31 May 2014

Mary teaches us to make haste toward the prize

Church of St. John the Baptist, Quincy, Illinois
As we celebrate today the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we recall that day we she "set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth" (Luke 1:39-40). It is one of those feasts that always bring my mind back to home parish of Saint John the Baptist in Quincy, Illinois (which became All Saints Parish and is now Blessed Sacrament Parish), the church of which had such beautiful windows depicting the joyful and glorious mysteries of the rosary.

In his Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, Saint Bonaventure reflects on the meaning of these two verses:
Spiritually, now, from this we are given to understand that haste is necessary for the person who wants to attain perfection, as we find in Hebrews 4:11: "Let us make haste to enter into that rest." Also in I Corinthians 9:24 we find: "So run, that you may attain the prize." A negative example is found in what Matthew 25:11 says of the foolish virgins: "They came too late." See also Sirach 5:8: "Do not tarry in converting to the Lord, and do not put it off from day to day" (1.73).
In his little book, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, Pope Benedict XVI rightly asked, "How many Christians make haste today, where the things of God are concerned? Surely if anything merits haste - so the evangelist is discreetly telling us - then it is the things of God" (79).

Today, then, let us ask Mary to teach us to make haste toward the things of God so that, with her, we, too, might proclaim the salvation of the Lord.

30 May 2014

Francis and Bartholomew: Getting the band back together

Just after I published my initial post on the yet-to-occur Third Council of Nicea in 2025, I saw this image on a friend's Facebook page, which summarizes it nicely (and with a little humor):

Francis and Bartholomew announce the Third Council of Nicea in 2025

Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images
Just days after their prayerful encounter at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, has announced that he and Pope Francis have agreed to call an Ecumenical Council to meet at Nicea (modern day Iznik, Turkey) in the year 2025, 1,700 years after the Nicene Creed, which is often recited at Mass, was there proclaimed:
Speaking exclusively with AsiaNews, Bartholomew says that together with Pope Francis "we agreed to leave as a legacy to ourselves and our successors a gathering in Nicaea in 2025, to celebrate together, after 17 centuries , the first truly ecumenical synod, where the Creed was first promulgated" [more].
This, folks, is big. I don't know how else to describe it.

The First Council of Nicea met in A.D. 325 to settle the matter of the Arian heresy which claimed that Jesus was not fully divine. The Second Council of Nicea met in A.D. 787 to settle to matter of iconoclasm that claimed the Church could not use, make, or venerate images.

When he spoke with Asia News about the planned Third Council of Nicea, Patriarch Bartholomew said,
The dialogue for unity between Catholics and Orthodox will start again from Jerusalem. In this city, in the autumn, a meeting of the Catholic-Orthodox Joint Commission will be held hosted by the Greek Orthodox patriarch Theophilos III. It is a long journey in which we all must be committed without hypocrisy.
Presumably, then, Christian unity will be the matter that the Third Council of Nicea will seek to address.

As yet, neither Pope Francis nor the Holy See has publicly spoken of the agreed upon Council with Patriarch Bartholomew I.

May I suggest it is not too early to begin praying for his council?

Burned at the stake for wearing pants?

Anyone who claims history is boring has never actually delved into it; the deeper you go, the more bizarre it appears and you either then simply have to laugh or go off into a deep depression. The best historians recognize and tell the stories of those gone before us with a bit of humor.

Some weeks ago one of the English priests living with us here at the Casa Santa Maria lent me Stephen Clarkes' 1,000 Years of Annoying the French. I'm nearly finished with the book now, which I have greatly enjoyed, and has given me an outward chuckle - and even an occasional guffaw - every few pages (though the tone does change when Clarke arrives at World War I and becomes somewhat more serious for the remainder of the book).

One of his chapters is devoted to Saint Joan of Arc, whom he calls a "martyr to French propaganda. After describing her life, Clarke describes her trial and execution:

The charges against Joan were many and varied; there were seventy of them, including witchcraft, blasphemy, fighting a battle on a Sunday and, most heinous of all, wearing men's clothes - and pretty well all of them carried the death sentence. Even though she was only a teenager, and convinced that she had been given her instructions by God, Joan must have understand the situation well enough to know that she stood no chance of being acquitted.

Nevertheless, she put up a spirited defense at the hearings, which went on for months. Professors of theology were shipped in from Paris University to try and catch her out with cunningly worded trick questions. For example, Joan was asked whether she thought she had obtained the grace of God. A 'yes' would have been blasphemy because only God knows who is in a state of grace, whereas a 'no' would have been a confession that she had committed mortal sins. But Joan answered: 'If not, I pray God puts me there, if so, that he keeps me there'. It was the perfect reply, the ecclesiastic equivalent of an untrained kid avoiding a punch from an Olympic boxing champion, and then flooring him with the riposte.

Joan also dodged leading questions about whether she had not only heard voices and seen angels, but also smelt and touched them. One might assume that this would be a logical extension of her visions, but saying yes would have been a confession of idolatry and a moral sin; as far as divine visitations went, it was a case of 'look - and listen - but don't touch'. In the event, though, Joan was so careful with her answers, so devout and pious in her opinions, that it even looked for a time as though she might escape death.


Whatever Joan's original reason, by the time of her trial she was so scared of being raped by her (English) prison guards that she refused to exchange her trousers for a skirt. Bizarrely to modern minds, the guards seem to have been too scared to touch her while she was dressed as a man in case she was a witch or a she-devil.

Joan's judges knew about her fears, and used the knowledge to trap her - they offered to spare her life and have her transferred away from her guards to a religious prison if she would only confess her sins and put on a dress. Joan, who still believed that God would ultimately boot the English out of France and install her good friend Charles VII on the throne as the unchallenged king,  accepted the plea bargain, no doubt thinking that she would be freed as soon as the political pendulum swung Charles' way again.

