22 October 2014

Italy's Economic Woes: After 35 years "without hardly ever working," an Italian has retired with a pension

When I tell people back home in the United States of America that the number one goal for many - if not most - Italians is not to work right now (with no real thought to increased work in the future), they are baffled and cannot imagine how this could be the case. Today, I can offer an example (even if a bit extreme).

Consider this story from The Telegraph of a coal miner who admits that, after 35 years of "work" for the coal company, "I reached the pensionable age without hardly ever working." He has now retired at the age of 52:
An Italian coal miner's confession that he is drawing a pension despite hardly ever putting in a day’s work over a 35-year career has underlined the country’s problem with benefit fraud and its dysfunctional pension system.
Carlo Cani started work as a miner in 1980 but soon found that he suffered from claustrophobia and hated being underground.
He started doing everything he could to avoid hacking away at the coal face, inventing an imaginative range of excuses for not venturing down the mine in Sardinia where he was employed.
He pretended to be suffering from amnesia and haemorrhoids, rubbed coal dust into his eyes to feign an infection and on occasion staggered around pretending to be drunk.
The miner, now aged 60, managed to accumulate years of sick leave, apparently with the help of compliant doctors, and was able to stay at home to indulge his passion for jazz [more]. 
I suppose, in some ways, it's a dream come true. It's also a prime example of the serious difficulties underlying Italy's economy.

21 October 2014

A Halloween Round Up

As we draw closer to the annual celebration of Halloween, we are likely to see repeated claims that Halloween is, at its root, pagan and even Satanic. This, of course, is simply not true and the origins of the celebrations as they have down to us today are a bit convoluted.

To help you prepare for Halloween and maybe to learn a little something or two, here are a few links that may be of interest to you (some of which I've posted before):

20 October 2014

Paprocki asks Catholics to pray the rosary to turn the tide - and hearts - of jihadists

Blessed Pope Pius IX once said, "Give me an army saying the rosary and I will conquer the world." He was not, of course, speaking of a political or temporal conquest, but a spiritual conquest, a conquest of hearts.

The same Pope referred to the rosary as "a weapon to put demons to flight" and urged Catholics to take up the rosary each day:
If you desire peace in your hearts, in your homes, and in your country, assemble each evening to recite the Rosary. Let not even one day pass without saying it, no matter how burdened you may be with many cares and labors.
The Catholic Gentleman offers several quotes from holy men and women regarding the rosary as, the words of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, "the 'weapon' for these times."

In his weekly column in the Catholic Times in which he examines "how some define the word 'jihad'," the Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki, Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, has echoed, in a certain sense, these words of the holy Pope, urging the faithful of his Diocese to take up their rosaries to turn the tide of jihadists:
While it pertains to Muslims to address and renounce such matters of Islamic teaching, I suggest for us Catholics that we turn to our Blessed Mother for her intercession by praying the rosary. Many parishioners pray the rosary together in church before Mass, a practice that I heartily encourage. Prior to the naval battle of Lepanto to repulse the westward expansion into Europe by the Ottoman Turks in the 16th century, Pope St. Pius V called on Catholics to pray the rosary. After the battle was successfully won near the west coast of Greece on Oct. 7, 1571, the pope attributed the victory to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and declared the Feast Day of Our Lady of Victory, which we now observe as Our Lady of the Rosary each year on Oct. 7. Let us pray to the Queen of Peace for her intercession, that the whole world may be led to the peace promised by her son, Jesus, the Prince of Peace [more].
Let us answer Bishop Paprocki's call and ask Our Lady to intercede especially for the Middle East, the land in which she lived and walked and prayed, a land she loves very much.

19 October 2014

The Beatification of Pope Paul VI

"Today vast numbers of people still do not know Jesus Christ. For this reason, the mission ad gentes continues to be most urgent. All the members of the Church are called to participate in this mission, for the Church is missionary by her very nature: she was born 'to go forth'."

With these words - words which echo the words of his predecessor Pope Paul VI in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (On Evangelization in the Modern World) written at the close of the Third Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops and released in 1975 - the Holy Father Pope Francis began his Message for World Mission Sunday 2014, which is to be observed today throughout the Church universal.

