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...

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

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 evil within

The parable of the weeds, explained by our Lord in today’s Gospel (Matthew 13:36-43), is quite frank in saying that evil exists, that there are people who may be called “children of the Evil One”, and that the Devil is at work in the world.

Many people in the world today dismiss this kind of talk as primitive and mythological. Indeed, there are some who even deny that evil exists (at a time when monstrous evils are being perpetrated all around the globe and when the most horrific evils of history are still within living memory).

To be sure, there are some today who fully embrace the concept of “children of the Evil One”, but only on the most superficial of levels, and who are totally focused on a bogeyman hunt that actually feeds the power of evil.

The truth is that evil does exist and that there are beings totally bent on evil, both in the physical and the spiritual realms.

But a bogeyman hunt is a dangerous errand.

Consider the parable. The good seed did not concern themselves with the weeds, but rather with growing upward toward heaven.

Also, while we can and must evaluate the deeds and patterns of activity done by those around us and then must ourselves take action as appropriate, God alone is the judge.

Although we must be honest about the evil men do, it is not our part to declare any man a child of the Evil One: the judgment belongs to God and the harvesting belongs to his angels.

There is another level at which this parable may be understood: that the field is not just the world around us but also the world within us.

By his grace, God has planted good seed within us, but we must beware of the seeds of evil that may have been sown within us as well: seeds of doubt, temptation, hate, fear, and selfishness; seeds that blossom into the weeds of sin.

These seeds may lie deep within us, sown sometime within our complex lives, and we may not recognize them until they have sprouted into weeds of sin that sometimes seem intractable.

May we pray always that the Lord of the harvest may preserve and protect the good that is within us and deliver us from the seeds and the weeds within.


Iñigo had been religious as a small boy, but he was soon sucked into the sordid lifestyle that surrounded him.

In his twenties, he turned his life around: joining the army and embracing its discipline and stoicism.

Then Iñigo was severely wounded in battle and captured. The medical treatment he received was primitive to the point of brutality and he was confined to bed for months.

Bored and seeking distraction from his pain, Iñigo asked his caregivers for adventure books to read, but all they had to loan him were books about religious people. He decided to work with what he had and read the books as if they were adventure stories.

In those months of reading and thinking, Iñigo came to understand how a life of faith could be the greatest adventure, the greatest heroism, and the greatest glory. It proved to be an intense conversion experience, in which he learned much about himself, about God, and about the spiritual life.

It was the greatest turnaround of his life.

When he was finally able to get up and around, Iñigo spent some time alone, and then made a difficult pilgrimage to the Holy Land before devoting himself to study and to helping others reform their lives. His efforts were often met with opposition that sometimes turned violent. Eventually he left the country.

As Iñigo continued his studies, a small group of followers gathered around him. He began to see them as a company of soldiers: a company belonging to Jesus. They soon became known as the Jesuits.

Iñigo, also known as Ignatius of Loyola, came to be one of the great figures in the renewal of the Church. He also developed a book of Spiritual Exercises that remains not only a guide for life-changing spiritual retreats, but also for spiritual discernment and growth. He died in his mid sixties in Rome 451 years ago today.

(adapted from a previous post)

Monday, July 30, 2007

What we should do with sinners

Today’s first reading (Exodus 32:15-24, 30-34) ends very ominously

When it is time for me to punish,
I will punish them for their sin

One may see this statement in a somewhat different light, however, if one reads verses 25-29 of this chapter (left out of today’s selection). In these verses, Moses rallies to himself the faithful remnant of Levites and orders them in the Lord’s name to slaughter their apostatizing relatives, friends and neighbors.

Something of a parallel was heard in the parable spoke by our Lord in last Saturday’s Gospel (Matthew 13:24-30):

The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man
who sowed good seed in his field.
While everyone was asleep his enemy came
and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off.

When the crop grew and bore fruit,
the weeds appeared as well.
The slaves of the householder came to him and said,
‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field?
Where have the weeds come from?’
He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’
His slaves said to him,
‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
He replied,

‘No, if you pull up the weeds
you might uproot the wheat along with them.
Let them grow together until harvest;
then at harvest time I wi
ll say to the harvesters,
“First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning;
but gather the wheat into my barn.””

The Lord’s servants are sometimes a bit quick in wanting to purge evil doers, but the Lord is inclined to be patient.

On the one hand, this is frustrating for some who cannot abide the presence of sinners or others who do not hold to the true faith. There is reason to be concerned: sin subverts the right order and sinners can have a similar effect.

But the justice of man is not the justice of God, for man is a sinner: that includes you and me.

Thus God’s patience is extended not only for the sake of THOSE sinners we despise and fear, but indeed his patience and mercy extends to us as well.

May we be clear about what is right and what is wrong, may we proclaim the truth about God and his Son our Lord Jesus Christ, and may we place ourselves and our erring fellows in the merciful hands of God.

A way with words

Words came easily to Peter: words that made people feel good, words that changed people’s lives.

It was no surprise that he found himself in the ministry and that he was eventually named bishop of what was becoming one of the most important city in the country.

People came from all over the world to hear him and spoke of his “golden speech.” Compilations of his homilies would be published widely.

St. Peter Chrysologus shepherded the people of Ravenna for more than 25 years before his death in the year 450. His memory is celebrated on this day.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The outcry is so great

The words of the Lord at the beginning of today’s first reading (Genesis 18:20-32) are ominous :

The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great,
and their sin so grave,
that I must go down...

On any given Sunday (and probably other days of the week), some preacher somewhere in the world is describing today’s culture as a modern Sodom and Gomorrah. There are usually good reasons for such an analogy, but the analogy also has limits and it has been so often used that many people no longer pay attention.

But there is another element of what the Lord says here that needs to be kept in mind, most especially in this day and age: the “outcry” associated with these cities and their sins.

On one level, this outcry may be the spiritual noise that sin introduces into the harmony of God’s creation. On another level, this outcry may be the cries of those victimized by these sins or perhaps even the cries of those outraged to witness these sins.

The question that then arises for us in today’s world of sin is this: where is the outcry?

Look at all of the terrible things being perpetrated in the world today. Where is the outcry?

Look at the terrible things that we do that would have justly been called immoral just a few decades ago. Where is the outcry?

Yes, we are sinners and unworthy to judge any other human being, but is that a reason to ignore or cover up the sin we do and the sins that surround us?

Do we listen to the soothing voices of temptation and rationalization more than the voice of a fully formed conscience?

By the grace of God, may we discern carefully and deeply and may we speak out prudently and truthfully.

May the Lord open the ears of our hearts and the ears of our souls, so that we may hear the outcry.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


Today’s first reading (Exodus 24:3-8) ends in a literal bloodbath.

Having sent certain young men of the children of Israel
to offer burnt offerings and sacrifice young bulls
as peace offerings to the LORD,
Moses took half of the blood and put it in large bowls;
the other half he splashed on the altar.
Taking the book of the covenant,
he read it aloud to the people, who answered,
“All that the LORD has said, we will heed and do.”
Then he took the blood
and sprinkled it on the people, saying,
“This is the blood of the covenant
that the LORD has made with you
in accordance with all these words of his.”

We may squirm at this ritual as being extremely unhygienic and “gross” and we have good reason to feel that way. The ancients knew nothing of the blood-borne pathogens that concern us today nor was their technology capable of maintaining the quasi-sterile environments such as those in which many of us now live.

But the ancients knew well the symbolism of blood: the most effective and intimate sign of life.

The scattering of the blood on the altar and on the people signifies the intimate life bond between God and the people: a mutual life commitment on the deepest levels.

Tragically, the people did not live in accordance with their side of that life commitment. The inevitable result was death.

In our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, of course, we have the blood of the new and everlasting covenant: not simply the blood of sacrificial animals, but his own most precious blood, shed on the cross to atone for our sins and to give us a share in his eternal life.

May we, by his grace, live in accordance with that commitment and that most precious gift.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The sins of the fathers

Today’s first reading (Exodus 20:1-17) gives us the Ten Commandments: a remarkably short moral code that nonetheless governs not only a person’s relationship with God but also every person’s relationship with one another and not only action but thought and word as well.

In the midst of this most famous of verses, we have this most stern of warnings:

For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God,
inflicting punishment for their fathers' wickedness
on the children of those who hate me,
down to the third and fourth generation....

This warning is terrifying indeed, but it also may seem more than a little unfair: why punish the children for the sins of the fathers?

