31 January 2014

A little Good Friday

Detail from the Church of San Maurizio, Milan
Just as the Church traditionally regards each Sunday as a "little Easter," so does she regard each Friday as a "little Good Friday," as a time for us to do penance for our sins and to contemplate the richness of the merciful love of Jesus Christ.  This can be done in any number of ways, because each of us has a different cross to bear in union with Him who died for us; our sharing in His Cross is different and personal.

The last couple of days in Rome have been filled with much rain, and the next few days are forecasted to deliver even more.  Strange as it may seem, it only takes a little rain to flood the streets of Rome.  Such a situation results in nearly empty streets as the Romans stay indoors, and with good cause; it is nearly impossible to walk in the rain in Rome and not become drenched from foot to head (the rain seems to work its way upwards from the hem of your pants).  The inch of rain that is expected to fall in Rome this morning has, according to some of the staff at the Casa Santa Maria, even shut down some of the bus lines in the Eternal City (and you thought things shutting down for snow and ice and freezing temperatures were bad!).

As a means to my sanctification, the Lord has seen fit to allow me to bear the cross that comes with an adult form or juvenile arthritis which on a day to day basis, with the aid of medication, does not give me too trouble.  The difficulty of it - the cross, if you will - comes with its unpredictability.

It happens from time to time that all will be going well and then suddenly, without any prior indication, my energy simple "bottoms out" with one single yawn.  I will sometimes be walking along with any trouble and suddenly my hip or my knee decides to take issue with my activity.  These are, thankfully, more frustrating than they are unbearable; still, they complicate life and sometimes require to me "shut down" for the remainder of the day, usually more because of exhaustion as my body wars against itself on my behalf than from pain.

Today I awoke with a great headache - one of the symptoms of my particular form of arthritis - sore hips, and a great exhaustion making mental concentration questionable at best.  I have taken care of the essentials of the day and will soon return to my bed for a bit of prayer, reading, and - hopefully - a good long nap to give my body the rest it tells me it needs; my tired bones do not enjoy the rain or the 93% humidity level in the air today.  Today is one of those days when the words of the prophet Isaiah come readily to mind: "Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees" (Isaiah 35:3).

If someone were to look upon me today, he likely wouldn't notice anything different, except perhaps a tired look to my face uncommon at 10:00 in the morning.  That's how it often is with the cross, isn't it?  It is a deeply personal sharing in the sufferings of Christ that others do not see or know, unless we share them with others.  Each of has our own cross the Lord invites us to carry; today, and every Friday, is a good day to remember that and to pray for one another.

Let us pray for one another this day, that each of us may carry our cross with joy and peace and so "complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church" (Colossians 1:24).

30 January 2014

The curious timing of an article about the "Vatican bank"

The Associated Press published today an article by Nicole Winfield concerning a "technical glitch" that resulted in tens of pensioners with monies in the "Vatican bank" receiving a letter telling them they would need to withdraw their monies or lose them.  The mistake has been acknowledged and an apology has been made.

Certainly this is a newsworthy article, especially given the publicity of the reforms of the "Vatican bank" that began with Pope Benedict XVI and have been heightened by Pope Francis, but what seems odd to me is the timing of this article.

In the fifth paragraph of the report, we are told:
Bank President Ernst Von Freyberg penned a terse letter to clients Sept. 19, telling them to come to the bank before Nov. 30 to transfer their money out because they no longer fit the criteria of account-holders set by the board.

Today is January 30th.  The letters were mailed September 19th.  The deadline for withdrawal was November 30.  Two months ago.

Why are hearing about this now?

Life in Italy: Renting a car

I have wanted to visit the Shrine of the Holy Face in Manoppello since His Holiness Benedict XVI visited the shrine in September 2006.

This desire increased after I read Paul Badde's excellent book on the Shroud of Turin and the veil venerated at Manoppello, The True Icon: From the Shroud of Turin to the Veil of Manoppello.

On Saturday, a friend and I plan to take a pilgrimage day to pray before the Holy Face and have rented a car to do so, there being no other truly simple way to get there.

Renting a car in Italy, much like many other things, does not follow quite the same process as in the United States of America.  On the car rental company's web site, after selecting the day and type of car I would like, I was asked to provide what kind of credit card I will be using to pay (Visa, MasterCard, etc.).  Curiously, I was not asked to provide the credit card number or the expiration date; I presume that information will be collected when we arrive for the car.

For some time now, I have been saying, somewhat tongue in cheek, that if there is a simpler or more efficient way to do something, it will never occur to the Italians.  Life in Italy is very good, but it is a good thing the Italians no longer run the known world.

