31 December 2010

Po La'ie

...is Hawaiian for "Silent Night":



Capello tip to Christie for this one.

Now this is impressive

Curious...and irritating

I sat down this morning to look through Pope Benedict's recent Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini to see what gems I might mine for my homily for tomorrow's Solemnity.

As I expected, I easily found a gem upon which to build my thoughts.

However, I was quite stunned to see that although the paragraph numbers are referenced in the table of contents of the exhortation, they are completely lacking in body of the text, at least in the English text (they are present in the other languages).

How am I to accurately cite my sources without the proper numberings?

It's time for the Holy See web guru's to step things up rather significantly.

Papal Intentions for January

General: That young people may learn to use modern means of social communication for their personal growth and to better prepare themselves to serve society.

Mission: That every believer in Christ may be conscious that unity among all Christians is a condition for more effective proclamation of the Gospel.

What I've been up to lately

The past two days have found me moving most of my belongings into a spare room at the Cathedral in Springfield.

It may seem a bit early to be doing so since the assignment does not take effect until January 11th, but the house needs to be cleaned of all puppy dander. To facilitate this, I will be commuting to my parishes (more than usual) next week as work is done to the rectory.

If the blog has been slow - which it has - now you know way.

The blog may be slow over the next week as I work on preparing notes and papers for my succesor, but I will try to keep at it.

28 December 2010

The Little Drummer Boy, Animaniacs style

Man of the Year: The Pope?

Sandro Magister suggests Pope Benedict XVI be named Man of the Year, because of his homilies. He also suggests that, like Pope Saint Leo the Great, Benedict XVI will be remembered by history because of his homilies.

His text follows, with my emphases and comments:

The Roman missal for Sundays and feast days is divided into three annual cycles, each centered on the Gospel of Matthew, Mark, or Luke. In publishing the homilies of Benedict XVI year after year, Libri Scheiwiller has kept to this sequence. This third volume concludes the three-year cycle. It collects the papal homilies of the Lucan liturgical year, which began with the first Sunday of Advent of 2009 and spanned the year 2010 [how I wish it were available in English already!].

The homilies for Mass and vespers are a cornerstone of this pontificate, not yet understood by all. Joseph Ratzinger writes them to a large extent by hand, and improvises some of them with the immediacy of the spoken word. But he always thinks them through and prepares them with extreme care, because for him they have unique value, distinct from all his other written or spoken words. The homilies, in fact, are part of the liturgical action, or rather they are themselves liturgy [too many priests forget this great truth], that "cosmic liturgy" which he has called the "ultimate goal" of his apostolic mission, "when the world in its entirety will have become liturgy of God, adoration, and so will be safe and sound." There is a great deal of Augustine in this vision of Ratzinger's, there is the city of God in heaven and on earth, there are time and the eternal. In the Mass, the pope sees "the image and the shadow of the heavenly realities" (Hebrews 8:5). His homilies are intended to life [sic: sift] the veil.

And in effect, in rereading them, they disclose a vision of the world and of history full of new meanings, which are the heart of the Christian good news, because "if Jesus is present, there no longer exists any time devoid of meaning and empty." Advent is "presence," "arrival," "coming," the pope said in the inaugural homily of this liturgical year. "God is here, he has not withdrawn from the world, he has not left us alone," and so time becomes "kairĂ³s," the unique, favorable occasion of eternal salvation, and all creation changes its appearance "if behind it is him and not the mist of an uncertain origin and an uncertain future."

But the time of the "civitas Dei" is not formless. It has a rhythm that is given to it by the Christian mystery that fills it. Every Mass, every homily falls at a precise time, the fundamental cadence of which proceeds from Sunday to Sunday. The "Lord's day" has as its protagonist the one who rose on the first day after the sabbath, become the figure of the "octava dies" of eternal life. The presence of the Risen One in the consecrated bread and and wine is real, most real, the pope preaches incessantly. All it takes to see him and encounter him is that the eyes of faith be opened, as for the disciples at Emmaus, who recognized Jesus precisely in the sacrament of the Eucharist, "in the breaking of the bread."

"The liturgical year is a great journey of faith," the pope recalled before one Angelus, in one of those brief Sunday meditations constructed like little homilies on the Gospel of the day. It is like walking on the road to Emmaus, in the company of the Risen One who inflames hearts by explaining the Scriptures. From Moses to the prophets to Jesus, the Scriptures are history, and with them the walking becomes history and the liturgical year retraces all of it, around Easter which acts as its hub. Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost. Until the second coming of Christ, at the end of time. What makes the Christian liturgy a "unicum," and the pope does not cease to preach it, is that its narration is not only memory. It is living and present reality. At every Mass, there occurs what Jesus proclaimed in the synagogue of Nazareth after rolling up the scroll of the prophet Isaiah: "Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:21).

In the homilies, Pope Benedict is also unveiling what the Church is. He does so in obedience to the most ancient profession of faith: "I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins." The "communion of saints" is primarily that of the holy gifts, it is that holy salvific gift given by God in the Eucharist, by welcoming which the Church is generated and grows, in unity over all the earth and with the saints and angels of heaven. The "remission of sins" are baptism and the other sacrament of forgiveness, penance. If this is what the "Credo" professes, then the Church is truly not made up by its hierarchy, not by its organization, much less is it a spontaneous association of like-minded men, but it is a pure gift of God, a creation of his Holy Spirit, which generates its people in history, with the liturgy and the sacraments.

There is an image that recurs frequently in the pope's homilies: "One soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out" (John 19:34) [This image is also constantly found in his writings when he was a Cardinal]. Here again are the blood and water, the Eucharist and baptism, the Church that is born from the pierced side of the Crucified One, the new Eve from the new Adam. Recourse to images is one of the other distinctive features of the homilies of Benedict XVI. In the cathedral of Westminster, on September 18, 2010, he drew everyone's attention to the great Crucifix that dominates the nave, to the Christ "crushed by suffering, overwhelmed by sorrow, the innocent victim whose death has reconciled us with the Father and given us a share in the very life of God." From his precious blood, from the Eucharist, the Church draws life. But the pope also added, citing Pascal: "In the life of the Church, in her trials and tribulations, Christ continues to be in agony until the end of the world."

In the liturgical preaching of Benedict XVI, the biblical and artistic images have a constant mystagogical function, as guide to the mystery. The wonder of the invisible glimpsed in visible art points to the even greater marvel of the Risen One present in the bread and wine, the principle of the transformation of the world, so that the city of men also "may become a world of resurrection," a city of God.

Most of the homilies collected in this volume were pronounced by the pope during the Mass, after the proclamation of the Gospel. But there are also others given at vespers, before the singing of the "Magnificat." The locations are highly varied, in Italy and abroad, in villages and cities: Rome, naturally, but also Castel Gandolfo, Malta, Turin, Fatima, Porto, Nicosia, Sulmona, Carpineto, Glasgow, London, Birmingham, Palermo. One special case is the homily for the fourth Sunday of Lent, pronounced by the pope during an ecumenical liturgical service in the Lutheran church of Rome.

In an appendix, as in the two previous collections, are presented some of those little gems of minor homiletics, on the readings of the Mass of the day, that Benedict XVI offers to the faithful and to the world at noon on Sundays before the Angelus, or, during the Easter season, before the Regina Caeli.

Between the major and the minor, the homilies collected here come to about eighty, covering almost the entire span of the liturgical year: another proof of the care that Benedict XVI dedicates to this ministry of his. Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco recognized their greatness and proposed them as a model for all the pastors of the Church, when to the bishops of the permanent council of the Italian episcopal conference, on January 21, 2010, he said: "Let us not be afraid to declare our admiration for this art of his, and let us not tire of pointing it out to ourselves and to our priests as a lofty and extraordinary school of preaching." Like Pope Leo the Great, pope Benedict will also go down in history for his homilies.
I quite agree.

27 December 2010

Why I write my homilies (typically)

With the chaos of Christmas preparations and the celebration of five Christmas Masses in nineteen hours - with only a three hour nap - it occurred to me late Christmas evening that I had not yet prepared a homily for the Mass for the Feast of the Holy Family.

I was not in the proper mental state then to really work on a homily and so went to bed early to rise early and put some thoughts together.

Sunday I was not in much of a better mental state, but managed to say something about families and ego and self-centeredness and drama and the role of Joseph and authentic masculinity and Thomas More and prayer and families and peace and unity. I'm not really sure what I said; I didn't write it down. But it must have been a good one.

