Friday, February 29, 2008

Gilead

A friend of mine recently bought me a book by Marilynne Robinson called Gilead. I highly recommend it to anyone. It is such a thoughtful, thought-provoking and poetic book, I thought I would share some with you today. This is just one of the beautiful and challenging passages (it is about an old Baptist pastor writing a letter to his son near the end of his life):

"One sermon is not up there, one I actually burned the night before I meant to preach it. People don't talk much now about the Spanish influenza, but that was a terrible thing, and it struck just at the time of the Great War, just when we were getting involved in it. It killed the soldiers by the thousands, healthy men in the prime of their life, and then it spread into the rest of the population. It was like a war, it really was. One funeral after another, right here in Iowa. We lost so many of the young people. And we got off pretty lightly. People came to church wearing masks, if they came at all. They'd sit as far from each other as they could. There was talk that the Germans had caused it with some sort of secret weapon, and I think people wanted to believe that, because it saved them from reflecting on what other meaning it might have.

"The parents of these young soldiers would come to me and ask how the Lord could allow such a thing. I felt like asking them what the Lord would have to do to tell us He didn't allow something. But instead I would comfort them by saying we would never know what their young men had been spared. Most of them took me to mean they were spared the trenches and the mustard gas, but what I really meant was that they were spared the act of killing. It was just like a biblical plague, just exactly. I thought of Sennacherib.

"It was a strange sickness - I saw it over at Fort Riley. These boys were drowning in their own blood. They couldn't even speak for the blood in their throats, in their mouths. So many of them died so fast there was no place to put them, and the just stacked the bodies in the yard. I went over there to help out, and I saw it myself. They drafted all the boys at the college, and influenza swept through there so bad the place had to be closed down and the buildings filled with cots like hospital wards, and there was terrible death, right here in Iowa. Now, if these things were not signs, I don't know what a sign would look like. So, I wrote a sermon about it. I said, or I meant to say, that these deaths were rescuing foolish young men from the consequences of their own ignorance and courage, that the Lord was gaterhing them in before they could go off and commit murder against their brothers. And I said that their deaths were a sign and a warning to the rest of us that the desire for war would bring the consequences of war, because there is no ocean big enough to protect us from the Lord's judgment when we decide to hammer our plowshares into swords and our pruning hooks into spears, in contempt of the will and the grace of God.

"It was quite a sermon, I believe. I thought as I wrote it how pleased my father would have been. But my courage failed me, because I knew the only people at church would be a few old women who were already about as sad and apprehensive as they could stand to be and no more approving of the war than I was. And they were there even though I might have been contagious. I seemed ridiculous to myself for imagining I could thunder from the pulpit in those circumstances, and I dropped that sermon in the stove and preached on the Parable of the Lost Sheep. I wish I had kept it, because I meant every word. It might have been the only sermon I wouldn't mind answering for in the next world. And I burned it...Now I think of how courageous you might have thought I was if you had come across it among my papers and read it...You would have imagined that almost empty sanctuary, just a few women there with heavy veils on to try to hide the masks they were wearing, and two or three men. I preached with a scarf around my mouth for more than a year. Everyone smelled like onions, because word went aroudn that flu germs were killed by onions...It was a remarkable time

"...Most of the young men seemed to feel that the war was a courageous thing, and maybe new wars have come along since I wrote this that have seemed brave to you. That there have been wars I have no doubt. I believe that plague was a great sign to us, and we refused to see it and take its meaning, and since then we have had war continuously."

Monday, February 25, 2008

Ask Father: Why does our lector bow to the congregation?

Here's the latest question: In the parish where my children attend school, the lector bows toward the altar as he approaches the ambo. Then he turns around and bows to the congregation. What's up with that? Everywhere else, the lector only bows toward the altar (with the tabernacle behind it).

It is funny to get this question because this isn't something I would normally think about, but it is a question that came up just last week in an online liturgy disussion group that I particpate in.

So, first what does the General Instruction of the Roman Missal say. [For those who might not know the General Instruction, "GIRM", are the official rules about how Mass is celebrated. You can read the entire GIRM on the US Bishop's website at: http://www.usccb.org/liturgy/current/revmissalisromanien.shtml]

So, here are some relevant parts of the GIRM as related to the Lector:

"57. In the readings, the table of God's word is prepared for the faithful, and the riches of the Bible are opened to them.61 Hence, it is preferable to maintain the arrangement of the biblical readings, by which light is shed on the unity of both Testaments and of salvation history. Moreover, it is unlawful to substitute other, non-biblical texts for the readings and responsorial Psalm, which contain the word of God.62

58. In the celebration of the Mass with a congregation, the readings are always proclaimed from the ambo.

59. By tradition, the function of proclaiming the readings is ministerial, not presidential. The readings, therefore, should be proclaimed by a lector, and the Gospel by a deacon or, in his absence, a priest other than the celebrant. If, however, a deacon or another priest is not present, the priest celebrant himself should read the Gospel. Further, if another suitable lector is also not present, then the priest celebrant should also proclaim the other readings.

After each reading, whoever reads gives the acclamation, to which the gathered people reply, honoring the word of God that they have received in faith and with grateful hearts."

"128. After the Collect, all sit. The priest may, very briefly, introduce the faithful to the Liturgy of the Word. Then the lector goes to the ambo and, from the Lectionary already placed there before Mass, proclaims the first reading, to which all listen. At the end, the lector says the acclamation Verbum Domini (The word of the Lord), and all respond, Deo gratias (Thanks be to God)."

"195. Upon reaching the altar, the lector makes a profound bow with the others. If he is carrying the Book of the Gospels, he approaches the altar and places the Book of the Gospels upon it. Then the lector takes his own place in the sanctuary with the other ministers."

"196. The lector reads from the ambo the readings that precede the Gospel. If there is no psalmist, the lector may also proclaim the responsorial Psalm after the first reading."

So, you see, no specific instruction in the Liturgy of the Word. However, the section on Genuflections and Bows has something to say:

"274. If, however, the tabernacle with the Most Blessed Sacrament is present in the sanctuary, the priest, the deacon, and the other ministers genuflect when they approach the altar and when they depart from it, but not during the celebration of Mass itself."

"275. A bow of the body, that is to say a profound bow, is made to the altar"

All of this is to say, that there isn't really any formal direction on this from the GIRM other than to say that if the tabernacle is in the sanctuary, the ministers genuflects at the beginning of Mass and at the end, but not during the celebration itself.

It is a custom for people to bow to the altar when moving about the sanctuary, as the altar is a primary symbol of Christ as the place of sacrifice - and that is when we tend to bow - to things that represent Christ (altar, cross, etc.). We reserve our genuflection for the Real Presence of Christ (as in the tabernacle).

In the online discussion that I referenced, what most people were saying is that this is an effort to show in liturgical form another of the ways that Christ is present that we too often tend to neglect: Christ's presence in the gathered assembly. At Mass, we are often very aware of the Real Presence of Christ in the Word proclaimed, in the person of the priest (in persona Christi), certainly in the Eucharist, but how often are we conscious of the same Real Presence in the gathered assembly? "Where two or more are gathered in my name, there am I, in the midst of them."

The places where they tend to bow to the assembly are acknowledging that presence in the people, just as they would acknowledge that presence in the other primary ways that we are more familiar with.

Having said that, it obviously needs some explanation as it is not typical (an not rubrical or canonical), and I'm not sure what I personally think about it. I know that I tend to be one to say, "Pray the Sacramentary." I'm not a huge fan of mixing it up, but the flip side is that our world and our churches would be a very different reality if we were as aware of the presence of Christ in each other (and in ourselves) as we are of the presence of Christ in Word and Sacrament.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Thirsty?

Third Sunday of Lent, February 24, 2008, Life Teen Mass:

One day a cat died and went to Heaven. When he got there, God said to him, "Well, you made it. Now that you are in Heaven, is there anything special that you would like?" The cat said, "All my life I lived a hard life. I was a farm cat, constantly on the prowl to keep the mice away, forced to sleep on the dirt floor of the barn. More than anything, I would like a nice, soft, fluffy pillow to spend my days sleeping on." God said, "Consider it done."

The next day six mice died and went to Heaven. God asked the same question of them, "Now that you're in Heaven is there anything special you would like?" The mice said, "We have lived hard lives constantly on the run, trying to keep one step ahead of that cat. After all of our running around, we'd like to take it easy. Could you give us all roller skates?" God said, "Consider it done."

A few days later, God went to check in on the cat and see how he was doing. When God approached the cat, he let out a long, slow stretch. "How's everything working out here?" God asked. "It is great," said the cat. "The pillow is wonderful, and those meals on wheels you keep sending by are fantastic!"

