31 October 2010
30 October 2010
- Over at Caritas in Veritate, Father John Boyle reminds of the indulgences available to the faithful in the month of November. He also reminds us what indulgences are, and how to receive one.
- While standing on his head, Father Dwight Longenecker ably answers the question,"Do you think Jesus turned his back on the apostles at the Last Supper," thereby giving a good explanation for Mass celebrated ad orientem and also a helpful reminder of what the Mass is.
28 October 2010
The Priests' Secretary put up a post on Father Augustine Thompson's, O.P., excellent article, "Halloween: The Real Story!" I'm glad he did; I was going to post something about the article and he has saved me the trouble searching for it.
The text of his article follows, with my emphases:
We’ve all heard the allegations. Halloween is a pagan rite dating back to some pre-Christian festival among the Celtic Druids that escaped Church suppression. Even today modern pagans and witches continue to celebrate this ancient festival. If you let your kids go trick-or-treating, they will be worshiping the devil and pagan gods.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The origins of Halloween are, in fact, very Christian and rather American. Halloween falls on October 31 because of a pope, and its observances are the result of medieval Catholic piety.
It’s true that the ancient Celts of Ireland and Britain celebrated a minor festival on Oct. 31 — as they did on the last day of most other months of the year. However, Halloween falls on the last day of October because the Feast of All Saints or "All Hallows" falls on Nov. 1. The feast in honor of all the saints in heaven used to be celebrated on May 13, but Pope Gregory III (d. 741) moved it to Nov. 1, the dedication day of All Saints Chapel in St. Peter’s at Rome. Later, in the 840s, Pope Gregory IV commanded that All Saints be observed everywhere. And so the holy day spread to Ireland. The day before was the feast’s evening vigil, "All Hallows Even" or "Hallowe’en." In those days, Halloween didn’t have any special significance for Christians or for long-dead Celtic pagans.
In 998, St. Odilo, the abbot of the powerful monastery of Cluny in Southern France, added a celebration on Nov. 2. This was a day of prayer for the souls of all the faithful departed. This feast, called All Souls Day, spread from France to the rest of Europe.
So now the Church had feasts for all those in heaven and all those in purgatory? What about those in the other place? It seems Irish Catholic peasants wondered about the unfortunate souls in hell. After all, if the souls in hell are left out when we celebrate those in heaven and purgatory, they might be unhappy enough to cause trouble. So it became customary to bang pots and pans on All Hallows Even to let the damned know they were not forgotten. Thus, in Ireland, at least, all the dead came to be remembered — even if the clergy were not terribly sympathetic to Halloween and never allowed All Damned Day into the Church calendar.
But that still isn’t our celebration of Halloween. Our traditions on this holiday centers around dressing up in fanciful costumes, which isn’t Irish at all. Rather, this custom arose in France during the 14th and 15th centuries. Late medieval Europe was hit by repeated outbreaks of the bubonic plague — the Black Death — and she lost about half her population. It is not surprising that Catholics became more concerned about the afterlife. More Masses were said on All Souls’ Day, and artistic representations were devised to remind everyone of their own mortality.
We know these representations as the "Dance Macabre" or "Dance of Death," which was commonly painted on the walls of cemeteries and shows the devil leading a daisy chain of people — popes, kings, ladies, knights, monks, peasants, lepers, etc. — into the tomb. Sometimes the dance was presented on All Souls’ Day itself as a living tableau with people dressed up in the garb of various states of life. But the French dressed up on All Souls, not Halloween; and the Irish, who had Halloween, did not dress up. How the two became mingled probably happened first in the British colonies of North America during the 1700s when Irish and French Catholics began to intermarry. The Irish focus on hell gave the French masquerades and even more macabre twist.
But, as every young ghoul knows, dressing up isn’t the point; the point is getting as many goodies as possible. Where on earth did "trick or treat" come in?
"Trick or treat" is perhaps the oddest and most American addition to Halloween, and is the unwilling contribution of English Catholics.
During the penal period of the 1500s to the 1700s in England, Catholics had no legal rights. They could not hold office and were subject to fines, jail and heavy taxes. It was a capital offense to say Mass, and hundreds of priests were martyred.
Occasionally, English Catholics resisted, sometimes foolishly. One of the most foolish acts of resistance was a plot to blow up the Protestant King James I and his Parliament with gunpowder. This was supposed to trigger a Catholic uprising against their oppressors. The ill-conceived Gunpowder Plot was foiled on Nov. 5, 1605, when the man guarding the gunpowder, a reckless convert named Guy Fawkes, was captured and arrested. He was hanged; the plot fizzled.
Nov. 5, Guy Fawkes’ Day, became a great celebration in England, and so it remains. During the penal periods, bands of revelers would put on masks and visit local Catholics in the dead of night, demanding beer and cakes for their celebration: trick or treat!
Guy Fawkes’ Day arrived in the American colonies with the first English settlers. But, buy the time of the American Revolution, old King James and Guy Fawkes had pretty much been forgotten. Trick or treat, though, was too much fun to give up, so eventually it moved to Oct. 31, the day of the Irish-French masquerade. And in America, trick or treat wasn’t limited to Catholics.
The mixture of various immigrant traditions we know as Halloween had become a fixture in the Unites States by the early 1800s. To this day, it remains unknown in Europe, even in the countries from which some of the customs originated.
But what about witches? Well, they are one of the last additions. The greeting card industry added them in the late 1800s. Halloween was already "ghoulish," so why not give witches a place on greeting cards? The Halloween card failed (although it has seen a recent resurgence in popularity), but the witches stayed. So, too, in the late 1800s, ill-informed folklorists introduced the jack-o’-lantern. They thought that Halloween was druidic and pagan in origin. Lamps made from turnips (not pumpkins) had been part of ancient Celtic harvest festivals, so they were translated to the American Halloween celebration.
The next time someone claims that Halloween is a cruel trick to lure your children into devil worship, I suggest you tell them the real origin of All Hallows Even and invite them to discover its Christian significance, along with the two greater and more important Catholic festivals that follow it.
You can read Eusebius’ description of the battle here (see chapters 28-38).
Shortly after this triumph, the Emperors Constantine and Licinius jointly issued the Edict of Milan in AD 313, by which the practice of Christianity was no longer illegal.
Very little about him has come down to us. John alone mentions a question he addressed to Jesus at the Last Supper: Thaddaeus says to the Lord: "Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us and not to the world?".
This is a very timely question which we also address to the Lord: why did not the Risen One reveal himself to his enemies in his full glory in order to show that it is God who is victorious? Why did he only manifest himself to his disciples? Jesus' answer is mysterious and profound. The Lord says: "If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him" (Jn 14: 22-23).
This means that the Risen One must be seen, must be perceived also by the heart, in a way so that God may take up his abode within us. The Lord does not appear as a thing. He desires to enter our lives, and therefore his manifestation is a manifestation that implies and presupposes an open heart. Only in this way do we see the Risen One [more].
- Pope Benedict XVI
The sadness that sometimes accompanies our reflections on our beloved dead is, of course, the most natural of human reactions. In his gospel St. John the Evangelist tells us that even "Jesus wept" at the death of his friend, Lazarus. But the the preface of the Mass of Christian Burial also teaches us that, "The sadness of death gives way to the bright promise of immortality." So, while we here who remain behind are naturally sad because we miss those whom we love once again we must look with eyes of faith to the future when we will see them again and experience a joy that no one can take from us. The sadness of our grief only serves to remind us all the more of the love we have for them [more].
The text of his address follows (via Zenit), with my comments and comments:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
On the fervent eve of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, the Venerable Servant of God John Paul II proclaimed St. Bridget of Sweden co-patroness of the whole of Europe. This morning I would like to present her figure, her message, and the reasons why this woman has much to teach -- even today -- to the Church and to the world.
