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...

Friday, August 31, 2007

Double entendre

A key expression at the center of today’s first reading (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8) is a bit ambiguous.

Modern translations, such as the well-regarded Revised Standard Version and also the lectionary used in the United States, exhort “that each one of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor”whereas older translations say “that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour.”

The most significant difference in the translation lies chiefly in whether the word translated as “vessel” is a metaphor for one’s body or for one’s wife.

An additional layer of complexity comes in verse 6, in which some translations (such as the lectionary) warn “not to take advantage of or exploit a brother or sister in this matter” (i.e., lustful conduct) while other translations (such as the classic Douay-Rheims) say that no man should “overreach nor circumvent his brother in business”.

All of this verbal ambiguity has a certain instructional utility:
for whether one is speaking of one’s body
or one’s wife
or even one’s customer, employee or competitor,
one is to conduct oneself with “holiness and honor
and to not treat oneself or others
as dehumanized objects
for one’s selfish pleasure or advantage.

Therefore, he that despiseth these things,
despiseth not man,
but God,
who also hath given his holy Spirit in us.

May we always treat ourselves and others with holiness and honor in accordance with the Holy Spirit of God.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Catholic Carnival

This week's Catholic Carnival - a collection of posts from various Catholic blogs - is online at The World IMHO.

Bishop accountability

The parable in the latter part of today’s Gospel (Matthew 24:42-59) focuses on “the faithful and prudent servant, whom the master has put in charge of his household.”

It is easy to see how this parable could apply to those who oversee the household of God: bishops most especially.

This parable thus may be seen as the ultimate form of “bishop accountability”. God himself will hold to account the one who abuses his responsibility:

The servant’s master will come on an unexpected day
and at an unknown hour and will punish him severely
and assign him a place with the hypocrites,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.

Bishops, of course, are the ones especially entrusted with overseeing the church and they will be held especially accountable by God.

Without taking anything away from the authority of the bishops or any of those who share in that authority, each one of us within the Church has responsibility at different levels that is to be manifested in different ways and yet always with the same goal: “to distribute to them their food at the proper time” – that the truth of Christ may be shared with all according to the plan of God.

You and I therefore will also be held to account by God for whatever stewardship he has entrusted to us.

Tragically, instead of keeping our focus on sharing the truth and love of Christ, we spend too much of our precious time abusing our fellow servants and “having a good time” with the decadent of this world.

May God give you and me the grace to be faithful and prudent in our God-given responsibilities. May he forgive our failures and help us heal what is broken, so that we may not find ourselves before God’s great judgment seat in fear but with gratitude and joy.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A minister’s dedication

In today’s first reading (1 Thessalonians 2:9-13), St. Paul says,

You recall, brothers, our toil and drudgery.
Working night and day
in order not to burden any of you,
we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.

Elsewhere (e.g., 1 Corinthians 9:4-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:9; Timothy 5:18), St. Paul reaffirms his right to compensation for his ministry, but he habitually and voluntarily declines such compensation “in order not to burden” those to whom he ministers.

In this, St. Paul gives an example of total and selfless dedication to the service of God’s flock.

Today, there are ministers who essentially work two jobs, as St. Paul did: the work of the Gospel and the work that keeps bread on one’s table and a roof over one’s head.

The challenge in such cases, however, is that sometimes the work of ministry gets the short end of the stick: the minister is only a part-time minister, while needing to work fulltime for the sake of necessities and familial obligations.

Herein lies the advantage of celibacy, as St. Paul himself indicates in 1 Corinthians 7: e.g. verse 32b - “The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord” (although St. Paul also writes of the value and sometime necessity of married life).

Yet even for the celibate or for any minister whose only job is the work of ministry, St. Paul’s example of total and selfless dedication to the service of God’s flock must still be followed: in this case, working twice as long and as hard – if not more so (while not, of course, to the point of self-destruction).

St. Paul’s example also has value for the rest of us who may not be engaged officially in fulltime or part-time ministry, for we too minister at the times and in the ways God has called us, even if it is only for a few minutes in a day or a few hours in a week.

Too often, people take up a fulltime or part-time ministry or a voluntary position in the church that turns out not to feel or be as rewarding as they had expected, whereupon they cast the work and the ministry aside.

It is sad when this happens – even tragic – although I, weak and sinful as I am, certainly cannot condemn any who may fall in this weakness. All of us should pray for these onetime ministers: that they may return to the service of the Lord in whatever ways remain open to them.

We should always pray for each other, that each of us may be ever stronger by God’s grace in the particular service to which he has called us.

In whatever times and ways we minister to God’s flock, may we follow the example of St. Paul: ministering with our whole heart, expecting nothing for ourselves but striving only for the true good of others and the greater glory of God.

The nation's most powerful man...

...had a weakness for young ladies.

The moves of one young lady in particular caught his eye.

He called her over.

She came to him and whispered...

"I want you...

"...to give me...

"...right now...

" ...the head of John the Baptist on a platter."

Thus a sleazy moment in the corridors of power ended with the death of one of history's greatest holy men.

Today the Church remembers the death of John the Baptist.

(from an earlier post)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


This word from today’s Gospel (Matthew 23:23-26) is being thrown around frantically in the current news cycle, following the report of a conservative politician who opposed “gay marriage” but was recently arrested in a public men’s room for lewd conduct.

Liberals are dredging up other examples of conservative hypocrisy and conservatives are throwing back examples of liberal hypocrisy.

In such a climate, our Lord’s words in today’s Gospel are heaven-sent.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You cleanse the outside of cup and dish,
but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence.
Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup,
so that the outside also may be clean.

The heart of hypocrisy is to pretend externally that we conform to an ideal to which in reality we do not (internally or otherwise). Our Lord makes this point even more vividly in the verses immediately after this passage.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You are like whitewashed tombs,
which appear beautiful on the outside,
but inside are full of dead men's bones

and every kind of filth.
Even so, on the outside you appear righteous,
but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.

The reality is that we are all sinners: we all fall short of perfection and some of us feel mired in various sins of human weakness.

The cynical reaction to hypocrisy is to surrender the ideal: if we cannot attain perfection, why try?

That cynical path, of course, is a slippery slope down into apathy, the victory of evil, and the loss of whatever good still exists in the world.

For the good of the world and for our own survival, we must hold onto our ideals and keep trying.

We must cleanse ourselves, inside and out, by the grace of Christ and by that grace strive to attain the perfection to which he calls us, encouraging and helping each other along the way.

To do this, we must be honest: both about perfection and about our sinfulness.

This does not mean that we must make every detail of our personal sinfulness public, although we must be careful not to represent ourselves as having attained perfection in which we still fall short.

I myself have not attained any semblance of perfection. I have many weaknesses. I stumble and I sin. (Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, be merciful to me – a sinner)

Indeed, I daresay that, on the road to perfection, I lag behind most of you who read these words.

Yet you and I are on the same road, striving by the grace of Christ toward the same perfection to which God calls us and helping each other as best we can.

May we keep ourselves from the trap of hypocrisy. May we never pretend that we are better than we are, but may we miserable sinners remain always faithful to the path to perfection: opening ourselves ever more fully to God’s grace so that he may make us what he wants us to be in Christ.

Did you hear about the bishop?

The bishop had a girlfriend once and got her pregnant.

The bishop used to make his mother cry all the time.

People also remembered the bishop saying pretty contemptuous things about the Church, its leaders, and its theology.

All that happened before he had heard the Archbishop of Milan. Soon after that, he started getting his life together, his girlfriend left him to pursue the religious life on her own, and eventually he and his 15-year-old son entered the Church to the great joy of the man's mother.

He settled into a quiet life of prayer and writing in monasteries that he established, but he was not to be allowed a quiet life. He was practically drafted into the priesthood and to be a prominent spokesperson for the Catholic faith. When his bishop became feeble, he was again drafted into being made coadjutor bishop. After the old bishop died, he would continue as bishop of the diocese for 34 years, all the time writing and preaching about the Catholic faith.

St. Augustine, bishop of the north African city of Hippo, Doctor of the Church, one of the greatest intellects of the Western world, died at the age of 75 on this very day in the year 430.

(from an earlier post)

Monday, August 27, 2007

The coming wrath

People often denounce Christianity and some other religions as espousing an “angry God”. This accusation is even made by “liberal” Christians against their more “conservative” brethren.

The perception of God as “angry”, however, is not the invention of power-hungry, emotionally-disturbed clerics. It is an inescapable element of Judeo-Christian revelation: even in the New Testament.

