Monday, January 31, 2011

What Christians Mean by "God"

Here is another sneak peak trailer from the very anticipated Catholicism series by Fr. Robert Barron of Word on Fire.  Using one of St. Thomas Aquinas' proofs for the existence of God, Fr. Barron clearly and concisely explains how Christians understand God.  (Some nice footage of the cloister at Sta. Sabina.)

Friday, January 28, 2011

St. Thomas Aquinas - "Devoured" by the Holy Mysteries

Originally posted here.  The following homily was given by Archbishop Augustine DiNoia, O.P., Secretary of the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington on January 27, 2011.

Consumed by the Holy Mysteries of this Great Sacrament

A Homily by Archbishop Augustine DiNoia, O.P
In his premiere biography of St. Thomas, Gugliemo di Tocco wrote of the saint that "he celebrated Mass every day, his health permitting, and afterward attended a second Mass celebrated by one of the friars or some other priest, and very often served at the altar. Frequently during the Mass, he was literally overcome by an emotion so powerful that he was reduced to tears, for he was consumed by the holy mysteries of this great sacrament and strengthened by their offering."

"Consumed by the holy mysteries of this great sacrament." The Italian term here is divorato-devoured, eaten up, consumed-by the mysteries.

Surely Tocco's vivid description of Aquinas's devotion at Mass stops us dead in our tracks-we, whose celebration of or participation in the Holy Mass is frequently distracted or routinized or just bored. We're tempted to excuse ourselves with observations like "well, of course, Aquinas was a saint, and this is typically saintly behavior," or "as a very smart theologian, Aquinas had a more penetrating grasp of things than we do." But instead of these evasions, what we should do is ask ourselves: what I am missing?

Rare indeed are the mysteries that consume or devour our jaded sensibilities. Perhaps a really good thriller might do so on occasion. But we assume that holy mysteries will be something very different from murder mysteries or natural mysteries.

But we shouldn't exaggerate the contrast between holy mysteries and other sorts of mysteries. In ordinary usage, the word "mystery" refers to something that remains as yet unexplained or something that is basically inexplicable. We expect the mystery to be resolved in the final pages of a thriller, but at the same time scientists speak of the enduring mysteries of the universe. These kinds of mysteries are not unlike holy mysteries in that, in both cases, our capacity to understand or penetrate a particular reality is challenged in a significant way.

The crucial difference between the Catholic and common uses of the word "mystery" lies here. When the term is applied to divine realities, the mystery involved is by definition without end. This is not to say (as nominalists, in contrast to Aquinas, seemed to want to say) that the things of God are permanently or radically incomprehensible and ineffable, but that they are endlessly comprehensible and expressible. Not darkness, but too much light is what we encounter here. That irritating conversation stopper, "it's a mystery," doesn't mean that we have nothing further to say but that we can't say enough about the matter in hand. The mysteries of faith are so far-reaching in their meaning and so breathtaking in their beauty that they possess a limitless-that is to say, literally an unending and inexhaustible-power to attract and transform the minds and hearts, the individual and communal lives, in which they are pondered, digested, and, ultimately, loved and adored.

Not for nothing can we use the word in the singular and in the plural, mystery and mysteries. The all-encompassing mystery-in the singular-is nothing less than and nothing else but God himself, and the mysteries-plural-are its many facets as we come to know them.

St. Thomas insistently taught that the mystery of faith is radically singular because the triune God who is at its center is one in being and in activity, and comprehends in one act of omniscience the fullness of his truth and wisdom. Through the infused gift of faith-thus called a theological virtue-the believer is rendered capable of a participation in this divine vision, but always and only according to human ways of knowing. We truly know God, but not in the way that he knows himself. According to Aquinas, the human comprehension of the singular mystery of divine truth is necessarily plural in its structure.

In this sense, we can speak both of the mystery of faith-referring to the reality of the one triune God who is know through the act of faith-and of the mysteries of faith-referring to our way of knowing in the Church the various elements of the singular mystery of God. All the mysteries of our faith point us to the single mystery at their center, nothing else but God himself, one and three.

Coming to the center of this mystery, we affirm with astonished delight the divine desire to share the communion of Trinitarian life with human beings, with us. No one has ever desired anything more. God himself has revealed to us (how else could we have known it?) that this divine desire-properly speaking, intention and plan-is at the basis of everything else: creation itself, the incarnation of the Word, our redemption through the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, our sanctification and glory through the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus St. Paul speaks to us today of the grace he received precisely "to bring to light for all what is the plan of the mystery hidden from ages past in God who created all things, so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the Church."

Amazingly, then, it turns out that the divine mystery is the key to all other mysteries. Far from being opaque, it throws light on everything else. To see everything with the eyes of faith-to adopt, as it were, a "God's eye view"-is to see and to understand everything in the light of this divine plan, "to bring to light for all what is the plan of the mystery."

Glory, bliss, beatitude-these wonderful terms refer to the consummation of our participation in the communion of Trinitarian life already begun in Baptism, nothing less than seeing God face to face. At the heart of the mystery and the mysteries, finally, is the mystery of divine love. The Catholic tradition has not hesitated to call this participation in the divine life a true friendship with God.