Unfair it may indeed seem, yet even an atheist must acknowledge that each generation suffers on account of the errors of its predecessors: from the endless cycles of vengeance to the depletion of resources and the fouling of water, air, and land (one must add also the destruction of belief, the belittlement of sin, the selfish uses of marriage and the marriage act, and the dictatorship of rationalized whim).

Each generation, it seems, has gone further and further down the path of these evils and each generation that has followed has found the foul harvest of these evils grown deeper and deeper about them.

God’s permissive will has let this happen to the children of sinners, for these things are the inevitable result of the free will and creative powers God gave to humankind. God let it happen, but the fault lies in ourselves as a humanity that has chosen to sin.

But this most stern of warnings is immediately offset by the most generous of promises:

...inflicting punishment for their fathers' wickedness
on the children of those who hate me,
down to the third and fourth generation;

but bestowing mercy
down to the thousandth generation,
on the children
of those who love me
and keep my commandments.

May God show us his mercy always
as we deal with the aftermath of our fathers’ sins
and the tangled web of our own weaknesses and wrongs.

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

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Gross heart

Many words are understood in different ways, depending on the vagaries of history and culture.

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 13:10-17), our Lord uses the word “gross”.

Gross is the heart of this people,
they will hardly hear with their ears,
they have closed their eyes,
lest they see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their hearts and be converted
and I heal them.

“Gross” is the English word traditionally used in translating this passage. Unfortunately, for many today, especially many young Americans, “gross” means “disgusting.”

That may sound somewhat appropriate (“Like, sinners have hearts, y’know, that are like totally GROSS. Ewww!”), but the original word (the Greek word in the New Testament and the Hebrew word in the verse being quoted from Isaiah 6:10) comes much closer to the English word “fat” (and the traditional sense of “gross” as “large”).

This, of course, opens up a fresh can of worms in our politically correct culture.

Indeed, the original word carries the connotations of “fat” as thick, stupid, and sluggish: the very worst stereotypes that have been ascribed to people of girth.

A great counter-example to that stereotype is depicted in the current movie “Hairspray” which features a young and rotund leading lady who is very bright, extremely talented, and extraordinarily nimble.

Actually, this cinematic example might be interpreted as having symbolic value (unintended by the show’s creators).

Our hearts may indeed be fat, complacent, thick, stupid, and sluggish, but the grace of God can nonetheless make them dance and sing with charity, devotion, and faith.

Come, Holy Spirit,
fill the hearts of Thy faithful
and enkindle in them the fire of Thy love.

He was a very rich man

who would come before the Lord with double the required offerings.

Joachim said, that which is the offering to the Lord for my forgiveness shall be a mercy offering for me, and that which is over and above shall be for the whole people.

As the great feast of the Lord drew near and the men of Israel were bringing their offerings, a particular man confronted Joachim and said, It is not right for you to bring your offerings first, because you have produced no children for Israel.

Joachim learned that all the righteous men of Israel had children.

He was heartbroken. He refused to go near his wife, but went out into the desert and fasted there for forty days and forty nights.

His wife Anna mourned doubly and lamented doubly, saying: I shall grieve my childlessness and now I shall grieve my widowhood.

She then saw a laurel tree, and sat under it, and prayed to the Lord, saying:
O God of our fathers,
bless me and hear my prayer,
as you blessed the womb of Sarah
and gave her a son, Isaac.

Gazing upward, she saw a sparrow's nest in the tree and wept to herself:

Alas! Who fathered me? And what womb bore me? I have been reproached and have become a curse in Israel, and in derision they have driven me out of the temple of the Lord.

Alas! To what have I been likened? I am not like the birds of the sky, because even they are fruitful before you, O Lord.

Alas! To what have I been likened? I am not like the beasts of the earth, because even the beasts of the earth are fruitful before you, O Lord.

Alas! To what have I been likened? I am not like these waters, because even these waters are fruitful before you, O Lord.

Alas! To what have I been likened? I am not like this earth, because even the earth brings forth its fruits in season, and blesses you, O Lord.

Suddenly Anna saw an angel of the Lord standing there and saying:

Anna, Anna,
the Lord has heard your prayer.
You shall conceive and give birth
and your offspring shall be spoken of
throughout the world.

Anna said: As the Lord my God lives, whether I have either a boy or a girl, I will bring that child as a gift to the Lord my God; and that child shall minister to Him all the days of its life.

Then she saw two angels who said: Look! Joachim, your husband, is approaching.

For an angel of the Lord had gone to Joachim in the desert, saying:
Joachim, Joachim,
the Lord God has heard your prayer.
Go down from here,

for your wife Anna shall conceive.

Anna was standing by the gate and saw Joachim approaching with his flocks. She ran to him and hung upon his neck, saying:
Now I know that the Lord God has blessed me exceedingly;
Look! The widow is no longer a widow,

and I the childless shall conceive.

And Joachim rested the first day in his house.

And in the ninth month Anna gave birth. She asked the midwife whether it was a boy or a girl. A girl, said the midwife.

My soul has been magnified this day, said Anna.

And when the time came, Anna nursed the child and named her Mary.

(Adapted in a previous post from the apocryphal Protoevangelium of James.)

On this day the Church celebrates Saint Joachim and Anne, parents of Mary and grandparents of Jesus. 'The Virgin and Child with St Anne' by Leonardo da Vinci - National Gallery, London

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Grimy, fragile, and crumbling

We often admire people who might be called “Super Christians” – perfect-looking people who seem to have their happy lives so perfectly together and who seem so firm in their Christian faith.

We may often think of ourselves very poorly by comparison: unworthy messengers of God’s perfect truth.

Sadly, history (recent and ancient) overflows with examples of such “Super Christians” collapsing in a cloud of failure (if not hypocrisy and fraud).

Today’s first reading (2 Corinthians 4:7-15) reminds us that one of the greatest of the true “Super Christians” – indeed, one of the greatest of Apostles – did not have a perfect, happy life.

Sadly, as we hear this reading, many of us think first of the St. Louis Jesuits’ famous song “Earthen Vessels” (Radio DJ voice: the title track of one of their biggest albums).

It is a sweet song, albeit not to everyone’s taste, and it has its place, but what St. Paul is writing about – his day-to-day life - is NOT sweet and cute.

For St. Paul, “earthen vessels” are grimy, fragile, and crumbling – just like his life.

We hold this treasure in earthen vessels,
that the surpassing power may be of God
and not from us.

We are afflicted in every way,
but not constrained;
but not driven to despair;
but not abandoned;
struck down,
but not destroyed;
always carrying about in the body
the dying of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus
may also be manifested in our body.

Such is the lot and the life of one of the greatest Christians: one of the most powerful and effective proclaimers of the truth ever to walk the earth.

And so, when we feel that we are not measuring up, when we feel perplexed and afflicted, may we remember how perfectly God’s surpassing power can flow in grimy, fragile, and crumbling vessels.

Embarrassed by Mom

Their mother walked right up to the teacher, in front of all their friends, her sons sheepishly following behind her.

She was straightforward in saying what she wanted: special treatment for her boys.

Her sons looked at the ground, their friends grumbled, but the teacher smiled: a gentle smile with the barest hint of a shadow.

The teacher spoke directly to the sons. There was a serious misunderstanding here. He asked them if they could do something and they said they could.

The teacher now spoke quite solemnly. The specific request was off-limits, but they would get very special treatment.

“The cup that I drink,
you will drink,
and with the baptism with which I am baptized,
you will be baptized.”

On this day we remember St. James the Apostle (a.k.a. James the Greater), the eldest of these two sons, who shared in the suffering of Christ through martyrdom just over a decade after his teacher and Lord.

(from a previous post)

Two Dioceses, One Bishop

The Most Reverend Vincent Cadieux, O.M.I., 67, Bishop of Moosonee, Ontario, has been also serving as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Hearst, Ontario, since July 18, 2006.

The Holy Father today has named Bishop Cadieux as Bishop of Hearst. He will govern both jurisdictions united “in the person of the bishop."

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Some commentators say that the parting of the Red Sea (described in today’s first readingExodus 14:21-15:1) is just a myth. (Some of these commentators will quickly make the point that the symbolism is nonetheless meaningful.)

Other commentators say that it is based on a true story involving a freak natural event (e.g., a large lake temporarily drained by an earthquake): a story that has been greatly embellished over the millennia. (Some of these commentators will take pains to make the point that both the original event and the subsequent embellishments are nonetheless meaningful.)