It was Pope Paul VI who said, "Those who have received the Good News and who have been gathered by it into the community of salvation can and must communicate and spread it," a reminder of which we are in continual need, especially in these days when too many Christians have forgotten the necessity of proclaiming the Gospel of Christ (13).

But these are not the only words from Evangelii Nuntiandi that seem particularly apt at this time. As the Cardinals and Bishops gathered these past two weeks for the Third Extradordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, perhaps should have spent more time reflecting on these prophetic words:
The split between the Gospel and culture is without a doubt the drama of our time, just as it was of other times. Therefore every effort must be made to ensure a full evangelization of culture, or more correctly of cultures. They have to be regenerated by an encounter with the Gospel. But this encounter will not take place if the Gospel is not proclaimed (20).
This split is becoming all too apparent with each passing day and needs to be honestly accessed and addressed.

My childhood pastor, Father John Beveridge, was deeply influenced by this exhortation of Pope Paul VI and through it brought the Systematic Integral New Evangelization (SINE) to St. John the Baptist Parish in which I was raised in Quincy, Illinois. Through the small faith sharing groups formed through SINE, I came to understand the Gospels more clearly and learned how to follow Christ more closely through the witness and encouragement of my fellow parishioners, especially those in my small group, to whom I am eternally indebted.

Reading through this exhortation again and again in high school and in college was one of the helps along the way as I sought to discern the Lord's will for my life. It was this sentence, above all, that struck me deeply:
Here lies the test of truth, the touchstone of evangelization: it is unthinkable that a person should accept the Word and give himself to the kingdom without becoming a person who bears witness to it and proclaims it in his turn (24).

For this reason - and in gratitude for Pope Paul VI's other prophetic witness in his encyclical letter Humanae Vitae - I was very happy this morning to be able to concelebrate the Holy Mass in Saint Peter's Square this morning for the beatification of this Bishop of Rome.

I left the Casa Santa Maria with five other priests. It is difficult to carry on a conversation with two other people as you walk through Rome (doing so with four others would be nearly impossible). So it was that I walked with a priest of the Diocese of Orange (whose Bishop - the Most Reverend Kevin Vann - is a priest of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois) and who has family in Hawaii. As we walked we spoke of our mutual love for those blessed islands.

When we reached St. Peter's Square, the size of the crowds forced our group apart and I ended up with two priests who also live at the Casa, but with whom I did not walk (one from the Diocese of Lincoln, the other from the Diocese of Trenton).

After about an hour and a half of waiting in our chairs, the Mass finally began. After the Sign of the Cross and the Penitential Rite, the Most Reverend Luciano Monari, Bishop of Brescia, petitioned Pope Francis with these words:
Most Holy Father, I, the Bishop of Brescia, humbly request Your Holiness that the Venerable Servant of God, Paul VI, Pope, be proclaimed Blessed.
The biographical sketch of Pope Paul VI was then read by the Postulator of the Cause. Afterwards Pope Francis responded to the request of Bishop Monari, saying:
Acceding to the request of our Brother Luciano Monari, Bishop of Brescia, of many other of our Brothers in the episcopate, and many of the faithful, after consultation with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, by our apostolic authority we declare that the Venerable Servant of God Paul VI, Pope, shall henceforth be invoked as Blessed and that his feast shall be celebrated every year on the twenty-sixth day of September, in the places and according to the norms established by Church law.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The veil over the official portrait of Blessed Pope Paul VI was then lifted as we sang, "Shout to the Lord, sing to the Lord!"






Someone needs to help the Holy See forget how to use Photoshop.
Next a relic of Blessed Pope Paul VI - an undershirt he wore when an attempt on his life was made in Manila - was displayed near the altar for the veneration of the faithful:







After the incensation of the relic, the Holy Mass continued in the usual way, beginning with the Gloria.