Given all this, was it not fitting that God should be moved to send his own Son into the world and, in the exquisite divine condescension of the Incarnation, to take on a human nature so that he could be known and loved by us as Jesus of Nazareth, Christ and Lord? Was it not fitting that the Son of Man should offer his life to the Father on the Cross in a sacrifice of love for our reconciliation? Was it not fitting that Christ should remain with us in the Eucharist?

Aquinas teaches us to regard these mysteries in the light of the overarching mystery of the divine love. This is very clear in what he wrote about the final question: "It is a law of friendship that friends should want to be together....Christ does not leave us without his physical presence on our pilgrimage, but he unites us to himself in the sacrament in the reality of his body and his blood" (STh 3a, 75, 1).
At the start we asked ourselves: what are we missing? what does it mean to be "consumed by the holy mysteries of this great sacrament"? The answer is really very simple. It means: to be consumed by the love they embody and reveal. Is it any wonder that Aquinas wept in the contemplation of these holy mysteries?

May this great saint, who experienced such rapture whenever he celebrated the Eucharist, help us not to miss being consumed by the love of our divine friends who give themselves to us in this great sacrament, to their eternal glory and to our unending benefit, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bishop Tobin on Pres. Obama's "Shameful Record on Abortion"

Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Diocese of Providence hits the nail on the head with his latest Without a Doubt column in the diocesan newspaper, the Rhode Island Catholic. Bishop Tobin comments on President Obama's speech in Tucson and though it was a good speech, "President Obama’s shameful record on abortion leaves his touching tribute and appeal to goodness in Tucson – and other expressions of compassion – sterile and meaningless. As he stood on the stage in Tucson, he was a prophet without credentials; his speech, a song without a soul."

The President’s Speech; Why I Wasn’t Impressed
Since that deadly day nearly two weeks ago, the story has dominated the news; we’ve learned many details about the deranged shooter and his innocent victims; we’ve debated the causes and consequences of the event; and we’ve prayed for all those who have suffered so much from the violence.

President Obama traveled to Tucson and did his level best to offer his sympathy and support, to encourage a city and a nation, and to invite us all to a better future marked especially by more civility in public discourse. In asking us to learn from and move beyond the terrible moment, the president appealed to Holy Scripture and to the better instincts of the human family. Noble sentiments all. As some have said, and I agree, it was his best moment as president.

As I watched Mr. Obama, though, and later reflected on his speech, I sensed there was something missing; there was something that left me cold, unimpressed and unmoved.

And suddenly it became clear. The problem, at least for me, is that President Obama’s persistent and willful promotion of abortion renders his compassionate gestures and soaring rhetoric completely disingenuous. “O come on, Bishop Tobin,” I hear you say. “Abortion’s not the only moral issue in the world.” Correct, I respond. Abortion’s not the only moral issue in the world but it is the most important. And, I confess, abortion policy is the prism through which I view everything this president says and does.

Is there any longer any doubt that Barack Obama is the most pro-abortion president we’ve ever had?

President Obama has enthusiastically supported the Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade that has allowed virtually unrestricted access to abortion in our nation and has resulted in approximately 50 million deaths since 1973.

President Obama has consistently surrounded himself with pro-abortion advisors, and has appointed pro-abortion politicians to key positions in the federal government, including his two nominees for the Supreme Court.

President Obama has promulgated policies, including the overturn of the Mexico City Policy (within the first few hours of his presidency) that requires taxpayer monies to provide abortions around the world. Similarly he signed an executive order that forces taxpayer funding of embryonic stem cell research; he signed a bill that overturned the 13-year-long ban of abortion funding in the nation’s capital; and he directed the passage of health care legislation that opens the door to federal funding of abortions and could eventually limit the freedom of religion for individuals and institutions who find abortion morally repugnant.

President Obama has made abortion a key foreign policy issue, pressuring nations to accept abortion policies; he’s supported several pro-abortion initiatives of the United Nations; and he’s appointed Hillary Clinton as the Secretary of State. Secretary Clinton has had a consistent pro-abortion record and in her international travels has promoted abortion as a human right.

The full accounting of President Obama’s track record on abortion goes on for eight typed pages, a very sad and discouraging litany. The net effect, though, is that President Obama’s shameful record on abortion leaves his touching tribute and appeal to goodness in Tucson – and other expressions of compassion – sterile and meaningless. As he stood on the stage in Tucson, he was a prophet without credentials; his speech, a song without a soul.

Perhaps the president’s most moving rhetoric was that about Christina Taylor Green, the precious nine-year-old slain in the barrage of bullets. As a father of two beautiful daughters himself, the president’s words were surely personal and sincere. Of this child he said: “In Christina we see all of our children. So curious, so trusting, so energetic and full of magic . . . So deserving of our love.”

But I can’t help but ask, respectfully, “Mr. President, why can’t you see our other children – so curious, so trusting, so energetic and full of magic, and so deserving of our love – in all of the unborn children who didn’t live because of our nation’s embrace of the abortion option?”

And in one of the most dramatic moments of his speech, Mr. Obama announced that the wounded congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, opened her eyes for the first time just after he’d completed his visit to her. “A miracle” some proclaimed, and certainly a welcome sign of recovery at which we all rejoice.