We know well the events of the life of St. Bridget because her spiritual fathers wrote her biography to promote her process of canonization immediately after her death, which took place in 1373. Bridget was born 70 years earlier, in 1303, in Finster, Sweden, a nation of Northern Europe that had received the faith three centuries earlier with the same enthusiasm with which the saint received it from her parents, who were very pious individuals, belonging to noble families close to the reigning House.
We can distinguish two periods in the life of this saint.
The first was characterized by her condition as a happily married woman. Her husband was called Ulf and he was governor of an important district of the Kingdom of Sweden. The marriage lasted 28 years, until Ulf's death. Eight children were born to them, the second of whom, Karin (Catherine), is venerated as saint. This is an eloquent sign of Bridget's educational commitment in regard to her children. Moreover, her pedagogic wisdom was appreciated to the point that Magnus, the king of Sweden, called her to the court for a certain time, in order to introduce his young wife, Blanche of Namur, to Swedish culture.
Bridget, spiritually guided by a learned religious who initiated her in the study of the Scriptures, exercised a very positive influence on her own family that, thanks to her presence, became a true "domestic church." Together with her husband, she adopted the Rule of the Franciscan Tertiaries. She practiced works of charity towards the indigent with generosity; she also founded a hospital. Together with his wife, Ulf learned to improve his character and to advance in the Christian life [too many husbands and wives forget that they are to help each other grow daily in holiness]. On returning from a long pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, taken in 1341 with other members of the family, the spouses matured the plan to live in continence, but shortly after, in the peace of a monastery to which he had retired, Ulf concluded his earthly life.
The first period of Bridget's life helps us to appreciate what today we could define an authentic "conjugal spirituality": Together, Christian spouses can follow a path of sanctity, supported by the grace of the sacrament of Marriage. Not infrequently, as happened in the lives of St. Bridget and Ulf, it is the wife who with her religious sensibility, with delicacy and gentleness, is able to make the husband follow a path of faith. I am thinking, with recognition, of so many women who, day in day out, still today illumine their families with their testimony of Christian life. May the Spirit of the Lord fuel the sanctity of Christian spouses, to show the world the beauty of marriage lived according to the values of the Gospel: love, tenderness, mutual help, fecundity in generating and educating children, openness and solidarity to the world, participation in the life of the Church.
The second period of Bridget's life began when she became a widow. She renounced further marriage to deepen her union with the Lord through prayer, penance and works of charity. Hence, Christian widows can also find in this saint a model to follow. In fact, on the death of her husband, after distributing her goods to the poor, though without ever acceding to religious consecration, Bridget established herself in the Cistercian monastery of Alvastra. Here is where the divine revelations began, which were with her for the rest of her life. They were dictated by Bridget to her confessor-secretaries, who translated them from Swedish into Latin and gathered them in an edition of eight books entitled "Revelationes" (Revelations.) Added to the books was a supplement, entitled "Revelationes Extravagantes" (Supplementary Revelations).
St. Bridget's Revelations present a very varied content and style. At times the revelation is presented in the form of dialogue between the Divine Persons, the Virgin, the saints and also the demons; dialogues in which Bridget also intervenes. At other times, instead, it is the narration of a particular vision; and at others she narrates what the Virgin Mary revealed to her on the life and mysteries of her Son. The value of St. Bridget's Revelations, sometimes the object of doubt, was specified by the Venerable John Paul II in the letter "Spes Aedificandi": "Yet there is no doubt that the Church," wrote my beloved predecessor, "which recognized Bridget's holiness without ever pronouncing on her individual revelations, has accepted the overall authenticity of her interior experience." (No. 5).
In fact, reading these Revelations we are faced with many important topics. For example, the description returns frequently, with very realistic details, of the Passion of Christ, to which Bridget always had a special devotion, contemplating in it the infinite love of God for men. On the mouth of the Lord who speaks to her, she puts these words: "O, my friends, I love my sheep so tenderly that, if it were possible, I would like to die many times again for each one of them, in the same way that I suffered for the redemption of all" (Revelations, Book I, c. 59). Also Mary's sorrowful maternity, which made her Mediator and Mother of Mercy, is an argument that is repeated often in the Revelations.
Receiving these charisms, Bridget was conscious of being the recipient of a gift of great predilection on the part of the Lord: "My daughter," we read in the first book of the Revelations, "I have chosen you for myself, love me with all your heart ... more than everything that exists in the world" (c. 1). Moreover, Bridget knew well, and was firmly convinced that every charism is destined to build the Church. Precisely for this reason, not a few of her revelations were directed, in the form of warnings, including severe ones, to the believers of her time, including the religious and political authorities, so that they would live their Christian life coherently; but she did this with an attitude of respect and complete fidelity to the magisterium of the Church, in particular to the Successor of the Apostle Peter.
In 1349, Bridget left Sweden for the last time and went on pilgrimage to Rome. Not only did she wish to participate in the Jubilee of 1350, but she also wished to obtain from the Pope the approval of the rule of a religious order that she wanted to found, dedicated to the Holy Savior, and made up of monks and nuns under the authority of an abbess. This is an element that should not surprise us: In the Middle Ages there were monasteries founded with masculine and feminine branches, but with the practice of the same monastic rule, which provided for the direction of an abbess. In fact, the great Christian tradition recognizes the dignity proper to women, as well as -- taking as an example Mary, Queen of the Apostles -- her own place in the Church that, without coinciding with the ordained priesthood, is also important for the spiritual growth of the Community. Moreover, the collaboration of consecrated men and women, always with respect toward their specific vocation, is of great importance in today's world.
In Rome, in the company of her daughter Karin, Bridget dedicated herself to a life of intense apostolate and prayer. And from Rome she went on pilgrimage to several Italian shrines, in particular to Assisi, homeland of St. Francis, to whom Bridget always had great devotion. Finally, in 1371, she crowned her greatest desire: her trip to the Holy Land, where she went in the company of her spiritual children, a group that Bridget called "the friends of God."
During those years, the Pontiffs were in Avignon, far from Rome: Bridget addressed them earnestly, urging them to return to the See of Peter in the Eternal City.
She died in 1373, before Pope Gregory XI returned definitively to Rome. She was buried provisionally in the Roman church of St. Lawrence in Panisperna, but in 1374 her children Birger and Karin, took her back to her homeland, to the monastery of Vadstena, headquarters of the religious order founded by St. Bridget, which immediately enjoyed a notable expansion. In 1391, Pope Boniface IX canonized her solemnly.
Bridget's sanctity, characterized by the multiplicity of gifts and experiences that I wished to recall in this brief biographic-spiritual profile, makes her an eminent figure in the history of Europe. Coming from Scandinavia, St. Bridget attests how Christianity had permeated profoundly the life of all the peoples of this continent. Declaring her co-patroness of Europe, Pope John Paul II hoped that St. Bridget -- who lived in the 14th century, when Western Christianity had not yet been wounded by division -- can intercede effectively before God, to obtain the much-awaited grace of the full unity of all Christians. We want to pray, dear brothers and sisters, for this same intention, which we consider so important, so that Europe will be able to be nourished from its own Christian roots, invoking the powerful intercession of St. Bridget of Sweden, faithful disciple of God, co-patroness of Europe.
Conflicts, wars, violence and terrorism have gone on for too long in the Middle East. Peace, which is a gift of God, is also the result of the efforts of men of goodwill, of the national and international institutions, in particular of the states most involved in the search for a solution to conflicts. We must never resign ourselves to the absence of peace. Peace is possible. Peace is urgent. Peace is the indispensable condition for a life of dignity for human beings and society. Peace is also the best remedy to avoid emigration from the Middle East. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” we are told in the Psalm (122:6). We pray for peace in the Holy Land. We pray for peace in the Middle East, undertaking to try to ensure that this gift of God to men of goodwill should spread through the whole world.