One of my parishioners emailed me this morning to ask for a copy of the homily. Sadly, I cannot help her. Did anyone happen to sneak a recording?

Look, Teddy

In honor of the day


25 December 2010

From the Christmas bulletin

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

May the Lord give you peace!

As we celebrate today the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ we rejoice in the Incarnation of the eternal Word of God. In his great love for us the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity has done what was heretofore unimaginable and unthinkable: God himself has become man, without losing his divinity. Born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Christ Jesus has come among us as one like us in all things but sin to proclaim the Good News of salvation through his victory over sin and death.

The Child of Bethlehem was laid in the wood of the manger to offer his life for us on the wood of the Cross. His mission of love must not be forgotten by us on this day. This day is about far more than the exchanging of gifts and good food!

In taking on our flesh and being born as a tiny infant, God has taken upon himself a great risk. An infant is helpless and needs love and attention. Through the power of his great might, God has made himself small and has taken upon himself the great risk of love. Lying in the manger, the tiny Christ Child gazes up at us in love, asking nothing more than to be loved by us in return.

We are free to accept his love and to return it, or to reject his love and walk away. What will you do this Christmas Day? What will you do each day of your life? Will you love this Child who has come to save you, or will you reject his love and turn away from him?

We best show our love for him by living as his faithful disciples: by prayerfully participating in the Holy Mass on every Sunday and Holyday, by frequenting the Sacrament of Penance (Confession), spending time each day in prayer and showing our love through our concern for our neighbors, especially the poor. Let us all love this tiny Child.

A blessed and merry Christmas to each of you!

Odd praise

Yesterday a friend told me that I am "the most delightful combination of the sublime and the ridiculous." That is a compliment I happily accept.

Rejoice, Christ is born!

How eager are you?

Sometimes people wonder why I am not especially fond of vigil Masses (the Vigil of Easter excepted). Father Raymond de Souza does a good job explaining some of why I don't prefer them, using the example of the vigil of Christmas.

Consider this, with my emphases and comments:

The Church has four Masses for Christmas – the vigil, Mass at midnight, Mass at dawn [I've never been to a Mass at Dawn; going to Mass at Midnight makes this a little tricky: I need my sleep] and Mass during the day. The readings begin with the human origins of Jesus in Matthew's genealogy (vigil), the account of the birth and the angels (midnight), the visit of the shepherds (dawn) and finally the divine origins of the newborn baby, taken from the magnificent prologue of John's Gospel (day).

The typical parish gets little of this. Some years ago at the 5 p.m. Mass on Christmas Eve (about which more later), I did use Matthew's genealogy – to universal complaint. The people wanted the nativity story. So the usual thing found in most parishes today is several vigil Masses on Christmas Eve, none of which use the vigil readings, and all of which are absolutely jam-packed [I use the readings appropriate to the time of day]. There is often no Mass at midnight, and a solitary Mass on Christmas morning, usually poorly attended [this is sadly true; the majority of people seem to want to get Mass "out of the way" so they can focus on presents in the morning].

How we arrived at this position is curious. Many priests consider the vigil Masses – especially the early ones before 7 p.m., sometimes as early as 4 p.m.! – to be pastoral failures, with large congregations but a certain chaotic, distracted quality [while this isn't true of everyone who attends a vigil Mass, there is a certain truth to it across the board]. Pastors know when the Church's liturgy clearly points to the midnight Mass as the high point of the Christmas liturgy, there is something awry with singing "Adeste Fidelis" at 5 p.m.
This is why I love Midnight Mass at Christmas:

Midnight Mass is the ultimate sign that we are adjusting our lives to fit Christmas. In the whole year – sacred or profane – no other event begins at midnight. For no other reason do we head out in the middle of the night. In the heart of the night, in the heart of the darkest season, in the heart of the winter bleakness, Catholics gather because they have seen a great light. It is the Christmas tradition par excellence.

Why toss it away for greater convenience? Just as the introduction of Saturday evening Masses have made Sunday less central as the Lord's Day, so too the multiplication of Masses on Christmas Eve have stripped Christmas Day of its significance. Christmas Day begins at midnight, and Mass at that hour indicates that the Catholic people are so eager for Christmas that they want to wait not one minute longer than necessary.
Patience? Who needs patience?

I encourage you to read Fr. de Souza's text but, in case you don't, here is his conclusion:

Catholics frequently complain about the secularization of Christmas. There is little we can do about that, but to the extent that we have an alternative to offer, it means becoming more Catholic not less.
Amen!

Humble thanks

To the kind soul who cleared the snow from my car this Christmas Eve after Mass in Girard:

Thank you!

May the Lord reward you for your thoughtfulness. Merry Christmas!

Out of the mouths of babes

At my first of two Masses for the Vigil of Christmas this evening, a little boy energetically called out, as I elevated the chalice with the Precious Blood of our Lord after the consecration, "Is that baby Jesus?"

After the conclusion of the Lamb of God, I used his words as a reminder to the people of what the Eucharist is and of the necessity of being worthy to receive him, of being in the state of grace.

I wasn't going to do so, but when I heard his question I knew it was sent from God.

May the Lord bless that little boy and keep him close to him all the days of his life.

24 December 2010

It's a classic!

(And I need a laugh.)

A liturgical note for Christmas: Bend your knee

As we celebrate tomorrow the birth of the Savior and await his birth this evening, Mother Church instructs her faithful children that during the recitation of the Creed during the Masses for Christmas,

All genuflect at the words, and became man.

Ordinarily, all are to make a profound bow (from the waist) at these words to show honor and respect to the humility of God who humbled himself to share in our humanity that we might share in his divinity.

Only rarely does one see the faithful keep this rubric, even though it is printed on the very page they read, often in the midst of the very Creed they read.

It is even rarer (naturally) that one sees this alteration of the rubric kept, even with a priest or deacon announces it just before the Creed is said (this has happened with me on more than one occasion).

Please, take the lead in your pew and genuflect when you say the words, and spend a moment in quiet prayer, reflecting on the great mystery of the Lord's birth.

Let us then bend our knee on this most holy and solemn of feasts before our only true King and place ourselves under his care and in his love.

Homily - Christmas 2010


The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ

This homily is adapted from a reflection of Marco Pappalardo in Advent and Christmas with the Church Fathers (Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2010), 49).

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

May the Lord give you peace!

Saint Jerome once cried out, “Oh, if only I could see that manger in which the Lord was laid” (Homily on the Nativity of the Lord, 31)!

It was these same sentiments in his heart that led Saint Francis of Assisi to ask permission of the Pope to hold what we might call the first living Nativity scene in Greccio in the year of Our Lord 1223.

Are these not the same sentiments in our hearts this day? Have we not come to celebrate the Mass of Christmas to see not simply the manger, but the Lord himself who was laid in it?

We are often enamored of the beauty of many Nativity scenes with their depictions of the Christ Child, of Mary and Joseph, of the shepherds and Magi and angels. Sometimes, too, we are moved to deep prayer by such images; but, too often, these displays do not impress much upon us.

Let us, then, beg the Lord this night that our lives might become like living Nativity scenes. As we look upon the Nativity scenes in our churches and homes, let us beg the Lord to use them to inspire us to live as true and faithful Christians.

As you look upon the sheep and oxen resting quietly near the place of the Lord’s birth, let your legs be like the legs of these animals who, step by step, went to the manger to praise their Creator.

When Holy Mary said to the angel, “Let it be done to me according to your word,” the Lord Jesus grew inside of her (Luke 1:38). As he grew physically in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, so may he grow spiritually in each of our hearts who have come to welcome him and to receive him in the Holy Eucharist.

Saint Joseph cradled the Child of Bethlehem in his arms, and used them also to embrace and protect him. Let our arms be like those of Joseph, as we embrace and serve Jesus in those we meet each day.

The angels announced the birth of the Savior of the world with songs of joy, crying out, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14). Let our voices, too, be lifted up in joyful song in the praise of the newborn King.

The shepherds heard the song of the angels and “went in haste” to see this great wonder they announced (Luke 2:16). Let our ears be like theirs, eager to hear news of salvation and open and receptive to Lord’s will for us.

Gazing into the heavens, the Magi recognized a unique and important star. Let our intellects be like theirs who, seeing the star with faith, journeyed to meet the Lord. Today, may we, too, may our minds be captured by the wonder of our God, who became one of us so that we might become like him.

