Monday, March 31, 2008

Vatican: Muslims now outnumber Catholics

Vatican City, Mar 31, 2008 - Islam has surpassed Roman Catholicism as the world's largest religion, L’Osservatore Romano reported on Sunday.

"For the first time in history, we are no longer at the top: Muslims have overtaken us," Monsignor Vittorio Formenti said in an interview with the Vatican daily.

According to the most recent figures from the Vatican yearbook of statistics, the number of the world's population that are Muslims is 19.2%, with the number of Catholics trailing behind at 17.4 %.

"It is true that while Muslim families, as is well known, continue to make a lot of children, Christian ones on the contrary tend to have fewer and fewer,” Msgr. Formenti said.

These latest results come from 2006 and are not all Vatican tabulated. The figures on Muslims were put together by Muslim countries and then provided to the United Nations, he said, adding that the Vatican could only guarantee its own data.

When considering all Christians and not just Catholics, Christians make up 33 percent of the world population, Formenti said.

(from www.catholicnewsagency.com)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Baseball is back: Red Sox win!!

RED SOX WIN, 6-5!!
It was an early morning (6 a.m.) squeaker, but the Sox pulled it out with a win for the opening game of the new season!

Way to go boys!!

Monday, March 24, 2008

The resurrection of Jesus is essentially an event of love

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 23, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's Easter message delivered today at midday before he imparted his blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city of Rome and the world).

* * *

Resurrexi, et adhuc tecum sum. Alleluia! I have risen, I am still with you. Alleluia! Dear brothers and sisters, Jesus, crucified and risen, repeats this joyful proclamation to us today: the Easter proclamation. Let us welcome it with deep wonder and gratitude!

Resurrexi et adhuc tecum sum -- I have risen, I am still with you, for ever. These words, taken from an ancient version of Psalm 138 (v. 18b), were sung at the beginning of today’s Mass. In them, at the rising of the Easter sun, the Church recognizes the voice of Jesus himself who, on rising from death, turns to the Father filled with gladness and love, and exclaims: My Father, here I am! I have risen, I am still with you, and so I shall be for ever; your Spirit never abandoned me.

In this way we can also come to a new understanding of other passages from the psalm: "If I climb the heavens, you are there; if I descend into the underworld, you are there … Even darkness is not dark for you, and the night is as clear as day; for you, darkness is like light" (Ps 138:8,12). It is true: in the solemn Easter vigil, darkness becomes light, night gives way to the day that knows no sunset. The death and resurrection of the Word of God incarnate is an event of invincible love, it is the victory of that Love which has delivered us from the slavery of sin and death. It has changed the course of history, giving to human life an indestructible and renewed meaning and value.

"I have risen and I am still with you, for ever." These words invite us to contemplate the risen Christ, letting his voice resound in our heart. With his redeeming sacrifice, Jesus of Nazareth has made us adopted children of God, so that we too can now take our place in the mysterious dialogue between him and the Father. We are reminded of what he once said to those who were listening: "All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him" (Mt 11:27).

In this perspective, we note that the words addressed by the risen Jesus to the Father on this day -- "I am still with you, forever" -- apply indirectly to us as well, "children of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him" (cf. Rom 8:17). Through the death and resurrection of Christ, we too rise to new life today, and uniting our voice with his, we proclaim that we wish to remain forever with God, our infinitely good and merciful Father.

In this way we enter the depths of the Paschal mystery. The astonishing event of the resurrection of Jesus is essentially an event of love: the Father’s love in handing over his Son for the salvation of the world; the Son’s love in abandoning himself to the Father’s will for us all; the Spirit’s love in raising Jesus from the dead in his transfigured body. And there is more: the Father’s love which "newly embraces" the Son, enfolding him in glory; the Son’s love returning to the Father in the power of the Spirit, robed in our transfigured humanity. From today’s solemnity, in which we relive the absolute, once-and-for-all experience of Jesus’s resurrection, we receive an appeal to be converted to Love; we receive an invitation to live by rejecting hatred and selfishness, and to follow with docility in the footsteps of the Lamb that was slain for our salvation, to imitate the Redeemer who is "gentle and lowly in heart", who is "rest for our souls" (cf. Mt 11:29).

Dear Christian brothers and sisters in every part of the world, dear men and women whose spirit is sincerely open to the truth, let no heart be closed to the omnipotence of this redeeming love! Jesus Christ died and rose for all; he is our hope -- true hope for every human being. Today, just as he did with his disciples in Galilee before returning to the Father, the risen Jesus now sends us everywhere as witnesses of his hope, and he reassures us: I am with you always, all days, until the end of the world (cf. Mt 28:20). Fixing the gaze of our spirit on the glorious wounds of his transfigured body, we can understand the meaning and value of suffering, we can tend the many wounds that continue to disfigure humanity in our own day.