27 October 2010
Last Friday, an eleven-member panel of the Ninth Circuit Court dismissed a claim by Catholics in San Francisco that the City Board of Supervisors violated the Establishment Clause when they denounced Church teaching and urged the Archbishop of San Francisco to defy the Vatican [I thought First Ammendment protected against the government impeding in the free exerceise of religion]. A little background is warranted.
Early in 2006, Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a statement clarifying that Church agencies should not place children for adoption with same-sex couples [there's no real surprise here]. The statement had particular significance for Levada’s former Archdiocese of San Francisco, whose Catholic Charities agency had been placing children for adoption with same-sex couples.
In response to Cardinal Levada’s statement, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution denouncing the Vatican’s foreign meddling, demanding Levada retract his “hateful,” “insulting,” “discriminatory,” “callous” and ignorant directive, and urging current San Francisco Archbishop George Niederauer and Catholic Charities “to defy all discriminatory directives of Cardinal Levada.” [Why have they not passed a similar resolution against the Muslim faith?]Members of the Board of Supervisors also threatened to remove funding from Catholic Charities’ other programs unless they did defy the Vatican [might that not be coersion?] (The City was not funding the adoption program at Catholic Charities) [more].
Matthew Archbold had a story on the ad yesterday at the National Catholic Register. Local television station KSTP also covered the ad.
Yet one more reminder that anti-Catholicism is not dead and remains the last acceptable prejudice in this nation.
Curiously, the flip-side of these postcards targets Dan Hull, a Republican candidate who is not Catholic.
26 October 2010
The Susan G. Komen Foundation contributes large sums to Planned Parenthood, the leading dispenser of oral contraceptives and the leading provider of abortions. Many people are still - for reasons unknown to me - unaware of this; consequently, if you help fund the Komen Foundation you are also funding the causes of breast cancer. It makes little logical sense, I know.
What, then, is a person of good will to do who wants to help eradicate breast cancer? Phat Catholic offers a few good suggestions and alternative places to donate money.
24 October 2010
World Mission Sunday
On the Life of Father AugustineTolton
On this World Mission Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that, “Only on the basis of this encounter with the Love of God that changes life can we live in communion with him and with one another and offer our brothers and sisters a credible witness, accounting for the hope that is in us (cf. I Peter 3:15)” (Message for World Mission Sunday 2010).
This is, after all, what Christianity is about; “being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (Pope Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est, 1).
The question, then, naturally rises within us: Have I had such an encounter with Christ Jesus, the love of God made visible? How can I share this love with others if I have not yet experienced it myself? Do I truly long for the appearance of the Lord (cf. II Timothy 4:8)?
There are some among us today who have indeed encountered this love that has truly changed their lives and given them meaning and purpose. The crown of righteousness awaits them, for they have competed well (cf. II Timothy 4:8).
There are also some among us who have encountered this love, but who have refused to allow it to change their lives. These go about saying, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity” (Luke 18:11). They seek to justify themselves; they tell the Lord how good they are and see no reason for repentance, no reason for conversion, no reason for a deepening of love. Having exalted themselves, these will be humbled by the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Luke 18:14).
And there are others here who have not yet experienced the tremendous love of Jesus Christ personally for them. They have not yet realized that “the Lord is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves” (Psalm 34:19).
These last two groups desperately need the witness of the first group, of those whose lives have been changed by their encounter with Christ.
In a multiethnic society that is experiencing increasingly disturbing forms of loneliness and indifference, Christians must learn to offer signs of hope and to become universal brethren, cultivating the great ideals that transform history and, without false illusions or useless fears, must strive to make the planet a home for all peoples (Pope Benedict XVI, Message for World Mission Sunday 2010).
By the very witness of their lives – both their words and deeds – Christians must point to the love of Jesus Christ. We must always remember that
the people of our time too, even perhaps unbeknown to them, ask believers not only to ‘speak’ of Jesus, but to ‘make Jesus seen’, to make the face of the Redeemer shine out in every corner of the earth… They must perceive that Christians bring Christ’s word because he is the truth, because they have found in him the meaning and the truth for their own lives (Ibid.).
Not too far from here, a young man of the nineteenth century sought to be a missionary to the peoples of Africa; instead, he was sent back to these United States of America. Recently, his cause was formally introduced for canonization; his name is Father Augustine John Tolton.
His was a life seemingly marked by opposition wherever he turned, save for a few moments of calm. Even so, in Father Tolton we find a clear sign of hope and of universal brotherhood; indeed, we see in him one who poured himself out like a libation (cf. II Timothy 4:6).
This servant of God was born April 1, 1854 in Ralls County, Missouri to faithful Catholic parents, Peter Paul and Martha Jane Tolton. Peter Paul was a slave on the Hager farm and Martha Jane was a slave on the Elliot farm near Brush Creek, Missouri.
His father fled the farm to St. Louis, which at the time was a divided city, to join the Union Army. Just a short time later he died of dysentery; Martha Jane would not learn of his death until after the Civil War ended. His “life was sad, except that he and his wife passed a love of God and religion on to the next generation” (Roy R. Bauer, They Called Him Father Gus, Part Six). What greater gift can a parent leave behind?
In 1862, Martha Jane heard talk of slave traders in the area looking for children. Her own children all were young: Charley was eight; Augustus was seven; and Anne was twenty months. Having herself been separated from her parents when she was sixteen, she feared for her children and fled to Quincy, Illinois forty-one miles away.
When they finally arrived in Hannibal, Missouri, they encountered a group of Confederate soldiers who were about to take them into custody when they were saved by a group of Union soldiers; as Providence would have it, they were at that moment in a part of Hannibal under Union control.
The Union soldiers helped them into an old boat and sent them across the Mississippi River, while a Confederate soldier fired shots after them. When at last they reached the shore of Quincy, they found refuge with Mrs. Mary Ann Davis, who arranged for Martha, Charles and Augustine to work in the Harris tobacco factory.
In 1865, Augustine enrolled in St. Boniface school with the permission of the Pastor. His enrollment led many parents to threaten to remove their children from the school, to leave the parish, and even to call for the removal of their pastor.
Adults can sometimes understand ignorance, but a ten year old child cannot. Augustine’s school life was intolerable. The children tormented him, taunted him because he could not read, mimicked his accent, called him insulting names until he broke out in uncontrollable sobs (Ibid.).
Hearing of his troubles, Father Peter McGirr, Pastor of St. Lawrence Parish (it would come to be St. Peter Parish) insisted that Augustine study in a Catholic school. He would personally see that young Gus would have no trouble in his school. Years later, Augustine recalled, “As long as I was in that school, I was safe. Everyone was kind to me” (In Ibid., Part Eight).
Gus served Mass each morning before going to work and became close with two priests who both thought he might have a priestly vocation. They wrote letter after letter to seminaries and religious Orders throughout the country seeking one that would accept him; time and time again, they were told, “We are not ready for a Negro student.”
So great was his desire to serve the Lord and to bring to the Gospel to others, that in 1878 Augustine, with the help of a priest and a nun, opened St. Joseph School of Black Children in Quincy, the first of its kind in the city. Even here he was met with opposition, when non-Catholic blacks publicly refused to send their children to his school.
One day a long-awaited letter arrived for him: he had been accepted to the seminary for the Propagation of the Faith in Rome. Those who were ordained from this seminary knew they would be sent to mission territories throughout the world; they would have no choice as to where they would be sent. Nevertheless, he was filled with great joy that day. He arrived in the Eternal City on March 10, 1880, where he was nicknamed, “Gus from the U.S.”
He was ordained a deacon on November 8, 1885; he later said of his diaconal ordination: “The day I was ordained deacon, I felt so strong that I thought no hardship would ever be too great for me to accept. I was ready for anything; in fact, I was very sure I could move mountains – in Africa” (In Ibid., Part Fifteen).
