31 January 2008

At last week's General Audience

On my recent travels to Rome I went with two priest friends.

The morning after we arrived we attended the General Audience of the Holy Father Benedict XVI in the Paul VI Audience Hall.


The back of the Paul VI Audience Hall

It is a building that I've never found particularly attractive, but it does accomodate a good number of people. How many, I'm not quite sure.

The hall was still decorated for Christmas. It is the custom at least in Rome to maintain Christmas decorations through the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord (February 2nd).

The tree and creche, though not decorated in a way that I prefer, were rather nice. There was a rotating star projected onto the back and side walls behind the creche.


The Christmas creche in the Paul VI Audience Hall
There must also have been a light of some sort shining on the tree because at times the ornaments seemed to shine red, at others blue, and even green and gold at others.

The Christmas tree in the Paul VI Audience Hall

We collected our tickets at the Casa Santa Maria, the house for American priests in Rome, the afternoon that we arrived in Rome.

Our tickets were green, of which we thought nothing. After finally making our way through the crowds and the security checkpoint, though, we discovered otherwise. The Swiss Guard directed us through a side door that led us to an area of reserved seating. Having arrived early, we were able to sit in the second row.

Christoph Cardinal Schonborn was present at the Audience, as were a number of other Bishops.

Christoph Cardinal Schonborn at the Audience, if a bit blurry.

When the Holy Father arrived and walked through the side doors, the room lit up. Everyone rose to their feet and began applauding his arrival and cheering for him. It was quite moving and the joy was evident on his face.

Pope Benedict XVI arrives for the General Audience.

I was hoping that I might be able to hear Pope Benedict XVI speak again about Saint Augustine but, being the week of prayer for Christian unity, he spoke on the subject of unity.

Pope Benedict XVI delivers his address.

After the Holy Father's address in Italian he offered a summary of sorts in various languages. His private secretary, Msgr. Georg Ganswein, who sat quitely and rather still throughout the Italian, now came to the Pontiff from time to time with the various texts to be read. That's a job I shouldn't mind having.

Msgr. Ganswein hands the Holy Father a new text.

One of the more curious moments of the Audience occurred during the annoucements of the various groups of pilgrims present. In between the announcements, one couple took it upon themselves to stand up and sing Shubert's Ave Maria.

This is a difficult piece to sing and requires great skill. These two were good singers, but didn't quite have it done properly.

I found it greatly amusing to watch the expressions on the Holy Father's face and on Msgr. Ganswein's face. (I know I should've been praying but the moment was too humorous.) Msgr. Ganswein had a grin on his face and a look that said he thought he should do something but didn't quite know what to do. He kept looking to the Holy Father to read his reaction. His face was much the same.

As the various groups were introduced, Pope Benedict sat rather still, clearly the introvert, looking a bit uncomfortable, although it might be the chair. A comfortable arm chair is hard to find these days and that looks a bit big for him.

At times, he even played with his reading glasses.

And yet, when the groups cheered for him his mouth opened wide and extended his arm toward the group and if they sang he often applauded them.

It was a wonderful experience and I am grateful to God for it.

Now, I know you're all asking: Did you get to kiss the Fisherman's Ring? Unfortunately that privilege was not granted to us. It seems that it is granted to few. Pope Benedict XVI simply is too great an introvert, a trait I very much appreciate and understand, being one myself.

Viva il Papa! Ad multos annos!

Roman observations

Before I begin blogging about my experiences in Rome, I thought I might first make a few general observations about how things in Rome have changed since I was last there.

As part of my seminary studies, I spent nearly a month in Rome five years ago from January 19 through February 14, 2003. It was easily the best month of my life and, given the same time frame for my recent visit (January 21-29), affords an opportunity for real observation.

English speaking Romans

What first struck me is that many more Italians are speaking English, and rather well, than I found five years ago.

They don’t, of course, speak English as soon as you walk into their shop or restaurant – especially if you have the gift (and complexion and build) of blending in – but if you greet them first in Italian and then politely ask if they speak English I found that most were happy to comply. The potential monetary compensation no doubt offered some incentive.

Friendly and not so friendly shop keepers

In visiting the various shops a pilgrim – tourists typically do not pay enough attention – will notice that the shop keepers located very near the primary attractions of Rome are not overly friendly. This is due, no doubt, to the overwhelming numbers of tourists who do not treat them politely when entering their stores.

In Italy it is considered polite to greet the shop keeper upon entering, perhaps even speaking with them briefly, looking around and then politely thanking them (you have, after all, just been in their shop) upon leaving the store.

Most tourists simply walk in and out.

The shopping experience in Italy is supposed to be far friendlier and enjoyable in Italy than in the typical U.S. (I found something of the same in Hawaii).

But the farther away one wanders from the major sites the friendlier the shop keepers become. This is not so surprising to me but I had forgotten it. More often than not you will also find a better deal in these stores.

To take a picture or not

While in Rome five years ago I regret very much not taking very many pictures, both because I always thought that since I was in Rome for a month I would take pictures later (I never did) and because in most of the basilicas and churches signs were posted that clearly said “no photography”. Even though most people ignored the signs, I typically obeyed them.

Now, though, these signs are largely gone. They remain in a few locations but only for particular pieces of art within certain churches. Photography now seems to be encouraged, something for which I am grateful.

Where are the Romans?

Despite the mild weather in Rome (the average temperature this time of year is in the middle fifties) there were not nearly as many Romans dining out in the evenings as I recall. I suspect this is due in large part to the rise of the Euro. This past week one U.S. dollar was only worth 1.48 Euro. The costs of dining out now are greater than they were five years ago when the exchange rate dollar to Euro was, I recall, 1.28.

The small Eternal City

One final observation for this post is that Rome really is not as big as one might think, especially when looking at a map. With a brisk pace you can walk across Rome in less than two hours, which isn’t quite so easy because the streets twist and turn and come to an end very often. It becomes something like a maze in which you – or at least I – must get lost in a few times on your own before really getting the hang of it.

These are a few of my general observations. More will undoubtedly follow in future posts.

30 January 2008

I'm back

I returned late last night to Effingham from Rome. I am grateful for your many prayers and remembered you in mine in the Eternal City.

Once I have sorted through my mail - both postal and electronic - I will begin blogging a bit about my adventures.

21 January 2008

The day is near


My bags are nearly packed and my office is almost ready for my return nine days hence (I do not at all enjoy returning to a mess or work).

In the morning I will be off for Rome. I ask your prayers for a safe flight as I assure you of my prayers for you.
Blogging over the next week and half will, more than likely, be hit or miss, but do keep checking back as I will post what I can when I can. My laptop and my camera will be traveling with me, as will be Tomaso de Celano's First Life and Second Life of Saint Francis of Assisi.
I don't expect to reach the balcony of the offices of the Secretariate of State (as in the picture), but I do pray to be granted the privilege to kiss the Fisherman's Ring.
May the Lord smile kindly upon his lowly servant.

20 January 2008

Video of the Angelus

The illustrious Fr. Z has video footage of this afternnoon's Angelus Address.

I do hope that crowd isn't quite so large next week... I want a good view!

Tagged again. Sort of.

I've sort of been tagged by A Catholic Mom in Hawaii for the "My Privileges Meme." It's simple enough:

From What Privileges Do You Have?, based on an exercise about class and privilege developed by Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, Stacy Ploskonka at Illinois State University. If you participate in this blog game, they ask that you PLEASE acknowledge their copyright.

Bold the true statements.

