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, February 29, 2008

Failure and success

Today’s first reading (Hosea 14:2-10) has a classic, basic message: keep sinning and fail; turn back to God and life will be good.

As we know from other parts of Scripture as well as bitter experience, the wicked often succeed in this world without apparent ill effect while virtuous people often fail and endure suffering.

Yet death awaits us all, whether we are “successful” in this world or “failures”, whether we are virtuous or evil.

Yet when our life in this world ceases, so too does enjoyment of worldly success, but the guilt of our sins remains upon our immortal souls.

Likewise, when God calls his faithful ones from this world, we leave behind our sufferings in this world, but the grace of God abides in us forever.

Today’s first reading calls us to turn away from sin and from idolizing
the work of our hands and the things the world considers important
and to be faithful to God
through all the successes and failures and sufferings of this life
until God brings us home,
so that by the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
we may grow in this life in ways that will blossom and flourish
for an eternity of undying happiness.

Let him who is wise understand these things;
let him who is prudent know them.

Straight are the paths of the LORD,
in them the just walk,
but sinners stumble in them.

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

Saint Lawrence in Lucina

Pope speaks to new U.S. Ambassador

This morning the Holy Father welcomed the new Ambassador of the United States to the Holy See, Mary Ann Glendon with important remarks for the American people.

"Your Excellency,

"It is a pleasure for me to accept the Letters by which you are accredited Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America and to offer my cordial good wishes as you take up your new responsibilities in the service of your country. I am confident that the knowledge and experience born of your distinguished association with the work of the Holy See will prove beneficial in the fulfillment of your duties and enrich the activity of the diplomatic community to which you now belong. I also thank you for the cordial greetings which you have conveyed to me from President George W. Bush on behalf of the American people, as I look forward to my Pastoral Visit to the United States in April.

"From the dawn of the Republic, America has been, as you noted, a nation which values the role of religious belief in ensuring a vibrant and ethically sound democratic order. Your nation’s example of uniting people of good will, regardless of race, nationality or creed, in a shared vision and a disciplined pursuit of the common good has encouraged many younger nations in their efforts to create a harmonious, free and just social order. Today this task of reconciling unity and diversity, of forging a common vision and summoning the moral energy to accomplish it, has become an urgent priority for the whole human family, which is increasingly aware of its interdependence and the need for effective solidarity in meeting global challenges and building a future of peace for coming generations.

"The experience of the past century, with its heavy toll of war and violence, culminating in the planned extermination of whole peoples, has made it clear that the future of humanity cannot depend on mere political compromise. Rather, it must be the fruit of a deeper consensus based on the acknowledgment of universal truths grounded in reasoned reflection on the postulates of our common humanity (cf. Message for the 2008 World Day of Peace, 13). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose sixtieth anniversary we celebrate this year, was the product of a world-wide recognition that a just global order can only be based on the acknowledgment and defense of the inviolable dignity and rights of every man and woman. This recognition, in turn, must motivate every decision affecting the future of the human family and all its members. I am confident that your country, established on the self-evident truth that the Creator has endowed each human being with certain inalienable rights, will continue to find in the principles of the common moral law, enshrined in its founding documents, a sure guide for exercising its leadership within the international community.

"The building of a global juridic culture inspired by the highest ideals of justice, solidarity and peace calls for firm commitment, hope and generosity on the part of each new generation (cf. Spe Salvi, 25). I appreciate your reference to America’s significant efforts to discover creative means of alleviating the grave problems facing so many nations and peoples in our world. The building of a more secure future for the human family means first and foremost working for the integral development of peoples, especially through the provision of adequate health care, the elimination of pandemics like AIDS, broader educational opportunities to young people, the promotion of women and the curbing of the corruption and militarization which divert precious resources from many of our brothers and sisters in the poorer countries. The progress of the human family is threatened not only by the plague of international terrorism, but also by such threats to peace as the quickening pace of the arms race and the continuance of tensions in the Middle East. I take this occasion to express my hope that patient and transparent negotiations will lead to the reduction and elimination of nuclear weapons and that the recent Annapolis Conference will be the first of a series of steps towards lasting peace in the region. The resolution of these and similar problems calls for trust in, and commitment to, the work of international bodies such as the United Nations Organization, which by their nature are capable of fostering genuine dialogue and understanding, reconciling divergent views, and developing multilateral policies and strategies capable of meeting the manifold challenges of our complex and rapidly changing world.

