Saturday, February 28, 2009

Know what it means to come home

FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT, March 1, 2009:

“Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.” That is a passage from a book that I’m reading right now called Home by Marilyn Robinson. It is the sequel to her very successful book Gilead. If you haven’t read either, they are well worth your time to pick up – great Lenten reading. Home is a sort-of prodigal son story as it tells of Jack, the black-sheep of the Boughton family, who returns home after many years to reconcile with his father and come to terms with the mistakes he’s made in his life. But, when I read that particular passage, I couldn’t help but think how fitting a description it is of our annual Lenten journey. “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.”

Lent, after all, is a journey that is all about coming home to the constant and eternal faithfulness of our God. And this is the message in our Gospel passage from Mark today. Mark gives us a familiar story; that of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, but Mark gives us the Cliff’s Notes version of it. We’re more accustomed to Matthew’s rendition which gives us the details of each of the specific temptations between Jesus and the Devil. But, Mark’s version cuts to the chase. We hear only that Jesus was in the desert for 40 days, that the Devil tempted Him and angels served His needs. And, then, we hear from Jesus, who say, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Don’t be fooled by the brevity of this proclamation. Although Matthew gives us more detail, even this brief statement in Mark is packed full of meaning. Jesus, first tells us to “repent.” What does it mean to repent? We often think of the word “repent” in terms of sorrow. When we repent we are sorry for what we’ve done or what we’ve failed to do. That is true enough, but repenting, especially in its Lenten sense, has an added quality to it – the quality of return. When we repent, we leave our former ways and return to the ways of the Lord. Our sorrow for our sins doesn’t leave us in our sin. We don’t say “I’m sorry for my sins,” and then just keep on sinning. Rather, when we repent, we recognize that we have wandered, to use the language of my book, and that we need to we turn ourselves back around; not only express sorrow for our sins, but go back in the direction of home; in the direction of God. When we repent, it is the very beginning of the journey of return.

Secondly, Jesus tells us to “believe in the Gospel.” This belief is the effect of our repenting, our turning around, because you see for the believer, the Gospel is our home. When we turn away from sin, the home we return to is the home of the Gospel. We all know that the word Gospel means literally, “Good News.” Our return home is for us the good news of our salvation, the good news that God loves us, God cares for us, God desires us to be reconciled to Him; God wants us to come home. Whenever we are far from that home, God stands at the door just waiting for our return. So Jesus says, don’t just listen to that Good News, don’t merely consider it, but He commands us to believe it; He commands us to live it; to live in it, as we would our home. Hold that Good News in the certainty of our hearts with the knowledge that what we have heard proclaimed is true! We have wandered away from that Good News and during Lent we come to learn what it means to come home.

“Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful.” My friends, we may find ourselves here today feeling any of these things – weary or bitter or bewildered; maybe other things – overwhelmed, tired, sinful, even far from God. But, God calls each of us today to come home once again; to be renewed in His love and in His grace; to leave behind our sins; to turn around and head towards God once again; to be the people He created us to be. Just like in most prodigal son stories, there is nothing so great that would ever keep the Father from welcoming us back into our home. How strongly our God wants our own 40 days to bring us back into closer, more intimate relationship with Him.

So, my brothers and sisters, come home this Lent; return to God with all your heart; repent and believe the Gospel; the Good News that God loves you, cares for you, wants to hold you so very close to His loving and forgiving heart.

“Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.”

May God give you peace.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Poor Doogie

Neil Patrick Harris cracks me up!

Judas Asparagas

A child was asked to write a book report on the entire Bible. Through the eyes of a child:

The Children's Bible in a Nutshell

In the beginning, which occurred near the start, there was nothing but God, darkness, and some gas. The Bible says, 'The Lord thy God is one, but I think He must be a lot older than that.

Anyway, God said, 'Give me a light!' and someone did.

Then God made the world.

He split the Adam and made Eve. Adam and Eve were naked, but they weren't embarrassed because mirrors hadn't been invented yet.

Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating one bad apple, so they were driven from the Garden of Eden.....Not sure what they were driven in though, because they didn't have cars.

Adam and Eve had a son, Cain, who hated his brother as long as he was Abel.

Pretty soon all of the early people died off, except for Methuselah, who lived to be like a million or something.

One of the next important people was Noah, who was a good guy, but one of his kids was kind of a Ham. Noah built a large boat and put his family and some animals on it. He asked some other people to join him, but they said they would have to take a rain check.

After Noah came Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob was more famous than his brother, Esau, because Esau sold Jacob his birthmark in exchange for some pot roast. Jacob had a son named Joseph who wore a really loud sports coat.

Another important Bible guy is Moses, whose real name was Charlton Heston. Moses led the Israel Lights out of Egypt and away from the evil Pharaoh after God sent ten plagues on Pharaoh's people. These plagues included frogs, mice, lice, bowels, and no cable.

God fed the Israel Lights every day with manicotti. Then he gave them His Top Ten Commandments. These include: don't lie, cheat, smoke, dance, or covet your neighbor's stuff.
Oh, yeah, I just thought of one more: Humor thy father and thy mother.

One of Moses' best helpers was Joshua who was the first Bible guy to use spies. Joshua fought the battle of Geritol and the fence fell over on the town.

After Joshua came David. He got to be king by killing a giant with a slingshot. He had a son named Solomon who had about 300 wives and 500 porcupines. My teacher says he was wise, but that doesn't sound very wise to me.

After Solomon there were a bunch of major league prophets. One of these was Jonah, who was swallowed by a big whale and then barfed up on the shore.

There were also some minor league prophets, but I guess we don't have to worry about them.

After the Old Testament came the New Testament. Jesus is the star of The New. He was born in Bethlehem in a barn. (I wish I had been born in a barn too, because my mom is always saying to me, 'Close the door! Were you born in a barn?' It would be nice to say, 'As a matter of fact, I was.')

During His life, Jesus had many arguments with sinners like the Pharisees and the Republicans.

Jesus also had twelve opossums.

The worst one was Judas Asparagus. Judas was so evil that they named a terrible vegetable after him.

Jesus was a great man. He healed many leopards and even preached to some Germans on the Mount.

But the Republicans and all those guys put Jesus on trial before Pontius the Pilot. Pilot didn't stick up for Jesus. He just washed his hands instead.

Anyways, Jesus died for our sins, then came back to life again. He went up to Heaven but will be back at the end of the Aluminum. His return is foretold in the book of Revolution.

God lets us wander

I read earlier this year the fabulous book Gilead by Marilyn Robinson and now I'm reading the sequel to that, Home. So far, it is also excellent. Here is a little snippet that touched me today:

What a strange old book it was. How oddly holiness situated itself among the things of the world, how endlessly creation wrenched and strained under the burden of its own significance. "I will open my mouth in a parable. I will utter dark sayings of old, which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us." Yes, there it was, the parable of manna. All bread is the bread of heaven, her father used to say. It expresses the will of God to sustain us in the flesh, in this life. Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.

