31 December 2012

What is wrong with the world?

It is said that in reply to the editorial question of a British newspaper, "What's wrong with the world today?" G. K. Chesterton wrote in reply:
Dear Sir,
I am.
Yours, G.K. Chesterton
Whether he actually wrote such a response is not certain, that it is certainly in keeping with his humor and wit.  Regardless of its historical veracity, it is a point well made and too little considered.

From the vantage point of most sacristies, priests very often cannot see what is transpiring in the sanctuary.  Such is the case with the sacristy of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

Before Mass this morning it seemed to be taking the server an unusually long amount of time to light the candles.  I stepped out of the sacristy - where no one else could see me - to see what became of him and saw him at work with two of the six candles lit.  Thinking nothing of it, I stepped back into the sacristy.

After another space of time and no sign of the return of the server, I again stepped out to check on his progress.  He was gone and four candles remained unlit.  What became of him at that moment I do not know.

I returned to the sacristy, grabbed a book of matches, walked through the sanctuary to the candles and proceeded to light the remaining four candles (which stand taller than the server and can be difficult to light).  As I lit the candles the server did not step back into the sanctuary and I didn't ask after Mass what became of him.

Now, as the server attempted - to the best of his ability - to light the candles, so far as I can tell, not one of the 75 to 100 people in the Cathedral who no doubt watched him struggle in vain to light the candles came forward to offer their assistance in lighting the candles that gave him so much trouble.

This, I submit, is what is wrong with the world.

It may seem a simple thing, but how much love and concern would have been shown the server had someone stepped up to help?  Love is found in the details of everyday life.

Today, as we close out a calendar year and begin a new one, I pose to you this question for your personal consideration and prayer: "Would I have helped the server?"

If your answer - if my answer - comes, in all honesty, in the negative, then, I assert, you - and I - are what is wrong with the world.

If our answer comes in the negative, let us this very day implore the Lord to so mold our hearts after his own that in this new year his love would be made known through our spontaneous, simple,  daily acts of concern, even if they be as humble as helping to light a candle.

29 December 2012

Baby Jesus likes a hymn

Blessed Pope John Paul II used to say, "There are no coincidences, only Providence."

Our annual Christmas gathering with our seminarians and priests began Thursday afternoon and concluded yesterday morning.  As always, it was an enjoyable time and marked with divine grace.

Just before Vespers on Thursday evening, I suggested to the Bishop that we sing Of the Father's Love Begotten for the hymn.  He was unfamiliar with it and asked if I could begin it, which I was glad to be able to do.

As he and I made our to the doors of the chapel, the Director of the Office for Vocations made a brief welcome and began to announce what song we would sing for the hymn. Not having spoken with him about prior to this point (and hadn't spoken with the Bishop about it, either), you can imagine my surprise when he announced that we would sing Of the Father's Love Begotten.

Because the Christ-Child seems to enjoy the hymn so much, I offer it to you today for your enjoyment:

24 December 2012

Illinois legislators to vote on same-sex "marriage"

On December 1, 2010, the Illinois House of Representatives approved SB 1716, the so-called Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act even though all of the "protections" granted to civil unions were already legally available to those who sought them; all that was needed to obtain them was a little simple paperwork.

The next day the Illinois Senate approved the same legislation, which Governor Quinn signed into law on January 31, 2011.

When the law passed we were told it would not impact religious organizations, yet it was the same legislation that forced Catholic Charities our of their work with foster care and adoptions.

If you recall, the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act - which has not actually granted any religious freedom but took it away - was passed in a "lame duck" session, with at least once Senator (Deanna Demuzio) changing her mind the morning of the vote, from against the bill to support of it; she had already lost her bid for re-election and so had nothing to lose (this was the only way the bill would pass).

Now, rather quietly and quickly (just as before) the Illinois House of Representatives is preparing to vote on HR 5170 - sponsored by two democrats from Chicago - which aims to legalize same-sex "marriage".  The vote is likely to take place in another lame duck session, January 2-8, 2013.

If the sponsors and supporters of this legislation are so convinced of the moral rightness - as they no doubt claim - why do they not propose the legislation when their re-election is at stake?

HR 5170 is called the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.  As before, if you think the legislation will actually grant any freedom of religion, you are foolish and blind to the lessons of the past.

The Catholic Conference of Illinois has created a web site to help people of good will oppose the proposed legislation and to defend the reality of marriage.

What must be remembered is that marriage existed before the Catholic Church and before any State.  Therefore the State has no right or authority to change or alter the definition of marriage.  It really is that simple.

Yesterday the Chicago Tribune ran a story noting that more than 250 clergy - mostly from Chicago - support the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.  The article quotes a statement from these clergy that reads, in part, "We believe all Illinois couples should have the same civil protections and urge our public officials to support measures to achieve equality."  This statement alone shows the ignorance of these clergy when it comes to the law.  The Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act has already granted the same civil protections now demanded.  

What the article does not say is how many clergy oppose the legislation.

Please, contact your Illinois Representative and Senator and ask them to oppose the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, or any similar legislation.

23 December 2012

Passing on the news

From time to time I stumble on a news article that I think Bishop Paprocki would be interested in.  Most of these articles are online so I print them for him and leave them in his box here at the Cathedral rectory.

Every now and again Bishop Paprocki stumbles on a news article that he thinks I would be interested in.  Most of these articles are in physical newspapers so he leaves them for me in my box here at the Cathedral rectory.

When I returned to the Cathedral this afternoon, he left this article in my box:

This is simply one of the many reasons I'm glad to have Bishop Paprocki as our Bishop.

Advent hospitality

As the last violet candle is lit around our wreaths on this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we hear Saint Luke's account of the Blessed Virgin Mary's visit to Elizabeth who is now sixth months pregnant.

Today, after the public recitation of the Angelus, Pope Benedict XVI reflected on the mystery of the Visitation and what it means for us, saying:
The scene of the Visitation also expresses the beauty of hospitality: where there is mutual welcome, listening, making room for the other, God is present with the joy that comes from him. Let us imitate Mary in the Christmas season, visiting those who are in difficulty, especially the sick, prisoners, the elderly and children. And let us also imitate Elizabeth who welcomes the guest as God himself: unless we desire him we will never know the Lord, unless we expect him, we will never meet him, unless we seek him, we will never find him. With the same joy as Mary, who hastens to Elizabeth (cf. Luke 1:39), we too go out to meet the Lord who comes.
In these last two days before the celebration of the Birth of the only Savior of all mankind we will have many opportunities to visit those who are in one difficulty or another.  As we go about our final preparations, let us do so with joy as we anticipate the coming Feast.