A ceremony - probably one in the Journal d'un Bourgeois de Paris - was held in a Rouen cemetery at which Joan, wearing a dress for the first time in at least two years, publicly signed a confession, or rather drew a cross because there was no prison education system and she hadn't learned to write.

But yet again, the French betrayed her. As soon as she had signed, she was taken back to her old prison with its rapacious guards. Terrified, she put her trousers back on, to the delight of her judges, who declared her a 'relapsed heretic' and condemned her to be burnt at the stake in Rouen 's market square.

On 30 May 1431, her head shaven, Joan was made to walk through the streets past a jeering (French) mob, and when she arrived at the place of execution, her judges denied her the comfort of a crucifix to take to her death. It was an English soldier who put two sticks from the bonfire together to make her an improvised cross.

The French joke to this day about Joan being 'the only thing the English have ever cooked properly'. This probably refers to the fact that, after the fire had burnt out, the executioner raked through the ashes to expose the charred body and prove to the crowd that she was indeed female - the Bourgeois de Paris says that 'the fire was pulled back and everyone saw her naked, and all the secrets that a woman must have... When they had seen all they wanted, the executioner lit the fire again and the pitiful carcass was completely consumed by the flames'.

So yes, the English are guilty as charged of killing Joan of Arc. They burned her, and then burned her again to make sure. But the people who made sure she ended up tied to the stake were Frenchmen, who were collaborating with the English invaders. In short, les Francais got les Anglais to to their dirty work, and have spent the last 500-odd years in denial. And there's a lot to deny, because the bare truth of the matter is that France martyred its own future patron saint for wearing trousers. Which, it could be argued, is taking the famous French fashion sense just a step too far (136-140).
If you're looking for an enjoyable - and thorough - book on English or French history, give this one a read; you won't regret it.

The trouble with being a hobbit

With the end of the academic year fast approaching, we are not only entering into a period of preparation for exams, but also of farewell dinners, speeches, and toasts, all of which reminds me that, if I may quote the great J.R.R. Tolkien, "I am in fact a hobbit, in all but size."

It is in this that I especially find myself to be hobbit-like because, like me, "they rather dreaded the after-dinner speech of their host (an inevitable item)." I have never enjoyed such formal farewell addresses and toasts because they tend to be rather stiff and the speaking usually drones on and on - and then on some again - usually saying nothing and very little of interest to any but a few. To my mind, a toast should be witty, memorable, and - above all - brief (which is likely what will most make it memorable).

As Bilbo Baggins began his farewell speech at that long-expected party, the hobbits "shouted, and they hammered joyously on the tables. Bilbo was doing splendidly," the narrator tells us. "This was just the sort of stuff they liked: short and obvious." Now, part of the interaction of the hobbits can no doubt be attributed to their "filling up the corners," but it also due, I suspect, because they enjoy a bit of good-natured banter. Most people do, I expect, which explains the great love people have for Statler and Waldorf, even if few have the courage to banter or find it socially acceptable.

The longer a speaker goes on, the more hobbit-like I feel: "They all feared that a song or some poetry was now imminent; and they were getting bored. Why couldn't he stop talking and let them drink his health?"

I would love to shout and hammer and cheer and applaud and banter throughout such a speech like the hobbits, but can you imagine the reaction if I actually did so? The majority of people like such a scene in a book or in a movie, but they would rather keep them there. Hence the trouble with being a hobbit.

29 May 2014

Medieval images of the Ascension of the Lord are great!

"When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight" (Acts 1:9).

28 May 2014

Nine years ago today

It seems hard to believe that nine years ago today, the Most Reverend George J. Lucas, then Bishop of Springfield in Illinois and now Archbishop of Omaha, ordained seven men to the Priesthood of Jesus Christ: Fathers B. Thomas Donovan, Michael Haag, T. Joseph Havrilka, Aloysius Ndeanaefo, Jeffrey Stone, Daniel Willenborg, and me. Such a large "class" of new priests (the largest the Diocese saw in more than twenty-five years), he said, provided hope for the local Church:
The altars at which God’s people come seeking the presence of Christ will not be abandoned. God’s people will not be left starving for the Word and the Bread of Life. At the altar, in the pulpit, in the confessional, and on the streets, you will recognize your sons, your brothers, your friends. Our new priests come right from your families and from your towns and your parishes. You have helped them, helped form them in faith, hope and love.
When I composed A Prayer for More Priests through the intercession of the Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton, I had these words in mind.

In his homily that day (which can be read in full here), Archbishop Lucas reminded us that Pope - now Saint - John Paul II "told us [all of us] that we should become saints," and, "more importantly," he said,
he demonstrated in so many ways that it’s something that can be done. It doesn’t require money or good looks. It does require integrity and courage. Even in the face of great adversity – and especially then – we can follow Jesus, we can grow in holiness, we can change the world, even as we are being transformed ourselves by the power of the Holy Spirit.
I do not know if I am holier now than I was when I was ordained, but I hope I am and that, by the grace of God, I may become holier yet and I may help others to grow in holiness.

Archbishop Lucas told the seven of us that answering the Lord's call to be his priests "doesn’t take good looks or money or all the things that seem to add celebrity in our time." What is does take, he said, is integrity and courage:
If you live with integrity and preach the Gospel courageously, people will listen, people will notice. As they did with Pope John Paul, some will certainly object to what you say and to what you do, but you will change the world, even as you are being changed and being conformed more and more to Christ the High Priest.
Over the course of these few years I have found his caveat to be true; not everyone wants to change, not everyone ones to grow in holiness. Nevertheless, he address excellent counsel to us at the beginning of our priestly ministry:

My dear brothers in Christ about to be ordained, I exhort you, as the Lord himself exhorts you: feed the flock of Christ. Care for the people who have shown already and will continue to show such special care for you. Feed them, feed us, with the Word of God and with the rich tradition of Catholic teaching. After your own study and prayer, help us to recognize both the blessings and the challenges of the present age so that we can respond to them in the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Nourish God’s people with the Liturgy of the Church. Give special care to your celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy and give special energy to making straight the paths that lead people to the altar. Help us not to be indifferent to this communion with and in the Risen Christ.