But I can’t help but wonder how many tiny eyes will never open, will never see the light of day, because of this president’s shortsighted and zealous promotion of abortion.

It’s truly tragic that our president – for whose safety and well-being we pray all the time and who has demonstrated an impressive ability to inspire other people – is unable to see the deadly consequences of his abortion agenda. Perhaps we need another miracle, to open his eyes, that he might see and understand how wrong abortion is, how sinful it is, how violent it is, and how it’s destroying the life of our nation.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Venerable John Paul II: The Record Breaking Pope

Church Closed for Holiday - I Just Don't Get It!

I just don't get it!  I don't understand!  Stuff like this makes me shake my head in bewilderment.  I intended to write a brief commentary this past solemnity of Mary, Mother of God on January 1st.  I was reminded and prompted once again this past weekend.  I was struck by an announcement at Mass the Sunday after Christmas which said, "This coming Saturday is not a holy day of obligation, therefore we will follow the usual Saturday Mass schedule" (or pretty close to that effect).  Period.

In 1992 the USCCB issued a decree that whenever January 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, or August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption, or November 1, the solemnity of All Saints, falls on a Saturday or on a Monday, the precept to attend Mass is abrogated.  Basically if the holy day of obligation falls on a Saturday or a Monday, it is not a holy day of obligation.  Ironically this decree by the USCCB was approved by the Vatican on July 4th.  The US was once again declaring independence--but this time is was from the oppressive dictatorship of obligatory worship!  Evidently the US Catholic bishops thought [think] it is too burdensome for Catholics to attend Mass 2 days in a row!

I think this attempt at pastoral sensitivity fails and sends a contradictory message.  Either a day is holy and our worship sanctifies our time and conforms and orientates us toward the Holy, or it does not.  What does it matter where the day falls.  The announcement I heard at my parish basically told people to stay home, you don't have to come.  The decree of the USCCB aside, perhaps a better announcement may have sounded like this:  "This Saturday is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.  Though the Solemnity falls on a Saturday and is not a holy day of obligation this year [this even sounds absurd while I'm typing this], we invite and encourage you to sanctify the first day of the year..."[you get the picture].

Now on to the egregious.  Following are bulletin announcements from a few parishes (not mine):
The Rectory Office will be closed on Monday, January 17th in observance of the Martin  Luther King, Jr. Holiday.  There also will be no Eucharistic Adoration on Monday, January 17th.
Holiday Schedule… Monday is a holiday, Martin Luther King Day.  The Parish Offices are closed and there is no daily Mass
The Church, Chapel and Rectory Office will not be open on Monday, January 17th in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
What on earth does any secular holiday have to do with the sacramental life of the Church?  It is perfectly understandable that the parish office would be closed, but why the church, why no Mass?  The priest can't unlock the church on a day the sexton is off?  Isn't the priest going to celebrate Mass?  Perhaps there would be more people inclined to attend a weekday Mass if they were not obligated to got to work.  Or if someone had the day off perhaps they would spend some time in adoration...but not if the church is locked.  I can't think of any good reason.  "The Holy Mass is the source and summit of the Christian life...but not tomorrow...we're closed".

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Day in the Life of Pope Benedict

Rocco had a link to this video from CatholicTV.  I remember seeing this raw footage a few years ago filmed by a German documentary crew (but I have yet to find the source).  CatholicTV did a great editing job and it is a rare glimpse at a day in the life of Pope Benedict.
Click here to see the video.

Pope John Paul II to be Beatified May 1

Vatican Information Service announced this morning that Pope Benedict will indeed beatify his predecessor, Karol Wojtyla, on May 1, 2011.  George Weigel writes in the NRO:

Re: John Paul II
By George Weigel
January 14, 2011 10:00 A.M.The Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints has certified a miraculous cure through the intercession of Pope John Paul II, thus clearing the way for the late pontiff’s beatification on May 1. Using the word “miracle” in a broad sense, however, the greatest miracle of John Paul II was to restore a sense of Christian possibility in a world that had consigned Christian conviction to the margins of history.

In 1978, no one expected that the leading figure of the last quarter of the 20th century would be a priest from Poland. Christianity was finished as a world-shaping force, according to the opinion-leaders of the time; it might endure as a vehicle for personal piety, but would play no role in shaping the world of the 21st century. Yet within six months of his election, John Paul II had demonstrated the dramatic capacity of Christianity to create a revolution of conscience that, in turn, created a new and powerful form of politics — the politics that eventually led to the Revolution of 1989 and the liberation of central and eastern Europe.

Beyond that, John Paul II made Christianity compelling and interesting in a world that imagined that humanity had outgrown its “need” for God, Christ, and faith. In virtually every part of the world, John Paul II’s courageous preaching of Jesus Christ as the answer to the question that is every human life drew a positive response, and millions of lives were changed as a result. This was simply not supposed to happen — but it did, through the miracle of conviction wedded to courage.

Then there was John Paul’s social doctrine which, against all expectations, put the Catholic Church at the center of the world’s conversation about the post-Communist future. In 1978, did anyone really expect that papal encyclicals would be debated on the pages of the Wall Street Journal, or that a pope would rivet the world’s attention in two dramatic defenses of the universality of human rights before the United Nations? No one expected that. But it happened.