Credit where credit is due

In the past I have criticized several pieces Nicole Winfield has submitted to the Associated Press because of the distortions presented in her writing.

With this backdrop I was quite surprised yesterday to read Winfield's fair report in her AP article titled "Pope stresses family values as gay marriage gains".

What particularly surprised was Winfield's summary of teachings of the Church about homosexuality.  She writes:
Church teaching holds that homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered," though it stresses that gays should be treated with compassion and dignity.
I don't spend a lot of time reading secular news stories about the Church, but this is the first time I remember seeing a reporter mention the second half.

Although it would have been good to have this mentioned earlier than half-way through the article, I commend Ms. Winfield for an improvement in her coverage of the Church.

19 December 2012

Well here comes Christmas

As I would reckon the passage of time, this Advent season seems to have flown by all too quickly leaving me some bereft of the usual increased joy and hope that the season brings.

With the various stresses and busyness of the past few weeks, Christmas seems to have just popped up and is now just around the corner.  Indeed, it caught me quite by surprise - somehow - on Monday that Christmas is next week already (I hope you aren't caught quite as unawares as I was).

In a letter written to his Michael on 19 December 1962, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote:
Well here comes Christmas!  That astonishing thing that no 'commercialism' can in fact defile - unless you let it.  I hope, my dearest, that it will bring you some rest and refreshment in every way, & I shall remember you in communion (as always but especially) and wish that I had all my family beside me in the ancient patriarchal way!
Yes, indeed: Here comes Christmas, less than a week away.  Am I ready to celebrate it with the proper joy and enthusiasm the great solemnity deserves?  Not yet, but I hope soon to be.  I want to recover the simple Christmas joy of my youth, the sheer wonder of it all.  Are you ready?

That important phrase from Tolkien's letter - unless you let it - is one that each of us should dwell on in the coming days.  The stresses and busyness - the shopping and wrapping and writing and baking and cleaning and decorating and visiting and shoveling (soon to come) and what not - need not distract us or weigh us down - unless we let them.

If we keep our focus we will be able to truly sing with the Psalmist: "O God, you have taught me from my youth, and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deeds" (Psalm 71:17).

16 December 2012

The Pope is with us

In the midst of the unspeakable tragedy that occurred Friday morning in Newtown, Connecticut, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI spoke directly to American pilgrims in Rome today following his Angelus address.  In said:
I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Angelus. I was deeply saddened by Friday’s senseless violence in Newtown, Connecticut. I assure the families of the victims, especially those who lost a child, of my closeness in prayer. May the God of consolation touch their hearts and ease their pain. During this Advent Season, let us dedicate ourselves more fervently to prayer and to acts of peace. Upon those affected by this tragedy, and upon each of you, I invoke God’s abundant blessings!
You can listen to his words here.

These words of the Holy Father come after the following telegram was sent by His Eminence Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, Secretary of State, to the Diocese of Bridgeport:
The Holy Father was promptly informed of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown and he has asked me to convey his heartfelt grief and the assurance of this closeness in prayer to the victims and their families, and to all affected by the shocking event. In the aftermath of this senseless tragedy he asks God, our Father, to console all those who mourn and to sustain the entire community with the spiritual strength which triumphs over violence by the power of forgiveness, hope and reconciling love.
In our confusion and pain, the closeness of the Holy Father, and of many men and women of good will, both those within and without the communion of the Church, are a source of comfort.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.  May they rest in peace!

12 December 2012

The Pope's first tweet

Today the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI sent his first message via Twitter to nearly one million "followers."  He said, with characteristic humility and simplicity:
"Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart."
You, too, can follow the Pope on Twitter @Pontifex.  Later today he will answer a few questions that have been posed to him.

The Holy Father's embrace of the new, social media stands against those who claim the Church is "antiquated" and "out of touch."

How much use the Holy Father will make of Twitter remains to be seen, but given his many messages regarding the importance of the new media and his desire to speak to the entire world - both believers and nonbelievers alike - it seems likely enough it will be frequent.

11 December 2012

What to get your priest for Christmas

Each year it happens that someone asks for suggestions about what gifts would be appropriate to give their priest.  So it is that I once again offer this post, which I have updated slightly from previous years.

N.B.I am not writing this post as an attempt to receive gifts but as a way of trying to assist people in choosing gifts for their local priest.

I will first offer some thoughts and then make a few suggestions.

First, you have to keep the personality of the priest in mind; not every priest is the same and neither are their interests.

For example, if you want to give your priest a gift certificate to a restaurant, first ask yourself if he goes out to eat. Personally, I rarely go out to eat, both because we have a cook and because it is often difficult to find the time to go out (that, and I like to stay at home, anyway) and, consequently, still have a few certificates given me last year at this time.  Even if your priest does go out to eat, is this a restaurant he either already likes or will like?  You don't want to give him a certificate or card that he won't likely use.

The same might be said with vestments. There are vestments that some priests wear that I'll never touch and there are some vestments that I wear that he'll never touch.

Second, various artworks and knick-knacks are always nice, but keep in mind that the rectory only has so many shelves and blank spots on a wall. At the same time, the more things a priest collects the more things he has to move. Some things priests don't mind moving, other things they do.

Third, homemade holiday treats (cookies, pies, cakes, fruits, etc.) are delicious and always welcome, but check with the secretaries to see how much has already come in. At this time of the year the kitchen counter is most always overflowing with goodies that cannot be eaten because of the sheer quantity.

Now to the suggestions. Some of these are things that I wouldn't mind having myself and some have come from conversations with others priests (I won't tell you which is which):
  • Gas cards
  • Gift cards for oil changes or tire rotations
  • Gift certificates to book stores (Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Ignatius Press, etc.)
  • An IOU for baked goods later in the year (just don't forget!)
  • Gift certificates to religious goods stores (both local and on-line)
  • Gift certificates to his favorite restaurant
  • Car wash tokens
  • See if the priest has a wishlist on Amazon.com, Ignatius.com, or other web sites
  • Make a donation in the priest's name to Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services, or Peter's Pence
  • Offer a gift for a particular situation in the parish
  • Cash never hurts, either
The above list is certainly not exhaustive and is not meant to discourage you from giving your priest a physical gift. If the list is helpful, use it; if not, ignore it :)

When still in doubt, always check with the secretary to see if she has any ideas. Priests often comment to their secretaries on a variety of issues and you never know what he might have mentioned quite in passing the other day. Astute secretaries are aware of these things.