Finally, let our hearts – this day and every day – be like that manger that held the Creator of the heavens, the eternal Lord of Glory. Let us approach the solemnity of this great mystery with joyful love, ready and eager to receive the One who took on our poverty that we might be made rich in him.

If we celebrate the feast of Lord’s birth in this way, we will not need to see the manger that held the Lord, for we will see him with the eyes of faith, we will taste his goodness in the Eucharist, and we will know his joy and peace in our hearts. With Saint Francis and all the saints, may we, looking upon the Nativity scene and becoming a living one ourselves, “be gladdened with new joy at the renewal of the mystery” of Emanuel, of God with us (Tomaso de Celano, First Life [of St. Francis of Assisi, XXX, 84). Amen.

A blessed and merry Christmas to you all!

It's early; have a laugh

Sorry for the commercial!

A short homily?

Said Pope Saint Gregory the Great one Christmas day:

Because [by the Lord's bounty] I am going to celebrate the eucharist three times today, I can comment only briefly on the Gospel lesson. But [our Redeemer's] birthday compels me to say something, however short (Homily 7, in Forty Gospel Homilies).

Today I am tempted to follow his example, and likely will.

Because the churches of my three parishes are not quite large enough to hold all of the faithful who will attend - hopefully prayerfully and joyously - the Christmas celebrations in one Mass each, I am celebrating - God willing - five Masses for Christmas: 4:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m., 12:00 a.m., 8:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.

I had intended to preach three separate homilies: one at the two Vigil Masses, one at the Midnight Mass on the maxim "what is not assumed cannot be redeemed," and one at the Christmas Day Masses on the victorious Light of the World. I simply do not think I will have the strength to do so.

Pope Gregory would deliver a shorter sermon, but not lessen the ceremonies of the Liturgy. I will do as he has done.

Homily - 24 December 2010

This morning I finished the following homily for the Christmas Eve Masses. I may or may not use it tomorrow; the reason being will come to light in a subsequent post.
At the Vigil of the Nativity of the Lord Jesus Christ

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

May the Lord give you peace!

Tonight, at the conclusion of the joyful season of Advent, we find ourselves still waiting. Our time of eager expectation is not yet ended as we await the birth of our Savior, of him who “will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

“Today you will know that the Lord is coming to save us, and in the morning you will see his glory” (Introit; cf. Exodus 16:6-7). Soon our vindication will shine forth like the sawn and our victory will be like a burning torch (cf. Isaiah 62:1).

Today we have heard proclaimed the genealogy of Jesus Christ, a passage of the Gospel that many find tedious with its repetitive and poetic structure. Because they do not the histories of the persons involved they find the ancestry of our Lord dull and do not so much as glimpse the common thread woven throughout the genealogy.

This common thread is the Lord’s promise given to David, King of Israel: “Forever will I confirm your posterity and establish your throne for all generations” (Psalm 89:5).

Throughout the varied history of the genealogy we see that the Lord’s covenant to David “stands firm” (Psalm 89:29) and that the posterity of David “shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the LORD” (Isaiah 62:3).

We have not time tonight to explore the history of each person in the genealogy of our Savior; we shall simply say that Saint Matthew’s genealogy shows us that the history of Jesus is “woven into a human history with its ups and downs” (Pope Benedict XVI, The Blessing of Christmas, 39). Within his ancestry we find those who were faithful to the Lord and brought blessings to Israel and those who were not and brought about destruction.

If we reflect on the genealogy of Jesus Christ, we come to see that

He was the fruit of a lengthy path; and ultimate goal of this path was to forth
the Christ. Since it is also the genealogy of Abraham, it teaches us something
of God’s faithfulness: through all the detours of human history, God keeps his
promise. He does not forget the assurances he has given. God is not silent. He
remains true to himself, and he knows how to open up a path for his fidelity,
despite all the wrong turns taken by men. This is also the genealogy of David:
the letters of the alphabet with which the number fourteen is written in Hebrew
are the same letters we find in David’s name. Thus, the genealogy is a Gospel
about Christ the King, a royal fanfare: this hidden man, this crucified man, is
the real king, and the entire structure of history finds its goal in him (Ibid., 39-40).
The same remains true today; not only do we find our origin in the Child of Bethlehem whose birth we await, but we also found or goal, our purpose and destination, in him.

So it is that we have come here this evening to await the birth of the one who delights in us (cf. Isaiah 62:4). We look to Bethlehem, to see the light that gently shines from that manger. Yet we need not look so far away to see the Child of Bethlehem; we need only look to the altar of the Lord to see him present in every tabernacle of the world.

Bethlehem, the city of David in which Jesus was born, means “house of bread.” Jesus, the Bread of Life, was placed in a manger, a feeding trough for the animals. Through the Holy Mass he gives himself to us continually as our food, to be nourished and strengthened by him who gave himself for us.

By partaking of his Holy Eucharist, we are united with him, and with him, with one another. This bond, begun in Baptism and strengthened with the Eucharist, unites us in a most intimate way.

Even as we here await with joy and hope the birth of the Savior, our brothers and sisters halfway around the world, in Iraq, are awaiting the birth of the Savior with some trepidation. They live this day in fear and under threat of violence and persecution; they await days of peace and comfort.

Hence, they are quietly celebrating Christmas, with no external decoration, and many churches have cancelled Christmas Masses after sixty-eight Catholics – including two priests, one who was celebrating Mass and one who was hearing confessions, and a three year old boy - were recently killed in Baghdad’s cathedral.

For them, this Christmas seems to have little joy as they mourn the loss of their loved ones and fear for their safety. They need to hear again the promise the Lord has given through his prophet Isaiah: “No more shall people call you ‘Forsaken,’ or your land ‘Desolate,’ but you shall be called ‘My Delight’ and your land ‘Espoused’” (Isaiah 62:4).

Let us, then, keep our persecuted brothers and sisters throughout in the world in our prayers as we celebrate the birth of the Savior in a manner they cannot: with great joy and feasting and exchanging of gifts. As the Lord fills our hearts with the joy of his presence, let us beg him to do the same for them that they may know the joyful shout and walk in the light of his face (cf. Psalm 49:16).

May their faith, and ours, be strengthened with the certainty that “tomorrow the wickedness of the earth will be destroyed: the Savior of the world will reign over us” (Alleluia verse).

As we await the blessed coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, may he grant you gift of his lasting joy and peace! A blessed and merry Christmas to you all!

23 December 2010

How . . . timely?

The publishing arm of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops offers a sort of subscription service called the Resource Service by which discounts are given and new publications are shipped at no cost (above the cost of the service).

Typically this service is handy, though it is sometimes slow.

A good case in point were the books included in the packet I received yesterday: Spiritual Thought Series: Pope Benedict XVI: Sickness, Parish Guide to Implementing the Roman Missal, Third Edition, Reflections for Advent and Christmas: Cultivating the Gift of Self, and Advent and Christmas with the Church Fathers.

I suppose the last two will be helpful during the Christmas season.

Need a chuckle?

Are you getting buried in piles of excess wrapping paper and groceries? If so, take a few minutes and have a laugh with Mr. Bean:



Please pardon the advertisement.

On the Martyr of Charity


"The political and journalistic world can boast of very few heroes who compare with Father Damien of Molokai. The Catholic Church, on the contrary, counts by the thousands those who after the example of Fr. Damien have devoted themselves to the victims of leprosy. It is worthwhile to look for the sources of such heroism."

- Mahatma Gandhi

Origins: The Christmas Tree

Father Martin Fox explains the origins of the Christmas Tree over his Bonfire of Vanities. Do go have a read and learn a little something.

Good news and bad news from Iraq

Today we have a little bit of good news from Iraq: the main stream media is finally paying some attention to the plight of Christians in the war-torn country.

The bad news is that Iraqi Christians are cancelling Christmas celebrations for fear of attacks by Muslim extremists.

From the Associated Press , with my emphases and comments:

KIRKUK, Iraq – No decorations, no midnight Mass. Even an appearance by Santa Claus has been nixed after Iraq's Christian leaders called off Christmas celebrations amid new al-Qaida threats on the tiny community [Catholics, of the Syrian rite] still terrified from a bloody siege on a Baghdad church.