Indeed, today’s first reading (1 Thessalonians 1:1-5, 8b-10) ends with a reference to “the coming wrath.”

Nor is “the coming wrath” a perception put forward by divine revelation or religion alone. We live in an angry universe: full of terrible and destructive things that afflict the human spirit and sometimes crush whole populations of human beings mercilessly.

And of course, human beings are very often full of anger themselves and far too often unleash their own wrath upon each other.

When Scripture speaks of the wrath of God, it invariably refers to the evil consequences of evil deeds: consequences that will be felt by the evildoers themselves in the eternal scales of justice.

God is not indifferent to evil and so, by his power and in the unfolding of his eternal plan, evil will be overcome and wiped away.

Yet while God hates evil, he also loves his creation, most especially humanity: the special fruit of his creation which he subsequently bound to himself in the Incarnation.

That Incarnation is precisely the context of Paul’s reference in today’s reading: “Jesus, who delivers us from the coming wrath.”

May you and I never be indifferent to evil, within ourselves or within the world.

May we open ourselves to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: so that we may be filled with his grace and walk through a world of wrath according to God’s ways of justice and mercy.

Then my mother said...

"'Son, for myself, I have no longer any pleasure in anything in this life. Now that my hopes in this world are satisfied, I do not know what more I want here, or why I am here.

"'There was indeed one thing for which I wished to tarry a little in this life, and that was that I might see you a Catholic Christian before I died. My God has answered this more than abundantly, so that I see you now made his servant and spurning all earthly happiness.

"'What more am I to do here?'

"I do not well remember what reply I made to her about this. However, it was scarcely five days later--certainly not much more--that she was prostrated by fever.

"While she was sick, she fainted one day and was for a short time quite unconscious. We hurried to her, and when she soon regained her senses, she looked at me and my brother as we stood by her, and said, in inquiry, 'Where was I?'

"Then looking intently at us, dumb in our grief, she said, 'Here in this place shall you bury your mother.'

I was silent and held back my tears; but my brother said something, wishing her the happier lot of dying in her own country and not abroad.

"When she heard this, she held him fast with her eye and an anxious face, because he cherished such earthly concerns, and then gazing at me she said, 'See how he speaks.'

"Soon after, she said to us both: 'Lay this body anywhere, and do not let the care of it be a trouble to you at all. Only this I ask: that you will remember me at the Lord's altar, wherever you are.'

* * * * *

"On the ninth day of her sickness, in the fifty-sixth year of her life and the thirty-third of mine, that religious and devout soul was set loose from the body.

"I closed her eyes; and there flowed in a great sadness on my heart and it was passing into tears, when at the strong command of my mind my eyes sucked back the fountain dry, and sorrow was in me like a convulsion. [...] But she neither died unhappy nor did she altogether die.

* * * * *

"So, when the body was carried forth, we both went and returned without tears. [...] Then I slept, and when I awoke I found my grief not a little eased. And as I lay there on my bed, those true verses of Ambrose came to my mind, for You are truly...

"'Deus, creator omnium,
Polique rector, vestiens
Diem decoro lumine,
Noctem sopora gratia;

"'Artus solutos ut quies
Reddat laboris usui
Mentesque fessas allevet,
Luctusque solvat anxios.'

"'O God, Creator of us all,
Guiding the orbs celestial,
Clothing the day with lovely light,
Appointing gracious sleep by night:

"'Thy grace our wearied limbs restore
To strengthened labor, as before,
And ease the grief of tired minds
From that deep torment which it finds.'

"And then, little by little, there came back to me my former memories of Your handmaid: her devout life toward You, her holy tenderness and attentiveness toward us, which had suddenly been taken away from me--and it was a solace for me to weep in Your sight...."

Excerpts from the Confessions of St. Augustine - Book 9, Chapters 10-12

Today the Church celebrates the memory of St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine

(from an earlier post)

Sunday, August 26, 2007


Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes it is very hard.

Sometimes everything in our life, everything we had planned and everything for which we have worked, is broken up and scattered beyond restoration.

Today’s second reading (Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13) reminds us that God can use such life challenges to bring greater power to our faith.

“My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord
or lose heart when reproved by him;
for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines;
he scourges every son he acknowledges.”
Endure your trials as “discipline”;
God treats you as sons.
For what “son” is there
whom his father does not discipline?

At the time,
all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain,
yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness
to those who are trained by it.

So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees.
Make straight paths for your feet,
that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed.

Today’s Gospel (Luke 13:22-30) reminds us that the way of holiness is narrow and requires more than pious coasting.

We must strive to enter by the narrow gate - to do and to endure things which are difficult – remembering, of course, that we are not called to do this on our own: God gives his grace and, as the Gospel and the first reading (Isaiah 66:18-21) remind us, God will bring together what seems scattered in an eternal renewal of glory.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The witness of deeds

In today's Gospel (Matthew 23:1-12), our Lord speaks of religious leaders who teach the truth authoritatively but exemplify it very badly.

On the other hand, today's first reading tells us of a woman whose good deeds not only proclaim her virtue but lay the groundwork for salvation: getting better access to food for the short term and for the long term becoming the great-grandmother of King David and thus also ancestor of the Messiah, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

By the grace of Christ may you and I be faithful and effective in the witness of our words and the witness of our deeds.

Get medieval on you

Disputes were decided by combat. Testimony was verified by ordeal. The word of the king was law. The acquisition of land by force was the rule. Early 14th century statue from the church of Mainneville, France - reputed to be a true likenessReligion was important only as a tool for power.

The young king thought differently.

He instituted systems of courts and written law. He negotiated treaties with neighboring rulers, acquiring some lands while handing over others to maximize political and economic stability for his people.

Most importantly, for the young king, religion was not a tool – quite the contrary, everything should be in service to faith.

He personally fed and served the poor daily. He built great houses of prayer and worship, including the glorious Sainte Chapelle.

The glorious interior of the Sainte Chapelle - click image for larger version and above link for more information and pictures

He would also come to the aid of important churches in other lands, no matter what the risk.

Louis IX, King of France, died of disease at the age of 56 in North Africa while on a failed campaign to rescue churches in the Holy Land, 737 years ago today. Saint Louis was canonized 27 years later.

(from an earlier post)

Joseph's family was wealthy

so they had no problem giving him the finest university education he could want (and he could pick his own majors).

Once he was finished with school, however, his father had plans for him, intending that Joseph carry on the family line.

Then Joseph got sick - and nearly died. After he recovered, he knew he had to follow his own way. He became a priest.

He proved to be an excellent priest, working in a parish and in various positions in the Diocese: reviving zeal among laity and clergy alike. After several years, he realized that he had to go further. He gave away his fortune and went to Rome where he ministered to the noblest and to the lowest members of society.

When he tried to enroll poor outcast children in school, he was met with stiff resistance from many quarters. So, he started his own school and his own order to teach the poor children.

His work continued to meet with external resistance. Some were afraid that educating the poor would cause unrest. Some religious orders were jealous. Joseph's friendship with a controversial scientist was also troubling to some Church leaders.

Later, when Joseph was a very old man, members of the order he himself had founded turned against him. He would be vindicated, but the dissension took its toll. The order was dissolved two years before Joseph died, at very ripe age of 91 on this very day in 1648.

The next year, Joseph's order, the Piarists, was resurrected and continues even now. St. Joseph Calasanz was canonized in the following century.

(from an earlier post)

Friday, August 24, 2007

Learning and seeing

Children usually learn about the good things first and so, unless they are struck by tragedy (or some horrific crime), they grow up with wonderful ideas about everything: about their parents, about their country, and about their Church.

In time, of course, they see that their parents are real human beings, with good qualities and also with flaws.

In time, they also see that their country and their Church are (and always have been) made up of real human beings, with good qualities and with flaws.

Some, when they see these things, become crippled by disillusionment. Many of them despair of seeking goodness and think only the worst of everyone.

Today’s first reading (Revelation 21:9b-14) begins with a vision of the Church as the beautiful bride of Christ: a truly wonderful image.

But this conception of Church is not the product of a childish faith not yet exposed to the weaknesses of faithful people. Indeed, the first chapters of the Book of Revelation make it clear that the writer is painfully aware of the imperfections of church people.

As I once heard a famous Scripture scholar say, the writer knew these imperfections very well and probably experienced many of them firsthand, yet with the eyes of faith he could still look at the Church and say that this was the beautiful bride of Christ.

That is not to say that the writer closed his eyes to problems in the Church. Indeed, the first chapters of the book were clearly directed at effecting change where these problems existed. Yet he never let go of the vision of faith: the glimpse of glory that helped him continue his work, even in the most difficult of times and circumstances.

