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...

Sunday, September 30, 2007


On a classic television comedy many years ago, a socially elite woman told how she and the ladies of her club recently happened to drive through the poor part of town and were so affected by the misery they saw that they made a decision: from now on... they would no longer drive through the poor part of town.

This may be a cute bit of comedy, but the tragedy is that there are many people in desperate need as well as many people who live quite comfortably and who steadfastly close their eyes to the misery of others.

The words of the prophet in today’s first reading (Amos 6:1a, 4-7) resonate strongly in this world today.

Thus says the LORD the God of hosts:
Woe to the complacent in Zion!
Lying upon beds of ivory,
stretched comfortably on their couches,
they eat lambs taken from the flock,
and calves from the stall!
Improvising to the music of the harp,
like David, they devise their own accompaniment.
They drink wine from bowls
and anoint themselves with the best oils;
yet they are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph!
Therefore, now they shall be the first to go into exile,
and their wanton revelry shall be done away with.

This is reinforced by the familiar story of Lazarus and the rich man in today’s Gospel (Luke 16:19-31):

There was a rich man
who dressed in purple garments and fine linen
and dined sumptuously each day.
And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,
who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps
that fell from the rich man's table.

(Coincidentally, the Associated Press has reported purple garments as the dominant color for fall fashion this year.)

This is not simply a matter of rich versus poor: it is a matter of what we do with our lives and with the gifts we have received from God.

Are you and I complacent? Are we numb to the sufferings of our fellow human beings? Do we ignore people in pain and misery at our doorstep?

Do we ignore God and the purposes for which he gave us life and all the things we have?

You and I need to think about it, pray about it, and do what God wants.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

In the presence of the angels

Life on this planet is not always happy. Sometimes it can feel absolutely miserable.

Yet, God has placed us here to be his messengers and servants, even when his purposes seem beyond our grasp.

When his purposes for us in this world are fulfilled, he will call us to himself by his grace at the time of his choosing and then we will enjoy the visions of today’s Feast and today’s readings, as today’s Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 138:1-2ab, 2cde-5) tells us so simply and beautifully:

In the presence of the angels I will sing your praise.

In the meantime, we can have a foretaste of this glory that awaits us, by eating the bread of angels and by placing our souls in prayer before the Throne of God.

In the presence of the angels I will sing your praise.

Saint Michael the Archangel

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


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

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

(from a previous post)

I am Gabriel

that stand in the presence of God

and am sent to speak unto thee
Luke 1:19

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

(from a previous post)

I am Raphael

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

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

(from a previous post)

Friday, September 28, 2007

Rebuilding the wreck

Standing in the midst of massive ruins, with no resources or even a clear plan for rebuilding.

That is the image that comes to mind with today’s first reading (Haggai 2:1-9) as the people look upon what they had heard was once the glorious Temple of the Lord.

Who is left among you
that saw this house in its former glory?
And how do you see it now?
Does it not seem like nothing in your eyes?

The Lord’s words of encouragement are powerful indeed.

Take courage, all you people of the land,
says the LORD,
and work!

For I am with you,
says the LORD of hosts.

This is the pact that I made with you
when you came out of Egypt,
And my spirit continues in your midst;
do not fear!

The Lord also promises superabundant resources, to be supplied from the universe in all its parts, as we hear in the next two verses (familiar to many as being used in Handel’s Messiah):

For thus says the LORD of hosts:
One moment yet, a little while,
and I will shake
the heavens and the earth,
the sea and the dry land.
I will shake all the nations,
and the treasures of all the nations will come in

Just as the Temple of the Lord in ancient Jerusalem was wrecked, so too may the Temple of the Lord which is our spiritual life feel like a dusty pile of old glories now broken.

But the Lord extends the same promise to us, that he is with us: to give us everything we need to rebuild our spiritual lives and give glorious worship to the Lord.

Take courage, all you people of the land,
says the LORD,
and work!

For I am with you,
says the LORD of hosts.

This is the pact that I made with you
when you came out of Egypt,
And my spirit continues in your midst;
do not fear!

A new shepherd in Crookston

The Holy Father has accepted the resignation of the Most Reverend Victor H. Balke as Bishop of Crookston, Minnesota (USA).

The Holy Father has named as the new Bishop of Crookston Monsignor Michael J. Hoeppner, 58, currently Vicar General of the diocese of Winona, Minnesota. Bishop-elect Hoeppner was born and educated in Winona, studying philosophy at Immaculte Heart of Mary seminary there. He was then sent to the Pontifical North American College in Rome, studying theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

He was ordained a priest by Pope Paul VI June 29, 1975 for the Diocese of Winona. He served as Assistant Pastor of St. Joseph the Worker parish in Mankato, Minnesota from 1975 to 1980, after which he taught at Loyola High School in Mankato, Director of Pacelli High School in Austin, and Diocesan Director of Vocations until 1984. From 1985 to 1987, he studied at St. Paul University in Ottawa, Canada, where he earned a License degree in Canon Law. He also obtained a Masterrs of Education degree from Winona State University.

Bishop-elect Hoeppner then served as Pastor of St. Paul parish in Minnesota City from 1988 until 1992 when he became Pastor of St. Casimir parish in Winona until 1997. During that decade he also served as Judicial Vicar of the Diocese. He was named Vicar General in 1997. From 1997 to 1999 he served as Diocesan Administrator. He was named Moderator of the Curia in 1999.

Lawrence had a wife and three kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(From an earlier post)

A Dysfunctional Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(from an earlier post)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Vocations Prayer

"God of mercy,
through the intercession of St. Jude,
we pray to you to bless our parishes
with numerous vocations
to the religious life.

"We ask you to bless us
with saintly men and women
who seek
to follow Jesus Christ more perfectly
in poverty, chastity and obedience.

We ask you to bless and protect
all religious brothers and sisters
vowed to your service
and to increase their holiness
and apostolic zeal,
that through their prayers
and good works
the Kingdom of Christ
might continue to grow
in our homes,
in our parish
and in our world.

"Almighty Father,
through the intercession of St. Jude,
we pray you to raise up
from within our parishes
many holy priests and deacons
to proclaim your holy gospel
and to celebrate your Sacred Mysteries.

"We ask you to bless and protect our Holy Father
and all bishops, priests, and deacons,
whom you have chosen
as shepherds of your flock
and anointed with your Holy Spirit.

"We ask you to keep them
strong in faith,
full of hope
and overflowing with charity,
that through their life and ministry
the Church born from Christ's wounded side
might continue to grow in grace and holiness."

(from the Vocations website of the Diocese of St. Petersburg)

The time has not yet come?

You know what you should do. You know what godly things you have been called to do.

But… there are these other things to be done first.

The time has not yet come, you think, to do the right thing: what God wants, what his people need.

I know what I should do. I know what godly things I have been called to do.

But… there are these other things to be taken care of first.

The time has not yet come, I say to myself, to do the right thing: what God wants, what his people need.