Christians across Iraq have been living in fear since the assault on Our Lady of Salvation Church as its Catholic congregation was celebrating Sunday Mass. Sixty-eight people were killed. Days later Islamic insurgents bombed Christian homes and neighborhoods across the capital [our brothers and sisters are in desparate need of our prayers and sacrifices].

On Tuesday, al-Qaida insurgents threatened more attacks on Iraq's beleaguered Christians, many of whom have fled their homes or the country since the church attack. A council representing Christian denominations across Iraq advised its followers to cancel public celebrations of Christmas out of concern for their lives and as a show of mourning for the victims.

"Nobody can ignore the threats of al-Qaida against Iraqi Christians [expect, of course, for the media and heads of State]," said Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako in Kirkuk. "We cannot find a single source of joy that makes us celebrate. The situation of the Christians is bleak [Lo, how a rose 'ere blooming...]."

Church officials in Baghdad, as well as in the northern cities of Kirkuk and Mosul and the southern city of Basra, said they will not put up Christmas decorations or celebrate midnight Mass. They urged worshippers not to decorate their homes. Even an appearance by Santa Claus was called off [Because, you know, Christmas is all about Santa Claus].

"It's to avoid any attacks, but also to show that people are sad, not happy," said Younadim Kanna, a Christian lawmaker from Baghdad.

Even before the Oct. 31 church attack, thousands of Christians were fleeing Iraq. They make up more than a third of the 53,700 Iraqis resettled in the United States since 2007, according to State Department statistics.

Since the church attack, some 1,000 families have fled to Iraq's safer Kurdish-ruled north, according to the United Nations, which recently warned of a steady exodus of Iraqi Christians.

The latest threats were posted late Tuesday by the Islamic State of Iraq, an al-Qaida front group, on a website frequented by Islamic extremists. The group said it wants the release of two women it claims are being held captive by Egypt's Coptic Church.

Muslim extremists in Egypt accuse the Coptic Church of detaining the women for allegedly converting to Islam, an accusation the church denies [the Coptic Church would have no reason to detain them]. The message posted Tuesday was addressed to Iraq's Christian community and said it was designed to "pressure" Egypt.

Few reliable statistics exist on the number of Christians remaining in this nation of 29 million. A recent State Department report says Christian leaders estimate there are 400,000 to 600,000, down from a prewar level of some 1.4 million [This land was once strong in the Christian faith].

For those who remain, Christmas will be a somber affair.

In the northern city of Kirkuk, 180 miles (290 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Sako said there will be no Christmas decorations outside churches and a traditional visit by Santa Claus has also been called off. Money usually used on celebrations or gifts will instead go to help Christian refugees.

Ashour Binyamin, a 55-year-old Christian from Kirkuk said he and his family would not go to church on Christmas and would celebrate at home.

At Baghdad's Our Lady of Salvation Church, where more than 120 parishioners were held hostage by gunmen during the four-hour siege, all Christmas Masses have been canceled. Only a modest manger display will mark the occasion.

"We have canceled all celebrations in the church," said Father Mukhlis. "We are still in deep sorrow over the innocent victims who fell during the evil attack."

In Baghdad's Karradah neighborhood, where many of the city's remaining Christians live, churches were guarded by security forces Wednesday and surrounded by razor wire. Shop owners said few people were buying the Christmas trees and Santa Claus toys on sale.

Ikhlas Bahnam, a Christian in the neighborhood, vowed to go to Mass on Christmas Day, despite what she called the government's failure to protect her small minority. But she won't be visiting friends during the holiday season because all of them have fled the city.

"We did not put any decorations inside or outside our house this year," Bahnam said. "We see no reason to celebrate."

In Mosul, 225 miles (360 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, the Rev. Faiz Wadee, a Syrian Orthodox priest, said there will be no public Christmas celebrations there.

And Christians in Iraq's second-largest city of Basra have also called off all celebrations, said Saad Matti, a Christian legislator on the Basra provincial council.

"There will be only a small Mass in one church in Basra without any signs of joy or decoration and under the protection of Iraqi security forces," he said. "We are fully aware of al-Qaida threats."

Matti said Christians were also toning down their celebrations out of respect for a Shiite holiday going on at the same time [Curious; where is the reciprocal respect?]. The majority of Iraqis are Shiite Muslims, especially in the south.

Even among Iraqi Christians who've managed to escape the violence, the mood was subdued.

Maher Murqous, a Christian from Mosul who fled to neighboring Syria after being threatened by militants, said his relatives are still at risk in Iraq, and since they cannot celebrate, neither will he.

"We will pray for the sake of Iraq. That's all we can do," he said from his home in Damascus.
I have not put up any Christmas decorations yet in my rectory because I will be moving to my new assignment shortly after Christmas. I've been fighting the urge to put a tree anyway. Now I will offer this lack of decoration in union with the Christians of Iraq (I will, though, put up my Nativity set in the morning, simply though it is).

You know the situation is dire in Iraq when the best the government can seem to do is to build walls around Christian churches.

Please, pray for the Christians of Iraq!

22 December 2010

A timely and necessary reminder

As we quickly approach the celebration of the Nativity of the Lord, we know that on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day many Catholics will return to the Holy Mass for the first time in a long time.

As a pastor and father of souls, I have a duty to remind those who do not faithfully practice their faith to refrain from receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord without first making a sacramental confession of sins.

I know that few, if any, Catholics who find themselves in this situtation will read this post, so I must rely on you, their family, friends and neighbors to remind them of this important truth.

This is not a matter of being rude or of being bad hosts and unwelcoming to our guests, as some suggest. It is, rather, a show of our concern for the good of their souls and their eternal salvation; it is a matter of authentic love.

Saint Paul very clearly warned the Corinthians:
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood and of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself (I Corinthians 11:27-29).
His words fall to us, as well.

Those who find themselves not in the state of grace because they have not worshipped the Lord in the Holy Mass on every Sunday and holy day of obligation are, of course, welcomed to the Holy Mass. Indeed, they have a duty and an obligation to attend Mass. But they must not eat and drink condemnation upon themselves. And we should not encourage them to do so.

Please, I beg you: urge your family and friends to return to the practice of their faith and to make a good confession, that they might be reconciled to the Lord and celebrate his birth with great joy and peace of heart. Sometimes all someone needs is a word or encouragement or a gentle reproach. This could be the best gift you could give them.

Along these same lines, Father Zuhlsdorf offers his own reminder about this most important matter.

Pope: Ask the Lord to awaken us from the sleep of a faith grown tired

On Monday the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI addressed the members of the Roman Curia and the Governorate of Vatican City State for the traditional Christmas greeting.

His Holiness addressed those gathered in the following words, with my emphases and comments:

Dear Cardinals,
Brother Bishops and Priests,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It gives me great pleasure to be here with you, dear Members of the College of Cardinals and Representatives of the Roman Curia and the Governatorato, for this traditional gathering. I extend a cordial greeting to each one of you, beginning with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, whom I thank for his sentiments of devotion and communion and for the warm good wishes that he expressed to me on behalf of all of you. Prope est jam Dominus, venite, adoremus! As one family let us contemplate the mystery of Emmanuel, God-with-us, as the Cardinal Dean has said. I gladly reciprocate his good wishes and I would like to thank all of you most sincerely, including the Papal Representatives all over the world, for the able and generous contribution that each of you makes to the Vicar of Christ and to the Church.

Excita, Domine, potentiam tuam, et veni. Repeatedly during the season of Advent the Church’s liturgy prays in these or similar words. They are invocations that were probably formulated as the Roman Empire was in decline. The disintegration of the key principles of law and of the fundamental moral attitudes underpinning them burst open the dams which until that time had protected peaceful coexistence among peoples. The sun was setting over an entire world. Frequent natural disasters further increased this sense of insecurity. There was no power in sight that could put a stop to this decline. All the more insistent, then, was the invocation of the power of God: the plea that he might come and protect his people from all these threats.

Excita, Domine, potentiam tuam, et veni. Today too, we have many reasons to associate ourselves with this Advent prayer of the Church. For all its new hopes and possibilities, our world is at the same time troubled by the sense that moral consensus is collapsing, consensus without which juridical and political structures cannot function. Consequently the forces mobilized for the defence of such structures seem doomed to failure.

Excita

– the prayer recalls the cry addressed to the Lord who was sleeping in the disciples’ storm-tossed boat as it was close to sinking. When his powerful word had calmed the storm, he rebuked the disciples for their little faith (cf. Mt 8:26 et par.). He wanted to say: it was your faith that was sleeping. He will say the same thing to us. Our faith too is often asleep. Let us ask him, then, to wake us from the sleep of a faith grown tired, and to restore to that faith the power to move mountains – that is, to order justly the affairs of the world.