May God give us this same grace: that we may always see the Church with the glorious eyes of faith even as we see and work to heal the flaws within her by the power of her Lord, our Savior Jesus Christ.

What would he have thought?

It is hard to imagine what Tholmai would have thought of his son that day when his friend found him taking a break in the shade.

The friend was babbling excitedly about something and Tholmai's son was skeptical, to say the least, but at his friend's insistence, he went along to see what all the fuss was about.

When they arrived at their destination, Tholmai's son saw a man (whom he had never seen before) talking about him. They were good things, but strange to hear from a complete stranger.

"How do you know me?" Tholmai's son asked.

"Before Phillip called you, I saw you under the fig tree."

Tholmai's son saw the light. "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel."

There was a smile. "You believe because I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than this."

Nathaniel, son of Tholmai (Bartholomaios), indeed saw greater things, including the death and resurrection of Christ, and would help spread tidings of these things to the world.

Today, we celebrate the Feast of St. Bartholomew, apostle.

(from a previous post)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A false commitment to sin

Today’s first reading (Judges 11:29-39a) tells the terrible tale of a man who swears an oath – immoral from the beginning but dedicated to God – that leads him to kill his only child.

The oath was immoral from the beginning because it involved human sacrifice: a pagan practice never to be initiated by man.

The oath was even more stupid because who else would have been the first to greet him but his own daughter?

Yet he feels bound by the oath, even more so because of the help he has received from the Lord. Amazingly, his doomed daughter agrees. And so, she dies.

But just as an illegal contract is not binding, neither is a ostensibly sacred oath to commit a sinful act. There is nothing sacred, honorable or binding about a commitment to sin.

Our Lord’s words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:33-37) give us an additional warning:

Again you have heard that it was said to the men of old,
`You shall not swear falsely,
but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.'

But I say to you, Do not swear at all,
either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,
or by the earth, for it is his footstool,
or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.
And do not swear by your head,
for you cannot make one hair white or black.

Let what you say be simply `Yes' or `No';
anything more than this comes from evil.

We must be careful in what we say and very careful in our commitments.

But we also must never let the bad choices of our past force us to commit sin now in the present or in the future.

We must discern carefully at all times, with the help of the Holy Spirit, so that we may remain free from sin by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Help the people of Peru

"A deadly 8.0-magnitude earthquake struck the coast of Peru on August 15, causing massive devastation as far as 100 miles away. Powerful aftershocks, registering as high as 6.0, are expected to continue, putting people at even greater risk.

"Thousands of residents are now displaced and in need of basic lifesaving supplies. Catholic Relief Services staff in Peru are rushing to assist survivors of the country's worst earthquake in more than 30 years. Medical equipment, food, shelter, and other essential materials will be critical in the immediate aftermath of the quake.

"Please help CRS help the earthquake victims in Peru with a generous donation."

(from the Web site of Catholic Relief Services)

Gifts of beauty

From the moment she was born, everyone knew that Rosa had been given the gift of physical beauty. What they didn’t know was that she had also been given other gifts of beauty.

She began to show these gifts as a little girl: respectful to her parents, industrious around the house, kind to all, generous to the needy, and very devout in prayer.

As she grew up, however, she began to manifest a gift of beauty that was very, very hard to recognize: the gift of being united to the sufferings of Christ in a very real way and to a very profound degree. Her family, her friends, and even the local Church authorities were very concerned about what she was doing. Before she was allowed to receive the Dominican habit, many worried about her health, her sanity, and what would come from all this.

What came from it was charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity. When she finally entered into paradise, many miracles took place.

Less than sixty years after her death, St. Rose of Lima was canonized, in 1671 - the first native born American saint.

Her memory is celebrated on this day.

(from an earlier post)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Self-ambition and self-destruction

Today’s first reading (Judges 9:6-15) gives us a parable about trees.

On one level, it is an allegory about the people of Israel’s foolishness in choosing the murderous Abimelech to be their king.

On another level, it is a cautionary tale about ambition and identity.

The olive tree, the fig tree, and the vine were each comfortable with their God-given identities, rejoiced in the gifts that came with these identities, and recognized the danger of becoming something they were not.

Once the trees went to anoint a king over themselves.
So they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’
But the olive tree answered them,
‘Must I give up my rich oil,
whereby men and gods are honored,
and go to wave over the trees?’

Then the trees said to the fig tree,
‘Come; you reign over us!’
But the fig tree answered them,
‘Must I give up my sweetness and my good fruit,
and go to wave over the trees?’

Then the trees said to the vine,
‘Come you, and reign over us.’
But the vine answered them,
‘Must I give up my wine that cheers gods and men,
and go to wave over the trees?’

The buckthorn, on the other hand, had an exceedingly unhealthy ambition. It was not content with its true, God-given identity but focused on one tendency within itself and made that the focus of its insatiable ambition, remaking itself as a tyrant.

As for the other trees, in their desire to embrace what was then the "new world order" of Monarchy, they tossed aside one of the most fundamental aspects of their God-given identity: that they were plants, needing the light of the sun to survive.

The result was that the buckthorn covered all the trees with its shadow.

No one who heard this parable needed to be reminded what happens to trees covered by shadow: they die.

May we never be persuaded by unhealthy ambition or by “what everyone is doing” to toss aside or twist the truth of what the Lord has given us: our unique identities and our unique gifts given to us in accordance with the truth and loving plan of God.

The Queenship of Mary

is a doubly strange concept for many today.

To begin with, the notion of queenship sounds alien to some people in an age of democracy.

Moreover, some see such a title as “the Queenship of Mary” to be an example of ideas about Christ’s mother they consider “over-the-top” at best.

But it is a mistake to view such titles and devotions as the “Queenship of Mary” in isolation from the saving work of the One Mediator, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as revealed in Scripture.

To be sure, Mary had a unique and critical role – beginning with her saying “Yes” to God, continuing through our Lord’s life and death on the cross, and even being present at the great Pentecost event – but everything Mary was and everything Mary did was made possible by the grace of Christ (her son though he was) and was a manifestation of her faith.

We see all of this tied together in the account of the Visitation (Lk 1), as Elizabeth proclaims the blessedness that flows from Mary’s faith and Mary herself exults in what has been done for her (and for all) by the grace of God her Savior.

We must remember also that our Lord promised a kingly eschatological role to his followers (e.g., Mt. 19:28).

This kingly role that awaits us flows from the power of faith and the power of Christ’s grace – all of which was exemplified in that humble teenage mother who said “Yes” to God. For all of these reasons and more, the Church celebrates today the Queenship of Mary. detail from 'the Madonna of the Magnificat' by Sandro Botticelli
(from an earlier post)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Catholic Carnival

This week's Catholic Carnival - a collection of posts from various Catholic blogs - is online at Daughter of the King.


Today’s first reading (Judges 6:11-24a) introduces us to a man of doubt.

Unlike the more famous "Doubting Thomas" who only doubted his colleagues’ tale of the risen Christ, Gideon is full of doubts: doubts about his family, doubts about himself, and doubts about God.

How can I save Israel?
My family is the lowliest in Manasseh,
and I am the most insignificant in my father’s house.


If the LORD is with us,
why has all this happened to us?


Give me a sign that you are speaking with me.

Later in this chapter (verses 36-40), Gideon will ask for repeated miracles to quiet his doubt.

Gideon said to God, "If indeed you are going to save Israel through me, as you promised, I am putting this woolen fleece on the threshing floor. If dew comes on the fleece alone, while all the ground is dry, I shall know that you will save Israel through me, as you promised."

That is what took place. Early the next morning he wrung the dew from the fleece, squeezing out of it a bowlful of water.

Gideon then said to God, "Do not be angry with me if I speak once more. Let me make just one more test with the fleece. Let the fleece alone be dry, but let there be dew on all the ground."

That night God did so; the fleece alone was dry, but there was dew on all the ground.

Gideon would eventually learn to trust the Lord and himself. He would be successful in defending Israel, would live a long life, and have many children.

Doubt, of course, is a very human emotion. Sometimes doubt can be rational, encouraging us to verify and be prudent before acting, but many times doubt can be paralyzing and even deadly.

Oftentimes doubt is the silky whisper of the Tempter, dissuading us from what God wants us to do in our lives.

Facts and proofs can assuage doubt, but ultimately (especially in the spiritual and moral realm) doubt can only be fully conquered by the gift of faith.

May we be prudent, but may we never let ourselves be paralyzed with doubt.