1. Father went to college
2. Father finished college
3. Mother went to college
4. Mother finished college
5. Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor.
6. Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers.
7. Had more than 50 books in your childhood home.
8. Had more than 500 books in your childhood home.
9. Were read children's books by a parent.
10. Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18.
11. Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18.
12. The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively.
13. Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18.
14. Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs.
15. Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs.
16. Went to a private high school.
17. Went to summer camp.
18. Had a private tutor before you turned 18.
19. Family vacations involved staying at hotels.
20. Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18.
21. Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them.
22. There was original art in your house when you were a child [kid's work is original!].
23. You and your family lived in a single-family house.
24. Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home.
25. You had your own room as a child.
26. You had a phone in your room before you turned 18.
27. Participated in a SAT/ACT prep course.
28. Had your own TV in your room in high school.
29. Owned a mutual fund or IRA in high school or college.
30. Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16.
31. Went on a cruise with your family.
32. Went on more than one cruise with your family.
33. Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up.
34. You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family.

Viva il Papa!

In the wake of the shameful La Sapienza University disaster, His Emminence Camillo Cardinal Ruini, the Vicar of Rome, called for Romans to show their support for the Holy Father Benedict XVI by showing up at this afternoon's Angelus Address.

Apparently they did.

Asia News estimates a crowd of more than 200,000! Compare that to the average attendance.

Some held banners saying, "You did not come to us. We come to you."
Commenting on the whole affair, the Holy Father said, "I am bound to the university environment, which was my world for many years, by the love for the search for truth, for debate, for the frank and respectful dialogue on the positions in question".

To His Holiness, I say: I'll see you soon!


Hat tip to Rocco.

[Photo source 1]

[Photo source 2]

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Tagged again!

A Catholic Mom in Hawaii has tagged me for a book meme of sorts. The rules are simple:

1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.

From the chapter, "The Appartamento Borgia," in The Vatican: Its History - Its Treasures:

"Several things in this fresco ["The Disputa of St. Catherine" in the Hall of the Saints in the Borgia appartment of the Vatican] have engaged the attentino of historians and art critics. In the first place, we must say that Vasari's observation on th artistic impropriety of the reliefs introduced by Pinturicchio, even more in this picture than in the neighboring ones, seems to be just. "Having made in the said halls," he says, "a history of St. Catherine, he represents the arches of Rome in relief and depicts the figures in such a manner that, while the figures stand in front and the buildings behind, those things which are diminished in size come more forward than those which, according to the eye, are increased in size - a very great heresy in our art."

I tag:

Thom of Ad Dominum,

Sr. Mary Martha of Ask Sr. Mary Martha,

Ellen From Across the Net,

Andrew, at Unam Sanctam, and

the Hibblers.

Problem solved

The broken links, kindly brought to my attention by A Catholic Mom in Hawaii, to my post about having been discovered "down under" have been fixed. I'm not quite sure what happened to them in first and I do apologize for the inconvenience.

19 January 2008

Homily - 20 January 2008

What follows is the homily that I will give, taken from the USCCB Secretariet for Pro-Life Activities' pamphlet, "The Infant in My Womb Leaped for Joy." It seems to hit every base rather nicely.

We know the story. The Archangel Gabriel had announced to the Virgin Mary God’s invitation to become the mother of the Messiah. As further evidence that nothing is impossible for God, Mary’s elderly cousin Elizabeth, thought to be barren, was also expecting a child, John the Baptist.

Both Elizabeth’s pregnancy and Mary’s – despite their unusual circumstances – are cause for rejoicing. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the unborn child Jesus announces his presence to John, his unborn cousin. John leaps for joy, proclaiming to his mother, in effect: “Behold, the Lamb of God!” Elizabeth, too, is filled with the Holy Spirit, and recognizes Mary as the blessed tabernacle of our Lord and Savior. Through the evangelical witness and sacrificial love of Mary, Jesus, and John, the work of our salvation has begun.

The Old and New Testaments are filled with such passages extolling children as gift and blessing. It is disheartening, then, to see how far our culture has diverged from this view.

To be sure, most parents love their children generously and even unconditionally. But today the inherent, priceless value of every child – as a unique individual created and loved by God – is no longer universally accepted. Before birth at least, a child’s worth seems to depend on his parents’ attitude toward him. A Planned Parenthood ad illustrates this point well: “Babies are loud, smelly, and expensive, unless you want one.”

Unborn children are routinely dehumanized by the abortion industry. The author of a widely used textbook on abortion techniques describes pregnancy as a “parasitic illness.” A well-known columnist writes: “A goldfish resembles a human being more than an embryo does.” One author has described the unborn human being as “protoplasmic rubbish,” a “gobbet of meat.”

A Princeton professor has followed this thinking on to its logical conclusion, to demean the newborn child: “Human babies are not born self aware, or capable of grasping that they exist over time. They are not persons.” Therefore “the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.”

Such attitudes have crept into people’s behavior. Many of us seem to spend much of our adult lives trying to avoid the inconvenience of having children, and we don’t like surprises in the children we do have.

Consider:

Despite their many risks and harmful side effects, hormonal contraceptives exceed $24 billion in annual sales worldwide.

The abortion industry claims that half the children conceived in the United States are “unwanted,” and half the “unwanted” children are aborted – over 1.3 million annually. The most common reason given for abortion is that raising a child could interfere with one’s education or career.

We are often told how costly it is to raise a child. The scarcity of large families among wealthy and middle-income couples suggests that many who could afford more children value other things more than bringing a new life into the world.

Conversely, some couples who have difficulty conceiving will pay tens of thousands of dollars to have a fertility clinic create a son or daughter for them. How many parents realize that for every IVF-created child who survives to birth, many others die in the process? And if that custom-made embryo is found in the lab to have a “defect,” the clinic will readily recommend scrapping the “faulty” child and ordering up another.

Tragically, many scientists and politicians now think of living human embryos created in fertility clinics – but no longer desire by their biological parents – as raw material which can be destroyed for stem cell research. Is it any wonder that some scientists now want to create human embryos in the lab, by fertilization or cloning, solely to kill them for their stem cells? Or that, such misguided efforts continue despite the existence of morally acceptable alternatives, such as stem cells from umbilical cords and other “adult” sources that are already helping patients with 72 conditions and diseases?

In all these ways we are being urged to stop seeing human life as God sees it. From the moment of our conception, God does not see us superficially as a microscopic, unformed cell. In every child, born or unborn, God sees the individual he created to love, and be loved by, for all eternity.

At the other end of life, as well, the bonds of love between generations are being stretched thin. Some doctors and ethicists claim that patients with dementia or in a so-called “persistent vegetative state” are no longer really persons, and that families should deny them even the most basic forms of nourishment and care. And yet, however weak and vulnerable such patients may appear, they have the awesome power to inspire heroic, sacrificial love from their family members and caregivers – a power that can lead to the sanctification of those who care for them.

It matters not to God whether we are now, or ever, conscious of our existence or capable of “higher thought.” The value of a human life does not depend on exercising one’s intellect; it comes from God’s fatherly love for each human, created in his image. His love is present long before our brain waves can be measured at six weeks’ gestation, and long after our brains no longer function so well. His love is present long before our heart begins to beat at 22 days after conception, and long after our heart begins to fail. His love is present at every step and misstep of our lives.

And to some of us who are humble and lowly, God grants the privilege to be his instrument in bringing forth holiness from others. God loves, and wants us to love, the grandfather lying unconscious in a hospital bed, the child with severe physical and mental impairments, the frightened teenaged mother, and the unplanned embryo nesting in her womb. Each of these vulnerable persons is given to us so we may learn to love as God loves – generously, sacrificially, unconditionally.