Excita, Domine, potentiam tuam, et veni: amid the great tribulations to which we have been exposed during the past year, this Advent prayer has frequently been in my mind and on my lips. We had begun the Year for Priests with great joy and, thank God, we were also able to conclude it with great gratitude, despite the fact that it unfolded so differently from the way we had expected. Among us priests and among the lay faithful, especially the young, there was a renewed awareness of what a great gift the Lord has entrusted to us in the priesthood of the Catholic Church. We realized afresh how beautiful it is that human beings are fully authorized to pronounce in God’s name the word of forgiveness, and are thus able to change the world, to change life; we realized how beautiful it is that human beings may utter the words of consecration, through which the Lord draws a part of the world into himself, and so transforms it at one point in its very substance; we realized how beautiful it is to be able, with the Lord’s strength, to be close to people in their joys and sufferings, in the important moments of their lives and in their dark times; how beautiful it is to have as one’s life task not this or that, but simply human life itself – helping people to open themselves to God and to live from God. We were all the more dismayed, then, when in this year of all years and to a degree we could not have imagined, we came to know of abuse of minors committed by priests who twist the sacrament into its antithesis, and under the mantle of the sacred profoundly wound human persons in their childhood, damaging them for a whole lifetime.

In this context, a vision of Saint Hildegard of Bingen came to my mind, a vision which describes in a shocking way what we have lived through this past year. "In the year of our Lord’s incarnation 1170, I had been lying on my sick-bed for a long time when, fully conscious in body and in mind, I had a vision of a woman of such beauty that the human mind is unable to comprehend. She stretched in height from earth to heaven. Her face shone with exceeding brightness and her gaze was fixed on heaven. She was dressed in a dazzling robe of white silk and draped in a cloak, adorned with stones of great price. On her feet she wore shoes of onyx. But her face was stained with dust, her robe was ripped down the right side, her cloak had lost its sheen of beauty and her shoes had been blackened. And she herself, in a voice loud with sorrow, was calling to the heights of heaven, saying, ‘Hear, heaven, how my face is sullied; mourn, earth, that my robe is torn; tremble, abyss, because my shoes are blackened!’

And she continued: ‘I lay hidden in the heart of the Father until the Son of Man, who was conceived and born in virginity, poured out his blood. With that same blood as his dowry, he made me his betrothed.

For my Bridegroom’s wounds remain fresh and open as long as the wounds of men’s sins continue to gape. And Christ’s wounds remain open because of the sins of priests. They tear my robe, since they are violators of the Law, the Gospel and their own priesthood; they darken my cloak by neglecting, in every way, the precepts which they are meant to uphold; my shoes too are blackened, since priests do not keep to the straight paths of justice, which are hard and rugged, or set good examples to those beneath them. Nevertheless, in some of them I find the splendour of truth.’

And I heard a voice from heaven which said: ‘This image represents the Church. For this reason, O you who see all this and who listen to the word of lament, proclaim it to the priests who are destined to offer guidance and instruction to God’s people and to whom, as to the apostles, it was said: go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation’ (Mk 16:15)" (Letter to Werner von Kirchheim and his Priestly Community: PL 197, 269ff.).

In the vision of Saint Hildegard, the face of the Church is stained with dust, and this is how we have seen it. Her garment is torn – by the sins of priests. The way she saw and expressed it is the way we have experienced it this year. We must accept this humiliation as an exhortation to truth and a call to renewal. Only the truth saves. We must ask ourselves what we can do to repair as much as possible the injustice that has occurred. We must ask ourselves what was wrong in our proclamation, in our whole way of living the Christian life, to allow such a thing to happen. We must discover a new resoluteness in faith and in doing good. We must be capable of doing penance. We must be determined to make every possible effort in priestly formation to prevent anything of the kind from happening again. This is also the moment to offer heartfelt thanks to all those who work to help victims and to restore their trust in the Church, their capacity to believe her message. In my meetings with victims of this sin, I have also always found people who, with great dedication, stand alongside those who suffer and have been damaged. This is also the occasion to thank the many good priests who act as channels of the Lord’s goodness in humility and fidelity and, amid the devastations, bear witness to the unforfeited beauty of the priesthood.

We are well aware of the particular gravity of this sin committed by priests and of our corresponding responsibility. But neither can we remain silent regarding the context of these times in which these events have come to light. There is a market in child pornography that seems in some way to be considered more and more normal by society. The psychological destruction of children, in which human persons are reduced to articles of merchandise, is a terrifying sign of the times. From Bishops of developing countries I hear again and again how sexual tourism threatens an entire generation and damages its freedom and its human dignity. The Book of Revelation includes among the great sins of Babylon – the symbol of the world’s great irreligious cities – the fact that it trades with bodies and souls and treats them as commodities (cf. Rev 18:13). In this context, the problem of drugs also rears its head, and with increasing force extends its octopus tentacles around the entire world – an eloquent expression of the tyranny of mammon which perverts mankind. No pleasure is ever enough, and the excess of deceiving intoxication becomes a violence that tears whole regions apart – and all this in the name of a fatal misunderstanding of freedom which actually undermines man’s freedom and ultimately destroys it.

In order to resist these forces, we must turn our attention to their ideological foundations. In the 1970s, paedophilia was theorized as something fully in conformity with man and even with children. This, however, was part of a fundamental perversion of the concept of ethos. It was maintained – even within the realm of Catholic theology – that there is no such thing as evil in itself or good in itself. There is only a "better than" and a "worse than". Nothing is good or bad in itself. Everything depends on the circumstances and on the end in view. Anything can be good or also bad, depending upon purposes and circumstances. Morality is replaced by a calculus of consequences, and in the process it ceases to exist. The effects of such theories are evident today. Against them, Pope John Paul II, in his 1993 Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor, indicated with prophetic force in the great rational tradition of Christian ethos the essential and permanent foundations of moral action. Today, attention must be focussed anew on this text as a path in the formation of conscience. It is our responsibility to make these criteria audible and intelligible once more for people today as paths of true humanity, in the context of our paramount concern for mankind.

As my second point, I should like to say a word about the Synod of the Churches of the Middle East. This began with my journey to Cyprus, where I was able to consign the Instrumentum Laboris of the Synod to the Bishops of those countries who were assembled there. The hospitality of the Orthodox Church was unforgettable, and we experienced it with great gratitude. Even if full communion is not yet granted to us, we have nevertheless established with joy that the basic form of the ancient Church unites us profoundly with one another: the sacramental office of Bishops as the bearer of apostolic tradition, the reading of Scripture according to the hermeneutic of the Regula fidei, the understanding of Scripture in its manifold unity centred on Christ, developed under divine inspiration, and finally, our faith in the central place of the Eucharist in the Church’s life. Thus we experienced a living encounter with the riches of the rites of the ancient Church that are also found within the Catholic Church. We celebrated the liturgy with Maronites and with Melchites, we celebrated in the Latin rite, we experienced moments of ecumenical prayer with the Orthodox, and we witnessed impressive manifestations of the rich Christian culture of the Christian East. But we also saw the problem of the divided country. The wrongs and the deep wounds of the past were all too evident, but so too was the desire for the peace and communion that had existed before. Everyone knows that violence does not bring progress – indeed, it gave rise to the present situation. Only in a spirit of compromise and mutual understanding can unity be re-established. To prepare the people for this attitude of peace is an essential task of pastoral ministry.