What I like abou this joke is that when I first heard it, I wasn't expecting that ending. It got me thinking about how often things turn out in a way different than we expect. Think in your own mind for a moment: have you ever met someone who surprised you by not being what you expected?

We've all probably had similiar situations. We can be surprised when we're wrong about someone, or they are wrong about us - people can often turn out to be so much more than we ever expected.

And if that is true with people, it can be that much more profound when we make the same kind of discovery about God. Every now and then, we can be surprised when we encounter the love of Jesus in unexpected ways.

So, I want to ask our teens: have you ever been surprised to feel the presence of Jesus love for you?

[Elicit responses from teens.]

Well, this is what is going on in our Gospel today. The Samaritan woman thought she knew exactly what to expect from Jesus at the well. Samaritans and Jews traditionally did not like each other and typically did not speak to each other. She expected to have no encounter with this man, or at worst to have a bad encounter.

Jesus, of course, turns things on their head by not being what she expected. He encounters her with love and instead of rejecting her offers her living water and eternal life. The meeting drastically changed the woman and so excited did she become that she went off to tell everyone she knew about Jesus - to the point of converting her whole village!

Jesus gives each of us the same challenge. He wants to encounter us in a way that perhaps we didn't expect. Maybe we come to this Mass not expecting much. Seeing some friends, listening to some great music, fulfilling an obligation of our faith. But, Jesus wants to offer us so much more.

[hold up candy] I have here a nice chocolate candy bar. I'm guessing some of you might have given up sweets for Lent? Who would like to have this delicious candy bar? And, now I want to offer you something different - living water and eternal life. Who would like that?

We are all like the Samaritan woman. We come here and maybe we have some very ordinary thirsts and hungers - we want some candy, we want to spend time playing video games, we want to hang out with our friends. But, if we open our eyes, Jesus wants to offer us something that could potentially change our lives.

The Samaritan woman was open to what Jesus offered - to the point where she no longer desired a simple glass of water - she completely desired what Christ had to offer. Jesus wants the same of us - and He wants us to share that excitement with others.

The challenge that He gives us tonight is to be the surpise in someone else's life. Do the unexpected in our relationships. Surprise someone in your circle of friends, at your school, in your family by sharing the love that Jesus has for you with them. Be the same kind of loving and kind presence to someone unexpected in your life this week.

The question is simple: do you desire what Jesus has to offer you? Or would you prefer the pale imitation of things that can never really satisfy?

Let Jesus offer you the things that will satisfy you for ever.

May God give you peace

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Smile

I received this in an email and thought it was worth sharing:

I am a mother of three (ages 14, 12, 3) and have recently completed my college degree. The last class I had to take was Sociology. The teacher was absolutely inspiring with the qualities that I wish every human being had been graced with. Her last project of the term was called, 'Smile.' The class was asked to go out and smile at three people and document their reactions.

I am a very friendly person and always smile at everyone and say hello anyway. So, I thought this would be a piece of cake, literally.

Soon after we were assigned the project, my husband, youngest son, and I went out to McDonald's one crisp March morning. It was just our way of sharing special playtime with our son.

We were standing in line, waiting to be served, when all of a sudden everyone around us began to back away, and then even my husband did. I did not move an inch... an overwhelming feeling of panic welled up inside of me as I turned to see why they had moved.

As I turned around I smelled a horrible 'dirty body' smell, and there standing behind me were two poor homeless men. As I looked down at the short gentleman, close to me, he was 'smiling'. His beautiful sky blue eyes were full of God's Light as he searched for acceptance.

He said, 'Good day' as he counted the few coins he had been clutching. The second man fumbled with his hands as he stood behind his friend. I realized the second man was mentally challenged and the blue-eyed gentleman was his salvation.

I held my tears as I stood there with them.

The young lady at the counter asked him what they wanted. He said, 'Coffee is all Miss' because that was all they could afford. (If they wanted to sit in the restaurant and warm up, they had to buy something. He just wanted to be warm).

Then I really felt it - the compulsion was so great I almost reached out and embraced the little man with the blue eyes.

That is when I noticed all eyes in the restaurant were set on me, judging my every action.
I smiled and asked the young lady behind the counter to give me two more breakfast meals on a separate tray.

I then walked around the corner to the table that the men had chosen as a resting spot. I put the tray on the table and laid my hand on the blue-eyed gentleman's cold hand. He looked up at me, with tears in his eyes, and said, 'Thank you.' I leaned over, began to pat his hand and said, 'I did not do this for you. God is here working through me to give you hope.'

I started to cry as I walked away to join my husband and son. When I sat down my husband smiled at me and said, 'That is why God gave you to me, Honey, to give me hope.' We held hands for a moment and at that time, we knew that only because of the Grace that we had been given were we able to give.

We are not church goers, but we are believers. That day showed me the pure Light of God's sweet love.

I returned to college, on the last evening of class, with this story in hand. I turned in 'my project' and the instructor read it. Then she looked up at me and said, 'Can I share this?' I slowly nodded as she got the attention of the class.

She began to read and that is when I knew that we as human beings and being part of God share this need to heal people and to be healed.

In my own way I had touched the people at McDonald's, my son, instructor, and every soul that shared the classroom on the last night I spent as a college student.

I graduated with one of the biggest lessons I would ever learn: UNCONDITIONAL ACCEPTANCE.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

I asked God...

I asked God to take away my habit.
God said, No.
It is not for me to take away, but for you to give it up.

I asked God to make my handicapped child whole.
God said, No.
His spirit is whole, his body is only temporary

I asked God to grant me patience.
God said, No.
Patience is a byproduct of tribulations; It isn't granted, it is learned.

I asked God to give me happiness.
God said, No.
I give you blessings; Happiness is up to you.

I asked God to spare me pain.
God said, No.
Suffering draws you apart from worldly cares and brings you closer to me.

I asked God to make my spirit grow.
God said, No.
You must grow on your own! ,
but I will prune you to make you fruitful.

I asked God for all things that I might~ enjoy life.
God said, No.

I will give you life, so that you may enjoy all things.

I asked God to help me LOVE others, as much as He loves me.
God said. ­.Ahhhh, ­ finally you have the idea.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Why do I have to go to Mass?

FRIARS CORNER [February 24, 2008]:

ASK FATHER: Why do I have to go to Mass?

The young people in our Burning Hearts Confirmation program are often asking me, and our catechists, faith questions. It was suggested that these questions might often be ones that everyone would like answered, so from time-to-time, I will use this space to address the questions of faith being raised by our youth. So, here is the first one:

“How can a church require people to go to Mass when it should be a choice?”

Well, this is certainly a central question of our time as Catholics, and one we know that needs addressing. Just to give you some context. Here at St. Francis we have more than 8,000 registered members of our parish. However, on any given weekend, only about 1,700 people come to Mass. Obviously, the overwhelming majority of those who are on our books, are not following this command to go to Mass every week. So, let’s look at where the obligation to attend Mass every Sunday comes from.

Because your Father said so. This direction doesn’t come from the Church, it comes from God. The Third Commandment is: “Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.” (Deut. 3.12) Notice that these are not called the 10 Suggestions, the 10 Great Things to Do, the 10 Keys to Spiritual Success – they are Commandments. And, even though we live in a world whose ethic might be, “You can’t tell me what to do,” God would disagree.

Commandments are at the highest level of how we live out our faithful life with God. We would never imagine saying, “How can a church tell people they shouldn’t murder when it should be a choice?” Or, “How can a church tell people they shouldn’t commit adultery when it should be a choice?” Just as important as those parts of our faith life are – worshipping our God on the Sabbath should hold the same position of importance. This was understood clearly in the time of Jesus. It was understood clearly by the early Christians. It was understood clearly right into our own time. As recently as 1958, Mass attendance was at 80% of Catholics, as opposed to our approximately 20% today.

Because your Father loves you. Going to Mass every week isn’t about the Church, or God, imposing a law or rule on everyone. It is about maintaining a relationship. The entire story of our salvation – beginning with Adam and Eve, right through to Jesus and eventually to you and me – is about a relationship. God establishes a relationship with His people. And, like any relationship, it requires a commitment. We know this in life. If a husband and wife ever said, “How can you require me to spend time with you when it should be my choice,” I can guarantee you that is a relationship that will soon come to an end. Sunday Mass is our place of nurturing our relationship with God; it is our place of getting to know God more deeply, more intimately. Sunday Mass is our time to tell God what we need to tell Him, and to listen to what He has to tell us – in Scripture, in the homily, in the people seated at our right and our left.

I see so often in my ministry people who never nurture their relationship with God and then come to me and say things like: “How come I can’t tell when God is speaking to me?” “Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?” “Why can’t I tell if God is there?” The answer is simple – the more you get to know Him, the more you’ll have the answer to those questions.