In his glorious wounds we recognize the indestructible signs of the infinite mercy of the God of whom the prophet says: it is he who heals the wounds of broken hearts, who defends the weak and proclaims the freedom of slaves, who consoles all the afflicted and bestows upon them the oil of gladness instead of a mourning robe, a song of praise instead of a sorrowful heart (cf. Is 61:1,2,3). If with humble trust we draw near to him, we encounter in his gaze the response to the deepest longings of our heart: to know God and to establish with him a living relationship in an authentic communion of love, which can fill our lives, our interpersonal and social relations with that same love. For this reason, humanity needs Christ: in him, our hope, "we have been saved" (cf. Rom 8:24).

How often relations between individuals, between groups and between peoples are marked not by love but by selfishness, injustice, hatred and violence! These are the scourges of humanity, open and festering in every corner of the planet, although they are often ignored and sometimes deliberately concealed; wounds that torture the souls and bodies of countless of our brothers and sisters. They are waiting to be tended and healed by the glorious wounds of our Risen Lord (cf. 1 Pet 2:24-25) and by the solidarity of people who, following in his footsteps, perform deeds of charity in his name, make an active commitment to justice, and spread luminous signs of hope in areas bloodied by conflict and wherever the dignity of the human person continues to be scorned and trampled. It is hoped that these are precisely the places where gestures of moderation and forgiveness will increase!

Dear brothers and sisters! Let us allow the light that streams forth from this solemn day to enlighten us; let us open ourselves in sincere trust to the risen Christ, so that his victory over evil and death may also triumph in each one of us, in our families, in our cities and in our nations. Let it shine forth in every part of the world. In particular, how can we fail to remember certain African regions, such as Dafur and Somalia, the tormented Middle East, especially the Holy Land, Iraq, Lebanon, and finally Tibet, all of whom I encourage to seek solutions that will safeguard peace and the common good! Let us invoke the fullness of his Paschal gifts, through the intercession of Mary who, after sharing the sufferings of the passion and crucifixion of her innocent Son, also experienced the inexpressible joy of his resurrection. Sharing in the glory of Christ, may she be the one to protect us and guide us along the path of fraternal solidarity and peace. These are my Easter greetings, which I address to all who are present here, and to men and women of every nation and continent united with us through radio and television.

Happy Easter!

[Translation distributed by the Holy See]

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Open every Sunday


The empty tomb has become the womb of eternal life!

SOLEMNITY OF THE RESURRECTION OF THE LORD, March 23, 2008:

“Dear Katie,

I wrote this little poem for you and I hope that when we are married and celebrating our Golden wedding anniversary (50 years) that you will have this little love note from your sweetheart.

My Darling I will always Love you and hope and pray that you will always love me.

This is a …Valentine I am giving you, one that means everything that it says… written by your darling (I hope so).

I will close with all my love, to my love, from her Love. My Darling, My Katie, My Dear,

Loads of Love,
Bud.”

What I just shared is a love letter written from my grandfather to my grandmother a few years before they were married. It was 1935 and he was in the Navy, just 18 years old. I was thinking of that letter this week because I was a bit shocked to realize when I looked at a calendar that tomorrow will be six years since my grandmother died. We buried her on the Wednesday of Holy Week six years ago. When preparing for her funeral, I found that love letter in a chest in my her bedroom. No one knew of that letter other than my grandmother and my grandfather. After finding that letter I shared it with my family and those gathered at that funeral six years ago.

I share it with you today because that experience has been on my heart this week because it taught me in a profound way what Easter is all about. It was the lesson learned while experiencing the grief of losing a loved one so close to the celebration of Easter, the celebration of resurrection. I remember heading back to my parish in on Holy Thursday and thinking about my Easter Sunday homily not knowing what I could preach about in the midst of my grief. But I realized if I couldn’t preach about the resurrection specifically when someone close to me had passed, that perhaps I didn’t have the right to ever talk about it. It is precisely when we’re in the midst of mourning, that the resurrection is the most powerful message ever – it is the message that says death is not the end, death doesn’t get the last word – there will be newness of life, and life everlasting!

Grief is a common experience and as we gather this Easter, I’m sure most of us have experienced some form of loss over the course of this last year. Perhaps we come to this celebration today with a heavy heart, or are praying for someone experiencing that kind of heaviness. There can be no more powerful message to the grieving heart then the message of Resurrection from the dead.

At the Easter Vigil last night, I sung the Exultet, which is the great hymn of resurrection sung only at the Easter Vigil. There is a powerful phrase in the Exultet which says, “The power of this holy night dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy.” Brings mourners joy. I was struck by that last line – the power of the resurrection does so many things including bringing mourners joy. Joy! Why? Because there can be no greater joy known in the world then the realization of the resurrection in the face of mourning and grief.

