28 February 2011

Last night a friend pointed me to this video documenting the life of the Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton he found at the blog of another of my friends:

Past the Boundary: The Journey of Augustine Tolton from Jonathan Sullivan on Vimeo.

Please, Lord, glorify your servant!

27 February 2011

In the press

Diane Schlindwein recently wrote an article about my new assignments for the Catholic Times. Her text follows:

Even before he was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois in 2005, Father Daren Zehnle was dedicated to helping young people learn about religious vocations. That’s why he feels so at home in his newest dual role as episcopal master of ceremonies for the Springfield diocese, working with Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, and as the associate director for the Office for Vocations.

As associate vocations director, Father Zehnle will work with Father Christopher House, who has been director of the Office for Vocations since 2008 and was until recently episcopal master of ceremonies. Additionally, Father House has taken over as pastor at Father Zehnle’s former parishes, Holy Cross in Auburn, St. Patrick in Girard and Sacred Heart in Virden, and remains associate director for spiritual formation for the Office for the Diaconate and specialization director for the Office for Ministry Formation.

Father Zehnle and Father House began their new assignments in January. Father Zehnle is in residence at Cathedral Parish but thanks to a busy schedule and the early February blizzard he is just now settling into his office at the Catholic Pastoral Center in Springfield.

Since he is in residence at the Cathedral, Father Zehnle will be helping out there as needed. “As other parishes have needed and as the bishop’s schedule allows, I have helped out,” he says. So far he’s also filled in at Masses in Petersburg, Auburn, Virden and Girard.

“As the master of ceremonies, when the bishop has a celebration somewhere, I go with him, just to make sure things run smoothly,” he says. “Every day is different because it depends on the bishop’s schedule.

“When the bishop has a confirmation at a parish we meet with the confirmandi about a half-hour beforehand,” he says. “He talks a bit about the vestments and a bit about vocations, too. And then I talk about, ‘How do you discern the call and how do you determine what the Lord’s calling you to do?’

“One of the reasons that the bishop has me as master of ceremonies and associate vocations director is so that if someone should be discerning a call to the priesthood or to the consecrated life, that they have an idea already of who’ll they’ll be talking to. It gets a face out there and connects it with a name and an office. So you won’t be just calling some random guy on the telephone.”

Father Zehnle not only talks about vocations, he sometimes writes about them in his blog Servant and Steward (dzehnle.blogspot.com). He is also on Facebook. “I talk about vocations, things about the church, things about the world, and things about my own little life. I try to post something every day.”

Father Zehnle knew by the age of 16 that he wanted to become a priest. That’s why he isn’t surprised that there seems to now be a growing interest in vocations among high school students. “I’ve always enjoyed working with high school age students. I’ve found them to be a delight.

“Their openness to the faith is there once you get them to start asking questions and you start answering them bluntly and directly, never sugar-coating an answer but just being straight-forward with them. Then the ministry there is endless. I don’t find it difficult at all.”

Father House is the primary vocations director, Father Zehnle says. “My task in this is to promote vocations, to talk about them, and to try to get kids to think about them and to really ask themselves, not ‘What do I want to do with my life?’ but ‘What does God want me to do with my life?’”

Father Zehnle says the goal of his travels with Bishop Paprocki is to start getting a culture of vocations to grow, “so that the idea of thinking about becoming a priest or becoming a nun isn’t some foreign concept out of left field.”

“But it really is just part of growing up Catholic,” he says. “Does the Lord want me to be a priest or to be a nun? Does he want me to be a brother or a deacon? Or does he want me to married? What does the Lord want me do? With that in mind, what way of life will help me grow in holiness? That’s the overall goal of vocations, of course.

“One of my goals, and I’m sure one of Father House’s too, is to work more closely with the women who are vocation directors of religious orders. One of the difficulties is that young ladies aren’t always around nuns, so they don’t get to interact with them or experience what a full life they have as a religious,” Father Zehnle says.

“Part of the vocation goals is to get vocation directors out and about more across the diocese. If they never see us they aren’t likely to get the idea in their mind that ‘Maybe that is a good idea.’ So if we can be around them we can give them a sense of the joy and happiness that comes from following Christ.

“The idea is we want you to be open to it. We want you to really consider it. So if you think that the Lord might be calling you, we ask that you talk to us,” Father Zehnle concludes. “Talking to us doesn’t mean you’re in, you’re hooked. But we really want to help people discern what the Lord wants for them as well.”

To reach the Office for Vocations, call (217) 698-8500. Father Chris House is at ext. 182 and Father Daren Zehnle is at ext. 194.

26 February 2011

An edict given

On Friday, 24 February 2011, His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, OMI, Archbishop of Chicago, issued the following Edict for the Cause of Beatification and Canonization of Father Augustus Tolton:

In accordance with article 43 of the 2007 Instruction of the Congregation for Causes of Saints, Sanctorum Mater, I, the undersigned Ordinary of the Archdiocese of Chicago, declare that I have received and accepted the petition for the Cause of beatification and canonization of the Servant of God, Father Augustus Tolton.

Therefore the Cause having been officially opened during the formal hearing held at St. James Chapel at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center, on this the 24th day of February, 2011, I am directing the assigned personnel of the ecclesiastical tribunal to carry out all necessary steps to instruct the diocesan phase of the Cause, inclusive of hearing witnesses regarding Tolton's virtues and reputation of holiness. In addition, I encourage all those who can give testimony, even should they have negative proof, to come forward and contact the aforementioned tribunal. Moreover, those who possess writings of any kind or any other information regarding the Father Tolton are urged to put that at the tribunal's disposition.

All things henceforth serving the honor of God,

Given at Chicago, Illinois
the 24th day of February, 2011
/s/ Francis Cardinal George, OMI
Archbishop of Chicago
Please, Lord; glorify your servant!

25 February 2011

Cardinal George: "Here is a holy priest"

His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago, presided over the Proclamation and First Session of the canonical trial examining the life and virtues and reputation of holiness of Father Augustus Tolton. With this first session now complete, Father Tolton is known as a Servant of God and the cause for his beatification and canonization continues to move forward.

The first session began with the singing of Psalm 119, 79, and 80 and continued with a reading from chapter five of Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Afterwards the Diocesan Postulator, His Excellency the Most Reverend Joseph N. Perry, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago and Titular Archbishop of Lead, opened the Canonical Session by greeting His Eminence and reading the supplex libellus, a biography of Father Tolton and a petition to the Cardinal to appoint an ecclesiastical court for the necessary trial to examine Father Tolton’s life.

The Promoter of Justice examined the supplex libellus and Cardinal George accepted the petition and asked Bishop Perry and the members of the court, followed by the members of the historical and theological commissions, to take the following oath with their hand on the Book of Gospels, under the direction of the Archdiocesan Chancellor:

In the name of God, Amen. I, N., appointed as N. for the Cause of Beatification and Canonization, on the life, virtues, reputation of sanctity of the Servant of God, Father Augustus Tolton, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully and carefully execute the duty committed to me, and I shall refrain from saying or doing anything that could directly or indirectly be an obstacle to the truth or justice demanded of these proceedings, nor anything that could limit the freedom of my task, so help me God and these holy gospels which I touch with my hand.

Cardinal George then spoke briefly on the proceedings of the day, reminding those gathered in St. James Chapel of the Quigley Archdiocesan Center that “history is what God remembers.”

The beginning of the canonical trial of the life of Father Tolton, he said, “is a moment that calls us all to remember the ways in which we are called to be saints.”

As we await the proof of his holiness through a miracle, His Eminence said that through miracles “we glimpse the way the world would be” without sin and that through a miracle God will “show that it is his cause, too.”

He went on to say that faith leads to affliction and affliction leads to love; such a process is proof that God is at work. “In our addressing of afflictions,” he said, “there can be no self-righteousness. This was the pattern of Augustine Tolton’s life.”

Cardinal George said that he accepted Bishop Perry’s petition, made on behalf of the faithful of the Archdiocese of Chicago and of the faithful of the Dioceses of Jefferson City and of Springfield in Illinois, because he saw Father Tolton to be a man of joy. “It was that joy that accompanied him in his affliction,” he said, “that told me here is a holy priest.”

Following his words, the congregation prayed the prayer for the cause composed by Bishop Perry:

O God, we give you thanks for your servant and priest Father Augustus Tolton, who labored among us in times of contradiction, times that were both beautiful and paradoxical. His ministry helped lay the foundation for a truly Catholic gathering of faith in our time. We stand in the shadow of his ministry. May his life continue to inspire us and imbue us with that confidence and hope that will forge a new evangelization for the Church we love.