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

So it was in the time of today’s first reading (Haggai 1:1-8).

The people of God knew what they should do. They knew what godly thing they had been called to do.

But… there were other things to be done first.

Thus says the LORD of hosts:
This people says:
“The time has not yet come
to rebuild the house of the LORD.”

God sets them straight.

(Then this word of the LORD came through Haggai, the prophet:)
Is it time for you to dwell in your own paneled houses,
while this house lies in ruins?

What God said then to his people, he also says to us: to you and to me.

Now thus says the LORD of hosts:
Consider your ways!

You have sown much,
but have brought in little;
you have eaten,
but have not been satisfied;
You have drunk,
but have not been exhilarated;
have clothed yourselves,
but not been warmed;
And whoever earned wages
earned them for a bag with holes in it.

(Boy! Doesn’t that describe the rat race of work and consumption in which many of us live?)

Thus says the LORD of hosts:
Consider your ways!

Has not the time already come NOW to focus our lives on what God wants us to do?

Is it not time to stop procrastinating and, without forsaking our godly responsibilities, start doing NOW the things God has called us to do in our lives?

Thus says the LORD of hosts:
Consider your ways!

The time has come.

May God give us the strength and light our path.

Kidnapped by Muslim Outlaws

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

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

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

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

(from an earlier post)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A turning point

In today’s first reading (Ezra 9:5-9) we hear a portion of the heart-wrenching prayer of Ezra, priest and scribe of God’s people at the time of the Restoration.

In this prayer, he is bitterly aware of his people’s sinfulness and their just punishment, but he is also gratefully aware of God’s mercy in bringing about their return from captivity.

So too should we never forget our sins and whatever unhappy consequences we have brought upon ourselves, yet we must always be even more mindful of the Lord’s mercy: that which he has shown us already in our lives and that which yet awaits us.

Although this part of Ezra’s prayer sounds like a turning point, Ezra and his people still had more work to do - more sinfulness from which they needed to disentangle and more suffering they had yet to endure – but there was also infinitely greater mercy still to come.

May God give us the grace to pass through our own turning points, no matter how long and difficult they may seem, so that we may share more fully in his eternal live through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Catholic Carnival

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

Physicians tortured

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

They were arrested, tortured, and executed...

...just over 1,700 years ago.

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

Today the Church celebrates the memory of Saints Cosmas and Damian.

(from an earlier post)

Congregation for Bishops

The Holy Father today named His Eminence Cardinal Justin Francis Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia, as a member of the Congregation for Bishops.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

His mother and brothers

Today’s Gospel (Luke 8:19-21) and its parallels usually strike 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.

More difficult to deal with perhaps is our Lord's cool reaction to hearing that his mother and brothers are outside. Instead of going out to see them, he simply says, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it." In the parallels, our Lord's reaction seems outright dismissive.

"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."

This may not only disturb our long-nurtured Marian devotion, it may even make Jesus look like a rude child (“I don’t need my parents, I’ve got my friends”), and seem to clash with the wonderful depiction of Mary elsewhere 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.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Monday, September 24, 2007

The man from Iran

Today’s first reading (Ezra 1:1-6) begins an account of the restoration of Israel following the Babylonian Captivity: a restoration that takes place through the leader of Persia.

Ironically, this reading has come up in the Lectionary’s multi-year cycle on the very day when the current leader of Persia (now called Iran) makes a controversial appearance before college students in New York.

Today’s reading reminds us of how God’s will comes to fruition even through the geopolitical machinations of pagan despots.

Today’s reading is thus a sign of hope in a world that often seems to be turning away from the ways of God and to be spiraling into darkness, violence, and chaos.

That is not at all to say that we should just sit back and let events happen, passively trusting in the ultimate victory of truth and righteousness by the power of God.

As God’s faithful people, we are called to put our faith into action.

As citizens in this world, we have responsibilities, including the responsibility to do everything morally possible to defend against evil.

In the end, no matter what this man from Iran or any other human being may say or do, God’s will shall be accomplished.

May you and I be faithful and active servants of Jesus Christ: King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and the only Savior.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Dirty money

The long form of today’s Gospel (Luke 16:1-13) offers complicated perspectives regarding money.

It begins with the Parable of the Dishonest Steward, who conspires to reduce the value of his employer’s accounts receivable and is commended for it by that same employer.

Some scholars say that the steward was simply forgoing his legal (albeit exorbitant) commission from his employer’s transactions in order to ingratiate himself with his employer’s business partners. Thus, in these rewritten promissory notes, he was taking nothing that was ultimately owed to his employer, but was only sacrificing his own short-term income to obtain long-term good will from prospective employers. These scholars would connect this to an interpretation of a later verse in which we are exhorted to “make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations” – in other words, to use money to help other people, not just in a way to win future employment but in a way that will enable us to be welcomed into heaven.

And that’s just one interpretation.

Amidst all of these interpretations, each often emphasizing one verse over another, there are a number of important points to make.

For some, all money and all commercial enterprises are irreparably tainted: “dishonest wealth” in the lectionary translation, the “mammon of iniquity” in more traditional, literal translations. Few, if any of us, however, can live up to our responsibilities in this world without interacting with money in some way.

For many, money is the most important thing in life. In this case, however, our Lord’s words are clear: you cannot serve God and mammon.

We need to be ethical, prudent, and conscientious in our obtaining and our using of money – keeping always in mind as we do so that our goal and our rewards lie in eternity and that everything we do should be directed toward that.

Be good to others. Serve God. Thereby we shall obtain the ultimate no-hassle rewards.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Good dirt

Some scholars say that the original point of the Parable of the Sower, which we hear in today’s Gospel (Luke 8:4-15), is how God spreads his word generously, even in places that most people would think unlikely to bear fruit.

This, of course, must not to be understood as disregarding or disrespecting the allegorical interpretation our Lord himself gives immediately following the parable. Much of Scripture is richly layered with meaning.

Indeed, there are layers of meaning in these parables and metaphors that would have been better understood by those who first heard Christ’s words than by people who live in modern times and big cities.

One thing that would have been well understood in our Lord’s agrarian environment is that “good soil” is usually no accident, but rather the result of the very hard work of the farmer, who removes the stones and weeds that may obstruct the seed’s growth and who even loosens the soil so that the seed may take root more quickly and deeply.

In this allegorical interpretation, God is the farmer of our souls and he is the one who can create the good soil within us, if we let him.

May we always open our hearts, minds, and souls to the Lord, so that he may remove any obstacles and give us the grace to embrace his word "with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverance."

Friday, September 21, 2007

Come together

One of the great advantages of the Internet and the blogosphere is that like-minded people, who may be geographically isolated from each other, can enjoy their fellowship together and converse more deeply together on topics that are important to them without constantly having to re-explain their worldview or prove over and over again their good will and good hearts.

A problem that often arises from this, however, is that people risk withdrawing into ideological ghettos and sub-ghettos.