The Pope cannot change what he did not make

Commenting on the Rolling Stones article that the Holy See says was written with "surprising crudeness," Father Dwight Longenecker has succinctly described what the media and others continually - and likely willfully - refuse to accept about the Church:
What casual observers don’t understand is that Catholic moral teaching is intimately bound up with Catholic theology. Catholics do not simply have a rule book like a school handbook which the Pope can edit and change whenever he wants like the school principal does. Catholic moral teaching on human sexuality is integrated with what Catholics believe about the human person, and what we believe about the human person is integrated with what we believe about God the Father; his Son, Jesus Christ; and Mary, the Mother of God. In Catholicism, what we believe and how we behave is an integrated unity, like two hands folded in prayer.
Pope Francis, or any future Pope, is not going to change the Church's teaching regarding marriage, sexuality, abortion, euthanasia, or the non-ordination of women because he cannot change it.  The Church has not created her own teaching but has received it from Jesus Christ; she cannot change what she did not make.  It really is that simple.

Pope to Notre Dame: Be an uncompromising witness to the Church

One week after the New York Times published an editorial by Gary Gutting, a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, in which he suggested "the pope might be open to significant revision of the absolute ban on abortion" and that in some circumstances it might be morally permissible to kill a "potential human" in its mother's womb, Pope Francis received in audience the trustees of the University of Notre Dame.

Turning to one his favorite themes, that of missionary discipleship, the Holy Father reminded the delegation of the role of a Catholic university:
This commitment to “missionary discipleship” ought to be reflected in a special way in Catholic universities (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 132-134), which by their very nature are committed to demonstrating the harmony of faith and reason and the relevance of the Christian message for a full and authentically human life. Essential in this regard is the uncompromising witness of Catholic universities to the Church’s moral teaching, and the defense of her freedom, precisely in and through her institutions, to uphold that teaching as authoritatively proclaimed by the magisterium of her pastors. It is my hope that the University of Notre Dame will continue to offer unambiguous testimony to this aspect of its foundational Catholic identity, especially in the face of efforts, from whatever quarter, to dilute that indispensable witness [emphasis mine].
I'm not sure what "unambiguous testimony" to which Pope Francis refers.  Over the past decade, Notre Dame has been anything but unambiguous, even in recent days.  It seems there is some serious work to be done at the University of Notre Dame if she is to be an "uncompromising witness."

The Superpope is gone

The image of the Superpope that has captivated much of the media in recent days has now been removed from the side of the building of the Borgo in Rome:



The (in)tolerance of Jesus


The ever-insightful Peter Kreeft has noted that "we are evangelizing to a new audience, one that does not know Christ but thinks it does."

Following the recent spectacle during the Grammy awards, a good friend of mine received a comment on his Facebook page:
I guess you think that gays are gay because they want to be, not because they are born that way? I would like to think they are born that way because I can't imagine actually wanting to go through all the crap they have to go through. If they want to get married, more power to them. It doesn't bother me. What bothers me is I don't have anyone in my life and I'm straight as straight can be. I'm just more tolerant I guess. Also, some of those couples who got "married" on the show were heterosexual and some of mixed races. How do you feel about that? I love you and I grew up Catholic and I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, but I thought Jesus taught us to be tolerant of others? Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think so.
This comment is a perfect example of what Dr. Kreeft points out so succinctly.

Too often we forget that, as Archbishop Chaput has pointed out, “tolerance is not a Christian virtue. Charity, justice, mercy, prudence, honesty — these are Christian virtues. And obviously, in a diverse community, tolerance is an important working principle. But it’s never an end in itself. In fact, tolerating grave evil within a society is itself a form of serious evil.”  Continuing on, he says:
Likewise, democratic pluralism does not mean that Catholics should be quiet in public about serious moral issues because of some misguided sense of good manners. A healthy democracy requires vigorous moral debate to survive. Real pluralism demands that people of strong beliefs will advance their convictions in the public square — peacefully, legally and respectfully, but energetically and without embarrassment. Anything less is bad citizenship and a form of theft from the public conversation.”
In response to this claim of the commenter on the tolerance of Jesus, I suggested several passages of the Gospel, in which Jesus speaks, that refute the commenter's claim of who he is.

A tolerant man, I suggested, does not go about calling out, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17).  To call people to repentance is at the same time an implicit condemnation of sinful actions; if no sins have been committed, there is nothing of which to repent.

A tolerant man does not make judgments on someone's righteousness and say to them, "For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:20).

A tolerant man does not say, "every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment" (Matthew 5:22).

A tolerant man does not say, "truly, I say to you, you will never get out [or prison] till you have paid the last penny" (Matthew 5:26).

A tolerant man does not say, "But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:28).