When he learned of the date of his ordination – April 24, 1886 (Holy Saturday) in the Lateran Basilica - he wrote to a priest in Quincy, saying, “My seminary studies are about over now, and I will go on to Africa right my ordination in April” (In Ibid., Part Sixteen). Or so he thought.
The day before he was ordained a priest, Cardinal Giovanni Simeoni told Deacon Tolton that it was decided the night before that he would be sent Africa, as was the plan all along; however, Cardinal Simeoni had over-ruled the committee. He said to him, “America has been called the most enlightened nation in the world. We shall see whether it deserves that honor. If the United States has never before seen a Black priest, it must see one now” (In Ibid., Part Seventeen). But there was yet more: he was to be sent back to his home Diocese and to the city of Quincy.
It was shocking news to the ordinand, but he had already promised his obedience. The difficulties of his childhood and early adulthood in the United States must surely have come to him, but he trusted in the Lord, knowing with Saint Paul, that “the Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom” (II Timothy 4:18).
He arrived in Quincy in July of 1886 and was appointed Pastor of St. Joseph’s Parish, which had been established as a parish for Blacks. He received an enthusiastic welcome in the Gem City and was admired by all. They found in him a “rich and full voice which falls pleasantly on the ears” and saw the “whole-hearted earnestness” with which he went about his ministry (The Quincy Journal, July 26, 1886 in Ibid., Part Twenty-two).
His ministry met with some success, but affairs turned for the worse when a new Pastor, Father Michael Weiss, was appointed Pastor of St. Boniface Parish, just one block from St. Joseph’s. St. Boniface Parish was in debt and have given much to the St. Joseph’s Parish. Many of Father Weiss’ parishioners attended Father Tolton’s Masses and contributed to his parish. Father Weiss, the local Dean, insisted Father Tolton no longer minister to whites and repeatedly made it clear that contributions from whites belonged to white parishes. This was the first time Father Tolton experienced prejudice from a priest, and it devastated him.
When he could take no more, Father Tolton wrote to the Congregation for the Propagation of the faith on July 12, 1889 with these words:
There is a certain German priest here who is jealous and contemptuous. He abuses me in many ways and he has told the bishop to send me out of this place. I will gladly leave here just to be away from this priest. I appealed to Bishop [James] Ryan and he also advises me to elsewhere (in Ibid., Part Twenty-Four).
He left for Chicago on December 19, 1889, with nineteen of his converts and took up the pastorate of St. Monica’s chapel, where he was entrusted with the pastoral care of all of Chicago’s black Catholics. After he left Quincy, St. Joseph Parish closed for good.
From the beginning, his “ardent charity and self-denying zeal” were evident to all. Within two years he began construction on a new church – that was never completed – and ministered to some six hundred black Catholics (Mary Elmore, in Ibid., Part Twenty-seven).
Having spent himself in the service of the Church, he died of heat stroke on July 9, 1897; he was forty-three years of age. St. Monica’s became a mission and it took another two years for a full-time pastor to be assigned to it. St. Monica’s closed for good in 1924.
His is a life of deep faith and of perseverance. In the midst of his troubles with Father Weiss, Father Tolton began speaking across the country to raise money for his parish. In one of his speeches, he spoke these words:
I was a poor slave boy but the priests of the Church did not disdain me. It was through the influence of one of them that I became what I am tonight… It was the priests of the Church who taught me to pray and to forgive my persecutors. It was through the direction of a Sister … that I learned to interpret the Ten Commandments; and then I also beheld for the first time the glimmering light of truth and the majesty of the Church. In this Church we do not have to fight for our rights because we are Black. She had colored saints – Augustine, Benedict the Moor, Monica. The Church is broad and liberal. She is the Church for our people (in Ibid., Part Twenty-three).
In this he is a model for each of us; never did he cease his proclamation of the Gospel. “Some people could easily judge that his life was not a success, but God calls His servants to be faithful, not successful” (Ibid., Part Twenty-nine)! The fidelity of Father Tolton cannot be doubted, and for this reason he is a model for us all.
He allowed the love of the Lord to motivate his life and to this love he dedicated himself. His fidelity to the Church is a clear proclamation of the Gospel, and an invitation for all people to enter in and know the love of the Lord. May our lives also be such an invitation. Amen.
If he knew one of his parishioners was not at Mass, he would often soon be found at their door with a word or two. Of these encounters, he said:
I must in almost every house change my methods. At one time I speak words of sweetness and consolation; at another I must add some bitterness because there is a sinner who refuses to open his eyes; and even as the thunder sometimes rolls with vehemence, so I now and again threaten a hardened soul with terrible chastisements, and this has often had good effect.
He somehow knew what to say and how to say it. That is a skill I hope to develop, with the assistance of his prayers.
Certainly it is true that a priest cannot always be harsh, but neither should he always be soft. Some things are simply too important and necessary to keep quite about.I once heard sound advice given from one priest to another - it may have been Saint John Vianney who said it; I cannot recall at the moment: a priest should be as fierce as a lion in the pulpit and as gentle as a lamb in the confessional.
Even so, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I don't want to push anyone away from the Church because of the manner in which I say something, but neither do I want to keep someone away from the Church for not being courageous enough to speak boldly.
23 October 2010
If they do, hell will soon be filled up, but being charitable people we will move out to make room for the likes of you when you arrive there.
22 October 2010
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I would like to speak to you about one of the women of the Middle Ages who inspired great admiration: St. Elizabeth of Hungary, also called Elizabeth of Thuringia. She was born in 1207 in Hungary; historians disagree on the place. Her father was Andrew II, rich and powerful king of Hungary who, to reinforce his political ties, married German countess Gertrude of Andechs-Merania, sister of St. Hedwig who was the wife of the duke of Silesia. Elizabeth lived in the Hungarian court only the first four years of her childhood, together with a sister and three brothers. She liked playing, music and dancing; she recited her prayers faithfully and showed particular care for the poor, whom she helped with a good word or affectionate gesture.
Her happy childhood was brusquely interrupted when, from far away Thuringia, knights arrived to take her to her new headquarters in central Germany. According to the customs of that time, in fact, her father had decided that Elizabeth should become a princess of Thuringia. The landgrave or count of that region was one of the wealthiest and most influential of Europe at the beginning of the 13th century, and his castle was the center of magnificence and culture. However, behind the celebrations and apparent glory were hidden ambitions of feudal princes, often at war among themselves and in conflict with the royal and imperial authorities. In this context, the landgrave Hermann was pleased to accept the engagement between his son, Ludwig, and the Hungarian princess. Elizabeth left her homeland with a rich dowry and a large entourage, including her personal maidservants, two of whom would remain faithful friends to the end. They are the ones who have left us precious information on the childhood and life of the saint.
After a long journey they arrived in Eisenach, then on up to the fortress of Wartburg, the massive castle overlooking the city. Celebrated here was the engagement between Ludwig and Elizabeth. In subsequent years, while Ludwig learned the profession of a knight, Elizabeth and her companions studied German, French, Latin, music, literature and embroidery. Despite the fact that the engagement took place for political reasons, a sincere love was born between the two young people, animated by faith and the desire to do the will of God.
