30 January 2011

Decisions, decisions

I am happy to see Father Valencheck continue his comic series over at Adam's Ale. His current post reminds me of the situation at the Cathedral last evening.

The Pastor of the Cathedral and I invited a neighboring Pastor and seminarian over for dinner, but found that we were lacking in staples and so decided to go out to eat. Before heading out we sat around for a bit catching up and trying to decide where to go.

The best decision would could come to was not to do Chinese (that was my contribution).

Finding ourselves at a standstill with none of us wanting to make the decision we decided to call another Pastor and ask him where we should eat. Unfortunately, he was unable to join us or give us a decision.

At long last we settled on a restuarant just a few blocks away and set out on foot. A good meal was had by all.

And with your what?

Perhaps the most contentious aspect of the forthcoming revised translation of the Roman Missal - which takes effect in the Dioceses of the United States of America on the First Sunday of Advent - is the change of the people's response, "And also with you," to the more accurate, "And with your spirit."

Father Austin J. Milner, O.P. offers a very fine explanation of the reasoning behind the change. The short answer is:

“And with your spirit” is the literal translation of et cum spiritu tuo, which itself is a literal translation from the Greek. This phrase, whether in Greek or in Latin, was quite strange to the ancient world. It appears only in Christian writings. It already forms part of greetings at the end of some of the Pauline Epistles: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit brethren. Amen” (Gal 6:18; cf Phil 4:23; Philemon 25); “The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you” (2 Tim 4:22).
His full answer is well worth a read.

29 January 2011

The example of a saint, for my former students

While doing a bit of research for a homily for the coming celebration of Catholic Schools' Week - which begins this year on the memorial of Saint John Bosco, the patron of youth - I stumbled upon this helpful site with quotes from the "teacher and father to the young" (Collect of the day).

The Lord gives us the Saints as our friends and examples, so that in looking to them we might follow Christ all the more faithfully. Sometimes we choose saints and place ourselves under their patronage, and sometimes they choose us. The latter was the case with me and Don Bosco.

His example provided a great inspiration to me when I served as Parochial Vicar in Effingham while I taught at the high school and worked with the sports teams. Without his guidance, my ministry would have borne far less fruit; through his writings he taught me to be a loving father to those who were my spiritual sons. After I first encountered him through his writings, my ministry began to rise to new heights.

Browsing the quotes at the above site, I found this quote, the words of which I make my own:

Tell the boys that I shall be waiting for them all in Paradise.
May the Lord bring us all together again in his presence and, if it be his will, sooner.

Please, take a few moments and browse his words; learn from him as I have done.

Thoughts on Confirmation

Too often in recent decades the notion of the Sacrament of Confirmation as a 'rite of passage' has crept into the life of the Church. None of the Sacraments are milestones or rites of passage along the Christian life; the Sacraments are not about us as much as they are about Christ Jesus.

It is often said today the Sacrament of Confirmation allows a young person - or an older person - to "accept the faith for themselves." Rubbish! This notion you will not find in the Rite of Confirmation, in the Catechism or - unless I am much mistaken - in the tradition of the Church. The Catechism reminds us that "although Confirmation is sometimes called the 'sacrament of Christian maturity,' we must not confuse adult faith with the adult age of natural growth" (1308).

A person accepts the faith for himself when he renews his baptismal promises during the Easter season.

A person accepts the faith for himself when he renews his baptismal promises during the Baptism of a child.

A person accepts the faith for himself when he recites the Creed, either the Nicene at Mass or the Apostles during the rosary.

A person accepts the faith for himself when he responds, "Amen," to, "The Body of Christ," and receives the Eucharisitic Lord.

If a person has not accepted the faith for himself he should be doing none of these things, for in so doing he would make himself a great liar.

If Confirmation really were the acceptance of the faith for oneself, then my reception of this great Sacrament would be meaningless. Why? I was born, baptized and confirmed on the day of my birth, because I was not expected to live. Certainly as an infant of less than one day old I could not have accepted the faith for myself, and yet "his grace to me has not been ineffective" (I Corinthians 15:10).

It has been said that Confirmation is "a sacrament in search of a theology." Hogwash! It has a theology, and it always has.

Regarding the Sacrament of Confirmation, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, with my emphases:

Baptism, the Eucharist, and the sacrament of Confirmation together constitute the "sacraments of Christian initiation," whose unity must be safeguarded. It must be explained to the faithful that the reception of the sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace. For "by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed" (1285).

Because Confirmation is "a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit," it brings about "an increase and deepening of baptismal grace" (CCC, 1302-1303) and it
  • roots us more firmal to Christ;
  • increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us;
  • renders our bond with the Church more perfect;
  • gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross.

I am in full support of a younger age for the recption of Confirmation, even before the reception of First Communion, both to restore the proper ordering of the Sacraments of Initiation and to strengthen the grace of God in our young people.

Consider this: if Confirmation really is the sealing with the fullness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit - which it is - why do we wait so long to give this gift to our children when they have already erroneously and - quite likely - invincibly formed their consciences? Would it not be wiser to confirm them when they are young so they have the fulness of the Holy Spirit to help them form their consciences according to the truth of the Gospel?

28 January 2011

Encouraging news in the Confirmation debates

From Catholic Culture:

The Archdiocese of Liverpool has announced plans to change the order in which young people receive the sacraments of Christian Initiation, placing Confirmation before First Communion.

Beginning in the fall of 2012, children above the age of 8 will be invited to receive Confirmation and First Communion between the feasts of the Ascension and Corpus Christi. They will be encouraged to make their first Confessions later in the year, during Advent.
Doing so restores the proper order of the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.

Would a married priesthood help?

Father Dwight Longenecker, himself a married man who was ordained a priest, answers this frequently asked question, offering a unique perspective.

Wha'ts a Catholic parent to do?

A Catholic Mom in Hawaii provides several excellent answers to this important question.

Father Barron on St. Thomas Aquinas

A review of The Rite

John Mulderig has reviewed The Rite, which is released in theatres today. The text of his review follows, with my emphases and comments:

NEW YORK (CNS) -- Any movie that opens with a quotation from Pope John Paul II and ends with the sight of a dedicated priest hearing his parishioners' confessions is well calculated to win the support and approval of viewers of faith. And so it is with the religiously honorable drama "The Rite" (Warner Bros.).

Considered purely as a piece of cinema, however, this descent into the tortured world of the demonically possessed, and of those who courageously minister to them, proves aesthetically tentative, its ultimate impact weakened by the effort to showcase its main character's spiritual journey -- a conversion tale based on real events -- as an old-fashioned chillfest.

That central character is skeptical seminarian Michael Kovak, played by feature film newcomer Colin O'Donoghue in an impressive first outing.

Having pursued priestly studies mainly to get a free college education and avoid following in the footsteps of his undertaker father, Istvan (Rutger Hauer) -- with whom he shares a tangled relationship -- Michael sends off a resignation e-mail soon after his ordination as a transitional deacon.

But the recipient of his message -- his superior, Father Matthew (Toby Jones) -- is convinced that Michael possesses at least the pastoral qualities of a good priest. So, to forestall his departure, Father Matthew dispatches Michael to Rome to complete a Vatican-sponsored course in exorcism.

There Michael vents his ongoing doubts -- not just about devils and such, but about the very existence of God as well -- both to fellow student Angeline (Alice Braga), an Italian reporter who has enrolled in the class for research purposes, and to their instructor, Dominican Father Xavier (Ciaran Hinds).

Knowing a hard case when he sees one, Father Xavier arranges for Michael to serve an informal apprenticeship with veteran demon fighter Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), a forthright Welshman renowned for his unusual but effective approach to his work.

The inexplicable experiences that follow, as Father Lucas and his initially reluctant protege wrestle with the dark forces at work on pregnant teen Rosaria (Marta Gastini, another newcomer), force Michael to reassess his secular certainties.

The idea that a contemporary doubter should be moved toward belief in the source of absolute good by witnessing the effects of absolute evil run amok is certainly an intriguing one [and a reality not altogether unheard of].

And a few shaky details along the way -- as when Michael, though only a deacon, appears to be giving absolution to a dying victim at the scene of a car accident -- can easily be overlooked [maybe; still, it's sloppy research] in light of screenwriter Michael Petroni and director Mikael Hafstrom's resounding affirmation faith and the value of priestly ministry.

But Michael's story -- a fictionalized version of the life of Father Gary Thomas of the Diocese of San Jose, Calif., as recounted in journalist Matt Baglio's 2009 book, "The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist" -- would have been more effectively presented on its own terms.