A tolerant man does not go about crying out, "You hypocrite" (Matthew 7:5; 15:7; 23:13, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29).

A tolerant man does not begin a sentence, saying, "If you then, who are evil..." (Matthew 7:11).

A tolerant man does not declare, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 7:21).

A tolerant man does not say, "whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 10:33).

A tolerant man does not go about crying out, "Woe to you" (Matthew 11:21; 23:13, 15, 16, 23, 25, 27, 29)!

A tolerant man does not exclaim, "O faithless and perverse generation" (Matthew 17:17).

A tolerant man does not refer to people as "whitewashed tombs" and a "brood of vipers" (Matthew 23:27, 33).

By now you surely get the idea.  N.B.: These examples come only from one of the four Gospels.  Other examples abound.

It was acknowledged that the commenter was unfamiliar with most of these passages.  Not surprisingly, the person has not since commented; I can only suppose the verses were either not consulted, or the person has no response to the actual words of Jesus.

We have far too many people - Catholics, former Catholics, Protestants, and otherwise - who claim to know what Jesus condemns and condones but who have never actually read even one of the Gospels.  Instead, they posit their own beliefs for Jesus'.

Notice the use of words: "I would like to think;" "I can't imagine;" "What bothers me;" "I'm just more tolerant;" "I thought Jesus taught us to be tolerant;" "Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think so."  These thoughts do not begin with Jesus, but with the individual.  And this commenter is not alone; we've all read comments like this, heard them, and probably even have had them addressed to us personally.  What are we to say in response?

Jesus condemned sinful actions, but not sinners themselves.  He warned them sternly about the coming judgment, of the separation of the sheep from the goats, about eternal life and eternal death.  He called sinners to repentance - and still calls sinners to repentance - so that they might share in his life, but if sinners do not repent they will not share in his life.

When he comes in his glory, "who will endure the day of his coming?  And who can stand when he appears" (Malachi 3:2)? These words of Sacred Scripture will be proclaimed to us this Sunday.  It is "the LORD of hosts" who comes, "the fall and rise of many in Israel;" will he find us worthy of his presence (Malachi 3:1; Luke 2:34)?

We cannot forget that Jesus said quite clearly, "I have not come to bring peace, but a sword" (Matthew 10:34).  These are not the words of a tolerant man, as the world understands tolerance.  Jesus tolerates sinners, but he does not tolerate sin.  We must ask ourselves: "Is this a man to whom I will entrust myself completely?"

Returning to the demand for the tolerance of objectively sinful acts, if you pay close attention to these demands you begin to notice something curious: Those who demand tolerance of their views are absolutely intolerant of the views of anyone who happens to disagree with them, regardless of the reasonableness of their disagreement.  This is why George Weigel has called tolerance the "supreme virtue of the culture of radical relativism."

As Jennifer Hartline has written:
The Gospel of Tolerance really only has one rule: thou shalt tolerate any action, belief, lifestyle, agenda, and person except the person who believes a certain lifestyle, action or agenda is wrong and has the gall to say so out loud. The real goal here is not acceptance but submission.  It's not enough to "get along" or tolerate quietly. You must approve.  You don't dare disapprove publicly.  Those who don't tow the line will be punished [emphases original].
Recall how the commenter above - who is, again, not alone - phrased it: "I'm just more tolerant I guess."  In the name of tolerance a judgment is made, a subtle condemnation, really.  Such a judgment is, frankly, nothing less than an attempt to stifle and quiet an opposing voice, which seems an odd way to insist on the importance of tolerance.

The culture of radical relativism insists there is no single good, no single truth, except what I declare to be good and true and you cannot speak against my choice but I can certainly - and must - speak against your choice.

This is not the way of Jesus.  He was, and remains, tolerant of sinners but intolerant of sin.  As Archbishop Fulton Sheen said:
Christian love bears evil, but it does not tolerate it.
It does penance for the sins of others, but it is not broadminded about sin.
The cry for tolerance never induces it to quench its hatred of the evil philosophies that have entered into contest with the Truth.
It forgives the sinner, and it hates the sin; it is unmerciful to the error in his mind.
The sinner it will always take back into the bosom of the Mystical Body;
but his lie will never be taken into the treasury of His Wisdom.
Real love involves real hatred:
whoever has lost the power of moral indignation and the urge to drive the buyers and sellers from the temples
has also lost a living, fervent love of Truth.
Charity, then, is not a mild philosophy of "live and let live";
it is not a species of sloppy sentiment.
Charity is the infusion of the Spirit of God,
which makes us love the beautiful and hate the morally ugly.
This must always be our response.