Be ready every moment to extend the mercy of God in Jesus to those who suffer the guilt of their own sins, as well as those who have been hurt by the sins of others. Be humble enough to admit that some have been hurt by the sins of bishops and priests. Give special care to anyone who carries a heavy burden or who has become isolated. Jesus has a special affection for them and you should, too.
Please, pray for me and for my brother priests, that we may always feed  and nourish you; that we may help you to respond to the challenges of the present age; that we may make straight the ways to the altar; and that we may extend God's mercy to all who seek it with sincere hearts.

Here in Rome, away from so many of you who have shown me so much love and care over the years, who have helped form me in faith, hope, and love, my heart wells up with humble appreciation. I cannot adequately thank you for all you have done for me or for all the affection you have shown me. Words fail and tears form in my eyes. I can only simply say: Thank you.

As I find myself this evening missing so many of my family and friends with whom I would like to share the joy of this day, it warms my heart to know that in just over a month I will be back home in Quincy and will spend about five weeks in the Diocese, where I hope to see many of you again.

Until then, please know that you will remembered this evening at the altar of the Lord when I offer the Holy Mass in gratitude to God for the many blessings he has bestowed upon me through a sharing in the priesthood of his only Son and our Lord. God bless you all!

27 May 2014

Is Latin a dead language? Twitter suggests it is alive and well

Almost without fail, whenever I mention to someone that I am currently studying Latin - because they've asked what classes I am taking - they ask one straightforward question: "Isn't Latin a dead language?" Maybe you've asked the question yourself.

The simple answer is, "No, Latin is not a dead language and, just like any other language, will not be  until no one alive can read, write, or speak in Latin." That day is a long way off.

I mention this today because of something Greg Burke, Senior Adviser for Communications at the Secretary of State of the Holy See, tweeted this afternoon:
The Latin version of the Pope's Twitter handle (@Pontifex_ln) has some 251,000 followers. That hardly seems like a dead language. More people follow the Pope in Latin than follow him in Arabic, German, or Polish. A dead language, indeed.

By comparison, here are the numbers for the other language version (as of 2:30 p.m. Rome time):
  • Arabic (@Pontifex_ar): 129,000
  • English (@Pontifex): 4,090,000
  • French (@Pontifex_fr): 272,000
  • German (@Pontifex_de): 191,000
  • Italian (@Pontifex_it): 1,720,000
  • Polish (@Pontifex_pl): 227,000
  • Portuguese (@Pontifex_pt): 1,050,000
  • Spanish (@Pontifex_es): 5,770,000

26 May 2014

Does Pope Francis like coffee?

One of the things the Italians - and many others, as well - cannot understand about me is utter dislike of coffee, a dislike which borders on hatred. It is the very taste of coffee which I cannot tolerate and goes so far that my taste buds will not allow me even to eat tiramisu.

For many years people have told me that coffee "is an acquired taste" and that I "will get used to it." I've never found these reassuring and have frequently asked in response, "Why would I would to get used to a flavor I already know I don't like?" To this day, no one has been able to answer that question.

Now, why am I rambling on about coffee? A few moments ago I saw a picture taken during Pope Francis' pilgrimage to the Holy Land and the expression of the Holy Father's face led me to wonder if doesn't share my dislike of cofffee:
Were I to capture the above photo, I would simply use, "What is this stuff?"

For the record, I have no idea whether or not Pope Francis likes coffee, but given that most of the world does, I suspect he does drink coffee. But probably only because he hasn't yet discovered Dr Pepper.

25 May 2014

Professional soccer player ordained a priest

A few years I shared with you story of Chase Hilgenbrinck, a former professional soccer player who entered the seminary (you can also read his Wikipedia page). I was happy to see this morning that he was ordained a priest yesterday by Bishop Jenky:
Please remember Father Hilgenbrinck, and all of the newly ordained priests, in your prayers.

24 May 2014

How did I make it in a Vatican official's tweet?

As we approach the end of the current academic year here at the Casa Santa Maria, we had the pleasure this evening of welcoming His Excellency the Most Reverend Jorge Carlos Patrón Wong, Secretary at the Congregation for the Clergy, who celebrated the Holy Mass for us and joined us for a celebratory dinner afterwards.

Before a series of toasts were made - one to the Holy Father, one to the United States of America, and one to the Casa Santa Maria - it was announced, much to the surprise of the priests of the house, that Archbishop Patrón sent out a tweet thanking us for our welcome. When he did so, he included a picture he asked to be taken following the Mass:
This was the first time - and likely enough the last - I've been in a tweet of a Vatican official.

For the curious, I have one more week of classes yet, followed by a two week study period before my final exams.

Two new priests!

Earlier today, His Excellency the Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki, Bishop of Springfield in Illinois, ordained two new priests for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois: Father Steve Arisman and Father Seth Brown, as shown in the below photograph following the ordination:
I am happy to extend my heartfelt congratulations to them and ask you to remember them in your prayers.

Bishop Paprocki to ordain two priests today

Later today, His Excellency the Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki, Bishop of Springfield in Illinois, will ordain two men, Deacons Steve Arisman and Seth Brown, to the Priesthood of Jesus Christ for service to the local Church of Springfield in Illinois.