May we never tire of proclaiming the dignity and worth of every human life. May we never tire of serving the vulnerable and their caregivers with generous hearts. And may we never cease to pray for the day when all people, and all societies, will defend the life of every human from conception to natural death.

Homily - 20 January 2008 - Not preached

What follows is the homily that I would have given had my pastor not reminded me just a few moments ago of the March for Life. It seems that my mind is already in Rome...

With the celebration of Christmas now come to an end we find ourselves in that liturgical season so often called “Ordinary Time.” What makes this time “ordinary?”

It is not because these weeks are ordinary in the usual sense of the word. These weeks are neither normal nor boring. They are ordinary because they are not quite like the feasts of Christmas and Easter, Advent and Lent included.

The Advent and Christmas seasons have as their focus the Nativity of the Lord while the Lenten and Easter seasons have as their focus his passion, death and resurrection. The Christmas and Easter feasts, then, focus on a particular aspect of the life of Christ; they are ordered, geared, structured, to certain times in the life of the Messiah. This is the sense in which these current weeks are “ordinary.”

These days are not ordered or structured around a particular mystery in the life of Christ but around the totality of his life. These weeks are ordered around the celebrations of Christmas and Easter and provide for us ample opportunity to reflect upon the life of Christ, upon him “who became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

If these days are structured around the life of Christ Jesus they beg us to consider that around which we have structured our own lives. Around what does your life revolve? To what is your life ordered?

We know that, like the liturgical year, our lives are to be ordered to, geared towards, structured around the life of Jesus Christ by whom we are “called to be holy” (I Corinthians 1:2).

Our lives then are to be ordered around that which makes us holy, but what does it mean to be holy? We might first say what holiness is not. “Holiness does not consist in not making mistakes or never sinning. Holiness grows with the capacity for conversion, repentance, willingness to begin again, and above all with the capacity for reconciliation and forgiveness.”[1]

More positively we can say that holiness consists in “friendship with Christ and obedience to his will.”[2] It is that simple; to be holy is to be in friendship with and obedient to Christ Jesus, with him “who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Holiness is simple, yes, but it is not easy. It is not easy for us to always be in friendship with Jesus, to keep his commands and do what he tells us. Too often we think we know better he, that his view is, perhaps, rather limited, not permissive enough, too restricting. And so we push and fight and rebel and order our lives not around Christ Jesus but around ourselves.
We refuse to say in humble service, “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will” (Psalm 40:8-9). Instead we order our lives around our own passions and desires.

We devote most of our time and energy toward any of the capital and deadly sins. Either we work too much and become obsessed with work or we work too little and drown in a lazy boredom. We give in to gluttony and spend much of our eating and drinking merrily or we give in to pride and spend every passing moment in dieting and exercise. Either we give in to our anger and harbor one grudge after another or we give in to lust and spend our day in a pornographic haze.

You get the picture. We order our lives not around Jesus Christ but around ourselves, all the while wondering why we are not at peace, why we are not happy, why we are not fulfilled and satisfied. It is precisely because we are not in full friendship with Christ the Lord, the Lamb of God.

We refuse to listen to Christ. All throughout our day we fill our ears with noise – with radio, television, mp3s, you name it – never leaving a quiet moment for the Lord. We can too easily echo the words of the Baptist: “I did not know him” (John 1:31).

At first, remaining quiet with the Lord is uncomfortable and difficult because he brings before us our sins and our distance from him. We like to pretend that there is nothing wrong with us. We are all good people, after all, aren’t we? We may well be, but we are still sinners. Being good, after all, is not what gains access to Paradise, but friendship with and obedience to Christ.
Nevertheless, friendship with Christ is possible because, through our baptism, he who “became flesh and dwelt among us” has granted to us the “power to become children of God” (John 1:14, 12). Friendship with Christ is possible! He says to us, “You are my servant … through whom I will show my glory” (Isaiah 49:3). But he also says to us, “It is too little … for you to be my servant” (Isaiah 49:6). Furthermore, he says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14).

This friendship with Christ, this holiness “demands a constant effort but it is possible for all since it is not just the work of man but is above all a gift of God, who is thrice holy (cf. Isaiah 6:3).”[3]
We, then, like Paul, are called to invite everyone to this same friendship with Christ. Through our obedience to his will we are to become, as he said to Isaiah, “a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).

Look around right now. Are you family and friends here present with us in this church? If not, where are they? When was the last time you invited them to join you, to come with you to meet Christ Jesus and to be friends with him?

Have your family and friends left the fold of the Catholic Church and gone over to another? When was the last time you asked them to return to the one true Church that Christ established upon the rock of Peter?This is the task of the friends of Jesus Christ: to bring all people to him that all might enjoy his friends. May each of us be able to echo the words of the Psalmist: “I announced your justice in the vast assembly; I did not restrain my lips” (Psalm 40:10).

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, 31 January 2007.
[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Meeting with seminarians, 19 August 2005.
[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 1 November 2006.

Be not afraid to beg

Seeing the article in the WYD 2008 newsletter gave me the idea to post the text of a "begging letter" that went out yesterday to some of our parishioners:

My dear friends,

May the Lord give you peace!

Today, Holy Mother Church celebrates the life of Saint Anthony of the Desert in honor of whom our beloved patron, Saint Anthony of Padua, was given his religious name when he entered the Order of Friars Minor begun by Saint Francis of Assisi.

It is both with great joy and humility that I write you today to seek your prayers and beg your assistance in a worthy cause.

I am sure you have heard that I am leading a small band of pilgrims to World Youth Day 2008 to be celebrated in Sydney, Australia with our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI this July.

Our pilgrims include: [Names here witheld for privacy. The group includes myself, ten youth and two adults].

We are embarking on this pilgrimage to join up to one million young people from across the world and up to two thousand priests and bishops to reflect on the activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives with the Bishop of Rome as our leader and guide.

It is a great distance that we hope to travel for this holy endeavor and it will be costly. Airfare and lodging alone will cost nearly $4,500 per pilgrim. St. Anthony of Padua parish, as part of its Sesquicentennial celebrations, will provide $1,000 to each pilgrim and each pilgrim will pay $1,000 in addition to their costs for food and other incidentals. The remaining $2,500 we hope to receive through fund raising efforts and good old-fashioned begging; if it was good enough for Saint Francis and Saint Anthony, it is good enough for us.

Our fund raising efforts have already begun and have been rather successful, raising nearly $5,500. This is a good start but we have a long way to go. Through our fund raising and begging, we hope to make this pilgrimage as inexpensive as possible for each pilgrim. Whatever monies we receive above and beyond our fund raising goal will be put toward the cost of food for the pilgrimage.

In just a few week’s time we enter into the season of Lent when Mother Church calls us to increased prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Of each of these Lenten practices almsgiving is perhaps the one most ignored, but it is a powerful form of prayer and charity. We know that “almsgiving frees one from death, and keeps one from going into the dark abode” (Tobit 4:40). We also know that “it is better to give alms than to store up gold; for almsgiving saves one from death and expiates every sin” (Tobit 12:8-9). If you are looking for a way to give alms during this coming penitential season, I beg you to consider our group of pilgrims.

As you do so, I ask to bear in mind this advice given by Tobit to his son Tobias: “give alms in proportion to what you own. If you have great wealth, give alms out of your abundance; if you have but little, distribute even some of that. But do not hesitate to give alms; you will be storing up a goodly treasure for yourself against the day of adversity… Alms are a worthy offering in the sight of the Most High for all who give them” (Tobit 4:8-9, 11).

