19 September 2016

Orthodox Bishops celebrate the Divine Liturgy before the Volto Santo

Word of the Volto Santo - the veil that covered the face of Christ Jesus in the tomb and now bears the image of his face after his Resurrection - slowly continues to spread among the faithful as the desire to behold the face of God increases in the hearts of those who love him.

Today, nearly seventy bishops of the Latin and Orthodox Churches taking part in the fourteenth plenary session of the joint commission for theological dialogue between the Churches visited the Shrine of the Holy Face in Manoppello, Italy where the Divine Liturgy was celebrated before the Volto Santo:

PHOTO: Antonio Bini
I learned of the plans for this celebration some months ago and have anxiously been awaiting photographs and stories from the day's celebrations (which I hope to share with you as I receive them).

PHOTO: Antonio Bini
Antonio Bini, to whom I am grateful for many kindnesses over these past several months, reports that a representative of each of the fourteen Orthodox Churches prayed in ten languages before the Volto Santo. Afterward, they prayed the Our Father together in Italian.

Let us pray that the Lord Jesus will restore unity to his Church through a mutual desire to look upon his Holy Face!

17 September 2016

The decline of American culture and politics, as seen in a Halloween parade

His Excellency the Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Conv., Archbishop of Philadelphia, gave the 2016 Tocqueville Lecture on Religious Liberty yesterday at the University of Notre Dame. He titled his lecture, "Sex, Family and the Liberty of the Church."
Within his remarks, Archbishop Chaput gave a rather blistering assessment of the current political situation in these United States of America (and it was not the first time he has done so in recent weeks):

Only God knows the human heart, so I presume that both major candidates for the White House this year intend well and have a reasonable level of personal decency behind their public images.  But I also believe that each candidate is very bad news for our country, though in different ways.  One candidate, in the view of a lot of people, is a belligerent demagogue with an impulse control problem.  And the other, also in the view of a lot of people, is a criminal liar, uniquely rich in stale ideas and bad priorities.

So where does that leave us?  The historian Henry Adams once described the practice of politics as “the systematic organization of hatreds.”  And there’s plenty in our current political season that invites cynicism.  But Christians don’t have that option.
I cannot say I disagree with his assessment. In fact, I think he has accurately described the current state of our political climate. The country I left three years ago when I began my studies in Rome is not the same country I returned to almost three months ago, and this saddens me greatly.

As it happens, I am one of those who sees one candidate as a belligerent demagogue and the other as a criminal liar. As such, I cannot, in good conscience, vote for either candidate of the two major parties; what your well-formed conscience tells you, I do not know.

I find myself thinking the same thought as Dr. Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, though he expresses it much more eloquently than I have previously managed to do:
I guess it will be my fault. Whichever way the election comes out, it's my fault. My friends who, for fear of Trump, are reluctantly but firmly supporting Clinton are telling me that unless I vote for her (not a chance!) I'm in effect voting for him. If he's elected, it's my fault. But my friends (there are more of them) who, for fear of Clinton, are supporting Trump, however reluctantly, are telling me that unless I vote for him I'm in effect voting for her. If she wins, it's my fault. So either way, it's my fault (or, as my friends on both sides say, "you own it"). But I'm still left baffled by the question of which one I'm actually voting for by not voting for either of them.
As I've considered my options these past many months, I'm intrigued by the American Solidarity Party, which is currently in something of its infancy, though I think it has a promising future.

When he surveyed the political landscape, which is necessarily shaped by the moral landscape of the country, Archbishop Chaput made this excellent observation:
But here’s my larger point: We’ve reached a moment when our political thinking and vocabulary as a nation seem exhausted.  The real effect that we as individuals have on the government and political class that claim to represent us – the big mechanical Golem we call Washington — is so slight that it breeds indifference and anger.

