31 October 2012

An excellent Halloween FAQ

Word on Fire today has what is perhaps the best and most thorough explanation of the origins of Halloween that I have ever seen.

This is a must-read post that should also be filed away for future reference.

30 October 2012

Mary is always near us

Saint Anthony of Padua described the name of Mary as "a strong tower.  The sinner who flees to her," he said, "will be safe.  It is a name sweet name, a name to comfort sinners, a name of blessed hope."

The great Wonder Worker of Padua maintained a great devotion to Our Lady throughout his life and died singing her praises.

In our modern times we have often neglected a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary because we have forgotten that she is always with us.  We become most aware of her presence during the storms of life when we call upon her as children call upon their mother.  It is right that we do so because Our Savior has entrusted us to her.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the Associated Press captured this truth of Our Lady in a powerful photograph:

The image of the Blessed Virgin Mary stands unharmed in the midst of the devastation wrought by a fire that destroyed some fifty homes in the Bronx Queens.

Let us pray for those whose lives have been so quickly and tragically affected by this massive storm:
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored they help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided. 
Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother.  To thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful.  O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your mercy hear and answer me. 

Two books on The Hobbit

J.R.R. Tolkien's dislike of allegory is legendary.  In his foreword to the second edition of The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien wrote:
But I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence.  I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers.
He wrote these words after a great many people were trying to make a one-to-one connection between the reality of our physical world and the world of Middle-earth, making such claims as "the ring is the nuclear bomb" or "the anger of the Ents is against industrialization."

These many years later, some wonder what the difficulty is with such claims.  To these questions, Tolkien responds:
I think that many confuse 'applicability' with 'allegory'; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.
What is more, Tolkien rather bluntly states, "As for any inner meaning or 'message', it has in the intention of the author none.  It is neither allegorical nor topical.  As the story grew it put down roots (into the past) and threw out unexpected branches."  He did not write an allegory, but a feigned history.

Nevertheless, every reader is naturally drawn to connect to the world of Middle-earth and the adventures of hobbits, wizards, men, elves, and dwarfs.  This one Tolkien means by "applicability"; each reader is free to apply the tales to his own day and to read out of them - or into them - what he wishes.

This week I have happily read two new books exploring Middle-earth, both of which seek to apply the lessons of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to our own day.

In a letter written to Father Robert Murray, S.J., who noted a "positive compatibility with the order of Grace" in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien wrote that "The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously so in the revision."

Though he spent only a small amount of time writing about Tolkien's Catholic faith, Devin Brown took this simple statement as the launching point of his The Christian World of The Hobbit.  The book itself is easily suited to a popular audience, even to those who - for whatever unfathomable reason - have not yet read The Hobbit.

In five chapters, Brown leads his readers in a consideration of the workings of grace and morality in The Hobbit, with a particular - and intriguing - focus on the growth of Bilbo Baggins from the moment he left his comfortable Hobbit hole to the moment he returned.

Brown summarizes his thesis in the final chapter of the book, saying,
The Hobbit is both a children's tale and something more.  The Providence, purpose, and morality in The Hobbit go against the grain of the modern mind-set.  In The Hobbit, Tolkien brings his readers into a world filled with meaning and purpose where they find stark contrasts between right and wrong.  The same audience who might scoff at the Christian worldview in a different context find themselves embracing it in The Hobbit.
I suspect he is quite right.

For those looking for a more scholarly exploration of The Hobbit, Matthew Dickerson's A Hobbit Journey: Discovering the Enchantment of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth provides a great deal of food for thought.

Both books are good, but I enjoyed Dickerson's much more, in no small part because it delves deeper into the morality of Middle-earth.  Exploring such important - and timely - issues as torture and war, freedom and responsibility, Dickerson's oft-repeated refrain is that for Tolkien, a military victory is less important than a moral victory.

In his introduction, Dickerson writes,
This book explores some of those truths that can be glimpsed in Tolkien's very successful works of fantasy literature.  They are truths that are as applicable today as when Tolkien lived and wrote.  The central question this book addresses is, What can we learn from hobbits and from their vision of the Good Life, and how does that apply to our own present situation?  In particular, we will look at the hobbitish pursuit and practice of peace, even in the midst of a world at war.  And we will start with the question of what actions war does or does not justify.
I had a difficult time putting this book down and recommend it highly.

22 October 2012

Tolton's grave in the fall

This past Friday I attended a Gala Fundraiser for the Cause of Sainthood of Father Augustus Tolton with three other priests of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois and Bishop Paprocki.  All told, some three hundred people were present for the enjoyable evening.