Father in heaven, Father Tolton's suffering service sheds light upon our sorrows. We see them through the prism of your Son's passion and death. If it be your will, O God, glorify your servant, Father Tolton, by granting the favor I now request through his intercession (pray your request silently) so that all may know the goodness of this priest whose memory looms large in the Church he loved.

Complete what you have begun in us that we might work for the fulfillment of your kingdom. No to us the glory, but glory to you, O God, through Jesus Christ your Son, and our Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. You are our God, living and reigning forever and ever. Amen.
Yes, Lord, glorify your servant and give us another Saint!

You can follow Father Tolton's Cause here.

24 February 2011

Tolton's first canonical trial to be held today

From the Catholic News Agency, with my emphases and comments:

Chicago, Ill., Feb 24, 2011 / 05:56 am (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Chicago has begun a new phase of the investigation that could ultimately canonize Fr. Augustus Tolton. As the first African-American to become a priest, Fr. Tolton demonstrated remarkable patience, courage and dedication to his ministry during a time of widespread injustice.

Approximately a year after it opened Fr. Tolton's cause, the archdiocese formally began the proceedings to examine the 19th century priest's life, virtues and reputation for holiness. The process requires a canonical trial, which had its first session on the afternoon of Feb. 24 at St. James Chapel in downtown Chicago [That must have been an early trial; the results of the first session will be presented today at 2:00 p.m., and I'll be there].

Chicago's Cardinal Archbishop Francis E. George presided over the public event [which will happen at 2:00 p.m.], at which Bishop Joseph N. Perry – the Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago, who is the postulator of Fr. Tolton's cause for sainthood – introduced evidence of Fr. Tolton's faithful life and holiness. The proceeding also featured the appointment of officials who will evaluate Fr. Tolton's reputation and the facts of his life.

The judgment of those officials, in conjunction with the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints, could lead to the next step in Tolton's cause: his designation as a “Servant of God.” After this, a declaration of “heroic virtue” would establish him as “Venerable.”

Further evidence of his miraculous intercession would be needed for Fr. Tolton to become a saint of the Church. Bishop Perry told CNA on Feb. 22 that at least one such possible occurrence is already under consideration, from the reports that the archdiocese is continuing to receive from the faithful.

In the short term, however, Bishop Perry is less occupied with possible miracles, and more interested in making the case for Fr. Tolton as a model of Christian virtue.

According to Bishop Perry, the key to understanding Fr. Tolton's life is in recognizing his “long-suffering perseverance, in the face of what you might call 'racial apartheid'.”

“His adult life was lived largely through the period of Reconstruction after the Civil War,” the bishop noted. “The nation had no program to assimilate blacks in society, following the Emancipation Proclamation. Anyone who was emerging as an accomplished black person, suffered – and was, more than likely, not accepted.”

Augustus Tolton was born into slavery, and baptized into the Catholic Church, in Missouri during 1854. His parents were Catholics, as were their owners.

His father, Peter Paul Tolton, died in 1861 after fleeing Missouri to join the Union Army at the beginning of the Civil War. Along with his mother and siblings, Augustus escaped to Illinois, where they were no longer slaves.

But freedom did not entail equality, even within the Church. Outraged German-American parishioners forced him to withdraw from their parish school.

At age 14, the former slave had to begin a remedial education. But he received encouragement from an Irish priest, Fr. Peter McGirr [who insisted he be treated well in his school; after Fr. McGirr addressed his school and congregation, Augustus was welcomed], who admitted him to his parish school. He eventually encouraged the devout young man to consider the priesthood.

However, no Catholic seminary in the United States would accept a black student. For years Augustus worked various manual jobs, while using his off-hours to assist at Mass and teach religion to black Catholics in the town of Quincy, Ill.

Finally, 1880, he was accepted to study in Rome – where it was assumed he would train to become a missionary in Africa. Augustus studied African languages and cultures for six years in Rome.

Then, on the night before his ordination, the plan changed unexpectedly. He was told he would be ordained as a priest for the United States.

The Italian Cardinal Simeoni told him: “America has been called the most enlightened nation in the world. We shall see if it deserves that honor.”

“If the United States has never before seen a black priest,” the cardinal said, “it must see one now!”

Bishop Perry explained that in the town of Quincy, where Fr. Tolton was sent back after his ordination, “racial separation was the norm at the time.”

“There were three Catholic churches – a German one, an Irish one, and one that they began for blacks [there were more than three Catholic churches in Quincy at the time, but ethnically they were German, Irish and black].”

Many churches of the time did not allow blacks to receive Communion at Mass in a “white” church, where they would be segregated to the balcony [I'm not sure that was the case in Quincy; Quincy was a major stop on the underground railroad and greatly helped slaves seeking to escape slavery].

“A lot of them didn't go to Communion at all,” Bishop Perry recalled. “It was not allowed, to kneel at the Communion railing next to a white person. If there wasn't a balcony, most churches had a roped off section with a few pews for blacks to sit in.”

“It's contrary to everything the Gospel stands for,” the bishop stated. “But racial separation was taken practically as a religion in itself.”

Amid this environment of reflexive racism, Fr. Augustus was charged with preaching the Gospel.

“Some folks thought whites, even though they were Catholic, should have nothing to do with his church,” Bishop Perry recounted. “Other whites went to his Masses – they found him an attractive speaker and preacher, and went to him for Confession.”

“A priest in a German parish told him, in no uncertain terms, that he should restrict himself to the blacks. He took his complaint to the local bishop – and was reprimanded.”

“Fr. Tolton responded by saying that the Church is open to everyone, and we shouldn't tell anyone they can't come in. He was told that if he could not obey, it was best that he leave town.”

After a subsequent dispute, which forced him to do so, he found that a group of black Catholics in Chicago – who worshiped in a church basement – also needed a pastor.

The Archbishop of Chicago welcomed him. But, as Bishop Perry noted, Fr. Tolton's new ministry was “largely confined to the south side of the city – the tenement houses, and the rather poor area occupied by freed blacks and escaped slaves.”

Fr. Tolton died of heat stroke, at the age of 43, in 1897. By that time, however, he had already become a revered leader of the black Catholic community in Chicago.

Some of the descendants of his former parishioners have volunteered their testimony to Bishop Perry, recounting family stories of encounters with the beloved priest who was known as “Father Gus.”

Simply being the first black Catholic priest in America, Bishop Perry said, “doesn't make him a saint.” What does, in Bishop Perry's estimation, is the manner in which he lived out his priesthood.

“A priest is supposed to be a servant to all. As a priest, Fr. Tolton was always open and receptive to everyone – although even the Church did not always allow him to be a priest in that way.”

“He tried to improve the culture. But the culture was so resistant – it almost made his priesthood impossible. Society, and the Church, threw a lot of 'nos' at him: 'We can't take you, we can't accept you'.”

Now, Bishop Perry and the Archdiocese of Chicago hope the universal Church will uphold Fr. Augustus Tolton as an example for priests, and for all the faithful.

“We're hoping that, after all the 'nos' he had to endure in life, this time the Church will say 'yes'.”

21 February 2011

Homily - 20 February 2011

The Sixth Sunday of the Year (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

“The ability to foster vocations is a hallmark of the vitality of a local Church.” With these words Pope Benedict XVI concluded his Message for the 48th World Day of Prayer for Vocations, which will be observed on May 15th, the Fourth Sunday of Easter.

His message centers around the theme, “Proposing Vocations in the Local Church,” and his words are a clarion call to Catholics everywhere.

The words of the Lord Jesus echo through the centuries down to our present day: “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few. Pray, therefore, the Master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest” (Matthew 9:36-38)!

Here in our own Diocese of Springfield in Illinois we are beginning to recognize the truth of these words all the more. Even so, our present situation is a time for neither despondency nor apathy, but rather a time to dedicate ourselves anew to the promotion and cultivation of vocations, particularly to the priesthood and to the consecrated life.

A vocation is a calling to a certain way of life; it is not a career, an occupation or a job; these can exist within a vocation. The Church knows of three vocations, three callings to a way life, that the Lord give to his people: the vocation to the single life (which includes the call to consecrated life), the vocation to the married life and the vocation to the priestly life.

The Lord calls each member of the faithful to one of these vocations to that everyone might fulfill the command of Jesus given at the end of today’s Gospel: “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). It is the same command repeatedly given in the Book of Leviticus: “Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:2).