The Internet itself is not the culprit here: it is simply one technological development that has helped to exacerbate a perennial human trait.

This can be (and has been) a dangerous situation for the world. It can be (and has been) a dangerous situation for the Church.

The truth remains the truth and we need to stand strong in it, even as we work diligently to increase and deepen our understanding of it, but this truth includes much more than just the intellectual and political propositions upon which we usually focus.

All of us, therefore, conservatives and progressives and moderates, should together take to heart what Saint Paul says to us in today’s first reading (Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13):

I, then, a prisoner for the Lord,
urge you to live
in a manner worthy of the call you have received,
with all humility
and gentleness,
with patience,
bearing with one another
through love,
to preserve the unity of the Spirit
through the bond of peace:
one Body
and one Spirit,
as you were also called
to the one hope of your call;
one Lord,
one faith,
one baptism;
one God
and Father of all,
who is over all
and through all
and in all.

Moscow and Minsk

The Holy Father today named the Most Reverend Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz as the new Archbishop of Minsk-Mohilev in Belarus. Up to now, Archbishop Kondrusiewicz had been Archbishop of the Archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow, Russia.

The Holy Father also named today Father Don Paolo Pezzi, FSCB, to be the new Archbishop of the Archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow. Up to now, Archbishop-elect Pezzi had been Rector of the Major Seminary "Mary Queen of Apostles" in St. Petersburg, Russia. He was born in 1960 in Russi in the region of Emilia Romagna in Italy. He completed his philosophy and theology studies at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. He was ordained a priest in 1990 for the Priestly Fraternity of the Missionaries of St. Charles Borromeo. He went on to complete a Doctorate at the Lateran University with a thesis on Catholics in Siberia. He has served in several positions, including Director of the Catholic journal and Dean of the central region of Siberia in the diocese of Novosibirsk from 1993 to 1998, Vicar General of his order from 1998 to 2005, leader of the "Communion and Liberation" Movement in Russia since 1998, teacher at the St. Petersburg Major Seminary since 2004 and Rector since 2006. Archbishop-elect Pezzi speaks Russian, English, Spanish, French, and Italian.

The Call of St. Matthew

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

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

"Who? Me?"

(from an earlier post)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(adapted from an earlier post)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Knowing who the sinner is

Today’s Gospel (Luke 7:36-50) gives us the familiar account of the penitential woman who kisses and anoints the feet of Christ.

But much more happens than just an emotional foot washing. There is also this reaction:

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.”

The Pharisee thinks that Christ should read minds and hearts. What he fails to realize is that Christ reads the Pharisee's mind and heart as well.

The Pharisee thinks Christ should know that the woman is a sinner. What he fails to recognize is that Christ not only knows that, he also knows the sin in the Pharisee’s own heart.

We ourselves need to be clear about sin, generally and concretely: in the world around us, but most especially in our own hearts.

We ourselves need to welcome the Lord Jesus into our dark and narrow hearts, so that he may open us fully by his grace to the fullness of his truth and his love and that we may overcome sin with the power of his forgiveness.

He knew it would not be easy

but Andrew wanted to be a priest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their memory is celebrated on this day.

(from an earlier post)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Catholic Carnival

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

You should know how to behave

Yesterday, a talk radio host who also happens to conduct Jewish services, was talking about the importance of proper attire when gathering for worship. On one level, this seems to resonate quite well with today’s first reading (1Timothy 3 :14-16):

You should know how to behave in the household of God,
which is the Church of the living God,
the pillar and foundation of truth.

Of course, there are many levels to what St. Paul is saying here and some people may think that proper attire at Church is rather low in relative importance.

To be sure, as members of Christ’s faithful, we are always in the household of God and therefore should behave fittingly at all times, especially so that we may be good witnesses of our faith.

Even when we are just “among ourselves” – e.g., in Church - we need to continue to give witness to each other by our good behavior.

Good behavior, of course, includes both what we do and what we say.

Good behavior also includes what we wear. This is easiest to see in the reverse extreme: walking naked through a shopping mall is not good behavior nor is wearing a shirt with obscenities on it.

Wearing proper attire, on the other hand, is good behavior. While not as practical as a good deed nor as clear and direct as an explicit word of faith, attire is a practical means of communication and proper attire is part of good behavior.

For one thing, proper attire signifies respect: for others, for the particular occasion, and for oneself.

Being sloppy in what we wear is very much like being sloppy in what we say or sloppy in what we do. Even if “our hearts are in the right place”, such sloppiness can send wrong signals and cause bad effects.

What does our attire say to others, to our fellow Christians, to our fellow worshipers, to ourselves?

May we always be good witnesses of God’s truth and God’s presences: in what we do, in what we say, and even in what we wear.

The Bishop's Blood

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

This bishop is remembered only for his blood

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

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

(from an earlier post)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Aspiring to be a bishop

In today’s first reading (1 Timothy 3:1-13), St. Paul gives a list of qualifications for offices within the Church, beginning with bishops.

This saying is trustworthy:
whoever aspires to the office of bishop
desires a noble task.

This passage is often the occasion for much discussion and even conflict about the proper roles and qualifications of clergy today.

Underlying these discussions and fueling the attendant conflicts is the question of power in the Church. Sadly, this is a primary focus for too many: those who want to hold onto it and those who want to grab it.

One problem is when people confuse the social and ecclesial structures of right order with personal issues of autonomy and self-esteem. (I keep thinking of a homemade video I saw of a seminarian singing “If I were a bishop ya ha deedle deedle bubba bubba deedle deedle dum”.) This is just silly. Having power over others does not make you a better person. Indeed, having power over others is more often than not a danger to one’s own salvation.

That is one of the reasons St. Paul lists so many qualifications for these positions of responsibility in the Church (orthodoxy and piety are assumed), because there are so many opportunities to fail.

Of course, all of us within the Church – each in different ways – have responsibilities: responsibilities for the spread of the Gospel and for manifesting the love of Christ.

That is why these ancient qualifications are relevant in varying ways for all of us.

Do we desire noble tasks?
Are we irreproachable?
Have we disrespected marriage or another lifetime commitment?
Are we temperate and self-controlled?
Are we decent? Are we hospitable?
Do we take opportunities to teach?
Are we addicted to alcohol, drugs, or vices?
Are we aggressive or gentle?
Are we contentious? Are we greedy?
Are we prudent with our responsibilities?
Are we actively working at growing deeper in the faith?
Do we do what we can to maintain a good reputation (without sacrificing our beliefs)?
Do we slander?
Are we faithful in everything?

As we hear in today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 101:1b-2ab,2cd-3ab,5,6), thus says the Lord:

My eyes are upon the faithful of the land,
that they may dwell with me.
He who walks in the way of integrity
shall be in my service.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, be merciful to me – a sinner.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Pray for the pagan politicians

It is a sad fact of life that many if not most politicians today are not thoroughly orthodox in their beliefs nor moral in their behavior.