To make Christianity plausible, compelling, and attractive by preaching the fullness of Christian truth and demonstrating its importance to the human future — that was perhaps the greatest miracle of John Paul II, and his greatest gift to the Church and the world.

— George Weigel is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and biographer of John Paul II. His second volume on the life of the pontiff, The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II — The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy, was released this fall.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Egypt Recalls Vatican Ambassador...Really

The deadly New Year's bombing at the Coptic church in Alexandria sparks clashes between angry Christians and Egyptian riot police. (Reuters / January 1, 2011)
File this under "you've got to be kidding me".  Here's what has transpired:

Bombing in Egypt
On New Years Eve a car bomb detonated as Coptic Christians were leaving Mass in the East Alexandrian Coptic Church of All Saints.  21 worshipers were killed along with 79 injured, the latest victims in an uptick  of growing anti-Christian violence throughout the world.

Pope Benedict Responds
The following day at the Noon Angelus in St. Peter's Square, Pope Benedict said the following:
"This vile and murderous gesture, like that of placing bombs near the houses of Christians in Iraq to force them to leave, offends God and all humankind, which only yesterday prayed for peace and began a new year with hope. In the face of these strategies of violence, which aim against Christians but have consequences on the entire population, I pray for the victims and their relatives, and encourage ecclesial communities to persevere in the faith and in the witness of non-violence which comes to us from the Gospel. I think also of the many pastoral workers killed in various parts of the world in the course of 2010. For them too we equally express our affectionate remembrance before the Lord. Let us remain united in Christ, our hope and our peace!"

Egyptian Imam Accuses Pope of Meddling in Egypt's Affairs
Ahmed el Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the oldest Islamic seat of learning, told reporters the Pope's comments were "an unacceptable interference in Egypt's affairs...I disagree with the pope's view, and I ask why did the pope not call for the protection of Muslims when they were subjected to killings in Iraq?"

Pope's Spokesman Reiterates Commitment to Religious Liberty for All
Jesuit Fr. Lombard said:
Pope Benedict XVI’s position is very clear, and always has been: a radical condemnation of violence, closeness to the community that has been so horribly stricken, and concern for the religious freedom of Christian minorities. As he said in his Peace Day Message, the Pope’s concern for the religious freedom of Christians has always been within the context of his concern for the religious freedom of all people, not only Christians.
Time and again, the Pope has condemned violence against all people - not only that, which is perpetrated against Christians. We recall his recent discourse to the new Ambassador to the Holy See from Iraq, in which the Holy Father spoke of the innocent victims of violence, both Muslim and Christian.
Pope Addresses Holy See Diplomats in  "State of the World" Speech
Each year the pope issues an important foreign policy speech to the Diplomatic Core.  This year he eloquently spoke about religious freedom and directed comments to governments of countries where religious persecution seems to be on the rise.
Looking to the East, the attacks which brought death, grief and dismay among the Christians of Iraq, even to the point of inducing them to leave the land where their families have lived for centuries, has troubled us deeply. To the authorities of that country and to the Muslim religious leaders I renew my heartfelt appeal that their Christian fellow-citizens be able to live in security, continuing to contribute to the society in which they are fully members. In Egypt too, in Alexandria, terrorism brutally struck Christians as they prayed in church. This succession of attacks is yet another sign of the urgent need for the governments of the region to adopt, in spite of difficulties and dangers, effective measures for the protection of religious minorities. Need we repeat it?
Egypt Recalls Vatican Ambassador
"Egypt asked its ambassador in the Vatican to come to Cairo for consultation after the Vatican's new statements that touch on Egyptian affairs, and which Egypt considers an unacceptable interference in its internal affairs," foreign ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said in a statement.

Monday, January 10, 2011

unPlanned - Behind the Scenes of Planned Parenthood

Remember the story back in October 2009 when a Texas Planned Parenthood clinic director quit her job and joined the pro-life cause?  Her name is Abbey Johnson and after witnessing an ultrasound guided abortion procedure she left her career and joined the pro-life supporters who prayed outside the clinic she used to manage.

Planned Parenthood sued her and placed an injunction to prevent her from revealing the "behind the scenes" of the abortion biz.  The lawsuit was recently dropped and she is releasing her new tell-all book of her story and how Planned Parenthood distorts the truth in order to promote their abortion business model.  The first chapter of her book details the event which precipitated her life-changing change of heart. I think it's a pretty gripping here to buy.