In his homily this morning, Pope Francis said:
When we look to this great Pope, this courageous Christian, this tireless apostle, we cannot but say in the sight of God a word as simple as it is heartfelt and important: thanks! Thank you, our dear and beloved Pope Paul VI! Thank you for your humble and prophetic witness of love for Christ and his Church!
In his personal journal, the great helmsman of the Council wrote, at the conclusion of its final session: “Perhaps the Lord has called me and preserved me for this service not because I am particularly fit for it, or so that I can govern and rescue the Church from her present difficulties, but so that I can suffer something for the Church, and in that way it will be clear that he, and no other, is her guide and saviour” (P. Macchi, Paolo VI nella sua parola, Brescia, 2001, pp. 120-121). In this humility the grandeur of Blessed Paul VI shines forth: before the advent of a secularized and hostile society, he could hold fast, with farsightedness and wisdom – and at times alone – to the helm of the barque of Peter, while never losing his joy and his trust in the Lord.
After the Mass, Pope Francis rode through the Square in the Pope-mobile and I was able to get a good picture as he rode by:


The coat of arms is that of the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI.
All in all, it was a beautiful morning and a great way to spend a Sunday.

Blessed Pope Paul VI, pray for us!

18 October 2014

CORRECTED AND UPDATED: Final Synod document published

The final Message of the III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops has now been published.

I have yet to read it, but my first observation is simple: The Relatio post disceptationem - the so-called "Midterm report" was eleven pages long; the final Message is only three pages.

UPDATE:

The Message is well-written and has a certain poetic sense to it. Of particular note is the absence of both the question of the reception of Holy Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried and of homosexuality.

CORRECTION:

The final Message linked about is not the final Relatio of the Synod, which is yet to published.

ONGOING UPDATES: A Boko Haram Ongoing News Round Up

20 October 2014
18 October 2014
17 October 2014
10 October 2014
6 October 2014
2 October 2014
1 October 2014
30 September 2014
25 September 2014
24 September 2014
20 September 2014
19 September 2014
18 September 2014
17 September 2014
16 September 2014
12 September 2014
11 September 2014
10 September 2014
9 September 2014
8 September 2014
4 September 2014
3 September 2014
2 September 2014
29 August 2014
28 August 2014
24 August 2014
15 August 2014
14 August 2014
27 July 2014
11 July 2011
10 June 2014
June 2014
2 May 2014
28 May 2014
30 March 2014
26 February 2014

Susan Boyle to release new album

EWTN's Raymond Arroyo sat down yesterday with Susan Boyle, who has said, "My own faith is the backbone of my life":


Susan's  new album Hope will be released Tuesday, October 21st (I just per-ordered it through iTunes): The brief promo video for Hope gives us some indication of the pleasure in which we will soon be able to partake:


I've written before about the music and voice of Susan Boyle, and I'm very much looking forward to listening to this album. Whenever she sings, she sings with a great emotion; she enters into her songs and takes the lyrics and makes them her own. This - together with Susan's personal simplicity, humility, and faith - is what makes her music so powerful. She's a woman we'd all like to know.

If you haven't yet read her autobiography, The Woman I Was Born To Be: My Story, I think you should. Her story has both tragedy and beauty, joy and inspiration. Her story is a story of grace.

16 October 2014

UPDATED: Why isn't the media covering Cardinal Kaspar's words about the African Bishops?

DEVELOPING: His Eminence Cardinal Kaspar has denied both having an interview with Zenit and speaking about the African Bishops. This is curious. And a bit bizarre.

UPDATE: Edward Pentin has released a statement in response to Cardinal Kaspar's claims above. Pentin says:
His Eminence Cardinal Walter Kasper spoke to me and two other journalists, one British, the other French, around 7.15pm on Tuesday as he left the Synod hall.
I transcribed the recording of our conversation, and my iPhone on which I recorded the exchange was visible. I introduced myself as a journalist with the [National Catholic] Register, and the others also introduced themselves as journalists. I therefore figured the interview was on the record and His Eminence appeared happy to talk with us. In the end, I posted the full interview in ZENIT rather than the Register [more].
 This doesn't look good for Cardinal Kaspar.