As Christians, then, our political engagement needs to involve more than just wringing our hands and whining about the ugly choice we face in November.  It needs to be more than a search for better candidates and policies, or shrewder slogans.  The task of renewing a society is much more long term than a trip every few years to the voting booth.  And it requires a different kind of people.  It demands that we be different people. 

Augustine said that complaining about the times makes no sense because we are the times.  And that means, in turn, that changing the country means first changing ourselves.
Be sure to read the entire text of the lecture he delivered at Notre Dame; you will not regret it.

This morning I wasvsurprised to learn that the Halloween parade in Vandalia, Illinois - a town within the boundaries of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois - will not involve the tossing of candy (or any candy, for that matter) this year. The decision was made by the Lion's Club, the organizing sponsor of the parade, after repeated warnings over the years. The reason for the decision is really quite reasonable:
The crowds have pushed further and further into the street requiring drivers of vehicles to constantly have to be on guard for children darting into the street to get that last elusive piece of candy.  Sadly, some parents actually push their children to run out and retrieve candy and some have created combative situations with crowd control personnel.  As has been stressed by the Lions in the past – this is extremely dangerous.  Large vehicles such as tractors and large 4 wheel drive trucks simply cannot see immediately in front of their vehicles [more].
Many people, both parents and children, will, I suspect, likely grumble and moan against the Lion's Club for this decision without ever realizing that they brought it upon themselves. This is, of course, what a self-centered culture leads to.

While Archbishop Chaput used the declining state of marriage and family life to highlight what needs to change in us as a people before our political climate changes for the better, he might just as easily - and just as effectively - have used the sad situation of the Vandalia Halloween parade. After all, if we are honest, this situation also stems from the declining state of marriage and family life.

12 September 2016

A name loved by angels and terrible to demons

As we celebrate today the Memorial of the Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we do well to consider what the name of Mary means.

In his Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, Saint Bonaventure tells us that "Mary is interpreted to mean star of the sea" (1.45), a title we considered last week when we celebrated her Nativity. 

In his sermon on the Annunciation, Saint Anthony of Padua said this about the Archangel Gabriel's address to Mary:
Note that the angel did not say, 'Hail Mary', but, 'Hail, full of grace'. We say, 'Hail, Mary ('star of the sea'), because we are in the midst of the sea, tossed by the waves and submerged by the storm. So we cry 'Star of the sea!', that through her we may come to the harbour of salvation. She it is who rescues those who call on her from the storm, shows them the way, and leads them to harbour. Angels need no rescuing from shipwreck, being safe in their homeland, whom the glory of God illuminates, and their lamp is the Lamb [cf. Revelation 21:23]. And so the angel did not say, 'Hail, Mary'. But we poor souls, cast into the sea from before God's eyes, at ever hour storm-tossed and at death's door, cry continually, 'Hail, Mary' (14).
What is more, the Archangel greeting Mary with 'Hail', a greeting that in Latin is rendered as Ave. Saint Anthony tells us that "the name 'Eva' [Eve] ('woe' or calamity) reverses the word 'Ave'. The name of the soul existing in mortal sin is 'Eva' ('woe or calamity'); but when she is converted to penitence, she hears 'Ave' (a-vae, 'without woe)" (11).

Earlier in the same sermon, the Doctor of the Gospel asked, "What is Mary but 'star of the sea', lighting the way to harbour for those tossing on the bitter waves? A name beloved of the angels, terrible to demons, health to sinners and sweet to the just" (3).

In his encyclical letter Spe salvi, Pope Benedict XVI wrote beautifully of the Star of the Sea and addressed a prayer to her:
With a hymn composed in the eighth or ninth century, thus for over a thousand years, the Church has greeted Mary, the Mother of God, as “Star of the Sea”: Ave maris stella. Human life is a journey. Towards what destination? How do we find the way? Life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route. The true stars of our life are the people who have lived good lives. They are lights of hope. Certainly, Jesus Christ is the true light, the sun that has risen above all the shadows of history. But to reach him we also need lights close by—people who shine with his light and so guide us along our way. Who more than Mary could be a star of hope for us? With her “yes” she opened the door of our world to God himself; she became the living Ark of the Covenant, in whom God took flesh, became one of us, and pitched his tent among us (cf. Jn 1:14).