The problem is we want it all. We want a strong, direct line to God, 24-7, but we don’t want to put in the work that it takes to have that relationship. And to those who say, “I pray on my own, that’s enough,” I would say that is the spiritual equivalent of conducting a relationship only by phone or letter – it can be great, but it isn’t enough.

Going to Mass every week is a choice, just like any relationship. God has said, you don’t have to be in relationship with Me. But, if you want to be in a relationship with God, going to Mass every week is a central part of what He asks. It is always our choice. And, if we chose God, the benefits of this relationship are out of this world! Imagine our Church if all 8,000 members every week chose God!

Love,
Fr. Tom

[Feel free to send me your questions at: frtom@sfxnewmilford.org)

Return to your roots

Vatican City, Feb 19, 2008 / 10:53 am (CNA).- Yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI spoke to the members of the executive committee of the International Union of Superiors General, telling them that “when communities have chosen to return to the origins and live in a way more in keeping with the spirit of the founder,” they see positive signs of renewal.

The religious superiors were gathered at the Vatican to discuss "some particularly relevant and important aspects of consecrated life."

The Holy Father launched into some of the most pressing problems for religious communities. "We are all aware how, in modern globalized society, it is becoming ever more difficult to announce and bear witness to the Gospel", he said. "The process of secularization which is advancing in contemporary culture does not, unfortunately, spare even religious communities.”

"Nonetheless", the Pontiff encouraged, "we must not be discouraged, because if (as has been said) many clouds are gathering on the horizon of religious life today, there also exist (indeed they are constantly growing) signs of a providential reawakening which gives rise to consolation and hope.

"The Holy Spirit blows powerfully throughout the Church, creating a new commitment to faithfulness, both in the historical institutes and, at the same time, in new forms of religious consecration that reflect the needs of the times. ... What characterizes these new forms of consecrated life is a shared desire ... for a radical form of evangelical poverty, for faithful love of the Church, and for generous dedication to the needy with particular attention to that spiritual poverty which so markedly characterizes the modern age," the Pope noted.

He also addressed the situation within "the orders and congregations with a long tradition in the Church," pointing to how they have suffered a "difficult crisis due to the ageing of members, a more or less accentuated fall in vocations and, sometimes, a spiritual and charismatic 'weariness'".

Although describing this crisis as "worrying", Benedict XVI highlighted certain positive signs, "especially when communities have chosen to return to the origins and live in a way more in keeping with the spirit of the founder. In almost all recent general chapters of religious institutes the recurring theme has been precisely that of rediscovering the original charism, to then incarnate it and renew it in the present."

In parting, the Holy Father explained to the religious superiors that returning to their roots "has helped give institutes a promising new ascetic, apostolic and missionary impulse" and that "It is along this road that we must continue, praying to the Lord to bring to full fruition the work He began."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

10,000 Hits and Counting!

I was so excited to see that we just hit the 10,000 mark (10,007 as of this writing) for hits on my blog! This blog is just shy of a year old. I started on February 21, of last year and I'm so grateful to all of you who read regularly for your patronage. Just to give you a context, I have also had my website (http://www.frtomofm.org/) for some time now, and I've only gotten shy of 6,000 hits since 2002 (6 years), so this many hits in so little time is gratifying.

I hope I can continue to keep it interesting and informative enough for you all, but thanks for tuning in!

Ask Fr. Tom: Why do some parishes use bells at the Consecration, and others don’t? (I miss it!)

Why do some parishes use bells at the Consecration, and others don’t? (I miss it!)

There we have it our very first question! The simplest answer to your question is that some churches use bells and others don't because the ringing of bells during the Eucharistic Prayer is not an official part of the rubrics of the Mass. It is a custom. And so, as a custom, some churches make the choice to use the bells while others don't. So, where does this custom come from?

Well, bells have always been an important part of Mass - or at least since the middle ages - when the Church bell was used to summon people to prayer. Of course, this was an age before the wristwatch, and a time when people lived within earshot of their church. So the large church bell served not only a good liturgical function, but also a good social function as well.

The way bells entered the Eucharistic prayer was a bit more on a very basic common sense level. Remember, the Mass used to be celebrated in Latin with the priest facing away from the congregation. It is only in our own recent times that the faithful have returned to frequent reception of Holy Communion. For a very long time, the faithful were so focussed on their own sinfulness that they regularly felt unworthy to ever receive communion. This is why the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 introduced the Easter duty which said in part that every Catholic must receive communion at least once a year.

So, you can imagine, if people were not receiving communion, they engaged in what was called an "ocular communion" or gazing upon Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament when the sacred elements were presented to the people. With the priest's back to the congregation, the people didn't want to miss this important moment of gazing, so they introduced the ringing of the bells. The bells rung at the elevation was a way of saying, "Look now, Jesus is being presented to you."

So, today, in an age when the priest faces the people, speaks in a language you can understand and when most people do in fact receive communion when they go to Mass, the bells no longer serve that functional purpose they once did. It remains, optionally, as an allowed custom.

Monday, February 18, 2008

St. Clare and TV

ASSISI, Italy, FEB. 18, 2008 (Zenit.org).- St. Clare, as patron of television, can help the modern world rediscover the dignity of the human person, says the Pope's secretary of state.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone affirmed this when he presided Sunday over a Mass in Assisi marking the 50th anniversary of the proclamation of St. Clare as patron of television.

She was given this title by Pope Pius XII on Feb. 14, 1958. On Christmas night, 1252, the nun received the grace of seeing from her cell the Church's celebration of Christ's birth.

Cardinal Bertone dubbed it "an experience of mystical television," Vatican Radio reported.

"St. Clare is not only the patron of television, but she can also teach us the correct use of this media," the cardinal said.

Citing Benedict XVI's message for World Communications Day, Cardinal Bertone warned about the possibility of communications media manipulating reality, catering to particular interests and seeking an audience at all costs.

"Mass media tend to impose a uniform cultural model, based on the logic of consumerism and relativism," he lamented. "The example of St. Clare, on the other hand, helps us to rediscover the dignity of the person and values such as family, life, education and youth."

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Ask Fr. Tom

You know, I get asked a lot of questions of the faith. On a daily basis someone will be asking something about Heaven or Hell, about what it means to say that Jesus is Truly Present in the Eucharist, about why only men can be ordained, gay marriage, the Presidential race, Confession, you name it. I thought this blog might be a good place to answer some of the questions of faith that people have, so with that, I'm inviting you to send me your questions, and we'll take it from there. If a lot come in, I'll answer more frequently, but let's see how it goes. So, if you have a question of faith you've always wanted an answer to, email me at: frtom@sfxnewmilford.org and we'll begin the conversation.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

God and Politics

This was an article that I read in The Washington Post last week and thought it was thought-provoking. Enjoy.

A Crash Course In God and Politics
Books on Faith and Public Life Proliferate as Election Nears

By Daniel Burke
Religion News Service
Saturday, February 9, 2008

According to the saying, there are two things you should never discuss at a dinner party: religion and politics.

There's nothing that says you can't read about them, though. And as the presidential campaign heats up, U.S. publishers are releasing books on faith and public life.

Frank Lambert's "Religion in American Politics," published last month, traces the interplay between pulpits and the public square through nearly two centuries of U.S. history. Some things, he writes, never change.

Efforts to proclaim the United States a "Christian nation" date at least to 1827, when Calvinist minister Ezra Stiles Ely tried to mobilize a "Christian party in politics" to fight the delivery of mail on Sundays.

Still, any group's attempt to represent the nation's religious heritage is met with opposition, Lambert writes. The Purdue University professor's book revisits some of those battles, including the nation's founding and the possible reemergence of the "religious left."

During the past few years, perhaps no one has worked harder to promote that liberal reemergence than the Rev. Jim Wallis, an evangelical author and founder of Sojourners, a Washington-based group whose mission "is to articulate the biblical call to social justice."

Wallis's 2005 book "God's Politics" struck a nerve with liberals reeling from the reelection of President Bush, which was aided by "values-voting" conservative evangelicals. But Wallis says change is in the air, and his latest book, "The Great Awakening," hopes to revive faith and politics "in a post-Religious Right America."

His work traces the history of progressive religious movements, lays out seven commitments (such as "God hates injustice") for Christians engaged in politics and attempts to ground those principles in biblical narratives and theology.

Like Wallis, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. says "the religious winds are changing." Similarly, for Dionne, who writes from the liberal Catholic tradition, that means the political dominance of the religious right is over.

In "Souled Out," published last month, the columnist explores the roots of American liberalism, diagnoses injuries caused by culture-war politics, reckons with the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI and points the way to a future when "Christianity's liberal commitments will be seen as more relevant than its conservative impulses."

But religious liberals and Democrats can't "level the praying field" if they don't acknowledge mistakes made in the recent past, Time magazine editor Amy Sullivan writes.