As we make our way through the land “down under,” we will celebrate the Holy Mass each day and pray each morning and evening together. Please be assured that you and your generosity will be remembered in our prayers as we implore the Lord to bless you for your kindness.

I thank you for considering our request and look forward to hearing from you. As always, if I can ever be of service to you, you need only ask.

Peace and Joy,

The Rev. Daren J. Zehnle
Parochial Vicar

If you wish to make a donation (checks to St. Anthony of Padua parish), either for me personally or for the group as a whole, it may be sent to the following address:

Fr. Daren Zehnle
St. Anthony of Padua Parish
P.O. Box 764
Effingham, Illinois 62401

If you would like to donate by credit card, that will be possible (I think) but will have to wait until I return from Rome.

I've been found down under

UPDATE: I found the English text of the newsletter.

It seems that someone from the official World Youth Day 2008 team has discovered my blog. In a Spanish newsletter I found a brief article on our pie baking efforts to fund our pilgrimage.

I haven't yet found the newsletter in English but online translators are helpful.

And while I'm at it, my coat of arms can be found on an heraldic blog from Spain.

18 January 2008

Spe salvi, 3 (and Saint Josephine Bakhita)

Up to now we have seen that, as Saint Paul says, “in hope we were saved” (Romans 8:24). We have further seen that faith and hope are intimately connected and even interchangeable (Spe salvi, 2). We also saw that the present only becomes livable if we can be certain of good in the future.

This sort of talk is deeply theological and philosophical and, as such, has the tendency to leave many heads spinning in a daze of confusion, which is part of the intellectual and spiritual excitement this encyclical can generate (for those of us who like this sort of thing).

With all that we have done, we have yet to answer the question, “What is our hope?” which might well account for the confusion. We have, though, asked the question, and a very good question it is:

[W]hat sort of hope could ever justify the statement that, on the basis of that hope and simply because it exists, we are redeemed? And what sort of certainty is involved here (Spe salvi, 1)?
In the third paragraph Pope Benedict XVI seeks to answer the question by way of example.

He sought to do much the same thing in his first encyclical, Deus caritas est, when he turned briefly first to the life of Saint Lawrence [c. 225-258], one of the seven deacons of Rome, in whom charity “found a vivid expression” (23). Next he turned to the example of the emperor Julian the Apostate [331-363] who, though not impressed with the Christian faith, was impressed with “the Church’s charitable activity” (24). Through these two (seemingly contradictory) figures the Holy Father proceeded to demonstrate the importance of works of charity for the Christian.

In the present encyclical, he uses the example of Saint Josephine Bakhita (1869-1947) to begin answering the question, “in what does hope consist which, as hope, is ‘redemption’” (3)? We recall here that, “redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, a trustworthy hope” (Spe salvi, 1). For what do we hope? How can this hope be redemption?

The Apostle Paul gives us the answer to this question when he writes to the Christians of Ephesus. He writes, as we have previously seen,

Therefore, remember that at one time you, Gentiles in the flesh … were at that time without Christ, alienated from the community of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world” (2:11-12).
To be without Christ is to be without hope; to be with Christ, then, is to have hope.

“We who have always lived with the concept of God, and have grown accustomed to it,” writes the Holy Father, “have almost ceased to notice that we possess the hope that ensues from a real encounter with God” (Spe salvi, 3). It takes just a few moments at Mass on Sunday to see that the Pontiff is very much correct in this observation. We are introduced to our hope at a young age, it is everywhere around us, yet only rarely do we ever take any notice of it. We too often grow complacent in our faith, in our hope, and hence our knowledge of God begins to fade.

Pope Benedict XVI understands that these discussions are a bit cerebral and so he says, “the example of a saint of our time can to some degree help us understand what it means to have a real encounter with this God for the first time” (Spe salvi, 3). He then offers a moving brief biography of the holy woman, Josephine Bakhita, that is worth quoting in full:

She was born around 1869—she herself did not know the precise date—in Darfur in Sudan. At the age of nine, she was kidnapped by slave-traders, beaten till she bled, and sold five times in the slave-markets of Sudan. Eventually she found herself working as a slave for the mother and the wife of a general, and there she was flogged every day till she bled; as a result of this she bore 144 scars throughout her life. Finally, in 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant for the Italian consul Callisto Legnani, who returned to Italy as the Mahdists advanced. Here, after the terrifying “masters” who had owned her up to that point, Bakhita came to know a totally different kind of “master”—in Venetian dialect, which she was now learning, she used the name “paron” for the living God, the God of Jesus Christ. Up to that time she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her, or at best considered her a useful slave. Now, however, she heard that there is a “paron” above all masters, the Lord of all lords, and that this Lord is good, goodness in person. She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that he had created her—that he actually loved her. She too was loved, and by none other than the supreme “Paron”, before whom all other masters are themselves no more than lowly servants. She was known and loved and she was awaited. What is more, this master had himself accepted the destiny of being flogged and now he was waiting for her “at the Father's right hand”. Now she had “hope” —no longer simply the modest hope of finding masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope: “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good.” Through the knowledge of this hope she was “redeemed”, no longer a slave, but a free child of God. She understood what Paul meant when he reminded the Ephesians that previously they were without hope and without God in the world—without hope because without God. Hence, when she was about to be taken back to Sudan, Bakhita refused; she did not wish to be separated again from her “Paron”. On 9 January 1890, she was baptized and confirmed and received her first Holy Communion from the hands of the Patriarch of Venice. On 8 December 1896, in Verona, she took her vows in the Congregation of the Canossian Sisters and from that time onwards, besides her work in the sacristy and in the porter's lodge at the convent, she made several journeys round Italy in order to promote the missions: the liberation that she had received through her encounter with the God of Jesus Christ, she felt she had to extend, it had to be handed on to others, to the greatest possible number of people. The hope born in her which had “redeemed” her she could not keep to herself; this hope had to reach many, to reach everybody.
This woman with 144 scars came to know her true Master, her true Paron, Jesus Christ, who, many centuries earlier, willingly accepted flogging and death for her. She came to know the One who is Good and so she received hope, she who, it would seem, had little reason to hope.

The words of Saint Paul were true for her: with God she was with hope. And because she was with hope she could say, “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me – I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good.” Would that each of us could echo these words!

Josephine, through her hope, realized that “the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey” (Spe salvi, 1).

She new her goal was Jesus Christ; she knew that she could be sure of this goal because Christ “had himself accepted the destiny of being flogged and now he was waiting for her ‘at the Father’s right hand’” (Spe salvi, 3); she knew that this goal was certainly great enough because she had truly been redeemed, bought back, “no longer a slave, but a free child of God” (Spe salvi, 3).

We, too, have been redeemed, bought back, and so we are with hope: Christ Jesus.

A little office humor

Our Sister who works with us visiting the hospital and shut ins just popped into my office and asked, "Are you taking appointments for February?"

You just never know what you'll be asked around here... (Of course I made the appointment.)

The Pauline Year

If your Italian is up to par, you might take a look at a new page on the Vatican web site for the Pauline Year.

It looks as though it will be available in a number languages, but Italian seems to be the only one up now.

An anniversary

Today is the twentieth anniversary of the death of my mother, Patricia. It is a day, quite naturally, filled with many emotions and thoughts, all swirling around and blurring together at once.

Earlier in the week as I looked at the my schedule for today I happily discovered it to be free and thus I had every intention of returning home today to pray at Mom's grave. Unfortunately, the weather patterns have made this trip imprudent. My knees are still recovering from yesterday's misty conditions most of the day and I know that twenty-five or so degree expected tonight will not be pleasant. On top of all othat, there seems to be something about sitting a car that agravates my arthritis, especially when combined with the weather.