In New Testament times, of course, it was even worse. Almost no one in authority was Christian and many were immoral by any standard. In fact, Christians were being persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, and even executed by civil authorities.

And yet, in today’s first reading (1 Timothy 2:1-8), St. Paul has this to say:

First of all, I ask that supplications, prayers,
petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone,
for kings and for all in authority,
that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life
in all devotion and dignity.

As Christians seem to face more and more opposition in popular culture, political debate, and even criminal prosecutions, there is a temptation for us to make the divide between ourselves and the rest of the world even wider, following an increasing trend in secular politics (on the left and on the right) to excoriate and anathematize any who disagree with their own side.

St. Paul reminds us that as people of faith, we need to pray for those in authority and all of our fellow citizens, including even those who attack the truth and who persecute truth-tellers.

As people of faith, we must hold to what is true and live by it.

As citizens, we need to speak and work for what we believe in: with clarity and charity, with concrete deed and with fervent prayer for the good of all.

The ways of politics

His father wanted Robert to be a politician.

But Robert decided to become a priest instead, devoting himself to prayer, study, and teaching as a Jesuit.

His reputation as a teacher became widespread and he was eventually asked to teach in Rome. He wrote important works that defended the Christian faith against the heretics of the time. So great was his reputation for wisdom and faithfulness, that this academician who had rejected politics as a profession, ended up serving at various Vatican offices and advising a number of Popes.

At conclaves, many spoke of him favorably as a papabile (to his own horror), but politics spared him, because some Cardinals were prejudiced against Jesuits.

Often in frail health, Robert died at the age of 58 on this very day in 1621.

After centuries of politically-inspired delays, St. Robert Bellarmine was canonized in 1930.

(from an earlier post)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Go back and face it

He knew he could not go back. What he had done was too stupid and too hurtful.

He knew he could not go back. What he had done was too evil.

He knew he could not go back. The wrongs were too great and the anger was terrifying.

Today’s readings involve terrible sins that any reasonable person would think are irrecoverable: there is no turning back, the bridges are burned, the doors are closed.

In the first reading (Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14), the children of Israel have rejected God and embraced idolatry. In the second reading (1 Timothy 1:12-17), Paul is painfully aware of his sinful life in which he murderously persecuted believers in Christ. Finally, in the Gospel (Luke 15:1-32), we hear of a young man who has emotionally kicked his family in the teeth and then ran his own life into the grimy ground.

Today’s readings also remind us that God’s power of forgiveness is greater than any evil we may have done, if only we turn back to him.

No matter what we have done or how long we have done it, may we have the humility to accept the Lord’s grace of repentance, so that we may also receive God’s forgiveness, saying,

I shall get up and go to my Father.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The foremost sinner

In today’s first reading (1 Timothy 1:15-17), St. Paul identifies himself as the worst of sinners.

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
Of these I am the foremost.
But for that reason I was mercifully treated,
so that in me, as the foremost,
Christ Jesus might display all his patience
as an example
for those who would come to believe in him
for everlasting life.

These are powerful words of hope for me, for my sinfulness and the memory of my sinfulness is always before me.

Powerful words of hope for us all.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, be merciful to me – a sinner.

The sorrowful mother stood

By the cross weeping
Where her Son was hanging.

Through her weeping soul,
Compassionate and grieving,
A sword passed.

O how sad and afflicted
Was that blessed
Mother of the Only-begotten!

Who mourned and grieved,
The pious Mother, looking at
The torment of her glorious Child.

Who is the human who would not weep
Seeing the Mother of Christ
In such agony?

Who would not be able to feel compassion
On beholding Christ's Mother
Suffering with her Son?

For the sins of his people
She saw Jesus in torment
And subjected to the scourge.

She saw her sweet offspring
Dying, forsaken,
While He gave up His spirit.

O Mother, fountain of love,
Make me feel the power of sorrow,
That I may grieve with you.

Grant that my heart may burn
In the love of Christ my God,
That I may greatly please Him.

Holy Mother, grant that
The wounds of the Crucified
Drive deep into my heart.

That of your wounded Son,
Who so deigned to suffer for me,
I may share the pain.

Let me, pious one, weep with you,
Bemoan the Crucified,
For as long as I live.

To stand beside the cross with you,
And to join you
In your weeping, this I desire.

Chosen Virgin of virgins,
Be not bitter with me,
Let me weep with thee.

Grant that I may bear the death of Christ,
Share his Passion,
And commemorate His wounds.

Let me be wounded with His wounds,
Let me be inebriated by the cross
And your Son's blood.

Lest I burn, set afire by flames,
Virgin, may I be defended by you,
On the day of judgment.

Christ, when it is time to pass away,
Grant that through Your Mother I may come
To the palm of victory.

When my body dies,
Grant that to my soul is given
The glory of Paradise.

Stabat Mater dolorosa
iuxta Crucem lacrimosa,
dum pendebat Filius.

Cuius animam gementem,
contristatam et dolentem
pertransivit gladius.

O quam tristis et afflicta
fuit illa benedicta,
mater Unigeniti!

Quae maerebat et dolebat,
pia Mater, dum videbat
nati poenas inclyti.

Quis est homo qui non fleret,
matrem Christi si videret
in tanto supplicio?

Quis non posset contristari
Christi Matrem contemplari
dolentem cum Filio?

Pro peccatis suae gentis
vidit Iesum in tormentis,
et flagellis subditum.

Vidit suum dulcem Natum
moriendo desolatum,
dum emisit spiritum.

Eia, Mater, fons amoris
me sentire vim doloris
fac, ut tecum lugeam.

Fac, ut ardeat cor meum
in amando Christum Deum
ut sibi complaceam.

Sancta Mater, istud agas,
crucifixi fige plagas
cordi meo valide.

Tui Nati vulnerati,
tam dignati pro me pati,
poenas mecum divide.

Fac me tecum pie flere,
crucifixo condolere,
donec ego vixero.

Iuxta Crucem tecum stare,
et me tibi sociare
in planctu desidero.

Virgo virginum praeclara,
mihi iam non sis amara,
fac me tecum plangere.

Fac, ut portem Christi mortem,
passionis fac consortem,
et plagas recolere.

Fac me plagis vulnerari,
fac me Cruce inebriari,
et cruore Filii.

Flammis ne urar succensus,
per te, Virgo, sim defensus
in die iudicii.

Christe, cum sit hinc exire,
da per Matrem me venire
ad palmam victoriae.

Quando corpus morietur,
fac, ut animae donetur
paradisi gloria.

Today, the day after the Feast of the Holy Cross,
the Church remembers Mary, the mother of Jesus,
as Our Lady of Sorrows

Friday, September 14, 2007

No food or water

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s release of its Responses regarding artificial means of supplying food or water comes on a very interesting day.

To begin with, today’s first reading (Numbers 21:4b-9) features the people of Israel complaining about being in a place “where there is no food or water.”