Brother priests, if there's something missing from this list please leave a comment.  Moderation is enabled.  I will add your suggestion to the list without posting your comment.

10 December 2012

Congratulations, Bishop Vann!

Very shortly His Excellency the Most Reverend Kevin W. Vann will be installed as the fourth Bishop of Orange.

Bishop Vann is a priest of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois and until recently was the Bishop of Fort Worth.

For those wishing to follow along, Rocco has put up a link to the worship aid and the ceremonies will be live-streamed.

Congratulations, Your Excellency!

The Advent of The Hobbit

Early Friday morning a great length of waiting and anticipation will finally come to an end.  As I think of a late dinner gathering with friends followed by a short journey to the movie theatre, a excitement builds within and - quite contrary to my usual demeanor - is ready to burst forth.

I refer, of course, to the theatrical release of Peter Jackon's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey:

This first of three movies will be followed next December by The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and in the summer of 2014 by The Hobbit: There and Back Again.

If memory serves, I first read The Hobbit when I was ten years old and fell in love with Middle-earth, and especially the Shire.  I remember wanting to live in a hobbit hole; when I saw Peter Jackon's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and his deciption of a hobbit hole, that desire only increased.

I very much enjoyed Howard Shore's musical compositions and especially those dealing with Hobbiton.  After The Fellowship of the Ring I hoped he would release an album of music from the Shire.  He never did, but he's back with his conductor's baton for the next three movies.

Over the past several weeks I have watched several video clips and read books and articles about The Hobbit.  I have listened the new soundtrack, read Appendix A of the The Lord of the Rings, looked into The Silmarian and have begun to re-read The Hobbit.  I've even had my tickets for about a month now.  You could say I'm ready; I've been ready for a while.

As my anticipation for this film only continues to grow, I cannot help but remember that this is what these Advent days are to be about.  How much greater should my excitement and eagerness be for the return of Christ the King than for the release of The Hobbit?

This morning the Prophet Isaiah cried out:
Strengthen the hands that are feeble,
make firm the knees that are weak,
Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
With divine recompense
he comes to save you.
His cries will intensify over the coming days and to his voice the voices of the other prophets will be added. Journeying each day with the Mass readings, and especially through the Liturgy of the Hours, the Church's anticipation will increasing and come to a point of near bursting until at least we arrive at the great feast of Christmas.

How great is your anticipation for the coming of the Lord?  How great is my anticipation?  When he comes, will find us ready, or will he find us excited about other things?

Let us beg of the Lord the grace to deepen our longing for his coming, so that when he comes in his glory the prophet Isaiah may say of us, "They will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee."

07 December 2012

The Secretary becomes Prefect

This morning the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI appointed his long-time Personal Secretary, Monsignor Georg Ganswein Prefect of the Pontifical Household, raising him to the dignity of Archbishop entrusted with Titula See of Urbisaglia (it's in central Italy).  Archbishop-elect Ganswein replaces Cardinal Harvey, who was recently appointed Archpriest of the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls.

Congratulations, Archbishop-elect Ganswein!

06 December 2012

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

...but he may not be who you think he is.

Monsignor Charles Pope points us today an excellent piece by Danny Hakim titled, "Poles Apart: Nicholas of Myra and Jolly Saint Nick."

Saint Nicholas of Myra is, of course, the historical basis for the jolly, fat man we know today as Santa Claus, who sneaks down chimneys and leaves presents for good girls and boys.  In exploring the historical reality of Santa Claus, Hakim notes that,

On the one hand, we have the modern Santa, a porcine, jolly man who resides at the North Pole with a woman known only as Mrs. Claus. He has domesticated a stable of nine deer, and enjoys the cheerful services of a retinue of elfin assistants. He is very, very nice to children.  
On the other hand, we have the ancient Santa. Saint Nicholas. Paintings show a thin man. He
was spare of frame, flinty of eye, pugnacious of spirit. In the Middle Ages, he was known as a
brawling saint. He had no particular sense of humor that we know of. He could be vengeful,
wrathful, an embittered ex- con. According to legend, even after death he horsewhipped
someone. Yes, he became the patron saint of children, but his was a promiscuous sainthood.
Over the years, he was also the patron saint of sailors, whores, moneylenders and thieves. No
doubt, Saint Nick was a good man. A noble man. But a hard man. How did time turn him soft?
I encourage you to read the entire article, which provides a good historical background in an humorous and clever manner.

05 December 2012

Miracles do happen

In a skeptical age such as ours we like to think that miracles do not happen, or at least that they do not happen in our own day.

Leonardo Defilippis of St. Luke Productions recently shared a story - connected to my hometown - through his e-mail newsletter that happened on his tour across the nation for his performance of Maximilian: Saint of Auschwitz:
Every performance brings incredible blessings, but we recently had an experience during our South Dakota tour that bordered on the miraculous. To give you a little background, when I returned home from a tour of the Midwest I discovered that an envelope of money, collected from DVD sales in Quincy, Illinois, was missing. In 32 years of touring, this had never happened before! After much searching, we all gave up, deciding it was truly gone. 
More than a week later we arrived in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Immediately, the parish priest approached me, and placed in my hand the very same missing envelope. Where had he found it? At the foot of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima in the church, where I had never been! There was no logical explanation! We continue to marvel that through whatever means, God confirms his miraculous power [emphases original]
If you haven't yet seen Leonardo enacting one of the lives of the Saints, I highly recommend you do so.  He is a very talented actor and a wonderful man of faith.  I remember his performance of St. John Vianney here in Springfield very well and the time I spent visiting with him.  I look forward to being with him again some day.

04 December 2012

On microphones

Not being assigned to a parish I often find myself celebrating the Holy Mass in a variety of churches.  It means - often early in the morning - remembering the differences in set-up at the churches and slight differnces in how things are done, not the least of which are the sound systems.

In his essay "Drop the Mic" in the current issue of First Things, Kevin White notes that "Catholic clergy and laity seem to accept the use of microphones at mass without question as something good," a presumption with which White disagrees.