I took a few pictures from the evening, but none of them turned out too well.  His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., Archbishop of Chicago, stopped in for a moments and addressed us.  I was glad to see he looked well as he continues his chemotherapy treatments.

On Saturday evening I returned to Quincy to help with Quincy Notre Dame's sophomore retreat.  As I always do when I return to the Gem City, I stopped by the grave of Father Tolton, which was particularly beautiful and draped in the colors of autumn:

20 October 2012

A Life of Pono: The Mother of Outcasts

In just a few hours' time, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI will canonize seven Saints for the Universal Church, two of whom are Americans.

Over the past several months the Catholic press has rightly given great attention to one of these: Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the Lily of the Mohawks.  Her cause has had great popular support and appeal over the years because of her status as the first Native American to be declared Blessed, and tomorrow the first to be declared a Saint.

But of the other American soon-to-be-saint the Catholic press - and even the blogosphere - has given precious little attention.  Perhaps this is best since it was this courageous woman who said, "I do not think of reward; I am working for God and do so cheerfully."  Though much of the world has either forgotten or largely ignored the merits of this faithful soul, God has not forgotten her efforts and her cooperation with his grace.

Born 23 January 1838 in Heppenheim, Germany, Barbara Cope immigrated with her family to Uttica, New York.  She entered the Franciscan Sisters of Syracuse in 1862 and received the name Marianne.  Recognizing her skillful administration, her Sisters elected her as superior general in 1877.

It was to her that Father Leonor Fouesnel, SS.CC, Provincial of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, to whom mission of the Sandwich Islands (now known as Hawaii) had been entrusted, wrote in June of 1883.  For years, Saint Damien de Vuester, the Leper Priest, requested Sisters who would not only work with him in the care of the lepers, but who would also continue his ministry after him.

Mother Marianne was the only religious superior to respond to Father Leonor's request for a group of Sisters to serve the lepers and run the Kaka'ako Branch Hospital on Oahu.  It was from Kaka'ako that the lepers were sent to the settlement at Kalaupapa.  Writing to Father Leonor, Mother Marianne wrote:
I am hungry for the work and I wish with all my heart to be one of the chosen ones, whose privilege it will be to sacrifice themselves for the salvation of the souls of the poor Islanders...  I am not afraid of any disease; hence it would be my greatest delight even to minister to the abandoned "lepers."
She arrived in Honolulu with six Sisters in November of 1883 and diligently saw to the needs of the patients, placing a particular emphasis of cleanliness.

After Father Damien was diagnosed with leprosy in 1886, Mother Marianne said, "We are not only willing but anxious to go and care for the poor outcasts" at Kalaupapa, which she did extremely well.

After the Sisters arrived at Moloka'i, Father Damien said, "I can die now.  You will continue to carry on the work even better than I could do."  Such was his confidence in Mother Marianne.

Several days before his death, Father Damien said to Father Conrardy, "How good God is to have made me live long enough to see at this moment two priests at my side and the Franciscan Sisters at the Settlement!  I can sing Nunc Dimittis, the work for the lepers is in good hands; and I, I am no longer necessary; I am going to Heaven."

After his death, Mother Marianne carried on his work with great skill and love, reminding her Sisters, "What little good we can do in this world to help and comfort the suffering, we wish to do it quietly and so far as possible unnoticed and unknown."  Hers truly was a life of pono, a life of righteousness.

Mother Marianne died on 9 August 1918 and is now buried in Syracuse, New York.

Mother Marianne, pray for us!

18 October 2012

I'm a happy nerd

...because I just picked up these:

I swear bookstores see me coming.

Do Democrats reduce the number of abortions?

In an intriguing post, John-Paul seeks to answer the important and timely question, "Should Catholics vote Democrat to reduce abortions?"

It's a claim we've all heard, but is it true?  As John-Paul notes, "It should be quite easy to prove this preist right or wrong since we have statistics on abortion since before Roe. So, we should be able to match those stats up with the years of Democrat presidents and Republican presidents and see pretty clearly which ruling party has fewer abortions on their watch."

Looking at the data, John-Paul found that
It turns out that Republican presidents average lower abortion numbers and lower abortion rates than Democrat presidents. On average, under Democrat leadership, there were 70,172 MORE abortions per year than under Republican leadership. According to this data, a Democrat president leads to an average increase in the abortion rate of 5.29% more than a Republican.
The answer, then, to the above question is patently, "No."