A vocation, then, is calling to a certain manner life through which a person follows Christ Jesus and grows in holiness. Those called to the single life grow in holiness by serving those around them. Those called to the married life grow in holiness by helping their spouse – and their children – grow in holiness each day. Those called to the priestly life grow in holiness through the exercise of the celebration of the Sacraments, through their preaching and teaching, and their pastoral care of those entrusted to them.

In his message, the Holy Father urges us forward in the promotion of priestly vocations with these words:

Particularly in these times, when the voice of the Lord seems to be drowned out by “other voices” and his invitation to follow him by the gift of one’s own life may seem too difficult, every Christian community, every member of the Church, needs consciously to feel responsibility for promoting vocations. It is important to encourage and support those who show clear signs of a call to priestly life and religious consecration, and to enable them to feel the warmth of the whole community as they respond “yes” to God and the Church.

To sum up what Pope Benedict says with these words we need only remember what the Knights of Columbus have for years been telling us: “Vocations are everybody’s business.”

I ask you, then, what are you doing to promote vocations here in your parish and throughout the Diocese? What will you do today, tomorrow, next week and even next year? None of us can simply stand on the sidelines waiting for vocations to sprout up; each of us has a part to play in their cultivation.

Parents first till the soil when they present the child for Baptism and they plant the seed as they educate their child in the ways of faith. Family, friends, teachers and fellow parishioners help nourish and water the soil of the soul with their own examples of faith and their encouragement to seek always the will of God. Each of us has a part to play in the cultivation of vocations for we are all one in the Body of Christ.

How do we go about doing this? Pope Benedict provides us with a four-step program aimed helping children and young people “grow into a genuine and affectionate friendship with the Lord.” Growing into such a friendship with Jesus involves four steps.

The first is “cultivated through personal and liturgical prayer.” Friendship with the Lord is like our other friendships. If we do not spend time with him each day we cannot know him and be his friend.

At the same time, it is one to thing to attend Mass on Sundays and Holydays, but quite another to actually enter into the prayer of the Mass, to enter into the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord. It was thing to receive Holy Communion and return to the pew as if nothing happened; it is quite another to know who it is that we receive in the Eucharist and to leave the Mass with the certainty of his presence and the desire to bring him with me wherever I go.

The second step is “to grown in familiarity with the sacred Scriptures and thus to listen attentively and fruitfully to the word of God.” It was Saint Jerome who famously said that “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” The Bible is not simply a collection of stories. The Scripture is our story; it is our past, our present and our future. Through the inspired word the Lord still speaks with us and is present to us. We must be familiar with the Scriptures because through them we come to know the Lord better.

The third step is “to understand that entering into God’s will does not crush or destroy a person, but instead leads to the discovery of the deepest truths about ourselves.”

The fourth step is “to be generous and fraternal in relationship with others, since it is only in being open to the love of God that we discover true joy and the fulfillment of our aspirations.”

This program of renewal is not without its challenges and difficulties, but it is not impossible, either; we know the Lord wants to provide shepherds after his own heart for his flock, but we must first be willing to encourage and support them and let them enter into the Lord’s service (cf. Jeremiah 3:15).

We must always remember that “proposing vocations in the local Church means having the courage through an attentive and suitable concern for vocations, to point out this challenging way of following Christ, which, because it is rich in meaning, is capable of engaging the whole of one’s life.”

Let us, then, beg the Lord to give us the grace to promote, encourage and nourish vocations in our parish as we beg him to send more laborers into his harvest. Amen.

19 February 2011

A sad day tomorrow will likely be

I know that compared to some I have not lived a long life; even so, I am amazed at how the years pass by so quickly.

As in every life I have many memories - both joyful and sorrowful - that have marked the passage of time in my life and by which I mark the passage of time. Tomorrow will be one of those days.

My father - George William "Bill" - died twenty-five years ago tomorrow; I was seven years old. Will you please say a prayer for him, and for me?

As the evening draws on I find myself becoming more sad as I remember that day that shaped so much of my life. I've never had a very good memory, but that morning remains forever etched in my mind.

I am grateful for the time I was given with my father and I have several fond memories of him. I am also grateful to the Lord - immensely grateful - for the years that have followed his death; my life could easily have turned out very differently. I am grateful to my aunt and uncle for taking my brother and I in.

And yet, despite so much for which to be grateful, I am sad; it is, I suppose, only natural. Though I have known much joy in life, I have also known much sorrow; sadness, like joy, is comfortable to me, a welcome companion from time to time as it reminds me of the goodness of the Lord and the promise of eternal merriment.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen!

18 February 2011

Homily - 18 February 2011

Today I am back in Effingham for a pasta dinner helping to raise funds for the World Youth Day 2011 pilgrims to Rome and Madrid. Being in Effingham already, I celebrated the morning Mass with the junior high and high school students. What follows is the homily I preached:
Friday of the Sixth Week of the Year (I)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Says the Lord Jesus, “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it” (Mark 8:35). We see the truth of these words played out in the first reading.

“Come, let us … make a name for ourselves,” said the race of men as they set about the construction of their tower into the heavens (Genesis 10:4).

This was no mere skyscraper they sought to build but rather a symbol of man’s attempt to overthrow God or, at the every least, to set themselves up as equals to him; they saw God as their loving Creator but as a rival.

Yet, despite men’s best efforts, still the Lord had to “go down” to them; they could not attain their goal (Genesis 10:7). In their desire to make a name for themselves they divided humanity even further and widened the divide between God and man; by seeking to save their lives they lost them.

How often do we, too, seek to make a name for ourselves by building a tower to our own honor? Society tells us that this is the way to happiness and success; we are told that making a name for ourselves is the path toward a satisfying life, but it does not take long for us to see the opposite is true.

Simply consider how many celebrities – be they actors or athletes, newscasters or musicians, even people within the Church – have tried to make a name for themselves, yet in the end have still lost their lives. In their pursuit of fame and fortune, of power and influence – all of which promised happiness – they have found heartache, despair and misfortune.

Do not follow them! They are but blind guides who will only lead you astray! If you follow them you will not find the happiness you seek, the happiness that you deserve to have, for they cannot give what they do not have.

This happiness you seek has a name and a face; it is Jesus Christ! Only in him will you find the happiness you were made to share!

Today he tells us the way to find this happiness: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34). He addresses these words to “the crowd and his disciples” indicating that his invitation is given to everyone without exception (Mark 8:34).

He invites us to lose our lives “for [his] sake and that of the gospel” and in so doing to find and save our lives (Mark 8:35). He is no common teacher, no simple philosopher or moralist who calls his followers to give their lives for an ideal or a cause; rather, he demands absolute loyalty from his disciples who must be willing to give their lives not for a cause, but for him.

The many voices of society tell us just the opposite; they tell us to jealously guard our life and to think always of myself first. Jesus tells us to think first of him and of myself to think last. Which way will you follow?

There are two choices now before you. You can seek to make a name for yourself, but in doing so you will lose yourself and your life in this pursuit. What do I mean? You will be caught up in this desire and become trapped within it; the desire to make a name for yourself will consume you and take your life. This is your first choice.

Your second choice is similar, but very different. Rather than seeking to make a name for yourself, you can seek to make a name for Christ and his Gospel. In doing so, you will lose yourself in this desire – you will lose yourself in Christ, in him who is life. And in losing your life in Life Himself, you will save your life. This is the beauty of the Cross.

Because he has this life, this happiness, in himself – because he alone has conquered the grave – he can give this life, this happiness, to you. Do not be afraid, then, to follow him; do not be afraid to take up the Cross after him! He has already walked this path and knows it’s destination: it leads to the Father, to eternal joy in his presence.

The Lord Jesus will also walk this path with you. Simply take his hand and let him guide you, and you will find the happiness you seek!

17 February 2011

The Office, Chancery style

As I continue to settle into my office at the Catholic Pastoral Center, there has been some debate as to what the sign outside of my office should read.

Officially, I am the Episcopal Master of Ceremonies and the Associate Director of the Office for Vocations; that won't fit on the sign. And the Episcopal Master of Ceremonies falls into the Office of the Bishop, which is half-way down the hall from my office; the Director of the Office for Vocations has his office downstairs while my office is upstairs.

The Diocesan Webmaster -who is in the Office for Information Technology - decided to make a sign for my office he thought was fitting:

I like it, but it probably won't fit into the overall curial structure. Instead, it was decided that the sign should be:

It isn't as much fun, but I suppose it will work.

