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, August 31, 2008

State of the art

A recent column by a retired Protestant minister stated that traditional Christian beliefs should be rejected in favor of current scientific findings.

In writing this, he is not only wrong theologically (to the point of apostasy), but naïve epistemologically and even scientifically.

Science is a wonderful manifestation of human reason and critical for prudent decision-making, but good science, based on the scientific method, knows its limits: the limits of empirical observation and the limits of how far solid deduction may proceed on the basis of available data.

The retired minister (and many others lacking in scientific discipline) make a classic error lampooned by a movie in which two scientists in the future where talking about deep fat, steak, cream pies, and hot fudge: “Those were thought to be unhealthy... precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.”

All the more reason for us to heed well the words of Saint Paul in today’s first reading (Romans 12:1-2)...

Do not conform yourselves to this age
but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,
that you may discern what is the will of God,
what is good and pleasing and perfect.

...and our Lord’s warning in today’s Gospel (Matthew 16:21-27):

You are thinking not as God does,
but as human beings do.

May you and I use our minds and intellect well and also heed carefully the truth that comes from God.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


I don’t know about you, but I am not always 100% sure about my abilities or my worthiness.

Saint Paul has good words for us in today’s first reading (1 Corinthians 1:26-31):

Consider your own calling, brothers and sisters.

Not many of you were wise by human standards,
not many were powerful,
not many were of noble birth.

Rather, God chose the foolish of the world
to shame the wise,
and God chose the weak of the world
to shame the strong,
and God chose the lowly and despised of the world,
those who count for nothing,
to reduce to nothing those who are something,
so that no human being might boast before God.

It is due to him that you are in Christ Jesus,
who became for us wisdom from God,
as well as righteousness,

and redemption,
so that, as it is written,
Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The media missed the story

They were focused on glamour and power.

They were only interested in news items that fit into their narrative.

And so they, and nearly everyone else in the world in those days, missed the most important event of all time.

So do many, many people today, chasing after glamour and feel-good philosophies.

It is our job to report this event, as Saint Paul reminds us in today’s first reading (1 Corinthians 1:17-25).

Jews demand signs
and Greeks look for wisdom,
but we proclaim Christ crucified,
a stumbling block to Jews
and foolishness to Gentiles,
but to those who are called,
Jews and Greeks alike,
Christ the power of God
nd the wisdom of God.

For the foolishness of God
is wiser than human wisdom,
and the weakness of God
is stronger than human strength.

The nation's most powerful man...

...had a weakness for young ladies.

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

He called her over.

She came to him and whispered...

"I want you...

"...to give me...

"...right now...

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

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

Today the Church remembers the death of John the Baptist.

(from an earlier post)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Get ready

Three years ago tomorrow, Hurricane Katrina struck the northern gulf coast of the United States and the city of New Orleans, killing thousands.

Five days from now, another hurricane may hit the New Orleans area and a few days after that, another hurricane may hit the eastern United States.

Today, in the Gospel (Matthew 24:42-51), our Lord tells us to get ready: not for hurricanes, but for when he will come for us.

“Stay awake!
For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.
Be sure of this:
if the master of the house
had known the hour of night when the thief was coming,
he would have stayed awake
and not let his house be broken into.
So too, you also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.

“Who, then, is the faithful and prudent servant,
whom the master has put in charge of his household
to distribute to them their food at the proper time?
Blessed is that servant
whom his master on his arrival finds doing so.
Amen, I say to you,
he will put him in charge of all his property.
But if that wicked servant says to himself,
‘My master is long delayed,’
and begins to beat his fellow servants,
and eat and drink with drunkards,
the servant’s master will come on an unexpected day
and at an unknown hour and will punish him severely
and assign him a place with the hypocrites,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”

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

By the grace of our Lord ans Savior Jesus Christ, may the words of today's first reading (1 Corinthians 1:1-9) be true for us:

He will keep you firm to the end,
irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God is faithful,
and by him you were called
to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Did you hear about the bishop?

The bishop had a girlfriend once and got her pregnant.

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

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

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

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

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

(from an earlier post)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Thus says Saint Paul in today’s first reading (2 Thessalonians 3:6-10):

We instruct you, brothers,
in the name of (our) Lord Jesus Christ,
to shun any brother

who conducts himself in a disorderly way
and not according to the tradition they received from us.

Also in this same chapter (verses 14 and 15), Saint Paul says:

If anyone does not obey our word
as expressed in this letter,
take note of this person not to associate with him,
that he may be put to shame.

Do not regard him as an enemy
but admonish him as a brother.

Saint Paul is speaking here specifically of people who have stopped working or taking any prudent actions because they think our Lord’s return in imminent.

In this case, Saint Paul advocates shunning, partially so that his readers do not follow along with that activity and partially as a symbolic act in order to shame the person (and encourage them to return to good belief and practice).

In these days when prominent Catholics not only publicly support intrinsically evil acts but actually argue with the successors of the Apostles about Catholic teaching and tradition, it is easy for people to reach for the “shun button” and shout “anathema sit!”

Penalties such as excommunication and interdict, of course, are to be imposed only in accordance with Church law and only by the bishops entrusted with that responsibility. We must also remember that such penalties, like the shunning of which Saint Paul writes, are intended to help bring the offender to repentance.