It turns out that a great many people have been misled by the fact the they were fewer abortions during the term of President Clinton than that of President Bush (the first).  However, it is also true that there fewer abortions during the term of President Bush (the second) than under President Clinton.

John-Paul, though, doesn't stop there.  He goes on to suggest additional reasons why we should not vote Democrat to reduce abortions, not only the USA, but throughout the world.

17 October 2012

Call PP to Schedule Your Imaginary Mammogram Day

During last night's Presidential Debate, President Obama once again claimed that Planned Parenthood provides mammograms, which it, in fact, does not.

To help illustrate the point, Abby Johnson has designated tomorrow, October 18, 2012, "Call Planned Parenthood to Schedule Your Imaginary Mammogram Day."  The number to call is 1-800-230-PLAN.

Abby imagines your conversation will go something like this:
PP: "Thank you for calling Planned Parenthood, how can I help you?"Caller: "I'd like to come in to your clinic for a mammogram."PP: "We do perform clinical breast exams, and we refer out for mammograms, but we don't perform them in the clinic."Caller: "What? But Barack Obama said you guys provide mammograms!"PP: "We don't. We refer out for them."
TRUTH BOMB: Planned Parenthood is a level-one breast service provider. This means they are not only unequipped to perform mammography... it is ILLEGAL for them to do so. The extent of their breast health services are manual breast exams. They refer out for mammograms, but they DO NOT PROVIDE THEM.

Ladies, you know what to do.  Call Planned Parenthood and when they tell you they don't in fact provide mammograms, write to President Obama and gently correct him.

16 October 2012

At long last!

This December - after many years of expectation, longing, and waiting - the final volume of Pope Benedict XVI/Joseph Ratzinger's trilogy on the life of the Savior will finally be published: Jesus of Nazareth: His Infancy and Childhood.

For a short time you can pre-order the book through Ignatius Press for only $16.00 (regularly $20.00).

I ordered a copy; you should do the same.

If you haven't yet read the first two volumes (Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration and Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, you really should read them.  You will not only learn a great deal about the life of our Master and Teacher, but you will be inspired and drawn closer to the Lord with the passing of each chapter.  You can even order the 3-volume set.

Honestly, what are you waiting for?

George: Mary will be there

Throughout the month of October, Holy Mother Church urges us to give special consideration to the Rosary of Our Lady.

As we pray the rosary, through its various repetitions, we are asked, as Pope Benedict XVI reminds us, to "be guided by Mary in this prayer, ancient and ever new, which is especially dear to her because it leads us directly to Jesus, contemplated in his Mysteries of salvation: joyful, luminous, sorrowful and glorious."

Yesterday His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., Archbishop of Chicago e-mailed a brief reflection on the rosary.  He concluded, saying, "So many private apparitions of the Blessed Virgin over the centuries have given us messages about this help, and it is a great comfort to believe that Mary will be there when the soul, the source of life for our body, struggles toward a different form of living.  Mothers give birth; Mary will be there, no matter when or how death comes to each of us."

Cardinal George is presently undergoing chemotherapy treatment for his second bout with cancer.  I ask you, then, remembering his words, to pray the rosary for him.  Ask the Lord to sustain him in his ministry and ask Our Lady to wrap him in her mantle.

15 October 2012

Random melodies

In former years I was a bit of a video game nerd.  In fact, I found my first job simply because I played video games.

This morning as I sat tiredly at my desk in my sitting room, I was working on something when I became aware that my feet were tapping a melody.  As I paid more attention - I was exhausted this morning - I realized I was tapping - and mentally humming - the theme music from Super Mario World from the Super Nintendo.  Admittedly, it's a great game!

Being amused at the situation - and, no doubt, pleased - a friend posted the music to my Facebook timeline (I want the old wall back), so I thought I'd share it with you:


Paprocki running for vocations

On Sunday Bishop Paprocki will run his nineteenth marathon - this year in St. Louis - to help raise funds for charitable causes.  Since 1995, His Excellency has raised more than $330,000 for a variety of causes, including Pro-Life organizations and the Chicago Legal Clinic.  This year, he will be running for vocations.