ORIGINAL POST

In an interview yesterday with Zenit about the ongoing drama that is the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, His Eminence Walter Cardinal Kaspar all but said the African Bishops should be quiet:
ZENIT: It has been said that he added five special rapporteurs on Friday to help the general rapporteur, Cardinal Peter Erdo. Is that because he’s trying to push things through according to his wishes?

Cardinal Kasper: I do not see this going on in the Pope’s head. But I think the majority of these five people are open people who want to go on with this. The problem, as well, is that there are different problems of different continents and different cultures. Africa is totally different from the West. Also Asian and Muslim countries, they’re very different, especially about gays. You can’t speak about this with Africans and people of Muslim countries. It’s not possible. It’s a taboo. For us, we say we ought not to discriminate, we don’t want to discriminate in certain respects.
ZENIT: But are African participants listened to in this regard?
Cardinal Kasper: No, the majority of them [who hold these views won’t speak about them].
ZENIT: They’re not listened to?
Cardinal Kasper: In Africa of course [their views are listened to], where it’s a taboo.
ZENIT: What has changed for you, regarding the methodology of this synod?
Cardinal Kasper: I think in the end there must be a general line in the Church, general criteria, but then the questions of Africa we cannot solve. There must be space also for the local bishops’ conferences to solve their problems but I’d say with Africa it’s impossible [for us to solve]. But they should not tell us too much what we have to do.
I cannot agree with Cardinal Kaspar in this, for two reasons.

Africa is one of the places in the world where the Church is booming. It is not booming, to put it mildly, in Germany. It may well be that the African Bishops know something the German (and even European and North American) Bishops do not.

This Synod has been touted as an opportunity for everyone to speak freely, without, as Pope Francis said, without fear:

Everyone needs to say what one feels duty-bound in the Lord to say: without respect for human considerations, without fear. And, at the same time, one must listen with humility and welcome with an open heart what the brothers say.

It seems that Cardinal Kaspar, who has claimed only to be expressing the thoughts of the Pope with his suggestions about the reception of Holy Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, has not taken these words of the Pontiff to heart. What Cardinal Kaspar advocates by telling the African Bishops to be quiet is simply not synodality.

At the same, if the African Bishops should not tell the European and North American Bishops what they have to do, why can the North American and European Bishops tell the African Bishops what they have to do? Surely there cannot be two approaches issued by the Synod for two different parts of the world; that would only bring the Catholic Church under the umbrella of the Anglican Communion, which is impossible.

As I keep looking at the Cardinal's words, my bewilderment grows. His words makes no real sense and have a tinge of racism to them, though some are denying this.

This morning, though, what strikes me most is that Cardinal Kaspar's words about the Africans have been blasted across the secular media wires. Why? Had Cardinal Burke, Muller, or Pell made the same comments, they would be rightly blasted left and right.

It seems to me that the only reason the secular is not covering Cardinal Kaspar's words is because his proposal regarding the reception of Holy Communion is precisely what the media wants to the Synod to decide. As such, they cannot shed a negative light on Cardinal Kaspar.

Is her teaching on homosexuality really the main reason people leave the Church?

In a piece of incredibly lazy journalism, Springfield's (IL) WICS-TV reports - for an unclear reason - John Freml ceased the practice of the Catholic faith and chose to join what is called the Holy Family Inclusive Catholic Community (which isn't actually Catholic at all, but the report does not both to note this rather important detail). Normally this simply would not be news.

At any rate, the only possible reason for the report - aside from a very slow news day - is because Freml left the Church because of her teachings on homosexuality, that and because "Freml believes the church not accepting the LGBT community may be to blame" for a decrease as much as 30% in some parishes in Mass attendance between 1996 and 2011. Never mind that some parishes also saw an increase of as much as 82% in the same time period, but, again, this is not an important detail for the story.

WICS quotes Freml:
Probably I think that's the primary reason, but of course Catholics simply don't agree with the hierarchy of a lot of social teachings. Not only on LGBT issues but contraception or on women's ordination.
In his assumption, Freml is quite incorrect.

The report references "a survey sanctioned by the church." Had the reporter bothered to consult this report - Joy and Grievance in an American Diocese: Results from Online Surveysof Active and Inactive Catholics in Central Illinois - he or she would have clearly seen that Freml is only correct that LGBT issues (where's the Q?) are not the only reasons why Catholics have fallen away from the Church or lapsed in the practice of the faith.