In our own lives, in dealing with those who fall from the faith to some extent, we should exercise prudence and charity and above all we should pray, for ourselves and for them.

Then my mother said...

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

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

"'What more am I to do here?'

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(from an earlier post)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dominicans resurgent

"Today, in the English Province, the Order of the Friars Preachers, is witnessing a slow and steady resurgence. Over half the friars are under 40....

"Fr Timothy Gardner, a friar based at London's St Dominic's Priory, believes that the growth of the last two decades is the result of the order rediscovering its charism. It has returned to the intentions of its founder to be defenders of orthodoxy, through study, prayer and preaching."
(from the Catholic Herald)
(a tip of the appropriate head covering to Fr. Philip Powell, OP)

Catholic Carnival

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

Big things and little

Abortion is a horrible sin. Bishops are right to emphasize it and to hold people to account on that issue.

Yet those who are on the right side on the abortion issue dare not consider themselves automatically righteous, just as those who share the Church’s “preferential option for the poor” cannot automatically consider themselves saintly.

Moreover, while political judgments are important, it is too easy to focus on matters of politics and public policy, especially in this political season, and neglect the ever-deeper examination of conscience we must make in our personal lives.

The words of our Lord in today’s Gospel (Matthew 23:23-26) warn us about neglecting any of our moral duties:

(You) have neglected the weightier things of the law:
judgment and mercy and fidelity.
But these you should have done,
without neglecting the others.

May we always ask the Lord for his grace, so that we may see the truth ever more clearly and live according to it ever more perfectly.

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

Message from Denver

"To Catholics of the Archdiocese of Denver:

“Catholic public leaders inconvenienced by the abortion debate tend to take a hard line in talking about the ‘separation of Church and state.’ But their idea of separation often seems to work one way. In fact, some officials also seem comfortable in the role of theologian. And that warrants some interest, not as a ‘political’ issue, but as a matter of accuracy and justice.

“Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is a gifted public servant of strong convictions and many professional skills. Regrettably, knowledge of Catholic history and teaching does not seem to be one of them.

“Interviewed on
Meet the Press August 24, Speaker Pelosi was asked when human life begins. She said the following:

“‘I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition . . . St. Augustine said at three months. We don't know. The point is, is that it shouldn't have an impact on the woman's right to choose.’

“Since Speaker Pelosi has, in her words, studied the issue ‘for a long time,’ she must know very well one of the premier works on the subject, Jesuit John Connery's
Abortion: The Development of the Roman Catholic Perspective (Loyola, 1977). Here's how Connery concludes his study:

“‘The Christian tradition from the earliest days reveals a firm antiabortion attitude . . . The condemnation of abortion did not depend on and was not limited in any way by theories regarding the time of fetal animation. Even during the many centuries when Church penal and penitential practice was based on the theory of delayed animation, the condemnation of abortion was never affected by it. Whatever one would want to hold about the time of animation, or when the fetus became a human being in the strict sense of the term, abortion from the time of conception was considered wrong, and the time of animation was never looked on as a moral dividing line between permissible and impermissible abortion.’

“Or to put it in the blunter words of the great Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“‘Destruction of the embryo in the mother's womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed on this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And that is nothing but murder.’

“Ardent, practicing Catholics will quickly learn from the historical record that from apostolic times, the Christian tradition overwhelmingly held that abortion was grievously evil. In the absence of modern medical knowledge, some of the Early Fathers held that abortion was homicide; others that it was tantamount to homicide; and various scholars theorized about when and how the unborn child might be animated or ‘ensouled.’ But none diminished the unique evil of abortion as an attack on life itself, and the early Church closely associated abortion with infanticide. In short, from the beginning, the believing Christian community held that abortion was always, gravely wrong.

“Of course, we now know with biological certainty exactly when human life begins. Thus, today's religious alibis for abortion and a so-called ‘right to choose’ are nothing more than that - alibis that break radically with historic Christian and Catholic belief.

“Abortion kills an unborn, developing human life. It is always gravely evil, and so are the evasions employed to justify it. Catholics who make excuses for it - whether they're famous or not - fool only themselves and abuse the fidelity of those Catholics who do sincerely seek to follow the Gospel and live their Catholic faith.

“The duty of the Church and other religious communities is moral witness. The duty of the state and its officials is to serve the common good, which is always rooted in moral truth. A proper understanding of the ‘separation of Church and state’ does not imply a separation of faith from political life. But of course, it's always important to know what our faith actually teaches.”

+Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
Archbishop of Denver
+James D. Conley
Auxiliary Bishop of Denver

Monday, August 25, 2008

A message for all readers

The message Saint Paul wrote to the Thessalonians in today’s first reading (2 Thessalonians 1:1-5, 11-12), I pass on to each of you who share faith in Christ:

We ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters,
as is fitting,
because your faith flourishes ever more,
and the love of every one of you for one another
grows ever greater...

We always pray for you,
that our God may make you worthy of his calling
and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose
and every effort of faith,
that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you,
and you in him,
in accord with the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ.

Get medieval on you

Disputes were decided by combat.

Testimony was verified by ordeal.

The word of the king was law.

The acquisition of land by force was the rule.