Writing in the Catholic Times, Bishop Paprocki explained the need the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois has for additional funds for the formation of seminarians:

Since my installation as your bishop on June 22, 2010, I have spoken frequently in our parishes and on various other occasions about the need to pray for and promote increased vocations to the priesthood and religious life. God has so far answered our prayers with an increase from 11 seminarians in 2010 to our current number of 25. 
While the growing number of candidates for the priesthood is most welcome and needed for the future of the diocese, it also comes with a cost. At the college level the diocese splits the costs of tuition, room and board with the seminarians and their families, giving loans, if needed, that the diocese assumes if the men are ordained priests. At the level of the major seminary, the diocese pays the full tuition, room and board of the seminarians, plus health insurance and a monthly stipend. If you have ever sent a son or daughter to college, you know how expensive higher education is. We are sending 25 of our diocese's sons to college and major seminaries, so you can see that training our future priests needs more than prayers, but some real revenue as well!
Bishop Paprocki invites those who are able and willing to "consider donating a dollar or more per mile to support my 26.2 mile Run for Vocations. If you are able to 'go the extra mile' and underwrite the full cost of one year's education for one of our seminarians, please contact me or our director of vocations, Father Christopher House, by telephone at (217) 698-8500 or by e-mail at vocations@dio.org."
If you are able to make a donation, you do so online or mail in your pledge.  Any gift you can give will very much be appreciated!
Please, pray for our seminarians every day, that will be formed after the heart of Jesus Christ.

In honor of the day

Give me death, give me life.
Give me sickness, give me health.
Give me honor, give me shame.
Give me weakness, give me strength.
I will have whatever you give. Amen.

- Saint Teresa of Avila

14 October 2012

Homily - 14 October 2012

The homily that follows is similar to the homily I preached September 30th, 2012.  Parts of the homily have been edited to make reference to the Year of Faith and to the readings of the Twentieth-eighth Sunday of the year.

The Twenty-eighth Sunday of the Year (B)

Dear brothers and sisters,

On April 23, 1886, Cardinal Simeoni said to then Deacon Augustus Tolton (whose cause for beatification and canonization is underway): “America has been called the most enlightened nation on earth.  We will see if it deserves that honor.  If the United States has never before seen a black priest, it must see one now.”  The next morning Deacon Tolton was ordained a priest of Jesus Christ and sent back to his home in Quincy.

The most enlightened nation on earth?  I wonder, what did Father Gus think of that phrase?  Born in slavery, he only became free after his mother made a harrowing escape with her three children when Gus was seven.  Does an enlightened nation enslave people simply on the basis of the color of their skin? 

When he enrolled at St. Boniface school in Quincy, many of the parents of the white children threatened to withdraw their children; young Gus – then ten years old – was the first black student there and withdrew himself.  Does an enlightened nation discriminate against others because of the color of their skin?  When he later enrolled in St. Peter School – at the insistence of the pastor - Gus found that, “As long as I was in that school, I was safe.  Everyone was kind to me.”[1]

Here, perhaps, we see something of an enlightened nation, but then we remember why Father Tolton ultimately left Quincy for Chicago: the jealousy of Father Weiss, who told the first black priest in these United States that he could only minister to blacks and not to whites.  Even so, writing to Cardinal Gibbons, Father Tolton wrote, “The white people in this little Gem City of Quincy, Ills are really good hearted charitable and nonprejudicial, no feelings of bitterness at all against a man on account of complexion.”[2]  Following his death in 1897 and, in keeping with his wishes, Father Tolton was buried back in Quincy where his body remains today. 

History will judge whether or not the America of Father Tolton’s day was indeed an enlightened nation, but I wonder: Will history judge the America of our day to be enlightened?

Is a nation that would require people of faith to violate their consciences and provide contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs an enlightened nation?  The recent federal mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services requires precisely this, in clear contradiction of our first amendment right of the free exercise of religion.

Is a nation that makes it illegal for a priest to baptize an illegal immigrant or even hear his confession an enlightened nation?  Such a law was passed in Alabama last year.

Is a nation that seeks to alter the very structure and organization of the Church and to determine who is and who is not a “religious minister” an enlightened nation?  Such a restructuring was attempted in Connecticut in 2009.

Is a nation that tells student religious groups that people of a different faith must be able to be leaders of their religious groups an enlightened nation?  This happened at the University Of California Hastings College Of Law in 2009 and at Vanderbilt University this year.

Is a nation that forces Catholic Charities out of foster care and adoptions because their faith tells them they cannot place children with same-sex or unmarried couples an enlightened nation?  This happened this year in Illinois, in the District of Columbia in 2010, and in Boston and San Francisco in 2006.

Is a nation that refuses to allow Christians to use public buildings but allows other groups to use the same buildings an enlightened nation?  This happens routinely in New York City and elsewhere.