Consequently, today will be given to prayer here in Effingham and to an attempt to as fully prepare my office for my Roman holiday as possible by clearing away as much paper as possible.

This morning I celebrated the early Mass (6:30) using the prayers for the anniversary of a death.

My mother was a sweet woman who suffered greatly. A nurse by occupation (the picture above is from her graduation from nursing school), she developed a brain tumor when I was about five (maybe a little earlier) that confined her to a hospital bed in our home and to a nursing home after Dad's death. I have many fond memories of her love and especially of her reading to us, which probably influences my love of books. I am grateful to have still a tape recording of her reading to us, though it has been recorded over in a few spots due to the carelessness of young boys.

Would you be so kind as to pray for my mother?
Lord God,
you are the glory of believers
and the life of the just.
Your Son redeemed us
by dying and rising to life again.
Our sister Patricia was faithful
and believed in her own resurrection.
Give to her the joys and blessings
of the life to come.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.
Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her.
May she rest in peace.
May her soul, and the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Water, water everywhere

…but not in the holy water fonts?

Does your parish suffer a Lenten drought each year? Are you tired of having your fingers pricked by a small cactus that somehow found its way into your holy water font? Are your fingers still sore from when you jammed them last year on pebbles where water was the day before?

Churches throughout the United States of America seem to suffer a plague not even given to the Egyptians: the removal of holy water from their fonts for the forty days of Lent, and the four days preparing for Lent; remember, Lent begins not on Ash Wednesday, but on the First Sunday of Lent (cf. Paschale Solemnitatis, 23).

Some years back when the position of “liturgist” appeared on church payrolls and these “liturgists” had to find ways to justify their pay, someone devised the well-intentioned idea to remove the holy water. Shortly afterwards it occurred to someone to fill the empty fonts with sand, rocks, cacti, and other irritating and irrational things as if the fonts were part of some sort of grade school art project (there’s a name for them, but I can’t think of it at the moment). It is, after all, a “holy water font.”

Why do such a thing, you ask? Because, they say, Lent is a journey through the “desert” and everyone knows that deserts do not have water. So what? Deserts also do not have layers of purple cloth and burlap draped everywhere in funky patterns, nor do they have large congregations of people.

The intention, I think, was good and was to help people repent of their sins by attempting to get them to focus on their baptism, but, as I have said before, they removed the very thing that helps us to focus on our baptism. I can’t say that I even once remembered baptism when I could not find the holy water. I was, instead, irritated by the fact that the holy water was gone and began to think ill of those in charge (which should have led to repentance rather quickly but often didn’t). The logic was flawed and, as is so very often the case these days, the thought was not carried out to its completion.

Together with the simple theological reasons arguing against the removal of holy water, they forgot even the liturgical actions in which holy water is used (after they removed it from the fonts): the blessing of ashes on Ash Wednesday (Sacramentary, p. 77) and the blessing of palms on Passion Sunday (Sacramentary, p. 123). Logically, these two actions alone would speak against the removal of the holy water.

You will find nowhere in the liturgical books a provision for the removal of holy water, either as an option or as a requirement, but until recently there was also not a strict prohibition against the removal of the holy water.

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has put an end to this question (or at least they thought they did) on 14 March 2000 when they sent the following reply:

This Dicastery is able to respond that the removing of Holy Water from the fonts during the season of Lent is not permitted, in particular, for two reasons:

1. The liturgical legislation in force does not foresee this innovation, which in addition to being praeter legem [outside the law] is contrary to a balanced understanding of the season of Lent, which though truly being a season of penance, is also a season rich in the symbolism of water and baptism, constantly evoked in liturgical texts.

2. The encouragement of the Church that the faithful avail themselves frequently of the [sic] of her sacraments and sacramentals is to be understood to apply also to the season of Lent. The "fast" and "abstinence" which the faithful embrace in this season does not extend to abstaining from the sacraments or sacramentals of the Church. The practice of the Church has been to empty the Holy Water fonts on the days of the Sacred Triduum in preparation of the blessing of the water at the Easter Vigil, and it corresponds to those days on which the Eucharist is not celebrated (i.e., Good Friday and Holy Saturday) [Prot. N. 569/00/L].
But even before this the same Congregation advised pastor that in their homilies, they should carefully explain “particularly the passages of the Gospel which illustrate the diverse aspects of Baptism and of the other sacraments, and of the mercy of God” (Paschale Solemnitatis, 12). The removal of holy water would be counter-productive to such preaching.

We must always remember this, as has been so often stated in my com box: the life of grace does not stop, not even during Lent.

Googling around for a fun image for this post I found a post Fr. Z did on this same question, but with more reflecting upon holy water itself (I didn't find a picture I wanted to use).

17 January 2008

Spe salvi, 2

After his introductory paragraph to the encyclical Spe salvi, Pope Benedict XVI turns to examine hope itself as found in the Scriptures and notes that hope is often used interchangeably with faith in the writings of the New Testament.

The author of the epistle to the Hebrews writes, saying,

[L]et us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful… (10:22-23).
In ordinary parlance, one does not confess hope but faith, yet the sacred writer uses the words one for the other.

Turning to the first letter of Peter, we find the same interchangeability:

Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence (3:15).
Again, one does not ordinarily seek to defend a hope but one would certainly seek to defend faith.

Saint Paul would even go so far as to write to the Ephesians, reminding them that before their faith in Christ Jesus “you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (2:12).

We see, then, that the “assurance of faith” is the “confession of our hope” “that is in you”, without which we are “without God in the world”. Faith and hope are very closely related, indeed.

Referring to the lives of the pagans, Paul “knew they had had other gods, he knew they had had a religion, but their gods proved questionable, and no hope emerged from their contradictory myths” (Spe salvi, 2).

Here, then, is one of the great distinguishing factors of Christianity from the rest of the religions of world: Christianity produces hope for the future because Christ has been found faithful and trustworthy. Christ Jesus has not proved “questionable” but has proved fully reliable for the words he spoke before his crucifixion were fulfilled afterwards: “the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day” (Matthew 20:19)

The Holy Father reminds us that, “notwithstanding their gods, they were ‘without God’ and consequently found themselves in a dark world, facing a dark future” (Spe salvi, 2).

Considering the darkness of the world of the pagans resulting from their lack of hope, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep [e.g., dead], that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (I Thessalonians 4:13).

For the pagans, death was, at worst, simply the end of existence; at best, it was the beginning of a meaningless, eternal, existence. Consequently, life had little meaning and we find that as a result many of the pagans were turning to the mystery cults in the years surrounding the life of Christ. We are, today, experiencing an increase of these same sentiments.

This is not so with Christianity; in Christianity, life certainly has meaning and purpose. Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Christian hope “leads towards a goal … great enough to justify the effort of the journey” (Spe salvi, 1). Christians may not know “the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness” (Spe salvi, 2).

Having said this, His Holiness turns from the future life to that of the present: “Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well” (Spe salvi, 2).

Life can only truly be fully lived if the future is known to be positive, if it is known to be good. If the future is good then we have reason to live in the present; if the future is bleak, if it is negative, there is no purpose, no meaning, to this present life. Christian hope knows the joy of the promised resurrection of the dead and union with Christ, hence the present life, “even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted” (Spe salvi, 1).

It is precisely because the message of the Gospel, the hope that is given, allows believers to live the present life that the message of Christianity is “not only ‘informative’ but ‘performative’” (Spe salvi, 2).