Consider this observation:
To a member of the congregation, the prayers, the dialogue, the readings, the sermon, and the parish announcements are all emanations from one and the same source, the nearest loudspeaker.  In my pew, I see the priest look towards me, but I hear his voice coming from another direction, that of the loudspeaker.
This experience has always been disconcerting to me.  White continues:
This disparity between the direction of sight and the direction of sound is a cognitive dissonance typical of some of the contemporary events mentioned above [political rallies, concerts, air ports, etc.].  Yet the priest's face and his electronically magnified voice at least agree in both pointing toward me.  But then there is the further, more jarring dissonance between, on the one hand, his facing me and speaking in my direction, and, on the other hand, his addressing God the Father.  It is not easy to construe a voice relentlessly projected at oneself as meant for someone else.
I quite agree.

Contrary to popular belief, in most churches, microphones are not necessary for the priest and the lectors to be heard by the people.  As one case among many, last week I celebrated Mass in a large church in Springfield and for whatever reason the sound system was not working.  From the chair, from the ambo, and from the altar, I simply projected my voice.  The next day, a man who sat in the last pew of the church commented on the homily I preached.

I would be very happy if the microphones in churches were removed, especially because they aren't always very helpful.  People often will complain that they cannot hear the priest when what they really mean is that they cannot understand him.  He speaks too quickly for the sound system.  The natural sound reverberates and collides with the amplified sound and is jumbled.  Most of our churches were never designed for sound systems and most of the sound systems in our churches were never designed for them.

It should also be remembered that "different parts of the Mass callf or different rhetorical attitudes" and this is often lost in the presence of microphones.

02 December 2012

What to learn more about The Hobbit?

This morning I finished reading Corey Olsen's Explore J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), a book he hopes will engage his readers in a conversation that will help them learn more about the world of Middle-earth.

Olsen summarizes the book thus:
This book brings together the lessons I've learned int he classroom, experiences I've had through my podcast, and the love I've always had for Tolkein's work.  There is nothing I enjoy more than walking slowly through a great book with a group of people, taking the time to notice important details and keep track of themes that often slip by when you read on your own.  I hope that you too will enjoy the journey (4).
I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed the journey and felt quite at home and engaged in the classroom of this book.

One by one, Olsen walks us through all nineteen chapters of The Hobbit: Or There and Back Again, not as though taking us by the hand as one would a small child unfamiliar with Middle-earth, but as a companion and friend.

The style of his writing very much feels like a conversation, a dialogue, to which one listens with bent and eager ear.

Of particular interest to me was Olsen's fifth chapter, titled "The Turning Point", in which he explores with a most insightful analysis of the riddle game played between Gollum and Bilbo.  I do not wish to spoil the surprise for you; suffice it to say that he has opened before me an entirely new way of reading the riddles as if opening a window or door onto a wide horizon.

Through his observations, Olsen shows the interior unity of The Hobbit, a unity that might otherwise be overlooked.  His insights easily lead to a deepening appreciation of the beauty and the brilliance of Tolkien's achievement.

01 December 2012

I should leave better notes for myself

This evening as I enjoy a few episodes of Last of the Summer Wine, I'm working on sorting through a few things that have accumulated on my desk over the past week or so.  It's not the most exciting thing to do on a Saturday night, but it has to be done sometime.

Sorting through the various pieces of paper - most of which are easily decipherable - I found a small square of paper on which I have written the following:
St. Al's
No Mass 6:20 
No Mass 8:30
Clearly, the above notations refer first to St. Aloysius parish in Springfield and to Christ the King parish in Springfield, but I've no idea at all to what date(s) it refers.  I suppose I'll find out when I show up for Mass and nobody else turns out.

On the other hand, it might refer to a couple of dates that I will not be able to say Mass at those two parishes.  If this is this case, I still don't know to what date(s) it refers.

This could be interesting.  Where's that Easy button?

26 November 2012

In devout and expectant delight, or preparing to prepare

The notion of preparing to prepare may seem a bit odd, but it seems a good idea to me.

The four weeks leading up to the great celebration of the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord (a.k.a. Christmas) are known collectively as the Season of Advent.  It is this holy season that we will enter into in six days' time.  Are you ready?

Far too often the season of Advent is overshadowed by our proximate preparations for Christmas: shopping, wrapping, partying, cleaning, writing, baking, shoveling, etc. and the spirit of the season of Advent is lost almost entirely.  Sadly, in some cases it is lost entirely.  This should not be so with us.

What, then, is the spirit of the season of Advent?  We cannot recover it if we do not know what it is that we should be recovering.

The spirit of Advent, if you will, is simple and "has a two-fold character, for it is a time of preparation for the Solemnities of Christmas, in which the First Coming of the Son of God to humanity is remembered, and likewise a time when, by remembrance of this, minds and hearts are led to look forward to Christ's Second Coming at the end of time" (Universal Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, 39).

What is more, "Advent is a period of devout and expectant delight" (Universal Norms, 39).  I ask you to think back to the four weeks before Christmas last year.  Can you say that they were a time of devout and expectant delight?  If they were, give thanks to God; if they were not, strive to make them so this year.

We must be intentional and purposeful if we are to live the days of Advent in devout and expectant delight.  Permit me, if you will, to make a few suggestions to help each of us live the coming days well:

  1. Finish your shopping this week.  Get it out of the way and complete.  You may need to pick up a few gifts in the days before Christmas, but go when the stores will be less full, so as to avoid unnecessary frustration and distraction.
  2. Wrap a present a day (basically, spread them out) throughout Advent.  The joy of giving can then be heightened and prolonged and even grow within us.
  3. As you wrap your gifts, pray for the person to whom you will give, asking the Lord to fill them with his joy and peace at his Coming.
  4. Don't accept every invitation to holiday parties and gatherings.  Leave time and space with your family and close friends to spend in prayer and spiritual reading.  Ask yourself, will this celebration help me prepare for Christmas or distract me from it's proper celebration?
  5. Find a good book on Advent or Christmas and read it prayerfully through the days of Advent.  In this Year of Faith, this is a particularly good idea.
  6. Put up your Christmas tree - but only with lights - on December 17th, when the O Antiphons begin.  It is on this day that the readings at Mass begin to shift their focus from the Second Coming of the Lord to his birth in Bethlehem.  Don't neglect to use the first part of Advent to prepare for the Last Day.
  7. Put the rest of the ornaments on the tree on December 24th, or perhaps add a few ornaments each day between December 17th and December 25th.
  8. If you insist on putting up your tree early, use it as a Jesse Tree.
  9. Don't forget an Advent calendar to help mark the time and keep you focused.
  10. Don't put out your Nativity set until December 17th, but leave the stable and the manger empty.  Put the Magi on one side of the room and the Mary and Joseph on the other.  Begin moving Mary and Joseph a little each day toward the stable; do so with the Magi beginning with Christmas itself.  The shepherds you can leave milling about the stable watching their sheep.
  11. Go to confession before the Season of Advent begins.  And go again before Christmas.
  12. Find your Advent Candles now (and a wreath, if you don't have one).  I saw a set of candles the other day at Hallmark and at Yankee Candle (it's not always easy to find a set of Advent Candles, and it's not always to find three purple and one pink candle individually).
  13. Write a few Christmas cards each day and pray for those who will receive them.  This will help from feeling overwhelmed by attempting them all at once.
  14. Be sure to celebrate the feast of Saint Nicholas on December 6th.
  15. Remind yourself each day what the Season of Advent is about.
  16. Pray for the grace not to give in to the temptation to consumerism and materialism.
The Lord wants us to celebrate these days of preparation well and if we spend some time in advance preparing for these days of preparation, we will surely be blessed and led deeper into the mystery of the Lord's two Comings.