During the Synod itself, our gaze was extended over the whole of the Middle East, where the followers of different religions – as well as a variety of traditions and distinct rites – live together. As far as Christians are concerned, there are Pre-Chalcedonian as well as Chalcedonian churches; there are churches in communion with Rome and others that are outside that communion; in both cases, multiple rites exist alongside one another. In the turmoil of recent years, the tradition of peaceful coexistence has been shattered and tensions and divisions have grown, with the result that we witness with increasing alarm acts of violence in which there is no longer any respect for what the other holds sacred, in which on the contrary the most elementary rules of humanity collapse. In the present situation, Christians are the most oppressed and tormented minority. For centuries they lived peacefully together with their Jewish and Muslim neighbours. During the Synod we listened to wise words from the Counsellor of the Mufti of the Republic of Lebanon against acts of violence targeting Christians. He said: when Christians are wounded, we ourselves are wounded. Unfortunately, though, this and similar voices of reason, for which we are profoundly grateful, are too weak. Here too we come up against an unholy alliance between greed for profit and ideological blindness. On the basis of the spirit of faith and its rationality, the Synod developed a grand concept of dialogue, forgiveness and mutual acceptance, a concept that we now want to proclaim to the world. The human being is one, and humanity is one. Whatever damage is done to another in any one place, ends up by damaging everyone. Thus the words and ideas of the Synod must be a clarion call, addressed to all people with political or religious responsibility, to put a stop to Christianophobia; to rise up in defence of refugees and all who are suffering, and to revitalize the spirit of reconciliation. In the final analysis, healing can only come from deep faith in God’s reconciling love. Strengthening this faith, nourishing it and causing it to shine forth is the Church’s principal task at this hour.

I would willingly speak in some detail of my unforgettable journey to the United Kingdom, but I will limit myself to two points that are connected with the theme of the responsibility of Christians at this time and with the Church’s task to proclaim the Gospel. My thoughts go first of all to the encounter with the world of culture in Westminster Hall, an encounter in which awareness of shared responsibility at this moment in history created great attention which, in the final analysis, was directed to the question of truth and faith itself. It was evident to all that the Church has to make her own contribution to this debate. Alexis de Tocqueville, in his day, observed that democracy in America had become possible and had worked because there existed a fundamental moral consensus which, transcending individual denominations, united everyone. Only if there is such a consensus on the essentials can constitutions and law function. This fundamental consensus derived from the Christian heritage is at risk wherever its place, the place of moral reasoning, is taken by the purely instrumental rationality of which I spoke earlier. In reality, this makes reason blind to what is essential. To resist this eclipse of reason and to preserve its capacity for seeing the essential, for seeing God and man, for seeing what is good and what is true, is the common interest that must unite all people of good will. The very future of the world is at stake.

Finally I should like to recall once more the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman. Why was he beatified? What does he have to say to us? Many responses could be given to these questions, which were explored in the context of the beatification. I would like to highlight just two aspects which belong together and which, in the final analysis, express the same thing. The first is that we must learn from Newman’s three conversions, because they were steps along a spiritual path that concerns us all. Here I would like to emphasize just the first conversion: to faith in the living God. Until that moment, Newman thought like the average men of his time and indeed like the average men of today, who do not simply exclude the existence of God, but consider it as something uncertain, something with no essential role to play in their lives. What appeared genuinely real to him, as to the men of his and our day, is the empirical, matter that can be grasped. This is the "reality" according to which one finds one’s bearings. The "real" is what can be grasped, it is the things that can be calculated and taken in one’s hand. In his conversion, Newman recognized that it is exactly the other way round: that God and the soul, man’s spiritual identity, constitute what is genuinely real, what counts. These are much more real than objects that can be grasped. This conversion was a Copernican revolution. What had previously seemed unreal and secondary was now revealed to be the genuinely decisive element. Where such a conversion takes place, it is not just a person’s theory that changes: the fundamental shape of life changes. We are all in constant need of such conversion: then we are on the right path.

The driving force that impelled Newman along the path of conversion was conscience. But what does this mean? In modern thinking, the word "conscience" signifies that for moral and religious questions, it is the subjective dimension, the individual, that constitutes the final authority for decision. The world is divided into the realms of the objective and the subjective. To the objective realm belong things that can be calculated and verified by experiment. Religion and morals fall outside the scope of these methods and are therefore considered to lie within the subjective realm. Here, it is said, there are in the final analysis no objective criteria. The ultimate instance that can decide here is therefore the subject alone, and precisely this is what the word "conscience" expresses: in this realm only the individual, with his intuitions and experiences, can decide. Newman’s understanding of conscience is diametrically opposed to this. For him, "conscience" means man’s capacity for truth: the capacity to recognize precisely in the decision-making areas of his life – religion and morals – a truth, the truth. At the same time, conscience – man’s capacity to recognize truth – thereby imposes on him the obligation to set out along the path towards truth, to seek it and to submit to it wherever he finds it. Conscience is both capacity for truth and obedience to the truth which manifests itself to anyone who seeks it with an open heart. The path of Newman’s conversions is a path of conscience – not a path of self-asserting subjectivity but, on the contrary, a path of obedience to the truth that was gradually opening up to him. His third conversion, to Catholicism, required him to give up almost everything that was dear and precious to him: possessions, profession, academic rank, family ties and many friends. The sacrifice demanded of him by obedience to the truth, by his conscience, went further still. Newman had always been aware of having a mission for England. But in the Catholic theology of his time, his voice could hardly make itself heard. It was too foreign in the context of the prevailing form of theological thought and devotion. In January 1863 he wrote in his diary these distressing words: "As a Protestant, I felt my religion dreary, but not my life - but, as a Catholic, my life dreary, not my religion". He had not yet arrived at the hour when he would be an influential figure. In the humility and darkness of obedience, he had to wait until his message was taken up and understood. In support of the claim that Newman’s concept of conscience matched the modern subjective understanding, people often quote a letter in which he said – should he have to propose a toast – that he would drink first to conscience and then to the Pope. But in this statement, "conscience" does not signify the ultimately binding quality of subjective intuition. It is an expression of the accessibility and the binding force of truth: on this its primacy is based. The second toast can be dedicated to the Pope because it is his task to demand obedience to the truth.

I must refrain from speaking of my remarkable journeys to Malta, Portugal and Spain. In these it once again became evident that the faith is not a thing of the past, but an encounter with the God who lives and acts now. He challenges us and he opposes our indolence, but precisely in this way he opens the path towards true joy.

Excita, Domine, potentiam tuam, et veni.

We set out from this plea for the presence of God’s power in our time and from the experience of his apparent absence. If we keep our eyes open as we look back over the year that is coming to an end, we can see clearly that God’s power and goodness are also present today in many different ways. So we all have reason to thank him. Along with thanks to the Lord I renew my thanks to all my co-workers. May God grant to all of us a holy Christmas and may he accompany us with his blessings in the coming year.

I entrust these prayerful sentiments to the intercession of the Holy Virgin, Mother of the Redeemer, and I impart to all of you and to the great family of the Roman Curia a heartfelt Apostolic Blessing. Happy Christmas!

Translation via Zenit.


Photo source:

It's Christmas: Enjoy the food

Father Zuhlsdorf has passed along these excellent Christmas dining and snacking tips from The Motley Monk:

  1. Always avoid carrot sticks. Anyone who puts carrots on a holiday buffet table knows nothing of the Christmas spirit. In fact, if you see carrots, leave immediately. Go next door, where they’re serving rum balls.
  2. Drink as much eggnog as you can. And quickly. It’s rare… You cannot find it any other time of year but now. So drink up! Who cares that it has 10,000 calories in every sip? It’s not as if you’re going to turn into an eggnog-alcoholic or something. It’s a treat. Enjoy it. Have one for me. Have two. It’s later than you think. It’s Christmas!
  3. If something comes with gravy, use it. That’s the whole point of gravy. Gravy does not stand alone. Pour it on. Make a volcano out of your mashed potatoes. Fill it with gravy. Eat the volcano. Repeat.
  4. As for mashed potatoes, always ask if they’re made with skim milk or whole milk. If it’s skim, pass. Why bother? It’s like buying a sports car with an automatic transmission.
  5. Do not have a snack before going to a party in an effort to control your eating. The whole point of going to a Christmas party is to eat other people’s food for free. Lots of it. Hello?
  6. Under no circumstances should you exercise between now and New Year’s. You can do that in January when you have nothing else to do. This is the time for long naps, which you’ll need after circling the buffet table while carrying a 10-pound plate of food and that vat of eggnog.
  7. If you come across something really good at a buffet table, like frosted Christmas cookies in the shape and size of Santa, position yourself near them and don’t budge. Have as many as you can before becoming the center of attention. They’re like a beautiful pair of shoes. If you leave them behind, you’re never going to see them again.
  8. Same for pies. Apple, Pumpkin, Mincemeat. Have a slice of each. Or if you don’t like mincemeat, have two apples and one pumpkin. Always have three. When else do you get to have more than one dessert? Labor Day?
  9. Did someone mention fruitcake? Granted, it’s loaded with the mandatory celebratory calories, but avoid it at all cost. Have some standards!
  10. One final tip: If you don’t feel terrible when you leave the party or get up from the table, you haven’t been paying attention. Re-read tips; start over, but hurry, January is just around the corner.