Instead, it has been wedged, somewhat uncomfortably, into the mold of a conventional horror movie. The effect is to diffuse -- and slightly diminish -- its valuable underlying message, though enough of that endures to make the picture, despite the objectionable features listed below, possibly acceptable for mature teens.

The film contains incest and suicide themes, some gruesome imagery, incidental irreverence, a couple of uses of profanity and a few rough and crude terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

The Atlantic on exorcism

Bishop Paprocki was recently interviewed for an article in The Atlantic regarding exorcism and today's release of the film The Rite. The text of the article, written by Christina Koningisor, follows, with my emphases and comments:

Foaming at the mouth, rolling of the eyes, assuming serpentine characteristics in the face or body: all classic signs, explains Father Gary Thomas, of demonic influence.

Father Thomas, pastor of the Sacred Heart Parish in Saratoga, California, is an avid Giants fan and a 28-year veteran of the priesthood. He is also a practicing exorcist; in the fall of 2005, Father Thomas traveled to Rome to complete a year-long training course under the tutelage of a master Italian exorcist. The story of his training inspired The Rite, a Warner Brothers film starring Anthony Hopkins that opens in theaters Friday.

Despite this fictional portrayal, Father Thomas is also the embodiment of a new trend in the American Catholic church: Long the purview of American cinema, Catholic exorcism is being reclaimed, publicly, by its real-life practitioners. A factual account of Father Thomas's training has been published in a book by journalist Matt Baglio; the Discovery Channel recently announced the airing of a reality show featuring the accounts of trained Catholic exorcists (though the Vatican has denied any official involvement with the series); and last November, Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois convened a two-day conference to discuss the practice of exorcism within the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church does not maintain official statistics on exorcisms. Yet Bishop Paprocki estimates that there are only around 30 priests in the United States qualified to perform the Rite of Exorcism, and he argues [he suggested it more than he argued it] that these priests must contend with a growing number of exorcism requests. The exorcism conference included sessions devoted to canon law and the dangers of an improperly performed exorcism, and the bishop hopes to eventually create a network of exorcists that extends across the United States. He also envisions the establishment of a formal program to train the next generation of exorcists. "The priests who have this responsibility get exorcism requests from all over the country," he explains. "We want to prevent these priests from being overburdened."

Roughly a quarter of active bishops in the United States registered for the event, underscoring a growing interest in the Rite of Exorcism--a ritual that has remained, among American Catholics, relatively obscure. Historically, Catholics in the United States have been concerned with successfully assimilating into a majority-Protestant culture, explains Mathew Schmalz, a Professor of Religion at the College of the Holy Cross. They began to distance themselves from religious practices that came across as odd or out of place: the 1949 exorcism that inspired the 1970's film The Exorcist, for example, was the last to be held in the archdiocese of Washington, D.C. [I'm not sure what she means here; the 70s film was based on actual events that happened in St. Louis.]

Today, however, broader changes within the church's leadership and its flock have brought attention back to the ritual. Many of today's Catholic worshippers are drawn from immigrant communities with a strong tradition of religious exorcism, explains Schmalz, and their members are accustomed to seeking priestly assistance with the expulsion of satanic influences. He believes that the movement also stems from an effort to reclaim the centrality and distinctiveness of the priest's role. "There is a feeling that priests' lack of specialness is among the reasons for a decline in interest in joining the priesthood," he says. "If a priest has the power to cast out demons, that's a lot of power." [But to say that a renewed interest in exorcism will lead to an increase of men pursuing the priesthood seems a long strength to me.]

Father Thomas, however, points to more insidious forces: he views the rising demand for exorcisms as a consequence of increased involvement in the occult [this sounds much more reasonable]. And once the door has been opened to satanic influence, he warns, it is both difficult and dangerous to close. An improperly trained exorcist can place both himself and his charge in great peril: "As a cardinal rule you never talk to demons," he says. "Demons are, by their nature, devious, and they lie. They can engage you in all kinds of conversation to throw you off track."

The priest recently conveyed this advice to Anthony Hopkins, one of the stars of The Rite--a film that joins a long tradition of dramatic fictionalized depictions of the church's battles with the devil. Yet the reality of Catholic exorcism, cautions one Pennsylvania-based priest, is far more banal. "The worst people do is growl or make noise," he says, "although I had one client who repeated the first three lines of 'Hickory Dickory Dock' over and over again--and that drove me crazy."

Rather than a spectacle of spinning heads and violent tantrums, he says, a true exorcism does not necessarily lend itself to the big screen; the real torment and suffering is internal.

Now we're getting somewhere

From Catholic Culture:

Denouncing “Christianophobia,” the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe has passed a resolution condemning violence against Christians in the Middle East and calling for the development of “a list of measures against states which knowingly fail to protect religious denominations.”

The assembly called upon European nations to “refrain from encouraging the members of the Christian communities in the Middle East to seek refuge in Europe, except in cases where the survival of such communities becomes impossible; in the latter cases, member states should take fully.” At the same time, the resolution urged European states to “develop a comprehensive policy of asylum based on religious grounds, which would acknowledge in particular the specific situation of those who convert to another religion”-- a clear reference to Muslim converts to Christianity who face the prospect of death in their native lands.

Life of Pakistan's Minister for Religious Minorities, himself a Catholic, threatened

From Catholic Culture, with my emphases:

Terrorist groups in Pakistan are plotting the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, the federal government’s minister for religious minorities, the Fides news service reports.

Bhatti, a Catholic, is the target of Islamic militants because of he supports a change in the nation’s blasphemy law. One Islamic militant group pronounced a “death sentence” on the government official last year. Now police sources say that active planning for Bhatti’s assassination is underway.

“Pray for me and for my life,” Bhatti asked Fides, tacitly acknowledging the reality of the threat. “I can not not and will not go back on this commitment. I will fight fanaticism and fight in defense of Christians to the death.”

A conversation remembered

When I was doing my Clinical Pastoral Education at a hospital in Bloomington, Illinois during the summer of 2004, I worked with four other chaplains to provide pastoral care to the patients and their families.

One day one of my fellow chaplains - a Methodist pastor who did not accept all of the teachings of the Methodist denomination - asked me, "If you weren't Catholic, what would would you be?"

It was a question that had never been posed to me before so after a moment's thought, I said, "I suppose I'd be Orthodox."

He say, "No. I mean what Protestant denomination would you be?"

This time my response required no consideration. I looked at him and said, "Simply from my study of history alone, I could not be a Protestant. None have their beginnings before the mid 1500s and yet they claim to be the Church Jesus founded. It simply is historically untrue and I could not be true, from the vantage point of history alone."

He looked at me and said, "Huh." And thus the conversation ended, and it was brought up again.

Which brings me to a new coffee mug the illustrious Father Zuhlsdorf has available sporting my favorite quotation from Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman:

You can your mug here, in a variety of sizes.

Indian report misses mark when describing attacks against Christians

From Catholic Culture, with my emphases:

Christian leaders in India’s southern Karnataka state have decried a report that absolved the local government, police, and Hindu groups of responsibility for violent attacks on Christians in the region.

B.K. Somashekhara, a former judge who conducted the inquiry, reported that “misguided fundamentalist miscreants” were responsible for the mob attacks that hit three dozen churches simultaneously in September 2008. The report said that “no true Hindus” were responsible for the violence.

Despite acknowledging that the attacks on churches around Mangalore were planned and coordinated, the report did not name any group responsible. Nor did the commission fault police, who were accused of standing by during the assaults, or even joining in the beating of Christians.

The United Christian Forum of Karnataka described the report as “unfair,” while the Global Council of Indian Christians called for rejection of the inquiry, noting that it provided a clean slate for the Hindu fundamentalist groups that are increasingly active in Karnataka, a state governed by the Hindu-nationalist BJP party.

Hindus account for more than 44 million of Karnataka's 53 million people. Christians constitute less than 2% of the population.

Canonization web site

Just a few moments ago I stumbled upon the official web site for the cause for canonization of Father Augustus Tolton.

The Challenger remembered

Twenty-five years ago today the nation experienced the great tragedy of the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, which claimed the lives of the seven astronauts on board.

I was in the second or third grade (much of that time of life is a bit blurred in my memory) and was very excited about the experiments Christa McAuliffe was going to perform for students throughout the country.