16 February 2011

A humorous Bishop

This morning I learned two valuable lessons before 8:00.

On Wednesdays, the Cathedral has exposition and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament following the morning Mass concluding with Benediction prior to the evening Mass.

When I took the boat from the server this to impose incense I opened the lid and found the boat completely empty; someone did not refill it with incense. First lesson learned: always check for incense.

Last evening I apparently left my coat in Bishop Paprocki's car when we returned from a Confirmation in Mount Zion. When I returned to my room, I couldn't help but notice this:

The knight who stands outside my door must have grown cold.

I must admit: I was both impressed and pleased.

14 February 2011

Fame: Excitement and let down

Yesterday morning I assisted Bishop Paprocki during a Confirmation Mass in a parish in the Diocese.

At the reception following the Mass a man approached me and said, "I suppose you know we had a famous person at Mass today."

I, of course, had no way of knowing this; no one sends such notices to me, nor do I want them to do so.

With a rather stupefied expression on my face, I asked, "Oh, who's that?"

He said the man's name and, having never heard of him, said, still with a stupefied expression, "I don't know who that is."

The man explained, if I remember correctly, that he is the quarterback coach for the Green Bay Packers and is from this parish. Not caring at all about football, I didn't have much to say and, being quite disappointed at my lack of enthusiasm, walked away.

As he walked away, I realized what I should have said to him: We have Jesus Christ and all of the angels and saints at every Mass wherever it is celebrated. The presence of a famed atheltic figure is of no real consequence.

Incidentally, just prior to the Mass I met a descendant of Saint Thomas More. And that is far more interesting than a football coach.

11 February 2011

What are you doing for vocations?

Many Catholics are concerned about the current number of priests active in parish ministry and in the number of seminarians currently in formation. It is easy to see that the numbers in both groups are not as high as we would like them to be.

This leads some Catholics to complain and ask, "What is the Church [by which is implied the hierarchy] doing for vocations?" Not too long ago this question was posed to me, as if the Church were doing nothing for vocations. I answered with a question: "What are you doing for vocations?"

The Knights of Columbus have long been right in saying that "vocations are everyone's business."

Vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life do not simply fall down from heaven; they arise from within families and parishes.

I can say without hesitation that had it not been for the support of the parishioners of my home parish who encouraged me to pray about being a priest that I would not have taken a serious look at the priesthood. And I would likely have missed by vocation. I thought myself unworthy, and I am; they saw something I did not.

I pose that same question to you today: What are you going to do for vocations today?

Vocations are everyone's business

Addressing the theme, "Proposing Vocations in the Local Church," Pope Benedict XVI has issued his Message for the 48th World Day of Prayer for Vocations, to be observed May 15, 2011.

The text of his Message follows, with my emphases and comments:

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The 48th World Day of Prayer for Vocations, to be celebrated on 15 May 2011, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, invites us to reflect on the theme: “Proposing Vocations in the Local Church”. Seventy years ago, Venerable Pius XII established the Pontifical Work of Priestly Vocations. Similar bodies, led by priests and members of the lay faithful, were subsequently established by Bishops in many dioceses as a response to the call of the Good Shepherd who, “when he saw the crowds, had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd”, and went on to say: “The harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few. Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest!” (Mt 9:36-38).

The work of carefully encouraging and supporting vocations finds a radiant source of inspiration in those places in the Gospel where Jesus calls his disciples to follow him and trains them with love and care. We should pay close attention to the way that Jesus called his closest associates to proclaim the Kingdom of God (cf. Lk 10:9). In the first place, it is clear that the first thing he did was to pray for them: before calling them, Jesus spent the night alone in prayer, listening to the will of the Father (cf. Lk 6:12) in a spirit of interior detachment from mundane concerns. It is Jesus’ intimate conversation with the Father which results in the calling of his disciples. Vocations to the ministerial priesthood and to the consecrated life are first and foremost the fruit of constant contact with the living God and insistent prayer lifted up to the “Lord of the harvest”, whether in parish communities, in Christian families or in groups specifically devoted to prayer for vocations.

At the beginning of his public life, the Lord called some fishermen on the shore of the Sea of Galilee: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men” (Mt 4:19). He revealed his messianic mission to them by the many “signs” which showed his love for humanity and the gift of the Father’s mercy. Through his words and his way of life he prepared them to carry on his saving work. Finally, knowing “that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father” (Jn 13:1), he entrusted to them the memorial of his death and resurrection, and before ascending into heaven he sent them out to the whole world with the command: “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19).

It is a challenging and uplifting invitation that Jesus addresses to those to whom he says: “Follow me!”. He invites them to become his friends, to listen attentively to his word and to live with him. He teaches them complete commitment to God and to the extension of his kingdom in accordance with the law of the Gospel: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit ” (Jn 12:24). He invites them to leave behind their own narrow agenda and their notions of self-fulfilment in order to immerse themselves in another will, the will of God, and to be guided by it. He gives them an experience of fraternity, one born of that total openness to God (cf. Mt 12:49-50) which becomes the hallmark of the community of Jesus: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35).

It is no less challenging to follow Christ today. It means learning to keep our gaze fixed on Jesus, growing close to him, listening to his word and encountering him in the sacraments; it means learning to conform our will to his. This requires a genuine school of formation for all those who would prepare themselves for the ministerial priesthood or the consecrated life under the guidance of the competent ecclesial authorities. The Lord does not fail to call people at every stage of life to share in his mission and to serve the Church in the ordained ministry and in the consecrated life. The Church is “called to safeguard this gift, to esteem it and love it. She is responsible for the birth and development of priestly vocations” (John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, 41). Particularly in these times, when the voice of the Lord seems to be drowned out by “other voices” and his invitation to follow him by the gift of one’s own life may seem too difficult, every Christian community, every member of the Church, needs consciously to feel responsibility for promoting vocations. It is important to encourage and support those who show clear signs of a call to priestly life and religious consecration, and to enable hem to feel the warmth of the whole community as they respond “yes” to God and the Church. I encourage them, in the same words which I addressed to those who have already chosen to enter the seminary: “You have done a good thing. Because people will always have need of God, even in an age marked by technical mastery of the world and globalization: they will always need the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, the God who gathers us together in the universal Church in order to learn with him and through him life’s true meaning and in order to uphold and apply the standards of true humanity” (Letter to Seminarians, 18 October 2010).

It is essential that every local Church become more sensitive and attentive to the pastoral care of vocations, helping children and young people in particular at every level of family, parish and associations – as Jesus did with his disciples - to grow into a genuine and affectionate friendship with the Lord, cultivated through personal and liturgical prayer; to grow in familiarity with the sacred Scriptures and thus to listen attentively and fruitfully to the word of God; to understand that entering into God’s will does not crush or destroy a person, but instead leads to the discovery of the deepest truth about ourselves; and finally to be generous and fraternal in relationships with others, since it is only in being open to the love of God that we discover true joy and the fulfilment of our aspirations. “Proposing Vocations in the Local Church” means having the courage, through an attentive and suitable concern for vocations, to point out this challenging way of following Christ which, because it is so rich in meaning, is capable of engaging the whole of one’s life.

I address a particular word to you, my dear brother Bishops. To ensure the continuity and growth of your saving mission in Christ, you should “foster priestly and religious vocations as much as possible, and should take a special interest in missionary vocations” (Christus Dominus, 15). The Lord needs you to cooperate with him in ensuring that his call reaches the hearts of those whom he has chosen. Choose carefully those who work in the Diocesan Vocations Office, that valuable means for the promotion and organization of the pastoral care of vocations and the prayer which sustains it and guarantees its effectiveness. I would also remind you, dear brother Bishops, of the concern of the universal Church for an equitable distribution of priests in the world. Your openness to the needs of dioceses experiencing a dearth of vocations will become a blessing from God for your communities and a sign to the faithful of a priestly service that generously considers the needs of the entire Church.

The Second Vatican Council explicitly reminded us that “the duty of fostering vocations pertains to the whole Christian community, which should exercise it above all by a fully Christian life” (Optatam Totius, 2). I wish, then, to say a special word of acknowledgment and encouragement to those who work closely in various ways with the priests in their parishes. In particular, I turn to those who can offer a specific contribution to the pastoral care of vocations: to priests, families, catechists and leaders of parish groups. I ask priests to testify to their communion with their bishop and their fellow priests, and thus to provide a rich soil for the seeds of a priestly vocation. May families be “animated by the spirit of faith and love and by the sense of duty” (Optatam Totius, 2) which is capable of helping children to welcome generously the call to priesthood and to religious life. May catechists and leaders of Catholic groups and ecclesial movements, convinced of their educational mission, seek to “guide the young people entrusted to them so that these will recognize and freely accept a divine vocation” (ibid.).