Why was Jesus not named Emmanuel?

This evening I gave the last of a four-part presentation on the O Antiphons at a neighboring parish.

At the end this evening one of the attendees asked if Isaiah said the virgin's son's name would Emmanuel, why was Jesus not named Emmanuel?

I didn't really have an answer for him, but see the Nicholas Hardesty has taken a stab at it.

Towards the Lord

As preparations for the Christmas celebrations continue, I have been asked to celebrate the Christmas Midnight Mass again at the high altar as I did last year; I am happy to grant this request.

The other day, Father Ray Blake posted ten reasons from Father Mark Kirby for celebrating the Mass ad orientem:

  1. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is experienced as having a theocentric direction and focus.
  2. The faithful are spared the tiresome clerocentrism that has so overtaken the celebration of Holy Mass in the past forty years.
  3. It has once again become evident that the Canon of the Mass (Prex Eucharistica) is addressed to the Father, by the priest, in the name of all.
  4. The sacrificial character of the Mass is wonderfully expressed and affirmed.
  5. Almost imperceptibly one discovers the rightness of praying silently at certain moments, of reciting certain parts of the Mass softly, and of cantillating others.
  6. It affords the priest celebrant the boon of a holy modesty.
  7. I find myself more and more identified with Christ, Eternal High Priest and Hostia perpetua, in the liturgy of the heavenly sanctuary, beyond the veil, before the Face of the Father.
  8. During the Canon of the Mass I am graced with a profound recollection.
  9. The people have become more reverent in their demeanour.
  10. The entire celebration of Holy Mass has gained in reverence, attention, and devotion.

Presents: Before or after Mass?

The Liturgical Pimpernel raises a few interesting and good questions regarding the Vigil Masses for Christmas, questions that I've often pondered, too.

Here's a brief excerpt from his post:

Attending the Christmas "Family Mass" has the added benefit of having 'done Christmas Mass' nice and early too. The family, or anyone else who pops along on Christmas eve, can have a relaxed evening afterwards and a Christmas day without the burden of having to get to Mass on Christmas day, especially with the family.

What have we done to Christmas day? Kiddy-antics aside, even a solemn Latin Mass on Christmas eve is a bit of a problem. It doesn't break any rules, but the Pimpernel believes that allowing a vigil Mass of Christmas is one real mistake of the new missal. It has more or less destroyed what was liturgically special about Christmas day itself: midnight Mass.

Staying up that late can be a real treat for children, and teach them a lot, without any need to get up to childish antics. "Mom, why are we going to Mass so late?" "Because this is the night on which our Saviour was born, my dear." Not bad that. Or on the morning of Christmas, the sacrifice of going to a Mass as a family, of waiting until afterwards for all the family rituals, presents, etc. to begin, says very clearly that Christ himself is put first at Christmas. "Dad, do we have to wait 'till after Mass?" "Yes, son, first we must thank Jesus and celebrate his birth, and worthily receive him in Holy Communion, because he is the reason why we give presents and celebrate today." That sounds like a true family Mass, and a true family Christmas, to me [emphasis mine].

The sad fact is that many families do now attend a vigil Mass for Christmas so they can open gifts early on Christmas morning and do not go to Mass on Christmas Day itself.

Growing up, my family went to the 10:15 a.m. Mass (or it was 10:30 a.m.; I don't remember). We were allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve and the rest when we returned home from Mass. It didn't do us any harm and helped keep a proper perspective.

When asking why people do not attend Midnight Mass as they did in days gone by, I am often told, "People can't stay up that late, Father." I simply do not accept this answer; they stay up just as late on New Year's Eve, though often for very different reasons.

19 December 2010

Homily - 18 December 2010

The Fourth Sunday of Advent (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Yesterday morning, His Excellency Bishop Thomas John Paprocki celebrated the rites of Christian burial for the former mayor of Springfield, Timothy Davlin. The tragic circumstances of his death notwithstanding, the offering of a funeral Mass for the repose of his soul has been the talk of many kitchen tables and water coolers.

There seems to be a great misunderstanding regarding the Church’s teaching on the sinfulness of suicide. Because of the confusion I think it wise to provide an explanation today of what the Church teaches.

Most people of good will recognize the great seriousness of suicide and see it as a mortally sinful act, which is true, to a certain extent. What, then, is a mortal sin?

We know that, first of all, committing a “mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1861). The Lord God has given us the tremendous gift of our free will so that we might choose to love him and to love our neighbor. We are free to choose what is good, but we know all too well that we do not always choose the good; we sometimes choose to do evil, either explicitly by what we do or implicitly by what we fail to do.

When we fail to choose the good we choose the evil - by word or deed, by action or inaction – which we call sin. Some sins we call venial. Venial sin weakens our love and “manifests a disordered affection for created goods; it impedes the soul's progress in the exercise of the virtues and the practice of the moral good (CCC, 1863).” Venial sins wound our friendship with God, but do not deprive us of his friendship, of his sanctifying grace, by which we grow in holiness and love. Of these sins we are all guilty; we are all sinners. A denial of sin is a denial of reality.

Other sins we call mortal, because they deprive us of God’s friendship. Mortal sin “destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God's law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him (CCC, 1855).”

The Lord Jesus has given us the Sacrament of Penance for the forgiveness of sins, both venial and mortal. He longs to forgive our sins and waits for us in this most sublime sacrament.

We also know that if a mortal sin “is not redeemed by repentance and God's forgiveness,” that is, if it is not confessed, “it causes exclusion from Christ's kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back (CCC, 1855).”

There is no limit to God’s mercy, but we are free to refuse his mercy; he will not force someone who refuses his friendship to be with him in eternity.

At the moment of death, our life choice for God or against him is definitive. “To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell.’"

We must, then, consider what is necessary for a sin to be mortal. For an act to be mortally sinful, three conditions must be: the act must involve grave matter; it must be known to be grave; and it must be freely chosen (cf. CCC, 1857). If one of these three conditions is not met, the act is gravely wrong, but not mortally sinful.

The first condition, then, is easily met in cases of suicide, because the act itself is the taking a human life.

We know that “everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him (CCC, 2280).” Because we have not given ourselves life, we cannot claim a right to this life we have; we did not choose to be born and so we cannot morally choose when to die. “We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not our to dispose of (CCC, 2280).”

The second condition is also easily met because “suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life (CCC, 2281).”

Though the first two conditions are easily met regarding suicide, the third condition of a free and deliberate choice is another matter.

We know that “grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide (CCC, 2282).” This we learn from modern psychology; only rarely does someone commit suicide with the full and deliberate consent of their will. Consequently, we cannot say definitively whether one who commits suicide does so freely and deliberately; without a free and deliberate choice, the sin is not mortal and a Christian burial can rightly be celebrated for the deceased.

We see, then, that “although we can judge that [the act of suicide] is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons [who commit suicide] to the justice and mercy of God (CCC, 1861).” While we can judge the objective sinfulness of an act, we cannot judge it subjectively; only God can read and judge the soul.

For this reason, the Church teaches that “we should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives (CCC, 2283).”

The greatest prayer of the Church is the Holy Mass, through which the sacrificial death of Christ Jesus is re-presented to the Father for the salvation of all mankind. Through her funeral rites, the Church “commends the dead to God’s merciful love and pleads for the forgiveness of their sins (Order of Christian Funerals, 6).” It is fitting, then, that a funeral Mass be offered for the deceased and the repose of his soul.

It is in moments such as these, when we are confronted with the stark reality of the human condition and our sinfulness, that we recognize our great need for Savior. Seeing our plight, in his great love the Lord promised through this prophet Isaiah, “the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). The Son that is born of the Virgin – “God is with us” – will “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

Let us then commend all the dead into the just and merciful love of God who desires to raise us out of the mire of our sin. Let us look with confident and eager hope to the East, to the Morning Star, whose coming will bring us the light of his holiness. Come, Lord Jesus; come quickly, and do not delay! Amen.