The resurrection of Jesus, and our own resurrection, cannot be reduced to a pretty holiday of fancy clothing and colored candy eggs. This day isn’t about pretty colors, lots of candy and a good meal. It is much more tangible than that. It is about bringing the most profound joy into the most difficult moments of our lives.

This great event and celebration can’t be something that we merely commemorate today at this Mass, but it must be something we connect with at the most painful and difficult moments in our lives with the firm trust and firm faith that God can bring new life to any situation. Saint Paul tells us in his letter to the Thessalonians, “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” We do believe and we do have hope.

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the very center of what we believe. We must ask ourselves today more than ever, do we believe it? Do we truly in our hearts believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, that we too will be raised from the dead, that the loved ones whose loss we grieve have been raised from the dead? Can we stand with family members and friends who have lost someone and say, “He or she is with God now. They have been saved by the resurrection of Jesus.” We must have the faith that can say just that.

And why? Because we believe in the empty tomb. Our gospel stories today leave us with one thing – an empty tomb. There is no body left in that tomb because it has been raised! We are people of the empty tomb. Fr. Mike shared a wonderful quote in his homily last night. He said, “The tomb that held the dead Christ has now become the womb giving birth to eternal life.” The empty tomb speaks our faith – it speaks of a God who can conquer all things, who can triumph over all things, who can transform and change any situation into one that burst with life – not even death has power over this God of ours!

My brothers and sisters, we need to be mindful of this message more today than ever before. In the midst of all of the trial and violence and strife and war in our world, God tells us that He will raise us to new life, new possibilities, new ways to care for one another, to love one another, to establish peace. God will renew us, transform us, change us, make us new, bring us to new life! The empty tomb has become the womb of new life!

Nothing can triumph over this. As St. Paul said, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

My brothers and sisters – nothing at all can keep us from being born to a newness of life – as individuals, as a community, as priest and people, as Church. I can say with confidence my grandmother is raised, my grandfather is raised, all the loved ones that we’ve lost have been raised, this Church will be raised, our warring world will be raised, each one of us will be raised - if we open ourselves and embrace the resurrection that Christ has planned for each of us.
The empty tomb has become the womb giving birth to eternal life! Jesus has risen as He promised – let us rejoice and be glad!

Happy Easter and may God give you peace!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

"I have given you a model to follow"

HOLY THURSDAY MASS OF THE LORD'S SUPPER, March 20, 2008:

Jesus said, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” We gather on this Holy Night and celebrate the beginning of the Three Great Days – the Sacred Triduum, which really serves as one singular feast. Tonight’s feast recalls many things – the Eucharist, service, the priesthood – but ultimately I think it focuses on God’s bounty; God’s goodness to us. On this holy night, God spoils us.

Now, typically we think of Christmas as the gift-giving holiday, but actually today’s celebration is the one that is truly about gifts – in fact, it is about the greatest gifts ever given. We celebrate tonight God’s gift to us in Jesus Christ, His Son; and His three-fold gift of Christ’s presence among us in the priesthood, in the Eucharist, and in service.

At that Last Supper, Jesus instituted of the priesthood. It was during this Last Supper that Jesus ordained His first priests – the Apostles. If it weren’t for Holy Thursday so long ago, we wouldn’t be here tonight. The gift of the priesthood is the unique way in which Jesus has continued to transmit that Divine reality of His message, His love, His presence through time to us today. We need the priesthood so that Jesus can continue to be present among us baptizing and confirming us into His family, anointing us when we are sick and near death, marrying us when we find the person God has chosen for us to be with, forgiving our sins when we have fallen, making present His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. The priesthood is the instrument, the medium, through which God is truly present in our midst. It is our privilege as priests to be the instruments by which Christ makes Himself present in the Holy Eucharist. It is also our privilege to serve you, God’s people, in Christ’s name, following His example. On behalf of Fr. Mike and myself, may I thank you this night for the ways that you support us; for the many ways in which, despite our failings, you continue to be so good to us. May we always serve you faithfully and lovingly.

Supreme among what we celebrate tonight is God’s gift of the Eucharist. And no better night than its own anniversary to celebrate it together. We celebrate it as a memorial, but with a difference. Our Lord said, “Do this in memory of me.” The Greek word for “memory” is anamnesis. “Do this in anamnesis of me.” Anamnesis means not just to recall, but to revive, not just to remember, but to re-enact. What makes the Eucharist so special is that Christ is present, not just in memory. He is really and truly, physically present under the appearance of bread and wine; in the reality of His Body and Blood. What makes the Mass so special is that it makes present the supper and the sacrifice – the Last Supper and Calvary – so that we can enter into the closest possible union with our Lord and offer our lives with Him to the Father. We don’t come to Mass merely to pray to God the Father. We come to be with Christ, to hear Him, to be nourished by Him, to offer ourselves with Him.