The proclamation of the Gospel is never simply about the passing on of information about Jesus Christ or of his Church. The proclamation of the Gospel must always be “performative” in that “it makes things happen and is life-changing” (Spe salvi, 2). Because “redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope” (Spe salvi, 1), “the dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open” (Spe salvi, 2). This hope given to the Christian is such that “on the basis of that hope and simply because it exists, we are redeemed” (Spe salvi, 1).

This is a truth of the faith well worth pondering that “in this hope we were saved” (Romans 8:24). Because of this hope, because of this redemption, “the one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life” (Spe salvi, 2).

In the next paragraph we will take at look at the difference found in this new life granted through hope.

On Lenten baptisms

Another question has come my way that may be of interest to readers of my little blog: can baptism be refused during the Lenten season?

It seems to have become rather commonplace in the last couple of decades for most parishes not to baptize babies during the season of Lent but to wait until the Easter season. Is this practice legitimate?

Let us first consult the Rite of Baptism for Children. There we find this these guidelines that must be borne in mind when considering the time of the baptism of the newborn:

As for the time of baptism, the first consideration is the welfare of the child, that it may not be deprived of the benefit of the sacrament; then the health of the mother must be considered, so that, if at all possible, she too may be present. Then as long as they do not interfere with the greater good of the child, there are pastoral considerations, such as allowing sufficient time to prepare the parents and to plan the actual celebration in order to bring out its character effectively (8).
First of all, then, we consider the health of the child. Is his life in danger, thereby requiring an immediate baptism? “If the child is in danger of death, it is to be baptized without delay; this is permitted even when the parents are opposed and even when the infant is the child of non-Catholic parents” (RBC, 8.1). This is a clear reminder that baptism is necessary for salvation (cf. John 3:5; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1257-1261).

If the child is not in danger of death we must look to the health of the mother. Certainly it would be most preferable for the mother to be present at the baptism of her child. This seems to presuppose an earlier baptism as opposed to a later one.

The pastoral considerations can hardly be such as to take more than a day or two to consider. Baptisms are done on a frequent enough basis that acquiring the necessary items (baptismal candle, white garment, etc.) should not take more than a few minutes, at most. Other factors to consider, such as music for a baptism outside of Mass, which, sadly seems rarely to be present, surely shouldn’t take more than a few hours. All in all, by the time an organist can be contacted and a cantor secured, surely not more than a day or two will have passed.

What, then, is to be done if the child is born quite healthy and the arrangements are made? How long must one wait? The answer is simple: “An infant should be baptized within the first few weeks after birth” (RBC, 8.3). Just how many weeks constitute the “first weeks after birth” is not set forth in liturgical law, but the above considerations seem to imply a rather short amount of time.

Here we might well note that even though baptism is not to be delayed, if there is no “well-founded hope that the infant will be brought up in the Catholic religion, the baptism is to be delayed” and the parents “are to be informed of the reasons” (RBC, 8.3).

We might also note that the most appropriate time for the celebration of baptism is “during the Easter Vigil or on Sunday, when the Church commemorates the Lord’s resurrection” (RBC, 9). This is, most likely, the reason why so many parishes do not baptize infants during Lent. It is an attempt, probably a mostly unnoticed and unrealized one, to highlight the baptismal character of the season of Easter.

It is also more than likely an attempt to highlight the penitential character of Lent. I would suggest, however, that witnessing a baptism during Lent would do much to highlight the penitential character by recalling to those present the necessity of conversion and repentance in the Christian life demanded by virtue of our baptism. It should be remembered that the Lenten season “disposes … the faithful to celebrate the paschal mystery … through reminders of their own baptism and through penitential practices” (General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, 27). What better reminder of baptism can there be than a baptism?

But even if Easter is the most appropriate time for baptism, there is nothing forbidding baptism during Lent in the liturgical books.

Turning now to the Code of Canon Law we find the answer to the question posed: “Although baptism can be celebrated on any day, it is nevertheless recommended that it be celebrated ordinarily on Sunday or, if possible, at the Easter Vigil” (can. 856). There you have it, then: baptism may be celebrated on any day, even during Lent. However, “it is not fitting that Baptisms and Confirmation be celebrated” during Holy Week (Paschale Solemnitatis, 27). Even so, baptism is not strictly forbidden during Holy Week, though the proximity of these days to Holy Saturday would seem an obvious reason to withhold baptism until the Easter feast.

The law of the Church goes even further to state that “parents are obliged to take care that infants are baptized in the first few weeks” (can. 867).

Most parishes that do not allow baptisms during Lent also do not allow marriages during Lent. And, while there is nothing about such a practice in the liturgical books for baptism, there is something concerning Lent in the Rite of Marriage, though it does not forbid marriages during Lent.

What we find is this: “When a marriage is celebrated during Advent or Lent or other days of penance, the parish priest should advise the couple to take into consideration the special nature of these times” (11).

This is a veiled way of saying no flowers and little music (unless it happens to be Gaudete or Laetare Sunday), and much simplicity; nothing fancy. But even here there is nothing forbidding marriage during Lent.

If I’ve missed another document that contradicts my assessment, I trust it will be brought to my attention.

16 January 2008

To prepare for the feasts

As you give thought to preparing for the season of Lent I would like to direct your attention to a little known document: Paschale Solemnitatis, the Circular Letter Concerning the Preparation and Celebration of the Easter Feasts.

It was published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in 1988 so that "the great mystery of our Redemption be celebrated in the best possible way so that the faithful may participate in it with ever greater spiritual advantage" (5).

In order to achieve this, the document seeks "to recall certain elements, doctrinal and pastoral, and various norms which have already been published concerning Holy Week" (5).

The document covers Lent, Palm Sunday, and Holy Week. It is an excellent resource and, as many priests unfortunately seem unaware of it, you might consider printing a copy for yourself and for you pastor.

Where have all the academics gone?

By now you've probably heard that the Holy Father has postponed his scheduled visit to Rome's La Sapienza University because of the protestations by those who claim to be academics and intellectuals and their students.

Why does the Holy Father's visit receive such outcries? Because of a quotation he used in one of his addresses in 1990 (this whole thing harkens back to the outcries over the quotation he cited in his Regensburg address).

From the Vatican information service:

The signatories of the petition take exception to a talk given by the then Cardinal Ratzinger in 1990, and in particular to a phrase he used on that occasion to the effect that "in Galileo's time the Church remained much more faithful to reason than Galileo himself. The trial against Galileo was reasonable and just". The future Pope's remarks, a quote from a work by the philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend, were made in the context of a talk on the crisis of confidence in science, in which he used the example of changing attitudes towards the case of Galileo.
Whatever happened to academia? How is that co-called academics, intellectuals and professor cannot recognize a quotation? Where, back in Regensburg, were the cries for the burning of effigies of the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and where, in Rome, are the protestations against Paul Feyerabend, whose words the then-Cardinal cited?

The self-proclaimed enlightened ones take the use of this quote as evidence that the Holy Father is against science and what not. What this shows is that these professors and academics are incapable or true intellectual pursuits.

Cohabitation a great risker than thought

The National Catholic Register has an intriguing - and rather frightening - article on a new danger of cohabitation before marriage, a threat posed not to the adults involved but to the children: sexual abuse.

Most people have heard about the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. They also hear about the children who get abducted by strangers or get lured by Internet perverts.

And occasionally, newspapers will run a story about a teenage boy having sex with a beautiful 20-something teacher.