"I cannot fail to note with gratitude the importance which the United States has attributed to interreligious and intercultural dialogue as a positive force for peacemaking. The Holy See is convinced of the great spiritual potential represented by such dialogue, particularly with regard to the promotion of nonviolence and the rejection of ideologies which manipulate and disfigure religion for political purposes, and justify violence in the name of God.

"The American people’s historic appreciation of the role of religion in shaping public discourse and in shedding light on the inherent moral dimension of social issues - a role at times contested in the name of a straitened understanding of political life and public discourse - is reflected in the efforts of so many of your fellow-citizens and government leaders to ensure legal protection for God’s gift of life from conception to natural death, and the safeguarding of the institution of marriage, acknowledged as a stable union between a man and a woman, and that of the family.

"Madam Ambassador, as you now undertake your high responsibilities in the service of your country, I renew my good wishes for the success of your work. Be assured that you may always count on the offices of the Holy See to assist and support you in the fulfillment of your duties. Upon you and your family, and upon all the beloved American people, I cordially invoke God’s blessings of wisdom, strength and peace."

Ambassador Glendon was born in Massachusetts in 1938. She received her Law Degree from the University of Chicago Law School in 1961 and earned a Masters in Comparative Law in 1963. She has been a Law Professor at Harvard since 1986 and President of the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences since 2004. She has written numerous books and articles on legal and social topics and has received various civil and religious honors. She is married with three children and speaks English, Italian and French.

(Original Source: Vatican Information Service)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

They will not listen

When you speak all these words to them,
they will not listen to you either;
when you call to them,
they will not answer you.

Say to them:
This is the nation that does not listen
to the voice of the LORD, its God,
or take correction.

Faithfulness has disappeared;
the word itself is banished from their speech.

Thus says the Lord in today’s first reading (Jeremiah 7:23-28).

It doesn’t take a prophet or a theologian to recognize how well these words apply to our world today.

We all know the frustration of trying to share our faith with someone (especially one or more of our children) who “does not listen”.

We have also all witnessed the wreckage left behind when people have jettisoned faithfulness in favor of “what feels right”.

Of course, as we hear in today’s Gospel (Luke 11:14-23), people refused to listen even to our Lord himself and even spread the most horrific lies about him.

What do we do? We stay close to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as he reminds us in the latter part of today’s Gospel.

He is the ultimate strong man, the undefeatable one.

Also, in a world that seems to be spinning apart, our Lord offers us the stability of eternal truth and infinite power.

Whoever does not gather with me, scatters.

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

Basilica of Sts. Cosmas and Damian

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Catholic Carnival

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

Teaching well

Both of today’s readings refer to our need to teach God’s commandments and to teach them well.

In the first reading (Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9), the teaching of the Commandments and the works of God is bound with the need to keep all of these things firmly in our own minds.

However, take care and be earnestly on your guard
not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen,
nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live,
but teach them to your children

and to your children’s children.

In the Gospel (Matthew 5:17-19), our Lord makes it very clear that teaching and following the Commandments rightly is critical to our relationship with God.

Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments
and teaches others to do so
will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven.
But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments
will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.

We cannot just dismiss this warning as applying only to those wild liberals who water down Christian moral teaching and excuse every kind of debauchery.

Each of us, as citizens of the Kingdom of God, must follow and teach the commandments of God as completely and as effectively as we can.

Old Saint Sixtus'

Change of Bishops in Lansing

The Holy Father has accepted the retirement of the Most Reverend Carl F. Mengeling as Bishop of Lansing, Michigan.

The Holy Father has named as the new Bishop of Lansing the Most Reverend Earl A. Boyea, up to now an Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit.

Bishop Boyea was born in 1951 in Pontiac, Michigan (in the Archdiocese of Detroit. He attended Our Lady of the Lakes parochial school in Waterford and then high school at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit where he would go on to study philosophy and history. He was then sent to the Pontifical North American College in Rome where he did his theological studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University, earning a bachelor’s degree in Theology in 1976 and then a license in Biblical Theology in 1980.

He was ordained a priest on May 20, 1978 for the Archdiocese of Detroit.

After ordination he was assigned from 1978 to 1979 as Assistant Pastor at St. Michael parish in Monroe and from 1980 to 1984 at St. Timothy parish in Trenton, Michigan.

In 1984 he completed his studies for a Master of Arts in History at Wayne State University.