Religion was important only as a tool for power.
Early 14th century statue from the church of Mainneville, France - reputed to be a true likeness
The young king thought differently.

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

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

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

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

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

Louis IX, King of France, died of disease at the age of 56 in North Africa while on a failed campaign to rescue churches in the Holy Land, 738 years ago today. Saint Louis was canonized 27 years later.

(from an earlier post)

Joseph's family was wealthy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(from an earlier post)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

No one is born a priest

from the Vocations Office of the Diocese of Raleigh

(a tip of the appropriate head covering to Father Z)

The words inside the dome

in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican are from today's Gospel (Matthew 16:13-20):

Tu es Petrus
et super hanc petram
aedificabo ecclesiam mean
et tibi dabo
claves regni caelorum

You are Peter
and upon this rock
I will build my Church
and to you I will give
the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

The gifts

Today’s readings present us with two precious, vital, and closely-related gifts from God.

The first is the gift of faith: knowledge of realities beyond the reach of human intellect alone.

The unknowability is described gloriously by Saint Paul in today’s In today’s second reading (Romans 11:33-36):

Oh, the depth
of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How inscrutable are his judgments

and how unsearchable his ways!
For who has known the mind of the Lord
or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given the Lord anything
that he may be repaid?
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be glory forever. Amen.

God’s ability to bridge that unknowability gap is described simply by our Lord himself in today’s Gospel (Matthew 16:13-20):

Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you,
but my heavenly Father.

Reality is inevitably greater than what can fit in our skulls, but God enables us to know the unknowable.

The other gift of God, closely related to the gift of faith, is God’s gift of authoritative ministry, manifested throughout salvation history (including today’s first reading – Isaiah 22:19-23) but never so powerfully and authoritatively as in today’s Gospel, from the lips of God’s only begotten Son.

And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of the netherworld
shall not prevail against it.

I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth
shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth
shall be loosed in heaven.

God’s gift of authoritative ministry has been more difficult to appreciate at various moments throughout the millennia, although in the case of the Petrine ministry we have been doubly blessed by the service of the great Pope John Paul II and the current Pontiff Pope Benedict XVI.

May God give us the grace to appreciate the gift of faith and the gift of authoritative ministry and may God use these gifts in our lives and in the lives of all the world for eternal salvation and true glory.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Warning to believers

Faith in Christ gives life: eternal life in heaven and a holy life on earth.

Faith is good.

But faith is not magic and the first part of today’s Gospel (Matthew 23:1-12) gives important warnings that all believers should use regularly in their examination of conscience.

Do we live up to what we believe?

They preach but they do not practice.

Do we say what we believe bluntly or do we exercise our intelligence, imagination, and patience to enable other people to embrace the truth of what is right and what is wrong and the saving truth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?

They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry
and lay them on people’s shoulders,
but they will not lift a finger to move them.

Are we making a mere show of our faith?

All their works are performed to be seen.

May you and I truly live our faith in the name and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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.

(from an earlier post)

Gifts of beauty

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

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

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

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

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

Her memory is celebrated on this day.

(from an earlier post)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Trust in the middle of death

The image is stark.

A dry, empty plain with nothing but the bones of the dead.

So begins today’s first reading (Ezekiel 37:1-14).

But even there, in the midst of dusty death, beyond hope, the prophet Ezekiel trusts in the Lord.

He asked me:
Son of man, can these bones come to life?

I answered,
“Lord GOD, you alone know that.”

Then he said to me:
Prophesy over these bones, and say to them:
Dry bones,
hear the word of the LORD!
Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones:
See! I will bring spirit into you,
that you may come to life.

No matter what is happening around us, may you and I always put our lives and our trust in the hands of the Lord.

Catholic Carnival

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

The Queenship of Mary

is a doubly strange concept for many today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Clothes communicate.

Clothes can communicate financial status.

Clothes can communicate identification with cultural trends.

Financial status and cultural trends, of course, mean little or nothing in the eyes of God. For that reason, together with comfort and convenience, some people do not “dress up” for church any more.

But clothes also communicate attentiveness and respect.

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 22:1-14), our Lord tells a parable in which a man is inattentive in his attire.

But when the king came in to meet the guests
he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.
He said to him,

'My friend, how is it
that you came in here without a wedding garment?'
But he was reduced to silence.
Then the king said to his attendants,

'Bind his hands and feet,
and cast him into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.'

May we demonstrate our attentiveness and respect in the presence of God, inside and out.

An energetic pastor

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

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

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

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

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

Within days, the man born as Giuseppe Sarto but forever known as Pope St. Pius X, died of grief, 94 years ago yesterday. He was canonized forty years later and the memory of Pope St. Pius X is celebrated on this day.

(from an earlier post)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Bad shepherds

Today’s first reading (Ezekiel 34:1-11) speaks powerfully against bad spiritual shepherds: who enjoy the benefits of their position but fail to care for the flock or to seek out lost sheep.

This prophecy needs to be heeded well by anyone charged with pastoral ministry. It may even strike them with terror.

This prophecy also needs to be heeded by you and me.

How often do we enjoy the blessings of the Church and membership within it and yet fail to do our part?

How often do we fail to reach out lost sheep? How often do our words and actions break down the flock or seek to pull it in our own direction?

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

May all of us, each in the ways given us by God, care for God’s sheep.

