayers
that I may be restored to you very soon.

We must also pray for ourselves, drawing upon the riches of God's grace so that we may do his will in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

May the God of peace,
who brought up from the dead
the great shepherd of the sheep
by the Blood of the eternal covenant,
furnish you with all that is good,
that you may do his will.

May he carry out in you
what is pleasing to him through Jesus Christ,
to whom be glory forever and ever.

A dark and violent place

That is the way the world was and he left it behind to enter a monastery and devote his life to Christ.

He was so devoted that he was sent back into the world to preach the Gospel.

In fact, he was sent to the edge of civilization, to a place that was – in many ways – darker and more violent than any place on earth.

He worked for many years and met with some success, but when he died, darkness and violence nearly wiped the Christian faith off the map.

Yet he was remembered and when the faith took hold again, he was remembered with honor.

St. Ansgar, apostle to the Vikings and the lands of the north, died on this very day in the year 865.

(from an earlier post)

They say he was once a doctor

but that caring for souls attracted him more.

In time, he came to be a bishop.

This doctor-turned-bishop, however, was still a healer. They said that he once even miraculously cured a boy who was choking to death.

But he cared little for his own neck.

Blaise, Bishop of the town of Sebaste, was martyred near the beginning of the 4th century.

He is remembered every year on this day by the blessing of throats.

(from an earlier post)

Through the intercession of Saint Blaise

bishop and martyr,
may God deliver you
from every disease of the throat
and from every other illness:
In the name of the Father
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit.

Per intercessionem sancti Blasii, Episcopi et Martyris,
liberet te Deus a malo gutturis, et a quolibet alio malo.
In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus sancti. Amen.
(formula for the Blessing of Throats on St. Blaise Day)

Friday, February 02, 2007

Seeing life before death

Today's Gospel (Luke 2:22-40) tells us of an old holy man named Simeon.

It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit
that he should not see death
before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.

Some people - especially as they grow old, sick or despondent - see only darkness.

Simeon knew that he needed to keep his eyes spiritually open for the light of God and so he was able to recognize the coming of God.s salvation, in a way that was quite possibly totally unexpected.

Are we keeping our eyes open?

The Presentation of the Lord

Today's Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple is a significant touchstone and moment of transition regarding the Old and New Covenants.

It is more, however, than just a theological mystery or cosmic turning point - it is also a story about old people: Simeon and Anna, who are allowed to hold and see the baby Jesus and who go on to proclaim the salvation he brings.

Today's youth-obsessed culture often denigrates older people and isolates them from the mainstream of activity.

For young people today, the Gospel account of the Presentation of the Lord presents Mary and Joseph as examples of being open to the involvement of old people in their lives, even in the most important things they are doing.

For older people, this event presents Simeon and Anna as examples of remaining involved, active, and making a difference in the world, no matter how late it may seem.

Young or old, may we all learn from the lessons of today's feast.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Travel light

In today's Gospel (Mark 6:7-13), our Lord instructs the Twelve to "take nothing for the journey but a walking stick--no food, no sack, no money in their belts."

Do we travel lightly and nimbly in following God's will? Or do we carry selfish or cowardly burdens in our hearts?

Catholic Carnival

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

What shall we pray for this month?

Pope Benedict XVI's general prayer intention for February is:

"That the goods of the earth, given by God for all men, may be used wisely and according to criteria of justice and solidarity."

His mission intention is:

"That the fight against diseases and great epidemics in the Third World may find, in the spirit of solidarity, ever more generous collaboration on the part of the governments of all nations."