In 1986, he served as Administrator Pro-Tempore at Detroit’s St. Christine parish.

In 1987 he completed his Doctorate in History at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

From 1987 to 2000, he served on the faculty of Sacred Heart Seminary, serving as Dean of Students from 1990 to 2000. From 1990 to 1991 he was a member of Detroit’s Archdiocesan Presbyteral Council and from 1994 to 2000 he was also a member of the Academic Committee for Madonna University. In 1989 he began serving as chaplain at the diocesan summer camp Camp Santa Maria in Gaylord.

From 2000 to 2002 he was Rector-President of the Pontifical Josephinum College in Columbus, Ohio.

He was named Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit July 22, 2002 and consecrated September 13, 2002.

Ad multos annos

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Forgiveness in Lent

Lent is a time of repentance and of seeking forgiveness from God.

Today’s Gospel (Matthew 18:21-35) gives us a frightening reminder that Lent is a time to be extending forgiveness to each other.

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 your brother from your heart.

May we forgive.

And may God have mercy on us all.

Saint Pudentiana

Monday, February 25, 2008

The simple things

In today’s first reading (2 Kings 5:1-15ab), a mighty warrior comes to a great prophet of the Lord in search of a miracle.

The prophet tells him to take a bath (seven times).

The warrior has anger issues and ventilates his feelings.

His servants reason with him:

If the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary,
would you not have done it?
All the more now, since he said to you,
‘Wash and be clean,’ should you do as he said.

You and I sometimes think we should experience God or serve him in extraordinary ways and indeed there are times for extraordinary things.

But today’s first reading reminds us that it is important to experience God and to serve him also in the simplest things of life.

Starting now.

Basilica of Saint Mark

Today's Station Church.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Salvation is from the Jews

In today’s Gospel (John 4:5-42), our Lord tells a Samaritan woman something that would be considered very politically incorrect today (if not outright rude).

You people worship what you do not understand;
we worship what we understand,
because salvation is from the Jews.

To be sure, God reveals himself to all people, if only through his creation, as St. Paul says in Romans 1:20:

Ever since the creation of the world
his invisible nature,
namely, his eternal power and deity,
has been clearly perceived

in the things that have been made.

But God also chooses to involve himself directly with humankind universally and normatively in particular ways in particular places in particular times and through particular people.

And at the center of God’s unique and salvific involvement with humankind are the Jews and from them came the eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ, without whom no one can be saved.

That is why the Church speaks so respectfully of the Jewish people, even as it affirms the necessity of Christ for salvation.

The Samaritans thought they could go their own way.

Our Lord sets them straight, calling them to the higher and more perfect truth: a truth that transcends locations and cultures and yet remains concretely anchored in space and time – indeed, in that one man who walked the earth two thousand years ago and who sat by that well, asking for a drink of water.

Jesus said to her,
“I am he, the one speaking with you.”

As we continue our Lenten journey, may we remember to seek the Lord “in spirit and in truth” but also in the real concrete connections that tie us to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: through word and Sacrament and through the historical continuity of the People of God reborn in Christ the Jew.

The Basilica of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls

Saturday, February 23, 2008

I no longer deserve

I have sinned against heaven....

I no longer deserve to be called your son.

So say I to God.

So says the prodigal son in today’s Gospel (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32).

And what was the father’s response?

And what will God’s response be? How will God, the father of mercies who gave the world Jesus Christ to be our Lord and Savior, respond to us who come repentant and contrite?

While he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him,
and was filled with compassion.
He ran to his son,
embraced him
and kissed him.

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

Saint Marcellinus and Saint Peter

A living link

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

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

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

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

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

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

-- we speak of the word of life.

(1 John 1:1)

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

(from an earlier post)

Friday, February 22, 2008


Today’s first reading (1 Peter 5:1-4) on today’s Feast of the Chair of Peter is a wonderful exhortation to people exercising authority in the Church:

Tend the flock of God in your midst,
(overseeing) not by constraint
but willingly, as God would have it,
not for shameful profit
but eagerly.

Good words for shepherds.

Good words also for all of us, for all of us – shepherds or not – all of us are God’s sheep.

May we treat each other with humility, generosity, and Christ’s love.

Up & Down in Down & Connor

The Holy Father has accepted the retirement of Bishop Patrick Walsh as Bishop of Down and Connor in Ireland.