Today is the anniversary of that day when Jesus took bread and wine and for the very first time and changed it into His body and Blood. “This is my body given for you…this cup is the new covenant in my blood poured out for you.” These great words were both gift and sacrifice. Jesus in the Eucharist made an offering of Himself, and offering that would be completed the following day on the cross. So, our Mass today and always combines the two – the Supper and the Sacrifice – the night before and the day after. And our Mass doesn’t just bring it to mind, or recall it, or remember it. Our Mass makes it present again. Christ renews this offering in every Mass and invites us to enter into it.

Finally, we celebrate the gift of Christ’s example us in the washing of the feet; a gift which cannot be separated from the gift of the Eucharist. What an interesting movement we have in the life of Jesus. At the beginning of His mission, Christ took us in Cana from water to wine; now nearing the end of His mission, in that Upper Room, He takes us from wine back to water; the wine of the Last Supper to the water of the foot washing. He illustrates in the most dramatic way the inescapable link between Eucharist and service. Eucharist, communion, by necessity should lead us to loving service of one another.

Let’s reflect a bit on the background. If you walked the dusty roads of our Lord’s time, without sandals – or even with sandals – your feet would get very dirty and very sore. And the first thing you’d be offered when you’d arrive at a house or an inn would be a basin of water and a towel. But, they wouldn’t wash your feet for you. You’d do that yourself. Foot washing was a very menial task. It was so menial in fact that often even a slave was not expected to wash the feet of his master. The master could do it for himself. This is why Peter is so shocked, “You will never wash my feet,” he said to Jesus, who replied, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” To be a Christian, to be part of Christ, is to have an unbounded, limitless spirit of service. The modern equivalent of washing feet might be to do things like looking after our ageing parents and grandparents; to be good to our neighbors, especially when there’s trouble or it is difficult; to be kind and tender towards the sick; to be helpful to the handicapped; to be welcoming to the stranger and the homeless; to be generous towards the poor, the marginalized, the needy.

We can, in fact, wash people’s feet without ever taking off their shoes at all. We can have a towel over our shoulder that no one ever actually sees. The point is that we don’t lord our service over anyone. We serve and we love as Jesus loved us; as Jesus loved others. That’s the example – and that’s the challenge. The importance of living the Eucharist in terms of service was emphasized by Jesus when He contemplated the weary feet of His disciples with a towel in one hand and a basin in the other. The more familiar become with the weariness around us, the better we’ll understand the call of the Eucharist in our lives. “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

So, I ask you tonight, as Jesus asked so long ago, Will you let me wash your feet? Will you let me, in persona Christi, kneel before you and wash your feet? Will you allow yourself to be served, to receive the loving service of God through this humble action of washing?

If you will, I invite you to come forward now.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Mikhail Gorbachev admits he is a Christian

By Malcolm Moore in Rome
Telegraph of London

Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Communist leader of the Soviet Union, has acknowledged his Christian faith for the first time, paying a surprise visit to pray at the tomb of St Francis of Assisi.

Accompanied by his daughter Irina, Mr Gorbachev spent half an hour on his knees in silent prayer at the tomb.

His arrival in Assisi was described as "spiritual perestroika" by La Stampa, the Italian newspaper.

"St Francis is, for me, the alter Christus, the other Christ," said Mr Gorbachev. "His story fascinates me and has played a fundamental role in my life," he added.

Mr Gorbachev's surprise visit confirmed decades of rumours that, although he was forced to publicly pronounce himself an atheist, he was in fact a Christian, and casts a meeting with Pope John Paul II in 1989 in a new light. Mr Gorbachev, 77, was baptised into the Russian Orthodox Church and his parents were Christians. In addition, the parents of his wife Raisa were deeply religious and were killed during the Second World War for having religious icons in their home.

Ronald Reagan, the former United States president, allegedly told his close aides on a number of occasions that he felt his opponent during the Cold War was a "closet believer".

Mr Reagan held deep religious convictions himself. However, until now Mr Gorbachev has allowed himself to express only pantheistic views, saying in one interview "nature is my god".
After his prayers, Mr Gorbachev toured the Basilica of St Francis and asked in particular to be shown an icon of St Francis portraying his "dream at Spoleto".

St Francis, who lived in the 12th century, was a troubadour and a poet before the spiritual vision caused him to return to Assisi and contemplate a religious life.

Even in his early days, St Francis helped the poor, once giving all of his money to a beggar. As well as spending time in the wilderness, he also nursed lepers and eventually became a priest.
"It was through St Francis that I arrived at the Church, so it was important that I came to visit his tomb," said Mr Gorbachev.

"I feel very emotional to be here at such an important place not only for the Catholic faith, but for all humanity."

He also asked the monks for theological books to help him understand St Francis's life.

Father Miroslavo Anuskevic, who accompanied the former Soviet leader, said: "He was not recognised by any of the worshippers in the church, and silently meditated at the tomb for a while. He seemed a man deeply inspired by charity, and told me that he was involved in a project to help children with cancer.