Dear brothers and sisters, your commitment to the promotion and care of vocations becomes most significant and pastorally effective when carried out in the unity of the Church and in the service of communion. For this reason, every moment in the life of the Church community – catechesis, formation meetings, liturgical prayer, pilgrimages – can be a precious opportunity for awakening in the People of God, and in particular in children and young people, a sense of belonging to the Church and of responsibility for answering the call to priesthood and to religious life by a free and informed decision.

The ability to foster vocations is a hallmark of the vitality of a local Church [This is an essential point far too often ignored in pastoral planning. I was the fourth priest ordained from my home parish in just ten years time; another man entered the Trappists. Even so, it was closed and merged with a parish that hadn't produced a vocation in my lifetime. It is time to judge the health of parishes by the vocations they produce; as the Lord himself said, "By their fruits you will know them" (Matthew 7:16)]. With trust and perseverance let us invoke the aid of the Virgin Mary, that by the example of her own acceptance of God’s saving plan and her powerful intercession, every community will be more and more open to saying “yes” to the Lord who is constantly calling new labourers to his harvest. With this hope, I cordially impart to all my Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 15 November 2010
In a time such as this it is wise to remember the words of Saint Francis of Assisi spoken on his deathbed: "Let us begin, brothers, to serve the Lord our God, for up to now we have hardly progressed" (Saint Bonaventure, The Life of Francis, 14.1).

Up to now, we have done far too little in the promotion of vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life. The Knighs of Columbus are right; vocations are everyone's business. Let us set to work!

Christian teens murdered in New Delhi

From Bos News Life, with my emphases:

NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)-- Suspected Islamic militants have killed two Christian teenagers who were reading the Bible in the disputed Kashmir valley, divided between India and Muslim Pakistan, BosNewsLife established Tuesday, February 8.

The victims were identified as Arifa, 17, and Akthar, 19, the daughters of Gulam Nabi Dar, said local missionary Mercy Ciniraj, who knew them well. "The [murdered] girls were believers and used to read the Bible through underground ministries."

She told BosNewsLife that "the girls were shot dead" last Monday, January 31, in the Baramulla area in Indian-controlled northern Kashmir, bordering Pakistan.

They were "brutally murdered" by at least three fighters of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan based Islamic militant "terrorist" group, she explained. Local police reportedly said in statements that they found two bodies near their home and that militants were to blame [more].

In the Philipines, Muslim extremists set fire to Christian village

This summary is not available. Please click here to view the post.

10 February 2011

A new podcast

I am happy to say that I finally now hope to resume podcasting my homilies and other things as they seem useful.

I have uploaded the homily for this past Sunday; it is available here.

You can also search for me on iTunes and subscribe to my podcasts.

Homily - 6 February 2011

The Fifth Sunday of the Year (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

What is the meaning of life? This question is one that is frequently asked but is, most unfortunately, given far too little serious consideration. It is often asked rhetorically, neither expecting nor requiring an answer. And yet, today the Lord Jesus Christ gives us the answer to this question: “Your light must shine before others,” he says, “that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:16).

Your light, he says, must shine; my light must shine. How bright, how strong, is your light; how radiant is mine?

If we are honest, we know that our light does not shine as brightly as it should; nor does it shine as brightly as it could. Our lives all too often do not echo that of the just man sung of by the Psalmist (cf. Psalm 112). For this reason we are sometimes no better than tasteless salt, good only to be “thrown out and trampled underfoot” (Matthew 5:13).

In the darkness of winter when the clouds often hang long and block the warmth of the sun, we know we long to see the sun in the sky. It’s brightness brings light, warmth and joy. If our light shines brightly, it, too, brings light to the darkness of people’s lives; it brings warmth to hearts grown cold; and it brings joy to those in apathy or sorrow.

We have all seen a radiant soul, someone whose light is perceived in their words, in their deeds, in their compassion. We call them the saints and for this reason the artists have often depicted them a ring of light encircling their heads. As people naturally gather around a bonfire, so, too, are they attracted to the light of the saints.

Pope Benedict XVI has said that “in seeing the darkness that today threatens their lives, youth can find in the saints the light that dissipates it: the light of Christ, hope for all men.” It is Jesus who says of himself, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

In the Passion of our Lord we learn the truth of his words that a lamp is not lit and then placed under a basket (cf. Matthew 5:15). Of the birth of Jesus the prophet Isaiah foretold long ago: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined” (Isaiah 9:2). This light continues to shine “in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” because he did not let himself remain hidden (John 1:5).
When he climbed the hill of Calvary for our salvation, the lamp of Christ was “hung on the wood of the cross,” from where he “sheds everlasting light on all those who dwell in the church.” It is his light that “shines through the darkness for the upright” and it is his light that must shine through each of us (Psalm 112:4).

If we live according to his law of love, the Lord has promised, “Then your light shall forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed” (Isaiah 58:8). Our light will only shine forth in this way if we reflect his own light through the example of our lives, as the saints have already done.

Saint Clare of Assisi teaches us that when we pray we should “place your mind before the mirror of eternity! Place your soul in the brilliance of glory!” This mirror of eternity is the image the Crucified Lord. For this very reason Saint Paul says he “resolved to know nothing … except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2). It must be the same with us.

If our light is to shine brightly before others, we must spend time each day gazing into the mirror of eternity, contemplating the sufferings of the Savior and basking in the warmth of his light. If we do, we become mirrors like Moses, reflecting the light of the Lord’s glory to others (cf. Exodus 34:29-35).

Let us, though, not seek to dim the light of the Lord in our lives, but let us allow it to shine brightly in all that we do. We must remember these words of Saint Jerome:
When you see people freezing outside the church in the frigidity of
unbelief, without the warmth of faith, impoverished and homeless, lead them home
into the church and clothe them with the work of incorruption, so that, wrapped
in the mantle of Christ, they will not remain in the grave.

Through the witness of our lives, may his light continue to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death that they may know the One who is Light from Light (cf. Luke 1:79). Amen.

An invitation to young men discerning the priesthood

"Come away by yourselves and rest a while" (Mark 6:31).

The Office for Vocations [of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois] is sponsoring a priesthood discernment retreat March 18-20 at the Villa Maria Catholic Life Center on Lake Springfield for men who are high school seniors to their mid-40s.

If you believe that God may be calling you to share in the ordained Priesthood of Jesus Christ or if you are open to the possibility of that calling, please consider attending this retreat. The weekend, which begins Friday evening at 7:00 p.m. and ends Sunday with lunch, will be a time of prayer, discernment, discussion, leisure and quiet time with the Lord.

A reservation is requested, but there is no other obligation or cost except an open heart.

If you know someone whom you believe the Lord may be calling to the priesthood, please share this invitation with them.

For questions, information or reservations, please contact Father Christopher House at vocations@dio.org or (217) 698-8500 ext. 182.

"Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19).

09 February 2011

In Jakarta, violence against Christians

From Asia News, with my emphases and comments:
Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Thousands of angry Muslims attacked three churches, a Christian orphanage and a health centre that is also a Christian. The violence took place this morning [Tuesday] at 10 am (local time) and only ended with the intervention of police in riot gear and police vans. One of the vans was set on fire by the crowd.

The revolt took place in Temanggung regency (Central Java), and started right in front of the town hall: first the crowd attacked the court where a trial against Richmond Bawengan Antonius, a Christian born in Manado (North Sulawesi) , accused of proselytizing and blasphemy was being held.

Bawengan was arrested in October 2010 because during a visit to Temanggung he had distributed printed missionary material, which, among other things, poked fun at some Islamic symbols. The profanity has cost him five years in prison, but the crowd were demanding the death sentence. The violence was sparked by their dissatisfaction with the verdict.

Instead of leaving the court, the crowd started pushing, shouting provocative slogans and then destroyed the building [how very peaceful and democratic]. Hundreds of police rushed in to intervene but failed to appease the thousands of Muslims who began to march en masse to "target Christians" on the main street of the city.

The Catholic Church of St Peter and Paul on Sudirman Boulevard was the first to be attacked, according to AsiaNews sources, the parish priest, Fr Saldhana, a missionary of the Holy Family, was violently beaten as he tried to protect the tabernacle and the Eucharist against the mob [may the Lord bless this priest for his devotion to the Eucharist].