Make a perfect dwelling place for the Lord

A thought for the day from today's Office of Readings. This is from a homily by St. John Chrysostom:

Practice prayer from the beginning. Paint your hosue with the colors of modesty and humility. Make it radiant with the light of justice. Decorate it with the finest gold leaf of good deeds. Adorn it with the walls and stones of faith and generosity. Crown it with the pinnacle of prayer. In this way you will make it a perfect dwelling place for the Lord. You will be able to receive him as in a splendid palace, and through his grace you will already possess him, his image enthroned in the temple of your spirit.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Set the world ablaze

ASH WEDNESDAY, February 25, 2009:

I heard an interesting Ash Wednesday story from a Eucharistic Minister a few years ago. This minister was in the midst of distributing Holy Communion when a man approached. The minister was about to offer him the Eucharist, but he waved it away, “I don’t want that. I just have a question. Can you give me my ashes after Mass is over?” The minister looked at him, bewildered, and nodded, “Um, yeah,” he said, and before he could say more the man said, “Great. Thanks,” and sat back down in his seat.

Further proof, if any were needed, that we just can’t live without our ashes. The Eucharist? Well... But, gotta have those ashes. Ash Wednesday is one of the most curious celebrations. It is a beautiful call to our conversion once again, every year. But, it is also a celebration that sometimes invites the strange. Today, we have four Masses and all will be full. In fact, we will see more parishioners today than we do on an average weekend. And yet, Ash Wednesday is NOT a Holy Day of obligation. Not one of us is obligated to be here today as we are each and every Sunday. I’ve heard some priests say that it’s because it’s one of the few times you can come to Church and get something free. This probably also explains the popularity of Palm Sunday. But, maybe there are other, better, deeper reasons too.

For one thing, the ashes we receive are enduring reminders of our Catholic identity – a way that we can continue to publicly show ourselves as believers, and bind ourselves together. In a culture that is increasingly splintered and split apart, the ashes on our foreheads proclaim to the world who and what we are. You could also argue that Ash Wednesday is such a part of our tradition, nobody wants to give it up. From our earliest days, we are brought to Church to get ashes – parents will even bring babies, to have them dabbed with dust. You feel somehow left out if you don’t get them. But I think there is something else to it, too. Something that cuts to the heart of life -- and death.

One day, a man got a call from his doctor, telling him that he had lung cancer. The doctor told him that there was nothing they could do. The man hung up the phone, and looked at his family, seated around the kitchen table, stunned. And he smiled. “Be of good cheer,” he said, “None of us gets out of this world alive.” My friends, that is what Ash Wednesday says to us. It is the great leveler.

Today, we are not brilliant or creative or dynamic or sexy or strong. We are not beautiful or powerful. We are not rich or poor, healthy or sick. We are not young or old. We are just simple sinners. We are made of dust, and to dust we will return.

Almost a year ago, we began the Easter season with a roaring fire outside of the Church – we re-lived the creation of the universe, and it exploded into hundreds of points of light: small, bright candles that were held by everyone in the church. We sang: “Christ Our Light, thanks be to God.” And we were made new. Now, it is a year later, and we are left with ashes. So for this one day we will bear that mark -- the remnants of a great blaze, the residue of a fiery faith that maybe has cooled, that isn’t as strong as it could be.

And for this day, we will let others see this mark, as a sign of repentance, and humility, and humanity. As the day goes on, we’ll forget about it, and suddenly catch sight of ourselves in a mirror, and realize: We are dust. And to dust we will return. And we will see others like us on the street and think: we have plenty of company.

Ultimately, that is all we are in this earthly life: dust. But we dream to be more. We know we can be more. And so we make this 40-day journey – joining Jesus in the desert – to strive to be better than what we are, and become what we hope to be. To become more than dust – to become, in fact, light. Burning, brilliant light. And so we join the psalmist and sing: “Be merciful Lord, for we have sinned.” We begin this long walk into the wilderness. Because we are dust. And to dust we will return. We wear this mark, if only for this day, as a reflection of where we came from, and where we are all destined to go.

But we are reminded of something else, too: it is the middle that matters. It is that lifetime stretching in between that matters. What will we do with that time? How will we live? What will we be? These 40 days are a blessed opportunity to carry those questions in our hearts – and in answering them, reconcile ourselves with one another, and with God. Let me recommend three things we can all do this Lent – one personal, one communal and one universal.

First, the personal. You know that even as I share these words, God is putting something on your heart that He wants you to leave behind. It isn’t the simple and superficial practices of giving up sweets or eating between meals. Perhaps it is something major and challenging like giving up the desire to gossip and tear others down; giving up the anger and rage that control your life; turning away from problems with drink, even drugs or pornography. Whatever it is, you know God is calling you to something specific, something personal, something that desperately needs to change if you are going to grow in holiness. Whatever this personal thing is, God calls us to prune ourselves, like we’d prune a plant, so that we may grow better in His sight.

Next, the communal. During Lent, we have many additional opportunities for our community to gather in prayer. We have daily Mass. We have repeated opportunities for Confession so you can purify your soul. We have Stations of the Cross on Friday night so we can meditate upon the sacrifice Christ made for us. If we are going to successfully navigate this time of penance and prayer, we need to do it together. We need to pray together, prepare together. We need each other. We can help each other. None of us should make this Lenten journey alone. Let’s travel together towards Easter joy.

Finally, the universal. This is a time to care about our community and our world. Use the money you are saving by giving something up this Lent and give it to the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the needy. Find a worthy cause to give of your time, your talent or your treasure this Lent. Our small sacrifice can have a big impact on the lives of others elsewhere. Give not merely coins and dollars, but love and quite literally, life.

So, these are the things we can do – something personal, something communal, something universal. Let us pledge ourselves wholeheartedly this Lent that this may be a true and effective season of faith in our lives.

Hundreds of years ago, St. Catherine of Siena said, “If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire.” This day, my friends look at the ashes, but think of the fire. And let us pray, this Lent, to set the world ablaze.

May God give you peace.

Ashes, ashes

Mickey Rourke saved by his Catholic faith

I have long had a special place in my heart for actor Mickey Rourke. Back in 1989, he starred in what I think is the best movie on the life of St. Francis of Assisi, "Francesco." With the Academy Awards this week, there was a lot of coverage of his "comeback" but here is an interesting article where he credits his Catholic faith for getting him through this tough time.