He did not want the life society offered him

What interested him was a life of virtue and prayer and he spoke passionately of this with his family and friends.

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

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

Now he could devote himself totally to prayer.

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

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

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

His memory is celebrated on this day.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Lifestyles of the rich and famous

Because you are haughty of heart,
you say, “A god am I!
I occupy a godly throne
in the heart of the sea!”—
And yet you are a man, and not a god,
however you may think yourself like a god.
Oh yes, you are wiser than Daniel,
there is no secret that is beyond you.
By your wisdom and your intelligence
you have made riches for yourself;
You have put gold and silver
into your treasuries.
By your great wisdom applied to your trading
you have heaped up your riches;
your heart has grown haughty from your riches...

Thus says the Lord God in today’s first reading (Ezekiel 28:1-10).

But riches, fame, and even intelligence are not enough.

The one who imagines himself on “a godly throne in the heart of the sea” ends up “a bloodied corpse in the heart of the sea.”

May you and I seek the true ways of God – his eternal riches and his everlasting glory - above all things.

A John

He was often seen in the company of prostitutes and he went by the name of "John."

It wasn't what one might think: he was a priest.

Also, a notorious Cardinal vouched for him.

Seriously, few souls are more lost than those who find themselves in situations where they sell themselves for money or whatever. They are in a dreadful trap and society does not always make it easy for them to get out of it.

Father John disregarded the cynicism of society and reached out to these lost sheep, establishing a place of refuge to which women of "ill-fame" could go and change their lives.

He did other good work as well, from educating the clergy to spreading devotion to the Sacred Heart. He also established new religious orders (for which he needed the political assistance of Cardinal Richelieu and others).

St. John Eudes died at the age of 78 on this very day in 1680.

(from an earlier post)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Lost innocence unmourned

In Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons, the man whose perjury will be used to cause Saint Thomas More’s execution takes his first step down this road of betrayal and jokingly says, “I’m lamenting. I’ve lost my innocence.”

His mentor in treachery snaps back, “You lost that some time ago. If you’ve only just noticed, it can’t have been very important to you.”

Today’s first reading (Ezekiel 24:15-23) presents us with a dramatic prophecy of people who have lost their innocence with no lamentation at all.

You shall not mourn or weep,
but you shall rot away because of your sins
and groan one to another.

It is very easy for us today to become desensitized to immorality and even to find ourselves having stumbled down a slippery slope of bad compromises and thoughtless moral choices.

May we always pray that God will give us the grace to recognize, repent, and seek forgiveness for our sins.

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

Young wife and mother and...

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

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

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

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

Her memory is celebrated on this day.

(from a previous post)

Sunday, August 17, 2008


In today’s Gospel (Matthew 15:21-28), our Lord speaks to a woman in need with words that sound cruel: essentially calling her a dog.

She, for her part, was a woman of great faith and insight, persevering in the face of words that would have made many respond in anger or slink away in despair.

Our Lord, of course, saw that faith from the beginning and used her to give his disciples a powerful lesson: parroting their words to break through the prejudice of their culture and demonstrate that people they call dogs are capable of great faith and wondrous things.

Prejudice or apathy, anger or despair – whatever blocks us from living out the truth and love of Christ, may Christ break through with the power of his grace.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


In today’s readings we have two different views of children.

In the Gospel (Matthew 19:13-15), our Lord welcomes children with these beautiful words:

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

On the other hand, the first reading (Ezekiel 18:1-10, 13b, 30-32) speaks of begetting a son who is a thief and a murderer.

One difference between the two situations is that the children in the Gospel are young while the son in the first reading has presumably grown to adulthood.

We know, of course, from sad and tragic experience that this is not always the case: that one does not need to be an adult to be a murderer.

The most important difference between the two situations is that in the Gospel, the children are open and receptive to Christ while the son in the first reading is focused on selfishness and evil.

May you and I be children open to and focused on the truth and love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Menstruation and charging interest

Not everything we read in the Bible is "politically correct" - especially in the Old Testament.

For example, today's first reading (Ezekiel 18:1-10, 13b, 30-32) lists things that the virtuous man does not do, including such things as having "relations with a woman in her menstrual period" and lending money at interest.

It is easy, of course, to brush off such admonitions as only pertaining to the Mosaic covenant or a particular time and place - irrelevant to our own lives. After all, we may say, we are not Jews and we live in an economic frame of reference that is very different from ancient times.

But it is dangerous to dismiss any Scripture out of hand.

To be sure, some Old Testament admonitions require very careful exegesis, to be done within the full context of the deposit of faith and with the help of the Holy Spirit, in order to understand their applicability in a definitive and detailed way.

But in a more general way and on a more personal level, it is always worthwhile to search for meaning within Scripture rather than dismiss it out of hand.

In the present example, we may ask ourselves: are we respectful of God's gift of sexuality and (if we are married) respectful of our spouse, or do we focus on our own desires and selfish "needs"?

Likewise, are we narrow-minded and short-sighted in our business decisions, violating both ethics and long-term business sense?

We must respect ourselves.
We must respect others.
We must respect Scripture.
Most of all, we must respect God.

(from an earlier post)

A Father's words of faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

Stephen, first king of Hungary, died in August 1038

His words and his faith would live on.