May we always turn to the Lord Jesus Christ in prayer, no matter what paths lie before us in this life, and seek from him the precious and powerful gift of faith that drives away all doubt and drives us on to the works of truth and love that the Lord wants us to accomplish in his name.

An energetic pastor

Joseph Sarto's father was a postman but he wanted to be a priest. From his very first assignment he was a tireless worker, tackling multiple responsibilities at once. He kept up his own studies, while providing night school for adults in the area. Many towns in the region asked him to preach in their parishes. He would later be heavily involved in the seminary, energetically promoting study of St. Thomas Aquinas and of Gregorian Chant.

When he was 54 he was appointed bishop of a troubled diocese. Again, his energy, vision, and devotion proved very successful. Within ten years he was promoted to head an archdiocese and was named a Cardinal.

Ten years after that, against his wishes, he was elected Pope.

In the eleven years of his pontificate, he initiated a complete revision of canon law as well as the Liturgy. He worked to navigate the Church through a very dangerous political environment as well as philosophical challenges to Church teaching. He encouraged early and frequent reception of the Eucharist. A strong Pope, he was personally humble, austere, and devoted to pastoral work: especially preaching and hearing confessions.

He was greatly troubled by the political instability in the world and a growing militarization. His fears would be brutally confirmed. Two months after a high-profile assassination, a ferocious war broke out.

Within days, the man born as Giuseppe Sarto but forever known as Pope St. Pius X, died of grief, 93 years ago yesterday. He was canonized forty years later and the memory of Pope St. Pius X is celebrated on this day.

(from an earlier post)

Monday, August 20, 2007

Commandment to WHAT?!

Many of us may consider the Psalms as beautiful, sacred poetry: affirming good things and making us feel good about everything.

Some of us, as we hear the Psalms between the other readings at Mass, may not even pay close attention: letting the words (and music) just wash over us like a warm sacred shower.

Today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 106:34-35, 36-37, 39-40, 43ab and 44) begins with a horrific slap.

They did not exterminate the peoples,
as the LORD had commanded them...

WHAT?! God had commanded GENOCIDE??!

As I have said before, many scholars attribute the severity of this command to purely human influences (a conscious and/or unconscious “spin” on God’s revelation by the people of Israel and its leaders).

Massacres of this sort were not uncommon in the ancient world nor are they unknown today: extreme acts of horrific deterrence (“Mess with us and we’ll not only kill you but your women and children as well”).

Such massacres and other atrocities are also committed in the name of ideological purity. The “killing fields” of Cambodia, for example, were perpetrated by atheistic communists as such a “purification.”

For their part, the people of Israel – the chosen people carrying the unique message of God’s presence in the world – had been living a precarious existence: surrounded and threatened by alien armies and cultures on every side. Extreme measures of self-preservation were sometimes the only option.

We should consider ourselves greatly blessed that the need for such terrible actions is as far away from us as it is.

Yet the fundamental failure of the people of Israel was not failure to commit genocide, but rather failure to remain faithful.

Wanting to “fit in with everyone else”, they threw away truth and embraced evil – because that was the way the world was.

As for us, genocide is not an option: it is unnecessary and evil.

What remains necessary is God’s fundamental command: to remain faithful, even when surrounded by disbelief, decadence, and other evils.

We need to keep ourselves appropriately distant from the ways of the world and bring ourselves ever closer to the ways of God.

He had received the finest education

But, he did not want the life society offered him. What interested him was a life of virtue and prayer and he spoke passionately of this with his family and friends.

A new and very different monastery had opened several miles from his home. It focused on absolute simplicity and prayer.

This was the place he was looking for. His enthusiasm was so great that when he entered the monastery in his early twenties, four of his five brothers came with him... as well as more than two dozen of his friends.

Now he could devote himself totally to prayer.

However, it was clear that his vocation to prayer was combined with extraordinary charisms of leadership. Three years later, he was sent to establish a new monastery in a place known as the Valley of Bitterness (which he renamed "Clear Valley"). The reputation of the monastery spread quickly and many flocked to join, even his widowed father. He had to open still more monasteries.

His reputation for holiness, wisdom and leadership grew so much that the wider Church many times would turn to him to help solve difficult challenges. He was summoned to a meeting of the nation’s bishops to help sort out serious problems that had arisen in some dioceses. He was called to combat heresies and rally political support in defense of the Church and of Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land. He was even asked to decide who was the rightful Pope, after two groups of Cardinals elected two different men on the same day. He also wrote important spiritual books.

Bernard of Clairvaux, pioneer of the Cistercian order, died in his 63rd year in 1153. His reputation did not diminish in death. He was canonized twenty years later. Two centuries later, Dante depicted him as his guide through the highest heavens in the Divina Commedia. In the 19th century he was declared a doctor of the Church. Cistercian monasteries around the world today look to him as one of the founders.

His memory is celebrated on this day.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Why can’t we all get along?

We see conflict in the news and we experience conflict in our personal lives (sometimes even within our ecclesial and cyber communities).

Why can’t we all get along?

For one thing, there is right and there is wrong and that reality necessarily gives rise to conflict.

For another thing, there is truth and there is error and that reality necessarily gives rise to conflict.

And finally, none of us are perfect: each of us in different degrees and different combinations have right and wrong and truth and error within us and that reality necessarily gives rise to conflict: within ourselves and with others.

The solution to such conflict, some say, is relativism: to pretend that there is no right, no wrong, no truth, no error.

Ultimately, of course, relativism is intellectual hypocrisy, for it imposes its own particular “truth”, eviscerates what it considers “error”, protects what it considers “right” and fights what it considers “wrong”.

Today’s readings all remind us of the reality of conflict, especially for people of faith.

In today’s first reading (Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10), the people try to destroy a truthful but unpopular prophet of the Lord:

“Jeremiah ought to be put to death;
he is demoralizing the soldiers who are left in this city,
and all the people, by speaking such things to them...”

Today’s second reading (Hebrews 12:1-4) speaks words of encouragement in the face of opposition from sinners and struggle against sin.

And finally, in today’s Gospel (Luke 12:49-53), any shallow, cartoon-like concept of the Lord Jesus as Prince of the "Warm Fuzzies" should be ripped apart by our Lord’s own words:

I have come to set the earth on fire,
and how I wish it were already blazing!
There is a baptism with which I must be baptized,
and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!

Do you think that I have come
to establish peace on the earth?

No, I tell you, but rather division.
From now on a household of five will be divided,
three against two and two against three;
a father will be divided against his son
and a son against his father,
a mother against her daughter
and a daughter against her mother,
a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.

Christ comes with God’s love and with God’s truth: the deepest love and the greatest truth.

So should we live in today’s world: seeking God’s grace that we may live that love ever more deeply and perfectly and that we may think and speak and act God’s truth ever more purely and effectively.

Ever more perfect truth and ever more perfect charity: so should we be within ourselves and so we should be with others.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Bring the children to Jesus

In today’s first reading (Joshua 24:14-29), Moses’ successor Joshua makes this ringing declaration:

As for me and my household,
we will serve the LORD.

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 19:13-15), our Lord give this gentle command:

Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them;
for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.

There seems to be no shortage of things to do in our busy world, especially for those with families.

Today’s readings remind us that among the most important things for us to do as Christians is to bring children to Christ.

What can you and I do today – in our own households and beyond - to help a child come closer to Jesus?

Young wife and mother and...

Jane got married when she was twenty. Her husband was a good man and they were very happy together. They both wanted kids and they wasted no time: she had six before the time of their tenth wedding anniversary.

But it would not be a happy anniversary. Jane’s husband was killed the year before in a hunting accident.

A few years later, she attended a Lenten mission that moved her tremendously. The visiting bishop who gave the mission agreed to be her spiritual director. Several years later she and three other women decided to start a religious community of their own. The primary purpose of the community was gentle prayer, while remaining mindful of the poor. So many more women became interested, Jane had to open more monasteries for her community. After three decades, there would be 80.

St. Jane Frances de Chantal died at the age of 69 in 1641 and was buried near her longtime spiritual director St. Francis de Sales. The order she founded, the Sisters of the Visitation, would continue to flourish and other great saints would come from their number.

Here memory is celebrated on this day.

(from a previous post)

Friday, August 17, 2007


We are all human. We are all fallible. We are all sinners. (I know I am.)

We all know people who have gotten divorced, even among those who call themselves conservative (the most beloved politician of American conservatives was divorced, the leading “conservative” candidate in the US at the moment has been divorced twice).

We all know of priests who have solemnly promised to be celibate who have broken that promise: sometimes criminally.