Hollywood star Mickey Rourke has told a British magazine that his strong commitment to his Catholic faith has saved him from slipping back into his formerly chaotic lifestyle.
Catholic News Agency reports that he told Female First magazine that he ensures he talks to his priest as often as possible, and the release of being able to offload his problems prevents him from having a mental "explosion".
He says, "I've talked to my priest a lot. I used to have to call him or the shrink when there was an explosion, because I was really good at not talking to anybody until there was an explosion.
"My priest is this cool Italian from New York. We go down to his basement and he opens the wine. We smoke a cigarette and I have my confession. He sends me upstairs to do my Hail Mary's. I mean, I'm no Holy Joe, but I have a strong belief."
Rourke revealed that he came close to committing suicide during his eight year addiction battle in a comment to Now Magazine, a British Gossip paper.
The 'Nine 1/2 Weeks' star, who suffered addictions to drugs and alcohol, said he was only saved from shooting himself in the head because of his faith in God.
He said: "If I wasn't Catholic I would have blown my brains out. I would pray to God. I would say 'Please can you send me just a little bit of daylight.'"
Mickey Rourke tried to commit suicide - but was saved at the eleventh hour by a priest."He talked me out of it and we started meeting. His name is Father Pete and he lives in New York. Father Pete put me back on the right track," the actor concluded.

Monthly Medjugorje Message

February 25, 2009:

"Dear children! In this time of renunciation, prayer and penance, I call you anew: go and confess your sins so that grace may open your hearts, and permit it to change you. Convert little children, open yourselves to God and to His plan for each of you. Thank you for having responded to my call.”

Mel Gibson in "The Colonel"

This is seriously funny!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

NYC's new Shepherd

I am so impressed with and thrilled by the appointment of Archbishop Timothy Dolan as the new Archbishop of New York. He is a faithful shepherd of the Church, an man of Irish descent and a man with a great sense of humor. There were great stories on him in the New York Press today, but in particular, here are a few funny snippets from a story in the New York Post. He's a funny guy:

Before celebrating Mass at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, Dolan said President Obama had phoned him.

"He said, 'I just wanted to call and congratulate you and assure you of my prayers.' And I said, 'Thank you, Mr. President. I need those prayers.' "

"Well, I need yours, too," Obama responded.

"He said, 'You know, we're in kind of a tight financial situation,' " Dolan recalled. "And I said, 'If we can have a second collection or something, let us know.' It was a remarkably pleasant and enjoyable and friendly call."

Dolan's appointment, which had been rumored for weeks, came two years after Egan submitted his resignation to Pope Benedict, a requirement for bishops reaching age 75.

Like Egan, Dolan is considered a conservative when it comes to church teachings. And, like Egan - and all but one of his 12 predecessors in the New York Archdiocese - Dolan is of Irish descent.

"That's a sign of the Holy Father's infallibility, don't you think?" Dolan quipped.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Dolan takes Manhattan!

Very exciting news out of Gotham today as Pope Benedict XVI named Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan to become the new Archbishop of New York. Archbishop Dolan is generally considered to be a brilliant choice for this role and it is with great excitement that he takes the helm of one of the country's largest and most influential dioceses.

Here is the text of Archbishop Dolan's press conference this morning upon the announcement:

Thank you, Cardinal Egan, for your gracious words of welcome. To know you are and will be at my side is a genuine blessing indeed.Thank you, members of the media, and so many listening and watching with us this morning, for your interest and your welcome. You’ve made me feel at home already.

Thank you, most of all, to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who is alive in His Church, without whom nothing is possible, with whom nothing is impossible.

Thank you, Pope Benedict XVI, for your trust in naming me archbishop of this historic and vibrant Archdiocese of New York.My brother bishops, priests, religious women and men, seminarians, committed Catholics of this wonderful Church, I pledge to you my love, my life, my heart, and I can tell you already that I love you, I need so much your prayers and support, I am so honored, humbled, and happy to serve as your pastor.

To our cherished collaborators in metropolitan New York, our Christian, Jewish, Islamic and interfaith colleagues, my pledge to you of continued friendship; to our civic leaders, and so many neighbors, men and women of such good will, my assurances of a continued alliance in all that is noble in our devotion to this expansive community.

[In Spanish] My special greeting to our Latino brothers & sister, such a blessing to our Church and our community. I look forward to knowing and loving you.Thank you, Mom, family and friends at home in St. Louis, and in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. It will be tough to leave you.

I come before you in awe, with some trepidation, knowing I have a lot to learn, -- about you and about this dynamic local church.. Yet I come so confident in God’s grace and mercy, and so hopeful in the dream that is ours for a “future full of hope” as promised by God.

I relish the blessing of spending the rest of my life as your pastor, neighbor, and friend.

You can view some video of Archbishop Dolan's welcome this morning here: Dolan Videos

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Obama more popular than Jesus

Rochester, N.Y. (CNA) - Respondents to an online poll which asked them to name their heroes were more likely to name President Barack Obama than Jesus Christ.

The Harris Poll, conducted online among 2,634 U.S. adults between Jan. 12 and Jan. 19, asked respondents to name three people they admire enough to call a hero. Those surveyed gave spontaneous answers and were not shown or read a list of people to choose from.

Respondents most often named Barack Obama, followed by Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Mother Teresa was the tenth most often named, while God was the eleventh most.

“The fact that President Obama is mentioned more often than Jesus Christ should not be misinterpreted. No list was used and nobody was asked to choose between them,” Harris Interactive said in a statement.

In a similar poll in July 2001, respondents most often named Jesus Christ as their hero, followed by Martin Luther King, Jr., Colin Powell, John F. Kennedy, and Mother Teresa.

Asked to identify what they believe makes someone a hero, respondents named doing what’s right regardless of personal consequences, not giving up until the goal is accomplished, doing more than what other people expect of them, overcoming adversity and staying level-headed in a crisis.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Fighting poverty to build peace

This is from the current issue of America Magazine and is written by Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, NY.

By Bishop Howard Hubbard

How will the world most effectively achieve peace? By fighting poverty. This central insight of Pope Benedict XVI’s 2009 World Day of Peace message has powerful implications for the current challenges facing the United States. Our nation’s internal economic struggles threaten to turn our focus inward rather than internationally. Pope Benedict’s focus on poverty around the world proposes a much more global vision, because difficult times demand a complex and comprehensive response. He points out a different way forward, a way inspired by the Prince of Peace. Humanity, Pope Benedict reminds us, is one family in God.

Where do we find solutions to our problems here at home? Candidates in the recent U.S. presidential election focused heavily on the domestic economic crisis and the beleaguered American middle class. Both are valid, critically important areas of focus. But the solutions for such problems, Pope Benedict suggests, also lie in the struggle against poverty abroad.

Ultimately, there is no competition between domestic and international needs, nor between poor persons and the middle class. It is self-defeating to demand choices between help for those who suffer in the United States and those who suffer overseas, or between aid for poor persons and those in the middle class. Reiterating Pope John Paul II’s warning that “the gap between rich and poor has become more marked, even in the most economically developed nations,” Pope Benedict notes that we are dealing with a family matter. Concern for poor persons, both here and abroad, flows from the reality that humanity is one family in God.