For whatever reason, my class was outside at recess when the Challenger lifted off of the platform at 11:37 a.m. EST and so did not see the live feed into classrooms provided by the NASA, perhaps providentially.

As a boy, I never cared much for recess, particularly in the winter. I remember walking around the playground with my teacher complaining about the cold (some things never change) and talking about the Challenger mission.

As we walked about someone came outside and told of us of the explosion, and my teacher and I both began to cry tears of sadness for the loss of the astronauts.

I remember seeing the footage of the explosion later in the day and listening to the continuing news coverage of the aftermath.

The Challenger explosion is the first real memory of sadness that I have, which was all too quickly followed by the death of my father only 23 days later.

27 January 2011

Happy feast day!

Today the Church celebrates the memorial of Saint Angela Merici, Foundress of the Ursulines. To help the Sisters celebrate the day, Bishop Paprocki joined the Ursulines in Springfield last evening for Vespers and dinner; this morning he joined the Ursulines in Alton for Mass and lunch.

It is always a joy to be with a religious community, particularly on their Founder's feast day and when they think you can't have been ordained more than two years ago.

The Sisters were very gracious in our visits and both communities have been - and are - involved in very interesting ministries.

Through the intercession and inspiration of Saint Angela, may more young women follow in their footsteps!

Diocesan youth make the news

Eight busses of young people travelled from the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois to Washington, D.C. for the March for Life, and some of them [the four busses I travelled with] make a brief appearance in this Life Site News piece, with my comments:


All in red sweat shirts with the message, “A person is a person no matter how small”, were two groups totalling 480 from the Diocese of Springfield [only the half with my group had the red hoodies; the other half had red and white scarves]. The contingent arrived in eight buses, four buses of which were organized by Becky Bowerly [sic: Bauerle], who has made this an annual trek for the past 25 years. The other four buses were organized be [sic] the diocese and additional buses were arranged by a few parishes from the diocese.

Melany Wittman and Amy Phipps mothers of Jason (14) and Andrew (13) respectively told LifeSiteNews that they “offered up” the 18 hour bus ride from Springfield, and are to set out on the trek home directly after Monday’s March. Another student, Nicol Hartwig, said that they all got their seats near altar by arriving at 1:30. [more]

Church building in Egypt

From the Assyrian International News Agency, with my emphases:

AINA) -- Unusually bad winter weather in Upper Egypt all last week focused attention once again on the controversial restrictions on church building. The rainy weather caused roofs of dilapidated churches -- which have been waiting for years to receive construction permits -- to collapse.

Much of the on-going sectarian strife in Egypt is related to the ability of Christians to build churches. Most human rights organizations in Egypt have called on the Egyptian government for the last 15 years to promptly adopt "a unified law governing construction of the houses of worship." believing that this law would eliminate more than 90% of the sectarian tension.

Presently church building in Egypt is still partly governed by the Hamayouni Decree of 1856, and the 1934 el-EzabI Decree that stipulated 10 conditions that must be met prior to issuance of a presidential decree permitting the construction of a church. The conditions include the requirement that the distance between a church and a mosque be not less than 100 meters, the approval of the neighboring Muslim community, the number of Christians in the area and whether or not the proposed church is near the Nile, public utilities or railways. Copts view these regulations as confirmation of their Dhimmi or second-class citizenship status.

After the November 2010 parliamentary elections, Copts kept getting mixed messages about the long awaited "law on places of worship," which was promised to be introduced to Parliament this session. On the opening session of the new parliament, however, President Mubarak did not introduce the church building law.

A heated debate took place in parliament on January 5 between Shura member Dr. Mofeed Shihab, Minister of Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, and Dr. Refaat Al-Saeed, chairman of Al-Tagamo'h Party, who talked of the necessity of adopting the places of worship law. Al-Saeed was rebuffed by Mr Shihab, who said what he is asking for will "Give rise to discord and sectarian strife, because the number of churches built in the era of President Mubarak has exceeded what has been built in all previous periods."

Four days later the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) said it was considering a unified law on places of worship for Muslims and Christians. However, the final draft of the bill has yet to take shape.

On January 17, Dr. Mostafa El Fekki, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Shura Council, said that the law on places of worship will not be adopted due to procedural considerations, pointing out that this law opens the door to sedition in the community, and may encourage a Muslim to build a mosque on an area of 100 acres just like some of the monasteries for Christians do. He believes that this situation could only be solved by a presidential decree or by new legislation repealing the old and starting anew.

"They cannot keep giving us excuses as if we are mentally retarded," said Coptic activist Mark Ebeid. "Gone are the days when we could be pacified with hollow promises, honeyed rhetoric, and citizenship rights which are never implemented."

In 2005 President Mubarak delegated authority to the country's 26 governors to grant permits to expand or rebuild existing churches. But this has not alleviated the problem

Last week thousands of Copts staged peaceful rallies to protest local governors' decisions to halt their church permits, or to order demolition of parts of their new churches, under pretexts of deviations in the the blueprints of the church drawings. "It all boils down in the end to the emergence of a dome in the construction," says activist Wagih Yacoub.

In the Governorate of Minya, more than 5000 Copts in Maghagha staged a sit-in because the tent in which they have been using as a church since March last year collapsed due to the profuse rain on January 17. They called on the Governor of Minya to issue the rebuilding permit for the Diocese of Maghagha Church, which was demolished to be replaced by a new one. However, since March 2010, the situation has come to a standstill. Because after demolishing the buildings, the Governor insisted that for a new diocese to be built the Bishop has also to demolish his 45 square meter home and "should find somewhere else to sleep" (AINA 8-26-2010). [more]

Pakistani Christians convert to Islam out of fear

From The Star, with my emphases:

LAHORE, PAKISTAN—Dog-eared and tattered, the blue book is an inch thick and sits on a dented metal table in the corner office of Jamia Naeemia, an Islamic school tucked in a scattering of cement-walled homes and roadside shops.

Many believe the book offers the promise of safety and perhaps even a better chance at prosperity.

The book is a registry used to document religious converts to Islam and officials at Jamia Naeemia say business is brisk nowadays.

At least 20 to 25 former Christians adopt Islam each week by pledging an oath and signing a green and white document in which they accept Islam as “the most beautiful religion” and promise to “remain in the religion of Islam for the rest of my life, acknowledging that blessings are only from God.”

Human rights advocates say it’s no surprise some of Pakistan’s 3 million Christians are adopting Islam. These are vexing and dangerous days for the country’s religious minorities.

Last autumn, politician Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, Pakistan’s most prosperous province, began to campaign on behalf of a Christian woman named Asia Bibi, who had been sentenced to death for blasphemy. On Jan. 4, with debate over the future of Pakistan’s blasphemy law at a fever pitch, Taseer was gunned down by one of his personal security guards.

Public reaction to Taseer’s assassination was stunning.

Pakistan’s lawyers, praised just three years ago for saving this country’s independent judiciary, showered Taseer’s assassin with rose petals on his way into court. A rally to celebrate his death attracted 40,000 in Karachi and thousands more posted tributes to the killer on their Facebook accounts.

“To be honest, I felt good when I heard he was dead; we got rid of him,” said Raghib Naeemia, an iman at Jamia Naeemia. “It’s very clear in the Holy Qur’an that if you say something nasty and harsh about the Holy Prophet, then you become a maloun (cursed) person. And we are supposed to round up those people and kill them very harshly.”

While Taseer was among several high-profile politicians who have argued the blasphemy law should be amended, human rights workers say the real issue is how often the law is misused.

An allegation of blasphemy shouted in the streets can, in an instant, whip a crowd into a frenzy and lead to assaults and dubious arrests.

In one recent example, a Shiite Muslim doctor last month was confronted in his Hyderabad office by a pharmaceutical salesman. After telling the supplier he wasn’t interested in buying anything, the salesman persisted, according to local news reports. The doctor tossed the salesman’s business card in a trash bin.

But because the salesman’s name was Muhammad — the same as the Muslim prophet — he complained to religious leaders that tossing his card the garbage was blasphemy.

The doctor was dragged out of his office and beaten by a mob. Then he was arrested by police and charged with blasphemy.

“No one feels safe right now,” said Nadeem Anthony, a Christian and a member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. “People are scared.

If you want something from your neighbour or you are angry at him, you say blasphemy and that’s it.”

In the most famous case, the one that has transfixed the nation and led to Taseer’s killing, centres on Bibi, a resident of the Punjabi village of Ittanwali, west of Lahore.