"He talked a lot about Russia and said that even though the transition to democracy had been very important for the world, it was very painful for Russia. He said it was a country which has a great history, and also a great spirituality."

Ask Father Tom: What days are Holy Days of Obligation?

Question: What are the Holy Days of Obligation that our diocese recognizes and why do the Holy Days of Obligation differ not only from Country to Country, but from diocese to diocese? I actually went on-line to determine if any of the days during Holy Week this week were Holy Days of Obligation. I was surprised to see some Catholic Internet sites identify Thursday, Friday, Saturday and, of course, Sunday as Holy Days of Obligation while others made no mention of any of them being Holy Days of Obligation with the exception of Sunday.

ANSWER: I know the way we talk about Holy Days can often be confusing. However, there are set Holy Days of Obligation that do not change from country to country or diocese to diocese, but are universal. They are:

1. Every Sunday
2. January 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
3. Ascension Thursday (Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter)
4. August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
5. November 1, the solemnity of All Saints
6. December 8, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
7. December 25, the solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Additionally, the bishops of the United States have decreed that when January 1, August 15 or November 1 falls on a Saturday or Monday, the requirement to attend Mass is suspended. Also, in some dioceses, they have transferred some of these celebrations to the nearest Sunday, for example, in some dioceses Ascension is celebrated on the Sunday after Ascension Thursday. In any case, they haven’t eliminated to Holy Day, but transferred its obligation to a different day.

As for the Sacred Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil); I have never heard of Holy Thursday or Good Friday being referred to as a Holy Day of Obligation. Only Easter Sunday is.

My personal opinion is that we should keep holy days as they are. They are holy for a reason - because of what they celebrate. I personally don't understand how a holy day reduces its rank simply because it falls on a Saturday or a Monday. It IS a holy day and we should celebrate it as such. This business of transferring or abrogating the obligation is silly and just confuses people.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

He died for us

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, March 16, 2008:

Jesus Christ “humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” In the liturgy, before the Second Vatican Council, on Palm Sunday after the reading of the Passion, there was no homily. Even the concluding acclamation: “The gospel of the Lord” was omitted. It was a proclamation that was greeted by a profound silence. Our liturgy today still calls for a respect for that silence. In the face of the Cross of Jesus, in recognition of his Passion and Death for us, the most eloquent response to this saving Word of God we have proclaimed is silence. The best, most profound homily that could ever be preached is right here in our midst and it uses no words – it is the Cross. Jesus did this for us – for each one of us.

We find Jesus on the Cross – not for any sin of His own, but for the sins of all of us throughout all time. He is on that Cross for one reason – because that’s how great His love is for us. Forget all of the hearts and chocolates and flowers that we usually associate as symbols of love – those two crossed pieces of wood are the most profound symbol of love that there is. Jesus died for us because He loves us.

Listen to those words: “He died for us.” He died for you, and for you and He died for me. Many of us have heard them so many times that they no longer carry with the shock of someone dying on account of what we have done. If you’ve seen the movie The Passion of the Christ, you have at least a sense of the immensity of that love. The challenge for each of us is to hear this message again today as though it were the first time, the story of a man who literally died for the sins of His brothers and sisters. He died for us!

This is a story of the profound love that God has for each of us; the profound hope that God places in each of us; and the profound confidence that God has in us that we truly can be His people, we can truly achieve the Kingdom, we can truly overcome our own sinfulness, our own weakness – with His grace and help. He died for us. How will you respond to what God has done for you?

Today’s celebration marks our entry way into Holy Week. We will spend this next week entering deeply into the story; deeply into the imagery and symbolism and ritual of our salvation – from the Last Supper, through that death and crucifixion, right through to newness of life in Resurrection. Today reminds us that our story is one that is full of triumph, the triumph of our King, but it is also one that is full of suffering. Our story is one of grace in the Eucharist, in our own Baptism, it is one that calls us into the service of our brothers and sisters.

He died for us! That is what it all comes down to. And so, what will you do? How will you respond to this time of grace?

I invite us all to take a few moments of silent meditation. Gaze upon our cross. See in it the sign of God’s profound love for you.

May God give you peace.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Great and Holy Week

FRIARS CORNER, March 16, 2008:

The Great and Holy Week

With today’s celebration of Palm Sunday, we enter into the most spectacular week of our Church year – Holy Week. This is the most wonderful week ever and yet how few Catholics take advantage of all it has to offer. Holy Week originated as part of the ritual of bringing new members into the community beginning in the 4th century. As we enter into this week, let’s take a brief look at each of the stops along the way of this week.

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. Some of you might remember that these were once two different Sundays. Palm Sunday was its own day, Passion Sunday was the week before. Following the Second Vatican Council, in the renewed rites, it was placed into one celebration. Today, I always like to think of it as a Prologue to the rest of Holy Week. We begin by seeing Jesus enter Jerusalem triumphantly as the people drop palms on the roadway before Him and hail Him as King. By the end of that Mass, we are recalling his crucifixion, passion and death. So, too will we on our journey throughout the week.