Still other commentators say that it happened exactly the way the Bible says it happened. (Some of these commentators will argue so much about historicity that they completely neglect the point that the event and its details are meaningful.)

There are ironies in all of the above positions: on the one hand, extolling the meaningfulness of what they consider at least a partial falsehood; on the other hand, extolling the reality of something with no known parallel in the real world today.

Speaking of ironies: Atheists, who worship only the god that is their personal gray matter, reject all of these positions as various forms of window dressing on clerical propaganda, even as they churn out propaganda for their own ideology that, for all of its rationalistic façade, is itself perversely fideistic and falls short in nearly every objective measure.

The only real answer is a rational fideism, relying upon God’s natural gift of reason and his supernatural gift of faith. The only satisfactory approach begins and ends neither in a soulless demythologizing nor in a mindless literalism, but in the gift of faith given by the ineffable God who works wonders in the real world as he wills and in his gift of a personal and communal relationship with himself.

Could God have parted the Red Sea? Of course. Moreover, the tangible reality of salvation history is a critical part of our faith. Our focus, however, must be on our relationship with God – your relationship with God, my relationship with God, our relationship with God - in every level of reality.

Thanks be to thee,
Lord God of hosts
Thou broughtest forth
with mighty hand
Israel safe from the sea.

Who is my mother?

Today’s Gospel (Matthew 12:46-50) usually strikes cradle Catholics as strange. We have been raised to venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary, but today’s Gospel speaks of Jesus’ brothers and seems to depict Jesus as speaking almost dismissively of his mother and family.

The part about the “brothers” is relatively easy to deal with: in the usage of that time and place, that term included close relatives who were not necessarily children of the same parents.

The seeming slight against the Blessed Mother seems more difficult to deal with.

"Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?" And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother."

It not only disturbs our long-nurtured Marian devotion, it makes Jesus look like a rude child (“I don’t need my parents, I’ve got my friends”), and it seems to clash with the wonderful depiction of Mary in the Gospel of Luke.

But it is precisely in the Gospel of Luke that we find the key to understanding what our Lord is saying, most specifically in one of the things Elizabeth says upon her Visitation by Mary.

“Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”

And in what Mary says at the Annunciation.

“Be it done to me according to your word.”

Christ’s message in this Gospel passage is that a relationship with Him must be based on living faith in God. As we know and as Luke emphasizes, Mary is first and foremost a woman of faith, who accepts and lives out the will of God – in a way more profound than our imagination can bear.

If we accept our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, receive his grace and live according to God’s will, we are His brothers and sisters, and because of her faith, the greatest of our sisters is Mary (whom our Lord on the cross also presented to us as our Mother).

The Blessed Virgin Mary is the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God, the Mother of the Church, and our Sister in Faith.

(from an earlier post)

Catholic Carnival

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

Man of Lebanon

He was born in a village high in the mountains of Lebanon.

When he was only three, his father died, having been captured by imperialistic infidels.

As he grew older, his uncle worried about the young man's growing religious fanaticism.

When he was 23, he secretly joined a band of men who were holed up in a mountain stronghold. He would take a Syrian name.

This mysterious man in the black robes would travel little, but people from all over Lebanon and beyond would come to him for direction.

He would suffer a stroke while celebrating Mass and died on Christmas eve in 1898.

He would be beatified at the end of the Second Vatican Council and canonized in 1977.

The memory of Saint Charbel Makhlouf, Maronite priest and hermit, is celebrated by many on this day.

(from an earlier post)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Stand your ground

In today’s first reading (Exodus 14:5-18), the people of Egypt flip-flop on an important decision: setting aside fear of the Lord and reverting to greed and vengeance.

Subsequently, the people of Israel are tempted to flip-flop on their own important decision: thinking that it might have been better for them to have ignored the Lord’s call.

The words of Moses thunder mightily: Stand your ground.

The flip-flopping, backsliding people of Egypt suffer an unprecedented military disaster.

The people of Israel, strengthened by the word of Moses and the power of God, stand their ground and are saved.

Sometimes you and I are like the Egyptians, vacillating sinners, but if we turn more fully to the Lord, he can give us not only the grace of forgiveness but also the grace of perseverance: that we may stand strong in our faith, no matter what.

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

The politician's daughter

Bridget was the daughter of a rich but personally pious politician. She married extremely young, but happily, and had eight children. When she was in her early forties, her husband died. Always a devout and generous person, Bridget now devoted herself fulltime to her faith. As a contemplative, she became renowned for her asceticism and her mysticism. Her writings were widely read. She was also extremely active, founding a religious order, living charitably and piously amid decadence and chaos, and even admonishing the Pope (a pious man then in the grip of geopolitical intrigue).

Born in Sweden, St. Bridget died in Rome around the age of 70. She was canonized 18 years later in 1391. One of her daughters, St. Catherine of Sweden, was herself declared a saint several decades later. Her memory is celebrated on this day.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The afflictions of Christ

Earlier this morning, members of a group of devout Christians died on the return trip from a pilgrimage. Others of that group were injured.

It seems a classic case of a very bad thing suffered by good people doing a good thing.

Amazingly, today’s second reading (Colossians 1:24-28) is a classic statement about Christian suffering:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,
and in my flesh I am filling up
what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ
on behalf of his body, which is the church...

Earlier in this chapter (v. 20), St. Paul had spoken of Christ "making peace through the blood of his cross… whether those on earth or those in heaven."

Suffering is an inescapable part of this world, but the suffering of Christ on the cross has an infinitely redemptive power: not just in opening the gates of heaven, but also in giving us an opportunity to be united with that redemptive power in a special way by being mysteriously united with him in our own sufferings.

And so, as we hear of the deaths and sufferings of good people and as we try to deal with the sufferings that we ourselves may happen to have, we do well to pray constantly, putting all this suffering into the hands of God, so that by his ineffable grace, we may come to experience in the midst of this suffering the power of his love, manifested so perfectly in the sufferings of his Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Accident claims Catholic pilgrims

At least 26 Roman Catholic pilgrims were killed earlier today near Grenoble, France, on their way back to Poland from a pilgrimage to the shrine at Notre-dame-de-la-Salette. Requiescant in pace. May God's love bring peace and comfort to the victims and their families.

Report on BBC

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Quickly and quietly

In the United States, campaigns are fully underway for next year’s Presidential election. Well over a dozen candidates are crisscrossing the country and saturating the airwaves with numerous events and even more numerous sound bites and taking points: several months before even the first vote is cast.

Many of these candidates are doing good things (e.g., visiting troops in warzones, talking about poverty) but they are many times accused (and not always without reason) of doing these good things for self-serving purposes.

Although you and I may not be politicians, we too may often have self-serving approaches to doing good things.

For example, we may do altruistic things only when it fits into our schedules and everything falls into place.

In today’s first reading (Exodus 12:37-42), the people of Israel respond immediately to the Lord’s call to action: not even waiting for their food to be ready.

Also, like the politicians, we may be overly interested in getting favorable attention for the good we do.

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 12:14-21), our Lord asks the people he helps to not speak of the good that he does.

May we always do what is good
according to the will and plan of God
and for his glory.

The Preacher

Lawrence was a famous preacher, with a deep knowledge of Scripture in its original languages, who performed miracles and was often (as popularly described today) "slain in the Spirit."

He was so well respected that he was invited to speak at churches and great events even before he was ordained a priest. He converted many.

Not just a "talker," he was a capable administrator and would serve in the highest offices of his Capuchin order. He was also skilled in diplomacy and geopolitics.

Perhaps the most cinematic moment of his career was when he personally led an army against a host of invaders, riding in his Capuchin habit on horseback and armed with only a crucifix.

He was also a deep contemplative, falling regularly into ecstasy during the celebration of Mass.

When he was old and sick, he was begged to leave his monastery in his native Italy for an important diplomatic mission. He performed the mission, but was too sick to return. St. Lawrence of Brindisi died in Lisbon July 22, 1619 and his memory is celebated on this day.

(from an earlier post)

Friday, July 20, 2007


On weekdays of Ordinary Time, the readings are not chosen to coordinate with each other, but follow their own path through Scripture, day by day. Sometimes it is easy to see a thematic connection between the two, sometimes it is not, and sometimes the readings even seem to be in tension with each other.

In today’s first reading (Exodus 11:10-12:14), we have the institution of that most sacred of rituals, the Passover supper:

This day shall be a memorial feast for you,
which all your generations shall celebrate
with pilgrimage to the LORD, as a perpetual institution.