Oh, and one more thought: the Christmas season begins the evening of December 24th and concludes with the Baptism of the Lord on January 13th.

25 November 2012

Hail, Christ the King!

Hail, Redeemer, King divine!
Priest and Lamb, the throne is thine;
King whose reign shall never cease,
Prince of everlasting peace.

Angels, saints, and nations sing:
"Praised be Jesus Christ, our King;
Lord of earth and sea and sky,
King of love on Calvary."

Christ, thou King of truth and might,
Be to us eternal light,
Till in peace each nation rings
With thy praises, King of Kings.

- P. Brennan, C.SS.R.

Truly, a good King

Being something of a medieval at heart I'm rather fond of J.R.R. Tolkien's political preference, which he described, saying, "My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) - or to 'unconstitutional' Monarchy."  As someone else has said (I cannot recall who), "Better a good King than a corrupt Republic."

It should then come as no surprise that today's Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe is one of my favorite liturgical celebrations.  Certainly there is no ruler more worthy of the distinguished title of the "Good King" than Jesus Christ.

I can, however, understand why some would view the notion of kingship with some hesitation or even fear, especially given the present situation in Egypt with President Mohamed Morsi, who seems recently to have set himself up as some sort of king.

When we begin to think of Jesus as this sort of King, we should remember the words he spoke to Pontius Pilate: "My kingdom does not belong to this world" (John 18:36).  Too often we forget that the Kingship of Christ is revealed in his crucifixion.  His kingdom is not established on power, but on love and truth.

The insignia of his reign are not the orb and scepter, but the Cross and the wounds he still bears in his hands, his feet, and in his side, through which he continually invites us to encounter his grace and mercy.

This is why Saint Andrew of Crete calls the Cross "honorable", "because it is both the sign of God's suffering and the trophy of his victory."  It is the trophy of victory, the insignia of a new reign, because "it was the means by which the devil was wounded and death conquered; the barred gates of hell were smashed, and the cross became the one common salvation of the whole world."  In Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, there is nothing to fear, but everything to be honored and adored and worshiped.

In his Message for the 28th World Youth Day, thinking of the great statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Pope Benedict XVI wrote: "Christ's open arms are a sign of his willingness to embrace all those who come to him, and his heart represents his immense love for everyone and for each of you.  Let yourselves be drawn to Christ" (1)!  Looking upon the insignia of his reign, which are manifested in his extended arms, who would not willingly place themselves under his rule?  Who would not pledge themselves to his service?

It was his encounter with the mercy of God that led to Saint Francis of Assisi to declare, "I am the herald of the great King!"  Saint Francis placed himself entirely under the banner of the King of Heaven and Earth and in his faithful service found the joy and peace that each of us seeks each day.

We might well ask, "What does it mean to serve Christ the King?  How do I let him rule over all of my life?"

When he established this liturgical feast in 1952, Pope Pius XI put forth this important reminder:
He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God (Romans 6:13)" (Quas Primas, 33).
Let us strive each day to be found worthy members of his Kingdom by remembering always the foundation of his reign: love and truth.

24 November 2012

In honor of the day

What is truth?  Pilate was not alone in dismissing this question as unanswerable and irrelevant for his purposes.  Today too, in political argument and in discussion of the foundations of law, it is generally experienced as disturbing.  Yet if man lives without truth, life passes him by; ultimately he surrenders the field to whoever is the stronger.  "Redemption" in the fullest sense can only consist in the truth becoming recognizable.  And it becomes recognizable when God becomes recognizable.  He becomes recognizable in Jesus Christ.  In Christ, God entered the world and set up the criterion of truth in the midst of history.  Truth is outwardly powerless in the world, just as Christ is powerless by the world’s standards: he has no legions; he is crucified.  Yet in his very powerlessness, he is powerful: only thus, again and again, does truth become power.

- Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI

23 November 2012

A few books recalled

Some of you will remember that a short time ago I bought a book simply because the subtitle made me laugh: The Hobbit and Philosophy: For When You've Lost Your Dwarves, Your Wizard, and Your Way.

Despite a promising - and enjoyable - introduction cleverly peppered with many allusions and puns,  the rest of the book really has very little to do with such situations as when you've lost your dwarves, your wizard, or your way.

The book is written by a number of philosophers, nearly all of whom somehow seem not to have noticed that Tolkien's was not only Catholic, but that his faith very much shaped his conception of Middle Earth.  Too much of the book focuses on Taoism and not on Catholicism and so misses the real insights contained with Tolkien's subcreation.

Frankly, I don't really recommend this book to anyone seeking to delve more deeply into Middle Earth.

While I'm reviewing books, let me make a brief mention of two books that the Chancellor, knowing of my love of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, kindly gave to me recently.

The first is Finding God in the Hobbit by Jim Ware and the second is Finding God in The Lord of the Rings by Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware.

While these took books deal with Christian themes, they also seem to have missed - or perhaps chose to ignore - Tolkien's Catholic faith one.  Bruner and Ware are Christian, but to which they denomination they adhere they give little indication, except for one reference to "Jehovah".

These short books can each be read in the space of an hour.  In both books, the chapters form reflections on a line or two from Tolkien's work.  Beginning first with a recap of the situation surrounding the brief quotation, Bruner and Ware follow the recap with a sort of mini homily and conclude with a "reflection" fit a church marquee.

These two books are not bad, but they are very simple and won't really help anyone delve more deeply in the many insights Tolkien offers us.