Broken vows can be tragic, but even more tragic would be for us to let go of our ideals and resign ourselves – as individuals, as a Church, and as humankind – to hopeless mediocrity.

And so in today’s Gospel (Matthew 19:3-12) our Lord challenges us with truth and with ideals about marriage and about celibacy.

We must not let go of our ideals, even if we or others fall short.

When we fall short, we can and must come to the Father of mercies for the grace of forgiveness and for the grace to go forward as best we can in this world: faithful to his truth, faithful to the ideals he has given us, and thankful for his mercy.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

From the King to the Queen

"Regina Laudis is a monastery of contemplative Benedictine women living in union with the Roman Catholic Church and following the Rule of St. Benedict according to the Primitive Observance. Founded in 1947 in Bethlehem, Connecticut by the late Mother Benedict Duss.

"Regina Laudis was elevated to the status of an abbey in 1976. The community of Regina Laudis is presently made up of 40 women, representing a wide diversity of personal and professional backgrounds.

"Regina Laudis means Queen of Praise. Our prime mission as contemplative Benedictines is to pray the Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours, keeping the prayer of the psalms resonating through the day and night, every day of the year.

"In order to give ourselves as fully as possible to the mission to pray without ceasing, we live and work within the enclosure of the monastery. The enclosure, marked by physical walls and grille work in certain locations, functions like the permeable membrane of a cell wall that allows life to flow in and out. The stable but essentially dynamic character of our monastic life is determined by the constantly interpenetrating rhythms of prayer, work, and study."


"Formation at Regina Laudis follows the classical stages of Postulancy, Novitiate, First Vows, Perpetual Vows and the reception of the Consecratio Virginis, the ancient Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity. Each nun takes the uniquely Benedictine vows of Stability, Conversion of Life and Obedience: Stability, binding her perpetually to this particular monastic community; Conversion of Life, obliging her to choose every day to re-center herself in God through the community; and Obedience, by which she pledges fidelity to the authority of the Abbess and all those delegated to take responsibility within the 'school of the Lord's service.'"

from the Web site of the Abbey of Regina Laudis


They are not kidding when they say they represent "a wide diversity of personal and professional backgrounds." Before entering Regina Laudis in 1963, the Prioress was a Tony Award nominee who had co-starred in two movies with the late Elvis Presley, the legendary King of Rock and Roll.

(a tip of the appropriate head covering to Dappled Things and Roman Miscellany)

Forgive again... or else

We say it all the time:

Forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Today’s Gospel (Matthew 18:21-19:1) challenges us to kick it up to the next level.

Our Lord challenges us not only to forgive, but to forgive repeatedly – seventy-seven times, an expression that signifies unending forgiveness.

It is not a matter of forgiving and forgetting, but forgiving every time we remember an offense or an injury against us.

To be sure, we need to be prudent in guarding against ongoing danger from offenders, especially if others are threatened, but even then we must have forgiveness in our hearts and souls.

If we fail to forgive, however, the danger is inescapable and beyond terrifying, as our Lord says at the end of the parable in today’s Gospel.

Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt.

So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart

A Father's words of faith

"My beloved son, delight of my heart, hope of your posterity, I pray, I command, that at every time and in everything, strengthened by your devotion to me, you may show favor not only to relations and kin, or to the most eminent, be they leaders or rich men or neighbors or fellow-countrymen, but also to foreigners and to all who come to you.

"By fulfilling your duty in this way you will reach the highest state of happiness.

"Be merciful to all who are suffering violence, keeping always in your heart the example of the Lord who said, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.'

"Be patient with everyone, not only with the powerful, but also with the weak.

"Finally, be strong lest prosperity lift you up to much or adversity cast you down. Be humble in this life, that God may raise you up in the next.

"Be truly moderate and do not punish or condemn anyone immoderately. Be gentle so that you may never oppose justice. Be honorable so that you may never voluntarily bring disgrace upon anyone. Be chaste so that you may avoid all the foulness of lust like the pangs of death.

"All these virtues I have noted above make up the royal crown, and without them no one is fit to rule here on earth or attain to the heavenly kingdom."

* * * * *

Stephen's son would be later killed in a hunting accident

Stephen's life thereafter would be filled with grief and many troubles, but through it all he remained faithful in his imitation of Christ, even as a heir of barbarian warlords.

Stephen, first king of Hungary, died in August 1038

His words and his faith would live on.

45 years later, both he and his son were declared saints

The memory of St. Stephen of Hungary is celebrated on this day.

(from an earlier post)

Wednesday, August 15, 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.

A place prepared

In today’s first reading from the book of Revelation (11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab) we have a copious amount of complex imagery, some of which has often been related to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

A great sign appeared in the sky,
a woman clothed with the sun,
with the moon under her feet,
and on her head a crown of twelve stars.
She was with child
and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth.
Then another sign appeared in the sky;
it was a huge red dragon,
with seven heads and ten horns,
and on its heads were seven diadems.
Its tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky
and hurled them down to the earth.
Then the dragon

stood before the woman about to give birth,
to devour her child when she gave birth.
She gave birth to a son, a male child,
destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod.
Her child was caught up to God and his throne.
The woman herself fled into the desert
where she had a place prepared by God.

Again, this imagery is complex (as is generally the case with the Book of Revelation): the symbol of the woman has also been associated with the People of God, Israel, and the Church.

Yet one of the reasons why this passage is selected for today’s feast is the phrase “where she had a place prepared by God.”

This reminds us of a promise given by our Lord to his disciples in John 14:1-3:

Let not your hearts be troubled;
believe in God, believe also in me.

In my Father's house are many rooms;
if it were not so, would I have told you
that I go to prepare a place for you?

And when I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come again and will take you to myself,
that where I am you may be also.

In the first reading, the place prepared for the woman is the desert – the classic place of continual renewal for God’s faithful. In today’s celebration of the Assumption, the place prepared is indeed the place prepared by her Lord, Savior and Son Jesus Christ.

As Christ has done for his faithful mother Mary, so shall he do – in his own time – for those who continue to serve him faithfully on this earth.

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

Let not your hearts be troubled;
believe in God, believe also in me.

In my Father's house are many rooms;
if it were not so, would I have told you
that I go to prepare a place for you?

And when I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come again and will take you to myself,
that where I am you may be also.

How much more Mary...

And Enoch walked with God:
and he was not;
for God took him.
Gen 5:24

By faith Enoch was translated
that he should not see death;
and was not found,
because God had translated him:
for before his translation
he had this testimony,
that he pleased God.
Hebrews 11:5

And it came to pass,
as they still went on, and talked,
that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire,
and horses of fire,
and parted them both asunder;
and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.

2 Kings 2:11

And she spake out with a loud voice, and said,
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
And whence is this to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For, lo,
as soon as the voice of thy salutation
sounded in mine ears,
the babe leaped in my womb for joy.
And blessed is she that believed:
for there shall be a performance of those things
which were told her from the Lord.
Luke 1:42-45

"...and if He had prepared a place in heaven for the Apostles,
how much more for His mother;
if Enoch had been translated and Elijah had gone to heaven,
how much more Mary..."
Theoteknos, Bishop of Livias (near Jericho), c. 600 A.D.

Today the Church celebrates
the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

(from a previous post)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Without Moses

In today’s first reading (Deuteronomy 31:1-8), Moses bids farewell to the people of Israel, after having led them for more than 40 years. He was the only leader any of them had known and their main connection with God.

The message with which Moses leaves them is simple: you can go on without me, for the Lord is with you.

So too we may have people in our lives upon whom we have relied, in matters spiritual, practical and emotional.

But all things are passing in this world and sooner or later in this life we will be parted from the ones we love and the ones upon whom we have relied.

But God is always with us.

May we go forward and rely on the Lord, drawing ever closer to him in every part of our lives.

Birmingham gets a bishop

The Holy Father has named a new bishop for the diocese of Birmingham, Alabama (USA): the Most Reverend Robert J. Baker, up to now Bishop of Charleston, South Carolina.

According to the Diocese of Charleston Web site, Bishop Baker, born in Ohio in 1944, "attended the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, and was ordained a priest March 21, 1970 for the Diocese of St. Augustine. From 1970-1972, his first assignment was as Assistant Pastor at St. Paul's Parish, Jacksonville Beach, Florida, where he was also given teaching duties at Bishop Kenny High School.

"From 1972-1975, he was assigned to study at the Gregorian University in Rome, Italy, where he received an S.T.L. and S.T.D. degree in Dogmatic Theology.