At 18, after the death of his father, Ludwig began to reign over Thuringia. But Elizabeth became the object of silent criticisms because her way of behaving did not correspond to the life of the court. In the same sense, the celebration of their marriage was not lavish, and the expenses of the banquet were given in part to the poor. In her profound sensibility Elizabeth saw the contradictions between the faith professed and Christian practice. She could not bear compromises. Once, entering the church on the feast of the Assumption, she took off her crown, placed it before the cross and remained prostrate on the ground with her face covered. When a nun reproved her for this gesture, she replied: "How can I, miserable creature, continue to wear a crown of earthly dignity, when I see my King Jesus Christ crowned with thorns?" As she behaved before God, so she behaved with her subjects. Among the "Sayings" of the four maidservants we find this testimony: "She would not eat food if she was not first certain that it came from the properties and legitimate goods of her husband. While she abstained from goods procured illicitly, she was concerned to compensate those that had suffered violence" (Nos. 25 and 37). [She gave] a true example for all those entrusted with charges: The exercise of authority, at all levels, must be lived as a service to justice and charity, in constant pursuit of the common good.
Elizabeth practiced assiduously the works of mercy: she gave to drink and eat those who came to her door, she got clothes, paid debts, looked after the sick and buried the dead. Coming down from her castle, she often went with her maidservants to the homes of the poor, taking bread, meat, flour and other foods. She would hand the food out personally and carefully oversaw clothes and shelter for the poor. This behavior was reported to her husband, who not only was not annoyed, but answered her accusers: "So long as they don't come to the castle, I'm happy!" Placed in this context is the miracle of bread transformed into roses: While Elizabeth was going through the street with her apron full of bread for the poor, she met her husband, who asked her what she was carrying. She opened her apron and, instead of bread, magnificent roses appeared. This symbol of charity is often present in depictions of St. Elizabeth.
From St. Anthony of Padua church, Effingham, Illinois
Hers was a profoundly happy marriage: Elizabeth helped her husband to raise his human qualities to the supernatural level and he, on the other hand, protected his wife in her generosity to the poor and in her religious practices. Ever more in admiration of his wife's great faith, Ludwig, referring to her care of the poor, said to her: "Dear Elizabeth, it is Christ whom you have washed, fed and looked after." A clear testimony of how faith and love of God and one's neighbor reinforce marital union and make it even more profound.
The young couple found spiritual support in the Friars Minor who, from 1222 spread in Thuringia. From among them, Elizabeth chose Friar Rudiger as her spiritual director. When he narrated to her the circumstances of the conversion of the young and rich merchant Francis of Assisi, Elizabeth was even more enthusiastic on her path of Christian life. From that moment, she decided to follow even more the poor and crucified Christ, present in the poor. Also when her first son was born, followed by two others, our saint never neglected her works of charity. Moreover, she helped the Friars Minor to build a monastery in Halberstadt, of which Friar Rudiger became the superior. Elizabeth's spiritual direction thus passed to Konrad of Marburg.
A harsh test was her farewell to her husband, at the end of June of 1227, when Ludwig IV joined the crusade of Emperor Frederick II, reminding his wife that this was a tradition for the sovereigns of Thuringia. Elizabeth replied: "I will not dissuade you. I gave myself wholly to God and now I must also give you." However, fever decimated the troops and Ludwig himself fell ill and died in Otranto before embarking, in September of 1227, at 27 years of age. Elizabeth, on hearing the news, had such sorrow that she withdrew in solitude, but later, strengthened by prayer and, consoled by the thought of seeing him again in heaven, she again became interested in the affairs of the kingdom.
However, another test awaited her: her brother-in-law usurped the government of Thuringia, declaring himself the true heir of Ludwig and accusing Elizabeth of being a pious woman incompetent to govern. The young widow, with her three sons, was expelled from the castle of Wartburg and began to look for a place of refuge. Only two of her maidservants stayed with her, accompanied her and entrusted her three sons to the care of friends of Ludwig. Traveling through villages, Elizabeth worked wherever she was received: She helped the sick, spinned and sewed. During this calvary, endured with great faith, patience and dedication to God, some relatives, who had remained faithful to her and considered her brother-in-law's government illegitimate, rehabilitated her name. Thus Elizabeth, at the beginning of 1228, was able to receive an adequate income to withdraw to the family castle in Marburg, where her spiritual director, Friar Konrad, also lived. It was he who referred to Pope Gregory IX the following event: "On Good Friday of 1228, with her hands on the altar in the chapel of the city of Eisenach, where she had received the Friars Minor, in the presence of some friars and relatives, Elizabeth gave up her own will and all the vanities of the world. She wanted to give up all her possessions, but I dissuaded her for love of the poor. Shortly after she built a hospital, took in the sick and the invalid and served the most miserable and abandoned at her own table. Having reproached her for these things, Elizabeth answered that from the poor she received a special grace and humility" (Epistula magistri Conradi, 14-17).
We can see in this affirmation a certain mystical experience similar to that lived by St. Francis: the Poverello of Assisi said, in fact, in his testament that, by serving the lepers, what was previously bitter became a sweetness of the soul and body (Testamentum, 1-3). Elizabeth spent her last three years in the hospital she founded, serving the sick, staying by the bedside of the dying. She always tried to carry out the most humble services and repugnant jobs. She became what we could call a consecrated woman in the midst of the world (soror in saeculo) and formed a religious community with other friends of hers, using a gray habit. It is no accident that she is patroness of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis and of the Secular Franciscan Order.
In November of 1231 she was affected by severe fever. When news of her illness spread, many people came to see her. Some 10 days later, she requested that her doors be closed to remain alone with God. She gently fell asleep in the Lord on the night of Nov. 17. Testimonies of her holiness were such and so many that, only four years later, Pope Gregory IX proclaimed her a saint and, in the same year, the beautiful church built in her honor in Marburg was consecrated.
Dear brothers and sisters, in the figure of St. Elizabeth we see how faith and friendship with Christ create the sense of justice, of the equality of everyone, of the rights of others, and they create love, charity. And from this charity hope is born, the certainty that we are loved by Christ and that the love of Christ awaits us and thus makes us capable of imitating Christ and of seeing Christ in others. St. Elizabeth invites us to rediscover Christ, to love him, to have faith and thus find true justice and love, as well as the joy that one day we will be immersed in divine love, in the joy of eternity with God. Thank you.
Bulldogs coach Scott Demers summarized the game thus, with my emphases and comments:
In 2006, St. Anthony faced Rochester in Sectional finals and the game went to penalty kicks. St. Anthony lost in 2006 and although the SAHS Bulldogs have played their share of overtime periods and won the Regional Title against Harrisburg in penalty kicks, they were hoping to win in regulation this time around.Congratulations, Bulldogs, on a season very well played! Keep up the good work next season!
In every competition, there is a winner, and there is a loser. Today, St. Anthony closed a great season that brought them to the 'Sweet Sixteen' for just the second time in program history and one of the best season records of 11-5-5.
St. Anthony did their best. They kept a good team out of the goal, but Rochester was able to beat St. Anthony on set plays, 2 goals, both corner kicks.
The first half began with Rochester hitting the ball into the corner of the spacious Metro-East Lutheran High School field (80 x 120 yards). St. Anthony defenders worked the ball forward but lost the ball on an intercepted pass and that began Rochester's offensive push. From the beginning of the game and through half-time, Rochester was able to control the ball and the game. But, not until the 20th minute, were they able to find a crack in St. Anthony's 'Iron Curtain' defense and put one in the goal. Rochester was awarded a corner kick when a St. Anthony defender cleared the ball across the goal line.
Rochester played the ball just outside the goal box area (a 6 x 20 yard box in front of the goal). St. Anthony defenders moved to play the ball out but a Rochester forward moved to the ball, struck it, and it hit SAHS keeper, Scott Deters in the face. The ball ricocheted and Rocket midfielder, Lucas Brubaker, hit the rebound into the back of the net. Tested by many tough matches, the SAHS Bulldogs were not ready to give up. Just six minutes later, in the 26th minute, Aaron Wall took a pass from Ryan Willenborg, who played in various positions throughout the match. A-Wall rocketed the ball past an out of position Rochester goal-keeper to equalize the game 1 - 1.