Tuesday, Chrism Mass. The Chrism Mass is the one true Archdiocesan celebration of the year. The entire Archdiocese comes together at the Cathedral and celebrates Mass with the Archbishop. During this Mass, the Archbishop will consecrate all of the Holy Oils that will be used throughout the year in the sacraments of the Church: the Oil of the Sick (to be used every time we anoint someone), the Oil of Catechumens (which is used during the Sacraments of Initiation), and the Sacred Chrism, which is used for Baptism, Confirmation and Ordinations. Also, at this Mass, all of the priests, deacons and religious renew their vows that they took when ordained or entering religious life. This Mass is the hidden gem of the liturgical year – and it is open to the public (11 a.m.).

SACRED TRIDUUM. There are three days during Holy Week that stand out above the rest – Holy Thursday’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. They are actually one liturgical celebration spread over three days. We make the sign of the cross at the beginning of the Holy Thursday Mass, but will not have a dismissal until the end of the Easter Vigil.

Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper. This Mass, by its name, has again a two-fold presentation. It commemorates the gift of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, and the establishment of the priesthood. It also reminds us that both of those gifts must lead us to service and so we have the Washing of the Feet at this Mass, just as Jesus did at the Last Supper. Following Mass, we continue our celebration of the Eucharist in adoration until midnight. This celebration begins in joy – we even get to sing the Gloria, which we haven’t done since before Lent began.

Good Friday. This is perhaps the greatest day of sadness in our Church year. It is witnessed in the Church, which was completely stripped the night before. There is a solemnity, a quietness and a somber nature to this day. On this day, no sacraments are celebrated, in commemoration of the death of Jesus. We gather during the day to pray the Stations of the Cross and at night to celebrate the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion – again remembering His crucifixion and death. The great beauty of this celebration is in the solemn veneration of the Cross. This is a day of fasting and abstinence; easily the most penitential day of the whole year. This celebration begins and ends in silence and there is a long standing tradition in the Church of everyone trying to speak as little as possible throughout this day.

Saturday Easter Vigil. If Good Friday was the saddest day of the year, the Easter Vigil is the happiest. This day is the proclamation of the triumph of Life over Death. Jesus had been killed, and we have mourned, but now, He has done the seemingly impossible – He has been raised from the dead back to Life! All things are made new on this day.

We begin our celebration at 8 p.m. to be certain the sun has gone down. We have great drama right at the start as we meet outdoors to bless the new fire and light the new Easter candle. We enter the Church in darkness as the Deacon sings, “Christ our Light” and presents the Easter candle to the people who respond, “Thanks be to God.” As he moves through the Church, we all light our candles and the Light of Christ transforms our darkness to new light. During the Liturgy of the Word, we have expanded readings – seven of them – that tell the whole story of our salvation from the Creation through the Resurrection.

The other highlight of this celebration is the welcoming of new members into the faith, and so after the homily, we have the celebration of baptisms and confirmation. If someone is joining the Catholic Church from another Christian faith, and does not need these sacraments, they too will be welcomed. At the time of Communion, those new members of the Church will also receive their First Holy Communion.

My challenge to you today is to experience the fullness of this week. The full schedule of our Holy Week celebrations is on the handout in today’s bulletin. Come and experience this unique, interesting and holy time in our Church. Have a blessed and holy week!

Love,Fr. Tom

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Hymn #365

Via email:

A minister was completing a temperance sermon. With great emphasis he said, "If I had all the beer in the world, I'd take it and pour it into the river."

With even greater emphasis he said, "And if I had all the wine in the world, I'd take it and pour it into the river."

And then finally, shaking his fist in the air, he said, "And if I had all the whiskey in the world, I'd take it and pour it into the river."

Sermon complete, he sat down.

The song leader stood very cautiously and announced with a smile, nearly laughing, "For our closing song, Let us sing Hymn #365, We Shall Gather at the River."

Ask Father: How long are you in Purgatory?

How long are you in Purgatory and how many sins does it take to get into it?

This is certainly an interesting question. The answer involves the nature of the "afterlife" and also reveals I think a certain way of looking at our relationship with God that is more juridical than relational. So, first, what is Purgatory?

Well, this is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about the afterlife:

1023. Those who die in God's grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ. They are like God for ever, for they "see him as he is," face to face.

1024. This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity - this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed - is called "heaven." Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.

So, we are all destined for Heaven, for perfect unity with God. But, many times, when our earthly life has ended, we are not in a state of "perfect purification" as the Catechism puts it, yet we are also not people who have rejected God in our lives, certainly have not earned Hell.