Pope Benedict argues persuasively that assisting poor persons, especially in developing countries like Ethiopia, Haiti and Bangladesh, will help create “a world that is more just and prosperous for all.” He makes his point with a vivid image: “It is utterly foolish to build a luxury home in the midst of desert and decay.” He emphasizes that concern for the welfare of poor persons strengthens the common good of all and that addressing the needs of the most vulnerable improves the health of all. In the face of seemingly “either/or” choices, Catholic social teaching proposes “both/and” solutions.

Domestic Poverty

Before exploring the global focus of the pope’s message of Jan. 1, 2009, it is important to examine domestic poverty. In 2007 the official poverty rate in the United States was 12.5 percent, or over 37 million people. The rate for children was 18 percent, almost one in five. These rates will surely climb in the current recession.

The official U.S. definition of poverty is about $21,000 a year for a family of four. In urban areas with higher costs of living, the effective poverty rate is much higher than the official estimate. Many low-income families living near or just above this income level see themselves as working class or middle class, not poor. But the church’s “preferential love for the poor” embraces them as well. This special concern for the poor does not diminish concern for the welfare of those who are middle class or wealthy. Everyone benefits when society more fully promotes the well-being of all, especially those who are poor.

Pope Benedict highlights the importance of building “participatory institutions” and a “civil society” internationally that enables nations to invest in people, fight crime, strengthen the rule of law and reduce poverty. As the former chairman of the U.S. bishops’ committee for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, I have seen C.C.H.D. projects help poor people help themselves through the support of community-empowered, self-help organizations throughout the United States. This is a U.S. example of what is being done internationally to empower poor people to improve their communities.

International Challenges

Reducing domestic poverty will help to reduce global poverty because U.S. foreign policy can be only as strong as the nation is economically. Our country needs a solid domestic economy if it is to have the resources to help reduce global poverty. Paradoxically, in this age of globalization, the United States cannot improve its domestic economy unless it simultaneously invests in reducing global poverty. These investments unleash the potential of poor nations to contribute through fair trade to a robust global economy that benefits the common good of all peoples.

Poverty is widespread across the globe. An estimated 1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $1.25 a day. Such poverty assaults human dignity and robs people of their human potential. Fortunately, poverty is a disease with a cure. There are countless stories of poor persons and communities rising above crushing poverty. The mission of Catholics and others of good will is to work with the poor to achieve greater economic opportunity.

Time and again, the world has seen that poverty contributes to conflict and violent conflict contributes to poverty. This vicious circle is true within nations and between nations.
Headlines testify daily to the fact that desperate situations of poverty lead some people to do desperate things. There is vivid evidence of this in the crime rates of poor neighborhoods, and in civil wars and international conflicts. For example, the genocidal conflict in Darfur, Sudan is exacerbated by a competition over scarce resources, such as arable land and clean water; these resources have been diminished by desertification of the land as a result of human carelessness and global climate change. Similarly, the violence and division of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are made worse by the increasingly dire humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian Territories.

Violent conflict destroys lives and property and can reverse years of human progress. War is development in reverse; it deepens poverty. Poverty destroys human potential, breeds despair and violence and undermines human security.

Pope Benedict warns that “immense military expenditures” divert resources “from development projects for peoples, especially the poorest.” Excessive military expenditures create “pockets of underdevelopment and desperation” and “paradoxically” become “a cause of instability, tension and conflict.” This warning has profound implications for U.S. foreign policy. As the world’s leading arms producer, the United States should assume leadership to promote international disarmament and to reduce the arms trade, which the Second Vatican Council called an “utterly treacherous trap for humanity, and one which ensnares the poor.”

The Mandate for Development

“The new name for peace is development,” Pope Benedict states, alluding to the words of Pope Paul VI. The pope then outlines steps in a comprehensive global development strategy to reduce poverty: improve solidarity between rich and poor countries; redirect military expenditures to human development; address pandemic diseases and the food crisis; and reform international trade and finance to reduce marginalization of low-income countries. He notes that children constitute almost half of those living in deep poverty worldwide, and asks that nations give priority to supporting mothers and families, education, access to vaccines, medical care, clean drinking water and initiatives to protect the environment.

In recent years there has been a debate over the role of development, defense and diplomacy (the three Ds) in U.S. foreign policy. The United States must give development a structure and capacity that raises it together with diplomacy and defense as the “third leg” of U.S. foreign policy.

What specific strategies can help the United States incorporate development as this third leg of foreign policy? First, development with a focus on poverty reduction must become the fundamental goal of foreign aid, including the participation of poor people and the involvement of local governments and civil society. Second, an emphasis not only on immediate humanitarian aid but also on investments in agriculture, health care, education and micro-credit programs will make a global development strategy more comprehensive and effective in the long run, as will the inclusion of strategies to combat climate change and reform international trade policies.

Third, such strategies will be bolstered by a gradual increase in foreign aid, to reach the international commitment by wealthier nations to allocate 0.7 percent of national income to global development.

Material and Moral Poverty

Most significantly, Pope Benedict highlights the relationship between material poverty and moral poverty, noting that “every form of externally imposed poverty has at its root a lack of respect for the transcendent dignity of the human person.” Moral poverty that fails to respect human dignity contributes to material poverty. Greed, corruption and materialism undermine the common good of all. Material poverty demands concrete economic, social and political actions; but these actions will be effective only if they are shaped by people committed to what the Holy Father calls “profound solidarity.”

Morality matters in economic policy. The current national and global financial crisis has made this patently clear. Pope Benedict observes that too many economic actors were making decisions “based on very short-term thinking.” They lacked a commitment to “long-term consideration of the common good,” and by pursuing short-term gain in financial markets, they undermined the market itself. For this reason, markets, and financial institutions must be appropriately regulated for the common good.

Morality also matters in developing public policies that too often can be driven by ideology. Some countries promote anti-life population-control policies, although the world has reduced poverty even as its population has grown. Indeed, Pope Benedict says, developed countries “with higher birth-rates enjoy better opportunities for development.” The United States would do well to preserve the Kemp-Kasten Amendment that prohibits giving U.S. “population assistance” funds to any group that supports a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization, and should also reinstate the “Mexico City policy” that denies U.S. funds to organizations that perform or promote abortion as a method of family planning.

Morality also matters in designing effective responses to the AIDS pandemic. The recently reauthorized President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (Pepfar) increased resources for AIDS prevention and treatment, training health care workers and nutrition programs. The bill also provided balanced funding for abstinence and behavior- change programs that research has shown are highly effective in reducing infection rates in countries with epidemics. A bipartisan consensus rejected adding unrelated family planning and reproductive health services that would divert resources from life-saving interventions. Sadly, some advocacy organizations are seeking to overturn that carefully constructed bipartisan consensus. Our nation’s leaders should not go down this divisive path.

A Call to Further Action

In response to the pope’s call “to fight poverty to build peace,” the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services will reinvigorate the Catholic Campaign Against Global Poverty soon. An initiative called “Catholics Confront Global Poverty” will be launched on Feb. 23 ( with a goal of helping to educate and mobilize U.S. Catholics to defend the life and dignity of people living in poverty throughout the world.