The crowd then attacked a Pentecostal church. According to the pastor Darmanto - another Christian leader of Temanggung - the main goal was the Pentecostal church, which was then burned. The mob, however, still not appeased went on to destroy in a Catholic orphanage and a health centre of the Sisters of Providence.

Another Protestant church in Shekinah was burnt down.

04 February 2011

Radiating Christ

Dear Jesus,
help me to spread Thy fragrance everywhere I go.
Flood my soul with Thy spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly
that all my life may only be a radiance of Thine.
Shine through me,
and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with
may feel Thy presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me
but only Jesus!

Stay with me,
and then I shall begin to shine
as Thou shinest,
so to shine as to be a light to others;
the light, O Jesus, will be all from Thee;
none of it will be mine;
it will be Thou shining on others through me.
Let me thus praise Thee in the way Thou dost love best
by shining on those around me.
Let me preach Thee without preaching,
not by words but by my example,
by the catching force of the sympathetic influence
of what I do,
the evident fullness of the love my heart bears to Thee.

- Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman

Bishops: To be firm with our teachings, let them imprison us!

Two courageous Bishops in the Philippines have spoken in defense of the truth and of the moral good. They will need our prayers.

From Life Site News, with my emphases:

MANILA, Philippines, February 3, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Two Catholic bishops in the Philippines have called for a campaign of “civil disobedience” against the country’s controversial “reproductive health” bill (RH bill) should the measure pass.

We bishops, are willing to be imprisoned, together with our priests, and protest the immoral things there (RH bill). To be firm with our teachings, let them imprison us!” Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon told Radyo Veritas, according to the bishops’ CBCPNews.

“We will have a civil disobedience! Those laws that are immoral, we will tell the people not to obey.”

“We are just saying what is right! We are going to proclaim whatever it is,” said Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa. The archbishop cautioned that the campaign is not aimed at overthrowing the government, and should be carried out peacefully.

Various incarnations of the bill, which promotes population control through abortifacient contraception and sterilization, have been advanced for over a decade through a persistent, aggressive, and well-funded campaign by Filipino legislators and activists. Pro-lifers, led by the nation’s influential Catholic bishops, have urged the government to promote moral measures such as natural family planning.

President Benigno Aquino’s regime had appeared to back down from the controversial measure in January, pledging to introduce a re-named “Responsible Parenthood” bill that would address the pro-life concerns. Critics say, however, that the RH bill’s substance remains despite the change in name, and this week the country’s bishops threatened to walk away from their negotiations with the government.

On Thursday, the Philippines branch of the world’s largest pro-life organization, Human Life International, announced that as part of a “Month for Life” they are organizing a series of demonstrations and vigils to honor and defend life and family in the pro-life nation.

Dr. Rene Bullecer, HLI’s Philippines Country Director, challenged President Aquino to move beyond “vague statements” about his Catholic faith and toward concrete action. “President Aquino should confirm, with concrete legislative measures, and not only with verbal statements, that the Filipino government intends to pursue family and demographic policies that will fully respect the value of human life,” he said Wednesday in an interview with Vatican Radio.

“The Aquino government has already received more than 900 million dollars from agencies like USAID, UNFPA and others that press rigid population control policies, and that makes it difficult for him to move backwards,” said Dr. Bullecer. “For this reason, in the Month for Life we will underline the urgency to protect human life in society, and fight for national policies in favor of the family.”

The activities planned for this “Month for Life” include prayer vigils, large demonstrations, candlelight processions, conferences, and public debates in the nation’s capital of Manila and other cities.

Egyptian Christians continue to suffer

From Fox News, with my emphases:

As pro and anti-Mubarak protesters clash in the streets of Egypt, the Christian minority continues to face mounting persecution, largely unbeknownst to the public eye.

Tom Doyle, Middle East director for E3 Partners, a Christian missionary organization that works extensively in Egypt and the surrounding region, and author of “Breakthrough: The Return of Hope to the Middle East,” tells FOX that colleagues on the ground report the murder of 15 more Christians outside Al-Minya, about 150 miles south of Cairo.

With no police available, no one was willing to help them. Family members are taking turns keeping watch over their homes, as robberies, rape, looting, and car theft are occurring routinely now.”

Under Egypt’s constitutional rights, Christians are free to practice their faith. Persecution, however, has been rampant, as Muslim extremists seek to deny those rights. Twenty-three Christians were murdered and 70 injured as a suicide bomber attacked a Coptic Christian Church at a New Year’s Eve mass in Alexandria. Archbishop Raweis, the top Coptic cleric in Alexandria, denounced what he called a lack of protection.

"There were only three soldiers and an officer in front of the church," he said. "Why did they have so little security at such a sensitive time when there's so many threats coming from Al Qaeda?”

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was recently asked about the onslaught of Christian murders across the Middle East. Gibbs deflected to the State Department, and said, “I have not heard the – an overarching theory” behind the attacks, and “the president is aware.”

Christianity in Egypt dates back to the first century A.D. as Alexandria was an early center of Christianity, and until the Islamic conquest of Egypt in the seventh century, it was predominantly Christian. Today, the Christian minority only makes up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population.

“With the Muslim brotherhood rising up, Christians are very nervous about who might be next in line to take over for Mubarak,” explained Doyle. “Many times it’s been stated that there’s democracy but it’s just been a veil for authoritarianism.”

The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in the 1920s, demanded today for Mubarak to step down, as well as Jordan’s new Prime Minister. Among the brotherhood’s graduates, Al-Qaeda’s No. 2 - the Egyptian doctor Ayman al-Zawahiri -- who was imprisoned for three years on weapons charges following President Sadat's assassination in 1981, as well as Hamas, the terror network behind suicide bombings and rocket attacks in Israel, and the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine whose goal is the destruction of Israel.

Walid Phares tells FOX the group is “the mothership for the Jihadi ideologies and thinking, and therefore one can say today's Al-Qaeda and today's many other jihadists are offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Asked today about how the Obama administration would handle Egypt if the Muslim Brotherhood takes control, Gibbs said, “I think we’re getting way ahead of the process. I don’t want to get into hypotheticals about what-if.”

Whether it will be addressed by the White House or not, Egyptian Christians fear what will become of the already persecuted minority should Muslim extremists take control.

03 February 2011

A cry for freedom? Perhaps, but what kind?

Sandro Magister has an excellent article exploring the results of a recent survey (December 2, 2010) by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, recently conducted in six Islamic countries, including Egypt. His text follows, with my emphases:

ROME, February 3, 2011 – Much of the Egyptian population that in recent days has rebelled against the thirty-year regime of Hosni Mubarak says that it prefers democracy to any other form of government.

At the same time, however, and in an overwhelming majority, they want those who commit adultery to be stoned, thieves to have their hands cut off, and those who abandon the Muslim religion to be put to death.

This is the result of a survey conducted in Egypt and in six other majority Muslim countries by the Washington-based Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, the world leader for research in this field:

> Egypt, Democracy and Islam

The other six countries surveyed are Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Nigeria.

The case of Egypt is getting special attention these days. But comparisons with the other countries are also of great interest.

For example, democracy is held to be the best form of government by 59 percent of Egyptians, while in Turkey and Lebanon it gets even more support, 76 and 81 percent respectively.

In Egypt, however, 22 percent of the population maintains that in some circumstances a nondemocratic government is preferable.

On the relationship between politics and religion, almost half of Egyptians think that Islam already has a strong influence on politics. And among those who think this way, 95 percent believe it is a good thing.

In general, 85 out of 100 Egyptians believe that Islam has a positive influence on politics, against only 2 percent who see it as a negative. But in Lebanon and Turkey, the unfavorable views exceed 30 percent.

In a runoff between modernizers and fundamentalists, 59 percent of Egyptians say that they side with the fundamentalists, against 27 percent who root for the former. In Lebanon and Turkey, the sides are flipped: 84 and 74 percent respectively are with the modernizers, while 15 and 11 percent align themselves with the fundamentalists.

More than half of the Egyptians, 54 percent to be exact, among both men and women, are in favor of the separation of the sexes in the workplace. While in Lebanon and Turkey, those against it are between 80 and 90 percent.

When asked to give their views on Hamas, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda, in Egypt 49 percent say they are in favor of Hamas, 30 percent of Hezbollah, and 20 percent of al-Qaeda.

These views are partly influenced by whether one is Sunni or Shiite. The Egyptians are Sunni, as is Hamas, while Hezbollah is Shiite.