29 January 2014

Judge: "A same-sex marriage remains somehow insufficient to establish a parent-child relationship"

The legal reality of same-sex "marriages" in some states of the Union has created no small number of legal questions and curiosities, not the least of which is the status of children born through in vitro fertilization to same-sex couples, as highlighted yesterday in the New York Times.

When two women who are legally "married" in the state of New York approached the court to adopt a child, Judge Margarita López Torres said their was no reason for the two women to legally adopt the child because both of their names already appear on the birth certificate.

In her ruling, the judge noted that "a same-sex marriage remains somehow insufficient to establish a parent-child relationship."  That insufficiency couldn't be biological, could it?

The ruling has raised concerns among gay rights activists about the status of children of same-sex couples who might move to other states where such "marriages" are not legally recognized.

On that Rolling Stone article about Pope Francis

Since the election of Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio to the See of Peter the media has continually attempted to manipulate the words of Pope Francis to suit the agenda of the media.  To my disappointment, the Press Office has said surprisingly little about such manipulations until recent days.

It seems the forthcoming publication of Rolling Stone with Pope Francis on the cover the Press Office may have finally ruffled a few feathers, as it were, and so the Press Office has become a bit more direct in its criticism of the media's portrayal of the Holy Father.

Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., Director of the Press Office, apparently finally having grown tired of the media's constant attempt to pit Francis against his predecessor Benedict in a sort of Good Pope/Bad Pope narrative, said, as reported by Zenit:
Unfortunately, the article disqualifies itself, falling in the usual mistake of a superficial journalism, which in order to highlight the positive aspects of Pope Francis, thinks it should describe in a negative way the pontificate of Pope Benedict, and does so with a surprising crudeness.
He went on to note that "this is not the way to do a good service even to Pope Francis, who knows very well what the Church owes to his predecessor."

UPDATED: The image of the superhero Pope

An image of Pope Francis in the form of a superman graffiti-ed in the Borgo area near the Basilica of Saint Peter has been all over the news recently.  So far as I can tell, it first surfaced through the Facebook page of the Swiss Guard who posted this image yesterday morning:


Since then, numerous outlets are reporting that the image appeared over the weekend.  Unless there is more than of these images in the Borgo, this simply is not true; I saw it several months back (in late September, if memory serves properly).

I'm certain I took a picture of it when I saw it, but I cannot manage to find it.  I'll keep looking, though, and if I do find it I'll pass on the time stamp to give at least some indication of how long it may have been up.  Why it's taken this long for the media to notice is quite beyond me.

Father Dwight Longenecker is presently in Rome and has seen the image, as well.  He offers a few reflections on the notion of a papal superhero:
Is Pope Francis a superhero? First we have to define a hero. The classic hero is one who goes on the hero’s quest. He or she leaves their ordinary world of comfort and security to set out on a great adventure. Once on that journey they meet allies and enemies, they encounter great dangers and take huge risks. They eventually overcome the dragon, the beasts, the villains and the darkness not only to defeat evil and win the treasure and defeat the prize, but also to become wise and pure and therefore become a hero.

Since “super” means “above” then a superhero is one who goes on the hero’s quest with strength from above. This strength we call “grace”. So is Pope Francis a superhero? By all means. Yes! But so is every Christian who wins the prize and overcomes evil in their lives. All the saints are superheroes and all the Christians who have heard the call to truly follow Christ are on the heroic quest. We’re a work in progress. We’ve heard the call and set out on the great adventure of following Christ, until at last we overcome the world and enter into the realm of the superheroes [more].
I've never been much of a superhero/comic book fan, but I do like wearing capes and am happy that superheroes wear them.  The Incredibles may not like them, but only because theirs aren't detachable from their costumes (mine are).

Update: It seems that I did not take a picture of the image, but the Vatican Insider has provided the name of the artist.

Why does prayer feel different in a church than in my room?

As I sat down this morning to catch up on the world through Facebook and Twitter, one of my former students asked a question of me.  He had just returned from a period of prayer in a nearby church and asked, "While I was there it was really weird feeling compared to like just praying in my room.  Why is that?"

I thought I understood what he meant, but, just to be sure, I asked what felt different about it.  He said, "Like someone was there with me when I was alone for the majority of the time."  He had just come from a Catholic church and was praying before the tabernacle.

He had not been alone, I answered, but was in the very presence of Jesus Christ, present in the tabernacle; the Lord was with him.  He had stumbled upon the great secret of life and found the means through which Jesus keeps his promise to be with us always; though a Catholic who prays, the reality of the Eucharist was revealed to him in those moments of prayer in a way it had not been before.  Have you had such an encounter with the Lord?