They seldom hear of the biggest threat of childhood sexual abuse: cohabitation and the single mom’s boyfriend.
Given the levels of sexual abuse throughout the country this really - and sadly - should come as no real surprise to us.

How serious is this threat? The executive director of the Safe Child Program in Denver, Cherryl Kraizer, put it this way:

Despite what we read and hear on TV, 85% to 90% of childhood sexual abuse involves perpetrators known to the child. Of that 85% to 90%, 35% involves a family member. Boyfriends, step-parents, foster providers and other guardians aren’t usually counted in that 35%. And single women who have boyfriends living in the home may be putting their children at the highest risk of all.
This is truly serious and a cause for much prayer for us all. The entire article is well worth a read.

15 January 2008

Spe salvi, 1

The introduction to the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI’s second encyclical on Christian hope, Spe salvi, will have, it seems to me, one of two effects on the reader: it will either lead the reader in great excitement into the following paragraphs, or it will confuse the reader terribly and lead him or her to put the encyclical down, never to be picked up again.

It is a brilliant introduction that encapsulates beautifully the context of the entire encyclical and lays it out rather clearly, though it does pose a most difficult question:

[W]hat sort of hope could ever justify the statement that, on the basis of that hope and simply because it exists, we are redeemed? And what sort of certainty is expressed here (1)?
The thrill of this intellectual and spiritual hunt has been ignited and the hounds have been released to go in search of the answer, even if the question leaves one at first a bit dumbfounded.

The question posed by the Holy Father comes from his reflection on the writings of the Apostle Paul: “For in this hope we were saved” (Romans 8:24).

Saint John Chrysostom explained this passage thus:

What Paul means is that we are not to expect everything to be given to us in this life, but we are to have hope as well. For the only thing we brought to God was our faith in the promises of what was to come, and it was in this way that we were saved. If we lose this hope, we lose the one thing which we have contributed to our salvation (Homilies on Romans, 14).
Without hope, there is no salvation.

Pope Benedict XVI reminds us: “redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face the present” (Spe salvi, 1).

Not only is this hope a key aspect of the Christian faith, one of those three things that will remain, it is also trustworthy (cf. I Corinthians 13:13). It cannot, therefore, be the same sort of hope that we might have when we hope to win the lottery; it is something far more profound.

It is because of hope that “the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads toward a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey” (Spe salvi, 1).

Who would deny that life, that discipleship, is often arduous? Even so, this difficult pilgrimage of faith can be lived, it can be ventured, so long as the goal is known to us.

We know the goal of our pilgrimage: it is Christ himself, and surely there can be no greater reason to embark upon a journey, difficult and strenuous though it may be, than the one “who gives flesh and blood to those concepts [of love] – an unprecedented realism” (Deus caritas est, 12).

But this hope we have been given, this Christian hope, is a curious thing for it itself saves us: “For in this hope we were saved.” How is it that hope, which is the expectation, the anticipation, of the future can save us? We are saved in hope because it is Christ Jesus himself who is our hope (cf. I Timothy 1:1).

This is the fascinating question of this encyclical.

On encyclicals

Since the release of the second encyclical of the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, Spe salvi, on 30 November 2007, I have been considering a series of posts commenting on the encyclical.

I have been, to be sure, rather surprised not to find much mention of or commentary on the encyclical around the blogosphere, especially considering the great buzz that accompanied its release. Certainly I am not the most qualified to comment on the Pontiff’s writings, but I will what I am able.

First, though, a few comments about encyclicals in general.

The English word “encyclical” comes from the Latin word encyclicus, meaning “circular.” Simply put, an encyclical is a circular letter.

In the glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, an encyclical is defined as “a pastoral letter written by the Pope and sent to the whole Church and even to the whole world, to express Church teaching on some important matter. Encyclicals are expressions of the ordinary papal magisterium.”

The title of an individual encyclical, like the tile for most ecclesial documents, is taken from the opening sentence of document in Latin, a practice borrowed from that of the Roman Empire.

Sometimes the title will clearly reveal the topic of the document, as is the case with Pope Benedict XVI’s Deus caritas est (which translates, “God is love”) on the topic of Christian love. Other times the title will have little to do with the document’s topic, as is the case with the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium (which translates, “this sacred Council”) on the sacred Liturgy.

An encyclical is cited like the Catechism and other ecclesial documents: by paragraph number and not by page number. This ensures that people everywhere can find the citation with great ease; regardless of the publication of the work they have available. The page numbers of different publications can vary greatly depending on page size, font size, commentary within footnotes, etc. Regardless of the publication, the paragraph number remains the same.

And now for my initial commentary on Spe salvi.

14 January 2008

A liturgical question

Last night I was asked if it is appropriate for a priest to celebrate the Liturgy of the Word with only an alb and stole but to put the chasuble on for the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which was apparently done recently in a church not too far me.

I’m not sure when this practice began or, really, what the notion behind it is, but it is not allowed.

Let us consult the General Instruction of the Roman Missal:

In the sacristy, the sacred vestments for the priest, the deacon, and other ministers are to be prepared according to the various forms of celebration [Mass with or without a deacon, a concelebrated Mass, etc.]:
a. For the priest: the alb, the stole, and the chasuble;
b. For the deacon: the alb, the stole, and the dalmatic; the dalmatic may be omitted, however, either out of necessity or on account of a lesser degree of solemnity;
c. For the other ministers: albs or other lawfully approved attire (119).

It would be most foolish to require a chasuble to be prepared and not worn by the priest. Indeed, “once the people have gathered, the priest and ministers, clad in the sacred vestments, go in procession to the altar” (GIRM, 120).

Besides, “the vestment proper to the priest celebrant at Mass and other sacred actions directly connected with Mass is, unless otherwise indicated [in the liturgical books], the chasuble, worn over the alb and stole” (GIRM, 337).

In a concelebrated Mass, should “a good reason arise (e.g., a large number of concelebrants or a lack of vestments), concelebrants other than the principal celebrant may omit the chasuble and simply wear the stole over the alb” (209, emphasis added). Even so, “where a need of this kind can be foreseen … provision should be made for it insofar as possible” (Redemptionis sacramentum, 124).

I did not ask whether this particular priest was a concelebrant; even if he was, what he did is still not allowed, as we shall soon see.

It would be a very rare day indeed when such arrangements could not be made, especially considering that the chasubles worn by the concelebrants need not match: “Out of necessity the concelebrants other than the principal celebrant may even put on white chasubles” (Redemptionis sacramentum, 124). I will certainly admit, though, that a matching set of chasubles is much more pleasing to the eye, and less distracting.

The notion of putting the chasuble on only for the Liturgy of the Eucharist really makes little sense and, at least as far as I am aware, has no place in the tradition of the Church. The Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist “are so closely interconnected that they form but one single act of worship” (GIRM, 28). Consequently, it makes no sense to treat them as though they were two separate actions, either by a differentiation of vesture or by a differentiation of location (which is also forbidden, though I cannot now recall where). Even in those instances where the priest may wear a cope during the procession, as on Palm Sunday (but not at the Easter Vigil, as much as I would like too), he removes the cope once the procession has arrived:

When the priest comes to the altar he venerates it and may also incense it. Then he goes to his chair (removes the cope and puts on the chasuble) and begins immediately the opening prayer of Mass (Passion Week, Palm Sunday).
It might also be noted that such a practice of donning the chasuble after the Liturgy of the Word has been expressly forbidden:

The abuse is reprobated whereby the sacred ministers celebrate Holy Mass or other Rites without the sacred vestments or with only a stole over the monastic cowl or the common habit of religious or ordinary clothes, contrary to the prescriptions of the liturgical books, even when there is only one minister participating (Redemptionis sacramentum, 126).