The Holy Father has named as the new Bishop of Down and Connor Monsignor Noel Teanor of the Diocese of Clogher, who has up to now been Secretary of the Commission of Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE) in Brussels.

Bishop-elect Treanor was born in County Monaghan in the Diocese of Clogher in 1950. He went to school at St. Mary’s Christian Brothers in Monaghan and then Philosophy and Theology studies at St. Patrick’s College in Maynooth, earning a License in Sacred Theology.

He was ordained a priest June 13, 1976 for the Diocese of Clogher. After ordination, he studied Theology for some years at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. In 1980 he was made Parochial Vicar for the parish of the Cathedral of Clogher and served on the Catholic Marriage Advisor Council.

In 1985 he was named Director of the Office for Adult Education and was charged in 1986 with organizing the Diocesan Assembly for Pastoral Renewal.

In 1989 he was appointed to COMECE, later becoming Secretary General. His four-year term in that office would be renewed four times.

He was named a Chaplain to His Holiness in 1994.


Also in Ireland, The Holy Father has named as Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, up to now Nuncio to Bulgaria.

The Chair of Peter

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

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

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

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

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

(from an earlier post)

Saint Vitalis

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Trusting in man

The wife of a politician aspiring for high office with apparent success on a platform of "hope" and "change" recently said that for the first time in her adult life, she was proud of her country, not just because her husband is doing well, but because people are hungry for change.

The first words of today’s first reading (Jeremiah 17:5-10) need to be heard by everyone as a brutally clear Reality Check:

Thus says the LORD:
"Cursed is the man who trusts in man..."

It does not matter how intelligent, prudent, experienced, fresh, likeable, well-meaning, or eloquent a human being may be. Human beings are fallible and finite.

Only God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving.

Only God is truly and safely worthy of our trust.

To be sure, we need to work with other people, making the best prudential (and prayerful) judgments that we can – for although all human beings are imperfect, some are more dangerously imperfect than others – yet we must be very clear in our own minds and in our own lives that only the Lord is worthy of all our trust.

Thus says the LORD:
Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his arm,
whose heart turns away from the LORD.

He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.

He shall dwell
in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose trust is the LORD.

He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.

The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately corrupt;
who can understand it?

I the LORD search the mind
and try the heart,
to give to every man according to his ways,
according to the fruit of his doings.

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

Saint Mary in Trastevere

The unwanted baby was left to starve

The family was already large and poor. The last thing they needed was another mouth to feed, so after some arguments, the mother decided to let the baby starve.

Someone who worked with the family, however, saw what was happening and fed the newborn, pulling him back from the brink of death.

The family was then shamed into taking care of the infant (now named Peter) themselves. A few years later, both parents were dead and one of Peter’s elder brothers was forced to take responsibility for him. He abused him, malnourished him, and overworked him. Still, Peter grew to be a bright lad, with a devout spirit.

One of Peter’s other brothers, Damian, came to the boy’s rescue and put him through school. He succeeded brilliantly at academics and by the time he was 25 he was already a famous university professor.

But Peter felt the call of the monastic vocation and a few years later withdrew from the world.

Once again, Peter succeeded brilliantly, rising not only to run his own monastery but become an advocate of reform in monasticism and in the Church at large. So great was his reputation that he was forced to become a bishop and cardinal. He proved instrumental in helping resolve many crises in the church.

St. Peter Damian (he had added his brother’s name) died on this very day in 1072.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Inconvenient truth-tellers

The people want religion without substance. They want nice words that make them feel good about themselves.

What they do not want to hear is truth that challenges.

And so they will take advantage of any opportunity to destroy God’s truth-tellers.

So it was in the time of today’s first reading (Jeremiah 18:18-20) and so it is today.

The people of Jeremiah’s time thought that they could enjoy the benefits of the faith even as they sought to destroy the boldest proclaimer of the faith.

And so, they kept Jeremiah under surveillance, looking for anything that they might use against him.

So it is also today.

Destroying the truth-tellers, of course, does not make the truth go away, and the more that people resist the truth, the greater the danger.

You and I must always keep ourselves open and faithful to the truth of Christ, especially when that truth is challenging or inconvenient to us.

We should also stand up for those who speak the truth of Christ in today’s world, even though the world and even those we think our friends may turn against us.

But also like the prophet Jeremiah, may we continue to pray for those opposed to the truth and those who may wish us ill.

It may not be comfortable, but comfort is not the most important thing in life.