So we cry to her: Holy Mary, you belonged to the humble and great souls of Israel who, like Simeon, were “looking for the consolation of Israel” (Lk 2:25) and hoping, like Anna, “for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk 2:38). Your life was thoroughly imbued with the sacred scriptures of Israel which spoke of hope, of the promise made to Abraham and his descendants (cf. Lk 1:55). In this way we can appreciate the holy fear that overcame you when the angel of the Lord appeared to you and told you that you would give birth to the One who was the hope of Israel, the One awaited by the world. Through you, through your “yes”, the hope of the ages became reality, entering this world and its history. You bowed low before the greatness of this task and gave your consent: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). When you hastened with holy joy across the mountains of Judea to see your cousin Elizabeth, you became the image of the Church to come, which carries the hope of the world in her womb across the mountains of history. But alongside the joy which, with your Magnificat, you proclaimed in word and song for all the centuries to hear, you also knew the dark sayings of the prophets about the suffering of the servant of God in this world. Shining over his birth in the stable at Bethlehem, there were angels in splendour who brought the good news to the shepherds, but at the same time the lowliness of God in this world was all too palpable. The old man Simeon spoke to you of the sword which would pierce your soul (cf. Lk 2:35), of the sign of contradiction that your Son would be in this world. Then, when Jesus began his public ministry, you had to step aside, so that a new family could grow, the family which it was his mission to establish and which would be made up of those who heard his word and kept it (cf. Lk 11:27f). Notwithstanding the great joy that marked the beginning of Jesus's ministry, in the synagogue of Nazareth you must already have experienced the truth of the saying about the “sign of contradiction” (cf. Lk 4:28ff). In this way you saw the growing power of hostility and rejection which built up around Jesus until the hour of the Cross, when you had to look upon the Saviour of the world, the heir of David, the Son of God dying like a failure, exposed to mockery, between criminals. Then you received the word of Jesus: “Woman, behold, your Son!” (Jn 19:26). From the Cross you received a new mission. From the Cross you became a mother in a new way: the mother of all those who believe in your Son Jesus and wish to follow him. The sword of sorrow pierced your heart. Did hope die? Did the world remain definitively without light, and life without purpose? At that moment, deep down, you probably listened again to the word spoken by the angel in answer to your fear at the time of the Annunciation: “Do not be afraid, Mary!” (Lk 1:30). How many times had the Lord, your Son, said the same thing to his disciples: do not be afraid! In your heart, you heard this word again during the night of Golgotha. Before the hour of his betrayal he had said to his disciples: “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (Jn 14:27). “Do not be afraid, Mary!” In that hour at Nazareth the angel had also said to you: “Of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk 1:33). Could it have ended before it began? No, at the foot of the Cross, on the strength of Jesus's own word, you became the mother of believers. In this faith, which even in the darkness of Holy Saturday bore the certitude of hope, you made your way towards Easter morning. The joy of the Resurrection touched your heart and united you in a new way to the disciples, destined to become the family of Jesus through faith. In this way you were in the midst of the community of believers, who in the days following the Ascension prayed with one voice for the gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14) and then received that gift on the day of Pentecost. The “Kingdom” of Jesus was not as might have been imagined. It began in that hour, and of this “Kingdom” there will be no end. Thus you remain in the midst of the disciples as their Mother, as the Mother of hope. Holy Mary, Mother of God, our Mother, teach us to believe, to hope, to love with you. Show us the way to his Kingdom! Star of the Sea, shine upon us and guide us on our way (49-50)!
Trusting in her maternal care for us, let us call frequently upon the holy name of Mary. Let us love her name with the angels and let us fear and revere her name with the demons (because the light she reflects from her Son illumines our sinfulness). If we call frequently upon her name, we will be guided by the Star of the Sea to her Son, before whom we will confess our sins; in this way, her name will be health and salvation for us. If we call frequently upon her name, we will be just and her name will be sweet on our lips and in our hearts.