Chapter 1
CHERYL POKED HER HEAD INTO MY OFFICE. “Abby, they need an extra person back in the exam room. Are you free?”
I looked up from my paperwork, surprised. “Sure.”
Though I’d been with Planned Parenthood for eight years, I had never been called into the exam room to help the medical team during an abortion, and I had no idea why I was needed now. Nurse-practitioners were the ones who assisted in abortions, not the other clinic staff. As director of this clinic in Bryan, Texas, I was able to fill in for any position in a pinch, except, of course, for doctors or nurses performing medical procedures. I had, on a few occasions, agreed at a patient’s request to stay with her and even hold her hand during the procedure, but only when I’d been the counselor who’d worked with her during intake and counseling. That was not the case today. So why did they need me?
Today’s visiting abortionist had been here at the Bryan clinic only two or three times before. He had a private abortion practice about 100 miles away. When I’d talked with him about the job several weeks before, he had explained that at his own facility he did only ultrasound-guided abortions — the abortion procedure with the least risk of complications for the woman. Because this method allows the doctor to see exactly what is going on inside the uterus, there is less chance of perforating the uterine wall, one of the risks of abortion. I respected that about him. The more that could be done to keep women safe and healthy, the better, as far as I was concerned. However, I’d explained to him that this practice wasn’t the protocol at our clinic. He understood and said he’d follow our typical procedures, though we agreed he’d be free to use ultrasound if he felt a particular situation warranted it.
To my knowledge, we’d never done ultrasound-guided abortions at our facility. We did abortions only every other Saturday, and the assigned goal from our Planned Parenthood affiliate was to perform 25 to 35 procedures on those days. We liked to wrap them up by around 2 p.m. Our typical procedure took about 10 minutes, but an ultrasound added about five minutes, and when you’re trying to schedule up to 35 abortions in a day, those extra minutes add up.
I felt a moment’s reluctance outside the exam room. I never liked entering this room during an abortion procedure — never welcomed what happened behind this door. But since we all had to be ready at any time to pitch in and get the job done, I pushed the door open and stepped in.
Continue reading here

Friday, January 7, 2011

Bishop Tobin on "Separation of Church and State"

Has Our State Lost Its Soul?
So, our new Governor, Lincoln Chafee, decided to break with recent history and begin his inauguration day without participating in a public prayer service. This has caused some discussion, even consternation, around the state.
Now personally, I’m neither surprised by nor disappointed by the Governor’s decision. After all, it was his inauguration, and he had every right to design a program with which he was comfortable. Whether to pray publicly with other leaders and citizens of the state on his big day was completely his prerogative.
I’m more concerned by the reason for the no-prayer decision given by his spokesman who said that the Governor’s “point of view is that his inaugural day needs to respect the separation of church and state. Separation of church and state is an important constitutional principle.”
The explanation is disappointing and confusing; it raises some rather significant questions.
First, if it’s imperative to maintain the alleged “separation of church and state” on inauguration day, why were prayers offered at the inauguration ceremony itself? And why did the Governor invite religious leaders to have a prominent presence at the event?
And is the appeal to the “separation of church and state” mentioned in this case an appropriate application of the principle?
By now you should be aware that the exact phrase “separation of church and state” isn’t found anywhere in our nation’s Constitution but rather was a principle that evolved later on. The Constitution simply says that the Congress cannot legislate the establishment of religion nor prohibit the exercise of religion. In other words, the “separation of church and state” is meant to protect religion from the interference of the state. It was never intended to remove every spiritual aspiration, prayerful utterance, or reference to God from public life.
Nor should the so-called “separation of church and state” be used as a weapon to silence the faith community, or restrict its robust participation in the debate of important public issues. I’ve found that whenever I’ve spoken out on public issues – e.g., abortion, gay marriage or immigration – some irritated souls, arguing the “separation of church and state” will insist that I’m out of line. In fact, religious leaders have every right, indeed the duty, to speak out on public issues. If we fail to do so, we’re neglecting our role as teachers, preachers and prophets. And if we don’t bring the spiritual dimension, the moral dimension to the discussion of these issues, who will?
The usefulness of religion and its importance in public life have been affirmed from the beginning. James Madison, recognized as the principal author of the Constitution, wrote, “Religion is the basis and foundation of government.” And George Washington, in his farewell address said, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”
The point is this: religion has an important, indeed a unique contribution to make to the governance of our society. Can we, once and for all then, put to rest the bogus interpretations of the “separation of church and state” so often cited these days?
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, in his outstanding book, “Render Unto Caesar,” makes this observation: “Americans have always believed in nonsectarian public institutions. But the founders never intended a nation that privatizes religion and excludes it from involvement in public affairs. Nor did they create any such nation. The secularism proposed today for our public life is not religion-neutral. It is antireligious.” (p. 29)
The Archbishop goes on: “A truly secularized United States would be a country without a soul; a nation with a hole in its heart . . . Secularism as a cult – the kind of rigid separationism where the state treats religion as a scary and unstable guest – hollows out the core of what it means to be human.” (p. 30)
A “country without a soul.” A “nation with a hole in its heart.” I wonder – is that the kind of nation we long for? Is that the kind of state we want Rhode Island to become?
Pope John Paul hit the nail on the head when he wrote about the “practical and existential atheism” of our age. He describes the individual who is “all bound up in himself.” For such an individual, “there is no longer the need to fight against God; he feels that he is simply able to do without him.” (Pastores Dabo Vobis, #7)
The Pope’s insight leads me to wonder: Is our nation, and our state, in frequently appealing to “separation of church and state,” promoting an atheistic worldview? Are we creating a secular wasteland, bereft of any spiritual or religious influence? And is that how we want to live?
We have a ton of problems in our state – a depressed economy, a fragile social service network, a distressed public education system, the demise of the family, a wave of urban crime and domestic violence, and what promises to be an intense and divisive debate created by the ill-advised desire to redefine marriage. To deal successfully with these problems our leaders will need wisdom and courage. They will need a great deal of human cooperation, but also a generous measure of God’s grace. They shouldn’t be afraid to fall on their knees and ask for God’s help. A little spiritual humility would go a long way in restoring the confidence and the moral quality of our community.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

We are all going to die – that’s why we are Catholic

Fr. Z of WDTPRS fame knocks one out of the park in this article in today's UK Catholic Herald.  This is a terrific summation of the very reasons why a solid Roman Catholic Identity is necessary.  If we lose sight of who we are as human beings, why we are alive, and to what end we are created, we simply "twist in the wind".  Kudos to Fr. Z!