In fact, on page 18 of this report, a chart clearly gives the theological disagreements behind people's decision to leave the Catholic Church:


As you can see, the Church's teachings on homosexuality ranked as the 6th reason why people chose to distance themselves from the Church. The main theological difficulty people have with the Church is her teachings on artificial contraception.

What this shows is that homosexuality is not as prevalent in people's thoughts as the leaders of the gay movement would like us to believe. Only among those younger than 35 years of age was homosexuality the principle reason why someone chose to leave the Church.

This might have been important to include in the report, but it wouldn't, of course, support the aim of the "story," which is really nothing more than yet another attack on the Catholic Church in general and on Bishop Paprocki in particular.

The reporter then makes the odd suggestion that "change could be coming" to the doctrine of the Church regarding homosexuality, which is, of course, impossible.

Lisbeth Melendez Rivera of the Human Rights Campaign is quoted as saying:
We hope that Bishop Paprocki pays attention to our prayers. That he listens to what he has to say so when he is discerning. He goes through the same journey the cardinal took when the become Pope Francis.
Maybe someone should tell her that Pope Francis did not actually the journey she thinks he did.

15 October 2014

A news round up - 15 October 2014

Here are few items of news you might have missed:
  • The U.S. Department of Justice created a Facebook page under the name of a woman and with pictures taken from her cell phone  - without her knowledge or permission - to help, they say, in criminal investigations. She is now suing the government for a breach of privacy and is seeking more than $250,000 in damages.
  • The budget deficit of the U.S. federal government has now fallen to just $486,000.000,000. This is down from a budget deficit of more than $1,000,000,000,000 in President Obama's first term and after hitting a record $1,400,000,000,000 in 2009. This fall of the budget deficit is, I suppose, good news. Still, I wouldn't mind a personal budget like this.
  • I'm not sure how I managed to miss this one until today, but a prisoner in Santa Fe is suing the state of New Mexico because his First Amendment freedom to practice Satanism is not being respected.
  • The tallest cow in the world - standing at 6'4" - lives in Orangeville, Illinois (I didn't know where it was, either).

What sort of art is best for liturgical books?

Within the Church are present many disagreements between men and women of both faith and good will, and no small number of these revolve around the question of the proper appearance of liturgical items, especially the liturgical books. What is the best layout, page size or weight, binding, sense line, etc.

Another question of debate concerns the best kind of art to use within the rituals. Should a modern style be employed or an older style? If an older style, then from what particular era? Personally, I recommend we return to the style of the Middle Ages.

Take, for example, this drawing found in the Pontifical of Bishop William Durandus (d. 1296):
Or what about these rowing rats from the same book:
What's that? You're not sure about the rats? How about this musical donkey-rooster hybrid:
How could anyone disagree with the inclusion of such images? Not only are they artistically stunning, but they are also fun!

UPDATED (Again): Does the Holy See Press Office know what it's doing?

The more I follow the activities of the Holy See Press Office these days, the more I question the competency of the same office because it continues to act in ways that are not very helpful.

His Eminence Wilfred Cardinal Napier, O.F.M., Archbishop of Durban (South Africa) acknowledged this at today's press briefing moments ago when he said:
Surely the press office of the Holy See is supposed to help explain the teachings and workings of the Church, not to confuse things more, right?

It was only a few days ago that I questioned the bizarre decision to release the texts of the daily homilies and testimonies of the married couples, but not the interventions of the Bishops and Cardinals.

Only a few moments, Father Thomas Rosica, who works within the Holy See Press Office, told us that the Bishops and Cardinals were, from the beginning of the Synod, urged to be open and free in talking with the media, which makes one ask all the more: Why have the interventions of the Bishops not been published?
It simply does not make any sense whatever.

My questioning of the press office increased today when Cardinal Napier was the only one of the five representatives at the press briefing not to be surprised at the number of reporters who turned out for this afternoon's briefing:
Following yesterday's release of the so-called "midterm report" on the discussions thus far in the synod hall, how any member of the press corps could possibly be surprised at such a turnout is simply baffling and demonstrates that the press office simply does not understand the media today or maybe even know what it is doing.