Is a nation that refuses contracts to the best organization helping with human trafficking because it will not provide abortions and contraception an enlightened nation?  The federal government this year refused to renew contracts with the U.S. Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services for this very reason.

Is a nation that kills more than one million babies each year in their mother’s wombs an enlightened nation?  Blessed Teresa of Calcutta shed light on the horror of abortion when she reminded us that “It is a poverty that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.”  What would Father Gus say of those who might claim, “I’m personally opposed to slavery, but I can’t force my morals on anyone else”?

Is a nation that thinks more about its economic standing than even the right to life when deciding its future an enlightened nation?  I dare say it is not.  What good is a robust economy if few people may enjoy it?

Our Bishop wrote to us a few weeks ago, saying, “you need to think and pray very carefully about your vote, because a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.”[3]  Many people have reacted strongly against the Bishop’s reminder, but the truth of his words remains.

Too often we forget the words of Jesus himself: “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:24)!  Those who make their way to Hell do so by their own choice, by their free rejection of Jesus Christ and the truth of his Gospel.  Those who arrive in heaven do so by preferring Jesus Christ to everything else.  To inherit eternal life, we must live continual in “self-abandonment, in a continuous crescendo, into the hands of a love that seems to grow constantly because it has its origin in God.”[4]

In his Apostolic Letter, Porta Fidei, in which he announced this Year of Faith, the Holy Father reminded us that “faith, precisely because it is a free act, also demands social responsibility for what one believes (10).”  This social responsibility must be lived be outside and inside the voting booth.

In their recent document highlighting the increasing threats against our religious freedom, Our First, Most Cherished Liberty, our Bishops said:

As bishops we seek to bring the light of the Gospel to our public life, but the work of politics is properly that of committed and courageous lay Catholics. We exhort them to be both engaged and articulate in insisting that as Catholics and as Americans we do not have to choose between the two.[5]

Our faith does not need to be – and cannot be – put aside.

Society today is telling us that the most important issues of the upcoming election are jobs and the economy; this is simply not true.  The most important issues of the upcoming election are the right to life and religious liberty.  Without life, no other right matters.  Without religious freedom, every other freedom will be taken away.  “What is at stake is whether America will continue to have a free, creative, and robust civil society – or whether the state alone will determine who gets to contribute to the common good, and how they get to do it.”[6]

On the day of our Baptism, on the day when faith was given to us, each of us was entrusted with the light of Christ and was told to keep it burning brightly.  Each of us must bring this light to the public square so that the warmth of the Light of the World and the truth of his words may bring light to a world and a society darkened by sin.

Some will undoubtedly say, “Father, you’re crossing the line of separation of Church and State.” Such is not the case for what we are discussing is not a matter of Church and State but of faith and politics.  “This ought not to be a partisan issue.  The Constitution is not for Democrats or Republicans or Independents.  It is for all of us.”[7]  We must remember that we are not Republicans or Democrats or Independents; we are Catholics.  No political party fully supports the truth of the Gospel or the mandate Jesus Christ has given us, though some parties are in greater alignment with it than others; that is not our fault, but theirs.  Our allegiance must not be to one political party or another, but to Jesus Christ.

Faith requires something of us. It requires that we love both God and neighbor and that every decision we make, every word we speak, and every action we perform, be in keeping with the love of God and of neighbor, even in the voting booth.  Faith, if it is to gain us eternal life, requires a full adherence to Jesus Christ.  Faith can never be laid aside, for we are servants of the Lord at all times and in every place.  We must remember that “no creature is concealed from [the Lord], but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account” (Hebrews 4:13).  If we remember this and live accordingly, America will truly be an enlightened nation.

In speaking these words some will praise me and others condemn me, but I do not speak these words for praise or condemnation; I speak them because they are true. Because these words are true I must speak them, for at the end of my life I want to say to the Divine Master, with honesty and sincerity, “I am an unprofitable servant; I have done what I was obliged to do” (Luke 17:10). Amen.

[1] Roy Bauer, They Called Him Father Gus: The Life and Times of Augustine Tolton, First Black Priest in the U.S.A., Part Eight.
[2] Augustus Tolton, Letter to Cardinal Gibbons, July 24, 1888.
[3] Thomas John Paprocki, “Think and pray about your vote in upcoming election,” Catholic Times, September 23, 2012.
[4] Pope Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei, 7.
[5] United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Our First, Most Cherished Liberty: A Statement on Religious Liberty, 9.
[6] Ibid., 4-5.
[7] Ibid., 10.