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

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

(from an earlier post)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Remember his promise of mercy

In her Magnificat, heard in today’s Gospel (Luke 1:39-56), the Blessed Virgin Mary says this about God:

...he has remembered his promise of mercy...

The mercy of God chose her as the mother of his Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The mercy of God and the grace of Christ preserved her from sin from the very beginning.

The mercy of God and the power of Christ’s resurrection brought her body and soul into heaven at the end of her earthly life.

May you and I always remember the promise of the mercy of God and the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

How much more Mary...

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

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

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

2 Kings 2:11

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

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

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

(from a previous post)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Forgive them

People have done us wrong.

Sometimes there is no way we can forget the wrong that was done to us: we cannot escape the evil effects of what they did.

The message of today’s Gospel (Matthew 18:21-9:1) is: forgive them.

We must prudently and proportionately protect ourselves and the defenseless against evil, but we must always forgive.

If we do not, the results could be terrifying.

His master summoned him and said to him,
‘You wicked servant!
I forgave you your entire debt
because you begged me to.
Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant,
as I had pity on you?’
Then in anger
his master handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt.
So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you

forgives his brother from his heart.

Catholic Carnival

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

Mad Max

Some said that there were things that made Max mad.

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

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

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

Of course, Max would occasionally step out of line.

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

Father Maximilian Maria Kolbe was put to death by lethal injection on this very day 67 years ago at Auschwitz.

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

(from an earliier post)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Consequences for the children

Today’s first reading (Ezekiel 9:1-7; 10:18-22) brings us a prophecy of vivid images and these horrific words:

Old men, youths and maidens,
women and children
–wipe them out!

God is infinitely merciful and he extends his mercy abundantly to those who seek it.

God is also infinitely just and all people will see his perfect justice and mercy at his great judgment seat.

Yet God also gives mankind the freedom both to do good and to do evil and he lets the consequences of these good and evil deeds be manifested in the world.

Sin has consequences. The evil that people do has evil effects in the world: evil that affects other people, that infects the complex web of human relationships, and that leads young people into evil.

Cultural elites and politicians often say that any personal moral failings they have are private and no one else’s business.

While personal privacy should be respected, evil has consequences that impacts everyone, including children.

May the Lord give us the grace to repent, to turn away from the ways of sin, to be forgiven, and to help heal the evil consequences of the evil we do.

The Pope was his enemy

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

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

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

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

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

Their memory is celebrated on this day.

(from an earlier post)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Pray for the stray

Today’s readings both involve people who stray from the ways of God.

The first reading (Ezekiel 2:8-3:4) refers to the rebellious people of Israel and prophesizes the ultimate result of straying from the good: Lamentation and wailing and woe!

In the Gospel (Matthew 18:1-5, 10, 12-14), our Lord speaks of tenderly seeking those who stray:

If a man has a hundred sheep
and one of them goes astray,
will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills
and go in search of the stray?

And if he finds it, amen, I say to you,
he rejoices more over it
than over the ninety-nine that did not stray.

In just the same way,
it is not the will of your heavenly Father
that one of these little ones be lost.

May you and I always call upon the Lord when we stray and may we pray for others when they stray, so that the Lord in his mercy may gather us into the fullness of his love and truth.

Monday, August 11, 2008

At all levels

Today’s readings demonstrate the diversity of how God reveals himself.

At one end of the spectrum, in the Gospel (Matthew 17:22-27), a coin miraculously appears in the mouth of a fish.

At the other end of the spectrum, in the first reading (Ezekiel 1:2-5, 24-28c), there is a cosmic vision of God in his glory.

And then there is this: in the same Gospel passage as the fish, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ speaks briefly of what would be the pinnacle of revelation and salvation: his death and resurrection.

At the beginning of this day and the beginning of this week, may God enable us to recognize clearly and respond rightly to every moment of grace that comes our way.

She was rich and beautiful

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

They bored her.

Instead, she was fascinated with the village idiot.

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

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

She knew what that meant.

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

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

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

(from an earlier post)

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Eleven young men received the holy habit of the Order of Friars Preachers on August 8, 2008, the Feast of Saint Dominic, for the Province of St. Joseph in the United States.

Come to the quiet

Life today can be very busy and very loud.

Today’s Gospel and first reading encourage us to seek God in stillness and quiet.

In the Gospel (Matthew 14:22-33), our Lord goes up on a mountain by himself to pray.

In the first reading (1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a), the prophet Elijah goes alone to a holy mountain and finds God in the quiet.

The LORD said to him,
“Go outside
and stand on the mountain before the LORD;
the LORD will be passing by.”
A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains
and crushing rocks before the LORD—
but the LORD was not in the wind.
After the wind there was an earthquake—
but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake there was fire—
but the LORD was not in the fire.
After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.
When he heard this,
Elijah hid his face in his cloak
and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.

In the midst of a busy and noisy world, may you and I seek God in stillness and quiet by the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Wait for it

Bad things keep happening.

Evil people keep prospering.

Justice never seems to happen.

Some of us may despair.

Some of us may cut corners, morally and otherwise, to “make good things happen”.

Today’s first reading (Habakkuk 1:12-2:4) shows us the real deal.

Then the LORD answered me and said:

Write down the vision
Clearly upon the tablets,
so that one can read it readily.