The absence of food and water is a very difficult situation and can be deadly.

It is also a very difficult situation when a person’s functionality is so reduced that that person can no longer feed him or her self, yet feeding the person artificially will do nothing but prolong the surreal existence of a vegetative state.

The Holy See today has made it clear that “a patient in a ‘permanent vegetative state’ is a person with fundamental human dignity and must, therefore, receive ordinary and proportionate care which includes, in principle, the administration of water and food even by artificial means.”

This teaching may disturb those who are contemplating advance instructions for their own care in the event of a permanent vegetative state. It may also disturb those whose loved ones are currently in such a state. It may greatly disturb those who have already terminated the artificial nutrition and hydration of a loved one (who died as a result). Why prolong a life with such non-existent quality?

First of all, human dignity does not depend on any functional quality. The value of human life comes from God.

Secondly, our obligation to care for each other does not depend on what the other can or cannot do. Indeed, the more helpless the person, the greater our obligation to help.

These noble-sounding truths, of course, can sometimes seem to shrink in importance, emotionally speaking, when one is confronted with the grisly reality of maintaining a loved one in a permanent vegetative state.

Those who are confronted by this grisly reality and who believe in Christ, however, have a very special and powerful gift: a gift that is highlighted by the timing of today’s announcement – on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

Many of us watched the brutally graphic portrayal of our Lord’s crucifixion in the film The Passion of the Christ. It was gut-wrenching to watch.

But as brutal as it was, it was mercifully abbreviated, depicting only a few minutes of the three hours that our Lord hung dying on the cross.

Imagine his loved ones standing there, especially his mother: helpless, watching that horrifically grisly reality for three hours - minute after minute after minute.

Our faith assures us that that our Lord’s long, painful death had a power beyond anything that has ever happened in the universe, for it was the supreme act of God’s love.

We hear a bit of this in today’s second reading (Philippians 2:6-11):

He emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him...

This mystery offers those who believe tremendous power for their own lives, most especially when confronted by suffering that may be long and intense, for it is an opportunity to be specially united with Christ and the infinite power of God’s love.

That is not to say that suffering is good. No, suffering must be avoided whenever morally possible, but there are some evils worse than suffering and if the suffering is morally unavoidable, faith in Christ provides a very precious opportunity for very special grace.

Ultimately, human words – no matter how true and devout - may still provide little comfort to those who are confronted by these issues.

Ultimately, comfort for those facing such extremes can only be found by turning to Christ: seeking the crucified One in prayer and being opened to the power of his will, his, love, and his resurrection.

Vatican RE: Artificial Nutrition & Hydration

This just in:


"First question: Is the administration of food and water (whether by natural or artificial means) to a patient in a 'vegetative state' morally obligatory except when they cannot be assimilated by the patient’s body or cannot be administered to the patient without causing significant physical discomfort?

"Response: Yes. The administration of food and water even by artificial means is, in principle, an ordinary and proportionate means of preserving life. It is therefore obligatory to the extent to which, and for as long as, it is shown to accomplish its proper finality, which is the hydration and nourishment of the patient. In this way suffering and death by starvation and dehydration are prevented.

"Second question: When nutrition and hydration are being supplied by artificial means to a patient in a 'permanent vegetative state', may they be discontinued when competent physicians judge with moral certainty that the patient will never recover consciousness?

"Response: No. A patient in a 'permanent vegetative state' is a person with fundamental human dignity and must, therefore, receive ordinary and proportionate care which includes, in principle, the administration of water and food even by artificial means."

* * *

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

"Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, August 1, 2007."


Everyone should also read the Congregation's accompanying commentary, especially this passage:

"When stating that the administration of food and water is morally obligatory in principle, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith does not exclude the possibility that, in very remote places or in situations of extreme poverty, the artificial provision of food and water may be physically impossible, and then ad impossibilia nemo tenetur.

"However, the obligation to offer the minimal treatments that are available remains in place, as well as that of obtaining, if possible, the means necessary for an adequate support of life.

"Nor is the possibility excluded that, due to emerging complications, a patient may be unable to assimilate food and liquids, so that their provision becomes altogether useless.

"Finally, the possibility is not absolutely excluded that, in some rare cases, artificial nourishment and hydration may be excessively burdensome for the patient or may cause significant physical discomfort, for example resulting from complications in the use of the means employed.

"These exceptional cases, however, take nothing away from the general ethical criterion, according to which the provision of water and food, even by artificial means, always represents a natural means for preserving life, and is not a therapeutic treatment. Its use should therefore be considered ordinary and proportionate, even when the 'vegetative state' is prolonged."

Introibo ad altare Dei

Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam.

Priest: I will go unto the altar of God.
Server: To God, Who gives joy to my youth.

Today, on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum goes into effect.

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross

"We are celebrating the feast of the cross which drove away darkness and brought in the light. As we keep this feast, we are lifted up with the crucified Christ, leaving behind us earth and sin so that we may gain the things above. So great and outstanding a possession is the cross that he who wins it has won a treasure. Rightly could I call this treasure the fairest of all fair things and the costliest, in fact as well as in name, for on it and through it and for its sake the riches of salvation that had been lost were restored to us.

"Had there been no cross, Christ could not have been crucified. Had there been no cross,life itself could not have been nailed to the tree. And if life had not been nailed to it, There would be no streams of immortality pouring from Christ’s side, blood and water for the world’s cleansing. The legal bond of our sin would not be cancelled, we should not have attained our freedom, we should not have enjoyed the fruit of the tree of life and the gates of paradise would not stand open. Had there been no cross, death would not have been trodden underfoot, nor hell despoiled.

"Therefore, the cross is something wonderfully great and honourable. It is great because through the cross the many noble acts of Christ found their consummation - very many indeed, for both his miracles and his sufferings were fully rewarded with victory. The cross is honourable because it is both the sign of God’s suffering and the trophy of his victory. It stands for his suffering because on it he freely suffered unto death. But it is also his trophy because it was the means by which the devil was wounded and death conquered; the barred gates of hell were smashed, and the cross became the one common salvation of the whole world."
From a discourse by St. Andrew of Crete
(from today's Office of Readings)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Put on

Examinations of conscience often focus on the wrong we have thought, said, and done. Along those lines, in yesterday’s first reading, St. Paul focused on the bad things that Christians should put away.

But in the following passage, heard in today’s first reading (Colossians 3:12-17), St. Paul urges us to focus on the good things we need to think, say, and do.

It is a good reminder for us that as we examine our own consciences regularly we must consider not only those attitudes and habits we need to put away but also the Christ-like attitudes and habits we must be putting on and making a part of our being by the grace of God.

Heartfelt compassion – put it on.
Kindness – put it on.
Humility – put it on.
Gentleness – put it on.
Patience – put it on.
Forbearance – put it on.
Forgiveness – put it on.
Love – put it on.
The peace of Christ – put it on.