09 September 2016

Mary, the true Lucifer

In our post-Enlightenment day when everything is viewed in black and white, as either/or instead of both/and, it may surprise some of the faithful to learn that the Doctor of the Gospels referred to Mary as the true Lucifer.

The name of title of Lucifer is generally taken to refer to the Evil One, to Satan, the one who scatters. The Lucifer is a Latin composite mean "light-bearer." It is applied to the prince of this world because he is said to have been the most beautiful of all of the angels. Historically, however, the title of Lucifer has also been applied to others.

Saint Anthony of Padua says that because "the birth of the blessed Virgin gave light to a world covered by darkness and the shadow of death," this verse can rightly be applied to her: "Like the morning star among the clouds" (Sirach 50:6).

In his first sermon on the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Anthony continues, saying:
The morning star is called Lucifer, because it shines more brightly among all the other stars, with what is properly called 'radiance'. Lucifer, going before the sun and heralding the morning, scatters the shades of night with the brightness of its light. The true morning star, or Lucifer, is blessed Mary; who, born in the midst of a cloud, put to flight the shadowy cloud, and in the morning of grace heralded the sun of justice to those who sat in darkness (2).
He summarizes all of this at the end of his sermon, saying simply, "She is called 'light,' because she scatters the darkness" (4).

Another of the early Franciscans, Saint Bonaventure, explains what it means to call Mary the morning star:
Her nature was made in a special way by God; Psalm 73:16: "You have made the morning light and the sun," that is, the Virgin and her Child. The morning light is mentioned before the sun, even though the dawn is created by the sun, the Virgin in time preceded her Child even though she was created by him; Psalm 86:5 says: "A man is born in her and the Highest himself has founded her;" Sirach 24:12: "He that made me, rested in my tabernacle." Colors are not apparent before dawn; so before the Virgin neither graces nor virtues were apparent but it was said: "O Lord, your mercy is in heaven" [Psalm 35:6] (Sermon 6 on the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin).
As the first light of day precedes the rising of the sun, so Mary precedes the coming of her Son.

In addition to calling her the Morning Star and the true Lucifer, Saint Anthony refers to Mary as "the full moon" (cf. Isaiah 30:26) because "she is perfect in every way." He explains: "The half-moon is imperfect, having markings and horns; but the glorious Virgin had no spot in her birth, because she was sanctified in her mother's womb and guarded by angels; and no horns of pride in her days, so that she shines fully and perfectly."

As we celebrate, then, this day of Mary's birth, let us pray with Saint Anthony:
We ask you then, our Lady, that as you are the morning star, you may by your splendor drive away the cloud of the devil's suggestions which covers the earth of our minds. Do you, who are the full moon, fill our emptiness and scatter the darkness of our sins, so that we may be able to come to the fullness of eternal life, to the light of unending glory. May he grant this, who brought you forth to be our light, who made you to be born on this day, that he might be born of you. To him be honor and glory for ever and ever.

07 September 2016

An unexpected question from two different people in two different cities

For clergy and consecrated religious, Halloween can often be an irritating day. It is not uncommon for priests, brothers, and sisters to receive such compliments as, "Cool costume!" It is also not uncommon to receive questions such as, "Are you really a nun?"

Though Halloween may be more than a month away yet, yesterday two different employees in two different gas stations in two different towns both asked me, "Are you a priest?" Since I was wearing my collar, I thought the answer might be rather obvious, but apparently it was not.

The question caught me off guard both times and I am not quite sure what to make of it. It could mean that my brother priests and I need to wear our collars more often in public so people become more accustomed to seeing them. It might also mean I should start a ministry to gas station employees. Time will tell.

04 September 2016

Islamic State Ongoing Updates - September 2016

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