Better, I suggest, to stick with Matthew Dickerson's A Hobbit Journey: Discovering the Enchantment of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth.  Of the books I have read looking at the Christian and philosophical underpinnings of Tolkien's work, it is the best and more insightful.

22 November 2012

Thanksgiving and the Year of Faith

During this Year of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI has called us "to rediscover the content of the faith that is professed, celebrated, lived and prayed."  This, he says, "is a task that every believer must make his own" (Porta Fidei, 9).

One important way we can rediscover the faith that is celebrated is to reflect on the liturgical texts of the Church found in the Roman Missal.  Doing so as we in these United States of America celebrate Thanksgiving Day can offer us a profound insight into what it means to give thanks.

We should never forget the ancient maxim lex orandi, lex credendi, which roughly means "the law of prayer is the law of belief."  In this principle we remember that our worship of God is the foundation of all that we are.

There is a common thread uniting the prayers Holy Mother Church has given us to use on Thanksgiving Day.

The Collect - which gathers our various individual prayers together at the beginning of the Mass and presents them to the Father - recalls that the Father's "gifts of love are countless" and asks the Lord to "open our hearts to have concern for every man, woman, and child, so that we may share your gifts in loving service."  The Prayer Over the Offerings similarly asks the Father that "we might learn to share your blessings in gratitude" while the Prayer after Communion asks that we will be helped "to reach out in love to all your people, so that we may share with them the good things of time and eternity."'

The common thread uniting the prayers together is the recognition that gratitude for God's copious blessings must lead to a willingness to share these gifts with others, with friends and families, with enemies and strangers.  The preface makes this common thread more explicit when it recalls that the gift of freedom is "a gift that calls forth responsibility and commitment to the truth that all have a fundamental dignity before you."

The gifts that we have received from God are not simply ours to keep, but are given to us to be shared freely, with loving and joyful hearts.

Here we remember the words of the Lord Jesus, "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me," and, "Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it not to me" (Matthew 25:40, 45).

This is why the Holy Father reminds us that "confessing with the lips indicates in turn that faith implies public testimony and commitment.  A Christian may never think of belief as a private act.  Faith is choosing to stand with the Lord so as to live with him" (Porta Fidei, 10).  This is why to the maxim lex orandi, lex credendi is often added the phrase lex vivendi: the law of prayer is the law of belief is the law of life.  What the Church prayers is the faith of the Church we should direct the way we live.

As we give thanks today for the many gifts with which the Lord has blessed us - among which we should especially recall the gifts of faith and of freedom - let us ask above all for hearts as generous as his that we imitate him in all things.  Let us beg the grace to give generously and never count the cost because, as Pope Benedict XVI reminds us, "Faith without charity bears no fruit, while charity without faith would be a sentiment constantly at the mercy of doubt.  Faith and charity each require the other" (Porta Fidei, 14).

To you and to yours, I wish a very happy and blessed Thanksgiving!

21 November 2012

If only I were free tonight!

At long last, after many years of waiting, the "antechamber" of Pope Benedict's monumental work, Jesus of Nazareth, is finally in my hands.  Deo gratias!

Opening the little book subtitled The Infancy Narratives at random - it is only 132 pages - I found this insightful passage:

Mary wrapped the child in swaddling clothes.  Without yielding to sentimentality, we may imagine with what great love Mary approached her hour and prepared for the birth of her child.  Iconographic tradition has theologically interpreted the manger and swaddling clothes in terms of the theology of the Fathers.  The child stiffly wrapped in bandages is seen as prefiguring the hour of his death: from the onset, he is the sacrificial victim, as we shall see more closely when we examine the reference to the first-born.  The manger, then, was seen as a kind of altar (68).

I can't wait to read it and wish I didn't have any plans this evening!

Even in fog, the Cross stands clear

The weather here in central Illinois has been a bit odd lately, with highs in the lower 60s and lows in the lower 30s.  That temperatre isn't particularly unusal in these parts, but what is is that the temperature doesn't start falling until after 9:00 p.m. (and that's been a bit early).  The late and sudden drop in temperatures has resulted in a heavy fog settling over the plains each morning for about the last week and a half or so.

This morning, though, the fog is unusally heavy and thick.  Even in downtown Springfield, the fog is only now beginning to lift and it isn't expected to dissipate until sometime in the early afternoon.

At any rate, earlier this morning a friend posted a picture of Father Tolton's grave to Facebook, which he kindly has allowed me to share with you:

What I particularly like about it is the prominence of the cross, even in the dense fog.  Let this image serve as a visual reminder for each of us that in the fog and mists of life that cloud our vision and confuse our thinking, let us remember that the Cross of our Lord is always present immediately in front of us, and that so long as we hold fast to it our vision and thinking will both be cleared.

17 November 2012

Mass for the New Evangelization

As you know, we are presently in the midst of the Year of Faith, proclaimed by the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI "to arouse in every believer the aspiration to profess the faith in fullness and with renewed conviction, with confidence and hope" (Porta Fidei, 9).  (If you haven't yet read Porta Fidei, hop to it!)

Prior to the beginning of this Year of Faith - on 18 June 2012 - the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments approved the Mass for the New Evangelization (I missed it, too), which is not found in the current edition of the Roman Missal.

Last month, the same Congregation released the Latin and the vernacular translations of the prayers and the readings from the Sacred Scriptures so that this Mass may be celebrated through the Year of Faith.

My brother priests, let's make good and frequent use of this Mass for the New Evangelization that the efforts of this Year of Faith will bear great fruit!

My Brother the Redneck

One of the things I most enjoy about the Middle Ages is their sheer honesty often used when describing their leaders, an honesty that by today's standards of political correctness would, at the very least, border on the offensive (in a time without surnames you had to distinguish people somehow).

Some simply stated the obvious, as with King William the Bastard or Geoffrey the Bearded or Wilfred the Hairy or Fortun the One-Eyed or King Canute the Tall.

Some of the epithets attached to the names of their kings recognized their good qualities, as in the case of King Richard the Lion-hearted (couer de lion) or King Sancho the Wise.

Other epithets, however, were less flattering, as in the case of King Edward the Confessor - so-named because he frequently made use of the sacrament of confession, which is, in part, why is also a Saint - or King Louis the Pious, both titles that could be both a word of praise or a jab.  There is also King Henry the Fowler, who was fixing his nets when he received word he was to be king.  And I cannot forget my favorite epithet, that given to King Peter the Ceremonious.