So, what happens then? This is where Purgatory comes in. Again, the Catechism:

1030. All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

1031. The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire.

Purgatory has sometimes been portrayed in art and literature throughout the ages as a place of some torment, as though the purification we undergo there is painful. Here's what I think. If there is any pain there it is the pain of separation from God. We, in our heart of hearts, want nothing more than to be with God forever - this is what we were created for. So, in Purgatory we remain separated from the perfect unity with God that we will experience in Heaven, and in that is some pain. But, Purgatory is one-way. It is heading to Heaven, and that is great news.

How many sins do you have to commit to end up there? Not really a great question, and not one that can really be answered. It's like saying, "How many stains do I have to have on my tuxedo or dress before they won't let me into the ball?" The simple answer is whatever amount it takes to make us unready to be in perfect union with God. Our desire should be to be ready to be in His presence in Heaven. If that takes some Purgatory, so be it.

How long are you in Purgatory? That has two answers. The first is very philosophical - you're there for "no time" at all, meaning time is part of creation. We cannot help but think of things in terms of time - a now, a before, an after. Time is not part of eternity. So, we're not in there (don't get me going on where "there" is) for any time. But, we remain in Purgatory until we are purified and ready for Heaven.

Dont' forget something very important though. We've lost a tradition in our Catholic culture of praying for those in Purgatory. This is so important. Don't forget the souls in Purgatory and pray for them every day. Perhaps through our prayers, they will soon be ready for Heaven. And perhaps when our time comes, if we reach Purgatory ourselves before our final journey to Heaven, someone will pray for us.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Irish Archaeology

After having dug to a depth of 10 meters last year, Scottish archaeologists found traces of copper wire dating back 100 years and came to the conclusion that their ancestors already had a telephone network more than 100 years ago.

Not to be outdone by the Scots, in the weeks that followed, English Archaeologists dug to a depth of 20 meters, and shortly after, headlines in The English newspapers read: 'English archaeologists have found traces Of 200 year old copper wire and have concluded that their ancestors Already had an advanced high-tech communications network a hundred years Earlier than the Scots.'

One week later, 'The Kerryman,' a southwest Irish newspaper, reported the following: 'After digging as deep as 30 meters in a peat bog near Tralee , Paddy O'Droll, a self taught archaeologist, reported that he found Absolutely nothing. Paddy has therefore concluded that 300 years ago Ireland had already gone wireless.'

Monday, March 10, 2008

A very early Easter

Received via email:

Do you realize how early Easter is this year?

As you may know, Easter is always the 1st Sunday after the 1st full moon after the Spring Equinox (which is March 20). This dating of Easter is based on the lunar calendar that the Hebrews used to identify Passover, which is why it moves around on the Roman calendar.

This year is the earliest that any of us will ever see Easter for the rest of our lives. And only the most elderly (95 years old or above) of our population have ever seen it this early.

Additionally:

1) The next time Easter will be this early (March 23) will be the year 2228 (220 years from now). The last time it was this early was 1913.

2) The next time it will be a day earlier, March 22, will be in the year 2285 (277 years from now). The year 1818 was the last time it was on March 22.

Therefore, no one currently alive has seen or will ever see it any earlier than this year.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

An obedient faith

Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 9, 2008:

A poor man walking in the forest feelt close enough to God to ask, "God, what is a million years to you?" God replied, "My son, a million years to you is like a second to me." The man asked, "God, what is a million dollars to you?" God replied, "My son, a million dollars to you is less than a penny to me. It means almost nothing to me." The man then asked, "So God, can I have a million dollars?" God replied, "In a second."

"I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die." Today's Gospel contains one of the most well known Bible stories to us - the raising of Lazarus from the dead. In this rich story, we see three people whom Jesus loves dearly: Martha, with whom Jesus carries on a profound theological conversation; Mary, who believes that Jesus has power over the life of her brother; and Lazarus, whom Jesus calls back from the very clutches of death. This account is primarily a story about faith and obedience to God's will. Speaking to his disciples, Jesus says, "Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him." He tells Martha, "Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die." And at the end of the account we read, "Many...began to believe in him."

Of all the miracles Jesus performed, the raising of Lazarus ranks as the most astonishing to the people of his time. Traditional Jewish belief had it that the soul of a dead person remained in the body for three days. After three days the soul departs finally from the body never to return, and that is when corruption sets in. When Martha objects to the opening of the tomb and says, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days," she is expressing the common view that this is now a hopeless situation. Perhaps this is why Jesus delayed His arrival, to let the situation become clearly "impossible" in human standards before acting on it.In traditional Jewish mentality bringing back to life a person who is already four days dead and decaying is as unthinkable as Ezekiel's vision in which the dry bones of the dead are miraculously restored to life from our first reading.