But in the Gospel (Matthew 12:1-8), our Lord countermands an accepted rule for the Sabbath, the most sacred day of the week: appealing to reason, precedent, and his own authority.

Of course, disagreements about rules for worship and devotion continue within all parts of the Judeo-Christian tradition to this day (and they will continue until the Day of the Lord), but the underlying themes and apparent tension of today’s readings should give all of us occasion to reflect.

In such disagreements, too many of us (liberals and conservatives) are too much like the Pharisees in today’s Gospel: thinking of criticism before charity and focusing vehemently on our favorite Authoritative Phrases (Papal, Curial, Conciliar, Scriptural, etc.) to the exclusion of all else.

No matter who we are or what “camp” we may belong to, whether it be a matter of theology or liturgy or action, wherever there is conflict within the Church, we would do well always to hold firmly to these three pillars: charity, fidelity, and right order.

May the Lord Jesus Christ always give his Church an abundance of charity, faithfulness, and discernment so that we may follow him in truth and grace.

The bishop was not popular

Several times he was physically attacked, coming close to death more than once, and thrown out of town.

This went on for nearly 25 years, but the bishop always came back.

So they killed him.

Just as they had killed his old friend, the bishop who had sent him to that city.

Just as they had killed the one who had personally sent his old friend: the Lord Jesus Christ.

The memory of St. Apollinaris - martyr, bishop of Ravenna, and friend of St. Peter the Apostle - is celebrated on this day.

(from an earlier post)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A glimpse into forever

In today’s first reading (Exodus 3:13-20), we hear the familiar account of Moses, the burning bush, and the most wondrous name of God.

(Moses said) “...if they ask me, ‘What is his name?’
what am I to tell them?”

God replied,
“I am who am.”

Then he added,
“This is what you shall tell the children of Israel:
I AM sent me to you.”

God spoke further to Moses,
“Thus shall you say to the children of Israel:
the God of your fathers,
the God of Abraham,
the God of Isaac,
the God of Jacob,
has sent me to you.

“This is my name forever;
this my title for all generations.”

Volumes have been written about the meaning of what is described in these few, short verses, yet not even all the libraries and document servers in the world could exhaust the reality that underlies what God says here.

What God reveals here is not just his name, as if it were just a label that might be somewhat descriptive but is really just externally applied to something, even though he gives this as his name and it has been rightfully (if not always perfectly) venerated as such for millennia. (This name is represented most accurately with English letters as YHWH, although it has been represented by some as 'Jehovah'. So sacred was this name held, that no one reading Scripture would pronounce it, saying “The Lord” instead.)

In fact, what God reveals in this name is the key to understanding who God is: I am who am - a unique, existential statement of inconceivable reality.

God IS. God exists without dependence on any thing or cause.

God IS. Past, present, and future exist simultaneously to God in the eternal Now.

God IS. God exists without any limit of any sort: perfect, infinite, omnipotent.

As I said, volumes have been written about this: men and women have written about it incessantly over the ages, trying to grasp the meaning of these few words with the best intellectual tools of the time. I personally could not even scratch the surface of this reality.

I personally imagine Moses - already astounded beyond words by the miracle of the burning bush, the wonder of God’s own voice, and the glory of the Lord shining upon him - and then...! and then... when God spoke his name... he had a glimpse into the infinity and eternity of God himself.

The reality of God is the ultimate WOW!

But what God says here is not just a matter for endless ontological reflection. God also reveals that he - the God of eternity and infinity itself - is the same one who has involved himself in a special way in the lives of a particular family and their particular history and who is committed to the salvation of his people.

This reality becomes even more profound, universal, and intimate by the Incarnation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is famously exemplified by the strange reaction of the crowd on the night our Lord was handed over (John 18:4-6).

Jesus, knowing everything that was going to happen to him, went out and said to them,
"Whom are you looking for?"

They answered him, "Jesus the Nazorean."

He said to them,
"I AM."

Judas his betrayer was also with them.

When he said to them, "I AM,"
they turned away and fell to the ground.

They had been struck between the eyes with that same glimpse of infinity, but lacking faith and grace, they do not understand and they continue on their evil path.

May God give us the grace to have faith and to understand, so that we may turn from our evil paths and turn more and more to the infinite reality and eternal glory that is God in himself: the one who has loved us since before time began, who has loved us throughout history, who loves us at each and every moment of our day, and who loves us forever and beyond.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Listen up

For many of us, shepherds are simply but colorfully dressed characters out of a Nativity scene or a documentary about rural life in the Third World.

I myself remember meeting one real shepherd in my life: an illiterate, unshaven man with bad teeth who always wanted to borrow some beer as he came by with his smelly herd of dirty sheep.

Indeed, shepherds historically have not been well thought of by the rest of their contemporaries. Generally, they have been considered among the lowest ranks of society.

It is to one of these that God appears in today’s first reading (Exodus 3:1-6, 9-12).

Moses may have been raised in a palace at one of the greatest centers of technology and civilization in the world, but now he could only get a job working for his father-in-law as a shepherd in the middle of nowhere.

And it is to this man, this reject, that God chooses to speak.

Nor was this an isolated instance of God “slumming” as we hear our Lord himself say in today’s Gospel (Matthew 11:25-27):

I give praise to you, Father,
Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to the childlike.

Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.

All things have been handed over to me by my Father.

No one knows the Son except the Father,
and no one knows the Father except the Son
and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.

Why is God heard by the humble and the childlike more than by the wise and the learned?

One reason is simply because the humble and the childlike listen.

The wise and the learned, on the other hand, often listen very poorly. Their minds (as individuals and as cliques) are too full of the self-congratulatory echoes of their own knowledge and erudition. They forget the limits of their finite minds and forget that reality extends infinitely beyond what they know (no matter how much that may be).

That is not to say that human knowledge is useless, quite the contrary, but none of us – illiterate shepherd or super-educated geek – dare ever think ourselves too busy or too wise to keep our ears, minds, and hearts open to the wisdom of God.

Catholic Carnival

This week's Catholic Carnival - a collection of posts from various Catholic blogs - is online at Book Reviews and More.

Soldier, gambler, vagrant

It was a nasty slide downward.

He had picked up the gambling habit when he was in the service. After his unit disbanded and he exited the service, gambling caused him to lose everything he had.

He tried different things, but nothing worked. When war broke out again, he went back into the military and served until the war was over.

After the war, he was out on the street again. He was hanging out with some other homeless men when a rich man came by and offered him a job, working on construction for a new monastery the man was building for the local Capuchins.

The ex-soldier accepted the offer and, after one last struggle with his temptations, took the job.

He worked diligently and came close to becoming a Capuchin himself. A chronic physical ailment, however, came back in force and so instead of a Capuchin friary, he found himself in a big city hospital.

While he was at the hospital, he did what he could to help out, no matter how menial the task. In time, this six-foot-six former soldier would become a nurse.

Eventually, he would become a priest and founder of a religious order devoted to the sick: the Order of St. Camillus, which continues to this day.

Camillus de Lellis died at the age of 64 on July 14, 1614 and was canonized in 1746. His memory is celebrated in the United States on this day.

(from an earlier post)

Bishop returns to Pittsburgh

The Holy Father has named as Bishop of Pittsburgh, the Most Reverend David A. Zubik, up to now Bishop of Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Bishop Zubik was born in Sewickley, Pennsylvania in 1949. In 1967, he entered Pittsburgh's Saint Paul Seminary where he obtained a B.A. in 1971. He then pursued theological studies at Saint Mary Seminary in Baltimore, Maryland, obtaining a Master of Divinity in 1975. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Pittsburgh May 3, 1975. He served as Assistant Pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Pittsburgh from 1975 until 1980. From 1980 to 1987 he served as Vice-Principal of Quigley High School and Chaplain to the Motherhouse of the Sisters of Joseph in Baden. During this time he studied at Duquesne University, earning an M.S. in Education in 1982. He also served as a spiritual director at St. Paul Seminary from 1984 to 1991 and Administrative Secretary to the Bishop of Pittsburgh from 1987 to 1991. He went on to serve in several other diocesan positions, including Chancellor and Vicar General.

He was named auxiliary bishop of Pittsburgh in 1997 and bishop of Green Bay in 2003.

At the U.S. Bishops' Conference, Bishop Zubik is a member of the Administrative Committee, the Audit Subcommittee and the National Advisory Council and is president of the Committee on the Laity.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

So what happens now?