The St. Anthony Bulldogs made adjustments and seemed to gain momentum against a tough Rochester midfield and defense. "Rochester midfielders were able to keep us out of their half until we switched a couple of our guys in the middle and changed our strategy." Despite the changes and more scoring opportunities, the Bulldogs were shutout the second half and the Rochester Rockets scored again in the 23rd minute on yet another corner kick. The rest of the game saw St. Anthony moving the ball very well but when they got near scoring range, the Rochester defense closed in and cleared the ball.
"We never gave up. We played as hard as we could until the final whistle blew." [That's very true; I was quite pleased to watch the boys play to the end.]
St. Anthony was the 'underdog' and were playing against a more experienced, more physical squad, bias officiating [it always baffles me when I see officials not making even calls, especially at such a high level game; last night it was quite apparent], and the ever present winding down clock. But despite all that was against them, the SAHS Bulldogs never gave up and in the last 10 minutes saw at least 4 scoring opportunities that were within inches away from the back of the net.
"When you have competitors like Nate Gray, Doug Field, Aaron Wall, and Scott Deters, you have a chance to win any game."
SAHS Coaches would like to recognize the 2010 Regional Champions, the St. Anthony Bulldogs, all 34 of them. Thank you for a great season and a great run towards State Tournament.
The St. Anthony Soccer Team expect to have 26 returning players next year with some additions yet to be realized [about 1/4 of the boys in the school].
"With the core of players we have that are returning, we will be fighting to bring home the Regional and Sectional Titles to the SAHS Trophy Case next year."
20 October 2010
St. Anthony Coach Scott Demers sent out the following summary of the well-fought match (with my emphases and comments:
I'm not quite sure how to report the final score for the match. To simply put it, WE WON!!
We finished our regular season with one of the best records ever (8-4-5) For post season, we were seeded #3 and we faced #6 Altamont and won 1 - 0. We then faced the #2 seed, Mt. Carmel and won in double overtime (1-0). Tonight, we faced the #1 seed, Harrisburg, and yes, we won.
What a game. After 2 hours of play, over 45 shots (Harrisburg) against our 21 shots, 27 saves (Scott Deters) to their 8 saves, it all came down to penalty kicks [talk about pressure and unbelievable excitement and anticipation]and one kicker making his shot and one goal keeper making a great stop. A kicker 12 yards away from the goal against a goal-keeper. Harrisburg had their keeper, but we have Scott Deters [Scott's had an amazing season, and is a first-time keeper]. St. Anthony players that stepped up under intense pressure were Doug Field, Hayden Esker, Aaron Walters, Michael Kabbes, Alissandro Di Girolamo, Rory Woods, and Aaron Wall. They all made their shot. As in every win, it took the whole team to pull out a win. In this case, a dramatic upset.
Regulation (2-40 minute halves): Harrisburg (0) - St. Anthony (0)
Over time Periods 1, 2, 3, 4 (each 10 minutes) Golden Goal or Suden Death: Harrisburg (0) - St. Anthony (0)
Penalty Kicks: Round 1 (5 kicks each team) Harrisburg (5) - St. Anthony (5)
Penalty Kicks: Golden Goal (1st team that misses loses) Harrisburg (1) - St. Anthony (2)
St. Anthony wins by Penalty Kicks - Harrisburg (6) - St. Anthony (7)
St. Anthony is now 11 - 4 - 5
Sectional Semi-finals are Thursday 5:00 PM at Edwardsville Metro-East Lutheran
St. Anthony will face their toughest competition of the season against Rochester (seeded #1)
The first half began with both teams finding their way to getting shots on goal. But after 25 minutes of both teams testing each others defense, Harrisburg began to control more of the pace and conrtol the ball more effectively. Rahul Patel, Harrisburg central defender, was able to keep St. Anthony forwards out of scoring opportunities with great speed and positioning. But similarly, Nate Gray and St. Anthony goal-keeper, Scott Deters, were able to stop every Harrisburg attempt on goal. The first half ended with the score tied.
The second half also ended in a tie and was similar to the first half with the exception that Harrisburg took command of play and dominated possession of the ball and effectively putting the ball on goal. But, as in many games, St. Anthony's stellar goal-keeping and solid defense kept Harrisburg from getting uncontested opportunities to score.
There was a coin toss and both teams set up for 'Golden Goal' over time. Basically, the first team that scores, wins. Each Golden Goal period is 10 minutes long with teams switching sides of the field at the end of each period. At the end of four 'Golden Goal' periods, the score was still deadlocked at 0 - 0.
The next step to determine a winner is penalty kicks. Each team chooses 5 players that alternately take shots against the opposing team's goal keeper from 12 yards away. The first round ended with the score tied agains, 5 - 5. That leads to "Golden Goal' Penalty Kicks. The winner is decided when one team makes the goal and the opposing team misses. In the final round that was played, St. Anthony shot first and Harrisburg shot second.
During this stage of play, the players have played non-stop for 2 hours and now must face the opposition's goal-keeper in tight quarters. With pressure mounting, St. Anthony's Rory Woods, a junior, stepped up and found the net on his kick. Harrisburg's kicker likewise found the net on his shot. The score was tied 6 - 6 in penalty kicks. That's St. Anthony's leading scorer stepped up and blasted a shot past Harrisburg's keeper and that put great pressure on Harrisburg's next kicker. Before the referee set the play, Harrisburg shot and the missed wide. St. Anthony players rushed the field thinking they had won the match. But because the play had not been started by the referee, a 're-kick' was awarded. The Harrisburg player shot and Scott Deters, St. Anthony's Goal Keeper, guessed right and found the ball. He stopped the shot. St. Anthony won, 7 - 6 in Penalty Kicks.
With all of the drama, with all of the excitement, it all came down to nerves and composure. As in the 120 minutes of play, Scott Deters came up big, real big. If there was a most valuable player award, Scott Deters would get it. With 27 saves during regulation and overtime play, he made the difference and completed his 9th regulation shut-out.
"Harrisburg was a good team and they play a physical style of soccer that we haven't faced and the boys held up.
Our team's true character showed when we were able to shut them (Harrisburg) out and pull off a dramatic win.
St. Anthony coaches would like to recognize the great play of Michael Nosbisch, Ryan Willenborg, Nate Gray, and keeper, Scott Deters. We also should recognize those that stepped up and finished with a bang. Parents, let your sons know how great they are, they shoed it tonight.
Thank you all for your support. Our next big challenge is Thursday against Rochester. We play at 5:00 PM at Metro-East Lutheran in Edwardsville. See you there.
I have just only one question: why didn't I know about it when I placed an order last week for The Spirit of Father Damien?
Those to be elevated to the dignity of the scarlet, via the New Liturgical Movement, are:
1.Archbishop Angelo Amato SDB, 72, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints
2.Archbishop Mauro Piacenza, 66, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy
3.Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, 68, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture
4.Archbishop Fortunato Baldelli, 75, major penitentiary of the Roman church
5.Archbishop Velasio De Paolis CS, 75, prefect for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See
6.Archbishop Raymond Burke, 62, prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura
7.Archbishop Kurt Koch, 60, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
8.Archbishop Robert Sarah, 65, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum
9.Archbishop Paolo Sardi, 76, pro-Patron of the Order of Malta
10.Archbishop Francesco Monterisi, 76, archpriest of the Basilica of St Paul's Outside the Walls
11.Archbishop Paolo Romeo of Palermo, 72
12.Archbishop Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, 57
13.Archbishop Kazimierz Nycz of Warsaw, 60
14.Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, 69
15.Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa, 71
16.Archbishop-emeritus Medardo Joseph Mazombwe of Lusaka, 79
17.Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo, 62
18.Archbishop Raymundo Damasceno Assis of Aparecida, 73
19.Archbishop-emeritus Raul Eduardo Vela Chiriboga of Quito, 76
20.Antonio Naguib, 75, Patriarch of Alexandria of the Copts
Non-elector Cardinals over 80 years of age:
21.Archbishop José Manuel Estepa Llaurens, 84, Archbishop-emeritus of the Spanish Armed Forces
22.Monsignor Elio Sgreccia, 82, president-emeritus of the Pontifical Academy for Life
23.Monsignor Domenico Bartolucci, 93, the director-emeritus of the Sistine Chapel
24.Monsignor Walter Brandmüller, 81, president-emeritus of the Pontifical Commission for Historical Sciences
19 October 2010
In the com box of my post on the new canopy over the Holy Father for Masses in Saint Peter's Square, Frival offered an awesome suggestion with which Vincenzo, with his photoshopping skills, might have a field day.