Deacon Seth Brown, Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, & Deacon Steve Arisman

Following their ordination as priests, Father Arisman will serve as the Parochial Vicar of Ss. Peter and Paul Parish in Collinsville and Father Brown will serve as the Parochial Vicar of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield. Both assignments take effect on July 1st.

Please remember them in the charity of your prayers.

On the chalice: Understand, imitate, and conform

Customarily, when a priest is a ordained he is presented with a chalice from his family, his friends, or his parish. Sometimes the chalice is new and sometimes it comes from the patrimony of a parish or is passed on from a deceased priest. (Some years ago I posted a few pictures of my chalice here.)

Within the Rite of Ordination, after the Bishop has imposed hands on the head of the ordinand and invoked the Holy Spirit through the Prayer of Ordination, the new priest is vested with the priestly stole and the chasuble. The Bishop then anoints his hands with the Sacred Chrism asked the Lord Jesus Christ to "guard and preserve you that you may sanctify the Christian people and offer sacrifice to God" (161).

Following the Anointing of Hands, since the ordinand is now a priest he is entrusted with the gifts of bread and wine. Kneeling before the Bishop, he receives a paten with hosts and a chalice with wine mixed with a little water as the Bishop says to him: "Receive the oblation of the holy people, to be offered to God. Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord's cross" (163). The chalice used at this moment is not usually the priest's personal chalice but one the Cathedral sacristy.

When His Excellency the Most Reverend Clarence "Larry" Silva ordained Father Ajit Baliar Singh, SS.CC to the priesthood this past Wednesday on the 150th anniversary of Saint Joseph Damien de Veuster, SS.CC, he used Father Damien's chalice:

Photo: Dann Ebina
A Catholic Mom in Hawaii (whom I'm looking forward to talking story with this August) related this little detail, which was unknown to me when I first posted on the ordination.

Photo: Dann Ebina

It is one of the most profound moments in the life of a priest and in Father Damien, whose chalice Father Ajit held, we see the example of a priest who took these words to heart. Both in his life and in his death, he conformed his life to the mystery of the Lord's cross, so much so that he said of his fellow lepers, "I would gladly give my life for them."

Photo: Dann Ebina
As we find ourselves in the midst of what might be called the "ordination season," let us pray especially for the men to be ordained priests this year (as well as those already ordained) that may strive to make these words the goal of their lives.

22 May 2014

UPDATED: Bishop Silva ordains a priest on the 150 anniversary of the ordination of Saint Damien de Veuster

On the twenty-first day of May in the year 1864, "Christians came from all over the Islands" of Hawaii "to see their young spiritual Fathers who must protect them from ravening wolves," so wrote one of three priests ordained that day. Together they entered the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Honolulu as Brothers of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and of Perpetual Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar and left as Priests of Jesus Christ. They were Fathers Clement, Lievin, and Damien, our author. The three of them had arrived at Honolulu only a few weeks earlier, on March 19, 1964.

As a means of commemorating that happy day in the history of the Church in Hawaii and of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts, His Excellency the Most Reverend Clarence "Larry" Silva, Bishop of Honolulu, hoped to ordain a priest in the same cathedral 150 years later. Since the Diocese of Honolulu does not have a man ready for ordination this year, he turned to the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts who had a Brother, Ajit Baliar Singh, preparing for ordination in India:
Father Ajit Baliar Singh, SS.CC.
According to Father Johnathan Hurrell, superior of the Sacred Hearts Congregation’s U.S. province, the idea to honor the 150th anniversary of St. Damien’s ordination with another ordination came from Bishop Larry Silva.

Father Hurrell initially told the bishop there was a candidate in India, but that “it was not really feasible for us to send him here.”

“However,” Father Hurrell said, “it came to light that, in his village, for political and religious reasons, it was too dangerous for him to be ordained there” [more].
If you know about the many years of persecution against Christians in the Orissa Province of India, you will understand why it was too dangerous to ordain Father Ajit at home.

Preparations were then made for then Brother Ajit to be ordained by Bishop Silva through imposition of hands and the invocation of the Holy Spirit on the 150th anniversary of the ordination of Father Damien - a date which is also the memorial of Saint Rita of Cascia - in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Honolulu.

Bishop Silva preached an excellent homily, which I hope will soon be posted online. He began, naturally enough, reflecting on the ordination and life of Father Damien:
One month shy of his 25th anniversary as a priest, Father Damien was fatally consumed by the deadly disease of leprosy. Mother Marianne Cope and Joseph Dutton, and others, prepared his body to lie in state in his beloved St. Philomena Church. As his flock filed by to view his body for the last time and to bless him with their prayers, it was almost as if he were crying out to them, "This is my body, which was given up for you."
150 years ago today, in this very same Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace, young Damien de Veuster, who had recently arrived in Hawai'i from Belgium, lay on the floor as the Saints were asked to file by him one by one in that litany ever ancient and ever new and to bless him with their prayers.
His heart was bursting with that same prayer that guided their lives as he said to the Lord, "This is my body, which is given up for." He offered himself to feed the lambs of the Lamb of God, and little did he know that he himself would be consumed.
That is not a bad beginning to any homily for the ordination of priests, especially as Bishop Silva invited then Brother Ajit to make the same gift of himself to the Lord and to the Lord's flock.

As I watched the ordination of Father Ajit online (which you can also watch here), I was struck by two particular moments within the liturgy. The first was the prostration of Brother Ajit during the Litany of the Saints as the servers brought out a tapa cloth for the Deacon to lay upon as the Saints filed by blessed him:

Even at this angle you can see the beauty of the cloth made from bark of mulberry or breadfruit trees in the islands of the Pacific Ocean. The use of tapa has a long and venerable history in the Hawaiian islands and this seemed an excellent and proper method of inculturation.