Favorite Christmas songs

Over on the blog of St. Anthony High School, one of the students posted the top ten Christmas songs (according to WCBS-FM):

  1. White Christmas -Bing Crosby
  2. The Chipmunk Song -The Chipmunks
  3. Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer -Gene Autry
  4. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus -Jimmy Boyd
  5. Jingle Bell Rock -Bobby Helms
  6. The Christmas Song -Nat King Cole
  7. Snoopy's Christmas -The Royal Guardsmen
  8. Here Comes Santa Claus -Gene Autry
  9. Little Drummer Boy -Harry Simeone Chorale
  10. Donde Esta Santa Claus -Augie Rios

What strikes me is the lack of songs that are actually about Christmas (The Little Drummer Boy excepted). They are more Santa Claus songs than they are about the birth of the Savior.

A few of my favorite Christmas songs are, in no particular order:

  1. Of the Father's Love Begotten
  2. In the Bleak Midwinter
  3. The Cherry Tree Carol
  4. Candlelight Carol
  5. O Little Town of Bethlehem (it was my mother's favorite)
  6. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
  7. The Little Drummer Boy
  8. Good King Wenceslaus
  9. Patapan
  10. Ding Dong Merrily On High
  11. Carol of the Bells
  12. Fum, Fum, Fum
  13. Hodie, Christus Natus Est

What would you add?

18 December 2010

Good Idea, Bad Idea: Caroling

His Excellency the Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki has issued the following statement concerning the funeral of Springfield Mayor Timothy Davlin, who committed suicide:

The Church teaches that suicide is contrary to love for the living God. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.

However, the church also teaches that we should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. We can only commend them to God. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for repentance and salvation.

We continue to offer our prayers for the soul of Mayor Timothy Davlin and for his family and friends in this time of sorrow.
May he rest in peace.

17 December 2010

Catholic News Service's John Thavis takes a look at the WikiLeaks documents concerning the United State's view of the Holy See, with my emphases:

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A spate of U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks portray the Vatican as horrified over clerical sex abuse in Ireland but also deeply concerned that the procedures used by Irish investigators of the scandal were "an affront to Vatican sovereignty."

The cables, released Dec. 10-12, touched on a wide range of issues, from the Vatican's efforts to deal with leftist governments in Latin America to its recent moves to welcome disaffected Anglicans into the Catholic Church.

One cable offered a highly critical assessment of the Vatican's communications apparatus and said Pope Benedict XVI was surrounded by advisers who make sure dissenting voices are not heard.

Another reviewed the Vatican's efforts to position itself as an intermediary with Iran in case an international crisis erupts and stated that in 2007 the Vatican had helped secure the release of British sailors detained in Iranian waters.

The cables offered a rare glimpse at Vatican diplomacy in action, but through the lens of the U.S. policy experts who authored the reports. Most of the cables regarding the Vatican were written by officials of the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See, sometimes after personal meetings with Vatican diplomats.
The Vatican issued a disclaimer Dec. 11, saying the reliability of the cables must be evaluated carefully and with great prudence.

"Naturally these reports reflect the perceptions and opinions of the people who wrote them and cannot be considered as expressions of the Holy See itself, nor as exact quotations of the words of its officials," it said in a statement.

The Vatican said publication of such secret and confidential material was a matter of "extreme seriousness."

The U.S. Embassy to the Vatican repeated its condemnation of the release of classified State Department information and refused to comment on the content or authenticity of the information.

The sex abuse scandal in Ireland was treated in a memo dated Feb. 26, 2010, written by Julieta Valls Noyes, the deputy chief of mission at the embassy. She wrote that the Vatican had responded relatively quickly to the revelations of sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Dublin, in part because it had "learned key lessons" from the U.S. sex abuse scandal in 2002.

"Vatican and Irish officials' first concern was for the victims," the cable said. But that concern was sometimes overshadowed by the public perception in Ireland that the Vatican was worried about "pettily procedural" matters [thanks, in no small part, to the media], it said.

Specifically, the Vatican was upset that the independent Murphy Commission that investigated the scandal had sidestepped diplomatic channels and tried to directly convene the Vatican nuncio, or ambassador, to answer questions and obtain other information from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The Vatican complained to the Irish Embassy, saying such requests must go through diplomatic channels [that's only proper and is part of the principle of subsidiarity], and in the end the government decided not to press the Vatican to reply, the cable said. It added that contacts at the Vatican and in Ireland expected the sex abuse crisis to continue for several years, as new allegations from other Irish archdioceses come to light.

Another cable written by Valls Noyes was dated April 22, 2009, and titled: "Vatican hopes for better U.S.-Cuba ties, in part to rein in Chavez and his acolytes." It summarized a conversation with a Vatican Secretariat of State official, Msgr. Angelo Accattino, who was said to have spoken with concern about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and the deterioration of church-state relations there.

It said Msgr. Accattino raised the possibility of a U.S.-Cuba prisoner swap. It said the Vatican in general believes that improving U.S.-Cuba ties would greatly reduce the appeal of Chavez in the region. According to the cable, Msgr. Accattino said the real risk is that Venezuela is turning into Cuba, while Cuba may be ready to open up.

It also quoted Msgr. Accattino as saying that the worsening situation in Venezuela had led Latin American church leaders to rethink their approach, pulling back from activism and advocacy in the short term in order to protect their pastoral ministry.

The cable on Vatican communications, dated Feb. 20, 2009, reflected what many observers inside and outside the Vatican were saying at the time. The Vatican had just announced the lifting of the excommunication of four traditionalist bishops, including one who, it turned out, had minimized the Holocaust.

"The Holy See's communications operation is suffering from 'muddled messaging' partly as a result of cardinals' technophobia and ignorance about 21st-century communications [that's certainly true, despite the Pope's constant appeals to use the new media]. Only one key papal adviser has a Blackberry and few have e-mail accounts. It has led to PR blunders on issues as sensitive as the Holocaust," said the cable, also written by Valls Noyes.

It said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, was overworked and had little influence on major decisions because he was not part of the pope's inner circle. It described Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, as a "yes man" unlikely to bring the pope bad news. It noted that the cardinal did not speak English and added that "not a few voices are calling for Cardinal Bertone's removal from his current position."

According to Italian reporters, Cardinal Bertone responded to the WikiLeaks report by saying he was "very proud to be described as a 'yes man,' since this colorful description accurately reflects my support for the pastoral work of the pope [talk about a PR blunder; he could have better explained that]."

A cable of Nov. 30, 2009, written by embassy political officer Rafael Foley, explored the ramifications of the Vatican decision to set up a structure that would welcome groups of Anglicans into the Catholic Church and allow them to retain some elements of Anglican identity. The cable quoted Britain's ambassador to the Vatican, Francis Campbell, as saying Pope Benedict's move had brought Anglican-Catholic relations to their worst crisis in 150 years.

Campbell reportedly said the Vatican had shifted the goal of Catholic-Anglican dialogue from true unity to mere cooperation [I think Campbell's quite wrong on this]. He was said to have warned of repercussions against England's small Catholic minority, including discrimination or even violence.

More than one of the cables monitored the Vatican's position on Turkey's bid to join the European Union. After Pope Benedict's visit to Turkey in 2006, an embassy official expressed the view that the EU entry process was an opportunity to hold Turkey to international standards on respect for religious freedom.

Tree in St. Peter's Square to be lit today

The Vatican Information Service reports that the Christmas tree presently standing in St. Peter's Square will be lit today:

VATICAN CITY, 17 DEC 2010 (VIS) - Benedict XVI today received a delegation from the town of Luson in the province of Bolzano, part of the Italian region of Alto Adige, which has donated the Christmas tree which will decorate St. Peter's Square during the festive season this year.

The tree, which will be lit this evening during a public ceremony to be presided by Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, president of the Governorate of Vatican City State, is a Norway spruce, thirty-four metres high and ninety-three years old. Apart from the main tree, Luson has also donated fifty smaller trees which will be used to decorate various sites in the Vatican.

The Holy Father noted that the spruce, "which stood at an altitude of 1500 metres and was cut down without damaging the forest environment, will stand next to the nativity scene until the end of the Christmas festivities".

"The Christmas tree", he went on, "enriches the symbolic value of the nativity scene, which is a message of fraternity and friendship, an invitation to unity and peace, an invitation to make space for God in our life and society. He offers us His omnipotent love through the fragile figure of a child, because He wants us to respond freely with our own love. Thus the nativity scene and the tree bear a message of hope and love, and help to create an environment in which to experience the mystery of the birth of the Redeemer in the right spiritual and religious context".
AC/ VIS 20101217 (270)
Go ahead and light your tree today!

Let us prepare for the birth of the Messiah