In "The Party Faithful," due out this month, Sullivan says that the party's fall from grace was abetted by liberals who belittled religious voters and Democratic leaders who wrote them off.

National polls show that many Democratic voters regularly attend worship services, Sullivan says. "Yet the people who run the Democratic Party largely believe that the 'God gap' is an immutable law of the political universe," she writes.

Sullivan sees reasons for hope with the rise of Democratic candidates such as Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, who have made efforts to reach people of faith in their presidential campaigns.

Obama and Clinton have reached out to centrist evangelicals, who, says evangelical scholar David P. Gushee, are "emerging with growing confidence and impact these days."

In "The Future of Faith in American Politics," Gushee offers an "insider's account" of evangelicals who are weary of the "angry entitlement" of their brethren on the right and wary of wishy-washy liberals.

Typically, centrist evangelicals are strongly against abortion, gay marriage and euthanasia, but they also see room in a "broad and holistic agenda" for human rights, the plight of the poor and peacemaking, says Gushee, a professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University in Atlanta.

Like Gushee, Florida megachurch pastor Joel C. Hunter says it's time for evangelicals to focus on issues beyond abortion and homosexuality.

In his book "A New Kind of Conservative," Hunter offers seven reasons "the current strategy of the Religious Right" fails to resonate with conservative Christians, including personal attacks, too much emphasis on "below the belt" issues, a lack of focus on spiritual results and a lack of intellectual heft.

"Jesus didn't teach us what political platform would best represent the faith; but He did teach us by example how to help those who are in need," Hunter writes.

For the political neophyte, Amy E. Black, a political scientist at Wheaton College in Illinois, offers "Beyond Left and Right: Helping Christians Make Sense of American Politics."

With chapters dedicated to the Constitution and the separation of powers as well as the art of compromise and the application of faith to politics, Black navigates some of the trickier spheres of public life.

"At that proverbial dinner party, in our churches, or even in the comfort of our own homes, it won't always be easy or comfortable to talk about religion and politics," Black writes. "But the challenge is both worthy and worthwhile."

A constant state of Transfiguration

Second Sunday of Lent, February 17, 2008:

“ [Jesus] was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” Take a moment to take in that sight. What must it have been like for the disciples to see something so incredible – Jesus is transfigured, glorified, wrapped in the mantle of God’s wonder – all in the sight of these simple fishermen, Peter, James and John.

As we enter into our Second full week of our Lenten journey, our liturgy gives us a reminder that our spiritual practices of fasting, prayer and almsgiving are not meant to bring us down – but that they have glory as their goal; the same glory that the disciples experienced on the mount of Transfiguration. We remember that while we focus so much on the Cross during this season, it is a Cross that leads to the ultimate glory.

For Peter, James and John, this moment of Transfiguration was a defining moment in their lives. Up until now, they had seen Jesus in normal, everyday ways. Yes, He was a teacher unlike any they had ever experienced up until that point, but He had not yet really revealed His divinity to them. In this moment they saw Him in a new and spectacular way; they experienced this miraculous presence of Moses and Elijah; they heard most wondrously the very voice of God echoing from Heaven, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased, listen to him.” And, from this moment, everything was different. From this moment, they began to see Jesus in a different light.

And it was an experience they would never forget. We know this from the Second Letter of Peter, where St. Peter writes, “With our own eyes we saw his greatness. We were there when he was given honor and glory by the Father, when the voice came to him from the Supreme Glory, saying, ‘This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased!’ We ourselves heard this voice coming from heaven, when we were with him on the holy mountain.” This letter was written some 35 years after Jesus’ resurrection; just a short while before St. Peter would also be crucified. He remembered this moment until the end.

While we may not have had quite the experience that Peter, James and John did; hopefully, we too have had some experience of transfiguration in our own lives. Hopefully, we have also had moments when, even for a split second, we seem to glimpse a reality beyond this one. These are moments when for an instant we see beyond the ordinary to something extraordinary. These are the moments of transfiguration in our own lives – times when like Peter, James and John we are overwhelmed by an incredible awareness of God’s true presence in our midst.

For me, the Eucharist is this moment of transfiguration par excellence. We gather in this church around this simple table and present mere bread and wine. And just as amazingly as on that mountain, it is transformed in our midst, transfigured into the very living presence of God. We begin with elements that are common, ordinary, mundane. We end up with something heavenly, extraordinary and miraculous. If our hearts and our spirits are well enough attuned; if we listen carefully, we too may hear a heavenly voice say, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

The problem is that too often we no longer believe that these experiences are real. Perhaps we forget that they have happened. Perhaps we close our selves off to the heavenly realm – only allowing ourselves to accept what can be seen, touched and verified. How sad this is. The reality is that Jesus is constantly revealing Himself to us. When our eyes our opened we begin to see that we live in a near constant state of Transfiguration. But, we are usually too busy or otherwise occupied to notice. We have stopped our hearts from hearing Him; seeing Him; allowing ourselves to ascend that mountain.

Jesus is calling us all today to leave this world behind; to ascend the holy mountain with Him. Jesus wants us to walk away from all of the earthly distractions that keep us from seeing His presence all around us. He wants to take us up to a high mountain alone with Him as he did with Peter, James and John. Our Lenten challenge is to shed away the things that blind us from being witnesses to Jesus’ miraculous presence all around us – so powerfully in the Eucharist, but also in our families, among our friends, in the faces of the homeless, the poor, the needy – everywhere we look, Jesus is there if our eyes our opened.

Let us close with the words of our opening prayer, “Lord, open our hearts to the voice of your word and free us from the original darkness that shadows our vision. Restore our sight that we may look upon your Son.”

Yes, Lord, restore our sight that we may always look upon your Son.

May God give you peace.

Friday, February 15, 2008

That Catholic Show - Statues and Icons

Given our discussion of the Iconoclast Controversy in class last night, I thought this was a good clip.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Sister Lucia's Beatification Process to Begin

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 13, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI announced he will dispense with the five-year waiting period established by Canon Law to open the cause of beatification of Sister Lucia, one of the three Fatima visionaries.

The news was announced today in the cathedral of Coimbra, Portugal, by Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, on the third anniversary of the Carmelite's death.

The Holy Father dispensed with the established waiting period once before for the cause of Pope John Paul II. Benedict XVI made the announcement on May 13, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, some 42 days after the Pontiff's death in 2005.

John Paul II waived the waiting period in the case of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. The blessed died Sept. 5, 1997, and was beatified by John Paul II on Oct. 19, 2003.

A communiqué of the Vatican press office states: "Benedict XVI, taking into account the petition presented by Bishop Albino Mamede Cleto of Coimbra, and supported by numerous bishops and faithful from all parts of the world, has revoked the five-year waiting period established by the canonical norms (cf. Article 9 of the 'Normae Servandae'), and he has allowed for the diocesan phase of the Carmelite's cause of beatification to begin three years after her death."

Apparitions

Lucia de Jesus dos Santos was 10 years old when she said she saw for the first time, on May 13, 1917, a lady whom she later identified as the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the Cova de Iria.She saw the vision with her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto, who were beatified by John Paul II in Fatima, in 2000.

In a pastoral letter dated Oct. 13, 1930, the bishop of Leiria-Fatima, José Alves Correia da Silva, declared the apparitions of Fatima worthy of faith and allowed public devotion. Since then, the shrine has become a center of spirituality and pilgrimage of international scope.

Born in Aljustrel in 1907, Lucia moved to Oporto in 1921, and at 14 was admitted as a boarder in the School of the Sisters of St. Dorothy in Vilar, on the city's outskirts.

On Oct. 24, 1925, she entered the Institute of the Sisters of St. Dorothy and at the same time was admitted as a postulant in the congregation's convent in Tuy, Spain, near the Portuguese border. She made her first vows on Oct. 3, 1928, and her perpetual vows on Oct. 3, 1934, receiving the name Sister Mary of the Sorrowful Mother.

She returned to Portugal in 1946 and two years later entered the Carmelite convent of St. Teresa in Coimbra, where she made her profession as a Discalced Carmelite on May 31, 1949, taking the name Sister Maria Lucia of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart.

She wrote two volumes, one entitled "Memories" and the other "Appeals of the Fatima Message." In her writings, she recounts how the Virgin Mary and Child Jesus appeared to her on other occasions, years after the initial apparitions.

The mortal remains of the Carmelite were moved in 2006 to the Shrine of Fatima. The body of the nun, who died at age 97, is buried next to Jacinta. Francisco is buried in the same basilica.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Great Lenten resource

I just wanted to pass on to everyone a great resource for your own daily prayer during Lent. It is put together by Creighton University. Visit their site at: http://www.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/Lent/

Monday, February 11, 2008

Carbon Fast for Lent

You may have already seen this elsewhere, but the Church of England is suggesting to its faithful this Lent to fast from the things that are contributing to global warming in our world. It certainly is something to think about. What struck me in particular is how often our Lenten practices are so individual. This is one that really encourages us to be mindful of the global community and our effect on everyone:

The Church of England is urging people to cut down on carbon, rather than chocolate, for Lent this year.