If you know Vincenzo, would you mind passing the link on to him? Thanks!
The man holding it knows what he is doing; both he and the Pontiff are shaded.
Photo source: AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito
Having celebrated an outdoor Mass at a cemetery under the blinding and blazing sun, I fully appreciate and understand the desire to sit and stand beneath a canopy, particularly when wearing several layers of vestments.
That sad, I'm not sure I find the new canopy visualing appealing. I think I should like to see the backdrop extend several higher; the canopy would then have to extend out a bit more, but it also wouldn't be so close to the Pontiff's head.
What do you think?
Photo source: AFP/Christophe Simon
Since then I have not been home much. Last weekend I was in Quincy Saturday through Monday on a TEC retreat. This past week I have been in and out quite and a bit and Friday through Sunday, in addition to my usual duties, I was on a Koinonia retreat in my parishes. Tonight is really the first night I've been free since Claire moved into her new home.
It is very strange not having her around.
Reports are good. She is adjusting well to her new family and surroundings, and the kids are adjusting to her. And every now and again she will lay outside where I parked my car when I took her then. She enjoys her new family, but apparently misses me. And I miss her. Tomorrow I will visit her before bouncing around the state on a psuedo-vacation.
When in December 1944 I was drafted for military service, the company commander asked each of us what we planned to do in the future. I answered that I wanted to become a Catholic priest. The lieutenant replied: “Then you ought to look for something else. In the new Germany priests are no longer needed”. I knew that this “new Germany” was already coming to an end, and that, after the enormous devastation which that madness had brought upon the country, priests would be needed more than ever. Today the situation is completely changed. In different ways, though, many people nowadays also think that the Catholic priesthood is not a “job” for the future, but one that belongs more to the past [Part of the basic problem is that too many people view the priesthood as a simple 'job.' It is not a job, but a way life. It is a calling to give oneself completely to the will of God and the salvation of souls]. You, dear friends, have decided to enter the seminary and to prepare for priestly ministry in the Catholic Church in spite of such opinions and objections. You have done a good thing. Because people will always have need of God, even in an age marked by technical mastery of the world and globalization: they will always need the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, the God who gathers us together in the universal Church in order to learn with him and through him life’s true meaning and in order to uphold and apply the standards of true humanity. Where people no longer perceive God, life grows empty; nothing is ever enough [This emptiness, I contend, is really at the heart of so much depression and despair in society today]. People then seek escape in euphoria and violence; these are the very things that increasingly threaten young people. God is alive. He has created every one of us and he knows us all. He is so great that he has time for the little things in our lives: “Every hair of your head is numbered”. God is alive, and he needs people to serve him and bring him to others. It does makes sense to become a priest: the world needs priests, pastors, today, tomorrow and always, until the end of time [Of course it makes sense to be a priest; that is why I like to ask young men, "Why shouldn't you be a priest?"].
The seminary is a community journeying towards priestly ministry. I have said something very important here: one does not become a priest on one’s own. The “community of disciples” is essential, the fellowship of those who desire to serve the greater Church. In this letter I would like to point out – thinking back to my own time in the seminary – several elements which I consider important for these years of your journeying.
1. Anyone who wishes to become a priest must be first and foremost a “man of God”, to use the expression of Saint Paul (1 Tim 6:11). For us God is not some abstract hypothesis; he is not some stranger who left the scene after the “big bang”. God has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. In the face of Jesus Christ we see the face of God. In his words we hear God himself speaking to us. It follows that the most important thing in our path towards priesthood and during the whole of our priestly lives is our personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ. The priest is not the leader of a sort of association whose membership he tries to maintain and expand. He is God’s messenger to his people [Again, priesthood is not a job]. He wants to lead them to God and in this way to foster authentic communion between all men and women. That is why it is so important, dear friends, that you learn to live in constant intimacy with God. When the Lord tells us to “pray constantly”, he is obviously not asking us to recite endless prayers, but urging us never to lose our inner closeness to God. Praying means growing in this intimacy. So it is important that our day should begin and end with prayer; that we listen to God as the Scriptures are read; that we share with him our desires and our hopes, our joys and our troubles, our failures and our thanks for all his blessings, and thus keep him ever before us as the point of reference for our lives [This is good advice not only for seminarians and priests, but for everyone]. In this way we grow aware of our failings and learn to improve, but we also come to appreciate all the beauty and goodness which we daily take for granted and so we grow in gratitude. With gratitude comes joy for the fact that God is close to us and that we can serve him.
2. For us God is not simply Word. In the sacraments he gives himself to us in person, through physical realities. At the heart of our relationship with God and our way of life is the Eucharist. Celebrating it devoutly, and thus encountering Christ personally, should be the centre of all our days. In Saint Cyprian’s interpretation of the Gospel prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread”, he says among other things that “our” bread – the bread which we receive as Christians in the Church – is the Eucharistic Lord himself. In this petition of the Our Father, then, we pray that he may daily give us “our” bread; and that it may always nourish our lives; that the Risen Christ, who gives himself to us in the Eucharist, may truly shape the whole of our lives by the radiance of his divine love. The proper celebration of the Eucharist involves knowing, understanding and loving the Church’s liturgy in its concrete form. In the liturgy we pray with the faithful of every age – the past, the present and the future are joined in one great chorus of prayer. As I can state from personal experience, it is inspiring to learn how it all developed, what a great experience of faith is reflected in the structure of the Mass, and how it has been shaped by the prayer of many generations.
3. The sacrament of Penance is also important. It teaches me to see myself as God sees me, and it forces me to be honest with myself. It leads me to humility. The Curé of Ars once said: “You think it makes no sense to be absolved today, because you know that tomorrow you will commit the same sins over again. Yet,” he continues, “God instantly forgets tomorrow’s sins in order to give you his grace today.” [A good answer to a very common question and concern.] Even when we have to struggle continually with the same failings, it is important to resist the coarsening of our souls and the indifference which would simply accept that this is the way we are. It is important to keep pressing forward, without scrupulosity, in the grateful awareness that God forgives us ever anew – yet also without the indifference that might lead us to abandon altogether the struggle for holiness and self-improvement. Moreover, by letting myself be forgiven, I learn to forgive others. In recognizing my own weakness, I grow more tolerant and understanding of the failings of my neighbour.
4. I urge you to retain an appreciation for popular piety, which is different in every culture yet always remains very similar, for the human heart is ultimately one and the same. Certainly, popular piety tends towards the irrational [you have to admit, crossing candles - which at one point may have been lit - at a person's neck, leaving treats in shoes doesn't make a great deal of sense, but it means a great deal to people and encourages their faith, and mine, as well], and can at times be somewhat superficial. Yet it would be quite wrong to dismiss it. Through that piety, the faith has entered human hearts and become part of the common patrimony of sentiments and customs, shaping the life and emotions of the community. Popular piety is thus one of the Church’s great treasures. The faith has taken on flesh and blood. Certainly popular piety always needs to be purified and refocused, yet it is worthy of our love and it truly makes us into the “People of God”.