We are all going to die – that’s why we are Catholic

Liturgy must draw us towards the world beyond, says Fr John Zuhlsdorf. That’s how we can wake up our faith
By FR JOHN ZUHLSDORF on Thursday, 6 January 2011

There is a great deal of confusion in the Church today. We have in large part forgotten who we are as Catholics and why we belong to the Church.
We don’t belong to the Catholic Church first and foremost for earthly motives. Bettering the world, improving the lot of others … these flow from our love for God and our desire to be with Him in heaven.
Try as I might, with the possible exception of the fact that Jesus founded her, I cannot think of a more important reason to be a member of Holy Catholic Church than the certainty that one day I will die. I will die and I will be judged. You will too.
Why are we Catholic? Why bother with Mass? With the Church’s teachings about moral issues? Why stand against the wind in the public square and twist in it, just to lose friends, status, and comfort?
Why? Our Saviour established the Catholic Church as our way to salvation. No matter how bad some fellow members of the Church may be, or how alluring the world surely is, or how tough we think we have had it, we are going to die one day, some of us pretty soon. That’s why we are Catholic. Trump that.
I hope by grace and elbow grease to do His will and to serve and worship Him fittingly in His Church. I try to love God. I want to please God. I believe He will help me, a sinner, in my weakness and forgive me when I fail. I strive to make changes when I am doing something that isn’t working. Why? Because I’m going to die, that’s why. I want to go to heaven.
If we love God, we will try to help other people get to heaven too.
We have some problems with that part right now, my friends, because Catholic identity is weary and weak where once it was strong and everything.
We are all men and women of our age. To one degree or other we are subject to prevailing trends and world-views. Also, we are wounded from sin and death is scary. Death yawns before us as that door we must go through to come before the great mystery which is both fearsome and alluring. We are, to our peril, quite willing to avert our eyes from this fearful prospect, death, through innumerable distractions which fog our inner compass. We easily forget the one transcendent source of our being, our origin and goal.
We have problems in Holy Church as well. Many people working in the Church today have an immanentist mentality. Immanence, from the Latin “to remain within”, refers to a notion that divinity permeates the material universe. A radical immanentist would be something like a pantheist. Such a one would say that God is not transcendent, but is rather in everything that is.
As Christians we affirm that God alone is holy, almighty, omnipresent and transcendent. God entirely transcends the natural order. We also affirm God’s immanence, especially in the Second Person of the Trinity, God incarnate, Christ Jesus. Church immanentists don’t deny the transcendence of God, at least as a proposition. But it just isn’t that important. They will even affirm God’s transcendence if it occurs to them or when they are pushed. Call their position “Immanentism Lite”.
Immanentism corrodes our view of who God is and who we are. We glide into neglect of the supernatural. We become less and less concerned with guilt for sin, even with the idea of sin as anything beyond transgressions of what we ourselves determine is right for ourselves at this time (read: passing trends). We lose sight of our absolute dependence on God for help through grace, our need for a Saviour, and our impending judgment. We forsake clarity in doctrine and the obligations which come from the profession of the Christian Faith, including submission to the Church’s authority given her by Christ. The suggestion that something we might do could offend God and endanger our salvation sounds increasingly foreign. We get the idea that we are self-sufficient. We forget the real reason why Jesus died for us and why we are Catholic.
I propose that, to get at the root of our problems, we need encounters with the transcendent, with mystery. The regular way for this is through participation in true worship, Holy Church’s sacred liturgical worship.
This is not without its own set of problems. Much of what passes as liturgy today is unworthy of the name, our forebears, and us. Fr Aidan Nichols, in his Looking at the Liturgy, warns of the danger of “cultic immanentism”, “the danger, namely, of a congregation’s covert self-reference in a horizontal, humanistic world”. In many places we find self-centred liturgies with little or no thought given to the God who is wholly other, mysterious, transcendent. Such worship is really idolatry.
Joseph Ratzinger noted in The Spirit of the Liturgy that as the Hebrews danced around their golden calf they knew the calf was not God: they simply wanted a god less remote and less challenging.
Can we at long last admit it? Under the incessant erosion from a modernist, immanentist mentality, especially in our worship, many of our brothers and sisters in the Church no longer even notice the calf, much less realise they made it in their own image. Self-reference is no longer “covert”, it’s in your face. Quite often, it’s all there is.
Already in 1995 Ratzinger observed in A New Song For The Lord that young people were reacting to the loss of mystery, rejecting the “banality and the childish rationalism of the pathetic homemade liturgies with their artificial theatrics”. Young people don’t want frauds. They want what Ratzinger calls the “true presence of redemption”. This search might lead the more secularly inclined to the euphoria of rock concerts, alcohol and drugs, faux neo-gnostic “spirituality”, anything out of the ordinary, anything to distract. Sound familiar? Look around.
Ratzinger counters, “new places for faith emerge again where liturgy is lit up by mystery”. For Ratzinger, mystery has “authority”.
Participation in worthy liturgical worship leads us beyond the didactic, the interesting, the entertaining, even the individualist experience into an encounter with mystery. This encounter draws us back to recognition of the gift of life, the fact of our coming death, back towards fearful, loving awe for God. True worship is the remedy for the self-centred, self-enclosed, self-sufficient self-obsession of modern times.
Our worship must focus on the one who is Other.
Is this what your regular experience of Mass offers you? If it doesn’t, it has quite simply failed.
Dear Fathers, Most Reverend Bishops, if any alarm has sounded in your hearts and minds of late as you survey the portion entrusted to you, rethink your approach to liturgy. Is what we have been doing for the last few decades really working?
For the love of God and neighbour, and with an eye on your judgment, rethink your approach to Holy Church’s proper public worship. Do everything in your power to foster liturgical worship of God which conforms not to worldly goals but rather to the real point of religion and of being Catholic: getting ready to die.
If you do this, you will be challenged and blocked and attacked. Forewarned is forearmed. We must do this.
On 20 December, Pope Benedict met with members of the Roman Curia to exchange Christmas greetings. His Holiness used this annual event in 2005 to deliver one of the most important messages of his pontificate, the speech about the “hermeneutic of continuity”. This year, Benedict delivered a grim “state of the Church” address. At one point he actually said: “The very future of the world is at stake.”
Benedict had the Church throughout the world in mind for his speech, but a large portion of it was about his state visit to Scotland and England, probably the most important trip of his pontificate, and on the beatification of John Henry Newman. The Vicar of Christ reminded the whole Church, but in my opinion, the people of Great Britain in particular,
“When [Christ’s] powerful word had calmed the storm, he rebuked the disciples for their little faith (cf. Mt 8:26 et par). He wanted to say: it was your faith that was sleeping. He will say the same thing to us. Our faith too is often asleep. Let us ask him, then, to wake us from the sleep of a faith grown tired, and to restore to that faith the power to move mountains – that is, to order justly the affairs of the world.”
To wake up our faith and even to save our world we must save our liturgy. Pope Benedict XVI has explicitly called for a new liturgical movement.
Shall we embark on a “New Evangelisation” where Catholic identity has become weary and weak? Let us renew Holy Church’s liturgy. Worthy, vertical, transcendentally-oriented liturgy slaps us awake, tears us out of the ephemeral and worldly, and gives us space to pause in awe and in longing for what we cannot understand and yet know to be true and necessary. The older, Extraordinary Form of Mass of the Roman Rite explicitly asks for surrender to the supernatural, and strips us of our power to control. The newer, Ordinary Form – especially where Pope Benedict’s influence is being felt – also can achieve this when offered in continuity with the Church’s Tradition.
Some will object that elements of Extraordinary Form worship are too hard for us now. The difficult elements of worthy worship, especially in the traditional form of Holy Mass, create in the soul the tensions which are essential for an encounter with mystery, our way out of the trap of being self-absorbed.
We cannot easily argue ourselves or others away from this prevailing, modernist mentality or out of incessant distraction, though we must certainly try. The more people encounter mystery through liturgy, the more hollow will clang the world’s passing distractions and the proposals of those who have strayed from the good path.
A reform of our liturgical worship along the lines Pope Benedict proposes is our most charitable and effective plan of action. Summorum Pontificum is a valuable tool. The new English translation, though not perfect, will be of great help. This time of transition is a precious opportunity.
Fr Zuhlsdorf is a columnist for the American weekly newspaper The Wanderer and blogs at