The 40-day plan lists simple energy-saving actions that can lead towards a lighter carbon footprint, including snubbing plastic bags, giving the dishwasher a day off, insulating the hot-water tank and checking the house for drafts.

Jones said: "Traditionally people have given up things for Lent. This year we are inviting people to join us in a carbon fast. It is the poor who are already suffering the effects of climate change. To carry on regardless of their plight is to fly in the face of Christian teaching."

Last year, the Vatican also hosted a conference on climate change, where Pope Benedict urged bishops, scientists and politicians to "respect creation" while "focusing on the needs of sustainable development".

Here's how it works:

Day one (Ash Wednesday.): Remove one light bulb and live without it for the next 40 days.

Day two: Check your house for draughts with a ribbon or feather. If it flutters, buy a draught excluder.

Day three: Tread lightly – whether that's by foot, by bike, on to a bus or on the gas as you drive. Find a way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions when you travel today.

Day four: Are you recycling everything possible? Really – everything? Look into it today.

Day five: Can you talk about your Carbon Fast at church today? Encourage others to join in.

Day six: Turn your central heating thermostat down by one degree.

Day seven: Say au revoir to standby. Check that all electrical equipment is switched off when not in use. The TV alone will save a hefty 20kg of carbon dioxide per year.

Day eight: Unplug your mobile phone charger: it uses electricity even when it's not charging.

Day nine: Climate change isn't a distant threat – it's affecting poor communities now. Pray for those who help vulnerable communities adapt to the changing weather.

Day 10: Give your dishwasher a day off or promote it to a Grade A energy efficient appliance.

Day 11: Use local shops or farmers' markets instead of driving to out-of-town shopping parks. They will thank you; supermarkets won't notice your absence.

Day 12: Tell politicians to take action on climate change today.

Day 13: Put the heat on your electricity or gas suppliers and ask them if they have a green plan. Make the switch and feel cosy.

Day 14: Take a shower instead of a bath: you'll heat less water.

Day 15: Snub plastic bags. Get into the habit of taking your rucksack to the supermarket or go retro with a trolley. Ask your supermarket to remove unnecessary packaging.

Day 16: Switch off lights as you leave the room.

Day 17: Only fill your kettle with as much water as you need.

Day 18: Cut the air miles. Don't consume any food that you know has been imported by plane.

Day 19: Grace Maglasey and her husband Andrew struggle to grow enough food because their village in Malawi is caught in a cycle of floods and droughts. Join in with Grace's prayer today: "We pray that those of us who farm should harvest a lot of food so that this year we will not have hunger. In the name of Jesus, Amen."

Day 20: Compost. Put the nutrients from food waste back into the soil – not into a methane-emitting landfill.

Day 21: Only run your washing machine when you have a full load.

Day 22: Find one way to save paper today: re-use an old envelope or print double-sided.

Day 23: Turn the taps off. In one day a hot, dripping tap could fill a bath.

Day 24: Counsel your local council. Thank them for their recycling facilities but ask them if they could provide any more.

Day 25: Who works hardest in the house? Mum? Dad? No, the fridge. It's churning away 24/7. Treat it to a good de-icing to make sure it's running efficiently.

Day 26: "Love does no harm to its neighbour" Romans 13:10. But while our lifestyles consume more and more energy, our poorer neighbours are suffering. Reflect on ways to love our neighbours in our increasingly connected world.

Day 27: Pressure a car owner to check their tyre pressures. Low tyre pressure means high fuel consumption.

Day 28: Do a home energy check at energysavingtrust.org.uk. You could save up to £250 a year on bills.

Day 29: Run your washing machine at 30 degrees. This uses 40% less electricity than running at 40 degrees.

Day 30: Find out a new fact about the impact of climate change today. Amaze your friends.

Day 31: Fit aluminium foil behind your radiator – allowing you to turn the radiator down and save £10 a year per radiator.

Day 32: Any old iron? If they're on their last legs replace old electrical appliances with energy-efficient models. They could save a third of the energy.

Day 33: Have an embrace-the-silence Sunday. Turn off everything. No TV, no radio, no ringtones, no cars. It'll be good for the soul.

Day 34: Tell the Mailing Preference Service that you want to stop junk mail. Call 0845 7034599 or visit mpsonline.org.uk.

Day 35: Put an insulation jacket on your hot-water tank. If everyone does, we'll cut enough carbon dioxide to fill 148,000 hot-air balloons.

Day 36: Re-use an item you would have thrown away – such as a jam jar, an envelope or an ice-cream container.

Day 37: Put a lid on it. That's pans when cooking; and use a kettle to boil water.

Day 38: Draw the curtains to keep the heat in.

Day 39: Could your church be greener? Talk to your church leaders.

Day 40: Replace your missing bulb with an energy-saving lightbulb. Over its lifetime, you will save 60kg of carbon dioxide per year and up to £60. Make a personal pledge to serve others by pursuing a more sustainable way of life.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

4 days until Spring!

(boston.com) It's not exactly Groundhog Day, but it's as much a sign that spring is around the corner in New England as any shadow-seeking critter. That's right, Sox fans, Truck Day is here!

The 18-wheeler that carries the Red Sox' spring training equipment from Boston to Fort Myers, Fla. departs Fenway Park this morning to make the 1,467-mile trek from Yawkey Way to Edison Avenue.

It probably won't cure your Patriots hangover, but it's at least a step in the right direction.
Boston.com's Steve Silva was there with his camera when the truck arrived at 7:35 a.m., and has built a photo gallery of the festivities. And if you want to see more photos of the truck being loaded up with bats, balls, and any other stuff the Sox might need in Fort Myers (a motorcycle or two, perhaps?), check out our photo gallery from last year's Truck Day. Or the one in 2006.
The Red Sox say the truck will depart from Gate B around 10 a.m. In past years, it left closer to 1 p.m.

Planning on heading to Fort Myers to catch the Sox at spring training? Be sure to check out our fan's guide to the area before you go.

Here are some key Sox spring training dates that are just around the corner:

Feb. 14 -- Pitchers and catchers are due to report to Fort Myers.
Feb. 16 -- First workout for pitchers and catchers.
Feb. 20 -- Reporting day for Sox position players.
Feb. 22 -- First Red Sox full squad workout.
Feb. 28 -- First Red Sox spring training game.
One final thought - Patriots who?

Saturday, February 9, 2008

A proof of God

A science professor begins his school year with a lecture to the students, "Let me explain the problem science has with religion." The atheist professor of philosophy pauses before his class and then asks one of his new students to stand.

"You're a Christian, aren't you, son?"

"Yes sir," the student says.

"So you believe in God?"

"Absolutely."

"Is God good?"

"Sure! God's good."

"Is God all-powerful? Can God do anything?"

"Yes."

"Here's one for you. Let's say there's a sick person over here and you can cure him. You can do it. Would you help him? Would you try?"

"Yes sir, I would."

"You'd help a sick and maimed person if you could. Most of us would if we could. But God doesn't."

The student does not answer, so the professor continues. "He doesn't, does he? My brother was a Christian who died of cancer, even though he prayed to Jesus to heal him. How is this Jesus good? Hmmm? Can you answer that one?"

The student remains silent.

"No, you can't, can you?" the professor says. He takes a sip of water from a glass on his desk to give the student time to relax.

"Let's start again, young fella. Is God good?"

"Er...yes," the student says.

"Is Satan good?"

The student doesn't hesitate on this one. "No."

"Then where does Satan come from?"

The student falters. "From God."

"That's right. God made Satan, didn't he? Tell me, son. Is there evil in this world?"

"Yes, sir."

"Evil's everywhere, isn't it? And God did make everything, correct?"

"Yes."

"So who created evil?" The professor continued, "If God created everything, then God created evil, since evil exists, and according to the principle that our works define who we are, then God is evil."

Again, the student has no answer.

"Is there sickness? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All these terrible things, do they exist in this world?"

The student squirms on his feet. "Yes."

"So who created them?"

The student does not answer again, so the professor repeats his question."Who created them?"

There is still no answer. Suddenly the lecturer breaks away to pace in front of the classroom. The class is mesmerized.

"Tell me," he continues onto another student. "Do you believe in Jesus Christ, son?"

The student's voice betrays him and cracks. "Yes, professor, I do."

The old man stops pacing. "Science says you have five senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Have you ever seen Jesus?"

"No sir. I've never seen Him."

"Then tell us if you've ever heard your Jesus?"

"No, sir, I have not."