10 October 2012

The leafless days have come

As the leaves turn their colors and the aroma of fallen leaves fills the air as the temperatures drop and darkness hastens, I am reminded of one of J.R.R. Tolkien's poems in part one of The Book of Lost Tales.

The poem I have in mind is part of The Trees of Kortirion and is called Narquelion, which, in the Quenya language of the Elves, means "sun-fading":
Alalminórë!  Green heart of this Isle
Where linger yet the Faithful Companies!
Still undespairing here they slowly file
Down lonely paths with solemn harmonies:
The Fair, the first-born in an elder day,
Immortal Elves, who singing on their way
Of bliss of old and grief, though men forget,
Pass like a wind among the rustling trees,
A wave of bowing grass, and men forget
Their voices calling from a time we do not know,
Their gleaming hair like sunlight long ago. 
A wind in the grass!  The turning of the year.
A shiver in the reeds beside the stream,
A whisper in the trees - afar they hear,
Piercing the heart of summer's tangled dream,
Chill music that a herald piper plays
Foreseeing winter and the leafless days.
The late flowers trembling on the ruined walls
Already stoop to hear that elven-flute.
Through the wood's sunny aisles and tree-propped halls
Winding amid the green with clear cold note
Like a thin strand of silver glass remote. 
The high-tide ebbs, the year will soon be spent;
And all your trees, Kortirion, lament.
At morn the whetstone rang upon the blade,
At eve the grass and golden flowers were laid
To whither, and the meadows bare.
Now dimmed already comes the tardier dawn,
Paler the sunlight fingers creep across the lawn.
The days are passing.  Gone like moths the nights
When white wings fluttering danced like satellites
Round tapers in the windless air.
Lammas is gone.  The Harvest-moon has waned.
Summer is dying that so briefly reigned.
Now the proud elms at last begin to quail,
Their leaves uncounted tremble and grow pale,
Seeing afar the icy spears
Of winter march to battle with the sun.
When bright All-Hallows fades, their day is done,
And borne on wings of amber wan they fly
In heedless winds beneath the sullen sky,
And fall like dying birds upon the meres. 

Two loves united

From the days of my childhood I have very much enjoyed the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.  It started, I think, with the cartoon The Legend of Prince Valiant:

From this cartoon I delved into the legends themselves and dabbled into the historicity of King Arthur (a topic that sill captures my attention).  I even wrote a senior seminar paper on King Arthur when I attended Quincy University.

My love of the legends continues to this day and I am a member of the International Arthurian Society - North American Branch.  I look forward to receiving the quarterly issues of Arthuriana and typically devour its contents soon after it arrives.

Also as a boy I was introduced to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and quickly fell in love with the tales of Middle Earth, as well.

Now it seems these two loves will soon be, in a certain sense, merged together: Next year Tolkien's poem in narrative verse titled, "The Fall of Arthur," will be published:
It's the story of a dark world, of knights and princesses, swords and sorcery, quests and betrayals, and it's from the pen of JRR Tolkien. But this is not Middle-earth, it's ancient Britain, and this previously unpublished work from the Lord of the Rings author stars not Aragorn, Gandalf and Frodo, but King Arthur.
The Guardian goes on to give us a brief excerpt of the opening lines:
Arthur eastward in arms purposedhis war to wage on the wild marches,over seas sailing to Saxon lands,from the Roman realm ruin defending.Thus the tides of time to turn backward and the heathen to humble, his hope urged him,that with harrying ships they should hunt no moreon the shining shores and shallow watersof South Britain, booty seeking.
I've already read Tolkien's masterful translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and I can't wait to read this poem.

Just last week I finished reading Tolkien's essay On Fairy Stories where he says of the Arthurian legends:
It seems fairly plain that Arthur, once historical (but perhaps as such not of great importance), was also put in the Pot.  There he was boiled for a long time, together with many other older figures and devices, of mythology and Faërie, and even some other stray bones of history (such as Alfred's defence against the Danes), until he emerged as a King of Faërie.
I wonder what elements Tolkien has put into the soup?

09 October 2012

Will you lose your head?

Each year when the memorial of Saint Denis rolls around I am reminded of this scene from Jim Hensen's Labyrinth:

I know.  My mind makes strange connections.  If you don't understand, you soon will.  I hope.