We need to follow the example of Jeremiah and, most of all, the example of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, especially in the example he lays before us in today’s Gospel (Matthew 20:17-28):

The Son of Man did not come to be served
but to serve
and to give his life as a ransom for many.

The Church of St. Cecilia in Trastevere

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Take courage!

"The late Pope John Paul II said: 'Take courage: Christ is calling you and the whole world awaits you! Remember that the Kingdom of God has need of your generous and total dedication. Do not be like the rich young man who, when invited by Christ, was unable to accept but remained with his possessions and sadness, even though Jesus glanced at him with love. Be like the fishermen who, when they were called by Jesus, left everything promptly to become fishers of men.'

"There is no doubt that the words of John Paul inspire and challenge everyone to discern God's unique call.... His call, no matter how it is heard, requires only one thing from you: a commitment to respond and a desire to honestly examine your life."

"There are.. vocation 'live-in' weekends being organised in the near future, both in the student house of the Irish Dominican Province - St. Saviour's Priory, Dorset Street, Dublin 1. The (next) is to take place from the evening of.... Friday 22nd to Sunday 24th February 2008. These 'live-in' weekends are designed to give potential candidates a flavour of the life and prayer of our formation community in Dublin, with an opportunity to learn more about our way of life. Further weekends are planned in March and April."

from the blog Irish Dominican Vocations

Catholic Carnival

This week's Catholic Carnival - a collection of posts from various Catholic blogs - is online at A Third Way.

Listen to this invitation

Wash yourselves clean!
Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes;
cease doing evil; learn to do good.
Make justice your aim: redress the wronged,
hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.

Come now, let us set things right,
says the LORD:
Though your sins be like scarlet,
they may become white as snow;
Though they be crimson red,
they may become white as wool.

(from today's first reading - Isaiah 1:10, 16-20)

Call no man Father

Today’s Gospel (Matthew 23:1-12) is often used by people to bash Catholics for calling priests "Father." Such an interpretation of our Lord's words invariably misses his point and would have been foreign to the Apostles and the early Church, who continued to use the term "father." St. Paul himself claim spiritual paternity of the Corinthian church in 1 Cornithians 4:15.

When we look deeper, today's Gospel offers us several points that are critically important for our life in the Church.

The first thing Christ does is to remind us of the importance of offices within the community of the faithful. Some among us are entrusted with certain functions within the body of believers and we should be respectful of these functions, even if the behavior of certain people entrusted with these functions (God forbid) is not respectable. To be sure, immoral behavior must be dealt with in an appropriate way, but God’s promises to his people ensure that his grace is at work even if individuals fail. The personal failures of Church leaders do not diminish the truth or the inner power of Church teaching.

Then Christ tells us not to call people “Rabbi,” “Teacher,” or “Father.” Taken together with the rest of Scripture, the point here is that ultimately it is God who is our leader, our teacher, and our father. Earthly fathers beget only by the grace of God – parents are co-creators with God. Earthly teachers of faith are only instruments: it is the Holy Spirit who teaches us. Earthly leaders may derive "their just powers from the consent of the governed," but the ultimate source of authority and inalienable rights is God. We may use titles of respect for different people as appropriate, but must never forget that none of these people are anything more than instruments in the hand of God.

Our Lord also speaks of those who exalt themselves, meaning most particularly those who exalt themselves within the community of the faithful. It is easy here to point the finger at the clergy in this regard, but none of us are exempt from this danger. We may take just a little too much pleasure in being recognized as devout people. We may receive just a little too much satisfaction in having our good deeds recognized and appreciated by others. We may be just a little too confident that we are the virtuous ones who can do a much better job than whoever is in power right now.

Whoever exalts himself will be humbled.

Finally, our Lord gives guidance to those who undertake the responsibilities necessary for the good of the people. Humble service must be the watchword of anyone who works in the Church. One of the greatest Popes of all time, Gregory the Great, used this Gospel passage to create his own job description, to always remind himself what he was doing, as he called himself "the servant of the servants of God."

Humility should not be confused with false modesty. Humility must be real. Nor should humility be confused with weakness or hesitancy regarding the truth or the power of God. We must be humble about ourselves, but strong in GodI am not worthy, but Jesus is Lord and his word is true.

The greatest among you
must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself
will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself

will be exalted.

(adapted from an earlier post)

The Basilica of Saint Balbina

Monday, February 18, 2008

The measure of mercy

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful....