"Have you ever felt your Jesus, tasted your Jesus or smelt your Jesus? Have you ever had any sensory perception of Jesus Christ, or God for that matter?"

"No, sir, I'm afraid I haven't."

"Yet you still believe in him?"

"Yes."

"According to the rules of empirical, testable, demonstrable protocol, science says your God doesn't exist. What do you say to that, son?"

"Nothing," the student replies. "I only have my faith."

"Yes, faith," the professor repeats. "And that is the problem science has with God. There is no evidence, only faith."

The student stands quietly for a moment, before asking a question of his own. "Professor, is there such thing as heat?"

"Yes," the professor replies. "There's heat."

"And is there such a thing as cold?"

"Yes, son, there's cold too."

"No sir, there isn't."

The professor turns to face the student, obviously interested. The room suddenly becomes very quiet. The student begins to explain."You can have lots of heat , even more heat, super-heat, mega-heat, unlimited heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat, but we don't have anything called 'cold'. We can hit up to 458 degrees below zero, which is no heat, but we can't go any further after that. There is no such thing as cold; otherwise we would be able to go colder than the lowest -458 degrees. Every body or object is susceptible to study when it has or transmits energy, and heat is what makes a body or matter have or transmit energy. Absolute zero (-458 F) is the total absence of heat. You see, sir, cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat. We cannot measure cold. Heat we can measure in thermal units because heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it."

Silence across the room.

"What about darkness, professor. Is there such a thing as darkness?"

"Yes," the professor replies without hesitation. "What is night if it isn't darkness?"

"You're wrong again, sir. Darkness is not something; it is the absence of something. You can have low light, normal light, bright light, flashing light, but if you have no light constantly you have nothing and it's called darkness, isn't it? That's the meaning we use to define the word. In reality, darkness isn't. If it were, you would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn't you?"

The professor begins to smile at the student in front of him. This will be a good semester. "So what point are you making, young man?"

"Yes, professor. My point is, your philosophical premise is flawed to start with, and so your conclusion must also be flawed."

The professor's face cannot hide his surprise this time. "Flawed? Can you explain how?"

"You are working on the premise of duality," the student explains. "You argue that there is life and then there's death; a good God and a bad God. You are viewing the concept of God as something finite, something we can measure. Sir, science can't even explain a thought. It uses electricity and magnetism, but has never seen, much less fully understood either one. To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing. Death is not the opposite of life, just the absence of it.

The student continued, "To continue the point you were making earlier to the other student, let me give you an example of what I mean."

The student looks around the room. "Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the professor's brain?"

The class breaks out into laughter.

"Is there anyone here who has ever heard the professor's brain, felt the professor's brain, touched or smelt the professor's brain? No one appears to have done so. So, according to the established rules of empirical, stable, demonstrable protocol, science says that you have no brain, with all due respect, sir. So if science says you have no brain, how can we trust your lectures, sir?"

Now the room is silent. The professor just stares at the student, his face unreadable.

Finally, after what seems an eternity, the professor answers. "I guess you'll have to take them on faith."

"Now, you accept that there is faith, and, in fact, faith exists with life," the student continues.

"Now, sir, is there such a thing as evil?"

Now uncertain, the professor responds, "Of course, there is. We see it everyday. It is in the daily example of man's inhumanity to man. It is in the multitude of crime and violence everywhere in the world. These manifestations are nothing else but evil."

To this the student replied, "Evil does not exist sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God. It is just like darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God's love present in his heart. It's like the cold that comes when there is no heat or the darkness that comes when there is no light."

The professor sat down.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Pope Benedict: Lent is a 40-day retreat

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 6, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Lent is a spiritual retreat lasting 40 days, which offers the faithful the means to attain the true joy that comes from friendship with God, Benedict XVI said on Ash Wednesday.

The Pope said this today at the general audience in Paul VI Hall, in which he reflected on the meaning of Lent, the imposition of ashes and almsgiving.

"With the ancient ritual of the imposition of the ashes, the Church introduces Lent as a spiritual retreat that lasts 40 days," he said.

The Holy Father explained that in the early Church "Lent was considered a time in which one became Christian, but this did not happen in a single moment. It is a long journey of conversion and renewal.

"Those who had already been baptized joined with them in this journey remembering the sacrament they had received and prepared to join again with Christ in the joyous celebration of Easter.

"In this way, Easter had and still retains today the feeling and character of a baptism, in the sense that it keeps alive the understanding that being a Christian is never a journey's end that is behind us, but a path that constantly demands renewed effort."

Conversion

Benedict XVI said the imposition of the ashes recalls "the truth of human existence: We are limited creatures, sinners constantly in need of penitence and conversion."

"How important it is in our day and age to listen and welcome such a call!" the Pope said. "When proclaiming his independence from God, the contemporary man becomes his own slave and often finds himself inconsolably alone.

"The invitation to convert is therefore a spur to return to the arms of God, caring and merciful Father, to trust him, to entrust oneself to him like adopted children, regenerated by his love."

The Holy Father continued: "Teaching with wisdom the Church reiterates that conversion is above all a grace, a gift that opens the heart to God's infinite love. Through his grace he anticipates our desire for conversion and supports our efforts toward full adherence to his saving will.

"Conversion therefore means to give oneself to the teachings of Jesus and to obediently follow in his footprints."

The Pontiff added: "In truth, the sole delight that fills a man's heart is the one that comes from God: We truly need this infinite joy.

"Neither the daily worries, nor the difficulty of life can cancel out the joy that comes from our friendship with God."

Joy

"At first Jesus' invitation to take up our cross and follow him can seem hard and against our wishes -- even mortifying because of our desire for personal success," said Benedict XVI. "But if we look closer we discover that it is not like that: The saints are proof that in the Cross of Christ, in the love that is given renouncing self-possession, we find a profound serenity that is the foundation of generous devotion to our brothers, especially the poor and the needy. This gives us joy."
He continued: "The Lenten walk to conversion, which we undertake today with the whole Church, becomes the propitious occasion [...] to yield ourselves once again to the hands of God and to practice what Jesus continuously repeats to us: 'If someone wants to follow me he must renounce himself, take up his cross and follow me,' and thus take the path of love and true happiness."

Referring to his message for Lent, Benedict XVI spoke about the importance of almsgiving, "which represents a specific way to assist those in need and, at the same time, an exercise in self-denial to free us from attachment to worldly goods."

"We are unfortunately aware of how deeply the desire for material riches pervades modern society," the Pope said. "As disciples of Jesus Christ we are taught not to idolize earthly goods, but to use them to live and to help those who are in need.

"In teaching us to be charitable, the Church teaches us to address the needs of our neighbor, imitating Christ as noted by St. Paul. He became poor to enrich us with his poverty."

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A fresh start with God

Ash Wednesday, February 6, 2008:

“Do not be like the hypocrites.” As always, we begin this season of Lent today with a hard message to bear. Jesus tells us to stop being hypocrites, to stop looking like Christians on the outside while being something else on the inside. The word “hypocrite” comes from the Greek word for “actor”. In ancient Greece, actors performed their art by wearing masks in order to appear to be someone they were not. As we begin this Lent today, Jesus is challenging us to take off our masks, to stop pretending, and to be only the person He created us to be.

This can be a hard lesson to hear - for two reasons. First, we don't like to admit that we sometimes act like hypocrites. But the fact is, we do. We try to deceive, to wheedle, to give the right impression, even if it's false. We try to hide our motives. We are all hypocrites at one point or another. Second, we are afraid that if we take off our mask, God may reject who we really are and no one wants to be rejected.

But Jesus gives us a reason to trust Him enough to accept this hard lesson. The reason is that He already knows us, even our sins, and still He loves us. That’s why He reminds us that the Father sees what we do in secret. That means He has seen all of the most selfish and sinful chapters of our life. Everything. He knows it all. And yet, He still loves us with the tender love of the perfect Father, the perfect friend. He still wants us to live close to Him – and constantly grow even closer.

Sometimes it's hard for us to accept that God still calls us by name; hasn't given up on us and is eager to walk with us in spite of everything. A well known speaker started off his seminar by holding up a $50 bill. He asked, “Who would like this $50 bill?” Hands started going up. He proceeded to crumple up the dollar bill. He then asked, “Who still wants it?” The hands went up again. Then he dropped it on the ground and ground it into the floor with his shoe. He picked it up, crumpled and dirty, and said. “Now who still wants it?” The hands went up. He said, “Of course you do. Because, no matter what I do, it doesn’t decrease in value. It was still worth $50.”

My friends God views each of us the same way. Many times in our lives, we are dropped, crumpled, and ground into the dirt by our own decisions or those of other people. We feel like we are worthless. But no matter what has happened, we will never lose our value: dirty, clean, crumpled or finely creased, we are still priceless to the one who knows us through and through, and values us so much that He wants to live in friendship with us forever. No matter what happens, God always wants us.