While working in the fields last June, she was sent to fetch water. When some of the other woman refused to drink it because it had been carried by a Christian, a spat ensued about the merits of both religions. The other women later went to a cleric and complained that Bibi has blasphemed the name of the Prophet Muhammad.

A complaint was filed and Bibi was charged, convicted, and given a death sentence.

The spirit of McCarthyism hangs in the air like the clouds of dust that swirl though this historic city’s poor neighbourhoods.

In Lahore last week, a Christian woman got into a heated argument with her sister-in-law, a Muslim. The Muslim woman went outside their home and cried out that her relative had blasphemed against Islam. A group of protesters stormed into the home and beat the woman. One of the ringleaders later bragged that his own wife had hit the woman the hardest.

“Her hand is so swollen that she hasn’t been able to make rotis,” he told the Express Tribune newspaper.

The Christian woman and her husband are now in hiding, the paper reported.

One of the results of this wave of anti-Christian activity unfolded on a sunny afternoon this week. Azra Mustafa, a 45-year-old housemaid, shuffled into the Jamia Naeemia and asked to speak to an imam. A recent convert to Islam, the housemaid and mother of six needed to get the proper documents to prove to her neighbours that she was no longer a Christian.

“It feels great,” she said. “I moved to a Muslim neighbourhood and now I feel like we are one family.”

Each day, Mustafa, whose husband remains Christian and now lives separately from his wife and children, wakes up to attend 5 a.m. prayers before she leaves for work four hours later. By the time she returns home at 7 p.m. from a job that pays her 2,500 rupees ($28) a month, darkness has fallen over her one-room home. After dinner, a teacher comes to her home to give Mustafa and her children 90-minute lessons on Arabic and the Qur’an.

Asked if she felt safer in the wake of her conversion, Mustafa replied, “of course.”

Mustafa sat patiently as the seminary’s staff and students hustled about, preparing to attend a rally scheduled for later that afternoon — a protest that featured at least 3,000 people who at one point chanted “death to Christians and the friends of Christians” as they marched through the heart of Lahore.

As Mustafa gathered her papers together and prepared to leave, Parvaiz Masih, a 23-year-old auto rickshaw diver, walked into the office. He hoped to convert that afternoon, and had already told friends he would now be known as Muhammad Parvaiz.

“I’ve been thinking about it for two or three years,” he said, wrapped in a heavy blue shawl. “About four days ago, I decided to do it.”

A group of a dozen young men studied Parvaiz and a visitor asked if Taseer’s murder and other publicized clashes involving Christians had played a role in his decision. Parvaiz shrugged meekly and wouldn’t answer.

It wasn’t long before another Christian, 26-year-old Naseer, entered Jamia Naeemia. With a crowd of men looking on, she, too, was hesitant to elaborate on why she wanted to follow Islam, but nodded when she was asked whether she believed she would be safer as a Muslim.

Adjusting a pin on the saffron-coloured dupatta that covered her face, Naseer said she had slipped away from her parents’ home earlier in the day to make her way to the seminary. When another visitor asked again whether her personal safety played a role in her decision, Nasreen flashed a look of anger and snapped, “there’s no question.”

It was clear why Naseer and others were hesitant to speak more freely about their concerns over safety. An iman for the madrassa said he would not proceed if someone gave safety as a reason for their conversion.

Peter Jacob, executive director of an advocacy organization funded by the Catholic Church, said an average of 400 Christians annually converted to Islam between 2005 and 2010. In 2011, he expects that number to swell. “It’s going to be very different in these hostile conditions,” Jacob said. “People have no faith in the police or justice system and the kind of fear that exists now was never there before.”

It isn’t only Christians in Pakistan who are feeling uncertain nowadays.

The blasphemy law is playing a role even in battles between Muslims, who make up about 97 per cent of Pakistan’s 180 million people.

Zafar Hilali, a former Pakistani ambassador and foreign secretary, insists the venom over blasphemy has more to do with Pakistan’s class divide than religion.

“The poor are becoming increasingly desperate and don’t know what to do; some religious leaders that are using that,” Hilali said, adding that the instability adds to their influence and political sway.

Cardinal: Christianophobia is on the rise

From Zenit, with my emphases:

ROME, JAN. 25, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Anti-Christian persecution is increasing in some parts of the world such that it is taking on the form of a true "ethnic or religious cleansing," says the president of the Italian bishops' conference.

Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco stated this Monday when he opened the winter session of the permanent council of the Italian Episcopal Conference. The meeting is under way through Thursday.

The cardinal referred to the Jan. 1 bombing outside a Coptic Christian Church in Alexandria, Egypt, that took the lives of more than 20 Copts.

This, he said, "was probably the incident that public opinion could no longer pretend it didn't see."

The cardinal decried a "constant repetition of situations of persecution, which recently have been seen in several areas of the world, and have Christians as designated victims."

"For a long time [Christians] have been the religious group that must face the greatest number of persecutions because of their faith," Cardinal Bagnasco noted. "A crescendo of bloody incidents that in the course of months has involved India, Pakistan and the Philippines, Sudan and Nigeria, Eritrea and Somalia. However, the most serious events took place in Iraq and finally in Egypt."

The 2010 Report on Religious Liberty in the World, presented every two years by the international charity Aid to the Church in Need, reports that the number of persecuted Christians in the world is 200 million.

Most notable among the recent attacks against Christians include a Dec. 30 wave of 11 bomb attacks that killed two Christians and wounded 16 in Iraq; an Oct. 31 massacre at the Syrian Catholic cathedral in Baghdad, which that day claimed more than 50 lives; and the Jan. 1 bombing at the Coptic Church of the Saints in Alexandria.
Middle East

Despite the diverse situations that form the background of these events, Cardinal Bagnasco reflected, the "the Middle East is certainly the region with the highest tension; there, Christianophobia, which is the most current version of religious intolerance, is not far from becoming now a form of ethnic or religious cleansing," despite the fact that "for centuries that land has been a laboratory of coexistence between different faiths and ethnic groups."

Mentioning Benedict XVI's message for the most recent World Day of Peace, the cardinal reminded that religious liberty is "an essential element of a constitutional state" and that "each person must be able freely to exercise the right to profess and manifest, individually or in community, his or her own religion or faith, in public and in private, in teaching, in practice, in publications, in worship and in ritual observances."

He again referenced the Holy Father's words to conclude that an arbitrary denial or limiting of such liberty "means to cultivate a reductive vision of the human person. To obscure the public role of religion means to generate an unjust society, because it is not proportioned to the true nature of the person."
Let us continue to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters.

26 January 2011

Mr. Science Teacher

I have great admiration for parents who desire to teach their children at home and I am to count many home schooling parents among my friends. Their dedication to their children and their desire to instill the faith of the Church in them is commendable and inspiring. It is, truly, a labor of love.

Sometimes I hear from parents about the struggles of teaching science to their children and today I am happy to say that I may have a solution to this struggle: Mr. Science Teacher.

Known in real life as Matthew Poston, Mr. Science Teacher is offering online classes in physics and chemistry for the 2011-2012 academic year.

Because he is a friend of mine, I can vouch for the excellent qualities of Mr. Poston. He is a favorite teacher where he teaches, because of his good humor, his teaching capabilities, and his genuine concern for his students.

Pope: Joan of Arc connected mystical experience and political mission

During his general audience address this morning His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the life of Saint Joan of Arc.

The text of his address follows, with my emphases:

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today I would like to speak to you about Joan of Arc, a young saint from the end of the Middle Ages, who died at age 19, in 1431. This French saint, quoted many times in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is particularly close to St. Catherine of Siena, patroness of Italy and Europe, of whom I spoke in a recent catechesis. In fact they are two young women of the people, lay and consecrated in virginity, two committed mystics, not in a cloister, but in the midst of the most dramatic realities of the Church and of the world of their time. They are, perhaps, the most characteristic examples from among those "strong women" who, at the end of the Middle Ages, fearlessly took the great light of the Gospel to the complex vicissitudes of history.

We could place her next to the holy women who stayed on Calvary, close to Jesus crucified, and Mary, his mother, while the apostles fled and Peter himself denied him three times.

In her times, the Church lived the profound crisis of the great Western schism, which lasted almost 40 years. When Catherine of Siena died, in 1380, there was a pope and an anti-pope. When Joan was born, in 1412, there was a pope and two anti-popes. In addition to this laceration within the Church, there were continuous fratricidal wars between the Christian peoples of Europe, the most tragic of which was the interminable 100 Years War between France and England.