"During the years 1975-1999, he served in various assignments, including Spiritual Director of college Seminarians at the Pontifical College Josephinum, Pastor of the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Augustine, and Pastor of Christ the King Church, Jacksonville, Florida. He also directed the Catholic Student Parish at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida and taught Sacramental Theology at St. Vincent de Paul Seminary in Boynton Beach, Florida.

"On September 29, 1999 he was ordained and installed as the Bishop of the Diocese of Charleston. He has served on various Boards and on several USCCB Committees. He is currently Chairman of the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee on Stewardship.

"He has published several articles and books. Some of his most recent publications are: When Did We See You, Lord?, co-authored with Father Benedict J. Groeschel, C.F.R., and his Pastoral Letter, The Redemption Of Our Bodies: The Theology of the Body and Its Consequences for Ministry in the Diocese of Charleston; also with Tony Sands, Cacique: A Novel of Florida's Heroic Mission History. His latest book, The Questioner's Prayer, was released in April 2007 by Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Company. "

Mad Max

Some said that there were things that made Max mad.

Some said that he said bad things about Jews or at least worked with people who said terrible things about Jews (during a very sensitive time).

But Max did not hate Jews: he had even worked at great personal risk on behalf of Jews.

He loved all people and most of all, he loved the truth.

Of course, Max would occasionally step out of line.

One day Max stepped out of line and took the place of a man who had been chosen for death.

Father Maximilian Maria Kolbe was put to death by lethal injection on this very day 66 years ago at Auschwitz.

He would be canonized by another Polish priest, the great Pope John Paul II, in 1982.

(from an earliier post)

Monday, August 13, 2007

15 new novices

"On the feast of our Holy Father St. Dominic, 15 men received the habit of St. Dominic and entered the novitiate of the Dominican Province of St. Joseph. The novitiate is located at St. Gertrude Priory in Cincinnati, OH. The purpose of the novitiate is to introduce individuals interested in religious life to the life of the order. These men will live out the regular life under the guidance of a Novice Master, who will instruct them in the life of the order, its history, and the three traditional religious vows (poverty, chastity, and obedience)."

from the Web site www.dominicanfriars.org

Avoiding scandal and unnecessary things

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 17:22-27), our Lord is asked about the payment of the Temple tax. He walks Peter through an analysis of the situation, reaching the determination that sons or subjects of the kingdom of God do not need to pay the tax for God’s temple.

However, even though payment of the tax is not required, our Lord accedes to its payment so that people may not be offended (or scandalized, as the original Greek indicates).

This is an important example for all of us, especially for those of us who may rightly feel knowledgeable and even sophisticated about the moral teachings of Christ.

Our conduct affects more than the state of our soul: it can have a very influential effect on other people.

Indeed, sometimes we can do the right thing but create a wrong impression.

This is not to say that the perception of others determines the morality of an action. Right is right and wrong is wrong. One cannot rightly commit an intrinsically evil act just because other people may see it as something necessary.

On the other hand, if an act is morally-speaking licit but unnecessary, it may be worthwhile to do it anyway in order not to create an obstacle to another person’s coming to the faith. That is what our Lord does in this case.

These kinds of judgments had to be done many times in the early Church, such as when Peter and Paul would observe particular Jewish rubrics or Imperial edicts so as not to scandalize people who might come to the faith.

This can only go so far, of course, because sometimes the morally licit action may itself give people the wrong idea about a key truth.

It can be a tricky prudential judgment but it is an important one to make: what is the impact of what we say, what we do, and what we decline to do? What does it say about the truth of Christ? How may it help or hurt others in their coming to Christ?

The Pope was his enemy

In fact, he made himself head of a rival church.

He would later be arrested and soon would be astounded to find the Pope incarcerated there with him.

Pontian, the only pope of that name, had been the latest of those against whom Hippolytus had rebelled.

Pontian had actually resigned from the papacy after he had been arrested by the Emperor in 235 so that the Church would have a free shepherd, but now he saw an opportunity to bring a lost sheep back into the fold.

In that terrible place, Pontian reconciled Hippolytus to the Church and in that terrible place they both died: martyrs for the one true faith of Christ.

Their memory is celebrated on this day.

(Adapted from an earlier post)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Living and dying in faith

“Live in hope...” cynics say. “Die in despair.”

Today’s second reading (Hebrews 11:1-2,8-19) speaks of famous people of the past who died without receiving what had been promised to them “but (they) saw it and saluted it from afar.”

They “died in faith” just as they had lived in faith.

These lives of faith, by the grace of God in Jesus Christ, would bear fruit in the world without end.

These lives of faith would also bear fruit in this world, laying foundations of hope upon which future generations would build.

Faith builds, even if it is only faith in humanity alone (and how much more does it build if it is faith in alignment with the Creator of all things).

Cynicism sucks: it sucks away comfort from the past, it sucks enjoyment out of the present, and sucks away light from the future.

Today’s second reading and the example of the men and women who came before us call us to turn away from the voices of cynicism and to grasp firmly God’s gift of faith, so that no matter what may happen to us in this world, there may be hope and assurance in the ages of blessedness to come.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Not believing enough?

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 17:14-20), the disciples are unable to cure a boy and our Lord tells them that it was because of their “little faith.”

He goes on to add:

Amen, I say to you,
if you have faith the size of a mustard seed,
you will say to this mountain,
‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.
Nothing will be impossible for you.

The disciples, already frustrated by their failure, must have been devastated by this explanation.

Indeed, many of us may have had a very similar experience: we pray hard for something that does not happen and then we are told or we think to ourselves that “we just didn’t believe enough.”

A nasty one-two punch to our heart and soul.

But we should not let this or any spiritual setback cause us to doubt or despair.

To begin with, only the Lord can judge the amount of a person’s faith and therefore it is very dangerous for anyone else (not even ourselves) to blame an unanswered prayer (or rather what we think is unanswered) on a lack of faith.

Moreover, in this explanation, our Lord is challenging the disciples to grow in their faith and so also should be our response to any setback in our spiritual lives.

Of course, faith is itself a gift from God and thus the same Lord who challenges us to grow in our faith also gives us the grace by which that faith can grow.

What can we do on our part to help our faith grow?

First of all, we must acknowledge continually that faith is indeed a gift of God and pray continuously for his grace.

Secondly, as I have said before, the analogy of faith as a muscle is helpful (although not perfect).

We can exercise our faith by putting it into action, sharing it with others, and trusting in the Lord no matter what. We can feed our faith through reception of the sacraments, through Scripture, through prayer and worship, through spiritual reading, and through fellowship.

What is important to remember is that faith is ultimately not a matter of making ourselves stronger, like some lone super hero or island fortress, but of drawing closer to God and aligning ourselves with Him.

The closer we draw to God, the better we know what to ask, when to ask, and how to ask, and the greater the work we can do in His name.

She was rich and beautiful

and all the men wanted her. They approached her with their charming smiles and boastful dreams.

They bored her.

Instead, she was fascinated with the village idiot.

To be sure, where she lived was much larger than a village and he was technically not an idiot. He had been a fine young man from a good family, but his life had gone off track. He was virtually homeless and went about town talking loudly.

Strangely enough, other young men of the town had joined him. He said they were embracing the simplicity and the poverty of Christ.

She knew what that meant.

She and other young women needed to embrace the simplicity and poverty of Christ.

Around the age of eighteen, she withdrew from the world. Her father threatened to drag her back home, but he was soon realized that it was pointless.

St. Clare of Assisi, friend of St. Francis, led the community she founded for four decades until she died of natural causes on this very day in the year 1253.Tens of thousands of Poor Clare nuns continue to follow her example of prayer and devotion to Christ, from Kiryushi, Japan, to Birmingham, Alabama (the convent of Mother Angelica, founder of EWTN).

(from an earlier post)

Friday, August 10, 2007

An abundance for every good work

In today’s world, everybody seems to want more of everything.

You can never be too rich, some say.

Ironically, although material wealth can provide all sorts of distractions, we very often see the rich and famous drowning in a sea of troubles, from drugs and alcohol to bizarre behavior and unending animosities.

In today’s first reading (2 Corinthians 9:6-10), St. Paul gives us a better way: a way to be truly and happily rich.

Whoever sows sparingly
will also reap sparingly,
and whoever sows bountifully
will also reap bountifully.

Each must do as already determined,
without sadness or compulsion,
for God loves a cheerful giver.

God is able to make every grace abundant for you,
so that in all things, always having all you need,
you may have an abundance for every good work.

May you and I have the generosity of Christ, giving bountifully and using every abundance not for our selfish pleasures but for works that are truly and fully good.