If you still find it hard to believe, look closely at the crucifix. That is the real message of Lent. Christ wants us with Him forever in heaven, so much that He was willing to be torn and crumpled and stomped on and humiliated even more than we have been, to show each of us how much He loves us.

Jesus wants the truth and the power of his love to penetrate and transform our lives in a fresh way this Lent. But He needs us to take off our masks in order for that to happen. He needs us to peel them away so that his grace can heal our wounds.

He points to three masks in particular. First, we have the mask the blocks our relationship with God. This is the one Jesus points to when He tells us to work on our prayer life, to pray from the heart, sincerely, not just to go through the motions.

Second, we have the mask that blocks our relationship with other people. This is the one Jesus points to when He tells us to give to the poor in secret. He wants us to open our hearts to our neighbors. He wants us to care about them, to be interested in them, to look for ways to serve and encourage them instead of looking for ways to take advantage of them.

Third, we have the mask that blocks our own growth to maturity. This is the one Jesus points to when He tells us to fast in secret. He wants us to learn the art of self-governance and self-discipline, of humility and nobility. He wants to free us from opur degrading slavery to sin.
And so make a pledge today that you are going to pray more this Lent, come and receive God’s forgiveness in Confession, attend Mass during the week, pray the Rosary, pray the Stations of the Cross with us on Friday evenings. Do the things God calls you to in order to remove the mask bit by bit.

In this Mass, God offers us the grace we need to make a fresh start in our friendship with Him. He offers us the strength we need to peel away whichever mask is blocking out his love, a love which never wavers. Let's accept this grace and put it to work. Let's not leave here today without having committed to peel away one of those masks, to move up a notch either in our relationship with God, or with our neighbor, or with ourselves.

If we promise to do our part this Lent, we can be sure He will do his part.

May God give you peace.

Is religion losing the millennial generation?

I read this article in yesterday's USA Today. It really gets at the heart of the issue with our youth. I'll probably use parts of it in my Friars Corner for this week, but check out the story:

If you asked college students in an introductory religion course to create their own faith, what might you get? Dessertism, which insists that the stomach is the way to the soul, and Zen Boozism, which seeks self-discovery through alcohol — for starters. But you’d also see a growing problem for the ‘traditional’ faiths that treat the young as an afterthought.

By Stephen Prothero

Religions seem ancient, and many are. But they all began somewhere, and a considerable number began in the USA. The most successful new religious movements of the 19th and 20th centuries — Mormonism and Scientology — were both "made in America." And according to J. Gordon Melton of the Institute for the Study of American Religion, Americans continue to pump out new religions at a rate of about 40 to 50 per year.

For the past two years, I have asked students in my introductory religion courses at Boston University to get together in groups and invent their own religions. They present their religious creations to their classmates, and then everyone votes (with fake money in a makeshift offering plate) for the new religions they like best. This assignment encourages students to reflect on what separates "winners" and "losers" in America's freewheeling spiritual marketplace. It also yields intriguing data regarding what sort of religious beliefs and practices young people love and hate.

The new religious concoctions my students stir up might seem to mirror the diversity of American religion itself. Students tantalize one another with a religion (Dessertism) that preaches the stomach as the way to the soul, another (The Congregation of Wisdom) that honors Jeopardy! phenom Ken Jennings as its patron saint, and yet another (Exetazo) dedicated to sorting out the pluses and minuses of all the other religions so you can find a faith tailored to your own unique personality.

What strikes me most about my students' religions, however, is how similar they are. Almost invariably, they mix fun with faith. (Facebookismianity anyone?) But they do not mix faith with dogma. My students are careful — exceedingly careful — not to tell one another what to believe, or even what to do. Above all, they want to be tolerant and non-judgmental. Most of the religions my students developed were fully compatible with other religions.

They made few demands, either intellectually or morally. Repeatedly, their founders stress that you can join their religion without leaving Catholicism or Judaism or Islam behind.

'Dogma aversion'

During the 1930s, the neoorthodox theologian H. Richard Niebuhr skewered liberal Protestants for preaching "a God without wrath (who) brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross."

But my students' "dogma aversion" (as one put it) goes liberal Protestantism one further. These young people aren't just allergic to dogma. They are allergic to divinity and even heaven. In the religions of their imagining, God is an afterthought at best. And the afterlife is, as one of my students told me, "on the back burner."

What my students long for is not salvation after they die but happiness (or, in the case of Euphorianity, euphoria) here and now. They want less stress and more sleep. (In fact, two student religions — Sertaism and ZZZ — emphasize the importance of a good night's sleep.) They want to discover themselves and to give voice to their discoveries. They want to experience joy because of their bodies, not despite them. And they don't want to be told what to do with those bodies, or with whom.

My students are not libertines, however. A religion that takes the lyrics of the reggae star Bob Marley as gospel (Eudaimonism) says nothing about smoking pot. The founders of Zen Boozism (a "religion of togetherness" in which alcohol lubricates the pathway to "self-expression and self-discovery") insist that its followers drink in moderation. And a faith based on the grooves of rapper Tupac Shakur teaches that those who do not follow the ethical injunction to "respect the rhythm" will trade in a glorious postmortem "After Party" for eternal silence.

A couple years ago, Andy Deemer, a documentary filmmaker from Brooklyn, advertised for a new messiah for a new religion. The pay was $5,000, and the only requirement was that the winner spread the word for a couple of months.

The winner, and the subject of my god, Deemer's not-yet-completed documentary, was Joshua Boden, a bassist in a rock band called the Angelic Bombs. The religion Boden invented goes by the Church of Now, and one of its 14 precepts is "This life is the one that counts; this IS your eternal reward." To which I can practically hear my students cheering, "Amen!"

What of tradition?

In their final exam this past semester, I asked my students to reflect on whether young Americans are the canaries in the mines of more traditional religions. Study after study has shown that American college students are fleeing from organized religion to mix-and-match spirituality. So what will happen to what one of my students referred to as the "religions of discipline" when this millennial generation (born in the late 1970s through the 1990s ) grows up? What will today's youth do with religions whose ethical injunctions arrive as strict commandments rather than friendly suggestions? Will they be able to abide religions that divide the human family into the saved and the damned, that present as absolute truth what they suspect is mere speculation?

My students' projects suggest that traditional religions are in trouble. Of course, these young people might eventually see the light. Who cares about heaven or hell when there is a party to go to and a hot young thing eager to meet you there? But after college, after your children are born and your parents die and your body grows old, traditional religions might look more appealing.

One of my students, Carrie-Anne Solana, told me that the religions her colleagues presented in class amounted to nothing more than "organized atheism." "They took normal human impulses," such as eating, drinking, sleeping, having sex and socializing, she said, "and justified them under the title of religion while not offering any form of explanation into why we are here, where we came from or where we go when we die."

Even so, I can't help but think that priests, rabbis, imams and ministers would do well to engage in interfaith dialogue not only with one another but also with this "spiritual but not religious" generation. One of the biggest challenges to any ancient faith is to adapt to modern circumstances and then, as circumstances change, to adapt again. American religious institutions are, as a rule, doing a poor job of listening to and learning from this millennial generation. Far too often, religious services in the USA are of the adults, by the adults and for the adults. And don't think young people aren't noticing.

Yes, the religions that students conjure up in my courses tend toward vagueness and relativism. Often they seek to entertain as much as to enlighten. But because they are invented rather than inherited, these religious creations provide a glimpse into the concerns and convictions, hopes and fears of young Americans, who are slouching not toward Bethlehem or even atheism, but toward new ways of being religious — innovative ways that ancient religions ignore at their peril.

Stephen Prothero is the chair of Boston University's Department of Religion and the author of Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know — And Doesn't.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Blessed are they

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 3, 2008:

The philosopher Aristotle long ago said, “Happiness is that which all [people] seek.” Aristotle observed that the things that people do 24 hours a day, seven days a week, are the things that they believe will bring them happiness in one form or another. The problem, of course, is that what people think will bring them happiness rarely achieves that goal of true and lasting happiness. Things haven’t changed too much since the time of Aristotle.

A while back, Time Magazine dedicated an issue to “The New Science of Happiness.” They sought to uncover the secret of happiness. What did they discover? In one article, they wrote, “What has science learned about what makes the human heart sing? …Take wealth, for instance, and all the delightful things that money can buy. Research…has shown that once your basic needs are met, additional income does little to raise your sense of satisfaction with life. A good education? Sorry, Mom and Dad, neither education nor, for that matter, a high IQ paves the road to happiness. Youth? No, again. In fact, older people are more consistently satisfied with their lives than the young. Marriage? Married people are generally happier than singles. But, on the positive side, religious faith seems to genuinely lift the spirit.”