The initiative will offer six specific policy recommendations: first, an increase in poverty-focused foreign assistance to meet humanitarian needs and invest in long-term development; second, the promotion of foreign assistance reform that emphasizes poverty reduction, government accountability and the participation of civil society; third, a new approach to global climate change that focuses on protecting the poor; fourth, reform of trade and agricultural policies to stimulate sustainable development and protect small farmers; fifth, financial and political support of U.N. peacekeeping missions to reduce the violence that impoverishes many nations; and sixth, the application of significant resources for peacebuilding and diplomacy to areas where existing conflicts threaten to turn violent.

Together with the domestic poverty initiatives of the U.S.C.C.B. Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development and the Campaign to Reduce Poverty of Catholic Charities USA, this new initiative represents a “both/and” approach to poverty at home and abroad. In the words of Pope Benedict, it is important that “people everywhere feel personally outraged by the injustices in the world. ” Only then can people work together to “redress the marginalization of the world’s poor” and “fight poverty to build peace. ”

Most Rev. Howard J. Hubbard, bishop of Albany, is the chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Two years of A Friar's Life

Well today marks the two year anniversary of this blog and I have enjoyed writing it. I hope you have enjoyed reading it! I see we're just 45 viewers shy of hitting 30,000 today (which would be awesome!). Let's see if it happens!



Thursday, February 19, 2009

Play ball!

Two buddies, Bob and Earl, were among the biggest baseball fans in America. Their entire adult lives, Bob and Earl discussed baseball history in the winter, and they pored over every box score during the season. They went to sixty games a year. They even agreed that whoever died first would try to come back and tell the other if there was baseball in heaven.

One summer night, Bob passed away in his sleep after watching the Yankee victory earlier in the evening. He died happy.

A few nights later, his buddy Earl awoke to the sound of Bob's voice from beyond.

"Bob is that you?" Earl asked."Of course it's me," Bob replied.

"This is unbelievable!" Earl exclaimed. "So tell me, is there baseball in heaven?"

"Well I have some good news and some bad news for you. Which do you want to hear first?"

"Tell me the good news first."

"Well, the good news is that yes, there is baseball in heaven, Earl."

"Oh, that is wonderful! So what could possibly be the bad news?"

"You're pitching tomorrow night."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Pelosi and the Pope

From Whispers in the Loggia:

Just dropped from the Holy See: a Press Office statement on the Pope's post-audience bacimano earlier today with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.With the meeting become a flashpoint in media, political and church circles alike (and both left and right at that), the following was released by the Vatican in Italian and English:

Following the General Audience the Holy Father briefly greeted Mrs Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, together with her entourage.

His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the Church’s consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death which enjoin all Catholics, and especially legislators, jurists and those responsible for the common good of society, to work in cooperation with all men and women of good will in creating a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development.

According to the Italian wires, the encounter between the pontiff and the California Democrat extended for some fifteen minutes.A lifelong product of church schools who's described herself an "ardent Catholic," the Speaker's solidly pro-choice record has landed her in the crosshairs before, most notably after Pelosi sought to defend her position in an August interview on Meet the Press.

Monday, February 16, 2009

From the mouths of babes

This young girl prepared this report for her 7th grade class. What eloquence coming from one so young.

Pope to meet with Pelosi

VATICAN CITY (AFP) – Visiting US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi will have an audience with Pope Benedict XVI during her weeklong visit to Italy, a Vatican official said Monday.

The meeting will take place on Wednesday, the official told AFP, saying it would likely occur after the pope's weekly general audience.

Pelosi, who describes herself as an "ardent" Catholic while advocating reproductive rights, will be the highest-ranking US official to see the pope since President Barack Obama took office last month.

The new Democratic administration is at odds with the Vatican over abortion, stemcell research and other bioethical issues.

Senior Vatican officials slammed Obama's rapid overturning of a ban on US government funding for family planning groups around the world that carry out or facilitate abortions.

Obama signed the executive order cancelling the eight-year-old restrictions imposed by his predecessor George W. Bush on the third full day of his presidency.

The Roman Catholic Church has also criticised the approval of US authorities for the first human trials using embryonic stemcells of a therapy to help paralysed patients regain movement.

Pelosi, who arrived in Rome on Sunday after spending the day in the Tuscan capital Florence, was to meet with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and lunch with her Italian counterpart Gianfranco Fini on Monday.

Monday afternoon she was to lead a conference on security before meeting the press.

On Tuesday, Pelosi was to meet Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and the defence and foreign ministers, Ignazio La Russa and Franco Frattini.

The House speaker plans to spend Thursday in southern Naples.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Messianic secret or Messianic brilliance?


Our gospel passage today from Mark is one of the many remarkable stories of the miraculous healings that we see Jesus perform over and over again. Jesus is moved with pity in this encounter with a man suffering from leprosy, merely touches him and he is miraculously healed.

But there is something curious in this passage that you may have noticed, and it is a feature that is unique to Mark’s Gospel, frequently in scenes where Jesus performs a miracle.

Here it is, “He said to him, ‘See that you tell no one anything,’” Over and over again in Mark’s Gospel we see this same pattern. Jesus performs a great miracle and each time leaves the people who witnessed or experienced this divine action to keep it a secret. This pattern has been called by Bible Scholars the Messianic Secret. And, even though these scholars have given this pattern a clever name, they are somewhat baffled when trying to come up with a reason for it. Why does Jesus perform these miracles only to then ask everyone to keep it a secret? We’re not really sure.

But, there are a few theories. One theory holds that perhaps Jesus didn’t feel the time had come to make a public display of the power given him by the Father. Although ready to heal, He wasn’t ready to go public. Another theory speculates that Jesus was concerned that His miracles might be misunderstood as magic or tricks, rather than manifestations of God's love. Yet another theory speculates that perhaps Jesus was concerned that people would focus on the miracles and miss the important message of God's love and forgiveness that went with them. Miracles are meant to support the message of God’s Kingdom, not to overshadow it.

Personally, I have my own theory of the Messianic Secret. Let’s look at the passage again. We heard, “He said to him, ‘See that you tell no one anything,’” But, then look at what comes immediately after this command to keep quiet, “The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.” Jesus gives this command to silence, and the immediate reaction is to run to the mountain tops and proclaim what Jesus has done.

Now I don’t know about you, but in my experience there is one sure-fire way to get the word out about something. Go to one person, give them all the details and then say, “This is a secret. Don’t tell anyone.” By nightfall, it will have spread far and wide. In our Franciscan community we even have a saying for this clandestine communication network. We say, “Telephone, telegraph or tell-a-friar!” Jesus knows we just can’t keep a secret.

So, my own personal theory of the Messianic Secret is that this is the ingenious way that Jesus helps to accomplish His goal of proclaiming the news of the Kingdom in an age long before newspapers, television and the internet.

