30 November 2014

Rend the heaves and come down!

Jan Van Eyck, detail of Christ in Majesty

Does it matter if the Islamic State is 'self-declared'?

Writing yesterday about the visit of His Holiness Pope Francis to Turkey, John L. Allen, Jr. described the Islamic State as "self-declared", putting the phrase in quotation marks. Allen is neither the first nor the only American - or Western - journalist to describe the Islamic State in this way.

Whenever journalists use this phrase - or one similar to it - in regard to the Islamic State is used in an attempt to de-legitamize the new Islamic government in a growing portion of Iraq and Syria. If the Islamic State is "self-declared," it is illegitimate, so the thinking goes, and is not an actual government but simply a militant group.

Such a use of the phrase "self-declared" ignores an important reality: the United States of America was itself "self-declared" with the issuance of the Declaration of Independence. Self-declaration, then, does not, in and of itself, de-legitamize a government; no one would say that the government of the United Sates of America is illegitimate because it was "self-declared".

What is more, any group that issues its own currency is much more than a "militant group"; it is a government - whether we like it or not - and it is time the world began to realize this.

Black and white photo of the day

Turtles in stone. They should be spewing forth water.

29 November 2014

You never know what you'll find fishing

In one of the more intriguing passages of the Sacred Scriptures, the Lord Jesus instructs the Apostle Peter to go fishing for a rather curious catch:
When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax approached Peter and said, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”

“Yes,” he said. When he came into the house, before he had time to speak, Jesus asked him, “What is your opinion, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take tolls or census tax? From their subjects or from foreigners?”

When he said, “From foreigners,” Jesus said to him, “Then the subjects are exempt. But that we may not offend them, go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax. Give that to them for me and for you”(Matthew 17:24-27).
It's not a bad trick if you can do it.

Some years ago a fisherman in Maryland went fishing and also caught something rather curious:

A man fishing at the Loch Raven Reservoir in north Baltimore County some two decades ago was convinced he had snagged a big fish after his line hooked something substantial.

After reeling in his haul, the angler had no fish. He had, however, caught something even more remarkable: a large Gothic monstrance used by Catholics to hold the Eucharist for worship.

You never know what you'll find when you go fishing.

Capello tip to Deacon Greg at The Deacon's Bench.
ir in north Baltimore County some two decades ago was convinced he had snagged a big fish after his line hooked something substantial.

After reeling in his haul, the angler had no fish. He had, however, caught something even more remarkable: a large Gothic monstrance used by Catholics to hold the Eucharist for worship.
- See more at: http://www.catholicreview.org/article/home/monstrance-fished-from-reservoir-centerpiece-of-new-adoration-chapel#sthash.Qq249aXE.d

27 November 2014

A Thanksgiving meal in Rome

Despite the celebration of Thanksgiving Day being something the Italians do not quite understand (which is rather curious considering their love of family and of food), the staff of the Casa Santa Maria do an excellent job at preparing a traditional meal for us here.

As we entered the refectory this afternoon after our celebration of the Holy Mass, we were met with an impressive display, including this turkey:

One meal began with an antipasto platter of a few kinds of Italian cured hams and small balls of mozzarella.

The first course consisted of a penne shaped pasta cooked with pumpkin, cinnamon, and ricotta cheese. I was skeptical about this combination but it was rather tasty:

Blogger's acting funny again with my pictures
The meal continued with a second course of roasted turkey and gravy, stuffing (of which I've never really been a fan), and cranberry sauce:

Next came platters of mashed potatoes and green beans with almonds (my table forget to wait for these):

Everything was very tasty and, while I missed Hawaiian sweet rolls and cornbread casserole, was very satisfying.

Our meal concluded with a pumpkin pie. I've also never been much of a fan of pumpkin pie, but this one was covered with cinnamon so the pumpkin flavor was muted:

A traditional style meal helps ease some of the longings for home this day, but I still miss my family and friends back home more so today than I normally be.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

Now thank we all our God

26 November 2014

A thought for today

This Thanksgiving, teach someone to make the Sign of the Cross

His Excellency the Most Reverend José H. Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles, shared an important graphic reminder yesterday on his Facebook page:

The Sign of the Cross is one of the precious sacramentals abandoned by many of the Protestant reformers and one of the great and powerful treasures of the Catholic faith. Because of this, many Protestants do not understand why we Catholics value this simply but profound gesture and we need to have a ready explanation, both accurate and personal.

Thomas Howard has written that the Sign of the Cross "is a formula not to be spoken lightly." He is very right in this because, as Roman Guardini observed, the Sign of the Cross is "the holiest of all signs." (For citations, see this homily.)

In a previous post, I explained why we make the Sign of the Cross from left to right.