In our world, many people spend a great deal of time pursuing wealth, power, pleasure, popularity and fame – things which may bring a momentary thrill, but lack any true happiness. Yet, look at how much time and resources are often spent in their pursuit.

True happiness can only be found in other ways, and is often found in unlikely ways. And that is the theme of our readings today. And so God shows us that this happiness we seek, is found in places we wouldn’t normally expect. Another word for true and lasting happiness is “blessedness” or “beatitude.” Jesus gives us in the Sermon on the Mount that we heard in today’s gospel, the road to blessedness or happiness. The beatitudes constitute a road map for anyone who seeks to attain true happiness.

The world has its own idea of happiness. If a committee were set up to draw up the beatitudes, we would most probably end up with a list very different from that which Jesus gives us today.
Where Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in spirit” we would likely say “Blessed are the rich.” Where Jesus says “Blessed are those who mourn” we would say “Blessed are those having fun.” Where Jesus says “Blessed are the meek” we would say “Blessed are the smart.” Where Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” we would say “Blessed are those who wine and dine.” Where Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful” we would say “Blessed are the powerful.” Where Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart” we would say “Blessed are the thin and beautiful.” Where Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers” we would say “Blessed are the ones with the biggest guns.” And where Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” we would say “Blessed are those who can afford the best lawyers.”

The values prescribed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount are in fact counter-cultural. And so, we cannot accept these teachings of Jesus and at the same time accept all the values of the society in which we live. Jesus is calling us to put God first in our lives because only God can guarantee the true happiness and peace that our hearts long for. Nothing in the world can give this peace, and nothing in the world can take it away.

The Sermon on the Mount is in fact Jesus’ first homily, His first preaching. Jesus wants everything that will follow - the healings, the miracles, the journey towards crucifixion and resurrection – to be seen in this context. It all leads to happiness.

The question for us today, therefore, is this: Do we seek our happiness through the values of the world or do we live by the beatitudes of Jesus? If you live by the teachings of Jesus, then rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.

I will end with the words of Pope John Paul II, who spoke of the Beatitudes at World Youth Day in Toronto a few years ago. He said, “Jesus did not limit himself to proclaiming the Beatitudes, he lived them!...The Beatitudes describe what a Christian should be: they are the portrait of those who have accepted the Kingdom of God. The joy promised by the Beatitudes is the very joy of Jesus himself ….By looking at Jesus you will learn what it means to be poor in spirit, meek and merciful; what it means to seek justice, to be pure in heart, to be peacemakers. Today Jesus’ voice resounds in the midst of our gathering. His is a voice of life, of hope, of forgiveness; a voice of justice and of peace. Let us listen to this voice! The Church today looks to you with confidence and expects you to be the people of the Beatitudes. Blessed are you if, like Jesus, you are poor in spirit, good and merciful; if you really seek what it just and right; if you are pure of heart, peacemakers, lovers of the poor and their servants. Blessed are you!”

May we all pledge to live in God’s blessedness and may God give you peace.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Presentation of the Lord

Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Presentation of the Lord which occurs forty days after the birth of Jesus and is also known as Candlemas day, since the blessing and procession of candles is often included in today's liturgy.

Before the revision of the General Roman Calendar this marked the end of the Christmas season. The reformed calendar has designated that the Sunday after Epiphany, the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, is the end of the Christmas season. This feast is no longer referred to as the "Purification of Mary" but the "Presentation of the Lord."

The feast was first observed in the Eastern Church as "The Encounter." In the sixth century, it began to be observed in the West: in Rome with a more penitential character and in Gaul (France) with solemn blessings and processions of candles, popularly known as "Candlemas." The Presentation of the Lord concludes the celebration of the Nativity and with the offerings of the Virgin Mother and the prophecy of Simeon, the events now point toward Easter.

"In obedience to the Old Law, the Lord Jesus, the first-born, was presented in the Temple by his Blessed Mother and his foster father. This is another 'epiphany' celebration insofar as the Christ Child is revealed as the Messiah through the canticle and words of Simeon and the testimony of Anna the prophetess. Christ is the light of the nations, hence the blessing and procession of candles on this day. In the Middle Ages this feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or 'Candlemas,' was of great importance.

The specific liturgy of this Candlemas feast, the blessing of candles, is not as widely celebrated as it should be, except of course whenever February 2 falls on a Sunday and thus takes precedence. There are two ways of celebrating the ceremony, either the Procession, which begins at a 'gathering place' outside the church, or the Solemn Entrance, celebrated within the church."— Ceremonies of the Liturgical Year

"Until 1969, the ancient feast of the Presentation of Our Lord, which is of Oriental origin, was known in the West as the feast of the Purification of Our Lady, and closed the Christmas season, forty days after the Lord's birth. This feast has for long been associated with many popular devotional exercises.

The faithful:
- gladly participate in the processions commemorating the Lord's entry into the Temple in Jerusalem and His encounter with God, whose house He had come to for the first time, and then with Simeon and Anna. Such processions, which in the West had taken the place of licentious pagan events, always had a penitential character, and were later identified with the blessing of candles which were carried in procession in honour of Christ, 'the light to enlighten the Gentiles' (Lk 2, 32);

- are sensitive to the actions of the Blessed Virgin in presenting her Son in the Temple, and to her submission to the Law of Moses (Lk 12, 1-8) in the rite of purification; popular piety sees in the rite of purification the humility of Our Lady and hence, 2 February has long been regarded as a feast for those in humble service.

Popular piety is sensitive to the providential and mysterious event that is the conception and birth of new life. Christian mothers can easily identify with the maternity of Our Lady, the most pure Mother of the Head of the mystical Body — notwithstanding the notable differences in the Virgin's unique conception and birth.

These too are mothers in God's plan and are about to give birth to future members of the Church. From this intuition and a certain mimesis of the purification of Our Lady, the rite of purification after birth was developed, some of whose elements reflect negatively on birth.

The revised Rituale Romanum provides for the blessing of women both before and after birth, this latter only in cases where the mother could not participate at the baptism of her child.

It is a highly desirable thing for mothers and married couples to ask for these blessings which should be given in accord with the Church's prayer: in a communion of faith and charity in prayer so that pregnancy can be brought to term without difficulty (blessing before birth), and to give thanks to God for the gift of a child (blessing after birth).

In some local Churches, certain elements taken from the Gospel account of the Presentation of the Lord (Lk 2, 22-40), such as the obedience of Joseph and Mary to the Law of the Lord, the poverty of the holy spouses, the virginity of Our Lady, mark out 2 February as a special feast for those at the service of the brethren in the various forms of consecrated life.

The feast of 2 February still retains a popular character. It is necessary, however, that such should reflect the true Christian significance of the feast. It would not be proper for popular piety in its celebration of this feast to overlook its Christological significance and concentrate exclusively on its Marian aspects. The fact that this feast should be 'considered [...] a joint memorial of Son and Mother' would not support such an inversion. The candles kept by the faithful in their homes should be seen as a sign of Christ 'the light of the world' and an expression of faith."

Excerpted from Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Where are the people?

A recent issue of the National Catholic Reporter tackled the issue of empty pews, something that is becoming an increasing reality in American parishes. While Fr. Mike and I thank God every day that our parish has the opposite problem - where are we going to park all those cars! - it is an interesting article just the same. Check it out. From NCR:

Almost three-quarters of Americans who haven’t darkened the door of a church in the last six months think it is “full of hypocrites,” and even more of them consider Christianity to be more about organized religion than about loving God and people, according to a new survey.

Almost half of those surveyed -- 44 percent -- agreed that “Christians get on my nerves.”
But the survey of “unchurched” Americans by LifeWay Research also found that some 78 percent said they would be willing to listen to someone who wanted to tell them about his or her Christian beliefs.

Researchers, affiliated with the Southern Baptists’ LifeWay Christian Resources, defined “unchurched” as Christians who haven’t attended church in six months as well as non-Christians such as Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists.

The findings echoed a previous study by The Barna Group that found the vast majority of young non-Christians view Christianity as anti-gay, judgmental and hypocritical.

Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research, said the finding that 79 percent of respondents thought Christianity was more about organized religion than about loving God and people should challenge individual Christians.

“That really needs to cause the church to check themselves a little bit and to say, ‘OK, how can we get back to the main thing?’ ” he said.

Other findings showed many of those surveyed believed in God but don’t feel the need to express those beliefs within a church building. Almost three-quarters -- 72 percent -- agreed that God “actually exists,” and an even larger percentage -- 86 percent -- said they believed they could have a good relationship with God without church involvement.

The study was based on an overall sample of 1,402 adults who were interviewed by phone in 2007, including 900 age 18-29 and 502 age 30 and older. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

National Catholic Reporter, January 25, 2008