For the vision still has its time,
presses on to fulfillment,
and will not disappoint;
If it delays, wait for it,
it will surely come,
it will not be late.

The rash man has no integrity;
but the just man,
because of his faith,
shall live.

A nice girl like her

The Steins were a well-to-do Jewish family with seven children, the youngest of which was their daughter Edith.

She was a bright child and excelled in her studies, but stopped practicing her faith or even praying during her teenage years. When she went to college, she started studying psychology, but changed universities and switched majors.

She became a protégé of Edmund Husserl, who was establishing a new form of philosophy called Phenomenology. The First World War interrupted her studies and she worked as a volunteer nurse for a time. She eventually received her doctorate summa cum laude.

Edith read more than just philosophy books. One night she read the autobiography of St. Theresa of Avila. When she finished the book, the unreligious Jewish woman on the cutting edge of modern philosophy said, “This is truth!”

Within a year, she was baptized into the Catholic faith. For the next eleven years, she taught and wrote, showing how phenomenology could be integrated with Catholic thought. Finally, she decided to take the next step in imitation of St. Teresa of Avila, entering a Discalced Carmelite cloister. Two years later, she made her profession and took a religious name Teresia Benedicta ac Cruce (Theresa Blessed by the Cross).

Within a few years, however, she realized that she was a danger to her own cloister. It was 1938 and Germany was safe neither for people of Jewish birth nor for people living with them. She transferred to a cloister in Holland.

But when the Dutch bishops formally protested the deportation of Jews, the Nazis rounded up all Catholics of Jewish descent in Holland. Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was taken from her cloister and thrown into one of the infamous cattle cars bound for Auschwitz.

She died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz one week later on August 9, 1942 – exactly sixty-six years ago today.

Her writings before and after her conversion would influence a young Polish priest and philosophy student who would become the great Pope John Paul II.

Less than 40 years after her death, in a stadium not far from her cloister in Cologne, Pope John Paul II declared her one of the Blessed in heaven. She was canonized on October 11, 1998.

Edith Stein, nice Jewish girl and modern philosopher, is now also known as Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, virgin and martyr.

(adapted from earlier posts)

Friday, August 08, 2008

Grace before death

Our Lord’s words at the end of today’s Gospel (Matthew 16:24-28) are intriguing.

Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here
who will not taste death
until they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.

Some, especially in the early Church, interpreted these words as Christ promising an imminent second coming.

Others interpreted these words as referring to the establishment of Christ’s kingdom by his death and resurrection.

May these words remind us to pray always that when the Lord Jesus decides our labors are complete and he calls us to taste death and to leave this world, we may die in his eternal grace and love.

Woe to the bloody city

These words from today's first reading (Nahum 2:1, 3; 3:1-3, 6-7) are brutual and challenging.

Woe to the bloody city, all lies,
full of plunder, whose looting never stops!

The crack of the whip,
the rumbling sounds of wheels...

These words seem to resonate strongly today and there are some people who might point to a particular city or a particular ideology as being the modern fulfillment of this prophecy.

It is always risky, of course, to tie Scripture to one's geopolitics: to think automatically that we and our friends are the Chosen People and our opponent is the bloody city full of lies.

Ultimately, this passage reminds us that no matter how awesome and fearful earthly power may be, whether we are the victims or the victors, God's power is even greater.

This message is reinforced by the verses from which today's Responsorial is taken: most especially Deuteronomy 32:39 (slightly truncated in the Lectionary).

Learn then that I, I alone, am God,
and there is no god besides me.

It is I who bring both death and life,
I who inflict wounds and heal them,
and from my hand there is no rescue.

Victim or victorious, fearful or confident, we are all in the hands of God, whose ways may sometimes seem depressingly unfathomable, but who is himself infinitely merciful and inescapably just.

Yet we cannot be passive. We must fulfill our responsibilities as people in society, as members of families, as fellow human beings and - most importantly - as people of faith.

We must also remember the truest road to peace: laid before us in today's Gospel (Matthew 16:24-28).

Whoever wishes to come after me
must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.

For whoever wishes to save his life
will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake
will find it.

What profit would there be
for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his life?

Or what can one give in exchange for his life?

For the Son of Man will come
with his angels in his Father's glory,
and then he will repay each
according to his conduct.

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

(adapted from an earlier post)


A cult had taken over the town

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(from an earlier post)

Thursday, August 07, 2008

God reveals

Both of today’s readings speak of God revealing himself directly, without human mediation.

In the first reading, we hear this well-known eschatological prophecy of Jeremiah (31:31-34):

I will place my law within them,
and write it upon their hearts;
I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
No longer will they have need
to teach their friends and relatives
how to know the LORD.
All, from least to greatest, shall know me,
says the LORD,
for I will forgive their evildoing
and remember their sin no more.

And in the Gospel (Matthew 16:13-23), our Lord gives this response to Saint Peter’s bold confession of faith.

Jesus said to him in reply,
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you,
but my heavenly Father.

“And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of the netherworld
shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth
shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth
shall be loosed in heaven.”

Ironically, the concept of direct revelation by God – eschatological and extraordinary in these passages – has been misunderstood by some as justification for drifting away from what God has already revealed and the Church founded by Christ.