People told stories about Larry

Everyone knew that he was a deacon of the Church, that he was well thought of, and that he was arrested during one of those large-scale roundups by the authorities.

Some said he was originally from Spain. Some said that when he was asked to show where the “riches” of the Church were kept, he pointed to the poor.

Some said that he ran into one of his old mentors in prison as he was being led to his execution.

Many said that Larry was killed by being burned alive (and afterwards he always appeared in paintings with a gridiron).

What is accepted by historians is that St. Lawrence, deacon of the Church of Rome, was executed under the emperor Valerian on this very day in the year 258.

(from an earlier post)

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Keeping in step with God

In today’s readings we have examples of two great holy men - who would be known as the highest leaders of God’s people - making terrible mistakes.

In the first reading (Numbers 20:1-13), Moses knocks on the rock to produce water as the Lord had told him, but then he goes on to knock a second time, as if he did not believe that it had worked as the Lord had said. For this, he is rebuked.

In the Gospel (Matthew 16:13-23), Saint Peter proclaims his faith in Christ, is gloriously praised, and then goes on to counsel Christ against following the way of suffering, death, and resurrection. For this, he is rebuked.

Both men had been exemplary servants of God, but then they had strayed, taking action on their own initiative and not in step with God.

These examples remind us of how we must at every moment strive to keep in step with God and his will – not our own will, preferences, or schedule.

Fiat voluntas Dei

Miserere mei Domine

"Since the Catholic Bishops have meddled...

"...in affairs that have nothing to do with them, all the Catholic Jews will be deported by the end of this week. No intervention (in their favor) will be respected."

So said the Nazis the day after their actions had been condemned from every Catholic pulpit in Holland.

Within the week, several hundred had been rounded up, including two Carmelite nuns who were biological siblings and converts from Judaism.

They were taken out of their convent on August 2, 1942 and brought to Auschwitz a week later, where they were immediately put to death.

One of these two sisters had been a brilliant philosopher – a protégé of the famous Edmund Husserl. Her writings before and after her conversion would influence a young Polish priest and philosophy student who would become the great Pope John Paul II.

Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, whose birth name was Edith Stein, was put to death on this very day 65 years ago.

Pope John Paul II beatified her in 1987 and declared her a saint in 1998.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Self-fulfilling prophecy of failure

They were scared to death even to try.

And so they would die as failures.

Thus we hear in today’s first reading, culled from the 13th and 14th chapters of the book of Numbers, of how the children of Israel came to the very edge of the Promised Land only to lose faith and doom themselves to mournful death in the desert.

Even after having seen the power of God with their own eyes, they chose to believe faulty intelligence rather than God’s own word.

Instead of moving ahead with the Lord, they cowered and cried in the night (and when they finally did decide to move forward, it would be too late).

They doomed themselves by their own self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.

The contrast with the woman in today’s Gospel (Matthew 15:21-28) could not be more dramatic.

She moves forward with unshakeable faith, even when she hears our Lord say things that would have caused almost anyone to turn away in anger and/or self-loathing.

Then Jesus said to her in reply,
“O woman, great is your faith!
Let it be done for you as you wish.”

May we never let ourselves be slowed by self-fulfilling prophecies of failure, but may we always move forward every day of our lives with prudence and faith according to the will and the call of God.


"Since the time of St. Dominic, more than 800 years ago, Dominicans have been living and sharing the message of the Gospel. Today thousands of sisters, nuns, priests, brothers, associates, and laity minister in more than 100 countries around the globe..."
(from the Web site of the Order of Preachers Province of St. Joseph)

See also their Vocations blog at www.dominicanfriars.org which includes links to some of the most vibrant Dominican communities for women as well.

A cult had taken over the town

The cult denounced marriage, childbearing, and eating meat. They advocated cohabitation and suicide.

The Church spoke out, but with little effect: partly because the churchmen there lived very comfortable lives that did not seem to resonate with spiritual values.

The Pope sent two special missionaries to do what they could. One was a 30-something priest from Spain.

The two missionaries exhorted the problematic churchmen to embrace again the values of the Gospel. They engaged the cult leaders in vigorous debate.

They made great progress, but there was also a great backlash. Violence and vindictive investigations followed.

In the face of all this, the Spanish priest appealed constantly for peace, healing and forgiveness (while continuing to assert the truths of the faith).

The priest resolved to start his own religious order: focused on strong preaching and Christian austerity. He encountered obstacles, but he also found powerful allies.

Some say that one night the Spanish priest had a dream about a beggar and then met the beggar the very next day. The beggar embraced the priest and said, "You are my companion and must walk with me. If we hold together, no earthly power can withstand us."

The beggar’s name was Francis and he was from the small Italian city of Assisi. The Spanish priest’s name was Dominic de Guzman. The orders that these two men founded would change Christendom forever.

St. Dominic, founder of the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans), died in August 1221, and his memory is celebrated on this day.

(from an earlier post)

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Rejecting a leader because of his wife

How can this man be worthy of leading the people? Look at the woman he married! We need someone different!

So begins today’s first reading (Numbers 12:1-13) as rivals denounce Moses on account of his marriage.

The subject of Moses’ wife, of course, was just a pretext: what they were really concerned about was getting more authority for themselves – no matter who got hurt in the process.

In this case, Moses is vindicated by God himself and the accusers are dramatically punished.

It is a very human thing to let our judgment become clouded by our likes and dislikes as well as by personal agendas.

Today’s first reading reminds us to keep our judgment focused on what is right, not on what is personal preference, and to keep our prayer focused not on what we want God to do for us, but what God wants, period.

Turning the tide

Doctors didn't know as much about the disease as they wanted to, but they did know that it was sexually transmitted, incurable, deadly, and spreading fast.

Adding to their misery, the dying men were shunned by society.

A newly ordained but middle-aged priest, who had walked away from a successful career as a lawyer and diplomat, decided to open a place where they could be cared for in peace. Other priests joined him.

They combined these good works with devotion to the Eucharist and preaching. They helped turn back the tide of people leaving the Church in the area where they worked.

St. Cajetan died in Naples, Italy, in 1547. His memory is celebrated on this day.

(from an earlier post)

The new bishop

Not long before his first anniversary in office, the bishop was saying Mass quietly. Suddenly, armed men broke in and seized him. They beheaded him and some deacons who were with him, leaving their bodies where they had just been celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Sixtus, the second bishop of Rome by that name, was buried in that same area, in the catacombs of St. Callistus, in August 258. The memory of Pope St. Sixtus II and those who were martyred with him is celebrated on this day.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Amy Welborn changes blogs

Amy Welborn, one of the most popular of Catholic bloggers, has brought her Open Book blog to an end and has started a new blog at http://amywelborn.wordpress.com

Monday, August 06, 2007

Remember the glory

Sometimes the world seems very dark.

Sometimes it seems as if the world will collapse either under a tidal wave of decadence and politically correct totalitarianism or under a tsunami of violent ideology having a guise of religion.

Sometimes in our own lives we can feel as if we are heading helplessly own a road of relentlessly gathering darkness.

Today’s readings for the Feast of the Transfiguration are special blessings for times such as these.

The first reading (Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14) comes from a time of great trouble and darkness for the people of Israel: a time at which one of the great prophets receives a vision of the power and glory of God and of his anointed one: a power and glory that will conquer all darkness and that will never end.

As the visions during the night continued,
I saw: One like a Son of man coming,
on the clouds of heaven;
When he reached the Ancient One
and was presented before him,
The one like a Son of man received dominion,

glory, and kingship;
all peoples, nations, and languages serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not be taken away,
his kingship shall not be destroyed.

This vision was a great comfort to the faithful of Israel and it sustained them through all their troubles.

Life was not necessarily easier for the faithful of the early Church. Even their leader, St. Peter the Apostle, suffered many troubles, but as we hear in today's second reading (2 Peter 1:16-19), he had a memory of a far more tangible vision of glory and power that sustained him in all darkness.

We had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.
For he received honor and glory from God the Father
when that unique declaration
came to him from the majestic glory,
“This is my Son, my beloved,

with whom I am well pleased.”
We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven
while we were with him on the holy mountain.
Moreover, we possess the prophetic message
that is altogether reliable.
You will do well to be attentive to it,
as to a lamp shining in a dark place,
until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

This vision (recounted in today's Gospel - Luke 9:28b-36) was a great comfort to him and it sustained him through all of his troubles.

And by sharing the memory of this vision and the prophetic message, St. Peter was able to comfort and sustain others.