If often happens - regrettably - that we do not feel the Real Presence of the Lord at Sunday Mass.  There are often many distractions around us: friends and family, music and responses, children crying, people chatting and moving about, and even by a desire to participate as fully and consciously as possible.  None of these are bad in and of themselves but do sometimes lead us to miss the simply reality that we have come into God's presence; they can disturb the silence necessary to be aware of his presence.

To enter a Catholic church or chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved at a more quiet time is quite another matter.  If we quiet ourselves and are still, we will slowly become aware of a certain stillness unlike any other.  There is a quiet peace and a subtle glory to it and, as my former student found, it can also be uncomfortable.  Why?

To be in the very presence of Christ makes us aware of our sins, of our failures to love, and of our need for his tender mercy.  Rather than acknowledge our sinfulness and confess our sins, we often would prefer to put our minds to something else and so we carry on about our day without spending much time in his presence (if we even visit him in the tabernacle outside of Sunday Mass).  This is a great tragedy.  If we do not wish to be in his presence in this life, would we want to be in his presence for eternity?

He gently calls us to himself, saying, "Come to me."  The uncomfortableness we might experience does not come from him, but from ourselves; it comes from our pride.  If we enter his presence with humility and allow ourselves to rest his stillness; if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable; if we yield and allow ourselves to be conquered by his love, then we will know a joy and a peace the world cannot give and does not even know.

This was the experience of Saint Damien of Moloka'i, who wrote of the Blessed Sacrament:

I find my consolation in the one and only companion who will never leave me, that is, our Divine Savior in the Holy Eucharist. . . .It is at the foot of the altar that we find the strength necessary in this isolation of ours. Without the Blessed Sacrament a position like mine would be unbearable. But, having Our Lord at my side, I continue always to be happy and content. . . . Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the most tender of friends with souls who seek to please Him. His goodness knows how to proportion itself to the smallest of His creatures as to the greatest of them. Be not afraid then in your solitary conversations, to tell Him of your miseries, your fears, your worries, of those who are dear to you, of your projects, and of your hopes. Do so with confidence and with an open heart.
Please, do not shy away from him!  Enter his presence with thanksgiving.  Bow down in humility and he will raise you up!


28 January 2014

Aquinas' prayer before study

When I was a seminarian I took a class on the canonical preparation for marriage taught by His Excellency the Most Reverend Joseph N. Perry, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago.  He began each class with a simple prayer of Saint Thomas Aquinas, whom the Church celebrates today.

Here in Rome we're currently in between semesters and in the exam period.  Some of the priests in the Casa are a bit frantic at the moment, but since I have just one exam this period - and not until February 6th - I am not one of them (I understand I'll pay for this come the end of the second semester).

At any rate, for those following the European schedule - or others - who might profit from the Dumb Ox's prayer, here it is:
Creator of all things, source of light and wisdom, origin of all being, graciously let a ray of your light penetrate the darkness of my understanding.

Take from the double darkness in which I have been born, an obscurity of sin and ignorance.

Give me a keen understanding, a retentive memory, and the ability to grasp things correctly and fundamentally.
Creator of all things, true source of light and wisdom, origin of all being, graciously let a ray of your light penetrate the darkness of my understanding.

Take from me the double darkness in which I have been born, an obscurity of sin and ignorance.

Give me a keen understanding, a retentive memory, and the ability to grasp things correctly and fundamentally.

Grant me the talent of being exact in my explanations and the ability to express myself with thoroughness and charm.

Point out the beginning, direct the progress, and help in the completion.  I ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.   Amen.
- See more at: http://washingtonsquarecatholic.org/index.cfm?load=page&page=239#sthash.gLomeFjE.dpuf

Creator of all things, true source of light and wisdom, origin of all being, graciously let a ray of your light penetrate the darkness of my understanding.

Take from me the double darkness in which I have been born, an obscurity of sin and ignorance.

Give me a keen understanding, a retentive memory, and the ability to grasp things correctly and fundamentally.

Grant me the talent of being exact in my explanations and the ability to express myself with thoroughness and charm.

Point out the beginning, direct the progress, and help in the completion.  I ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.   Amen.
- See more at: http://washingtonsquarecatholic.org/index.cfm?load=page&page=239#sthash.gLomeFjE.dpuf
Give me talent of being exact in my explanations and the ability to express myself with thoroughness and charm.

Point out the beginning, direct the progress, and help in the completion.  Through Christ our Lord.
Amen.
Creator of all things, true source of light and wisdom, origin of all being, graciously let a ray of your light penetrate the darkness of my understanding.

Take from me the double darkness in which I have been born, an obscurity of sin and ignorance.

Give me a keen understanding, a retentive memory, and the ability to grasp things correctly and fundamentally.