This ancient sign has been used by the followers of Jesus Christ earlier than the first recorded instance of it that we have from Tertullian in the year 211:
In all our travels and movements in all our coming in and going out, in putting of our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupy us, we [Christians] mark our foreheads with the sign [of the cross]."
On a related note, many Protestants do not agree with the ancient use of crucifixes, of crosses with the image of the Crucified Lord, even though they are very Biblical in nature. Saint Paul wrote that "we proclaim Christ crucified" (I Corinthians 1:23) and that he "resolved to nothing while I was with you but Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (I Corinthians 2:2).

President Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863

From President Abraham Lincoln, with my emphases:
By the President of the United States of America

A Proclamation

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward
Secretary of State

Black and White Photo of the Day

Along the Tiber River

Islamic State bans contraception, yet there is no outcry against the "war on women"

Those who hate the Church because she teaches the truth often claim - against all evidence and practice - that the Catholic Church seeks to ban contraception and ensure that no woman has access to it. We heard this not too long ago in the aftermath of the HHS mandate.

Certainly the Church wishes artificial contraception did not exist and that men and women did not use it because of the harm it does both to their bodies and to their souls, but she also recognizes and honors the free will of individuals. Nevertheless, this doesn't stop certain politicians and others from continuing to claim the Church desires to ban contraception (when all she has said is that she cannot be forced to provide it or pay for it).

If we turn our attention to the situation in the Middle East, we see that the Islamic State has done what others say the Catholic Church wishes to do so:
Then the fighters moved to abolish family-planning programs and halted the distribution of contraceptives, which had been available to married couples.
When did this happen? In January.

Where did this happen? in Mosul, Iraq.

The Catholic Church's opposition to artificial contraception, which is rooted in the natural law and the truth and dignity of the human person, is often touted as part of the "war on women."

Let us presume, for a moment, that this claim is true. Presuming it is, why have we not heard an outcry against the Islamic State from these same people? Their voices have been silent on this issue about which they claim to be care about passionately. Why?

This is yet another piece of evidence that their real concern is not what they claim to be the war on women; their real concern is about hindering the activity of the Church and ultimately removing the Church entirely from the public square.

Praying for Ferguson in the church of Saint Louis in Rome

Yesterday afternoon, after spending some time keeping up with the unfolding riots in Ferguson and across the United States of America, I visited the church of Saint Louis (in Italian, San Luigi) here in Rome to ask the saintly king to intercede for the people of his city and Archdiocese, that peace and reason will prevail and the senseless and barbaric destruction will end.

I brought with me a simple Prayer Service in Devotion to Saint Louis provided by the Archdiocese of St. Louis which is perfectly suitable for private use and for use in small groups, classes, and families.

One of the chapels in La Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi is home to a few beautiful paintings of the French king, who was deeply devoted tp the Passion of Our Lord and a secular Franciscan:

It was in this chapel (or just outside it, really) that I prayed for the intercession of his holy king.

This church is also home to three remarkable paintings by the great Caravaggio:

I will continue to pray for the intercession of King Saint Louis and I ask you to do the same, wherever you are:
Saint Louis, patron of our city and of our Archdiocese,
please bless us who look to you for guidance.
Help us to be kind to each other and to the poor as you were.
Give us courage to choose well, and strength to do great things as you did -
a young boy who became a great king.
Help us to become saints like you,
so that we can be with you and Jesus in heaven someday.

Saint Louis, pray for us!

25 November 2014

Paprocki to write new pastoral letter on growing the Church

While presenting Joy and Grievance in an American Diocese: Results from Online Surveys of Active and Inactive Catholics in Central Illinois last evening in Springfield, His Excellency the Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki announced that he is working on a new pastoral letter that will incorporate the findings of the two surveys:
My next pastoral letter, on "Building a Culture of Growth in the Church," will outline a vision and a strategy for the Church to grow qualitatively by deepening the faith of individuals and the commitment of the community, and quantitatively by increasing the number of active practicing Catholics.
Bishop Paprocki's first pastoral letter, "Ars Celebrandi et Adorandi," addressed "On the Art of Celebrating the Eucharistic Liturgy Properly and Adoring the Lord in the Eucharist Devoutly."

Shortly after he arrived in Springfield, Bishop Paprocki noted a decrease in overall Mass attendance in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois over the previous 15 years of 30%. He commissioned the two surveys to find out why Catholics stopped attending Mass and to find out why others continued in the regular practice of their faith.

In his prepared remarks, the Bishop of Springfield in Illinois addressed the concerns raised by the respondents, but also noted reasons to hope:
I note that the 2013 October Count indicated a 1.5 percent increase in Mass attendance, marking the first increase since 2000! While that may seem small, it is significant in that it breaks a negative trend. In the past four years, we have also doubled the number of seminarians studying to become priests for our diocese! So I am encouraged by these hopeful signs that, with the help of God’s grace, we can rebuild and renew a community of dedicated and intentional disciples of Jesus Christ, always grateful for God’s gifts as faithful stewards of His beautiful creation!
Though the Bishop did not indicate when he will publish "Building a Culture of Growth in the Church," I am already looking forward to it.