Joan of Arc could not read or write, but she can be known in the depth of her soul thanks to two sources of exceptional historical value: the two trials she underwent. The first, the "Trial of Conviction," contains the transcription of the long and numerous interrogations of Joan during the last months of her life (February-May of 1431), and includes the words of the saint herself. The second, the "Trial of Nullity of the Sentence," or of "rehabilitation," contains the testimonies of close to 120 eye-witnesses from all the periods of her life (cf. Procès de Condamnation de Jeanne d'Arc, 3 vol. and Procès en Nullité de la Condamnation de Jeanne d'Arc, 5 vol., ed. Klincksieck, Paris l960-1989).

Joan was born in Domremy, a small village located on the border between France and Lorraine. Her parents were well-off farmers, known by everyone as very good Christians. From them she received a good religious education, with notable influence from the spirituality of the Name of Jesus, taught by St. Bernardine of Siena and spread in Europe by the Franciscans. To the Name of Jesus is always joined the Name of Mary and thus, in the framework of popular religiosity, Joan's spirituality was profoundly Christocentric and Marian. From her childhood, she showed great charity and compassion toward the poorest, the sick and all who suffered in the tragic context of the war.

From her own words, we know that Joan's religious life matured experientially beginning at the age of 13 (PCon, I, p. 47-48). Through the "voice" of the Archangel St. Michael, Joan felt called by the Lord to intensify her Christian life and also to commit herself personally to the liberation of her people. Her immediate response, her "yes," was the vow of virginity, with a new commitment to sacramental life and to prayer: daily attendance at Mass, frequent confession and Communion and long periods of silent prayer before the Crucified or before the image of the Virgin. The compassion and commitment of the young French peasant girl in face of the suffering of her people became more intense because of her mystical relationship with God. One of the most original aspects of the holiness of this young girl was precisely the connection between mystical experience and political mission.

After the years of hidden life and interior maturation, the brief but intense two-year period of her public life followed: a year of action and a year of passion.

At the beginning of the year 1429, Joan began her work of liberation. The numerous testimonies show us this young woman who was only 17 years old as a very strong and determined person, capable of convincing unsure and discouraged men. Overcoming all obstacles, she met with the dauphin of France, the future King Charles VII, who in Poitiers subjected her to an examination by some theologians of the university. Their judgment was positive: They did not see anything evil in her, [finding] only a good Christian.

On March 22, 1429, Joan dictated an important letter to the king of England and his men who were besieging the city of Orleans (Ibid., p. 221-222). Hers was a proposal of true peace in justice between the two Christian peoples, in light of the names of Jesus and Mary, but this proposal was rejected, and Joan had to commit herself in the fight for the liberation of the city, which took place on May 8. The other culminating moment of her political action was the coronation of King Charles VII in Rheims, on July 17, 1429. For a whole year, Joan lived with the soldiers, carrying out among them a real mission of evangelization. Numerous are the testimonies about her goodness, her courage and her extraordinary purity. She was called by everyone and she herself described herself as "the maiden," namely, the virgin.

Joan's passion began on May 23, 1430, when she fell prisoner in the hands of her enemies. On Dec. 23 she was taken to the city of Rouen. Carried out there was the long and dramatic Trial of Conviction, which began in February of 1431 and ended on May 30 with the stake. It was a grand and solemn trial, presided over by two ecclesiastical judges, Bishop Pierre Cauchon and the inquisitor Jean le Maistre, but in reality led entirely by a large group of theologians of the famous University of Paris, who took part in the trial as consultants. They were French ecclesiastics who had political leanings opposed to Joan's, and who thus had a priori a negative judgment on her person and her mission. This trial is a moving page of the history of sanctity and also an illuminating page on the mystery of the Church that, according to the words of the Second Vatican Council, is "at the same time holy and always in need of being purified" ("Lumen Gentium," 8). It was the dramatic meeting between this saint and her judges, who were ecclesiastics. Joan was accused and judged by them, to the point of being condemned as a heretic and sent to the terrible death of the stake. As opposed to the holy theologians who had illuminated the University of Paris, such as St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas Aquinas and Blessed Duns Scotus, of whom I have spoken in other catecheses, these judges were theologians lacking in charity and humility to see in this young woman the action of God. Jesus' words come to mind according to which the mysteries of God are revealed to those that have the heart of little ones, while they remain hidden from the learned and wise who are not humble (cf. Luke 10:21). Thus Joan's judges were radically incapable of understanding her, of seeing the beauty of her soul: They did not know they were condemning a saint.

Joan's appeal to the pope's intervention on May 24 was rejected by the court. On the morning of May 30 she received holy Communion for the last time in prison, and immediately after she was taken to her ordeal in the square of the old market. She asked one of the priests to put in front of the stake the cross of the procession. Thus she died looking at Jesus crucified and pronouncing many times and in a loud voice the Name of Jesus (PNul, I, p. 457; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 435). Almost 25 years later, the Trial of Nullity, opened under the authority of Pope Calixtus III, concluded with a solemn sentence that declared the condemnation null and void (July 7, 1456; PNul, II, p. 604-610). This long trial, which includes the statements of witnesses and judgments of many theologians, all favorable to Joan, highlights her innocence and her perfect fidelity to the Church. Joan of Arc was canonized in 1920 by Benedict XV.

Dear brothers and sisters, the Name of Jesus, invoked by our saint up to the last moments of her earthly life, was like the breathing of her soul, like the beating of her heart, the center of her whole life. The "mystery of the charity of Joan of Arc," which so fascinated the poet Charles Peguy, is this total love of Jesus, and of her neighbor in Jesus and for Jesus. This saint understood that love embraces the whole reality of God and of man, of heaven and of earth, of the Church and of the world. Jesus was always in the first place during her whole life, according to her beautiful affirmation: "Serve God first" (PCon, I, p. 288; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 223).

To love him means to always obey his will. She said with total confidence and abandonment: "I entrust myself to my Creator God, I love him with my whole heart" (Ibid., p. 337). With the vow of virginity, Joan consecrated in an exclusive way her whole person to the one Love of Jesus: It is "her promise made to our Lord to protect well her virginity of body and soul" (Ibid., p. 149-150). Virginity of soul is the state of grace, the supreme value, for her more precious than life: It was a gift of God that she received and protected with humility and trust. One of the best known texts of the first trial has to do with this: "Asked if she knew that she was in God's grace, she replied: 'If I am not, may it please God to put me in it; if I am, may it please God to put me there'" (Ibid., p. 62; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2005).

Our saint lived prayer as a form of continuous dialogue with the Lord, who also enlightened her answers to the judges, giving her peace and security. She prayed with faith: "Sweetest God, in honor of your holy Passion, I ask you, if you love me, to reveal to me how I must answer these men of the Church" (Ibid., p. 252). Joan saw Jesus as the "King of Heaven and Earth." Thus, on her standard, Joan had the image painted of "Our Lord who sustains the world" (Ibid., p. 172), icon of her political mission. The liberation of her people was a work of human justice, which Joan carried out in charity, out of love for Jesus. Hers is a beautiful example of holiness for the laity who work in political life, above all in the most difficult situations. Faith is the light that guides every choice, as another great saint would testify a century later, the Englishman Thomas More. In Jesus, Joan also contemplated the reality of the Church, the "triumphant Church" of Heaven, and the "militant Church" of earth. According to her words, Our Lord and the Church are one "whole" (Ibid., p. 166). This affirmation quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 795), has a truly heroic character in the context of the Trial of Conviction, in face of the judges, men of the Church, who persecuted her and condemned her. In the love of Jesus, Joan found the strength to love the Church to the end, including at the moment of her conviction.

I am pleased to recall how St. Joan of Arc had a profound influence on a young saint of the modern age: Thérèse of the Child Jesus. In a completely different life, spent in the cloister, the Carmelite of Lisieux felt very close to Joan, living in the heart of the Church and taking part in the sufferings of Jesus for the salvation of the world. The Church has joined them as patronesses of France, after the Virgin Mary. St. Thérèse expressed her desire to die like Joan, pronouncing the Name of Jesus (Manuscript B, 3r); she was animated by the same love for Jesus and her neighbor, lived in consecrated virginity.

Dear brothers and sisters, with her luminous testimony, St. Joan of Arc invites us to a lofty level of Christian life: to make prayer the guiding thread of our days; to have full confidence in fulfilling the will of God, whatever it is; to live in charity without favoritisms, without limits and having, as she had, in the love of Jesus, a profound love for the Church. Thank you.
Translation via Zenit.