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

Thus says our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in today’s Gospel (Luke 6:36-38)

To be sure, we must be clear about the truth, including about what is right and what is wrong, and we must be prudent when it comes to protection against evil.

But, sinners that we are, we desperately need to be generous in the mercy we show others, so that we ourselves may share in the richness of the mercy of God.

The Basilica of Saint Clement

Today's Station Church.

UPDATE - The Basilica has a superb website: www.basilicasanclemente.com.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

You’re so special

Today’s first reading and today’s Gospel present us with an important beginning point and an important middle point in salvation history.

The first reading (Genesis 12:1-4a) presents us with God’s call to Abraham. This is a key beginning point in salvation history, for this is the beginning of God’s special relationship with a particular person and with the people who would be his descendants: a relationship that continues to this day and a relationship within which God’s definitive presence and action would take place in the person of Jesus Christ.

St. Paul speaks beautifully of this presence and action of God in today’s second reading (2 Timothy 1:8b-10):

He saved us and called us to a holy life,
not according to our works
but according to his own design
and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus
before time began,
but now made manifest
through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus,
who destroyed death and brought life and immortality
to light through the gospel.

The manifestation of that grace is powerfully depicted in the account of the Transfiguration in today’s Gospel (Matthew 17:1-9): the greatest of mountaintop experiences, taking place in the middle of Christ’s earthly ministry, which is itself the central act of salvation history.

Our Lord has specially chosen three people to witness this glorious moment: Peter, James, and John. Peter would speak for them all when he said: Lord, it is good that we are here.

The idea that some people are specially chosen by God offends some other people’s sense of egalitarianism, but Scripture is also clear that God is opposed to partiality, as Peter himself (one of the most special ones) would later say:

And Peter opened his mouth and said:
"Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality,
but in every nation anyone who fears him
and does what is right
is acceptable to him."

(Acts 10:34-35; cf Romans 2:11; Sirach 35:12c-13)

Indeed, even in the call of the single man Abraham, we see that the “special” selection and “special” vocation given to Abraham will be a means of blessings for all peoples.

All the communities of the earth
shall find blessing in you.

Likewise, the men specially chosen by Christ to witness his Transfiguration (and later to witness his Agony in the Garden – Matthew 26:37) would be commissioned by Christ to be instruments of his word and grace to all nations (Matthew 28:19).

The doctrine of Apostolic Succession is a concrete reminder of this reality, manifested in a special way in the line of the Bishops of Rome, from Peter himself and his immediate successor Linus all the way to John Paul II and Benedict XVI. The men particularly chosen by Christ, God’s Anointed One and only Son, would speak and minister in Christ’s name to particular people in many places and some of them would be in turn particularly chosen to speak and minister in Christ’s name, and so on down through the millennia to that nervous Assistant Pastor preaching today at his first parish assignment.

We are connected at many points into God’s web of specialness that spans all time zones and all centuries.

We are also connected specially and uniquely to God in our lives of private prayer.

It sounds trite, but it is true. You are special and I am special in the eyes of God and in the sweep of salvation history.

As we continue through this journey of Lent, may God give us the grace to recognize more clearly and to follow more faithfully all the special work of charity and truth that he calls us to live.

The Church of St. Mary in Domnica

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Your word

One of the candidates to be President of the United States this year, who had spent much of his career as a business consultant, once referred to the President’s cabinet – the heads of the Federal Government’s major departments, the successors of historical giants such as Alexander Hamilton and George C. Marshall – as the President’s “direct reports.”

The jargon of contemporary business has its place, of course, and is very useful, but it can sometimes drain the richness and vitality not only out of our linguistic palette, but also out of our lives.

The Lectionary translation of today’s first reading (Deuteronomy 26:16-19) does a little bit of that as well, using the phrase “make an agreement” to translate the ancient Hebrew verb 'amar (not to be confused with the Latin or Spanish verb “to love).

The primary meaning of the Hebrew word is “to speak”: often in the sense of ordinary discourse, but sometimes in the sense of vow or command.

In a very real sense, what today’s first reading is saying is, on the one hand, that the People of God are giving their word that the LORD will be their God and that they will walk in his ways, and on the other hand, that the LORD is giving His Word that they will be His People.

Sadly, “giving one’s word” seems to be less prevalent or even less meaningful nowadays.