Recta Ratio has a very interesting reflection on what may lie ahead for those who have frequented "indult" Masses if the local Ordinary believes that the liberation of the Mass' older form removes the need for a special "indult" celebration of it.


"For years now, we have been, in fact, spoiled. I know: driving 2 hours every Sunday to get to a traditional Mass doesn't feel like we have been spoiled, does it? But we have. We have been nourished with the Latin Mass as it ought to have been said. Frequent High Masses, with talented scholae, said by priests dedicated to the Latin Mass, usually in parish churches that still retain all the architectural and devotional aspects required.

"If every Mass from 1900 to 1965 had been said in the manner we experience it now, there would never have been a Missal of Paul VI. For every Father Finigan, Father Rutler, Father Demets, Father Wilson, Father Cipolla, Father Higgins we are blessed with, there are a dozen or more priests who, if they ever said the traditional Mass, hated it, and rushed through it like Evelyn Wood students, and never preached, and never said High Mass.

"We need to be like yeast. We have to take this leaven of the experience of the Mass that we have enjoyed, and bring it back to the territorial parish."

The kindness of strangers

At the end of the famous play 'A Streetcar Named Desire', a troubled woman speaks gently to a man she does not know: “Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” The man then leads her away to an insane asylum.

In today’s first reading (Exodus 2:1-15a), a woman is forced by circumstances to entrust her infant son to the dangers of a river and the kindness of strangers. Most unexpectedly, the child is safely found and kindly adopted by a stranger – who happens to be the daughter of Pharaoh himself – and the child would grow to be God’s chosen instrument of law and liberation.

The world is full of strangers. This is a fact of life for us as individuals, as nations, and as a Church.

From childhood we have been told to beware of strangers: a lesson continually reinforced by prudence and experience. Yet prudence and experience also teach that dependence on strangers is often inevitable and can even be beneficial in the right circumstances (with the help of God, as in today’s reading).

In recent days we have been reminded of the reality of other Christians’ estrangement from us and also of the unique blessings that are ours within the Church.

Yet, as we keep these realities firmly in mind, we must also keep in mind that elements of sanctification and truth may also exist outside the visible confines of Christ’s Church (although never apart from Christ – the one mediator between God and man – and thus always connected in some way – however mysterious – to the Church as Christ’s body).

Indeed, on a practical level, recognizing these elements in theological “strangers” can sometimes help us to renew our appreciation for those same elements as they exist in spiritual fullness within Christ’s Church.

The kindness of strangers may be unreliable and sometimes even dangerous, but the grace of God is forever trustworthy and can even use things that are strange to deepen us in the truth that we have received from Christ.

In a world of strangers and friends, may the grace of God help us always to be diligent in discernment and faithful to the truth.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The big issues

It is very easy to relate today’s readings to some of the "big" issues of our time.

It is very easy to connect Pharaoh’s genocidal infanticide in today’s first reading (Exodus 1:8-14, 22) with the modern plagues of abortion and the subtly genocidal motivations associated with Planned Parenthood.

It is very easy to relate the prophecy of familial conflict in today’s Gospel (Matthew 10:34-11:1) with an intergenerational gap on moral issues in our own day.

To be sure, we must be attentive to these issues, especially as citizens of society and members of families.

But there are other big issues in today’s Gospel that we dare not overlook just because they seem less dramatically relevant to today’s headlines: issues that are very personal and perennial for anyone wishing to live the life of Christ.

The first is more dramatic and critical than any news headline or trendy “cause”: radical self-sacrifice in daily life for the sake of Christ.

Whoever does not take up his cross
and follow after me is not worthy of me.
Whoever finds his life

will lose it,
and whoever loses his life for my sake

will find it.

The second is not so dramatic and yet very critical: to manifest God’s love and our support for evangelization continually, even in small ways:

Whoever receives you
receives me,
and whoever receives me
receives the one who sent me.
Whoever receives a prophet
because he is a prophet
will receive a prophet’s reward,
and whoever receives a righteous man
because he is righteous
will receive a righteous man’s reward.
And whoever gives only a cup of cold water
to one of these little ones to drink
because he is a disciple–
amen, I say to you,
he will surely not lose his reward.

May we always keep these issues alive in our minds, in our words, and in our deeds.

Mount Carmel

In the Holy Land, high above the waters of the Mediterranean rises Mount Carmel, a special place of spirituality and contemplation since the time of the prophet Elijah. This tradition flowered powerfully in the 12th century A.D. A small band of hermits developed into a thriving group of monasteries. The Carmelites eventually established monasteries throughout Europe and eventually around the world.

Living out the Gospel in both active and contemplative ways, the Carmelites hold as their exemplars both the prophet Elijah and the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of our Lord Jesus – remembering her under the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, celebrated on this very day: the Feast day for all Carmelites.

The Carmelites today are a diverse collection of communities of friars and women religious (including cloistered contemplatives). One of these communities, the Carmelite Hermits of Christoval, Texas, eloquently expresses the Carmelite way:

* * * * * * * * * *

"The Hermits of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel are a community of men called to a life of silence, solitude, prayer, and penance for the good of the Church and the salvation of the world. The hermits live in a Laura, a colony of Hermits living in separate dwellings around a central chapel, following the original Carmelite rule.

"The vocation of the Carmelite Hermit is the contemplative vocation. And the foundations of his life are the Eucharist, The word, and devotion to Our Blessed Lady under the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel .

"For the hermits the cell is the place of encounter. The Carmelite Rule states "Let each one remain in his cell, or near it, meditating day and night on the law of the Lord and keeping vigil in prayer, unless occupied with other lawful duties." The cell is also the place where the hermit sleeps and takes his meals alone, except on Sundays and special days where the hermits eat in a common refectory. The cell is composed of a study, chapel, bedroom, bathroom, and porch. Each cell is separated from the next by an enclosed garden.

"Centering their lives on the Word, through Lectio and the Eucharist the main activity of the hermits is prayer. Because of our lifestyle we are not engaged in any active ministry.

"The hermit's first priority is that of prayer and penance. Because we see God as the Absolute of our lives, we give Him our full attention, Praising Him and bringing all people to Him through prayer."

from the website of
the Carmelite Hermits of Christoval, Texas

(adapted from earlier posts)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Knowing the right thing to do

In today’s Gospel (Luke 10:25-37), a scholar of the Mosaic Law plays a little game of pop quiz volleyball with our Lord: the scholar asks a question, our Lord knocks it back to him, and so forth.

The scholar was very familiar with all of the intricacies of the Mosaic Law as well as all the writings of Scripture and the accumulated wisdom of the centuries. All of this could be quite overwhelming and even confusing, but our Lord helps the scholar not just to come quickly to the key truths but also to put it into practice in his life.

Likewise in our own lives, we can be overwhelmed not only by the voluminous wisdom of the Judeo-Christian tradition but even more so by the smorgasbord of opinions in today’s world, not to mention the totalitarianism of political correctness.

Today’s readings give us a path to follow amid the turbulence of this world. First (as the second reading tells us – Colossians 1:15-20) that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the beginning and the center and the purpose of this world, as complex as it may appear.

He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation.
For in him were created
all things in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions
or principalities or powers;
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 firstborn from the dead,
that in all things
he himself might be preeminent.
For in him
all the fullness was pleased to dwell,
and through him to reconcile all things for him,
making peace by the blood of his cross through him,
whether those on earth or those in heaven.

Second, that we should follow the example implied in today’s first reading (Deuteronomy 30:10-14) and made explicit by the scholar in today’s Gospel, with the help of that same Lord: to learn well what God has taught and simply do it.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Across the generations

Many people today lament the breakdown of the family and rightly blame it as a cause of a wider breakdown of communities and societies.

Often such people speak only of the so-called “nuclear family” - the basic unit of a mother, father, and children – and that indeed is critical.

I humbly submit, however, that the “breakdown” of family structures did not begin with the splitting of the “nuclear family” but rather with a diminished sense of mutual care and responsibility extending between members of multiple generations, thus starting to unravel the traditional interconnectedness of families and in turn to dilute the glue of society.

(I say this with great humility and regret, for I myself have been very, very far from perfect in this regard.)

In today’s first reading (from the last two chapters of Genesis), Joseph lives to see his children’s children. In fact, they are “born on Joseph’s knees” – symbolizing the close connection of the generations.

To be sure, in marriage a man “leaves his father and mother” yet neither husband nor wife lose their obligation to honor their fathers and mothers nor do fathers and mothers lose their obligation to love their married children.