Following the persecutions of the Emperor Decius (r. 249-251), the Church in Gaul, which had been thriving, was left in great disarray.  Faced the threat of death because of their belief in Christ, many Christians denying the divinity of Christ and returned to their former pagan ways.

Seeking to restore the vigor of the faith, Pope Saint Fabian (d. 250) sent several Bishops to Gaul, one of whom was Denis, the first Bishop of Paris.  Accompanying Denis were Rusticus, a priest, and Eleutherius, a deacon.

Saint Denis' preaching quickly won converts back to the Church, which naturally angered the pagan priests who convinced governor to deal with them.

It is said that Denis, Rusticus, and Eleutherius were beheaded on Montmartre (Mount of Martyrs), but Saint Denis apparently was not pleased with this location.  After his execution his body picked up his head and carried some distance to a nearby village where he laid down and died.  A church was built at this place in his honor.

Naturally, following their martyrdom, the faith began to flourish in Gaul once again.  It is a good reminder of the observation of Tertullian: "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."

In our own day, following a different and more subtle form or persecution, many Christians have fallen away from the Church.  They may have renounced their faith in a formal way, but they are not engaged in the practice of the faith.

This situation presents a particular challenge to us all and it is in part why Pope Benedict XVI has declared the coming Year of Faith, which begins on Thursday.  As the Holy Father wrote, "To rediscover the content of the faith that is professed, celebrated, lived and prayed, and to reflect on the act of faith, is a task that every believer must make his own, especially in the course of this Year."

Saint Denis and his companions gave up their lives so the faith would grow.  I wonder: In this coming year, what is the Lord calling us to give up so the faith will grow?

Perhaps the Lord isn't calling us to lose our heads physically, but perhaps he is calling us to lose them spiritually as we lose ourselves in the great adventure of the Paschal Mystery.

06 October 2012

Don't you wanna be a Pepper, too?

I'll be making use of number eight this evening.

Gifts of aloha

Every now and again I receive a package or two from my Hawaiian friends.  Their thoughtfulness of their gifts - together with the randomness of their timing - always brings joy to my heart and brings to mind the beauty of the islands and their people.

Over the last week three such packages arrived.  The first contained a fun addition to my little friends:

The addition is a Lego man key chain, sporting an "I Love Hawaii" t-shirt.

The second package - two of them, actually, contained several lovely knot "decade" rosaries made by a woman I met on my most recent visit:

The third package contained a variety of items:

Included were several issues of the Hawaii Catholic Herald, a package of pasta, a box of teas with instructions for making pineapple tea, macadamia shortbread cookies, a box of Hawaiian trivia cards, a few candies and a holy card of Saint Pio.

Mahalo to you all, my dear ohana!

05 October 2012

Standing before suffering

When faced with great suffering, many people long for an explanation as to their suffering.  Have they done something wrong to warrant a punishment?  Does this suffering have a purpose?  However the question is posed, it might well be summed up with this one question: Why me?

We ask this question of one another, hoping for an explanation from a mere mortal that will someone explain our present situation.  Of course, none of us can provide an adequate answer; we can't understand our own suffering, let along the suffering of another.

Others try to comfort us with empty platitudes, saying, "It'll get better," or "you'll get through this," or "he's in a better place."  Well-meaning though they may be, such words or are of little help; they do not address - with courage and humility - suffering itself, but only our emotions.

Curiously, it often happens that many people are afraid to address this question to God thinking he might strike them down, or some other such thing.

Job asked this question; indeed, it might even be said that he demanded an answer of the Lord: "Oh, that I had one to hear my case: here is my signature: let the Almighty answer me (Job 31:35)!

Although we cannot rightly claim with Job, "Let God weigh me in the scales of justice; thus will he know my innocence," we can take consolation that Job so questioned the Lord and was not struck down (Job 31:6).

The Lord did not ignore Job's complaint; the Lord answered Job, though not in a manner we might have expected.  From the midst of a storm the Lord responded to Job's complaint in what can only be called a form of mockery.  Job questioned the designs and plans of God, and so God questioned Job in return:
Have you comprehended the breadth of the earth?
Tell me, if you know it all.
What is the way to the dwelling of light,
and darkness - where is its place?
That you may take it to its territory
and know the paths to its home?
You know, because you were born then,
and the number of your years is great (Job 38:18-21)!
It might seem harsh, but we do sometimes forget that "God is wise in heart and mighty in strength; who has withstood him and remained unscathed" (Job 9:4)?