Still other epithets were much less ambiguous and rather pointed.  Consider, for instance, Pepin the Short or King Charles the Bald or King Aethelred the Unready or Fulk the Quarreler.

By now you're probably wondering why I've brought any of this up.

After my day of Q&A at Quincy Notre Day High School I had supper with my brother, to whom I often refer as "my brother the redneck," an epithet he rather enjoys.

When we finished our meal he insisted I swing by his house to see the Christmas light display he has prepared in his yard this year (he had to put them up already, he explained, because a neighbor already had his lights up and on).

When my brother turned on his lights (to his credit he largely leaves them off until Thanksgiving night) I beheld this sight:

There is no need to rub your eyes, they do not deceive you; that is a pink flamingo on the left (wearing, I'm assured, a Santa hat).

He has the lights on some sort of a musical timer with the lights going on and off according to the music, so snapping a picture of all of the lights was a bit of a trick.

After watching the display for a short time (it was cold outside), I suggested he needed more wildlife or snowmen.  To my well-meaning suggesting, he replied with a happy smile, "I can get a pig!"

And that, my friends, is why I refer to him as, "My Brother the Redneck."

"If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither" (Psalm 137:5)

As violence intensifies in the Holy Land and the threat of total war looms heavy on the horizon, we do well to turn to Our Lady, Queen of Palestine - the Patroness of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem - to implore her intercession for peace.

Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title as Queen of Palestine took on greater focus when Patriarch Louis Barlassina established the shrine of Our Lady, Queen of Palestine at Deir Rafat in 1927; at the time, all of the Middle East was commonly referred to as Palestine.

The Holy See approved the liturgical celebration of this feast in 1933 to, as Patriach Michel Sabah once noted, "ask the protection from God through the intercession of our Lady daughter of this Holy Land, and who was chosen to become the mother of his eternal word incarnated, who took a body like ours in order to redeem us, and became man like us in everything not in sin."

As we watch with trepidation to violence in the land where the Prince of Peace walked among us, let us sing with King David:
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!
May they prosper those who love you!
Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers!
For my brethren and companions' sake
I will say, "Peace be within you!"
For the sake of the house of the LORD our God
I will seek your good (Psalm 122:6-9).
Let us then turn to the Queen of Palestine, Mary, the Queen of the Middle East, and implore her intercession:
O Mary Immaculate, gracious Queen of Heaven and of Earth, behold us prostrate before thy exalted throne. Full of confidence in thy goodness and in thy boundless power, we beseech thee to turn a pitying glance upon Palestine, which more than any other country belongs to thee, since thou hast graced it with thy birth, thy virtues and thy sorrows, and from there hast given the Redeemer to the world. 
Remember that there especially thou wert constituted our tender Mother, the dispenser of graces. Watch, therefore, with special protection over thy native country, scatter from it the shades of error, for it was there the Sun of Eternal Justice shone. Bring about the speedy fulfilment of the promise, which issued from the lips of Thy Divine Son, that there should be one fold and one Shepherd. 
Obtain for us all that we may serve the Lord in sanctity and justice during the days of our life, so that, by the merits of Jesus and with thy motherly aid, we may pass at last from this earthly Jerusalem to the splendours of the heavenly one. 
Our Lady, Queen of Palestine, pray for us all and all the peoples of the lands made sacred by your Son's Life, Death, and Resurrection.  Amen.

16 November 2012

Paprocki writes on sports and faith

This coming February Ave Maria Press will release a new book by   His Excellency the Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki, Bishop of Springfield in Illinois, that he co-wrote with his brother Joe.

A long-time hockey goalie and marathon runner, Bishop Paprocki has titled the book Holy Goals for Body and Soul: Eight Steps to Connect Sports with God and Faith.

You can pre-order the 160 page book through Amazon.com (curiously, it isn't yet on AMP's web site).

15 November 2012

Staples beat me to it

When I was at Quincy Notre Dame High School to celebrate Mass for the Solemnity of All Saints, I had the great pleasure of taking a teacher's classes for the day.

Knowing that his students have questions and that I have answers, he asked - when he learned I would be there for Mass - if I would have a go at their questions.

I've never been one to shy away from Q&A - in fact, I positively enjoy it and find it invigorating - and gladly accepted his invitation.

Now, such a session with high school students can be a bit of a challenge, not because of a fear of being stumped - which hasn't happened yet - but a fear of running out of questions.  I'm happy to say that each of the four questions asked insightful and intelligent questions, and had more questions than I had time to answer.

When I left for the day, the teacher - who is also a friend of mine - invited me to come back anytime.  When I saw him this past weekend in conjunction with a high school retreat I helped with, he told me his students insisted I needed to come back - apparently they thoroughly enjoyed my time with them - and said when I do come back I need to stay for a week (that might be hard to pull off).

At any rate, tomorrow I'll be back for a second go at their questions and I'm very much looking forward to it.

As invigorating as Q&A is, four hours of it is also exhausting.  If you happen to see me tomorrow in the late afternoon or throughout the evening and I don't make a great deal of sense (or, at least, less sense than usual), you now know the cause.

08 November 2012

A nation of fools is surely doomed...

Wake up, people!

Unexpected words

Earlier this week the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois held its 16th biennial Diocesan Adult Enrichment Conference with the theme "Living Faith Fully, Sharing Faith Freely" at which Father Robert Barron gave two excellent keynote addresses.

The first morning of the two-day event, Bishop Paprocki and I were waiting in a hallway before the beginning of Morning Prayer as the conference attendees were filing into the appropriate room.

As one young man walked by, he pointed towards me and said, "I've you've seen you on New Advent."  It was, I think, a compliment.

His unexpected words caught me quite by surprise; no one had ever said that to me before.  I'm not sure why, but his words still stick with me these five days later.

07 November 2012

How fitting

I saw this cartoon a few moments on Facebook:

It is sad, but very true.


This morning I find myself marked by a certain sorrow; the weather mirrors my mood well.  I had hoped - rather uncharacteristically - this nation would prove itself to be an enlightened one, but half of our fellow citizens have shown that they live in darkness with their vote against life and religious liberty.

Edmund Burke (d. 1797) wisely said, "Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it."  Last night we saw the truth of his words lived out in the American people, a people who largely do not know the present, let alone the past.  As proof, consider this staggering fact: The most Googled question yesterday was, "Who is running for President?"