20 January 2011

A rare treat

It isn't every day that I watch a movie in the theatre (because there generally isn't anything playing I want to see). And it isn't every day that I watch a movie in a theatre with a bishop and another priest. But I did so this evening.

We went to see The King's Speech. Here is the official summary:

After the death of his father King George V (Michael Gambon) and the scandalous abdication of King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce), Bertie (Colin Firth) who has suffered from a debilitating speech impediment all his life, is suddenly crowned King George VI of England. With his country on the brink of war and in desperate need of a leader, his wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), the future Queen Mother, arranges for her husband to see an eccentric speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). After a rough start, the two delve into an unorthodox course of treatment and eventually form an unbreakable bond. With the support of Logue, his family, his government and Winston Churchill (Timothy Spall), the King will overcome his stammer and deliver a radio-address that inspires his people and unites them in battle.

Based on the true story of King George VI, THE KING'S SPEECH follows the Royal Monarch's quest to find his voice.

It is an excellent film and a testament both to friendship and to confronting difficulties.

19 January 2011

Early morning awkwardness

Have you ever sat in a chair in which you felt you just didn't fit? Either the chair was too short or too high, too narrow or too wide, too deep or too shallow.

I had that experience at Mass this morning. I'm not sure I fit in the chair from which the priest presides in the Cathedral. The chair is either too deep or too high for me (or maybe even both). If I sit in it with my feet planted on the floor, I can't reach the back of the chair. If I throw myself to the back of the chair - it is deep - I can't keep my feet on the floor.

It's hard to sit with a sense of decorum and dignity in a chair in which you just don't seem to fit.

I think sometime tomorrow I'll have to spend some time figuring out how to sit in the chair. I'd do it today, but the Eucharist is being adored in the Cathedral today and me trying to fit into a chair on the side would just be goofy.

Seven spiritual weapons

Holy Mother Church proposes the lives of the Saints to us as examples of Christian living. Looking to the Saints, we learn from them a great many hints and tips, if you will, to remaining faithful to Christ Jesus.

Recently Pope Benedict XVI held up the example of Saint Catherine of Bologna (1413-1463) and made mention of the seven spiritual weapons she wrote of to combat the devil:
  1. always to be careful and diligently strive to do good
  2. to believe that alone we will never be able to do something truly good
  3. to trust in God and, for love of him, never to fear in the battle against evil, either in the world or within ourselves
  4. to meditate often on the events and words of the life of Jesus, and especially on his Passion and his death
  5. to remember that we must die
  6. to focus our minds firmly on memory of the goods of Heaven
  7. to be familiar with Sacred Scripture, always cherishing it in our hearts so that it may give direction to all our thoughts and all our actions.
If you want to deepen your life of faith but aren't sure where to begin, these seven weapons are a good place to start.

Pope calls attention to needs of working mothers, of the elderly and of families

Pope Benedict XVI met Friday with Giovanni Alemanno, the Mayor of Rome, for the exchange of greetings for the new year.

The text of his address follows, with my emphases:

Illustrious Gentlemen and Ladies!

Following a happy custom, this year also I have the pleasing occasion of meeting the representatives of the Institutions of the Lazio region, of the Municipality and of the Province of Rome. I thank the Honorable Renata Polverini, president of the Regional Junta of Lazio, the Honorable Giovanni Alemanno, mayor of Rome, and the Honorable Nicola Zingaretti, president of the Province of Rome, for the courteous words addressed to me on behalf of all. I return the cordial good wishes for the New Year to you, to the citizens of Rome and of the Province and to the inhabitants of Lazio, to whom I feel particularly linked as Bishop of this city, Successor of Peter.

Rome's singular vocation, center of Catholicism and capital of the Italian State, requires of our city that it be an example of fruitful and profitable collaboration between the public institutions and the ecclesial community. Such collaboration, in respect of the reciprocal competencies, is particularly urgent today because of the new challenges that appear on the horizon. The Church, particularly through the work of the lay faithful and of the associations of Catholic inspiration, wishes to continue to offer her contribution for the promotion of the common good and of genuinely human progress.

Original cell of the society is the family, founded on marriage between a man and woman. It is in the family that the children learn the human and Christian values that make possible constructive and peaceful coexistence. It is in the family that solidarity between the generations, respect for rules, forgiveness and acceptance of the other is learned. It is in their own home that young people, experiencing the affection of their parents, discover what love is and learn to love. Hence, the family must be supported by organic policies that are not limited to propose solutions to contingent problems but have as their aim its consolidation and development and are accompanied by an adequate educational endeavor. At times, unfortunately, grave violent events occur, and some aspects of crisis of the family are amplified, caused by rapid social and cultural changes.

Also the approval of forms of union that pervert the essence and end of the family, ends by penalizing all those who, not without effort, are committed to living stable affective bonds, guaranteed juridically and recognized publicly. In this perspective, the Church looks favorably on all those initiatives that seek to educate young people to live love in the logic of the gift of self, with a lofty and oblative vision of sexuality. Serving this aim is an educational convergence between the different components of the society, so that human love is not reduced to an object to consume, but can be perceived and lived as a fundamental experience that gives meaning and purpose to existence

The reciprocal giving of themselves of spouses bears with it openness to generation: the desire of paternity and maternity is in fact inscribed in man's heart. So many couples would like to receive the gift of new children, but they are driven to wait. Because of this, it is necessary to support maternity concretely, as well as to guarantee to women who are engaged in a profession the possibility of combining family and work. Too many times, in fact, they are placed in the necessity of choosing between the two. The development of adequate policies of help, as well as of structures destined for children, such as nurseries, also those run by families, could help to make the child not to be seen as a problem, but as a gift and great joy. Moreover, because "openness to life is at the center of true development" ("Caritas in Veritate," No. 28), the high number of abortions that are practiced in our Region cannot leave one indifferent. The Christian community, through numerous "Family Homes," "Center of Help to Life" and other similar initiatives, is committed to support and give sustenance to women who are in difficulty in accepting a new life. Public institutions are able to offer their support so that Family Consultants are able to help women to surmount the causes that can induce them to interrupt their pregnancy. To this end, I express my appreciation for the law in force in the Lazio region that provides the so-called "family quotient" and considers the conceived child as a component of the family, and I hope that this norm will be fully accomplished. I am happy that the city of Rome has already undertaken its commitment in this direction.

On the other side of life, the aging of the population poses new problems. The elderly are a great richness for society. Their knowledge, their experience and their wisdom are a patrimony for young people, who are in need of teachers of life. If many elderly are able to count on the support and closeness of their family, the number is growing of those who find themselves in fragile conditions because of their age or precarious health. While I rejoice over the existing synergy with the great Catholic health realities -- as, for example, in the field of children, between the "Bambino Gesu" Hospital and the public institutions -- I hope that these structures will be able to continue to collaborate with the local entities to ensure their service to all those who turn to them, I renew the invitation to promote a culture that respects life until its natural end, in the awareness that "the measure of humanity is determined essentially in the relationship with suffering and the one who suffers" (Encyclical "Spe Salvi," No. 38).

In these last times, the serenity of our families is threatened by the grave and persistent economic crisis, and many families can no longer guarantee a sufficient tenor of life to their children. Through Caritas, our parishes spend themselves to help these family nucleuses, alleviating, in so far as possible, the hardships, and addressing the primary needs. I trust that adequate provisions will be adopted, geared to supporting low income families, particularly those that are numerous, too often penalized. To this is added every day a more dramatic problem. I am referring to the serious question of work. Young people in particular, who after years of preparation do not see work openings and the possibility of social insertion and of projection of the future, often feel disappointed and are tempted to reject society itself. The prolonging of similar situations causes social tensions, which are exploited by criminal organizations by proposing illicit activities. Hence, it is urgent that, despite the difficult moment, every effort be made to promote occupational policies, which can guarantee work and dignified sustenance, indispensable condition to give life to new families.

Dear Authorities, many are the problems that require a solution. May your commitment as administrators, who make an effort to collaborate together for the good of the community, always be able to consider man as an end, so that he can live in a genuinely human way. Hence, as Bishop of this city I would like to invite you to find in the Word of God the source of inspiration for your political and social action, in the "search for the true good of all, in the respect and promotion of the dignity of every person" (Post-Synodal Apostolic "ExhortationVerbum Domini," No. 101).