For the early Christians, the story of the raising of Lazarus was more than a pointer to the resurrection of Jesus. For them this miracle is a challenge to never give up hope even in the hopeless situations in which they found themselves as individuals, as a church and as a nation. It's a reminder that it is never too late for God to revive and revitalize a person, a church or a nation. But first we must learn to cooperate with God.How can we cooperate with God so as to experience God's resurrection power in our lives and in our world? Well, we already know the answer: through obedient faith. Obedient faith is different from an expectant faith. An expectant faith has a confidence in what God can and will do. But, there is no one in this story with that kind of faith; no one believed that Jesus could bring Lazarus back to life after four days dead. No one expected him to do it, so expectant faith is not the emphasis here. Rather the emphasis in the story is on obedient faith: faithfully following God's will even when our confidence is perhaps weak. In other words, despite their doubts about the possibility of raising Lazarus, they still obediently followed Jesus' commands.

To raise Lazarus, Jesus issues three commands and all of them are obeyed to the letter. First, "Jesus said, 'Roll away the stone.' … So they rolled away the stone." Did the people understand why they should do this heavy work of rolling away the tombstone to expose a stinking corpse? No, but they had a faith in Jesus, expressing itself not through intellectual agreement with Him, but through obedience. Jesus' divine power was activated by human cooperation and obedience. It can also be stifled by non-cooperation. C.S. Lewis said, "God seems to do nothing by Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures." In other words, God will not do by a miracle what we can do by obedience.

The second command Jesus gives is directed to the dead man: "'Lazarus, come out!' and the dead man came out." We do not know the details of what transpired in the tomb. All we know is that Jesus' word of command is followed again by obedience. Lazarus gropes his way out of the dark tomb even with his hands and feet tied up in bandages, and his face all wrapped up. Even a man rotting away in the tomb can still have an obedient faith in God.

The third command again is addressed to the people, "Untie him, and let him go." Even though Lazarus could stumble himself out of the tomb, there was no way he could untie himself. He needs the community to do that for him. By unbinding Lazarus and setting him free from the death bands, the community is accepting Lazarus back as one of them. Again, all through obedience to God.

Many Christian individuals and communities today are dead much like Lazarus; but instead of a death of the body, we have fallen victim to the death of sin. Many are already in the tomb of hopelessness and decay, in the bondage of sinful habits and attitudes. Nothing short of a miracle can bring us back to life in Christ. Jesus is ready for the miracle. He Himself said, "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."

Are we ready to be obedient to His will for the miracle to happen? Are we ready to obediently roll away the stone that stands between us and the light of Christ's face? Are we ready to obediently take the first step to come out of the place of death and seek resurrection and new life through the gift of Confession? Jesus commands us as he commanded Lazarus, "John, Mary, Dave, Elizabeth, Tom - come out! Come out of the tomb of sin that has held you captive. Come out and be free!"

And, finally, are we also ready to untie, or forgive one another; to forgive the people who have wronged us; to stop holding grudges; to offer reconciliation, healing and at last let others go free? These are the ways we cooperate with God in the miracle of bringing renewal, and reviving us as individuals, as a church, and a nation. We are all called to obediently follow our God; to seek new life through reconciliation, and to become more and more a people who freely forgive the trespasses of others.

The Word of God today leads us past the inevitability of death to a consideration of life after death. But, Jesus asks us the same question He posed to Martha, "Do you believe this?" Do you believe this? Let us pray to have the obedience of the people in our Gospel, to have the faith of Martha, the trust of Lazarus so that we too may proclaim with our full heart, "Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world." Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that my obedience to You will bring me from the death of sin to abundant life. Yes, Lord, I believe that You can overcome any obstacle in my life; no matter how insurmountable it seems to me. Yes, Lord, I believe. I believe.

May God give you peace.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Number of priests rise steadily

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 29, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The number of priests steadily increased between 2000 and 2006, according to the newest pontifical yearbook.Benedict XVI received today from his secretary of state the 2008 edition of the Annuario Pontificio.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone was accompanied by Archbishop Fernando Filoni, "sostituo" for General Affairs, and the officials responsible for compiling and printing the volume.

A communiqué regarding the presentation highlights some of the salient facts contained in the new yearbook. In 2007, eight new episcopal sees were created, as well as one apostolic prefecture, two metropolitan sees and one apostolic vicariate; 169 new bishops were also appointed.

From year-end 2005 to year-end 2006, the latest date for which numbers are available, the number of Catholics in the world increased from 1.115 billion to 1.131 billion, a growth of 1.4%. Over the same period, the number of bishops grew to 4,898 from 4,841, an increase of 1.2%.

The number of religious and diocesan priests passed from 406,411 in 2005 to 407,262 in 2006 (a growth of 0.21%). The number of priests has grown steadily from 2000 to 2006.However, the distribution of priests differs from continent to continent. Their numbers have fallen in Europe and America, and increased in Africa and Asia.

Students of philosophy and theology in diocesan and religious seminaries number 115,480, an increase of 0.9% from year-end 2005 to year-end 2006.