As human beings, whenever we are in times of emotional or other darkness, it is as if we are looking into a black hole that only gets bigger and deeper and darker.

Today's feast and today's readings remind us to turn our minds to the glimpses of glory that our faith has given us and to ask the Lord to give us still greater glimpses by the grace of the Holy Spirit, so that we may be sustained and so that we may sustain others with that same grace in the name and power of our Lord Jesus Christ.


Detail from 'The Transfiguration' by Raphael - Vatican Museum Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother, John,
and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them;
his face shone like the sun
and his clothes became white as light.

And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them,
conversing with him.

Then Peter said to Jesus in reply,
"Lord, it is good that we are here.

Matthew 17:1-4a

Sunday, August 05, 2007

A world of disappointment

The common theme of today’s readings is quite clear: the things of this world will ultimately disappoint you ALWAYS, while real life is stored up for us in heaven with Christ.

We begin with the classic words of Ecclesiastes (1:2; 2:21-23):

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

Here is one who has labored

with wisdom and knowledge and skill,
and yet to another who has not labored over it,
he must leave property.
This also is vanity and a great misfortune.
For what profit comes to man

from all the toil and anxiety of heart
with which he has labored under the sun?
All his days sorrow and grief are his occupation;
even at night his mind is not at rest.
This also is vanity.

In today’s Gospel (Luke 12:13-21) our Lord is doubly forceful on the foolishness of focusing on material possessions.

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus,
“Teacher, tell my brother

to share the inheritance with me.”

He replied to him,
“Friend, who appointed me

as your judge and arbitrator?”

Then he said to the crowd,
“Take care to guard against all greed,
for though one may be rich,
one’s life does not consist of possessions.”

Then he told them a parable.
“There was a rich man

whose land produced a bountiful harvest.
He asked himself, ‘What shall I do,
for I do not have space to store my harvest?’
And he said, ‘This is what I shall do:
I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones.
There I shall store all my grain and other goods
and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you,
you have so many good things

stored up for many years,
rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’
But God said to him,
‘You fool,

this night your life will be demanded of you;
and the things you have prepared,

to whom will they belong?’
Thus will it be

for all who store up treasure for themselves
but are not rich in what matters to God.”

And in today’s second reading (Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11), St. Paul reinforces where the focus of our earthly lives should be.

If you were raised with Christ,
seek what is above,
where Christ is seated

at the right hand of God.
Think of what is above,

not of what is on earth.
For you have died,
and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ your life appears,
then you too will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, then,

the parts of you that are earthly:
immorality, impurity,

passion, evil desire,
and the greed that is idolatry.
Stop lying to one another,
since you have taken off

the old self with its practices
and have put on the new self,
which is being renewed, for knowledge,
in the image of its creator.

The world will always disappoint us, sooner or late, but if we live our lives in this world faithful to Christ, our happiness is assured.

Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.

Another gentle blogger passes

Mark Shea has information about the August 1 passing of Karen Marie Knapp, the author of the blog From the Anchor Hold. A Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated tomorrow "in Cuyahoga Falls, OH". Requiescat in pace.


Karen's family is having a Memorial Mass at St John's Cathedral in downtown Milwuakee Saturday, September 1 at 10 am. A "majority" of her siblings will be there.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The land is mine

Today’s first reading (Leviticus 25:1, 8-17) may seem a bit confusing at first hearing: complex time lines (“seven weeks of years”) and complex references to the harvesting and selling of land.

A key to understanding this passage is found in the 23rd verse of this chapter:

The land shall not be sold in perpetuity;
for the land is mine,
and you are but aliens
who have become my tenants.

Ultimately, all things belong to the Lord: we are but stewards.

This idea of temporary stewardship underlies the jubilee year practice of restoring ancestral land and leaving the fields unharvested, as mentioned in today’s first reading.

All the more reason for us to be generous with others in our prudent stewardship of the things we have and most importantly to be fair and just.

Do not deal unfairly, then;
but stand in fear of your God.

A nice guy, but not bright

That is what people thought of him when he was trying to become a priest.

That is also what other priests thought of him after he was ordained a priest (to everyone’s amazement).

He was assigned to a parish in the boondocks, to a town where very few people cared about Church (thus limiting the damage some feared he might clumsily do).

Nothing much was heard for a while, but as the years passed, everyone in the region noticed that many, many people were passing through the small town with the not-so-bright priest.

They were people from all parts of the country and from all walks of life, but they were all people who shared the same need – the need for conversion, the need for forgiveness – and nobody was a more grace-filled minister of conversion and forgiveness than this not-so-bright priest in the boondocks.

As many as twenty thousand people would come to him every year and he would spend as much as 18 hours a day in the confessional.

The man whom other priests had thought was not too bright, would outshine them all and would become their patron saint.

St. Jean Baptiste Marie Vianney, the Curé d'Ars, the patron saint of parish priests, died on this very day in 1859.

(from a previous post)

Friday, August 03, 2007

The curse of familiarity

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 13:54-58), familiarity proved to be an obstacle to faith for the people of Nazareth.

Familiarity is possibly one of the common mental blocks for the human mind: our closeness to a particular person or thing or event can sometimes blind us – at least temporarily - to the full significance of that person, thing or event.

In a movie about the U.S. space program, on the night when a man first walked on the moon, one of the other astronauts goes outside with his wife to look up at the sky. It is only then that he realizes that his close friend and coworker now belongs to the pantheon of history: “Christopher Columbus, Charles Lindbergh, and Neil Armstrong.” He chuckles. “Neil Armstrong!”

It was hard to believe that someone so familiar could turn out to be a person of such monumental consequence.

Likewise, as the comedian Bill Cosby observed, George Washington’s father did not realize that his son was THE George Washington.

It was hard to believe that someone so familiar could turn out to be a person of such monumental consequence.

So it is in today’s Gospel, the people of his town could not believe that someone so familiar could be the one with such “wisdom and mighty deeds....”

And they took offense at him.
But Jesus said to them,
“A prophet is not without honor
except in his native place
and in his own house.”

And he did not work many mighty deeds there
because of their lack of faith.

Familiarity can likewise be an obstacle for us: in how we perceive others and in how others perceive us.

May the Lord grant us his wisdom: that his grace and power may always be recognized, even in people and things that are familiar.

Brothers and sisters

A parenthetical note:

Today’s Gospel (Matthew 13:54-58) is one of those that usually strike cradle Catholics as strange in that it speaks of Jesus as having brothers and sisters, which runs counter to the traditional understanding of Mary's perpetual virginity.

In the usage of that time and place, of course, the terms "brothers" and "sisters" included close relatives who were not necessarily children of the same parents. Some have even considered the possibility that Joseph had been a widower with children and that these half-brothers and half-sisters are the ones referred to in this passage.

The most important thing, of course, is not who these "brothers and sisters" were, but who Jesus is: in history, in eternity, and in our souls.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Old and new

Today’s Gospel (Matthew 13:47-53) ends with a saying of Christ that fits very well with recent events in the Church.

Every scribe
who has been instructed in the Kingdom of heaven
is like the head of a household

who brings from his storeroom
both the new and the old.

This saying seems to apply perfectly to the recent Motu Proprio by Pope Benedict XVI liberalizing the use of the older form of the Mass.

We would do well to take this saying of our Lord as an encouragement for us to set aside any prejudices or bad experiences we may have had and to look with fresh eyes upon the form of the Mass we do not like so much (either the older or the newer): asking the Holy Spirit to help us go beyond the particular aspects of that other form that may sometimes drive us crazy and to appreciate the treasures of that form – old or new.

Of course, this saying of our Lord is primarily associated with the relationship of the Old and New Covenants: a relationship that became the focus of some criticism of the Motu Proprio, since the Good Friday Liturgy in the Mass of Blessed John XXIII is very explicit about the need for conversion on the part of the Jewish people.

News flash: you and I – devout Jews, faithful Christians, or whatever - need conversion too. Indeed, we can easily put ourselves in this prayer.

Let us pray also for (ourselves) that the Lord our God may take the veil from (our) hearts and that (we) may acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ.
[Let us pray. Let us kneel. Arise.]
Almighty and everlasting God, you who do not turn away (us) also from your mercy: hear the prayers which we offer for the blindness of (this) people so that, the light of your truth which is Christ being known, (we) might come out of (our) darkness. Through our Lord the same Jesus Christ, your son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

We would do well to take our Lord’s saying as an encouragement for us to look again with respect upon the Jewish people and upon their great deposit of faith, so that we may deepen our understanding of the fulfillment of that faith through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Through the old and the new, may we grow deeper in the grace of Christ.