In any case, support for Hezbollah in Egypt has been falling for several years. It stood at 56 percent in 2007, 54 percent in 2008, 43 percent in 2009, and 30 percent in 2010.

And although it is in the minority, support for suicide terrorists is growing. In Egypt, 20 percent justify this, while in 2009 15 percent did.

Returning to the death penalty for those who abandon Islam, called for by 84 percent of Egyptians, it must be pointed out that those who want it are men and women, old and young, educated and uneducated, without distinction.

In Jordan, the level of support for sentencing apostates to death rises all the way to 86 percent. It is only in Lebanon and Turkey that support is low, at 6 and 5 percent respectively.
Maybe the freedom they seek is not the freedom we have.

Pope begins series on the Doctors of the Church

During his general audience yesterday, the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI spoke on the life and example of Saint Teresa of Avila.

His text follows, with my emphases and comments:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In the course of the catecheses that I dedicated to the fathers of the Church and to great figures of theologians and of women of the Middle Ages, I was able to reflect also on some men and women saints who have been proclaimed doctors of the Church for their eminent doctrine. Today I would like to initiate a brief series of meetings to complete this presentation of the doctors of the Church [I'm looking forward to this series!]. And I begin with a saint who represents one of the highest examples of Christian spirituality of all times: St. Teresa of Avila (of Jesus).

Born in Avila, Spain, in 1515 with the name Teresa de Ahumada, in her autobiography she herself mentions some particulars of her childhood: birth from "virtuous and God-fearing parents" in a numerous family, with nine brothers and three sisters. While still a child, less than 9 years old, she read the lives of some martyrs that inspired her with the desire for martyrdom, so much so that she improvised a brief flight from home to die a martyr and go to heaven (cf. "Life," 1, 4): "I want to see God," said the little girl to her parents [The lives of the saints are of great importance to spiritual growth; parents should willingly teach their children about the saints]. Some years later, Teresa would speak of her childhood readings and affirmed that she discovered the truth, which she summarized in two fundamental principles: on one hand, "the fact that all that belongs to this word passes," on the other, that only God is "for ever, ever, ever" -- a theme that returns in the very famous poem "Let nothing disturb you / nothing affright you; / all things are passing . God is unchanging; / patience obtains everything; / he who possesses God / lacks nothing / God alone suffices!" Remaining orphaned of her mother at 12 years old, she asked the Virgin Most Holy to be her mother (cf. "Life," 1, 7).

If in her adolescence the reading of profane books led her to the distractions of a worldly life, her experience as a pupil of Augustinian nuns of St. Mary of Graces of Avila and the frequentation of spiritual books, especially classics of Franciscan spirituality, taught her recollection and prayer. At the age of 20, she entered the Carmelite convent of the Incarnation, still in Avila; in religious life she assumed the name Teresa of Jesus. Three years later, she became seriously ill, so much so that she was in a coma for four days, seemingly dead (cf. "Life," 5, 9). In the struggle against her illnesses the saint also saw the fight against weaknesses and resistance to God's call: "I wanted to live," she wrote, "because I understood well that I was not living, but I was fighting with a shadow of death, and I had no one to give me life, nor could I give it to myself, and he who could give it to me was right not to help me, given that so many times he had turned me toward him and I abandoned him" ("Life," 8, 2).

In 1543 she lost the closeness of relatives: her father died and all her brothers emigrated one after the other to America. In Lent of 1554, at 39 years of age, Teresa reached the culmination of her struggle against her weaknesses. The fortuitous discovery of the statue of "a very wounded Christ" marked her life profoundly (cf. "Life," 9). The saint, who in that period found profound consonance with the St. Augustine of the Confessions, describes in this way the decisive day of her mystical experience: "It happened ... that all of a sudden I had a sense of the presence of God, which in no way could I doubt was within me or that I was all absorbed in him" ("Life," 10, 1).

In a parallel manner to the maturation of her interiority, the saint began to develop concretely the ideal of the reform of the Carmelite Order: In 1562 she founded in Avila, with the support of the bishop of the city, Father Alvaro de Mendoza, the first reformed Carmel, and shortly after she also received the approval of the superior-general of the Order, Giovanni Battista Rossi. In subsequent years she continued the foundation of new Carmels, 17 in total. Her meeting with St. John of the Cross was essential; with him in 1568 she constituted the first convent of Discalced Carmelites in Duruelo, near Avila. In 1580 she obtained from Rome the establishment of an autonomous province for her reformed Carmelites, the starting point of the Religious Order of Discalced Carmelites.

Teresa finished her earthly life precisely while she was committed in the activity of foundation. In 1582, in fact, after having constituted the Carmel of Burgos and while she was on her way back to Avila, she died on the night of Oct. 15 in Alba de Tormes, repeating humbly two expressions: "In the end, I die a daughter of the Church" and "It is time now, my Spouse, that we see you." An existence consumed within Spain but often for the whole Church.

Beatified by Pope Paul V in 1614 and canonized in 1622 by Gregory XV, she was proclaimed a doctor of the Church by the Servant of God Paul VI in 1970.

Teresa of Jesus did not have an academic formation, but she always treasured the teachings of theologians, men of letters and spiritual teachers. As a writer, she always held to what she had personally lived or seen in the experience of others (cf. Prologue to "The Way of Perfection"), namely, from experience. Teresa was able to enjoy relationships of friendship with many saints, in particular with St. John of the Cross. At the same time, she was nourished by reading the fathers of the Church, St. Jerome, St. Gregory the Great, St. Augustine.

Among her major works, the most notable is her autobiography, titled "Book of Life," which she called "Book of the Mercies of the Lord." Composed in the Carmel of Avila in 1565, it reviews her biographical and spiritual history, written, as Teresa herself affirms, to submit her soul to the discernment of St. John of Avila, "Teacher of the spiritual." The purpose was to point out the presence and the action of the merciful God in her life: Because of this, the work often returns to the dialogue of prayer with the Lord. It is fascinating reading because the saint not only recounts, but shows that she relives the profound experience of her relationship with God. In 1566, Teresa wrote "The Way of Perfection," which she called "Admonitions and Counsels that Teresa of Jesus Gives to her Nuns." The recipients were the 12 novices of the Carmel of St. Joseph of Avila. Teresa proposed to them an intense program of contemplative life at the service of the Church, the basis of which were the evangelical virtues and prayer. Among the most precious passages is the commentary on the Our Father, model of prayer.

The most famous mystical work of St. Teresa is "The Interior Castle," written in 1577, in her full maturity. It is a re-reading of her own spiritual journey and, at the same time, a codification of the possible development of Christian life toward its fullness, holiness, under the action of the Holy Spirit. Teresa refers to the structure of a castle with seven rooms, as an image of man's interiority, introducing, at the same time, the symbol of the silkworm that is reborn as a butterfly, to express the passage from the natural to the supernatural. The saint is inspired by sacred Scriptures, in particular the Canticle of Canticles, for the final symbol of "two Spouses," which allows us to describe, in the seventh room, the culmination of the Christian life in its four aspects: Trinitarian, Christological, anthropological and ecclesial.

Teresa dedicated the "Book of Foundations," written between 1573 and 1582, to her activity as founder of reformed Carmels, in which she speaks of the life of the nascent religious group. As in the autobiography, the account is intended to point out above all God's action in the work of the foundation of new convents.

It is not easy to summarize in a few words the profound and complex Teresian spirituality. I would like to mention some essential points. In the first place, St. Teresa proposes the evangelical virtues as the basis of all Christian and human life -- in particular, detachment from goods or evangelical poverty (and this concerns all of us); love for one another as the essential element of community and social life; humility as love of the truth; determination as fruit of Christian audacity; theological hope, which she describes as thirst for living water -- without forgetting the human virtues: affability, veracity, modesty, courtesy, joy, culture. In the second place, St. Teresa proposes a profound harmony with the great biblical personalities and intense listening to the Word of God. She felt in consonance above all with the bride of the Canticle of Canticles and with the Apostle Paul, as well as with the Christ of the passion and with the Eucharistic Jesus.