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

"Good morning, my intercessor and my very faithful friend"

A significant part of the "vetting" process the Church prosecutes before declaring a person a Venerable, Blessed or Saint is the proving of a miracle through the person's intercession. Impartial physicians' testimony and scientific evidence is gathered to assure the miraculous event was in fact miraculous.  Read this past post for more information on the process.

Deacon Jack Sullivan
Blessed Newman
Such was the case for the cause of Cardinal John Henry Newman when Deacon Jack Sullivan of Massachusetts prayed for his intercession and was cured of chronic, debilitating back pain. This miraculous healing, defying any medical logic, paved the way for Newman's beatification this past September. Deacon Sullivan proclaimed the Gospel at the beatification Mass.

A second miracle is required before a Blessed is declared a Saint. Though not yet verified, there are several reports of miraculous healings after praying to Blessed Newman.  Deacon Sullivan was asked by the mother of a young girl suffering from incurable reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome, a disease characterised by continuous and intense pain that worsens over time.  While watching the beatification ceremony from her hospital bed, the girl's pain stopped.  Sullivan also reports miraculous happenings at healing ceremonies in which a relic of Blessed Newman is venerated:  a teenage boy was healed from a brain injury sustained in an auto accident and a Detroit man's liver cancer vanished.  Full story here.  Deacon Sullivan begins his day with, "Good morning, Cardinal Newman, my intercessor and my very faithful friend".

Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre
Pope John Paul II
Cries for Karol Wojtyla's canonization were heard as early as during his funeral Mass, "Santo Subito".  Pope Benedict waived the customary five year waiting period after death and proceeded to fast track his predecessor's cause.  Declared Venerable in December of 2009, it appears as though JPII will be beatified as early as this year.  Reports have surfaced that the miracle required for beatification has been approved. 

The case involves the healing of a French religious sister from Parkinson’s disease. Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre was diagnosed with an aggressive form of the disease in 2001. Her order prayed to John Paul II after his death for help. After writing the Pope’s name on a piece of paper one night in June 2005, she reportedly awoke the next morning cured and was able to resume her work as a maternity nurse.

Blessed John Henry Newman and Venerable John Paul II, pray for us!

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Unborn Paradox

don't miss this read:
The MTV program No Easy Decision has received much attention and ink since it aired last Tuesday.  Despite all the euphemisms and efforts to rationalize and diminish the reality that abortion ends a human life...none of them really worked.  Thus the most disturbing element of the program...this fact didn't really matter. There was a surprisingly good op-ed piece in the NYT juxtaposing the reality of abortion with the fact that some go through heroic (though also often immoral) measures to have children of their own.  

The Unborn Paradox

The American entertainment industry has never been comfortable with the act of abortion. Film or television characters might consider the procedure, but even on the most libertine programs (a “Mad Men,” a “Sex and the City”), they’re more likely to have a change of heart than actually go through with it. Reality TV thrives on shocking scenes and subjects — extreme pregnancies and surgeries, suburban polygamists and the gay housewives of New York — but abortion remains a little too controversial, and a little bit too real.
This omission is often cited as a victory for the pro-life movement, and in some cases that’s plainly true. (Recent unplanned-pregnancy movies like “Juno” and “Knocked Up” made abortion seem not only unnecessary but repellent.) But it can also be a form of cultural denial: a way of reassuring the public that abortion in America is — in Bill Clinton’s famous phrase — safe and legal, but also rare.
Rare it isn’t: not when one in five pregnancies ends at the abortion clinic. So it was a victory for realism, at least, when MTV decided to supplement its hit reality shows “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” with last week’s special, “No Easy Decision,” which followed Markai Durham, a teen mother who got pregnant a second time and chose abortion.
MTV being MTV, the special’s attitude was resolutely pro-choice. But it was a heartbreaking spectacle, whatever your perspective. Durham and her boyfriend are the kind of young people our culture sets adrift — working-class and undereducated, with weak support networks, few authority figures, and no script for sexual maturity beyond the easily neglected admonition to always use a condom. Their televised agony was a case study in how abortion can simultaneously seem like a moral wrong and the only possible solution — because it promised to keep them out of poverty, and to let them give their first daughter opportunities they never had.
The show was particularly wrenching, though, when juxtaposed with two recent dispatches from the world of midlife, upper-middle-class infertility. Last month there was Vanessa Grigoriadis’s provocative New York Magazine story “Waking Up From the Pill,” which suggested that a lifetime on chemical birth control has encouraged women “to forget about the biological realities of being female ... inadvertently, indirectly, infertility has become the Pill’s primary side effect.” Then on Sunday, The Times Magazine provided a more intimate look at the same issue, in which a midlife parent, the journalist Melanie Thernstrom, chronicled what it took to bring her children into the world: six failed in vitro cycles, an egg donor and two surrogate mothers, and an untold fortune in expenses.
In every era, there’s been a tragic contrast between the burden of unwanted pregnancies and the burden of infertility. But this gap used to be bridged by adoption far more frequently than it is today. Prior to 1973, 20 percent of births to white, unmarried women (and 9 percent of unwed births over all) led to an adoption. Today, just 1 percent of babies born to unwed mothers are adopted, and would-be adoptive parents face a waiting list that has lengthened beyond reason.
Some of this shift reflects the growing acceptance of single parenting. But some of it reflects the impact of Roe v. Wade. Since 1973, countless lives that might have been welcomed into families like Thernstrom’s — which looked into adoption, and gave it up as hopeless — have been cut short in utero instead.
And lives are what they are. On the MTV special, the people around Durham swaddle abortion in euphemism. The being inside her is just “pregnancy tissue.” After the abortion, she recalls being warned not to humanize it: “If you think of it like [a person], you’re going to make yourself depressed.” Instead, “think of it as what it is: nothing but a little ball of cells.”
It’s left to Durham herself to cut through the evasion. Sitting with her boyfriend afterward, she begins to cry when he calls the embryo a “thing.” Gesturing to their infant daughter, she says, “A ‘thing’ can turn out like that. That’s what I remember ... ‘Nothing but a bunch of cells’ can be her.”
When we want to know this, we know this. Last week’s New Yorker carried a poem by Kevin Young about expectant parents, early in pregnancy, probing the mother’s womb for a heartbeat:
The doctor trying again to find you, fragile,
fern, snowflake. Nothing.
After, my wife will say, in fear,
impatient, she went beyond her body,
this tiny room, into the ether—
... And there
it is: faint, an echo, faster and further
away than mother’s, all beat box
and fuzzy feedback. ...
This is the paradox of America’s unborn. No life is so desperately sought after, so hungrily desired, so carefully nurtured. And yet no life is so legally unprotected, and so frequently destroyed.