And whatever you do, in word or in deed,
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Catholic Carnival

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

Golden boy

At the age of twenty, she was a single mother with two kids: a boy and a girl. She had many challenges, but she was successful in many ways, to such an extent that her son, John, was attended the best schools in the city. John was an excellent student and was doing very well.

Then, around the time he was 20, John met the local bishop, a gentle and simple man, and John's life changed completely. He began to study the Scriptures and to listen to sermons. He was baptized and entered the service of the Church. At first, John focused on writing and on purifying himself through intense prayer and fasting. He even lived in a cave for two years. His fervor, however, pushed him to such an extreme that he damaged his health. He returned to the city to recover his strength and rededicate himself to serving the people of God. His mentor, the bishop, ordained him a deacon not long before he died. The new bishop would ordain John a priest.

John was now 40 years old. The bishop recognized that John had a way of speaking that was phenomenal, so he made preaching John's fulltime job. He brought many people to Christ and even calmed large civic disturbances.

Many thought that John would eventually succeed the local bishop, but his reputation had become so widespread that when the bishop of the capital city died, a deputation came and took John away to be consecrated bishop there.

John was suddenly one of the most high-profile bishops in the world, yet he remained monastic in his lifestyle. He worked for the unity of the Church as well as for the reform of the clergy and the religious. He challenged the rich, cared for the poor and built hospitals. He also had successes with diplomacy.

He proved much less successful with backroom politics, however. Rivals conspired with the rich and the powerful in an attempt to have John removed. Rather than risk bloodshed, John agreed to leave the capital. A popular uprising soon brought him back, but the hatred of the rich and powerful could not be stopped. During the celebration of the Easter Vigil, soldiers broke in and dragged John away.

During the next few years, John continued to write to the Pope and other bishops who were friendly to him. They did all they could, even to the point of provoking a schism, but to no avail. Moreover, exile and captivity was not enough in the minds of his enemies and even though John was now around 60, death by natural causes was not coming soon enough.

The soldiers subjected John to weeks of long forced marches through the summer’s heat, through the rain, and even at night. He succumbed on September 14.

Yet, John's enemies could not prevail for long. He was widely recognized as a saint and thirty years after his death, John's body was returned to his diocese with great celebration

His theological brilliance and his magnificent eloquence was preserved and passed on through his homilies and his writings. His reputation continued to grow after his death. He came to be known as the "Golden Mouth" - so much so that the Greek form of that title became a virtual last name.

Today, nearly 16 centuries after his death, St. John Chrysostom, patriarch of Constantinople and Doctor of the Church, is venerated both for his writings and his holiness, by East and West alike.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Examination of conscience

It is good for us to take a look regularly at how we are living our lives and whether we are living up to the path set before us by Christ. In the daily activities of our lives in this world we can too easily get caught in this world’s ways and take our eyes off our true goal in the world beyond this one.

Today’s readings each provide us good opportunities for this kind of self-examination, the Gospel most importantly (Luke 6:20-26):

Blessed are you
when people hate you,
and when they exclude
and insult you,
and denounce your name as evil
on account of the Son of Man.

Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!
Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.
For their ancestors treated the prophets
in the same way.

But woe to you
who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.

But woe to you
who are filled now,
for you will be hungry.

Woe to you
who laugh now,
for you will grieve and weep.

Woe to you
when all speak well of you,
for their ancestors treated the false prophets
in this way.

In the first reading (Colossians 3:1-11), St. Paul gives a very detailed list of attitudes and behaviors that we must remove from our lives. Indeed, it could easily be rewritten into a litany:

The parts of you that are earthly – put them away.
Immorality – put it away.
Impurity – put it away.
Passion, - put it away.
Evil desire – put it away.
The greed that is idolatry – put it away.
Anger –put it away.
Fury – put it away.
Malice – put it away.
Slander – put it away.
Obscene language – put it away.
Lying – put it away.

(To which a younger person might add the following coda:)

put it away put it away put it away now
put it away put it away put it away now
put it away put it away put it away now
anger, fury, malice, slander, obscene language

However we remember to do it, we need to remember to make good examinations of conscience regularly and seek to live the life of Christ more perfectly by his grace.

Everybody knows your name

And Mary said,
My soul doth magnify the Lord,
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden:
for, behold, from henceforth
all generations shall call me blessed.

Luke 1:46-48

Today the Church celebrates the memorial of
the Holy Name of Mary, woman of faith and
mother of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

(from an earlier post)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

As we remember September 11, 2001

May we let ourselves
be opened
to the healing power
of Christ.

An empty, seductive philosophy

In today’s first reading (Colossians 2:6-15), St. Paul gives this warning:

See to it that no one captivate you
with an empty, seductive philosophy
according to the tradition of men,
according to the elemental powers of the world
and not according to Christ.

Many scholars theorize that St. Paul was writing against a specificempty, seductive philosophy” – one that focused on “elemental powers” that control the world. One could easily find parallels to such a philosophy in some versions of astrology or “new age” movements.

But there are many other empty and seductive philosophies in our world today and not all of them are so easy to recognize.

Some of these philosophies are easy to recognize as philosophies, such as atheism and communism: each seductive in their own ways, each of them oddly detached from reality, and each of them ultimately empty.

Other empty and seductive philosophies at first glance seem to be too brainless to be philosophies, but they are terribly seductive, involve a particular mindset, and are ultimately empty. Most popular among these is hedonism, either as a deliberate or as a de facto lifestyle, whether pursued in a seedy “pleasure palace” or in a neat and proper suburbia.

Only Christ truly satisfies: truly, fully, and forever.

Only Christ gives the key to understanding the universe, for all things were made through him.

And so...

As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in him,
rooted in him and built upon him
and established in the faith as you were taught,
abounding in thanksgiving.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Suffering and the Church

Today’s first reading (Colossians 1:24-2:3) gives us one of the most well-known verses from the letters of St. Paul, a verse that is evoked by many Christians when confronted by 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...

Many people, especially non-Christians, think that it is nonsensical to rejoice in one’s sufferings, even though unbelievers and others often use the expression “No pain, no gain” – recognizing that some good things (such as building muscles or creating some great accomplishment) inescapably require some amount of suffering (unless they are selling some “pain-free” alternative that is usually results-free).

But for the Christian, suffering has an infinitely greater positive dimension: a mysterious participation in the sufferings of Christ.

It must be noted here that when St. Paul speaks of “filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ” he is in no way implying that Christ’s sufferings were insufficient. Indeed, just a few verses earlier (19-20), St. Paul is eloquent regarding the cosmic sufficiency of Christ’s death on the cross.

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.

Christ’s sufferings are infinitely and eternally sufficient and yet he chooses to give us the blessing of sharing in those sufferings in real yet mysterious ways.

Nor does Christ extend to us the opportunity of sharing in his sufferings simply for his glory or for our individual salvation. These sufferings, rather, are “on behalf of his body, which is the church.”