To make matters worse, Cardinal Napier indicated that members of the press received a copy of the relatio before the Fathers of the Synod, which is simply incomprehensible. What is more, he made this acknowledgement regarding the document, which the press office insists is not official:
Clearly, this is not helpful.

The questions of competency are only reinforced by a comment made by His Excellency Fernando Cardinal Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, at this afternoon's press office:
Cardinal Filoni and the staff of the Holy See Press Office seem completely - and maybe even happily - unaware that the vast majority of the members of the media want nothing at all to do with helping anyone understand the "richness of the debate." Rather, the media want to do only one thing: they want to use the discussions of the Synod to advance their own agenda which consists mostly of things against the dignity of the family. The refusal to publish the interventions of the Bishops and Cardinals only helps the media misrepresent the discussions held within the synod hall and work against the good of the family and, ultimately, of society.

Hope is one thing, but oblivious optimism is quite another.

At the end of the day, I can only ask one question: What's going on inside the press office? The press office simply doesn't get it.

UPDATE: Mr. and Mrs. Jeff and Alice Heinzen, of the Diocese of La Crosse (Wisconsin) were selected as auditors and are presently attending the sessions of the Synod, and blogging their way through it. Mrs. Heinzen offered an update today in which she voiced her frustration over the release of the relatio:
I’ve in recent years been an advocate of the idea of ‘brainstorming’, after all it gives everyone permission to say what they need to say without due diligence. But working toward the common good through the due diligence is of great value I have come to see. It leads us to the best practices to be on the same page, etc [sic]

So having the draft without due diligence provides in my mind and [sic] incomplete thought process.
UPDATE 2:

Phil Lawler has a interesting suggestion for a new department in the Roman Curia:

Pope Francis and the so-called "shift in tone" at the Synod

Across the world a great many people have become unrealistically excited over exaggerated and distorted media reports that the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops has made a "shift in tone toward gays" - even a "'seismic' opening" - with the publication of its "bombshell document," the relatio that the Synod Fathers did not see before it was released to the media.

Curiously, Time Magazine was one of the few media outlets to urge everyone to "calm down" and take an actual look at the document that is only a working text.

In this suggestion, Time was right. A great many people seem to have completely forgotten what Pope Francis said about gay 'marriage' when he was the Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires:
The identity of the family, and its survival, are in jeopardy here: father, mother, and children. The life of so many children who will be discriminated beforehand due to the lack of human maturity that God willed them to have with a father and a mother is in jeopardy. A clear rejection of the law of God, engraved in our hearts, is in jeopardy.

I recall words of Saint Thérèse when she speaks of the infirmity of her childhood. She says that the envy of the Devil tried to extort her family after her older sister joined the Carmel. Here, the envy of the Devil, through which sin entered the world, is also present, and deceitfully intends to destroy the image of God: man and woman, who receive the mandate to grow, multiply, and conquer the earth. Let us not be naive: it is not a simple political struggle; it is an intention [which is] destructive of the plan of God. It is not a mere legislative project (this is a mere instrument), but rather a "move" of the father of lies who wishes to confuse and deceive the children of God.

Jesus tells us that, in order to defend us from this lying accuser, he will send us the Spirit of Truth. Today, the Nation [patria], before this situation, needs the special assistance of the Holy Ghost that may place the light of Truth amid the shadows of error; it needs this Advocate who may defend us from the enchantment of so many sophisms with which this bill is being justified, and which confuse and deceive even people of good will.
If there really was an "earthquake" that occurred during the Synod, I don't expect it will meet the Pope's approval.

Even when he made his "whom am I to judge?" comment - which was also wildly manipulated by the media (and politicians), Pope Francis said, regarding the Church's teaching on homosexuality, "The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well" and made no efforts to change - as if he could - what the Church teaches.