The books are closed; the discussion is ended.

Why do some priests ignore the liturgical law? Sadly, in some instances so many priests have disregarded the liturgical books that it makes those of us who do our best to follow them look as though we are inventing strange practices when, in reality, we are only doing what should have been done all along.

Ponderables from the Poverello

Go, proclaim peace to men and preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Be patient in trials, watchful in prayer, strenuous in work, moderate in speech, reserved in manner and grateful for favors, because for all this an eternal kingdom is being prepared for you.

– Bonaventure, The Life of St. Francis 3.7.

13 January 2008

The most significant liturgical act in 40 years

...says Fr. Blake about the Mass celebrated ad orientem today in the Sistine Chapel for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the same Mass at which the Holy Father baptised several babies.

Fr. Blake offers several key points for discussion as to the direction the priest faces at Mass. Commenting on the common practice of celebrating Mass ad populum, he says:

Most priests are aware that celebrating Mass either side of the altar is a legitimate choice, but most priests realise that choosing the ancient direction is considered eccentric at the least.
He is very right about this. I celebrated the Easter Vigil last year ad orientem. It was the most beautiful Mass I have celebrated and never have I prayed better (I blogged about this somewhere, I'm sure, but I can't seem to find it). The people very much enjoyed the Mass and found nothing strange to it at all (and I made no comments about it before, during or after Mass), but many priests who heard about it thought I was some sort of a "throw back."
Continuing with Fr. Blake:
Apart from the liturgical problems of having two altars, the altar is supposed to signify Christ, two Christs seems a little odd; the direction in which priest faces says a great deal about the relationship of priest and people. What has always concerned me is that priest in the new theology of the Mass is separated from the people by a huge immovable block of stone. He stands against them, he inevitably becomes the focus of the liturgy, his personality matters for good or ill. A common orientation of priest and people says that although we have different roles in the liturgy ultimately priest and people are God’s servants. Ad Orientem the priest identifies with the people who themselves stand behind one another in the Divine Presence.When the priest faces the people, he becomes important. In the liturgy he stands in the place of Christ, not just in leading the community but in his person, this being another Christ becomes of even more significance in the Mass and most especially Eucharistic Prayer. The priest in Mass celebrated facing the people bears a burden that is often beyond him, his gestures, his words, his very face becomes the gesture, words, the very face of Christ.
To expect this becomes a burden beyond him!

Of course, which ever side of the altar the priest stands on, Mass is never celebrated "facing the people" or with "his back to the people," but ad Deum, to God. Too often do many seem to forget this reality.

Over heard in church

As I was locking the doors to the choir loft after Mass this morning, I passed a father holding his young son.

As I walked by, I heard the boy say, in reference to the Baptismal font, "We don't drink that," as if dad was unaware.

Unless you become like a little child...
"Can you hear me now?!"

Homily - 13 January 2008 - The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

As we enter this year marking the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of our parish, we would do well to focus on the Sacrament of Baptism. It is in the waters of Baptism that we are born into the family of God and are made members of his Church. It is in the waters of Baptism that we pledge our loyalty, our love and service to Christ. Baptism is the gift of God by which he gives us his very own life and makes us his sons and daughters and because of this our lives are forever changed.

Baptism is not something that we do; it is something that we receive from God’s own initiative. “Baptism, as we have seen, is a gift; the gift of life. But a gift must be accepted, it must be lived.”[1]

A gift of friendship implies a "yes" to the friend and a "no" to all that is incompatible with this friendship, to all that is incompatible with the life of God's family, with true life in Christ.

Consequently, in the second dialogue of the Rite of Baptism, three “noes” and three “yeses” are spoken. We say "no" and renounce temptation, sin and the devil. We know these things well but perhaps, precisely because we have heard them so often, the words may not mean much to us.

If this is the case, we must think a little more deeply about the content of these “noes.” What are we saying "no" to? This is the only way to understand what we want to say "yes" to.

In the ancient Church these "noes" were summed up in a phrase that was easy to understand for the people of that time: they renounced, they said, the "pompa diabuli", that is, the promise of life in abundance, of that apparent life that seemed to come from the pagan world, from its permissiveness, from its way of living as one pleased.

It was therefore "no" to a culture of what seemed to be an abundance of life, to what in fact was an "anticulture" of death. It was "no" to those spectacles in which death, cruelty and violence had become an entertainment.

This "pompa diabuli", this "anticulture" of death was a corruption of joy, it was love of deceit and fraud and the abuse of the body as a commodity and a trade.

And if we think about it now, we can say that also in our time we need to say "no" to the widely prevalent culture of death.

It is manifested, for example, in drugs, in the flight from reality to what is illusory, to a false happiness expressed in deceit, fraud, injustice and contempt for others, for solidarity, and for responsibility for the poor and the suffering; it is expressed in a sexuality that becomes sheer irresponsible enjoyment, that makes the human person into a "thing", so to speak, no longer considered a person who deserves personal love which requires fidelity, but who becomes a commodity, a mere object.

Let us say "no" to this promise of apparent happiness, to this "pompa" of what may seem to be life but is in fact merely an instrument of death, and to this "anticulture", in order to cultivate instead the culture of life. For this reason, the Christian "yes", from ancient times to our day, is a great "yes" to life. It is our "yes" to Christ, our "yes" to the Conqueror of death and the "yes" to life in time and in eternity.

Just as in this baptismal dialogue the "no" is expressed in three renunciations, so too the "yes" is expressed in three expressions of loyalty: "yes" to the living God, that is, a God Creator and a creating reason who gives meaning to the cosmos and to our lives; "yes" to Christ, that is, to a God who did not stay hidden but has a name, words, a body and blood; to a concrete God who gives us life and shows us the path of life; "yes" to the communion of the Church, in which Christ is the living God who enters our time, enters our profession, enters daily life.

We might also say that the Face of God, the content of this culture of life, the content of our great "yes", is expressed in the Ten Commandments, which are not a pack of prohibitions, of "noes", but actually present a great vision of life.

They are a "yes" to a God who gives meaning to life (the first three Commandments); a "yes" to the family (Fourth Commandment); a "yes" to life (Fifth Commandment); a "yes" to responsible love (Sixth Commandment); a "yes" to solidarity, to social responsibility, to justice (Seventh Commandment); a "yes" to the truth (Eighth Commandment); a "yes" to respect for others and for their belongings (Ninth and 10th Commandments).

This is the philosophy of life, the culture of life that becomes concrete and practical and beautiful in communion with Christ, the living God, who walks with us in the companionship of his friends, in the great family of the Church. Baptism is a gift of life.

It is a "yes" to the challenge of really living life, of saying "no" to the attack of death that presents itself under the guise of life; and it is a "yes" to the great gift of true life that became present on the Face of Christ, who gives himself to us in Baptism and subsequently in the Eucharist.

Whenever we present ourselves to receive the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, we renew our “no” to the anti-culture of death while we renew our “yes” to life, to the Church, to Christ.

As we celebrate one hundred and fifty years of Catholic faith here in Effingham, we cannot help but think of those who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith. Our thoughts turn to their devotion to Christ and to the Church. As this parish was established the faith of the Church truly was the center and foundation of the lives of the parishioners.

Today, as we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord and conclude the season of Christmas, may our lives, like those of our ancestors, be firmly rooted in the faith of Jesus Christ. May each of us say “no” to the pomp of the world and “yes” to Christ. Amen.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 8 January 2008. The remainder of the homily follows in a slightly edited form.