5. Above all, your time in the seminary is also a time of study. The Christian faith has an essentially rational and intellectual dimension [This - together with Christian unity - may be the hallmark of his papacy]. Were it to lack that dimension, it would not be itself. Paul speaks of a “standard of teaching” to which we were entrusted in Baptism (Rom 6:17). All of you know the words of Saint Peter which the medieval theologians saw as the justification for a rational and scientific theology: “Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an ‘accounting’ (logos) for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3:15). Learning how to make such a defence is one of the primary responsibilities of your years in the seminary. I can only plead with you: Be committed to your studies! Take advantage of your years of study! You will not regret it [He's right. I studied well int he seminary, but not as well as I could have; now I regret not devoting myself more fully to my studies. I mentioned that to the rector at my "exit interview"; he laughed at me because he knew from my grades and my work with which he was familiar that I did well. He caught me off guard. So now I do what I can to keep studying]. Certainly, the subjects which you are studying can often seem far removed from the practice of the Christian life and the pastoral ministry. Yet it is completely mistaken to start questioning their practical value by asking: Will this be helpful to me in the future? Will it be practically or pastorally useful? The point is not simply to learn evidently useful things, but to understand and appreciate the internal structure of the faith as a whole, so that it can become a response to people’s questions, which on the surface change from one generation to another yet ultimately remain the same. For this reason it is important to move beyond the changing questions of the moment in order to grasp the real questions, and so to understand how the answers are real answers. It is important to have a thorough knowledge of sacred Scripture as a whole, in its unity as the Old and the New Testaments: the shaping of texts, their literary characteristics, the process by which they came to form the canon of sacred books, their dynamic inner unity, a unity which may not be immediately apparent but which in fact gives the individual texts their full meaning. It is important to be familiar with the Fathers and the great Councils in which the Church appropriated, through faith-filled reflection, the essential statements of Scripture. I could easily go on. What we call dogmatic theology is the understanding of the individual contents of the faith in their unity, indeed, in their ultimate simplicity: each single element is, in the end, only an unfolding of our faith in the one God who has revealed himself to us and continues to do so. I do not need to point out the importance of knowing the essential issues of moral theology and Catholic social teaching. The importance nowadays of ecumenical theology, and of a knowledge of the different Christian communities, is obvious; as is the need for a basic introduction to the great religions, to say nothing of philosophy: the understanding of that human process of questioning and searching to which faith seeks to respond. But you should also learn to understand and – dare I say it – to love canon law, appreciating how necessary it is and valuing its practical applications: a society without law would be a society without rights. Law is the condition of love [I like to remind priests that canon law is our friend; it is in the Code that we find we are allowed four weeks of vacation each year, including two Sundays; this is in addition to a week of retreat]. I will not go on with this list, but I simply say once more: love the study of theology and carry it out in the clear realization that theology is anchored in the living community of the Church, which, with her authority, is not the antithesis of theological science but its presupposition. Cut off from the believing Church, theology would cease to be itself and instead it would become a medley of different disciplines lacking inner unity.
6. Your years in the seminary should also be a time of growth towards human maturity. It is important for the priest, who is called to accompany others through the journey of life up to the threshold of death, to have the right balance of heart and mind, reason and feeling, body and soul, and to be humanly integrated. To the theological virtues the Christian tradition has always joined the cardinal virtues derived from human experience and philosophy, and, more generally, from the sound ethical tradition of humanity. Paul makes this point this very clearly to the Philippians: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (4:8). This also involves the integration of sexuality into the whole personality. Sexuality is a gift of the Creator yet it is also a task which relates to a person’s growth towards human maturity. When it is not integrated within the person, sexuality becomes banal and destructive. Today we can see many examples of this in our society. Recently we have seen with great dismay that some priests disfigured their ministry by sexually abusing children and young people. Instead of guiding people to greater human maturity and setting them an example, their abusive behaviour caused great damage for which we feel profound shame and regret. As a result of all this, many people, perhaps even some of you, might ask whether it is good to become a priest; whether the choice of celibacy makes any sense as a truly human way of life. Yet even the most reprehensible abuse cannot discredit the priestly mission, which remains great and pure. Thank God, all of us know exemplary priests, men shaped by their faith, who bear witness that one can attain to an authentic, pure and mature humanity in this state and specifically in the life of celibacy. Admittedly, what has happened should make us all the more watchful and attentive, precisely in order to examine ourselves earnestly, before God, as we make our way towards priesthood, so as to understand whether this is his will for me. It is the responsibility of your confessor and your superiors to accompany you and help you along this path of discernment. It is an essential part of your journey to practise the fundamental human virtues, with your gaze fixed on the God who has revealed himself in Christ, and to let yourselves be purified by him ever anew.
7. The origins of a priestly vocation are nowadays more varied and disparate than in the past [It can be a strange experience listening to vocation stories of men in the seminary; the Lord calls them in so many varied ways. It's often rather mind-boggling]. Today the decision to become a priest often takes shape after one has already entered upon a secular profession. Often it grows within the Communities, particularly within the Movements, which favour a communal encounter with Christ and his Church, spiritual experiences and joy in the service of the faith. It also matures in very personal encounters with the nobility and the wretchedness of human existence. As a result, candidates for the priesthood often live on very different spiritual continents. It can be difficult to recognize the common elements of one’s future mandate and its spiritual path. For this very reason, the seminary is important as a community which advances above and beyond differences of spirituality. The Movements are a magnificent thing. You know how much I esteem them and love them as a gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. Yet they must be evaluated by their openness to what is truly Catholic, to the life of the whole Church of Christ, which for all her variety still remains one. The seminary is a time when you learn with one another and from one another. In community life, which can at times be difficult, you should learn generosity and tolerance, not only bearing with, but also enriching one another, so that each of you will be able to contribute his own gifts to the whole, even as all serve the same Church, the same Lord. This school of tolerance, indeed, of mutual acceptance and mutual understanding in the unity of Christ’s Body, is an important part of your years in the seminary.
Dear seminarians, with these few lines I have wanted to let you know how often I think of you, especially in these difficult times, and how close I am to you in prayer. Please pray for me, that I may exercise my ministry well, as long as the Lord may wish [I pray the Lord wishes him to sit on the chair of Peter for another decade]. I entrust your journey of preparation for priesthood to the maternal protection of Mary Most Holy, whose home was a school of goodness and of grace. May Almighty God bless you all, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
From the Vatican, 18 October 2010, the Feast of Saint Luke the Evangelist.
Yours devotedly in the Lord,
BENEDICTUS PP. XVI
17 October 2010
On Wednesday I returned to St. Anthony High School in Effingham for a career fair, where I set up shop with a vocations booth, complete with posters, brochures, a display board, and sour balls (they didn't last long).
Throughout the career fair many of the boys - freshmen through seniors - came over and said to me, "So, tell me why I should be a priest," in the hopes of stumping me with their friends grinning around them.
Turning the tables on them, I replied, "The real question is this: Why shouldn't you be a priest?"
I was met with blank stares and white faces, while their friends continued grinning. Until I posed the same question to them. I very much enjoyed watching their faces go white, too.
None had a good answer, and they knew it. Perhaps several of them were trying to ignore the Lord's call.
I reminded them - I'd told them this many times before - that until they knew why they should not be a priest that they should keep praying and thinking about the priesthood. Only one tried to refuse.
Yesterday I snuck away from my parish Koinonia retreat to attend a part of the Thinking of Priesthood day in Springfield. Twelve (12) men came for the day, eight (8) of whom were high school juniors or seniors; until three or four wanted to attend the day, but were unable to due to work or family obligations.
I was very impressed with all of the men who for the day of discussion and reflection. The future of the priesthood is bright, indeed!
The Lord is certainly calling men to share in his priesthood, now it is up to us to help them respond with courage and generosity.