From children who think lying is okay if your fingers are crossed to politicians who lie about matters great and small, sometimes with eloquent rhetoric and sometimes with folksy expressions, we think less and less about a person’s “word” – even our own.

It is a frightening situation, described beautifully by Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons:

"When a man takes an oath, he is holding his own self in his hands. Like water. And if he opens his fingers then - he needn't hope to find himself again."

These words are a warning to us all and we see too often and too painfully, in our world and in our lives, the awful aftermath of oaths broken, of lies spoken lightly, and of human beings hopelessly searching for a truth that they long ago relinquished.

For many of us, these words stab at our guilty hearts, as we remember the times when we cared more about convenience and comfort than about the value of our own word and the times we have buried ourselves deeper and deeper in lies to cover lies.

And we wonder, need we hope to find ourselves again?

The infinite and mysterious power of God’s love and forgiveness in Jesus Christ can indeed restore and heal us.

We may not ever hope to find ourselves again, but Christ the Good Shepherd can indeed find us and set us on the right path.

May you and I begin right now to let that happen: to beg the Lord for his mercy and healing, to open ourselves to his grace, and by the power of his grace reclaim ourselves and reclaim our word.

Why is this important? Because words are critical to our relationship with God: his words of covenant and commandment, as well as our words of commitment, prayer, and witness.

May our words be things of value and truth, so that they may help bind us more closely to God and so that our words may be more effective instruments of the witness and the service we give to God.

The Basilica of Saint Peter

Today's Station Church.

(www.saintpetersbasilica.org is a wonderful site for fantastic pictures and an abundance of information about the Basilica. The website of the Pontifical North American College also has great pictures of a recent diaconate ordination at the Basilica's Altar of the Chair)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Turn around... and do even better

Both of today’s readings wonderfully advance the theme of Lent as a time of repentance and conversion.

Today’s first reading (Ezekiel 18:21-28) encourages us to conversion (no matter how wicked we may have been) and to continued fidelity (no matter how good we think we are).

Do I indeed derive any pleasure f
rom the death of the wicked?
says the Lord GOD.
Do I not rather rejoice when he turns from his evil way
that he may live?

And if the virtuous man

turns from the path of virtue to do evil,
the same kind of abominable things

that the wicked man does,
can he do this and still live?
None of his virtuous deeds shall be remembered,
because he has broken faith and committed sin;
because of this, he shall die.
You say, “The LORD’s way is not fair!”
Hear now, house of Israel:
Is it my way that is unfair,

or rather, are not your ways unfair?
When someone virtuous
turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies,
it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die.
But if the wicked,
turning from the wickedness he has committed,
does what is right and just,
he shall preserve his life;
since he has turned away

from all the sins that he committed,
he shall surely live, he shall not die.

Also, no matter how good we think we are, our Lord calls us to do still better, as we hear in today’s Gospel (Matthew 5:20-26):

I tell you,
unless your righteousness

surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
You shall not kill;

and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother
will be liable to judgment,
and whoever says to his brother, Raqa,
will be answerable to the Sanhedrin,
and whoever says, ‘You fool,’

will be liable to fiery Gehenna.

May the Lord Jesus have mercy on us, give us the gifts of true repentance and forgiveness, and deepen within us the perfect love and faith that he calls us to live.

The Church of the Twelve Apostles

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Give prayer another chance

We can get very busy in our lives, so busy that we push off to the side things that are really more important than the things that stay on our schedule.

Today’s readings remind us that we should focus on keeping time for prayer as a part of our daily lives.

In the first reading (Esther C:12, 14-16, 23-25), a beautiful Queen prays with her face on the floor:

Now help me,
who am alone and have no one but you,
O LORD, my God.

Her words were echoed by Pope Benedict in his recent encyclical Spe Salvi:

"When no one listens to me anymore, God still listens to me. When I can no longer talk to anyone or call upon anyone, I can always talk to God. When there is no longer anyone to help me deal with a need or expectation that goes beyond the human capacity for hope, he can help me. When I have been plunged into complete solitude ...; if I pray I am never totally alone."

And in the Gospel (Matthew 7:7-12), our Lord gives these promises:

Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives;

and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Which one of you would hand his son a stone
when he asked for a loaf of bread,
or a snake when he asked for a fish?
If you then, who are wicked,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your heavenly Father

give good things to those who ask him.

Note well that our Lord does not say that we will be given what we ask for, but that our heavenly Father will give good things to those who ask him (and who knows better what is good than our all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God?)