But perhaps even more than this, I think is the realization that sometimes things are just too incredible to be contained. That no matter how much or how strongly we are told to keep things quiet, there are some things that simply must be proclaimed from the roof tops. The bottom line is that people like the man in our story had such a profound experience of God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s power that it was literally impossible to keep it quiet. Imagine this man, if you will. He has lived probably for years with leprosy; a disease that is impossible to hide. People would have noticed the disfiguration of his skin. Suddenly, all of that is gone. Surely they are going to ask, “What happened to you?” And it would be impossible for this man to say, “Nothing.” Or, “I can’t really talk about it.” Of course, he is going to “publicize the whole matter” as Mark tells us.

God’s goodness is too awesome, too powerful, too overwhelming to keep to ourselves. And, I think this is the way it is supposed to be. God wants the same reaction from us as we see from this man healed by Jesus. This requires two things of us – first, an openness to be witnesses to God’s goodness to ourselves and those around us. Sometimes we would rather name something as random or a coincidence, or never take the time to count our blessings. Secondly, we need the courage to proclaim that goodness. When was the last time you shared with another person God’s goodness to you?

Our challenge is to continue seeing the marvelous things Jesus does for us every day, and acknowledge the salvation He has won for us. There is no reason to keep the joy to ourselves. In fact, Jesus encourages us to share it with all we meet. Let us each commit to finding at least one person today to whom we can tell about a wonder Jesus has performed in our lives.

God has worked miracles in our midst. But, shhh, it’s a secret. Don’t tell anyone.

May God give you peace.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius

Yes, of course, the rest of the world celebrates today the feast day of St. Valentine, but the Church does not. The memorial for today on the liturgical calendar is that of Sts. Cyril and Methodius. That's what you get when a bunch of celibate men make the calendar. I've also heard this feast called Happy Single Awareness Day! So, here's a bit on our saints of the day:

Cyril and Methodius must have often wondered, as we do today, how God could bring spiritual meaning out of worldly concerns. Every mission they went on, every struggle they fought was a result of political battles, not spiritual, and yet the political battles are forgotten and their work lives on in the Slavic peoples and their literature.

Tradition tells us that the brothers Methodius and Constantine (he did not take the name Cyril until just before his death) grew up in Thessalonica as sons of a prominent Christian family. Because many Slavic people settled in Thessalonica, it is assumed Constantine and Methodius were familiar with the Slavic language. Methodius, the older of the two brothers, became an important civil official who would have needed to know Slavonic. He grew tired of worldly affairs and retired to a monastery. Constantine became a scholar and a professor known as "the Philosopher" in Constantinople. In 860 Constantine and Methodius went as missionaries to what is today the Ukraine.

When the Byzantine emperor decided to honor a request for missionaries by the Moravian prince Rastislav, Methodius and Constantine were the natural choices; they knew the language, they were able administrators, and had already proven themselves successful missionaries.
But there was far more behind this request and the response than a desire for Christianity. Rastislav, like the rest of the Slav princes, was struggling for independence from German influence and invasion. Christian missionaries from the East, to replace missionaries from Germany, would help Rastislav consolidate power in his own country, especially if they spoke the Slavonic language.

Constantine and Methodius were dedicated to the ideal of expression in a people's native language. Throughout their lives they would battle against those who saw value only in Greek or Latin. Before they even left on their mission, tradition says, Constantine constructed a script for Slavonic -- a script that is known today as glagolithic. Glagolithic is considered by some as the precursor of cyrillic which named after him.

Arriving in 863 in Moravia, Constantine began translating the liturgy into Slavonic. In the East, it was a normal procedure to translate liturgy into the vernacular. As we know, in the West the custom was to use Greek and later Latin, until Vatican II. The German hierarchy, which had power over Moravia, used this difference to combat the brothers' influence. The German priests didn't like losing their control and knew that language has a great deal to do with independence.

So when Constantine and Methodius went to Rome to have the Slav priesthood candidates ordained (neither was a bishop at the time), they had to face the criticism the Germans had leveled against them. But if the Germans had motives that differed from spiritual concerns, so did the pope. He was concerned about the Eastern church gaining too much influence in the Slavic provinces. Helping Constantine and Methodius would give the Roman Catholic church more power in the area. So after speaking the brothers, the pope approved the use of Slavonic in services and ordained their pupils.

Constantine never returned to Moravia. He died in Rome after assuming the monastic robes and the name Cyril on February 14, 869. Legend tells us that his older brother was so griefstricken, and perhaps upset by the political turmoil, that he intended to withdraw to a monastery in Constantinople. Cyril's dying wish, however, was that Methodius return to the missionary work they had begun.

He couldn't return to Moravia because of political problems there, but another Slavic prince, Kocel, asked for him, having admired the brothers' work in translating so much text into Slavonic. Methodius was allowed by the pope to continue saying Mass and administering baptism in the Slavonic tongue. Methodius was finally consecrated bishop, once again because of politics -- Kocel knew that having a Slavonic bishop would destroy the power of the Salzburg hierarchy over his land. Methodius became bishop of Sirmium, an ancient see near Belgrade and given power over Serbo-Croatian, Slovene, and Moravian territory.

The German bishops accused him of infringing on their power and imprisoned him in a monastery. This lasted until Germany suffered military defeats in Moravia. At that time the pope intervened and Methodius returned to his diocese in triumph at the same time the Germans were forced to recognize Moravian independence. There was a loss involved -- to appease the Germans a little, the pope told Methodius he could no longer celebrate liturgy in the vernacular.

In 879 Methodius was summoned to Rome to answer German charges he had not obeyed this restriction. This worked against the Germans because it gave Methodius a chance to explain how important it was to celebrate the liturgy in the tongue people understood. Instead of condemning him, the pope gave him permission to use Slavonic in the Mass, in Scripture reading, and in the office. He also made him head of the hierarchy in Moravia.

The criticism never went away, but it never stopped Methodius either. It is said that he translated almost all the Bible and the works of the Fathers of the Church into Slavonic before he died on April 6 in 884.

Within twenty years after his death, it would seem like all the work of Cyril and Methodius was destroyed. Magyar invasions devastated Moravia. And without the brothers to explain their position, use of the vernacular in liturgy was banned. But politics could never prevail over God's will. The disciples of Cyril and Methodius who were driven out of Moravia didn't hide in a locked room. The invasion and the ban gave them a chance to go to other Slavic countries. The brothers' work of spreading Christ's word and translating it into Slavonic continued and laid the foundation for Christianity in the region.

What began as a request guided by political concerns produced two of the greatest Christian missionaries, revered by both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, and two of the fathers of Slavonic literary culture.

In Their Footsteps: Cyril and Methodius believed in the importance of celebrating liturgy in our own language, a privilege we have only had in last twenty years. If this change took place before your time, ask older Catholics about the differences that have taken place in their worship because of this change. If you were worshipping during the change, reflect on how celebrating in the vernacular has helped your worship and your spiritual life.