For two full chapters the Lord answers Job in kind, and finally Job responds:
"Look, I am of little account; what can I answer you?
I put my hand over my mouth.
I have spoken once, I will not reply;
twice, but I will do so no more" (Job 40:4-5).
Standing before suffering, standing before the Lord, what is there to say?  We faced with suffering we come face to face with the reality that suffering is a mystery, in the true sense of the word.  Mystery has at its root the Greek word muo and means "to close the mouth."  In the presence of mystery words can never speak adequately.

It seems to me there are two things we might do well in the presence of suffering.  The first is to follow the example of Job and speak no more.  The second is to follow the example of Saint Francis of Assisi and praise God in the midst of suffering.

Two years before his death, Francis asked God for two particular graces:
My Lord Jesus Christ, I pray you to grant me two graces before I die: the first is that during my life I may feel in my soul and in my body, as much as possible, that pain which You, dear Jesus, sustained in the hour of Your most bitter passion.  The second is that I may feel in my heart, as much as possible, that excessive love with which You, O Son of God, were inflamed in willingly enduring such suffering for us sinners (The Little Flowers of St. Francis, 190-191).
To this request, the Lord gave to Saint Francis the Stigmata, the holy wounds of the Savior.  Few of us are prepared to ask for these same two graces, but we can ask to receive them at least in part.

When suffering befalls us, in one of its many forms, let us not seek to complain and be rid of it.  Let us seek rather, with Saint Francis, to know in our sufferings something of the sufferings of Jesus Christ who suffered out of love for us.

Paprocki: State Journal-Register twisted my words

Thirteen days after it was published, the State Journal-Register finally picked up the story about Bishop Paprocki's recent column in the Catholic Times, "Think and pray about your vote in upcoming election."

Yesterday, fourteen days after it was published, the editors of the State Journal Register distorted the Bishop's words and accused him of only dividing the Church further.

Today, the State Journal-Register has published an letter from Bishop Paprocki in which he sets the record straight:
In fact if one were to read my whole column it would be apparent that I wrote, “Certainly there are ‘pro-choice’ Republicans who support abortion rights and ‘Log Cabin Republicans’ who promote same-sex marriage, and they are equally as wrong as their Democratic counterparts.” So it is simply inaccurate to infer that I was only criticizing Democrats [more].

04 October 2012

Happy Francis Day!

In all things
he wished to be conformed to Christ crucified,
who hung on the cross
poor, suffering and naked.
O, he was truly the most Christian of men,
for he strove to conform himself to Christ
and to imitate him perfectly -
while living to imitate Christ living,
dying to imitate Christ dying,
and after death to imitate Christ after death -
and he merited to be honored
with the imprint of Christ's likeness!

- Saint Bonaventure

O blessed transitus! Or how to die well

A simple, poor man died seven hundred and eighty-six years ago last night.  His name was Francis and he was from Assisi.  In some ways his death was like any other, yet it was also very much unlike any other death, and there is much from his death that we can learn.

As he lay dying he said to Brother Elias: "I am summoned by God, o son.  I pardon all the offenses of my brothers, present and absent, and I absolve them insofar as I am able.  In announcing this, you should bless all of them for me" (Celano, First Life, II.8).

We often think of death as the great enemy to be avoided at all costs and we go to great lengths to pretend that for us death will not come.  If you think you don't try to avoid death at all costs, simply consider this: Each morning when I pray I ask the Lord if this is the day that I, too, will be summoned by God, and this I ask with joyful hope.  I welcome death, when at last it should come to me.

Most people become very uncomfortable at such a thought and call it morbid.  Some even suggest that I'm suicidal (which, I assure you, I am not).  On the contrary, I simply recognize the truth that I will die, that, as Saint Francis said, one day "our Sister Bodily Death, from whom no living man can escape," will come for me (The Canticle of Brother Sun, 12).  When she comes I do not want to be found unprepared; rather, I want to welcome her, knowing that our Lord is summoning me to his presence.

In such a summons, what is there to fear?  Saint Francis puts it succinctly: "Woe to those who die in mortal sin.  Blessed are those whom death will find in Your most holy will, for the second death shall do them no harm" (The Canticle of Brother Sun, 13).

After pardoning his brothers, Saint Francis asked that Saint John's account of the Passion of the Lord be read to him (cf. Celano, First Life, II.8.  He recognized that his own physical death would be a participation in the Death of Christ, but more than that: it would be also a share in the Resurrection of Christ because in Baptism Francis had already died.  So it is that the second death would do him no harm.  Do we have this same confidence in the grace of Baptism?