Grant me the talent of being exact in my explanations and the ability to express myself with thoroughness and charm.

Point out the beginning, direct the progress, and help in the completion.  I ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.   Amen.
- See more at: http://washingtonsquarecatholic.org/index.cfm?load=page&page=239#sthash.gLomeFjE.dpuf
Creator of all things, true source of light and wisdom, origin of all being, graciously let a ray of your light penetrate the darkness of my understanding.

Take from me the double darkness in which I have been born, an obscurity of sin and ignorance.

Give me a keen understanding, a retentive memory, and the ability to grasp things correctly and fundamentally.

Grant me the talent of being exact in my explanations and the ability to express myself with thoroughness and charm.

Point out the beginning, direct the progress, and help in the completion.  I ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.   Amen.
- See more at: http://washingtonsquarecatholic.org/index.cfm?load=page&page=239#sthash.gLomeFjE.dpuf
Creator of all things, true source of light and wisdom, origin of all being, graciously let a ray of your light penetrate the darkness of my understanding.

Take from me the double darkness in which I have been born, an obscurity of sin and ignorance.

Give me a keen understanding, a retentive memory, and the ability to grasp things correctly and fundamentally.

Grant me the talent of being exact in my explanations and the ability to express myself with thoroughness and charm.

Point out the beginning, direct the progress, and help in the completion.  I ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.   Amen.
- See more at: http://washingtonsquarecatholic.org/index.cfm?load=page&page=239#sthash.gLomeFjE.dpuf
Creator of all things, true source of light and wisdom, origin of all being, graciously let a ray of your light penetrate the darkness of my understanding.

Take from me the double darkness in which I have been born, an obscurity of sin and ignorance.

Give me a keen understanding, a retentive memory, and the ability to grasp things correctly and fundamentally.

Grant me the talent of being exact in my explanations and the ability to express myself with thoroughness and charm.

Point out the beginning, direct the progress, and help in the completion.  I ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.   Amen.
- See more at: http://washingtonsquarecatholic.org/index.cfm?load=page&page=239#sthash.gLomeFjE.dpuf
Creator of all things, true source of light and wisdom, origin of all being, graciously let a ray of your light penetrate the darkness of my understanding.

Take from me the double darkness in which I have been born, an obscurity of sin and ignorance.

Give me a keen understanding, a retentive memory, and the ability to grasp things correctly and fundamentally.

Grant me the talent of being exact in my explanations and the ability to express myself with thoroughness and charm.

Point out the beginning, direct the progress, and help in the completion.  I ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.   Amen.
- See more at: http://washingtonsquarecatholic.org/index.cfm?load=page&page=239#sthash.gLomeFjE.dpuf

Jesus Christ, the secret to a happy life

A reader once asked Susan Cain, author of the excellent book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking (a book which everyone should read) about the secret to a happy life.  She responded with a brief answer:
The only thing that matters is love. Gravitate to the work, people, and causes you love, and give them your all. Follow this (and barring health or other disasters) you will be happy.
So long as one loves what is true and that one's love is authentic, I cannot disagree with her.

When I addressed the graduating class of Blackburn College in May of 2010, I addressed the same question, but answered with Jesus Christ:
If you, dear graduates, seek to cultivate in the field of your souls the theological virtues of faith, hope and love, you will always be near to the happy life. These three virtues, infused in us by God alone, if we use them well, will always keep us on the path that leads to Jesus Christ, to him who is the happy life [more].

Precious sunlight

My ever-growing dislike of winter is not without cause.  While it is the cold temperatures that I like least of all, I am certainly not overly fond of the lack of light.  In recent days I find myself noticing this greater darkness more than before.

The sun over the Eternal City does not seem to rise higher than 45 degrees, if it makes it that high.  When combined with the narrow streets and buildings that rise five and six stories, seeing the sun can take some effort on most days.

Because of the height of the building in which I live and the palm tree in the inner courtyard just outside my window, sunlight streams into my room now for about thirty minutes each day, if the day is not cloudy and the plant I bought in the fall is struggling to survive.

To make it even worse, winters in Rome, while not very cold by midwestern standards, are generally filled with clouds and rain, which contributes even more to the lack of sunlight.

This is what make days like today all the more special, when the sun shines brightly - if lowly - against a mostly blue sky:


In the winter, the sunlight is all the more precious.

Sometimes it is the simple blessings in life that we must remember in order to keep plodding on.  Spring will be here before too long, though not soon enough.

27 January 2014

Pope: We are here today because of good priests and bishops

Regrettable as it is, most of us find it far easier to grumble and complain about the failings and weaknesses of others than to praise and thank them for jobs well done.  This is true within families, at places or work, and even - and perhaps especially - within the Church.