Prayer: Saints Cyril and Methodius, watch over all missionaries but especially those in Slavic countries. Help those that are in danger in the troubled areas. Watch over the people you dedicated your lives to. Amen

And, for those of you who insist on celebrating St. Valentine today: Story of St. Valentine

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Remembering Honest Abe

Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of perhaps our greatest President Abraham Lincoln. I was thinking of something to post here from this remarkable American. I thought of the "Gettysburgh Address," but that is probably what most of us have read. Instead, I decided to put here one of my favorite Lincoln speeches, one of his briefest. Below is Lincoln's Second Inauguraal Address, March 4, 1865. There are some wonderful gems in here.


AT this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, urgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Running with scissors

From the email files today. This is a good one. Hope you enjoy it.

To everyone who survived the 1930's, 40's, 50's, 60's and 70's!!

First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they were pregnant.

They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a can and didn't get tested for diabetes.

Then after that trauma, we were put to sleep on our tummies in baby cribs covered with bright colored lead-base paints.

We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, locks on doors or cabinets and when we rode our bikes, we had baseball caps not helmets on our heads.

As infants & children, we would ride in cars with no car seats, no booster seats, no seat belts, no air bags, bald tires and sometimes no brakes.

Riding in the back of a pick- up truck on a warm day was always a special treat.

We drank water from the garden hose and not from a bottle.

We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and no one actually died from this.

We ate cupcakes, white bread, real butter and bacon. We drank Kool-Aid made with real white sugar. And, we weren't overweight.

WHY? Because we were always outside playing...that's why!

We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on.

No one was able to reach us all day. And, we were O.K.

We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then ride them down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times,we learned to solve the problem.

We did not have Playstations, Nintendo's and X-boxes. There were no video games, no 150 channels on cable, no video movies or DVD's, no surround-sound or CD's, no cell phones, no personal computers, no Internet and no chat rooms. WE HAD FRIENDS and we went outside and found them!

We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents.

We ate worms and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever.

We were given BB guns for our 10th birthdays, made up games with sticks and tennis balls and, although we were told it would happen, we did not put out very many eyes.

We rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just walked in and talked to them.

Little League had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn't had to learn to deal with disappointment, and work harder to improve. Imagine that!!

The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the20law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law!

These generations have produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever. The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas. We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned how to deal with it all.

If YOU are one of them? CONGRATULATIONS! You might want to share this with others who have had the luck to grow up as kids. While you are at it, forward it to your kids so they will know how brave and lucky their parents were.

Kind of makes you want to run through the house with scissors, doesn't it ?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A long, long time ago

A grammar school friend of mine posted some photos from our earlier days. They were a hoot and I thought it would be fun to post one here. This is my first grade photo. Can you find me?

Life Shift

This story was on NPR during this morning's news. Great coverage for Franciscan vocations:


So, in 11 days, this blog reaches it's 2nd anniversary. We saw 10,000 visitors in the first year, and as of now, we're just over 500 hits short of hitting 30,000 visits. What do you think? Will we hit that number by the 21st? That would make 20,000 for year two!

Thanks for your continued readership!

Divine Refuge in the Storm

By Lisa Miller
From the magazine issue dated Feb 16, 2009

Everyone, it seems, has a "Plan B." You've had the conversation yourself with your spouse and probably with friends over dinner. In the event you can no longer be a journalist—or an investment banker, lawyer or literary agent—what will you be? A livery-cab driver? A yoga instructor? A bartender? Where would you like to take shelter from this recession?

Some of you—admit it—are dreaming of the ministry. This yearning could be an escapist fantasy, a wish to contemplate divine abundance in an environment of scarcity, to wrestle with abstractions in the midst of relentless pragmatic concerns. Or it could be a calling to help others. Daniel Aleshire, executive director of the Association of Theological Schools, thinks enrollments will be up for 2009. "I would anticipate that we would experience some positive enrollment effect from an economic downturn of this size," he says. After two years of flagging enrollment, applications at a number of schools are on the rise. The Dallas Theological Seminary has seen a 10 percent increase in applications over last year, as has Yale Divinity School. At the Jewish Theological Seminary, the number of people applying to the Ph.D. program has doubled. At Oblate Seminary, in San Antonio, Texas, the number of young men training as diocesan priests has tripled over the past five years. Yale dean of admissions Anna Ramirez says that many of the applications she's reading mention a need to "re-evaluate" things. "Maybe people are getting religion in the face of the materialist empire, maybe jobs are scarce out there," adds Harold Attridge, Yale's dean. "Divinity school looks good, especially if there's financial aid and i-banking isn't as attractive as it was a while ago."

Historically, applications to seminary and divinity school rise during tough times. "A significant surge in vocations to priesthood and religious life followed World War II, where our society was grounded in seriousness, the spirit of self-sacrifice and the willingness to follow a dream," wrote Sister Mary Ann Walsh, of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in an e-mail. "Vocations plummeted after the Vietnam War, when young people grew disenchanted with institutions." After 9/11 and the last economic downturn, enrollment at seminary surged 8 percent, according to ATS.

Being a cleric in the 21st century is entirely different, though, than it was 50 years ago. Divinity School is no longer a straight and narrow path to the ministry—and the ministry is no sinecure. For one thing, many ministers earn too little to repay their student loans—one explanation for the low enrollment in the traditional master's programs that lead to ordination, says Barbara Wheeler, who studies enrollment trends at Auburn Seminary. Also, the status bestowed upon the local pastor is no longer automatic: too many sex and money scandals have had a corrosive effect on the reputation of the clergy as a whole. And with endowments shrinking at churches and other charitable institutions nationwide, ministers—like everyone else—will have to make do with less. At Yale, just about half the students become ordained ministers. The rest go on to other kinds of charitable or pastoral work. Frederick Sievert, for one, wants to write a popular book about God. Formerly president of New York Life Insurance, Sievert went to Yale Divinity School not out of crisis, but because he was retiring and it was his dream. But as his retirement account shrinks, Sievert finds himself increasingly engaged with his studies. "You turn to God sometimes when it's so grim," he says. He has never been so fulfilled in his life.

The Catholic Mass...Revealed!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Suffering becomes glory


Job spoke and said, “Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.” Suffering and healing. Our Scriptures today call us to reflect upon both of these very real experiences of life – suffering and healing.

In the passage from Job, we see how Job despaired at the suffering he had to endure. Job lost everything; his land, possessions and even his family, besides a plague of boils and other horrors. Listen to the anguish in his words, “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery? ... He is a slave who longs for the shade… I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me….My days …come to an end without hope…I shall not see happiness again.”

Job sees no sense in his suffering. He can not make any meaning of what he is enduring and so he complains at what he must endure. Job despairs, he feels helpless and hopeless — but we also know that later in the story he rediscovers hope and his losses are restored to him. His perseverance pays off—God rewards him for not giving up. I imagine that when we hear these words of Job, we can all identify with him in one way or another – either in trying to make sense of our own suffering or in trying to understand why others suffer. We’ve all felt like Job wondering why things have to be the way they are. Why bad things happen; especially when they happen to good people.