I have previously written a few thoughts concerning of the results of Joy and Grievance in an American Diocese, which I will continue to do in the weeks ahead.

24 November 2014

Black and White Photo Challenge

One of my good friends in Hawaii recently requested I take part in a Black and White Photo Challenge on Facebook. The challenge itself was rather simple: Post a different black and white photo five days in a row. Here are the photos I posted:

The Basilica of St. Mary and the Martyrs (a.ka., the Pantheon)
Looking towards the Coliseum
From the courtyard of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls
Castel Sant'Angelo
Toward the Basilica of St. Peter, along the Tiber River
While I admit there is some beauty to black and white photographs, I do not really understand the current fascination with them. Still, since I know people enjoy them, would you like me to post photos like these to the blog on a regular basis?

Prayers for Ferguson

In the wake of the unreasonable violence currently underway in Ferguson, Missouri, we need to increase our prayer and fasting for peace and reason to prevail. Two prayers from the Roman Missal may be of help in guiding our prayers for Ferguson:

From the Mass for the Preservation of Peace and Justice:
O God, who have revealed
that peacemakers are to be called your children,
grant, we pray,
that we may work without ceasing to establish that justice
which alone ensures true and lasting peace.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
From the Mass in Time of War or Civil Disturbance:
O God, merciful and strong,
who crush wars and cast down the proud,
be pleased to banish violence swiftly from our midst
and to wipe away all tears,
so that we may all truly deserve to be called your children.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

22 November 2014

Dot you want your crown? Don't forget the banner!

Behold that Christ, the king of kings (cf. Revelation 19:16), established by decree that no one can see him, unless the person is crucified with him; and this decree is so general that no one is excluded; it is so necessary, that no one is dispensed from it; but each person is held to accept the cross of mortification in one's body so that the life of Jesus Christ may be manifested in one's body (cf. II Corinthians 4:10) through imitation; in other words, no one is worthy to follow him to the crown without the victory banner.

- Saint Bonaventure

Music Video of "The Lasy Goodbye" by Billy Boyd

Last week I suggested that Peter Jackson and company have saved the best song accompanying the closing credits to his movies for last with Billy Boyd's "The Last Goodbye."

I am delighted to say that a music video has now been released. Enjoy:

American press corps upset over dress code in advance of royal visit

As the winter months fast approach there generally is little discussion about proper attire to be worn while attending the celebration of the Holy Mass, but a recent story concerning the upcoming visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to New York gives us reason to consider this topic again.

One month out - and without any express reminding from Buckingham Palace - many members of the American media are rather upset about the clothing requirements for those who will be in the presence of the royal couple:
"Why should the United States' press corps — who barely bother to brush the muffin crumbs off their polo shirts before lobbing questions at the President of the United States — schlep extra pieces of clothing to work just so they can make small talk with a (perfectly nice-seeming) British air ambulance pilot-in-training and a former chain-store accessories buyer?" asked New York magazine.
Politico, a site covering Washington politics, noted: "Our much more refined brothers across the pond are apparently worried that the American press corps, with our pride of the haggard and ill-dressed journalists, won’t be appropriately attired when interacting with the royals"[more].
Frankly, if that is really how the press core greets the President of the United States, it may be past time for the White House to issue similar protocols.

Leaving aside the question of what one wears in the presence of a President or of a Duke or Duchess, it ought to be obvious that we should dress at least as well when going into the presence of the King of the Universe (whose solemnity we celebrate this weekend).

I've said it before, but it bears saying again: When considering what to wear to Mass, we ought not to wear what we might also wear to bed or to the beach (which, for most of us, isn't a problem at the moment); the old maxim of our “Sunday best” should still guide what we wear.

N.B.: It was almost two and a half years ago that Wimbledon insisted on a dress code for spectators at tennis matches.

19 November 2014

Water jousting: A new form of water fun?

I've always found an afternoon spent on a boat to be very relaxing, peaceful, and enjoyable, especially when spent with good friends and a Dr Pepper.

Some people enjoy water skiing or tubing; I prefer a more tranquil time on the water. There is, though, something I might enjoy trying that Damien Kempf shared yesterday:
I know what you're thinking: That looks dangerous! It does. But it also looks like it could be fun, even if the men in the image don't seem to excited!

18 November 2014

Of Bishops and cathedras

My favorite moment of the Rite of Installation of a Bishop occurs after the Papal Bull of appointment has been read and shown to the College of Consultors and after the Bishop-elect has accepted the Papal mandate. He is then led to his cathedra and seated upon it, after which he has handed his crozier.