In his homily this morning, His Holiness Pope Francis spoke again about priests, this time highlighting the good that so many of them do:
“But, Father, I have read in a newspaper that a bishop has done such a thing, or a priest who has done this thing." Oh yes, I read it, too. Tell me, though: do the papers carry news of what great charity so many priests, so many priests in so many parishes of the city and the countryside, perform? Of the great work they do in carrying their people forward? No? This is not news. It is the same as always: a single falling tree makes more noise than a forest that grows. Today, thinking about this anointing of David, it will do us good to think of our brave, holy, good, faithful bishops and priests, and pray for them. We are here today thanks to them.
Priests very often hear from people who are upset with them for any number of reasons, some of which are legitimate and some of which are not, but they do not often hear from those who are grateful the work they do, for a decision they have made, for a homily preached.

As Pope Francis reflects interiorly on the good of priests in so many parishes, it is a fitting time for us to think of the priests who have impacted us in a positive way, who, in the Holy Father's words, "have passed on the teaching of the faith, have given the sacraments: [in a word], holiness."

We would do well to take the words of the Holy Father to prayer.  Is there a priest who has inspired and encouraged me to deeper holiness?  Have I thanked him for his efforts and devoted service?  If not, should I sit down this week and write a brief letter or note to him, thanking him for passing on the faith, for administering the sacraments, for fostering holiness.

Each of us enjoys reading grateful and uplifting letters; priests are no different.

While we're at it, it might be a good time to write a similar letter to someone else who has helped us to grow in holiness and to consider in prayer how we help others grow in holiness.  We have to remember, as His Holiness Benedict XVI reminded us in his encyclical Spe Salvi:
Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse (48).

An English reader

A few years ago this blog had a fair number of consistent readers from England, for reasons which I could never quite discern, but today I believe I found the answer.  Those numbers have decreased somewhat in recent years, no doubt in part because posting here has been less regular in recent years as it once was.

Among the priests with whom I sat at table this afternoon was an English priests (we have two Englishmen with us at the Casa Santa Maria, and seven Australians).  I don't remember how it happened, but somehow the topic of blogs came up and so I mentioned mine.

After I gave the name of the blog and its address, the English priest, with wide eyes, asked for the name of it again.  I repeated it and he said, "That's you!"  We've known each other know for several months but he had not yet made the connection.  Apparently he was one of my regular readers from England, together with a number of his then fellow seminarians.  I'm happy to say that he was very pleased by what he read here.

The more I travel the wide world, the smaller - and more connected - the world becomes.

25 January 2014

What the conversion of Saint Paul means for us

"The average reader may be tempted to linger too long on certain details, such as the light in the sky, falling to the ground, the voice that called him, his new condition of blindness, his healing like scales falling from his eyes and the fast that he made. But all these details refer to the heart of the event: the Risen Christ appears as a brilliant light and speaks to Saul, transforms his thinking and his entire life. The dazzling radiance of the Risen Christ blinds him; thus what was his inner reality is also outwardly apparent, his blindness to the truth, to the light that is Christ. And then his definitive "yes" to Christ in Baptism restores his sight and makes him really see.

"In the ancient Church Baptism was also called "illumination", because this Sacrament gives light; it truly makes one see. In Paul what is pointed out theologically was also brought about physically: healed of his inner blindness, he sees clearly. Thus St Paul was not transformed by a thought but by an event, by the irresistible presence of the Risen One whom subsequently he would never be able to doubt, so powerful had been the evidence of the event, of this encounter. It radically changed Paul's life in a fundamental way; in this sense one can and must speak of a conversion. ....

"Turning now to ourselves, let us ask what this means for us. It means that for us too Christianity is not a new philosophy or a new morality. We are only Christians if we encounter Christ. Of course, he does not show himself to us in this overwhelming, luminous way, as he did to Paul to make him the Apostle to all peoples. But we too can encounter Christ in reading Sacred Scripture, in prayer, in the liturgical life of the Church. We can touch Christ's Heart and feel him touching ours. Only in this personal relationship with Christ, only in this encounter with the Risen One do we truly become Christians. And in this way our reason opens, all Christ's wisdom opens as do all the riches of truth. Therefore let us pray the Lord to illumine us, to grant us an encounter with his presence in our world, and thus to grant us a lively faith, an open heart and great love for all, which is capable of renewing the world."

- His Holiness Benedict XVI

Grief, melancholy, sunsets, and eternity

One week ago today marked the 26th year since the death of my mother.  I have been pondering this post since then, looking for the right words.  Words in these moments are not always easy to find.; whether or not I have found them remains to be seen.