One of my professors in college correctly told us, on numerous occasions  that historians are the best people to indicate what the future holds, not in the sense of fortune-telling but in the sense of reading the signs of the times.  Because historians study the events of the past - including the circumstances and motives involved - they can become, if they are astute, "experts" on the human person and what motivates him on a collective basis.

Let me be clear: I do not believe President Obama is The Anti-Christ, nor I do believe the arrival of the End Times are heralded by his election.  I do believe, however, that his election - and particularly his re-election - will mark the beginning of the end of the Republic.

Five years ago I began warning my students and others who would listen where the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States of America would lead.  History has seen political leaders arise through sheer force of charisma before, and it has never ended well.

At the time, many of my students and their parents laughed at me and mocked me.  Last night their Facebook posts and Twitter feeds indicate they now see the truth of my words and, with me, now fear for the future of the Republic.

For some hours now I have been struggling to put my thoughts into words and still cannot do so.  Father John Trigilio, however, has written an excellent post that echoes my very thoughts.

As a student of history, what do I see as I look to the coming months and years?

"Gay marriage" is now legal in nine of the fifty States.  The push for its legalization in other States and on a federal level will not end or slow down.

Here in Illinois, we have seen the effects not of legalized "gay marriage," but of civil unions.  After legalizing same-sex civil unions, the State forced Catholic Charities out of foster care and adoptions.  The same has happened in Boston and will continue to happen with increasing speed in other cities and States.

Laws were enacted some years ago to classify certain attacks as "hate crimes," many of which include attacks on those who take part of the gay subculture.  Though such laws have unfortunately not included attacks against people of faith as hate crimes, I do not deny or dispute the good such laws can do.

New laws, however, will soon be enacted that will classify the teachings of the Church on homosexuality, contraception, abortion, and marriage as "hate speech."  Such laws will be the beginning of a concerted and purposed persecution of the Church; the government will seek to silence the Church by removing her pastors.

Once her pastors are silenced or removed, the rights of the Church and of the faithful will be increasingly curtailed and taken away.  Once the freedom of religion is taken away, every other freedom will also be removed.

I know that, because of these words, some will accuse me of inciting hate.  Such is not my intent and I have written nothing hateful.  Such laws have already been passed in Canada and in Great Britain, and the consequences have not always been pleasant.

I hope very much that I am wrong, but looking at past events and the present threats to religious liberty in these United States, this trajectory seems clear.

Writing this morning to President Obama, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, congratulated the President and offered assurances of his prayers, and of those of his brother Bishops:
In particular, we pray that you will exercise your office to pursue the common good, especially in care of the most vulnerable among us, including the unborn, the poor, and the immigrant.We will continue to stand in defense of life, marriage, and our first, most cherished liberty, religious freedom.We pray, too, that you will help restore a sense of civility to the public order, so our public conversations may be imbued with respect and charity toward everyone.
I pray for the same and every day I remember the President in my prayers.

Let us pray for those elected to public office in this country and in every country:
Almighty ever-living God,in whose hand lies every human heart and the rights of peoples,look with favor, we pray,on those who govern with authority over us,that throughout the whole worldthe prosperity of peoples,the assurance of peace,and freedom of religionmay through your gift be made secure.Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,one God, for ever and ever.Amen.
- Roman Missal 

Saint Thomas More, pray for us!

Update: Simply Fulfilled follows up on this post with a good list of prayer needs for the nation and an encouragement not to lose hope.

06 November 2012

Vote for principle

The statue is of John Wood (1798-1880),
founder of Quincy and second governor of Illinois.
What was once the principle square in my beloved Gem City (a.k.a. Hobbiton) originally was named John Park (today it is called Washington Square/Park).

It was the main square of downtown Quincy, which was - and remains - the seat of Adams County.

As you have likely deduced - and rightly so - Quincy, Illinois was named in 1825 after the sixth President of these United States of America, John Quincy Adams.

It was in this very park that Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln held their sixth of seven debates, a moment that Quincians have not forgotten, but that's a story perhaps for another day.
At any rate, it was the namesake of my hometown who said (as Bishop Coyne reminds us today):
Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.
This nation was founded on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  These three are very much intertwined and are presently being threatened from numerous sides as both the dignity of human life and the freedom of religion are slowly and purposefully being curtailed.

As we cast our ballots today, let us do so for these principles that have made our nation great, and not for partisan politics.  We must remember that we are not Republicans or Democrats or Independents, but Catholics.

May God bless us, one and all.

02 November 2012

Effective marketing

I'm not ashamed to admit that I just bought this book because the subtitle had me buckled over in laughter: The Hobbit and Philosophy: For When You've Lost Your Dwarves, Your Wizard, and Your Way.

Once I've finished reading it, I'll let you know what I think of it.

We have loved them in life, let us not forget them in death

It is a pity that we, in our enlightened day, generally only allow a few days of the year to remember - in a deliberate and purposeful way - our beloved dead.  As a society we typically allow Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and today, the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed.

As we become materially comfortable, we grow afraid of death.  It sometimes seems that the more comfortable we are the more afraid of death we are.  Why?

We have largely forgotten God and we live as if this life alone mattered.  This is the great tragedy of our time.

Reflecting on the death of his brother Satyrus, Saint Ambrose of Milan said that "we should have a daily familiarity with death, a daily desire for death" because "our soul must learn to free itself from the desires of the body."  If we lived each day with the recognition that one day - perhaps today - we will die, how different our lives would be!

Saint Damien of Moloka'i once wrote to his brother, saying, "the cemetery and the hut of the dying are my best meditation books, as well as for the benefit of my own soul as in view of preparing my instructions."

Too often we forget that death is, as Saint Ambrose says, "no cause for mourning, something to be avoided, for the Son of God did not think it beneath his dignity, nor did he seek to escape it."

This is not to suggest that we should not grieve the deaths of our loved ones; it highlights, rather, the destiny of those who have died in Christ.  Love does not end in death, whether it be our love of the love of the Lord for us.

He died so that we might be with him for ever and so "the soul has to turn away from the aimless paths of this life," says Saint Ambrose, "from the defilement of an earthly body; it must reach out to those assemblies in heaven."

We come, then, to the doctrine of Purgatory, that process by which souls are cleansed of their impurities and are made holy to stand before the throne of God.

In his second encyclical letter Spe salvi (Saved by hope), Pope Benedict XVI beautifully described Purgatory (it's a little lengthy but well worth a read), with my emphases:

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]. 
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.
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).
And so we pray this day, and every day:
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.  May they rest in peace.  Amen.