I assure you of my remembrance in prayer, above all for those who today begin their service to the common good, and while I invoke on your commitment the maternal protection of the Virgin Mary, Salus Populi Romani, I impart to you my heartfelt Blessing, which a gladly extend to the inhabitants of Rome, of its Province and of the whole of Lazio.

Much attention has been given in the media to his words about homosexual unions, but strikingly little attention has been given to his call to support mothers who wish to work.

Translation via Zenit.

What is purgatory?

One week ago today Pope Benedict XVI devoted his Wednesday General Audience Address to the person of Saint Catherine of Genoa (the below translation is via Zenit).

Of particular note to us this morning is the portion of his address in which His Holiness explained Saint Catherine's understanding of Purgatory (with my emphases):

Catherine's thought on purgatory, for which she is particularly known, is condensed in the last two parts of the book mentioned at the beginning: "Treatise on Purgatory" and "Dialogues on the Soul and Body." It is important to observe that, in her mystical experience, Catherine never had specific revelations on purgatory or on souls that are being purified there. However, in the writings inspired by our saint purgatory is a central element, and the way of describing it has original characteristics in relation to her era.

The first original feature refers to the "place" of the purification of souls. In her time [purgatory] was presented primarily with recourse to images connected to space: There was thought of a certain space where purgatory would be found. For Catherine, instead, purgatory is not represented as an element of the landscape of the core of the earth; it is a fire that is not exterior but interior. This is purgatory, an interior fire. The saint speaks of the soul's journey of purification to full communion with God, based on her own experience of profound sorrow for the sins committed, in contrast to the infinite love of God (cf. Vita Mirabile, 171v). We have heard about the moment of her conversion, when Catherine suddenly felt God's goodness, the infinite distance of her life from this goodness and a burning fire within her. And this is the fire that purifies, it is the interior fire of purgatory. Here also there is an original feature in relation to the thought of the era. She does not begin, in fact, from the beyond to narrate the torments of purgatory -- as was usual at that time and perhaps also today -- and then indicate the path for purification or conversion. Instead our saint begins from her own interior experience of her life on the path to eternity. The soul, says Catherine, appears before God still bound to the desires and the sorrow that derive from sin, and this makes it impossible for it to enjoy the Beatific Vision of God. Catherine affirms that God is so pure and holy that the soul with stains of sin cannot be in the presence of the Divine Majesty (cf. Vita Mirabile, 177r). And we also realize how far we are, how full we are of so many things, so that we cannot see God. The soul is conscious of the immense love and perfect justice of God and, in consequence, suffers for not having responded correctly and perfectly to that love, and that is why the love itself of God becomes a flame. Love itself purifies it from its dross of sin.
Catherine's teaching on purgatory resonates well with what Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Spe salvi (with my emphases):

45. This early Jewish idea of an intermediate state includes the view that these souls are not simply in a sort of temporary custody but, as the parable of the rich man illustrates, are already being punished or are experiencing a provisional form of bliss. There is also the idea that this state can involve purification and healing which mature the soul for communion with God. The early Church took up these concepts, and in the Western Church they gradually developed into the doctrine of Purgatory. We do not need to examine here the complex historical paths of this development; it is enough to ask what it actually means. With death, our life-choice becomes definitive—our life stands before the judge. Our choice, which in the course of an entire life takes on a certain shape, can have a variety of forms. There can be people who have totally destroyed their desire for truth and readiness to love, people for whom everything has become a lie, people who have lived for hatred and have suppressed all love within themselves. This is a terrifying thought, but alarming profiles of this type can be seen in certain figures of our own history. In such people all would be beyond remedy and the destruction of good would be irrevocable: this is what we mean by the word Hell[37]. On the other hand there can be people who are utterly pure, completely permeated by God, and thus fully open to their neighbours—people for whom communion with God even now gives direction to their entire being and whose journey towards God only brings to fulfilment what they already are[38].

46. Yet we know from experience that neither case is normal in human life. For the great majority of people—we may suppose—there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate interior openness to truth, to love, to God. In the concrete choices of life, however, it is covered over by ever new compromises with evil—much filth covers purity, but the thirst for purity remains and it still constantly re-emerges from all that is base and remains present in the soul. What happens to such individuals when they appear before the Judge? Will all the impurity they have amassed through life suddenly cease to matter? What else might occur? Saint Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, gives us an idea of the differing impact of God's judgement according to each person's particular circumstances. He does this using images which in some way try to express the invisible, without it being possible for us to conceptualize these images—simply because we can neither see into the world beyond death nor do we have any experience of it. Paul begins by saying that Christian life is built upon a common foundation: Jesus Christ. This foundation endures. If we have stood firm on this foundation and built our life upon it, we know that it cannot be taken away from us even in death. Then Paul continues: “Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor 3:12-15). In this text, it is in any case evident that our salvation can take different forms, that some of what is built may be burned down, that in order to be saved we personally have to pass through “fire” so as to become fully open to receiving God and able to take our place at the table of the eternal marriage-feast.

47. Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Saviour. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgement. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire”. But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God. In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ's Passion. At the moment of judgement we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy. It is clear that we cannot calculate the “duration” of this transforming burning in terms of the chronological measurements of this world. The transforming “moment” of this encounter eludes earthly time-reckoning—it is the heart's time, it is the time of “passage” to communion with God in the Body of Christ[39]. The judgement of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace. If it were merely grace, making all earthly things cease to matter, God would still owe us an answer to the question about justice—the crucial question that we ask of history and of God. If it were merely justice, in the end it could bring only fear to us all. The incarnation of God in Christ has so closely linked the two together—judgement and grace—that justice is firmly established: we all work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). Nevertheless grace allows us all to hope, and to go trustfully to meet the Judge whom we know as our “advocate”, or parakletos (cf. 1 Jn 2:1).

48. A further point must be mentioned here, because it is important for the practice of Christian hope. Early Jewish thought includes the idea that one can help the deceased in their intermediate state through prayer (see for example 2 Macc 12:38-45; first century BC). The equivalent practice was readily adopted by Christians and is common to the Eastern and Western Church. The East does not recognize the purifying and expiatory suffering of souls in the afterlife, but it does acknowledge various levels of beatitude and of suffering in the intermediate state. The souls of the departed can, however, receive “solace and refreshment” through the Eucharist, prayer and almsgiving. The belief that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible, in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death—this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity throughout the ages and it remains a source of comfort today. Who would not feel the need to convey to their departed loved ones a sign of kindness, a gesture of gratitude or even a request for pardon? Now a further question arises: if “Purgatory” is simply purification through fire in the encounter with the Lord, Judge and Saviour, how can a third person intervene, even if he or she is particularly close to the other? When we ask such a question, we should recall that no man is an island, entire of itself. 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. So my prayer for another is not something extraneous to that person, something external, not even after death. In the interconnectedness of Being, my gratitude to the other—my prayer for him—can play a small part in his purification. And for that there is no need to convert earthly time into God's time: in the communion of souls simple terrestrial time is superseded. It is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain. In this way we further clarify an important element of the Christian concept of hope. Our hope is always essentially also hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too[40]. As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise? Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well.

18 January 2011

A good weekend

I had the great pleasure of spending the last three days on Great River Teens Encounter Christ #270 with a faithful team and eager candidates.

It was a wonderul experience of God's grace in the lives of his young people and has filled my heart with much joy and gratitude.

Thinking back on the weekend I cannot but recall the words of Pope Benedict XVI: "The Church is alive. And the Church is young."

At one point during the retreat I had the opportunity to speak with the young men and women about vocations and the call that the Lord has for each of them. Sr. M. Consolata, FSGM, also spoke with the youth.

As we spoke to them, I was struck by the attentiveness of the young people as we spoke and their visibile desire to listen to our words.

May the Lord bless these young people and draw them ever closer to himself!

Another attack

From Asia News, with my emphases:

Baghdad (AsiaNews) - Another targeted attack against Christians in Iraq. On the afternoon of 15 January a group of unidentified criminals entered the Rabi'a hospital, a private clinic in the Sukar district in Mosul and shot a Christian doctor who worked there at point blank rabge. The gun had a silencer, and the doctor was fortunately only seriously wounded.

Nuyia Youssif Nuyia is a specialist cardiologist, very well known in the region. He was the private physician of the late Msgr. Faraj Rahho and many priests and religious. Formerly a military doctor and professor at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Mosul, Nuyia is married with four children. Those who know him said that Nyuia is a Chaldean Catholic, very attached to his faith and his Church.