The second moment happened during the Prayer of Ordination, when Bishop Silva invited the soon-to-be Father Ajit to hold the relic of Father Damien as His Excellency invoked the Holy Spirit.

In my room here in Rome, I could not begin to imagine the thoughts and emotions he experienced as he held the relic of the saintly Leper Priest as he was ordained a priest himself!

After his ordination to the priesthood, Father Damien wrote, "In spite of the hardness of my heart, it seemed to me that it would melt like wax the first time I distributed the Bread of Life." Looking back over his life, it is clear that his heart did indeed so melt before the Lord. Let us pray that the heart of Father Ajit, and the heart of every priest ordained this year, will do the same, through the intercession of Father Damien.


UPDATE: The full text of Bishop Silva's homily has been posted here.

21 May 2014

Tolkien's Beowulf: A price and shipping comparison between Italy and the United Kingdom

In case you have forgotten since I first passed on the news, tomorrow will be a particular happy day for Tolkien enthusiasts throughout the world as his translation of Beowulf, which he finished in 1926, is finally published.

Not wanting to wait until I return to the United States of America at the end of June for a bit of a summer break - and not wanting to wait and wait and wait to find it in Rome - I went to the Italian Amazon web site today to pre-order the book. I was quite surprised that it sells there for 23,46 € (the equivalent of $32.05) and that it would not likely arrive until until June 2nd.

This, I thought, was a bit ridiculous and so I made my way over to the United Kingdom Amazon web site where I found the book sells for £13.40 (the equivalent of $22.61). Why such a price difference? I'm not sure.

Since this was a much better price (in the U.S.A., the book sells for $20.40 [it would take too long and cost too much to get it across the Atlantic]) I opted for the 2-4 shipping method, which meant it should arrive here at the Casa Santa Maria between May 24th and 26th. Curiously, the confirmation e-mail estimated delivery between May 29th and 31st. I can only suppose the Brits are familiar with the Poste Italiane.

Imagine my surprise then when I received an e-mail just a few minutes ago that my copy of the book has already shipped (I'm not sure how since it isn't released until tomorrow) and is estimated to arrive on May 26th!

I'm very much looking forward to its arrive because I have not read Beowulf since I read it in high school in a class on British literature. I may have been the only student in the class who enjoyed the poem and have been meaning to read the last several years.

It was not too long ago that a friend sent a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays. Of his own The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien wrote: "It is mainly concerned with Death, and Immortality; and the 'escapes': serial longevity, and hoarding memory" (Letter 211). This same theme he found in Beowulf.

Tolkien believed the author of Beowulf "is still concerned primarily with man on earth, rehandling in a new perspective an ancient theme: that man, each man and all men, and all their works shall die." He went on to suggest, in his classic essay "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics":
Almost we might say that this poem was (in one direction) inspired by the debate that had long been held and continued after, and that is was one of the chief contributions to the controversy: shall we or shall we not consign the heathen ancestors to perdition? What good will it do posterity to read the battles of Hector? Quid Hinieldus cum Christo? The author of Beowulf showed forth the permanent value of that pietas which treasures the memory of man's struggles in the dark past, man fallen and not yet saved, disgraced but not dethroned. It would seem to have been part of the English temper in its strong sense of tradition, dependent doubtless on dynasties, noble houses, and their code of honour, and strengthened, it may be, by the more inquisitive and less severe Celtic learning, that it should, at least in some quarters and despite grave and Gallic voices, preserve much from the northern past to blend with southern learning, and new faith.

As I re-read Beowulf, I shall keep a close watch for what Tolkien saw therein.

How can one find results of the Synod questionnaire "shocking"?

Despite widespread use of contraception, high divorce and cohabitation rates, not to mention high percentages of children world born out of wedlock, the astronomical number of children "aborted" each year, a growing call for euthanasia, and a growing and forceful push for the legalization of same-sex "marriage" - not to mention multiple partner marriages and other redefinitions of marriage - in many (if not most) parts of the world, His Eminence Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila and one of the presidents of the upcoming Synod, has admitted his surprise at the results of the questionnaires prepared by various Episcopal Conferences throughout the world in preparation for the upcoming Synods which will focus on the family.

Referring to these results, Cardinal Tagle said he found the results "shocking, if I am allowed to use that word… because almost in all parts of the world, the questionnaires indicated that the teaching of the Church regarding family life is not clearly understood by people."

Thanking His Eminence, unlike others, is not calling for the Church to change her teachings:
The language by which the church proposes the teaching seems to be a language not accessible to people. So this is my hope, not for change — how can you change the biblical teachings? But maybe a real pastoral and evangelical concern for the Church: How do we present the Good News of the family to this generation, with its limitations, with its greatness, with its unique experiences?
Now, I have nothing against Cardinal Tagle, nor have I ever met him, but I would like to ask him a simple and straightforward question: "Where have you been?" I know that Catholicism is a strong presence in the Philippines, but I also know that the islands have not been ignored by the forces of a godless secularism forcing its way throughout the world.

Sadly, Cardinal Tagle is not likely the only Cardinal who finds - or will find - the results "shocking." Nor is likely the only Bishop, priest, deacon, or lay ecclesial minister who finds them "shocking." One wonders how it is possible to find the results shocking, unless someone has really been paying very little - or, worse, no - attention at all for the past many years.

20 May 2014

Jesuits and Franciscans: United in the Holy Name of Jesus

Many Catholics today are familiar with the image of a sunburst behind the monogram IHS because of its prominent placement on the coat of arms of His Holiness Pope Francis:

The Holy Father adopted the image to signify his membership in the Society of Jesus, which he entered in 1958.

Since the day Saint Ignatius of Loyola adopted by the monogram and sunburst as his personal seal in 1541, it has been used as the seal of the Order which he founded, commonly known as the Jesuits, together with the cross above and the three nails below the monogram.