Discernment is, of course, critical. What a person may think is the direct revelation from God can very often be their own subconscious or worse. Even Saint Peter at first, before the gift of the Holy Spirit, found himself “thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

May you and I pray for the gift of discernment, enlightenment, and fidelity to the revelation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and the Church he founded.

Turning the tide

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

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

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

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

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

(from an earlier post)

The new bishop

Not long before his first anniversary in office, the bishop was saying Mass quietly.

Suddenly, armed men broke in.

They beheaded the bishop as well as some deacons who were with him, leaving their bodies where they had just been celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

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

(from an earlier post)

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Catholic Carnival

This week's Catholic Carnival - a collection of posts from various Catholic blogs - is online at Ho Kai Paulos.

Keep focused on the light

There are times in life when things can look very dark.

These are the times when we can find great comfort from faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who died and rose for us.

As Saint Peter says in today’s second reading (2 Peter 1:16-19):

We possess the prophetic message
that is altogether reliable.
You will do well to be attentive to it,
as to a lamp shining in a dark place,
until day dawns
and the morning star rises in your hearts.


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

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

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

Matthew 17:1-4a

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Transfiguration

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

I have done this to you

Today’s first reading (Jeremiah 30:1-2, 12-15, 18-22) does not begin with happy news.

It tells us not only that we are incurable but that God is the one who did it to us.

For thus says the LORD:
Incurable is your wound,
grievous your bruise;
There is none to plead your cause,
no remedy for your running sore,
no healing for you.
All your lovers have forgotten you,
they do not seek you.
I struck you as an enemy would strike,
punished you cruelly;
Why cry out over your wound?
your pain is without relief.
Because of your great guilt,
your numerous sins,
I have done this to you.

The people who first heard these words knew that the troubles that afflicted them did not come directly from the hand of God like a bolt of lightning or some otherworldly wonder. Foreign armies had invaded and brought devastation, slavery and exile.

God “did this” not just in the sense of letting it happen, but also in creating and sustaining a universe of justice in which bad deeds are ultimately punished.

As we know, of course, this universe of justice extends beyond the limits of the world we see and know, finding ultimate fulfillment in eternity and the Judgment Seat of God.

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

But God is also merciful, as this reading goes on to remind us: forgiving us, restoring us, reinvigorating us, and drawing us every closer into the embrace of his love and joy.

Mother of WHAT?!

Some people are taken aback when they hear Mary described as “Mother of God.”

The purpose of this title is to express a critically important truth about Jesus, not simply to say nice things about his mother.

Some people used to say that Mary was only the mother of Christ’s human nature, making it seem almost as if there were two Christs: one human, one divine.

In fact, there is only one Lord Jesus Christ. Mary gave birth to Jesus: a single person fully human and fully divine. In that sense Mary can thus be called Mother of God (Mother in the sense of giving birth to One who is God, not in the sense that she was the cause of God).

The expression “Mother of God” is therefore primarily an affirmation of the unity of the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.

One of the most important churches in the city of Rome was dedicated to this truth. The dedication of that church, the Basilica of St. Mary Major, is celebrated throughout the world on this day.

(from earlier posts)

Monday, August 04, 2008

He promised peace

He spoke words of faith.

The people adored him.

But he was wrong. He did not speak the word of the Lord truthfully.

In today’s first reading (Jeremiah 28:1-17) the prophet Jeremiah confronts another person who speaks and acts like a prophet.

Jeremiah wishes that what the other person spoke would prove true, but Jeremiah is cautious in his discernment and before long he knows the truth of the matter: truth and warnings he must pronounce.

May you and I always seek the gift of discernment and always proclaim the truth in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

A nice guy, but not bright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(from a previous post)

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The view from the pit



Terrorism and war

These terrible troubles and the threat of these troubles seem to be darkening our world more and more nowadays.

Sometimes we focus on these dark problems and dangers so much that it is like looking down into a pit and the darkness fills our sight and our mind.

Usually that is a good way to fall INTO the pit.

Today’s readings should encourage us to take a step back and to look at more than just the darkness and to hear the voice of the Lord, who cared for the multitude in their earthly need in today’s Gospel (Matthew 14:13-21) and who calls us to partake of the spiritual and other goodness he offers us in today’s first reading (Isaiah 55:1-3):

All you who are thirsty,
come to the water!

You who have no money,
come, receive grain and eat;
Come, without paying and without cost,
drink wine and milk!

Why spend your money for what is not bread;
your wages for what fails to satisfy?

Heed me, and you shall eat well,
you shall delight in rich fare.

Come to me heedfully,
listen, that you may have life.

Does this mean we should ignore earthly challenges, troubles, and threats? Not at all.

Does that mean that bad things will never happen to us if we are faithful to Christ? By no means.

Christ calls us to take up our own crosses and follow him. It would be foolish to imagine that this would never include suffering.

Yet, no matter what, God cares for us and gives us grace and goodness beyond the imagination of those without faith.

And even if, God forbid, the worst does happen – even if we find ourselves in the pit we feared – the promises and the power of God are still there for us, as Saint Paul reminds us in today’s second reading (Romans 8:35, 37-39) in the midst of his own suffering and terror (as verse 36 –omitted in the Lectionary selection, but included below – reminds us):

What will separate us from the love of Christ?
Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine,
or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?