Also, as it was in the time of Joseph, economic necessity sometime requires relocation and thus often geographical estrangement, but that fundamental sense of intergenerational connectedness, love, and responsibility must continue to be cultivated: the younger generations for the older generations and the older generations to the younger generations.

By strengthening these bonds across the generations, with the blessings of God we help strengthen support for the “nuclear family” and strengthen the glue of the society in which we live.

Teenage girl with a ravaged face

Pockmarks scarred her face and her eyesight was bad. Her family tried to hook her up with one young man after another, but to no avail.

It was not simply a matter of her "unattractive" face and poor vision: she herself had something else in mind for her life. Her heart was set on a very special man to whom she had been introduced when she was a little girl: Jesus Christ.

When she turned 18, she was baptized and dedicated herself to a life of holiness. She met with great opposition and eventually had to be taken away from her hometown for her own safety.

She came to live in a Christian house and many came to be impressed by her spiritual beauty.

She would die at the age of 24 and would be instantly revered by all who knew of her.

Three hundred years later, on June 22, 1980, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to be proposed for sainthood, was beatified by the great Pope John Paul II. Her memory is celebrated on this day.

(from an earlier post)

Friday, July 13, 2007

Stress interviews

Hiring managers and HR professionals at different times and in different places have used a technique known as a “stress interview” – ostensibly intended to weed out prospective employees who might be ill-suited to the stresses of the particular workplace. The technique often fails to produce desirable results: usually because the contrived stress of the interview does not match the actual stresses of the job (and sometimes because the interviewers end up using the interview to take out their own emotional problems on the interviewees).

Ironically, the interviewees themselves often bring enough stress of their own to the interview. It is the same also with oral examinations or thesis defenses in school: interpersonal encounters made stressful by our own insecurities and even more stressful by the challenging perspective of those on the other side of the table.

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 10:16-23), our Lord warns us about some particularly nasty stress interviews:

Behold, I am sending you like sheep
in the midst of wolves...
But beware of men,
for they will hand you over to courts
and scourge you in their synagogues,
and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake
as a witness before them and the pagans....
Brother will hand over brother to death,
and the father his child;
children will rise up against parents
and have them put to death.
You will be hated by all because of my name,

There are some places in this world where some of this still happens literally to faithful Christians, in places such as Saudi Arabia, China, and (amazingly) even Europe.

Yet even in places where freedom of religion is not a dead letter, many of us sometimes feel stressed at the very idea of talking with other people about our faith: sometimes because of our own insecurities and sometimes because of potential attacks by others.

No matter what stresses await us or besiege us, however, we have these comforting words from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ:

When they hand you over,
do not worry about how you are to speak
or what you are to say.
You will be given at that moment what you are to say.
For it will not be you who speak
but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
....whoever endures to the end will be saved.


May we not be afraid or stressed.

May we speak the truth in charity
and share our faith in word and deed
by the grace of Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus.

Come, Holy Spirit,
fill the hearts of Thy faithful
and enkindle in them the fire of Thy love.

V. Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created
R. And Thou shalt renew the face of the earth.

Let us pray:
O God,
Who didst instruct the hearts of the faithful
by the light of the Holy Spirit,
grant us in the same Spirit to be truly wise,
and ever rejoice in His consolation.
Through Christ our Lord.

Veni, Sancte Spiritus
reple tuorum corda fidelium,
et tui amoris in eis accende.

V. Emitte Spiritum tuum et creabuntur.
R. Et renovabis faciem terrae.


qui corda fidelium
Sancti Spiritus illustratione docuisti.
Da nobis in eodem Spiritu recta sapere,
et de eius semper consolatione gaudere.
Per Christum Dominum nostrum.

I'm Henry the...

When he was a young man, Henry was headed for the priesthood, but everyone eventually decided that his destiny lay elsewhere.

He subsequently found himself in a leadership position in the public sector. He did a reasonably good job, although he sometimes clashed with others (he worked in a very poisonous environment).

In his work, he generally tried to uphold the common good, with mixed success. In his personal life, he and his wife were very pious and were generous to the poor.

Henry died in his early fifties on this very day in 1024: the second Holy Roman Emperor of that name (hence, Henry the second). St. Henry was canonized in 1146.

(from an earlier post)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

You don’t know me, but...

Some decades ago, a popular song began with these words:

You don’t know me, but I’m your brother...

The voice and the lyrics sounded like a young black man raised in the inner city. In truth, they belonged to a blue-eyed white guy from Missouri, yet that famous first line remains accurate: this person - white or black, rich or poor - is our brother.

That first line echoes the key statement from today’s famous first reading (Genesis 44:18-21, 23b-29; 45:1-5) as Pharaoh’s inscrutable and powerful lieutenant reveals himself to beggars from Canaan:

I am your brother Joseph.

Today’s reading is an occasion for us to remember that, as created and loved by God, every man is our brother and every woman is our sister. We do not always know it and we certainly do not always act like it, but it remains true nonetheless.

It is also true that not all men and women treat us as their sisters or brothers. In those specific cases, our Lord’s advice in today’s Gospel (Matthew 10:7-15) - to shake their dust from our feet - must be kept in mind, even as we remember in our prayers that they remain our brothers and sisters.

May we live as brothers and sisters in the truth and love of God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

O'Brien to Baltimore

The Holy Father has accepted the retirement of William Henry Cardinal Keeler as Archbishop of Baltimore.

The Holy Father has named as the new Archbishop of Baltimore Archbishop Edwin Frederick O’Brien, who has been up to now Archbishop for the Military Services of the United States.

Archbishop O’Brien was born in 1939 in the Bronx, New York. He attended Catholic schools and studied philosophy and theology at Archdiocesan seminary St. Joseph at Dunwoodie in Yonkers.

He was ordained a priest by Francis Cardinal Spellman on May 29, 1965 for the Archdiocese of New York. After ordination, he worked as Assistant Pastor at Most Holy Trinity Parish and civilian chaplain at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point (1965-1970).

He then served as military chaplain with the rank of Captain in the United States Army, serving both in Vietnam and stateside (1970-1973).

He was then sent to the Casa Santa Maria of the Pontifical North American College in Rome (1973-1976) where he earned a doctorate in Moral Theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (the Angelicum). The title of his thesis was “The Origin and Development of Moral Principles in the Theology of Paul Ramsey”. Returning to the United States, he was assigned as Assistant Pastor of Saint Patrick's Cathedral and Vice-Chancellor of the Archdiocese of New York (1976-1981).

In 1981 he was named Archdiocesan Director of Social Communications and in 1983 Personal Secretary to the Cardinal Archbishop of New York. At the same time he served as Chaplain for the Catholic doctors of the Archdiocese. He was named Rector of his alma mater, the Major Seminary at Dunwoodie in 1985 and then Rector of the Pontifical North American College in Rome in 1990. He returned to serve again as Rector at Dunwoodie from 1994 to 1997.

He was named Auxiliary Bishop of New York February 6, 1996 and ordained March 25. He was named Military Ordinary (Archbishop for the Military Services of the United States April 8, 1997. From 2005 to 2006 he was coordinator of the Apostolic Visitation of seminaries and houses of formation in the United States. He is a member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars and of the Canon Law Society of America.

In the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop O’Brien has served in the following positions: Consultor on the International Policy Committee, President of the Committee for the Pontifical North American College in Rome, Member of the Committee for Priestly Formation and Member of the Committee for Pro-Life Activities.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


In today’s Gospel (Matthew 10:1-7) we hear described the formal calling and naming of the Twelve Apostles by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The parallel passage in Luke 6:12ff emphasizes the special nature of this choice even more formally and powerfully:

In those days
(Jesus) departed to the mountain to pray,
and he spent the night in prayer to God.
When day came,
he called his disciples to himself,
and from them he chose Twelve,
whom he also named apostles....

Although the passage from Matthew comes in the course of the normal rotation of Gospel readings in Ordinary Time, its timing today has special resonance, on account of the document issued yesterday by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in which the concept of Apostolic Succession figures prominently: particularly in distinguishing Catholic and Orthodox Churches from other ecclesial communities.

Very simply put, Apostolic Succession means that the Catholic and Orthodox Churches are ecclesial communities that have real, historical continuity with those twelve men chosen so specially by Christ.