Though it may not be obvious at first, the monogram IHS is an abbreviation of the name Jesus in Greek - IHSOUS - and its use can be found as early as the 8th century as demonstrated by its use on certain gold coins. Over the last thirteen hundred years, it has been used to ornament any number of Christians projects, including churches, vestments, and graves. It is even found on the cross that stands over the grave of the Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton in my hometown, whose cause for beatification and canonization is underway:

Though commonly misread as a dollar sign, here the I, H, and S are superimposed over each other, without the sunburst.

Today the monogram is largely associated with the Society of Jesus, but the monogram largely owes its widespread use to the sons of Saint Francis of Assisi. It was Saint Bernardine of Siena (d. 1444), a member of the Order of Friars Minor, who popularized the use of the monogram and fostered devotion to the holy name of Jesus.

The image of the monogram and sunburst can be found in many Franciscan churches and sanctuaries, including the one at Mount La Verna, from which I returned just a few days ago. There, in the Chapel of Saint Mary of the Angels, are two beautiful pieces of ceramic art - known collectively as della Robbia after the family who produced them - depicting both the Incarnation and the Crucifixion. At the base of each is this monogram, shown in this detail at the right.

As he traveled throughout Italy preaching for up to three hours at a time to crowds of up to 30,000 people about the holy name, Saint Bernardine would frequently display a placard on which he had painted the monogram and sunburst, saying as he did so, "So this name must be proclaimed that it may shine out and never be suppressed" (Sermo 49).

Known as the Apostle of Italy, Saint Bernardine sought to inspire love of the holy name of Jesus in the hearts of his listeners and to quell strife and discord by displaying the name of Jesus, urging those who looked upon it to place themselves under its banner rather than the banners of their warring factions. In these efforts he met with great success and we would do well to call upon his intercession in our own day, which is so often marked with discord and factions, as well, both within and outside the Church. How good it would be if we would choose to united ourselves together under the banner of the holy name of Jesus!

Today is also a fitting day for us to pause and prayerfully consider our use of the name of Jesus. When it is spoken on our lips, is "the shining splendor" and "the brilliance and sweet savor of that name," to again quote Saint Bernardine, revealed in our words?

Saint Berardine declared that the name of Jesus "must not be preached by someone with sullied mind or unclean lips." How clean are our lips and how pure are our minds when we speak the name of Jesus?

Together, let us seek to deepen our reverence and love of the holy name of Jesus by making use of a prayer used by Saint Bernardine:
Jesus, Name full of glory, grace, love and strength! You are the refuge of those who repent, our banner of warfare in this life, the medicine of souls, the comfort of those who morn, the delight of those who believe, the light of those who preach the true faith, the wages of those who toil, the healing of the sick. To You our devotion aspires; by You our prayers are received; we delight in contemplating You. O Name of Jesus, You are the glory of all the saints for eternity. Amen.

19 May 2014

Bishop Paprocki declares excommunication of woman who attempted ordination

Following her invalid attempt to receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders on May 5, 2014, His Excellency the Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki, Bishop of Springfield in Illinois, has issued today Decree Declaring the Excommunication Incurred Latae Sententiae [i.e., automatically] by Ms. Mary F. Keldermans and has cautioned the faithful that "those who knowingly and intentionally participate in these schismatic activities [attempted celebrations of the Mass by Ms. Keldermans, etc.] also incur automatic excommunication."

In the weeks leading up to her attempted ordination, the State Journal-Register published a story about Ms. Keldermans' involvement with the schismatic group that falsely calls itself Roman Catholic Womenpriests, Inc., which I somehow missed altogether.

In this article, Steven Spearie writes:
What’s missing, added Keldermans, is that for so long, Roman Catholics have only heard the interpretation of Scriptures, including the story of the lost child, from male perspectives, mostly through homilies.
I suppose neither Spearie nor Keldermans is familiar with the writings of many of the female Saints of the Church, four of whom have been named Doctors of the Church.

According to Ms. Keldermans, being a priest is "being a prayer leader in the community." In a certain sense, she is correct, though certainly not in the way she thinks. The Second Vatican Council taught:
Though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ. The ministerial priest, by the sacred power he enjoys, teaches and rules the priestly people; acting in the person of Christ, he makes present the Eucharistic sacrifice, and offers it to God in the name of all the people. But the faithful, in virtue of their royal priesthood, join in the offering of the Eucharist. They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity (Lumen Gentium, 10).
This sharing in the common priesthood of the faithful is received in Baptism (cf. Lumen Gentium, 26).

I find it curious that "When Keldermans finally pursued the Womenpriests route," as Spearie writes, "she did so under an assumed name, fearing repercussions." A conviction of being called by God that must hidden seems to indicate it isn't actually from God.

Within the article, there is no mention of Ms. Keldermans wanting to absolve sins, or anoint the sick, or bury the dead, or witness weddings, or even baptism children or adults. There is not even a mention of her desire to celebrate the Eucharist, only to be "a leader of prayer." I know lots of Catholic who are leaders of prayer; some of them are priests, and many more are not. Parents are leaders of prayer in their families; teachers are leaders of prayer in their classrooms; coaches are leaders of prayer in their locker rooms, on their fields, and on their mats; countless lay men and women are leaders of prayer at their places of work, at Bible studies, in support groups, and in random encounters throughout the day.

She claims it isn't a protest, though she admits, according to Spearie, that "the final straw, she said, was hearing gays and lesbians being demonized as “morally intrinsic” and being told who to vote for by church officials." It should not be noted that the Church does not in fact call gays and lesbians as "morally intrinsic" or tell people for whom to vote. Both Spearie and Keldermans should do their homework more carefully.