Those responsible for the incident remain unknown for now. Meanwhile, the Christian community in Iraq has again denounced Western indifference to their plight, despite the Dec. 31 massacre of Copts in Alexandria and the cathedral in Baghdad: "The West can not do anything for Christian, because the West denies its Christian roots and is indifferent to all religions. And another thing that the West does not understand is that in these Muslim countries 'democracy' means 'chaos'. "

Meanwhile, this weekend in Copenhagen, Denmark Iraq’s Christian and Muslim religious leaders met in closed session, in complete secrecy security reasons, in an attempt to try to counter the sectarian violence that has rocked the Christian community . But there's even greater anticipation for the announcement of a similar meeting in Najaf in southern Iraq.
Let us continue to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters throughout the world.

16 January 2011

Pope on the World Day of Migrants and Refugees

Today is the 97th World Day of Migrants Refugees.

The Holy Father Benedict XVI has written a message for the day focusing on the theme of "One human family," the text of which follows (with my emphases):
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The World Day of Migrants and Refugees offers the whole Church an opportunity to reflect on a theme linked to the growing phenomenon of migration, to pray that hearts may open to Christian welcome and to the effort to increase in the world justice and charity, pillars on which to build an authentic and lasting peace. "As I have loved you, so you also should love one another" (Jn 13:34), is the invitation that the Lord forcefully addresses to us and renews us constantly: if the Father calls us to be beloved children in his dearly beloved Son, he also calls us to recognize each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.

This profound link between all human beings is the origin of the theme that I have chosen for our reflection this year: "One human family", one family of brothers and sisters in societies that are becoming ever more multiethnic and intercultural, where also people of various religions are urged to take part in dialogue, so that a serene and fruitful coexistence with respect for legitimate differences may be found. The Second Vatican Council affirms that "All peoples are one community and have one origin, because God caused the whole human race to dwell on the face of the earth (cf. Acts 17:26); they also have one final end, God" (Message for the World Day of Peace, 2008, 1). "His providence, His manifestations of goodness, His saving design extend to all men" (Declaration Nostra aetate, 1). Thus, "We do not live alongside one another purely by chance; all of us are progressing along a common path as men and women, and thus as brothers and sisters" (Message for the World Day of Peace, 2008, 6).

The road is the same, that of life, but the situations that we pass through on this route are different: many people have to face the difficult experience of migration in its various forms: internal or international, permanent or seasonal, economic or political, voluntary or forced. In various cases the departure from their Country is motivated by different forms of persecution, so that escape becomes necessary. Moreover, the phenomenon of globalization itself, characteristic of our epoch, is not only a social and economic process, but also entails "humanity itself [that] is becoming increasingly interconnected", crossing geographical and cultural boundaries. In this regard, the Church does not cease to recall that the deep sense of this epochal process and its fundamental ethical criterion are given by the unity of the human family and its development towards what is good (cf. Benedict XVI, Encyclical Caritas in veritate, 42). All, therefore, belong to one family, migrants and the local populations that welcome them, and all have the same right to enjoy the goods of the earth whose destination is universal, as the social doctrine of the Church teaches. It is here that solidarity and sharing are founded.
"In an increasingly globalized society, the common good and the effort to obtain it cannot fail to assume the dimensions of the whole human family, that is to say, the community of peoples and nations, in such a way as to shape the earthly city in unity and peace, rendering it to some degree an anticipation and a prefiguration of the undivided city of God" (Benedict XVI, Encyclical Caritas in veritate, 7). This is also the perspective with which to look at the reality of migration. In fact, as the Servant of God Paul VI formerly noted, "the weakening of brotherly ties between individuals and nations" (Encyclical Populorum progressio, 66), is a profound cause of underdevelopment and – we may add – has a major impact on the migration phenomenon. Human brotherhood is the, at times surprising, experience of a relationship that unites, of a profound bond with the other, different from me, based on the simple fact of being human beings. Assumed and lived responsibly, it fosters a life of communion and sharing with all and in particular with migrants; it supports the gift of self to others, for their good, for the good of all, in the local, national and world political communities.

Venerable John Paul II, on the occasion of this same Day celebrated in 2001, emphasized that "[the universal common good] includes the whole family of peoples, beyond every nationalistic egoism. The right to emigrate must be considered in this context. The Church recognizes this right in every human person, in its dual aspect of the possibility to leave one’s country and the possibility to enter another country to look for better conditions of life" (Message for World Day of Migration 2001, 3; cf. John XXIII, Encyclical Mater et Magistra, 30; Paul VI, Encyclical Octogesima adveniens, 17). At the same time, States have the right to regulate migration flows and to defend their own frontiers, always guaranteeing the respect due to the dignity of each and every human person. Immigrants, moreover, have the duty to integrate into the host Country, respecting its laws and its national identity. "The challenge is to combine the welcome due to every human being, especially when in need, with a reckoning of what is necessary for both the local inhabitants and the new arrivals to live a dignified and peaceful life" (World Day of Peace 2001, 13).

In this context, the presence of the Church, as the People of God journeying through history among all the other peoples, is a source of trust and hope. Indeed the Church is "in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race" (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, 1); and through the action within her of the Holy Spirit, "the effort to establish a universal brotherhood is not a hopeless one" (Idem, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, 38). It is the Holy Eucharist in particular that constitutes, in the heart of the Church, an inexhaustible source of communion for the whole of humanity. It is thanks to this that the People of God includes "every nation, race, people, and tongue" (Rev 7:9), not with a sort of sacred power but with the superior service of charity. In fact the exercise of charity, especially for the poorest and weakest, is the criterion that proves the authenticity of the Eucharistic celebration (cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Mane nobiscum Domine, 28).

The situation of refugees and of the other forced migrants, who are an important part of the migration phenomenon, should be specifically considered in the light of the theme "One human family". For these people who flee from violence and persecution the International Community has taken on precise commitments. Respect of their rights, as well as the legitimate concern for security and social coherence, foster a stable and harmonious coexistence.

Also in the case of those who are forced to migrate, solidarity is nourished by the "reserve" of love that is born from considering ourselves a single human family and, for the Catholic faithful, members of the Mystical Body of Christ: in fact we find ourselves depending on each other, all responsible for our brothers and sisters in humanity and, for those who believe, in the faith. As I have already had the opportunity to say, "Welcoming refugees and giving them hospitality is for everyone an imperative gesture of human solidarity, so that they may not feel isolated because of intolerance and disinterest" (General Audience, 20 June 2007: Insegnamenti II, 1 [2007], 1158). This means that those who are forced to leave their homes or their country will be helped to find a place where they may live in peace and safety, where they may work and take on the rights and duties that exist in the Country that welcomes them, contributing to the common good and without forgetting the religious dimension of life.

Lastly, I would like to address a special thought, again accompanied by prayer, to the foreign and international students who are also a growing reality within the great migration phenomenon. This, as well, is a socially important category with a view to their return, as future leaders, to their Countries of origin. They constitute cultural and economic "bridges" between these Countries and the host Countries, and all this goes precisely in the direction of forming "one human family". This is the conviction that must support the commitment to foreign students and must accompany attention to their practical problems, such as financial difficulties or the hardship of feeling alone in facing a very different social and university context, as well as the difficulties of integration. In this regard, I would like to recall that "to belong to a university community… is to stand at the crossroads of the cultures that have formed the modern world" (John Paul II, To the Bishops of the United States of America of the Ecclesiastical Provinces of Chicago, Indianapolis and Milwaukee on their ad limina visit, 30 May 1998, 6: Insegnamenti XXI, 1 [1998] 1116). At school and at university the culture of the new generations is formed: their capacity to see humanity as a family called to be united in diversity largely depends on these institutions.

Dear brothers and sisters, the world of migrants is vast and diversified. It knows wonderful and promising experiences, as well as, unfortunately, so many others that are tragic and unworthy of the human being and of societies that claim to be civil. For the Church this reality constitutes an eloquent sign of our times which further highlights humanity’s vocation to form one family, and, at the same time, the difficulties which, instead of uniting it, divide it and tear it apart. Let us not lose hope and let us together pray God, the Father of all, to help us – each in the first person – to be men and women capable of brotherly relationships and, at the social, political and institutional levels, so that understanding and reciprocal esteem among peoples and cultures may increase. With these hopes, as I invoke the intercession of Mary Most Holy, Stella Maris, I cordially impart the Apostolic Blessing to all and, especially, to migrants and refugees and to everyone who works in this important field.

From Castel Gandolfo, 27 September 2010