The historical origins of other ecclesial communities are quite different: almost exclusively beginning with a dynamic individual or group of like-minded people who lived more than a millennium and a half after the death of the last Apostle and who decided to start their own church. Of course, that is not to disparage the faith of the individual believers in those communities or to say that the grace of the Lord is not at work in their midst. Indeed, many in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches sometimes can learn much from the faith and example of many Christians who are called Protestant.

However, real historic continuity is more than just trivia for a Christian community, for Christianity consists of more than just a book or immaterial promptings or good ideas.

As the Body of Christ, the Church is a continuation of the incarnational action of God and that gives special meaning and power to the real, historic continuity enjoyed by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches are ecclesial communities over which the Successors of the Apostles have presided since the Apostles themselves passed on to them the responsibility that they in turn had received from the hand and mouth of Christ.

What we believe, what we celebrate, and what we do as Christians is more than just what comes out of our head or out of a book or out of the sky: it comes from Christ, who walked on this earth in a particular place and time and who in that place and time sent forth twelve particular men, beginning an unbroken chain of “being sent” to which we are blessed to belong.

Credo in... unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam ecclesiam.

Party house on campus

This was not the higher education that the young man from a small town had expected.

Nobody really cared about studies. All they cared about was partying (and there were more than a few togas).

So the young man left school and went to spend a little quiet time in the country.

He ended up spending a long time there and he became very close to God.

His holiness became so well known that when the abbot of a nearby monastery died, the monks begged him to become their new abbot.

It was not a happy house: some of the monks sometimes acted like animals and they ended up trying to kill him. The young man was saved only by a miracle.

He knew there had to be a better way to run a monastery, so he gathered some likeminded men around him and wrote a rule for monastic living.

It turned out to be a tremendous success. Many, many more monasteries would be established, following that same rule. These monasteries would not only become spiritual havens for the monks, but when the civilization of the outside world came crashing down, these monasteries preserved the light of knowledge and education as well as the Gospel of Christ.

The memory of St. Benedict, founder of Western Monasticism and Father of Europe, is celebrated on this day.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Catholic Carnival

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

Wrestling with angels

In this corner... weighing... absolutely zero pounds... The Angel!!

In the other corner... weighing... not-as-much-as-that-lying-scale-says... us!

Both of today’s readings involve struggles with angelic beings. In the first reading (Genesis 32:23-32), Jacob – thereafter named Israel - wrestles with a messenger of God. In the Gospel (Matthew 9:32-38), our Lord drives out a fallen angel who had possessed a mute man.

Wrestling with angels – good or bad – does not always end happily in Scripture. A classic instance of this is in the book of Acts (19:13-16), when people who do not believe in the Lord Jesus try to use his name against a demon.

Some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to pronounce the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, "I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches." (Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this.)

But the evil spirit answered them, "Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?"

And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, mastered all of them, and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

There are many today, even some within the Church, who dismiss the very idea of angels as a vestige of superstition (foolishly, since the existence of superhuman incorporeal beings is a key element of revelation, of most non-Christian cosmologies, and even contemporary science fiction).

Yet even if one has problems with their own childish concept of angels as luminous feathery things, there is no denying the fundamental concept that angels represent and that underlies these readings: there are forces in this universe that are greater than we are - forces that we can only master by the grace and favor of God.

Jacob/Israel, after whom the People of God would be named, prevailed by God’s favor.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the source of all grace, has the mastery by that same grace.

May we remember that grace and remain faithful to it, no matter what forces or challenges we may encounter in our lives.

Vatican Document on Church


"The Second Vatican Council, with its Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, and its Decrees on Ecumenism (Unitatis redintegratio) and the Oriental Churches (Orientalium Ecclesiarum), has contributed in a decisive way to the renewal of Catholic ecclesiolgy. The Supreme Pontiffs have also contributed to this renewal by offering their own insights and orientations for praxis: Paul VI in his Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam suam (1964) and John Paul II in his Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint (1995).

"The consequent duty of theologians to expound with greater clarity the diverse aspects of ecclesiology has resulted in a flowering of writing in this field. In fact it has become evident that this theme is a most fruitful one which, however, has also at times required clarification by way of precise definition and correction, for instance in the declaration Mysterium Ecclesiae (1973), the Letter addressed to the Bishops of the Catholic Church Communionis notio (1992), and the declaration Dominus Iesus (2000), all published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

"The vastness of the subject matter and the novelty of many of the themes involved continue to provoke theological reflection. Among the many new contributions to the field, some are not immune from erroneous interpretation which in turn give rise to confusion and doubt. A number of these interpretations have been referred to the attention of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Given the universality of Catholic doctrine on the Church, the Congregation wishes to respond to these questions by clarifying the authentic meaning of some ecclesiological expressions used by the magisterium which are open to misunderstanding in the theological debate.


"First Question: Did the Second Vatican Council change the Catholic doctrine on the Church?

"Response: The Second Vatican Council neither changed nor intended to change this doctrine, rather it developed, deepened and more fully explained it.

"This was exactly what John XXIII said at the beginning of the Council (1). Paul VI affirmed it (2) and commented in the act of promulgating the Constitution Lumen gentium: 'There is no better comment to make than to say that this promulgation really changes nothing of the traditional doctrine. What Christ willed, we also will. What was, still is. What the Church has taught down through the centuries, we also teach. In simple terms that which was assumed, is now explicit; that which was uncertain, is now clarified; that which was meditated upon, discussed and sometimes argued over, is now put together in one clear formulation' (3). The Bishops repeatedly expressed and fulfilled this intention (4).

"Second Question: What is the meaning of the affirmation that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church?

"Response: Christ 'established here on earth' only one Church and instituted it as a 'visible and spiritual community' (5), that from its beginning and throughout the centuries has always existed and will always exist, and in which alone are found all the elements that Christ himself instituted. (6) 'This one Church of Christ, which we confess in the Creed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic […]. This Church, constituted and organised in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him' (7).

"In number 8 of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium ‘subsistence’ means this perduring, historical continuity and the permanence of all the elements instituted by Christ in the Catholic Church (8), in which the Church of Christ is concretely found on this earth.

"It is possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them. (9) Nevertheless, the word 'subsists' can only be attributed to the Catholic Church alone precisely because it refers to the mark of unity that we profess in the symbols of the faith (I believe... in the 'one' Church); and this 'one' Church subsists in the Catholic Church. (10)

"Third Question: Why was the expression 'subsists in' adopted instead of the simple word 'is'?

"Response: The use of this expression, which indicates the full identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church, does not change the doctrine on the Church. Rather, it comes from and brings out more clearly the fact that there are 'numerous elements of sanctification and of truth' which are found outside her structure, but which 'as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, impel towards Catholic Unity' (11).

"'It follows that these separated churches and Communities, though we believe they suffer from defects, are deprived neither of significance nor importance in the mystery of salvation. In fact the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation, whose value derives from that fullness of grace and of truth which has been entrusted to the Catholic Church' (12).

" Fourth Question: Why does the Second Vatican Council use the term 'Church' in reference to the oriental Churches separated from full communion with the Catholic Church?

"Response: The Council wanted to adopt the traditional use of the term. 'Because these Churches, although separated, have true sacraments and above all – because of the apostolic succession – the priesthood and the Eucharist, by means of which they remain linked to us by very close bonds' (13), they merit the title of 'particular or local Churches' (14), and are called sister Churches of the particular Catholic Churches (15).

"It is through the celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord in each of these Churches that the Church of God is built up and grows in stature"16. However, since communion with the Catholic Church, the visible head of which is the Bishop of Rome and the Successor of Peter, is not some external complement to a particular Church but rather one of its internal constitutive principles, these venerable Christian communities lack something in their condition as particular churches (17).

"On the other hand, because of the division between Christians, the fullness of universality, which is proper to the Church governed by the Successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him, is not fully realised in history (18).

"Fifth Question: Why do the texts of the Council and those of the Magisterium since the Council not use the title of 'Church' with regard to those Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century?

"Response: According to Catholic doctrine, these Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery (19) cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called 'Churches' in the proper sense (20).

"The Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, ratified and confirmed these Responses, adopted in the Plenary Session of the Congregation, and ordered their publication.

"(Given at) Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, June 29, 2007, the Solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul."