As it is written:
"For your sake we are being slain all the day;
we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered."

No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly
through him who loved us.

For I am convinced
that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities,
nor present things, nor future things,
nor powers, nor height, nor depth,
nor any other creature
will be able to separate us
from the love of God
in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Speaking the truth to power

“Speaking the truth to power” is an expression often used by “progressives” to describe the challenges they make against the authorities and the structures they oppose.

“Speaking the truth to power” also describes what happens in today’s readings, as Jeremiah challenges people in power in today’s first reading (Jeremiah 26:11-16, 24) and Saint John the Baptist denounces King Herod in today’s Gospel (Matthew 14:1-12).

In both situations, these men of God happen to be speaking against “progressive” activities such as religious experimentation and playing loose with the rules of marriage.

The reality is that we as Christians need to “speak the truth to power” no matter which side of the liberal-conservative line God’s truth may fall on a particular topic in today’s culture and no matter which earthly power we are addressing: the power of government, the power of cultural elites, or the power of the masses.

We need to be prudent, of course, and speak with as much care and skill as we can muster, praying always for the help of God’s grace, so that our words may have maximum effect.

Yet we should also not be naïve about our chances of worldly success. At the end of today’s first reading, Jeremiah wins the support of the people and protection, but he would eventually be kidnapped and murdered. In today’s Gospel, Saint John the Baptist is executed. But being faithful to God’s truth, they would also enjoy eternally the gift of God’s life and love and the world would be better for the truth they had shared.

May you and I always speak the truth of God in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

People said that priests were immoral

They said that priests conspired to advance the interests of the Church against the interests of the people.

Peter wanted to be a priest.

Despite the unpopularity of Catholic priests and his family’s opposition, Peter entered a Marist seminary.

Then, Peter got terribly sick and had to leave.

Peter recovered, entered the diocesan seminary, was ordained a priest and later rejoined the Marists.

As the years went on, he continued to encounter obstacles to ministering to people with the truth and love of Jesus Christ. Not only was there widespread anticlericism, but there was also a extreme but widespread idea about people's unworthiness.

Since he had been a child, Peter had been especially devoted to the presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. In his forties, he felt called to center his life on drawing people closer to Christ through that devotion and established two new religious orders that would spread around the world.

St. Peter Julien Eymard, founder of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament and Servants of the Blessed Sacrament, died at the age of 57 one hundred and forty years ago today.

(Adapted from an earlier post)

The people in the government had ideas

They had ideas about the Church, about how it should be run and what it should teach.

They put pressure on the Church and its bishops, treating very badly those who did not go along.

Sad to say, many people in the Church went along.

One bishop, with the unusual name of Eusebius, who was faithful to the teaching of the Church, was confronted with papers that denounced innocent people. He refused and was deported.

Even in exile, he continued to be harassed, but he made the best he could of the situation. He traveled wherever he could be of assistance, to encourage others who upheld the truth and to bring peace whenever possible.

Eventually he returned to his home diocese, where he died (some say he was killed).

The memory of Eusebius of Vercelli, bishop and martyr of the fourth century, is celebrated on this day.

(from a previous post)

Friday, August 01, 2008

Where the crowds are

The crowds gathered around a charismatic speaker, but serious questions were being asked.

This happens in both of today’s readings, as the crowds gather around the prophet Jeremiah in the first reading (Jeremiah 26:1-9) and around our Lord in the Gospel (Matthew 13:54-58).

In both cases, serious questions are being asked, but right answers seem beyond the reach of the crowds.

May you and I reach beyond the obsessions and limitations of popular culture and seek the eternal truth that comes from God through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The boy was a prodigy

He was a master of the keyboard by 13.

When he was 16, he received his law degree.

By his mid-twenties, he was at the top of his profession and living the high life.

And then he crashed to earth: blowing a big case.

He took a little time off and thought about his life. It was then that he felt the call to a religious vocation.

He was ordained a priest at 30. He preached and ministered to street people and also worked with different religious orders.

When he was 36, he founded his own religious order, but was not elected Superior General until a decade later.

He encountered many obstacles – at one point, nearly everyone abandoned him – but he persevered.

When he was 66, the Pope made him a bishop. Although he faced many challenges there (including disasters in the local economy and even an assassination attempt), he reinvigorated his diocese.

But illnesses piled up, even partial paralysis. His resignation, however, was not accepted until he was 78, whereupon he returned to his cell, ready to die.

But he would still have a long road to travel. His order continued to be buffeted by many forces. At times, even his spiritual life would offer little refuge, as he was spiritually afflicted from many directions.

Finally, Alphonsus Liguori died at the age of 90 on this very day 221 years ago. Six years after his death, the religious order he had founded, the Redemptorists, was fully restored. St. Alphonsus Ligouri was canonized in 1839 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1871.

(from a previous post)

What shall we pray for this month?

Pope Benedict's general prayer intention for August is:

"That the human family may know how to respect God's design for the world and thus become ever more aware of the great gift of God which Creation represents for us".

His mission intention is:

"That the answer of the entire people of God to the common vocation to sanctity and mission may be promoted and fostered, with careful discernment of the charisms and a constant commitment to spiritual and cultural formation".