As Paul continues in this passage and beyond, he specifically relates his sufferings to the Church. On one level, he is suffering because of false teachers within the Church, while on another level, he is suffering in the intensity of his labors on behalf of the Church.

But there are many more levels to what St. Paul is saying here and many more levels, deeply spiritual, to the suffering he describes here: he shares Christ’s love for the Church as well as Christ’s heartbreak at sin within the Church, he shares Christ’s sufferings as he preaches from his own heart about Christ’s sufferings, and he shares Christ’s sufferings in the rejection, scorn and even violence that the world inflicts on him.

Thus St. Paul’s words are more than just comforting words in the face of any kind of suffering (although they are that), they are words to encourage us in our own following of Christ and our own participation within the life of the Church.

Many times we may have been blessed with a new enthusiasm for the faith and for the Church, only to be disappointed, discouraged, and dissuaded by the imperfections of its people and even some of its leaders.

St. Paul’s words are an invitation for us to persevere and even to rejoice as we each share, in whatever ways are given to us, in the same work and the same sufferings: the work and the sufferings in Christ that by his grace bring us all closer to the goal given to the Church and its members:

...that their hearts may be encouraged
as they are brought together in love,
to have all the richness of assured understanding,
for the knowledge of the mystery of God, Christ,
in whom are hidden
all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The way forward

In the United States this week, a general will make a long-awaited report and the nation’s leaders will furiously debate the course of a war.

By the strange paths of chance (or of providence), on this very Sunday, the long-set cycle of the Lectionary gives us today’s first reading (Wisdom 9:13-18b):

For the deliberations of mortals are timid,
and unsure are our plans.

For the corruptible body
burdens the soul
and the earthen shelter
weighs down the mind that has many concerns.

And scarce do we guess the things on earth,
and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty….

Today’s Gospel (Luke 14:25-33) seems even more appropriate for this week’s counsels of war.

Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down
and decide whether with ten thousand troops
he can successfully oppose another king
advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops?
But if not, while he is still far away,
he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms.

But this passage is more than just a question about prudence in war, as the very next verse makes clear:

In the same way,
anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions
cannot be my disciple.

The gist of the Gospel is that each of us needs to be very clear in our minds that true Christian discipleship requires dramatic choices and sometimes incurs very dramatic costs.

In making the choice for Christ, as well as in many other choices that confront us in this dangerous world, our decision-making process is often entangled by concerns about physical comfort and safety – sometimes even to the point of our making a bad decision or making no decision – to the ruin of all.

For the deliberations of mortals are timid,
and unsure are our plans.

For the corruptible body
burdens the soul
and the earthen shelter
weighs down the mind that has many concerns.

Yet we are not without help: God gives his gifts of wisdom to those who seek him and enables us to disentangle our minds from foolish and conflicting concerns so that we may see things aright and move forward by God’s grace through the challenges of this life to the eternal joy prepared for us in Christ.

Who ever knew your counsel,
except you had given Wisdom
and sent your holy spirit from on high?

And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight,
and men learned what was your pleasure,
and were saved by Wisdom.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The contribution of the generations

The long form of today’s Gospel for the Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Matthew 1:1-16, 18-23) is a genealogy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ followed by the angel’s announcement to Joseph in a dream. Many take the option of omitting the genealogy and using only the account of the dream. The genealogy is long, repetitious and full of unfamiliar names that are sometimes difficult to pronounce.

But the genealogy is full of meaning, not the least of which is a lesson about history and ordinary people, for while the genealogy includes a number of famous people, it also includes many people who were never famous: people with ordinary names (ordinary in that culture) and who lived ordinary lives.

But these ordinary lives meant something: to their children and to others who knew them.

Moreover, through the mystery of God’s will, each generation in different ways made a contribution that would continue down the generations, culminating in the Incarnation and the Birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior.

While you and I do not have the opportunity to be ancestors of Christ, still we have a contribution to make, each of us in our own generation, that will pass down all the generations that may come and, by the grace of God, on into eternity.

With God’s grace, may we make the best contribution we can.

We celebrate the birth of a child

Her parents called her their "miracle" baby.

Little did they know what the real miracle would be.

As she grew up, everyone thought she was a perfect little girl.

Little did they know how perfect.

Before long, she herself would become a mother.

Only then would people begin to understand.

Today the Church celebrates the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
mother of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
(from an earlier post)

Friday, September 07, 2007

Old and new

The latter part of today’s Gospel (Luke 3:33-39) presents parables about old and new wine as well as old and new wineskins.

Few people today have regular experience of wineskins, but many people have at least some knowledge of wine.

This knowledge may not always be helpful, however, to understanding the last verse of this chapter:

No one who has been drinking old wine desires new,
for he says, ‘The old is good.’

Most of us have heard that fine wines improve with age and might think that the old wine drinker’s assessment is reasonable, which seems counter to the direction of the previous verses.

Well, fine wines do improve with age, but a wine connoisseur who drinks only an old wine will soon run out of wine (even if the wine does not grow stale or sour as they often do).

Another problem in interpreting these verses is that some people broaden the intent of the parables to refer to ANYTHING new or old: making newness the ultimate measure of goodness (or antiquity, if that is their preference).

In these verses, however, “old” and “new” refer to the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, the Mosaic Law and the New Life in Christ.

Seen in this light, the last verse refers to those who refuse to taste the “new wine” of Christ. In the historical context, these were people who clung to the traditions of Judaism and rejected Christ. However, this also applies most obviously to ANYONE who clings to their old ways and rejects the new life offered by Christ: the old ways of sin, the old ways of godless philosophy, the old ways of faith without Christ.

The old wine can have its comforts, but it will inevitably fail or grow sour.

The new wine of Christ is everlasting in its comfort, in its strength and in the joy it brings.

May we stop clinging to our old comforts and let ourselves be filled with Christ.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

"You will be catching men"

Many times when this Gospel passage is read (Luke 5:1-11), someone snickers about how “catching men” could be interpreted as something other than evangelization.

Likewise, every once in a while, someone will confuse or connect the words “proselytism” and “prostitution”.

Many of us might just shake our heads at the dirty minds of some other people (sometimes while asking God’s forgiveness for ourselves).

But all of us should take this opportunity to consider our own motives and methods in giving witness to the Gospel of Christ.

When we seek to “catch people” for Christ, is our focus solely on Christ and on the eternal good of the people we are evangelizing?

Or are we doing it for ourselves as well: seeking to be popular, to be liked, and to be reaffirmed by gathering people to “our side”?

It is an important point to consider, for the purer our motives, the more effective the evangelization can be.

Even so, we should never let our self-examination on this point deter us from the work of evangelization.

That is almost what Peter did, as he was very aware of his limitations.

“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

But the Lord Jesus said to him, “Do not be afraid” and made him an instrument – as imperfect as he was - for bringing people into the Kingdom of God.