William Cardinal Levada

+ Angelo Amato, S.D.B.
Titular Archbishop of Sila


1 JOHN XXIII, Address of 11 October 1962: "…The Council…wishes to transmit Catholic doctrine, whole and entire, without alteration or deviation…But in the circumstances of our times it is necessary that Christian doctrine in its entirety, and with nothing taken away from it, is accepted with renewed enthusiasm, and serene and tranquil adherence… it is necessary that the very same doctrine be understood more widely and more profoundly as all those who sincerely adhere to the Christian, Catholic and Apostolic faith strongly desire …it is necessary that this certain and immutable doctrine, to which is owed the obedience of faith, be explored and expounded in the manner required by our times. The deposit of faith itself and the truths contained in our venerable doctrine are one thing, but the manner in which they are annunciated is another, provided that the same fundamental sense and meaning is maintained" : AAS 54 [1962] 791-792.

2 Cf. PAUL VI, Address of 29 September 1963: AAS 55 [1963] 847-852.

3 PAUL VI, Address of 21 November 1964: AAS 56 [1964] 1009-1010.

4 The Council wished to express the identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church. This is clear from the discussions on the decree Unitatis redintegratio. The Schema of the Decree was proposed on the floor of the Council on 23.9.1964 with a Relatio (Act Syn III/II 296-344). The Secretariat for the Unity of Christians responded on 10.11.1964 to the suggestions sent by Bishops in the months that followed (Act Syn III/VII 11-49). Herewith are quoted four texts from this Expensio modorum concerning this first response.

A) [In Nr. 1 (Prooemium) Schema Decreti: Act Syn III/II 296, 3-6]

"Pag. 5, lin. 3-6: Videtur etiam Ecclesiam catholicam inter illas Communiones comprehendi, quod falsum esset.

R(espondetur): Hic tantum factum, prout ab omnibus conspicitur, describendum est. Postea clare affirmatur solam Ecclesiam catholicam esse veram Ecclesiam Christi" (Act Syn III/VII 12).

B) [In Caput I in genere: Act Syn III/II 297-301]

4 - Expressius dicatur unam solam esse veram Ecclesiam Christi; hanc esse Catholicam Apostolicam Romanam; omnes debere inquirere, ut eam cognoscant et ingrediantur ad salutem obtinendam...

R(espondetur): In toto textu sufficienter effertur, quod postulatur. Ex altera parte non est tacendum etiam in aliis communitatibus christianis inveniri veritates revelatas et elementa ecclesialia"(Act Syn III/VII 15). Cf. also ibid pt. 5.

C) [In Caput I in genere: Act Syn III/II 296s]

5 - Clarius dicendum esset veram Ecclesiam esse solam Ecclesiam catholicam romanam...

R(espondetur): Textus supponit doctrinam in constitutione ‘De Ecclesia’ expositam, ut pag. 5, lin. 24-25 affirmatur
" (Act Syn III/VII 15). Thus the commission whose task it was to evaluate the responses to the Decree Unitatis redintegratio clearly expressed the identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church and its unicity, and understood this doctrine to be founded in the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium.

D) [In Nr. 2 Schema Decreti: Act Syn III/II 297s]

"Pag. 6, lin. 1- 24: Clarius exprimatur unicitas Ecclesiae. Non sufficit inculcare, ut in textu fit, unitatem Ecclesiae.

R(espondetur): a) Ex toto textu clare apparet identificatio Ecclesiae Christi cum Ecclesia catholica, quamvis, ut oportet, efferantur elementa ecclesialia aliarum communitatum".

"Pag. 7, lin. 5: Ecclesia a successoribus Apostolorum cum Petri successore capite gubernata (cf. novum textum ad pag. 6, lin.33-34) explicite dicitur ‘unicus Dei grex’ et lin. 13 ‘una et unica Dei Ecclesia’ " (Act Syn III/VII).

The two expressions quoted are those of Unitatis redintegratio 2.5 e 3.1.

5 Cf. SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, 8.1.

6 Cf. SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 3.2; 3.4; 3.5; 4.6.

7 SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution, Lumen gentium, 8.2.

8 Cf. CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Declaration Mysterium Ecclesiae, 1.1: AAS 65 [1973] 397; Declaration Dominus Iesus, 16.3: AAS 92 [2000-II] 757-758; Notification on the Book of Leonardo Boff, OFM, "Church: Charism and Power": AAS 77 [1985] 758-759.

9 Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint, 11.3: AAS 87 [1995-II] 928.

10 Cf. SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, 8.2.

11 SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, 8.2.

12 SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 3.4.

13 SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 15.3; cf. CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Letter Communionis notio, 17.2: AAS, 85 [1993-II] 848.

14 SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 14.1.

15 Cf. SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 14.1; JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint, 56 f: AAS 87 [1995-II] 954 ff.

16 SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 15.1.

17 Cf. CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Letter Communionis notio, 17.3: AAS 85 [1993-II] 849.

18 Ibid.

19 Cf. SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Decree Unitatis redintegratio, 22.3.

20 Cf. CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Declaration Dominus Iesus, 17.2: AAS 92 [2000-II] 758.

[01035-02.01] [Original text: Latin]

Monday, July 09, 2007


For some of us, it is hard to get going on Monday mornings. There seem to be too many reasons why it would be better just to crawl back into bed and hide under the covers.

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 9:18-26) we have the example of two people who persevere in the face of oppositions, particularly from the opposition of other people. In both cases, their perseverance has miraculous results, by the grace of God.

There is the woman who fearfully approaches our Lord from behind, seeking a cure. She is full of fear yet full of faith and our Lord heals her.

Then there is our Lord himself, ridiculed to his face. He pays them no heed and perseveres in his task – and a little girl stirs to life.

We also have the example of the saints and the martyrs, especially those whom we celebrate today: men and women who persevered through nightmares and who now live gloriously in heaven.

Perseverance, of course, does not always yield instantaneous results (that is part of what makes it perseverance) but faithful perseverance is always honored by God and rewarded in his own time in ways beyond imagining.

By the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, may we always persevere in truth, charity, and faith.

Stairway to heaven

In today’s first reading (Gen. 28:10-22a), we have the familiar image formerly known as Jacob’s Ladder.

Then he had a dream:
a stairway rested on the ground,
with its top reaching to the heavens;
and God's messengers

were going up and down on it.

Whether Jacob dreamed of a ladder or a stairway, the basic idea is the same - a way to traverse between heaven and earth – and we as Christians know its true identity.

"Truly, truly, I say to you,
you will see heaven opened,
and the angels of God

ascending and descending
upon the Son of man."

John 1:51

The real stairway to heaven (sorry, Robert Plant) – indeed, the only one – is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Only through Christ, according to the mysterious and merciful ways of God, does God come for all and all come to God.

Not only do we as Christians know this, we as Christians – as members of Christ’s body the Church – are included in that stairway.

The problem is that you and I do not always function like stairways.

Some Christians – especially some conservatives – can sometimes function more like a wall: an obstacle, pointing straight at the sky, but an obstacle nonetheless, offering little or no assistance to those who wish to come closer to heaven.

Other Christians – especially some liberals – can sometimes function more like a floor: letting people go in every direction, but not helping them come closer to heaven.

We in Christ should function more like stairways: opening ourselves to be conduits of God’s truth, love, and grace for others and helping them rise ever closer to heaven.

(from an earlier post)

Priest dies in Chinese prison

Augustine Zhao Rong a former soldier later ordained Catholic priest, died of mistreatment in a prison, caught up in a crackdown by Chinese authorities... one hundred and ninety-two years ago.

Seven years ago, he became one of 120 victims of that crackdown to be canonized by the great Pope John Paul II (to the indignation of the current Chinese authorities).

The memorial of the Chinese Martyrs is celebrated today.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Holy Mother Church

To the media and the outside world, the Church is just an organization like any other organization (albeit with a religious focus and a very, very long history).

Sad to say, even some members of the Church think the same way.

Scripture, however, sees the Church as much, much more than that: it is the Body of Christ and also the Bride of Christ.

The Church is also in a sense the New Jerusalem and it is in this sense that we may see a special layer of meaning in today’s first reading (Isaiah 66:10-14c):

Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her,
all you who love her;
exult, exult with her,
all you who were mourning over her!
Oh, that you may suck fully
of the milk of her comfort,
that you may nurse with delight
at her abundant breasts!
For thus says the LORD:
Lo, I will spread prosperity over Jerusalem like a river,
and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing torrent.
As nurslings, you shall be carried in her arms,
and fondled in her lap;
as a mother comforts her child,
so will I comfort you;
in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort.

May we never look upon the Church as just another organization.

May we experience the Church as our Holy Mother: from which we receive the love of God and the abundant grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.