As we near the end of the first full week of Lent, we should remember that it is not too late to add a special Lenten devotion and begin the bait of taking at least one or two minutes out of the 1,440 minutes of our day to be alone with God in silent prayer.

Oremus pro invicem.

The Church of St. Lawrence in Panisperna

Today's Station Church.

The brothers came from a political family

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

The world, however, would not leave them alone.

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

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

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

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

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

(from an earlier post)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Amazing change in Iraq

Today’s readings (Jonah 3:1-10 and Luke 11:29-32) both focus on the familiar account of Jonah and the conversion of the people of Nineveh (one of the greatest capital cities of the ancient world, now in present day Iraq).

It is familiar and nonetheless quite amazing: a dramatization of the power of repentance.

Sometimes you and I can get in situations that we know are immoral, but we cannot see any way out of it.

Today’s readings remind us that repentance is always possible, even when it may seem impossible, that the power of God’s grace can overcome anything.

Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion
wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.

The Basilica of Saint Mary Major

Today's Station Church.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Catholic Carnival

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

Rain and snow

For some of us, rain and snow are matters of discomfort and inconvenience for our daily lives. A little rain once in a while is nice and snow is pretty, but we usually classify rain and snow as “bad weather”: interfering with our errands and ruining our outdoor plans.

We think this because our lives are no longer directly connected to the land, even though we still depend on it.

In the time and place of the prophet Isaiah, not only were most people intimately connected to the land, depending on it for day-to-day survival, precipitation was especially precious in that arid climate.

The words of our Lord in today’s first reading (Isaiah 55:10-11) would thus have resonated strongly with the people.

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

We may not have a farmer’s sensitivity to the need for rain, but all of us know what it is like to be spiritually dry.

Today’s first reading reminds us of the power of God’s word and God’s grace, like water for our dry and dusty souls.

Perhaps we could take this as an invitation to make a practice of sitting down quietly every day during Lent and reading prayerfully the Scriptures for that day’s Mass.

The Lord is bountiful in his goodness and wants to shower us with his grace, like rain and snow on the thirsty ground of our hearts.

Lancaster Bishop

The Holy Father has named as Coadjutor Bishop of the Diocese of Lancaster, England, Father Michael Gregory Campbell, O.S.A., a member of the Order of St. Augustine and up to now Pastor of the parish of St. Augustine in the Archdiocese of Westminster (where he has also been serving as an Episcopal Vicar).

Bishop –elect Campbell was born in Larne in County Antrim in the Diocese of Down and Connor (Northern Ireland) in 1941. He entered the novitiate of the Augustinian Fatherrs at Clare Priory in Suffolk and completed his philosophical and theological studies at the University College in Dublin. After his solemn vows, in 1966, he was sent to Rome, to complete his License in Sacred Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

He was ordained a priest on September 16, 1971 at the Austin Friars School in Carlisle in the Diocese of Lancaster. He would subsequently serve as Parochial Vicar and Teacher at St. John Stone in Woodvale, Southport from 1972 to 1975. From 1975 to 1985, he was Prior for St. Monica’s Priory in London. During this period he completed a Masters in Theology at the University of London. From 1985 to 1990, he was in Africa as a teacher of Sacred Scripture and Dean of Studies at the Augustinian community of Jos in Nigeria.

Returning to England, from 1990 to 1999 he was Prior and a teacher back at the Austin Friars School in Carlisle. From 1999 up to today he has been Prior and Pastor of the Parish of St. Augustine in the Archdiocese of Westminster, where he has also served as Episcopal Vicar for Religious.

The Church of Saint Anastasia

Today's Station Church.

Monday, February 11, 2008

...what I have failed to do.

Do good things for God and don’t do anything bad to anybody.

That is all it takes to go to heaven, many believe.

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 25:31-46), we hear something very different, pronounced in terrifying words of judgment by Christ himself.

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

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

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

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

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

Intellectual belief in Christ is not enough.

Obeying the Commandments is not enough.

Pious devotion is not enough.

As we begin this first full workweek of Lent, may we build on the devotional and penitential practices we may have already begun and look diligently for opportunities to serve Christ in the least of his brothers.

Let not our epitaph read: “What I have failed to.”

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

The Church of St. Peter in Chains

Today's Station Church, where may be found relics of chains that once bound St. Peter...
...and where also may be found Michelangelo's statue of Moses.