Ms. Keldermans was warned about the consequences of her planned attempt at the reception of Holy Orders. She disregarded these warning and went through with her plannings, knowing the consequences.

Likely enough, Bishop Paprocki will soon be hearing from many angry people who refuse to accept the teachings of the Church, teachings which she has not made herself but which she has received from Jesus Christ. Please be certain to keep Bishop Paprocki, and those who work closely with him, in your prayers.

You might consider making use of some of these links to better understand what an excommunication is and isn't:
knowingly and intentionally participate in these schismatic activities also incur automatic excommunication - See more at: http://dio.org/communications/press-releases/358-statement-from-bishop-thomas-john-paprocki-regarding-attempted-ordination-and-invalid-masses.html#sthash.qrsQfw3N.dpuf

Life in Rome: The Post Office, Part 2 - OR - A Monday in Rome

When I returned early this afternoon to the Casa Santa Maria from a morning of classes at the Pontifical Gregorian University, I was both surprised and frustrated to find a notice in my mailbox that a package was supposedly being held for me (yes, I might to phrase it that way) at the nearest Italian post office (about ten minutes away on foot). I was surprised because I was not expecting a package from anyone (unless its one that was sent before Christmas and has yet to arrive) and frustrated because it meant I would effectively lose at least an hour and a half of my life simply waiting at the post office (as I described on another occasion).

Most Americans (or at least most of my family and friends) tend to think that living in Rome is a dream come true, a life filled with wonder and beauty and deliciousness at every turn. Let me assure you it is not. Living in Rome might be compared with experiencing one frustration after another while never receiving an adequate explanation for what seems to be great incompetence all around. Visiting Rome is great; living in Rome is another matter altogether.

As before, I left the Casa with a book expecting to wait for at least another 70 minutes before finally being summoned to the counter. Much to my surprise - and great delight - my number was called after only ten minutes of waiting. After showing my number, the notice for my package, and my identity card to the clerk, she disappeared into the back room to collect whatever it was that I came to collect. As I waited, I began to think that coming just before lunchtime might be a bad idea. Soon my delight would be crushed.

Fifteen minutes later she returned to the counter and told me package was not at the post office. When I asked her why and where it was, she pointed out the official notification I received today was  written on Saturday. It was very likely, she said, that my package was still at the airport and might arrive at the post office perhaps tomorrow or the next day, or maybe even Saturday. Curiously, even though a tracking number - or, at least, a sorting number - has been assigned to the package, the clerk could not use it to find out where the package is. Welcome to Italian efficiency.

When I expressed my frustration at the stupidity of the entire situation, she simply said, "I don't know what to say," and sent me on my way to return again to waste more of my life waiting on Italian bureaucracy.

I cannot help but wonder just how much of my life will be wasted in the attempt to collect this package. Whatever is in this mysterious and unexpected package, it better be good.

Most days in Rome prove the truth of Monsignor Georg Ratzinger's assertion that life "can't be all peace, joy, and pancakes" (yes, the Pope-emeritus' brother said that; it's a great line).

Now I simply want to chase away my frustration with a long walk, but it looks like it might pour down rain at any moment and walking in the rain in Rome is a terrible idea as the rain makes the city dirtier than before. Hello, Monday. I may go back to bed.

18 May 2014

The Roman goddess of theives, a mountain, and Saint Francis of Assisi

For as long as I can remember I have been of lover of books and have always spent time reading. In grade school, I particularly remember devouring James Howe's Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery and his other mystery books; The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander; anything involving the tomb of King Tutankhamun; and the myths of the Greek gods, goddesses, and demigods. So greatly did I enjoy the Greek myths that I considered the myths of ancient Rome nothing more than poor copy-cat mythologies. This weekend I came to regret that attitude that kept me as a boy from reading a certain Roman goddess whose name would have shed a great light on the life of Saint Francis of Assisi. Have I peaked your interest yet?

Friday afternoon I returned to Assisi to join a group of alumni of Quincy University - my alma mater - for part of their Franciscan pilgrimage through Italy. Some weeks back a few them with whom I am friends asked if we could get together later this week when they are in Rome. Naturally, I was happy to agree and went one step further. "Aren't you going to Mount La Verna? I wonder if I might join you that day," I asked. They made a phone call I think that same day and the next morning I received an e-mail from their pilgrimage coordinator.

I first visited the Santuario Francescano La Verna on May 21, 1998 as part of a Franciscan Academic Pilgrimage. My fellow pilgrims and I spent a semester studying the life of Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi and also the history of art, with a particular focus on medieval and renaissance art in Italy. At the end of the semester we set off on our pilgrimage and spent two nights in Florence (a city which I have never liked, though I cannot find the words to express why); a day at La Verna; five nights in Assisi; a day at Greccio; and three nights in Rome before returning home. It was a magnificent time of spiritual growth and to this day I deeply grateful for it. This past weekend, almost exactly sixteen years later (that's very hard to comprehend!) I finally returned to Monte La Verna, where Saint Francis of Assisi received the Stigmata on September 14, 1224.

One of the many views from the piazza in front of the Basilica.

On the way up the mountain, our tour guide explained that the name of the mountain - La Verna - comes from the Roman goddess of thieves, Laverna. Within the hierarchy of Roman deities, she occupied only a minor place (after all, you certainly don't want too many thieves running around) and this mountain, so far removed from signs of civilization, seems as good a place as most for thieves to gather.

As our bus continued zigging and zagging up the mountain, it occupied to me that a mountain named after the goddess of thieves, in the way of Providence, seemed a perfectly logical place for the Stigmata - the very wounds of Christ - to be given to Saint Francis of Assisi.