As I was reading Job this week, I couldn’t help but think of Fr. Mike’s mother, Adele, who passed away about six years ago. Adele’s life had many moments that could relate to Job. She lost her father when she was very young, her brother died at age 16, she had 10 miscarriages before finally carrying a baby to term in her 40s, she suffered through cancer, several heart attacks, lost her kidneys and had to undergo dialysis for years, and she suffered from diabetes that in the end required the partial amputation of a leg. In her suffering she was very much like Job and could have very easily said like him, “I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me.” But, Adele never spoke the words of Job. Instead she said, “Don’t waste your suffering. Offer it up and unite it to the suffering of Christ.” Even when faced with amputation, she didn’t ask how she could avoid the pain and suffering that procedure would entail; she didn’t ask why this was happening to her. Instead she asked, “What does God want me to do?” And before she was taken into surgery, she prayed thanking God for the use of her legs all those years, for carrying her around, and allowing her to be a good mother. She was an incredible witness of faith to the transformative power of suffering. It’s one thing for someone who has not suffered to tell you to “offer it up,” but it’s quite another thing when someone who really knows suffering, who’s walked the walk, to tell you the same thing.

You see, for we who believe in Christ, suffering is never without meaning. With the eyes of faith, in our suffering we can be united with Christ in the one great act of redemption. What our world forgets in this no pain day-and-age is that suffering is an opportunity to be united with Christ in the greatest moment of the history of the world – we can be united with Him on that cross and in the salvation of the world. Souls can be redeemed and saved and prayers answered when we direct our suffering, offer it up, to this spiritual end.

Jesus shows us this in our Gospel today. We hear about the compassion of Jesus. He cures Peter’s mother-in-law and then goes on to cure all who asked for healing. Suffering and pain are part of the human condition. They are not caused by God. The worst question we can ever ask in the face of suffering is, “Why did God do this to me?” God didn’t do it. Suffering is part of being human. When we accept that reality we become open to another possibility – instead of blaming God, our suffering can become opportunities to invite God into our suffering to transform it. Jesus reminds us of what is really important in life - that being healed in spirit is far more important than being healed in body.

As Jesus is healing in our gospel, he says, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” Jesus came to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God, to invite all people to let God reign as king in their hearts and in their lives, to reconcile us with God and with one another. This is the greatest healing that he has to offer us.

To seek physical healing and material well-being without first making peace with God and seeking His Kingdom is to miss the point. It is putting the cart before the horse. It doesn’t work.
Many of those who went to Jesus were looking for him for the wrong reasons. They were looking for Jesus simply to get what they wanted. They weren’t interested in what Jesus came to give. Jesus is interested in our physical welfare. But the spiritual must come first. Like the people of Capernaum we come to church on Sunday looking for Jesus. We come with our various problems of soul and body. The first thing we need to do is to forget our personal problems and seek the Kingdom of God that Jesus came to proclaim. The best cure for anything in our lives is the Kingdom.

In his own death, Jesus showed us how to face suffering and all the other evils we will inevitably meet during the course of our life. He showed us that suffering can have a purpose – even if we don’t understand it.

I’ll end with another example, that of Pope John Paul the Great, who also gave us an incredible example of purposeful suffering as he approached his own death. Pope Benedict reflected on John Paul’s final days this way: “No Pope has left us an amount of texts as he has left us; previously, no Pope was able to visit, as he did, the whole world and speak directly to the people of all the continents. But at the end, he was given a path of suffering and silence…With his words and deeds, he gave us great things; but no less important is the lesson he gave us from the chair of suffering and silence.”

Jesus is calling us to seek Him first, to seek His Kingdom first. Jesus is calling us to never waste any suffering that comes our way. We can offer any suffering in our lives to God. We can ask him to accept these sufferings as our share in the Cross of Christ, as our small contribution to Christ’s work of salvation. The more we are able to do this, the more we begin to see with the eyes of faith, and find the truest happiness – the happiness of the Kingdom. Suffering becomes glory, and the true meaning of our lives is revealed.

May God give you peace.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

All puns intended

Isn't this punny?

1. Two antennas met on a roof, fell in love and got married. The ceremony wasn't much, but the reception was excellent.

2. A jumper cable walks into a bar. The bartender says, "I'll serve you, but don't start anything."
3. Two peanuts walk into a bar, and one was a salted.

4. A dyslexic man walked into a bra.

5. A man walks into a bar with a slab of asphalt under his arm, and says: "A beer please, and one for the road."

6. Two cannibals are eating a clown. One says to the other: "Does this taste funny to you?"

7. "Doc, I can't stop singing The Green, Green Grass of Home." "That sounds like Tom Jones Syndrome." "Is it common?" "Well, It's Not Unusual."

8. Two cows are standing next to each other in a field. Daisy says to Dolly, "I was artificially inseminated this morning." "I don't believe you," says Dolly. "It's true; no bull!" exclaims Daisy.

9. An invisible man marries an invisible woman. The kids were nothing to look at either.

10. Deja Moo: The feeling that you've heard this bull before.

11. I went to buy some camouflage trousers the other day, but I couldn't find any.

12. A man woke up in a hospital after a serious accident. He shouted, "Doctor, doctor, I can't feel my legs!" The doctor replied, "I know, I amputated your arms!"

13. I went to a seafood disco last week... and pulled a mussel.

14. What do you call a fish with no eyes? A fsh.

15. Two fish swim into a concrete wall. The one turns to the other and says, "Dam!"

16. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Not surprisingly it sank, proving once again that you can't have your kayak and heat it too.

17. A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel, and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office, and asked them to disperse. "But why," they asked, as they moved off. "Because," he said. "I can't stand chess-nuts boasting in an open foyer."

18. A woman has twins, and gives them up for adoption. One of them goes to a family in Egypt, and is named 'Ahmal.' The other goes to a family in Spain; they name him 'Juan.' Years later, Juan sends a picture of himself to his birth mother. Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband that she wishes she also had a picture of Ahmal. Her husband responds, "They're twins! If you've seen Juan, you've seen Ahmal."

19. Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. This made him (oh, man, this is so bad, it's good)... a super-calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.

20. A dwarf, who was a mystic, escaped from jail. The call went out that there was a small medium at large.

21. And finally, there was the person who sent twenty different puns to his friends, with the hope that at least ten of the puns would make them laugh. No pun in ten did.


BONUS: A boy comes home from school, full of excitement. He tells his mother: 'I've got a part in the school play' His mother says: 'That's fantastic, what is it?' Boy: "I'm playing the Irish husband' Mother's brow darkens and she says to the boy: 'Go straight back to the school and tell that teacher that you want a speaking part!'

Changing the impossible

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