Pope Francis and your parish priest: A difference of perception

During his Wednesday Audience Address today, His Holiness Pope Francis asked the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square to repeat after him seven words (at least in the English translation):
This isn't the first time the Holy Father has done something like this with the crowds at the audiences or even at the Angelus addresses. Each time he does so, people - both in the Square and back in the USA - seem to think it is a great and pastoral idea.

It may well be, but can you imagine if your pastor asked the congregation to do the same on Sunday? If your pastor asked to repeat after him - three times - "We will be with the Lord forever" (or any other phrase from the Sacred Scriptures), how different would the response be?

I can already see the eyes rolling (I've concelebrated and attended Masses when priests have done this). In their own parishes people think such an approach is childish and condescending (and I tend to agree with this assessment), but when the Pope does it, it's fantastic. Why is there this difference?

I do not know.

My favorite movie poster for the 3rd installment of The Hobbit and a few thoughts

A series of movie posters has been released in recent days for the upcoming release of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies on December 17, 2014. My favorite of the posters so far is this one featuring Galadriel and Gandalf:


Exactly why the Lady of Lothlorien has come to the Misty Mountain I do not know (she does not in the book), nor do I know how grievous are Gandalf's wounds in Jacksons' film. Of the wounds of Gandalf, Tolkien says:
It was not long before Bilbo was set down before a tent in Dale; and there stood Gandalf, with his arm in a sling. Even the wizard had not escaped without a wound; and there were few unharmed in the host.
It will be interesting, to say the least, to see what "adaptations" Jackson and company have devised for this third installment. I am still somewhat cautiously hopeful (is that language guarded enough?) that after the great disappointment that was The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (which I still have not purchased, nor intend to) some corrections to the story will be made.

I still think the second "the" is quite unnecessary, which would be why Tolkien himself did not employ it.  He describes the beginning of the battle with these words:
So began a battle that none had expected; and it was called the Battle of Five Armies, and it was very terrible. Upon one side were the Goblins and the Wild Wolves, and upon the other were Elves and Men and Dwarves.
Still, if anyone can film a battle involving five armies, it is Jackson, and maybe only Jackson.

City of Houston subpoenas pastors' sermons, speeches, etc.

We are learning from a report by the Houston Chronicle that, in a move which clearly violates the freedom of religion, the City of Houston has subpoenaed "all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO [the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance], the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you [pastors] or in your possession."

The Religion News Service offers a helpful background to explain the reason for the subpoena (links original, emphases mine):
Houston has subpoenaed sermons given by local pastors who oppose an equal rights ordinance, it was revealed Tuesday (Oct. 14).
Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who drew headlines for becoming the first openly lesbian mayor of a major American city, has led support for the ordinance. The measure bans discrimination among businesses that serve the public, private employers, in housing and in city employment and city contracting.
Under the ordinance, transgender people barred access to a restroom would be able to file a discrimination complaint, one of the hotly contested parts of the ordinance.
The ordinance, which exempted religious institutions, was passed in June, though its implementation has been delayed due to legal complaints.
Opponents were hoping to repeal the ordinance through a repeal initiative, claiming the city’s attorney determined wrongly they had not gathered enough signatures to qualify for a ballot. The ordinance’s opponents reportedly gathered 50,000 signatures, well over the 17,269 needed for a November vote to repeal the measure, though proponents of the measure have questioned the validity of the signatures.
Let's presume that some of the signatures were invalid; that should be easy enough to determine. To invalidate the repeal,though, would require that more than 32,000 of the collected signatures were invalid. Is this at all likely?

When Mayor Parker first announced her anti-discrimination legislation last April, the Houston Chronicle reported her as saying:
"The Houston I know doesn't discriminate. It really doesn't matter in Houston, and it shouldn't matter in Houston, your place of origin, your gender, your age, what physical limitations you may have or who you choose to love," said Parker, the first openly gay mayor of a major American city. "It's time to codify in ordinance that position."
One might well - and rightly ask- if Houston doesn't discriminate in the first place, why is such legislation even necessary at all?

At the same time, one might well - and, again, rightly ask - isn't the City of Houston discriminating against "conservative Christian activists"? Shouldn't there be a law to protect them if the city of Houston doesn't discriminate?