As might be expected, I have spent a good part of the last week reflecting on more than a quarter century of life without my parents, and me being not quite yet 36 years of age.  Many often say that no parent should ever have to bury a child; the reverse is also true.

When I reflected on  the 25th anniversary of my father's death, I wrote:
...sadness, like joy, is comfortable to me, a welcome companion from time to time as it reminds me of the goodness of the Lord and the promise of eternal merriment. 
These words remain true today, and perhaps even more so.  This is not to say that I am depressed, but rather that, to quote Frodo Baggins, "I am wounded, wounded; it will never really heal."  These wounds have brought great sorrow, but they have also taught me much.  They will not heal this side of eternity because "love is strong as death" (Song of Songs 8:6).

A few weeks back I received a letter from a friend who recently lost her husband of 62 years.  Reflecting on my experience of death, I wrote to her:
As we mourn the loss of those we love so dearly, well-meaning family and friends often seek to comfort us with clichés, which are generally as untrue as they are lame.  Not quite willing to enter into our suffering, they turn uncomfortably to words.

We hear especially these days the adage that “time heals all wounds.”  The experience of life has taught me this is quite false; time may soothe our wounds and make them easier to bear, but it does not, it cannot, entirely heal them.  The full healing of our wounds can only occur where time no longer passes, in the presence of Him who died for us and still bears his wounds, the marks of his love.  The wounds of grief are easy to bear one day and the next they are a great burden indeed; such is the price of love.

The bad moments will continue, but good moments will also come.  Likely enough, you will come to know a joy mingled with sadness, and a sadness mingled with joy.  J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of the Lord of the Rings, possessed many profound insights into the mystery of life and death.  After the One Ring had been destroyed in the fire of Mount Doom, much had already been lost but much had also been saved.  As the deeds of the heroes were made known, Tolkien recounts the following scene:

And all the host laughed and wept, and in the midst of their merriment and tears the clear voice of the minstrel rose like silver and gold, and all men were hushed.  And he sang to them, now in the Elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.

Do not be afraid of these tears, mingled with joy and sorrow, for “not all tears are an evil.”
Yes, the experience of death has indeed brought me to that region where pain and delight flow together, where not all tears are evil, where sadness and joy are comfortable.

Yesterday a friend shared a very short clip from an episode of Doctor Who (a show I really do not like) which seems quite apropos:



Good lines can sometimes come from bad shows.

Perhaps sadness is not the correct word; melancholy, I think, would be truer and closer to it.  Victor Hugo described it as "the pleasure of being said," and Aristotle said that "melancholy men are of all others the most witty."  David Hume noted something a bit more profound, that "men are much oftener thrown on their knees by the melancholy than by the agreeable passions."

There's a very good description of the melancholic person at Fish Eaters (much of it fits, but not all) that says of the melancholic:
The melancholic looks at life always from the serious side. At the core of his heart there is always a certain sadness, 'a weeping of the heart,' not because the melancholic is sick or morbid, as many claim, but because he is permeated with a strong longing for an ultimate good (God) and eternity, and feels continually hampered by earthly and temporal affairs and impeded in his cravings. The melancholic is a stranger here below and feels homesick for God and eternity.
The other day I went for a walk with one of the other priests here at the Casa Santa Maria to visit the church of Saint Agnes and our conversation shifted to places warm and sunny (it's been cloudy and rainy in Rome later, with a damp chill in the air).  He asked what I enjoyed most about Hawaii.

After a moment's thought I told him either the sunrises or the sunsets, but a moment later I knew for certain: The sunsets are what I most enjoy.

When I visited Hawaii in August of 2012, I wrote:
It seems nearly impossible, seeing the beauty of this land, not to be drawn towards the Lord.  The lapping waves on the shore draw your thoughts to eternity; the brilliance of the stars leads your thoughts to the heavens; the wind seems a gentle kiss; the mountains recall God's firmness and strength; the many colored flowers of varied shapes and sizes are but gifts of love.  It is difficult here to be lost in created things but easy to be led to the Creator; here the fragrance of the Lord is to be found everywhere.
This is all true.  Still, there is something about the setting sun over the deep waters that beckons; something sings  As The Little Prince said, "You know, when you're feeling very sad, sunsets are wonderful."  Like the sadness of grief, sunsets deepen our longing for eternity; so it is that even as they are melancholy, they are filled with joy.

The melancholic knows well the plea of the Psalmist:
One thing I ask of the LORD;
this I seek:
To dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
That I may gaze on the loveliness of the LORD
and contemplate his temple (Psalm 27:4).
There, in the presence of the Lord, we will be united with those who have gone before us in faith.  There, with the Lord, we will be with our loved ones and our wounds at long last healed.