In his First Letter to the Thessalonians, Saint Paul reminded the first Christians that "the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night" (I Thessalonians 5:2). Saint Peter, too, taught that "the day of the Lord will come like a thief" (II Peter 2:10). Lest we begin to think this only a teaching of the two great Apostles, the angel of the Church in Sardis addressed these words to Saint John on behalf Jesus: "If you will not awake, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you" (Revelation 3:3). Towards the conclusion of his Revelation, Saint John records Jesus saying, "Behold, I am coming like a thief" (Revelation 16:15)!

It should also be remembered that in one of his parables, the Lord Jesus referred to himself as a thief when he said, "But know this, that if the householder had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would have been awake and would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect" (Luke 12:39-40). By his own words, we might rightly call Jesus the true Good Thief.

In his song "Why?", Michael Card asks, "Why did it have to be a heavy cross he was made to bear?" The answer, he sings, is because "Jesus had come into the world to steal every heart away:"

In the end, the only question that matters is this: Will we let ourselves be stolen (and here I don't mean in the sense of the singing vegetables at the beginning of The Muppet Christmas Carol [if you know the reference, treat yourself to a cookie; if you don't, you have homework tonight])? Will we allow the Good Thief to break into the home of our heart, the home of our soul?

Is this not what happened when Mary gave her, "Yes," in response to the message of the Archangel Gabriel? Did she not let her heart be stolen by Jesus?

When the angels sang, "Glory to God in the highest," where they not inviting all who heard their song to allow their hearts to be stolen?

When Jesus hung upon the Cross, was his being lifted up not another invitation for us to allow him to steal our hearts?

If couples sometimes say of their beloved, "She/he stole my heart," why do we not say it of the Lord?

"I think it's very hard to allow God to break us," said Rich Mullins. I think it's very hard to be broken. And I think that who the Lord loves He chastens, and that if we'll never be broken we'll never be saved. And that God doesn't break us because He hates us, or because He's angry at us, but we have to be broken, just like you have to break a horse." [If you're unfamiliar with Rich Mullins, watch this video.]

In his song, "Cry the Name," Mullins sought to express what it means to allow the Lord to break in and steal our heart away when he sang, "I cannot hide this longing that grows / In this temple of silence and stars / But a thief in the night stole in and broke / Every chain that had bound up my heart" (lyrics begin at 1:33):

In one of his earlier songs, "Steal at Any Price," Mullins sang of Jesus: "He's a thief in the night / Where souls are for sale but nobody buys / Please believe me when I When I tell you His love / Is a steal at any price:"

Pope Saint John Paul II once said, "In the designs of Providence there are no mere coincidences." When Saint Francis of Assisi ascended Mount La Verna in 1224 - his sixth visit to the mountain - for a period of forty days of prayer and penance to prepare for the celebration of the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel, he did so to pray 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).
From that moment on, it was noted that "joy and sorrow were intermingled in him." The same can be intermingled in us.

We might say that Saint Francis was asking, even begging, to be broken by Jesus. He was inviting the Good Thief to break in and steal his soul away. When the Seraph appeared and imparted the Sigmata in Saint Francis' body, the stealing of Francis' heart, that began when he first embraced the leper, was now complete and so it was that he became the alter Christus, the other Christ; so closely did he conform his heart to the heart of Jesus that Jesus conformed Francis' body to his, as well and so completed his union with Christ. Saint Francis' love had been repaid with love.

Even today - in Assisi, on Mount La Verna, and throughout the world - Saint Francis continues his work of stealing hearts for Jesus, if only souls will let down their guard, yield to Crucified Love, and allow themselves to be, as it were, stolen away.

So often we desire to allow the Lord Jesus to enter fully into our lives. We invite him in. And we even sometimes begin to notice - little by little - that Jesus is stealing us away from ourselves. But then we grow uncomfortable and we begin to resist and to pull back, refusing to be fully stolen by the Good Thief. Unlike Saint Francis, we do not long to experience the fullness of the Lord's love in both our hearts and our bodies.

The Sanctuary at La Verna is an invitation to follow the example of Saint Francis. Very few of us will receive the grace of the Stigmata, but each of us can always strive for greater union with Christ through prayer and penance, to return the Lord's love with our own.

On the very spot where Saint Francis received the sacred wounds, the Chapel of the Stigmata has been erected with a clear focus on Crucified Love:

The exact spot where Saint Francis was is clearly marked and honored by the presence of flowers and a candle:

Among the many relics preserved at the sanctuary is the very habit Saint Francis was wearing when he received the Stigmata:

If the only thing of Saint Francis you know is his love of animals, you do not know Saint Francis. Unless you know his love of the Cross, you do not know him; it was his love of the Cross that motivated everything he did.

If you like, you can view other pictures I took at the Sanctuary at my Facebook page (even if you are not on Facebook).

Father Jerabek kindly used one of my pictures to say something of the art in the Chapel of the Stigmata.

16 May 2014

News Round Up - May 15th

The news you may have missed (which I forgot to post before going to bed last night):
  • Sometimes a news headline leaves you simply asking, "What?" That's what I asked after I read this headline: "Mozzarella arrests made after counterfeit cheese found in Italy". There are many laws in Italy which are publicly ignored both by criminals and the authorities (simply look on the sidewalks of Rome for evidence of this), but food they take seriously.
  • Unemployment rate: 5.1%
  • Population with bachelor’s degree: 13.7%
  • Median rent: $606
  • Commute time: 17.1 minutes
  • Bars per 10,000 people: 5.19
The Gem City is home to 62,000 people, many of whom apparently like bars. The commute is on the low side here, and the median rent is well below the average median rent of $720.
It is commonly said - with some exaggeration - that Quincy has a bar and a church on every corner. It was even said that Quincy had more bars than churches. That, however, is untrue. One of the sociology professors at Quincy University looked into this question and the numbers to be close, but churches outnumber bars.