By the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, may we too be effective instruments for bringing others – men and women, young and old – into his Kingdom.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

"A deserted place"

The mainstream media and various commentators have made a big deal about some statements by Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta concerning the “dark night of the soul” that lasted most of her life: an unrelenting sense of God’s absence, with only one short period of “mountaintop” experience.

Believers understand that this experience of God’s absence is a difficult gift that has been given to many saints and people of faith throughout history. It is a painful gift, but glorious as well, for it provides the greatest opportunity for one’s faith to shine.

After all, as we read in Hebrews 11:1:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
the conviction of things not seen.

Likewise, as St. Paul says in Romans 8:23b-25:

We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit,
groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons,
the redemption of our bodies.

For in this hope we were saved.
Now hope that is seen is not hope.
For who hopes for what he sees?

But if we hope for what we do not see,
we wait for it with patience.

How much brighter, then, did her faith shine.

How much more powerful, then, was her hope.

How much more selfless, then, was her love.

The “dark night of the soul” or “desert experience” also has a explicit Christological dimension. As we read in today’s Gospel (Luke 4:38-44), our Lord often went “to a deserted place.”

Indeed, the analogy between our Lord in this Gospel and Blessed Teresa in her life is clear: working into the night with crowds of “people sick with various diseases”, then retreating for a brief time to “a deserted place” before moving on to minister to still greater crowds of needy people.

How often too must she have echoed in her broken heart our Lord’s words on the cross (Mark 15:34):

"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

You and I, of course, are probably nowhere close to the level of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s sanctity and faith. We should be thankful that we have the gifts of experiencing God’s comforting presence that we may have been blessed to enjoy.

Some among us, saints and otherwise, have many of these gifts of feeling God’s presence, some of us have fewer, but all of us are given gifts by the same God in accordance with the mysteries of his will: a will that overflows with love for us and who accompanies his faithful ones with his grace, even when he is not felt.

For this slight momentary affliction
is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory
beyond all comparison,
because we look not to the things that are seen
but to the things that are unseen;
for the things that are seen are transient,
but the things that are unseen are eternal.
(2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

Catholic Carnival

This week's Catholic Carnival - a collection of posts from various Catholic blogs - is online at A Catholic Mom climbing the Pillars.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Peace and security

In times of war and fear, politicians often try to position themselves as the ones who will restore peace and security for their constituents.

Today’s first reading (1 Thessalonians 5:1-6, 9-11) puts that rhetoric in a different perspective.

When people are saying, “Peace and security,”
then sudden disaster comes upon them,
like labor pains upon a pregnant woman,
and they will not escape.

As citizens, we need to get beyond rhetoric and shallow policies and to grapple realistically with the problems that afflict our present day and darken our future in this world.

As Christians, we need to remember that there is no true peace and no real security in this world, even as we strive to be prudent stewards within it, keeping our focus on God and his eternal light.

For all of you are children of the light
and children of the day.
We are not of the night or of darkness.

Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do,
but let us stay alert and sober.

Those who sleep go to sleep at night,
and those who are drunk get drunk at night.

But since we are of the day, let us be sober,
putting on the breastplate of faith and love
and the helmet that is hope for salvation.

For God did not destine us for wrath,
but to gain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who died for us,
so that whether we are awake or asleep
we may live together with him.

Therefore, encourage one another
and build one another up,
as indeed you do.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Flooding overwhelmed the city

Buildings were destroyed, food supplies wiped out, commerce annihilated, and death was everywhere.

The government at every level seemed to be helpless. Only one man stood out in the minds of the beleaguered people as someone who could get them out of this crisis...

The abbot of the local monastery.

He was subsequently chosen to be the new bishop of the city, over his strong objections.

Gregory, the Abbot of St. Andrew’s monastery, was literally dragged out of his monastery and consecrated Bishop of the flood and disease ravaged city of Rome on this very day in the year 590.

He went on to restore the city, reform and build up the Church, and write a treasure house of spiritual wisdom for the ages.

Today we celebrate the memory of Pope St. Gregory the Great.

(from an earlier post)

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Reminders of humility

Today's first reading (Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29) and today's Gospel (Luke 14:1, 7-14) both focus on humility while the second reading (Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a) reminds us of how close God brings us to himself in glory.

Combined, the readings remind us that true humility is the realistic recognition of our own limitations and our absolute dependence upon God's grace.

As for a reflection on how this should affect the living of our daily lives, the full passage from Sirach (3:17-29) bears prayerful consideration:

My son, conduct your affairs with humility,
and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts.

Humble yourself the more, the greater you are,
and you will find favor with God.

For though many have been great in the course of time,
it is to the humble he reveals his secrets

For great is the power of God;
by the humble he is glorified.

What is too sublime for you, seek not,
into things beyond your strength search not.

What is committed to you, attend to;
for what is hidden is not your concern.

With what is too much for you meddle not,
when shown things beyond human understanding.

Their own opinion has misled many,
and false reasoning unbalanced their judgment.

Where the pupil of the eye is missing, there is no light,
and where there is no knowledge, there is no wisdom.

A stubborn man will fare badly in the end,
and he who loves danger will perish in it.

A stubborn man will be burdened with sorrow;
a sinner will heap sin upon sin.

For the affliction of the proud man there is no cure;
he is the offshoot of an evil plant.

The mind of a sage appreciates proverbs,
and an attentive ear is the wise man's joy.

Water quenches a flaming fire,
and alms atone for sins.

Saturday, September 01, 2007


The Lectionary’s cycle brings us to an interesting coincidence today: that on what is celebrated in the United States as Labor Day, both of the readings happen to involve human work.

In the first reading (1 Thessalonians 4:9-11), the connection is very clear and basic:

We urge you, brothers and sisters,
to progress even more,
and to aspire to live a tranquil life,
to mind your own affairs,
and to work with your own hands,
as we instructed you.

In the Gospel (Matthew 25:14-30), our Lord tells us the Parable of the Talents, in which good servants use what they have been given in order to produce more, while the bad servant refuses to use what he has been given.

The message is plain: God has given us many good things, which we are to use to create even more good things.

But the ultimate rewards for the good servants’ work are not the fruits of the labor in themselves, but rather the endowment of greater responsibilities as a result of their faithful stewardship: spiritual responsibilities “in (their) Master’s joy.”

May we be faithful to the true good of what God has given us and faithful to what God has given us to do.

"Recruits are lining up..."

The Washington Post today has a story (that had appeared originally in the Star-Ledger) about the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.

"Inner-City Friars: Living Amid Crime and Poverty, Franciscans of the Renewal Find That Recruits Are Lining Up for Their Traditional Religious Life"

(Picture from the Web site of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal

What shall we pray for this month?

The Holy Father's General Prayer Intention for September is:

"That the ecumenical assembly in Romania this month may contribute to the growth of unity among all Christians."

His Mission Prayer Intention is:

"That, following Christ joyfully, all missionaries may know how to overcome the difficulties they meet in everyday life."