The saint stressed how essential prayer is; to pray, she said, "means to frequent with friendship, because we frequent him whom we know loves us" ("Life," 8, 5). St. Teresa's idea coincides with the definition that St. Thomas Aquinas gives of theological charity, as "amicitia quaedam hominis ad Deum," a type of friendship of man with God, who first offered his friendship to man; the initiative comes from God (cf. Summa Theologiae II-II, 23, 1). Prayer is life and it develops gradually at the same pace with the growth of the Christian life: It begins with vocal prayer, passes to interiorization through meditation and recollection, until it attains union of love with Christ and with the Most Holy Trinity. Obviously, it is not a development in which going up to the higher steps means leaving behind the preceding type of prayer, but is rather a gradual deepening of the relationship with God, which envelops our whole life. More than a pedagogy of prayer, St. Teresa's is a true "mystagogy": She teaches the reader of her works to pray while praying herself with him; frequently, in fact, she interrupts the account or exposition to burst out in a prayer.

Another topic dear to the saint is the centrality of the humanity of Christ. In fact, for Teresa, the Christian life is a personal relationship with Jesus, which culminates in union with him through grace, love and imitation. Hence the importance that she attributes to meditation on the passion and the Eucharist, as presence of Christ, in the Church, for the life of every believer and as heart of the liturgy. St. Teresa lived an unconditional love for the Church: She manifested an intense "sensus Ecclesiae" in face of incidents of division and conflict in the Church of her time. She reformed the Carmelite Order with the intention of serving and defending better the "Holy Roman Catholic Church," and she was prepared to give her life for it (cf. "Life," 33, 5).

A final essential aspect of Teresian doctrine that I would like to underscore is perfection, as the aspiration of the whole Christian life and the final end of it. The saint had a very clear idea of "fullness" in Christ, relived by the Christian. At the end of the course of "The Interior Castle," in the last "stanza" Teresa describes this fullness, realized in the indwelling of the Trinity, in union with Christ through the mystery of his humanity.
Translation via Zenit.

St. Blaise: Patron of throats and wool?

Have you ever wondered why candles are used on the memorial of Saint Blaise to bless throats? I preached about today's martyr a few years ago:

We know Saint Blaise best as the patron of ailments of the throat, whose intercession we invoke in times of illness. He seems to have been the son of wealthy parents and a physician who became the Bishop of Armenia. When the persecutions of the Emperor Diocletian broke out, Blaise fled to a cave where he lived with the animals. He healed the wounds of the animals and they flocked around him. Hunters discovered Blaise surrounded by these animals and took him to the governor Agricolas. Refusing to renounce his Christian faith, Blaise was beheaded around the year 316, after having had his flesh torn apart by metal wool combs.

Before his death, Blaise is said to have miraculously healed a boy who was choking on a fishbone, thereby saving his life. This event gave rise to his patronage of the sick, and especially of the throat. But about the candles used during his blessing?

As the hunters took Blaise to the governor they came upon a poor woman whose pig had been carried off by a wolf. Recognizing the Saint’s holiness, she begged him to restore the pig to her. Blaise commanded the wolf to give back the pig and it did. The pig was unharmed. In return for his kindness, the woman gave Blaise some food and some candles.

The episode of the healing of the boy was combined with that of the wolf to give us the blessing of Saint Blaise with the candles.

Why would this holy man of God allow himself to be torn apart by wool combs? Why would he willingly undergo such great pain when all he had to do to avoid the torture was renounce his faith?

Saint Blaise so modeled his life on the example of Jesus Christ as found in the Beatitudes that he knew the true source of happiness. He knew that blessedness is found in the Cross of Christ and so to him the Lord said:

Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven (Matthew 5:10).

Because Blaise took “refuge in the name of the Lord” in this life, he has now entered into one of the “many dwelling places” in the Father’s house (John 14:2). This martyr, who so powerfully united himself to Christ, stands before us a witness to hope, as one who lights the way to life with God, one of the many sign posts that God has given to us.

31 days later, US Congress condemns attack

From the AFP, with my emphases:

WASHINGTON — The US Senate has condemned a deadly attack on a Coptic Christian church on New Year's Day in Alexandria, Egypt, at a time when the world's eyes are on political unrest roiling the staunch US ally.

Lawmakers approved the symbolic measure, crafted by Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, by voice vote late Monday.

The resolution urges the Egyptian government "to fully investigate the bomb attack and to lawfully prosecute the perpetrators of this heinous act."

Threatening to exacerbate tensions between Muslims and Egypt's minority Christians, a suicide bomber killed 23 people, Egyptian authorities said, outside a church in the northern city of Alexandria after a New Year's Eve mass at the start of 2011.

The resolution asks that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his government "enhance security for the Coptic Christian community" and ensure "religious freedom and equality of treatment for all people in Egypt."

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, which came after an Al-Qaeda-linked group in Iraq threatened Egypt's Copts after claiming credit for a deadly October assault on a Syriac Catholic church in Baghdad.

Mubarak has vowed to catch those responsible, and has called it a foreign "terrorist operation."

Egypt's Christian community comprises 10 percent of the country's population of 80 million.

02 February 2011

How sad . . . for a couple of reasons; yet not without hope

A new study has been released with a rather sad finding among teens in the United States. From CN Cath News, with my emphases:

Jesus Christ and President Barack Obama are equally popular role models among teens in the US, a study has found, according to a report on the Christian Today website.
What is first of all sad with this report is that the Savior of the world is only as popular as the sitting President of the United States of America. Simply consider it this way: the carpenter from Nazareth who died so that everyone live is only as popular as a man who did not vote to protect the life of babies who survived botched abortions.

But there is another aspect to this study that is perhaps more sad:

President Obama and Jesus Christ were commonly named as teen role models, each receiving 3 percent of the votes.
I have known for a while now that too many teens - even among church-goers - know preciously little about Jesus; in one class I taught not even 25% of the class could tell me when Jesus walked the earth. Clearly, there is much work to be done here.

There are two positive notes from the study, though. First, pastors known personally by the teens received 6% of the votes. Perhaps this means that teens simply look to Jesus as more than a role model; if this is the case, it would certainly be encouraging; there are too many who simply see him as one role model among many.

For the second positive note:

A new Barna Group study on teen role models also found that two out of three teens named someone they know personally as a person they looked up to, with the favorite role model among teens being a grandparent, sibling, cousin, aunt or uncle as someone they admire most other than their parents.

Weigel: Obama Administration gain regain ground lost

Writing for the National Review Online, the noted Catholic scholar George Weigel suggests, with my emphases:

If and when the Obama administration accepts Victor Davis Hanson's sound counsel and makes publicly clear that what America wishes for Egypt is a "non-Islamist constitutional state," the administration ought to add that any such state should be one that is safe for Coptic and other Christians.

While the current upheaval in Egypt cannot be traced to recent assaults on the Copts there, the safety of this ancient Christian community, which played a major role in the country's cultural life centuries before Islam (and almost two millennia before Mohammad el-Baradei), would be one important test of whether post-Mubarak Egypt has moved beyond one of the little-remarked but nonetheless odious aspects of Mubarak's rule: namely, his appeasement of those Muslims who insist that there is no room in their country's culture or public life for Coptic Christianity or indeed any other form of Christianity.

Three weeks ago, the Egyptian government withdrew its ambassador from the Vatican after the Muslim leadership at al-Azhar, usually described as the "intellectual center of Sunni Islam," pitched a hissy fit at Pope Benedict XVI, who had dared criticize the brutal murder of Copts during his annual address to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See - a criticism that al-Azhar deemed a gross interference in "internal affairs." The government caved to the Muslim clerisy and withdrew its diplomatic representation.

When that kind of nonsense stops, we'll know that a corner has been turned in Egypt. Meanwhile, here is an opportunity for the administration, which has been whittling away at the idea of religious freedom by reducing it to "freedom of worship," to regain the ground it has supinely lost in the global struggle to defend religious freedom in full.

The Healy Brothers: Two priests and a Bishop

Pat McNamara has posted the story of the Healy brothers. If you aren't familiar with them yet, you should be:

By any standard, the Healys were an impressive family. Michael, the father, was an Irish immigrant who became a successful Georgia planter. His children included two nuns, a Coast Guard captain, a bishop, and two priests (one of them a university president). They seemed the quintessential Irish Catholic clan.

But they harbored a secret, one that by nineteenth century white America’s standards was considered terrible. Their mother Eliza Clark had been a slave on their father’s plantation. Although Michael and Eliza had a committed, exclusive relationship, Georgia banned interracial marriage and defined their children as slaves. [more]

A brave little boy meets the Pope on his own initiative

At this morning's General Audience in the Paul VI Hall in Vatican City, a brave little boy ran up to greet the Holy Father as various groups in attendance were introduced to the Pope:

And, as usual, Pope Benedict took it in stride:

While I'm happy for the boy, I'm not sure what this says about the effective of the Guard.