Here is that moment when His Excellency the Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki was installed as the ninth Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois almost four years ago:

It was with some surprise, then, that I noticed that His Excellency the Most Reverend Blase J. Cupich was seated upon his cathedra a few moments ago when he was installed as the ninth Archbishop of of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

I wondered: If he did not take possession of his cathedra, was he installed as the Archbishop?

The Code of Canon Law provided the answer to my question: Yes. As the canons stipulate:
A Bishop takes canonical possession of his diocese when, personally or by proxy, he shows the apostolic letter to the college of consultors, in the presence of the chancellor of the curia, who makes a record of the fact. This must take place within the diocese (canon 382 § 3).

He did, then, take possession of his See, even if the prescriptions of the ritual were not closely adhered to, apparently through a miscommunication.

What's the life of man, any more than a leaf?

There is a certain melancholic beauty to the month of November as the leaves change their hues and fall to the ground. The colors of the ground turn to yellows, reds, and oranges, while the colors of the skies turn to grey. Soon the colors on the ground will be covered in white, as has already happened in many places.

Though I dislike the autumn and see it basically as a harbinger of the death of winter, there is something moving - nostalgic, even - to the smell of fallen leavens, as anyone who has known their scent can attest. But, if we are honest, that same smell is the smell of decay, the stench of death.

This month of November continually calls us to remember what we hear on Ash Wednesday: "Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." Memento mori has long been the anthem of this month. Remember death.

All of this is beautifully expressed in a song shared recently by the Clerk of Oxford. It is titled "The Life of a Man" and includes lyrics such as this:
What's the life of a man, any more than a leaf?
A man has his seasons, so why should we grieve?
Oh now in this life we appear fine and gay
Like the leaf we must wither and soon fade away.
Have a listen:

Saint Damien of Moloka'i used to say, "We must all die ... So let us begin from this day to prepare for a happy death.  Let us not lose a moment of the little time we still have to live."

The angel of the Church in Sardis today says, "Be watchful and strengthen what is left, which is going to die" (Revelation 3:2). Why wait?

16 November 2014

Reflections at the Circus Maximus

Since the forecast calls for several more days of rain - beginning some time today - I decided to take a walk this morning around the Circus Maximus. I am glad I did, because various puddles provided a few excellent photographs:

I can't be sure, but I think this dog really wanted to meet me.

15 November 2014

Saving the best for last? Billy Boyd's "The Last Goodbye"

It was announced some weeks ago that Billy Boyd, who played Peregrin ("Pippin" Took) in Sir Peter Jackson's cinematic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, would sing the during final credits of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.

Beginning with The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Jackson's viewers have been treated to songs which take their inspiration from each of Jackson's films about Middle-earth. Each of these songs has moved Jackson's audiences with their somewhat mystical and melancholy feel.

Beginning with The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the songs have been, in order of release:

"May It Be," by Enya, for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

"Gollum's Song," by Emiliana Torrini, for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

"Into the West," by Annie Lennox, for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

"Song of the Lonely Mountain," by Neil Flynn, for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

 "I See Fire," by Ed Sheeran, for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Of each of these songs, the only one I do not particularly care for is "Gollum's Song." The song feels too whiny to me. The others, though, I enjoy very much, especially "Into the West."
We were given to wonder for several weeks what Billy Boyd might sing during the final credits for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, with our only possible hint being his "The Edge of Night," which he composed and sang for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King:

He impressed me very much, both with his voice and talent as a composer.

As of our yesterday, our waiting and wondering has come to the end with the audio release of Billy Boyd's "The Last Goodbye":

(Click the above audio link for the full song.)

The lyrics to "The Last Goodbye" are clearly inspired by - and sometimes directly taken from - the works of Tolkien and are, I think, a most fitting tribute:

I saw the light fade from the sky
On the wind I heard a sigh
As the snowflakes cover my fallen brothers
I will say this last goodbye

Night is now falling
So is this day
The road is now calling
And I must away

Over hill and under tree
Through lands where never light has shone
By silver streams
That run down to the sea

Under cloud, beneath the stars
Over snow and winters warm
I turn it last to paths that lead home

And, oh, where the road then takes me
I cannot tell
We came all this way
But now comes the day
To bid you farewell

Many places I have been
Many sorrows I have seen
But I don't regret
Nor will I forget
All that took that road with me

Night is now falling
So is this day
The road is now calling
And I must away

Over hill and under tree
Through lands where never light has shone
By silver streams
That run down to the sea

To these memories I will hold
With your blessing I will go
To turn at last to paths that lead home

And, oh, where the road then takes me
I cannot tell
We came all this way
But now comes the day
To bid you farewell

I'll bid you all a very fond farewell

Something about this song stirs my heart in ways I cannot adequately describe with words. I think Jackson and company has saved the best song for last.